Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Great Awakening, the Puritans and their Roots in the Reformation

Check out our video on The Great Awakening

Maybe you had a chance to hear our recent program on Thanksgiving talking about America’s Christian roots that were born out of the Reformation in Germany, an event that spawned the Puritan movement out of England and which in turn was brought to the American Colonies and became the young country’s spiritual foundation (if you missed that one you can still hear it by clicking here).

As a follow-up to our Thanksgiving program, we wanted to touch on and share the video on one of the most radical revivals in American history and history in general: The Great Awakening.

This Revival spread Holy Ghost fire throughout the early American colonies with radical manifestations: people being slain in the Spirit, profuse weeping, and much holy laughter and mass conversions.

It changed the spiritual atmosphere and furthered America’s Christian heritage and foundations in a great way.

This incredible revival however, was born earlier on through the Reformation, initiated by Martin Luther and then sown spiritually by the Puritans and their longing for revival that later saw its fulfillment in The Great Awakening.

Interesting facts on the Puritans

The term Puritan was derived from their desire to purify the church from Roman Catholic errors and go back to New Testament standards and not a quest for personal purity, popular misunderstanding of their name notwithstanding. They sowed in tears and prayer hoping to see revival, which was later fulfilled through the Great Awakening. In fact one of the main preachers of the Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards, was a direct descendant of Puritans.

They valued and longed to see these realities become widespread:

Conversion: They wanted to see people come into a real relationship with Christ and not just become religious, but be converted into a vital and living relationship with the Living Savior Jesus Christ.

Encounter: They were adamant that mere Bible knowledge and knowledge about God alone was not sufficient and by itself could lead to dangerous spiritual pride and arrogance. Though they held the former as of utmost importance, they were strong believers in the biblical example of the need for a real encounter with the living supernatural God and experiencing his real and living presence in one's life, Christ must fill the heart with His Spirit!! They were known as some of the first Protestant-Mystics.

Revival: They wanted to see a revival of true and living faith spread across the different lands they inhabited both in England and the American Colonies

They sowed in suffering, prayer, and tears many years, hoping to see these things become widespread realities in their old and new worlds of England and America's colonies. Their sowing in tears and suffering saw fulfillment in the later radical revival known as the Great Awakening that swept the American colonies with intense revival fire.

For more information on one of its main preachers you can watch this video on George Whitfield and the 18th Century Revivals:

Other little-known facts:

Contrary to popular misconception the Puritans were not negative about sex. In fact they were one of the first known groups to depart from the traditional Catholic view that sex was merely for procreation alone and really shouldn't be enjoyed but rather just endured for the sake of producing children. The Puritans declared that sex between a married husband and wife is a gift from God that should be enjoyed and indulged in regularly. Puritan families thus usually had hordes of children. They were however, adamantly against adultery and fornication.

The United States and the Americas (Latin America) might have had more of a French influence and flavor if not for what happened... French Huguenot Protestants fleeing persecution in France, much like the Protestant Puritans in the North from England, set up a colony in the southern area of what would be now known as Florida. It did not endure due to the fact that Spanish Catholics who saw them as heretics and were inspired by the ways of the Inquisition hunted them down and massacred every last man, woman, and child, wiping out the colony. The same exact thing happened to missionaries sent out by Protestant leader John Calvin (originially of France) to South America.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Shoulder Update--Victory in Christ

Praise God! 100% range of motion has returned to my injured shoulder which is one of the biggest battles, this after two medical professionals said I’d be lucky to get an 80% return at best, and this with no pain as well as beginning to get strength back. Orthopedic Specialist Doctor said there is no need for the surgery he was previously convinced I was going to need.

When you are in the middle of a dark tunnel and see no light at the end things can begin to feel awfully bleak. However, the Light of the World—Jesus—can break through in the darkest of situations and bring light, life, healing and hope and turn everything around.

Just two months ago I was in the middle of trying to recover from this major shoulder injury that occurred at the beginning of summer (what a bummer!), having dislocated my shoulder while skateboarding with my son, and things were not going so good.

The physical therapist was concerned that my full range of motion wasn’t returning, he had said I'd be lucky if I got back to 80%, and he was the second therapist to say that, I was in pain using ice packs and pain pills regularly and had no strength in my right arm. Then came the appointment with the Orthopedic Doctor who put me into a state of shock by preparing me for the fact that I was almost certainly going to have to have surgery in order to have a full recovery.

He immediately wanted to do an MRI which made me even more worried because everyone else I'd known who had any kind of injury like this had to fight like a dog at a kennel for the last piece of meat to get approved by their insurance for an MRI. The fact that he was so willing to do an MRI caused me more worry because he said, "You have all the signs of a rotator cuff tear which will need to be repaired by surgery but we have to check for sure and the only way to know is to do an MRI." (A two thousand dollar procedure that insurance companies resist approving like North Korea does tourist visas).

While going through all the energy-taxing processes of wrestling through all this, my prayer became like the blind man in the Gospels: "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me."

If there is one thing God is full of, it is mercy and grace. From Old to New Testament, we see the declaration again and again: The Lord is compassionate and gracious,… abounding in love. (Psalm 103:8) “The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion...when I was in great need, He saved me.” (Psalm 116:5-6)

At first I was frustrated that I had so much of a time gap to get another appointment with the Orthopedic Doctor and to get an MRI, but then it hit me that this would give me plenty of time to get lots of prayer for the Lord to heal it. There came with the process a lot of further learning about God's healing ways, something He always seems to want to keep teaching us as His children.

Having put out the word that I was wanting others to pray for me many sent messages and words that not only encouraged me but brought a lot of ministry too.

When I was younger and had a knee injury (link to blog) and went to seek prayer for healing for the first time in my life I was expecting some guy on a stage in a suit and tie to yell and jump around and come up and throw my crutches in the air and exclaim I was healed and then I could go out and run a marathon the next day. The healing process was different then than how I expected it to be, and this time around it was different too. In fact, in the middle of it all, I just happened to stumble upon a preacher from the East Coast on the radio who said: "God can heal and do His work in any way or process He chooses. It doesn't always have to happen in one moment—we have to be careful not to put Him in our little human boxes." God used this preacher to communicate about what he was doing and the way He as choosing to do His work.

I have actually experienced instances of immediate healing, like when I was having a severe stomach pain issue that went on for months and months years ago for which I received prayer one day, and I was healed and delivered instantly from that point on, while there have been other times when God's healing took more time and more than one prayer.

In this particular situation with my shoulder, it was a process that seemed like every time I got prayer it got better and then better and better, and certain words and moments of ministry including people praying through emails on the internet and at different churches fellowships and ministries would take it another step forward to where I just began to notice the pain being gone, my range of motion coming back, my strength returning, and my shoulder moving more normally again. There were definite moments when it was being ministered to significantly but equally important—and this is key to understand God's ways—He was using each instance to minister something deep to me spiritually and doing a healing process inside of me as well.

Furthermore, the Lord communicated to me that I needed to cooperate with what He was doing by being diligent with the exercises that I had been given by the therapists.

