Revolution, Revival, and Extremism

We need a revolution in America. Not an armed conflict, but a real upheaval of our thinking and how we approach things. What things? Just about everything – from common everyday life events to social interaction, race relations, social justice, welfare, immigration, national security, foreign policy, etc, to how we do church and live, or don’t live, the Christian life. In the “old days” we called it “revival.” But even back then, our concept of revival fell far short. A series of meetings to get people fired up is not going to cut it. What we need is Christian Extremism.

Why do we need it? In part because we as Christians have lost sight of what it means to be a Christian. We are caught up in the tangible, temporal, visible world and its cultures and life-styles and its “solutions” to problems. We have lost sight of the true impact we can have on the world around us if we will focus on Christ instead of focusing on the world around us.

First, let me say what Christian Extremism is not. It is not fundamentalism. It is not, and never was, going off on crusades to save the Holy Land from the Muslim hordes. It is not churches like the one from Kansas that goes around decrying immorality in America by protesting at soldiers funerals. It is not arguing with atheists, or agnostics, or reacting to narrow-minded non-Christian bigots who make fun of Christians. Extreme Christianity is not having big buildings, or big congregations, or big worship. It isn’t huge choirs singing majestic anthems. It isn’t praise bands rocking out and performing the latest worship songs. It isn’t stained glass windows, high ceilings, and steeples (thank-you-very-much Plato). It isn’t multiple satellite warehouse locations joined by the latest satellite technology. It isn’t a small group of believers meeting in a house.

Let’s see if I can capture some of what Christian Extremism is.

It is faith. Pure and simple, total dependence on God and His faithfulness. It is loving Him because He first loved us. It is loving Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. It is turning away from sin and self-will (repenting) because we see and receive His kindness toward us. It is knowing Him. It is knowing by faith that He exists. And, because He exists, we know that He truly is willing to be known by us, and will reward our search for Him. He will make Himself known. Extreme Christianity is being so confident in His love and faithfulness that we can give thanks, always, for all things. It is knowing that He will use everything that happens in our lives to mold us into the image of Christ, and to bring glory to Himself. Knowing that, we can not only accept whatever comes, we can embrace it with a passion – a passionate faith – a confidence in His faithfulness and love.

Extreme Christianity is a faith that began at the cross of Christ and His resurrection, and it goes on daily carrying the dying of Jesus and the victory of His resurrection. It began with trusting in His finished work to save us, and it goes on daily trusting in His finished work to live through us. It began with resting in Him and His efforts and it goes on by resting in Him and His efforts. It began with being called to good works, and goes on by knowing it is actually Christ Himself who is at work in us both to will and to work out His good pleasure.

It has been called “mere Christianity” by C. S. Lewis. Watchman Nee called it “the normal Christian life.” Both were using irony to make a point that it is simply the way the Christian life is supposed to be.  However, it is not by any means “mere” in the sense that it might be considered easy. It is not complicated, but it is not easy. If it were, we would all be doing it already. It is “normal” in the sense that it is what is set forth in the New Testament for us, and it is the way Christianity really should look just because that’s what it really is. However, it is not at all normal in the sense that it is the way every, or even most, Christians live.

Jesus referred to it as righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees (supposedly the most righteous people of the day) (Matthew 5:20). He also said He came to give us life “more abundantly.” (John 10:10)
He took don’t kill to the level of don’t even devalue another person by being angry, considering them worthless or calling them a moron or fool.
He took don’t commit adultery to the level of don’t lust.
He took don’t make false vows to don’t make any vows, just be honest.
He took an eye for an eye to don’t get revenge; turn the other person’s wrong into an opportunity to bless.
He took love your neighbor and hate your enemy to love your enemy, too, and pray for him.
He took prayer, almsgiving, and fasting out of the public eye and made them personal interactions with the Father.
He took the Sabbath from resting on the 7th day to a life of abiding in and resting in God. Sabbath is no longer a day of the week. It’s a 24/7 lifestyle.
He took going to the temple as the dwelling place of God, and sent His Holy Spirit to indwell us and make us God’s house (Hebrews 3:6).
He took the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies, and became the mercy seat (propitiation) for us (Romans 3:25).
He took the priest in the temple and became our High Priest, and instituted the priesthood of the believer – making us a kingdom of priests.
He took the sacrifice lamb, offered repeatedly and ineffectually, and became the sacrifice lamb once for all.
He took the law, commandments, prophets, rites, and rituals, and made it all very simple (but not easy):

