Sunday, July 24, 2011

Revival History Awakenings

There is only one word to describe this past weekend’s School of Revival History: Awesome! Ray Hughes and Matt Higa took us on an awe-inspiring ride through the Cumberland Gap and the Kentucky Revivals to the beautiful land of Wales and the Welsh Revivals to the island of Kauai and its importance as a catalyst for revival; not to mention everything else in-between, around, and anything that remotely smelled like a revival. It was a rich, savory stew of God’s love poured out on humanity through a span of 400 years. We were all blessed.

Thursday night started with the life of David Brainerd and his sacrificial heart for the American Indians. When most clergy in the colonies looked upon the natives as soulless beasts, Brainerd took it upon himself to share the Gospel of Jesus with his fellow human beings. Many turned to the Savior. He died a young man, but his contribution to the Kingdom still sets hearts aflame for God.

From that night to Saturday, the messages covered people like Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, George Whitefield, William Cartwright, Francis Asbury, Evan Roberts, Lorenzo Dow, Charles Finney, Sam Jones, Hewahewa, Henry O, Maria Woodworth Etter, Aimee Semple McPherson, Gypsy Smith and a host of other names that changed the landscape of our world and eternity for the glory of God. As I heard all the names and their contributions, these themes stood out: passion for souls; love for God; no fear of man; love for the younger generation; the sovereignty of God.

They all possessed a passion for souls. It seemed like no obstacle would prevent them from proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Asbury and Cartwright were Methodist circuit preachers to the new settlements beyond the original thirteen colonies. They followed in Wesley’s footsteps by covering thousands of miles on horseback, through wind and rain, hostile attacks and thievery, severe terrain and cold. They faithfully preached the Gospel and punched out a few hecklers in the process of evangelizing a wide swath of the population. They did it because they loved people. Their work blessed a nation. Their work populated heaven.

They loved God. Evan Roberts, of Welsh Revival fame, cried profusely from the pews and asked God to bend him, break him, use him to reach the lost. Years and years of developing a keen sensitivity to the Spirit of God while working and praying in the coal mines of Wales created a deep love for Him. I could only imagine what it was like to sit in the pitch dark for hours on end. Maybe he memorized Psalm 139 and contemplated David’s words, “Even in the darkness you are there….” Roberts’ life changed a whole generation. It still effects us today.

They did not fear man. From the eccentricity of Kathryn Kuhlman to the frozen states of Maria Woodworth Etter, they all exhibited a quirkiness shunned by the general religious population. Kuhlman would come out in these chiffon dresses and ask in a high shrill voice from the pulpit, “Are you waiting for me?” Lorenzo Dow wouldn’t take a bath. Whitefield would preach in the fields and moors. Hewahewa turned his back on his ancestral ways and court prestige for the love of God. Aimee brought the world into her Angeles Temple. The list goes on and on. They were their own persons. They could care less how other people felt or thought about them. They obeyed God. They were the foolish that confounded the wise (1 Cor 1).

I saw the sovereignty of God amidst all the different revivals. Yes, there were some common qualities among the revivalists like a hunger for God, humility of heart, radical obedience, and other characteristics. Whatever the case, God will do what He wants to do when he wants to do it. He will anoint a William Seymour after seven years of praying for hours on end, and will do the same for Charles Finney after only one day of crying out. He will pour out his Spirit on a little church on Azusa Street and pass by churches who prayed for years for revival. It’s His choice. He will have mercy upon whom he desires (Romans 9). He is sovereign.

Lastly, I saw and experienced God’s heart through Ray Hughes and Matt Higa. It’s true: it’s caught, not taught. They have a passion for the younger generation to rise up and take the mantle of reaching their generation with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I saw the love. I saw the heart yearnings for the people of God to get passionate again, to get a desire for souls, to get burning hot for God and revival.

