“…. the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple….” -Mal. 3.1a
A friend and teacher of mine once gave a remarkable definition of man-made traditions with regard to spirituality:
Religion is man’s attempt at making God something he can manage.
This has long been the egotistical disposition of mankind: seeking to create God in an image we prefer, rather than receiving and loving Him as He is.
The prophets of Israel were commissioned by the Lord to shake His complacent and sleepy-hearted people away from their preconceived notions and traditions, and to usher them into a revelation of God’s true nature and purpose.
The false prophets of Judah in Jeremiah’s day, for instance, leaned hard on age-old traditions, and used them as a blanket of false security. They claimed that judgement could not befall Jerusalem, for the tradition declares that God Himself is in the land and that it is therefore protected and covered. The moral conduct of the priests and prophets, the lifestyles of the people in the land, and the nature of Judah’s political activities were not to be discussed. Israel was protected because of Abraham’s faithfulness, and no trouble could overtake them. Or so they assumed.
Tradition says that Yahweh lives in the midst of the people. This is interpreted as Israel’s great security against all danger. In contrast to this, the prophet discerns the freedom of Yahweh in His coming. Yahweh cannot be domesticated by knowledge oriented toward the past, nor can He be attached, like some predictable element, to a pious view of existence. Rather, He shatters the fixed conception that Israel developed in her tradition, and in this, His new and terrifying coming, He proves Himself to be Yahweh….
…. the name of Yahweh cannot in its true content be considered neutrally as tradition. It is the suggestive appellation of the One who, for all that is said about Him, remains a personal subject and decides Himself, in His freedom, what He will do when He comes. And as certainly as He once came to Israel, as tradition tells of Him in Israel’s worship and apart from this, He is never at the disposal of humans like earthly property.
(The Fiery Throne: The Prophets and OT Theology, Walther Zimmerli; Fortress Press, 2003; p. 4)
He never contradicts His own character, but He does obliterate our definitions and categories, especially when we are seeking to utilize Him for our own purposes. “He is never at the disposal of humans like earthly property.”
His radical mercy will shatter our self-righteous assumptions and ideas. His fierce wrath will burn up our moral lightness and our loose views toward sin. He cannot be confined to our tidy theological definitions and traditions. The prophets remind us that we cannot fit the Lord into our schedules, plans, and dreams. If we would have anything to do with Him, we’ve got to cast our lives- lock, stock and barrel- into His Kingdom. After all, by nature, only God Himself is free.
We experience the glorious freedom of love, righteousness, peace, and truth only as we sink our souls into Him.
Bryan Purtle is the founder of the Antioch Prayer Society in Kansas City, MO.
Posted in Featured Articles, The Kingdom of God Tagged with: Abraham, Bryan Purtle, false prophets, freedom, jeremiah, Jerusalem, judgement, Kingdom, prophets of israel, Revelation, Walther Zimmerli
Paul is about to tell us what the intent is, and the purpose, for which reason, God has created all things. So how dare you just sit there, as if you’re hearing a mere sermon? How is it you’re not leaning forward in your seat, with your hand cupped at your ear, that you should not miss any syllable of this answer from the apostle who was given such grace to preach these riches?
— Art Katz, ‘Recognize the Influence’
On a Thursday night in January of 2001, an elderly Jewish man got up to speak a message out of the book of Ephesians to a small school of ministry and fellowship in Pensacola, Florida. As the night unfolded, the speaker (who some consider to be a modern-day prophet) delivered a message on the purpose for creating all things, and how that purpose (which, you’ll hear in the audio, has little to do with any direct benefit to man) affects every minute detail in our lives, not only with regard to what we do, but why we do it. The message would end up being disrupted multiple times by people that had to be escorted out of the building (one person claimed Art was ‘preaching his message’), and unfold in a manner that kept even those that had heard him speak hundreds of times before on the edge of their seat, sensing the weightiness of what was coming forth.
The message was entitled ‘Recognize the Influence’, and was brought forth by Art Katz ten years ago at FIRE School of Ministry & Fellowship. The message is below in audio form, but before you listen to it, I’d like to set the stage with the following accounts from those that were either there that night, or were impacted by it later upon hearing it.
Account from Michael L. Brown:
I recall being quite focused and almost pent-up with expectation; I remember having my eye on one guy, feeling that he might be disruptive, and sure enough, during a time of worship when I told everyone that we were going to wait before the Lord and be quiet, this guy tried to prophesy, ignoring my exhortation to be quiet twice before, the third time, I had the ushers deal with him.
Then, during Art’s message, which was one of his life messages, of profound spiritual import, yet one which he stumbled to deliver that night — another guy, whom Bob Gladstone had his eye on — just stood up while Art was preaching and asked if he could share his testimony, and I jumped off the platform and ran over to him telling him this was not the time to do so.
From Bob Gladstone:
The first guy yelled out at one point, “Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm!” because his buddy the second guy was told to be quiet. This of course was after the worship period during which Michael Brown’s story of the first guy occurred.
During Art’s speech, the second guy stood up and said, “You’re preaching my message!” Art did not hear him at first and stopped to try to hear what he said, trying to repeat what he said to understand him. I’m sure that’s on the audio. Other dialog occurred I don’t recall. When the ushers escorted guy #2 out, he was praying in a fervent, persecuted sort of way. Art made some comments about the powers getting stirred up (I think) which of course would be on the recording also.
Art’s message was a trademark, definitive prophetic piece from a foundational man to the church. Simultaneously constructive and devastating. A gift for us from the Lord from a key voice of his generation just 5 1/2 years before he died.
From Scott Volk:
It was at least a year after this message was preached that Mike Brown labeled it as ‘the most important message ever given at FIRE.’ I remember sitting at the edge of my seat through this entire message as I felt it penetrating me to my core. I’ve heard Art speak hundreds of messages live and this one had, by far, the most impact on me. There was enough going on in the room that evening to totally distract folks, however, the message was delivered fully and still affects me today! … I will never forget that night as long as I live!
