Welcome to Inspiration Avenue!
My conviction is that our generation is over-taught and under-inspired, so every week I cultivate some of the most inspiring content I can find on the internet and bring it to you. I hope you are inspired to live fully submitted to Christ and pursuing everything He purchased for you on the Cross.
Maybe this goes without saying, but I don’t expect you to agree with me about everything I post here. In fact, I expect some of the things I post will rattle your theological cages. My suggestion? Be inspired by people who aren’t perfect. Realize you won’t agree with everything I share here. Eat the chicken, spit out the bones.
So, without further ado, here are three sources of inspiration for the week:
Methods and Tools vs. Prayer and Obedience: Roger Thorman writes about his journey into simple, organic house churches on his blog, SimpleChurchJournal. This post hammers at the thought that all of our disciple making methods and strategies are useless outside of a close walk with the Lord. This is so crucial, because often we get so caught up in the methods that a relationship with Christ can get left behind.
The Phenomenonal Growth of the Salvation Army: Lex Loizides is a church historian of the revivalist variety. He spends his time at his blog Church History Review telling the stories of revivals of the past. Currently Lex is telling the story of the Salvation Army. While the whole story is powerful, I was particularly touched by the picture here of William Booth as an old man, completely eclipsed by the men and women he had raised up into ministry from the ranks of the poor and disenfranchised. May God help us all to raise up disciples that touch the nations of the Earth like He did with William and Catherine Booth.
David Ravenhill: David Ravenhill is the son of famed preacher and revivalist Leonard Ravenhill. Leonard Ravenhill was known throughout the 70’s and 80’s for calling the church away from being like the world. I recently came across a quote of David, echoing his father in many ways: “this tidal wave of deception [. . .] seeks to make self the ultimate object of our worship while reducing God to being our ultimate personal trainer. In recent years, the words “your destiny” have been preached, prophesied, and promoted throughout the Body of Christ, to the point where self has become the center and focal point of life rather than Christ and His Kingdom.” Let’s all purpose to serve Jesus and not continue to ask Jesus to serve us.
As I wrote yesterday, I have a pretty long history in the charismatic expression of Christianity. I truly treasure my past because I wouldn’t have come to Christ apart from seeing and experiencing the power of God in the present. I truly believe that the power of the Holy Spirit is critical to seeing apostolic Christianity restored to the Earth.
So it was curious for me several years ago when I was reading Alan Hirsch’s book “The Forgotten Ways” that he mentioned a missing ingredient of the missional church was the Pentecostal experience:
What is still largely missing from this emergent phenomenon is any sustained and explicit Pentecostal presence, with all its passion and fire. While it’s true that Pentecostalism taught us the true value of apostolic ministry, the Pentecostals have not been a noteworthy expression of [emergent missional church], as far as I am aware. This is probably because Pentecostalism is still basking in the relative success that church growth praxis brought them.
Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways (Page 270)
I would say that Hirsch’s experience of a lack of Pentecostals or charismatic experience in the emergent missional church mirrors my experience with house churches largely outside of our network. And while I may be off on this, my perception is that very few house churches are started with those from charismatic backgrounds.
This is sad to me because charismatics should feel the most at home in house churches. House churches exist to allow every member of the body of Christ to participate in the gathering. The meetings are small to intentionally facilitate interaction, especially the sharing of gifts. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:26 “When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you.” The kind of organic church Paul describes here allows for the power of the Holy Spirit to move among different members of the body.
Pentecostals and Charismatics should believe in the democratization of the Holy Spirit. That’s a big five dollar word that describes that idea that the Holy Spirit gives Himself to each and every believer. Because every believer gets a measure of Christ’s gifting through the power of the Spirit, every believer should be participating in a meeting of believers with the Holy Spirit leading like the director of an orchestra. The democratization of the Holy Spirit means every believer can participate in the work of God.
Peter best articulates this for us in his famous message to the Jews in Jerusalem after Pentecost:
No, what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel:
‘In the last days,’ God says,
‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your young men will see visions,
and your old men will dream dreams.
In those days I will pour out my Spirit
even on my servants—men and women alike—
and they will prophesy.
