Taking Inventory of 2020 and Reconciling the Books

I am taking a break for a couple of days from sharing about my mentors from past generations to focus on the New Year. For tax purposes, at the end of each year, I take an inventory of the books I have sold through the year and the existing inventory I have in stock. Hopefully, it will be easier this year since I have sold many fewer books because of COVID, but inevitably, each year I cannot get the inventory to balance. In some cases, I seem to have books missing, in others, I have more left than what my records show I have sold. Sometimes I take hours trying to reconcile the books and balance the ledgers.

Spiritually, end of year is a good time to take inventory of our life and try to reconcile the books and get our life into balance. It has been my practice for decades to do so such an inventory of my life at the end of each year. I keep a journal in which I record the significant happenings each month of the year. I make a list of the greatest trials or difficulties of the past year (not hard to do this year for any of us). Then I make a list of the greatest blessings or joys of the year (sometimes we have to work at this). I do the trials first, get them out of the way and concentrate on counting the blessings and joys. 

I also make a list of the goals or desires I want to accomplish for the coming year, as well as assess if I accomplished my goals and desires for the prior year. And if not, why not? (COVID provides a good excuse for the why nots this year). As I am doing all of this, I am praying and assessing the year as a whole—what I have learned, what I didn’t do so well and why, what I did well and why, and what is God saying to me through it all. Then I make a list—very tentatively of what I want to accomplish in the coming year—focusing on not what I want, but what God wants.

COVID has thrown a wrench into everything this year, but we have to be careful that we don’t blame everything on COVID. What it really comes down to is, are we better spiritually and emotionally through all of the roller-coaster ride? Are we finishing the year well in our spiritual growth and our attitudes? Are we adapting in Christ-like ways to the drastic shaking within our lives? Are we forgiving and being forgiven? Are we maintaining hope in the midst of the chaos around us? Are we overcoming our losses and focusing on gaining Christ (Philippians 3:1-14)? Are we looking forward and not backward? The jury is still out on some of these in my life. 

The important thing is to let God pick us up from our failures and blows that have knocked us over. Let God breathe a breath of new life into us when we have had breath knocked out of us. Let God heal the hurts, right the wrongs, recover the losses. Trust God to cause all things to work together for good (Romans 8:28). He who has begun a good work in you will complete It until Christ returns (Philippians 1:6).

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John MacMillan—My Spiritual Warfare Mentor

I mentioned in an earlier blog my living mentor Ron MacDonald who began my training in deliverance ministry when I was in youth ministry at 20 years old. He was the first, but not the last, to refer me to John MacMillan’s classic original book The Authority of the Believer. His book has impacted thousands including people from a wide variety of theological backgrounds, He was known for pioneering understanding of our authority as a believer in Christ and how to exercise that authority in spiritual warfare ministry, especially in the casting out of demons.

John MacMillan was a Canadian Presbyterian lay elder and businessman who in mid-life became a missionary to China and the Philippines with The Christian and Missionary Alliance in the 1920s. Then he became an itinerant minister, magazine editor, and professor at Nyack Missionary Training Institute (now Nyack College and Alliance Theological Seminary). 

I have had several spiritual warfare mentors, both living and dead, but none as rich and extensive as John MacMillan. I was mentored so much by MacMillan that I wrote a 600+ page doctoral dissertation on his life and spiritual warfare ministry. The book that emerged from the dissertation is entitled A Believer with Authority: The Life and Message of John A. MacMillan.

I felt I got to know John personally, reading through his personal diaries, given to me by his daughter-in-law. I read of his prayer life, his battles with the dark powers, his moments of victory and defeat, and his struggles and sorrows, especially his wife Isabel’s death. 

As a professor at Nyack Missionary Training Institute, MacMillan taught principles of the authority of the believer and spiritual warfare decades before it would be taught in colleges and seminaries. Just last year I was asked to develop a course in spiritual warfare for Crown College. 

MacMillan’s former students and ministry associates told me of their personal experiences with his teaching and training. He mentored dozens of students practically in spiritual warfare by developing deliverance teams, having them observe and assist him in deliverance sessions. I talked with numerous former students who were trained by MacMillan to discern demonic powers and to cast out demons. They had fascinating stories to tell.

