Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church

Sermon Series: Supernatural Ways Of Royalty – 03 (Chapter 4) – Ever-Increasing; Date: 11 September 2011

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Ever-Increasing

 

This morning – I want to talk about some Bible verses which seem to be too good to be true and – therefore – most of us do not know how to handle them. Are we to rejoice in what is being said or admit to our confusion? What is going on? I read from 2 Corinthians 3:6-18:

 

“He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

 

There is much contained in these verses – wide-ranging concepts such as “the ministry that brought death” and “the ministry that brings righteousness”. There is shifting imagery which first mentions a veil over the face of Moses (so that others cannot look at his face) but then locates a veil over the heart and mind of every unbeliever (so that the unbeliever cannot look at Christians who are people like Moses). There is some explaining to be done (and we will do so later) but – (even now – at first reading) – the core message of these verses – the most stunning proclamation for any Christian – is clear. Listen again to some of the words:

 

Now if the ministry [of Moses] ... came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory ... will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? ... For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory [which is ours] ... we all, who ... contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory ...

 

These words contain a plain reference to the pastto the person of Moses and his most stupendous experience of God. He had been conversing with God and then saw God – with his own eyes – at least as much of him and his holiness as any sinful human being can endure – (this side of eternity) – without dying. The result was that Moses’ own body took on some of God’s nature. His face began to reflect God’s glory with such power – he was glowing so much with God – that no other man could even look at him and then – after this particular reference to the experience of Moses – the Bible words suggest that our own experience as Christians is far superior to his.

But can anything trump seeing God? Listen to a few Bible excerpts from the original account and then be honest: Would you really say that anything more glorious has already happened to you? Would you say – with our basic Bible reading in 2 Corinthians 3 – that Moses’ experience – (as you understand it) – has no glory in comparison with the surpassing glory that is yours as Christian?

 

Exodus 33:17-20: “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.’ Then Moses said, ‘Now show me your glory.’ And the LORD said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.’”

 

Exodus 33:21-23: “Then the LORD said, ‘There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.’”

 

Exodus 34:5-7: “Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’”

 

Exodus 34:29-35: “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him ...

When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever he entered the LORD’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the LORD.” [Cf. Matthew 17:2; Acts 6:15.]

 

What do you say? As a Christian, is your experience of God any more glorious than what Moses must have experienced? The honest answer isno”. I am sure that I have not yet seen God as Moses did or has there ever been a time when you could not look at my face (because it was glowing with the glory of God)? I have not yet experienced that God has come and passed all of his goodness in front of me because I am absolutely certain that I still need a deeper revelation of his love and compassion on me and others. I know and preach that God the Father has demonstrated his love for us whenhe gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16) but I want the glory of this truth to burn brighter in my heart – with a greater awareness of the magnitude of what the Father has done through his Son Jesus Christ. I am sure that there are aspects of God’s glory which I know nothing about.

Only – where does this position me? If – after decades of being a Christian – I am still lagging behind Moses, what about the truth of our Bible reading? What do the verses mean?

 

Now if the ministry [of Moses] ... came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory ... will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? ... For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory [which is ours] ... we all, who ... contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory ...

 

This is going to be interesting and fascinating. Moses’ encounter with God is still setting a high standard – too high for most Christians – but all of us are surpassing his experience nevertheless. I will explain this riddle in a moment. However, let me say first that many religious people already stumble over God’s introductions. As God begins his self-disclosure, the majority of people frequently stop the experience and reject any further acquaintance – even in the day of Moses. Listen to what happened in the past:

 

Exodus 19:16-19: “On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.”

 

Exodus 20:18-21: “When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.’ Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.’ The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.”

 

Exodus 32:1-6 [The Message]: “When the people realized that Moses was taking forever in coming down off the mountain, they rallied around Aaron and said, ‘Do something. Make gods for us who will lead us. That Moses, the man who got us out of Egypt – who knows what's happened to him?’ So Aaron told them, ‘Take off the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters and bring them to me.’ They all did it; they removed the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from their hands and cast it in the form of a calf, shaping it with an engraving tool. The people responded with enthusiasm: ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up from Egypt!’ Aaron, taking in the situation, built an altar before the calf. Aaron then announced, ‘Tomorrow is a feast day to God!’ Early the next morning, the people got up and offered Whole-Burnt-Offerings and brought Peace-Offerings. The people sat down to eat and drink and then began to party. It turned into a wild party!

 

This is a typical experience – even in church. When God does not introduce himself to us in nice and quiet and acceptable ways – when he instead confounds us with his power and uncontrollable nature – (be it the thunder and lightning, trumpet sounds and smoke, thick darkness and earthquakes as in the time of Moses or the unexpected power over sickness and demons and confronting miracles as in the time of Jesus and now) – then mere mortals often choose to shy away from God and make their own fun around a self-made concept of God – fashioned either with an engraving tool (that shapes a golden calf) or their mind. The real God makes them afraid and – thus – they choose to recover their comfort – (their easy religion) – from a distance – (where they no longer have to talk to God themselves) – with their own ideas about God rather than experience and learn about the real God who is best feared in the midst of his awesome display of love.

God cannot be tamed and we know that – as all Christians should agree from the core revelation of God in the cross of Jesus Christ. There we also find both: his fearsome wrath and his abounding love:

 

Isaiah 53: “Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.

Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

 

Galatians 3:10-14: “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’ Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because ‘the righteous will live by faith.’ The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, ‘The person who does these things will live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.’ He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.”

