Saturday, November 29, 2008

Desperation for Today (Introduction Added)

[I wrote this in the context of many years of frustration about the American church and my own experiences within it. It was prompted more than anything by the visit of Brother Yun to Denver Seminary about two months ago. He is a Chinese Christian who, until he had to flee China in 1997, was part of the underground church there. These comments in no way indicate doubts about the truth of Christianity; they rather concern the spiritual state of the church today.]


What can we do about the hyperactive deadness of so much American Christianity? We can enter into the desperation and radicality of the underground Chinese church, as exemplified by Brother Yun. Yun engages in strange, strenuous activities in pursuit of God’s Kingdom. As a new convert in his teens, he fasted and prayed for 100 days to get his first Bible, eating only a small bowl of rice each day. He went on a supernaturally long fast in prison, seeking God’s release and blessing. He is willing to take up the cross and deny himself in dramatic ways in search of what is uniquely from the Holy Spirit. (See his biography, The Heavenly Man.)

Why is it that God seems often to require such intense devotion before he manifests himself supernaturally? Why cannot we simply ask God for something, and then get it—even miraculous healings, mass conversions, and more? The reason may lie in the fact that because God is the superlative being in the universe, he deserves all of us. We should love him with all our heart, soul, strength and mind (Matthew 22:37-39). We should “hate” our family in comparison with our love of God (Matthew 10:32-39). We are to take up our cross and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23-25). The cross killed people; you did not survive a crucifixion. We are commanded to take up our cross because Christ took up his on our behalf. We must die to our sinful selves and live to God, because Jesus died to sin and lives to God (Romans 6:10). This theme is everywhere in the Bible. Paul says:

14 For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again (2 Cor. 5:14-15).

How can we miss it? But we do. We look past what is right before our eyes. This is because we are stupefied by worldliness and compromised Christianity—Christianity lite and undemanding, a Christianity denatured by consumer values and lifestyle choices.

How can we press in and press through into the supernatural realm? In True Spirituality, Francis Schaeffer wrote that we live in a supernatural world, but often act as de facto naturalists, thus demonstrating our “unfaith.” How can we find a faith that moves mountains in Jesus’ name? I believe it will take protracted desperation demonstrated in desperate and radical acts of obedience, especially prayer and fasting—in season and out of season. This needs to be done alone in the prayer closet (Matthew 6:16-18) and in groups of God-seekers (Acts 13:1-3) open to the move of the Spirit (John 3:8). We need open seasons of seeking God together, times of worship, Scripture reading, and earnest calling upon the name of the Lord, as David did in the Psalms. Even Jesus himself called upon his Father:

7 During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him (Hebrews 5:7-9).

We must pour out our hearts and souls and minds before our Maker, for he is our God and we are his people, the flock of his own hand.

In order for God to hear and answer, we must repent as never before. God cannot bless a divided and unrepentant heart. It would violate his own holiness (Isaiah 6:1-8). Yes, he saves us out of that condition—spiritual death (Eph. 2:1-7)—but those who bear his name must do all in that name. Living in the name of Jesus does not merely mean tacking on “In Jesus’ name” at the end of prayers. It means living in the entire spirit of Jesus in all we think and feel and do (Col. 3:17).

Actions prompted by these considerations will all seem strange and silly to business-as-usual, status-quo-for-all-we-know American Christianity. We have not experienced significant renewal, revival, and reformation for many decades. We have grown cold and hard, despite our large churches, big budgets, and Christian celebrities—or perhaps because of them. Therefore, God-seeking, world-denying, flesh-hating actions—individually and corporately—will be belittled as extremism, for we are extremely worldly and lukewarm. The resurrected Jesus has an extreme word for us:

14 "To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. 19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me. 21 To those who are victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 3:14-22).

We need to hear the words of holy and loving rebuke from the One seated on his heavenly throne. Who has ears to hear? Who will let Jesus in to take over completely? What is required of us?

