27/12/2006

Signs Following

I have been profoundly challenged by a transcript of an interview with Dr Ern Baxter posted by Dan Bowen. The interview is from New Wine Magazine 1978 and covers the post-war Healing Movement, in particular Dr Ern Baxter's time with William Branham.

The name William Branham is not popular in many circles - especially reformed ones. I once cringed at the very name myself. Even after my own baptism in the Holy Spirit and openness to gifts of the Spirit and attending charismatic conferences, the man troubled me - seemingly mighty miracles were performed through him and yet he became a heretic. It is tempting simply to write him off, but I have come to realise that there is a danger of simply closing the door on that period of history and failing to learn its lessons, and failing to be challenged by the parts of the Healing Movement that were genuine moves of God.

The purpose of my post, however, is not to look at the lessons of decline, but the challenge of William Branham's ministry today. We may have sound theology, but do we have the power of God in our midst as Branham experienced? In the article, Ern makes a startling comment - "Branham never once made a mistake with the word of knowledge in all the years I was with him. That covers, in my case, thousands of instances."

{Edit 2013:  I know that many would question the preceding statement from Ern Baxter.  I also realise that many of my reformed friends would question Ern Baxter's soundness as well!

However, Ern Baxter has no reason to lie about his experience of Branham.  It would, once Branham had fallen, have been far easier for Baxter to renounce him completely; the fact that he didn't suggests that he had seen something of God in Branham's ministry even though Branham later became a false teacher and false prophet.

I would also say that the point made in this post remains - there is something wrong with charismatics settling for 50% accuracy in prophecy.  If God speaks today (which I believe He does) we should be looking at 100% accuracy - lest we be open to the accusation of being false prophets.  So, please read on!}

That is an awesome statement! Some years ago I read one of the many "exposures" of the charismatic movement. I can't remember exactly which book or the word for word quote, but the writer referred to a prominent charismatic leader who stated that the most powerful prophets that he knew were accurate around 50% of the time. If that is a true statement and not simply an anti-charismatic rant (we have all heard the scare stories), then it is extremely troubling.

{Edit 2013:  I would suggest, sadly, that my time with my charismatic friends would suggest and even lower "accuracy."  This is not good and adds fuel to the fire of those who argue that the gift of prophecy has ceased.  Brothers and sisters - if God hasn't spoken then please shut up.  In the context of the local church, there should be mechanisms (as per 1 Cor 14) of testing prophecy.  The tragedy comes when "big names" give prophecies from platforms that are untested.  STOP!}

Why should we settle for being right 50% of the time (or even 70% or 90%)? Of course, we are fallible in hearing God's voice, but surely settling for such inaccuracy is dishonouring to the Lord. If God speaks today (which I believe He does), surely He speaks clearly to us. So if we are only right 50% of the time, then there is something wrong with us.

And that is the challenge. Where is this kind of power and intimacy with God that means we hear Him clearly?

We are told in Mark 16v17, "And these signs will follow those who believe..." Well where are they? (I am aware that some scholars dispute this passage, but that debate is beyond the scope of this post; I myself see no reason to exclude it from the canon).

So where are the signs and wonders on the scale described here by Jesus? Or Galatians 3v5, "He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you..." The manifestation of the Holy Spirit was the norm, not a rarity.

I need to state clearly that I love much of what is going on in the charismatic movement. There are great churches like Church of Christ the King, Brighton, part of that powerful movement Newfrontiers. God is working in many amazing ways in different churches around the land, some I know personally, others by reputation. But can any of them say about their prophets, healers, or those gifted with words of knowledge that they "never made one mistake"? I have not seen that level of anointing on any man or woman in the West. There are awesome things happening in China and elsewhere, but we in the West are barely touching the vast extent of God's power.

It is shameful really that with all our soundness, our books, our conferences, our great leaders, that we do not haver more power than such an "unsound" man as Branham. How come he is described as one who "never missed it" and we settle for 50% accuracy?

In no way do I wish to endorse unsound doctrine, but we need to humbly accept that sound doctrine alone is not bringing about the mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit that we so desperately need. We even attempt to theologise our own lack - "God is sovereign, we have to trust His timing." Of course God is sovereign, but nowhere does the scripture use that as a reason for a lack of power among the people of God. He withdrew His presence because of sin. We know that He resists the proud but gives grace to the humble, that if we humble ourselves and pray and seek His face, and turn from our wicked ways - then He will hear (2 Chronicles 7v14).

The best is yet to come. The scriptures make that very clear, as I alluded to in my first ever post! But there needs to be an increase in passionate praying, in godly living, in humility, in hunger after God.

Many have asked this - "Where is the Lord God of Elijah?" Where is the power, why are we not seeing the glory of God in our churches, lives being transformed, the sick being healed, the dead raised, families knowing peace and unity, children standing for the Lord and not moulded by society and peer pressure into ungodly conformity?