He was a quiet, humble, soft-spoken man, but powerful in dealing with demons. He spoke and wrote of the reality of the demonic, even among believers. Even some students had been infected with demons through involvement in the occult, generational bondage and curses, counterfeit supernatural manifestions, transfer of unclean spirits, festering bitterness and unconfessed sin. Even though in some ways a veteran in casting out demons, he was still a pioneer, and thus encountered tough situations that sometimes took multiple sessions of exorcism for even months, in which hundreds of demons were cast out. 

He found over time that some cases of demonization could be resolved without casting out demons, but rather through repentance, faith confessions, and the person learning to exercise his or his personal authority as a believer, binding and rebuking spirits—a form of self-deliverance. 

This would be the technique that Dr. Neil T. Anderson, founder of Freedom in Christ Ministries, would call “truth encounter,” based on John 8:32: “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Neil acknowledges: “John MacMillan’s published work on the authority of the believer greatly influenced the development of my own thinking.” I myself make frequent use of Neill Anderson’s approach, which involves taking people through seven steps to freedom in Christ through repentance, renouncing our past and the lies the devil and others have told us, and making faith confessions of the truths of Scripture and who we are in Christ. 

After dealing with people who would get partially delivered but were not willing to do what was necessary for full victory and freedom, MacMillan commented, “I am not sure I am called to go all over the country trying to deliver them.” For more than thirty years he had battled the forces of evil into his 80s, Though he wanted to help everyone, he realized he could not

A few of the many insights I learned from MacMillan include the following:

  1. You don’t have to be somebody special to exercise the authority of the believer. Every believer can if you are walking right with God.
  2. Learn to discern, first of all, whether something is from God, of the flesh, or of demonic original. All that appears supernatural is not of God.
  3. Don’t assume something is demonic. Learn to discern whether something is really demonic. There is a lot of unhealthy deliverance ministry theology and practice. 
  4. Learn to discern the level of demonic involvement. There are degrees of demonic influence or infestation in a person’s life. Casting out demons is not always necessary.
  5. Exercise your authority as a believer. Learn to bind spirits and loose people from spirits. Learn when it is appropriate to bind or loose and when it is not; when it is effective and when it is not.
  6. You don’t have to shout to do deliverance. It is not about how loud, but about the authority we have in Christ. MacMillan sometimes dispelled demons with a whisper, firmly, but quietly.
  7. Pray protection over yourself and your family according to Psalm 91,
  8. Don’t try to do deliverance in every situation. If a person is not ready to do what is necessary to be totally free, they will be demonized again. The person may get partially free, but then not be willing to deal with a particular issue or let go of an idol in their lives, and thus become enslaved again.
  9. Just because someone uses the name of Jesus doesn’t it is of God. A young woman kept repeating that she wanted to be “a Jesus girl.” MacMillan noted that though she claimed to be a “Jesus girl” she did not mention the name of Christ.  He discerned that she had been infested with a false “Jesus spirit” (2 Cor. 11:4).
  10. We can discern through asking the spirit manifesting through the person, “Has Jesus Christ come in the flesh?” If the response is negative or evasive, you know that a demon is involved.
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Andrew Murray—My Revival Mentor Leading Me into the Holiest

In my book Moving Mountains: Lessons in Bold Faith from Great Evangelical Leaders, I have a chapter on Andrew Murray, in which I tell the story of how Murray almost quenched a revival. He, his father, and his church had been praying for revival, but it arrived in a form he never imagined—people were praying loudly and emotionally all at once, some of them even trembling and swooning, unacceptable in his staid Dutch Reformed background. 

He was trying to stop them, but someone told him this is what was happening in the revivals in America with Charles Finney, Phoebe Palmer, and others. Instead of quenching the revival, he realized this was God at work. He stepped out of his comfort zone, and instead embraced the unusual move of God. He became a revivalist himself, leading his entire denomination in revival, and being elected as Moderator of his Synod.

Andrew Murray was a Scotsman who became a Dutch Reformed missionary to South Africa. He has written many devotional books on prayer, Christian living, and the deeper and higher life in Christ. I was first introduced to Murray as a teenager by my Aunt Lois King, who had been a missionary to Angola. She gave me a copy of God’s Best Secrets and Day-by-Day with Andrew Murray. They were the first year-long devotional books that I ever read. 

From there, his books on prayer enriched my prayer life: With Christ in the School of Prayer, Abide in Christ, and Waiting on God, which I have read over and over. Along with A.B. Simpson, he mentored me in the higher and deeper life in Christ. At a time when I already had a copy in my library and didn’t think I needed it, a veteran missionary thrust into my hand his little book Humility. Oh, how I did need it then, and still do now. Other convicting, challenging books have been The School of Obedience and Absolute Surrender. 

