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12/19/2011

MARY’S MIRACLE & OURS

Strategic Lessons of Faith from the First Christmas Miracle


Just over 2000 years ago a miracle, that would change world history, occurred when a young, unmarried Jewish woman—a virgin—supernaturally conceived and gave birth to a Son whom she named “Jesus” in obedience to the word delivered to her by the angel Gabriel. This first Christmas miracle set in motion all the ensuing miracles that occurred in the life and ministry of Jesus, the miracle of His resurrection, the miracle of His ascension, the miracle of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and all the miracles of God that have occurred down to the present time. In this essay I have identified 5 important lessons from Mary’s encounter with the angel (Luke 1:26-38) that are crucial for us as we believe God for miracles in our lives today.

(1) This miracle was initiated by God.

Mary was not straining in faith, prayer, and spiritual warfare trying to produce this miracle. This was a God-thing. There is no question that she had positioned herself for this miracle by a life of purity before God; but there was no initiative on her part for this specific miracle. Mary merely responded in faith to God’s initiative.

The emphasis today seems to be on human initiative, i.e., what we can do to generate miracles. One only has to look at the “how to” books that crowd the shelves of most Christian bookstores—“5 Steps to Your Financial Miracle” or “10 Keys to Your Miracle Healing,” etc., etc. Miracles have become commercialized and professionalized. Just listen to the grand offers of presumptuous preachers who offer miracles on demand, usually tied to a love offering to their ministry. In the midst of this preoccupation with ourselves and what we can do, it is all too easy to forget that God Himself has thoughts and plans and that He acts according to His own sovereign will.


The wise thing for us, therefore, is to seek with all our hearts to know and understand His thoughts, His plans, and His will. Let’s not be so quick to make our plans and then “storm heaven” asking God to bless our plans. Instead, let’s get His plan and cooperate with His plan, for His plan is already blessed. Mary cooperated with His plan in the making of that first Christmas miracle.


(2) This miracle was beyond Mary’s ability to comprehend.

How can this be, since I do not know a man, was Mary’s response to Gabriel’s announcement. Her point was that, as a single woman committed to a life of purity and godliness, there was no way this could happen. God’s promise (vision) for our lives will always exceed our understanding of how it can happen, and our ability to make it happen. God’s revealed promise and plan will cause us to also ask, “How can this be?” God’s promise and plan for our lives will only happen as we learn to walk with Him in absolute, unequivocal trust.

This reminds me of Abraham and Sarah who had received a promise from God that they would have a son; but Sarah was barren and unable to have children. It was a “how can this be” moment for them.


Instead of trusting God as Mary would later do, they took matters into their own hands. Abraham took Sarah’s handmaid, Hagar, and had a son by her whom he named Ishmael. God let them know, however, that Ishmael was their idea, not His. They had to come to the place wherein they acknowledged that they were unable and helpless in themselves to bring about the fulfillment of the promise. They put their trust completely in God—not in themselves—and when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90, the miracle occurred and Isaac was born.

Like with Mary (and Sarah and Abraham) God’s plan for your life and mine is bigger than we are. We do not have the abilities or the resources to make it happen. We can try and make it happen in our own strength, but all we will do is bring forth another Ishmael. We may call it by a spiritual sounding name, but it is still an Ishmael. So why not learn our lesson now, and determine that we are going to trust and cooperate with Him totally and unequivocally to fulfill the promises He has made.

(3) This miracle would come forth, not by human effort, but through the power of the Holy Spirit.

In answer to Mary’s question of “how can this be,” the angel Gabriel said, The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Highest will over shadow you (Luke 1:35). This is also the answer for all our impossibilities--The Holy Spirit will come upon you. As to how a small, insignificant group of disciples could take the gospel to all the world, Jesus said in Acts 1:8, But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.

We must, therefore, relinquish all trust in ourselves and yield our lives totally to Him. As we cooperate with Him, He will turn all our impossibilities into possibilities. As the prophet Zechariah said concerning how Israel could overcome the impossible circumstances they faced, Not by (human) might, nor by (earthly) power, but by My Spirit says the Lord of Hosts (Zechariah 4:6).


I can’t tell you how many times, in my own life, the Holy Spirit has provided the answer and the strength for impossible situations I have faced. He did it for Mary. He will do the same for you. Acknowledge aloud now that you choose to yield yourself to the Spirit of God and invite Him to be your strength, wisdom, and very life.


(4) The promise was like a seed with the potential power of fulfillment already inherent in that promise.

To the promise he is delivering from God, Gabriel adds the words, For with God nothing shall be impossible (NKJV). The Greek text literally reads, No rhema from God is void of power. A rhema is a particular word or promise for a specific situation. When God gives a promise, the power of fulfillment is inherent in that promise.


In Scripture, God’s word is often compared with seed because a seed has within itself the potential power to produce the desired end results. For example, to have a harvest of corn you do not have to know all the science of how a seed of corn germinates and grows into a mature stalk bearing multiple ears of corn. You simply have to put the seed in the ground and look after it because the seed has the power within itself to produce the end results.


The same is true of every rhema or word from God. It has within itself the power to produce the desired end results. Our part is to allow the seed to be planted in our hearts and then guard or steward that promise until we see it mature and bring forth the promised fruit or fulfillment (Luke 8:15). Once when struggling over the “mechanics” of how to build a church, I heard the Holy Spirit say, “Preach my word and the church will emerge and come forth.”


(5) Mary’s faith response sealed the deal.

Let it be to me according to your word (Luke 1:38), was Mary’s response to Gabriel’s final explanation concerning how the miracle would happen. She is saying, in effect, “I recognize that it is naturally impossible but, nonetheless, Let it be to me according to your word.” This was the faith response for which Gabriel was looking and with it, he departed. Mary then departed to visit her cousin Elizabeth who, upon seeing her, exclaimed by the Spirit, Blessed is she who believed for there will be a fulfillment of those things that were told her from the Lord. Mary’s response is the sort of faith response we too must give to the promises of God. Let it be to me according to your word.


This reminds me of Luke 5:5 where Jesus, after using Peter’s boat from which to teach, instructed Peter to launch out in the deep and let down his nets for a catch. Peter responded that he had just fished all night without catching a single fish, Nevertheless, at Your word, I will let down the net. Peter acted on the word of Jesus and caught so many fish that his nets began to break and his boats began to sink from the weight of the fish.

Both Mary and Peter were blessed because they believed the promise, not because they had some special status with God. We too are blessed when we embrace the promise and say with Mary, Let it be to me according to your word, or with Peter, At your word I will let down the net.


Concluding Thought

In the miracle of the catch of fish, Peter was so astounded that when he came to shore he fell at the feet of Jesus and acknowledged His Lordship. Mary too was astounded at the miracle birth of Jesus the Son of God. I truly believe that understanding the principles above can help us move into a place where the miracles in our lives will be so far beyond our own faith and abilities that we too will be astounded and in awe of what God does. This happened to Mary. It happened to Peter and has happened to countless others since that time. It can happen to you and me.

12/18/2011

DO YOU KNOW WHO JESUS REALLY IS? (Pt. 2)

The Stark Ramifications of the Claims Made by Jesus Concerning His Divinity

In this age of liberal, political correctness Jesus is often portrayed as another spiritual master like Buddha, a prophet like Mohammed, a great moral teacher like Moses, or just a good man who taught us all to love one another--indeed, a Jesus we can all like and get along with. This, however, is not the Jesus of the New Testament who often offended people and brought down the wrath of the religious and political establishment on Himself. Shouldn’t we, therefore, seek to know who Jesus really is? The question Jesus asked His disciples in Matthew 16:15 is as relative today as it was then. After listening to the disciples tell of the different theories about His identity, Jesus asked, But who do you say that I am?

In Part 1 of this series we showed how Isaiah, 600 years before the birth of the Messiah, spoke of His Deity referring to him as the Might God and the Everlasting Father. Other Old Testament passages also speak of the Deity of the coming Messiah, such as Micah 5:2 which reads, But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.

The goings forth of the Messiah are described by Micah as being from everlasting. “Everlasting” is from the Hebrew word olam, which means continuous, perpetual, and eternal. Here we find the Ruler who will come forth in Bethlehem will have had a previous and eternal preexistence.
Did Jesus fulfill these Old Testament prophecies concerning the Deity of the Messiah? The answer is a resounding, Yes! Both indirectly and directly Jesus claimed to be God and this was clearly understood by both His followers and those who crucified Him. These claims present a stark challenge to the human race that cannot be side-stepped by rhetorical and theological niceties. This is what the Oxford scholar, C. S. Lewis, was referring to when he said,

"I am trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I am ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic . . . or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to" (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 52).