 

Romans 3:25-26: “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

 

Romans 5:8-11: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

 

1 John 4:10: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

 

Like Moses and the people around him – we can either seize the day – the day of visitation – the days of revival – draw near and see God – encountering him through the thick darkness on the mountain which (on a profound level) represents the cross – or – like many others – such as the entire nation around Moses – we can choose disengagement from him and a self-made alternative.

A few weeks ago – we were hosting a rather famous guest-speaker in Toowoomba. It was a combined effort of the Christian Leaders’ Network but I found myself reacting to some of the sessions. For instance, in a Question & Answer segment, Pastor David Millican asked him for a Christian response to the tragic house fire which – (a few weeks ago) – killed eleven people – three generations of one family in Ipswich. At the time, Logan police Superintendent Noel Powers told reporters: “Never in my service, never have I seen anything like this. It’s a total and utter catastrophe.” David had asked our guest-speaker a difficult question and I did not expect an absolutely satisfying answer. He did not know the circumstances and there will always be the mystery why an almighty God did not rescue a close family from being burned alive.

However, the guest-speaker seemed self-assured and spoke out against those Christians that connected human suffering to God’s judgement. At first, I agreed with him in the sense that you cannot always blame specific sins for accidents and disasters. For instance, the Bible is quite clear that not every personal sickness is caused by sin (John 9:1-3). However, then the guest-speaker claimed that God is always on the side of the rescue mission and is never responsible for any of the pain that has been caused. God was always the loving God – the loving Father.

I turned to the colleague on my left and voiced my displeasure. This was nice but inadequate. [It was the judgement from God that expelled us from the Garden of Eden.] What about the many examples in the Bible where national disasters were deliberately caused by God as judgements for present and past sins? [Cf. Luke 19:41-44; Revelations 16:1-21.] Earlier in the year – in the face of the Toowoomba Inland Tsunami and catastrophic flooding in Queensland and other states – we did hold God responsible but at the same time acknowledged his love – quoting 1 Peter 5:6-7: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, ... Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” [Cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Revelations 2-3.] [God is on a rescue mission through us but sometimes the rescue is from his wrath – Ezekiel 22:30: “I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.”]

The guest-speaker almost immediately confirmed my growing uneasiness. He faced the ultimate disaster of hell and eternal condemnation and then shied away from affirming their reality. According to the Bible – at the end of time – God will judge and punish sin and consign the people (who have not believed in his Son Jesus Christ) to eternal torment (Matthew 25:41; Mark 9:48; Revelations 14:10-11; 20:10) but the guest-speaker was committed to his version of an always loving God – a God that is always on the side of the rescue mission – and – therefore – chose to cast doubt on God’s eternal wrath on Satan and all those who belong to him. This made everyone relax.[1] This seemed balanced and compassionate. But was it the truth? Was it the God in the thick dark cloud on the mountain – on the cross – or a man-made alternative which made everyone happy?

Maybe my assessment of our guest-speaker was wrong. Maybe I did not quite understand him but the tendency to miss out on the real God and his real glory for a less confronting version of religion is common.[2] As soon as the real God begins to move with signs and wonders – the dark cloud and trumpet sound – the deep meanings of the cross – (and remember that darkness also covered the land at Jesus’ death and the earth quaked) – then – like the whole nation around Moses – many religious people opt out of the experience. Therefore – the Bible words from the beginning do not make any sense to them: “Now if the ministry [of Moses] ... came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory ... will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?

How then is our experience of God even more glorious than Moses’? It has nothing to do with the experience itself because Moses’ encounter on the mountain remains even for us the pinnacle – the absolute climax – of what is possible.  What can be better than seeing God and have all of his goodness pass in front of us? No – the difference between him and us is spelled out in the following sentences of our first Bible reading. Listen again:

 

“He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!

... Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all ... are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

 

I list the differences in two columns:

 

The letter kills ó The Spirit gives life

Engraved in letters of stone ó Empowered by the Spirit

The ministry that brought death and condemnation ó The ministry that brings righteousness and freedom

Transitory glory which does not last ó The glory which lasts

 

 

The fundamental difference between Moses and us is the Holy Spirit. Even though Moses himself had the Spirit of God on him and enjoyed amazing experiences, he could not pass on the Spirit to everyone in the nation. Therefore, all he had was God’s holy laws and commandments – all he had were letters engraved in stone – but not the power to obey the laws which meant that the laws – without the power to keep them – only made matters worse. They confronted people with their failures and proved the justice of people’s condemnation and death.

Thus, the Holy Spirit – that came through Jesus Christ – makes all the difference for us because his power – the power of the Spirit – makes us free to follow his lead and succeed in living out holiness. Furthermore – in contrast to Moses’ experience – the glory which we experience through the Holy Spirit lasts – does not fade away – is not transitory – because the Holy Spirit makes us his permanent dwelling place – his temple. We learn from him what God is like and – over time – in our life’s journey – experience ever-greater degrees of glory.

Before we continue – how does this work in practice? Do not put your primary effort into obedience but faith because you receive and activate the Spirit in you – and his power in you – by faith. Exercise faith – not self-reliance – then righteousness comes in the freedom of the Spirit. We take a look at some other key Bible passages:

 

Galatians 3:1-25: “ ... Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? ... So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’

Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’ Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because ‘the righteous will live by faith.’ The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, ‘The person who does these things will live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.’ He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit ...

Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

 

Galatians 5:1-26: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery ... You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope ... The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love ...

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ ... So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law ... Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit ...