When I needed professional Christian counseling from ministerial burnout as a 32-year old, the counselor assigned me to read Murray’s Be Perfect to help me through healing my legalistic, perfectionist past. I could not understand why I should read a book on perfectionism when I was a recovering perfectionist. But as I read, the lights came on, and peace flooded my heart as I came into a real understanding and encounter with Jesus that what God wanted and expected was not someone who does not blow it, but someone who has a heart that seeks God. 

In one sense, when comparing the writings of Murray and A.B. Simpson, they are almost like twins—you read one thing from Simpson and find almost the same thing from Murray in different words—on two separate continents. I like to call them “The Holy Spirit’s Universal Sunday School Lessons.” 

Murray’s Divine Healing and Simpson’s The Gospel of Healing are like that—you read one, you have read the other. Of course, each brings out their own insights and perspectives. They each had their own personal experience of God’s divine healing power. For Murray, he had lost his voice for two years from constant preaching and strain on his vocal chords. He spent three weeks at Bethshan Healing Home in London, founded by William Boardman who started the Higher Life movement. During that three weeks, he received constant prayer, what today we call soaking prayer–as well as soaking in the Word of God and worship, faith confessions of Scripture, anointing with oil. As a result, he was healed, never to have problem with his voice again.

Although not about healing, another of his books played a large part in my healing from 3rd stage rectal cancer—The True Vine, a 30-day devotional on John 15. The day after being diagnosed with cancer, I went to a used book sale (You can’t keep a preacher and professor away from a book sale, even when he has cancer!). I already had 15 of Murray’s books, but this one I did not have. It was as though God said to me, this is your key to get through this—Abiding in Jesus, the Vine. I read from that book every day, over and over again throughout the ordeal—learning to abide in the presence of Jesus was key through it all. In the end, God healed me.

Like other mentors, Murray wasn’t perfect and I didn’t agree with everything he taught. Yet I have learned so much from Murray. Like Simpson, he taught Covenant theology—that as spiritual Israelites we have covenant or redemption rights and privileges. This theme is found all through Murray’s writings, but especially in The Two Covenants

The Holiest of All, his expositional devotional preaching from Hebrews, along with Simpson’s Christ in the Tabernacle, brought me into a deeper, fuller understanding of what it means to draw near to Christ in the Holy of Holies, the abiding place with Jesus:

“We have Jesus as our Forerunner into God’s presence, with all the power of His death and resurrection-life working in us and drawing and lifting us with divine energy into the Father’s presence. Yes, Jesus with His divine, His heavenly life, in the power of the throne in which He is seated, has entered into the deepest ground of our being, where Adam, where sin do their work, and there is increasingly carrying out His work of lifting us heavenward into God’s presence, and of making God’s heavenly presence here on earth our portion.”

Murray describes that life in the Holiest Place as one who has been there, no, not just been there, but stays there. His words lift me up into that Holy of Holies, and I pray they will for you too:

“Oh the blessedness of a life in the Holiest! 

Here the Father’s face is seen and His love tasted. Here His holiness is revealed and the soul made partaker of it. 

Here the sacrifice of love and worship and adoration, the incense of prayer and supplication, is offered in power. 

Here the outpouring of the Spirit is known as an ever-streaming, overflowing river from under the throne of God and the Lamb.

Here the soul, in God’s presence, grows into more complete oneness with Christ and more entire conformity to His likeness. 

Here, in union with Christ, in His unceasing intercession, we are emboldened to take our place as intercessors who can have power with God and prevail. 

Here the soul mounts up as on eagle’s wings, the strength is renewed, and the blessing and the power and the love are imparted with which God’s priests can go out to bless a dying world.

Here each day we may experience the fresh anointing, in virtue of which we can go out to be the bearers, and witnesses, and channels of God’s salvation to men, the living instruments through whom our blessed King works out His full and final triumph. 

O Jesus! Our great High Priest, let this be our life!

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Mentored by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship

When I was a freshman in college, I was accosted by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, not in person, of course, but by his challenging and convicting book The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor and theologian who conspired against Hitler during World War II and was executed for treason—paying the ultimate price of the cost of discipleship.