  • the “first and greatest commandment” – love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength;
  • the second commandment (James calls it the Royal Law) – Love your neighbor the same way you love yourself;
  • pure and undefiled religion – visit orphans and widows in their distress and keep yourself unstained by the world

We do not need the government providing welfare, health care, mandating fairness and defining hate crimes, hate speech, mandating integration, defining marriage (or even regulating marriage), or even regulating education, or much of anything else. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much the system we have and we are stuck with it. However, what we need is for the church to quit investing in brick and mortar and stained glass and corporate management (in the name of “church staff”) and begin investing in the lives of people – financially and spiritually. The church needs to quit playing church and effectively equip the saints – individual Christians – to be the church, to be Christians, and to do the work of the ministry. We as individual believers need to get passionate about living in the presence of the Living God. You are His dwelling place. That is extreme. If we truly believe that, our lifestyles we reflect it.

You are the dwelling place of the Living God. That is extreme. Believe it, and it will change your life. Click To Tweet

A Clay House for God

You are the dwelling place of Christ – the One who is Himself the radiance, the out-shining, of God’s glory, the exact representation of His nature. That’s pretty amazing. It’s rather impressive! Yet, in perspective, you are an earthen vessel. So, all that amazing awesomeness is from God, not from you or me. We are clay houses for the ultimate treasure in the universe – the presence of God. Face to face, as it were, with Christ, we can know the glory of God as He shines His light, the very radiance of God, within our hearts.

Legacy

In an earlier post I mentioned my great-grandfather, Papa Sibley, and the influence he had on my Aunt Jean. She wrote of him: “My grandfather, John Coleman Sibley, whom we lovingly called Papa, died when I was only 11 years of age, but he has had the greatest spiritual impact on my life of anyone I have ever known. He was a devoted Christian, and was loved and respected by all those who knew him.” What a legacy.

I don’t know a lot about Papa Sibley. He was a “junior.” His father, John Coleman senior, kept a diary during the Civil War, which I first read when I was about 11 years old. John senior was married to Lizzie. They had 2 little girls when John went off to war. Ella was about 4 or 5, and Mattie was newborn in 1861. Ella died in 1864 while John was away from home. John junior was born in 1865. Five years later, in 1870, John senior died. In, 1874, Lizzie died, leaving 13 year old Mattie and 9 year old John orphaned. I was thinking about this recently and wondered who raised them? Who had a godly influence on them that could have attributed to Papa Sibley being the godly man Aunt Jean described?

According to the 1880 census they were then living with Matilda Sibley. It took a little digging to figure out who Matilda was. My ancestry research didn’t show a Matilda Sibley. I finally found her. It was Lizzie’s mother. Lizzie’s maiden name was Stoker. Matilda Dendy’s first husband was Matthew Stoker. He died sometime prior to 1849, and in 1849, she married William Sibley, uncle to John Coleman senior. So, she and her daughter both wound up married to Sibleys and sharing the same last name. So, what about Matilda?

This was a time when it was not uncommon for someone to be widowed, to remarry, sometimes more than once. It was very common to have several children, particularly if a second, or third spouse was younger. Families of 5 to even 12 or 15 children were not altogether unusual.

Matilda and Matthew Stoker just had the one daughter, Nancy Elizabeth (Lizzie), before Matthew died.  Matilda’s marriage to William was his third. He had several children from his previous marriages. William and Matilda just had one daughter, Amanda, born in 1850. I know little of the intervening years. William was a preacher and one of the founders of Toro Baptist Church outside of Florien, LA.  Their daughter Amanda died in 1860. William died in 1861, a few months after the war began. A couple of his children from his second marriage were in their mid-teens, and likely lived with Matilda until they grew up. Then when her daughter Lizzie died, she took in her grandchildren.