Jesus’ Indirect Claims to Being God

Jesus made indirect claims to Deity by doing things that only God can do, such as forgiving sins. Mark 2:5-7, 10 tells the story of the four individuals who brought their paralytic friend to Jesus for healing. When they could not get near Him because of the crowd, they went up on the roof, removed the tiles, and let their friend down by a rope in front of Jesus. Mark then says, When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you” (Mk. 2:5-7, 10).

Some of the scribes (Biblical scholars) were sitting there and they understood the ramifications of what Jesus said. Mark says they reasoned in their hearts, Why does this man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone? They were right in their assessment that only God can forgive sins; but they were unwilling to even consider that Jesus just might be God Incarnate and that this was why He was forgiving sins.

There are other examples of Jesus forgiving sins with a similar response from the religious leaders. For example, Luke tells about a woman who, in the house of one Simon, anointed Jesus’ feet with an expensive ointment and then wiped His feet with her hair. Jesus then said to her Your sins are forgiven (Luke 7:48). Those who were sitting at the table with Him began to say to themselves, Who is this who even forgives sin? In contemporary terms they were saying, “Who does He think He is--God!”

Jesus also accepted honor and worship reserved only for God. For example, when He calmed the raging storm out on the sea, Matthew says, Then those who were in the boat came and worshipped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God” (Mt. 14:33). On another occasion, a woman of Canaan came to Him desiring healing for her daughter. Matthew says, Then she came and worshipped Him saying, “Lord, help me!” (Mt. 15:25).

When Peter saw the miracle catch of the fishes that was instigated by Jesus’ command to “launch out into the deep,” he came to shore and fell down at Jesus knees, showing him honor that would normally be reserved for God. And after the resurrection when Jesus appeared to Twelve and invited Thomas to put his finger in the holes in His hands and to thrust his hand in the hole in His side, Thomas exclaimed, My Lord, and my God!

In all these incidents Jesus accepted such honor and worship as right and appropriate. In sharp contrast, when the people of Lystra were going to pay homage to Paul and Barnabas after the healing of a crippled man, Paul and Barnabas were horrified and they,

Tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude crying out and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God.

Jesus also made statements that, although not a direct claim to Deity, certainly cannot be applied to a mere mortal. In Mark 13:31, for example, He declared, Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. In John 6:35 He said, I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. In John 11:25 He declared, I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, shall live. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, if the one making these statements is a mere mortal, then he is either a deluded madman or a great deceiver.


Jesus Made Direct Claims Regarding His Deity

In the Gospel of John we have the “I Am” statements of Jesus in which He directly and unambiguously identifies Himself with the God—Yahweh—of the Old Testament. The most common name for God in the Old Testament, and the one that is considered His personal name, is Yahweh.

Yahweh is derived from the Hebrew verb “to be” which was probably originally “hwh.” Hwh was then likely expanded to the four letters of the Tetragrammaton, HHWH, and the vowels added for pronunciation, making it Yahweh.

This is the name by which God revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush when He commissioned Moses to go and bring the people of Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 3:14). When Moses inquired of His name, God replied with the Hebrew verb YHWH, which is translated in our English Bibles as “I Am that I Am,” or simply “I Am.” This name identifies God as the eternally existing one who requires nothing outside of Himself for His existence. He is the great “I Am.”

In John 8:24b we hear Jesus saying, For if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins. It is important to note that “he” is not in the Greek and this is borne out by the fact that it is italicized in both the KJV and the NKJV. Jesus literally says, If you do not believe that I Am, you will die in your sins. The same is true of 8:28 where Jesus literally says, When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I Am . . ..

In 8:58 He becomes even more explicit. In a brief exchange with certain Jews, Jesus says, Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day and he saw it and was glad. Amazed at this saying, the Jews replied, You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham? Jesus replied, Before Abraham was, I AM. They then took up stones to stone Him for He had obviously, in their eyes, blasphemed by making such an obvious identification of Himself with Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament. And such a sin, according to Jewish law, was punishable by death.

On another occasion Jesus said to certain ones, I and My Father are one (John 10:30). In this statement “my” is not in the Greek so He literally says, I and Father are one. Verse 31 says, Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him. Their attempt again to stone Him is probably because they saw His statement as a reference to Deuteronomy 6:4, the basic confession of faith in Judaism, which reads, Hear O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!

When Jesus replied that He had shown them many good works and for which good work were they stoning Him, they replied, For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a man, make Yourself God. It was clear to them that Jesus was again identifying Himself with God.


It is clear that the charge against Jesus for which He was put to death was blasphemy—for identifying Himself with God. When demanded by the high priest to state whether He was the Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus replied, I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven (Mark 14:62). At this statement the high priest tore his clothes (a sign of great horror and distress) and said, What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy! What do you think? And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.


No Middle Ground

Jesus of course ratified and confirmed all the Old Testament prophecies and His own claims concerning His Deity when, three days later, He arose from the dead. C. S. Lewis was right. Anyone who would make the sort of claims that Jesus made is either a deluded madman or the greatest of deceivers . . . or He is who He said He was—the LORD of glory. This means that there is no middle ground on which to accept Him as just a great moral teacher or a mere human prophet. He did not leave that option. He did not intend to. The only options He left are to either reject His claims, or bow at His feet and confess Him as LORD (Romans 10:9-10).

Yea, Lord, we greet thee,
Born this happy morning;
Jesus, to thee be glory given!
Word of the Father,
Now in flesh appearing!
Oh come let us adore Him,
Oh come let us adore Him,
Oh come let us adore Him,
Christ, the Lord!

12/08/2011

DO YOU KNOW WHO JESUS REALLY IS?

The Identity of Jesus Revealed Six-Hundred Years before His Birth

It seems that everyone these days has an opinion about who Jesus is. Oprah Winfrey has popularized a New Age spiritual Jesus that can be discovered within every person’s consciousness. Liberals acknowledge Him as a great moral teacher, but nothing more. Secularists consider Him a mere man who may or may not have ever existed. Our Muslim friends recognize Him as a prophet, but less than Mohammed. Our Jehovah’s Witness friends believe Jesus to have been a created angelic being. The confusion has spread to evangelical/charismatic circles as was evidenced by a blog in which Swedish pastor, Ulf Ekman, chided his friend, Benny Hinn, for preaching a message in his (Ekman’s) church about Jesus that Ekman said was “too much pure Gnosticism” (http://ulfekman.nu/2010/07/26/benny-hinns-besok).

We really need to get it right about who Jesus is; for it is this question, more than any other, which holds the key to the personal and corporate destiny of humanity. Jesus Himself said that He would build His Church on the revelation of who He is (Matthew 16:15-18).

One of the most clear and compelling revelations of who Jesus is, was declared 600 years before His birth by the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah revealed His identity by applying four compound names to the coming Messiah. The names are “Wonderful Counselor,” “Mighty God,” “Everlasting Father,” and “Prince of Peace.”



The Significance of Names

In the ancient near East, the name of a person was bound up with that person’s very existence. Parents chose names for their children that embodied their hopes for those children. A change of circumstances or a change of character often called for a new name to express the change that had taken place. In Gen. 17:4-5, for example, God changes the name of Abram (exalted father) to Abraham (father of a multitude) to reflect the change that has occurred in his faith and circumstances. In Gen. 32:28 God changes the name of Jacob (supplanter) to Israel (Prince of God) to reflect the change that has taken place in his life and character. The name could, in fact, stand for its owner to such an extent that it could become a concept interchangeable with him.

God Himself revealed His person and character to Israel by the use of names. Names like Yaweh-Jireh, the LORD our Provider, and Yahweh Rophe, the LORD our Healer, revealed the God of Israel as a personal, caring God in whom Israel could put their trust. We thus have David saying to God, "I will praise Your name forever and ever" (Psalm 145:2), and declaring that "those who know Your name will put their trust in You" (Psalm 9:10).


Isaiah Names the Coming Messiah

Isaiah 9:6 is a Messianic prophecy and Isaiah’s use of these four compound names make a powerful statement concerning the identity the Messiah. Inherent in these Old Testament names of the Messiah is the revelation of His Deity. Understanding the significance of names, those first readers of Isaiah’s prophecy must have shaken their heads in wonder at the name of their coming Messiah.

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end (Isaiah 9:6-7a).