I am not sure, but I care deeply to find out. The example of Brother Yun, the Bible itself, and great Christians in the past tell us to pursue God with all our being. Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom and its righteousness and all this will be added as well” (Matthew 6:33; see also 1 Cor. 10:31). Seeking first the unshakeable Kingdom of God means forsaking lesser alignments and allegiances and entanglements. It means, as Francis Schaeffer taught us, depending on Jesus Christ moment by moment. “Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord” (Zech. 4:6).

We need to regain a Christocentric and cruciform existence. This is nearly unknown in the postmodern world. We keep Christ at arm’s length. We try to domesticate him. We have invented a designer Jesus. We must cast aside comfort and respectability, cast aside “leadership principles” inherited from the world and the flesh (perhaps even the devil) and stop leaning on the arm of the flesh, no matter how muscular and impressive it might be (to the world). This means radical, sustained devotion to God alone. May God help us. May he shake the world again through us, yielded vessels of his transcendent power (2 Cor. 4). Apart from Christ, we can do nothing; but in Christ and with God, all things are possible (John 13-15: Matthew 19:26).

3 comments:

rogerlynn23 said...

First, I have read your blog ever since I found it two years ago. I attended denver seminary for a semester in the fall of 04 and took your "Defending the Christian Faith." Thanks for your commitment to defending the truth of the gospel. That class made a lasting impression that will stay with me the rest of my life (that is not an overstatement).

Second, I can't count the number of times that I have cited "Truth Decay: Defending Christianity from the Challenges of PM" when writing a paper on how Postmodernism should inform my approach to integrating my Christian faith with psychology. Your commitment to the correspondence theory of truth and first principles of logic, evidenced in Truth Decay, greatly influences my integrative efforts (I am in the phd program of clinical psychology at Fuller Seminary). So...thanks for writing that book! It has been a great resource time and time again.

Blessings,

Roger Erickson

Francis J. Beckwith said...

Doug:

From Bob Dylan, circa 1979:

Trouble in Mind

by Bob Dylan

I got to know, Lord, when to pull back on the reins,
Death can be the result of the most underrated pain.
Satan whispers to ya, "Well, I don't want to bore ya,
But when ya get tired of the Miss So-and-so I got another woman for ya."

Trouble in mind, Lord, trouble in mind,
Lord, take away this trouble in mind.

When the deeds that you do don't add up to zero,
It's what's inside that counts, ask any war hero.
You think you can hide but you're never alone,
Ask Lot what he thought when his wife turned to stone.

Trouble in mind, Lord, trouble in mind,
Lord, take away this trouble in mind.

Here comes Satan, prince of the power of the air,
He's gonna make you a law unto yourself, gonna build a bird's nest in your hair.
He's gonna deaden your conscience 'til you worship the work of your own hands,
You'll be serving strangers in a strange, forsaken land.

Trouble in mind, Lord, trouble in mind,
Lord, take away this trouble in mind.

Well, your true love has caught you where you don't belong,
You say, "Baby, everybody's doing it so I guess it can't be wrong."
The truth is far from you, so you know you got to lie,
Then you're all the time defending what you can never justify.

Trouble in mind, Lord, trouble in mind,
Lord, take away this trouble in mind.

So many of my brothers, they still want to be the boss,
They can't relate to the Lord's kingdom, they can't relate to the cross.
They self-inflict punishment on their own broken lives,
Put their faith in their possessions, in their jobs or their wives.

Trouble in mind, Lord, trouble in mind,
Lord, take away this trouble in mind.

When my life is over, it'll be like a puff of smoke,
How long must I suffer, Lord, how long must I be provoked?
Satan will give you a little taste, then he'll move in with rapid speed,
Lord keep my blind side covered and see that I don't bleed.


You can listen to it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLuZzs99WxM

Doug Groothuis said...

Frank:

Dylan speaks some truth here, but not enough.