What Peter is saying in this message is that a day that the prophet Joel had predicted has come to pass: God is pouring out His Spirit on everyone. Prior to this, God had poured out His Spirit on special anointed individuals, mainly kings and prophets. The Holy Spirit’s activity was unique and happened only among select people. But now, because of the sacrifice of Jesus, everyone could have access to this elusive Holy Spirit. Men and women, young and old, even the servants–all would be able to move in the gifting of God.
These are the verses that launched the Pentecostal movement in the early 20th century. A desire to be filled with the Spirit and experience God personally marked places like the Azusa Street revival. But over the last 100 years, the movement has grown increasingly comfortable with letting ‘anointed’ men and women do the hard work. It’s not uncommon for attenders in charismatic congregations to have never experienced the Holy Spirit in any way outside of the pastor or preacher’s ministry.
All of this, then, is a giant appeal from me to those who believe in the gifts of the Spirit to put into practice the democracy of the Spirit. Do you believe God gives gifts to His church? Good! Then gather believers together in their homes and have meetings like they were described in 1 Corinthians 14. Let members of the church practice sharing their gifts from the Holy Spirit with each other. Don’t be content with someone else exercising their one gift for the entire body. Keep pressing into the Spirit until every member of the body of Christ is participating in a meeting of believers with the gifts God has given them.
The result will be the strengthening of the church.
I came to Christ in the midst of a spiritual revival that was sweeping through sections of the church in the mid-90’s. I watched my mom get miraculously healed of cancer in front of my eyes and it was shortly after that I gave my life to Christ. It was during this time that Brownsville, Toronto, and other places were experiencing moves of the Holy Spirit. We treasured that season because we were watching things that happened in the Bible regularly occur before our eyes. For us, this was what Christianity was supposed to be about.
Somewhere around the year 2000 many of those movements faded a bit and it was during this time I started feeling called to church planting. After college I moved to Kansas City to learn church planting and how to follow the Holy Spirit like I had seen others do. I got a bit more than I bargained for, though. Not only did I learn church planting and following the Holy Spirit, but I got introduced to the concept of house churches and my thinking about the body of Christ was turned upside down. Shortly after this I moved back to Iowa.
Since that time, I’ve mostly given myself to starting house churches in our region and raising up disciples that will make disciples. And even if you’ve read my blog, it’s largely focused on the idea that the church is a people who meet simply and make disciples.
Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about revival, the movement of the Spirit, and how that all functions in the context of movements and making disciples. You could think from posts I’ve written like Awakening, Harvest, and Broken Nets Part I, II, and III that I don’t believe in revival anymore. But that’s not the case. I believe (and am asking) for a movement of the Holy Spirit in our country, I just think it looks different than what most people are expecting.
What I mean is this: revival and awakening have typically happened in the context of existing structures of church. Because of this, these movements of the Spirit seem to draw people to a location, a church building, one or more dynamic leaders, etc. Men and women are born again, miracles happen, existing believers are convicted of sin, and renewal comes to the church. But the outpouring of the Spirit is based around a place, a few places, or a few dynamic individuals. The everyday person doesn’t expect to participate, other than to help or receive from those who are leading the meetings. And when trouble or turmoil comes to the places where the Spirit is moving, the revival or awakening inevitably ends.
But even yesterday as I was reading St. Patrick’s Confession I was reminded that movements of the Spirit happen in the context of disciple making movements that change whole nations. These empower every believer, not just the anointed few, to take the gospel to every sphere of life. This type of awakening can be passed to others with a simple version of church that allows the Gospel to spread like a virus among the lost. Instead of a few places experiencing awakening, it can move from person to person and have a much greater impact.
The Holy Spirit isn’t confined to our church meetings. He’s not just interested in elevating the spiritual intensity of the existing church for four or five years every decade. He is interested in the Gospel touching the hearts of lost men and women who don’t even know how lost they are. Imagine a movement of the Spirit that is able to invade a gang-ridden inner city that would never darken the door of your local Assembly of God or Vineyard church. He WANTS to release his power for miracles AND godliness among them as well. Holy Spirit even wants to spawn church planting movements that are filled with dreams and visions and signs and wonders and people coming to Jesus in every context!
