Friday, December 24, 2010
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Luther’s admonition on prayer: “Pour out your heart before God and say, ‘I am empty, fill me…strengthen me…warm me and make me burn,’” as well as his insistence on the need for the Spirit's power: “Unless you are continually baptized in the Holy Spirit and fire you will fall back into unbelief" were taken up in practice by the Puritans in England when the Reformation spread there. They inveighed against a Christianity that went only through the motions and rituals, but instead preached that “one must have an encounter with God; Christ must fill the heart.” This was a central focus of early Puritan faith. They were, as historian Sydney Alhstrom points out, “an extended revival movement.”
Thus, when Puritans (those who desired to purify the church from Romish chains and return to a New Testament standard) and Separatists (those who sought to ‘come out and be separate’ from Roman Catholicism) came and formed the early American Colonies, they did so in personal obedience to the Great Commission. They sought to establish a place where worship could be free, free from the restrictions of dead institutional religiosity, returning to that of the early church in Acts. They were all about revival and eagerly sought after it.
Through long travail and many trials, revival finally came forth when Jonathan Edwards, a descendant of Puritans, and George Whitfield, who was converted to Christ directly by the teaching of reformers and the Reformation, ministered in the early American Colonies and the fire of God began to fall.
Edwards began to seek God concerning the lethargy that was later setting in amongst the Christian Community in the colonies and was directed by the Holy Spirit back to the central focus of Christ’s payment for sin and God’s prevailing grace for all who will believe. As he preached a tightly reasoned sermon series on justification by faith through grace, “a great acceleration of the Spirit’s presence took place.” This was followed up later when he invited George Whitfield, who would regularly preach on “the righteousness from God given to us as a free gift wrought by Christ’s work on the cross for us who believe.” Edwards, an unemotional person, would often weep through the entirety of Whitfield's preaching, so touched by God was he.
The embers Edwards stirred exploded into a raging conflagration through Whitfield’s preaching. The fire of God began to spread and powerful manifestations began to take place on a regular basis as revival took hold. The colonies were turned upside down with an outpouring of the Spirit and manifestations of many falling to the ground under the power of the Spirit, shaking, crying out, profuse weeping and laughing. All these took place regularly as the Spirit’s power spread. Whitfield crisscrossed the colonies and began to have massive crowds come out to hear him regularly. Crowds of eight to ten thousand people (for the size of the colonies this was huge) were the norm, culminating in him preaching to over 30,000 at one time on the Commons at Boston. Benjamin Franklin, a self-described skeptic who nevertheless was always interested in Whitfield's effect, measured the crowds and recorded the events, giving even more credence to the phenomenon of the revival. When Whitfield would preach, absolute mayhem would often take place, with crowds running to the event and stirring up so much dust it looked like a cloud had descended, with the added phenomenon of boats and carriages crashing in their attempt to get to the meetings.
Through the effects of the revival many were raised up to be preachers, missionaries, evangelists, and the like, and took the Gospel out to further reaches of the expanding settlements; churches were strengthened and grew and many colleges were raised up to train preachers, including Dartmouth (originally called Moors Charity School for Indians), and Brown University.
This revival, like all revivals, was of course not without controversy, as many in staid and formal churches didn’t appreciate “such enthusiasm” as they called it, looking down their noses at such base behavior, much like Michal looked down on King David’s worship and dancing. It is interesting to note, however, that many of those who opposed the revival would themselves fall later into liberal ideologies like Unitariansim; it isn’t really possible to resist the Holy Spirit on one hand and think He’ll bless you on the other. Whitefield's comment on that situation was "The reason there are so many dead churches is that dead men are preaching to them." Gilbert Tennent also wrote and preached on "The danger of an unconverted ministry" reflecting the reality that many leaders in a lot of churches resisting the revival didn't even know Christ personally themselves.
Nevertheless, denominations today like Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists owe their size directly to their participation in this and other revivals that took place in early America. However, the vast majority of churches in which the Great Awakening took place were Puritan. The Spirit of God was poured out in power with mighty manifestations taking place and so the Gospel spread.
This is a large unsung part of our Thanksgiving Heritage: Thank God for the way the grace of Christ and the power of His Spirit gave such a Christian foundation to this nation in its earliest days.
Sunday, October 31, 2010
On October 31st, 1517 Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Thus began the Reformation, which quickly spread all over Europe, leading multitudes back to Christ and the truth of His Word!!
Martin Luther said: “Unless you are continually baptized in the Holy Spirit and fire you will fall back into unbelief.”(1) The words of the great reformer couldn’t ring more true. So many of the people I knew from way back who played a game of safe Churchianity and warned against being too focused on that “Holy Spirit stuff” are not even walking with God now but have fallen back into the world while pursuing its empty nonsense. There is nothing better you can do for your walk with God than to pursue being filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit!! For the Holy Spirit is God, and He leads us into all truth, opens our eyes to spiritual reality, and gives us life.