Wonderful Counselor

Although “Wonderful” and “Counselor” are often spoken separately, most Biblical scholars agree that the two words actually belong together to form one of the compound names of the Messiah. The word “Wonderful” is translated from the Hebrew word pelẽ and refers to that which is marvelous and breathtaking and causes astonishment in those who encounter it. The word “Counselor” is from the Hebrew word yaas, which means to advise or counsel in regards to plan and purpose. What an incredible name! And what an incredible blessing to have this One whose name is “Wonderful Counselor” as our personal counselor and guide.


Mighty God

“Mighty” is from the Hebrew word gibbor and refers to greatness, power and strength. It was often used as an adjective to describe successful, victorious warriors. It was also used as an adjective for Deity. “God” is a translation of the Hebrew word El which was a common generic word for God and literally means “great one” or “mighty one.” It was often joined with other words to form a compound name for God, such as El-Shaddai, commonly translated as “The Almighty,” and El-Elyon, commonly translated as “The Most High.” Wonder of wonders! This “Child” that is to be born is actually gibbor El, the “Mighty God.”


Everlasting Father

“Everlasting” is from the Hebrew word ad, which refers to time without end or eternity. In Isaiah 45:17 it is translated as “forever and ever.” “Father” is translated from the Hebrew word ab, which, in the Old Testament, referred to a father or protector. From ab came abba, the word Jesus commonly used in addressing God. Abba was a term of endearment, such as Papa or Daddy, and was only used by children in the Jewish household. What a clear picture of the Incarnation. This “Child” that is to be born will be none other than the eternal God, the “Everlasting Father.”


Prince of Peace

“Prince” is a translation of the Hebrew word sar, which refers to a person of authority such as a chief, captain, governor, or ruler. “Peace” is a translation of the Hebrew word shalom, which is usually translated as peace, but has connotations far beyond an inner sense of tranquility. It means completeness, fulfillment, wholeness, and indicates the complete mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well being of a person. This world, which is continually rent with wars, will will never experience shalom (peace) until it recognizes and embraces the sar shalom--Prince of Peace. And we, personally, will only know shalom to the extent that we yield our lives to Him and allow Him to be the sar or captain (LORD) of our lives. He is the Prince (captain or master) of our shalom. Hallelujah!


Conclusion

This messianic prophecy begins with the phrase, For unto us . . .. Isaiah is saying, “The Messiah is coming for us. God will do all this for us.” Isaiah’s prophecy has been fulfilled. God has come to us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Thomas recognized this when he saw Him in His resurrected form and exclaimed, My Lord and My God (John 20:28). Jesus told Peter that He would build His church on the revelation of who He is (Matt. 16:15-18). Do you know who Jesus really is? Wonder of wonders! The Babe of Christmas is the Almighty God and Everlasting Father.

. . . to be continued

by Eddie Hyatt
http://www.eddiehyatt.com/

11/12/2011

CHARLES G. FINNEY & SPIRITUAL MANIFESTATIONS

For Charles G. Finney (1792-1873), the evidence of revival was that of changed lives, rather than that of outward excitement or manifestations. In fact, Finney discouraged extreme outward displays of emotion. During a revival in Rome, New York, he tells of one meeting in which, toward the end, he sensed that the congregation was on the brink of “an outburst of feeling that would be almost uncontrollable.” He said,

"The agitation deepened every moment; and as I could hear their sobs and sighs, I closed my prayer and rose suddenly from my knees. They all arose, and I said, “Now please go home without speaking a word to each other. Try to keep silent, and do not break out into any boisterous manifestation of feeling; but go without saying a word to your rooms.”[i]

As they were leaving, a young man no longer able to stand, fell on his companions, causing them all to fall to the floor. Many modern revivalists, because of identifying revival with outward excitement, would have seen this as an opportunity to whip the meeting into a religious frenzy. But Finney, in his wisdom, quieted them and did not allow the outward manifestations to go any further. He said,

"This had well nigh produced a loud shrieking; but I hushed them down and said to the young men, 'Please set that door wide open and go out and let all retire in silence.' They did as I requested. They did not shriek; but they went out sobbing and sighing, and their sobs and sighs could be heard till they got out into the street."[ii]

The people went home with pent-up emotions stirred in them by the Word and Spirit of God. One man, as soon as he stepped inside his home, fell to the floor weeping and crying out to God for mercy. In awe, his wife and children gathered around him and were subsequently converted to Christ. Similar scenes took place in homes throughout the city that night and continued into the following day. Revival Fire had come to the city of Rome, NY.

[i] Charles G. Finney, An Autobiography, (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1908), 161.
[ii] Finney, An Autobiography, 162.

10/31/2011

THE BEAUTY OF HOLINESS

Important Lessons from the Old-Time Methodists

The 18th century Methodist revival changed the course of history and the present generation could learn a thing or two from those old-time Methodists. One thing we can learn from those early Methodists is about their pursuit of sanctification or holiness through consecration. Consecration is the act of giving some thing or one’s self completely over to God with no strings attached. Sanctification, from the Greek word hagios, is the state of the thing or person that has been consecrated and means “to be marked off and set apart for a special purpose.” When we consecrate ourselves to God, He marks us and sets us apart for His special purpose. We, then, must walk and live out that consecration.


The Joy of the Lord & Holiness are Inseparable

The early Methodists were committed to living consecrated lives and they held one another to a high standard. In his Journal dated March 12, 1743, John Wesley tells of visiting a Methodist society and “examining” the members. He then proceeded to expel 64 individuals from the society. They were expelled for various reasons including two for cursing and swearing, three for quarreling and brawling, and one for idleness and laziness. Of special interest is the fact that Wesley expelled twenty-nine for what he called “lightness and carelessness.” In other words, there was no sign of consecration in their lives but, instead, a glaring lack of seriousness about their walk with Christ.


In our day when it is all about love, grace, and being nice and nonjudgmental, we might tend to think that Wesley was being too harsh. But before we become “judgmental” about his actions, let us consider the fruit of the Methodist revival and compare it with the fruit of our own “politically correct, nonjudgmental” approach today.


One might also think that such strictness would produce a dour and stern people, but it was actually the very opposite. The early Methodists were known for their vivacious joy and outsiders often cracked jokes about the “shouting Methodists.” In his Journal, Wesley refers to the joy of the Lord breaking forth in their meetings and he considered holiness and happiness to be inseparable. He believed that when one’s heart was fully fixed on Christ setting aside all other affections, that God’s love would fill the heart, purifying the motives, and bringing forth the fruit of love and joy.


This was what Wesley called sanctification and he believed that God had raised up the Methodists “to spread Scriptural holiness throughout the land.” He often quoted Hebrews 12:14, which reads, Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which on one will see the Lord. Sanctification and holiness, by the way, are both from the same Greek word—hagios.


Consecration Brings the Fire of God

As a result of their consecration, the fire of God fell on the early Methodists in a similar way that it fell on Elijah when he repaired the altar of the Lord in his contest with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (I kings 18:16-39). In the Old Testament, the “altar” is the place of sacrifice, i.e., the place of consecration. It is the place where the thing being consecrated is given over to God.
The people of Israel had, at this time, strayed from their consecration to Jehovah. Ahab the king, through foreign influences, had allowed the worship of foreign gods to mingle with the worship of Jehovah. Our God, however, is a jealous God (Exodus 20:2-5) which means that He is unwilling to share the honor and affection that is due Him with any false gods, including those of the heart --for He and He alone is worthy of our devotion and consecration.


After allowing the 450 prophets of Baal to pray and prophesy for hours without any results, Elijah’s turn came to call on his God. They had agreed that the god that answered by fire would be the God of Israel. Before he prayed, Elijah first repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down (I Kings 18:30). In other words, there was a renewal of consecration to God. No more divided loyalties. No more vacillating between Jehovah and Baal. Jehovah alone would be their God and the sole object of their worship and adoration.


After repairing the altar, Elijah prayed a prayer that took approximately 20 seconds. When there is true consecration, long prayers are not always necessary. When Elijah finished his brief prayer, the fire of God fell and consumed the sacrifice on the altar and licked up the water that was in the trench around the altar. The people fell on their faces crying out, The LORD He is God! The LORD He is God!


The Early Methodists Repaired the Altar of the Lord

One could say that the early Methodists repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down in their generation. The Methodist revival began with about seventy individuals, who had consecrated themselves to God, meeting together for an all-night prayer meeting to usher in the New Year of 1739. In his Journal dated January 1, 1739, Wesley described the fire of God that fell in that meeting. He wrote,


At about three in the morning as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from the awe and amazement at the presence of His majesty, we broke out with one voice, “We praise thee O God, we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.”