How do I know this? Because it’s the testimony of church history. It happened with the first century church: THERE WAS BARELY A CHURCH TO REVIVE! All there was were lost people who needed this kind of movement of the Spirit. It happened again with guys like Patrick, It happened in this country with a couple of guys named Wesley. It’s been happening in China since the 1950’s. It happened in this country as recently as the late 60’s and early 70’s. We call it the Jesus People movement. And all over the world it’s currently happening in countries where you can be killed for following Christ. These are normal movements of the Spirit!
Friends, I believe God still wants to send the Holy Spirit in unprecedented ways*. But the way that that we package the outpouring will affect how far it will go and how deeply it will impact us. So let’s keep asking and keep believing for a movement of the Spirit, but let’s contend for it knowing it will not be something that shouldn’t look like a more zealous church service. It looks like a grass-roots movement of people coming to Christ, churches being formed, and missionaries being sent out.
*For example, I believe Joel 2 was fulfilled partially in Acts 2, but I don’t we’ve seen the ultimate fulfillment of “I will pour out my Spirit on all people,” yet (see Acts 2:17-21).
By and large, the church that is contending for revival and awakening isn’t ready for it. Yesterday, I gave at least one contemporary example of the problem. The question is, what do we do?
First, we don’t stop contending for revival and awakening among the lost. Holy messes that God sends are better than any dead answer to the problem of not being ready. Keep contending. We need more people coming to Christ! We need more of the church awake to what God is doing in the Earth!
But beyond that, we have to ask ourselves how do we prepare? I’d like to put forth at least a few suggestions for your consideration:
- We fix out eyes on Jesus and continue to cultivate our love for Him. This seems so logical, so basic that you would think it would go without saying. But in times of pressure like what revival and awakening cause, it’s easy to let our eyes get off of the Lord and on to the pressure. The only answer for this human condition is to continue to give time and attention to our relationship with Jesus. Become so rooted and grounded in Him that nothing can tear you away.
- We devote ourselves to practices that multiply, not just add. Paul tells Timothy “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also,” (2 Timothy 2:2). We have to constantly be training people and training those people to train people. Much of the church is not equipping the saints for ministry and those who are are doing it by addition. They equip one or several men to teach or care for the body. Multiplying practices are principles that allow us to not only to train a few saints, but train those saints in concepts that are easily transferable to other believers who can transfer them on even further. Neil Cole’s LTG is a great example of a transferable, multiplying discipleship plan.
- We make revival about more than the meeting(s). I know this isn’t exactly what we mean, but often we declare a revival to have started when we extend a series of meetings and we declare it over when there isn’t enough people any more to keep the meetings going. All of it revolves around a church building or meeting space. In reality revival and awakening have much more to do with what God is doing in human hearts in a particular location. Are people coming to Jesus? Is the church becoming more alive? Then it doesn’t matter how many meetings are being held or whether there’s enough people to fill them. God sent an angel to tell Phillip to leave the revival to share the gospel with an Ethiopian (Acts 8:26) and this tells me that God is more interested in His ongoing plan than continuing a series of meetings.
- We practice spiritual family. I can’t emphasize this enough. Spiritual family is the wineskin Jesus designed to carry the new wine of the gospel. God, who is a father, builds his Kingdom on the building blocks of family. So it shouldn’t surprise us that Kingdom-oriented spiritual families are the “mechanism” He uses to raise spiritual sons and daughters that are birthed through a move of the Spirit. And while spiritual family can mean many things, I find the apostolic nature of house churches lend them to being the best context for spiritual family to be expressed.
- Remember that Jesus wants the gospel to go forth to the ends of the world. The revival in Jerusalem after Pentecost was ended when God allowed Saul to persecute the church and scatter it. The goal had always been for the gospel to go from Jerusalem, to Judea, and then to the ends of the Earth. Saul’s persecution was the mechanism used to trigger that movement. Many of the great revivals of history were catalysts for missionaries going to people who had never heard about Christ, but recent church history is silent on the subject of new converts and revived souls planting churches and taking the gospel to places it has never been. We must always remember that Jesus launched a movement of the gospel that is destined to travel to the ends of the Earth, not wait for the ends of the Earth to come to it. We have to have faith that the same Holy Spirit who moves on us here and now will empower us in the same way where He is sending us.
