Unlikely sparks awaken beautiful revivals

“The evil spirit answered them, ‘I know Jesus, and I recognize Paul – but who are you?’ Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them, overpowered them all, and prevailed against them, so that they ran out of that house naked and wounded. When this became known to everyone who lived in Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks, they became afraid, and the name of the Lord Jesus was glorified. And many who had become believers came confessing and disclosing their practices, while many of those who had practiced magic collected their books and burned them in front of everyone. so they calculated their value and found it to be fifty thousand pieces of silver. In this way the word of the Lord flourished and prevailed.

This is the account of a revival that took place in Ephesus in the 1st Century. Revival, of course, of a great movement of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, to save and sanctify people. Isn’t it interesting what Luke, the author of the above passage cites as the reason for the revival? A demon possessed man assaulting some half-rate exorcists.

Christ and the Samaritan Woman Rembrandt

There are about a thousand accounts of this in the Scriptures and on the pages of Church History. In 1733, a prostitute living in Puritan New England made greater waves than many fiery sermons. A preacher in the town writes:

When she came to me, I had never heard that she was become any wise serious [about following Jesus]…what she gave me an account of, was a glorious work of God’s infinite power and sovereign grace; and that God had given her a new heart, truly broken and sanctified.

The speaker, a pastor, worried the conversion of a woman of her sort might make the people in the town more bold in their sin. Instead, he writes,

But the event was the reverse, to a wonderful degree. God made it, I suppose, the greatest occasion of awakening to others, of anything that ever came to pass in the town…The news of it seems to be almost like a flash of lightning, upon the hearts of the young people, all over the town, and upon others.

Much like the lonely Samaritan woman in John’s Gospel, whose testimony results in the conversion of her whole town, God is pleased to take the tax collectors and prostitutes and make them the glittering jewels in his holy crown. They are the unlikely spark struck at just the right time for the gospel’s power to explode into darkened lives.

The town seemed to be full of the presence of God; it was never so full of love, nor of joy, and yet so full of distress, as it was then. Our public assemblies were then beautiful: the congregation was alive in God’s service, everyone intent on public worship, every hearer eager to drink in the words of the minister as they came from his mouth.

Do you wish for an awakening? Let us ask for the unlikely sparks, for perhaps we are too respectable to be unbridled flame.

Your life as a novel

In the monotony of life, most of us chase the escape. There is Netflix, Prime, Hulu for couch surfers; Kindle, Indie Bookstores, and Barnes and Noble for the word thirsty; museums, theatres, and cinemas for the art-savvy. While some would rather Yosemite, or Yellowstone than read or watch – most of us have an escape.

It’s understandable why that might be. Man born of woman is few of days and full of trouble. But what do we escape to? What relief do we find in these stories, paintings, and landscapes of beauty?

In the pages of a book, one can live outside of one’s self. You can go places no person can. In the movies, one can celebrate the triumphs of characters whose essence is more beautiful, strong, or powerful than we.

The problem is not wanting to disappear into stories, for the Creator endorses that. The problem is viewing our lives as something other than stories. I don’t just mean our lives are stories like biographies are stories – one event turning into another, into another affecting a person over time. Rather, I mean a story being written with intent by an author, a story with meaning. Do you see yourself that way? As a character in a story?

It can be a hard thing, for we have a whole genre of stories called tragedies, and if our lives are being written by a divine author, then so many of our lives are of that type. But what if life being a tragedy depends on when the timeline ends? What if we reorient the arc of the story on a different timeline? MLK Jr. popularized the quote, the “arc of history is long but it bends toward justice,” – are we different?

One’s account of World War II could burden one’s soul if the account ended with Hitler conquering Paris in 1940. But what if the account ends with Hitler’s timely end and the surrender of Germany on V-E Day, 1945? Whether a life is a tragedy, or even a success story, depends largely on where we stop telling it.

Moreover, the way we look at life depends on how we see it as sweet or bitter. In a passage known as the Hall of Faith is a striking account of a group of people:

they were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Others experienced mockings and scourgings, as well as bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and on mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.