Leonard Ravenhill answers like this - "To the question, 'Where is the Lord God of Elijah?' we answer, 'Where He has always been - on the throne!' But where are the Elijahs of God?" (italics mine).

"Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly..." (James 5v17)

Let us stop {edit 2013: simply highlighting error in others past or present}. Let us instead humble ourselves before the Lord. Yes, let us get our theology right and be men and women immersed in the Word of God. But let us cry out to God for a fresh visitation. Only His almighty power can transform our churches and our society. And let us hunger for the kind of gifting and anointing that shakes the gates of hell for our Lord's glory.

The Lord bless us in abundance for 2007.

24/12/2006

God manifested in the flesh


I hadn't planned that I should use this blog to share my own sermons, but I have been urged that the message shared today needs to have a wider hearing than the congregation. Our church website doesn't yet have the facility for audio messages, so I will put it here. It is not a full transcript, but an outline from memory and from my rather scanty notes! I trust the Lord will use it to be a blessing.

God was manifested in the flesh (1 Tim 3v16)

This is a very important statement? Why? If Jesus were just a man:
  • We may have a messenger from God, but we have a very distant God.
  • We may have a messenger from God, but we have a weak God - One who can only send a messenger, but cannot come Himself.
Yet, the scripture tells us God was manifested in the flesh. We have both an intimate God and an Almighty God. Never can we say "God does not understand".

Now to explore the doctrine in more detail.

I) God became flesh
John 1v14 tells us that. "The Word became." He joined His deity 100% to humanity, while still being 100% God. He had a real, fully human body just like ours. He had real cells, real organs, a real brain. He had real emotions - He felt. He had a real nervous system - He really suffered, true pain, for us. He had a real heart, that stopped beating... and then started again 3 days later.

One has put it "manhood and deity, in perfect harmony, the Man who is God." There is no division, there are two natures but one Christ. The two natures can be seen by comparing John 8v58 and Mark 13v32. Yet there is no confusion, both are true in the One Person - the One Christ. One church council put it like this: one person yet two natures "without confusion, without change, without division, without separation."
Our lack of full understanding doesn't make this any less true. It is rather a cause for worship. I don't understand how He did it, but He did it. And we must believe it - we are sternly warned against the spirit behind any teaching that denies Jesus as God manifested in the flesh (2 John 7).

We see, too, supreme humility (Phil 2v5-8). Be amazed. The hymn-writer put it like this:

Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love's sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love's sake becamest poor
.
(Frank Houghton)

These things must surely move us to extravagant worship. He had every right to come storming down from heaven in a mighty chariot? Yet His glory was exchanged for being a baby, His throne for a manger, and those streets of gold for the dirt and dung of a stable floor. We sinners, Christ did this for us!

II) God fulfilled His promise
The promise was given back in Genesis 3v15 - the Seed of the woman will crush the serpent's head. A glorious promise. "Head", among other things, speaks of authority. The Seed of the woman - the second Adam, God manifest in the flesh, has stripped that ancient serpent, the devil of His authority.

The incarnation (God manifested in the flesh) fulfils this promise. He had every right to come on a mighty chariot from heaven, but instead He fulfilled His promise. He came as the woman's Seed, conceived perfectly, without sin, by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit upon Mary (Luke 1v35).

III) God's sacrifice was made
Heb 2v14-17. He had to be like us in every way to be our substitute. By man sin came into the world, so a Man must bear the punishment for our sin. He alone, God in the flesh, the true Man could "make propitiation for the sins of the people." No incarnation means no cross.

But God IS manifested in the flesh - the sacrifice is complete!

IV) God understands
The gospels are full of examples of Jesus Christ feeling - emotion. He was "moved with compassion" (Mark 1v41). He was not moved with duty. And He is moved with compassion now!

He was moved to rebuke sickness (Luke 4v39). This suggests He was grieved by it - and He still is! What confidence this should give us when we come to pray. Are you lonely - all forsook Him and fled, He endured the cross alone; are you weeping over a loved one - didn't He weep at the tomb of His friend Lazarus; are you sick - He is grieved by sickness (and has power to heal).

We cannot say "God doesn't care." We may feel it keenly sometimes, but these things are lies of the devil. The fact is - He knows! So let's run to Him for help. Which leads to the final point...