I believe that the greatest moves of the Holy Spirit are still ahead of us. I think we should pray and ask God to move again in our day. But only a people with hearts fixed on Jesus who are multiplying ministry, not meetings, and living in spiritual family will be able to contain what the Lord wants to do. And these coming moves of the Holy Spirit must not just stay with us, but touch those who have never even heard the name of Jesus.
Friends, these are not little changes. These sort of statements can be said quickly but it can take years to unlearn old habits and learn Kingdom ways that need to replace them. The time to begin is now. Let’s continue to ask for God to awaken the lost and revive the church. But even today, let’s begin to by faith build a different kind of church–a better, sturdier net–that will be able to handle the harvest when it comes in.
The time to prepare is now.
Years ago, I read a prophetic word by Rick Joyner about the future revival coming to the church and it sobered me as young man. It described a still coming revival that was so immense that it broke every structure that existing churches had. It compared what is coming to what we saw happening to the book of Acts where a huge influx of new believers actually put significant stress on the church and its structure. He compared revival to an ocean wave that a good surfer will catch and ride, but could also injure a surfer who was unprepared. And I’ve seen this happen over and over again in times of awakening and revival.
Yesterday I wrote that the church that is praying for revival and awakening probably isn’t ready for it. I even borrowed a story from the life of the disciples and used it as analogy for where the church is in this hour. So we need to pray AND prepare nets that can truly hold the harvest God is going to send. Today I want to share a case study* to show you why it’s so incredibly important.
When I was in Bible College I came across a surprising number of people who had been part of a significant revival in this country. This revival began as a fairly localized move of the Holy Spirit in a congregation during the visit of an itinerant minister and then went on to draw attention all over the country because of some dramatic signs and wonders and a massive wave of repentance that was attached to the meetings.
Needless to say, things changed significantly for this congregation during that season. People were driving from all across the country to take part in what God was doing. The numbers were so large nightly meetings began happening. Soon a bible college was established to equip the new believers who were wanting to join the ministry. Everything was pretty intense.
And that’s where the problems began. All of my friends that I had met who were part of this move of the Holy Spirit had been changed by their time there. Most of them had been through the bible college. But all of them told me the same story: We loved the revival. But we got burned out. We were in meetings six nights a week but we never learned how to live lives outside of the meetings. And we never learned to be the body of Christ. We never learned to be family.
I’ve met more than my fair share of people who have tasted of the work of the Spirit in a series of meetings but were never raised to maturity in Christ. Some of them have even grown bitter and disillusioned by the phrases revival and awakening because in the end, though that season was great, the end goal they were hoping for never came about. Many of them never became part of a true spiritual family. Many were just individuals in a meeting during the season of revival. And while I’m in awe of the numbers of people who came to Christ during this move of the Spirit, my heart aches for those who grew disillusioned when the meetings ended because their hopes were deferred and their hearts were sick.
This wasn’t the last revival that this has happened. Several others have happened in the time since. And to differing degrees, a similar story emerges.
Friends, Jesus has a plan for His church. He is both the one who draws us to Himself and the One who builds His church. He is the one who is fashioning His church into nets that won’t break under pressure.
We’ll talk more about what that looks like tomorrow…
*Out of honor for the place(s) described above, I’ve remained intentionally vague about details.
I believe the best days for the church are still ahead of us. Not only is the church going to become the pure and spotless bride that Scripture predicts, but the harvest of souls that the church will see in the coming years will be greater than any hour of history*.
So I’m the last guy who wants to persuade Christians to stop praying for revival and for lost souls to come to Christ. I believe we need to pray more, not less, and boldly ask the Lord for an awakening both here in the West and around the globe.
