Building a People Full of Jesus

Fresh Proclamation of an Ancient Vision

In 2015, we began having conversations about the vision of West Lisbon Church. For the Christian Church, vision is not something that we have to create out of thin air. God has revealed his vision in Jesus Christ. We are charged with a stewardship of that gospel vision—a fresh proclamation—in this culture and among the people of this generation. Awhile ago, I preached a short sermon series on the book of Haggai, whose message is an important one for a historic church seeking God afresh. Haggai wrote to the people of Judah, who had returned from exile. His vision for a fresh experience of the presence of God caused him to challenge the returning exiles to rebuild the house of the Lord.

For West Lisbon Church, we want Jesus in every heart, head, and hand, and the members of WLC commit to moving people who love God into deeper discipleship experiences with God resulting in activities and relationships that glorify God and advance the gospel in our community and world. Haggai’s message of revival can encourage us as we seek to participate in God’s mission.

Consider Your Priorities

Through the decree of Cyrus the Great (538 B.C.E.), which was later confirmed during the reign of Darius I (522–486 B.C.E.), the Jews were permitted by the Persian Empire to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple. The Persian emperors did more than simply permit the return and rebuilding; they also provided security and resources for the project (see Ezra 6:1–15) until the completion of the temple in March of 515 B.C.E. Despite the support from the Persian emperors, the rebuilding project ceased around 536 B.C.E. and did not begin again until the prophetic ministries of Haggai and Zechariah in 520 B.C.E.

Like many of the prophets, we do not know much about the prophet Haggai’s personal background. His name means “festal,” which has given scholars fodder for conjecture: (1) perhaps he was born at the time of a festival; (2) perhaps such a name anticipated the timing of the prophet’s ministry—“1:1 on the New Moon’s day, 2:1 on the seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles, and 2:18 on the day when the ‘foundation’ of the temple was laid”; or (3) perhaps “Haggai” is not the prophet’s real name but a name given to the author because of the calendar events associated with the prophet’s ministry.

Further, little is known about Haggai’s “exilic experience.” Some conclude that Haggai was an older man who saw the glory of Solomon’s temple (see 2:3) and that he was either one of those who returned from the Babylonian captivity or one who had remained in the desolate Jerusalem until others returned. Others suggest that Haggai was a younger man who was born in Babylon and traveled to Jerusalem after the decrees of the Persian emperors.

Regardless of his background, the prophet Haggai bursts into the lives of a discouraged population in Jerusalem with a brief but powerful ministry during which he communicated a single-minded message that reoriented the spiritual center of the people and the leadership. To the surprise of the reader of the prophetic literature, the people respond in obedience! Haggai’s message to the leaders and inhabitants of Jerusalem is to “Consider Your Priorities” (1:5, 7; 2:15, 18). The leaders and people had established priorities in their lives that were inconsistent with their covenant responsibility and covenant loyalty to the Lord. For example, 1:4 reveals that the people were busy about building their own homes while the house of Lord remained in a state of ruin. The glory and pleasure of the Lord had taken a backseat to the people’s comfort to which the Lord responded with judgments according to the stipulations of the covenant (1:5–6, 9–11; cf. Deut. 11:13–17). The Lord stirred the hearts of the leaders, Zerubbabel and Joshua, and the people to respond with obedience by rebuilding the temple of the Lord (1:12–15) as Haggai encouraged them with the promise of God’s presence (1:13), to be strong in the Lord’s presence and fear not (2:3–5), and to trust in the Lord’s sovereignty (2:7–9). Upon responding to Haggai’s message to “Consider Your Priorities,” the temple was eventually rebuilt—stirring hearts for the return of the Lord’s glory, presence, and blessing upon his people.

A House Made of People Who Are Full of Jesus

Haggai’s implications for the church today are numerous. The western church has largely become inundated with marketing, entertainment, and consumerism. Let’s be honest; it’s the culture we swim in. Sometimes our culture can be harnessed to draw people to Jesus, and other times our culture hinders drawing people to Jesus. Are we building our own houses and our church facilities with “wood paneling, gold, and silver”? Are we really building the house of the Lord? The house or temple being built according to the New Testament revelation is the Church of Jesus Christ—composed of people—living stones—from every nation because of the peace of salvation secured for us by Jesus Christ (see Eph. 2:11–22; cf. 1 Pet. 2:1–5). The message of Haggai to “Consider Your Priorities” could not be more relevant.