From Mark Harrell:
Oh Lord, I remember so many feelings…
I was in a mainline denominational church as a youth pastor at the time and, before this message, had been to conferences for the kids as well as the pastors. I had been feeling chafed inwardly by these meetings and couldn’t piece together what was causing me to ache so badly. When I heard this word…BOOM, it all just exploded in me. “OH GOD, that’s what wrong with me!!” I felt as if I had been behind a curtain and suddenly saw it lift and saw the puppet masters behind the machines and dolls. I understood so much of what was operating and motivating the strivings of this organization. I saw words on my eyelids like, “status, prestige, power, honor” with the smug smiles and fake back pats that go with it.
This message ruined me. … To this day, this message remains as a stain on my mind, heart and soul. It has colored the way I view everything. I can’t look on the mere appearance of a thing anymore, I’m always painfully aware in certain places and circumstances of what lies beneath so many words and deeds and ministries. I’m always checking my own soul as a result.
From Bryan Purtle:
I can see why Satan would try so hard to derail this word.
I will say that it had a profound impact on my life, and to this day it is one of the top ten most memorable messages I’ve heard. Years ago I played the whole message for a close friend of mine, and his response was something like this:
“Before this message I felt like my faith and my view of God were a factory where all the equipment was dormant, and all the gears were rusty or out of alignment. When I heard Art’s statement about the Church’s call to demonstrate God’s wisdom to the powers of the air, the gears were forced into alignment, and the power came on. It all made sense in a new and fresh way.”
He still refers back to the hearing of that cassette as constituting a major turning point in his life of faith.
I still go back once every year or two and listen to the message again, and each time I feel commissioned afresh to come into the simple, ultimate, whole-hearted reality that was expressed in the early apostolic church. “To God be glory in the Church…..”
The message is below. For those that may not be familiar with Art, who died in 2007, make sure to check out www.artkatzministries.org. You can also check out this article in the Washington Times, which ended with a great line: “He made many such statements that no doubt cost him dearly. As I stood in that grassy field, I realized why some men, like the Rev. Billy Graham, are lionized by the Christian world and others, like Art Katz, have a silent grave in the middle of the north woods.”
Below is the audio of ‘Recognize the Influence.’ As you listen, remember that you’re hearing a man of significant depth deliver his life message, unpacking, quite literally, the purpose of everything that exists, and the ultimate destiny of the church.
[Link to MP3]
Marcus French is Editor of Voice of Revolution, and also helps produce the daily radio show, The Line of Fire. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted in Featured Articles, The Kingdom of God Tagged with: Apostolic Church, art katz, Bob Gladstone, Bryan Purtle, Church, destiny, Dr. Michael Brown, ephesians, FIRE Church, fire school of ministry, mark harrell, Paul, Pensacola, purpose
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” -Gal. 2.20
The real fruit of the Gospel in a man’s life has nothing to do with what title he bears religiously, what reputation he has maintained among colleagues, or how successful he has been ministerially speaking. A man may receive accolades from saint and sinner, he may have a great following, and he may be recognized as a great spiritual leader, but this is not the sure evidence of grace on his life.
The only proof of the validity of a man’s faith is that great foundational declaration of Paul:
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me….”
Have I really been crucified with Christ? Can I say with Paul that I no longer live? Can I walk through the slopes and valleys and storms of this life with a burning consciousness that Christ lives in me?
There is an awful lot of boasting in the Church, but it is all too rare for us to find fellowship with those who “no longer live,” and in whom the Life of Christ Himself is being demonstrated. There is too much preaching that is devoid of the resonance of Christ’s life, too much ministry being carried out with mere machinery and sweat, too much religious performance by saints who know how to smile in a meeting, but who lack the kindness and purity and humility of God in the realm of day-to-day life.
Could it be that we are seeing the ill-formed fruit of too many years of un-apostolic preaching? Philip the evangelist preached Christ Himself. Paul preached Christ, and him crucified. There is no higher form of preaching than preaching Jesus Himself. True preaching calls us to lay down our own lives, and to receive the Life of the Lamb Who was slain. If we are not hearing of the glory of this Man from our preachers, our foundations are themselves faulty and dubious. Years ago, in a letter to a friend, Leonard Ravenhill wrote:
I find many evangelists are getting concerned about the lack of permanence in the so-called conversions of people they minister to in their meetings. The fact is that most preachers preach only a half gospel. All they preach is forgiveness, but a man needs more than forgiveness. He needs regeneration and his conscience purged by the blood of Christ from dead works to serve the living God. A man is not a Christian until God takes up residence in him.
A miracle must take place. We should quit asking people if they are saved. Everyone thinks somehow they are saved. Why not look them in the eye and say, “Does Christ live in you?” If Christ is not in a person, they are not born again.
(In Light of Eternity: The Life of Leonard Ravenhill, Free Grace Press; 2010, p. 356)
May the Lord raise up a host of men with the fire of God in their souls, and a revelation of Christ in their hearts, to set forth the glory of Jesus Christ, to call men back to the cross, and to preach again the everlasting Gospel as a piercing Light in the darkest places. That the Lamb Who was slain would receive the reward of His suffering ….
You know one thing about a man carrying a cross outside the city…. He’s not coming back. -A.W. Tozer
Bryan Purtle is an author that carries a jealousy for historical revival, the salvation of Israel, and the recovery of apostolic proclamation and living through the revelation of Jesus Christ. Visit his website at thoughtsuponrising.com.
Posted in Featured Articles, The Kingdom of God Tagged with: A.W. Tozer, apostolic preaching, Bryan Purtle, conversion, evangelist, Jesus Christ, Leonard Ravenhill, religious performance, the Gospel
Victory In Jesus! A Call to Practical & Spirit-Filled Purity
After being personally challenged and blessed by the recent article on a call to ‘Cleanse Our Eyes!’ by VOR writer Bryan Purtle, I felt led to write a short follow up with some practical principles and suggestions for dealing ruthlessly with sin, and the enemy’s enticements.