A foundation has been set. The dry wood has been placed on the altar. All we need are the Elijahs to call down the flame. The school was awesome! That’s all I have to say. God bless all of you.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Jonathan Edwards: A Theologian of the Heart

Everyone thinks of Jonathan Edwards as the guy who only penned and preached the infamous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. He did more than this piece, but is remembered mostly for preaching this descriptive message about hell and sinners. They lampoon, decry, revere, and evoke every emotion in the human psyche when it comes to their feelings about this message and the man. More often than not, it is looked upon as the worst example of Puritanical religiosity ever foisted upon the American psyche. Sadly, many cannot see beyond their politically correct view of how church and messages should be done. They judge without prayer; they criticize without understanding.

Little do people know that Edwards read this sermon in a monotone voice to his Northhampton congregation. There was nothing special about the delivery. There was nothing special about the church. God just showed up and wrapped himself around the message, then all hell, or should I say, all heaven broke loose. People cried out in fear and fainted. Some fell into comatose states. Many turned to the loving arms of God with a healthy fear, something sorely missing in today's conversion experiences.

God's Spirit then moved throughout this tiny hamlet and set aflame all of the colonies. Another spiritual luminary that rode the rapids of this spiritual renewal was George Whitefield. He was good friends with Edwards. They said he commanded audiences of ten to twenty thousand without a modern PA system; he only had a strong voice to exhort and the Holy Spirit to convict. Many turned to God before the Revolutionary War. The First Great Awakening began in earnest. Thousands turned to Jesus.

People think of Theologians as 'cold hearted brainiacs'. I don't blame them because many fit this bill. Edwards did not. Many scholars crown him as the greatest thinker America ever produced. I think they were right, but he was also a lover of God. You could categorize him as a protestant mystic, caught up in the beauty of God's creation, praying for hours under the flaming red leaves of a New England fall, crying out with joy over the goodness of God.

He states, "Once as I rode out into the woods for my health, in 1737, having alighted from my horse in a retired place, as my manner commonly has been, to walk for divine contemplation and prayer, I had a view that for me was extraordinary, of the glory of the Son of God, as mediator between man and God, and His wonderful, great, full, pure and sweet grace and love, and meek and gentle condescension. This grace that appeared so calm and sweet, appeared also great above the heavens. The person of Christ appeared ineffably excellent with an excellency great enough to swallow up all thought and conception – which continued, as near as I can judge, about an hour; which kept me the greater part of the time in a flood of tears and weeping aloud." (Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography pg. 100). As one can see, these were not the words of a spiritually disconnected individual; on the contrary, these were the words of a burning heart, hungry for more of God.

As I listened to Ray Hughes  talk about Edwards and others, my heart started to burn. There is something about the power of story, especially the story of fearless men and women who proclaimed the Gospel, that stirs the heart, sparks the mind, fills the soul. I got impatient again. I wanted to launch out. Many may have felt the same way. Revival fires, even in the afterglow, flowing from the mouth of a fiery home spun preacher (especially this type of preacher), can have this strange effect on hearts and minds.

When I got home, I dusted off my biography of Edwards, which I read about eighteen years ago, and started to read over all the highlighted areas again. I was astounded with how God formed a teacher who carried the power of the mind and the Holy Spirit with such effectiveness and balance. He truly was a theologian of the heart, a warrior poet who contributed immensely to our understanding of revival  and intimacy with God.

I recommend Jonathan Edwards A New Biography as a good introduction to this great revivalist, teacher/theologian. He preached for many years in his Northhampton church and ended his days reaching out to the Indians in Stockbridge. During this self imposed exile to the Western most part of Massachusetts, he wrote and compiled his writings into two huge volumes of deep theological thought. This work went on to impact countless lives and transformed the theological landscape of our country. It still reverberates into modern day thought, even into the foundations of our constitution and country. Good work never loses its power, especially the type anointed by God.

He died of smallpox on March 22, 1758 just before taking on the presidency of Princeton University. He said these last words on his death bed, "Now where is Jesus of Nazareth, my true and never-failing friend. Trust in God, and you need not fear."  Good words to live by.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Second Great Awakening (Part 2)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        It's interesting to wade through 19th century writings. I'm used to the blunt, concise, staccato, Hemingway style of narration. I never realized how he and others transformed how Americans write. The flowery language of the past has been replaced with efficiency and conciseness. Finney wrote well. He wrote very succinctly for his day. It's just that the sentences are still long and at times convoluted. Whatever authoring style you favor, it's a fascinating read into the heart of early 19th century revivalism.