Are we willing to truly build the Lord’s house through relationships that involve evangelism and discipleship (Matt. 28:18–20)? Gaining church members from other local churches by means of attractions is not really building the house of the Lord; it’s not real church growth. Instead of reaching people who already know and who already grow in Jesus, let’s reach the lost and broken. Let’s reach the forgotten. Let’s reach those who have wandered away from God’s house. Let’s make it a priority to offer them the life-giving message of Christ crucified and resurrected. Let’s provide a warm and effective fellowship family in which these new believers grow, mature, and make an impact for generations. Conversions and disciple-making build up the house of the Lord. God’s call to us is to consider our priorities knowing that he is with us and that we are desperate for him to set our hearts ablaze for the sake of his house.

What Is Revival? Part 3

Revival

What Is Revival? Part 3

This will be the third and final part to the Messenger series on revival. The previous two parts also entitled “What Is Revival?” are available online. In this third part of the series, I’d like us to consider our cultural moment. Alvin J. Reid wrote a book entitled Firefall 2.0: How God Has Shaped History Through Revivals. Throughout the book, Reid indicates that cultural moments of upheaval and uncertainty can become moments of opportunity for the people of God to seek him for revival.

Looking out over our upcoming election and cultural climate, I feel that we Americans together must not neglect our ownership of this cultural moment. I believe that we are in such a time of upheaval and uncertainty that God’s purpose for us now is to return to him in desperate, repentant prayer. The two major party candidates—regardless of what we think of either of them—largely represent our corporate choices. They represent us. Even if they were not the primary choices of some, we all contributed to this cultural moment. Nationally, we have committed sins against God, against our neighbors, and against the weak among us. Nationally, we have neglected obedience and faith toward God, resulting in injustice, a lack of mercy, and a twisting of truth and goodness. The time has long passed for us to “argue with God” or to “defend our righteousness” before him. He won’t hear these defenses. He’ll only hear repentance. The righteousness that we offer him is stained and filthy. Eugene Peterson’s rendering of Romans 1:32 says it best,

And it’s not as if they don’t know better. They know perfectly well they’re spitting in God’s face. And they don’t care—worse, they hand out prizes to those who do the worst things best!

It’s time for us to find our need for the gospel of Jesus Christ afresh.

Therefore, if these two candidates are descriptive of our general, national spirituality and character—and I believe that they are—then we must hit our knees and avoid bartering with God about a winner. There is no winner for us between these two. It’s like having to choose between Jeroboam or Rehoboam, like choosing between Ahab or Jezebel.

Here are five devotional thoughts—in no particular order—on biblical living for this current cultural moment. First, let’s agree with God about our guilt in this cultural moment. To our knowledge, Daniel lived a life that we all would describe as faithful to God. He was loyal to the point of facing death multiple times in key cultural moments for the people of Israel. Yet, read his prayer in chapter 9. In response to what he reads in the word of God, he owns the sins of his nation before God. He doesn’t excuse himself from the corporate sins of Israel. Let’s stop fighting for what we want, and start asking God what he loves. It’s an opportunity for the church to humble herself and repent and seek God afresh.

Second, pray carefully about our vote. There are many perspectives about how Christians should vote. Some say that we should vote for “the lesser of two evils.” Some see a vote cast for either major party candidate as approving a liar and adulterer on the one hand or a murderer and crook on the other hand. Others say vote for the Vice President that you prefer. Some say that a widespread Christian silence should be our voice in this election. Others say to be loyal to your party while being critical of its failures in attempts to reform from within. Some are considering starting or joining a new political party. Others plan to write-in the primary candidate that they had hoped would make it into the national election. The multiplication of our reasonings reveal the trouble in our hearts about this cultural moment. May God graciously persuade our national heart to accomplish his will—whatever that may be.

Third, pray for the candidates. Proverbs 21:1 in the ESV reads,

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.

One of them will be our president. Interestingly, the apostle Paul instructed his son in the faith, Timothy, to pray for leaders even while they were living under Emperor Nero. Christian historian, Justo Gonzalez, quotes the Roman historian, Tacitus, to remind us of Nero’s cruelty to Christians that followed his false identification of them as the ones who started the great Roman fire,

Before killing the Christians, Nero used them to amuse the people. Some were dressed in furs, to be killed by dogs. Others were crucified. Still others were set on fire early in the night, so that they might illuminate it. Nero opened his own gardens for these shows, and in the circus he himself became the spectacle, for he mingled with the people dressed as a charioteer, or he rode around in his chariot. All of this aroused the mercy of the people, even against the culprits who deserved an exemplary punishment, for it was clear that they were not being destroyed for the common good, but rather to satisfy the cruelty of one person (The Story of Christianity, vol. 1, 35).