By the time I had got an MRI and gone to see the Ortho-Doctor again, after getting so much prayer, the signs I'd had showing a rotator cuff tear before had all dissipated; I had 100% range of motion (something that defied what the therapists had predicted) the pain was gone and my strength was coming back. The MRI results showed not even a single tear anywhere on my shoulder, and I didn't need the surgery that the Ortho-Doctor was so sure I was going to have to have last time he saw me.

During one of the times I was receiving ministry for this, I had a picture of Jesus sewing things back together and Him clearly saying that He was healing me. The MRI results showed that he has done just that—Praise God!

I am thankful for what God has done, especially watching others who've had to have this surgery, and man it looks and sounds like a hard thing to endure.

There is still recovery left in that I have three months of atrophy to recover from and the shoulder needs to be slowly restrengthened and some stiffness worked out after not being used regularly for a while; lifting light weights and eating lots of protein are part of the routine for a while, but having a license to eat all the steak, hamburgers, shakes and cakes I want ain't all that bad (ok I threw in the cake which isn't protein but ahh it's close enough.) Other regular exercises like swimming to keep things loose as well as surfing in some small waves on a longboard, which I am stoked to be starting to do again, are all part of the process for a full recovery for a while, none of which I'll be complaining about.

Rehabbing the shoulder in some small longboard waves. The unusually long Indian Summer with warm water, until just recently, has helped with the process since getting a wetsuit off and on can be a bit of a chore.

The big mountain has been crossed and Jesus carried me over by His grace and mercy and I give him all the praise and Glory for it. This is a victory in Christ for all those in the Body of Christ who prayed—THANK YOU. He has answered; thanks be to God in Christ in Jesus’ name!!! Praise the Lord!! Amen!!!

Psalm 103: Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits - who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.

Now we just need to get our finances healed from all these medical expenses, thanks for all your help click here to contribute. Thanks.

(P.S. One of the lessons out of this is the importance of taking time to maintain physical health, otherwise all your time has to go to repair your physical health. We have a video on this topic that we'll put out there when finished with the re-editing process.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

God Works All Things for Good--Filled with the Holy Spirit and Fire

Lonnie Frisbee and Jill Austin (two heavy hitters in the
things of the Spirit) praying as the Holy Spirit falls
with fire and power over me some years ago.

Check out Bryan's Testimony Video above and
also click here to see a little bio on his surfing background

Trials aren’t fun, let’s get that straight right away here. They are just like the word implies, a time of testing and trying that brings suffering, stress, and often even confusion. We know however that as the Bible promises, God does work everything together for good for those that love Him and are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Trials can bring, in the end, maturity, perspective and even compassion for others who are also suffering, as well as many other things that can only be learned and brought forth through such hardship.

One doesn’t mine as much spiritual gold and the deep things of the kingdom in a seminary or Bible school as you do in God’s intensive school which could be called U.H.K. -- the University of Hard Knocks. You only need to think of Joseph in prison, Moses in exile, David as a refugee, Peter in prison, Paul in prison as well as beaten and sick, and of course Jesus who faced the cross, to understand that trials are often part of God’s plan to bring His children into deep places of revelation and purpose. Not to forget others like Job or the fact that two-thirds of the Psalms are laments and pleas for God’s help and intervention in the face of tribulation.

The idea that we would be exempt from the testing furnace of affliction really shows a lack of familiarity with the pages of Scripture. Jesus after all promised that in this world we would face tribulation.(John 16:33)

Trials come in many forms and can test us on many levels of our faith and trust in God. Be it financial or physical or both, or many other forms of testing, when in the middle of the dark tunnel the journey to the light at the end of it can seem impossibly long.

As bad as the pain is of an injury like say uh…a dislocated shoulder—what I’m personally enduring and recovering from at the moment—it is equally difficult to have your plans interrupted.

Someone said, it can be a bit disconcerting to know that God is still working on things in our lives long after we thought that chapter was finished. The reality we find instead is that the process goes on pretty much until as David says in the Psalms: “I will be satisfied when I awake with His [God’s] likeness.” (Ps. 17:15) If you didn’t figure that out, that means only once we are dead and go to heaven will God’s processing end in our lives here on earth. If you don’t continue to go through the processing, grinding mill, and refining fire—whatever term you’d like to attach to it—there is a good chance you’ve plateaued or drifted off into a place of trying to just be comfortable in your walk. Be forewarned He has ways of getting our attention.

This present trial and interruption of mine is not unlike others I’ve experienced before. Many years back, pre-marriage and ministry, I was a young Christian who got saved by “accidentally” listening to a black preacher on the radio and was later shanghaied through a divine appointment (get the whole story here-check out my surf bio) into going to a church. In the middle of pursuing a pro surfing career, modeling, and lifeguarding, life was dramatically and completely interrupted by a severe knee injury. In the matter of literally one mere second everything seemed to come crashing down around me like the World Trade Center.

Suddenly all the things that I’d trained and worked so hard for were decimated like wreckage on the freeway during a crash. In the passing of literally one mere moment I now had no job, no ability for a long time to pursue competitive surfing aspirations, nor to model—people hobbling around on crutches need not apply. In one fell swoop all forms of income, pursuits, and enjoyment were eliminated. The disappointment was further enhanced by the fact that I had been recently training with one of the coaches for the Olympic swim team at a local college who let me train with him to enhance paddling speed for surf contests and had garnered some victories and other strong results in surf contests recently, and had never been in such excellent physical shape in my life. Then, having it all come crashing down in one moment with a severe knee injury was a huge and crushing blow.

I may not have known a lot about the Kingdom and God at that point but one thing was clear about God that I did know—He was in the miracle and supernatural business. It didn’t take much to deduce this correctly from the Scripture I did know. All of a sudden, after previously resisting invitations from friends, I suddenly took interest in a fairly new church called Calvary Chapel Yorba Linda that I was told had supernatural things going on. They had recently had an outpouring of the Holy Spirit—though at that time I wasn’t sure what was meant by that—and were experiencing revival after Jesus People evangelist Lonnie Frisbee had ministered there.

It sure seemed different than I expected though when I got there, they met in a high school gym that was about as hot and made you sweat as much as a Swedish sauna. People were doing all kinds of weird things like lifting their hands in the air and I couldn't figure out what they were trying to reach or do, while others were crying and some laughing, some even fell over or off their seats. All I could equate it with was a Shriner’s Circus I’d been to as a kid where me and a friend had been made to go by his dad who said it would be a good experience for us; we were the only ones in the audience without a mental or physical disability and spent more time looking at everyone around us than at the circus performance itself.

Here I was in this weird church in a school gym sweating every ounce of fluid out of my body, watching people cry and laugh for no reason whatsoever, with their hands in the air and listening to this big heavy-set white-bearded dude on the stage drone on forever about who knows what—I couldn’t understand what he was saying—not a word of it. I was wondering where the miracles were. All I could see were reflections of the Shriner’s Circus—people around me laughing, crying, and some falling over for no known or obvious reason whatsoever. I thought, “Well, at least all these mentally challenged people have a funky church here where they can let it all hang out and be free, it was a good place for them. For me, I don’t know.”

Finally the bearded guy (John Wimber) wiped his sweaty face and said, “It’s really hot in here. Let’s move on to some ministry.” I was like, “Finally! I thought he’d never stop blabbing…is this where the miracles take place?”