As I read page after page of the book, I was struck by his poignant words again and again. Going over my old copy, which I still have, I rediscovered I had underlined a half page there, a quarter page here, three-quarters page there. So much was standing out to me. Here are just a few of the words that spoke so strongly to my heart:

  • “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship.”
  • “When Christ calls a man He bids him to come and die.”
  • “Only when we have become completely oblivious of self are we ready to bear the cross for His sake.”
  • “Only the man who is dead to his own will can follow Christ.”
  • “The call of Jesus teaches us that our relationship to the world is built on an illusion.”

Not a popular message today with the “ME” generation. But they were transforming to me, infusing into me the passion to be a serious life-long disciple of Jesus Christ, not content just to be a believer with “cheap grace” as Bonhoeffer put it, but to be a disciple, a real disciple—and the passion to be a real disciple-maker. 

Bonhoeffer’s book also brought me to the point of realizing I could not live that life of discipleship in my own efforts; I needed the power of the Holy Spirit. I experienced what in holiness terms is called “the crisis of the deeper life.” Out of the overflow of the Asbury College revival of 1970, I experienced the sanctifying baptism in the Spirit, the power to be a witness (Acts 1:5, 8).

After my sophomore year, I dropped out of college to join the staff of Young Life, taking a step in the cost of discipleship to live by faith. For me, sometimes that meant eating only bologna between two pieces of bread without ketchup, or not eating at all. I learned to fast anywhere from one day to a week, not always for lack of food, but to engage the discipline of fasting, as I discovered that you can be disciplined without being a disciple, but you cannot be a disciple without discipline

Then also the cost of my discipleship meant for me that if Jesus could be born in a stable, I could live in a stable—I actually lived in the tack room of a stable for a year (I did have running water, a shower, and deodorizers). 

When on the staff of Young Life, I was engaged in youth evangelism. We saw dozens of teens profess faith in Christ, but I watched half of them drop out in their faith. Then I realized I needed to focus, not on merely on conversion or decisions for Christ, but on discipleship. I read John 8:31 with new eyes: 

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly My disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

I saw in this passage that not all who believe are disciples, only those who continue to abide in The Word are real disciples—costly grace, not cheap grace. And only those who continue to abide in the Word of God know the truth and the truth sets us free. We may be a believer but not know the truth and therefore not be free.  So I turned the direction of my ministry to discipleship—getting people into the Word and getting the Word into people—and that has been my focus ever since.

Getting people into the Word is hard enough; getting the Word into people is much tougher. The call to come and die to ourselves in order to experience Christ’s resurrection life is not a popular one. Self-help books don’t say much about that. After all, self-help books are meant to help self, not die to self. But Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship has endured the test of time. Enough people have had the courage to read the book to keep it in print. Enough people have realized that the cost of discipleship is worth it.

I guess Bonhoeffer has rubbed off on my son Chris as well. He researched his Ph.D. dissertation on an aspect of Bonhoeffer’s theology. He has become somewhat of a Bonhoeffer scholar, invited to participate in Bonhoeffer scholar conferences in Basel, Switzerland; Berlin, Germany (and visited Bonhoeffer’s home and office); and Capetown, South Africa. But he too has been mentored in the cost of discipleship—a story for another day.

We both want to carry to the next generations the message that the cost of discipleship is worth it—come and die so you can experience the resurrection life of Jesus Christ.

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Mentored by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship

When I was a freshman in college, I was accosted by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, not in person, of course, but by his challenging and convicting book The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor and theologian who conspired against Hitler during World War II and was executed for treason—paying the ultimate price of the cost of discipleship.

As I read page after page, I was struck by his poignant words again and again. Going over my old copy, which I still have, I rediscovered I had underlined a half page there, a quarter page here, three-quarters page there. So much was standing out to me. Here are just a few of the words that spoke so strongly to my heart:

  • “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship.”
  • “When Christ calls a man He bids him to come and die.”
  • “Only when we have become completely oblivious of self are we ready to bear the cross for His sake.”
  • “Only the man who is dead to his own will can follow Christ.”
  • “The call of Jesus teaches us that our relationship to the world is built on an illusion.”

Not a popular message today with the “ME” generation. But they were transforming to me, infusing in me the passion to be a serious life-long disciple of Jesus Christ, not content just to be a believer with “cheap grace” as Bonhoeffer put it, but to be a disciple, a real disciple—and the passion to be a real disciple-maker. 

