Archive for the ‘Deeper Life’ Category

Growing up Pentecostal I always held intellectually to various aspects of Pentecostal doctrine. Of course most notably were the doctrines that distinguish Pentecostalism from other theological camps. Among these doctrines are our beliefs about Baptism in the Holy Spirit (BHS) with initial physical evidence (IPE) of speaking in tongues (SIT). And of course this leads to the belief that the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit through the Church at large and individual believers in particular did not cease, but instead has continued to the present time and will continue until the return of Christ.

It’s a fine set of doctrine that I hold to today. But over the years I have grown concerned about the discrepancy between our doctrine and our practice. That is, our orthodoxy is not translating to sound orthopraxy.

It does precious little good to believe intellectually that the Holy Spirit works today in a way parallel with His work in the book of Acts unless that intellectual belief is translated into practical application. As debate about the nature of the work of the Holy Spirit increases, even in some of our most dedicated Pentecostal fellowships, I am led the the belief that the cause of many’s doubt about the present-day work of the Holy Spirit is rooted in being told they should expect to see Him move but never actually seeing it happen.

In such a circumstance one is led to believe that either the doctrine itself was wrong, or one’s experience is wrong. Given the vividness of personal experience, it is generally the doctrine that is discarded.

But this has led me to a problem. For I believe the Bible is inspired, inerrant, and infallible. What it teaches is true. And having considered arguments from every perspective, and doing much study on my own, I’m led to the conviction that the Bible teaches the Holy Spirit should be just as active in the Church today as He was in the first century. Thus the problem lies not with our doctrine of the Holy Spirit, but with our ability to live it out in practicality.

Leonard Ravenhill once commented that one of these days somebody is going to pick up the Bible, believe it, act on it, and put the rest of us to shame. I have often wondered what the result would be if we simply acted in faith on God’s Word.

Having read the history of my beloved Pentecostal movement I believe such a conviction is what led Charles Parham to challenge his students in Topeka to search the Scriptures regarding evidence for Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Surely we cannot believe that the Holy Spirit moved so powerfully just one hundred years ago only to let the Church wallow in spiritual stagnancy in the present time. Surely we cannot believe that God has stopped working.

Yet we will continue to go to services, simply going through the motions ritualistically while we generally lack the supernatural and transformative work of the Holy Spirit. I’m afraid that most people claiming to be believers have very low expectations regarding the Church, and outside of the work of the Holy Spirit it is only logical to expect this. Without the Holy Spirit the Church is not a living entity, but is instead a corpse of spiritual deadness.

At any given point I believe we are just one prayer and one act of faith away from seeing the Church rise from it’s dullness into the vibrant Body of Christ it is meant to be. The time is now for us to act by the authority of Christ, to believe that we can and must do what He says we can do, that we can the Body He has called us to be. We cannot put our faith in new strategies or methodologies. These are but tools to be used by a living Body, they cannot bring such a Body to life. For that we need the Holy Spirit working through Spirit-filled men and women.

With love,
Josiah

“If the spiritual view of the world is the correct one, as Christianity boldly asserts that it is, then for every one of us heaven is more important than earth and eternity more important than time. If Jesus Christ is who He claimed to be; if He is what the glorious company of the apostles and the noble army of martyrs declared that He is; if the faith which the holy church throughout all the world doth acknowledge is the true faith of God, then no man has any right to dedicate his life to anything that can burn or rust or rot or die. No man has any right to give himself completely to anyone but Christ nor to anything but prayer.” -A.W. Tozer

“”I admit without a blush that this chapter is intentionally provocative and acerbic. I am tired of complacent Christianity. I am declaring “open season” on our smug, spiritual complacency and amnesia. We would rather squat in our rubber-foamed pews and hear a yet more pleasant dissertation on Psalm 23 for the one-thousandth time than hear a man fresh from audience with the eternal God (a man, whose sweat-bedewed brow indicates the volcano in his soul) cry with broken sobs, “Who will rise up for me against the evildoers? or who will stand up for me against the workers of iniquity?” (Ps. 94:16).”” -Leonard Ravenhill, Revival God’s Way

The past several weeks have been very challenging for me. There have been many things to consider, and words fail to express the totality of the conviction I’ve been dealing with.

Let me be very upfront: If Jesus is the Son of God; if He is Prophet, Priest, and King; if He is the Son of Man; if He is the Word by which all thing were made; if He really is our Savior, then no goal outside of God Himself is worthy of human effort, and Jesus has the absolute unfettered right to dictate the terms whereby we shall live our lives.

