The power of the Word is what most pulls at me in this text. Someone said that words create worlds. Well, Genesis and the Gospel of John are saying that same thing. When God speaks, creation and life happen. When Jesus speaks, people get healed and restored.
Music produced by: Terrell Hundley (@iamtheonehund)
The intro to this gospel can conjure up all the big, existential questions we ask ourselves:
What is the meaning of life
How did we get here
Is there something bigger at work
What or who is the source of life
How did this all begin
This is a book a child could read, and scholar could be perplexed by.
“Words create worlds”
Whoever said this must have been influenced by Gen.1 and John 1.
In Genesis 1, the text says that “God said”, and then it happened.
In John 1, the spoken Word becomes flesh to come live with us.
It’s our words (and actions) that give expression to imagination, fear, love. We use words as the medium to communicate longing, dreams, hopes, hurts. It’s a word that can change the trajectory of your life: you’re hired, fired, promoted, you’re doing a great job.
Jesus comes as the principle Word to give light and life. And our response, based on his activity in us, is to receive and believe. In some ways, I think it must be in that order: to receive his grace and truth, and that turns into believing. Not the other way around. I’m sure it’s a both/and paradigm.
Jesus…the Face of God
There’s no doubt who or what this book is about. Maker of heaven and earth. The One who existed before the beginning. The one who is light and gives life. The phrase “through him” is repeated three times, not including all the “He” statements followed by the action (i.e. made). And why does this matter? Does it matter that you and I believe and receive this figure who makes these claims? Does it matter what you put your trust in, hope in?
v. 10-12says that his own didn’t recognize or receive him.
“Why do we struggle to believe and receive Jesus as the One True God? “
I know I do.
Something happens to me when I visit the beach. I feel so small and displaced as the center of the universe. I’m grateful that I’m not the center or the one who is fully in control. That comforts me.
If you want to know who the source of life is.
If you want to know who the CEO is…
If you want to know who God is….
John is going to tell you right up front: look long and hard at Jesus.
v.18 – No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.
I remember visiting an employees neighbor who was given weeks to live, and during our conversation, I asked him what he hoped would happen after death. He said he was an atheist and didn’t think anything would happen. I asked him how he felt about that. “I guess I really don’t want that.” I asked him, “What WOULD you like?”
“To see my wife and be young again.”
We talked a little about my faith tradition and asked if we could pray. He was very open and receptive.
Jesus is moving into the neighbor, our hearts. Would you recognize him and receive him? He receives and recognizes you. He believes in you. He’s had you in mind even before the beginning. I know…it’s a scandalous statement that Jesus makes. But it’s comforting, isn’t it?
When I was 12 years old, I started praying for my dad’s reconversion to faith. He was a minister and left the pastorate for reasons that are beyond me. Growing up in a Pentecostal church means that we pray. And when we were done praying, we prayed some more. Prayer was a desperate cry for God to do something that we couldn’t do on our own. It wasn’t begging or pleading. It was what we call interceding. It’s the kind of prayer we make for divine intervention.
My dad had been drinking a lot after he left the ministry and things got very volatile. For reasons beyond my understanding, my dad ended up in jail 3 times (to the best recollection I have). After the 3rd time, something happened to my dad. He started talking about Jesus again. His life verse has always been John 3:16 (I like 3:17) and he began to experience that kind of love.
It took some time for him (and I) to undergo some major healing and reconciling but I’m happy to say that my dad is now preaching again and loves Jesus more than ever! He’s really a spiritual father and covering in my life.
After reading “Longing for Revival“, I was reminded of my holy discontent at a young age and praying for my dad to be transformed. I prayed for 13 years and in the 2nd year of my marriage, it happened. My dad and I had the kind of conversation that led to repentance, reconciliation, and renewal.
I share this personal story because all of us have some dry and dead areas in our lives. Relationships. Dreams. Career goals dashed to the ground. Broken marriages. Struggling children.