He said everyone who wanted prayer to go into a back room. Along with a pretty good-sized crowd, I hobbled in my cast and crutches back there. I really wasn’t wanting to pray about anything, I just came for the miracle part and wanted to get out of there asap after that. Just get me a miracle here for my leg and I’ll be on my way, thank you and you can continue on with all your laughing, crying, and falling over stuff, all you want on your own.

I didn’t know what to expect, maybe a mini miracle service in this back room or something. “They may run out of seats,” I thought “so I better hurry up and get back in there” and started trying to hurry pushing my way in to get back there through the crowd. What happened next was so far outside my expectations it caught me off guard.

As I entered the room it was completely disorganized, there was no miracle service going on or any seeming organization to this thing at all. There was just a bunch of normal people praying for others and putting their hands on them which seemed kind of weird. One crazy looking hippie-type guy, who I later found out was the Jesus People revivalist named Lonnie Frisbee, was waving his arms around and yelling now and then about something, while standing on top of some school wrestling mats that were rolled up. I just stood there a bit perplexed with this whole scenario, looking around, and then mere moments before I could even process my thoughts, something happened.

Out of nowhere this heavy feeling came over me, I suddenly began to feel an incredible sense of God’s presence. Having been saved a few years back, there was already that awareness of God in my life. Suddenly now however, it was like that had been multiplied exponentially a thousand times over and God and His glory were right there with and upon me. All at once I began to be overwhelmed by God’s manifest presence right there upon me, and like those people I thought were disabled out in the gym, I was starting to cry and then laugh and then cry and then laugh and on and on for no visible reason whatsoever. His love and grace began to be downloaded from my head into my heart at light speed and it was overwhelming me. Waves of something like liquid love began to wash over and over me again and again.

Next, Lonnie Frisbee, the crazy hippie guy on the wrestling mats started pointing at me and praying over me and saying stuff over me; I didn’t know at that time that he was speaking prophetic words over me. He started yelling that the Spirit of God is moving powerfully now on this young guy here as he prayed over me. It was like being thrown into an ocean of God’s presence and suddenly, gloriously, drowning in his tangible mercy and grace. I became so overwhelmed I couldn’t stand up anymore and some people sat me down on some rolled up wrestling mats where they prayed for me and I continued to get hammered, being baptized in the Holy Spirit for the next three and a half to four hours at least.

When I finally opened my eyes from what seemed like an altered state of consciousness, the place which had been full was now almost empty. Without a doubt I had been in the presence of God in a major way. The last few people who were hanging around still praying for me said “Wow, God really filled your tank tonight. Boy you really got filled with the Holy Spirit.”

I was completely perplexed by their figures of speech, what tank? Filled with the what? I was totally naïve to these concepts and the “Christianese” language that surrounded them.

Much like the people Paul encountered on the way to Ephesus who believed in Jesus but knew nothing of the Holy Spirit or his power I was in that same boat. Paul had immediately prayed for them to be filled with the Holy Spirit though they had limited knowledge, likewise God didn’t wait for me to take a course on the Holy Spirit before he filled me to overflowing. The gift came without any knowledge, effort, study or merit on my part whatsoever. Just like the Bible teaches “you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, and to your children, to…all who have been called by the Lord our God.” Acts 2:38-39.

This was a life-changing event, my life took a complete change at this point as I began to pray and read the Bible regularly. I never had done much of that before, and I also began to realize that God had a higher purpose and calling for me regarding serving him and ministry versus just doing and pursuing my own thing.

Being baptized with the Holy Spirit like this brought me a complete paradigm shift regarding the reality of God’s love and presence and the reality of his call and purpose for my life, which soon began to be played out as I began to witness to others and even lead others to Christ and eventually started a Bible Study; I was pulled into ministry by God’s Spirit soon after being filled with the Holy Spirit.

God brought complete healing to my knee over time rather than bringing an instantaneous miracle; He knows best that I would have just returned to my own pursuits soon after if this is all that happened. He indeed works everything for good, I was brought into the reality of God’s presence and love and grace and directed into God’s call and ministry all through the filling of the Holy Spirit.

There is a reason that John the Baptist—who was the greatest of the Old Covenant prophets according to Jesus—declared only two things regarding the ministry of Christ: That he was the lamb of God who takes away sin and that He will baptize us in the Holy Spirit and fire.

I had already received the forgiveness of sins and now I was receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit and definitely the fire was being poured upon me at this time in a life-changing way. It was a pivotal and seminal moment that brought great change and revealed God’s purpose and call. There is a reason it is so emphasized by John the Baptist, Jesus, as well as in the book of Acts by Luke and by Paul the Apostle, because the reality of God’s presence released in one’s life through the Holy Spirit brings one into a reality of God’s love and grace and purpose like nothing else can.

We are encouraged to ask, seek and knock for the Holy Spirit’s fullness and gifts (Luke 11:9-13) in our lives and walks with God. I encourage you to do the same.

Even in this present trial of mine God the Holy Spirit continues to take things to a deeper level as he heals things of the past and specifically is healing some undealt with grief and pain from the death of my younger brother while we were on the mission field traveling and ministering through 17 different countries last year at this time; it isn’t easy to process something like that while constantly traveling and ministering. Sometimes he slows us down to deepen and expand the well so it can hold more. This way, he can then pour more into us so that more can flow out through us as things continue on.

The Bible encourages us to ask, seek, and knock and press in to be filled with the Holy Spirit and lean in on Jesus in your trials and tribulations.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Evangelizing the Empire

The Gospel in the Roman Empire--
The Setting and Times of the New Testament

The Gospel in the Roman Empire--
The Rise of Persecution

The Gospel in the Roman Empire--The Rise of the Romans

One of the most amazing things when thinking about the Gospel and its advance through the ages, is how it went from being a small outlaw faith during the early days of the Roman Empire, to later becoming the official religion of the very empire that had spent so much time and effort trying to stamp it out.

How it went from first being a fringe movement led by a former carpenter turned itinerant preacher/healer who was crucified like a common criminal outside the city gates, to becoming a persecuted outlaw group whose adherents were often rounded up and made sport of in their deaths, to later being declared the official faith of the very Roman Empire that had tried to rid the earth of it, in the relatively short span of 300 years, is one of the more fascinating inquiries of the ages.

The Persecuted Minorities

Not too far along in its earliest days, persecution began to be directed towards the first Christians as we see in the first half of Acts with Peter and others being put in prison and James and Stephen being put to death. This would only become multiplied on a grand scale as time went on.

In Acts 18:2, packed into a small and seemingly obscure verse we find a dark foreboding of things to come: “Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome.” The Jews were getting into disputes with others so Claudius basically booted them out of town.

This actually affected many Christians who were also Jews since Christians were seen as an offshoot of Judaism at this time. The prophetic insight of what was coming down the pike in this seemingly obscure verse foreshadows a troubling future for the minority Christian community as Emperor Claudius continued his reign.