No more obfuscating what we believe about Jesus. I agree with C.S. Lewis, Jesus was either Lord, liar, or lunatic. If He’s a liar or lunatic we are justified in disregarding Him; however, if He’s Lord then our present response to that reality is completely and entirely inadequate.

If Jesus is God how can the transformation in our lives as a result of dedicating ourselves to Him be any less then the transformation from Saul to Paul? Oughtn’t we also go from chief of sinners to greatest missionary? If the same God that called Abram has called us shouldn’t we also drop what we’re doing and live according to eternal purposes seeking to advance a Kingdom not made with human hands?

If Jesus is God do not our worldly accomplishments and temporary achievements seem very insignificant in light of eternity? As much as I like having a 4.0 GPA semester after semester is it not incredibly inconsequential in light of 4+ billion people living not recognizing their Creator and only true Sovereign?

What I’m saying is this: Jesus is Lord, He is the Bridegroom establishing the Church as His bride. But far from being infatuated with the incomprehensible love lavished upon us, we’ve acted like whores. Think about it, what causes marital dissatisfaction? A lack of communication, the drowning out of romantic intimacy by other cares, a lack of time spent together. What causes dissatisfaction in Christ’s relationship with the Church? More or less the same things (albeit applied differently).

I’m very much afraid the overwhelming majority of us Christians today have been duped. Think about it, we pray about what college to go to instead of what country to go to. We pray about what Church to attend rather then what church to start. We think careers are an end rather then a means to a far greater end then retirement. We shape God according to our preconceived mold and construct rather then allowing God to shape the terms whereby our lives will be run.

The most important and outrageous claim of Christianity is that Jesus physically rose from the dead and that this proves beyond any reasonable doubt that He is the Son of God; and from this claim it logically follows that we surrender the whole of our lives to Jesus Christ and that we live exclusively for Him and His purposes. The example of the Apostles and early Christians leaves us with no other rational conclusion.

Upon the acceptance of Christ, consider everything the Apostles gave up: 1. The sacrificial system they had practiced the whole of their lives, 2. Their firm belief that it was blasphemous for any man to claim deity, 3. Their recognition of the Sabbath, 4. The approval of the Jewish religious authorities they had always trusted and followed, 5. Their professions (tax collectors, fishermen, etc…), 6. Their lives.

One of our problems is we think giving up our lives refers exclusively to martyrdom. Let me share a sentiment with you: Every single Christian martyr throughout history was dead long before they were beheaded (or crucified or burned or whatever). Dead to what? The flesh, the world’s way of thinking, sin, temporal values.  When Paul lost his head he went from life with Christ to life with Christ. Nero hardly killed Paul, he coroneted him into God’s hall of fame.

I learned many things during the Facebook Fast. For a whole month Facebook was dead to me, and in a sense the people I can’t contact otherwise were also dead to me. After one month I’ve come back, in some ways reluctantly (in other ways, happy to have my virtual pulpit back). But that same sense of deadness ought to be what I feel towards everything that stands in between God and me. Everything that is temporary ought to be dead to me.

I write not as one who has achieved, but as one who is convicted. My reputation is not dead to me. My personal ambitions are not dead to me. Pointless entertainment is not dead to me. Lust is not dead to me. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. All these things are but rubbish and poo compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord! When will I go beyond mentally realizing that to actually living it?

“There’s a cry in my heart For Your glory to fall For Your presence to fill up my senses,  There’s a yearning again A thirst for discipline A hunger for things that are deeper Could You take me beyond? Could You carry me through? If I open my heart? Could I go there with You? (For I’ve been here before But I know there’s still more Oh, Lord, I need to know You) For what do I have If I don’t have You, Jesus? What in this life Could mean any more? You are my rock You are my glory You are the lifter Of my head Lifter of this head”  -Starfield

His humble servant- Josiah

Drastic

Posted: July 23, 2009 by Josiah Batten in Christian living, Deeper Life, Revival

This was originally written and published on Facebook, but it applies here as well:

Sometimes I look at the model established by Biblical characters and just wonder… Think about it, some of these people went to incredible lengths to advance the Kingdom of Heaven. These men and women took drastic action in obedience to God and saw Him move in incredible ways on their behalf.

