Unstopping the Wells of Revival: The Return of Jesus

Tuesday online prayer rooms 
8am prayer 30min
9am prayer 60min

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,[f] but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 24:36-51

As we celebrate the season of Advent, it is appropriate to consider one of the great and glorious doctrines of our faith – and one which has been obscured by the rubbish of the Philistines. Jesus is coming back and could come at any moment. His first coming was shrouded in humility and obscurity. His first coming was meek and mild. His second coming will be unmistakable. As Philippians tells us, on that day “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” 

The Lord spoke often about his return. He told us essentially three things about it. First, at his coming, there will be accountability. Accounts will be settled. As the Creeds say, he will come to judge the living and the dead. Second, his coming will be sudden and unexpected. Even though we know he is coming sometime, and the church has known this for 2000 years, Jesus gives us this promise: “the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him.” And because of these two realities, Jesus told us a third truth about his coming, or rather, how we must prepare. We must be ready. The word he uses is “keep watch,” or gregorao in the Greek. It refers to the alertness of a soldier or night watchman standing on guard or a shepherd keeping watch over the flock. 

What has been lost under the rubbish of the Philistines is the awareness of the possibility that Jesus might return at any time. This may be due to many factors. Many have tried over the years to predict the day or the hour of Jesus’ return. I remember during the year 2000 there were many fringe (or not so fringe) groups that were certain the Lord was coming back when the ball dropped that year. They stored up freeze dried peaches in their closets and ammunition… as if somehow that would protect them from…who exactly? And so as much as we don’t want to repeat the mistake of misguided sects and cults and churches, what we cannot do is lose the clear teaching of our Lord that he might come back at any moment and therefore we need to be ready.

What does it mean to be ready exactly? Jesus illustrates this In this parable, the master has set a servant in charge of his possessions until he returns. In one scenario, that servant remains faithful to the task and receives commendation for doing his job. But in the other, the wicked servant does several things. First, he assumes the master will not be back for a long time. And it is this assumption that leads to his other unwise activities. He begins using his power inappropriately (beating the other servants under his charge) and eating and drinking with drunkards. 

And before we get too critical of this wicked servant – let’s take a look in the mirror. The church in our time is in danger of these same mistakes. We have lost sight of the fact that the Lord is coming and may come soon. And if he did, would we be ready? How would we feel about how we are spending our time? How have we been treating other fellow servants? Have we lost track of our assignment and given ourselves to eating and drinking instead? The reality is that like this servant, the church has lost touch with the truth that Jesus is coming and could come today. If we really thought the Lord could come today, let’s be honest…we’d live differently. The reason the Church has a season of Advent in its calendar is to help us not to lose sight of this vital doctrine of the faith. In many ways the return of Jesus is like a compass that keeps us pointing in the right direction.

When the church recovers this vital truth that Jesus could come at any moment and we therefore need to be ready…to settle accounts…to make things right with God and others…to live as though we will be held to account, it leads to revival.

God gave me a calling in the year 2008. A clear calling. When I shared it with others around me, however, nobody really understood it or gave me much positive encouragement. Because of this, rather than go against my supervisors or my organization’s vision, I took the assignment God gave me and sat on it. I buried it in the ground. Seven years later, I shared about this assignment from God with a friend and mentor – and he said this. “Greg, God has given you a calling. A seed of his own heart. Luckily, you haven’t killed it. But you haven’t exactly been faithful to this assignment either. And one day, Jesus is going to judge you. He loves you as his son, but he will also hold you accountable and ask you what you did with what he gave you. And you need to think about that more than you think about what the other people around you are saying or thinking about your calling.” As frightening and sobering as his words were, they were exactly what I needed to be liberated from the fear of man and to say yes to a calling that didn’t make sense to the people around me. 

Essentially, my friend helped me reorient my life around the coming of Jesus. And this was a key factor in bringing a season of revival to my life and the lives of others. In some ways, every revival is a mini coming of Jesus that anticipates his final coming in glory at the end of the age. 

For Reflection:

How often do you consider the reality that Jesus is coming back and could come at any moment? 