My brothers and sisters, if Paul could instruct his young pastoral protege and his church plants to pray for Emperor Nero and for a Roman culture that so despised the very existence of Christians, then I think we can pray for these candidates and for our neighbors regardless of their present political views. It is this kind of peaceful prayer that commends the gospel to a watching world. Read the stories of the kings of Israel and Judah in 1 & 2 Kings and in 1 & 2 Chronicles. You realize quickly that the story of every nation is one woven by the reigns of both good and wicked leaders. However, you also learn that there is a God who intervenes, hears prayer, and acts to accomplish his redemptive purposes throughout the whole earth for his glory.  Chuck Colson famously exhorted that our hope does not come out of Air Force One. May we be found as a people praying to this end for every candidate on the ballot.

Fourth, pray for the transition of power to result in the expansion of the gospel in our own nation and into the global community. It is true that moral and ethical legislation can be a common grace to all of us, but Christians know that real change results in the new birth of the human heart. This is why we need revival. The only news on earth that effects such a change of heart is the gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Lift up your eyes and look beyond to what God’s interests are in our world. He’s neither a Republican nor a Democrat. He has accomplished his aims throughout history in countries ruled by democracy, socialism, communism, dictatorships, monarchies, and even nations supposedly ruled by the theocracy of a false god. What I am saying is this: be more confident in your God to accomplish his purposes in our cultural and political moment than the political imaginations of humans. If anything else, allow this election season to solidify your identity in Jesus Christ and his kingdom.

Lastly, let’s be directly thankful to God for what we’ve been given. It is difficult to locate gratitude and thankfulness in the current climate. But honestly, how bad is your life right now? Really, how bad is it? Expressing thankfulness to God has a way of softening our hearts and a way of decreasing our complaints—even in times when it is genuinely and terribly bad. Remember the old hymn “Count Your Blessings” written by Johnson Oatman Jr.,

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,

When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,

Count your many blessings, name them one by one,

And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Refrain:

Count your blessings, name them one by one;

Count your blessings, see what God hath done;

Count your blessings, name them one by one;

Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?

Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?

Count your many blessings, ev’ry doubt will fly,

And you will be singing as the days go by.

When you look at others with their lands and gold,

Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;

Count your many blessings, money cannot buy

Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

So, amid the conflict, whether great or small,

Do not be discouraged, God is over all;

Count your many blessings, angels will attend,

Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

Perhaps, the Lord will graciously give a revival to our countrymen and women like he has in times past. I am thankful to be able to vote. I hope you are too, even given the circumstances. The pastoral role in these moments should continue to point people to God. We have one God and Savior, and he unfortunately will not be on the ballot this Tuesday. However, let us not forget that it is he who truly reigns over the affairs of the world as the Psalmist reminds us,

The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting” (Psalm 93:1–2).

The Lord is an ancient monarch, who establishes the earth by the permanence of his rule. He’s seen it all. May this election cycle cause a renewed longing on the ballot of our hearts for the rule and hope of this ancient King of humanity.

What Is Revival? Part 2

Revival

Last month, we began to give our attention to Dr. Timothy Keller’s words on revival as it is portrayed in the Bible. He defined it as

. . . the intensification of the ordinary operations of the Holy Spirit.

Those ordinary operations are (1) conviction of sin, (2) conversion, (3) giving of assurance, and (4) sanctification. He also suggested that in biblical revival three things happen: (1) sleepy Christians wake up; (2) nominal Christians are converted; and (3) hard to reach non-Christians are powerfully converted. A revival of the adoration of God and the gospel, that begins within the church, beautifies the church in such a way that makes it attractive to even the hardest to reach unbeliever.

This brings us to Keller’s next movement in his teaching on biblical revival. He expresses five marks or theological descriptors of revival. First, whenever there is a season of revival in the church, it usually goes hand in hand with a recovery of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is recovered from legalism and lawlessness. The gospel is neither of these things. The faithfulness of Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection is better than sacramental traditionalism, and the faithfulness of Jesus Christ is also better than the antinomian (i.e., anti-law) chaos that James would call “demonic” (2:19). We have been saved by grace through faith, and the faith that saves is a faith that works (Eph. 2:8–10; James 2:14–26). The new birth only gives birth to a persevering faith that saves and works. Keller instructs that the recovery of the true gospel is the first theological mark of revival.