These Methodist leaders began to call the people to a complete consecration to Christ. They taught the people that they must not love the world (I John 2:15) and when Wesley was asked to define the world, he replied, “Anything that cools my relationship with Christ is the world.” They discouraged their followers from attending frivolous entertainments and to give themselves, instead, to prayer, to the study of the word and other good literature, to encouraging and admonishing fellow believers, and to social outreaches to prisoners and the poor. God confirmed their message and a mighty revival burned like an inferno through the British Isles.


Because of the high standard of their walk the early Methodists became salt in their generation as Jesus had said in Matthew 5:13, You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again. It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled by men.


Salt seasons and impacts everything it touches and will even stop the spoilage of fresh foods and meats. Although they were a small minority in British society, the Methodists seasoned their society. Many historians insist that it was the moral influence of the Methodist revival on British society that saved England from societal chaos and a bloody revolution such as took place in neighboring France. They were truly salt in their generation.


What About Our Generation?

Is it possible that the present generation could benefit by a recovery of truths about consecration and sanctification? Is it possible that the altar of the Lord is in need of repair in our day? Is it possible that idols of the heart have captured our affections and cooled our relationship with Christ? My answer to each question is “yes.” And I pray that God will raise up a generation of believers that will repair the altar of the Lord that we may see the fire of God fall once again and a generation impacted for God.

10/15/2011

5 WARNING SIGNS THAT PROPHETIC MINISTRY HAS GONE AWRY

Lessons from a 16th Century Revival-Prophetic Movement

Prophetic ministry has great potential for blessing and building up the people of God. But when abused and misused, it has the same potential to trouble and destroy. In order to derive the greatest benefit from prophetic ministry, we need both the guidelines of Scripture and the lessons of history to point the way.

The following information is drawn from a document written around 1560 by Obe Philips, a leader in the 16th century Anabaptist movement that sought the restoration of New Testament Christianity. Philips was commissioned as an “apostle” in this movement and he commissioned others to this “office.” The document, entitled “Confessions,” describes events in Europe in the 1530s. From this document I have delineated 5 warning signs from their experience that can help us avoid the tragic mistakes that produced such great suffering and distress for them.


Warning Sign #1
When prophecy is used to enhance the status of a movement and its leaders

1517-1537 was a very exciting time for many Christians in Europe. A great spiritual reformation was under way and many believed that God was restoring the church to its original purity and power. Many believed that out of this restoration would come a great revival and harvest that would usher in the coming of the Lord and the end of the age.
In the midst of this end-time, revival atmosphere, individuals began to arise proclaiming themselves to be special end-time apostles and prophets endowed by God with miraculous power to usher in His kingdom upon the earth.


One of the most prominent of these “apostles” was Melchoir Hoffman, a powerful preacher and teacher who gained a large following. His status was further enhanced when a prophetess saw in a vision a large white swan, larger and more beautiful than all the others, swimming in a beautiful river. She said it was revealed to her that the swan was Hoffman and that he represented the fulfillment of God’s promise in Mal. 4:5 to send Elijah before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.


Warning Sign #2
When prophecy becomes the primary means for determining the will of God

Another individual prophesied that Hoffman would be imprisoned for six months in the city of Strasbourg and, after that, his ministry would spread over the whole world. Based on the prophecy, Hoffman moved to Strasbourg where he began to preach and teach throughout that city.

The first part of the prophecy was fulfilled when the Strasbourg authorities arrested Hoffman and had him imprisoned. Philips says that he entered the prison “willingly, cheerfully, and well comforted,” convinced that the latter part of the prophecy would now soon come to pass.
While in prison, Hoffman wrote many letters which Philips says came every day describing “how his actions, his visions and revelations affected him.” One individual prophesied that at the end of his six month imprisonment, Hoffman would depart Strasbourg with 144,000 true apostles endowed with such miraculous power that no one would be able to resist them. Elated with such prophetic predictions, Hoffman vowed that he would take no food other than bread and water until the time of his deliverance.


Six months passed, however, and he was not released. More time elapsed and he found it necessary to break his fast. Hoffman eventually died in prison, a very disillusioned man. Philips says,

Everything that he so boldly professed from the prophets and prophetesses, he, in the end, found it all falsehood and deception, in fact and in truth; and he was so deceived with all their visions, prophecies, commission, dreams, and Elijah role that my heart today feels pity for his on account of this distress of his soul. (Philips, 221).


Warning Sign #3
When prophecy is preoccupied with images, numbers, and symbols

Prophetic dreams and visions flourished in this movement. These dreams and visions predicted many remarkable things related to the establishing of God’s kingdom and the destruction of the wicked. Much of this information was given in symbolic form which had to be interpreted by those who were “spiritual.” Philips says,

One came dragging a wagon without wheels, another wagon had three wheels, one wagon had no shaft, some no horses, some no recognizable driver, some had but one leg, some were lepers and beggars, some wore a tunic or a cloak with a lappet of fur. All this they could interpret for the brethren in a spiritual sense (Philips, 211-212).


These prophecies, dreams and visions predicted remarkable successes for the people of God, including a super-empowerment of the Spirit by which they would be enabled to overcome the wicked and establish the kingdom of God in the earth. In his very moving account of these matters, Philips says,

Now when these teachings and consolation with all the fantasies, dreams, revelations and visions daily occurred among the brethren, there was no little joy and expectation among us, hoping all would be true and fulfilled, for we were all unsuspecting, innocent, simple, without guile or cunning, and were not aware of any false visions, prophets, and revelations. (Philips, 213).


Warning Sign #4
When those prophesying are not open to testing and/or correction

During this time, two new apostles arrived in Philips’ home town of Leeuwarden. They declared that they had been commissioned to the apostolic office with such signs, miracles and workings of the Spirit that words failed them to describe it. They also declared that, “In a short time God would rid the earth of all shedders of blood and all tyrants and the godless” (Philips, 216).

Philips says that they frightened the people so that no one dared speak against them for fear they would be speaking against the commission and ordination of God. “For we were all guileless children and had no idea that our own brethren would betray us” (Philips, 216).


Sign #5
When prophecy becomes a replacement for the Scriptures and common sense

The tragic end of this prophetic movement came when, based on dreams, visions, prophecies, and supposed angelic visitations, a number of these visionaries claimed that God had designated the city of Munster as the New Jerusalem and from there the kingdom of God would spread through all the earth. Philips says, “Some had spoken with God, others with angels—until they got a new trek under way to Munster.” Based on the prophecies and supposed visions, they went to Munster and took the city by force from the Catholics who controlled it and renamed it New Jerusalem.

The Catholics, however, quickly regrouped and regained control of the city. They wasted no time in inflicting a terrible slaughter on those apostles, prophets and their followers who believed they were setting up the kingdom of God on the earth.

This whole fiasco resulted in widespread persecution of all Anabaptists who were hunted down, imprisoned, hanged, burned, and drowned. Philips later lamented his role in the extremes of this movement. He wrote,

It is this which is utter grief to my heart and which I will lament before my God as long as I live, before all my companions, as often as I think of them. At the time that I took leave of those brethren, I had warned Menno and Dietrich and declared my [apostolic] commission unlawful and that I was therein deceived. I thank the gracious and merciful God who opened my eyes, humbled my soul, transformed my heart, captured my spirit, and who gave me to know my sins. And when I still think of the resigned suffering which occurred among the brethren, my soul is troubled and terrified before it.


Conclusion

This 16th century prophetic movement highlights the need to “test the spirits” and to “judge” prophetic utterances according to the Scriptures. For the most part, these were sincere, seeking people who suffered much pain, grief and even death because they neglected this Biblical admonition. May we learn from their example and not repeat their mistakes.


This article is also been derived Eddie’s book, 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity.

10/03/2011

5 REASONS I DO NOT PRACTICE CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER

I value quietness and solitude. In fact, it was in such a setting that I received the inspiration and direction for this article. One morning this past week I found myself wide awake at 3 a.m. Not wanting to keep Sue awake, I went downstairs and sat in a chair where, in the stillness and quietness, I thought about God and His goodness and faithfulness. At times I would voice quiet words of praise and thanksgiving as I thought on His greatness and kindness. As needs and concerns came to mind, I would present these in prayer. It was a wonderful, refreshing time. Sometime, during those quiet hours of fellowship with God, the title and layout for this article was presented to my mind.