These are the people commended by the author. To end the story there is certainly hard. Among the greatest heroes of the Christian faith are those who despaired and left the world with rags and sorrows. But the timeline continues past the grave. These people banked on a life which doesn’t end with their last breath. They had hopes and dreams – some realized, some not. But their bridge to a better world – and a happier ending – was through faith. The tragedy was they were crushed and afflicted without visible fulfillment. But God says this:

These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised. But they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. 

They saw the glories and upsets of life as temporary, fleeting things. Jim Carrey says, I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.” The most accomplished lives are tragedies on the long scale.

These folks above who wandered in goatskins and lived in caves. They realized what they were looking for was not self-realization, but home – or more specifically – a homeland. They redefined the nature of a triumph story:

they are seeking a homeland. If they were thinking about where they came from, they would have had an opportunity to return. But they now desire a better place—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

The word homeland there is actually “fatherland” (πατρίδα). You can just pick up and move to Canada and become a citizen. But you can only go home to Canada if you’re from there and are going home.

You see, life is either the story of craving to maintain this crumbling existence (of which we will all be robbed by death), or it is the story of the “craving” (earnestly seek after – “ἐπιζητέω”) of fatherland by which we will pay all to regain.

One is the tragedy. One is happily ever after. This is a Choose Your Own Adventure Story. When you find yourself in sheepskins because you’ve chosen to live a life of faith, your story does not end with a breath, but pivots on a resurrection.

Holy Haunting

Richard Dawkins has a new book out recently attempting to persuade young people to jettison belief in God. Dawkins is an evangelist of sorts for the restless sort of atheism which is discontent with widespread belief in God(s) – but mostly the Christian God.

I don’t believe in the things that Dawkins compares with God: unicorns, leprechauns, or fairies – but I’m not publishing books on how or why not to believe in those things. If belief in God is safely far on the right of ridiculousness, then why is Dawkins continually making a career of evangelizing persons into unbelief? I contend Dawkins is what I was as an atheist – haunted by the Christian God. He [God] ever lives in the conscience of unbelievers never allowing them to live in full moral freedom, always reminding their sub-conscience of their rebellion and need for forgiveness. They can never forgive Him for it.

This isn’t merely a lone hypothesis of an amused believer: psychological studies show atheists, and agnostics often choose unbelief not after a critical examination of the “evidence” for God, but because of psychological disappointment in a God. The thing they accuse believers of is the real determiner for so many: emotion. Further, this emotion often exists in the form of anger toward God.

Some atheists and agnostics reported anger involving God, particularly on measures emphasizing past experiences (Study 2) and images of a hypothetical God (Study 3). Anger toward God was associated with poorer adjustment to bereavement (Study 4) and cancer (Study 5), particularly when anger remained unresolved over a 1-year period (Study 5). Taken together, these studies suggest that anger toward God is an important dimension of religious and spiritual experience, one that is measurable, widespread, and related to adjustment across various contexts and populations.

Exline JJ1, Park CL, Smyth JM, Carey MP; Anger toward God: social-cognitive predictors, prevalence, and links with adjustment to bereavement and cancer. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2011 Jan;100(1):129-48. doi: 10.1037/a0021716.

More evidence follows:

Our interest was piqued by an early study of anger toward God among undergraduates (Exline et al., 1999), which revealed a counterintuitive finding: Those who reported no belief in God reported more grudges toward God than believers. At first glance, this finding seemed to reflect an error. How could people be angry with God if they did not believe in God? Reanalyses of a second dataset (Exline, Fisher, Rose, & Kampani, 2004; Kampani & Exline, 2002) revealed similar patterns: Those who endorsed their religious beliefs as “atheist/agnostic” or “none/unsure” reported more anger toward God than those who reported a religious affiliation. Further analyses identified a group of conflicted believers (or slipping believers), all of whom had previously believed that God exists (or might exist) but no longer believed at the time of the study. When compared with believers, these individuals reported more anger toward God. These findings raised the question of whether anger might actually affect belief in God’s existence, an idea in line with Novotni and Petersen’s (2001) clinical descriptions of emotional atheism.

Worthington, Everett L. Handbook on Forgiveness (Routledge: 2005), p 79.

