Monday, September 24, 2012

The Kingdom is Near

Spirit & Truth # 291
“The Kingdom is Near”
By Greg Smith

John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near (Matthew 3:1b-2 NIV).’”

            Yesterday, I baptized eleven people in the Hardware River.  Each wanted to mark a new beginning in their lives of faith, a new dedication to the kingdom of God.  John’s message of the kingdom leads you to several conclusions.  First, it reminds you that God’s government is a kingdom, and not a democracy or a republic.  God is in control, and we are not.  Too often we think we hold the reins, but this is nothing but delusion and sin.  To be a Christian is to realize that God is in control.  Baptism marks a complete surrender to the lordship of Christ.

            Second, it underscores how near God really is to His people.  God is not far away, but is as close to us as our own heartbeat, as near to us as our own breath.  This can be a comforting thing when you need God’s consolation.  Yet, it can also be a frightful thing when you realize the holiness of God and the humiliation of your own sin.

            Third, John’s preaching pointed out that sinners should be led to repentance by the nearness of God’s kingdom.  Isaiah saw this when he had a vision of being in the throne room of God.  He writes, “I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.  Above him were seraphim [angels… And they were calling to one another:  “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty (Isaiah 6:1-5 NIV).”  Isaiah realized his own sin in the light of God’s holiness.  God’s response to Isaiah’s cry was to send an angel to touch the prophet’s lips with a live coal from the heavenly altar, cleansing him from his sin.

            John’s preaching called sinners to repentance.  He invited people to mark their repentance with the cleansing of baptism.  Repentance means recognizing when you’ve sinned, failed, or when you’re doing something that just isn’t working—and then turning away from your own folly.  It means trusting God to strengthen you to follow His leadership rather than finding your own path.  We tend to use the word to indicate departure from sin, and it does mean this.  But it also means any manner of changing direction in life.  Jesus had no sin to repent from, but his baptism marked a departure from his old way of life, and entrance into a new ministry.  If it’s good enough for Jesus, then it’s good enough for me!

            So yesterday, after I baptized eleven people, Rev. Earl Clore baptized his own great-granddaughter, and then he immersed me beneath the cold river—to renew my original baptism that was so many years ago.  My life has taken many interesting turns lately—calling me to renew my commitment to God and ministry.  How has life brought you changes that call for your own recommitment to Christ?  How is the voice of God crying out in the wilderness of your soul, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near?”


Real Revival - Into the Light

Spirit & Truth # 290
“Real Revival – Into the Light”
By Greg Smith

            Last week we talked about real revival, and the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  Sometimes God’s people have a faith that has been dead so long that it stinks, and we need Jesus to give us new life.  If you’re in need of revival, then take a look at how Jesus brings this into Lazarus’ world, and how He can bring it into yours.

            Before the Lord does anything else, He prays.  “Father, I thank You that You heard Me.  I know that You always hear Me (vv. 41-42 HCSB)."  Central to our understanding of revival is the knowledge that God is our ever-present friend who always hears us.  There is no place where we are absent from God's presence (Psalm 139:1).  God always hears and sees us (Genesis 16:11, 13).  When you seek revival, you seek a real refreshing.  As Hagar needed a supernatural stream in the desert (Genesis 21:8-21), so you need God to quench your spiritual thirst.  And God always hears your cry in the desert.

            When the stone was rolled away, Jesus called with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out (John 11:40 HCSB)!"  Why would he have to give such a command?  Was it Jesus' voice that awakened Lazarus from the dead?  Or, was it Jesus' inner prayer that awakened him, and Jesus’ words were to the living man inside the tomb, commanding him to emerge?  When God brings renewal to our lives, often we say, "Thank you very much," but in reality we prefer to remain jnside our tombs of depression or doubt or fear.  Jesus didn't resuscitate Lazarus so that he could live in the tomb.  He called Lazarus into the light of life.  He calls you too, saying, "I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows Me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life (John 8:12 HCSB).”

            Just as Jesus commanded Lazarus into the light, He also told Lazarus' friends, "Loose him, and let him go (v. 44 HCSB)."  Jesus was the main actor in Lazarus' salvation, but Lazarus also played a part, following the Master's call into the light.  But once he had emerged, Jesus called the faithful to come and unbind their brother.  When revival comes, the entire faith community must respond in order to set free those who were once in darkness.  The resurrected life of faith is not an individual thing--it happens in partnership with other believers who obey Jesus' command to set one another free by His love.

            Jesus calls His people to a living faith.  Too often we let our faith get so stale that it dies altogether—but Jesus wants to raise us up.  I pray the Lord’s revival for your life, and a fresh infilling of God’s sweet breath.  Hear His voice, obey His call, and walk into His light today.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Real Revival for a Faith that Stinks

Spirit & Truth # 289
“Real Revival for a Faith That Stinks”
By Greg Smith

            The story of Jesus raising Lazarus to life is for all who need resurrection in their own lives.  When my faith is stale, I need revival.  Lazarus had been dead for four days, and at this point his rotting body had begun to stink.  My faith-life can be the same way.  I might let my prayer time lapse for a day or two, without any dramatic effects.  But after four days, my spirit starts to stink.  Jesus, however, is the God of perfect timing. He waits until we realize our own stench before He arrives to bring new life.  He says, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I’m on My way to wake him up (v. 11 HCSB).”