Please do not confuse my “quiet time” with contemplative prayer. There is a world of difference. Contemplative prayer, emphasizing "silence," has roots that go back to the mystics of the medieval Roman Catholic Church. The mystics were, in turn, profoundly influenced by Neo-Platonism, a pagan, mystical religion founded by Plotinus, a disciple of Plato. Although the word “contemplative” is, by itself, a positive word meaning “thoughtful” and “reflective,” contemplative prayer as taught by the mystics is entirely out of sync with what we know of Jesus and early Christianity. I am convinced that it is a hindrance rather than a help in nurturing a relationship with God.

Here are the reasons I do not practice contemplative prayer.

Reason #1
Contemplative prayer is rooted in a non-Christian concept of God

Contemplative prayer is rooted in the pagan idea of a supreme being who is impassible, i.e., one who is unmoved by human experiences of joy, sadness, or suffering. This is because he is absolutely “other than” and “separate from” this realm of physical and human existence. In fact, the ancient Greeks—particularly the Neo-Platonists and the Gnostics--theorized that from this One supreme being there had issued forth a series of lower beings resulting in a hierarchy of celestial beings. They believed that it was one of these lower (and evil) heavenly beings that had created the earth and its inhabitants. The Neo-Platonists sought for a way to ascend through this hierarchy of celestial beings and be united with the ultimate god whom they called “the One.”

Because “the One” existed in a realm absolutely “other than” this earthly realm, human reason and language were deemed inadequate for understanding or communicating with him. In fact, “the One” could not be known by human beings, but could only be experienced in a mystical encounter facilitated by a form of spiritual prayer characterized by silence and a mind emptied of any rational thoughts about deity. This form of prayer was called “contemplation” or “contemplative prayer.” If one was unable to clear his/her mind of rational thoughts, a “mantra” or “prayer” might be repeated over and over to help them center their thoughts on the task at hand—a mystical union or encounter with “the One.”

This concept of God and the form of prayer associated with it, found its way into the church of the Middle Ages, particularly through the writings of a Syrian monk who was obviously influenced by Neo-Platonism. One book he wrote was called On the Heavenly Hierarchy where, in Neo-Platonic fashion, he examined and classified the various heavenly beings in ranks of three with each having three subdivisions—seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominions, virtues, powers, archangels, angels, etc. According to this writer these constituted an ascending ladder or hierarchy of celestial beings leading to the throne of God. He also advocated a form of mystical/contemplative prayer by which one could ascend through this celestial hierarchy and be united with God.

The writings of this monk, who falsely claimed to be Dionysius, Paul’s convert in Athens (Acts 17:34), became foundational for the mystical movement in the medieval church. This false Dionysius was quoted by bishops and some of the most famous theologians of the medieval church, including Thomas Aquinas. As a result, spiritual experiences and revelations through contemplation were exalted and valued while the Scriptures were often ignored and, at times, even banned by the institutional church.

As a result of the writings by this anonymous monk, the Neo-Platonic form of prayer—contemplative prayer--became the prayer of choice, especially in the monastery and the convent. Paul was interpreted through the lens of this False Dionysius and, as Dr. Justo Gonzalez says, “Paul’s entire life was viewed as a process of mystical ascension, and his letters were considered to be guides in that process.”

Scholars in the 16th century began questioning the authenticity of these works and today both Catholic and Protestant scholars recognize the claim of the author as false. The 16th century Reformers also rejected all notions of a mystical ascension to God through contemplative prayer. They considered it a counterpart to the erroneous idea that one can be justified before God on the basis of their own works.

I do not practice contemplative prayer because it is a form of prayer rooted in a pagan, non-Christian concept of God.


Reason #2
Contemplative prayer is based on the erroneous assumption that
rational thoughts and words are of little value when it comes to prayer

Contemplative prayer is rooted in the pagan idea that human thought and language is inadequate for communicating with God. One must, therefore, find God in silence; or as one mystic put it, “The quiet dark in which all who love God lose themselves.” For those committed to this approach, it is forms, techniques, and postures of prayer, breathing, and meditation that are important. These techniques help facilitate the contemplation and silence that will lead to an encounter or union with God. One striking example is that of Gregory Palamas, a 13th century monk who stressed quietness and stillness in the pursuit of a mystical union with God. As an aid to concentration, he recommended that the chin rest on the chest, with the eyes fixed on the navel.

The God of the Bible is so different from the contemplative approach. There is no demeaning of human thought and language as a means of communicating with God. In the Old Testament, God communicates His message again and again to the people in their language through the prophets. It is obvious that He expects the people to communicate with Him in their own language. Through the prophet Isaiah He invites his people to, Come now and let us reason together. (Isaiah 1:18). He also exhorts them to present your case and set forth your arguments (Isaiah 41:21).

It is obvious that God wants His people to interact with Him and know Him in a real and personal way. Through the prophet Jeremiah He declared, Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength . . . but let him who boasts boast about this that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight.

In the New Testament, this truth is even more pronounced. When the disciples, in Luke 11:1-4, ask Jesus to teach us to pray, He does not respond by teaching them techniques and postures for prayer and meditation. Nor does he call them apart into silence and contemplation. Instead, He says to them, When you pray, say, “Our father who art in heaven . . ..” Jesus thus teaches them to express themselves audibly to God in prayer. For Jesus, prayer is relational and is characterized by intelligent conversation with a personal God.

In both the Old and New Testaments there are countless passages that tell us that God “hears” the prayers of His people. Take for example I Peter 3:12 that says, For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers. But in contemplative prayer there is no rational, audible prayer for God to “hear.”

I do not practice contemplative prayer because words matter and God “hears” the prayers of His people.


Reason #3
The goal of contemplative prayer is to have a mystical, spiritual experience, not to know the God of Scripture and nurture an obedient relationship with Him.

Contemplative prayer tends to turn its practitioners inward upon themselves. It is no coincidence that contemplative prayer has historically been primarily associated with life in the cloister. This is because the nature of contemplative prayer requires a separation from others and a preoccupation with one’s own experience and self—a staring at one’s navel.

This is so different from the New Testament where Jesus promises His followers a baptism in the Spirit that will empower them to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). We do not find Peter, Paul, and other New Testament believers withdrawing into solitude to seek some sort of mystical experience with God. They knew that God was continually with them, and in them, and they boldly engaged their world in that confidence.

Our goal in prayer should never be to have a spiritual experience. That is a self-serving approach. My wife Susan tells about learning this important lesson shortly after she was baptized in the Holy Spirit. As she was experiencing God’s power in new and fresh ways, she experimented with raising her hands and other expressions that seemed to bring an added sense of God’s presence. Suddenly she heard the heard the Holy Spirit speak in her heart, “Do not seek an experience. Seek Me!” Yes, we may have spiritual experiences in prayer but that is never to be our goal.

It is so interesting to note that those caught up in having a mystical encounter through contemplative prayer often neglect the Scriptures` because they tend to place too much value in their own mystical experiences. Hans Kung, the most widely read Roman Catholic theologian in the world today, addressed this problem among the mystics of the Roman Catholic Church; but his assessment also fits many in the charismatic and prophetic movements today. He wrote,

These new revelations not only overshadowed the Bible and the Gospel, but also Him whom the Gospel proclaims and to whom the Bible bears witness. It is striking how rarely Christ appeared in all these 'revelations,' 'apparitions,' and 'wonders.' Catholics who followed in the wake of every new 'revelation,' which often turned out to be fantasy or deceit, and indulged their desire for sensation by looking for the latest reports of miracles—and yet who had never once in their whole lives read the Scriptures from cover to cover.

I do not practice contemplative prayer because its goal of a mystical union with God is not Biblical; and because it tends to lead people into a trust of their own spiritual revelations more than in the revelation of Jesus found in Scripture.


Reason #4
Jesus did not practice or teach contemplative prayer.

Jesus does not advocate any form of mystical prayer. He does not teach any postures or techniques for prayer and meditation. Neither is there any mention of silence or contemplation. Instead, He emphasizes a relational approach to God in which prayer is simple conversation with a loving, benevolent Being whom He calls Abba, an endearing term used only by children for the father in the Jewish household.