In those 13 years of praying, not only did my dad change….I changed.
In ch2 (From Holy Discontent to Crucified Hope), the authors (Ryan and James) start to map out their U-Shape for revival and breakthrough. There are 6 stages:
Crisis of Faith
This kind of reminded me of Ronald Rolheiser’s Paschal Mystery (Life, Death, Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost) or of other models such as orientation – disorientation – reorientation. There are also some corollaries to the grief cycle since part of revival is something dead coming to life.
But the U-Curve seems to be a great framework for helping people work through stagnation, loss of hope, or a recommitment to God’s purposes in their lives. We need more revival to be stirred in our hearts and lives as followers of Jesus. The word “awaken” has been getting flamed in my gut for myself and others who feel dormant, are living a cruise control life, or feel despondent.
The stages are much like stages of faith development. Each stage requires a response of grace that is immersed in prayer, community, and discernment. As I previously stated (Longing for Revival pt1), I heard a lot about revival when I was young and even experienced breakthroughs in my life. But what I didn’t have was a framework to understand what was happening in me.
The U-Curve helps name what someone might be experiencing in their spiritual life. Again, the word revival has the connotation of something dead being given new life. And in the spiritual life, we wrestle a lot with loss, disorientation, discontent, and death.
Pfeiffer and Choung are trying to fan into flame a passion to know the Jesus who makes all things new!
“Breakthrough typically begins with dissatisfaction with the status quo. What we’ve previously accepted as unchangeable, permanent, or permissible starts to give way to longing for something better…but our dissatisfaction never feels good.”
Longing for Revival, by James Choung and Ryan Pfeiffer, ch.2, p.38
There’s one line in ch.2 that just hit me in the gut:
“Let’s not be afraid of the longings that are being stirred in us. Instead, take them to God. Some of us have been disappointed before and are afraid history will repeat itself Others of us might worry that confronting our discontent will only lead to discouragement, frustration, or even anger.”
Pfeiffer goes on to say that at the stage of Untested Faith, we might have a passion and something burning within us. We are to cultivate it, nurture it, and be gracious to ourselves in the presence of God. God is on the move.
This past week, I met with two drummers that are very much part of the music industry. One played tracks for Elton John’s latest movie and the other played with Kanye out in the mountains. I met with them to hear their experiences as drummers and to deepen my own understanding of identity as a musician.
I’m a bivocational minister and musician. My path led me towards ministry (corporate chaplain) as a life calling. This means that I am primarily devoted to being a sacramental presence in the marketplace, providing care to employees.
But I have also been playing drums since I was a kid, mostly in church settings. I’m not a classically trained musician. I don’t read sheet music. I don’t know much about music theory. And I don’t have deep aspirations to “make it” in the music industry. I just don’t.
But I do have a longing to create music, play with great musicians, and facilitate times during musical worship where people experience the Presence of God in deep ways.
While meeting with these great drummers, we talked about life, spirituality, and how music impacts our hearts. They shared how the music industry and being a full time musician can be tough on a soul. While they’ve had great experiences, they’ve also wrestled with the realities of life. One drummer said that the industry is a like a machine. Gotta stay relevant, say yes to everything asked of you, and eventually leads to burn out.
We didn’t talk about technique, how to have more chops, or how to land the gig. We didn’t talk about Elton John or Kanye West. We talked about the deeper things in life that we long for and wrestle with.
I’ve been thinking of both interactions and wondering about my sense of musicianship and personhood. In both interactions, I was both a minister and musician. Musicians have their own language and culture. They see and think about things differently. Artists are wrestling with truth and trying to give it expression. They’re the last standing prophets to call out the BS and wake us up to a new normal.
I had more clarity of the kind of musician I’d like to be: someone who wrestles with truth and beauty, inviting people into a new normal through the power of music.
This constant argument is hurting our common good and civility. It’s time to reframe it.
