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Why Not Now?
CHAPTER TWO

Crashing the Party:

Revival Comes To Town

 


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The first step down the road to national renewal in the Caribbean is for the church to break through to revival, which is the gateway to national and regional transformation through reformation.  For, the alternative is ever-increasing chaos and frustration, possibly — especially for Jamaica — ending in bloody and futile revolution and/or dictatorship. 

But, why do revival and reformation so often tarry, in spite of our fervent prayers?

The answer is sobering: revival comes at a steep price — it crashes the party, demands repentance, challenges our comfort zones, and threatens the powerful and respectable.  So, as history repeatedly records, true revivals are always controversial, and often provoke sharp backlashes, or even outright persecution.

For, while God has promised that “In the last days . . . I will pour out my Spirit on all people . . . .  And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” [Acts 2:17, 21, NIV] we often back away from the steps we need to take if revival is to break through in our lives, families, churches and communities.  That is, our disobedience, confusion and fear are the principal roadblocks to revival in the region.

No pain, no gain — no surprise.

So, if refreshing revival, renewal and reformation are to flow out across the Caribbean, we must first search out their roots.  Then, we must undergo painful pruning so that we may bear the fruits of revival, in our homes, churches and communities.  Therefore, the task of this chapter is to help us as we go through this process of breakthrough to revival.  But first, we must count the cost.

 

Crashing the Party:Revival comes to Town

A good place to start is with an incident recorded in Luke 7:36 – 50.  Here, a notoriously “fallen” woman crashed a dinner party held for Jesus by Simon, a member of the then highly respected Pharisee — that is, “holiness” — movement.

She heard that Jesus, then a famous but increasingly controversial preacher and healer, was going to dinner at Simon's house, so she walked right in.  She stood behind the guest of honour.  Soon, the tears began to flow, wetting and streaking his dusty feet as he reclined at the table.  She then knelt down, wiped his feet with her hair, began kissing them, and poured perfume on them.

That was too much for the host.  He said to himself: "If that man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is — that she is a sinner."  [v. 39.]

But that was just the point.  Jesus replied: "Simon, I have something to tell you."

"Tell me, teacher."

So, he did.  First, a story: if a moneylender forgives two men who can't pay back their loans, which would love him more? 

"The one who had the bigger debt cancelled." 

"You have judged correctly . . . Do you see this woman?  I came into your house.  You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered has not stopped kissing my feet.  You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.  Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven — for she loved much.  But he who has been forgiven little loves little."  [Vv. 43 - 47.]

Why was there so sharp a contrast between the respectable Pharisee and the "fallen" woman?  Why did Jesus rebuke the upright, respectable religious leader?  And, why did he accept what clearly looked very much like attempted seduction by a notorious temptress as an expression of heartfelt repentance?

 

The Roots of Revival

The answers take us to the roots of true revival, and show how it works.  They will also expose the sad, dirty secrets of our own hearts — secrets that block the renewing and reviving flow of God's Holy Spirit across the Caribbean and beyond it in our own time.

For, true revival begins when we admit a shameful truth: that we are empty, dry, even more corrupt inwardly than we are outwardly; a hypocritical stench in the nostrils of the Holy One.  Furthermore, even when we sincerely want to do what is right and good, we find ourselves trapped in sin. 

As Paul put it: “I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin . . . I have a desire to do what is good but I cannot carry it out . . . the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing.”  [Rom. 7:14, 19.]  

If we fail to break out of such hypocrisy and bondage to sin, our fate will be like that of the Pharisees: once highly respected for their uprightness, the very name of their movement is now a synonym for “hypocrite.”  Already, many people across the region — too often for good reason — view Christians in exactly this way. 

So, let us hunger for God's love, truth, purity and power.  Then, let us admit to and turn from our sinful bondage and hypocrisy to Jesus, through in prayerful, even tearful, repentance.  Of course, such a turning point may be quite intense, even offensive to onlookers, but "he who has been forgiven little loves little."  We must not allow our desire to look good to block us from seriously dealing with our sins!