For Jesus, oneness with God is not a mystical union of one’s being with God, but a practical oneness of will and purpose. Not My will but Thine be done, Jesus prayed, showing that, in His incarnate state, union with God consisted of a submission of His will to the will of the Father. I cannot imagine Jesus and His disciples all sitting in the lotus position with their eyes closed seeking to go into a place of silence and contemplation where they will ascend heavenward into a mystical encounter God. Such a picture is completely contrary to what we know of Jesus from the Gospels. Jesus believed that God was continually with Him and He moved and acted in that confidence.

I do not practice contemplative prayer because Jesus did not practice it, nor did He teach it to others.


Reason #5
The early church did not practice or teach contemplative prayer.

The early church followed in the footsteps of Jesus and prayed dynamic, relational prayers in which they recognized God’s majesty and greatness, and asked for His help in the urgencies of their lives. (see, for example, Acts 4:23-31). The miracles they experienced (healings, angelic deliverances, etc.) occurred, not in a state of mystical, contemplative prayer, but while they were going about the business of obeying Christ’s command to take the Gospel to the whole world.

The group prayer recorded in Acts 4:23-31 shows no connotations of contemplative prayer. Instead of silence and contemplation, Luke says, They raised their voice to God with one accord and said . . .. In their loud and vocal prayer they acknowledge the greatness of God, they remind Him of His promises, and they present their present need. God is obviously pleased with their prayer for when they had prayed, The place where they were assembled together was shaken and they were all filled with Holy Spirit (Acts 4:31).

There are many recorded prayers in the New Testament expressed by Jesus, Paul, and others. These prayers are all vocal, expressed to a God that they assume is personal and hears their spoken prayers.

I do not practice contemplative prayer because the early church did not practice it nor did they teach it to others.

9/08/2011

LIFE & ORDER IN THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH

In the New Testament, the life of the church always precedes the order of the church. Order, in fact, flows out of life. This is why there is no prescribed church order to be found in the New Testament. The emphasis of the New Testament writers is on the life of believers, not on an outward form or order.

This was illustrated in the 1970s when a number of Christian leaders, including well-known teacher Bob Mumford, talked of restoring the order and government of the New Testament Church. One day Mumford heard the Holy Spirit say, “Bob, to have a New Testament Church you must have New Testament people.” Mumford suddenly realized that they were wrongly preoccupied with establishing an outward form and order, when God would have them focused on the life of His people. He realized that “church” would not be realized by a particular organizational structure, but in a living, functioning body of Spirit-filled believers bringing glory to Jesus Christ.

In a similar way, many today are seeking a New Testament or apostolic order for their church or churches. Throughout history there have been many such attempts, and the current quest is merely the latest of these unending efforts to produce a New Testament church order. The problem is that these attempts are based on the erroneous assumption that an outward structure and order can be extracted from the New Testament.


The Variety of Order in the New Testament

The truth is that the New Testament witnesses to a variety of church order without prescribing any one of them. Dr. David Scholer, late Professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, says,

"The patterns of authority in the early church are varied and fluid. There are no fixed patterns, terms or offices. No single church structure and/or pattern of authority or office is validated by the New Testament. The patterns of authority in the early church are determined and described primarily by the functions they served within the church."

The book of Acts, which gives the only history of the early Church, does not present a static church order. The order of the church in Jerusalem is different from the order of the church in Antioch, and Antioch is different from the order of the churches established by Paul. The epistles witness to an even greater variety of church order and ministry. Commenting on this diversity, Dr. Gordon Fee, Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Regent College, says, “This is hardly the stuff from which one can argue with confidence as to how the early church was organized—or whether it was!”


For example, the church in Jerusalem is made up of Jewish believers in Jesus as the Messiah. They attend synagogue, offer sacrifice at the Temple, and keep the Jewish rituals and festivals. They do have their own gatherings in homes and within the Temple complex, but are generally looked upon as a sect within Judaism. The Twelve initially provide leadership for the young church and Peter is obviously the most prominent. Sometime after the martyrdom of Stephen in Acts 7, and for reasons that are not clear, James, who is not one of the Twelve, replaces Peter as the most prominent leader in the church at Jerusalem.

In contrast, the church in Antioch (Acts 13) is primarily a Gentile church. The believers there do not attend synagogue or keep Jewish traditions and festivals. The Twelve or other apostles are not mentioned as having any influence in Antioch. It seems, at this early stage, that prophets and teachers are the leaders of the church in Antioch. They are the ones through whom the Holy Spirit confirms the missionary calling of Paul and Barnabas and they are the ones who lay hands on them before they depart on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-4).

The church in Corinth is different still. In spite of serious problems, including sexual immorality, divisive cliques and chaotic expressions of Spiritual gifts, Paul, in his first letter to this congregation, does not appeal to any leader or group of leaders to deal with the problems. He, rather, appeals to the entire congregation to do what is right. The order of their gatherings, as revealed in 1 Cor. 14:26-31, show no sign of any leader who is “emceeing” the meetings. It is a sort of open, freewheeling meeting with congregational involvement. Although there is no mention of a bishop, elder, apostle or other leader of this congregation, Paul commends them in 1:7 because they, Come short in no gift.

The Pastoral Epistles witness to a still different style of church order. In these letters Paul uses the term “elder” (presbuteros) for the first time and qualifications are given for those who would serve as episcopoi (bishops) or diakonoi (deacons). Adolph Harnack, however, cautions against making too much of the new terminology and thinks that “elder” may merely denote the old as opposed to the young, and John Knox says, “We are not dealing with formal offices, but with functions for which persons were as certainly spiritually endowed as for prophecy and healing.” New Testament scholar, James D. G. Dunn, thinks the pastorals do witness to a more formal order of church and ministry, but insists, “The pastorals should not be given primacy over the other New Testament writings when it comes to formulating a theology of ministry.”


Order Flows from Life in the New Testament

Why does the New Testament reflect such diversity in outward form and order? The answer seems clear. The New Testament writers are obviously more concerned with the inward life of the Church than with the outward form through which that life is expressed. When the apostles were supernaturally released from prison, they were instructed by the angel of the Lord to, Go stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life (Acts 5:20). And Jesus Himself had said, I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly (John 10:10b).

Commenting on the many different forms of order and ministry in the New Testament, Michael Harper says it only makes sense, “If you view them as the ad hoc promptings of the Holy Spirit amidst the most taxing circumstances.” In other words, order flows out of the life of the church. In his classic work, The Primitive Church, Professor Burnett Streeter says,

"Whatever else is disputable, there is, I submit one result from which there is no escape. In the primitive church there was no single system of church order laid down by the apostles. During the first hundred years of Christianity, the Church was an organism alive and growing—changing its organization to meet changing needs. Uniformity was a later development."

The Church is not like a McDonald’s franchise where uniformity of food, surroundings, and service are the same everywhere. Big Macs look and taste the same in Bangor, ME as they do in Houston, TX. Not so the Church! Under the dynamic guidance of the Holy Spirit, the order and structure changes with different times, places, and situations. At its very core, the Church is an organism--not an organization--alive and growing, changing its form to meet changing needs.


If life in the Spirit rather than a particular order was the emphasis of the New Testament Church, should it not be the emphasis of the Church today? Should not the churches today, therefore, be seeking a revival of New Testament life rather than an elusive apostolic order that cannot be found in the New Testament? And if, in the first century, this life was expressed through a variety of outward forms, should we not expect it to be expressed through a variety of forms today?


A Major Hindrance to Revival

The insistence on a particular church order may, in fact, be the major hindrance to genuine revival in the Church today. Professor James L. Ash, Jr. says that virtually all historians of early Christianity agree that the institutionalization (organizing, ordering) of early Christianity was accompanied by the loss of Spiritual gifts and power. The key for the Church of the 21st century will, therefore, not be found in a particular church order or government, but in a return to the life and message of Jesus and the New Testament. Streeter stated it well when he wrote in 1929, “It may be that the line of advance for the Church of today is not to imitate the forms, but to recapture the spirit (life) of the primitive Church."

Dr. Eddie L. Hyatt is an author, historian, Bible teacher and ordained minister. His latest book, PURSUING POWER: How the Historic Quest for Apostolic Authority & Control Has Divided and Damaged the Church, is available from Amazon and at www.eddiehyatt.com/bookstore.html.