Luther’s highlighting of Paul’s creed (Rom. 8:1-16; Gal. 5:16-25; Eph. 3:16-19, 5:17) puts into perspective the reality that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but spiritual forces of darkness who constantly assault the believer on every front. The battle of faith constantly wages on and we need the light and illumination of the Holy Spirit to see clearly the battle we are in.
Like the character Susan in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe who crosses over into another world she previously knew not existed and whose eyes open to a reality she beforehand knew nothing of, Luther himself says he entered into the paradise of God’s grace when the Holy Spirit opened his eyes to God’s Word declaring, “I was born again through gates of paradise and the whole of Scripture took on a new meaning,” (2) (click here for an overview of Luther’s life) as he finally understood that Christ had once for all paid for his sins on the cross at Calvary. Luther’s clarity on the finished work of Christ and subsequent confrontation of Catholic errors on things like:
- Indulgences—the Catholic Church selling documents proclaiming forgiveness to those who rendered sufficient payment, a practice that still continues in the Catholic Church in parts of Italy and elsewhere.
- Relics—the worship and idolatry of pieces of bone and hair from already-deceased, well-known Christians. This is actually a forbidden practice in the Old Testament called necromancy, yet one that the Catholic Church did and still persists in carrying out.
Confronting these abuses spurred the Reformation forward like wild fire, so many throughout the continent were sufficiently disgusted at the constant unbiblical abuses and money grubbing going on in Catholicism that when Luther’s sharp and clear words regarding the freely given grace offered through Christ’s finished work along with the pointed rebuke at the abuses the Catholic Church was carrying out, the sentiment spread like a wild conflagration.
Luther’s clarity in his writings on Christ’s finished work and confrontation of the errors of the Institutional Church turned many back to the truth of God’s Word and towards real relationship with Christ. Students grabbed hold of his writings and began reprinting them on the recently invented printing press (click here to learn about Gutenberg's printing press), disseminating them all over Europe, which stirred a movement that spread throughout the nations and eventually to the formation of a nation that would become known as America.
One of those impacted by Luther’s teaching and preaching was Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland as well as his contemporaries like Heinrich Bullinger and William Farrel.
Zwingli, a Catholic priest like Luther, was greatly disillusioned with Catholicism as well and yet, unlike Luther, found himself unable to live up to the demands of celibacy (like many priests we see in the news today). Zwingli later, like Luther, turned his back on the unrealistic idea of celibacy and married. He was influenced by Luther’s writings early on and experienced a conversion to Christ and began to disseminate Luther’s teaching in Switzerland. He subsequently began to lead the Reformation in Zurich and brought a great impact to the area and just as Luther, he taught on God’s grace while speaking out against the abuses and errors of Catholicism. (As former priests, all these men were intimately in touch with the damage caused by such institutionalized error.) Luther and Zwingli as well as the other reformers, stressed the authority of God’s Word over against the teachings of man found so much in institutional religion.
Zwingli also proffered great insight into the breaking process one goes through as we learn to lean on the cross of Christ. Faith and grace come forth “when one despairs of oneself and trusts wholly on Christ alone.” Salvation is known and matures when “a man casts himself off and prostrates himself before the mercy of God alone.” Until one stops looking to oneself and one’s own works “you remain yet to know the depths of the grace he offers.” Though Zwingli and Luther saw a few small details differently, on the main essentials their belief were the same: by faith through grace alone—nothing more and nothing less—does one receive the great gift of pardon and mercy God offers in his Son Jesus Christ.
This essential Biblical foundation held in common by all the reformers became the cornerstone of later revivals at: Hernhutt in Germany, in England, and in the American Colonies. Revivals that, because they had a solid Biblical foundation, lasted, flourished, and spread the Gospel, unlike many of the so-called revivals of today that spring up quickly and seem focused more on an individual and his personality and die out just as quickly as they arose. (Can anyone say Lakeland….etc.)
Zwingli also influenced many others in his area that joined the Reformation as well, and these Reformers like Bullinger and Farrel, did much to reach out to the poor and bring reforms to not only the Church but social situations as well. Bullinger made Zurich a refuge for Christians being persecuted by the Catholic Church and fleeing the burning at the stake, especially other Lutherans. Farrel was a fiery preacher who raised up many young preachers and sent them out to reach others with the Gospel of grace as well as reaching out to the poor and sick. He was also a figure who shone the light of Christ and even reached out to the Waldensians who had been persecuted centuries earlier and had taken refuge in Switzerland.
