Posted in 1Corinthians

Spiritual Gifts

“Pursue love and earnestly desire spiritual gifts.” 1Corinthians 14:1

Part of God’s increased Presence among us is the manifestation of spiritual gifts. God wants us to love people so much that we want more for them than what is humanly possible.  He wants us to desire what only He can do for them.

In 2013, I was on a team that went to Belize and was in charge of a “Healing Service” we had announced. Before the service, a group of us were praying and earnestly desiring spiritual gifts. The only way it would actually be a healing service was if God did something beyond our preaching and praying. Only Jesus heals!

As we were worshiping, I had a dim picture in my mind’s eye of a woman holding an infant on her hip accompanied by a feeling of compassion. I asked for more, and somehow instantly knew two facts about this woman: she was a mom, but old enough to be a grandma, and she had a horrible back problem that made every day miserable.

At the end of the service I asked whoever this was to come forward, and it turned out to be our missionary, Linda. Her and her husband, Ron, had grandchildren but also had an infant they had adopted. Linda’s back was so bad she was afraid to sit down because she didn’t know when she’d be able to get up again. When we laid hands on her, Jesus instantly healed her so she gave testimony to the group. (She was still healed the rest of the week and three months later when she came to our mission’s conference!)

Then I asked our team if God was showing them anything. One of our leaders said he saw someone’s right arm in an x-ray and there was a crack in the bone. A young man named John came up and was instantly healed by the power of God. I found out his story from his mom a few days later when we were taking a bus to a region-wide prayer event.

John was 24 and had fallen away from God and the church. His mom kept begging him to come back to church, so he made a deal with her – “You stop nagging me and I will go back one time.” John had an ongoing problem with his right arm, so this was the service she chose.

I was stunned by her story of his healing and told her I’d love to talk to John himself about it. She said that would be easy because he was on the bus heading to the prayer meeting! God hadn’t just healed his arm; He had restored John’s faith.

Posted in 1Corinthians, 1Thessalonians, Ephesians

Concerning Spiritual Gifts 

“Pursue love and earnestly desire spiritual gifts.” 1Corinthians 14:1

The world needs more than what you’re good at; it needs what only God is good at. God has placed each of us in His body (1Corinthians 12:18) just as He pleased. We don’t choose our part; we can only, at best, discover and embrace it. This is called our ministry. Paul said there were a variety of ministries (1Corinthians 12:5) and a variety of expressions of similar ministries. (1Corinthians 12:6)  God loves to reveal Himself through our differing, unique contributions to His body, so we must accept our part and learn to honor everyone else’s part.

But the supernatural gifts are different from our ministries. These work “as the Spirit wills” (1Corinthians 12:11) and are dependent on His moving, not ours. Whereas your ministry has already been set, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are dynamic. Every believer has the potential of being used in any one of the nine supernatural gifts Paul lists. We are to pursue loving people so much that we want more for them than what we can do. While loving them, we are to “earnestly desire spiritual gifts,” those things that require the supernatural.

Paul gives nine gifts and each is powerful when meeting the needs of the person we’re ministering to. The gifts can be divided into three general categories:

The revelation gifts: Word of knowledge, word of wisdom, and discerning of spirits. (1Corinthians 12:8, 10)

The power gifts: the gift of faith, gifts of healings, and the working of miracles. (1Corinthians 12:9-10)

The oral gifts: prophecy, diversity of tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. (1Corinthians 12:10)

When we cease to love people, we grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), and when we don’t make a place for the manifestation of God’s power, we quench the Holy Spirit. (1Thessalonians 5:19) God wants both His beauty and His power revealed through the church.

Jesus is so great that He can use flawed, normal people to do His amazing works through. This was His plan! We can’t do His works without Him, and He won’t do them without us. He’s calling us into an adventure of walking with Him. Let’s say “yes” to the beauty of His character and to His desire to use us in power.

Posted in Proverbs

God’s Delight in You

“The Lord disciplines those He loves, as a father the child he delights in.” Proverbs 3:12

God doesn’t correct us because we irritate Him. We are His delight and He wants us to be better for our own sake, not so He can like us more. You are unconditionally loved by God and totally liked; not some day when you’re mature, but as you are right now!