 

How do we have surpassing glory in comparison to Moses? The Holy Spirit has been poured out on all of us – or is offered to all of us – and he is our permanent companion who not only reveals the glory of God to us but makes us like him in righteousness – a permanent reflection of his glory. This ongoing and ever-increasing experience comes to us by faith as we trust thatChrist redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for uswhich means that the law requesting obedience in our own strength – this curse of certain failure – is no longer the path to righteousness but a free life in the Spirit is.

Do you experience this free life of glory by the Spirit? You can. This is God’s gift to you. However, sometimes we are so used to condemnation that we cannot quite seem to break through to the reality of the greater glory. Many a time – the following testimony is ours. Listen to the predicament but then also to the cure of condemnation:

 

Kris Vallotton & Bill Johnson: The Supernatural Ways Of Royalty, Shippensburg: Destiny Image 2006, p51-59:

Living in forgiveness does not mean we are to forget our past. Rather, seeing my past through the blood of Jesus brings praise to my lips and frees me from the burden of a guilty heart. Jesus will be known throughout eternity as the Lamb of God; so we will always remember that it was the provision of the spotless Lamb that obtained eternal redemption for us.

I struggled for so many years with this truth. Shame and discouragement were close friends of mine. I would counter such feelings with more prayer, study, and reading about the lives of great men and women of God from the past. Yet, my problem wasn’t solved, even though I was doing what most would counsel me to do. I found that when our perspective is wrong, more study and prayer can actually add to our discouragement and shame, as it did for me. Every biography impressed me, but also made me feel hopeless. They were all too perfect. I couldn’t relate to any of their God-encounters. It seemed that they were God’s favourites, and I just existed. One day I heard a tape from David Wilkerson called, “Facing Your Failures.” In it he talked about how the “great ones” all had failures and weaknesses too. He shared some of his struggles and failures. It was the most refreshing message I had heard in my life. It was the beginning of a change in perspective for me. But the religious spirit was not about to give up on me so easily.

I had surrounded myself with people of like passion—revival at any cost! I was weaned on this theme. I slept, ate, and prayed it constantly. But it was common knowledge to all of us who had studied the revivals of the past—we weren’t holy enough. So I constantly re-examined my motives and personal holiness, and always came up short. My passion for God was alive and well, but my efforts at personal holiness were killing me. I am embarrassed to admit it, but I was a pastor for a few years before I actually started to get well. Every week I would get buried in my stuff – my sense of worthlessness and hopelessness. Thankfully, I was able to “faith my way out of it” by Sunday so I could give the people I pastored something healthy to eat.

A dear friend and mentor of mine, Darol Blunt, lived a life of grace. Life seemed so easy for him. He walked me through so much and modelled a life without the intense introspection that I was trapped in. He laughed a lot, and knew how to have fun without being coarse. That was new to me. I was too serious for my own good. I had been a class clown while growing up, and had learned how to be crude for effect. I turned from this and everything else I knew to follow God completely. Unfortunately, I left a valuable part of who I was back on the chopping block of personal holiness, and picked up a false image of spirituality that never did work.

How did God begin to change me? There wasn’t a one-moment encounter that changed everything. But there was a series of things that God brought my way to establish me in Him and break off the religious spirit that had me bound. Repentance was needed. It sounds strange to say it, because repentance was a major theme of mine. Yet, true repentance is to “change the way we think.” I needed repentance that would affect my mind, and redirect my heart toward a God who forgives. Faith is evidence of true repentance. I wasn’t living in secret sin. There were no unrighteous habits in my life to torment my conscience with shame. My shame was over my humanity, and my discouragement was over who I wasn’t. At some point I actually had to believe that what King Jesus did was enough. It sounds so simple now. My shame quietly denied His atoning work. My discouragement dishonoured the sufficiency of the King's promises.

It took a while, but I finally realized that my best moments (mentally, emotionally, and spiritually) were when I just did my best, and stayed away from introspection. This was a scary thing for me, because in my mind introspection was almost a rite of passage to my biggest dream – to be a revivalist. After years of struggling with the conflict of personal holiness, I prayed something like this:

 

Father, You know that I don’t do so well when I look inward, so I’m going to stop. I am relying on You to point out to me the things that I need to see. I promise to stay in Your Word. You said that Your Word was a sword –  so please use it to cut me deeply. Expose those things in me that are not pleasing to You. But in doing so, please give me the grace to forsake them. I also promise to come before You daily. Your presence is like a fire. Please burn from me those things that are unpleasing to You. Melt my heart until it becomes like the heart of Jesus. Be merciful to me in these things. I also promise to stay in fellowship with Your people. You said that iron sharpens iron. I expect You to anoint the “wounds of a friend” to bring me to my senses when I'm being resistant toward You. Please use these tools to shape my life until Jesus alone is seen in me. I believe that You have given me Your heart and mind. By Your grace I am a new creation. I want that reality to be seen that the name of Jesus would be held in highest honour ...

 

Some years ago I heard a prophetic word that really touched my heart. In it, God spoke saying, “I will not remove the scars from your life. Instead I will rearrange them in such a way that they have the appearance of carving on a fine piece of crystal.” Such is the love of God. What was despised becomes a testimony of God's grace—a thing of beauty!

The mind set on the flesh is death and at war with God. That is the “unrenewed” mind. In essence, the renewed mind is the mind of Christ. It is able to demonstrate the will of God, which is best described in the prayer, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10) The exhortation of Scripture is clear, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 2:5) The renewing of the mind begins with our new identity obtained at the cross. We were once slaves of sin, but are now slaves of righteousness. Our thought life must support that reality. The apostle Paul emphasized this in his letter to the church at Rome, saying, “Even so, think of yourself dead to sin.” (Rom. 6:11) It’s an attitude...a way of thinking...an evidence of repentance.