Just to look at a few examples consider:

Hannah: Who cried out to God for a child and then dedicated her son to Him. Her son anointed the first kings of Israel.

Josiah: Who tore down all the temples, shrines, and places of worship that were dedicated to pagan gods and goddesses.

Elijah: Who shamed the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. God consumed Elijah’s sacrifice with fire from Heaven after it had been drenched in water.

Peter and John: Who courageously spoke the Gospel in the Temple before all the leaders of Israel and the Jewish leaders and, after being threatened, prayed for boldness.

Apollos: Who publicly proclaimed the Gospel, refuting the Jews and proving from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah.

Paul: Who God used to raise a dead man, heal numerous sick people, and who proclaimed the Gospel after being stoned, whipped, beaten, unlawfully imprisoned, shipwrecked, etc…

I could go on with many other examples, but I think you get the point. These were men and women driven to advance God’s Kingdom against all odds. As Martin Luther King Jr. points out, they were too God-inspired to be astronomically intimidated.

What I often consider today is what will it take for all of us to have a similar holy ambition (to steal a phrase from John Piper)? How many of us are chomping at the bit to shame the prophets of Baal, relying not on human strength but on the God who answers by fire (obviously Baal worship is not popular any more, but dedication to similar things is equivalent to this type of idolatry)? Think about it, we’ve been given a sacred mission, a holy task, an ancient command of preaching the Gospel in the entire world, making disciples of all nations. This is no small order.

An old preacher (who’s name slips my memory at the moment) once said that the only power that can change the course of world history is the power of the Holy Spirit released through Spirit-filled men (and women). Perhaps we’ve mistakenly believed that God moved mightily in the past but now, when more people then ever before in more places then ever before facing more challenges then ever before need to hear the Gospel, God just quit working.

Perhaps the burden is on us to do something dangerous for the Kingdom of God. Maybe we need to start considering drastic measures: Things like getting up early to prayer walk our campus everyday, things like open air preaching on busy street corners, things like getting all of the Christians in your dorm to get together (be they Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, etc…) to fervently pray for your peers. Maybe we should pray specifically, rather then the vague “God do something big” specific stuff like “God, draw every member of the football team to You.” If reaching a campus requires us to pray together for 6 hours every day will we do it (I’m not mandating that we do, just asking a question)? If God tells us to do something crazy like “Go tell that complete stranger that looks they want to hurt you that I love them” will we do it? If God tells us to stop dating, will we? If He tells us to start courting, will we? If He tells us not to watch any television or to give up Facebook, would we do it?

I’m not suggesting that God mandates any of this. Obviously I’m using Facebook right now for something that I don’t think God wants me to give up. But God does mandate our dedication. And history has shown that those to whom God gives the greatest vision are those through whom He works most amazingly. But let me be clear: God is looking for dedicated and passionate people. If God thought it best to use unthinking robots He could use stones to accomplish His purposes. But in His infinite wisdom He’s chosen people, thinking, breathing, passionate people.

Our expectations are too low. I’m tired of reading about how God moved in the past, or what God did in some other city. I want to see that here, in the present, in my city. And until like-minded men and women of God plead the same request we’re going to remain exactly where we are. There is absolutely no reason God should be unable to work mightily in Fairmont, or at Fairmont State, or at WVU. If anything I would say God most wants to move here. Why wouldn’t God want to shake the number one party school in the country? Why wouldn’t He want to turn the world upside down through behind-the-times, backwards, straight from the woods, small-town West Virginians (I’m looking at this through the eyes of common Americans, most of whom don’t even know WV is a state)? Why wouldn’t God want to do something now when social critics and atheists and secularists are saying Christianity is going to die?

We can’t do what God has called us to do on our own. But when we seek God, when the Spirit ignites our prayers such that God’s presence makes us tremble, when we weep in sorrow for our sins and the sins of our nation, when the convicting and purifying fire of the Spirit is manifest and the hearts and lives of every person in the Church; then the prophets of Baal will be shamed, we will be filled with holy vision and passion, the pagan idols of secular society will be torn down and spread over graves, people will be touched by God’s healing rain, and the Gospel will advance so quickly and so uncontrollably that every power of hell on this planet will be shaken and principalities will tremble.

But none of this can happen until we, in holy discontent, realize that things are not as they should be and we are responsible. By far the greatest sin in my life is knowing everything I do about the Gospel of Jesus Christ but somehow being able to avoid shouting it from my rooftop. Without a doubt I need to repent of that long and hard, but once the Spirit’s flame is rekindled in me I need to get out of my prayer closet and start proclaiming the Gospel; knowing that God will verify His Word not through my wise words or persuasive techniques, but by demonstrating His power.