Once we have thus faced our sins, we must go on to renewal.  As Paul teaches: "Don't let the world squeeze you into its mould.  Instead, be transformed from within by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is."  [Rom. 12:2, paraphrased.]  In short, we must turn from "the ignorance that is in [us] due to the hardening of [our] hearts," and learn and live by "the truth that is in Jesus."  [Eph. 4:18, 21.] 

Thus, as we study and live by that truth, we will "put off [our] old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires . . . [and] be made new in the attitude of [our] minds . . . put[ting] on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."  [Eph. 4:22 - 24.] 

Consequently, “there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death . . . so that the righteous requirements of the law might be met fully in us, who do not live according to the [flesh] but according to the Spirit.”  [Rom. 8:1, 4; NIV margin for sarx.]

In short, renewal is the living out of repentance, through the liberating power of God’s Word and Spirit.  (Indeed, the Greek word for "repent" means, "to change your mind," that is, thinking and attitudes.)  Thus, as Paul goes on to say in Rom. 8:5 – 9 & 13 - 14:

Those who live according to the [flesh] have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live according to the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.  The [mind set on the flesh] is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace . . . .

You, however, are controlled not by the [flesh] but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.  And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ . . . .  For if you live according to the [flesh], you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God.   

So, the roots of revival are that we must face up to our sinfulness, repenting and learning to walk in step with the leading of the Spirit of God.  This requires that we devote ourselves to studying and living by the pure light of the Word of God. For, it is the Scriptures that “are able to make [us] wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” They do so by “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the [people] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  [2 Tim 3:15 – 17; cf. Acts 2:42.]

Thus, making use of the concept that the people of God are the functioning parts of the body of Christ, Paul notes:  “speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is Christ.  From him, the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”  [Eph. 4:15 – 16.]

Love is therefore the lynchpin virtue, binding together our life of faith and service into a balanced, caring whole.   As a result, the key rule of righteous conduct is love at work:

[H]e who loves his fellow-man has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandments there may be are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’  Love does no harm to its neighbour.  Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.  [Rom. 13:8b – 10.]    

This leads us to the basic principles of Christian liberty:

1)      Love God with all your soul, heart, strength and mind[1];

2)      Love your neighbour as yourself; then,

3)      Freely act out that love, in the power of God’s Holy Spirit, and by the light of his Word.

But, doesn’t this give license to us to do what is right in our own eyes?  Not at all, for the leading of the Spirit of God by the light of the Bible provides a strong safeguard — “love does no harm.” More specifically, the Scriptures teach us the truth, correct our error and train us in righteousness, equipping us “for every good work.”

Sadly, however, “good works” have become a source of confusion; especially through the absurd conceit that we can save ourselves by doing enough good deeds to make up for our sins[2]. Instead, the Bible strikes a delicate balance: while such good works are not the basis for Salvation, they are its natural and intended overflow:

It is by grace you have been saved, through faith . . . not by works, so that no-one can boast.  For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  [Eph. 2:8 – 10.] 

So, as we receive God’s unmerited favour — that is, grace — through surrendering to and trusting him based on his word[3], he leads us to a life of love that issues in doing good works.  This means that as we repent and are renewed, we will turn from selfish, devilish, fleshly, worldly ways to loving, godly ones instead.  Thus, healing renewal naturally flows out through transformed lives into our families, churches, workplaces and communities — the process of reformation.

However, many people draw benefits, profits and pleasures from deceit, sin and chaos in the community.  So, as renewal begins to reform the community, it will inevitably trigger conflict and opposition.  As the Apostle warns, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”  [2 Tim. 3:12, 13.]

So, if revival is to break forth across the Caribbean, we must be determined to turn from our sin in repentance, and to trust and serve Christ by walking in the “good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do,” even in the teeth of conflict, opposition and confrontation.

 
Revival, and its Fruits

Obviously, we cannot meet such a stiff challenge by our will power and self-discipline.  Rather, “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”  [Rom. 8:2.]  Thus, we again see the key to breakthrough: supernatural power, by God’s Holy Spirit. 