The mind has a power to affect our behaviour either positive or negatively. But it does not possess the power to change our nature. That alone is accomplished when we are born again. When people are born again, they are transformed from the inside out. It is not the external things that are likely to change first. God takes up residence in our hearts, transforming us, as it really is an inside job. On the other hand, religion works on the outside. While it can bring conformity, it is powerless to bring transformation.

“For as he thinks within himself, so he is” (Prov. 23:7). When we are charged to think of ourselves dead to sin, it is more than a suggestion to think positively about our conversion. It is an invitation to step into the momentum of a reality made available only through the cross. The supernatural power released in this way of thinking is what creates a lifestyle of freedom. It is able to do this because it is TRUTH. To say that I have sinned is true. To say I am free of sin is truer still. The renewed mind is necessary to more consistently taste the supernatural life, which God intended to be the normal Christian life ...

“God will not share His glory with another” (Isa 42:8). The most common understanding of this verse is that God is glorious and we are not. In reality we are not “another.” Why do you think He made us individual members of His body? The lowest (the least) member of His body is superior to the highest principality and power of darkness. The original target in the creation of man was for us to live and dwell in His glory. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). The cross removes the obstacle to His purposes, and restores us to His original intent. The religious heart is unwilling to recognize that we really have been made in His image, and that being born again restores us to a place of absolute purity.

Jesus added to this in His priestly prayer, “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one” (John 17:22). It is recorded in Proverbs that wisdom will bring to us a crown of glory. Even our bodies were designed to live in His glory. As we become more and more accustomed to the presence of His glory, even our bodies hunger for God's glorious presence. The sons of Korah, who had spent considerable time in the actual glory of God, and had seen the effect on their physical being, sang, “My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God” (Ps 84:2).

When God’s royalty touches our lives, we discover we are designed to live in God's glory. We no longer live in the bondages of our past – performance and comparison in our daily lives, but we know our worth in simply loving Him. For out of that springs living water and revelation for those who have not found the truth in the nations of the earth!

 

You don’t have to do introspection – let go of endless self-examination – stop scanning your level of personal perfection and holiness – because this is not a mark of maturity. If you want to pick holes into your motives and find fault in the innermost recesses of your heart, then you will always find what you are looking for because this side of eternity none of us are going to be 100% perfect – like God. But this is okay and only proud people need to be reminded of this fact.

Some time ago a young Evangelist from the USA (David Tomberlin) came to Toowoomba and I had the opportunity to have lunch with him. He shared with our group that when he became a Christian in his late teens (not sure about the age of conversion), he was on fire for God and exercised much spiritual discipline. In the midst of another season of seeking hard after God in fasting and prayer, he felt pretty good about himself because he was as holy as he could be. Yet, an angel appeared to him and held up a mirror before his heart and when he looked at the reflection of his heart, he could see that it was vile and diseased and rotten. The lesson was that even in the midst of our greatest efforts and most pious demeanour, we are still not perfect and live by grace – the forgiveness which comes to us through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

Yet, this is okay and no reason to slip back into introspection and self-condemnation. Our basic Bible passage clearly states that weare being transformed into God’s likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18) which means that there is always spiritual growth occurring within us. It isever-increasing”. We are not perfect from the start but begin as baby Christians who then grow up into greater measures of glory. This is normal.

Then – and this is also clear from our basic Bible passage – it is not introspection that makes us mature – it is not looking at ourselves and nitpicking every hidden flaw that is going to change us – butever-increasing glorycomes from looking at God. As we take our eyes off our own navel and behold God, we are being changed by the grandeur of him – 2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we all, who ... contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory ... ”

At the same time – (in case that anyone feels like objecting) –we are not easy on sin. We are not. Bill Johnson made sure that God had plenty of opportunities to convict him of any wrong-doing. He prayed: “I am relying on You to point out to me the things that I need to see. I promise to stay in Your Word ... I also promise to come before You daily [in prayer] ... I also promise to stay in fellowship with Your people ... Please use these tools to shape my life until Jesus alone is seen in me.” The key was that Bill Johnson no longer relied on his own efforts of introspection but the Word of God, prayer and other Christians – the tools of the Holy Spirit – to be on a more positive learning-curve where the Holy Spirit would free us from being condemned slaves and instead make us cry out to God with the trusting voice of children: “Abba, Father” ( Galatians 4:6). We are to enjoy every level of glory without being condemned by what we are still to become. Trust the leadership of the Spirit. Relax in his freedom. You will grow by his power.

Are you taking this on? This lesson can change your life – make you free – release joy. Do you know that – most days – God is saying to you: “Oh, you are awesome. I loved your prayer this morning. Thank you for this beautiful praise song. I love the way you are generous. I love the way you hug people. I love every minute with you.”

A few days ago, Wendy shared at the community centre that she was helping to shift this woman with David Challenor and a few others. They were cleaning up the house when she found some syringes, speed and hydro-cocaine. It was easy for her to hand in the syringes and speed but she hung on to the cocaine for almost an hour because she was still addicted to this drug. However, God kept speaking to her which made her laugh. David asked: “What’s so funny?” She answered: “I can’t tell you.” For her – it was a crazy idea to hand in perfectly good cocaine and she laughed at the thought of surrendering the drug. Yet, God kept speaking to her and – after almost an hour of wrestling with the idea – she did do what God said and – as she shared last Wednesday – she was not regretting it. Do you know that the entire week God was telling everyone in heaven: “That’s my girl. Do you see Wendy? I’m so proud of her.” This morning – learn to live with an awareness that God is pleased with you. Don’t do unnecessary introspection but live in the freedom of the Spirit. Let him guide you step by step and celebrate every step because God does.

