June 29, 2009

"Will You not Yourself revive us again?" (part 2)

Last week we began revisiting a sermon from early May, based on the text:

"Will You not Yourself revive us again?"
(Psalm 85.6).

The psalmist was desperate. God’s people were no longer what they should have been. Indeed, they were no longer what they once were. And it seemed that God had withdrawn His help from them; that He was chastening them for their spiritual drowsiness and sin. And so the psalmist cried out to God for revival – that God would make His glory dwell, once more, in the land. That God would wake His people up. That God would bring them to fresh repentance … and restore the joy of their salvation. And I submit to you, again, that we need to be praying this kind of prayer in our day.

It is not enough simply to get busier. Nor is it enough for us to have our doctrine and church order straight. We need GOD. And we need Him, in the person of the Holy Spirit, to come in power and restore our joy, our diligence in spiritual things, our zeal for the scriptures, and our love for Jesus. We need Him to “revive us again” – nationally, congregationally, and individually.

That is what the psalmist asked. And we began, last week, making the first two of four observations about his prayer:

1. The psalmist prayed for revival. Not just greater effort by God’s people. Not just a season of emotional uplift. But a great awakening and restoration to what they once were … and should still have been.

2. The psalmist prayed in faith.Will You not revive us”, he asked. ‘Won’t You revive us?’ Almost as if to say, ‘How could You not answer this prayer?’.

Now, this week, notice a third item (#4 will come next week):

3. The psalmist prayed while looking back. “Will You not Yourself revive us again.” The psalmist was not asking God to do something he had never done before. No, no! Rather, he was saying to God: ‘Do it again!’ He remembered (vv.1-3) how God had restored His people’s joy in the exodus from Egypt; how God had revived their spirits and their zeal in those ancient days. And he said to himself (and to his God): ‘If it happened then, then surely God can do it again!’

How important history is! Without it, we forget where we have come from. We forget the mighty deeds God has done in the past. Without a good knowledge of history, we fool ourselves into thinking that our day is actually quite a successful one. But when we read of the mighty works of God, and the mighty faith of His people in days gone by … we have cause, sometimes, to reevaluate. Maybe there have been better days, after all. Maybe we have lost some things through the years. Maybe we ought to be praying and repenting and longing for something better after all! And, once we have realized that there have been better days in Christian history … not only do we see the need for revival prayers, but we gain hope that God can and does answer them! For, if He did it then, He could do it now! If He did it in the Exodus from Egypt; if He did it in North America during the Great Awakening … He could visit [fill in the name of your town here] today!

Do you read church history? Specifically, do you read the stories of revival? More’s the pity if your understanding of God’s work has a two thousand year gap in it! But it’s not too late to set things right. If you really want to pray for revival … you will be helped tremendously if you read the stories of revival. Start with Brian Edwards’s Revival … and see if you aren’t moved to pray: “Will You not Yourself revive us again”!

June 22, 2009

Vacation Bible School, July 27-31

Click the link to find out more. Send the link to invite a friend. See you there this July...

"Will You not Yourself revive us again?"

Several weeks back I preached, from Psalm 85.6, on Revival. Not on a protracted series of evangelistic meetings … but on Revival, we might say, with a capital ‘R’.; on the idea that God’s people often become so spiritually drowsy that they need God Himself to come in extraordinary, startling ways … to re-break their hearts over their sins, to give them renewed joy in the gospel, to fill them afresh with the Holy Spirit, and to give them a renewed sense of purpose and holy desire. Not a phenomenon whereby one leaves the Sunday morning service with an emotional surge … but whereby one is completely floored, once again, with the goodness of God in the gospel, almost as though you have been reborn, all over again! It was that significant of a work of the Spirit that I was after in that sermon.

That was almost two months ago. And I still sense the need for that sort of extraordinary work of God … in myself, in our congregation, and in our city. I think, honestly, that this is where we stand right now – a bit too drowsy to be much good to one another, or to our neighborhood; a bit too distracted with things other than the glory and beauty of Jesus. So, for the next two weeks, by way of reminder (and maybe by way of introduction to those who read these lines online), I’d like review the four points of that sermon on Psalm 85.6.

The text, from Psalm 85.6, simply reads: "Will You not Yourself revive us again?"