V) God intercedes
There is a Man at God's right hand - Hebrews 4v14-16. He is our great High Priest filled with compassion for us. Those same hands raised heavenwards while He walked this earth, those hands which were nailed to the cross, they are raised in intercession before the throne of glory.
This means:
  • What glorious encouragement! Every sin and failing, where we feel keenly the cloud of guilt and condemnation, He sympathises with our weakness. He is without sin, but He still welcomes us back. Are you holding the Lord at arm's length because of sin? Come back! Receive the welcome!
  • What a mighty challenge! There is mercy and grace to help in time of need! Jesus was tempted in every way yet without sin. He overcame, and He intercedes now for mercy and grace for you to overcome! Let us never say "I can't" or "I can't help it." There is a Man at the Father's right hand, and for you there is everything you need to overcome. We only have to come.
  • What a mighty hope! There is a Man at the heart of the universe. The same Man who died upon the cross, rose - the tomb was empty! The same man who rose was seen by His disciples bodily ascending into heaven. That same glorious body is in heaven right now. And the promise is this - He "will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body" (Phil 3v21). GLORY!!!
God was manifested in the flesh to bring us into the fulness of glorious humanity in God's presence forever!
So often Jesus can be clouded by tinsel and trappings at Christmas. Let us take the tinsel off and worship the One who is "God manifested in the flesh."

22/12/2006

The power of fellowship

In 1 Samuel 30v6 we are told "David strengthened himself in the Lord his God." Given the circumstances, this was amazing. This chapter of scripture tells us of David returning with his men to Ziklag with his men to find that the Amalekites had attacked and taken everything, including their wives and children. The devastation of the men was so great that they spoke of stoning David.

I wonder what we would do in such a position. The temptation would be to panic, to run, or perhaps to start complaining to the Lord. But "David strengthened himself in the Lord his God." He drew strength from His relationship with God. We are told in Isaiah 40v31 that strength comes from waiting on the Lord. Not even asking at this stage, but adoring Him and looking upon His beauty -"One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple" (Psalm 27v4 - note the theme of this psalm is rest in the midst of conflict).

Having strengthened himself, David then sought God's guidance (1 Sam 30v7-8), and the Lord brought revelation. Why is it that we so often fail to hear God's voice in the midst of pressure? Often fear, panic, or discouragement set in and we do not strengthen ourselves in the Lord our God. David strengthened himself and was then ready to hear the voice of God.

I find this passage a great personal challenge, but I am encouraged to learn how David was able to get to this point. 1 Samuel 23v16 says "Then Jonathan, Saul's son, arose and went to David in the woods and strengthened his hand in God" (italics mine). David learned some years prior to 1 Samuel 30, through fellowship with Jonathan, how to gain strength in the Lord.

This is the power of fellowship. This is the power that keeps me going as a pastor and helps me in times of trouble to strengthen myself in the Lord my God. I was stirred to make this post because of precious fellowship enjoyed over the last two days. Firstly, with my great friend Dan who I saw yesterday (Dan has been kind enough to mention this blog on his site!!). We have both had battles during 2006 and so we waiting on the Lord, we worshipped, we confessed our need, and the Lord graciously spoke to us.

This morning I had fellowship with my closest friend locally, Pastor Dennis Greenidge . We shared with each other from the Word of God and the Lord brought fresh revelation, and we prayed into 2007 as pastors for our churches.

Then a little later I shared fellowship with one of my fellow church leaders and again we built each other up through worship and prayer.

On Tuesday and Wednesday this week, I was going through a very difficult season. And now today, Friday, the Lord has graciously enabled me to strengthen myself in Him again. How - by means of sweet fellowship with these three dear brothers in Christ. There have been further battles this afternoon, but I can strengthen myself in the Lord my God - the fruit of the fellowship of the last 24 hours.

So my encouragement to anyone who reads this - make quality fellowship a priority. Through Christ-centred fellowship we can learn to strengthen ourselves in the Lord our God. Then, when the battles come, we can stand ourselves and instead of fear, panic, frustration, etc, we are strong and ready to hear the Lord's voice into our situation.

21/12/2006

The best is yet to come

Welcome to this new blog and to the first post! I am pastor of an evangelical church is South London. I have read many blogs in the last few years but have avoided having my own - it was never something I believed was for me.

However, I have received many challenges and encouragements to start, in order to share my heart and study of God's Word on the many things that impact our world and the church today. Finally, the Lord gave me a big push through a word of prophecy - and so here I am.

We are told in God's Word "For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Habakkuk 2v14). There is much going on in the world and the church which is disturbing. Many have asked "does the church have a future?" Terry Virgo has answered that clearly in his book "Does the future have a church?" His answer is "you bet it does!"

It has a great future. The Lord has promised that He will build His church and the very gates of hell will not prevail against it. Despite the pressure and the seasons of decline, Jesus Christ is returning for a radiant church without spot or blemish. The church will grow and the gospel will impact every nation, tribe, people and language in the world. Jesus Christ will win through His church.

This great victory is my vision and the vision behind this blog. I will be sharing this more in the days that lie ahead.