I was preaching in an Assembly of God Church in Nagaland (far NW Myanmar), a denomination which, like many others e.g. Methodists, Salvation Army, was birthed in revival. Unfortunately, like so many churches across the world today it’s rare to find an expression of spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:7-11 ESV etc.) within the progress of the regular Sunday meetings.
Christians in the Evangelical Churches of Myanmar love reading the Bible (Internationally, “Evangelical” commonly includes Pentecostal.), praying and singing all at once.
They are comfortable with giving testimony in meetings and are committed to evangelism and mission. This is an inspiration for someone accustomed to the relative dullness of Western Christianity, but on my third trip to the country, I was confronted with a massive spiritual roadblock to the maturing of the Church.
I had just finished a lengthy sermon on how when the Church is “filled with the Spirit” and allows the “Word of God to dwell richly” in its midst1)See Biblical References Eph 5:18 ESV; Col 3:16 ESV the power and presence of the glory of God is manifested.
At the conclusion of the address, I encouraged the people to wait upon the Lord and bring forth words of prophecy, wisdom, knowledge, tongues and interpretation, scripture, spiritual song and so on.
Suddenly we hit a spiritual “brick wall” and the people seemed to have no idea what to do.
They seemed utterly leaderless.
My translator did what he knew best and tried to lead the people in a song, which they would have joined in heartily if the technology hadn’t, unusually, broken down. So the meeting ended with a bit of a whimper.
I was quite confounded over what was happening behind their stunned silence and went away to pray about the underlying spiritual realities of the situation. By the next meeting, I had a very different angle on the dynamic of revival.
For some reason there was a section of my Word-Spirit sermon notes that I had completely skipped and it was directly relevant to the crisis confronting us.
The single thing that blocks any sort of testimony to Jesus, including words of wisdom, knowledge and prophecy, is fear.
Paul is adamant, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Tim 1:7 ESV), “you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear” (Rom 8:14 ESV); fear blocks revival.
This might sound harsh, but as someone who in my pre-Christian days knew paralysing fear, literally not being able to move, I believe this to be true.
Those filled with the Word and Spirit are free from being possessed by fear and freely speak of the things of the Lord2)See Biblical References Eph 5:18-19 ESV; Col 3:16 ESV cf. 1 Cor 14:26 ESV.
Scripture explains clearly the foundational dynamic of fear prohibiting testimony; “fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18 ESV).
Those who fear anticipate painful judgement by God. After taking Satan’s false testimony into themselves that Adam and Eve feared divine displeasure and judgement and hid from the Lord (Gen 3:8 ESV).
The fearful always hide, and usually in silence; just like the quiet in congregations (not from the platform) when it comes to speaking out the word of the Lord. But what sort of love releases people from fear-induced passivity and silence?
John provides a clear answer.
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation/atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10 ESV). The measure of the reality of God’s love to penetrate into our lives is the cross and its forgiving power.
Those who know that God keeps no record of unforgiven sin3)See Biblical References Jer 31:34 ESV; Mic 7:18-19 ESV can be fearless in his presence and so in the presence of others.
If the Lord is able “to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 1: 24 ESV) then fearlessness before others are the new normal.
John Wesley famously said, “Give me one hundred men who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God… they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon the earth.”
In one of our meetings in Nagaland, a young woman gave indelible testimony about why she refused to compromise before unbelievers; “I only fear God who made everything, and my parents who God gave me.”
If fear is our foundational problem we need to revisit our heart convictions about the gospel.
I remember asking my students; “Will all your sins be exposed for everyone to see on the Day of Judgement?”
They tended to go quiet at this point; then I gave them what I believe is the correct answer4)See Biblical References 1 Cor 3:13 ESV; 1 Cor 4:5 ESV; 2 Cor 5:10 ESV. “All created beings and God himself will witness all your sins on open display, as fully forgiven sins.” Sins absolutely free from the sting of shame and guilt’s witness of judgement. This is glorious.
I was preaching in this same church in Nagaland about our fear of rejection and started to share about Jesus and the woman caught in the act of adultery in John 8.
The Pharisees wanted him to agree to her punishment by stoning, but Jesus said, “ vs.7 “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” ”
When the legalists had all left he turned to the woman, “ vs.10“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”vs.11She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” ” (John 8: 7, 10-11 ESV).
How do you think this woman felt when she heard these words of Jesus, when preaching this I really experienced what I am about to say, “She felt like she was in heaven.” And under such an experience of divine liberation, there was no way she was going to sin again.
When Luther first had a revelation of God’s justifying righteousness he said, “I felt that I was altogether born again and the very gates of paradise opened up before me.” Justified in Christ we are all in that inexpressibly wonderful heavenly position!