It is for this day I long and pray.

“If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our bodies. If they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees. Let no one go there unwarned and unprayed for.” -C.H. Spurgeon

“‘Not called!’ did you say? ‘Not heard the call,’ I think you should say. Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin. Put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity, and listen to its pitiful wail for help. Go stand by the gates of hell, and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father’s house and bid their brothers and sisters, and servants and masters not to come there. And then look Christ in the face, whose mercy you have professed to obey, and tell him whether you will join heart and soul and body and circumstances in the march to publish his mercy to the world.” -William Booth

“The history of missions is the history of answered prayer. From Pentecost to the Haystack meeting in New England and from the days when Robert Morrison landed in China to the martyrdom of John and Betty Stam, prayer has been the source of power and the secret of spiritual triumph.” -Samuel M. Zwemer

God bless!
Josiah

Questioning Low Expectations

Posted: June 22, 2009 by Josiah Batten in Christian living, Deeper Life, The Church

My hope is that in the course of my writings here my readers have come to realize that things are not as they should be.  The status quo of the Church does not align with God’s plan and purpose for the Church.  This conviction sparked this blog.

The problem is not one solely of ecclesiastical practice.  I certainly believe the way the Church functions could be improved.  However, poor ecclesiastical practice is a symptom of  a larger problem.  I’ve gone to great pains on this blog to point out the various symptoms because a treatment will only be taken as seriously as the problem is; and without symptoms we won’t believe there is a problem.

Our spiritual experience should be much greater then it is, the events of the Book of Acts should be the norm in the Church; today we view them as the exception.  The American Church has been shaped by cultural standards rather then God’s Word; we implement business plans over prayer meetings and advertising campaigns over Biblical discipleship.  We accept pluralism, cultural dating practice, superficial definitions of “success”, and thousands of wrong beliefs about God; my friends, “I submit to you that this is unChristian” (Paris Reidhead).

A.W. Tozer wrote a book called “The Knowledge of the Holy”, and he proposed that our poor spiritual state was a direct result of our poor conceptions about God.  I believe Tozer was correct.  Weak churches, irrelevant preaching, and ineffectual ministries are the result of a weak, irrelevant, and ineffectual god.  Such a god is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Such a god did not part the Red Sea.  Such a god did not take human form, die on a cross bearing our sins, raise from the dead, and empower his disciples by his spirit.  The only logical conclusion is that at some point the Christian Church ceased being the Church of Jesus Christ and started serving something/someone else.  We surrendered an all-knowing, all-powerful, loving, merciful, just, sovereign God for a weak one that doesn’t require much committment or attention.

Our thoughts about God are the most important thoughts we’ll ever have because what we do follows directly from what we believe and nothing influences what we believe more then our conception of God does.  I believe at the present time there are two great misconceptions about God inside the American Church.  One is legalism, the other is liberalism.  I shall deal with these in turn and then examine the correct way:

Legalism: Legalism is the philosophy that proposes the entirety of our relationship with God is contained within doing the right things and having the right beliefs.  If we don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery, etc… then we’ll have a good relationship with God and everything will go well.  In many ways it’s an attempt to earn entrance into Heaven.  The main problem is that this is a human attempt at a divine achievement.  While a legalist won’t verbally say “I believe God is irrelevant and unpowerful”, he or she may live that way.  Consider that to believe good works brings us into relationship with God necessitates a belief that man is completely capable of acting in accordance to God’s will without God’s help thus rendering God irrelevent.

Liberalism: Theological liberalism is the philosophy that proposes the entirety of the Christian life lays in a relationship with God that allows all moral restraints to be cast aside.  It is, essentially, the opposite of legalism.  Oftentimes theological liberals will say things like “I still do X Sin, but it’s all about relationship with God”.  The problem here is that God is viewed as a pansy completely incapable of working in individuals to overcome sin and help them live according to His perfect standard.  Biblical moral commands are interpreted through the lens of what the individual wants, not what God orders.

The solution is in a truly Biblical approach in which God and the individual have a deep and intimate relationship that is manifested in good works.  Good works are a necessary evidence of the relationship.  For example, if I know a best friend loves someone dearly, and I deliberately offend that person it will have a negative effect on my relationship with my friend.  What I do becomes a reflection of the relationship I’m in, and the quality of that relationship is determined by my conception (be it accurate or inaccurate) of that friend.