But I think we should stop and think about what we are asking for Jesus for when we pray. Awakening in the church and a harvest of souls is not a bad thing. But the reality of the situation is I don’t think we’re ready for the kind of awakening we’re praying and dreaming about, let alone the one He desires to give. This question gets to the heart of the matter:
What will we do once it arrives?
And I mean that seriously. Most of the church currently is seeing little true conversion happening. So we’re not used to discipling brand new believers who’ve never known Christ. We have a tough time with the one or two a year that typically come in. But what happens when the number of new believers in your church is equal to the number of established believers in your church? Or what happens if the number of new believers in your church is double that of the size of your current congregation so that “mature” believers are outnumbered two to one?
This isn’t just an issue of capacity (meaning do we have enough room in the building?), but how do we teach them to follow Jesus? How do we deal with casting out demons and dealing with their issues they bring to the body? How do the believers in the church deal with the strain that so many new believers places on the body?
Perhaps a story from the life of Jesus can help illustrate this. In Luke 5, some of the disciples were out fishing and Jesus used their boat to preach to a crowd that had gathered. Unfortunately, the catch of fish the night had not been that great. They had caught nothing. Jesus instructed Peter to cast his nets on the other side of the boat. Peter was in disbelief and even told Jesus that it wouldn’t work, but reluctantly followed Jesus’ command.
When the disciples cast their nets onto the other side of the boat, the catch of fish was so incredibly large that their nets began to tear. Peter gets appropriately freaked out and even asks Jesus to leave! This was a supernatural sign to Peter. But Jesus tells Peter “Don’t be afraid Peter. From now on you’ll be a fisher of men.” This last prediction of Jesus tells me this was more than just a sign to show Peter who Jesus was, but a sign to show Peter the kind of ministry he was to have.
I believe we are entering into days where the harvest of unbelievers will be great. But the nets (the church, at least in general, in the West), is not prepared for those days. We, like Peter, expect to catch something, but not nearly as much as Jesus will bring, and so we bring nets that can’t handle the catch. And it puts us in danger of losing the harvest.
Are you praying for revival for the church and awakening among the lost? Good! But we as the church need to prepare in faith for the days ahead. What will happen when it truly comes? Are we ready? Or does how we disciple, meet, and do mission need to change so our nets don’t break on that day? I believe it does.
We’ll talk more about that over the next couple of days…
*I believe this both from a biblical prophecy standpoint and from a sheer demographics standpoint. More people will be alive on the planet in this century than than any other.
Yesterday I argued that uncrucified Christianity is a hot mess.
As I was writing yesterday, the Holy Spirit began to speak to me a little bit about the idea that taking up our cross is the way that we make room for the Holy Spirit.
This should be obvious: Most of Galatians 5 talks about how the flesh and the Spirit are at war with one another within us. Paul goes on to say that those who belong to Jesus “nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there,” (Galatians 5:24).
If you go back and read Galatians 5, Paul is almost circular in his reasoning: “Let the Holy Spirit lead you. Then You won’t desire the things of the flesh. But you have to have crucified your fleshly desires. So walk in the Spirit.” As you read it, you see this divine cycle where we both get help from God and we partner with God in this fight against our uncrucified selves.
My point is this: Taking up our cross opens a realm of activity for the Spirit. It’s not an accident that Jesus’ death on the cross opened up Pentecost for the early church. So if we desire greater activity of the Holy Spirit, we have to (by His help) appropriate the crucifixion in our own lives.
Friends, I am about as charismatic as they come. I desire more of the Holy Spirit moving and operating in my life. But there is some of the flesh, some self-glorification, some level of selfishness that has tainted much of the Spirit-empowered work at least in many parts of the world where I have witnessed it.
But I have also seen parts the work of the Spirit where people are laying down their lives for Jesus and the Gospel. In these places, the men and women have a purity like I haven’t seen. They aren’t flashy. The Gospel spreads. Miracles are common and Jesus is glorified. And this is what I’m hungry for in the West. Not just miracles. The fullness of the Holy Spirit that comes when we lay our lives down.
Today, I’m sort of just ranting. But I hope I’m right about this reality and I hope we all together can pursue this and encourage others, so that more and more of the church can be swept up into this reality.