“If we get beyond the old two-sides framing, we can drop the old pro-life versus pro-choice binary entirely. The fact is that life and choice are not mutually exclusive, and in a democracy, we can hold our own moral convictions about life and choice, rooted in our religious traditions, without feeling that others should be forced to live by them.”
Every once in a while, I read a book that provokes, incites, and inspires. It challenges my beliefs and apathy. “Longing for Revival” is one of those books.
In the first ch, author James Choung talks about his hatred for the word “revival” and shares why. I had similar feelings and experiences. Growing up in a pentecostal holiness church, we had “DISTRICT SERVICES” and youth camps where a revival type preacher would tell us that we need to be hungry for God and nothing else. For hours, we’d pray and ask God to use us for His glory. We wanted to the power of the Holy Ghost so that we could see the nations saved.
Some of it (much of it) was lots of emotionalism because most campers and service attenders just went back to life as usual (me included). But there were also sincere moments when I sensed something happening that was bigger than myself. I sensed a purity to the whole of the message: to give ourselves completely over to God and allow him to have his way in our lives. So when I began reading “Longing for Revival” and James started with his story, I immediately related.
I’ve been praying for revival in my own heart and for the City of Oceanside. While I’ve placed a pause on church planting, my heart still wants to see revival break out in our great city.
What I felt lacked in my childhood faith was how to sustain a faith that included a holistic view of scripture, the church, self-hood, and strategy. We didn’t debrief our experiences much, nor did we have deeper theological, scriptural roots. We had what the authors call “high mystery/low strategy” (p.162). And it’s true! We had access to God’s power and experienced dreams, prophetic words, and healings. But none of it translated to reach the community, be on mission, or even to see spiritual transformation in our lives (shaped into the image of Jesus). We didn’t have practical strategies to sustain God’s presence and to be mobilized for mission. This discouraged me many times and so the word revival became a hype, sensationalism-emotional experience. Nothing else.
I love the author’s definition of revival:
“A season of breakthroughs in word, deed, and power that ushers in a new normal of kingdom experience and fruitfulness”
Longing for Revival, by James Choung and Ryan Pfeiffer. p.17
Like great visionaries and strategists (that in some ways feels like a company vision statement), they break down each line-phrase, unpacking their choice of words and why they each matter. It’s worth chewing on ch1 just for the vision and breakdown of it!
The definition of revival seems to have deep roots in Romans 15 where Paul says that he has “fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.” Their take is that when Paul says “fully”, it might point to more of a holistic view of the gospel which involves (as Paul says)
word – “what I have said”
deed – “what I have done”
power – “by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit”
These three words will continue to resonate and resound in the book!
I skipped the first part of the definition (I think I’d rather refer to it as a VISION statement) but it was a breath of fresh air that revival is a season. It doesn’t last forever. It has a rhythm to it that must be discerned and attended to. None of the weather seasons last forever. Neither does a season of breakthroughs. Many of my upbringing experiences were about holding on to those feelings of revival and I didn’t realize they were for a season SO THAT we might be sent into the world as missionary signposts and servants, learning to be a faithful witness fully proclaiming the Gospel of Christ (in word, deed, and power).
Lastly, a fully proclaimed gospel that leads to revival creates a new normal. As I think about the purpose of the Church, I need to keep remembering that we are to become more and more like the image of Christ Jesus. We are to be transformed, conformed into being “little Jesus’s”. The gospel creates a new normal in our lives. But it should also spill out into the other realms of our lives: a new normal at work, school, campus, marriage, relationships, family, music, etc!
Don’t we long for a new normal? Don’t we finish out the year hoping for a new normal in the coming year?
It’s why we need Jesus to revive us and cause us to be empowered by the Spirit for his Kingdom sake.
This book will be one that I keep going back to this new year as I long for revival in my own life and in my ministry setting. I needed to read this book at this season of life and ministry.
The work of prayer is to do all the RE’s. I’m also sharing some prayer responses below of I’ve sensed God at work.
