Wednesday, 2 November 2005

Revolutionaries

A new book entitled “Revolution” by the well known researcher George Barna is causing quite a stir. In his book Barna foresees massive changes taking place in the Christian landscape of America. He speaks of there being 20 million believers there who are no longer involved in traditional church models, but who are pursuing their faith in new ways outside institutional church and he declares himself an enthusiastic supporter of what is happening. He foresees that by 2025 only 30% of Christians will be involved in traditional local churches, and that the percentage of those expressing their faith in alternative communities will have risen from 5% now to 30-35% by 2025. Although there is little as yet written about it, is evident that here in New Zealand too there are an ever growing number of devoted followers of Jesus who are stepping away from the old models of church life to pursue their walk of faith.

Some seventeen years ago, not long after God called us out, I sometimes struggled with the question, “Have we gone astray? It is lonely out here. There are so few of like mind.” One day, as I wrestled with these thoughts, I had a picture come into my mind of a huge field which had been ploughed, harrowed and sown. Here and there in the field were a few isolated shoots of green. As each growing shoot looked around it was aware of the vast distances between it and the others. I felt Father say to me, “That is what you are like now, like those isolated far-separated growing points, but do not fear for I have sown the whole field and one day it will all be green.” Barna's book is just another evidence that what the Lord said to me is true. All over the world the field is greening. There is a mighty work of the Spirit going on.

A Scripture in Isaiah 59:19b (NIV) says, “He will come like a pent-up flood that the breath of the Lord drives along.” And in Isaiah 60:22 , “The least of you will become a thousand, the smallest a mighty nation. I am the Lord: in its time I will do it swiftly.” I wonder are we living in such a time?

If there is one question which haunts me about what is happening it is, will we simply let God do what He wants to do, seeking only to walk in obedience to Him and to the leading of the Spirit, or will there be men who step in seeking to rule, control and organize as has so often happened in the past? We need to give heed to another Scripture from Isaiah 60: 21 “Then will all your people be righteous and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot of MY PLANTING, the work of MY HANDS for the display of my splendour.” What is happening is I believe a work of the Lord's hands and we must be very careful not to take it into ours.

"Things" or Christ?

In the past week or two I have been rereading Austin Sparks most searching and profound little book, “The School of Christ” the contents of which he says, “Were wrought on the anvil of deep and drastic dealings of God with him” and again “Of all the books that have issued from this ministry I regard this one as that which goes most deeply to the roots and foundations of our life in Christ with God.”

One passage in this book spoke to me with renewed force. Speaking of knowing Christ in a real experiential way, he says that in the severest stresses and strains of life, ”We are going to be brought back to the living spiritual knowledge of the Lord: for He alone personally as revealed in our very being by the Holy Spirit can save us in the deepest hour. The day will come when we will be stripped of everything but what is spiritually, inwardly known of Christ.”

As I grow older I find that more and more I am seeing and living in the truth of these things. As a lifelong reader I have been enriched by the writings of many great saints of God and Biblical students. In my institutional days I attended many seminars and conferences. But all that information, intellectual understanding of doctrine and entrance into the experience of others on the pilgrim way is only of value as it has led me into deeper personal relationship with my Lord. That living relationship is the ultimate and only finally important and lasting thing.

In his second letter to the Corinthians Paul says in 11;2-4, “ I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one husband. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” Paul was very aware that believers can so easily be deflected away from the essential of that most intimate personal union with Christ in the Spirit, into preoccupation with “things” which are side-issues and tangents instead of the central necessity.

These”things” which lead us away from that simple and sincere devotion to Christ are many and various and we will all encounter encountered at least some of them. There is the “Revival” thing . There are people who seem only to be able to speak and teach about it. It seems to wholly absorb them sometimes to the point of obsession. There is the “End-time scenario” thing in which people major on one or other interpretation of the chronology of end-time events, pushing their view point with crusading passion. Another is the “Jewish” thing, with people persuading us all to put on Jewishness and only to use the Hebrew forms of the name of Jesus or God. There is the “King James only” thing where we are virtually excommunicated if we read or recommend any other translations of the Scripture. There is the “Conspiracy thing” whose proponents seem to spend their time and energies in tracking down the antichrist.

Now there may be good and truth in some or all of these things, but if Christ is displaced from the center and we focus mainly on these things prophetic, doctrinal or whatever else we are in danger.

There was never a more Christ-focused man than the Apostle Paul. “I determined to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Corinth. 2:2) His cry towards the end of his eventful life was still “That I may know Him” (Philippians 3:10 )

“It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20) His great passion for new believers was that “Christ be formed in you.” ( Galatians 4:19) “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) Towards the end of his life he is able to cry from his heart, “I know whom I have believed and I am sure that He is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.” (2Timothy1:12) It was not what he believed, but in whom he believed. Nothing ever shifted Paul from that life-giving center, his personal relationship with and trust in the Lord Jesus,

The letter to the Hebrews echoes this theme. From beginning to end it centers on Christ. In the twelfth chapter vs.1&2 “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us looking unto Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” For some years now I have kept on my desk a comment from Andrew Murray on that verse. Here it is:

“Always, only looking to Jesus. Looking to Him to see what He is, to hear what He speaks, to do what He says, to follow where He leads, to trust for all He waits to give. Looking to Him and His love till my heart burns with that love. Looking to Him till His eyes meet mine, and I know He watches over me. Looking to Him to be changed into His likeness from glory to glory.” To that my heart says, “Amen!”