If you knew the Lord were coming back in a week? How would it change your activities or priorities? 

If the Lord were to return tomorrow, how ready would you be? What would need to happen in your life in order to be ready? What would need to stop? What would need to start? 

For Prayer:

Ask God to help the church, beginning with Sanctuary, to recover its conviction that the Lord is coming back and may come any time. Ask God to help us live now in light of that truth. 

Ask the Spirit to bring clarity to activities or priorities that need to change in light of the imminence of Jesus’ return.

Ask the Spirit to stir up in us a sense of hope and expectancy for Jesus’ coming, either bodily in glory at the end of the age, or by pouring out his Spirit in revival.


Unstopping the Wells of Revival: Walking in the Light, Sin & Confession

Tuesday online prayer rooms 
8am prayer 30min
9am prayer 60min

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all[b] sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

1 John 1:5-10

In his letter, John writes about related doctrines that are vital in the spiritual lives of Christians and of the church. That John begins his letter this way indicates that these are doctrines core to real Christianity; standing at the very heart of the lived experience of vital Christians. In other words, they are recovered and rediscovered experientially in every revival. 

For many of us, at first glance, the doctrines are so simple that we pass right over them. Some of us learned them in Sunday school and feel we’ve moved on from them. Or they are so simple and basic that we don’t bother to teach them in church. They also stand in contradiction to the implicit creed of our post-Chrstian, secular age. Talk about them for any length of time in a room full of secular New Englanders and you will feel uncomfortable. 

Whatever the reason, these doctrines have been covered over by the rubbish of the Philistines. And we must recover them, rediscover them, and live them. The Holy Spirit will honor this by releasing wells of living water and causing our cups to run over with the life of God. 

Here they are:

  1. God is LIGHT and we SIN. John tells us “God is light,” and expands by saying, “in him is no darkness at all.” In our current moment, we have utterly lost sight of the absolute holiness of God – but look at any instance in the scripture where human beings came into contact with God – be it Israel at Sinai, or Isaiah in the temple, or shepherds and the Angels (not even God…just messengers) and you will see holy reverence and fear. The brightness of the glory of God immediately reveals the dinginess of our own lives. Isaiah cried out, “woe is me, I am undone for I am a man of unclean lips…and my eyes have seen the King.” (Isaiah 6). So often, we are comfortable with our sin. The reason for this is that we have not fully understood the utter holiness of God. John Calvin begins his Institutes by telling us that the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves are interrelated. It is only in light of the holiness of God that we can actually understand ourselves. 

The rubbish of the Philistines has covered over both the holiness of God as well as our own darkness, brokenness and sin. 

In 2015, Sarah and I experienced a season of personal revival in our lives. The Holy Spirit was poured out. Our walk with God went to a new level. Our passion, hunger, longing, faith, and obedience went up several notches to a new normal. But what interests me is what happened before this season of revival in our lives. It was an increased revelation of sin in our own lives. Things that had just seemed normal to us before came into the light of God. Stuff that was hidden, stuff that hadn’t seemed that bad. Pride. Coarse joking. Cynicism. Addictions. All of the sudden, it laid us flat. We actually wept over sins that hadn’t even bothered us before. This was the Holy Spirit. It was the light of God increased in our lives. The first thing the light did was reveal sin in our lives that we had been ignoring, overlooking, or unconscious of. This was preparatory work for revival in our lives. On second thought, it wasn’t really preparatory at all. It was revival. 

Here is what Norman Grubb writes in Continuous Revival about this. “The obvious main function of light is to reveal things as they are…Light is very silent, does not push or drive anyone away, but is inescapable to any honest person. You can’t lie to light. If you hit your toe against an object in the dark, you may mistakenly say that it is a table. But when the light is turned on in the room, you can no longer continue to say that it is a table if it really is a piano. Light just exposes the lie. God is Light. Silently, inexorably He shines on and in us, revealing things just as they are in His sight. Have you ever noticed the pivotal place given, even in salvation, to our response to the light? In John 3, we are distinctly told that men are not lost because of their sins (because they have already been atoned for) but they are lost for refusing the light.”