Claudius was sickly and weak and seen by the Julio-Claudian dynasty as an embarrassing leader who stuttered, drooled, had various nervous tics and poor public presentation. Yet he could still govern adequately enough when compared with both his predecessor and successor. His predecessor and uncle Caligula was mentally unstable and had even suggested naming his horse as a senator; he later was assassinated. Claudius too was a better leader than his dreaded successor Nero. Claudius, however, was easily manipulated by women. He actually told the Praetorian Guard after another of his marriages failed, to please kill him if he ever got involved with another woman. Ironically, it would actually be a woman who would cause his demise and inadvertently usher in the wholesale persecution of the Christian faith.

Claudius’s third wife and niece Agrippina schemed to have her son Nero put in place as the next in line for the throne, instead of Brittanicus who was Claudius’ biological son. Once her wishes were in place, Agrippina then got rid of Claudius by poisoning him so that Nero could rise to be emperor at 17 years of age, which in turn unleashed a descent into destructiveness of all kinds.

Unfit for the task by many and varied accounts in every respect, Nero fulfilled his sinister family history by first murdering his very own mother Agrippina, the very one who had gotten him to the throne in the first place. He continued to carry on this accursed family tradition by also murdering his wife and putting her severed head on display for his mistress, only to later kick her to death while she carried his very child.

Nero soon turned his venom on the small minority group often derided as “the atheists” (quite ironic!) so called because they refused to worship the pantheon of Roman gods; they were also called “Christians” as followers of Jesus Christ, the name with longer-range sticking power.

Nero was garnering heavy criticism as emperor for burning down a good portion of Rome with a fire he had started in a land grab to build a monument unto his ever-expanding ego. Needing a scapegoat to cover up the mess he created, he pointed the finger at the small minority Christian population and blamed them for starting the fire. Following this, a campaign of wholesale and severe persecution was unleashed against the community of believers. They were thrown to the lions in arenas; they were covered with bloody hides as wild dogs were unleashed on them, tearing them apart; they were also burned alive in public places, and even used as human flaming torches in Nero’s very own garden, providing a hideous backdrop for his parties as he would entertain his guests by singing and playing the lyre.

Nero’s life ended in suicide when a coup was brought against him. He was facing certain execution and took his own life with the words: “What a showman the world is losing in me.” He had set a precedent of persecution against the Christians that would continue even after his demise.

As we can see from these scenarios, the believers in the days of the Roman Empire faced very real and very serious threats because of their beliefs. They also lived in a complex, often cruel, and yet at the same time advanced civilization with multiple and constant challenges.

Paradoxically, the world they lived in also offered exceptional opportunities to help perpetuate their faith and even to carry it forth into the world in great and unique ways. It really isn’t all that much different from our world today with its milieu of complexities, threats, and often-untrustworthy leaders on the one hand, while on the other hand presenting unique and never-before-seen opportunities to spread the faith. Nevertheless, we cannot understate the fact that it was more threatening to live as a believer back then than it is now.

We can also see and take heart from the fact that the Gospel can and does still live and even thrive in spite of a hostile political and civil climate, as well as ungodly—-yes, even crazed—-political leaders. Moreover, it must be noted that it wasn’t necessary for the political leaders to be won over for the continued advance of the Kingdom of God. Jesus' words, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” reflect the reality that the Kingdom of God’s advance is not dependent upon some politician giving it his endorsement.

Unique Opportunities of the Times

In spite of the sometimes-crazed Roman leaders and the threats they often brought to the Christian faith there were still outstanding aspects of the Roman Empire itself that actually did greatly aid in Christianity’s spread. As touched on previously, the Roman Empire was a high point of ancient times with an advanced and highly developed civilization—-not terribly unlike our own developed Western society in today’s world.

Its complex road and travel system could take one anywhere from Britain to Cairo to Mesopotamia, extending throughout Europe, the Mediterranean, and parts of Africa and Asia. This, in fact, became a very key feature in the spread of the Gospel as the Romans unwittingly and quite literally paved the way for the Gospel’s spread with these incredible roads they built throughout the Empire, which were used by those like Paul and many, many, other disciples to take the Gospel far and wide.

Another key factor was the international Greek language, the veritable lingua franca of the world. Greek was spoken everywhere, and along with Greek culture and philosophy it had spread abroad, fulfilling the earlier vision of Alexander the Great, who was prophesied about metaphorically in the Book of Daniel; as a matter of fact, the New Testament came to be written in koine (common) Greek. This was a tool in God’s hand and greatly aided the spread of the Gospel. Speaking a common language, the believers could readily communicate with others even when they were of different cultures and nationalities, without having to spend years learning a new language just to be understood.

Additionally, the final conquests of Augustus ushered in what became known as the Pax Romana or Roman Peace, which brought an unparalleled time of peace to the known world of that time. Augustus was the emperor mentioned in the Gospel of Luke who ruled during the time of Jesus’ birth. As Julius Caesar’s adopted son, he inherited the throne and put down all his enemies, pursuing Brutus and Cassius, Julius Caesar’s assassins, into Greece until they were eliminated, then proceeding to put down Anthony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Attica. With no more real competitors to the throne, an unprecedented time of peace came over the Occident of the Roman world, which came by way of military might and superiority and was one of the few times of real world peace the planet has ever seen. Not surprisingly, it served as a great advantage as well in the Gospel’s spread. It is not always easy to minister in a war zone.

Other aspects of the Empire also aided in the Gospel’s spread. The international monetary system, where with one currency—the Roman denarius—people could buy and sell goods, would ease travel for the disciples. The ingenious aqueduct system that brought fresh drinking water into city centers also aided those who gave themselves to Christianity’s spread; they could focus on the task at hand versus time spent just trying to survive and meet basic needs.

All these things unequivocally worked in favor of the Gospel’s spread as the early believers co-opted them for higher means. There is a lesson here for us today: we must also, as Paul says, “Use every available means” to also propagate the faith in our day as well. Be it media, Internet, technology, ease of travel–jets and cars are faster and easier than walking on Roman roads—mass ability to print and disseminate Bibles and literature, and whatever else comes our way; all of this should also be co-opted for a higher purpose: that of spreading the truth and ultimately fulfilling the Great Commission.

The Deciding Factor

Though the early Christians used the means of their times to advance the Gospel, and although those means aided the Gospel’s spread greatly, they were not, however, the ultimate deciding factor in the Gospel’s advance. As pointed out, Christianity had become an outlaw religion and began to suffer severe persecution soon under Nero. If one were to look at this situation through a natural lens, Christianity should have disappeared from the face of the earth under such extreme pressure and threat even with the great Roman infrastructure to aid its spread. Instead, it grew and even thrived, later becoming the official faith of the very empire that had spent so much time and effort trying to stamp it out.

It would take much more than some paved roads and a common language for someone to join up with an outlaw faith being preached by persecuted preachers, a faith that could ultimately cause one to end up as a torch in a maniac’s garden or as a meal for a hungry lion! There definitely needed to be something very compelling to win people over to such a persecuted faith.

The task of sharing the Good News, much less just standing firm as a Christian in that complex and challenging world of the Roman Empire, could be formidable to say the least. The incredible transition from having to hold underground meetings in catacombs and caves, to becoming the official faith of the Empire that had tried to exterminate it certainly demanded a compelling power that was beyond human strength or agency.

Not by Might Nor by Power (i.e. Not by human strength or agency)

We can clearly find one of the main keys to the incredible transition right in the pages of Scripture…there is a reason why the Book of Acts mentions the Holy Spirit over 70 times!!!