So, as we reach out to God in biblical, prayerful repentance and faith, he will pour out his gracious Spirit on us.  Through the Spirit, we will receive power:

§         To love the unlovely;

§         To live by the truth;

§         To walk in purity of life, word and thought; and,

§         To bear witness to the gospel, reaching out to others with the good news of salvation, healing and liberation from the bondage of the world, the flesh and the devil[4].  

That is, life in the power of the Spirit [Gal. 5:26a] is the normal state of the Christian life — it is the only way that we can consistently walk in love, truth, power and purity.   Therefore, as we learn to “keep in step with the Spirit” [Gal. 5:26b], we will begin to live the Christian life the only way it can really work: supernaturally.

Thus, the third phase of God’s breakthrough is revival proper, the pouring out of God's Spirit in love, truth, power and purity.  As was promised through Joel, "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people."  So we are called to "Repent . . . and turn to God, so that [our] sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord."  [Acts 2:17, 3:19.]

But, since walking by the power of the Spirit is the normal Christian life, such revival should not be a rarity.  Instead, we should live in the Spirit’s power, day by day — special times of refreshing should simply heighten our day to day experience of God’s power.

Now, I must pause.  For, while I am forced to write the above by the logic of the case, I find its implications supremely challenging. Oh, how I burn with shame as I recognise how often I have blocked the natural flow of revival!  And, I am sure I am not alone.

Let us therefore join together, admit our guilt in repentance, and ask God to pour out his Spirit on us in a powerful flow of love, truth, power and purity.  Then, "sinners can catch the overflow," as rivers of living water pour out of our hearts through our deeds and words.  [Cf. John 7:37 – 39.] 

This is not just theory; it is the record of the early church.  As Acts 2:41 - 47 summarises, those who repented and believed the word of God were baptised, a public mark of their commitment to Christ and his church.  This was then lived out in the power of the Spirit as the new disciples devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to mutual caring, to worship and prayer (corporate and in their homes), and to witness. 

As a result, the daily, Spirit-led and empowered teaching, lifestyle, fellowship, ministry, worship, prayers, caring and testimony of the early church practically demonstrated the impact of repentance, renewal and revival.  So, it is no surprise to see that "the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."

Revival therefore naturally leads to reformation, the ongoing transformation of community life, culture and institutions under the impact of the Lordship of Jesus.  This happens as more and more people surrender to Jesus, and by his Spirit, fill their lives and ways with his fulness, thus affecting their community.  [Eph. 1:9 - 10, 22 - 23, 4:9 - 24.] 

But, as we saw above, such a breaking out of the worldly mould challenges the whole community, especially the respectable and the powerful.  So revival movements and their leaders are inevitably controversial.  For, one man's repentance, renewal and revival will always be another man's rebuke.   And if such a person makes his living or gains power from sin, he will want to discredit, dismiss, or even fight against the revival.

This is exactly what happened to Paul at the hands of the silversmiths in the city of Ephesus.  As revival bit into their idolatrous trade, they conspired against the Apostle:

"this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people . . . There is danger . . . that our trade will lose its good name"; so they stirred up the people against the apostle.  [Acts 19:26 - 27.] 

Selfish interest and idolatrous deception twisted these businessmen, leading them to reject the truth and fight against God.  So, as dupes of the Devil, they used their power wickedly[5], to stir up a riot to rid themselves of the threat to their "good name."   Sadly, there are all too many echoes in our time.  Conflict, opposition and persecution are just as much the fruit of revival as is reformation.

 
The Four R’s of Revival

We can now sum up.  Revival’s roots lie in repentance and renewal.  Likewise, its fruits are reformation and persecution.  We can therefore see that revival happens in four overlapping phases, the four R’s of revival:

R1 Repentance: True revivals start here.  As we repent, we "put off [our] old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires . . . [and will] be made new in the attitude of [our] minds . . . put[ting] on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."  [Eph. 4:18, 20 - 24.]

R2 Renewal: this is the living out of repentance as we learn and live by the light of God’s word and the power of God’s Spirit. "Don't let the world squeeze you into its mould.  Instead, be transformed from within by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is." 

