Marks of Revival

Revival Fires

I had the privilege last week to meet a man convinced we are headed for revival.  He is a gentle man, who thinks often of God, wishing for a return to some semblance of the way things used to be – minus the overt sins of racism and sexism that were so widely tolerated in days gone by.  But the basic reason for his certainty is simple: We are in desperate need of revival. He had other reasons, of course; supporting reasons. Among them, through his examination of of history he has concluded that God works cyclically, and that we are presently overdue for the next revival.

I share his desire to see God bring revival.  I can’t argue that we are overdue and in desperate need. And it is not just America that needs to be “revived”.  More than our culture, I believe the American Church needs to experience revival.  And when God works, he works through his church. So if revival is to occur, reorienting the cultural drift, renewing God as the rightful object of our collective affection, it is going to be at work in and through the Church.

But still, what does revival actually mean? Of course it means “to make alive”.  But what does it look like? Do all revivals look alike? What are the characteristics?

I suspect the answer the the question “Do all revivals look alike?” is likely a “No”.  Cultures are different. God seems to bless different expressions of evangelism and ministry approaches from one generation to the next; one culture to the next.  So to assume when revivals hit they will be uniform seems a bit of a stretch to me.

J.I. Packer,defines a revival this way:

“Revival is God accelerating, intensifying, and extending the work of grace that goes on in every Christian’s life!”

In his book God in our Midst, Packer suggests that, among the variety of God’s ways, there are at least five constants that seem to always appear in biblical revivals:

1. Awareness of God’s presence: “The first and fundamental feature in renewal is the sense that God has drawn awesomely near in his holiness, mercy and might.”

2. Responsiveness to God’s Word: “The message of Scripture which previously was making only a superficial impact, if that, now searches its hearers and readers to the depth of their being.”

3. Sensitiveness to (Our Own) Sin: “Consciences become tender and a profound humbling takes place.”

4. Liveliness in Community: “Love and generosity, unity and joy, assurance and boldness, a spirit of praise and prayer, and a passion to reach out to win others, are recurring marks of renewed communities.”

5. Fruitfulness in Testimony: “Christians proclaim by word and deed the power of the new life, souls are won, and a community conscience informed by Christian values emerges.”

I hope my new friend is right, that God – who is always at work – will soon be at work in unusual ways.  These are some of the signs I will pray will be evident in our culture, and in our church.

Balance of Faith

Balance Act

A true, vibrant Christian faith is someting akin to a balancing act.

In a post this morning, Tim Keller suggested:

If we are going to grow in grace, we must stay aware of being both sinners and also loved children in Christ.

Keller’s paradigm reminded me of something Edward Payson – “Praying Payson of Portland” – wrote long ago:

True Christianity consists of a proper mixture of fear of God, and of hope in his mercy; and wherever either of these is entirely wanting, there can be no true Faith. God has joined these things, and we ought by no means to put them asunder.

He cannot take pleasure in those who fear him with a slavish fear, without hoping in his mercy, because they seem to consider him a cruel and tyrannical being, who has no mercy or goodness in his nature. And, besides, they implicitly charge him with falsehood, by refusing to believe and hope in his invitations and offers of mercy.

On the other hand, he cannot be pleased with those who pretend to hope in his mercy without fearing him. For they insult him by supposing there is nothing in him which ought to be feared. And in addition to this, they make him a liar, by disbelieving his awful threatenings denounced against sinners, and call in question his authority, by refusing to obey him.

Those only who both fear him and hope in his mercy, give him the honor that is due to his name.

Both Payson and Keller give credence to thw wisdom of Puritan Thomas Watson:

The two great graces essential to a saint in this life are faith and repentance. These are the two wings by which he flies to heaven.

Two Contents, Two Realities

Francis Schaeffer said: “there are four things which are absolutely necessary if we as Christians are going to meet the need of our age and the overwhelming pressure we are increasingly facing.” These four things are two contents and two realities:

The First Content: Sound Doctrine 

The Second Content: Honest Answers to Honest Questions 

The First Reality: True Spirituality

The Second Reality: The Beauty of Human Relationships

Each link above will take you the substance of the respective  Contents and Realities. I am convinced they are worth consideration.  Why? Because I believe Schaeffer was right when he wrote:

[W]hen there are the two contents and the two realities, we will begin to see something profound happen in our generation.

