I came to a conclusion years ago, that God is on the lookout for what will make sophisticated people say, 'Yuk' when He is ready to show his glory again on the earth. Why? Paul tells us. God's glory is always related to nullifying our fleshly wisdom in order to make room for what God calls wisdom - His glory. Indeed, Paul said that 'God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are, so that no-one may boast before Him.' (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).
No one may boast - glory - before the Lord. Nearly every time God does something unusual it not only takes most people by surprise - whether it be the person he chooses or the manner in which he chooses to show up - but also makes the educated, cultured and high-powered of this world say, simply, 'Yuk' - an unsophisticated way of saying 'Surely not'. It is still what we often say or think when we have a feeling of disgust, revulsion or what is distasteful.
'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts' (Isaiah 55:8-9).
This article is partly to answer those who say, 'That can't be God', when they come across an unusual or unprecedented manifestation that purports to be of divine origin or when a teaching springs forth that cuts across the way they had chosen to believe. Often our minds are made up and we don't want to be confused by any interpretation that threatens our comfort zone.
'Yuk' to promote His glory
My thesis is that God uses 'yuk factors' to promote his glory. If something can make you say 'Yuk', or 'Surely not', be careful because God in heaven may just look down and say, 'Good. This will work.' Perhaps it emerges something like this: behind the scenes there is a Trinitarian conference in the heavenlies where it is determined what is the next thing that will cause smug people to say 'Yuk'. As someone once put it, 'God offends the mind to reveal the heart.'
Why is this important? First, God is a God of glory and will not cater to our sophistication. That which is highly esteemed, or highly valued, among men and women is an abomination in the sight of God (Luke l6:15). In other words, if religious people generally think something is worthy of being regarded as meriting the term 'excellence', chances are that it makes God sick. He finds it detestable. Second, it is often the case that what religious people criticise most is the very thing God is in and the very thing of which he was the architect. Keep your ear to the ground and take note of the things which religious people find fault with. Once your list is compiled, check it carefully; do not be surprised if some of those very things that people are upset with are what God himself initiated. What I describe as 'when God plays hard to get' in my latest book 'Out of the Comfort Zone', comes into play. Let us also keep in mind what Jonathan Edwards taught us, that the task of every generation is to discover in which direction the Sovereign Redeemer is moving, then move in that direction. Edwards himself wrote about the surprising work of God in New England in his own day, and we pray for the equivalent - or greater - in our day. But be ready for things that you may find revolting. I'm sorry, but that too is the way it is.
'Yuk' is not a new thing
God has been doing this since the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden. In order to establish the forgiveness of sins through the sacrifice of blood, God first did it when he provided Adam and Eve with 'garments of skin' to clothe them after their sin. They tried to cover their nakedness and shame by sewing fig leaves together but God instituted his carefully thought out plan for demanding substitution and satisfaction via the sacrifice of blood in order to appease his wrath and justice (Genesis 3:7,21). The notion of salvation through atonement by the substitutionary death of another has probably been the most repulsive thing about the gospel of God. The popular Presbyterian minister Harry Emerson Fosdick (l878-1969) wrote that he certainly did not believe in this teaching, neither did he know any 'intelligent' minister who did.
The Fall of Adam and Eve did not take God by surprise. Jesus was regarded in the New Testament as the lamb slain from the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:19-20; Revelation 13:8). Therefore the indication of his desire to forgive Adam and Eve was providing them with an atoning sacrifice for their sin in the Garden of Eden. Will we see Adam and Eve in heaven? Yes.
The scarlet thread of redemption continued in God's preference for Abel's offering over Cain's. Abel brought forth 'fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock' whereas Cain offered 'fruits of the soil'. God looked with favour on Abel but not with regard to Cain's offering (Gen. 4:3-5). This sent a signal early on that God will not respect the work of our own hands or what seems good to us - no matter how great our effort - but only that which he approves of; namely, the blood of a substitute.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher, used to say that there are two words that need to be in our theological vocabulary: 'substitution' and 'satisfaction'. 'Substitution' refers to one taking our place; 'satisfaction' refers to the blood of the one who took our place which appeases God's justice. All sacrifices of blood in the Old Testament pointed to the ultimate sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This still causes many learned and cultured people to say 'Yuk'. The idea of a need for blood sacrifice has been offensive from the time of Cain to this very moment as you hold this book in your hands. Today's sophisticated generation dismisses the idea of a God who demands a substitute for us or requires satisfaction by the shedding of blood. This notion goes back to a pre-scientific age, many say. Wrong. God always has looked for what will offend sophisticated people, possibly because he wants to put obstacles in our way to see if we will believe in his Word only. This is because faith - to be faith - is believing God without evidence for that belief. Only God's Word. 'Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see' (Hebrews 11:1).