R3 Revival, proper: the pouring out of God's Spirit in times of refreshing.  Thus, we receive anointed power from God to walk in good works in the face of a deceived, corrupt world. "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people," so we are called to "Repent . . . and turn to God, so that [our] sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord."

R4 Reformation: the transformation of a community, its institutions and culture under the impact of the Lordship of Jesus as those who surrender to him fill their lives and ways with his fulness.  Of course, this threatens those who draw pleasure and power from sin (or even make their living from it), so revivals will also face persecution.

 

Revival, Spiritual War and Discernment

A Heaven-sent spiritual breakthrough is powerful, but threatening.  For, when revival comes to town, it crashes the party — it offends "good taste," challenges the comfortable, threatens business and political interests, cuts across agendas and exposes hidden hypocrisy.  So, the demons won't leave town quietly: they always fight hard and dirty, stirring up their dupes to oppose God. 

The resulting intensified spiritual warfare, accompanied by ugliness, confusion and conflict, stir up further contempt for genuine revival — even among God's people.  So, we tend to be like Simon the upright Pharisee, who mistook repentance for seduction, concluding that Jesus couldn't be a true prophet since he didn't put the "sinner" in her place.

But there is another side to discernment.  As Solzhenitsyn the great Russian writer — and Christian — observes, "the line between good and evil does not pass between classes and nations, but right through the human heart."  As a result, renewal movements and revivals have always contained a strange mixture of truth and error, repentance and hard-heartedness, insight and blindness, holiness and hypocrisy.

Clearly, then, we must prize and use godly discernment.  As the sad case of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians shows, some religious leaders, movements and members may not be sound or even genuine. 

Others may be like King David: they have their hearts in the right place, but are tragically flawed. Or, saddest of all, some are like King Saul — they started right, but have lost their way, and are now lashing out jealously against those they see as threats to their agendas. 

This caution holds for the evangelist pitching a tent down the road, for the TV preacher, for the Sunday School teacher or pastor, for the most venerable religious leaders in the community, and, most of all, for our own deceitful hearts.  [Jeremiah 17:9 & 10.] 

Let us always seek to discern and yield to "the finger of God."  [Luke 11:20.]

 

Towards Revival in the Caribbean

Plainly, if sorely needed revival and reformation are to spread across the Caribbean, we must repent and be renewed in our thinking, speaking and living.  That means swallowing our pride and respectability, prayerfully opening our minds and hearts to neglected or even rejected biblical truth, and breaking before God and man in repentance, reconciliation and restitution.   We must also be prepared to face challenges, misunderstanding and even persecution.

We will also need to be involved with and committed to the people of God.  We cannot go it alone:

let us draw near to God . . . let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  [Heb. 10:22 – 25.  Emphases added.]

So then, let us pray together for revival, crying out before God as representatives of our nations.  As we do so, let us confess our guilt, shame and helplessness and ask him to pour out his Spirit on us and our nations as he has promised, in love, truth, purity and power.  On rising from our knees, let us then go out to live by and "sp[eak] the word of God boldly," accepting the risk of ridicule, rejection and persecution.  [Acts 4:31.]

 
Breakthrough Teachings and Strategies

One further step is necessary.  Historically, reformation requires outreach, nurture and ministry strategies and teachings that pierce religious, intellectual and social or cultural barriers.  For instance, the key insight of the European Reformation of five hundred years ago was the recovery of Paul’s key teaching: justification by grace, through faith, unto good works.  [Eph. 2:8 – 10.] 

This breakthrough teaching was coupled to a new strategy: Bibles in the language of the people, with systematic study and teaching for the masses.  The resulting release of God’s word powerfully worked to liberate and renew millions, and so transformed whole nations.  Thus, even though the Reformation has not been without blind spots and even horrible failings over these past five centuries, the world has been tremendously blessed by it.

Similarly, two hundred years ago, the Methodist movement stressed personal encounter with God in repentance and faith, holiness and the power of the Spirit.  It also used then unconventional strategies: open-air preaching, circuit riding preachers and the small-group class structure.  Thus, the English speaking world was further transformed by the power of God, and the modern Missionary movement broke forth and has spread the gospel around the world. 