The second theological mark of revival is repentance, not emotional bubbly-ness, but awe, even silence and stillness, not necessarily noisy. Preachers may be in revival with the gospel when the church gets quiet . . . no fighting or quarreling or bickering, but rather peace, unity, love, mercy, and listening.

A third theological mark of revival is anointed, corporate worship. On Tuesday, February 3rd, 1970, the students of Asbury College assembled for their normal, routine, required chapel service. Instead, a testimony from Adademic Dean Custer Reynolds gave way to testimonies from students, students pouring to the altar in prayer, songs, and repentance among both the student body and faculty. People began seeking forgiveness from one another for sins committed, and others committed their lives to Christ for the first time. The revival continued throughout the week, and then it spread through the students and faculty into other churches and places as they were invited to speak. Evangelism and mission flowed out of the revival that broke forth on the Asbury campus. Anointed, corporate worship happens when people show up at church expecting to encounter God, instead of treating church like their regular meeting at the local social club. Do you go to church expecting to meet God? Paul discusses in 1 Corinthians 14 that the presence of God during the church’s worship should be tangible enough to “cut to the heart” of the unbeliever who may show up.

Fourth, revival also sparks real church growth. You can have some church growth without revival, but you cannot have revival without church growth. Also, I say real church growth, because there is mostly fake church growth being peddled these days. When churches “swap sheep,” that isn’t real church growth. It can be terribly unhealthy, and it could mean that church members are failing to reconcile relationships and conflicts at their previous house of worship. Others leave their church because another church “offers so much more”; therefore, consumerism rather than commitment becomes the basis for choosing. They fail to recognize that if all the people who left to attend the “Grass Is Greener Church” remained at the church to which they had originally committed, God could use them to be a part of a fresh work and a new season at their former church. Instead, they find themselves at a church where there are already tons and tons of gifted people, and their former church finds itself struggling to meet all of its ministry needs. Local pastors (including myself) should commit to healthy growth for their church and area churches by holding attenders accountable to their membership covenants. We aren’t helping people grow into mature Christians by turning a blind eye to unreconciled conflicts or to consumeristic tendencies. After all, a recovery of the gospel means a recovery of reconciliation and a recovery of perseverance. There’s probably only two reasons why a person should ever leave the church where they are members: (1) a geographical move, or (2) heresy (i.e., doctrinal or ethical deviance from core biblical truths). Real church growth in numbers results from conversions caused by evangelistic activity, and real church growth in maturity results from effective discipleship and Christians learning experiences. People transformed by the gospel in revival turn out to be bold and humble evangelists themselves.

Lastly, prayer marks revival. Extraordinary, kingdom-centered, prayer. Simple, yet sincere prayer, like that of the little girl named Florrie Evans, who sparked the great Welsh Revival of 1904–1905, who simply testified to Pastor Joseph Jenkins,

I love Jesus with all my heart.

The revival that followed saw more than 100,000 people profess Christ as Savior. You see, all of these great revival movements of the past were preceded by Christians burdened to pray. A dear friend always says to me, “Prayer isn’t everything, but everything comes by prayer.” A call and commitment to pray may very well lead us into a revival, and if revival comes, people will not want to stop praying for they will have found that sweet presence of God. Some of the Welsh Revival prayer meetings extended into the early morning hours, some lasting until 3:00am.

The gospel, repentance, worship, church growth, and prayer mark true revival. How do you seek revival? Go after these theological marks. In the First Great Awakening, there was the method of outdoor preaching, but outdoor meetings are required. In the NYC revival between 1857–1859, noon-time prayer meetings led by lay people catalyzed the Spirit’s work. Keller states, “Revival is like Narnia—you can’t get in the same way twice!” Keller goes on to explain that one of the tragedies of the Welsh Revival was that people got “stuck” in their method. Revivals, instead, oftentimes spark through new, creative methods of ministry as major cultural upheavals are taking place. Keller closes with two exhortations for today’s church to seek revival. First, for the church to experience revival today, sexuality must be addressed from a biblical perspective. The bible has much to say on the topic that we as a culture are neglecting and suppressing—even in the church. This is one of the major cultural upheavals we are facing. We must find a way to speak truthfully and lovingly about sexuality from God’s perspective. Second, revivals start with small things, much like avalanches begin with pebbles. Pastors and church leaders need to be willing to faithfully start with something small. Fabricating something huge from the popular church down the road may make us as famous as the next guy, but it isn’t  likely to spark revival. Don’t neglect that little group that wants to gather for prayer once a week.

Psalm 65 praises the Lord,

Praise is due you, O God, in Zion, and to you shall vows be performed. O you who hear prayer, to you shall all flesh come. When iniquities prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions. Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple! By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas; the one who by his strength established the mountains, being girded with might; who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples, so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.