Discover that it is true: We have surpassing glory. Contrary to Moses’ own transitory experience – the Spirit of God is our permanent companion and – in freedom – with his power – is transforming us from one degree of glory to another. Receive it now. Receive the Spirit. Welcome him. You are being transformed – with ever-increasing glory – into the image of God.

Do you think that God will make this work – also for you? Yes – (I hope that you are all hungry for this) – but there is still one important objection. How are we to deal with failure? What are we to do when everything around us comes crashing down and we look anything but glorious? After his time with God on the mountain – people could not look at Moses’ face but what if our face – our life – remains plain and normal with no one ever recognizing any glory on us and in us? Would that not be the time to get back to introspection – self-examination and fault-finding in our own strength?

It may surprise you but when the Bible talks about the surpassing glory of Christians, it does so in the midst of oppression, apathy and catastrophic conflict and failure. The apostle Paul who wrote down the words also had this to report:

 

2 Corinthians 1:8-9: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”

 

The unsettling reality was that the mission work in Asia suffered troubles and pressure which depressed the apostle Paul and all of his companions. They despaired of life itself but it did not mean that there was no glory. This – according to Paul’s words – was just a lesson to rely on God rather than themselves.

 

2 Corinthians 4:3-4: “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

 

[Cf. 2 Corinthians 11:6: “I may not be a trained speaker ... ” 2 Timothy 4:16: “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them.”]

 

The unsettling reality was that the surpassing glory of the preachers and their message remained veiled to many of their listeners. Yet, this was not taken as evidence that they had no glory. Moses may have put a veil in front of his own face but here – now – the veil is over the minds of unbelievers who are blinded by the god of this age – Satan – so that they cannot see the glory of the Gospel preachers.

 

2 Corinthians 4:7-12: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”

 

[Cf. 2 Corinthians 6:8-10: “ ... regarded as impostors ... regarded as unknown ... beaten ... sorrowful ... poor ... ”]

 

[2 Corinthians 4:17: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”]

 

The unsettling reality was that the surpassing glory of the Christians was put in containers of no apparent glory – jars of clay – their human bodies and personalities. In addition – these plain looking people were hard pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted, struck down and always being given over to death. Yet, this was to show and prove that their all-surpassing power and glory was from God and not from them.

None of the outward circumstances – none of the beatings or sorrowful depressions – made Paul doubt (for a second) that he was still being transformed into the image of God with ever-increasing glory. He was. You are. Surpassing glory is yours.

I come back to the experience of Bill Johnson. He said this in an interview (September 2011):

 

“How we managed to live in the midst of disappointment, this is how we’ve done well. Ten close people – friends – young people – suffered painful tragedies in the church but we were feeding our minds and hearts on the things that God was doing – rather on what he was not yet doing. I will not allow myself to accuse God. I will not allow myself to think that he is not good. I don’t ask why. I just don’t go into the why’s. I pray: God, I’m willing to live with mystery. If you teach me, I will love it but I will not hold you to an explanation. If there is something wrong with me, I invite you to speak to me through the Word, fellow-Christians and prayer but I am not going to go on a witch-hunt to find out what’s wrong with my life so that I can feel better about my circumstances. Never blame God and be okay with mystery.”

 

The ever-increasing glory is not contingent on visible success or satisfying answers in all circumstances. We may be beaten up and still reflect his glory. We may experience no breakthrough in conversions and healings – the church may shrink to a remnant – but still the glory is ours: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.Don’t go on a witch-hunt of self-condemnation when the Spirit remains on us and through him there is freedom.

If we understand this – the perils of introspection – we will survive and thrive in the bad times and then be ready when the glory of God is breaking through in the good times. Moses came down from the mountain with a glowing face that was radiating the glory of God for all to see and the same degree of visual evidence of glory and its power can still manifest today. There are mountain-top experiences – ever-increasing glory breakthroughs – where miracles happen and whole nations are impacted.

The testimony of this church already includes growing glimpses of God’s glory. God is confirming his surpassing glory to us. [Abbreviate the following report:]

 

... Then, in 2009 we came to the last Sunday of the year and we were all in need of rest. The last twelve months had been packed with new developments, not least the purchase of our first worship home. We needed an uplifting service; therefore I decided to preach on the glory of God. I enjoyed dwelling on the glory of God that shone around the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth.

At some stage in the sermon, I announced that God’s glory had come to our Living Grace congregation and then I provided some evidence. Three months ago I had been preaching a series on healing for six consecutive nights at another Toowoomba church. At the conclusion of one service, we discovered that two of our older members had gold flakes on their faces. What was that? We never had that before. It was a manifestation that came out of the glory presence of God. I had only become aware of such miracles two years ago.

Then I shared that at the Prayer Watch on Friday night, six weeks ago, we saw a kind of mist under the ceiling. It was as if there was a small smoke machine in the church. I thought that it must have come in from the outside. Everyone could see the mist but the others assured me that it did not come in through the window. It was the glory cloud of God which stayed for about one and a half hours. Previously, we only knew the Bible accounts of this phenomenon and testimonies from church history but now it was in our own church.

