Tuesday, October 21, 2014


I love words—the cool way, you know, you can say things with them.  Sometimes the words we use make sense, and other times they don’t.  Take the prefix “re” for example.  Dictionary.com describes it as “a prefix, occurring originally in loanwords from Latin, used with the meaning ‘again’ or ‘again and again’ to indicate repetition, or with the meaning ‘back’ or ‘backward’ to indicate withdrawal or backward motion.”[i]  This seems to make sense when we look at words like “flex” and “reflex,” which means “to flex again.”  Or, “bound” and “rebound,” which means “to bound again.”  Then there’s “commend” and “recommend,” which means “to commend again.”  Sometimes, however, the prefix “re” doesn’t make much sense.  For example, does “retired” mean that a person is “tired again?”  If you experiencing “buyer’s remorse,” does that mean that first you had to “buyer’s morse?”  Or, before there is a “resurrection,” must there be an “insurrection?”
            It’s thinking like this that often gets me into trouble.  Still, I was wondering: as my church is headed into fall revival services (and as many other churches are doing the same) what does it mean that have already experienced “vival,” that we might now go through “revival?”  If there really were such a word as “vival,” what would it mean?
            “Revival” means “renewed life,” or  “life again.”  So a word like “vival” (if it existed) would mean simply “life.”  1 Timothy 6.19 (NIV) says that believers “will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”  That makes me think—is there a difference between life and true life?
            Science says that a living thing must be able to breathe, ingest, excrete, grow, adapt, and reproduce.  We know we’re alive because we can do these things.  We’ve been looking for signs of life on other planets now for decades.  In Other Worlds, Carl Sagan writes:

A story making the rounds concerns a Biology I examination in which the students were asked: "Suppose you could take to Mars any of the laboratory equipment used in this course. How would you determine if there was life on Mars?" One student responded: "Ask the inhabitants. Even a negative answer would be significant." The student got an A. 

            Just like we’re looking for signs of life on other planets, I wonder if God is looking for signs of life in our churches.  Fall revivals are in full swing, implying at least at some point before we have revivals, we must have had vivals.  If we’re looking for renewed life, then we must think that on some level that we’ve had life.  Nicodemus came to Jesus one night to inquire about the life that Jesus possessed.  Our Lord told him, “’Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’  Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he (John 3.3-4 NASB)?’”   That old teacher of the law was thinking of physical birth, or even physical re-birth.  He thought that being born again meant being born—again!  He was thinking of vival, not revival.  Jesus had something different in mind.
            In the beginning, life came into the world supernaturally.  God spoke and the earth teemed with living creatures.  God made the first man, breathed into him, and the man became a living creature.  Since then, life has been a very natural thing.  We’re born, we live, we reproduce, we die, and the cycle continues.  Yet this isn’t the kind of life that Nicodemus needed to hear about.  Instead, the teacher of the law needed to hear about the life that truly is life.  So Jesus told him more about being born again:   “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again (John 3.5-7 NASB).’”
            Vival is the water birth—which crudely refers to the water of amniotic fluid.  Revival comes from spiritual birth.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, and everybody experiences that.  Spirit gives birth to spirit, but not everyone will receive that second birth.  Some people are only vived but never revivedFor someone like Nicodemus, or possibly like you, to experience revival, they have to realize that the first birth isn’t enough, and will never give them eternal life.  They have to receive God’s gift of the Savior, who gives them eternal life.  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him (John 3.16-17 NASB.”  When a person does that, they lay hold of the life that truly is life.
            For a church, there’s a difference between vival and real revival.  Churches experience vival during the first years of their ministry, when everything is new and exciting—when they first organize, when they call their first pastor, when they first discover their ministry in the community.  I’ve worked with new church plants like this—and it’s always an exciting ride.  But that kind of energy doesn’t last forever.  Life normalizes, the cares of the world choke out the church’s enthusiasm.  We get into a rut, doing things the same way we’ve always done before and not looking for anything different to happen.  That’s when a church needs revival—new life.
            Stephen Olford said, “Revival is an invasion from heaven that brings a conscious awareness of God.”  We need this kind of invasion in order to drive out the death wrought by sin in our lives.  Revival rekindles the fire in our hearts that we doused with polluted waters of disobedience, laziness, and apathy.  The question is whether we really want revival, or whether we’d rather let our faith comfortably smolder.  In the May, 1982 issue of One World we read:

A U.S. Lutheran bishop tells of visiting a parish church in California and finding a stirring red and orange banner on the wall. "Come Holy Spirit. Hallelujah!" it declared in words printed under a picture of a fire burning. The bishop was also interested in the sign directly underneath the banner which said: "Fire extinguisher." So much for that parish's commitment to spiritual renewal. 