Jesus' words in Acts 1:8, “It is not for you to know times or dates… but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth” are more than an interesting phrase for a Bible study. No, this was the locus classicus of the early Christian existence.

Being filled with and relying on the Holy Spirit was something not only taken as a necessary and essential equipping for the believer just to live as a Christian in that day, but also something that resulted in the believers being bold witnesses even in the face of serious and severe persecution.

Furthermore, as Jesus said: “He [the Holy Spirit] will convict people of sin, righteousness, and judgment.” (John 16:8-10) It was the fact that believers relied on the Holy Spirit which so empowered their witness so as to make it compelling and convicting to hearers.

In addition, the believers’ witness was commonly accompanied by miracles, signs, and wonders that served to illuminate their message in a dramatic way. For example Paul says in Romans 15:19-20: “…By the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. From Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.” Paul also said: “My message and preaching were not with wise and persuasive words but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power so that your faith might not rest on man’s wisdom but on God’s power.” 1 Cor. 2: 4-5.

It is apparent that the early believers took this to heart and sought to follow Paul and other apostles’ example of relying on the Holy Spirit and having miracles, signs, and wonders often serve as a witness to the message they were preaching.

Noted historian Ramsay MacMullen points out that miracles were something of a staple that accompanied the believers’ witness and served as a tool in reaching out to others, demonstrating the power and superiority of the Gospel and of the one true Savior and God.

Macmullen states in his book Christianizing the Roman Empire: “Driving all competition from the field head-on was crucial. The world had many dozens and hundreds of gods. Choice was open to everybody. It could only be a most exceptional force that would displace alternatives and compel allegiance. We should assign as much weight to this chief instrument of conversion [signs and wonders] as the best early reports do.”(1)

Furthermore, it cannot be overlooked that the early Christians, as we ourselves do today, lived in a pluralistic and advanced society with all kinds of pseudo-spiritual things out there vying for people’s attention and allegiance. Yet back in the Book of Acts as in much of the Early Church, they relied on the Holy Spirit as they were told by Jesus to do, and eventually won the day.

In spite of the difficulties and persecutions of their day they relied on the Holy Spirit’s power and took advantage of the opportunities provided by the Empire they lived in and harnessed and utilized them for the purpose of the Gospel’s advance. Through trial and tribulation they persevered and in time went from being the persecuted minority to eventually becoming the official faith of the very Empire that had literally sought to eliminate Christianity from the face of the earth.

Important examples exist for us from these early believers that we need to take note of. The Gospel’s existence and spread wasn’t dependent on politicians being in league with it for its expansion and life. The early believers utilized the means of the day and of their culture and maximized them for God’s higher purpose of taking the Gospel throughout the earth. Most importantly though, they depended on the power of the Holy Spirit to carry out the seemingly impossible task of reaching the world, a hostile world at that, and by persevering in these things they eventually won the day.

(1) MacMullen, Ramsay. Christianizing the Roman Empire. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1984).

Note: New video on Christianizing the Empire coming soon.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Cross and Man's Fallenness--

Listen to audio message: Christ's Trial, Crucifixion, and Resurrection

Bound and finite we are helpless in this puddle of muck without a savior…

It is really easy to forget that the cross, regardless of the fact that it has become a religious decoration, was a hideous instrument of torture and death reserved only for the lowest of criminals and reprobates. Roman citizens, if they should be found guilty in a trial of an offense deserving death, were actually exempted from capital punishment of such a cruel and hideous nature as dying on a cross like Jesus did. It should make one who believes in redemption actually shudder that this was actually the punishment needed to pay the penalty for our sins. Those who find forgiveness at the foot of it need revelation of just how dark the human condition is that such punishment, pain, torture and agony was necessary to bring forth redemption.

Many scenes in the redemptive narrative of Christ’s going to the cross are fraught with commentary on man’s hideous fallenness and absolutely sinful state, something all too easily overlooked in the Zeitgeist of “live your best life now,” saccharin-laced, shallow, pop religiosity these days.

At the heart of this redemptive story we see Jesus, One who had done nothing other than heal those suffering from terrible diseases, care for the outcast and downtrodden, and oh yes! clearly point out the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of the day, being marched up to a show trial, all while being beaten, mocked, and degraded.

Standing before Pilate—a man who was governor in one of the greatest and most advanced ancient civilizations the world had ever seen, with a system of justice that put all others before it to shame—we see the human enigma and dilemma revealed: Humankind at one of the zenith’s of its very existence meets the very embodiment of truth and love in Christ, and yet man in his bondage can do no other than demonstrate his corrupt, brutal, and wicked bondage to sin by crucifying this One who had done no wrong, committed no sin, condemning Him to the most unthinkable and hideous death imaginable.

In this moment we see that man in all his God-given capacity to build, construct, govern and exist is still yet completely and utterly incapable of doing what is right. Weighed down and bound to sin he carries out evil even at the best and highest of circumstances in his existence.

The Roman Empire was the high point of man’s existence during ancient times, with a road and travel system that could take one anywhere from Britain to Cairo to Mesopotamia reaching far and wide throughout Europe, the Mediterranean, and parts of Africa and Asia. All roads did in fact lead to Rome eventually.

Furthermore, they had an international monetary system that worked all throughout the empire, where with one currency, the Roman denarius, people could buy and sell goods, a feat unequaled throughout history and one it seems many are bent on duplicating. They boasted a truly international language given by the Greeks before them that was the veritable lingua franca of the world. Greek was spoken everywhere, and along with Greek culture and philosophy it had spread abroad, fulfilling the vision of Alexander the Great before them; as a matter of fact, the New Testament came to be written in Greek.

Cities had fresh spring water flowing to them thanks to the elaborate and ingenious system of aqueducts that the Romans had built and homes even had central heating systems constructed to carry heated water under the floors to each room. These particular achievements were not even matched again in history until the latter 1800’s in the developed world, and still are not matched today in much of the two-thirds developing world; it doesn’t take long to think of the many places in the world that don’t even have a decent drinking water system.

Here are some of the greatest achievements of ancient human history viewed from the time when the Roman Empire was itself at its very height, at its greatest pinnacle, having ushered in a time of peace throughout the known world, which came to be known as the Pax Romana, that is still the envy of all history. Yet here at the same time we find the perplexing dilemma of man with all his achievements at hand, unable even for a moment to extricate himself from the very evil that he is bound to, sinking constantly as he always does, back down the shafts into the corridors of hell from where the chains that hold him spring.

Created in God’s image yet so marred and bound by sin, the image of the Creator is unrecognizable. When the very Creator appears before him, he descends back into his darkness with the dark prince who bids him on towards more evil. At the very height of man’s existence in all his glory and achievements we see the cringing cowardice, evil, and cruelty of man’s bondage to his sinful state making itself manifest: Here Jesus, the very embodiment of truth and love stood before a Roman official, a governor at that, having committed no crime, One who had merely pointed out the obvious: that the Jewish religious leaders had completely corrupted and perverted the Mosaic Law they claimed to live by. But this was a thing intolerable to religious men who prided themselves as followers of God’s written code. Once again, rather than hearing the message sent by God to them, they did as their forefathers before them had done to the prophets of old, and conspired to kill the messenger.