Jesus gives this instruction in Matthew 5: 27 – 30:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery. But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”
What does it mean to ‘gouge’ out your eye, and ‘throw it away…’? Or what does Jesus teach in ‘cutting off…’ your hand and ‘throwing it away…’? Isn’t the Lord being a little too radical? Doesn’t this kind of Christianity sound a little weird or extreme? In response to this I would say, ‘Absolutely!’ He is teaching us how to view sin, and He is instructing us on how to radically deal with it! Only God ultimately knows the darkness, power and destruction sin brings, and thus has sent Jesus into the world to not only deal with its power and effects through the Cross, but also to instruct us in the Spirit filled life of holiness.
Another may say: ‘Surely, grace is available, and He understands our weaknesses, not to mention Christ is our advocate before the Father, and He forgives and cleanses confessed sin’ To which I say in accordance with the Scriptures, ‘absolutely’! (1 John 1: 5 – 2: 2) But also in accordance with the Scriptures I say, that not only has Jesus dealt with our filthy past if we have been truly Born Again, and has made more than adequate provision for our present and future failings as He deals in our lives through our life in the Spirit, but He has also given His glorious Spirit and Word to loose us from the bondage of sin and its dominion! (Romans 6: 14 – 23) As Paul says in Romans 6: 14: ‘For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.’
Grace is there to not only cover but to deliver, empower and bring victory because of His triumphant death and resurrection, through the outpoured Spirit!
Jesus has dealt with sin and the enemy, ‘once for all’, and now we partake in Kingdom life by the Spirit of God. When we receive the Holy Spirit, we then experience His Holy power dwelling within, and also we hear Him taking the Words of Christ and establishing them in our hearts. The affect is purging, refining and establishing. The Word then becomes a living burning Word by the Spirit, and it brings power and grace for a holy life.
So then, we come to the practical issues of Matthew 5. Jesus is using radical terms to cause us to flee from sin, and deal with it ruthlessly in our hearts. In this chapter it is the heart Jesus is primarily concerned about, not just the outward deed (though that too will bring disastrous consequences!) He knows that sin must be dealt with at the root, not just the fruit. This is why He talks of the murderous or adulterous heart. It is the heart of a man which determines his actions.
So below are just some key practical ways of dealing with sin:
· Seek the face of God radically with all your heart through prayer and reading the Word. If the Lord leads, do this with fastings also. Allow in that time the Spirit of God to come in fire and freedom and bring you into the freedom of Christ. Allow Jesus to come to deal thoroughly with the root of the issue in your heart. One man said: “Is sin hounding you; are your old habits re emerging? Do you feel the enemy pulling you back to your old ways? Then the remedy is this: Run to the Risen Christ!”
· Go and find a strong, Godly man or woman of God to be accountable to. Maybe you know of a minister or elder, or a leader of some kind. Ask God about whom, but don’t delay in looking and going to someone. Become accountable to them, and allow them to speak into your life and pray with you through into victory. Confess your failing to them in confidence. Let them ask you frequently how things are going. Trust them, and let God use them to instill discipline, Godliness and humility into you. All sin ultimately is rooted in pride. This is a great Kingdom principle (James 5: 16) and helps bring humility and light into our hearts. Don’t listen to the enemy telling you not to confess and be open. I have proved that there is tremendous liberty and victory in humbling myself to my brothers, under the sight of God!
· Married? Be open with your spouse. It’s amazing to me how often times when I confess my failings to my wife, how much thoroughness, grace and wisdom she has in helping me. This is a gift from God for both men and women. Use it!
· Cut off the offending part. Is the problem TV? Maybe go on a TV fast, or only watch it with someone else, or even get rid of it all together! Is the problem the internet? You can get rid of it or if you must have it for your work, then buy a children’s filter software, and let someone you trust and is Godly, monitor your use. You can never be too final or thorough in these practicalities!
· Don’t isolate yourself or become weary in well doing! One proverb says: He who isolates Himself, seeks His own desire. Remember King David’s falling because He did not go to war with the army of Israel. It is a key thing to plug in to a strong Jesus exalting, Biblical and Spirit filled NT Church, and serve there.
· Read and listen to messages of servants of God who are aflame for God! Holiness is infectious in the Holy Spirit’s presence! Many times I have sensed the flaming arrows of God through another’s ministry, and it sets me aflame even more!
So there are just some of the essential things to be done to gain victory. I’m sure there are many more things some of you may consider worth while, and by all means, please feel free to add some to the comments section below. However, please let’s remember the main thing. Christ has come in the power of the Spirit, and has defeated sin in His body on the Cross! His Blood, His Spirit and His words are the key factors. At the same time don’t let legalistic ‘extras’ come in. Remember, the key issue is always the heart of man. It is there God wants to ultimately work. From there our actions will be righteous, our eyes will be consecrated and our minds free!
May God give you freedom, victory and fullness through His Son, for His glory.
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: adultery, Bryan Purtle, Christ, David, holiness, liberty, Matthew, prayer
I am sitting at my desk with one of the original copies of “The Great Revival in Wales”, a book that was published in 1905 and handed out in that same year throughout Western American congregations. It was distributed by a relatively unknown man named Frank Bartleman (author of “Azusa Street”); a revivalist whose fasting, praying and preaching was effectual during this time. It is an early collection of many eye-witness accounts of the revival which made history at the beginning of the 20th century.
The Holy Spirit revival of Wales in 1904 was one of the greatest moves of God’s Spirit in the history of the Church. The most popular sporting events were barely attended. The nation sold out of Bibles. An estimated 100,000-plus souls were brought from darkness to light over a period of about nine months. Bars went out of business, and the praises of God could be heard from the sanctuaries to the streets to the coal mines and back. We’ve never seen anything quite like it in our generation, at least not in the West.