I know from his diary and some other preserved writings that John and Lizzie were both Christians. For me, it speaks to the legacy of Matilda, in particular, who took these youngsters, and raised them, and apparently gave them the foundation that turned 9 year old orphaned John into a devoted Christian whom Aunt Jean said “had the greatest spiritual impact on my life of anyone I have ever known.”

Now for someone to say this about someone other than his or her parents is no insult to them. She also talked about how her daddy sang hymns, and about how her parents, and other grandparents, her sister (my mom), and others influenced her spiritual growth and development. There was just something special there between her and Papa, and he was there sharing the right things at the right time. He took the time to talk to this small, frail, blind and crippled child, that most adults didn’t have or take the time to spend.

And, when I was a little boy, early elementary age, Aunt Jean came to live with us after my grandmother died. Aunt Jean often took the time to talk with me, to tell me stories about her childhood, to read to me from her Braille Bible, and teach me about prayer and faith in God. And you know what, Aunt Jean had the greatest spiritual impact on my life of anyone I have ever known.

So, Thank You, Lord, for Matilda (1818-1892) and the legacy she passed on to her grandson, John (1865-1936). Thank You that he grew up to love You, and passed that on to Jean Ellzey (1924-1994), and to me. You really love me, Lord. And, I love You, too. Grant that I may pass that on in the same way in just one life.

However many I may touch, God grant that I may pass on a legacy of Your love to one willing heart. Click To Tweet

 

Real Slavery – Real Freedom

Our nation is bleeding out. An old wound, which was yet in the process of healing, has been torn open over the past eight years. We need healing, and it doesn’t seem to be forthcoming. It could come sooner if we, as Christians, would focus on the Gospel and not on sociopolitical agenda.  Somehow, we have it in our heads that if we address socially relevant issues head on and try to change our culture that we are helping people.  Yet the point of Gospel is the Good News that God has sent His Son, Jesus, to make a way for men to be reconciled to God. Only then, will our hearts be changed, and only then will the way we treat and interact with one another be changed. Only then will our culture be changed.

Part of the problem is that we don’t understand history. Maybe the fault is with our schools who, 30 or 40 years ago, began trying to teach a more “honest” history – and began emphasizing the negative aspects of our nation’s past in general, and the failings of historical figures specifically. In the process, as we developed a more “real” social consciousness, the good aspects of our national history were swallowed up in the blackness of our failings. We were so busy casting stones that we didn’t realize we were pummeling our nation into oblivion. That’s the way it usually goes when we focus on someone else’s sin. We try to get the speck of sawdust out of their eye and don’t realize we’re smacking them upside the head with the 2×4 sticking out of our own eye, and everyone walks away bloody, bruised and blinded.

I’ve found several books recently that are histories of individual counties where some of my ancestors lived. The three I’ve read so far were written in the early 1900’s by Civil War veterans – one from Pennsylvania, one from Louisiana, and one from Mississippi. Their perspectives on the Civil War obviously vary. One of the confederate veterans surprised me a little by stating unequivocally that the nation went to war over the issue of slavery. From his perspective, the constitution gave the states the right to have slavery, and to secede. The north was destroying the constitution by ignoring it and forcing the south to abandon the practice. He pointed out the irony that the south had outlawed the importation of new slaves in the early 1800’s, but Northern slave traders continued to bring new slaves in from Africa and sell them in the slave markets into the 1840’s. He also pointed out the number of times northern states, especially Massachusetts, had threatened to exercise their constitutional right to secede from the Union over one issue or another, but when the south did, they went to war. He said the south fought for their constitutional rights, but that having gone through that and seen the end to slavery, they would fight again rather than go back to that institution.

