Object Lessons for Relationships and Revival

The closest thing I have to a “man cave” is my home office. In addition to my desk and a computer and files, you see old photos of childhood baseball teams, personalized, special gifts given to me over the years by students, and numerous souvenirs from overseas teaching trips.

There’s an old, tattered booklet that was my preschool son’s favorite (he’s now 43); the tiny communion cups Dolly and I used during a worship service outside the tomb where many believe Jesus was buried near Jerusalem, and framed flamingo feathers, plucked from the mud alongside the ocean during my first-ever overseas mission trip, to Namibia in 1994. Elephant carvings from Africa, a brass plate showing a map of Korea given to me when I taught there…and much more.

But I want to set your mental scope on a couple of items in my office that remind me of vital truths for Christian living, lessons all of us need to take to heart. Those items are in the center of the picture. They speak to me. Or more accurately, God’s Spirit speaks to me through them.

Do you want to listen in?


Framed Letter to My Dad

In late December 1977, while serving as an associate staff member in a church in Indianapolis, God’s Spirit nudged me to type a letter to my dad on church stationery. He was  only 58 at the time, but due to kidney failure, I did not know how long he would live.

In the letter, I thanked him for hundreds of prayers on my behalf over the years, and for the letters of counsel and encouragement he wrote to me during my college years. I informed him that he had modeled for me a love for God’s Word, which he taught year after year in an adult Sunday School class. I expressed gratitude for being my #1 baseball fan during my childhood and adolescent years. He rarely missed a game that I pitched, and I could count on his loud outbursts of encouragement from the stands behind our dugout. I thanked him for the menial cotton mill work that left him hobbling at day’s end due to gout, and his financial sacrifices that enabled me to attend college. (He only attended school through Grade 7.) And I cited  a particular memory: the December he drove my brother and me into the edge of the woods and read aloud to us the Christmas story from Luke 2. Dennis and I had been venting our excitement about presents we’d receive and the chance to start shooting fireworks on Christmas Eve. Dad ordered us into the car, and after the short drive and his reading of the Bible story, he bellowed, “Now that’s what Christmas is all about…not toys and firecrackers!”

I assured him that without his influence and strong faith in Christ, I wouldn’t be in vocational ministry.

Why is the framed letter so special to me now that it occupies a prominent spot on my office bookshelf? (Even though the type and color of the letterhead have faded.)

In the summer of 1978, I visited him at our homeplace in North Carolina. This was shortly before he left for an extended stay in the hospital, where he died months later on Christmas day. When I walked into his bedroom, the first thing I spotted was my letter. He had put a frame around it and hung it over the head of the bed. The letter means a lot to me now because it obviously had meant a lot to him then.

Oh, how glad I am that I heeded the Spirit’s nudge to write that letter! When I receive such nudges from the Spirit, I tend to procrastinate. Waiting another year would have been too late. In recent years, when I’ve noticed the letter to my dad in my office, God’s Spirit has prompted me to call or to write someone who means a lot to me, who has contributed much to my life. (A prime example is a friend and pastor with whom I served on the church staff here in South Carolina. He received my two-page, handwritten letter several years ago, a month before he died.)

Who is the Holy Spirit prompting you to call or to write? 

Who comes to mind when you think of completing this sentence: “I thank God for you because….?”  A close friend who stood by you when you were hurting?  A mentor who has been a catalyst for growth spiritually or for advancement in your career?  A parent you are convinced loves you, despite mistakes he or she made, past conflicts you’ve endured, or his or her inability to express love to you in the way you wanted to receive it? Do you need to ask someone for forgiveness, or merely express gratitude that shows you aren’t taking him or her for granted?

No one can smell the flowers on his or her coffin. Through written or spoken words, heed the Spirit’s nudge today. Give him or her a verbal bouquet now while this person can still smell its sweet aroma.


Rusitu Rock

In the late 1990s, I taught for two weeks at a small mission compound in the hilly, rural Rusitu region of Zimbabwe. Previously, a mission agency had established a medical clinic, a school for children, modest houses for resident missionaries, and a small classroom facility where church leaders could attend college level ministry courses to enhance effectiveness of their leadership. Of course, the compound included a sizable church facility, the only one for many miles. Yet the original one-room church building still stood about a hundred yards from the house where I stayed. Erected very early in the 1900s, all you could see were the external walls, some sections crumbling and leaving small, roseate rocks on the earthen floor around the perimeter.