Other studies show that atheists have cognitive dissonance regarding what they say they believe about God and what they feel toward Him. For instance, one study had religious and unbelievers repeat statements daring God to do something harmful. The atheists who had skin electrodes showed the same stress levels at daring God as religious people.

So atheists: you’re not fooling anyone – and certainly not God. Romans 1:21 states this clearly:

For though they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became worthless, and their senseless hearts were darkened.

I have compassion on atheists. In some sense they have their lives robbed from them by their own rebellion. They can have no moral rest from the God who haunts them until they repent. If you lived in an atheistic universe, you could have rest. Since you live in God’s universe, you’re only hope is to come to the Savior who said:

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30.

Them Crazy Baptists

An early Baptist meeting

In the Modernist world, it became popular, following the example of Thomas Jefferson so many generations ago, for Christians to edit the supernatural out of their faith. This was a constant trajectory all the way back from the Enlightenment (1600s) when theologians began to think science had closed the door for the truthfulness of miracle accounts in the Bible – much less miracles by contemporary Christians. With the development of Postmodernism and all its uncertainty, people today seem more open to the possibility of the supernatural, however, even among Evangelical Christians (those who hold to Scriptural teachings most literally) there is a general lack of openness to supernatural things happening in their midst.

Jack Deere, the Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) professor who became Charismatic overnight is one example of a dramatic turn from this Enlightenment/anti-Pentecostal influenced position toward openness to the supernatural, but what about my Baptist brethren? In the 1970s, Charismatic teachings and experience had affected all the major denominations in the US, including the SBC. They had their own SBC Charismatic Conference in 1976. Today, though, most Southern Baptists are Cessationists (believing the supernatural gifts do not continue to present day).

But what about the original US Baptists? It turns out many were much more open to the practice:

One rarely gets glimpses of the individual spirituality of these early American Baptists, but we do have an account of a remarkable experience by Philip James that may suggest that evangelical mysticism— including dreams, trances, and visions— was common among the Regular Baptists. Early Baptist historian Morgan Edwards noted that when one of James’s children died in 1753, the despondent pastor fell into a kind of coma. When he awoke, he told his family that during the trance:

“my soul quitted my body [and] the resemblance of a man in black made towards me, and (frowning and chiding for wishing to die) took me up towards the sun, which filled me with fear. As I was ascending, a bright figure interposed and my black conductor was pushed off. The bright man took me by the hand and said, “we go this way,” pointing to the north. And as we ascended, I saw a company of angels and my child among them, (clothed in white and in the full stature of a man) sing with them as the company passed by us, whereupon my bright conductor said, “I am one of that company and must join them.” And as he quitted me I found myself sinking fast till I came to my body.

Edwards’s admiring account of James’s experience hints that this kind of spirit journey was acceptable among many early American Baptists, just as it was among American evangelicals more broadly.

Baptists in America: A History by Thomas S. Kidd, Barry Hankins (OUP, 2015), 27-28.

It’s certainly interesting. Is it simply isolated though?

There’s an account in Thomas Kidd’s (of Baylor; no mean scholar) work on the Great Awakening of a persecuting party coming to arrest some Baptist leaders (Baptists were a persecuted minority in the American Colonies):

A party coming to arrest the church’s leaders was struck temporarily blind in the night by a flash of light followed by thick darkness. The persecutors “agreed that this strange event was a warning to them;…. which procured quietness to the poor baptists.”

Kidd, Thomas. The Great Awakening (Yale: 2007), 245. Cited from early Baptist historian Morgan Edwards in Materials Towards a History of the Baptists.

Should the account be truthful, it would appear the Lord protected the Baptists with a miracle. That’d make present day Baptists a wee bit uncomfortable.

The Separate Baptists [Baptists formed during the First Great Awakening] regularly reported signs, wonders, and divine communications in their early years in the South. North Carolina Baptist minister James Read reported receiving “frequent teachings from God” and dreams calling him into Virginia. Both waking and sleeping, “he felt his soul earnestly impressed with the desire to preach there. In his dreams he saw large congregations assembled to hear him, and his family heard him crying out, “O Virginia, Virginia, Virginia!” in his sleep. Just as he was preparing to set out, messengers arrived from Virginia pleading with him to come.