Bonhoeffer’s book also brought me to the point of realizing I could not live that life of discipleship in my own efforts; I needed the power of the Holy Spirit. I experienced what in holiness terms is called “the crisis of the deeper life.” Out of the overflow of the Asbury College revival of 1970, I experienced the sanctifying baptism in the Spirit, the power to be a witness (Acts 1:5, 8).

After my sophomore year, I dropped out of college to join the staff of Young Life, taking a step in the cost of discipleship to live by faith. For me, sometimes that meant eating only bologna between two pieces of bread without ketchup or cheese, or not eating at all. I learned to fast anywhere from one day to a week, not always for lack of food, but to engage the discipline of fasting, as I discovered that you can be disciplined without being a disciple, but you cannot be a disciple without discipline.

Then also the cost of my discipleship meant for me that if Jesus could be born in a stable, I could live in a stable—I actually lived in the tack room of a stable for a year (I did have running water, a shower, and deodorizers). 

When on the staff of Young Life, I was engaged in youth evangelism. We saw dozens of teens profess faith in Christ, but I watched half of them drop out in their faith. Then I realized I needed to focus, not on merely on conversion or decisions for Christ, but on discipleship. I read John 8:31 with new eyes: 

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly My disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

I saw in this passage that not all who believe are disciples; only those who continue to abide in The Word are real disciples—costly grace, not cheap grace. And only those who continue to abide in the Word of God know the truth and the truth sets us free. We may be a believer but not know the truth and therefore not be free.  So I turned the direction of my ministry to discipleship—getting people into the Word and getting the Word into people—and that has been my focus ever since.

Getting people into the Word is hard enough; getting the Word into people is much tougher. The call to come and die to ourselves in order to experience Christ’s resurrection life is not a popular one. Self-help books don’t say much about that. After all, self-help books are meant to help self, not die to self. But Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship has endured the test of time. Enough people have had the courage to read the book to keep it in print. Enough people have realized that the cost of discipleship is worth it.

I guess Bonhoeffer has rubbed off on my son Chris as well. He researched his Ph.D. dissertation on an aspect of Bonhoeffer’s theology. He has become somewhat of a Bonhoeffer scholar, invited to participate in Bonhoeffer scholar conferences in Basel, Switzerland; Berlin, Germany (and visited Bonhoeffer’s home and office); and Capetown, South Africa. But he too has been mentored in the cost of discipleship—a story for another day.

We both want to carry to the next generations the message that the cost of discipleship is worth it—come and die so you can experience the resurrection life of Jesus Christ.

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Learning from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones—Preaching Is My Life

I trust you had a Merry Christmas! After a pause for Christmas, I resume sharing about my mentoring from the writings of great men and women of God from the past. Today–Dr. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Although I never had the privilege of meeting Dr. Lloyd-Jones, I count him as my greatest preaching mentor through his writings.

My college and graduate school preaching mentors reinforced expository preaching, and even pointed me to Lloyd-Jones. They included my Old Testament and Hebrew professors. Dr. Roy Hayden and Dr. Howard Ervin (who was so brilliant and erudite, I felt like I needed a dictionary every time he spoke in class or chapel–He increased my vocabulary many-fold). Another was Dr. Jerry Horner, a Southern Baptist New Testament scholar, who preached even while teaching Greek grammar. He could preach an entire sermon on the Greek preposition eis (“into”). I also was mentored by him as I served as his Graduate Teaching Assistant. Dr. Lloyd-Jones was all of them rolled into one.

A renowned Welsh Reformed pastor and scholar, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones had been a medical doctor called into the ministry and became one of the greatest preachers of the 20th century. He is known for his in-depth insightful expository preaching. For example, he spent three years preaching through Ephesians verse-by-verse. I also relished Romans, Acts, the Sermon on the Mount—so much richness. He would not only give exposition, but illustrate through the stories, lives, and teaching of great men and women of God through the centuries.

Dr. Lloyd-Jones has taught me a love for the Puritans. I once thought of the Puritans as, well—“Puritanical,”—stuffy, strict, stodgy. But once I started reading Jonathan Edwards, Thomas Brooks, Thomas Watson, The Valley of Vision, etc., I began to realize the depth of their relationship and fellowship with God and their experiences of the Higher Christian Life. Lloyd-Jones and Tozer once shared speaking at a conference together. They remarked that they had come to about the same place spiritually–Tozer through the mystics and Lloyd-Jones through the Puritans.