Did you know that many of our social institutions and churches were founded during this revival. Many hospitals, churches, the YMCA, schools, other philanthropic organizations, even the Mormon faith were birthed from this great move of God (tares and wheat grow together). Church attendance increased. Many came to know Jesus. It set our country in the right direction, and for many years we experienced the afterglow of its blessings: financial, spiritual, social, and educational. This was a true, blue revival. The Toronto Blessing, Lakeland, and even the Jesus Movement were limited in scope. The Second Great Awakening transformed a wide swath of the church and society!  It built our nation.

As I look at the present day landscape, we will need another revival of this magnitude to resuscitate our dying country. Only God can breath life into our terminal condition. Only a mighty inundation of the Holy Spirit can save us.

Charles Finney traveled from town to town preaching the Gospel. It's interesting that he didn't preach in any churches, but instead school houses and homes. The church locked him out. They didn't like his direct manner, home-spun English, Arminian theology, and expectation of a response from hearers. He questioned the pious religiosity and formalism of the church. He challenged the use of archaic, theological language from the pulpit. He used simple language with the directness of a court room lawyer (he was a practicing lawyer before his conversion). It worked. Many turned to Jesus. Many found life when pressed to make a decision.

Finney began the whole mass conversion and crusade tradition. Before then, salvation and evangelism happened through indirect means. Calvinism promoted a hyper-sovereignty view of conversion. God gave faith. God gave repentance. God made the heart to choose Him. If this wasn't happening in your life, then you shouldn't turn to God. You were not ready. Finney blew this out of the water by putting the responsibility firmly in the sinners hands. He demanded a response to the Gospel message.

The fascinating thing about all of this is that both sides preached truth. God is in control, but we also need to choose. It's a partnership. Man tends to polarize theology and church life through their misguided thinking and stupidity. Division is just sin. It's plain and simple. Calvinism and Arminianism have been at each others throats for centuries. Finney, the revivalist, revealed a new and old facet of God's grace during this move of the Spirit. He made the Gospel understandable again to the common folk. He raised up the imago dei view of man by giving him the noble duty of choosing who and what to believe in.  God is sovereign and man is made a little lower than Him. He has a God given responsibility to make right choices.

I will end it here. I need to run. Bless you folks. I will write more tomorrow."Where's my Finney book? Ha! Where's my Bible?"


Monday, July 18, 2011

Charles Finney and The Second Great Awakening (Part 1)

"Without any expectation of it, without ever having the thought in my mind that there was any such thing for me, without any recollection that I had ever heard the thing mentioned by any person in the world, the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul. I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love; for I could not express it in any other way. It seemed like the breath of God. I can recollect distinctly that it seemed to fan me, like immense wings." (The Autobiography of Charles Finney. Pg. 20.)

This was the conversion experience of one of the greatest evangelists that ever walked the earth. He had been crying out to God that whole day and in the evening all heaven dropped down and filled his soul. Soon after this experience, every time he talked about God, people got convicted and found a secret place to give their lives to Christ. It only snow balled from there. Millions came to know Jesus through his ministry. The presence of God surrounded Finney's life because he lived in His presence. God did the work, not Him. He just surrendered and let the Holy Spirit have his way.

I do not like formulaic Christianity because it never works. William Seymour spent years praying for more of God's Spirit, but Finney spent only one whole day, or very little time in comparison, and received his baptism of fire. Why the difference in experiences? I do not know; nor will I try to figure this out. God is just good and He will do what he wants to do when he wants to do it. Romans 9:16 states, "So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy."

The only similarity between the two was a hunger for more. God fulfilled his promise found in Deuteronomy 4:29, "But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul." They found God, not religion.

Both were not formally trained at seminary or received the equivalent of a college degree. They were self taught. For those who have similar backgrounds, be encouraged. God will empower any willing vessel to accomplish His will. For those who have received formal training, be encouraged, too. God chose Saul of Tarsus and turned him into a spiritual wrecking machine against the works of the devil. The guy had the equivalent of a Phd or more before embarking on his role as an apostle for Jesus. Yes, knowledge can puff up, but God is good at humbling and squeezing out the pure oil from our lives. Don't worry about not being humble enough. That's God's job. Just go for it.