This simple turning back to the fundamentals of the New Testament’s core teaching of Christ’s finished work and the grace he freely offers through faith in His blood, shook not only these regions but also the nations. As even Life Magazine put it, Luther and his influence remain in the top three of most important events over the last one thousand years.
I'll share with you shortly the radical divine appointment story of how the above video on Zwingli came to be made. Stay tuned!
(1) Luther’s Sermons, Volume # 2, Page 182
(2) Martin Luther quoting on his conversion. Here I Stand by Roland Bainton.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
I want to give a quick synopsis of a recent message I gave as I believe it is timely for many people at the moment:
Joseph, Moses, and David all had important calls and purposes God had for their lives but all of them went through severe and extended trial, testing, and preparation, in being made ready for the blessing the Lord would eventually bring so as to handle it correctly once it came.
Imagine Joseph in prison wondering what had become of the dreams he had received and how on earth could this severe trial possibly have anything to do with those dreams. However, that trial was indeed part of the preparation for those dreams being fulfilled; God had indeed called him and would use him later in a very important way. Likewise with both Moses and David, trials did rule their lives for quite an extended period. David must have wondered what being pursued like a fugitive all over the countryside by Saul had to do with being anointed as the next king by the prophet Samuel. He, in fact, was having the Saul tried out of him however.
King Saul never had that preparation and in fact completely faltered when brought into a position of leadership; he thought his own human reasoning could take the place of being led by God’s Spirit, and it led him alright, right into disobedience and catastrophe. David learned to seek God through these severe trials and those lessons stayed with him later.
In the same way, God often takes us as his children through heavy trials but they have a purpose if we have ears to hear. He wants to teach us reliance on Him. The Apostle Paul learned to not rely on his own strength and instead learned to say, “When I am weak then I am strong, for God’s grace is sufficient for me.” Likewise God will extract out of our lives everything that keeps us from being centered on anything but the sheer grace of His glorious Son Jesus.
Jesus alone paid the whole price and all the glory goes to him. He will have no competing thoughts, idols, or strongholds that might lead us to think that our own works, or abilities, or accomplishments, have anything to do with the great blessing He brings. Christ and Christ alone is to be glorified. As Luther said: God creates out of nothing and until he makes us realize we are nothing He can do nothing with us. Oh, what do you know? Christianity actually has a cross in it (!) in spite of what some TV preacher guy may have told you about unbridled prosperity. The cross and trials are indeed part of the preparation process for us to handle the blessings and increase that He will eventually bring.
He wants to prepare long distance runners that persevere and hear His voice and follow His will and direction, those that are led by His Spirit and rely on His grace and love and power, and not human-centered individuals that look only to their own strength and resources and their own human reasoning and like Saul, falter when given a task to carry out by Him. And the only road that will get us to that place is through the cross.
Saturday, May 8, 2010
The unexpected outpouring of the Spirit way back on Mother’s Day in the high school gym where Calvary Chapel Yorba Linda (later to become Vineyard Anaheim) held its services, turned life upside down in a good way for many people, myself included.
I was brought into the reality of God’s presence and love and grace in a way that I had never heard nor knew could happen and then was directed into God’s call and ministry all through the work and power of His Spirit.
We were blessed to connect with Lonnie Frisbee later and as good friends learned many important lessons in that discipleship time.
Video of Jesus People
Video of Bryan's Testimony
(1) When the Spirit Comes With Power by John White; Power Evangelism by John Wimber; The Quest for the Radical Middle by Bill Jackson.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
- Pilate went out to the Jews and said "I find no basis for a charge against him." (John 18:38.)
- Pilate came out and said to the Jews, "Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him." (John 19:4.)
- But Pilate answered "You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him."(John 19:6.)
How a Roman Governor whose word is as good as law could still allow someone, much less Jesus Christ famed for healing and helping the sick and downtrodden, to be crucified when he himself just declared three times unequivocally to be innocent of any charge, is one of history's great enigmas.
The answer to such perplexing enigmatic circumstances is found in Jesus' own words: "I lay down my life--only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and to take it up again." (John 10:17-18)
Thursday, March 4, 2010
It was about three years ago right around this time when a large group of people, including many well-known figures in Christendom, gathered at Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California, to celebrate the life and passing of one of the more unique and significant figures in the Body of Christ in the twentieth century, Harald Bredesen.
