Wineskins Archive

January 23, 2014

The Focus of Renewal: The God Who Acts (June 1992)

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by Randall Harris
June, 1992

It is one of the unfortunate features of our superficial culture that church renewal is too often understood in terms of flashy, exciting glitz, which never reaches the core of the spiritual man. A new program, a motivational retreat, and a burst of enthusiasm do not constitute spiritual renewal. Church renewal is not achieved by pep rallies in which we get fired up. It results, rather, from an encounter with our God who is a consuming fire. Renewal must begin at the beginning, which is to say, it must begin with God.

Christians long to experience the renewal of mind which leads to transformation and empowerment to resist the world’s efforts to shape us in accordance with its warped values. But how does the renewal of mind come about? I think we are helped toward

an understanding of the starting point from a couple of passages in Deuteronomy 6. First, consider verses 10-12.

When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you – land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant – then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

Consider the drastic change which takes place in the life of Israel which leads to the warning in the above passage. While they are in the desert the people are directly dependent on God for their every need. If God doesn’t act, they go thirsty. If God does not provide, they go hungry.

But once they enter the land, God’s direct intervention is no longer required, and there is a dire threat of forgetfulness. It is this forgetfulness that is so spiritual debilitating.

Many of us have never really lived in the desert or have not been there in such a long time that we’ve forgotten what it’s like. Living in the comfortable confines of the promised land, we have forgotten our dependence on the one who both rescued us and continues to be our ultimate source of life.

This is one of the reasons that evangelism is so important to the spiritual life of the church. A church of second and third generation Christians needs the new convert to remind us of God’s relentless love that has rescued us from the desert, the memory of which has now gone dim.

There is but one theme in scripture – the relentless love of God. Spiritual renewal begins with the memory of the desert of hopeless lostness and the mighty action of the loving God who brought us into the land of life. “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord.” Our understanding of the spiritual life we now enjoy must begin with the remembrance of God’s initiative and activity in our behalf. But now to the second passage, Deuteronomy 6:20-25:

In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Before our eyes, the Lord sent miraculous signs and wonders – great and terrible – upon Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land that he promised on oath to our forefathers. The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. And if we are careful to obey all the law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be ourrighteousness.

“But why do we have to go to church?” the little boy asks his parents. Unfortunately, the answer too often given is “Because God tells us to.” Even more tragically, we may have no more adequate answer for our own religious activities.

But notice the answer given in the above passage. The meaning of religious responsibilities is tied to a relationship with God who acts in our behalf. This, too, is crucial to spiritual renewal. We do what we do because God has graciously invited us into a covenant relationship with him.

I see little hope for sustained spiritual renewal if we are unable to see the connectin between wha we do and what God has done on our behalf. Too often we read scripture without knowing why we are doing it. We launch into our daily Bible reading program each new year and sprint our way through Genesis and Exodus only to crash in Leviticus. We come to scripture intending to master its contents, hoping we will be transformed by the exercise. But, of course, the point is not to master scripture, but rather to be mastered by the One who is All in All.

May I make one tiny suggestion? For the next year, read the Bible with just one agenda – to find out what God is like and what he has done for you. Then begin to see your life as a response to God’s relentless love.

We must give up our worldly desire for the spectacular big deal in church renewal and the quick fix for our spiritual emptiness. We need something more substantive and lasting. We need a relationship with our Father. We begin with the act of remembrance and move forward by seeing the meaningfulness of our activities as secured by God’s gracious offer of covenant, not the slavish obedience to pointless commands.

In spiritual renewal the focus must not be on ourselves but on the one who does the renewing. I cannot renew myself. Do you remember David’s prayer in Psalm 51:10?

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

God will do for me what I cannot do for myself. He will recreate me. So Spiritual renewal never begins with a method; it begins rather with a word from God.

Genuine, transforming spiritual renewal is sustained only where hearts turn toward God. Beyond the racket of religious exhibitionism, deep searches for deep. In our quest for spiritual life we seek to see our God more clearly and thus to love him more dearly.

After 16 centuries, Augustine’s eloquent prayer to the Father is ever true: “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

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