One of the things that struck me the most in all three books, is the acceptance that once the war was over, it was over. The country was reunited. The men who fought on both sides went back to being committed, loyal citizens of the United States. Yes, there was still some anger, suffering, struggling (especially through the “Reconstruction Era”), but they began the process of restoring and renewing our land. Their fathers and forefathers were the founders of the nation, veterans of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Some of them, and their sons went on to become veterans of the Spanish-American War. The government eventually recognized Confederate soldiers as being American veterans and gave them veteran pensions and authorized veteran markers for their graves.

Obviously, in terms of race relations, there is still much to be done. If anything, in recent years we’ve seen reversals and increased division. It is way past time for us to promote healing in our nation. However, social action has had limited success. I was about to suggest messages for black preachers and white preachers, but 1) I’m not going to buy into the division, and 2) though there might be subtle nuances, the message is essentially the same for all of us.

Preacher, you have an opportunity right now to truly bring healing. It isn’t by tearing down monuments and renaming parks. Nor is it by fighting against that. Change will come by prayer and by proclamation of the Gospel. Paul’s example was to preach Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:23).

What does that mean? It isn’t just “Jesus died for your sins.” The way you become a Christian is the way you live as a Christian (Gal. 2:6). It means ‘By His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption’ (1 Cor. 1:30). It means ‘By grace you have been saved through faith;… it is the gift of God, lest any man should boast’ (Eph. 2:8). It means ‘you have been [made of no effect apart from] Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by the law; you have fallen from grace‘ (Gal. 5:4).That doesn’t mean fallen from salvation. It means you stopped living by the heavenly, eternal grace that saved you and subjected yourself to worldly, temporal laws and notions of morality. As a result, you are of no effect as a Christian.

Instead of preaching social justice, ask your people, “Is slavery wrong? Is it evil? Is it an atrocity? Is it morally reprehensible that it was part of our nation’s history? Yes! But that was the past. In the present, in the here and now, if slavery is so evil, then why are you allowing yourselves to become slaves to sin? Why do you allow sin to dominate you? You want to show that you are better than someone else? Well, you’re not! We are all equal in Christ. The very fact that you think you are better than someone else proves that you are not. You want to be better than someone else? Well, quit it. Christianity isn’t about that. Die to yourself, love God, trust God! Give thanks to God. Let Jesus Christ come in and be at home in your heart. Let Him change you from within. When you honor and glorify Jesus by allowing Him to be your very life, when He is revealed to all as being your life and affects they way you live and love your fellow man in general and your Christian brothers (whatever their race) in particular, then you will be revealed with Him in glory! Not by exalting yourself, but by exalting Christ and becoming like Him will you gain the respect and esteem of all men.”

When Christ is revealed as being your life, then you will be revealed with Him in glory. Click To Tweet

And how do you do that? Romans 1 ends with a long list of sins. But that list begins with a very significant insight. It talks about men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. It says that even though God made Himself known, “they did not honor Him as God or give thanks.” The King James says, “they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful.” That is the beginning point of sin. And the reverse is also true – if you want victory over sin, the starting place is learning to give thanks – extreme thanks – not just for good things, not even just for good things in the midst of bad things. Rather, it is giving thanks always, for all things. For the Father has given all things to the Son, and He will use all things to mold us into the image of the Son. That’s what dying to self is all about. That is the “crucified life.” It is learning to totally trust our totally trustworthy God.

Giving thanks to God is the starting point for victory over bitterness and sin. Click To Tweet

If we think we are better than someone else because of our race or for any other reason, we need to realize we have no worth apart from our relationship with Jesus Christ. Hebrews 12:14-16 says, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of [fall short of] the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.” Christian! Are you selling your spiritual birthright, the experience of the heavenly here on earth, the eternal in the here and now, for a morsel of temporal “meat”? Are you feeding bitterness by arguing over monuments, and parks, and the dead institution of slavery when our nation is defiled by spiritual death, enslaved by sin? The Bible does not deal directly with the issue of slavery because the real issue is the hearts of men and their eternal relationship with God. Make a real change there and it will have an impact on the “real” world.