This time however, it plays out in a drama that illustrates the fallenness of all who are born of women.

Pilate, caught in the middle of a Jewish conflagration regarding truth and messiahship, is first confused and then alarmed by this Jesus: many have called Him the Christ, a known prophet, a healer of the sick and downtrodden, a defender of the outcast and weak, yet now He stands before him with a disregard for defending himself and with claims about having a Kingdom not of this world.

Here the Roman governor is confronted with the Son of Man and is caught quite off guard with it all.

While listening to Jesus and His warning about accountability to the Most High, Pilate examines Him and comes to the clear conclusion that Jesus has done absolutely nothing wrong, but rather it is because of jealousy that the religious leaders have handed Him over.

Both Luke and John show that Pilate pleaded with the Jews regarding the fact of Jesus’ innocence. It says then that three times Pilate pronounced without equivocation that Jesus had done no crime. In fact, John points out that Pilate even tried to set Jesus free.

Here we see a Roman governor publicly declaring without a doubt a verdict of not guilty regarding Jesus in front of everyone. Not one time, or two times, but three whole times he did this—three, of course, is a number of completeness in Scripture.

Then the course of things becomes exceedingly strange, for after the Roman Governor makes this public declaration three different times of Jesus’ innocence, he suddenly descends into a mire of fear. Overcome with the darkness that plagues the human heart, after making such a public declaration of Jesus’ innocence three times in front of everyone, out of fear Pilate suddenly concedes to the people’s demands that Jesus be crucified.

Here the Roman governor, the head of state of that area, a leader in the most advanced civilization the world has seen up to that time with a sophisticated judicial system at his behest and a powerful army at his command, after publicly declaring Jesus’ complete innocence to all assembled three times, suddenly quivers in fear, abandons all virtues and values that embody the Roman ideal, and capitulates to the bloodthirsty demands of a mob filled with jealousy.

From a rational point of view it makes no sense at all: the one with all the power the world could deliver at his fingertips suddenly becoming afraid of a loudmouthed mob. He knew that the Jews and their leaders were filled with nothing more than jealousy and bitterness because Jesus had pulled the rug from underneath their feet by showing that they couldn’t justify themselves by their works as they zealously sought to do.

Suddenly, this powerful Roman leader now quivers at the sound of a bunch of loudmouthed powerless Jews who have no army, have no political representation, and they can’t even get a decent insurrection going with a miserable failure like Barabbas. After repeatedly declaring publicly that Jesus is innocent and even trying to set him free, Pilate suddenly and completely abandons every aspect of the heritage of the proud Romans who have built a system of justice and civil living and quivers in cowardice by conceding that an absolutely innocent man—whose innocence he declared publicly and emphatically just moments before—should be put to death, a hideously cruel and awful death at that, only to satisfy the bloodlust of a bunch of corrupt Jewish hypocritical Pharisees and Sadducees.

Here we see the cracks in the foundation of the existence of humankind and the paradox of the human existence. Created in God’s image with the ability to create and build and flourish with all kinds remarkable achievements and yet something down in the foundation is rotten to the core. Man is so stained with sin and so fallen that even at his best and highest point he is the worst monster one could imagine. Here Pilate, a Roman governor in the days of the epitome of Roman greatness, after publicly declaring Jesus’ innocence, gives him over to be tortured, maimed, horrifically beaten and finally crucified, when he from his own lips three times has declared this Man, this Jesus, to be completely innocent.

There is no other explanation other than sin. Man at his best is still the worst he can be. Bound with feet of clay and chained to the post of bondage, he can’t liberate himself even in his best moments. Even when the very Creator, the very Existence of truth and love stands before him, he still fumbles the moment and descends into the pit of depravity and does what is wrong in the most crucial time. Even when he has all the best resources at his fingertips he still carries out the worst, thus the bondage of the sinful condition is here manifest. The reformers called it “The bondage of the will.” Indeed it is the situation for all of us, “The whole world is a prisoner of sin.” (Gal. 3:22a)

The only hope is found right here in this very situation as Jesus willingly takes all of humankind’s sin for exactly this very reason. We are bound and cannot lift ourselves up by our own bootstraps as much as we might “believe in ourselves” or any other gobbledygook the world tries to ram down our throats. Bound and finite we are helpless in this puddle of muck without a savior. Yet the very One who was betrayed by a kiss from His own disciple is the same One who still reaches out His hand to deliver us if we will open our hands and hearts and receive. He goes to the cross willingly and takes all this punishment for me and for you. This is the price for our fallenness and He pays it willingly.

Though we are corrupt and sinful He goes to the cross for us and there bears the burden for a sinful humanity upon Himself. “He who knew no sin became sin that we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor.5:21)

Yet at the same time that we receive this grace of forgiveness from Christ who paid so dearly on the cross for our redemption, we must remember that we are still within ourselves sinners who must learn to embrace the cross and die to that old man every day, that sinful nature that still lives on within us. As Martin Luther said: “We are saved and yet at the same time still sinners.”

Renowned scholar F.F. Bruce points out that those who forget this are bound for all kinds of abuses, like we see with the Pharisees and Saducees in Jesus’ day.

History is fraught with man’s corruption, even in the name of the One who came to redeem man from his very fallenness. Torture chambers have been found in the basement of some monasteries; that sinful corruption turned them from preaching peace to carrying out the Inquisition, the more hideous the action when we realize it was done in the name of Christ. Man stinks up and stains every last thing he puts his hands on.

Human claims of infallibility are the biggest farces in history there ever were, be they by religious leaders or institutions, be they papal or otherwise. Every human being is a stinking sinner and is saved only by sheer grace and mercy in spite of our wanton wickedness, a wickedness there is no escaping from but which must be crucified while following Christ. Any thought to the contrary leads to the tragedy of errors that has been acted out throughout the history of institutional religion. Killing in His name wasn’t on Jesus’ list of things to go and do.

At the end of it all, only one hope remains for a fallen humanity who can’t even do what is right at the best of times, at the best of all history, when the best ever created, spotless and without sin, stood before it. Only one hope remains, which is to fall at the feet of that cross and the One who died on it, asking for mercy from Him who paid the steepest of prices for our sin and for the sin of all of humankind.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Thoughts on St. Patrick

To view St. Patrick Photo Essay and Video Page click here

While I was growing up the only thing I ever heard about St. Patrick’s Day was to wear green and pinch anyone who doesn’t. Some kids went so far as to bring pliers to school so they could give a real heavy pinch to anyone who didn’t comply. I remember being held down while given a serious pinch with some pliers on my backside because I didn’t wear green one time, thankfully I was wearing jeans so the pain inflicted was minimized. The only result was to make me not want to wear green even more next time in defiance. Many still want to do the same thing today—give a harsh pinch to any non-compliers or non-conformists who don’t heed to the politically correct status-quo of pop culture.

The view from both popular culture and pop Christian culture is that St Patrick was Irish, Catholic, and chased the snakes out of the Emerald Isle, none of which is true. Over the many long years and decades of involvement in evangelical church circles I never heard anything different there either.