Harald was one of the principal fathers of the Charismatic Renewal, along with Dennis Bennett. As the first proto-charismatic—he was an ordained minister in the Lutheran Church, a mainline and historic denomination, who received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and yet stayed within his denomination—he was instrumental in ushering in the Charismatic Renewal into the mainline denominations, as well as introducing that renewal even to places like the Ivy League colleges of Yale and Dartmouth. He humorously called the Yale students who got filled with the Spirit and spoke in tongues “GlossoYalies.” He also reached and impacted many world leaders like Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, and Anwar Sadat, and led quite a number of well-known figures like Pat Boone and Dale Evan Rogers into the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Harald was someone who exemplified Romans 8:14: “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” When I first met him, however, I thought he was more like the bumbling Maxwell Smart from the Get Smart TV series. As I waited to meet him in his office for the first time, I noticed telephones everywhere, and out on his patio I even found a phone hidden down in a small wooden compartment underneath the cement right by his Jacuzzi. I totally expected to find a phone in his shoe next, just like old Maxwell Smart. He always wanted to be available to minister to whoever might call needing a word or some prayer, even while relaxing in the Jacuzzi. I soon found out that, behind the wild and crazy character who ate in my ear while I talked to him on the phone—he was notorious for chomping away at his lunch or dinner while talking on the phone—there was a very wise individual who was always deftly paying attention to the Holy Spirit. While my wife and I were eating dinner with him during our first meeting, our faces ended up pretty much in our food as Harald suddenly started praying and God’s power fell upon us. We were overcome by the Spirit’s presence and we ended up getting a little bit more intimate with our dinner than expected as Harald suddenly began prophesying over us.
Here was a man who had paid the price behind the anointing, much like I wrote about in the previous blog with Jill Austin, and whose numerous antics and missteps sharpened him in the place to discern the voice and leading of the Lord in a dynamic way in his life. You can read about all that in his book Yes, Lord! (for more info click here), which chronicles the trials of those early formative years. At one of the lowest points in his early life, he found himself sitting in a little broken-down decrepit hostel, his only furniture being a broken old stool missing a leg and a bed full of bed bugs, sick and wondering if he was really hearing God right, he unknowingly found himself at a decisive point in his life, where he was going from seeking to fulfill God’s purposes in his life by way of his own power and flesh, to being yielded and led by the Holy Spirit and relying on God’s power instead.
His many years of learning to discern God’s leading gave him an uncanny way of knowing where some area of one’s life needed some breaking, reforming, and embracing of the Cross. I remember being in a shopping mall and Harald got going on a witnessing spree to the clerks and employees in Target; next he said, “Let’s go through the aisles praying out loud in tongues and see who God leads us to talk to.” This was fun and fine with me and we ended witnessing to some more people. All of a sudden however, with arms locked together, he pulled us out of Target and started making a beeline for another store. As we got closer I freaked: it was a surf shop, I was yelling inside my head go anywhere but in there, but he went straight in, praying at the top of his lungs in tongues to the shocked look of all inside. He had hit on the head an area in my life that needed a little deathblow. Growing up as a surfer and spending many years in the competitive surfing arena as well as being sponsored by different surf companies there was always that issue of wanting to look cool amongst your peers, and this was a needed deathblow to that pride. The Holy Spirit fell on me in power with the Scripture, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.” (1 Cor. 1:27)
I’ve had many divine appointments involving surfing (read more here) and almost always it happens while listening to the Holy Spirit and doing something that would be considered foolish to the world’s eyes by His direction, but which leads to some miraculous encounter. He uses those willing to take risks, be foolish, and step out in faith, not worrying about one’s reputation but willing to be a vessel of His word and power. Harald was a great example of this. You can never learn to swim without jumping in the water and flailing around a bit. You’ve got to take that risk; like Peter, you’ve got to step out of the boat if you want to follow the Lord and walk out on the water! Peter got out of the boat and had that radical experience of walking on the water while all the other disciples just sat in the boat watching and he got to walk on the water twice as Jesus helped him when he faltered and sank and then walked him back to the boat. It was easy for the others to just sit in the boat and possibly even criticize, “Look he doubted! Now he’s sinking.” Armchair critics are a dime a dozen and the world and the church are full of them while only a small percentage of the Christian population even gets involved in the actual activity of the Kingdom.
It takes guts and faith, however, to step out and take a risk and be willing to be used by God; you’ve got to be willing to make mistakes and missteps, you can never make it to the goal if you don’t pick up the ball and run and that means risking falling on your face. Too many want to play it safe and sit in the comfort of the pew and let someone else step out and do the Kingdom stuff and unfortunately this status quo is all to often encouraged by the powers that be.
You can listen to many sermons but there’s nothing like that living sermon of stepping out to follow Christ, which presses you in to discern His voice. Over many years of trial and tribulation, Harald learned to discern the Lord’s voice in his life and he is a wonderful example of that important dynamic in a believer’s walk.
"Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord. To obey is better than sacrifice.” 1Sam. 15:22
“Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God,” Romans 8:14
“If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.” Gal. 5:18
“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Gal. 5:25