This book on Wales was used, in part, to fuel the faith and hunger of many believers in America at the turn of last century. In particular, several congregations in California were radically moved by the reports of such a Divine invasion of society. Repentance and prayer for like awakenings became the cry of many hearts during this time. People began to realize that if the Church was not having an effect on the surrounding society, something was tragically amiss. From that conviction the prayers arose. The kinds of prayers that move things in the heavenlies were offered up. People travailed and groaned for the salvation of unbelievers, and for the fire of God to fall in the Church.
The result of this stirring was an answer from heaven that would again alter the course of history, when coupled with other events, a broken-hearted black man named William Seymour made his pilgrimage to Los Angeles, a place where he would be a part of what came to be known as the Azusa Street Revival. This was a movement which saw the fire of God’s Spirit spread swiftly, touching many parts of the world. John G. Lake said of Seymour that “when the fire of God came it glorified him, and the glory and the power of a real Pentecost shook the world.”
Friends, we need to be revived! We need outpourings of God’s Spirit! We need floods of mercy to sweep through the streets of our cities! We need a fire of impassioned prayer and worship kindled in our churches! We need the Spirit of the fear of the Lord to be released in our communities! We need an ever-increasing consciousness of Jesus Christ! I am thinking of the Psalmists’ cry:
“The humble have seen it [the salvation of the Lord] and are glad;
You who seek God, let your heart revive.” -Psm. 69:32
There are some of you who once rejoiced in the presence of the Lord, filled with a heart of simplistic praise and an innocence that came from knowing you had been cleansed and shown mercy. Now you are burdened with busyness, suspicious of others, entrapped in the stranglehold of fear and compromise, and there is no living song in your heart. Dear saint, “seek God,” and “let your heart revive.”
There are those who knew a pure communion with the Lord in the secret place, where you sat at His feet and wondered in adoration before the Throne. You had a love for the Scriptures, and a grace-charged passion in prayer. Now you can scarcely remember a time of fresh and new exchange with the God of life. He has become a taskmaster, or an employer, or an unknowable figure. Once you knew Him as King and Friend. Now your heart is weary and aimless. You’ve grown worldly, and all that this world has to offer- its fashions, its foods, its entertainment, its false light- has caught your eye. You are not conscious either of His Lordship or His kind and personal embrace. Yet He is as near as He ever was. Turn away from the confusion and compromise, and return to the Living God. Dear believer, “let your heart revive.”
There are those of you who once anticipated the works of God. You expected the Gospel to penetrate the society. You prayed and believed for words of conviction and life that would have an eternal effect on unbelievers in your sphere of relationship. You believed that the lame really could walk, the blind really could see, the dead really could arise, and demons really could be driven out. Your heart was aflame in God for the needs of the suffering ones. Now He has become a mere concept. You wonder whether or not He will break into history at all. Perhaps you feel that you’ve “been there, done that,” and been let down. You’re not willing to let faith arise in your heart. You would rather just go through life as it is. But that is not the cry of true sons! That is not the faith your heart once knew! That is not the compassion that once burned in your spirit. Dear saint, “let your heart revive.”
We have gone too far to turn back. While I believe that the greatest time of upheaval, suffering, and tumult that history has known is just around the corner, I also believe that we are on the path to seeing the greatest awakening the Church has ever witnessed. This time, it will not fade into memory, only to be recalled and wept over. It will culminate in the return of our Heavenly King, and the establishment of His perfect rule. Hallelujah!
“…that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner-man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; so that…you…may know the love of Christ which surpasses all knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”
-Eph. 3:16, 17, 19
We need to believe as Evan Roberts believed for Wales. We need to believe as Jesus Himself believed:
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
It’s time for us to cry out to the Lord. If there is sin, let it be brought into the light and repented of. If there’s discouragement or fear, let it be cast aside. There is a great harvest to be reaped, and it will only be brought in rightly by “revived” souls. Servants whose hearts have been kindled by the fire of God’s own Spirit will be the bearers of the ark in these final days. This is not a plea for hollow emotionalism, or the repetition of some method for success. This is the inheritance of the children of God.
Maybe you’ve been handpicked by the Lord for some specific function in the church and you’ve valued your “place” or position above God Himself. Maybe you have some lingering bitterness toward someone in the Body. Maybe you’ve lost all perseverance and hope of seeing the realization of a God-given vision. “…let your heart revive.”
Revive unto what? The psalmist has a question that is also an answer to us:
“Will You not Yourself revive us again,
That Your people may rejoice in You?” (85:6)
True revival is the recovery of a living union with the God of Israel. If we are not rejoicing in God as He is, that itself is sufficient evidence that we need to be touched again with newness of Life.
Tozer was fond of the early mystic’s phrase, “the fellowship of the burning heart”. I am growing fonder of it myself. How about you? I can’t see a valid reason for theology, mission, meetings, or preaching unless my heart has a living flame from heaven. God wants to bring revival so that we may walk in close union with Him, extending His Kingdom to Israel and the Nations.
Dear friends, let’s not settle for something less or other than going in past the veil. In gracious covenantal loyalty He waits for us. He watches us, even now. May He not look upon us in vain. Don’t take this as a conceptual teaching or a theory to consider. God Himself awaits you. Respond to Him, beloved.
My God! Have my heart completely, and may it burn fervently with the light of eternal love and holiness today. Revive our hearts, O God. Cause us to look now upon Your majesty, and worship You wholeheartedly. We rejoice and tremble, for You have become our God.
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: Bryan Purtle, Frank Bartleman, Jesus, Let Your Heart Revive, Psm. 69, Revival, Revival in Wales, William Seymour
“Blessed are those who mourn…” -Matt. 5.4a
The Sermon on the Mount is one of the most staggering portions of Scripture.