And so at the heart of revived Christian experience is walking in the light. Allowing the light of God to shine on us, even on our sin. Coming into the light and staying in the light. 

John says, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.” We live in a world that is living in a state of constant truth suppression about human sin. In the post-modern culture in which we have been discipled, human beings are not viewed as sinful. And in our culture, we do not need to confess sin, either to God or to each other. As long as I haven’t hurt anyone else…it doesn’t count. But when we walk in the light, we are honest with ourselves and God (and others) about the sin in our lives as it is revealed to us. Grubb writes:

“Sin is a revelation. It is God who graciously shows us sin, even as it is He who shows us the precious blood… GOD shows us sin. We do not need to keep looking inside ourselves, This is not a life of introspection or morbid self-examination. We do not walk with sin, we walk with Jesus; but as we walk in childlike faith and fellowship with Him step by step, moment by moment, then if the cups cease to run over, He who is light, with whom we are walking, will clearly show us what the sin is which is hindering–what its real name is in His sight, rather than the pseudonym, the excusing title, which we might find it more convenient to call it.”

  1. CONFESSION – As sin is revealed. The next step of walking in the light is simple: confession. Many of us see the practice of confession only in the movies, in the empty church, with the killer and the priest in the confession booth. But confession must be recovered by the church as a regular practice. We have to confess our sins to God, (and yes…to each other, in appropriate ways). Because when we do – when we agree with God about our lives…it restores us to a right relationship with God. Our sin has already been atoned for. Jesus died on the cross to forgive it. But when we pretend we have not sinned. When we deny our sin, we essentially turn our backs to God. We are no longer face to face with him in communion. 

When our kids were little, we had a liturgy in our house every time there was need for discipline. When the kids would do something egregious, they would get a timeout. We would tell them, Noah or Silas, you are getting this timeout because you did X. After the timeout, we would have a liturgy of restoration and reconciliation. We would ask them, Silas or Noah, “why did you get this time out.” They would respond…and when their response was accurate, we would ask them the next question. “What do you say?” They would say, “I’m sorry.” And then our response would be, “I love you and I forgive you.” We would hug and then we’d say, “now go and play.” 

We did this because we wanted to train them to understand that life with God is a life of walking in the light. We sin. We will sin repeatedly. If we want to have fellowship with God that produces revival and overflow in our lives, we must walk in the light. This means admitting, confessing and repenting of sin regularly, and being restored to face to face intimacy with our Father. 

For Reflection/Response: 

Are there sins or patterns of sin in your life that are unconfessed? Do you have a regular space in your day to “keep accounts with God” and confess sins as they come up. Think of a relationship with a family member…it is always better to deal with sin or issues as they come up, without allowing them to fester and erupt eventually. Same with God. 

Are there unreconciled relationships in your life? Is there a next step toward reconciliation that is in your power that you have not taken? Please note, reconciliation takes two to tango…sometimes it is not possible for us to move forward if someone else doesn’t want to. But it is important that we do what is in our power and control. 

Are there sins you need to confess to another person? James 5 says, “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other that you may be healed.” 

For Prayer:

Pray for the church (ourselves included) to walk in the light. Ask for the Holy Spirit to graciously search us and reveal to us anything that is not holy or in line with the light of God (Psalm 139). 

Ask for the same kind of revelation of sin that has happened in the church before and during every past season of revival. Ask for a revelation of the holiness of God and also of the preciousness of the blood of Jesus – which fully atones and covers over our sin. 

Let’s thank God for dealing, once and for all, with all sin, past, present, and future. Let’s pray for the church to move into unhindered communion with God as our sins come into the light and are confessed and repented of.


Unstopping the Wells: Judgement of God and the Fear of the LORD

Tuesday online prayer rooms 
8am prayer 30min
9am prayer 60min

So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Matthew 10:28-29

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

Proverbs 9:10

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

Ecclesiastes 12:13

He is seated at the right hand of the Father

He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

The Apostles’ Creed

Another cardinal doctrine essential for revival is that of God as judge. The Apostle’s Creed declares of Jesus – “He will come again to judge the living and the dead.” Throughout the gospels, Jesus talks often about God’s judgment, often telling parables of the coming of the Kingdom that involve judgment. 