The breakthrough principle is not just a matter of historical observation.  It can also be seen at work in the New Testament: Jesus' encounters with the woman at the well in Samaria [John 4:1 – 42] and the early church's breakthrough to the gentiles [Acts 8 – 15] are two clear cases.  These cases will well repay study.

For the Caribbean today, I believe such a breakthrough cluster of teachings and strategies should include:

q        The Fulness of Christ: Eph. 1:10 and 4:10 point out that God has purposed to unite everything in heaven and on earth under one Head, Christ; and that Jesus came, descending and ascending "in order to fill all things."  1:22 & 23 add: "the church . . . is his body, the fulness of him who fills everything in every way."  Our mission therefore requires us to penetrate all of life with the renewing force of the gospel: individuality, family life and sexuality, gender, the church,  education, sports, art and culture, the media, institutions, business, science and technology, government and politics, justice and mercy, environment concerns, national development and the war against poverty . . .

q       Discipleship, Body Life and Service: Eph. 4:11 - 16 can be viewed as the operational form of our discipling mandate.  It outlines the strategy Christ has for the church: he gives leaders to the church "to prepare God's people for works of service," so that the church might grow into "the whole measure of the fulness of Christ," as each of us fulfils his/her areas of service — that is, "ministry" — in the body of Christ in the world.  Thus, discipleship leads to our call to service under Christ's purpose to fill all things, in all nations.

q       Nationhood under Christ: In Matt. 28:19, Jesus sends us to "make disciples of all nations."  Acts 17:24 - 27 adds that God created the nations and so controls our places and times that we are brought to moments of crisis and truth: opportunities to reach out to God.  Thus, godliness under Christ is the key to true nation-building, and should become the focus of Caribbean life as we cross the threshold of the Third Christian Millennium. 

q       Cells and Networks: Small or cell groups, as the Methodists demonstrated over two hundred years ago, and as the Protestant Huguenots of France also showed two hundred years before Wesley, are a practical and biblical structure for renewal, training, church growth and mobilising disciples for service. To sustain their effectiveness, however, they will need to be integrated into networks that provide support, accountability and leadership.  In our time, the Internet provides a further, awesomely powerful, dimension to such cells and networks.

q       The Priority and Power of Unity: Jesus prayed for the church: "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know you sent me and have loved them."  [John 17:23.]  John 3:16 points out that "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son," so our disunity, suspicion, envy, backbiting and selfish ambition work to discredit the gospel.  Quite a contrast to Acts 4:32: "All the believers were one in heart and mind."  Let us repent, be reconciled, and "consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds."  [Heb. 10:24.]    

We will now turn to exploring and developing these ideas, proposals and strategies.  But, since the demons "won't leave town quietly," let us devote ourselves to intense, sustained prayers as we seek to open a door to godly renewal and revival across our region and beyond. 

May we be privileged to witness times of refreshing in our day: Why not now?  Why not here? Why not us?

 
Suggested Assignments

(a) Questions for Group Discussion

§         Read Matt. 7:1 – 5.  In its light, how should the people of God approach the issue of reformation in the community?

§         Given the common charge that we are all a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites, have we?

§         How can we correct our ways, balancing love, truth, power and purity in our lives, work and communities?

§         How, then, should we work towards renewal, revival and reformation in the Caribbean?

§         Where should we start?

 

 

(b) Suggested Practical Exercises

 

 

(c) For Further Reading

 



[1] Matt. 22:34 – 40.

[2] See Rom. 6:23, Isaiah 59:1 – 2 & James 1:12 – 15.

[3] That is, faith.  See Rom. 4:4 – 5 and 10:17.

[4] See Acts 1:4 – 8, Rom. 5:1 – 8, 1 Cor. 13:4 – 7, and Eph. 2:1 – 10.  Love, truth, power, purity and witness identify five key clusters of Christian virtues.

[5] This pattern defines evil: twisting (or, perverting) the good things God has given us, to serve self-centred ends.