Finally, two weeks earlier I was praying for a woman who ended up on the floor weeping and repenting to God. Suddenly I could see something sparkling on her. The black skin on the back of her hand was covered with fine gold glitter. I turned her hand but there was nothing on her palms. Two minutes later I checked again and now her palms were also covered in fine gold glitter. I tapped her shoulder and said, “Stop crying. Look, what God is doing for you. He loves you. He makes you look beautiful. You are his princess.”

I kept preaching like this on the last Sunday of 2009 and, at the conclusion of the service, invited the entire congregation to check their hands whether they had not received gold dust as well. This was not planned but everyone that checked his hands that morning had the miracle. I was happy and ever since the gold dust has been manifesting at Living Grace. For eighteen months now members and visitors receive the glory sparkles in our church. As people share the testimony of the miracle, it may appear on them and those that hear the testimony. This is also happening during the week. People are coming to faith through the miracle because it confounds the rational mindset and confirms the preaching of Jesus. Twice I have prayed for another congregation to receive the miracle and it manifested among the people. This has been wonderful for us. The glory of God has come into our midst ...

 

Two weeks ago I paid one of our members (Will) a visit on Friday afternoon. In the course of our conversation – he told me again how God healed him supernaturally from speed addiction. He had no cravings whatsoever but he then shared how he struggled with the miracle of glory dust. I was a little confused because how can you experience one miracle but reject another. On the same day we had a Bible study at church and concluded with a one-hour Prayer Watch. We were praising God in songs and then I felt to speak again about the glory of God and pray that he would bless us with the gold dust manifesting out of his glory. Everyone (about a dozen people) received the miracle – except me. The sceptical person, that I had visited in the afternoon, was also present and God seemed to pull out all stops for him. Not only did he have glory dust all over his hands, the entire skin had a golden sheen and there were drops of oil manifesting on every finger tip.

Another young woman (Alana) remained in the dark – sitting down in the second pew. I called her forward to check her hands in the spot-lights. She came forward, saw the glory dust on her hands and burst out in tears. She was overwhelmed by the goodness of God – his tangible love for her. David (Challenor) cried with her and we had a fantastic night of encouragement.

The ministry of the Spirit in us and through us is glorious and it is ever-increasing. The following testimony is an illustration of what we are hungry for. This is where we are going. On Father’ Day (June 18) in 1995, the glory of God broke through in Pensacola, Florida. This is how the Senior Pastor John Kilpatrick experienced the breakthrough which in the first three years brought more than 2.5 million people to their church (recorded by God TV in 2011):

 

I never felt it like that before – the power of God. I hit the floor and could not get up from the floor for more than four hours. I could not lift my head. I could not open my eye-lids. I am six foot three inches and I hit the platform and was lying on the floor. The congregation had never seen that before because I had been a very staunch preacher – conservative, formal. I was ultra-conservative. Some said that I had lost his mind. Yes – my carnal mind. Now I have a spiritual mind.

I hit the floor on Father’s Day. I could hear everything but I could not get up. And I remember when I laid there and I just got through preaching a series on the glory of God and I preached about ten parts on it. I laid there on the floor and the first thought that crossed my mind was: “Oh my God! What is this?” The first thing the Lord said to me was “Happy Father’s Day”. And then he said: “This is what you have just been preaching on. The ten parts – this is that.” I realized that you can preach on something and still not understand it until you experience it.

When I got up off the floor, I was never the same. God had touched me ... I was lying on the floor for more than four hours and I could hear the Spirit come in. However, I could not get up and not even open my eye-lid but I really wanted to see what was happening with the congregation. There was nothing scary about the experience but I wanted to see. When I first hit the floor, it was as if everybody that ever loved me in my life was standing around me. I could not see them but they seemed all standing around me. I could feel the presence of love. I never felt such love and such security. I had been having some stress and it was locked up in my shoulder and the shoulder hurt constantly. On the floor, I felt fluid leaking out of my shoulder (was not actual fluid) and other things in my shoulder and God healed my shoulder so that I had never again any pain in it.

There is something about the presence of God. It is the difference between you carrying water and the water carrying you. When I got up off the floor, both of my sons came over and said: “Dad, are you all right.” I asked them to help me to my chair. After more than four hours on the floor, his bones were aching. Sitting on my chair, I was like a wet noodle. He asked them to put his hand under his chain and prop up his arm on the chair and then I used my fingers to open the eye-lid of one eye. I wanted to see what God was doing.

I saw people – like a battle-field (about 1600 people). When I was first lying on the floor, I could hear the Spirit of God moving in different parts of the building as people (hundreds at a time) became vocal in response (laughing, groaning). The time by then was about 3pm. Finally, the 350 children of the children’s church marched into the sanctuary. Immediately, hundreds of children’s voices went “Jesus, Jesus”. I had hot tears running down my face. I said: “Lord, even if I grow old to 500 years, I will never forget this sound.”

The first sight of revival I saw was a little girl – below the age of five. She was bare-footed and her mother had been lying on the floor (4pm by now) under the power of the Spirit. The mother was now sitting up. The girl was between her legs. The mother held her around the waist and asked: “Baby, are you all right?” The little girl never moved her eyes from the ceiling. Her face was red with tears. She said: “Mommy, don’t you see them.” “See what?” “The angels in the ceiling holding hands.”

There was a time when I would have been sceptical with that but after God putting me on the floor and making me lift my eye-lid with my fingers, I was different. I asked: “God, what is in this house?” I did not know that it would last five years and go into the nations. I did not know that revival would come again later in Alabama. The only thing I knew was that when we started church on Father’s Day 1995 the church was one way and by the end of the day it was another way.

