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by James Gibson
Marshallville United Methodist Church

The coming revival will not be the one we’ve worked for. It will be immeasurably more awesome than anything we have imagined!

"You did it again," the church organist said to me as this morning’s worship service ended.

"No," I replied. "God did it again!" I don’t want to take credit for Someone Else’s work.

Indeed, God did it again! For the second week in a row, he spoke to me in a very clear and discernible way less than two hours before the start of morning worship. "Abandon your manuscript," he said. "I have another message for you to preach today."

Unlike last week, however, he did not call on me to change my text. It remained the same:

[16] So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. [17] Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! [18] All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: [19] that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. [20] We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. [21] God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:16-21)

After hearing God’s unmistakable voice, I went back to this passage (I knew the Holy Spirit would place the right words in my mouth, but I thought a little advance preparation wouldn’t hurt!). As I read it, the phrase, "All this is from God," literally jumped out at me!

"All this is from God." What is "all this?" What is God trying to say to the Church today through this simple phrase?

Over the past few weeks, I have been having an experience of the presence of the Risen Christ that simply defies description or definition. For some reason, God has chosen to reveal to me a little more about the mystery concerning his relationship with humankind. I say that not to boast, but simply because I know no other way to say it. I have learned the hard way that when you have an experience such as this, the next to last thing you want to do is try to define it theologically for yourself. When God grants you such an experience, he reminds you of something you knew all along, namely, that theology is the most hilarious form of comedy. Human beings try to describe God in 25 words or less but wind up writing 25 volumes without saying a word. The last thing you want to do is share the experience with people who cannot relate to it. All they will want to do is embark on that most hilarious comedic enterprise.

I have endured much criticism from some of my dearest friends and colleagues, who have accused me of "wandering beyond the bounds of orthodoxy." When the warm enthusiasm of divine ecstasy encounters the cold rigidity of human resistance, the results are not pretty. So, I have learned, quite quickly, to keep the details of this experience close to the vest, trusting that God will, at the proper time, open the right doors and allow me to share it with the right people. The vast majority of people I encounter will not be able to understand, much less accept, that what I am experiencing is the presence of the Risen Christ in a manner which most do not experience this side of glory.

But I can say that this experience has solidified for me, in a way more powerful than ever before, my belief in the absolute authority and truth of the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God, given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to the writers of the Old and New Testaments, without mistake or error. In all matters of faith and practice, the Bible is the Church’s final authority, superseding all other written statements and feeble human attempts to describe the nature of God or confine within certain parameters his awesome power to reveal himself.

I have always believed that. But now, it has been confirmed in such a powerful way that I can open the Bible and understand things which I previously thought were not meant to be understood so clearly. The truth seems so clear to me now that I have to ask myself, "How could I have not understood that before?" Now, I know for myself that when I open the Bible and ask the Holy Spirit to guide me into all truth in reading it, my life will literally be transformed. Be careful with the Word of God! It just might change your life, but you might not be prepared for the magnitude of the change!

I stand in awe at the power of the Holy Spirit to preserve the purity of the Word, despite centuries of human attempts to botch it! Somehow, some way, the Holy Spirit has preserved God’s Word in its purest form. But that is not all the Holy Spirit has done which causes me to be in awe of his power. He has also transmitted the awesome truth of the presence of the Risen Christ, in ways most of us may never fully understand, in the two simple elements of bread and wine. When we eat of that bread and drink from that cup, we are experiencing something far more powerful than the memory of a dead man. Jesus Christ is alive forever and we encounter him in the eucharist! As we partake of the sacrament, we celebrate his presence among us and are challenged to go forth and incarnate that presence as the Body of Christ in the world.

But for all the awesome affirmations, the most humbling thing about this experience has been the realization that I have been devoting much of my time during my first ten years in the ministry to trivia. I have invested much prayer and much human labor to the efforts to foster renewal and revival within The United Methodist Church. I have worked through the normal channels, with the established "renewal leaders," trying to make real "our vision" for the church. But what I now realize is that what we are involved in is a purely human enterprise, sorely lacking of any divine initiative or inspiration. We have tried to bring about renewal through the passing of resolutions, the changing of the Discipline or, when appropriate, the maintaining of the current Discipline’s position on this or that subject. More often than not, our legislative efforts have been successful. Yet the church remains devoid of any spiritual awakening.

It has been a gentle whisper in my ear for some time. But lately, it has been as loud as a trumpet. God’s Word is clear: "’Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty" (Zechariah 4:6b)

We have worn ourselves out trying to "work for change." The time has come to embrace the presence of Christ and allow God, through his Holy Spirit, to permeate every fiber of our being and begin to see that "change" happen, not because we have wanted it or tried to make it come about in a certain way according to a certain plan, but because God, through his infinite grace and mercy, in his own time, brings that new life to a person, to a congregation, perhaps to a denomination. But I believe what God is doing right now is bigger than any one denomination. God is bringing revival to his whole church and we may very well see the barriers of denominationalism, which we have so neatly constructed, come crashing down amidst the tidal wave of his awesome divine power. All this is from God! It is happening not because we have put the right plan in place or passed the right resolutions or issued the right statements. It is happening because God has decreed that now is the time to do a marvelous work in our midst!

The revival that is coming, and may have already begun, is not going to be the one we’ve "worked for." It is going to be immeasurably more awesome than anything we have imagined. Despite our best human efforts to dictate our own terms and set our own timetables, God is going to revive us again because he says it’s time! Everything we have worked for through resolutions, legislation and declarations is going to seem like so much minutiae as we immerse ourselves in the springs of living water and bask in the light of his glory!

All this is from God!

Why should we settle for anything less?

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