By Ron Gadberry
Rev 3:17a. "Because thou sayest, I am . . ."
My father and I, and his father before him, believed and proclaimed the imminent return of Jesus Christ. And what generation since the Ascension, may I ask, has not at least to some degree, both anticipated and dreaded the same? However, none before us could boast of such an array of palpable proofs as we are daily presented. The very air is electric with expectation and I, even as I write, feel the urgency of our times.
A shadow looms, spreading across the Middle East, the blood of tens of thousands of martyred saints preceding its influence by mere degrees and even now darkening our own horizons. Anti-Christian mutterings are becoming more pronounced and, tragedy of tragedies, the western world and an alarming number of slumbering churches are unaware.
I speak to our own history as Pentecostals and wonder at the confluence of material and numerical growth in the church with the deadly malaise gripping our society, and with the powerlessness haunting our ranks. That these are the "last days" can hardly be doubted, signaled by us at the turn of the last century, from Azusa Street and elsewhere as the Holy Spirit ignited revival fires that spread around the world. His powerful, sin consuming, life changing presence confirmed the Word and for a time, turned all eyes toward Jesus. The world reeled in astonishment at the signs and wonders on display but soon began mocking us as hysterical, uneducated, eccentric, fanatical fools. For awhile we endured the taunts and ridicule but it eventually showed up in our mirrors and we didn't like what we saw.
As purists, we fought for a literal interpretation of Scripture and for a faith that was both authentic and focused outside ourselves. But that mirror drew us back again and again until we became proud of our humble beginnings and the holiness we saw reflected there. Our appearance became our focus and having looked away from the cross we saw the world--we saw ourselves and we looked too different--so we changed.
The Holy Ghost drew the crowds back with a glorious display of miracles and Divine healing. With the crowds came many miracle ministries with ever larger tents and without reflecting on even one of them, the power of the cross was diminished as messengers became super stars and disciples became fans.
Assuming spiritual gifts elevated some laypersons, at least in their own estimation, until the gifted claimed preeminence even over the preaching of the Word, then usurping the office of the gift giver, began teaching the uninitiated how to speak in tongues, supposing in their arrogance the Spirit would honor their generosity. But, the best that could be expected under such circumstances was an insipid faith, man made and powerless.
A pattern emerges: gospel singing became a lucrative business producing more stars; faith devolved into positive thinking focused on personal gain and self aggrandizement; preaching and preachers found their place in the sun, making claims more rhetoric than truth, and believers, puzzled and uncomprehending, demanded but found no answers to such questions as why are some healed and others are not.
At a time when the pages of The Revelation of Jesus Christ to John are becoming the revelation of Jesus Christ in the daily news, many American churches resemble the church at Laodicea in all of its inglorious narcissism. Isn't it time to lay down the mirrors and ask for a renewed vision of Jesus instead?
Holiness is the character of God. Spiritual gifts are the communications of God. Faith is a revealing of God. Spiritual fruit are the dimensions of God. And The Holy Ghost? Though He is God and is active among us in all of the above, according to Jesus, was not sent to entertain us or to call attention either to us or to Himself but rather to present the Love of God in the simplest and most palatable way possible. The sacrifice of Jesus must be reflected in the life of the believer and for that purpose the Holy Spirit was sent.
Jesus' indictment of the Laodicean saints was simple: "You say, I am . . ." The rest was incidental. Their self absorption was revolting and He said so, but He never left them without hope. Read for yourself Revelation 3:19-22, "The people I love, I call to account--prod and correct and guide so that they'll live at their best. Up on your feet then! About face! Run after God! Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear Me call and open the door, I'll come right in and set down to supper with you. Conquerors will sit alongside Me at the head table, just as I, having conquered, took the place of honor at the side of my Father. That's My gift to the conquerors! Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches."
Jesus Himself said: "Without Him I can do nothing." May we learn again what it means to follow the Spirit's lead so that He becomes the focus and like John the Baptist we can say: "That's why my cup is running over. This is the assigned moment for Him to move into the center, while I slip off to the sidelines."