Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I'd be unstoppable if I could get going!

Consecration happens when I am faced with certain choices; I ignore the world, the flesh and the devil and voluntarily submit my free will to God in faithful obedience. Consecration doesn’t happen in the contemporary church as much as it should.

Passages like the following have fallen out of use and are hardly ever preached on today:-
“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 John 2:15-16)

“don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

I saw a great plaque the other day – I very nearly bought it – it simply said:-

“I’d be unstoppable if I could get going!”

I believe that this is true for all Christians, for The Salvation Army collectively (in the western territories) and for the wider church. The problem is that to ‘get going’ requires not just sporadic consecration but entire and continuous consecration.

Entire sanctification occurs when I determine that whatever my circumstances my life is entirely set apart for God. It is a ‘crisis’ decision to submit my free will to God in faith – even though I have no idea where that submission will take me or what it will require.

I’m not a bad Christian nor am I a bad Salvationist but ‘I’d be unstoppable if I could get going’.

As Christians we have three choices:

    1. We deny God, live lives of hypocrisy and pretend to our friends that we are
      followers of Christ when we know in truth we are not.
    2. We live a life of ups and downs with periods of sporadic consecration, yet continue a dalliance with the world – we will have some success but our Christianity will always be mediocre.
    3. We determine to entirely consecrate ourselves, taking the gift of salvation to its utmost limit and thereby become ‘unstoppable’.

I have always known that it has to be number 3 or nothing – quite simply it will be holiness or bust there are no other alternatives.

What think ye?

Love and prayers
Andrew

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Holiness, hatred and desire...

I read the following passage from Finney’s ‘Lectures to professing Christians’ on Friday last week:

"The individual who truly repents, not only sees sin to be detestable and vile and worthy of abhorrence, but he really abhors it, and hates it in his heart. A person may see sin to be hurtful and abominable, while yet his heart loves it, and desires it, and clings to it. But when he truly repents, he most heartily abhors and renounces it."
As far as I am aware I only disagree with Finney’s theology on one point (original sin). However, I am so impressed with his practical understanding and application of personal holiness that this disagreement only came after much reflection and prayer.

I went to sleep on Friday night pondering the passage above with a degree of sadness wondering about the quality of my repentance. I do hate sin in the lives of others and in the world generally but in my own life there are still some elements of sin that I desire (I resist them but I nevertheless still desire them.) I am subject to temptation and temptation, in order to be effective, must work on the premise of desire. How can I possibly desire something that I am supposed to hate? I fell asleep not only doubting my holiness but even doubting my conversion!

Saturday I had to work and at the end of the day dropped a colleague off at her Office in Tower Hamlets. Finding myself only two miles from Abney Park I decided to spend a few moments in the ‘valley of the dry bones’*. (For those who are interested George is 3rd on the left!)

As I sat there a penny dropped (maybe it was ‘the’ penny that I have been waiting for or maybe another – who knows?) As I sat and prayerfully pondered I began to see that there is a distinct difference between ‘desire’ and ‘love’ in much the same way as there is a distinct difference between love’ and ‘lust’.

By way of example, take Jesus in Gethsemane, he loved his Father and he loved doing his Father’s will. “My food," said Jesus "is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (John 4:34) Yet in spite of this in Gethsemane Jesus had other ideas, these ideas had to be surrendered in obedience to God’s will. We do not know what those ideas were but we do know that they would not (could not) have resulted in our salvation. Failure to deliver salvation must have been a notion that Jesus would have hated. Therefore even Christ could paradoxically ‘desire’ things which were hateful to him. The other thought that came to me is that the very presence of a struggle where a Christian tries to resist temptation surely proves that whatever he ‘desires’ cooperation with the tempter is something he ‘hates’.

This brought me, logically, to a simple definition of holiness that I hadn’t before considered (there is nothing original in what follows although it came to me in a fresh and comprehensible manner.)