Meetings typically ran late into the night, and “sometimes the floor would be covered with persons struck down under conviction of sin.”

Ibid, 246.

So there’s visions, dreams, prophecies. What about healing?

Waller was reported to have remarkable preaching gifts, and at least once he administered a miraculous healing. The wife of the Baptist minister in Buckingham, Virginia, was healed of “deplorable violent spasms” by Waller’s prayers and anointing of oil.

Ibid.

Moreover, Baptists arose because biblical literacy became a thing just after the Reformation (Bibles became common in a language people could understand). As there’s no clear instance of infant baptism in Scripture, so Baptists said, “let’s do this upon conscious trust in Christianity” rather than being born in the right family.

On a similar note, James 5:15 contains a promise about healing for the sick by Elders of the church. Thus, Baptists going by the Scriptures began anointing the sick and some were healed. As a result they were attacked by Cessationist churches. Can anyone imagine Baptists today being attacked for widespread healing ministries? Or of that being a distinctive of that group?

It would be nice if Baptists just going by the Scriptures instead of reacting against Pentecostalism/Charismatics and falling in line with the Enlightenment. Them crazy [early] Baptists were on to something. Maybe them sane, ordinary Baptists can learn something from them.

Use yo gifts, girl!

It may seem ridiculous to non-evangelicals, but this is a real question within our circles.

I am a seminarian at a pretty conservative evangelical seminary embroiled in a debate over the place of women in the church. In a denomination committed to the literal interpretation of the Scripture (which commissions males and females into certain roles), how can we accommodate our sisters in Christ, some of which are extraordinarily gifted.

I see a few things happening as I observe my seminary community: first, I see a lot of women who are thirsty for influence. I don’t mean this in a bad way: these women are gifted in theological understanding, communication, thoughtfulness, counseling ability, and many other things. True to the name of the famous/infamous doctrine, they complement men well in the ways they are gifted.

Second, I see some chafing against the present implementation of the doctrine known as complementarianism. This a doctrine which says certain church offices (pastor, teacher of men) are restricted to men. Sometimes, however the implementation can go a bit further than Scripture warrants, and indeed the way some proponents of complementarianism have discussed the issue displays something moderns would call patriarchy, and the Bible would call failing to obey the second greatest commandment (“love your neighbor as yourself”; cf. Matthew 26:32-39).

Third, I am writing this article because inspiration struck after reading a book review related to the subject of Evangelical/Mainline Protestant women in ministry. At the end of the article is this statement by the reviewer (an Evangelical woman with a sort of public/parachurch role):

As I consider my influence on my church family and the wider world, I want to cultivate the ministry of availability. This will involve saying no to good opportunities for gospel ministry, perhaps even some that would bring me more influence. Jesus prizes faithfulness (Matt. 25:23), and the pursuit of celebrity status or influence for its own sake is more likely to distract us from that calling than to fulfill it.

What struck me was the Scripture reference she used to support her statement that Jesus values faithfulness rather than influence. In the reference, Jesus gives a parable about how rewards will be recompensed in at the judgment for Jesus people based on how they lived their lives on earth. In the parable, one person coming to Jesus is given 5 coins, another 2, and another 1 – the amount being given “depending on each one’s ability.” Another way of saying this is based on the sort of physical, intellectual, and spiritual capital you’ve got. Your gifts and talents (which, ironically in English translations, is the type of currency that Jesus calls the coins).

Jesus, in the parable, expects the people to use the gifts to make a sort of profit back equivalent to those coins. The person with 5 coins makes 5 more, the one with two coins, two more. Finally the person with one coin just hides their gifts – they don’t use them at all. Jesus throws that guy into hell!

What lesson do I think Jesus wants us to gain? I see all these single ladies at seminary and in churches. A pastor, which I believe is reserved for men in Scripture, is called to help equip saints for the work of ministry. We need to do a better job of giving women a shot at everything they are or could be gifted at. I don’t think this means throwing out the possibility of faithful homemaking out of the picture, but I do believe it means that we should widen the scope of the possibilities.