Like that congregation needed to do, we must take seriously God’s call to revival, and not make efforts to dampen the flame.  Like Nicodemus, we must make a choice as to whether we’re content with vival or whether we really want revival.  We can settle for natural physical life which all creatures share, or we can enter the supernatural life of almighty God.  We can allow our churches to settle into disobedience, laziness, and apathy, calling ourselves alive yet lacking the power of God.  Or, we can ask God to bring true revival to His people.  The choice is up to us.  So as you drive past the church signs that advertize revivals this Fall, I hope you’ll stop in and receive the new life of Christ.  I hope you’ll be born again, that you’ll see the church born again and again, and that God will fill you not just with vival but with revival!

[i] “Re-”  http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/re-.  October 18, 2014.

Monday, October 13, 2014

How to Be Like God

“You will be like God,” said the serpent to Eve.  “Eat this fruit and you’ll be like God, knowing good from evil.”  Some have suggested that this original heresy was that godhood could be attained through the gaining of wisdom, that the New Age idea of deified humanity traces its roots back to this moment.  Yet the serpent never said that Adam and Eve would become gods.  He said they would be like God.  His deception was not an invitation to hubris, but the false claim that understanding the difference between good and evil makes a person godlike or godly.
            The serpent’s forked tongue is adept at telling the truth and lying at the same time.  The lie is that wisdom about good and evil makes a person like God.  The truth is that we can become like God (note once more that there’s a difference between becoming godly and becoming a god).  We can be like God when we develop such a close relationship with the Lord that we reflect the Maker’s character.  Psalm 103 gives a beautiful picture of God’s nature.  If we take that nature on ourselves, then we can be like God.
            What is God like?  God forgives and heals (v. 3).  He redeems people, and crowns them with love and compassion (v. 4).  God works righteousness for the oppressed (v. 5), and makes His ways known to people (vv. 6-7). 

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
 As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him (vv. 8-13 NIV).

If Christians want to be like God, then we have to be forgivers and healers.  We have to work redemptively with people, and give them our love and compassion.  We need to work righteousness for the oppressed, and make God’s ways known to people.  People who want to be like God should be compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love.  Instead of always accusing and harboring anger forever, instead of treating others as their sins deserve, godly people need to be able to separate a person (their inherent worth, dignity, and value) from their sins.  They have to be willing to work with a person and help remove their transgressions from them.  They need to treat people with tender loving compassion, seeing others through the eyes of the Father, and extending God’s compassion to them.
Yet instead, those who call themselves by God’s name are often the last to behave the way that God behaves.  We follow the lie that the serpent gave us, claiming to be godly simply because we have gained knowledge about good and evil.  But knowing how to be good doesn’t mean that you’ve become like God.  It doesn’t help us at all if we lack compassion and grace, if we are quick to anger and lack love.  Knowing the difference between good and evil avails us nothing if we are always angry, accusing others all the time, treating them as we believe their sins deserve and repaying them according to our idea of justice.  Knowing how to avoid sin in our own lives won’t help us if we are unable to separate other people from their sin, and if we refuse to help them through their issues.  The serpent’s lie makes us very good at being religious, but it doesn’t lead us to godliness at all.
“You will be like God,” the serpent says to us.  “Just eat this apple and be religious.  Know the difference between good and evil.”  The devil is happy with those who are religious, but he is terrified of people who are godly.  So he tells a partial truth and partial lie.  The lie is that religion can make you godly.  The truth is that you can be like God—by finding out God’s nature and acting like Him.  But how many Christians are actually willing to do that?  I pray that you’ll be one who will—and that when others see you they might see Christ in you.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Bread of Life