In other words, that which makes faith faith is when you keep trusting what God says although you are not able to prove your point. When people ask, 'Why does God allow evil when he has the power to stop it?' I answer: to make room for faith. We wouldn't need faith if we could supply the answer to the problem of evil. Neither would we need faith if we could make ourselves look good before our accusers - whether they be sophisticated or not.
The way of foolishness
It isn't fun when respectable, intelligent people roll their eyes heavenward when they see our 'foolish' stubbornness and adherence to God's chosen manifestation of his glory. The crowning blow among the 'hard sayings' of Jesus came when he said, 'Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life' (John 6:54). Jesus made no attempt to explain himself; he just let people vent their feelings - which they did. A very interesting and fruitful study is tracing the miracles of Jesus and how many times he waited for the Sabbath to arrive in order to offend the religious people of the day (eg John 5:9; 9:14).
God's ultimate sacrifice was on Good Friday. We now know that the ancient sacrificial system under the Law pointed to the event of Jesus' crucifixion. But nobody knew it then, not when it was happening. It was God's secret weapon not only to take his people by surprise but also the devil. Satan conspired with Judas Iscariot, Herod, Pontius Pilate, the chief priests and leading Jews to crucify Jesus. But Paul says it was God's hidden wisdom from the beginning of time. 'None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory' (1 Corinthians 2:8).
Indeed, had you walked into Jerusalem on Good Friday and asked the religious people, 'What is God doing here today?' they would have answered, 'It's Passover and we can hardly wait to celebrate it - if only that wicked thing on the cross outside the gate would hurry up and die.' No one remotely dreamed at the time that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself by the death of his Son (2 Corinthians 5:19). Never forget that Jesus was crucified outside the city of Jerusalem and God has continued to manifest his glory outside the camp. We therefore must be willing to go outside the camp - continually - and bear his reproach (Hebrews 13:12-13). Paul Cain would even say, 'The further out the better.'
The yuk factor can now be defined. It is God's chosen stumbling-block by which he intentionally puts off religious men and women. If he can come up with an event, activity, teaching or manifestation by which 'intelligent' and smug people will conclude, 'This could not possibly be God at work', he says to himself, 'This will do nicely.' 'But we preach Christ crucified; a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles' (1 Corinthians 1:23).
God's own people - his very elect - often initially underestimate the surprising time and way the Holy Spirit enters the scene. In a most insignificant and innocuous place, where he lay down to sleep, using a stone for a pillow, Jacob was made to admit, 'Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it' (Genesis 28:16). Speaking personally, almost every pivotal decision I had to make during my 25 years at Westminster Chapel was the outcome of having to overcome an initial negative reaction to what I encountered. It isn't fun to climb down - it is so embarrassing. But I had to do it more than once. I was never sorry.
Recognising God at work
Spirituality could be defined as closing the time gap between God's actual appearing and our acknowledgment of his presence. In other words, how long does it take for you to admit that that was God after all? It took years for some to concede it was God at work in New England between l735 and l750 - now known as the Great Awakening. It took a good while before some people in Britain regarded the Welsh Revival as a genuine work of the Spirit and not emotionalism. I think of the British couple who sailed all the way from India to Southampton because they heard that true revival had broken out in Wales. But old friends - Christians - warned them that it was 'only Welsh emotionalism'. The couple never went to Wales but returned to India. Sophisticated religious people have often stopped sincere Christians from embracing what is of God because it is so often tainted with what is undignified and not very traditional.
When Arthur Blessitt began witnessing in Sunset Strip in Hollywood, religious people said, "That can't be God." But it was. When he erected that large cross and hung it on a wall in what Arthur called His Place, people said, "That can't be God." But it was. When he claimed that the Lord told him to take the cross down from the wall and carry it on foot around the world, people said, "That can't be God." But it was. When I managed to get Arthur to speak at Westminster Chapel and stay for six weeks, religious people said, "That can't be God." But it was. The best decision I made in 25 years at the Chapel was to bring Arthur Blessitt to my old church.
So how long do you suppose it takes you to recognise God's presence? For some it takes years. For some it takes months. For some it takes moments. The degree to which we are familiar with God's own peculiar ways will likely determine how long we take to trace the rainbow through the rain.
