22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you” (Acts 17:22-23 NIV).
The Holiness Project – “Revival on Mars Hill”
My heart is excited this morning because I am hoping and praying for a revival on (and in) Mars Hill.
Some of you might be surprised. Isn’t Mars Hill Church the megachurch that just imploded a couple of years ago? Something to do with their pastor, Mark Driscoll, and an abusive leadership culture that developed during his ministry there? Didn’t he step down in disgrace? This is a sad and sorry affair that puts the name of Christ in disrespect. Why are you talking about revival on Mars Hill?
Well, yes, I am talking about the potential for revival on Mars Hill because I strongly suspect that God is up to something glorious in that church. Yes, I know that most unbelievers would scoff and deride the church in general and that many believers may hang their heads in shame and rightly so. But I don’t believe that shame is ever the last word when it comes to God and his mysterious ways.
Shame is transformed into love at the foot of the cross and love rooted in humility is God’s spark for renewal and revival in the church.
Let me give you some background to help you understand. You see, I like Mars Hill Church. Yes, I have problems with the former pastor, Rob Lowe, and his loose theology and, yes, this abusive leadership culture developed under Pastor Mark Driscoll is bad and sinful and just plain wrong. But I love Mars Hill Church.
The people there love the Lord, even, and especially, the Pastors. They have a serious gifting in the area of evangelism and their discipleship training is inspiring I especially like how much they work on and develop the spiritual leadership and ministry of the elders. As you may or may not know, it was the body of local elders that finally confronted the leadership team and called them to repentance. That took courage and conviction and, from what I could see, they handled it fairly well.
What I am interested in, and excited by, is the rest of the story. The potential for renewal and revival is high and Aslan has been seen in the land.
Yes, I believe that something deeper and more exciting is afoot and I can’t wait to hear what happens next. Perhaps it was the wonderful tone of the letter that the elders wrote to their leaders. Perhaps it was the presence of Pastor Paul Tripp as the spiritual consultant and pastor to pastors. Perhaps it was the comments on the blog that I read that came from so many of the church members who testified to the power of God in their lives through the ministry of this church and, especially, Pastor Mark.
It feels like a perfect storm of spiritual power that could explode into revival or disperse with a whimper into the wind.
I don’t know yet. It depends on a few key things.
The key to what happens next is Pastor Mark, that is why he needs our fervent prayers at this time.
- Will he see this discipline of God as a demonstration of His love or as punishment for his sins?
- Will he recognize that his susceptibility to idols of power and control have interfered in his worship of God alone in humility and joy?
- Will he accept stepping down from his leadership position and the tarnishing of his reputation as necessary elements in the process of his restoration?
- Will he let go of his claims to justice and accept God’s severe mercy as the way to value his relationship with God as more important by far than his success, than his ministry, even than his reputation? Yes, Pastor Mark is the key.
I am not surprised that he is a sinner, that he struggles with idols of power and control and fame. Who doesn’t? Especially in this day and age. Sure he should have dealt with these issues in the context of his own daily relationship with God, in his family, in his small group, in his leadership team. He was blind, no doubt, to his sin and deaf to his need to bring it to the cross and crucify it daily. No doubt. And I am too. Blind and deaf and, quite frankly, dumb. I am always shocked by the depth of my own sin and pollution and at how strong my flesh still is.
God breaks down one idol only for another to rise in its place or the same one to resurface in another form.
I believe that there are two great movements in the Christian life in terms of the process of our sanctification. The first is that we must make every effort in the power of the Spirit and with the help and encouragement of the fellowship of the saints NOT to sin but rather to develop spiritual fruit and godly virtues through a lifestyle of repentance, discipleship and stewardship. That is the simple good (as C.S. Lewis would say) that we must focus on and pursue together.
But that isn’t the complete story. There is also the complex good that God does in us as we pursue the simple good….and fail (which we most certainly will do and more often than we think). The simple good is focused on becoming like Christ in the context of full surrender and consecration to his service.
But the truth is that the most difficult thing to do is to stay in that place of full surrender and consecration at the foot of the cross in the face of the daily onslaught of sin.
The more we experience the presence of God , the more we are aware of our sin and our need for the cross. The cross of Christ is the glory of God. It is not just central to our salvation but also to our sanctification. We should not sin but when we do, we must flee to the cross and give God permission to crucify our sin and idols to that cross every day.
That is the relational question that God asks us in our sin. Do you love me more than these? If you do, then nail them to the cross, deny yourself and follow me. This is the complex good that God can bring out of our failures and sin. Shall we sin so that grace may abound, Paul asks. By no means. We must make every effort not to sin but when we do sin, and we flee to the cross, rejecting that idol, tearing it down and nailing it to the cross, God is at work doing his complex good. It is a severe mercy which often hurts and is often embarrassing but is essential to our spiritual growth.
If we focus on the victory of the abundant life lived in full surrender and consecration to God, we must be careful that we do not trivialize the sin that still lurks at our door and be careful not to fall into spiritual pride.
If we focus on the depths of our sin and pollution, even as Christians redeemed in Christ, we must be careful that we do not give that sin more power and significance than it actually has and be careful not to fall into spiritual despair.
The solution to both extremes (which are both very common in every church) is the cross of Christ. At the foot of the cross, believers crucify their sin by denying themselves and prioritizing the value and glory of the cross as the solution to their specific sin.