Portrait of a Recovering Pharisee

by Nancy Scott     

When Sally first heard the gospel at age eleven, she understood immediately that God’s grace is what saves us. She already knew her heart was full of evil and that she had nothing to bring to God. It made perfect sense that God would have to do the saving, if any saving was to be done. The solution of Jesus’ death on the cross was perfect, and she understood that He had died in her place.

The Bible church where Sally began her pilgrimage strongly taught the concept of grace. She learned that grace meant “undeserved favor.” Grace was getting something you didn’t deserve, whereas mercy was NOT getting what you did deserve. The gospel addressed both of these areas of life in the provision of Jesus’ death on the cross. So she fully understood that she came to Christ because God was reaching deep into her soul to regenerate her and to bring her to an awareness of her need and of His provision for her salvation. She entered the path to the kingdom on her knees, got up, and took off running.

By the time Sally was seventeen, life was not as clear-cut as it had been at the tender age of eleven. She had understood what it meant to be saved by grace; now she began wondering what it meant to live there. She began to struggle with the difficult choices of life and a tension in her desires to do the right thing. When she went to her Bible teachers for advice, they told her that God had given her all the resources she needed to live a victorious Christian life, and she only needed to avail herself of the Spirit of God who now lived inside her. If she tapped into His power, He would grant her the ability–and the desire she lacked–to do the right thing. The Bible teachers asked Sally if she did her daily devotions, and they recommended some helpful Bible studies. These things, they said, would help unleash the Spirit’s power to work in her life.

Sally took off running again. She dove into her daily devotions with renewed vigor, and even though she wasn’t a morning person, she began to get up an hour earlier. Sally was so grateful that God had given her this extra measure of grace to be so dedicated to him at such a young age. Things seemed to improve for a while.

Then something slowly changed. The excitement began to wear off, and Sally suspected that her non-Christian friends were having more fun than she. She indulged with them every now and then, only to feel tremendously guilty and to make a renewed commitment to God with each failure. The longer this pattern went on, the more confused Sally became. Why wasn’t God unleashing His Spirit inside her for victory anymore, even when she carried out all her spiritual practices and dedication? Why was the evil around her becoming more attractive instead of less attractive? Was it normal for her to find herself rededicating her life to God so routinely? Was this what it meant to live by grace?

Continue reading

Appropriating the Justifying Work of Christ

Only a fraction of the present body of professing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives.

Many have so light an apprehension of God’s holiness and of the extent and guilt of their sin, that consciously they see little need for justification. Below the surface, however, they are deeply guilt-ridden and insecure. Many others have a theoretical commitment to this doctrine, but in their day-to-day existence they rely on their sanctification for justification….drawing their assurance of acceptance with God from their sincerity…their recent religious performance or the relative infrequency of their conscious, willful disobedience.

Few start each day with a thoroughgoing stand upon Luther’s platform: you are accepted, looking outward in faith and claiming the wholly alien righteousness of Christ as the only ground for acceptance, relaxing in that quality of trust which will produce increasing sanctification as faith is active in love and gratitude.

~ Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life

Revival: The Restoration of the Holy Spirit to This Place

To understand aright what this teaching of the Spirit is, there are three things we must specially remember:

 The first, that it is all from within. It is by influencing, by renewing, by purifying the life, that the Spirit gives the experimental knowledge of God’s truth. Out of the light of life, wrought within our feeling and willing and acting, spiritual wisdom and understanding is born.

The second, that this power and energy of the Spirit is given on one condition — that of entire possession. As a teacher can not teach unless he has the undivided attention of his pupil, the Holy Spirit demands the entire control of the life. A great deal of prayer for the teaching or the filling of the Spirit is vain, because the seeker is not faithful in obedience to that measure of the Spirit which he already has. The Spirit claims our whole being.