When Charlie Colchester, the former churchwarden at Holy Trinity, Brompton, said to Lyndon Bowring and me in a Chinese restaurant in London's Soho, "Have your guys heard about this Toronto thing?" - referring to people falling on the floor and laughing - I wanted to say "Yuk". If you could have put me under a lie detector and asked whether I believed that what Charlie described that night was of God, I would have said "No" and passed with flying colours. For one thing, I didn't want it to be of God. I find that sort of thing offensive. Furthermore, I didn't want it to be of God because, if it really were, it would have come to Westminster Chapel first! We were the ones (I really thought this) who bore the heat of the day, witnessing in the streets of Victoria, praying for the manifestation of God's glory and putting our reputation on the line. So if God were going to do anything in London it would have started with us!
I was wrong. For what was happening in those days at Holy Trinity, Brompton (called the 'Toronto blessing' by the Sunday Telegraph), I later came to see really was of God. It was hard to have to admit that. It wasn't easy to face my congregation, having previously publicly stated that it was not of God, and climb down. Some disagreed with me then and some still disagree. Some still continue to say "Yuk" as I initially did.
Let me gently say that if your own reaction to what is happening in a church, even if it is strange and contrary to tradition, is to say "Yuk" - or if you find yourself outside your comfort zone - please consider that there is a real possibility that God is behind the whole thing and that he takes responsibility for what you are uneasy with. You would not, would you, consciously want to be against what he is in? Since there is a pattern both in ancient Israel and in church history for God taking the blame for what was at first not appreciated, we must continually be open to the Lord and not be too hasty in dismissing what makes us feel uncomfortable.
As I aim to show, not all that makes us think 'Yuk' is of the Holy Spirit - far from it! But it could be the Holy Spirit and a pattern in church history shows it often is him at work.
I have, I hope, learned to be patient with people whose initial reaction is negative to the new and different (and strange). I've been there and continue to struggle with those whose style and emphasis is quite the opposite to my taste. I therefore do not want this article to be a recipe for how to be strange and please God. And I certainly don't want to be condemnatory. I only want you not to miss what God is up to and be deprived of blessing that you will be so thankful for later on. I am grateful to God for his patience with me and not taking me seriously when I have reacted negatively to what I later came to accept as being from him.
Stigma of the Spirit
In my book In Pursuit of His Glory I tell how I introduced our close friends Randy and Nancy Wall to the ministry of Rodney Howard-Browne. In a word: Rodney and Adonica Howard-Browne visited us in Key Largo and came to the Walls' home (where we were staying) for hamburgers. Rodney prayed for Randy who was immediately touched and overcome by the Spirit. Although he had no background to prepare him for what was coming (the church he attended did not even believe in the gifts of the Spirit), he began laughing uproariously for the next two hours. But his wife Nancy was not amused. "I am uncomfortable with this", she let us know.
It was not for another year or more that Nancy herself was blessed by the immediate and direct testimony of the Spirit. Her own manifestation of the Spirit was even more bizarre than laughing for hours. She was left with an urge to utter "Ho!" involuntarily - whether at home, church or in a public restaurant. Yuk! Nancy was embarrassed by this at times, as we can understand. She is a cultured, sophisticated and middle-class church member. This sort of thing had not been in her church background or upbringing - ever. So one day she asked me, "R.T., why does this urge to shout 'Ho!' come to me? Should I not repress it rather than embarrass myself and my friends?"
I replied, "Nancy, I think God does this to you to see whether you want the anointing of the Spirit more than anything else in the world. He has given you this stigma to see whether you are willing to bear it for the sake of his presence."
She immediately cried out, "Ho! Ho! Ho!"
It was outside and I was a little embarrassed. And then I said, "If you repress this - which you can do anytime you like - this will stop and probably never come back. And you will never forgive yourself and regret it as long as you live."
But Randy and Nancy began to feel uneasy in the church of which they had been pillars for over 20 years. I felt guilty, having introduced them to a dimension of the Spirit but also a stigma that, for some reason, came alongside at the same time. They eventually found another church where they are welcome. Though this has been an upheaval in their lives they keep saying to me that they cannot thank me enough, that they would not go back to where they were for anything in the world.
If you ask, "R.T., do you ever 'Ho!' or do anything strange?" I answer, "Not yet". But the stigma for me has been different. It is more a case of having doors closed where I used to be accepted, noticing that old friends distance themselves from me and having to hear of things put in print that are unflattering and hurtful. But I too would not turn back for anything. I can state categorically that the increase of anointing more than compensates for any measure of loneliness or rejection. There is no substitute for the ungrieved presence of the Holy Spirit. It is just that he accompanies himself so often with an offence to test us whether he means more to us than the approval of friends. He is a jealous God.
Extracted and adapted with permission from Out of the Comfort Zone - Is your God too nice? By R.T. Kendall published by Hodder & Stoughton £7.99 ISBN 0340 862939