Oswald Chambers noted that it was calculated to throw our humanity and self-sufficient religiosity into despair, for there is no soul- however impressive their spirituality may seem- who can meet its requirements without an infusion of supernatural grace.
Indeed, when we peer into this sermon we are stricken by the wisdom of a heavenly milieu; a resurrectional mode of being. Are we living in the reality of this awesome message?
The remarkable thing is that Jesus had a no-holds barred, intensely deliberate motive when He sat down on the hill and opened His mouth to speak. He was jealous for His followers to come into the quality and depth of life that He was introducing, and He believed that His own obedience to the Father would provide the way for us to do just that. I wonder how much less intentional we’ve been in the hearing of the Sermon than He was in the giving of it.
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones believed that one of the greatest schemes of the devil was to convince believers that the Sermon on the Mount was not to be literally applied to their lives. He believed that the low quality of moral living, the lack of the fear of the Lord in much of the Church, the absence of joy in the life of the believer, the prayerlessness that still prevails in most places, and the general superficiality that most of our ministries are marked by could all be linked on some level with the Church’s inadequate consideration of what Jesus gave us in this awesome Sermon.
Over sixty years ago, Dietrich Bonhoeffer unintentionally tripped over the truth and landed face down on foundational ground. The simple revelation that struck his heart was this: the Sermon on the Mount was actually meant to be lived out by those who are following Jesus.
For decades the scholars had been mystifying its statements, critically examining its origins and relishing in heady, intellectual conclusions on the Sermon. To many of them, it had lost its fire and been robbed of its cogency. They examined it technically and symbolically, and though they were neck-deep in studious labors, many of them were far from touching its true vitality. Dietrich’s heart was awakened to its freshness, and the radicalness of its demands and promises. Consequently, he gave us his masterful work, The Cost of Discipleship.
Leonard Ravenhill called Matthew 5-7 “the greatest sermon ever preached by the greatest Man who ever lived.” Have we held it in the same esteem, or has it become mere flourish to us? Have we read it with trembling hands and rejoicing hearts, or do we fly through it as we would fly through the newspaper ads or some other fleeting subject?
These are eternal verities, weighty and buoyant, and it will require an entire surrender of heart to hear them rightly.
T. Austin Sparks tells us that:
Truth received and not responded to brings spiritual declension and loss of capacity.
In what manner are you hearing His words? If we think we’ve got it all together, or that we need not heed a word given because we’ve heard it before and it has become familiar to us, we have made ourselves eligible for a despicable numbness of heart that is capable of taking us downhill fast. The words of Jesus are Spirit and they are Life, and if they cease to bring our hearts to a place of awe, the chances are that we are not hearing Him rightly.
“…take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him.” (Lk. 8.18)
THE MOURNING ONES
Within the majesty of the Sermon on the Mount there are statements that have been heralded more loudly and frequently, and there are more subtle statements that are not considered as often. This statement, “Blessed are those who mourn”, falls into the latter category. Most of the time it is quoted and expounded in times when we are seeking to console and comfort the grieving. We hear this verse at funerals and memorial services, and it has been of great spiritual help during such times. Still, I am convinced that while this manner of mourning is valid and even Godly (e.g., Acts 8.2), there is a call to mourning that Jesus is issuing here, and it is something much deeper than most of us have been willing to engage.
Without a doubt, the word “mourn” is used most often in the OT in reference to the death of a loved one. But there is a mourning in spirit that Jesus was encouraging here, and throughout history, whenever God’s servants have been chronicled, this mourning can be found in their lives without fail. I am concerned that the frivolity and lightness of our pleasure-seeking, entertainment-centered culture has all but snuffed out this reality in the Church in our day, and we need to cry out to the Lord until we see its restoration.
This mourning is something more than the natural human response to personal tragedy. It is more than the pain we feel when we lose someone or something that we love. The mourning that Jesus was commending in this beatitude has everything to do with allowing our hearts to be consumed with the passions of God Himself.
A.W. Tozer once said that “America is laughing her way to hell.” Our culture, which is tragically man-centered and largely oblivious to the heart of God, thrives on that which brings immediate entertainment, amusement, and gratification. Tens of millions of souls fill the bars and show-houses of our cities every weekend, drinking and amusing themselves into a stupor. Their hearts have a gaping hole that can only be filled by God, and they have seen very little reality in the Church to convince them that there is a heavenly alternative.
While the powers of darkness continue to rock this generation with lies, much of the Church casually jogs along, drinking in the spirit of this age, running headlong into many the same compromised pursuits. As a corporate witness, we are mostly chasing after the wind- fat, happy, and indifferent to reality as God Himself sees it.
Yet, as John “Praying” Hyde, missionary & intercessor to India once declared, “Our Lord still agonizes for souls.” Are we agonizing in spirit? Friends, what has become of the mourning ones?
I am not opposed to the enjoyment of life. I love to watch my children carry on hilarious conversations. I love to play games with them, to hear them sing and to watch them dance. I delight in going on dates with my wife, laughing together, talking about life and enjoying one another. I am thankful for friends. Life is full of God-given things to taste, watch, hear and feel, and the “Father of Lights” has given us wonderful gifts that fall upon both the righteous and the unrighteous.
But what can be said of a Church that is mostly frivolous, indifferent to eternity, and virtually never mourns in spirit? If we have been made into a company of souls who are stewards of the heavenly mysteries, yet so very little of what Christ died for has been realized in the earth, how can we glide through life on this earth so smoothly? How can we not mourn until His Kingdom comes in full?
AN INADEQUATE VIEW OF SIN
As soon as the church adopts a benign or common view of sin, she opens the gate to all kinds of deceptions. Authentic, God-breathed joy is replaced by a hokey, hollow, performance-based joviality. Once we tolerate sin in our own lives, we are forced to maintain a plastic happiness, for this is what we believe a Christian looks like. He is smiley, happy, and a good old boy who everyone likes to be around.