Temptation is a three way dialogue between me, the devil and God. The prize sought via the temptation is the consecration of my will. Nobody can make me do anything against my own free will (the devil can’t and God has restricted himself in such a way that he refuses to). The prize, then, that both good and evil are seeking is the voluntary surrender of my free will. If I surrender it to God that results in righteousness and holiness – to surrender it to the devil results in sin. Now, if I genuinely surrender my will to God then temptation disappears in a metaphorical puff of smoke. Once all three parties understand that my will is quite definitely consecrated to God then any further deployment of demonic resources to the struggle would be wasteful. Thus when the devil is convinced that ‘I must be about my Father’s business” he will very quickly leave me ‘for a season’.

One of the fundamental problems with contemporary Christians is that they try to resist temptation without contributing the surrender of their will. There is no biblical promise that guarantees spiritual victory upon the evidence of resistance alone – however in James 4:7 we do read “Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” The order is important, when tempted we must first voluntarily consecrate (submit) our free will to God. Then we must resist the devil (a relatively easy activity if the will has been truly submitted). The result is that the devil, recognising the impossibility of any victory, on this occasion, beats a hasty retreat.

This voluntary consecration of one’s free will to God is the subject of Paul’s message in Roman’s 12 when he says “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.” I have always though that Romans 12:1 was probably the best biblical definition of holiness (after Matthew 22:37).

There is nothing complicated about this, it is simply the enactment of our 9th doctrine “We believe that continuance in a state of salvation depends upon continued obedient faith in Christ.” What is “continued obedient faith in Christ” other than a constant consecration of our free will to God?

This is probably old hat to many people but I found the whole revelation very exciting and putting it into practice has been even more so. God is so generous; he follows up my confession of a few days ago with a wonderful and simple exegesis on practical holiness – Hallelujah!

* I do not attach any special spiritual significance to the burial place of Booth, Railton, Cadman et al – but I do find the mere presence of their decayed bodies a visible proof that the glory days of the Army were fact not fiction! This knowledge seems to clarify my thinking and intensify my praying.

Yours set apart, by Christ, for the lost, in the Army.

Andrew

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Obedience matters

Following on from the debate at Carol’s yesterday and within the context of my own confession (see below) Iread the following this morning from Finney’s “Lectures to professing Christians’
“all true religion consists in obedience. And, therefore, however much you may approve of Christianity, you have no religion unless you obey it. In saying that all religion consists in obedience, I do not mean outward obedience. But faith
itself, true faith, works by love, and produces corresponding action. There is
no real obedience but the obedience of the heart: love is the fulfilling of the
law; and religion consists in the obedience of the heart, with a corresponding course of life. The man, therefore, who hears the truth, and approves it, and does not practice it, deceiveth himself. He is like the man beholding his natural face in a glass; for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and
straightway forgetteth what manner of a man he was.”
Enough said.

Yours set part by Christ, for the lost, in the Army

Andrew

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A confession and a call to arms

I have been outside of covenanted ministry for nearly 17 years. Last May I received a letter from my Divisional Commander informing me that my application to return to Officership had been accepted and it was presumed that I would take up an appointment in July 2007.

This news followed a number of ‘words’ and ‘messages’ from various sources indicating that God wanted to do something significant with what was left of my useful life! Especially in relation to The Salvation Army.

I completely underestimated the intensity of demonic backlash that was about to come my way as a result of this news. Indeed with a na├»ve arrogance I hadn’t anticipated any kind of demonic response whatsoever.

I have just read David Wilkerson’s ‘Hungry for more of Jesus’ (available for about £3 from Amazon). I read it hot on the heels of Finney’s ‘Systematic Theology’ and the two men say very much the same thing (though Wilkerson is a lot easier to digest!)

Wilkerson, however, adds a section on ‘sifting’ where he talks about those occasions when the devil asks God if he can ‘sift us like wheat’ as he did with Peter.

When I received the news of my reacceptance I published a holiness manifesto (see bloodandfire.org.uk) which pledged me to a simple lifestyle. At the same time I wrote an article for JAC that sought to promote the manifesto to others. On reflection I do not think this manifesto was legalism or an attempt at salvation by works. I believed then and I still believe that it was an honest response to a clear direction from God.