I was with a father recently who gave me permission to share what happened with his five year old daughter recently. She was caught hitting her three year old brother, so Dad gave her a time out. When the time out was done he invited her, as always after discipline, to sit on his lap to talk about it. But she wouldn’t come immediately. She had taken his correction as rejection, so she didn’t have confidence that his lap was safe for her.

When he saw this, his heart felt nothing but compassion for his daughter. He urged her to come and finally she gave in, so they cuddled first, and then talked about why hitting her brother was wrong. In this place of security, she was able to say she was sorry to her brother, he forgave her, and the family was restored to Dad’s delight.

Don’t ever mistake correction for rejection because Your Father in heaven is crazy about you!

Posted in Colossians, John, Philippians, Romans

Living from Victory

“Very soon the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet.” Romans 16:20

From God’s perspective, darkness has already been defeated through Christ’s triumph on the cross. (Colossians 2:15)  Jesus is not at war with Satan; He’s already won the war and now, through the gospel, is inviting us to live from His victory.

The key is walking in peace. We must first acquire the peace of God, and then we must learn to walk in the peace of God. When we do this, we become like a thermostat in our environment. “Very soon . . .” the darkness around us is crushed as the kingdom of God and Christ’s victory permeate the atmosphere we bring Christ’s peace to. Notice from the text, Satan will be crushed – his work, his plans, his voice – under our feet. Jesus wants us to share His victory.

So how does one get the peace of God? It starts with salvation where God offers us peace with Him through the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins on the cross. (Romans 5:1)  Once we are saved, we have continual access to God through Christ and have peace available to us if we give our anxieties to God in prayer. “Be anxious for nothing but in everything make your requests known to God with thanksgiving, and the peace of God which transcends understanding will guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Getting peace is easier than walking in peace. How does one stay in peace in a world that creates so much uncertainty, fear, and anxiety? I believe the key is in the verse before our text in Romans 16 and in the verse following the reference in Philippians. Notice how similar they are: “I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” (Romans 16:19) “Brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things… And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)

To stay in peace, we have to keep ourselves from focusing on evil and on what evil is doing.  When we focus on darkness we end up empowering it. Jesus focused on what the Father was doing and saying (John 5:19); to walk in peace we need to do the same.

If we lose our peace, all we have to do is bring our anxieties back to God and He will restore it again. Let’s practice living from victory until it becomes our lifestyle!

Posted in Acts, Hebrews

Keeping the Fire Burning

“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each one of them and they began to speak in tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” Acts 2:1-4

Every year I do a study leave in late January with three pastor friends at a cabin without any heat except for a little wood stove. Our friend who owns the cabin goes a day before the rest of us to get the fire going, so the place is warmed up for our arrival.

Another one of the pastors brings a minivan full of wood because the fire needs to keep going 24/7 while we’re there. All events that week take place near the fire – study, worship, cards, our ministry to one another – everything happens in front of the light and heat that come from the fire. Each of us take a part in keeping it going which involves opening the door and throwing another log on, and once in a while, removing excess ash.

What does all this have to do with us? This cold, dark world needs the fire of God’s Presence to draw them to Christ, and to melt the hardness of heart that easily occurs in our culture. The church is to be carriers of the Spirit’s fire. How do we do this?

  1. Recognize that human energy and zeal don’t start the fire, the Holy Spirit does. A tongue of fire “came to rest on each one of them.” The Holy Spirit is the Friend who gets the fire going for us, all we have to do is tend it and remove excess ash once in a while.
  2. Fellowship together is like wood on the fire. We are warned to not forsake regular meetings together (Hebrews 10:24-25) and are told to “encourage one another, day after day, so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13) The fire fell when “they were all together in one place.” God has designed us to need Him, and to need each other. We all know that an ember separated from the fire will quickly burn out.
Posted in 1John, Acts, Matthew, Romans

Overreaching

“The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed…We who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Romans 8:19; 23

My favorite board game is called Ticket to Ride. It involves “tickets” you choose to keep or throw away based on whether you think you can build the trains necessary to connect the two cities listed on the card; it’s all about risk and reward. The problem, of course, is that if you overreach and take a ticket you can’t fulfill, it counts against you in the end. You can be having a great game but then, in a moment of presumption, overreach in a way that causes you to lose in the end.