Some women of influence have concluded you can’t have both dreams – power and a family. Yet what about all the single ladies in our churches and Christian colleges/seminaries?

I say, girl use your gifts in every way Scripture allows. Your church needs it and Jesus will hold ya accountable for it one day. Pastors and male church leaders: lets get out of the way because God wants a generations of ladies to get to work for Jesus’ sake.

Something better than minimum wage.

I’ve been poor lately. Quite poor actually. Despite having a masters and multiple years of experience in my field, I left my career and went back to grad school. The result was, of course, relative poverty.

Relative poverty isn’t necessarily being kicked on the streets. This kind of poverty does mean a significant lifestyle adjustment. It meant rice and beans – if that. It meant going without health insurance. There’s gotta be something better than minimum wage, though, granted, I chose this life.

I was reading ancient literature this morning. The sort that people fight wars over and give up all they own to follow. The literature was written by a physician of antiquity, as a letter to a contemporary who was questioning whether he had been told the truth about some events recent to him. Despite being a letter, it’s really a historical account of the most influential person of all time: Jesus of Nazareth.

In the account Jesus makes a startling statement about poverty, and suffering. Whether he is right about poverty and, well, everything else he said and did, makes the difference about whether there is something better than minimum wage.

Jesus says something which makes modern American Evangelicals queasy:

Blessed are you who are poor,
because the kingdom of God is yours.
21 Blessed are you who are now hungry,
because you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now,
because you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when people hate you [now],
when they exclude you, insult you,
and slander your name as evil
because of the Son of Man.

Luke 6:20b-22

I sat down for coffee with a fellow server at a Thai restaurant I work for. He left what he understood Christianity to be for atheism. One of his genuine struggles was why so many faithful people would suffer so greatly and remain in such poverty, if Jesus is on the throne, reigning as a king. I mean, if as Kanye says, JESUS IS KING, when why do the faithful followers of Jesus suffer so? Are all the blessings kept for later?

Jesus highlights a hard reality of his present kingdom: It’s present glory is hidden. While there may be a few churches with multi-million dollar budgets, the vast majority have far fewer persons and expenditures. Most Christians worldwide have it much rougher than Joel Osteen.

Thus, in my poverty now, I am blessed. Why? Because one day I will not be. In my hunger now, I am blessed. Why? One day I will be fat and happy. So the question is, what is that one day?

An anonymous work within the same ancient compendium as the previous passage has the answer:

1 Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.

13 These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised. But they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. 14 Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they were thinking about where they came from, they would have had an opportunity to return. 16 But they now desire a better place—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Hebrews 11:1, 13-16 respectively.

There is a church called Sojourn. They take their name from the concept of the people of God wandering through a wilderness. God’s there with them, sustaining them with miracles and food… but they can’t stay there. It’s not home. So it is with those who follow Jesus. This ain’t home – but we’re headed there.

Until then, we’re blessed from a distance. That’s better than $15 an hour.

7-Up, with Lithium!

It started as a tonic for hangovers in the 1920’s. Charles Leiper Grigg from the Howdy Corp. decided to market the stuff as “Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon Lime Soda.” Today the product is better known as 7-Up.

In the 1940’s Australian John Cade discovered a new use for lithium carbonate, known today as lithium: a mood-stabilizer for severe depression and bi-polar.

While working at a mental hospital in Melbourne, Cade experimented with guinea pigs by injecting them with the urine of manic patients to see if mania would develop in the guinea pigs. Because Cade used lithium to disolve the uric acid (what he assumed was the toxin) for injection, he noticed the GPs became docile, and quite mellow for the species’ baseline.

As a result, lithium was recommended as a treatment for mania. Many thousands have benefited from this strange experiment. May the guinea pigs which were lithiumized forever live in peace.

Note: 7-Up is now lithium free.

Guineas Pigs,

how science has grown from your broken brains

and forsaken wheel runners.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Depressives, Manics, and Big Pharma

Bibliography

Tacchi, M. & Scott, J. (2017). Depression : a very short introduction. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.