I got up the floor. I was sweaty. My clothes were a mess. I had been rolling around on a dirty floor. I said to my youngest: “Tell Mama: Let’s go.” He came back: “Mum’s not going.” “What do you mean?” “Well, we have been waiting for God all of these years. Now he’s here, she’s not going in case he’s no longer here by tonight.”

I went ahead and left and be cleaned up for church at night. Nobody else had left but I did. Isn’t that religion? I got home and it was about 4.30pm. The church would start again at 6pm. I got home, took my clothes off, took my socks off, stretched out on my bed for a few minutes. After a while I dozed off and slept for about 20 minutes. I sent my son ahead to go back to church. I would be fine on my own. Big mistake. So after my son left, I tried to get out of my bed but I struggled to do so and I could not get my feet up to put on my socks. I tried many different ways but only managed after some time (10 minutes) with great difficulty.

I drove to church and usually there are people milling around and ushers. This time there is no one there. Nothing stirring – not even a mouse. They are still in the church. I pull up and there are no ushers to greet me. I got out of my car and when I slammed the door, my knees immediately gave way (under the power of God) and I went right down the asphalt in my suit. Doesn’t God have a sense of humour. When the glory of God comes, it does not just come on people. It comes on places. It came on the whole campus. Everyone is in the building but I get it in the parking lot. Now the pastor of the church is crawling on all fours in the parking lot. I crawled to the door, got up on my knees and pushed down the handle. I crawled up the steps and crawled back around the sanctuary – not a creature stirring – but as soon as I get into the sanctuary, I heard a roar – an uninterrupted roar – of praise which had been going for hours evidently. I crawled up the steps by the side of the sanctuary and no one even noticed me because after this day everyone was crawling, crying, whatever.

I crawl up the stairs, sit down in my seat and I am gone again. I did not know what God was about to do. That night we had one of the most awesome services. The visiting evangelist Stephen Hill chose to stay for another night and every night we came back, the power kept increasing. One of the things that I learned is that when the presence and power of God first touches you, you feel like if he gives me more it will kill me but after a while – once you get your sea-legs and learn to stand up under his presence – you realize it was only a drop. It was not even a spoonful. The glory has to come in increments because otherwise you cannot stand it. (John in Revelation needed to be strengthened by an angel.)

We kept going night after night and the nations started coming. Salvations begin to take place. I just never dreamed that something like that would happen in my ministry. When God is ready to move he is not going to move on your terms. He’s going to move on his terms. All kinds of people begin to come. I saw the sinners come. I saw healing take place. I remember one night – whenever the heat of the Lord would come in – it would feel like the sun would come out on a cloudy day – feel heat on your ears and neck – we would know that the Lord was here to heal. People would get up from wheel-chairs. Services would go all night long.

One night I was up on the platform – it was holy chaos – and I heard this woman and she screamed at the top of her voice and I thought: “This better be good.” As I was walking towards her, she was staring at her husband. I looked just in time to see that her husband – Vietnam-vet – who had half his hand blown off had hand being stitched back – with meat filling in – until the hand was fully restored. If we only knew what God can do. What a might God we serve.

 

Don’t shy back from this because ever-increasing glory comes with ever-increasing power and is not always nice and quiet and controllable. We don’t want to be like the people around Moses who saw the thick darkness on the mountain, saw the smoke and lightning, heard the trumpet sounds but – nevertheless – turned their backs on this type of glory because it was not as comfortable as their self-made alternative – the golden calf – a lifeless statue of gold. We want the glory.

As we journey to breakthrough – don’t do introspection. Look to God. If need be, let God speak to you about sin in prayer, through the Word and other Christians but do not self-examine yourself with the declared goal of self-condemnation. We walk in the freedom of the Spirit of God who is always with us and always empowers us to grow at the pace of his gentle wisdom. There is not going to be more than we can handle.

Embrace the life of glory. God is fantastic. There is more to come. Listen again to our basic Bible passage and celebrate and anticipate the every-increasing glory:

 

2 Corinthians 3:6-18: “ ... the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry [of Moses] ... came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? ... how much greater is the glory of that which lasts ...

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

 

Look at him and the glory is going to increase forever. Amen.

 

 



[1] A few pews in front of me, a couple that had recently left Living Grace over issues of spiritual healing with the methods of Eastern religion cosied up to each other and seemed to feel very affirmed.

[2] Mark Stibbe: http://www.fathershousetrust.com/blog/51, 2011: There’s a new book by Rob Bell out and it’s called Love Wins.

In the opening pages, Rob tells us that the main reason for writing his book is because he now no longer believes in the version of the Christian story that he’s heard so often in the past. This version teaches that very few people will go to heaven when they die and that the vast majority of people (billions in fact) will spend the whole of eternity in conscious torment in hell. Rob puts it like this:

“A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better. It’s been clearly communicated to many that this belief is a central truth of the Christian faith and to reject it is, in essence, to reject Jesus. This is misguided, toxic, and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness and joy that our world desperately needs to hear”.

Reading this, it’s hard not to admire Rob’s honesty. Many of us are naturally drawn to a person who asks the difficult questions that many deep down are asking – and which they often feel they don’t have a legitimate forum to explore. Love Wins faces these head on. And bravo for that!

So there is much to honour about Rob’s book.

In fact, let me mention a few things that I particularly like.

For one thing, I agree wholeheartedly that heaven is something we are called to bring to earth right here, right now. I have thought and taught this for years. I am right behind Rob when he seeks to fill the word ‘heaven’ with a more immediate relevance. This I believe is true to the mission of Jesus.