Our pastors, worship leaders and door greeters are pressured to put on a kind of external performance that doesn’t line up with the true condition of their lives. They are cornered into a way of living that is much more professional than it is an expression of the life of God working within the heart.
Leaders and believers alike often find themselves harboring secret moral failings, and they are maintaining a feigned happiness at public gatherings and ministry events, lest they give anyone the impression that they are struggling in any way. They have grown loose in their view of sin, the fear of the Lord has departed from them, and the blessedness of mourning- in the way that Jesus encouraged it- has become a foreign concept. Sin is still in the camp, and if we do not align our hearts with the Lord and mourn over it, we become subject to a performance based ministry and life, and worse still, we cut ourselves off from the blessing of an intimate union with the Lord.
Our churches are in a critical need of this kind of mourning, for as long as the presence of sin is tolerated and swept under the rug, the powers of darkness will remain in our midst, unchallenged and unchecked. The greatest faith-healers may come through town, but a measure of sickness and death will always effect the people of God when sin is condoned, however subtle it may seem. A compromised, dry-eyed Church will never express the fullness of Jesus Christ. Saints, let us mourn until the light and holiness of God Himself breaks in!
I’m not encouraging some kind of a grumpy disposition, or saying that if you purse your lips and your brows are straining downward you have come into this reality. You can gripe about the church and self-righteously challenge other believers all you want. That does not make you a part of this company of mourning ones that Jesus calls “blessed”. There is nothing as far from true Spiritual mourning as a self-righteous, smug believer who walks around with a grouchy disposition and calls it spiritual sobriety. That is a sign that you are functioning out of human emotion and thought, and you are not walking in the abiding life of Christ. The Lord does not want to produce religious intimidators any more than he wants to produce senseless clowns. The Father loves, disciplines and raises up sons, and that is what you are if the Spirit of Holiness abides in you.
Nothing that the Lord has expressed in the Beatitudes can be established through natural means. Mourning in spirit, like all of the other qualities He speaks of in the Sermon, is not an affectation or something that we work up. It’s not a certain face that we make or a certain image of intensity that we carry for others to see and recognize. It’s a resurrectional mode of being, and it takes the dying of our own self-consciousness for us to receive life from the Father.
The mourning ones are those who mourn in the Spirit. Their hearts have been enveloped by God Himself, and they can do no other. They mourn because they have aligned their souls with the God who still weeps. He weeps over Israel. He weeps over the nations. He weeps over a church that has yet to come into the fullness of His Son. He is not depressed or sadistic. His mourning is a holy mourning, and as we align our hearts with His, it produces life in us and in those to whom we are called to bear witness. When was the last time you mourned, dear saint? When was the last time your heart cried out for the glorification of Christ in your own life, in your city, in Israel and the nations? How long will we look upon our cities without weeping as Christ wept over Jerusalem? O, how blessed are the mourning ones.
Some of you have allowed sin to creep back into your lives and you are no longer grieved by it. There is no mourning in your heart. You have such a guard up against condemnation that you’ve opened the gate to sin, and godly mourning has left you. The clear air of vibrant communion with the Lord has been polluted. The flame of His holiness that once burned in your heart has dwindled. It’s time to mourn!
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” (Psm. 51.1-2)
Perhaps your heart used to burn for the salvation of unbelievers and the transformation of sin-ridden cities. You’ve grown weary in well doing, and you no longer know what it is to weep for the lost in prayer. Mourning with the Lord on their behalf seems foreign and distant. Friend, it’s time to mourn again! We need to cry with Jeremiah:
“O that my head were waters and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep for the slain of the daughter of my people!” (Jer. 9.1)
Moses was a mourning one, for in all things he “cried out to the Lord.” Mercy was repeatedly extended to Israel as a result of his mourning.
Samuel was a mourning one. “Samuel was troubled, and he cried out to the LORD all that night.” (1 Sam. 15.11)
David was a mourning one. “My tears have been my food day and night…” (Ps. 42.3)
Daniel “wept bitterly” and fasted in Babylon during a time of national judgment upon Judah. Though we know of no consistent sin in his life, he mercifully cried out on behalf of his nation, “Lord, we have sinned”!
Jeremiah mourned and cried out to a people who were teeter-tottering on the edge of the cliff of Divine justice. All of the prophets were mourning ones.
Paul was a mourning one, weeping for the salvation of his Jewish kinsmen and groaning as a mother in childbirth, “until Christ be formed” in the churches that he had planted and nurtured. Every true missionary, revivalist and reformer throughout history has been a mourning one.
They were joyful men, but their hearts burned with the passions of Jesus, and they did not treat life like a fleeting game. They wept over lost souls and grieved over the condition of the Church. They cried out for a greater measure of the power of God, and mourned over shortcomings in their own lives. They mourned until grace came down afresh. They mourned until the Spirit was poured out. They mourn yet today on our behalf. O friends, we cannot afford to remove ourselves from this continuum.
One day soon, their mourning will cease. When the government of God has its cosmos-wide influence at the end of the age the mourning will be once and for all turned into dancing and holy jubilee. God will rejoice over Israel with singing (imagine the majestic reverberations when God sings for joy!), and He will quiet them in His love (Zeph. 3.16-17). Sin, sickness, death and demonic influence will be permanently uprooted and cast into the lake of fire. The Lamb of God will be worshiped and exalted in the earth like never before. My heart burns for this day, friends!
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted…”
If you are comforted in a way that is not the result of God-inspired mourning, you are likely living in some form of deception. The spirit of this age is driven by the pursuit of comfort, happiness and pleasure in the midst of a staunch denial of all that God is. It is a sham. There is no true comfort apart from a holy alignment with the King of the ages. To come out of our own depravity, out from underneath everything in this world that manipulates and jerks us, mourning is a holy necessity.