O how we need such a God in our day, friends. May we pray to him, and may he hear, forgive, act, and maintain our cause in the gospel of his beloved Son.

What Is Revival?

Revival

Growing up in Scioto County, Ohio, I remember many little churches decorating the landscape. Every now and then, you would see on the outdoor church sign something like this: “Revival! Sunday through Friday! 7pm each night! Come on out and join us!” As a kid, teenager, and young adult, I attended many of these meetings. There was a very predictable format—a special and very dynamic speaker would be invited; the revival was scheduled; many times special musicians were also brought in, and the altar calls didn’t end until somebody made their way down the aisle.

I think that I was part of a real revival once in that Appalachian country. However, it wasn’t scheduled or coordinated. It also happened at multiple places, rather than at one local church. It wasn’t the result of a solitary, drawn out altar call. Now, don’t get me wrong, the Lord may very well use all of those things—and has before—but the revival I think that I was a part of didn’t fit that repeatable, copyable, scheduled pattern employed over and over again by churches in my hometown area.

Tim Keller spoke on A Biblical Theology of Revival (a.k.a. What Is Revival?) at the 2013 The Gospel Coalition Conference. It is definitely worth an hour of your time. If it doesn’t stir your heart into longing for revival, then maybe you should check your pulse! I’d like to summarize and share some of my own thoughts from Keller’s comments on biblical revival.

Since there are many descriptions and definitions out there on revival, it helps to begin with the same: Biblical revival is “the intensification of the ordinary operations of the Holy Spirit” (Keller). So, it is the Holy Spirit doing what he already does, but in a more intense way. What are these ordinary operations? There are 4 that Keller highlights: (1) conviction of sin (John 16:7–11), (2) conversion (Acts 16:14–15; Titus 3:3–7), (3) giving of assurance (Ephesians 1:13–14), and (4) sanctification (growth in holiness) (Romans 8:1–11). The Holy Spirit certainly does more than this in the Christian life, but these are the intensified Holy Spirit operations when there is revival.

When the Holy Spirit intensifies these operations of his, three things seem to happen. First, sleepy Christians wake up. Sleepy Christians are neither happy nor sad enough, Therefore, they do not experience high assurance of salvation (the Spirit bears witness to my spirit — Romans 8:16), nor do they experience deep repentance (godly grief produces repentance that leads to salvation — 2 Corinthians 7:10). The difference between a sleepy Christian and an awake Christian can be illustrated in the relationship of a father and a son. A father and a son share a legal relationship. It can be declared that the son is in fact the son of the father and vice versa. I can be officially documented on the birth certificate. Now, imagine when a father embraces his son. The son is not legally more a son, but he is certainly experiencing sonship in more than a legal way.

Second, the nominal Christians get converted. Nominal Christians are those who are baptized, church attending people, but during revival they will come and say, “I was never really a Christian.” These are surprising conversions: church leaders, spouses, long-time members, etc. During times of revival, the Holy Spirit goes through the church, and this is consistent with the pattern of Scripture. When God wants to do a fresh work—be it for judgment or for redemption—he starts with his people.

Third, hard or seemingly impossible to reach non-Christians are powerfully converted. Those dear ones out on the fringes that seem beyond the reach of the church and even God encounter the long arm of God, and the Holy Spirit generously and gloriously converts their souls by the gospel. When sleepy Christians wake up and nominal Christians are converted, the Holy Spirit beautifies the church, even to non-Christians.

Revival, brothers and sisters, is what we need, because it results in both adoration and attraction. An internal shift occurs in our posture toward God resulting in changed lives. If this is what you long for, then the best thing to do is to ask God for it in your own life. Pray for God to wake up, convert, and to reach out. Better still, start a prayer meeting with others to pray for revival. If we ask, seek, and knock, perhaps the Lord will kindly unlock an entry for us into such an experience (Col. 4:2–6).

Returning to my story, once I—a nominal Christian—was truly converted, I returned to the church of my youth to discover that a number of my peers had experienced the same thing. I would describe some of the older Christians around me at that time as having been awakened from slumber! In a very small, rural church, I became one of seven men, who felt a call into full-time gospel ministry. It was very unusual. To my knowledge, five of those seven are still serving in ministry in some capacity. We wouldn’t have probably described it as revival back in those days, because revival to us was predictable and scheduled. However, looking back and knowing what I know now about revival, I think that I experienced a small taste of it, and I long for it again.