Bronze serpents

He [Hezekiah] removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it, and called it Nehushtan. – 2 Kings 18:4

As the Israelites were leaving Egypt and the Lord led them around in difficult places, most of the people clamored against Moses and the Lord God. The Lord punished them for their rebellion with poisonous snakes, and then He relented and made a way out: Moses was to make a bronze serpent and anyone who looked up to the serpent would be saved from the snakes. (Numbers 21:4-9) That serpent on that pole was only meant to be a temporary solution to a one-time event, and it was only there in the first place because of Israel’s rebellion, but as we read in the story of Hezekiah, FIVE HUNDRED YEARS LATER the people were still worshipping that inert idol! Instead of worshipping the Lord God who had done the greater thing—you know, the whole freedom from slavery in Egypt thing—the people had taken the simple thing God had made as a one-time solution to their temporary rebellion, and they turned it into a permanent idol.

Today, too many people worship the messengers rather than the One who sends the messengers. They come to churches across the world to hear one speaker rather than to hear the One speak. They focus on a particular style of preaching or teaching, looking at the bronze serpent so raised up, worshipping the idol that briefly led them away from their rebellion. They forget about the Savior who brings so much more if they will continue to gaze at Him rather than at the famous preacher.

As we saw in Hezekiah’s day, true revival starts by tearing down ALL of the idols, even the ones sent by God! Revival means we need to break all the images people have created—the false prophets, the prosperity, the famous teachers, the great writers—and turn people back to the One who is the true source. Jesus never said people can come to the Father through well-known churches, teachers, books, or programs. He said, “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). As we cry out for revival, let this one word be our message: JESUS. Raise HIM up, and revival will break out!

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First Works

“Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.”
– Revelation 2:4-5

The Ephesian church had a semblance of piety and righteousness, but they did not love God. If they did, then they would have been back doing the first works. What would that be? Jesus told us that our first love needs to be God Himself, and then we are to love others, because all the law and the prophets depend (literally, “hang from”) those first loves (Matt 22:37-40). If we love God and others first, then the works we do will be determined by those loves, and we will seek God’s will first, and love what He loves, do what He would do, live how Jesus lived. Out of our first love, we would do Jesus’s first works: speak conviction into the world, bring souls to God, lift up the downtrodden, heal the sick, comfort those who mourn. Pursuing holiness and living a righteous life would be second nature because our first nature would be to love God.

If the world today understood what love truly is–self-sacrificing, God-seeking, outward-focused, truth-speaking, long-suffering love–then revival would break out like a wildfire. Today, all of us who live in that first love stand as prophets in our land, speaking “edification and exhortation and comfort to men” (1 Cor 14:3). We speak in love against the worldly notions of love, crying out for all to return to their true first love so that they may live. Our first work is to do the work of the Lord, who out of His own first, singular love, sent His only Son to save us all. Can we do any less?

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Swallowed Up By Life

For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. – II Corinthians 5:4

Mortality is a heavy burden to bear when we know that something much greater awaits us. But can you imagine how much greater the burden is for those who do not know Christ? How lost must they be who have no hope of a heavenly body–what Paul calls “a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (v.1)–and so struggle daily with just getting by! They think they have life, but they are hard-pressed to see it. We who live in Christ might say the unsaved have only a semblance of life, that they are indeed winding down to the end of their “mortal coil,” that the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” weigh them down unnecessarily, so that they have every right to wonder whether to be or not to be. (Thank you, Shakespeare, for the poetry.)

But Paul assures believers that this mortality is about to be swallowed up not by death but by life! The hope in Christ is not just getting by, and we know that when we love God and are called by Him according to His purposes, then even outrageous fortune works to our good.

Revival in Christ is life, and it means that even this troubling mortality under which we groan day after day shall be swallowed up by glorious life. And we have the Holy Spirit to seal that promise until the day it is accomplished. Let us therefore proclaim that life, rejoice in it, share it. Let us call out to those shuffling through their daily mortality, and share with them the great message of glorious and someday trouble-free IMMORTALITY in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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Go Among Us

Then he said, “If now I have found grace in Your sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray, go among us, even though we are a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your inheritance.” Exodus 34:9

Many people who do not read the Bible think that the God of the Old Testament is wrathful and angry, and yet He shows His true character from the very beginning. When Israel had sinned greatly by making a golden calf to worship, then Moses interceded for them, pleading with God to forgive them their sins. And we read in His Word that He did forgive them! Why did He do this? Because He is, as He told Moses (Exodus 34:6-7), “merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…”

And so Moses pleaded that this merciful and gracious God would “go among us” to pardon the sins of the people. It is one thing to ask that the Lord forgives our sin, but it is the height of audacity to ask Him to do so in person! And yet…

And yet, that is exactly what God did through His Son Jesus. God sent His Son to forgive our sin, to heal us stiff-necked people, and to be our rest. He sent Him among us in humility, no longer as a pillar of fire or cloud, but as a Man subject to our same hungers and temptations. But even in His humble estate, Jesus was nonetheless sinless and righteous, and He continued to show this same character of God.

We who call for revival in our land need to be bold like Moses, calling for the Lord God to go among us, to pardon our sin and take us as His inheritance. We need to stand with our Lord face-to-face “as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11), knowing that the character of God has never changed (Hebrews 13:8, James 1:17). He truly is merciful and gracious, and He will forgive, He will heal, and He will revive!

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Denial and Acceptance

Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And so said all the disciples.
~ Matthew 26:35 NKJV

The real tragedy of Peter denying Christ three times is not so much that he publicly refused to acknowledge his friend, mentor, and Savior. No, the tragedy is that he DIDN’T deny himself. At the mid-point of His teaching and ministry, our Lord had told the disciples that if they truly wished to follow Him, they must deny THEMSELVES and take up their cross and follow Him (Matt 16:24). And yet, although Peter had said in today’s verse “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You,” when finally given the opportunity to claim his Savior and die for his faith, Peter still held onto himself and denied his Lord. Nonetheless, Peter had said something very true: we MUST die to ourselves in order to keep from denying Christ.

Alone, we are such feeble creatures, prone to pride and self-centeredness, fond of our own lives as they are. A holy, self-sacrificing, gospel-centered life is not “natural” to our fallen nature, and so fear and selfishness and pride drive us to cling desperately to sin and self. It took three denials for Peter to realize this, and when he had, he wept bitterly at his failure (Matt 26:75). How many times have any of us denied Christ by not denying ourselves?

The call to revival in Christ is not just a call to deny ourselves, it is also a call to stop denying Christ in our lives. Jesus offers us a new life, a better life, an eternal life, if we will but deny our sinful nature. Once we deny ourselves, a void is left that God, in His abundant love and mercy, has offered to fill with the fullness of His Son. As Peter himself later wrote, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. (1 Peter 2:24 ESV).” Let us therefore die so that we may truly live.

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