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Thursday, June 16, 2011

From the Archives - A Series; Part X

The following message was given by me at the Indian Pentecostal Church in Highland City, FL, on September 17, 1994, pastored then by Rev. Jacob Koshy.  This was one of my favorite congregations to visit for several reasons.  First and foremost, they were one of the warmest and friendliest groups of people I have ever encountered, and the sincerity and depth of their Christianity was without question.   Second, I have a personal interest in these people, as they are all from a St. Thomas (Mor Thoma) "Syrian" Christian background - most of these folks were originally from Kerala in southern India, an area with strong Apostolic roots as this is where the Apostle St. Thomas visited and established a vibrant Christian community which today boasts some 15 million people.  Later, they were taken under the wing of the Assyrian Christians and formally became part of their Church tradition.   A significant population of these folks though, the Khanayas, were also of Hebraic origin too.  There were a number of them in this particular congregation as well.

This particular congregation belongs to a denomination called the Indian Pentecostal Church of God, which predates a lot of the American Pentecostal denominations and was formed indigenously and independently of them.  The Holy Spirit has been at work in Kerala for many decades, when even in the late 1800's a Syrian Christian lay evangelist, Vidwan Kutty, led a revival that touched the lives of many of these people.   Even today, among all branches of the "Syrian" Christian churches there, a vibrant and deep spiritual legacy can still be found.

I also say, with both sorrow and rejoicing, that I lost a dear friend from this congregation a couple of years back, Mr. Philip Joseph.   Philip was an elder in the congregation, and he was a wonderful human being.  The night I preached this message, I had the privelege of visiting Philip's home and sharing a meal with him and his dear wife, and that was an added blessing.  I still think a lot of these folks and miss visiting with them, as they are still a wonderful church to this day.

Purification Produces Renewal

Introduction

In the Holy Scriptures, we see that God calls us unto Himself as a holy people.  He desires us to be complete in Him, for He has a lot in store for us.   However, there are those times when He needs to prepare us to receive from Him, and it is often at this point that we are caught unaware.

God is calling His Church to prepare for the great outpouring of His Spirit He tells us about in Joel 2:28.  Evne though the power of the Holy Spirit is good and to be desired, are we able to receive it?   Are we cleansed enough before God to receive those things He has for us?  This is something that every believer must ask of themselves.

I am going to propose a way for us to receive the power of God in its fullest capacity.   However, the preparation part of it is not so pleasant, yet it is the preparation that will eventually produce the fruit of great texture that will characterize the Spirit-filled life.   Therefore, let us listen to the voice of God as He speaks to His people, and calls us unto Him.

I.   The Fire of God:  A Purifying Flame (Deuteronomy 4:24)

For the LORD THY GOD is a CONSUMING FIRE, even a jealous God.

This verse in Deuteronomy describes a God that demands total obedience of His people to Him, and if we allow Him this total obedience, He will burn away anything that gets in the way of Him receiving it from us. 
God loathes competition, and does not want us to be fence-straddlers.   Instead, He expects total obedience from those of us who are of His kingdom.  

Sometimes the cleansing fire of God can sting, for we have a hard time prioritizing our allegiances to other things.   However, because God calls us to do it, we must allow for a purging of those impurities in our lives.  As a matter of fact, we should desire Him to do this work in us.   Our desire should always be to have closer communion with God, whatever the cost.   St. Isaac of Nineveh,  in his writings, says this in regard to seeking God:

Leave the things of no value that you may find precious things.

What is more precious than being at the feet of our Lord and Savior?  Nothing is as valuable as this.  May we have a desire to seek a closer walk with Him.

II.  Becoming Worthy (Isaiah 6:1-8)

In this passage we see Isaiah being ushered into the presence of the Lord, and he encounters a scene of the Holies;  beautiful liturgy, with much pomp and ceremony.   Many of my friends who are part of the Armenian, Assyrian, or of the Indian Mor Thoma traditions of the Church (out of which many of you hearing this have come) note the beauty and reverence of their liturgical worship.   The Der Vorgoormya of the Armenian Church, to name one example, basically says "oh Lord have mercy upon me a sinner!" This is but a small illustration of how the prophet Isaiah felt in the actual presence of God:  it was overwhelming for him.   One would gather from reading the passage that the furthest thing from Isaiah's mind was patting himself on the back because he felt so honored!  Let us read his reaction in the passage:

Woe is me!  For I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips, and dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips...

In other words Isaiah was not by any means on an ego trip!  The glory of God convicted him, a mere human, for he was not complete.   In our circles, we have a tendency to take spiritual experiences ever-so-lightly and in a flippant way:  we want the "warm fuzzies" but do not want to pay the price to receive a lasting change.  There is nothing at all wrong with spiritual experience; God can move in whatever way He chooses with His people.   However, there is a greater blessing in being able to fall before the throne of God, despite our unworthiness, and letting Him wrap His love and healing around us, cleansing unrighteousness, healing hurts, and releasing us from bondages.  When we are honest with ourselves and God, vv. 6-7 of the passage assure us of our cleansing.   Praise God for the cleansing coal of His Holy Spirit!  Isaiah was cleansed because he was open:  this should be an encouragement for us today who are indwelt with the Holy Spirit.   Therefore, humility before God brings fulness to us.

III.   Accepting the Holy Mandate (Isaiah 6:8; Acts 2:3-4)

When we are purged by God, we are more ready to be used by Him.  As a result, He kindles a fire in us, the fire of a divine call.   God wants a person who is refined by His fire, in order that He may kindle a fire in them.   This is a high honor, to be a chosen vessel of the Most High God for His service.   As a result, we are now not only prepared, but also willing, as Isaiah was in 6:8.

Isaiah's call in this verse, as well as his affirmation of it, are powerful.   Do you ever notice that when the Holy Spirit genuinely touches us, we want to jump up and do something?   This is the zealous and blazing fire of service God has anointed us with.   For those of us in ministry, we know it well.   It is a feeling similar to a horse chomping at the bit to start the race.   However we have to wait for yet something else:  the anointing of the Holy Spirit.   Acts 2:3-4 says that the Church could not even organize until this ingredient was added.   The Pentecost experience described in this passage did not just happen, but preparation was a necessity.   When the wind of the Holy Spirit came upon those in the upper chamber, it filled them, and strange things began to happen.   Passers-by thought they were nuts!  The Apostle Peter however received the anointing and proclaimed in 2:16 that this is that spoken by the Prophet Joel (see 2:28).

Today, we see it happening also.   This is what is called the "latter rain," and indeed as more people submit to God, we will see a revival unprecedented in the history of Christendom.   Therefore, let us be the ones to set the example first.

Conclusion

In this short homily, we have learned several things:

  1. We are unclean vessels in and of ourselves, and must be cleansed by Christ if we are to be used of Him.
  2. When we submit ourselves to His purifying fire, we feel a call to serve the Kingdom of God.
  3. With that heartfelt zeal for God that consumes us comes an anointing for service that empowers us to do God's work.
I have a challenge for you today.   First, how many of you want to be renewed in spirit?   For you to do so, how many are willing to pay the price?  If you're serious about what you have asked for, be sure to understand the price.   God will prepare you, but it will not be the best feeling.   He will send a spirit of repentance on you that will wrench your innards.   Also, the devil will throw things at you to test your endurance.  However, if you submit yourselves to God and stand fast, you will receive something beyond your imagination.   If you want this today, now is the time to respond.

I challenge you, if you are serious about following the Lord, to submit yourself to Him.   There is so much more He has to offer you if you will only accept it.   And, it is all good!  So, I beseech you to respond today.  Amen.