This will be a very brief article because I am still finishing up the autobiography, but I would like to share these truths from the pages already read. Finney was firmly convinced that without an encounter with the Living God, there could be no power to do ministry. What do I mean by encounter? I mean an empowerment by the Holy Spirit to do the greater things. I am also convinced of this truth. Not only is it Biblical (Acts 1:8); it's also very practical.

He states, "But there was another defect in brother Gale's education, which I regarded as fundamental. If he had ever been converted to Christ, he had failed to receive that divine anointing of the Holy Ghost that would make him a power in the pulpit and in society, for the conversion of souls. He had fallen short of receiving the baptism of the Holy Ghost, which is indispensable to ministerial success." (pg 55.) The proof is in the pudding. With the Holy Spirit you produce fruit. Without the Holy Spirit you produce nothing. It's that simple. It's not rocket science. Brother Gale was the Princeton trained Presbyterian pastor of Charles Finney's village. He had no power. He ate from the tree of knowledge rather than from the tree of life (God). 

Jesus, Paul, the disciples, Seymour, Finney, Moody, Sung, Whitefield, Edwards, Wesley, and every minister that eventually kicked okole (butt in Hawaiian) for God had an encounter with the Living God through the Holy Spirit dropping on them in some fashion and form. D. L. Moody's experience was mild in comparison to Finney's. He was just walking on the streets of Boston when The Dove landed on his life with greater power. Joy filled his soul. Everything looked brighter! Jonathan Edwards had the same experience. John Sung, the Chinese evangelist, met the Holy Spirit at liberal Union Theological Seminary. He was then thrown into an insane asylum because he was preaching Jesus and rebuking his professors for preaching lies. God discipled him amidst the schizophrenics for months. He cried to be released, but God used these humbling experiences to shape the vessel for the Holy Spirit to use.

Please understand, I am not talking about the Holy Spirit coming upon your life at conversion (Ephesians 1:13), but a second or third or fourth or fifth or sixth or....... experience. God can infill many times (Acts 1:8, 9:17-19). He's God. He can do whatever He wants. God nailed me with his Spirit in the fall of 1993, but since then, He has filled me on more than one occasion. He saved me in 1984, but I only started to move in a level of power in 1993. It's been increasing as I walk with Him, but I want more. I want the Holy Spirit to consume my life. How about you?

Why am I writing this? Being honest with you, if you do not want your share of the Holy Spirit I will take your portion. Ha! It's Biblical. The first shall be last and the last first. The person who didn't use their talent forfeited it to one who used theirs. Just read the parable of the talents. It's in black and white. So, if you don't use your talents, I will take it when offered by God.

I am playing off of Pastor Dean's rascally message that spurred the congregation on to want more of the Holy Spirit and God's blessings. Rest assured, the gifts and blessings of God are inexhaustible. He has more than enough to give everyone their fair share or more. The defining issue is this: How hungry are you? How hungry are you for pure octane God?  He will meet your desire. He promised (Numbers 23:19, Deut 4:29).

I will share more later when I finish reading this autobiography. Love you guys. Drink deeply from the fountain of God.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

William Seymour and God's Glory

I walked on the very spot where modern day Pentecostalism began. It's not much today. Cement covers the ground where the Apostolic Faith Mission once stood. A Japanese Cultural Center owns the property now. It looks like a typical downtown location you would find in any major city.

However, in 1906, a black pastor by the name of William Seymour led a full blown revival from this unassuming location that has impacted over 600,000,000 lives. Today, only a plaque commemorates the location of God's greatest revival in the history of mankind since Pentecost. It became the cradle of Pentecostalism and of revivals throughout South America, Africa, and Asia. It served as a catalyst to trigger continual revival for the last century. In other words, the Azusa St. outpouring  kicked butt!  