            We come to Jesus even as His friends did.  I bring my fears, my unbelief and limited human vision.  Like Martha, I am a mixture of faith and doubt.  “Lord, if You had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.  Yet even now I know that whatever You ask from God, God will give You (vv. 21-22 HCSB).”  But Jesus does not condemn my weakness.  Though my mourning grieves Him, He has compassion on me.  He reassures me with a word of truth.  He promises, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live.  Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die — ever."  Then He asks, "Do you believe this (vv. 25-26 HCSB)?”  Your answer will determine the amount of work the Lord is able to do in your heart.

            First, the stone must be removed.  Jesus could have removed the stone Himself, had He wanted to.  But God knows that if I am to experience revival in my life, I need to do some of the hard work.  I've got to ask God to show me the stones that I've placed over the entrance to my heart, that keep me from hearing His commanding voice of resurrection.  My stone can be sin or disobedience or a negative attitude, or any number of things.  Once I've found the stone in my heart, it's up to me to move it.  I can't ask Jesus to do this difficult work for me.  Jesus says, "Remove the stone (v. 39 HCSB)."  By doing this myself I participate in the renewal that Jesus brings.  The poor men who removed Lazarus' stone were forced to deal with the stench of the human condition.  Likewise when I roll back my own stones I'm forced to deal with my own stinking sin.  But then, once I've done my part, it's the Master's turn.  Only by His voice can there be new life.

            Jesus wants to bring new life to my soul.  He asks me to obey, but one more thing is essential.  He tells me to believe.  In verse 40 (HCSB), Jesus says, "Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”  The Lord is a gentleman, and doesn't force Himself on anybody.  He may show up to bring resurrection to my heart, but a lack of belief on my part will block God's blessing every time.  If I want to see God's glory manifsted, then I've got to have faith that He will do it.

            Obey, and believe.  These are the keys to revival.  Next time, we’ll see God’s essential instructions to follow up, after God’s revival has taken place in your life.  I pray that God will grant you new life, and that you’ll follow Him into the light.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Prayer That Shook the House

Spirit & Truth # 288
“The Prayer That Shook the House”
By Greg Smith

            Right now, many churches are preparing for revival.  In Acts chapter four, the disciples needed an earth-shaking revival.  The church was still young, yet the persecution it had undergone was frightening.  Miracles and preaching landed Peter and John into prison for their religious “crimes.”  They were ordered by the priests and elders not to preach in Jesus’ name anymore.

24 When they heard this, they raised their voices to God with one mind and said, "Master of all, you who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them, 25 who said by the Holy Spirit through your servant David our forefather, 'Why do the nations rage, and the peoples plot foolish things? 26 The kings of the earth stood together, and the rulers assembled together, against the Lord and against his Christ.' 27 "For indeed both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, assembled together in this city against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, 28 to do as much as your power and your plan had decided beforehand would happen. 29 And now, Lord, pay attention to their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your message with great courage, 30 while you extend your hand to heal, and to bring about miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus." 31 When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God courageously.  (Acts 4:24-31 NET)

            What can we learn from this prayer that shook the house?  What kind of powerful prayer was this, that prompted God’s rumbling response to their words?  If you’re in need of personal or congregational revival, then you need to know.

            First, in verse 24, they recognized God’s sovereignty over all creation.  They did this by returning to Psalm 24:1, which emphasizes the union of all things in God’s hand.  Heaven, earth, and sea are a trinity representing all things beautiful, all things mundane, and all things unknown and fearful.  All things—all things—are in God’s control.

            Second, in verses 25-28, they remembered God’s hand in the course of human history.  Even those painful experiences we have are part of God’s plan.  If you want revival, then you have to see God at work in all your experiences that have led you up to this moment.  This moment is the culmination of all the events of your life, and God wants to revive you today.

            Third, in verse 29, they acknowledged their fear in the face of very real threats.  Yet they did not pray for deliverance of protection.  Instead, they prayed for boldness to speak God’s word in the face of adversity.  Note that they asked for the power to do one thing only.  They left healings, signs, and wonders to God.  They didn’t pray that they would be excellent church administrators or strategists.  They asked God for power to do one thing well.

            Fourth, in verses 30, they expected God to do life-changing, miraculous things among His people.  They also acknowledged Jesus, and not themselves, as the source of this power.  If you want revival, you must expect revival from our powerful Lord.

            God’s response in verse 31 was to give them an earth-shaking sign that confirmed His presence in both the spirit-filled being (indicated by the word “courageously,”) and the spirit-filled doing (preaching) of the disciples.  What is God showing you today, that confirms His presence in your life?  How is God shaking your house, in a positive way?  Try a prayer that fits the pattern of the disciples’ prayer—and see how God empowers your life.