I paid scant attention to the shell of the old church building until my missionary host loaned me a book about past revivals in Africa. He directed  me to several pages devoted to a revival breakthrough in Rusitu in the early 1900s, on those same mission compound grounds, a movement of God which started inside those eroding walls of the first church building. A traveling evangelist spoke several nights, but initially there was little evidence of a work in folks’ hearts. Christians who attended didn’t seem affected at first, and few were coming to Christ. But the evangelist had taught a chorus to those who came, which they sang in every meeting. The lyrics included these words: “Lord, send a revival, and let it start with me.”

The book’s story went on to say that over a period of several days, the Christians who attended those meetings were heard singing that chorus while they walked from place to place, cleaned their tiny homes, cooked meals and toiled in the fields. Apparently, the Holy Spirit was stirring in their hearts.

Those lyrics became music that reached and pleased the ears of God. As the book author put it, one night during the revival meeting “the Holy Spirit fell.” Weeping erupted among the people present. Heartfelt conviction of sin stirred those who knew Christ, and those who had not put faith in Him were prompted to do so. Altar calls were common in the meetings, but in that instance, some people were under such conviction that they literally ran to the front of the facility to do business with God. One person was so anxious to prostate himself at the front of the little sanctuary that on the way there, he literally knocked the evangelist to the floor! The revival meetings lasted for weeks. Many folks came to Christ for salvation, and believers dealt with sin before God or with people they had wronged.

I was standing on holy ground.

As I stood on the earthen floor inside those walls, my heart ached over the lack of genuine revival among churches back in the States, and the need for me to sing that chorus to the Lord far more often. I picked up a small rock that had originally been part of a wall, and took it back home with me (now broken into smaller pieces). When I gaze at it now, what do the fragile pieces of stone say to me about revival?

*Revival is first and foremost a stirring among God’s people, a breaking of their hearts over sin they’ve been taking too flippantly. People becoming Christians is the aftermath of repentance among those who already know the Lord.

*Every book recording the history of spiritual awakenings illustrates that a renewal of prayer preceded spiritual breakthroughs. In Rusitu, they sang the prayer intermittently throughout the day. The plea which they sang indicated that their focus was on their own need for holiness, not the bleak moral climate of their community or their nation. (“Lord, send a revival, and let it start with me.”)

*Another enduring characteristic in the history of revivals is the prevalence of tears. Whether the weeping came from believers under conviction, or those seeing their need of forgiveness for the first time, public displays of crying were commonplace in spiritual awakenings, as demonstrated by the loud wails that occurred during the Rusitu meeting.

In the 1980s, I attended a Bible conference and heard a series of messages by David Mains titled, “Enduring Characteristics of Revival.” He gleaned typical indicators of revival from the Great Awakenings in America, as well as revival movements overseas, such as the famous Welsh Revival (1904-05). He conveyed story after story of the prayers that preceded a spiritual breakthrough, or the tears and other traits that accompanied revival outbreaks.

At one point in a message, he quoted several contemporary church leaders who believed the United States was at that time (mid-1980s) on the brink of another great spiritual awakening. Those leaders cited well-known public figures and personalities who had recently come to faith in Christ, and evidence of numerical growth in several conservative denominations. Then David paused, and with a look of despair on his face, said, “I don’t believe it! Where are the tears?” A keen observer of Christianity in the United States, David didn’t see an emphasis on brokenness or tears of repentance among Christians.

I look at the pieces of rock and whisper, “Oh God, break my heart over my own sin. Forgive me for taking my sin too casually, for hurting You with my sin and thinking so little of Jesus’ death for it. Oh God, don’t let me sin successfully! Either let me get caught and embarrassed, or convict me until my heart breaks and tears pour down my face.”

Is that something you are willing to pray?

Things in my office speak to me. Through what things or persons is God trying to speak to you?  Will you listen?