Overreaching in preaching leads people to disillusionment. Some very zealous teachers today believe that this is the time that the sons of God are going to be fully revealed and begin to remove the curse on creation. As we walk in our full authority, they maintain, everything will change for the better on this earth.

While it is critically important for us to know our identity in Christ, the event creation is longing for only occurs at the return of Christ where our adoption is completed and our bodies are redeemed. The full manifestation of the sons of God happens at the second coming; not in this present age. John said it like this: “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not yet appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” (1John 3:2)

Right now we groan with all of creation and the Holy Spirit within us also groans (Romans 8:26-27) because things aren’t right yet and they won’t be until Jesus comes back. Life in this present age is hard, but God is still good. When Jesus described the time we’re now living in He said the wind and the waves were going to hit every life. He promised that those who obeyed His words would survive the storms, not be saved from them ever happening. (Matthew 7:24-27)

I love it when people are excited about Jesus, but we never have permission to overstate what we have been promised. No matter how much we may like a preacher, we have a responsibility to judge all that we hear by what the Word of God actually says. (Acts 17:11)

Posted in John

The Great Awakening – Part Three

“You must be born again.” John 3:3

John Wesley (1703-1791) was the fifteenth of nineteen children of Samuel and Susannah Wesley. His dad was an Anglican preacher and poet, but John took mostly after his mom. Susannah believed in discipline, though rigidly maintained, it was never the cruel discipline of a tyrant. The methodical way of living Susannah taught was the same intentional way John would train his disciples in the years to come.

On May 24, 1738, Wesley went to a meeting on Aldersgate Street in London, England where his life would be forever changed. Although he grew up in a godly home and had earnestly pursued God for thirteen years (he began a group known as the “Holy Club” at Oxford), he had no assurance of being right with God. That night, as Luther’s Preface to Romans was read, he felt his heart “strangely warmed,” and for the first time knew that Jesus was his Savior (not just the Savior of the world), and that his sins were forgiven.

He was so excited about being born again that this became his central message. After reading Jonathan Edwards’ account of revival in Northampton, the same types of conversions started happening in his meetings. Then his friend from the Holy Club, George Whitefield, invited him to come to Bristol where thousands were gathering in the fields to hear him preach. Whitefield needed to move on but didn’t want to abandon all the new converts. “Would Wesley take over for him?”

In a time when “enthusiasm” was frowned upon in church circles, Wesley found that wherever he went people were dramatically and often emotionally converted. He recorded that, while preaching on the text that it’s God’s will for all to be saved (2Peter 3:9), one after another would sink to the earth, “They dropped on every side as if thunderstruck.” At other times there would be a “curious prevalence of uncontrollable laughter accompanied by a shocking violence of movement.” The experiences were followed, as a rule, “by a state of religious well-being, of happiness and composure, nor was there any difficulty in resuming the business of ordinary life.”

It is estimated that John Wesley road on horseback a total of 400,000 miles between 1738-1790. He preached at least twice a day; often three or four times, and gave over 40,000 sermons in his lifetime. In England he established 240 circuits with an attendance of over 240,000, and in America he had 114 circuits with an attendance of over 57,000. He was the apostolic organizer of the first great awakening in America and his efforts are still bearing fruit today.

Posted in John

The Great Awakening – Part Two

“You must be born again.” John 3:3

George Whitefield (1714-1770) was eleven years younger than Jonathan Edwards and was born in England, but God would use him in the American colonies to bring the spark Edwards had lit to a raging spiritual fire that would wake up souls everywhere he preached.

While reading a book lent to him in college called, “The Life of God in the Soul of Man,” Whitefield became convinced that it wasn’t religious works that made one right with God; you needed to be born again. He wrote, “A ray of Divine light was instantaneously darted in my soul, and from that moment did I know that I must be a new creature.” (George Whitefield’s Journals, pg. 47)

From that time on crowds were drawn to Whitefield’s preaching and the message that we must be born again. In 1738 he made the first of seven trips to America and started an orphanage near Savannah, Georgia. When he returned to England to raise money for his orphans, crowds were waiting to hear him preach. Although he was ordained as an Anglican minister no one offered him a pulpit, so he began preaching in the fields. Thousands came to hear him in the open air in Bristol and coal miners wept as they were converted to Christ.