Don’t be Mistaken
I think that we fear if we speak out for the Lord in the church we might make a mistake and be painfully disciplined by God, or even “worse” by those in authority. So we play it safe and keep quiet. But a mistake shouldn’t be given the status of an intentional transgression.
As someone who was terrified of my father for years because he gave me a belting as a small child for something, I couldn’t even intend to do wrong this difference is really important. I think our fear of the consequences of accidentally “sinning” often overpowers our fear of God.
Those who in their natural understanding fear to sin will be paralysed in testifying to Jesus5)See Biblical References John 9:22 ESV; John 12:42 ESV but those who truly fear God (cf. John 11:3 ESV) will be powerfully liberated to be a voice for Christ in the Church. vs.5 “for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” vs.6So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” ” (Heb 13:5-6 ESV). All this raises an important question, “Is fear a sin?”
Fear is a feeling and Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane certainly feared the ordeal that was coming (Mark 14:32-37 ESV); fear as such is not a sin. Fear is only a sin if it stops you testifying to Jesus, and fear didn’t block Jesus testifying to his Father; “in his testimony before Pontius Pilate (Jesus) made the good confession,” (1 Tim 6:13 ESV). The sting of fear as anticipation of punishment has been taken away in the death of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 15:56 ESV)
I remember being in quite a large pastors meeting and attendees were given an opportunity to make a response at the end of the main presentations. I was the second person to do this; the opinion of the first witness had just been dismissed. I proceeded to say that there was a foundational problem in all the presentations.
Not unexpectedly my point of view was openly disregarded. When I came back to sit down one of the young pastors made a remark to me to the effect that I was fearless. That’s simply not true, but I trust I am more afraid of the Lord than of man and endeavour to obey him whatever others might think or do.
Historically, a sure sign that revival has arrived in the Church is Christians confessing their sins to one another. (Strictly speaking, re-vival is the restoration of renewed life in God’s people.) Whilst the importance of this practice is rarely understood its biblical profile is unquestionable.
Jesus said, “ vs.15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.vs.16But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.vs.17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.vs.18Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.vs.19Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.vs.20For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” ” (Matt 18:15-20 ESV).
The power of heaven is operative in the release from or retention of guilt in the context of Christians acknowledging their transgressions. Jesus promises to be “in the midst” of the Church to pass judgement, in either forgiveness or punishment, in the environment of confession.
Paul could speak of the intensity of such things in the case of an unrepentant brother like this, “When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” (1 Cor 5:4-5 ESV).
There’s lots of praying for revival today but I’m not persuaded many believers really want to live in an atmosphere of such powerful blessing and judgement (cf. Acts 5:1-11 ESV).
James is very clear on the positive power of mutual confession, “vs.13Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.vs.14Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. vs.15And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.vs.16Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:13-16 ESV) James anticipates the release of resurrection power to heal in the context of corporate confession.
I remember going with Donna to pray for a sick lady whose husband was a travelling salesman, as usual, I asked if she had anything to confess.
She testified she had often wanted him to run off the road and die. When she confessed the sin she was filled with the Holy Spirit, spoke in tongues and was filled with joy. God didn’t heal her body but when she entered hospital she was still giving testimony to friend and stranger of being blessed of the Lord. It was wonderful.
Contrast this with what happened when a couple of people sought prayer for healing early in our time in Nagaland. When I asked them if they had any sins to confess they looked at me as if I was strange and then fell speechless, bound by shame.
The apostle John confirms the vitality of community confession. vs.5 “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.vs.6If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.vs.7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.vs.8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.vs.9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.vs.10If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:5-10 ESV).
Usually, the famous ninth verse is interpreted as private confession to God. The closest context, however, is fellowship with one another (v.7) and the language of “confession” in John’s writings is characteristically horizontal rather than vertical; i.e. to one another rather than to God6)See Biblical References 1 John 2:23 ESV; 1 John 4:2-3, 15 ESV; 2 John 7 ESV; John 1:20 ESV; John 9:22 ESV; John 12:42 ESV; Rev 3:5 ESV cf. Matt 10:32 ESV; Rom 10:9 ESV.
One of the most penetrating books I’ve ever read is Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together; he ran a secret community seminary with a strong emphasis on confession.
Here are a few of his observations.
After I had exhorted a small group of Christian leaders in Yangon to love one another more deeply and to confess to one another one of them rose to their feet, with tears, and began to speak in Burmese. (Though they all understood English.) I was told afterwards that this person was confessing a particular sin to the group. What moved them to confess? The power of Jesus was present to heal and forgive (cf. Luke 5:17 ESV). This was marvellous.
Priests as Brothers
This power of confession and forgiveness is vastly underestimated because we fail to see Jesus at the centre of everything. The Lord gave me new insight into Psalm 133, a favourite in Christian circles committed to unity and revival when I was away. vs.1 “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!vs.2It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!vs.3It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.” (Ps 133: 1-3 ESV).