As one can see, the fires that began one hundred and five years ago still burn brightly throughout the present world. This is testament to God's ability to carry out his will despite man's frailties. I just finished reading two books about William Seymour and a book about the Azusa Street revival (thank you Bob Aisawa) and one theme stood out: God likes to use the weak and the foolish to accomplish the great (1 Cor 1).

History repeats itself over and over again. It gives us a perspective on things so we don't get too high and mighty about our importance, so we don't worship the wrong things. Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Joseph, the disciples, and every leadership team throughout history had their weaknesses so that God got the glory, not man. He shines out amidst our foolishness. The Bible glorifies God and puts man in his place.

Yes, there is Psalm 8 which proclaims we were made just a little lower than God, but higher than all other created beings, even angels. We are important to God. We are special. We are made in the image of God. I'm just making the point that God's purposes still blaze forth despite our propensity to screw things up. 

William Seymour was a son of former slaves. He came from the heart of segregationist Louisiana, a place brimming with white hooded racists, still smarting from their defeat by the Yankees, still taking out their frustrations by lynching and oppressing the black population. As you can see, It was not a great place to live if you were an African American. In other words, it wouldn't be high up on one of those Parade magazine quality of life surveys. I just couldn't picture how a burning cross on the front lawn would increase curb appeal. The Louisiana of the 1870s was not a pleasant place to live.

As one could surmise, he and his family still lived in a form of slavery despite the Emancipation Proclamation. The Jim Crow laws reigned. The blacks were still considered lower than dogs. A white person could could kill a black person for just about anything, even suspicion for a crime. From this oppressive locale he moved to the Midwest (just as racist) and then finally to Texas to study Bible under the leader of the Topeka outpouring, William Parham.

Parham was known to have led a bible college that experienced an outpouring of the gift of tongues. Some consider him the father of modern day Pentecostalism because of this, but his extreme racist views and accusations of sodomy somewhat tarnished that position of honor. He died in obscurity.  Whatever the case, Seymour chose to study under this white supremist because he preached a third experience Christianity; the experience of speaking in tongues as a sign of being baptized and saved by the Holy Spirit. 

Seymour submitted to further humiliation by sitting outside the classroom on the back porch because he was not allowed to study with white students in the same room. Parham left the door open half way so William could take part in the lecture. He was such a nice guy. Actually, God used these humbling experiences to shape and form his servant for the role of a lifetime, the role of a revivalist.

It was said that Seymour memorized every sermon and teaching of Parham. He was hungry for God. He humbled himself to learn. After making the most of his time in Texas he finally received a call to serve in Los Angeles, California.

He wanted to pastor, but the church that called him locked him out of the sanctuary because they disagreed with his extreme holiness theology; primarily his views on sanctification and tongues. They even put a pad lock on the door. God continued to crush this man so the pure oil of life would flow. 

With no church to call his home, he did the second best thing: pray with other crazy people. They met on Bonnie Brae street in a semi-big house and sought the Lord together for hours on end. Seymour prayed for five hours a day for three years prior to moving to LA and then upped the ante by consuming seven hours a day before the mighty outpouring in 1906. The guy couldn't get enough of God. He wanted the pure stuff. The rest were also very hungry for God's presence and the gift of tongues.

Seymour preached the third experience despite the fact he did not speak in tongues. Maybe this was why he prayed so much and sought God. Being a man of integrity and faith, he cried out for the gift everyday for years. The dude had perseverance!  

Then during one prayer meeting God decided to open the flood gates and inundate his people. The rest is history because major healings, deliverances, other supernatural occurrences, and movements have since spawned off from this initial outpouring. The world has never been the same.

William Seymour was an extremely humble, soft spoken, unassuming man. His preaching was not that great, almost inaudible because of his quiet demeanor. The guy also put a box on his head for hours until he felt the presence of God moving in the service. He would then take it off and pronounce major healings in-sync with God's initiatives. Limbs grew out, tumors disappeared, eyes opened, ears unstopped, and a white glory cloud of his presence filled the humble church building. It must have been mind blowing to experience such an outpouring.