You change the world by changing men's hearts. Click To Tweet

 

Religion or relationship?

According to the dictionary, the word “religion” comes from religare (Latin) to restrain, hold back, tie up. Where we get the word relegate. It has to do with devotion, in the sense of commitment, fervency, adherence. In that sense, some of the most religious people I have ever met are atheists. They deny it, of course, and insist that the only valid definition for religion has to do with deity. That way they can control the dialogue, keep someone else from defining them, and keep Christianity defined in terms that fit their practiced dialectic. Although religion is commonly and usually used in reference to commitment to a deity, the root idea, the etymological concept has more to do with the actions, adherence, fervor and ritual. It is something that holds, ties – a set of rules.
Jesus said,  “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” He also said,  “I am the way, the truth, and the life….” Christianity is about knowing Him.
By the most common usage of the word, and the most common dictionary definition, yes, Christianity is a religion. However, “religion” is perhaps the worst thing that ever happened to Christianity.
Religion is a set of acts. Christianity is something you live. Religion is something you do. Christian is something you are. Religion is something you defend. Christianity is about simply knowing Him, trusting Him, and growing in your relationship with Him.
Now, if religious acts, liturgy, rituals help you do that, that’s fine. But remember, those religious acts, liturgies, and rituals are not what make you a Christian, and doing them because they are there to be done, because it’s a rule to follow or law to obey is in the long term an empty, dead work. You wind up centering your life on the religious act and not on the Lord to whom those acts are to lead.
There are some things that are important parts of the Christian life, not because they are mandated rules, but because of the nature of Christianity as a relationship with God, and because they help us know Him.
Relationships are about communication. Communication is vital to any relationship. So, reading the Bible, praying, and meditation are important. But if we do them because its part of our rules, like a Christian commandment, even these things will become dead, useless, lifeless works. Prayer is talking to God. However, since He’s God, what He has to say is more important than what you have to say. So reading the Bible, studying it, meditating on it, is a vital part of the Christian life. Meditation for the Christian is not like meditation in eastern religions. It isn’t an emptying of the mind. It is thinking about Him and His words. It’s shutting out the noise and voices of the world and considering Him and His thoughts, His message. It’s listening to Him, letting His Spirit speak to your spirit. Rather than emptying, it’s choosing what you are filled up with.
Christianity is not about “going to church.” The church is people, not a building. The church is Christians, all Christians, “the body of Christ.” When Christians get together, the church meets – on the street, in the catacombs, in a coffee shop, or in a church building – wherever.
Christianity involves “evangelism.” Evangelism can take a variety of forms. What expression it takes in your life, as a general rule, or at any specific day or time, should result from your constant relationship of walking with, talking with, and listening to God. You may be quiet and easy-going, and believe you should live your faith rather than be “preachy.” Then one day you feel strongly impressed that God is telling you to share boldly with a specific individual, or even stand on a street corner and preach. And, much to your surprise, it has a powerful effect.
You may be very much the extroverted, outspoken evangelistic type. Then, one day, God says, “not here, not today, trust Me.” As the day progresses you see that God wanted to use your actions, not your words to reach someone. Or, He wanted to use someone else, not you. Or, He was already speaking to someone’s heart, drawing them to Him; and because you obeyed and waited, He brought them to the place where they were ready to hear the good news of Jesus.
Get the idea?  Yes, He did say, “as you go, make disciples.” However, evangelism is about your relationship to Him, too. It isn’t about a method or a rule.
Christianity doesn’t need defending. If we as Christians would spend our time in the pursuit of Him, knowing Him, considering Him, it would so change us that our Christianity and the God we serve would be irrefutable. Trying to defend God is like trying to defend the universe. It’s really big, and it’s there. By comparison, you’re a pretty tiny speck, and anything you do to defend it is really somewhat humorously vain.
And, God created the universe.

Yet, this magnificent Creator chooses to make Himself available to us to be known by Him and to know Him. That is not religion. That’s relationship.

God invites us to know Him, and be known by Him. That's not religion. It's relationship Click To Tweet