Similarly, I agree that heaven is not something we go up to when we die. I have said and written for a long time that our prospects are more glorious than that. It seems to me that the Bible teaches that we are not going up to heaven when we die. Heaven is coming down to earth at the end of time.

Thirdly, I want to shout ‘Hallelujah’ whenever anyone reinstates the importance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Like Rob, I don’t think this is taught enough. So often we have treated the Resurrection as an afterthought. But on Easter Day, heaven invaded. A new world came into being.

 

So there’s a lot to learn and I think it’s important that people read Rob’s book carefully and respectfully.

At the same time, some readers and reviewers are getting very nervous about Love Wins. Much of this is because they believe that Rob is what’s called a ‘universalist’. Put very simply, Christian ‘universalists’ believe that God’s love will ultimately triumph. Peoples’ hearts will one day melt before the irresistible overtures of the divine love. Everyone and everything will be reconciled to God. All will be saved.

Now there’s a great deal of debate about whether Rob teaches this. I personally don’t believe he does, though at times he sounds as if he does. In addition, Rob is happy to leave certain questions unanswered when others want everything tied up neatly. So, on page 101 (of my iBook edition), Rob asks questions whose answers would resolve pretty well all the issues that are causing concern.

Here they are:

‘Will everybody be saved, or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices?’

Here is Rob’s answer:

‘Those are questions, or more accurately, those are tensions we are free to leave fully intact. We don’t need to resolve them or answer them because we can’t, and so we simply respect them, creating space for the freedom that love requires’.

 

It is really here that the problem lies. Rob argues that we can’t ultimately know if everyone will be saved or not. But others would want to say that we can know, because the Bible teaches that our choices in this life determine our destiny in the life to come – especially our decisions around Jesus.

 

I have just come to the end of writing a daily devotional commentary on the Gospel of John. It is called Every Day with the Father and it will be published in October. I have been challenged time and time again by the way in which human beings are presented with what in the Greek text is called a krisis – a verdict. No one can sit on the fence when it comes to the claims and the challenge of Jesus. Neutrality is impossible. We have to make a decision whether or not we are going to turn from sin and turn to Christ. If we consciously remain in sin and turn away from Christ, the consequences are serious. We miss out on eternal life and God’s righteous judgment remains upon us. If we turn from our sins and turn to Christ, then the door to the Father’s house is opened and we can come running home into his arms of love. We can live life in all its super-abundant fullness (John 10.10).

Now all of this – bizarrely – is found in the same Gospel which emphasizes the Father’s love, and indeed emphasizes it more than any other New Testament book. In the same book that tells us ‘the Father himself loves you dearly’ (John 16.27) we also find this, ‘whoever rejects the Son will not see life; the wrath of God remains upon him’ (John 3.36).

And it’s really here that we cut to the chase. In proclaiming the revelation of God’s love, all of us have to be careful – whether it’s Rob Bell in Love Wins or me in I Am Your Father. We must always remember that according to the Bible God’s love is not just expressed in terms of affection; it is also expressed in terms of anger. This anger is traditionally known as the Father’s wrath and I define that as ‘God’s righteous and measured anger over human sin, demonic wickedness and social injustice’.

 

Not long ago I was standing in a building in Auschwitz looking at all the names of the members of the Stibbe family who had been deported from the Netherlands in World War Two and killed in the Nazi Concentration camps. I stared with tear-soaked eyes at one name in particular – Jonah Stibbe, six years old, who had been gassed to death on his first day at Sobibor concentration camp in Eastern Europe. I can safely say that at that moment I felt the Father’s wrath rising up within me. And I know to this day that this was just as much an expression of his love as anything else I have experienced in my Christian life.

Those of us who proclaim the revelation of the Father’s love have to be very careful. We cannot just focus on his affection and neglect his anger. We have to focus on both. The Father’s affection and the Father’s anger are both expressions of his divine and perfect love. If we stress affection alone, we will love him but not fear him. If we stress his anger alone we will end up fearing him but not loving him. If we stress both together we will have a healthy love and a healthy fear of the Lord. And this will be the beginning of true and lasting wisdom.

 

I would love to think that our heavenly Abba will one day cause every heart to melt and that everyone will be rescued from his righteous and measured anger over human sin, demonic wickedness and social injustice. But I’m not sure I see that in the Father’s book, the Bible. I’m not sure that Rob sees that either, because like me he knows that the Father respects our choices, however destructive and disastrous those may be.

In addition, I’d love to believe that countless thousands of people before Jesus (and indeed since) have discovered Jesus in some mysterious way or other within their own pre-Christian or non-Christian contexts. In the end we simply cannot know where people will stand before God on the last day. But I do suspect we will be continuously surprised by who we find in heaven and constantly undone by Abba’s amazing grace.

In this year when we are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible, let’s do what Rob Bell has done. Let’s go back to the Father’s book. Let’s study for ourselves those passages that Rob quotes and let’s study them diligently, in their original context. Let’s be open about our uncertainties and let’s be ready to embrace ambiguity where ambiguity is justified. Let’s be honest with each other and real as a church.

Rob’s book encourages us to ask the difficult and sensitive questions – questions like,

‘What about those who have never heard the Gospel?’

‘Do people get another chance after death to respond to God’s love?’

‘Does a loving Father really consign certain people to an eternity of suffering in the fires of hell?’

That is certainly something I respect and appreciate in Rob, even if I sometimes disagree with his conclusions. I encourage you to read the book with an open mind. Discuss it with other Christians. And may you find when you do that love wins in your life too.