8/03/2011

GEORGE WHITEFIELD AND HIS IMPACT ON THE FOUNDING OF AMERICA

This article is derived from America's Revival Heritage by Dr. Eddie L. Hyatt and is available from Amazon and from www.eddiehyatt.com/bookstore.html.
The multitudes of all sects and denominations that attended his sermons were enormous, and it was a matter of speculation to me, who was one of the number, to observe the extraordinary influence of his oratory on his hearers. From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seemed as if all the world were growing religious so that one could not walk through the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street. – Benjamin Franklin

George Whitefield (1714–1770) was uniquely prepared for his role as the firebrand of the Great Awakening that would bring all the individual flames of revival together into one blazing inferno of Divine Awakening. He was a graduate of Oxford University and an ordained minister with the Church of England. At Oxford he had come under the tutelage of John and Charles Wesley and had experienced a dramatic conversion that forever changed his life. His gifted preaching ability drew great crowds and quickly launched him into leadership, along with the Wesleys, of the Methodist revival in England. Having eyes that were crossed, his critics poked fun at him calling him Dr. Squintum.

Sensing a Divine call to America, he departed England in August of 1739 with a burden for the colonists and a prayer that they would not live as thirteen scattered colonies, but as “one nation under God.” As he travelled up and down the eastern seaboard, shopkeepers closed their doors, farmers left their plows, and workers threw down their tools to hurry to the place where he was to preach. Crowds of 8-10 thousand were common. At a time when the population of Boston was estimated at 25,000, Whitefield preached to an estimated crowd of 30,000 on the Boston Common. Through his incessant travels he became the best known and most recognized figure in colonial America.

The Awakening Impacts all Segments of Society

Whitefield became a friend of Benjamin Franklin and stayed in his home on at least one of his visits to America. Franklin’s testimony of the power of the revival is particularly significant since he did not profess to be a Christian. In his Autobiography, he tells of the incredible change that came over his hometown of Philadelphia when Whitefield came there on his first of seven visits to America. He writes,

In 1739 there arrived among us from Ireland the Reverend Mr. Whitfield who made himself remarkable there as an itinerant preacher. He was at first permitted to preach in some of our churches, but the clergy, taking a dislike to him, soon refused him their pulpits, and he was obliged to preach in the fields. The multitudes of all sects and denominations that attended his sermons were enormous, and it was a matter of speculation to me, who was one of the number, to observe the extraordinary influence of his oratory on his hearers. From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seemed as if all the world were growing religious so that one could not walk through the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.

Franklin admits that he was skeptical of reports of Whitefield’s preaching being heard by crowds of 25,000 and more. While listening to Whitefield preach form the top of the Philadelphia courthouse steps to a huge throng, Franklin, having an enquiring and scientific mind, retired backward to see how far Whitefield’s voice would reach. He then did some calculations and decided that Whitefield’s voice, which he described as “loud and clear,” could be heard by crowds of 30,000 and more.

The Awakening Touches All Sects & Denominations

Although ordained with the Anglican Church of England, there was not a denominational bone in Whitefield’s body. In one of his sermons, preached to several thousand gathered in the open air, Whitefield mimicked a conversation with Father Abraham who was looking over the banister of heaven at the gathered multitude representing many denominations. Whitefield cried out, “Father Abraham, are there any Anglicans in heaven?” The answer came back, “No, there are no Anglicans in heaven.” “Father Abraham, are there any Methodists in heaven?” “No, there are no Methodists in heaven.” Are there any Presbyterians in heaven?” “No, there are no Presbyterians here either.” “What about Baptists or Quakers?” “No, there are none of those here either.” “Father Abraham,” cried Whitefield, what kind of people are in heaven?” The answer came back, “There are only Christians in heaven; only those who are washed in the blood of the Lamb.” Whitefield then cried out, “Oh, is that the case? Then God help me, God help us all, to forget having names and to become Christians in deed and in truth!”

Everywhere he went the Holy Spirit was poured out in great power. On one occasion after preaching to a huge throng gathered outdoors, Whitfield surveyed the crowd and noted the amazing response. "Look where I would, most were drowned in tears. Some were struck pale as death, others wringing their hands, others lying on the ground, others sinking into the arms of their friends and most lifting up their eyes to heaven and crying out to God." In Delaware there was such an outpouring of God’s Spirit and grace that Whitefield himself was overcome along with many of his audience. He wrote,

Never did I see a more glorious sight. Oh what tears were shed and poured forth after the Lord Jesus. Some fainted; and when they had got a little strength, they would hear and faint again. Others cried out in a manner as if they were in the sharpest agonies of death. After I had finished my last discourse, I was so pierced, as it were, and overpowered with a sense of God’s love, that some thought, I believe, I was about to give up the ghost. How sweetly did I lie at the feet of Jesus.

Staying on Message

Although such outward manifestations were common in Whitefield’s meetings, he neither encouraged nor discouraged them. He was aware that in special times of Awakening, when the Holy Spirit is manifest in remarkable and unusual ways, there will be genuine but unusual responses from many. Nonetheless, as early as 1739, he had cautioned John Wesley to not over-emphasize these outward manifestations lest people become preoccupied with them and be led away from the truths of God’s word. He wrote,

I think it is tempting God to require such signs. That there is something of God in it, I doubt not. But the devil, I believe, does interpose. I think it will encourage the French Prophets, take people away from the written word, and make them depend on visions, convulsions, etc., more than on the promises and precepts of the gospel.

Early Preparation

A person who had been deeply dealt with by God, Whitefield had grown up in Gloucester, England in an inn operated by his mother. Being from a poor family, he did not have the means to attend college. He, therefore, entered Oxford University as a “servitor,” the lowest rank of students at Oxford. In return for free tuition, he was assigned as a servant to a number of higher ranked students. His duties included waking them in the morning, polishing their shoes, carrying their books and even assisting with required written assignments.

It was at Oxford that he met John and Charles Wesley and became a part of the Holy Club at Oxford, out which came the Methodist revival.At Oxford he became aware of the corruption in his own nature and spent many days and weeks wrestling in prayer and study before coming to a place of inner peace after trusting himself completely to Jesus Christ. He then experienced a voracious hunger for God’s word and wrote, “My mind now being more open and enlarged, I began to read the Holy Scriptures upon my knees, laying aside all other books and praying over, if possible, every line and word." He was ordained to the ministry at the age of 21 by Dr. Benson, the bishop of Gloucester. He later recalled that when hands were laid upon him at that time, "My heart was melted down, and I offered up my whole spirit, soul and body, to the service of God's sanctuary.”

Although a native of England, Whitefield became best known for his ministry in America’s First Great Awakening. He loved America and made seven visits to this land. A tireless worker, he travelled incessantly from Georgia to Maine preaching primarily in the open air and raising money for his beloved orphanage, Bethesda, which he had founded in Georgia. He died during his final visit to America at the age of 58, probably of congestive heart failure brought on by fatigue.

Whitfield Burns Out for God

Worn from his constant labors, Whitefield had for some time been hampered by chest pains and difficulty in breathing. Seemingly moved by a sense of urgency he, nonetheless, kept up his unrelenting pace. In 1770, during his seventh and final visit to America, he preached in Boston and, in spite of pain and weariness, traveled on to Exeter in New Hampshire.

Appearing worn and haggard, someone said to him, “Sir, you are more fit to go to bed, than to preach.” “True,” gasped Whitefield, and then glancing heavenward he prayed aloud, “Lord Jesus, I am weary in Thy work, but not of it. If I have not finished my course, let me go and speak for Thee once more in the fields, and seal Thy truth, and come home and die.”

Whitefield then stood and began to speak to the large crowd that had gathered in the open field. His voice, however, could barely be heard and his words were rambling as if he was having trouble focusing his mind. He stopped and stood silent. Minutes passed. Then he said, “I will wait for the gracious assistance of God. For He will, I am certain, assist me once more to speak in His name.”

Suddenly, according to those standing by, Whitefield seemed to be rekindled by an inner fire. His voice grew strong and clear and he preached for an hour, leading one observer to later comment, “He had such a sense of the incomparable excellences of Christ that he could never say enough of Him.” He preached on for another hour and then cried out, “I go! I go to rest prepared. My body fails, my spirit expands. How willingly I would ever live to preach Christ! But I die to be with Him.”

That night he retired at a friend’s home but had a fitful, unsettled sleep. In the early morning, with a crushing pain in his chest, he pulled himself out of bed and made his way to a nearby window. George Whitefield then died as the first rays of the morning sun burst over the horizon.

The Significance of Whitfield’s Contribution

Whitfield’s contribution to the First Great Awakening was enormous. More than any other person he, by his incessant travels, helped make the Awakening a national event. It was the first time the scattered colonists of various denominational and theological persuasions had participated together in a single event. Denominational walls were broken down and, for the first time, they began to see themselves as a single people with one Divine destiny—“one nation under God,” as Whitfield had prayed.