Dr. Lloyd-Jones also mentored me through his books on the Holy Spirit (Joy Unspeakable, The Baptism and Gifts of the Spirit) and Revival. The biography of his preaching ministry, The Sacred Anointing, reinforced to me the sacred calling to preach, and the need for the anointing of the Holy Spirit every time I speak. John Piper (another of my mentors through his writings and video teachings) tells this story:

In July, 1959 Martyn Lloyd-Jones and his wife Bethan were on vacation in Wales. They attended a little chapel for a Sunday morning prayer meeting and Lloyd-Jones asked them, “Would you like me to give a word this morning?” The people hesitated because it was his vacation and they didn’t want to presume on his energy. But his wife said, “Let him. Preaching is his life.” It was a true statement. In the preface to his powerful book, Preaching and Preachers, he said, “Preaching has been my life’s work … to me the work of preaching is the highest and the greatest and the most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called. 

I too love preaching, even on vacation. So even though I am “retired,” I am called to preach—whether in a church service, a conference, a webinar, a podcast, a blog like this, book, or an article. I have preached to five people (on several occasions) and to 5000 (on only a few occasions)—it doesn’t matter how many or how few—I love to preach the Word of God. Just little more than a week ago, I shared by Zoom with a men’s meeting called “The Huddle” with six people. Whether three people or 300 view these blogs and video meditations, I am called to share God’s Word. I hope to do more by Zoom.

I do it imperfectly and I am still learning as a lifelong student. I have not perfected the art and skill of social media. Sometimes I am not practical enough, or relevant enough, or funny enough. I may preach too long and deep for some people, and it may not be entertaining, but that is my calling. I am like Jeremiah: “His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (NIV). 

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A.B. Simpson—My Mentor in the Higher Life

Apart from A.W. Tozer, the great influence in my life from “Old Dead Guys” has been A.B. Simpson, the founder of The Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA). I have read everything I can get my hands on of his writings, even scouring old Alliance magazines for his unpublished articles and editorials. Simpson has been my portal to the Higher Christian Life. Simpson founded The Alliance, not as a denomination, but as a Higher Life movement emphasizing what he called the “Fourfold Gospel”—Jesus Christ as Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King.

As a Presbyterian pastor, Simpson read the book The Higher Christian Life, published by another Presbyterian pastor, William Boardman in 1858, and it transformed his life, as it did mine as well. I ended up writing a book on it entitled Come Up Higher: Rediscovering Throne Life—The Highest Christian Life for the 21st Century. One of my mentors, Darlene Kipling, has dubbed me as “The Apostle of the Higher Life.”

Through Boardman’s book Simpson experienced the sanctifying baptism in the Spirit to empower and make holy, and then later the healing power of God. What is this Higher Life? Very simply, it is the message of Philippians 3:10-14, my life Scripture, that God is calling us ever higher in pursuit of Him—more of Jesus Christ, more of His resurrection power, more dying to self in order to experience resurrection life—and more! To Simpson, the baptism in the Spirit is “God’s elevator” to the Higher Christian Life.

Simpson’s writings, many of which are out of print today, are filled with messages calling us ever higher, books like The Larger Christian Life, The Supernatural, Land of Promise, The Highest Christian Life, Days of Heaven on Earth, In Heavenly Places, Danger Lines in the Deeper LifeThe Self Life or the Christ LifeThe Holy Spirit: Power from on High, his entire 6 volume Christ in the Bible series, and so many more.

His books The Gospel of HealingThe Lord for the BodyThe Life of Prayer, and Seeing the Invisible, have mentored me in faith and experiencing God’s healing power in my personal life and family.

Of course, just as with Tozer, and for that matter, every mentor in my life, living or an old dead guy, Simpson had his weaknesses, mistakes, and things with which I would disagree. I have deep weaknesses too; many, many mistakes, and I sometimes even disagree with myself. We are all pots of clay. Yet Simpson and Tozer have had the most positive and lasting impact on my life.

Nearly a year ago, I was having lunch with two of my mentors, Bob Petty, now Alliance Midwest District Superintendent, and his wife MaryK, and I was sharing with them about the richness and depth of Simpson’s writings that most people don’t know because so many of his works are out of print. They challenged me, even commissioned me as it were, to devote this next season of my life to mentoring others in the writings of Simpson and that higher and deeper life message. That is my calling.