Isaiah, a seasoned prophet, saw the Lord and mourned over the uncleanness of his own lips. He was utterly devastated. Undone. This is not an issue of “works”. We are not talking about justification only, as glorious as that is. We are asking what it means to be a Sermon on the Mount people; an apostolic Body through which the Lord delivers His own heart to Israel and the nations.
The Spirit of mourning upon the people of God is a catalyst for salvation and deliverance in the societies of the earth. No wonder the apostles were mourning men. They penetrated society because they were taken up with the heart of the Lord, and their ministries were “blessed” by God Himself. The Lord desires to put the same blessing upon an entire Body in these last days, and it will rest upon those who are poor in spirit, mourning in hope until the fullness of Christ is manifested in the earth.
Mourning in spirit is the gateway to the kind of comfort that only God can grant. The mourning ones will bring true comfort to the earth. Their witness and fellowship will produce life in the Church and in society. They will enjoy life, they will rejoice with those who rejoice, but they will not be mindless jokers. They will mourn in prayer and fasting until the Lord sees “the travail of His soul and is satisfied.” (Is. 53)
“Jesus answered, ‘How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.'” (Matt. 9.15)
Have you become satisfied with the things of this world? Is there a cry for the fullness of God in your spirit? Have you sought to circumvent or avoid the kind of mourning that still burns in the heart of the Son of God? Saints, we have not the time for playing games with our lives. We have one life to live. There is sin to be mourned over. There is a harvest to be reaped by laborers who go into the fields, weeping in faith and anticipation. There is a fullness to cry out for. There is an Israel to intercede for. There is a Living God to pant after!
I want to be found in that company of mourners, weeping in spirit in an anticipatory way until the glory of God covers the earth as the waters cover the sea. What about you?
Father, we ask you to align our hearts with Yours. However Your heart still mourns, we want to be enjoined with Your cry. Make us a house of mourning, that in our day souls may be comforted by the reality of Your salvation. Make us mourners along with the great host of heaven, that the Day of Your return may be hastened. We want to weep between the porch and the altar for the salvation of Israel, the transformation of the nations, and the release of Your judgments and mercies. Forgive us our self-satisfaction and empty religious performances. We lay our souls in the dust, O God. Abide with us, great Apostle and High Priest. Let us weep with You now, until we are able to rejoice with You in full, when Your Kingdom is permanently and indestructibly established in Jerusalem. Have for Yourself a people who mourn in spirit. Mark us with blessing, the high privilege of having hearts that are united with You. Amen.
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: Bryan Purtle, Reality, Revival, Sermon on the Mount, The Blessedness of the Mourning Ones
I am just finishing up a new biography on one of the most beloved prophet-hearted teachers in American history. It’s entitled A Passion for God: The Spiritual Journey of A.W. Tozer, written by Lyle Dorsett. I have long loved Tozer’s writings and messages. For over a decade I’ve relished in his insights and fed off of his knowledge of God, and the intensity of his worshipping heart. I’ve read some of the other bio’s on A.W., but this biography is a real gem, and I’m commending it to all of the pastors and laborers in our fellowship here in Kansas City.
It tells of his formation as a man of prayer and incessant worship. It tells of the trials he endured and the stretchings he experienced. It inspires us to forsake a vain pursuit of ministry-breadth, and calls us back to the pursuit of depth in the secret place. Tozer’s relentless longing for the presence and person of God grabs us by the collar of our professional or subjective ideas on ministry, and plops us down in the dust on the backside of the desert. Before long we see the glow of the bush again, and remember why and how we ever put our sandals back on and proceeded to face the people.
I am jolted again. This man labored for 4-plus decades- contending for the faith, reaching out to souls in darkness, setting aright faddish movements and faulty doctrines. Most of all, every soul that was remotely close to A.W. Tozer knew that there were at least 5 hours a day where he was intently removed from all contact with anyone other that the God of Majesty. He knew what it was to behold the uncreated One, to love Him, to listen to Him, to gaze upon Him with delightful and sometimes awe-full attentiveness. He didn’t need adrenalin, entertainment, or programmatic pick-me-ups to bear up his walk with the Lord. He had what Moses had…what David had…what the prophets had…what Paul had. He had a singleness of heart in pursuit after the God of Israel, and he was not willing for anything to stand in the way of that impassioned vision.
I wonder how far we have fallen from this kind of Davidic intensity.
Still, there is another stinging thing in the story of A.W. Tozer. Many believers who have been profoundly affected by his teachings are unaware of the manner of his life at home, and even the manner of his death. He died in a Canadian hospital room in the year of 1963. He was all by himself. He was alone in his death as he was in his life.
One of his colleagues noted that one of the last remarks he ever heard Tozer make was this:
“I have had a lonely life.”
The young revivalist may read this and unleash a heroic cry: “Yes! This is the price that every true man of God pays. You cannot follow the Lord and make friends with every one around you.”
Indeed, this is true. When we cling to the Lord in this life, there will be great opposition and trial. But mere loneliness is not a sign of prophetism, and isolation from family and friends is not necessarily a hallmark of an eternity-centered life. We were created for community.
As Gordon Fee points out, the idea of salvation in the mind of Paul was never primarily a thought toward whether an individual person would be able to make it to heaven or not. Salvation, in the hebraic mind of the early apostles, was a picture of God’s Kingdom breaking into a society and wrenching loose a group of souls from the spirit of this age, that they might be formed and fashioned together by the power of the Spirit into a Body that expresses the very nature of Christ. In other words, we need Christ (!), but we are not likely to experience Him fully if we don’t also experience Him through our experiences in family life and church life.