And the third essential element in the teaching is that it is only communicated and to be received by faith. The movings of the Spirit cannot be known or felt until we begin to act. It is when, while feeling our weakness, we believe in the hidden presence and power within us and begin to act, that his guidance and strength are known. Faith in his indwelling and most certain leading, much faith in the Father who works by the Spirit, unceasing faith in the Lord Jesus, in union with whom we have the Spirit flowing through us — this faith will receive the fullness of the Spirit. This is the revival we must seek for, the restoration of the Holy Spirit to his place as the inward teacher, having complete possession and control of heart and life.

Excerpted from Andrew Murray‘s  Coming Revival

Pure Puritan

What is your view of the Puritans?  If you are like many people you may not think much of them.

Tim Keller maintains that the Puritans offer us great practical insights. In an article for CCEF, titled Puritan Resources for Biblical Counseling, Keller elaborates on these insights:

  1. The Puritans were committed to the functional authority of the Scripture. For them it was the comprehensive manual for dealing with all problems of the heart.
  2. The Puritans developed a sophisticated and sensitive system of diagnosis for personal problems, distinguishing a variety of physical, spiritual, tempermental and demonic causes.
  3. The Puritans developed a remarkable balance in their treatment because they were not invested in any one ‘personality theory’ other than biblical teaching about the heart.
  4. The Puritans were realistic about difficulties of the Christian life, especially conflicts with remaining, indwelling sin.
  5. The Puritans looked not just at behavior but at underlying root motives and desires. Man is a worshipper; all problems grow out of ‘sinful imagination’ or idol manufacturing.
  6. The Puritans considered the essential spiritual remedy to be belief in the gospel, used in both repentance and the development of proper self-understanding.

Reading the Puritans is not always easy. But thanks to Banner of Truth Trust there are number of Puritan materials offered in revised editions. Many of them are abridged. Most, if not all of them, are translated into more contemporary English. Check out Puritan Paperbacks. These are rich resources for spiritual formation.

Gospel-Centered Lives

From time to time I am asked by some in our church what I mean when I repeatedly declare that we are – and we must be – a Gospel-Centered Church. I think it may be the hyphen that confuses people.

To be “something”-centered is simply to focus on the relation an individual or a church has to a central value.  While there could be any number of things at the center of a persons or organizations values, in our case the point of emphasis is the Gospel (or the Cross).

As for what it means to be Gospel-centered, as an individual or as a church, I don’t think I could answer better than Joe Thorn did in a post titled: Gospel-Centered.  One of the things Joe points out is:

[T]he gospel-centered life is a life where a Christian experiences a growing personal reliance on the gospel that protects him from depending on his own religious performance and being seduced and overwhelmed by idols.

Building a Bridge to Puritan Days

In Building a Bridge to the 18th Century, author Neil Postman suggests that in many ways we have not so much advanced, as a culture, as we have drifted over the years. Postman seems to believe we would do well to return to and reconnect with our philosophical roots and rebuild upon them.

I might say the same thing Spiritually and Theologically.

Like Postman I look to the early-to-mid 18th Century.  But I also go back a little further than he does.  I suggest we return some of our attention to the 16th & 17th Centuries too.

In particular I  believe we benefit by building a bridge back to the Puritans.

Now I realize, for many people the idea of learning from the Puritans is as appealing as black snow.  For some, the very notion seems ugly and distasteful. (The Puritans were… well, puritanical, weren’t they?) But I wish this was not such a prevalent view.  I am not ashamed to admit that the Puritans are part of my spiritual heritage.  In some company I might even refer to myself as a Neo-Puritan.  From my perspective, contemporary disregard for the Puritan is our loss.

I understand some of the stains on the Puritan reputation is deserved. It was earned by a representative few who were… idiots. (i.e. Salem Witch Trials)  But those folks were not a sufficient sample group by which to judge the entire lot.  Sure they held some of the same principles as their Puritan predecessors, but they were a warped expression, at the tail end of a movement, influenced at least as much by superstition and fear as by their Faith traditions.  But because of the antics of these relative few fanatics the whole Puritan tradition has been getting a perpetual bad rap. And I suspect that mistaken notions about the Puritans will endure, at least for as long as our perceptions continue to be influenced by erroneous and distorted PR offered by such sources as Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter.