And here are the first two items that we noticed:

1. The psalmist prayed for revival. That is to say that, the psalmist was not asking God to do something, primarily, among the lost people around him. Rather, he was praying for people who were already alive to God … but who had become spiritually drowsy. This was a prayer for revival, not simply ‘vival.’ That is, the psalmist was praying (and we should be too) that the Lord would renew the joy that he had when he first believed; that God would make His people what they once were in holiness and love; that God would make His glory to dwell in the land once again. The psalmist wasn’t asking for anything new or cutting edge. Just the God might ­renew what had become old and stale. And I ask you: Has your spiritual life become old and stale – your love for the Bible; your love for the fellowship; your love for the old, old story of Jesus and His love; your love of prayer? Do you love Jesus, His word, and His bride the way you did when you first believed? Or are you in need of revival?

2. The psalmist prayed with faith. Notice how the psalmist phrased his request: “Will you not Yourself revive us again?” That is stronger than simply saying: ‘Will you revive us again?’ It is the difference between a wife saying: ‘Will you buy me some flowers?’ and saying ‘Will you not buy me some flowers? Won’t you at least get me a dozen roses? Is that asking too much?’ Do you see? When you begin a question with “will you not” – or (as we would say it): ‘won’t you’ – you are implying that you will be keenly disappointed if the answer is ‘no’. ‘Won’t you please go to church with me?’ ‘Won’t you just quit drinking?’ It almost has the force of: ‘I don’t see any good reason why you wouldn’t come to church … quit drinking … buy me flowers … “revive us again.” Do you see what the psalmist, then, is saying to God? ‘I don’t see any good reason why you wouldn’t answer my prayer. Your character and Your promises would almost seem to demand that you would revive Your people!’ The psalmist is praying with great confidence … with faith. He is practically insisting that God should answer, although he does so in humble way. And we need to pray this way about revival: ‘God, I can’t think of any good reason you wouldn’t revive us! No, we don’t deserve it. But Your faithfulness to Your promises trumps our sin. And Your zeal for Your Son’s glory would almost seem to demand it. So “will You not Yourself revive us again?”’

Would you be willing to pray that way?

June 15, 2009

Planes and Water

I have followed, with both interest and sadness, the story of the ill-fated Air France flight 447. I am sure many of you have as well. 228 souls went into eternity, it would appear, with only four minutes’ warning (maybe less). That number should stagger us, sadden us, and awaken us to the need of people all around us who, at some point in their lives, are going to have less than four minutes to live.

But I was startled, this week, when I discovered that a tragedy of the magnitude of Air France flight 447 occurs every single day … twenty times over. Consider the following quote from the website of Living Water International (http://water.cc):

Nearly 90 percent of all diseases in the world are caused by unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene. Every year, there are 4 billion cases of diarrhea as a direct result of drinking contaminated water; this results in more than 2.2 million deaths each year — the equivalent of 20 jumbo jets crashing every day. The weakest members of communities are the most vulnerable; every day water-related diseases claim the lives of 5000 children under the age of five. That’s roughly one every 15 seconds.

Do you feel like someone just punched you in the gut? Perhaps you should. “The equivalent of 20 jumbo jets crashing every day”? A preschooler dead every 15 seconds … simply because he or she has no clean water to drink? Can it be? Yes, indeed. But the news media (like my own rubbernecking soul) seems more intrigued by one jumbo jet crash than with the 20 per day that come in the form of diarrhea and other water-borne illnesses.

Don’t get me wrong. I hope they find those flight data recorders at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. I hope they figure out what went wrong, not least of all because I have been on a few of those cross-Atlantic Airbus flights and want them to be as safe as possible. I want the bereaved families of flight 447 to have closure, too. So I’m all for France and Brazil doing everything they can to make sense of the mess.

But isn’t it a little bit strange that the world is willing to spend millions upon millions of dollars diving in thousands of feet of water to find a data recorder that will explain why 228 people died needlessly … all while 5000 children die needlessly every single day … without water, and without press coverage? It’s incongruous to me.

But I’m not writing this little article for the governments of France and Brazil. I actually have a hunch they are doing the right thing. And I don’t believe it is, ultimately, the job of world governments to fix the water problem. That’s actually our deal … you know, us Christians. We’re supposed to be the mercy people. We’re supposed to be the ones giving out cold cups of water in Jesus’ name. And we have even more than water to offer to the dying children in Africa, don’t we? We can actually prepare them for eternity! So let’s allow tragedies like Air France 447 (which we can do nothing about) to spur us, for Jesus’ sake, to do more to prevent the tragedies that are waiting to happen … every single day.

If you’d like to pick up a bucket and pitch in, check out http://water.cc … or, even closer to home, http://abbaslivingwater.wordpress.com.

June 5, 2009

The Hard Work ... of Prayer

Think with me about the book of Colossians for a moment or two. It was written by Paul to a group of Christians he’d never met. Paul hadn’t planted the church at Collosae. A man named Epaphras had. And one sentence Paul writes about Epaphras is extremely important to notice. You can find it in 4.12: “Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, (and here’s the part I love …) always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers.”