He also preached a pretty whacked-out theology. For instance, he believed in baptizing people only in the name of Jesus, complete physical sanctification, speaking in tongues as the sign of salvation, and a host of other oddities. The rest of the teachers were also pretty extreme. Did God care? Did it stymie His attempts to carry out His will? Did it stop Him from reaching 600,000,000 lives? No, no, and absolutely no.

I'm not saying theology is unimportant, but in comparison to having the right heart, it pales. God looks at the heart (1 Sam 16:7, 1 Chron 16:9). He draws near to humility. God can work out the kinks of theology, but character takes time and perseverance. This is the gold refined in fire (Revelations 3).

The Azusa leadership had this at the beginning. They walked in sweet unity by worshipping together as blacks, whites, Asians, and other ethnic groups. Racism was thrown out the window. They worshipped as one. God commanded the blessing (Psalm 133).

This blessed unity didn't last very long. After about a year, things started to unravel, and in about fourteen years, William Seymour and his wife, Jennie, were scrounging for funds and rejected by their former friends  and associates. Yes, he still preached to a congregation of 24, but was basically shunned by the leadership of Los Angeles. Racism, legalism, the religious spirit, division, and other ills reentered the picture. He died in 1922 praising his Lord and Savior with these words, "Oh, I love my Jesus so." He wasn't bitter, only thankful to his God for the opportunity to serve.

The old building was finally condemned and razed in 1931 due to its dilapidated condition and potential as a fire hazard. Today, the Japanese cultural center of Los Angeles sits on the once hallowed ground of Azusa. Only a plaque, a sign, and a grapefruit tree from that era remain. The rest has been covered over by asphalt and cement.

What were some lessons I learned from William Seymour? God will do what he wants to do despite our weaknesses; God blesses humility and the right heart, not theologies; God blesses people, not buildings; God just blesses; God is not into man-made monuments; God doesn't rest in past glory; God doesn't share his glory; God likes to use weak vessels; God is God.

There are other lessons, but these are the few I gleaned. History has a way of making you less uptight as a person. God shines amidst our sinfulness and weaknesses. From the garden until now, man is not that impressive – God is. We can now step off the pedestal and remove others off the place that rightly belongs to Him. If anything, Azusa has taught me this truth: All glory and honor belongs to Him.     

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Swordmaker (Part Four)

"Don't become a sword maker if you want to make money." In a world obsessed with accumulating wealth, these words struck a chord, a big chord. Why would anyone devote themselves to something so impractical and outdated? It's not like we have to cut off someones head or go into battle. The samurai is dead and gone. Pragmatism rules.

Kobayashi sensei defies this shallow utilitarian way of looking at life. He continually makes swords, about two to three each year. Why does he do it? If there is one simple reason, it could be this: He loves it. He loves the art of producing something so rare and perfect in a world of cheap imitations and plastic trinkets; he loves the way of the warrior in a time when people just admire but fail to live it; he loves the process of turning nothing into something; he loves the tradition and skill passed down to him from his ancestors; he loves being a sword maker and could care less about selling his soul for a more lucrative way of life. There may be other reasons, but these are a few that come to mind.

What about the Christian? Are we not outdated? Turning the other cheek, tithing your money, going to church, believing in truth, believing in God, believing in the Bible as the Word of God, purging your life of bad character (detoxing), and walking in love, humility, mercy, kindness, generosity, and patience; are we not foolish to live in such a way? "Hey, if you don't fight for your rights, then you will get stepped on! I don't have time for all that mercy stuff. Why are you giving money away when you can invest it into stocks? You read the Bible?"

Yet people still admire sacrificial love. Take for instance, Mother Theresa, she was loved and respected by all. Why? She lived the life. She was the message. You could say she was a sword of truth that cut through all the lies and coldness of our society. People may have thought, "Wow, there is still goodness in our world."

When people look at Kobayashi sensei's craft, they admire his work. They stand in awe when they look at the beauty and symmetry of his samurai swords. They see him in his swords.

I'm not saying this will happen with everyone (people liking you when you walk like Christ), people will hate you and Christianity despite whatever you do. However, when we become the message of Christ, rather than just talk about it, some of the world will take notice (1 Cor 9:22). I say some because Jesus said, "If they hated me they will hate you." There will be people that will hate you no matter what you do. That's okay. We still need to be light in the midst of darkness (Matthew 5:16). We need to let the light shine out of the sword of our lives. Some will turn and be saved.