J.I. Packer, in an essay titled Why We Need the Puritans, which is also the Introduction to his book A Quest for Godliness, outlines a handful of lessons contemporary Christians would do well to learn from these besmirched people of the past:

  • Integration of Daily Life
  • Quality of Spiritual Experience
  • Passion for Effective Action
  • Program for Family Stability
  • Sense of Human Worth
  • Ideal of Church Renewal

A great introduction to the Puritans has been provided by the folks at The Resurgence. They have compiled a series of short articles, by Winfield Bevins, under the title Lessons from the Puritans:

Even if your impression of the Puritans has been shaped by Miller or Hawthorne, I hope you will give some consideration to these short introductory essays.  I am confidnet you will be pleasantly surprised by the positive legacy these folks have left us.

Leaning One Way or Another

Here is a new insight from our old friend, WeakDave:

I want to be astonished/captivated, by You, Lord, today, instead of being astonished/captivated by human achievement: by Others [or] by my own. 

I need intervention from on High, to be different.  I want to be different, but I find myself unable to change myself. 

Thank You for my inability.  If I were able, I wouldn’t need You. And my flesh would love that. My flesh delights in independence, strength, confidence, discernment, so that I end up judge/discerner of all; Leaning on my own understanding.

StrongDave, needing prayer to embrace being WeakDave, dependent, childlike, clueless, with a Jesus-humility and a Jesus-love that non-believers find compelling, so they will want what he has.

Idol Factory

John Calvin said:

“The human heart is a factory of idols… Every one of us is, from his mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.”

This truth is difficult to convey. Few people think of themselves as idolators. And when I as a pastor, or a friend, suggest to people that they – like me – struggle from this affliction, the most common response is a grinning dismissal.

For most people the concept of idolatry conjurs mental images of statues and shrines. And since few people I encounter would knowingly do something as primitive as that, it is easy to understand why that notion is so easily ignored.

Nevertheless it is a condition that needs to be recognized.  We need to recognize it as a general condition of humanity. And each of us needs to discover what kinds of idols our own hearts are producing. You see, what my production center cranks out is different than what your production center develops – both in product and in volume.

In a recent post, titled X-Ray Questions, Scott Thomas, President of Acts 29 Network succinctly addresses this subject. And in that post he offers 35 X-Ray Questions for the Heart.  Thomas’ challenge:

Examine the following questions and ponder your heart for the existent idols and then crush the idols of our heart before they crush you.

  1. What do you love? Hate?
  2. What do you want, desire, crave, lust, and wish for? What desires do you serve and obey?
  3. What do you seek, aim for, and pursue?
  4. Where do you bank your hopes?
  5. What do you fear? What do you not want? What do you tend to worry about?
  6. What do you feel like doing?
  7. What do you think you need? What are your ‘felt needs’?
  8. What are your plans, agendas, strategies, and intentions designed to accomplish?
  9. What makes you tick? What sun does your planet revolve around? What do you organize your life around?
  10. Where do you find refuge, safety, comfort, escape, pleasure, and security?
  11. What or whom do you trust?
  12. Whose performance matters? On whose shoulders does the well being of your world rest? Who can make it better, make it work, make it safe, make it successful?
  13. Whom must you please? Whose opinion of you counts? From whom do you desire approval and fear rejection? Whose value system do you measure yourself against? In whose eyes are you living? Whose love and approval do you need?
  14. Who are your role models? What kind of person do you think you ought to be or want to be?
  15. On your deathbed, what would sum up your life as worthwhile? What gives your life meaning?
  16. How do you define and weigh success and failure, right or wrong, desirable or undesirable, in any particular situation?
  17. What would make you feel rich, secure, prosperous? What must you get to make life sing?
  18. What would bring you the greatest pleasure, happiness, and delight? The greatest pain or misery?
  19. Whose coming into political power would make everything better?
  20. Whose victory or success would make your life happy? How do you define victory and success?
  21. What do you see as your rights? What do you feel entitled to?
  22. In what situations do you feel pressured or tense? Confident and relaxed? When you are pressured, where do you turn? What do you think about? What are your escapes? What do you escape from?
  23. What do you want to get out of life? What payoff do you seek out of the things you do?
  24. What do you pray for?
  25. What do you think about most often? What preoccupies or obsesses you? In the morning, to what does your mind drift instinctively?
  26. What do you talk about? What is important to you? What attitudes do you communicate?
  27. How do you spend your time? What are your priorities?
  28. What are your characteristic fantasies, either pleasurable or fearful? Daydreams? What do your night dreams revolve around?
  29. What are the functional beliefs that control how you interpret your life and determine how you act?
  30. What are your idols and false gods? In what do you place your trust, or set your hopes? What do you turn to or seek? Where do you take refuge?
  31. How do you live for yourself?
  32. How do you live as a slave of the devil?
  33. How do you implicitly say, “If only…” (to get what you want, avoid what you don’t want, keep what you have)?
  34. What instinctively seems and feels right to you? What are your opinions, the things you feel true?
  35. Where do you find your identity? How do you define who you are?