On the Armybarmy.com blog I recently read that “blogs have become the place to expose intimate and sensitive thoughts…” well here goes…

I need to confess – and I can’t think of a better medium by which to do it – about the compromise and deliberate disobedience that has been in my life as a result of being ‘sifted’ and at the same time being too arrogant and proud to recognise what was going on. Since that declaration my life has moved from fudge to further fudge and my lifestyle has been anything but simple. The odd thing is that I cannot recall a period in my life when I have been the recipient of so much revelation and knowledge yet my willingness to obey has been derisory!

In short the devil has walloped me and I have sat there and taken it. I have allowed myself to become his punch bag. The gulf between what I know God wants, what I preach and what I do has grown as a result.

Jesus knew that Peter would betray him when he gave him the keys of the kingdom. Jesus also knew that Peter would come back stronger and fitter as a result of having the stuffing (pride) knocked out of him. John Wesley described Fletcher of Madeley as the holiest man he ever knew yet Fletcher claimed that he lost the blessing of holiness three times. David was considered Israel’s greatest king - to such an extent that ‘son of David’ is a Messianic title - yet David fell away.

I believe more than ever that God wants me to ‘talk the talk’ but I also know that more than that he needs me to ‘walk the walk’, I have also discovered (at my cost) that it seems like the entire armies of hell are assembled in an attempt to prevent both from happening.

Wilkerson has shown me that I have been in danger of serious back sliding but he has also grabbed my hand and pulled me back from the brink.

Carol Young quoted the following on her blog today ‘"Jesus can't save someone he can't command." One thing is absolutely certain Jesus cannot entirely sanctify someone who refuses to obey.

Now enough of this self centred deprecatory rambling and on with the fight.

Take this as a confession, an apology and a re-consecration of my all, in deep humility, to the cause of Christ and the lost. Also take it as a call to arms and a warning – the devil is on the prowl and after anyone who poses a serious threat and adopts a careless attitude to warfare.

The holiness debate will never be won with words it can only be won by example.

Just as the ‘Greeks have a word for it’ so Wesley always has a song!
Leave no unguarded place,
No weakness of the soul;
Take every virtue, every grace,
And fortify the whole.

To keep your armour bright
Attend with constant care,
Still walking in your captain's sight
And watching unto prayer.

That, having all things done,
And all your conflicts past,
Ye may o'ercome through Christ alone,
And stand complete at last.

Love and prayers
Andrew

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The unforgiving minutes...

I have just downloaded my Blog and converted it to a Word Document.

Since February I have amassed an amazing 103 A4 pages of musings!

Goodness knows how much of cyberspace has been occupied by the likes of Steve C and Gordon C!

103 pages is alomost a book - I've been trying to finish a book on holiness for 6 years!

It reminded me of some wise words from the pen of Kipling...
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

How often we are held hostage by the 'unforgiving minute' when all the time the keys to our cell are hanging on the wall behind us!

In a life that is entirely consecrated there should be no 'unforgiving minutes'

God forgive me for wasting what is probably the most valuable resource I have - time!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Are we up for it?

I have just finished reading Finney’s ‘Systematic Theology’. It is the literary equivalent of an arduous triathlon across inhospitable conditions. Finney is an acquired taste but for those that persevere a definite delicacy.

The book is challenging partly because it was written in 1851 and the language is archaic, it is (as its name suggests) theology and it is also academic (Finney was a lawyer).

However, the message it contains is so relevant to the contemporary church and especially to The Salvation Army. The protestant free church has because of its absolute fear of ‘salvation by works’ relegated obedience to the lowliest of positions in the pecking order of Christian characteristics. It is (in my opinion) this very reason that we are currently facing such struggles.