Thus my proposition for the Church is that we set our conception of and relationship with God right.  We have to get the big things in order before other things can happen.  If we want to see God move mightily among His people, if we want to see the Holy Spirit flood our fellowships, if we want to see Jesus exalted as Lord of all, then we must have a proper relationship with God that molds us to think properly about Him.

I’m tired of going to Church and singing “This is a Church on fire” knowing full-well that this is not a Church on fire.  I’m tired of leading people in singing “How Great Thou Art” every Sunday and that sense of God’s greatness not carrying through and shaping our lives.  I’m tired of reading about the Sermon on the Mount and hearing all sorts of “Amens” and “Preach its” but seeing lives conformed completely to worldly patterns.

God’s purpose for the Church is not easy, and it is not safe.  Radical fellowship will look odd to nominal Christians and non-believers.  Exuberant worship will scare some people.  Aggressive and unrelenting evangelism will offend the relativists and pluralists.  Biblical discipleship will upset the Ruler-of-the-Synagogue.  These are the things God has called us to do.  A deeper and more real spiritual experience will start with prayer, with a closer and ever-growing relationship with Jesus Christ, with obedience and submission to God in every single aspect of our lives.  The only hope for the billions of unreached people throughout the world is that we start to get it right, that we give up our fluff Gospel and spiritual complacency and decide to truly follow Jesus wherever He may lead.

“I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
No turning back, no turning back.
The world behind me, the cross before me;
The world behind me, the cross before me;
The world behind me, the cross before me;
No turning back, no turning back.
Though none go with me, still I will follow;
Though none go with me, still I will follow;
Though none go with me, still I will follow;
No turning back, no turning back.”

God bless

Joey

Holiness, Hype, and Hypocrisy

Posted: May 8, 2009 by Josiah Batten in Christian living, Deeper Life, Revival

Often times when we think of revival we have images of big tent meetings, massive excitement and unbridled passion.  There’s nothing wrong with those things, in fact I think a certain level of excitement and passion is good and necessary.  However, we must avoid equating holiness with hype.

I was born in a place that still has campmeetings every year.  I mean old-fashioned campmeetings with hell-fire preaching, hammond organs, and accordions.  I love visiting the campmeeting when I can (I now live about 1,000 miles south of where it takes place).  The worship is great, there are normally phenomenal preachers, and I see lots of old friends.  And it’s amazing to see so many churches working together.

But I know what goes on behind the scenes.  I know that many of those people who will run the aisles and jump up and down during services are the same ones who vote out their pastor every four years.  As was the case in Nehemiah, it’s often the Tobiah living in the Temple that’s the real problem.  What may, at face value, appear to be a great move of God is often just hype.  That’s not to say the campmeeting is bad, I’ve been richly blessed by it; but we can’t equate hype with holiness.

Thus, it is my belief that revival shouldn’t be viewed as an event.  We need to stop saying “we’re having revival services”.  People may just stand and listen to God in a service and be greatly blessed; and they may live more in accordance with the Word and will of God than anybody who runs the aisles or shouts loud “amens!” during the service (again, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with those things).  Revival is seen when God works among His people and His people begin to be made perfect.  It involves not hype, but deep repentance and a turning away from sin; it involves a personal dedication to the purposes of God.  I believe there may be a whole generation alive today that is living in a state of revival, but is ignored because this hasn’t produced the excitement common in the past.  Trust me, the excitement is there; but it’s manifested in a personal and passionate pursuit of God rather than in shouting from pulpits and storming across stages.

The passion of God’s people is not measured by the movement of their bodies, but by the work done in their hearts and through their lives.  I’ll take one person dedicated to pursuing God over 1,000 people who are simply pew jumpers any day.

Inevitably, among those dedicated people there is theological growth.  As A.W. Tozer often said, nothing less then a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.  Among the hyped up hypocrites there’s an imitation of theological depth.  Don’t get me wrong, they may have “deep” Bible studies and the preaching may be accurate; but when it comes to living it out it doesn’t happen.  In fact, it’s the theological knowledge coupled with an inconsistent life that makes such people hypocrites.  Now the dedicated may not be able to define prevenient grace, and they may not know how to conduct a word study; but they get into the Word and they live it out to the best of their understanding, trusting that God will work in them to will and act according to His good purpose (Philippians 2:13).  Perhaps such believers are the generation of those who seek God.