When he returned to America in 1740, the reports of his popularity in England preceded his arrival in Philadelphia, so crowds quickly gathered to hear him. He preached every day for months to thousands gathered from New York City to Charleston, riding from city to city on horseback. When he was invited by Jonathan Edwards to visit Northampton, all heaven broke loose as people wailed, wept, fainted, and rejoiced as they experienced the manifestation of God’s presence during Whitefield’s preaching.

In 1740 Benjamin Franklin wrote these words about Philadelphia: “The alteration in the fact of religion here is altogether surprising. Religion has become the subject of most conversations. No books are in request but those of piety and devotion; and instead of idle songs and ballads, the people everywhere are entertaining themselves with psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs.” (Pennsylvania Gazette, June, 1740)

In 1770, the 55 year old Whitefield continued preaching in spite of poor health. He said, “I would rather wear out than rust out.” His last sermon was preached in Newburyport, Massachusetts, which is where he died. It is estimated that he preached over 18,000 sermons in his lifetime primarily in England, America, and Scotland.

Posted in John

The First Great Awakening – Part One

“Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3

Between the years of 1730-1770, there was a spiritual awakening that swept over the American colonies and England. Many were used greatly by God, but none stand out so clearly as Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and John Wesley. We will look at each of these over the next three days.

Jonathan Edwards was the pastor of a congregational church in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1734. He inherited the pulpit from his maternal grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, who had introduced a way for the unconverted to become members.

This reduced their Christianity to an outward form that lacked the power of an experience with God and led to an atmosphere of frivolity and immorality. So when one popular young man was stricken down with an illness that led to his sudden death, Edwards seized the opportunity. Depicting an image of strikingly beautiful flowers of the field that are mowed over and ruined by the end of the day, Edwards reminded the weeping congregation of the fleeting beauty of youth. How foolish it was to center one’s life on short-lived pleasures. How much wiser it would be to trust in Christ, whose beauty far outshone the highest earthly glory, and in whom one’s joy would be for all eternity. (A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards; pg. 46)

As this spark grew to a fire, people started meeting during the week to pray, sing, and read. Lines of awakened young people gathered at Edward’s study door seeking spiritual counsel. People in Northampton talked of almost nothing but spiritual things. They dwelt on other topics only so long as it was necessary to conduct their daily work, and sometimes even neglected their work so that they could spend more time in spiritual activities. For a time, sickness almost disappeared. Astonished by the phenomena that surrounded him, Edwards wrote a booklet called: “A Faithful Narrative of this Surprising Work of God.” Wherever this account went, similar spiritual hunger broke out.

A fire had been lit that would eventually travel far and wide in the colonies and in England. These early moves of the Spirit would pale in comparison to what would happen in the next decade through an evangelist from England named George Whitefield who God would raise up to put gasoline on these early embers.

Posted in Acts, Romans

Civil Authority

“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves… Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.” Romans 13:1-2; 5

Civil authority was God’s idea, not man’s. To be a good citizen of heaven and a pleasing child of God, we must also aim to be a good citizen of whatever country we live in.

Our goal is not just to stay out of the trouble that comes when we break the law, but to keep a clear conscience before God. We honor positions of civil authority because God established them to restrain evil in this present time. To honor civil authorities, therefore, is part of honoring God.

But our duty to civil government goes beyond blind obedience. Conscience limits us when government asks us to do something that is against God’s commands. When this happens, we appeal with honor toward them, and if they still will not relent, we must disobey and be willing to suffer the penalty.

This is what happened in Acts 4. Civil authority commanded the apostles to stop speaking in Jesus Name (Acts 4:17), but this was in contradiction to Christ’s command to go into the whole world and preach the gospel. Here was Peter and John’s response: “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen or heard.” (Acts 4:19-20)

For Jesus’ sake we should be model citizens of America. We should pay taxes, we should stay within the limits of the law, and we should pray for all who are in positions of authority. Yet if the government in the future makes laws that force us to disobey God, it will be our duty to follow God, not men.

All over the world we have brothers and sisters who are being persecuted and martyred for just this reason. Let’s pray for them, thank God for the freedom we enjoy in America, and continue to pray for all those in authority.