Have you heard the story about a Jewish rabbi and a Catholic priest were good friends?  “At a picnic one day, the priest was eating a ham sandwich. ‘You know,’ he said to his friend, ‘This ham sandwich is delicious. I know you’re not supposed to eat ham, but I don’t understand why such a good thing would be forbidden. When will you break down and try it?’  And the rabbi replied, ‘At your wedding.’” [i]
Today I want to talk about a different rabbi and a different picnic—a kosher picnic that had a surprise ending, even without a ham sandwich.  We’re going to take a look at the only miracle described in all four gospels—the feeding of the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish.
In his teaching and preaching mission, Jesus often found himself so occupied with other people that he neglected to take care of his own physical needs.  In John 4.31-34[ii], the disciples were urging him, saying, ‘Rabbi, eat.’  But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.’   So the disciples said to one another, ‘Has anyone brought him something to eat?’  Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.’”  Two chapters later, Jesus again demonstrated His spiritual ability to overcome this physical lack of food—yet on a much grander scale.
Chapter five reveals that some “were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God (v.18).”  So, by the time we get to chapter six, we see Jesus crossing the Sea of Galilee in an effort to escape those who would kill him, and also hoping to get some alone time with his disciples.  But news of his miracles reached far and wide, and by the time they landed on the shore, a large crowd had already begun to gather.   Jesus spent two years of His ministry in the towns that surrounded this fifteen-by-eight-mile freshwater lake.  It wasn’t difficult to find him in a place that size.  So they came, hoping for more miracles.  Jesus went up on a mountain, creating a natural amphitheater, and sat down with his disciples. 

It was then that the problem came to His attention: the people had nothing to eat.  There was no place to buy food for them.  Even if there were, it would take a fortune to feed them all.  Five thousand men had gathered, and if we figure that they brought their wives and children, and even if we conservatively estimate a family of four, then that makes 20,000 mouths to feed.  Only one small child has brought anything to eat: five barley loaves and two small fish.  But Jesus has an idea.  He had the people sit down, thanked God for the food, and distributed that paltry amount among all those people.  Miraculously, not only were all the people fed, but they were full—and there were twelve baskets of food left over.  In and of itself, this was a great miracle.  “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world (v. 14)!”
But as great as the miracle was, the people didn’t understand the spiritual significance behind it.  “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself (v. 15).”  Yet still they followed him.  When He crossed the lake again, they followed Him, hoping for more miracles.  It must have broken Jesus’ heart that they just didn’t get His point.  They were chasing a wonder worker because they wanted Him to heal their diseases and feed them and save their lives.  He wanted to show them that He was life itself—and could provide everything needed not only for physical life, but, more importantly, for spiritual life. 
“I have food to eat that you do not know about,” he had said.  Now, He reminded them of this spiritual food.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.  Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you (vv. 26-27).”  Still, they didn’t understand.  So He said, “’…The bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’  They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’  Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst (vv. 33-35).’”  No matter how He explained it, the people still didn’t understand.  By the end of chapter six, Jesus’ Galilean ministry ends in rejection, the people shaking their heads in confusion. 
Lest we pursue Jesus simply for the miracles He can perform—or, lest we abandon his cause for lack of understanding—let us learn what He truly meant.  “For my flesh is true food,” He said, “and my blood is true drink (v. 55).” This did nothing but offend people, and we will be offended too if we don’t get what He was saying about the connection between real food and spiritual food.  The key is found in verse 4, which says, “Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.”  In order to understand what Jesus said and did, we have to see it in the context of Passover.
Passover was the annual festival in which the Jewish people celebrated a ceremonial meal that memorialized their divine rescue from slavery in Egypt.  Every year, lambs were slaughtered in memory of the Passover lambs that were killed fifteen hundred years before.  Under God’s direction through Moses, the blood of those Passover lambs was used to mark every Jewish household, so that when God’s judgment of death came to every Egyptian dwelling, the homes of the faithful would be spared.  By performing His miracle of loaves and fish at the time of Passover, and by telling the people that He was the spiritual food that would give them life, Jesus equated Himself with that Passover lamb.
Just a year later, Jesus would be killed at the Passover.  He would become the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Because He sacrificed His own blood, we can know His eternal life.  When we apply His blood to our hearts, like the lamb’s blood that was applied to believing households, Death passes over us.  Like the Hebrew people released from Egypt, we are set free from our bondage to sin.  This is what the miracle of loaves and fish pointed to.  This is what He meant when He said that He was real food.
On the night before Jesus was arrested, He shared a final meal with His disciples—a meal of bread and wine—foreshadowed by His multiplying of loaves.  Churches around the world observe the Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist, or Communion, as a sign of covenant relationship with the Lamb who gave Himself so that we might live.  The next time your church celebrates Communion, I hope that you’ll see more than bread in your hand.  I hope you’ll see the Bread of Life—multiplied from one to many, so that a multitude might receive their spiritual food and be saved.  I hope you’ll see more than grape juice or wine.  I hope you’ll taste the sweetness of God’s life poured out for your salvation.  Then, like the boy on the hillside, I hope you’ll be willing to share that meal with others.

[i] Source unknown
[ii] Scripture references taken from the ESV.