“Who may ascend the hill of the LORD ?
Who may stand in his holy place?

He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to an idol
or swear by what is false.

He will receive blessing from the LORD
and vindication from God his Savior.

Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, O God of Jacob.
Selah”  -Psalm 24:3-6, NIV

God bless!

Josiah

1 O God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.  2 I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
3 Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
4 I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
5 My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.”  Psalm 63:1-5, NIV
I want to ask you one of the most profound questions we’re capable of entertaining.  What do you think about God?

Truthfully, consider that.  How you answer that will be the greatest determinant of your behavior.  If you don’t seek God, why don’t you?  I know for me it’s because I become narrowly focused and forget what’s really important.  But God says He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (see Hebrews 11).  If we truly believe God rewards us when we seek Him, then how can we not seek Him? If I believe there’s a treasure hidden somewhere, I’m digging it up.  The greater the treasure, the more effort I’m willing to exert to reach it.

Now consider this:  God is infinitely great!  He is eternally good.  He’s incomprehensibly loving.  He’s all-powerfully merciful.  He’s infinitely just.  God is beautiful, He’s magnificent, He’s majestic, He’s glorious.  In light of that, how can we not seek Him?
I believe that if we truly conceive of God in such a way, it will be impossible for us to avoid seeking Him.  However, and I speak from experience, since we do not exert much effort in seeking God, I must conclude it’s because we do not conceive of Him in that way.
A.W. Tozer said that distorted ideas about God soon rot the religion in which they appear.  David said God’s love is better than life.  If that’s true, what should our priorities be?  If God is as good as David describes Him in Psalm 63 (among other Psalms), then shouldn’t our lives radically reflect that God is our treasure?

I don’t say this as one who is perfect.  I don’t know any body’s status regarding their treasure hunt for God.  I have probably failed in worse ways then many of you in this respect.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.

“If Jesus Christ is who He claimed to be; if He is what the glorious company of the apostles and the noble army of martyrs declared that He is; if the faith which the holy church throughout all the world doth acknowledge is the true faith of God, then no man has any right to dedicate his life to anything that can burn or rust or rot or die. No man has any right to give himself completely to anyone but Christ nor to anything but prayer.”  -A.W. Tozer, “On Breeding Spotted Mice”, in Man:  The Dwelling Place of God

God bless!
Josiah

P.S.  -You may enjoy these videos:


And this book by A.W. Tozer:  http://www.worldinvisible.com/library/tozer/5j00.0010/5j00.0010.c.htm  (Go to the bottom and click on “List of Books” for a free library of Christian classics!)

In Ezra 3 we see something very exciting.  The altar is rebuilt!

What’s so important about the altar?  Everything.  First, it’s a symbol of holiness, of consecration.  The altar is set apart for God’s use and His purposes.  It’s sacred.  Leonard Ravenhill always asserted that revival changes the moral climate.  Certainly there is a paradigm shift between the moral climate going into Babylonian captivity and the moral climate coming out of captivity.  God’s people had stopped being His people and they were punished.  But as they returned they were re-consecrated.

So often we think about holiness as this unattainable standard we shall never reach.  And certainly there is a moral standard that comes with holiness.  But we shouldn’t view holiness as drudgery and something that depresses us when we think about it.  We should view holiness for what it is, being set apart for God’s purposes.  Of course there’s a high standard that comes with that.  As Americans we expect that our ambassadors will not get drunk and assault Britian’s Foreign Secretary.  Likewise, as Christ’s ambassadors God calls us to a similar standard.  God has a plan and a purpose for us, and to let anything so temporary and unsatisfying as sin come in between God and His plan and us should break our heart.

God has amazing plans for us, He desires a relationship with us.  It would be foolish to think that relationship doesn’t come with standards.  If we treat boyfriends and girlfriends with specific standards, if we don’t sleep around because of our commitment to them how much more should we strive to live up to God’s standard?  It’s not like God doesn’t help us, He’s readily accessible and constantly basking us with His love and grace and mercy.  Some use that as an excuse to sin, I see it as the most compelling reason not to sin.  It is the people I love the most and that love me the most that I am least willing to offend, who’s standards I most desire to uphold.  Christ’s love is the main motivation not to sin.  Recieving grace I do not deserve makes me desire to live by the standard from this point forward.