Two other worthwhile resources on this subject:

Humble Calvinism: The Idol Factory

Idol Factory – A Series of messages by C.J. Mahaney & Mark Driscoll

The Gospel Saves From Morality

It sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it?  The Gospel saves you from morality.  Can this be true?

It is true. And it is an important truth.  And understanding what John Piper is saying in this video can free people from the crushing weight of trying to be good. For others it will free them from self-righteousness, which is a cancer that eats away at the spiritual sensitivity system.

Ecstasy & Delight

Ecstasy and delight are essential to the believer’s soul and they promote sanctification.

We were not meant to live without spiritual exhilaration, and the Christian who goes for a long time without the experience of heart-warming will soon find himself tempted to have his emotions satisfied from earthly things and not, as he ought, from the Spirit of God. The soul is so constituted that it craves fulfillment from things outside itself and will embrace earthly joys for satisfaction when it cannot reach spiritual ones…

The believer is in spiritual danger if he allows himself to go for any length of time without tasting the love of Christ and savoring the felt comforts of a Savior’s presence. When Christ ceases to fill the heart with satisfaction, our souls will go in silent search of other lovers…

By the enjoyment of the love of Christ in the heart of a believer, we mean an experience of the “love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us” (Romans 5.5)… because the Lord has made himself accessible to us in the means of grace, it is our duty and privilege to seek this experience from Him in these means till we are made the joyful partakers of it.

– John Flavel (1630-1691)

Spiritual Pride

The first and worst cause of error that prevails in our day is spiritual pride. This is the main door by which the devil comes into the hearts of those who are zealous for the advancement of Christ. It is the chief inlet of smoke from the bottomless pit to darken the mind and mislead the judgment, and the main handle by which Satan takes hold of Christians to hinder a work of God. Until this disease is cured, medicines are applied in vain to heal all other diseases.

Pride is much more difficult to discern than any other corruption because, by nature, pride is a person having too high a thought of himself. Is it any surprise, then, that a person who has too high a thought of himself is unaware of it? He thinks the opinion he has of himself has just grounds and therefore is not too high. As a result, there is no other matter in which the heart is more deceitful and unsearchable. The very nature of it is to work self-confidence and drive away any suspicion of evil respecting itself.

Pride takes many forms and shapes and encompasses the heart like the layers of an onion- when you pull off one layer, there is another underneath. Therefore, we need to have the greatest watch imaginable over our hearts with respect to this matter and to cry most earnestly to the great searcher of hearts for His help. He who trusts his own heart is a fool. Continue reading

Re-Gridding the Christian Life


Not long ago, while a friend of mine was preaching in my place at Walnut HIll Church, I had somewhat of an epiphany.  I understood something that had been nagging at me for a long, long time, but that I had never before been able to express – even to myself.  I realized: We have it all wrong. We are using the wrong standard to measure our spiritual lives.  We need a new grid.

Too often, I am afraid, we gauge the Christian Life through a grid of Good vs. Bad, or of Right vs. Wrong.  The more serious of us may see that both ought to be wedded together.  But I am convinced that, while both of these grids have some value, the real grid that God fundamentally calls us to use is Humble vs. Proud.

Good vs. Bad gauges our behavior.   Right vs. Wrong evaluates our doctrine, or our Worldview.  But Humble vs. Proud reflects our heart – and that is where everything must begin. If we get that out of whack, everything else will be too.

God opposes the proud but He gives grace to the humble.”