Popular expositions invariably jump from the first to the last verse as if the reference to the anointing of the High Priest Aaron was somehow only a vivid illustration of the power of unity-in-itself to draw forth the blessing of God in revival and salvation.
But the High Priest Aaron existed only as a type/prophetic foreshadowing of our great High Priest, Jesus7)See Biblical References Heb 2:17 ESV; Heb 4:14-15 ESV; Heb 5:6 ESV; Heb 6:20 ESV; Heb 7:15, 26-27 ESV.
The primary function of the High Priest was to enter into the holy of holies on the Day of Atonement with a blood sacrifice and sprinkle the mercy seat in the presence of the glory of God (Lev 16). Another part of the ritual involved confessing the sins of the people over a goat that was then driven into the wilderness (Lev 16:20-22 ESV).
The blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin (Heb 10:4 ESV) but the Day of Atonement had the power to reconcile the people with God by drawing from the cross of Christ.
A Christ-centred interpretation of Psalm 133 encourages us as brothers and sisters in Christ to dwell together in the fullness of the unity which is in him and express this by a mutual confession of sin. Participating in the all-forgiving power of the cross we will win victory after victory in the boundless reconciliation we enjoy between one another and God. Radical acceptance on both a vertical and horizontal level will accelerate the growth of the Church under the blessing of God.
Many Christians in both Myanmar and Australia are praying for revival. As it was for Jesus in his struggle to go via Gethsemane to the cross and resurrection8)See Biblical References Mark 14:36; Heb 5:7-8 ESV the breakthrough point will come not where our obedience is most difficult.
Confessing sin to one another, if it is really sin, and not “mistake/error/weakness/moral failure”, is a sharing in the cross itself as the power of God for salvation (Rom 1:16 ESV).
This is as beautiful as it is difficult. I recall being in a communion service about forty years ago, and the pastor exhorted us to make peace with anyone we had bad feelings towards.
Paul makes a great point of this sort of thing in 1 Corinthians, vs.27 “So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.vs.28That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup.vs.29For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honouring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself.vs.30That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died.” (1 Cor11:27-30 ESV).
In this one church, God was healing them and God was killing them (1 Cor 12:9 ESV). So I went to this brother and shared the communion cup with him. Needless to say, he was very surprised but my relationship with this fellow believer entered into a new level of reality that many others who felt as I had but never acted upon had denied him.
Let me finish with a final example.
The East African revival was marked by what they called “walking in the light”.
One of their leaders Bishop Festo Kivingere said this, “if you’ve become aware there’s a mask somewhere in your relationship with God or with another person, or in your inward life… let the Holy Spirit tear it off. It will be embarrassing. It will be painful… You will be humiliated as others see you for what you truly are. And after that, you will begin to shine, because Jesus is shining in you.”
The shining of Christ through the believer he speaks about is not metaphorical but a share in the light of Life himself9)See Biblical References John 1:4-9 ESV; John 8:12 ESV cf. Dan 12:3 ESV; Matt 13:43 ESV.
Immersed in the cross-shaped form of the life of Jesus a mutually confessing Church lives out the shape of the gospel, it shares in the death and resurrection of Christ. The light which begins to shine forth after coming out of the darkness of sin and the tomb is an actual sharing in the light and life of God himself (1 John 1:5 ESV), a realisation of the glory of God for which we were created.
That’s the wonder of revival.
MESSAGE, DELIVERED: Date 21 st Oct 2018 Location: Alive@5
Author: Dr. John Yates
YouTube or PODCAST:
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||See Biblical References Eph 5:18 ESV; Col 3:16 ESV|
|2.||↑||See Biblical References Eph 5:18-19 ESV; Col 3:16 ESV cf. 1 Cor 14:26 ESV|
|3.||↑||See Biblical References Jer 31:34 ESV; Mic 7:18-19 ESV|
|4.||↑||See Biblical References 1 Cor 3:13 ESV; 1 Cor 4:5 ESV; 2 Cor 5:10 ESV|
|5.||↑||See Biblical References John 9:22 ESV; John 12:42 ESV|
|6.||↑||See Biblical References 1 John 2:23 ESV; 1 John 4:2-3, 15 ESV; 2 John 7 ESV; John 1:20 ESV; John 9:22 ESV; John 12:42 ESV; Rev 3:5 ESV cf. Matt 10:32 ESV; Rom 10:9 ESV|
|7.||↑||See Biblical References Heb 2:17 ESV; Heb 4:14-15 ESV; Heb 5:6 ESV; Heb 6:20 ESV; Heb 7:15, 26-27 ESV|
|8.||↑||See Biblical References Mark 14:36; Heb 5:7-8 ESV|
|9.||↑||See Biblical References John 1:4-9 ESV; John 8:12 ESV cf. Dan 12:3 ESV; Matt 13:43 ESV|