Christ is calling us all to that ever Higher Life in Him. That is what Christmas is all about—That we might know Jesus more and more and all of the heights and depths to which Jesus would take us in His Presence. That is my prayer for you this Christmas. Let your prayer be, “More, Lord!”

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Pursuing God with A.W. Tozer

Probably the writer who has impacted my life the most is A.W. Tozer, popular deeper life devotional writer, and pastor in The Christian and Missionary Alliance. I like to say that Tozer is in my DNA. Let me explain why.

My Dad, who was from Lutheran and Presbyterian background, came to saving faith in Christ in an Alliance church while in college. When my parents got married, they spent part of their honeymoon at an Alliance campground in Pennsylvania hearing Tozer preach. I was born ten months later. I was nearly conceived under the ministry of A.W. Tozer, so Tozer is in my DNA!

I started reading Tozer’s classic The Pursuit of God, when I was in high school—and I have read it more than a dozen times. Outside of the Bible, it is probably the book I have read most. My life Scripture is Philippians 3:10-14:

. . . that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; if somehow I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already grasped it all or have already become perfect, but I press on that I may also take hold of that for which I was even taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Jesus. Brothers and sisters, I do not regard myself as having taken hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

That is my passion—to know Christ more and more—to pursue Him, dying to self that I might live His resurrection life, and to equip others for that deeper and higher life in Christ.

Consequently, I have devoured everything Tozer has written—more than 50 books in my collection. In the early 1990s, before the days of computer word search, I was asked by a publisher to compile an index of his writings. It may seem tedious, but I loved doing it. I was able to dive into all of His works and find nuggets throughout.

The Knowledge of the Holy, another of his classics, I have read numerous times as well. Every time I read, he cuts to the chase and challenges me spiritually. Some of my other favorites—That incredible Christian, The Root of the Righteous, Divine Conquest, his series on the Holy Spirit.

Tozer is the theologian of the Presence. More than any other topic, he writes of experiencing the Presence of God. It is a golden strand all through his writings. Leonard Ravenhill, who was mentored by Tozer, spoke of Tozer lying on his face on the carpet in humbleness and awe of God’s presence. I have heard the same of Billy Graham.

Tozer introduced me to the evangelical Christian mystics, being known as a mystic himself: Bernard of Clairvaux, Nicholas of Cusa, Lady Julian, Brother Lawrence, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Catherine of Sienna, hymnwriters (most hymnwriters were mystics), and so many more. He did not agree with all of their theology but recognized them as people who really knew God personally—who practiced the Presence of God. He called worship “the missing jewel.” Today, on one hand, he would laud modern worship emphasis on The Presence; on the other hand, he would call a lot of modern worship “vacuous” and “superficial.”

Tozer has also challenged me intellectually. Although he never completed high school, he was an avid reader—especially theologians. Once I got to see part of his library at Tozer Theological Seminary in Redding, California. He had read theologians like Augustine, Paul Tillich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the church fathers, Luther, Wesley, the Puritans, and so much more. I loved his saying, “Truth has two wings. You have got to have both wings to make it fly.” He emphasized balancing texts of Scripture and recognizing counter-polarities. At the same time, he challenged me not to be taught only by the text of Scripture, but to be Spirit-taught—by the Spirit making Scripture come alive, fresh and new.

Tozer was very incisive in his writings, sometimes to the point of being too blunt, or even caustic. Alliance historian, John Sawin, who knew him personally, said Tozer would travel hundreds of miles to apologize to someone. Being another Western Pennsylvania blunt person, I have often had to apologize for my forthrightness (the euphemism we use to excuse our bluntness).

If you read the biographies of his life, you will know of his weaknesses—especially the neglect of his family. I hope that I have learned from his mistakes as well as his pursuit of God. No, I don’t always agree with his theology or his lifestyle, but the mentoring I have received through his books has challenged me, convicted me, humbled me, taken me to my face on the carpet, and raised me up to see that there is always more in life with Jesus Christ—to become an incredible Christian living for an incredible Jesus.

I commend to you the reading of A.W. Tozer. It won’t be easy reading or digesting–much to chew on and hard to swallow–but it will be worth it.

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Learning from Old Dead Guys

I have much more I could share on peace and reconciliation, but that is all the Lord has led me to share at this time. May Jesus bring more of both to you in this Christmas season. The Lord turned my attention once again to my mentors.