Life is a fragile thing. “Man is but a mere breath,” the psalmist declares (Psm. 144.4a). I wept on numerous occasions in the reading of Tozer’s biography. For the first time I saw areas of his life that I had never seen before. Gaping holes. Perhaps he was oblivious to them. Perhaps his engagement with ministry travels, reading, writing, preaching, and the remarkable amount of time he spent in “speechless adoration” of Christ filled his plate to the extent that he was incapable of figuring in other necessary Kingdom responsibilities and privileges.
The most heart-wrenching of these blind-spots was his inability, over the course of 40-plus years, to connect relationally with his wife Ada and their 7 children. He also struggled with connecting relationally to the vast majority of the saints who were under his care for all of those decades. They say that he and Ada never fought or argued (as best as we know), nor was there ever a known issue of infidelity or abuse. There was simply this radical, unexplainable inability to relate with his wife and kids to the extent that he would be a presence in their lives. He would be drawn to them as long as they were babies, but when it got past that, he struggled to father them. The story goes that his father was a hardworking farm-man who was quite non-relational himself. I would assume that this passed to his sons and daughters, and it certainly seems that way with A.W.
When Tozer died, though Ada had scarcely (if ever) complained about their distant relationship, she made several things clear. Both she and the children (all adults by the time of his death) were in agreement that they knew very little about this man whose teachings and writings have sent waves of revelation through many hungry hearts. This, to me, is a tragedy of tragedies.
It is not enough to say that “a prophet is not without honor except in his own town.” (Mt. 13.57) Too long have preachers been presumptuously putting themselves in the sandals of Jesus, and blaming the unhealthy condition of their families on the requirements of ministry. We are not Jesus, friends.
Most of us have spouses. Most of us have children. What shall they declare at our funerals? What will our children leave with when they move on into adulthood?
I was told that after A.W. died, Ada was asked if she missed him. She had been re-married by this time. Her reply was tragic to me. She said something like this: “A.W. was God’s man, but my new husband is my man.” Oh, that it would not be said of us! May we be wholly given to Him, and to those whom He has given us.
Ironically, a few weeks ago I had just picked up this Tozer bio, and was really getting into it. The kids were playing outside so I decided to sit on the patio in my chair. The plan was to get into the bio (I have a thing for books, in case you didn’t know) while being close enough to supervise the children. As I was reflecting on the fact that Tozer’s children barely knew him, I was looking at his face on the front of the book. Just then, my son Simeon said,
“Daddy, will you play ball with me?”
There was a trembling that went through my soul, and it was as if Tozer was bellowing from the heavens, “Bryan! Don’t look at him the way I looked at mine. Look him in the eye. He is a little boy with a soul, and with his own thoughts, and he is sensitive to you. His heart is beating for you to father him. He is awaiting you, and he will never forget your response to him in this moment. There is a vast difference between ‘supervision’ and fathering.”
I set the book down, and played catch with my son.
I do tremble, friends. I tremble at the busyness of our American ways. I tremble at the awesome responsibility and privilege of raising these boys and girls. I weep over the fact that it is so easy for us to be engaged in ourselves- even religiously– to the neglect of our spouses, or children, or congregation members, or unbelieving neighbors.
As I was praying into this some days later, I had a strong word of Fatherly caution from the Lord:
“You’ve got one shot at this, son.”
18 or 20 years is all we have with our children. What shall they take from us? Will they feel like it was a mere obligation for us to feed them and care for them? Will they feel like we really didn’t want them around? Will they feel like all of our talk about the nature of God was mere flourish or rhetoric? Will they feel that they are valued and cherished? Will they have been fathered? mothered? Or just raised? I believe that God desires to give us wisdom and love enough to be a literal representation of Himself in the home. We will certainly miss the mark here and there, but He will enable us to actively engage them with a whole heart. To hear them, for real. To speak into them, for real. To love them, for real. That’s fathering and mothering, and it’s an awesome privilege available to us all.
The great revivalist Leonard Ravenhill, who was in many ways mentored by Tozer, used to say that you can’t catch up your prayer life when you get to the judgment seat of Christ. I certainly agree, and he was a man to back up his talk with a real value for prayer and intercession.
I’d like to acknowledge another cut in this fine diamond of discipleship. We can’t catch up our parenting, or the way we treated our spouses, or the depth of our humility toward others at the judgment seat either. We have one shot, saints. It will be a journey, and we will all trip up and fall in one way or another along the way. But abandoning ship is not an option. We’ve got to face our spouses, face our children, face our congregations, knowing that we’ve got “one shot” with all of them.
Whitefield said to speak every time as if it were our last, and “compel them to cry, ‘Behold, how He loves us.'”
I want to burn with a passion for God like Tozer did. I want to know the long seasons of adoration, awe, and intercession. I want to stand as a pillar in the household of faith. I want to exalt Christ and cling to the cross, fixing my eyes on Him while the latest fads rise and fall.
I also want to love and tremble toward those who are closest and most familiar to me. We all have those who are most familiar…spouses, children, parents, neighbors, fellow believers. I want to see a generation of preachers raised up who are aware of the mercies of God, are immersed in His love, and who walk with a “one shot” consciousness. They look at each person with a radical value, a Spirit-dependent outlook. They make priority for prayer and scripture as Tozer did, while stretching out the tent of time and relationship for those whom the Lord has given them.
Every occasion is another “shot.” Every conversation with the wife…”one shot.” Every seemingly irrelevant question from a child…”one shot.” Every interaction with an unbeliever…”one shot.” Every time of secret prayer and scripture reading…”one shot.” Every opportunity to father our sons and daughters…”one shot.” The self-absorbed are distracted, double-minded and cowardly. But the true servant of the Lord sees the “one shot” and takes it, while others are passing by as the proverbial stranger in a rush-hour traffic jam. May our eyes be opened to see that every occasion is another shot at learning and dispensing the very love of Christ.
Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
May your deeds be shown to your servants,
your splendor to their children. – Psalm 90.12, 16
Posted in Life & Family Tagged with: A.W. Tozer, Bryan Purtle, One Shot, Parenting, Revivalist