Like Kobayashi sensei, God is a master sword maker. He could care less about the world's value system. He will continue to fashion us into his beautiful workmanship in the fiery furnaces of this life (Ephesians 2:20). Creation longs for the arrival of the true sons and daughters of God (Romans 8:19). They long to see something special. They want to see the sword of the Spirit (Ephesian 6:17) in person. They want to see us become the sword.

"And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulation, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character, and proven character, hope."
Romans 5:3-4

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Swordmaker (Part Three)

"I enjoy every part of the process" said a focused Kobayashi Sensei. My mind was fuzzy after stuffing my face with so much sushi, takenoko, cakes, and fruit, but I was determined to pepper him with questions about the amazing art of sword making. So I asked him what step in the twenty step process he enjoyed the most and he gave me the above answer.

He went on to say, "If you don't enjoy all the steps you cannot produce a top quality samurai sword." I sat there in the haze between wanting to take a nice siesta and wanting to listen to Sensei Kobayashi. I was fighting to stay awake because the man was releasing some awesome wisdom and I needed to hear this. Then like a fresh gust of wind, my mind started to clear up. The two o'clock sleepy period passed on and my mind started to kick into gear and pen started to write. "Thank you God for digestion and adrenaline."

As he talked, I could not help but see the clear parallels between what Sensei Kobayashi does with a rough slag of iron ore (tama-hagane) with what God does with the rough slag of our character. They are one and the same.

The sword making process begins with making a tatara (clay furnace) and collecting sandy iron ore from the mountains. Charcoal is also produced from the hard wood trees found in the same vicinity. I thought, "These guys are intense. They make their own charcoal? Wow!" The iron sand is then shoveled into the furnace until a block of rough iron forms on the bottom. They call this rough, impure piece of metal tama hagane. It actually looks like black, hardened lava from the Big Island, but much heavier. This is what they work with to produce a sword of amazing beauty, symmetry , and strength--the best in the world.

They then heat the furnace to about 750 degrees centigrade to burn out impurities and to produce the right carbon to steel ratio. Too little carbon and the metal will be soft, too much and the metal becomes brittle. They use no thermometer, only their eyes and experience to find the right level of heat.

They then fold the heated metal fourteen times which then produces 16,000 layers. How does this happen? I do not know. They heat, fold, hammer, reheat, fold, hammer, reheat until all the impurities are removed. It's an intense process that requires great stamina, strength, patience, and extreme precision from the sword maker. I was in awe.

When he told me he enjoyed every step, even the heating of the furnace, I immediately connected it to God's attitude towards us. He enjoys shaping our character, not in a sadistic way, but with the joy of a sword maker who can see the finished product. God beats and folds in order to produce a sword of pristine beauty. That's what we are to him. He enjoys all the steps in our character development because he loves what it produces in us; he loves looking at a shiny sword. 1 Corinthians 13 states that love (God) bears all things, believes all things, and hopes all things. He never gives up on us. He who began a good work in us will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil 1:6).

We might as well have the same attitude as God and consider it all joy when we go through the furnace of trial and tribulation (James 1:2-4). God wants to beat out fear, shame, anger, lust, impatience, and all other character impurities so that we become a signature of his exquisite workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). He wants to change us from rough tama-hagane into a polished katana.

As I sat in the sword museum in Izumo with the rest of the hobbits and Sensei Kobayashi, I gave up a silent prayer of thanksgiving to our great God in heaven. I thanked him for allowing me to come to Japan, my birthplace, to hear these words of wisdom at this juncture in my life. I thanked him for Dean and the rest of the awesome team of servant leaders (everyone) at Unified... and LMI. I thanked him for all our wonderful Christian friends in Japan. I thanked him for enjoying every step of my sword making process. The heat and pounding feels good now. I can see his purposes. We can all rest in his goodness.

The Lord your God is in your midst,
A victorious warrior
He will exult over you with joy
He will be quiet in his love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.
(Zephaniah 3:17)