In summary this is what Finney has to say:

  • Sin is the result of misplaced free will and not the result of any kind of intrinsic of inherited evil nature.
  • Righteousness is ‘disinterested benevolence’ i.e. an intelligent decision to love God and love our neighbour for the sole benefit of God and our neighbour rather than for any personal satisfaction or gain.
  • Sin is selfishness (the opposite of ‘disinterested benevolence’)
  • Some apparent acts of kindness may actually be selfish and therefore sinful rather than righteous (‘even though I surrender my body to be burned… but have not love...’ etc)
  • Holiness (righteousness) is the minimum requirement God makes upon his children and can only ever be complete (for Finney there is no such thing as Christianity by degrees)
  • Holiness is the outcome of a deliberate consecration of all our faculties to the glory of God and the betterment of the universe. Though impacted by physical constitution, emotions, circumstances (etc) holiness is not subject to nor caused by any of these things but is always the result of a deliberate wilful and intelligent dedication.
  • Entire consecration is subject to revelation and knowledge – the more I get to know God the more he will demand and the more I will be required to give, however consecration will always be instant and complete based upon the knowledge and revelation I currently have.
  • If I offer God partial obedience then the part of my life I fail to surrender exists as a result of disobedience, disobedience is sin and an active sinner cannot be saved because Salvation is conditional upon both repentance and obedience (‘continuance in a sate of salvation depends upon continued obedient faith…) Logically therefore Salvation is dependant upon total consecration.
  • Present sinlessness is both possible and obligatory as anything else suggests disobedience and a lack of repentance.
  • All of this is made possible by grace which is delivered by the Holy Spirit through faith. True faith always bears the hallmark of obedience (“If you love me you will obey my commandments and I will send another, a comforter…”)

This is the briefest and shallowest of summaries of Finney’s ‘Systematic Theology’ but it does contain in essence the heart of Finney’s understanding of the gospel.

At the conclusion of the book Finney makes the following statement:

“But before I close my remarks upon this subject, I must not fail to state what I regard as the present duty of Christians. It is to hold their will in a state of consecration to God, and to lay hold on the promises for the blessing promised in such passages as 1 Thess. v. 23, 24:--"And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly, and I pray God your whole spirit, and soul, and body, be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it." This is present duty. Let them wait on the Lord in faith, for that cleansing of the whole being which they need, to confirm, strengthen, settle them. All they can do, and all that God requires them to do, is to obey him from moment to moment, and to lay hold of him for the blessing of which we have been speaking; and to be assured, that God will bring forth the answer in the best time and in the best manner. If you believe, the anointing that abideth will surely be secured in due time.”

Dear friends I ask you - Is this what has been missing from our gospel? Is this what we desperately need to rediscover and preach? Is the absence of constant and entire obedience in the lives of Officers and Soldiers the ‘sin in the camp’ that we hear so much about today?

This book (I believe) has been to me what ‘A plain account of Christian Perfection’ was to Wesley. I feel that it has handed down a nugget that was nearly lost forever. The nugget needs to be shaped and polished and exhibited to the world so that everyone can be cleansed, challenged and inspired by its beauty.

When will we learn that we are not unsuccessful because we wear the wrong clothes, sing the wrong songs, play the wrong instruments, call each other by the wrong names or print the wrong publications? Our problem is not that we are not culturally relevant (look at our history and you will see that we never were! How was GSR standing on a street corner preaching to a drunken, illiterate costermonger – who had never heard of Christ – ever culturally relevant?) Our problem is not to be found in the fabric of our organisation, it is not infrastructure or style but is much more fundamental and personal than that.

Our problem is SIN and our sin is a refusal to give God what we know he requires and to even suggest (in spite of that knowledge) that the requirement is unrealistic and unobtainable. The Salvation Army is a band of covenanted warriors who have surrendered everything they have to the glory of God and the salvation of the world – anything less than that is a lie and to defend any lesser definition is sinful.

There is only one way forward – renunciation of everything that we know to be sinful, renunciation of everything that is considered to be doubtful, consecration of everything to God, and then (in faith) to go on our way and ‘sin no more.”

I wonder are we really up for this? The salvation of The Salvation Army hangs on our answer.

Yours set apart by Christ, for the lost, in the Army.

AJB

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Back in the saddle!

I have not blogged for 25 days 6 hours and 45 minutes! I am now back in the saddle - watch this space!

Yours set apart by Christ, in the Army, for the lost.