This doctrine of the judgment of God upon sinful humanity has been lost and covered over by the work of the ‘post-modern Philistines.’ The idea of a holy and righteous God who calls sinful humanity to account and evaluates each of us according to our deeds is a doctrine that has fallen out of vogue. It is written off as “hellfire and damnation” preaching and associated with oldschool, fundamentalist religion. 

I remember when I was on staff with InterVarsity at Brown, I would systematically avoid talking about anything related to judgment, hell, or the wrath of God. I was afraid it would sound unpalatable to starry-eyed millennials who believed they were fundamentally good and thought they would go out and change the world. (I don’t actually think my avoidance of the doctrine of judgment and human sin helped them or the world in the long run.) But it’s not just me, in our desire not to offend a world that doesn’t want to hear about it, the church has systematically avoided judgment talk for decades. 

But read the Bible, and it is plain as day. God is the judge of the earth. He will not leave the guilty unpunished. He will hold every human being accountable. In the mercy of God, this judgment has already taken place. All our sins have fallen upon Jesus on the cross, and if we fear God, and surrender our lives to Jesus as King…we can and will be justified by Jesus. But for those outside of Jesus, judgment remains. 

While the doctrine of the judgment of God was unpopular at Brown University, the alternatives are not good. The ‘Philistines’ have given us essentially two alternatives to a Biblical view of justice. The first is no judgment. From late modernity up until the mid 2010s, the western world jettisoned any notion of objective morality, based on God and his righteous judgments. In the place of Biblically grounded morality, our culture gave us, in Dale Keuhne’s words, 3 taboos. He wrote about this in an insightful book called Sex and the iWorld. Here they are:

  1. You can do anything you want as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, especially a minor.
  2. You can do anything you want with another person, as long as there is consent. 
  3. You are not allowed to pass judgment on any other person unless they break one of the above two rules. But it is okay to pass judgment on someone who passes judgment for any other reason.

In this frame of morality, there is no judge. This system of taboos became so intuitive in the West, especially the more secular edges of the culture like New England, that the idea of God as the judge of the earth was obscured and lost.

It is no wonder then, that in the mid 2010s, what we witnessed was a giant pendulum swing. At this time, the zeitgeist in our culture shifted fairly dramatically, as evidenced by the MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter, cancel culture and other similar movements. One of the things this reveals is that humanity needs justice – the human spirit cries out for it. We do not actually function well in a world without a judge. All of the sudden there was a revival of the idea of objective, external judgment. Instead of no judge, we went to a world with a million judges. Everyone with a Twitter account became a judge. 

What we need is not a world with no judge or a world where everyone is a judge. What we need is to dig out the wells the Philistines have filled in and recover the doctrine that God, and God alone, is judge. This is a fearful thing, as we will stand before him one day, we will be held to account. And it is a great relief, because if God is our judge, we don’t need to worry about what others think.

For too long, the church has cared too much about what the world thinks. It is time to stop that. It is time to fear God, the just and merciful judge of the whole earth. Because as Martyn Lloyd Jones says, “fear Him, and you won’t need to fear anything else.” For too long we have lost track of this glorious doctrine of God as the judge. It is time for us to remember and recover it.

For Reflection:

What makes you uncomfortable about the idea of God as judge? What do you find relieving about the idea of God as judge? Where do you fall on the spectrum of having lived as though there is no judge or a million judges? What does it look like for you to fear the Lord and Him only. 

For Prayer:

Let’s repent of our neglect of the judgment of God. Let’s acknowledge his role as our judge. Let’s give thanks that the penalty for our sin has fallen upon Jesus. Let’s ask God to bring his justice and mercy upon a world that has turned away from him. If there are patterns of ongoing sin in your life, repent and turn to God for mercy. If we say we have no sin, we lie and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin. Let’s pray for those called to teach and preach and lead Bible studies not to avoid the clear Biblical doctrine of God’s judgment. Ask God to free you from the fear of anything but God, especially the fear of man and the opinions of others.