The preaching of Whitefield and other revivalists of the Great Awakening also helped democratize the inhabitants of the colonies by putting everyone on the same level (guilty sinners before God) with only one solution for the sin problem (faith in Jesus Christ). They also bridged the gap between clergy and laypeople by insisting that it was the responsibility of all to know God in a real and personal way and by encouraging their followers to carry out ordinances and activities that had been traditionally reserved for an ordained clergy.

The preaching of Whitefield, Edwards, Frelinghuysen, the Tennents, and others thus paved the way for nationhood. This is why Harvard professor, William Perry, said, “The Declaration of Independence of 1776 was a result of the evangelical preaching of the evangelists of the Great Awakening.”

Dr. Eddie L. Hyatt is an author, historian, Bible teacher and ordained minister. His latest book, PURSUING POWER: How the Historic Quest for Apostolic Authority & Control Has Divided and Damaged the Church, is available from Amazon and at www.eddiehyatt.com/bookstore.html.


7/11/2011

SHAKE IT OFF, MOVE ON, AND DON'T LOOK BACK





It was rainy and cold as Paul gathered sticks to build a fire on an unfamiliar island in the Mediterranean. He had just suffered shipwreck while being carried as a prisoner to Rome to stand trial. As he gathered sticks and branches, a poisonous snake suddenly "fastened on his hand." Although the natives of the island expected him to fall over dead at any moment, Paul did not panic. Luke says, "But he shook the creature into the fire and suffered no harm "(Acts 28:5).


PAUL HAD TO SHAKE OFF MORE THAN JUST A SNAKE

This wasn't the first time Paul had found it necessary to shake off something unpleasant. He had been expelled from Antioch of Pisidia. He had been stoned and left for dead in Lystra. He had been beaten and imprisoned in Phillipi. His life had been threatened in Thessalonica. He had been attacked by a mob in Jerusalem. He had been arrested by the Romans and shipped to Rome to stand trial. On the way he is shipwrecked on an island and in the rain and cold the poisonous viper "fastens" on his hand. One could understand if at this point he had thrown his hands in the air, and cried, "I give up!" or "Why me Lord!" But instead he shook it off and went on about his business and afterwards saw a great move of God on that island with many experiencing God's healing power.



WE TOO MUST SHAKE OFF EVERY UNGODLY
THING THAT WOULD TRY TO "FASTEN" ITSELF ON US

We all encounter difficult and devastating situations of life that try to "fasten" on us and poison our souls and paralyze us and destroy us. We must not allow it to happen. Like Paul, we must shake it off and move on in obedience to God. Paul himself shares a secret for doing this in Philippians 3:13b-14 where he says, "But this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the mark of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." Paul was not allowing anything--snakes, hard times, people's hatred, etc.--to "fasten" on him and keep him from his future in God. You and I must do the same. After all, where we are going is more important than where we have been. So, SHAKE IT OFF, MOVE ON, AND DON'T LOOK BACK!

7/01/2011

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY AT RISK

The Contemporary Distortion of the First Amendement
that is Jeopardizing Our Constituational Freedom



A few days ago the Veterans Administration in Houston issued an order that Christian groups participating in funerals at the VA cemetery cannot use the word "Jesus" or say "God bless you." The reason? Why, the use of such terminology would breech the "wall of separation" between church and state.


Indeed, throughout America, this twisted interpretation of the First Amendment is being used to force the removal of Christian symbols from the public square and to intimidate Christians from publicly sharing their faith. This distorted interpretation of Jefferson’s “wall of separation” has even been used to threaten students with arrest and incarceration who talk about “Jesus” in their valedictorian addresses at graduation or use His name in prayer. One Texas judge decreed that traditional prayers offered at Santa Fe High School events must not contain the word “Jesus” and warned that anyone who violated his order, “Is going to wish that he or she had died as a child when this Court gets through with them.”


This sort of anti-Christian activism was unknown before the 20th century and is fueled by the on-going efforts of a small but radical minority. Emboldened by major victories in the 1960s with Supreme Court decisions outlawing prayer and Bible reading in public schools, these radical secularists now seek to remove any vestige of Christian influence from the public square. And their weapon of choice is the promotion of a “wall of separation” between church and state that they have concocted through their twisted reinterpretation of our nation’s history.


This is all somewhat ironic because the expression "wall of separation" is not found in the First Amendemdment, but modern seularists have linked the two together in a way that was never envisioned by the founders of this nation.


The Origin of the Phrase "Wall of Separation"


Thomas Jefferson, of course, is the one who used the phrase “wall of separation,” not in the Constitution, but in a letter to a group of Baptists assuring them that the First Amendment provided a “wall of separation” that would protect them from government intrusion. Modern secularists have turned Jefferson’s expression on its head by reinterpreting it to mean a “wall of separation” to keep expressions of faith out of the public square. Jefferson would turn over in his grave at such a distortion of his words.

It was in a letter, dated Jan. 1, 1802, to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut that Jefferson referred to a “wall of separation” between the church and state. The Baptists were concerned about their status in the new nation and how they would be treated. They had reason for concern for throughout Europe the Baptists had been an outlawed religious sect, severely persecuted by the state and the state sanctioned churches, both Catholic and Protestant. They had also suffered persecution for their faith in colonial America, particulary in colonial Virgina where the Anglican Chruch hd been the established "official" church.

Jefferson quoted the First Amendment, enacted Dec. 15, 1792, that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," and assured this Baptist association that this meant that in America there would be “a wall of separation” that would protect them and any other religious group from the intrusion of the state.
Jefferson’s words clearly indicate that he understood the First Amendment as providing a unidirectional “wall of separation” to prevent the state from me
ddling with the church and the free expression of faith.

This was the common understanding of the First Amendment for the first 150 years of the nation’s existence. In History of the United States published in 1816, David Ramsey declared that the founders of this nation, “Wisely judged learning and religion to be the firmest pillars of the church and commonwealth.” The modern idea that one’s faith is personal and private and not to be expressed in the public or political arena is obviously something new and novel, and unknown among the founders of this nation.


Jefferson's Actions Reveal His Intent


Jefferson's own actions as president reveal that his metaphorical expression "wall of separation" had nothing to do with excluding Christian expressions from the public and political arena. As president, Jefferson negotiated a federal treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians that included a stipulation that federal funds be made available to pay for Christian missionaries to work with the Indians and for the building of a Christian church in which the Indians could worship. He also closed presidential documents with the appellation, “In the year of our Lord Christ.”


Although Jefferson is often pointed to as one of the non-Christian founders, he was Christian in his thinking and held to a Christian worldview. In spite of questions about the deity of Christ and the mriacles of the Bible, He was convinced that human rights are derived from God and expressed his concern lest the American populace ever forget this truth. He said,

"God who gave us life, gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift from God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just and that His justice cannot sleep forever."


The Truth Makes Us Free


That Jefferson's "wall of separation" had nothing to do with the exclusion of Christianity from the public square is obvious by simply looking at certain traditions in our government that are still carried on today. Every president since George Washington, including Thomas Jefferson, has taken his oath of office with his hand placed on a Bible. Every new session of Congress is opened with prayer, a tradition that dates back to it origins. Our currency has the statement, "In God we trust." The Supreme Court Justices are overshadowed by the Ten Comandments and each session is opened with a prayer for God to "save the court." There are other examples to numerous too cite here.


A recent ten-year project to discover where the founders got their ideas for America’s founding documents, found that by far the single most cited authority in their writings was the Bible. As Patrick Henry declared, “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ.”


In 1892 the U.S. Supreme Court completed a 10-year investigation in which thousands of historical documents were investigated concerning the historical roots of the nation. After citing more than sixty historical precedents, the Court concluded, "There is no dissonance in these declarations. There is a universal language pervading them all, having one meaning; they affirm and reaffirm that this is a religious nation . . . this is a Christian nation."


THE TRUTH is that the contemporary interpretation and application of the "wall of separation" is something new and novel and unknown before the 20th century. It is time for every person who is concerned about the erosion of freedom in this nation to stand up and prayerfully challenge this distorted interpretation of the First Amendment. And pray for another Great Awakening that will change the course of this nation.





This article is derived from Eddie Hyatt's soon-to-be-published book, GOD SHED HIS GRACE ON THEE: How a Spiritual Awakening Transformed Colonial America and Led to the Formation of the United States of America. Available on Amazon and at www.eddiehyatt.com/bookstore.html