Are you surprised that you (or your leaders) have idols that need to be revealed and then cast down whether voluntarily or thorough divine discipline? Are you surprised that this complex good of allowing your sin to be revealed publicly (because you weren’t willing or able to deal with it privately) is actually good for you? God is a jealous God and His mercy is often severe but it is always for our eternal good in Christ.
Our problem is that we don’t share His agenda nor His perspective on the seriousness of our sin. Once we accept His perspective, our hearts will learn to become thankful for His severe mercy.
Pastor Mark and the leadership team can cry out in gratitude to God (with tears if necessary) for this severe mercy. If they humble themselves and confess their sins and repent by putting certain processes and structures in place to keep it from happening again then there is great spiritual renewal available for each of them.
Because this has now become a public issue, the whole church community is involved. We are a body, one body in Christ. We have sinned. All of us together. We all struggle with power and manipulation and fear and reputation. The seven deadly sins are all rooted in pride and arrogance and we are all blind, deaf and dumb when it comes to our own sin. We all shade the truth to our benefit. We all exaggerate. We are all spin doctors and snake oil salesmen/women to one degree or another. Who can cast the first stone? Certainly not me.
The point is that there is an opportunity here for revival to break out on Mars Hill and I am excited. The first key is Pastor Mark, himself, and by extension the rest of the top leadership team. But the second key is the rest of the community.
Those who feel that Pastor Mark and the leadership team have sinned against them specifically (and to one degree or the other that includes the entire church) have the opportunity and privilege (like Job) to pray for them and intercede before the throne of God on behalf of those who have hurt them.
They need to ask themselves whether the death of Christ on the cross was sufficient to pay for this sin against them and, if so, to claim that precious blood as more than enough to cover all the sins of these people against them.
The blood of Christ does not trivialize sin but, in fact, gives it great significance. We do not forgive others because their sin doesn’t matter but because it matters far more than any of us are willing to admit. The sin is, in fact, rebellion against God and sufficient to place this person in eternal judgement before the justice of God.
Sin is no light matter to God nor should it be to us. That is why nothing less than the precious blood of Christ shed for us is needed for forgiveness to have any meaning in this difficult and dangerous world.
But it doesn’t stop there. True forgiveness has a purpose and a power all it’s own. In humility, the Spirit will also convict the victims of the sin of their own sin against others (perhaps in some totally unrelated matter) and remind them that this same blood covers their sin as well.
True forgiveness sparks renewal in our own lives and can be granted whether or not the person who has sinned even asks for forgiveness. If they do ask, then all the better because reconciliation is now possible on this earth.
There will always be final reconciliation before the throne of God but we are called to a lifestyle of reconciliation between us and God and between us and others here on earth as the essential foundation for spiritual fellowship which empowers us to be used by God in evangelism and discipleship in the power of the Spirit. But even if true reconciliation does not happen immediately (or ever in this life), the Word calls us to live in peace (based on the cross) with everyone so far as it is possible.
I believe that God asks us two questions when someone sins against us. The first has to do with forgiveness. Is the blood of Christ sufficient payment for this sin against you? If not, then it is also not sufficient for your own sins against others. If so, then we must accept that payment of blood and no longer hold anything against that person.
What strikes us is that Christ has also died for this person that has hurt us. He loves that sinner as much as He loves the one sinned against and that is why there is a second question that He asks related to reconciliation. Will you see them and treat them as God does, as sinners redeemed in Christ, living under Christ’s promise to present them without spot or blemish before the throne of God? Will you see them as they are in Christ or only as they are in the flesh, in their sin, even if they continue in the flesh? Will you trust the Spirit’s work in them that He is revealing His glory, the glory of the value and centrality of the cross, in them through this very process, at this very moment? Just like He is doing with you?
All of us must answer these two questions. Is the blood of Christ sufficient and will you love them for my sake? In addition, will you also pray for them fervently as the vehicle of your own healing and restoration as well as theirs? I believe that God listens very carefully indeed to the prayers of his children when they pray for those who have hurt them.
The thing is that true forgiveness and reconciliation will spark our own confession and repentance and remind us of our own sin and weakness and desperate need for the cross every day.
Two brothers who feuded for years even as they both went to the same church every Sunday in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, finally reconciled publicly and it sparked a revival in Canada. I don’t know the whole story but I’ve heard it happen before.
Suffering and trials as well as sin and temptation brought to the foot of the cross can be used by God to bring individual renewal to both the sinner and the victim of the sin.
If the cross is central, the victim gains a position of authority in prayer as well as a renewed walk in full surrender and consecration. When that renewal becomes church wide, especially in the leadership but also in the majority of the church members, then renewal can break out into revival in an amazing and powerful way.
God has shown up and the reality of the cross is making itself felt and anything can happen after that. It isn’t the ministry of Mars Hill Church that changes lives but rather the ministry of the cross in the power of the Spirit through the individual and corporate lives and fellowship of Mars Hill Church that can impact this world.
I don’t know about you, but I am excited. I am praying for revival on Mars Hill. I am seeking renewal and revival in my own life as well and encourage you to do the same. Things are just starting to get good. So Happy New Year and pray fervently for revival on Mars Hill.
The Desert Warrior