It wasn’t until I was attending Fuller Theological Seminary, working on a Master’s Degree, with a concentration in History, that I ever came across anything about St. Patrick that contradicted the pop culture view.

Once the subject was broached though, the floodgates unleashed a plethora of material from high-level scholars as well as primary sources that was completely different from the popular cultural view.

Jesus’ words stand eternal: “The truth will set you free.” John 8:32. Thus there is an obligation to do one's best in speaking the truth about a situation even if it ruffles feathers. When dealing with a topic like St. Patrick there is no way to talk about the realities of history without stirring some controversy. There are those who seem to revel in being offended, claiming that the mere recounting of actual historical events is an attack on others, or that those who contradict their view of things are intolerant and divisive, all while they act intolerant towards any who dissent from their particular views. Well, they can go ahead and get their pliers ready all they want, but the mandate from the Savior and His Word stands: Speak the truth.

And there is much in the true and real story of Patrick that can help lead and reinforce people towards freedom:

Patrick wasn’t part of the religious system of Roman Catholicism, nor did he seek theirs or other men’s approval when stepping out to do what he saw as God’s will in serving the Lord.

Rather, he was one who was led by the Spirit through a vision to return to Ireland, the land of his servitude, to preach the Gospel. (Get the whole story on our video and web page.)

In fact Patrick helped establish the Celtic church in Ireland, which was quite distinct and different from Roman Catholicism (link) and in fact was in conflict with Roman Catholicism for hundreds of years.

This conflict was especially inflamed because later Celtic missionaries, much like Patrick before them, didn’t seek approval, covering, or permission from the Pope, Catholic bishops, or priests when they went into their areas on the Continent and preached and evangelized. In fact they are known for driving the Catholic leaders mad with the Celtic missionaries' refusal to seek their approval before entering what they saw as their territories. This caused much heated conflict and animosity between these two groups, which carried on for centuries. So much for the idea of one seamless institutional church; the Christian existence has always been through different autonomous groups.

In the end though, it is the Celtic Christian missionaries with their dedication to the Gospel and scholarship and preservation of many important works that are seen as those who saved Western civilization.

The Celtic missionaries and Patrick before them put into practice the words of Paul: “But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was.” Gal. 1:15-17

Patrick’s independent mission to Ireland, which was led by the Spirit and supported only by God, succeeded while Paladius before him who was sent officially by the Institutional Catholic Church with their support and endorsement ultimately failed. Patrick and the Celts, for the most part, put into practice the words and example of Jesus, “But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man's testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.” John 2:24-25. (link)

During the Reformation the priesthood of all believers was re-emphasized after a long period of neglect. In Scripture we see that Jesus sent out not just the twelve but many others including 72 other people to do the same things He was doing: heal the sick, cast out demons, and preach the Good News. (Luke 10:1-23) In Acts we see that all the community of believers preached the word everywhere they went. (Acts 8:4)

Even with the Apostles, however, we see that a conflictive attitude arose early on from amongst even themselves, who resented others outside their circle who were doing the kingdom work besides them. This exclusive attitude had to be rebuked by Jesus who informed them they shouldn't be trying to stop others who were out doing God's work just because they're not of their particular group, a thing that has happened in history so much. (Mark 9:38-41 & Luke 9:49-50)

Christ’s commission has already been given; He is the King of Kings and the head of the Church . We have God’s Word. The commission stands: Go!! Preach the Gospel, heal the sick, set the captives free. This command and commission is available to whosoever wants to take it up and should be a staple and regular practice for all of the Body of Christ until the day Christ returns.

Wherever you find yourself, whatever you do, remember that as a follower of Jesus you’ve been commissioned already by His word: so be free in your walk in God and step out to lay hands on the sick, take authority over demons and cast them out, and share the Good News. We are to be a priesthood of all believers and have a King who has commissioned us already.

Patrick the missionary to Ireland, as well as the Celtic Christians and missionaries that followed after him are a good example of those that put into practice the priesthood of all believers. Women were not excluded from ministry either like in Roman Catholicism but were included and encouraged to minister and the ministers were permitted to have wives and families.

It is time to recapture the priesthood of all believers and move away once and for all from the idea of some kind of false divide between the laity and the leadership. Martin Luther said this false construct has done nothing but create a chasm and an implacable divide in Christ’s body between leadership and so called lay people, whereas all Christians should be enjoying true evangelical fellowship with each other regardless of position in society or church and no one should consider themselves higher than or “superior” to another. Jesus’ words should be guiding us: "You are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:8) Instead man's traditions tend to replace the Divine Word and we stand again in need of another reformation, and the beat goes on.

The Celtic church was later absorbed into Roman Catholicism due to political pressures, and Patrick’s memory was altered when he was made a saint to win the hearts of the Irish to the Catholic Church. The remnant of Celtic Christianity was further erased by the invasion of the Vikings later; however; it was the Celts who helped to evangelize these brutal barbarians (to watch or listen to our program on this follow this link and search for "Conversion of the Vikings.")

History is unfortunately often remembered from the view of those who write it and thus since the Celtic Church is no longer in existence the real story is only found through digging into scholarly works.

Once we come to know the truth of this story, however, it really does reinforce that biblical paradigm of the freedom of the believer from the bonds of bureaucratic, institutional, and tradition-bound religiosity like the Pharisees promoted, and instead it reinforces the Bible’s words which lead us back to that organic, relational, fellowship and vision of knowing, and walking with, and simply following Jesus the Savior, who still calls out, “Come follow me.”

Go ahead and get your pliers ready if this offends your sensibilities. Just be forewarned though, that my skin has grown quite a bit thicker these days, and I’ve learned a bit about defending myself, so just be aware, I might just pinch back.

Sources for Further Reading:

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Reflecting on Jill Austin's Early Ministry Days

Once a person becomes well known, the early days when they were slugging it out in the trenches, trying to forge ahead through the fires of trial and tribulation to do what they felt the Lord was calling them to do, can easily be forgotten.

We’ve been blessed to have the privilege of learning and having been in some insightful discipleship situations from some significant figures in the Body of Christ.

God, by His grace, let us learn some important lessons through relationships and friendships with people like Harald Bredesen, who was one of the fathers of the Charismatic renewal and who ministered to presidents and other heads of state, as well as Lonnie Frisbee, who was significantly used in the Jesus people movement and a catalytic figure in the birth of the Calvary Chapel and Vineyard movements.

Jill Austin was another minister with whom God connected us and had us glean many important lessons from, especially in the earlier days of her ministry. I keenly remember those times, and still draw not only from many of the things she said but also from what she was experiencing and going through as she sought to follow that heavenly call.

Jill would speak about the price behind the anointing on many occasions, but these were not just idle words drawn from some vague theory divorced from personal reality. No, she had lived out and was living out the very things she would speak about at her meetings, being a living example of the very lessons she was trying to instill into our lives.

My wife Mercedes, back when we were dating, worked for Jill as her secretary at her office in Tustin. I happened to work for a modeling agency located a couple doors down from Jill’s office. I would stop in to see Mercedes, and in the process, got to know Jill. Jill on occasion would start ranting about the heathens from the modeling agency. I ranted along with her and then let her know I was over there working with those heathen. Later she’d rant about the place just to make fun of me and the crazy stuff I was doing like modeling, surfing, and going to Fuller Seminary, all at the same time.