The altar is also used for sacrifice.  We talked about this briefly in Part 3, but we’ll go deeper here.  In Verse 3 we are told that they began offering burnt offerings.  According to the Fire Bible the burnt offering was a “voluntary act of worship”, it provided for atonement for unintentional sin; it was an “expression of devotion, commitment, and complete surrender to God” (Fire Bible Student Edition, 163).

Think about that, it was a voluntary act of worship.  Today we no longer have to use bulls, rams, doves or pigeons for our worship.  But we ought to worship.  What is worship?  It’s acknowledging God, it’s our response to God.  In the New Testament the most common word for worship, proskuneo, refers to a dog licking its master’s hand.  Surely this is an excellent example of devotion, commitment, and surrender.

Perhaps we think too small of God.  As A.W. Tozer said, false concepts of God soon rot the religion in which they appear.  If we truly understood the depths of God’s love, the sufficiency and supremacy of Christ, the glory of God, God’s amazing goodness, His nearness and transcendence, His holiness, His justice, His mercy, His omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence then every time we worshiped we would go wild, we would fall to our knees, we would echo the words of the old hymn:  “I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene, and wonder how He could love me, a sinner condemned, unclean.  O how marvelous!  O how wonderful!  And my song shall ever be, o how marvelous!  O how wonderful!  Is my Savior’s love for me!”.  As Paul Washer says, our lives should be a contradiction.  We should have a theology that’s deep, almost academic; but when we worship we should go wild (if we’re dignified).

Of course if we truly thought of God this way we would have no excuse, we would have no right to give ourselves to anyone but Christ nor to anything but prayer (A.W. Tozer).  It would require complete and total commitment, 100% devotion.  No more whoring with the world.  We must be God’s and God’s alone.

This brings us to a third notable point regarding the altar, it’s a sign of the presence of God.  We underestimate God.  All the time I hear “we have to sin every day”.  That’s a lie.  Only someone who’s god is powerless must sin everyday.  A god incapable of overcoming sin is no god at all.  A god incapable of relating to and intervening for its creation is no god at all.

The fact is we can live in close and intimate communion with God, and we should.  But so often we don’t.  I’m just as guilty of this as any of my readers.  I dare say some of my readers are probably less guilty of this then myself.  But what an egregious sin to neglect God, to neglect time with Him.  To ignore His presence with us each and every day.  This sin causes us to miss out on a 1,000 blessings.

We spend so much time doing other things, watching television or movies or whatever.  How many of us would say to a girlfriend or boyfriend “I won’t be spending time with you tonight, I’m watching Seinfeld“?  None of us.  To compromise we might invite that person to watch Seinfeld with us.  In relationship to God we say “Oh He’s always with us”.  Absolutely!  But that means two things, 1.  We should be following Him, not making Him follow us and 2.  Knowing He’s always with me I certainly don’t want to do anything that He finds offensive.

To say “I don’t need to spend time praying because I do everything with God” is like saying “I don’t need to spend time with my girlfriend because I invite her over when I watch porn”.  It’s ridiculous and it demonstrates the contempt for God that many these days live daily.   We haven’t crucified the world, we’ve brought it out of the ditch, cleaned just enough to where we can’t see the dirt, and we’ve slept with it.

Now the last thing I want to point out is this:  All of this rebuilding happens in a community of unity.  Read the first verses of Ezra 3 again, all the Israelites assembled as one man and together they undertook this rebuilding.  My campus pastor often points out that Christianity is a communal faith.  Granted, we all make our personal decision to follow Christ, but we grow and spiritually mature in community, in the whole Body of Believers.  In Colossians 2:2-3 Paul says he desires for these Christians to “have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (NIV).

The interesting thing is Paul hinges that on the believers at Colasse and Laodicea being encouraged in heart and united in love.  Outside of the unity of the Body of Believers we do not have the full riches of complete understanding, we miss out on fully knowing Christ and all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden in Him.  There is no such thing as lone ranger Christianity.  Even in China where the Church faces severe persecution they are dedicated to gathering together in fellowship, being united in love (I don’t just say this, this is based directly on the account of a Chinease student).

If we want the Church to be built up, if we desire to truly grow in our faith, if we want to grow in our knowledge of God we must unite ourselves in love, consecrate ourselves to God’s purposes and sacrificially dedicate ourselves to Him as we live a lifestyle of worship ever conscious of God’s nearness and presence in our lives.

God bless!

Josiah