Most of the time I think of labor (or work) and prayer as two separate things. As I spend time in my office, it usually seems like I am either working … or I am taking a break from my work in order to pray. But I don’t usually think of my prayers as work. But I should. That’s the way Paul and Epaphras both thought. The way to get the most spiritual work done, it seems, is to make prayer a significant part of your work!

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who saw the Spirit come in revival in his church in Wales, and whose preaching was blessed perhaps more than any man in the last century once said: “When God acts, he can do more in a minute than man with his organizing can do in a lifetime.” Good reason to work harder at prayer than at anything else…asking God to do the work that we cannot do!

In the previous century, George Mueller raised a thousand orphans, sent thousands of Bibles and tracts all around the world, and all the while pastored a thriving, growing church. And He did it all without receiving a personal salary and without ever doing any fundraising! How did he accomplish it? How did he feed all those mouths without ever asking for money? Well, instead of working at raising money…he worked in prayer, asking God for the money! And God provided every time!

Hudson Taylor, following Mueller’s example, organized one of the most successful missionary societies of modern times—China Inland Mission. And he, like Mueller, did so without ever asking anyone for money to support the missionaries, and without making any great pleas for more workers to join the mission. So, how did CIM ever succeed in sending and supporting so many missionaries? Well, Taylor explains it by saying that he “moved men, through God—by prayer.”

Now, this is not to say that we shouldn’t do the work of evangelism, or fund-raising, or office managing, or ditch-digging. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecclesiastes 9.10). But it is to say that we should no longer view our prayers as a distraction from labor, or as different from our labor, or even as a support for our labor. Rather we should view prayer precisely as labor for the LORD…maybe the most important of all the work we do every day!

June 1, 2009

How to Manage your Manna

When I was small, one of the most interesting Bible stories I remember was the story of “manna from heaven” in Exodus 16. I stood amazed at how these people kept complaining against the Lord – and how God kept blessing them anyway. I wondered where in the world the stuff came from every morning … and where it went in the afternoon. And maybe most of all, I imagined what it must have tasted like! The thought of bread coming down from heaven is pretty unforgettable for an 8-year-old boy…especially one who never got bread from anywhere besides Kroger!

Now, as an adult, those same questions still capture my imagination when I read this chapter. But now I realize that there is more to be learned from the manna story than my child’s mind could perceive. Exodus 16 actually provides a wonderful theology for how a person ought to manage and trust God with His resources – particularly his financial ones. So let me give you a few lessons I see in Exodus 16 …

1. Sometimes God provides our financial needs out of nowhere. The Hebrew word for “manna” actually means ‘What is it?’ (v.13-15). The Israelites called it manna because they didn’t know what it was or where it came from! They simply knew that God had come through. And sometimes, He does it this way with us. We don’t know where the rent-money is going to come from … but God delivers. If He can do it for them, He can do it for us! So trust Him instead of complaining or worrying!

2. We only need so much. What a needed lesson in this country! Each day the people were to gather the manna, according to the need of their household – no more and no less (v.16-18). They were not to be greedy with it, hording more than was necessary to live on. Do you treat your money and possessions that way? Do you live on what is necessary and leave the rest of the manna for others (by giving it away)? Or are you and your household hording more than you need?

3. Horded resources are wasted resources. Those who horded more than they needed found that horded manna was wasted manna (v.19-21). God will not continually bless a selfish soul who keeps for himself more than is necessary and proper. Money that is socked away and not put to use for the kingdom of God and the good of others is about as useful as moldy bread!

4. God does not reward those who overwork. On the Sabbath day, God did not provide any manna (v.22-26). Instead, He told them to gather twice as much on Friday so they wouldn’t have to work on the Sabbath. And when some of the people went out to gather on the Sabbath, they found no bread! Why? Because God wanted them (and us) to work six days, and save the seventh for rest and worship. And those who do not abide by God’s wisdom will find themselves simply spinning their wheels, and working for no profit.

5. God is the one who provides! Why didn’t God just lead the people to a wheat-field or an apple orchard? Why didn’t He lead them to a riverbank and command them to plant crops to eat? Why did He provide bread miraculously? Partially because they were in the wilderness where apple trees and wheat may not have grown so well! But I imagine He may have also done it this way to remind them that it was He – not chance, and not their own resourcefulness – that kept their bellies full. He wanted them, when they arrived in the Promised Land and had normal means of provision, to remember that God is the giver of all good things. That’s the main lesson of the manna for us, too! Everything we have is God’s manna from heaven. So let us be grateful … and let us enjoy!