Jill’s response about Fuller was that they sure give you a lot of boring reading to do and not enough fun stuff, and so I should keep on modeling and surfing, so I wouldn’t become a stodgy, stuffed-shirt, conservative, boring Pharisee.

Anyways, seeing that I was in fairly decent physical shape and that we were game to go to a lot of the meetings she was doing, she started recruiting us to help with some odd jobs, odd being the operative word here.

The first crazy thing was helping her push start a VW Carman Ghia she was driving for a short time. The starter or something was dead and so you’d have to push the car and pop the clutch to get it started. This was old hat for me as I used to have to do it regularly with an old Volkswagen I once owned, I was always recruiting guys so we could cut school and go surfing, now I was on the other end being recruited by Jill.

So you could say I was primed for the challenge, except for when Jill wanted to be in the car while I pushed. It’s hard enough to pop the clutch and turn the key all at the right time, which she was struggling with, but pushing the car by myself with her in it was an exercise in futility, so we soon had to change that routine to doing the whole thing myself, pushing and jumping in starting it all myself.

On one occasion after a home meeting in Tustin, it was running so bad I had to drive it back home for her while she and Mercedes followed in my car; it would stall and then I’d have to push start it again as it then lurched around when it started. I almost hit another car because the brakes were bad on top of everything else.

She soon moved on to a station wagon, which worked a lot better for her because now she could bring all her materials more easily to the meetings. The station wagon didn’t need any push starting, which was a relief as it was huge, but we helped her out by carrying stuff in and helping her set up her table of materials that she would sell to help fund the ministry, a job that was less stressful and straining, but lacked the wild and sort of fun adventure of the crazy car.

Jill’s need to raise funds led to other crazy stuff. We were visiting her mom’s place when she was living there in Mission Viejo, when she asked if I could go down and feed the cats in the garage. I was thinking, “No big deal,” expecting to feed two or three cats. My eyes popped out and my jaw dropped when I got in the garage and there were all these cages filled with cats. I don’t know how many there actually were, but it seemed like she had about 30 cats in cages. “What on earth do you got goin’ on here?” I asked.

She meekly explained in a sort of embarrassed way that she was breeding cats to try and raise extra funds. All I could say was, “This looks like it costs a lot of money just to feed all these things plus all the cleaning up after them, and you’ll probably just get a lot of cat hair all over you and not get a lot of money out of it.”

I was smitten with hilarity every time I thought about going in that garage and turning on the lights and seeing all these cages filled with cats. I felt like I had been translated from Jill’s house to some secret cat experiment in the back wing of a laboratory.

This is a bit of a slice-of-life of what Jill was going through and experiencing in her stepping out to follow God in the ministry He had called her into, back in those early days. She wasn’t well known at this point, and was doing whatever she could, even if that included breeding cats or push starting cars, in order to keep stepping out and doing the work of the Kingdom that God called her to do. She was ministering by and large mostly in home meetings, but doing it willingly and obediently and sticking it out by doing the work full-time as God had called her.

Those home meetings were extremely powerful and we saw the Spirit of God being poured out regularly in a mighty way. These would often go on for hours as Jill prayed and gave many prophetic words to those there; the words she gave to us really helped us move forward towards God’s call on our own lives. The power of God was at full bore in her ministry even in those early days, and I truly don’t see any difference in the power that was moving through her later on when she became more well known. Rather, she just became more prominent and thus more people were touched with, and affected by, that same level of Holy Ghost power!

There was absolutely a price behind the anointing though. She experienced years and years of struggle before rising to prominence with many different rivers to cross: including shortness of funds and all that comes with that, but also with hoping and praying for some newer and bigger doors to open and to be able to move forward to reach more people with what God had put on her life to share and minister.

We saw firsthand that she was really going through some trials, but nevertheless she sought to do these meetings wherever the doors would open, often in homes, sometimes in small churches. Wherever God would give her opportunity to minister in those earlier days, she would take it and was willing to cut her teeth in the tough trenches that come with stepping out to do the ministry that the Lord had specifically called her to do.

She was not willing to compromise by following the vision of some other pastor or preacher in an established setting or church, which of course would have been much easier and would have been the much more respectable and accepted thing to do in todays Christian world. Rather, she chose to be faithful to the unique calling of God upon her own life, doing the things that God, and not men, had specifically called her to do, and she was willing to pay the heavy price that comes with following the specific vision and ministry that the Holy Spirit had placed on her life.

Trials and more trials followed, even with churches and pastors, which seemed to be the norm in those days, and I remember her saying on occasion: “Please pray for me. I cast out a demon in this last meeting and now the pastors are all over my case.” I was perplexed that they could be upset about this: “What, they want the demons to stay in the people?”

But just like in the Scriptures, even the disciples got upset about people who cast out demons who weren’t part of their little inner circle clique. They had to be rebuked by Jesus—yes, even Jesus’ very own disciples needed rebuking for opposing the work of the Holy Spirit. (Mark 9:38-41) Welcome to Spiritual Warfare 101!

Jill sought to see people filled and empowered by the Spirit and her heart’s desire was to see others fulfill their destinies in God. She was willing to pay the heavy price of following Jesus all the way and not looking back, of walking through trial after tribulation, through one suffering circumstance after another, in order to do what God had called her to do. Pull on that mantle and you’re going to find there is a very, very heavy price to walk it out, so don’t do it lightly or flippantly!!!

She was willing to fight it out in the trenches and pay her dues when pastors of certain big churches ignored her, even though she had attended faithfully and jumped through all the hoops they had put before her to get their endorsement, but even then they still wouldn’t give her the endorsement she wanted. Later, of course, when she became well known they wanted her back to help pack out and fill the seats at their conferences.

She was, as Paul said of Timothy, one who proved herself in suffering for the Gospel, a soldier for the Kingdom. She paid the price behind the anointing and further on in her ministry saw the mountaintop and now has her reward with the King of Kings.

We ourselves learned so much and were really helped and prepared for our own ministry in renewal in the Holy Spirit, evangelism, teaching, and missions, not only through hearing her speak about the price behind the anointing so often but also by watching her actually pay that price in her own life.

When we are toughing it out in the trenches in Mexico or the barrios of San Diego or living out of a suitcase on another lengthy mission journey in Europe, or sweating it out in Africa, often struggling with funds just to do the work God called us to, we are reminded of Jill. Not only of her words but also of her example and the trials and Cross she willingly endured as we saw her walk out right in front of us “The Price behind the Anointing!!”

It was a blessing to know her and be her friend, but also to gain that important revelation she often shared about being willing to endure whatever the cost.

I remember standing in Germany at the prison camp in Buchenwald on the very spot where Dietrich Bonhoffer was hung and martyred for his faith by the Nazis who were actually his own fellow countrymen. At that moment I was taken and impacted by the Holy Spirit with Bonhoffer’s theme of “The Cost of Discipleship.” Reflecting now upon Jill’s death reminds us that she lived out before our very eyes what Dietrich Bonhoffer talked about regarding “The Cost of Discipleship”: she not only spoke of it, but lived out “The Price behind the Anointing.”