I have shared with you some of the living mentors who have influenced my life. I have also been mentored by great men and women of God of past generations through their reading their biographies and their books. I love books—they are full of life! Especially when they are books by people who love God, who have lived life with God on this earth, and who have not only plumbed the depths and heights of the riches of the Bible, God’s Word, but have lived those depths and heights.

I have nearly 4000 volumes in my library. That may seem like a lot, but it is really miniscule. When my wife asks, “Why do you need another book?”, I just respond, “Charles Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher, had 12,000 volumes in his personal library. I still have just a fraction of that.” I once had the privilege to visit another famous Baptist preacher in his study—Dr. Haddon Robinson, President of Denver Theological Seminary—raised in Harlem and saved out of gangs. His office looked just like a library—filled with library stacks shelving thousands of books—another Spurgeon. I don’t come close.

Once I was in a Facebook dialogue and I was quoting some writers from the past. One person told me he didn’t want to hear about “old dead guys.” I responded, first of all, that the writers of the Old and New Testaments were old dead guys. Second, I referred him to the Scripture:

“Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths,
Where the good way is, and walk in it;
Then you will find a resting place for your souls.

Jeremiah 6:16

Great men and women of God throughout church history have walked that good way to the ancient paths. We have so much to learn from their lives and their teachings. They show us the way to The Way, the truth to The Truth, the life to The Life—Jesus Christ.

Here are a few of many who have impacted my life: A.W. Tozer, deeper life devotional writer; A.B. Simpson, founder of The Christian and Missionary Alliance; Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the great Welsh Reformed expository preacher; Andrew Murray, Dutch Reformed missionary to South Africa; Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Lutheran pastor executed by Hitler; George Mueller, the apostle of faith; Oswald Chambers, Baptist devotional writer of My Utmost for His Highest; Charles Spurgeon, great Baptist preacher; John MacMillan, spiritual warfare pioneer and writer of The Authority of the Believer; E.M. Bounds, Methodist prayer warrior; C.S. Lewis; J. Edwin Orr’s books on the history of revivals.

And women like Mrs Charles (Lettie) Cowman, writer of devotional books like Streams in the Desert; missionary Amy Carmichael; Quaker Hannah Whitall Smith, author of The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life; mystics like Theresa of Avila and Madame Guyon, and many more. I won’t share all of these, but give you a taste of some that have impacted me the most. And, hopefully, you not be put off by “old dead guys,” but will be inspired to read them.

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Making Peace Jesus’ Way

“Now if your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that on the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be confirmed. And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, he is to be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17a).

Jesus lays down a four-step process for resolving personal and church-related conflicts:

  1. if your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private.
  2. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that on the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be confirmed.
  3. And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.
  4. and if he refuses to listen even to the church, he is to be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

The vast majority of conflicts could be resolved if this first step is taken properly. So often, instead of going to the person who has offended and talking privately, the wounded person tells other people, violating this basic biblical principle. If you have a beef with someone, go talk to that person, not me or someone else. I know even church leaders and pastors that have violated this basic principle. I have myself violated this principle upon occasion. Not obeying Jesus’ first main command regarding conflict creates greater and more serious conflict.

Telling someone else about the issue with this person, unless they are part of the problem or the solution, amounts to gossip, and even slander. At this point, Step 2 is necessary. I have found it not only valuable but crucial to have two or three witnesses to verify.

When we do meet, either privately, or with two or three others, Paul shares with us the way we should approach such a meeting: “Brothers and sisters, even if a person is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual are to restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you are not tempted as well” (Galatians 6:1). 

When I was a Christian school administrator decades ago, things were in an uproar with several students verbally fighting with each other and accusing each other. Then they were going home and telling their parents and saying that teachers were taking sides and were unfair to them.

Finally, I gathered everyone who was involved—students, parents, teachers—squeezing all 14 of them all into my office. I had each one say their piece. And eventually the truth came out. Some of the parents were surprised that their own children were telling stories that were not true, that were distorted or embellished. We spent about two hours cramped in my office. It was hot—and not just the temperature!

Eventually, when the truth came out, students apologized to one another, to teachers, and to parents. Parents apologized to teachers and to other parents. We prayed together, wept together, and had a mini-revival before it was all over. When I left the position some time later, at my farewell gathering those students expressed their appreciation for me forcing them to talk it out together and restoring friendships again.

I have wanted to do the same thing in many a church conflict through the years, but it is more difficult to coral adults than it is kids.

When we handle things Jesus’ way, we seldom need to go beyond Step 2.

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