God is in the business of STAYING active in our lives, even when we feel hopeless, tired, spent, hurt, weak, lifeless.
Prayer is asking…”God…. – How are you with me in this moment – What might you be saying to me – What do I most need/want
Mondays at work are a great way to start the week with prayer. We can pray for our workplace: tasks, culture, leaders, conflicts. God is with us in all of the work.
We can also, as we get away from family and sit in our workspaces, pray for our families, relationships, hopes, needs, hurts, etc. God cares about the daily material of your life!
Just the other day, I was praying for someone without them knowing, and within two minutes, I received a text message from them. It was a moment of affirmation that God cared.
Another example: I was wrestling with a decision I had made and in the middle of the night, I had a dream with a specific mandate of what to do. I woke up the next morning and addressed the situation. The weight I was feeling fell off and I was reminded of goals I had been praying about.
I remember someone telling me one day that they grew up with a very critical authority figure in their lives. The client described being publicly shamed and criticized, leading to anger and resentment. Over the years, the client became sensitive to criticism. When I asked if he saw any connections between the critical figure and present situations, he said that he felt voiceless in the previous relationship and promised himself he was never going to be mistreated again. Unfortunately, such a promise cannot be kept since there will be present and future circumstances where there will be conflict.
This is one reason why confronting someone most likely won’t work. But reframing the conversation and sharing with them how you feel and what you see may be more beneficial. In Chuck DeGroats book, “Toughest People to Love”, he says,
I find that a better approach entails sharing what I see and feel with the narcissist, modeling vulnerability. I see this as a kind of back-door approach, a way of getting around the defensive ego to the vulnerable heart beneath. I once said to a particular client, “I find myself wanting to admire you, but I feel disconnected from you. I feel like you’ve set us up to be competitive, but I don’t want to be. To be honest, I just want you to find one safe place where you don’t have to be ‘on.’ Maybe we can have that.” I’ve found often that men and women who struggle in these ways secretly long to shed the narcissistic posture for a taste of authentic connection.
DeGroat, Chuck. Toughest People to Love (p. 52). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.
What DeGroat does is model vulnerability and empathy. He shows interest and care for the person, but also communicates how the actions makes him feel and perceive the situation.
I can hear someone saying, “Well that’s too touchy feely for me. I just like to be direct and to the point.” This tends to be a one directional, transactional conversation without involving dialogue, empathy, or understanding.
Psychology has done a wonderful job of giving us words and concepts such as vulnerability and the false or shadow self to talk about our weaknesses.
The AA or 12 step program starts with the admission of powerlessness.
The Bible starts (in Genesis) with two concepts of humanity:
We need a way of looking at both our God given identity (of original goodness) and admitting our sins (the shadow self). It’s how we become most human and reflect a divine image in this world.
The appointed prayer of the week during the Advent season helps us to be vulnerable about our sins but also looks toward the coming of Christ in our lives so that we might reflect a new “original goodness” identity. We admit that our powerless to be this new type of original goodness person and need help from a Higher Power.
“Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Grant us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.†”
Many moments of learning to be faithful lead me back to simple things like God’s desire to be near and close to humanity and creation. The God of the Bible is not one to be distant, full of vengeance, or cold-rigid-frigid. Incarnational, caring, compassionate, just. That’s the God of the Bible.
Followers of Jesus are called and sent into the world to be a certain type of person, live by a certain morality, and represent a King that is transcendent…yet in our midst. We are to live a compelling life that looks and feels like the heart of Jesus.
Ronald Rolheiser has become a spiritual mentor through his writings. I hope to have coffee, lunch, or dinner with him one day. In the piece he wrote here, there are ten missiological (being on a mission) principles to help us live out our faith in a secular society.
This spoke to me at a profound level:
“3) Spirituality is peoples’ birthright. The secular culture hungers for spirituality, but is largely spiritually illiterate. People go where they get fed.”
You’ll have to read the article for the other 9. Worth the read.