Thursday, May 26, 2011

"Gift or Grace?" Exploring the Spirit's expressions.

There are not many today who would argue that the Holy Spirit no longer speaks or acts through His people. Although Cessationism thrived towards the end of the last century, many of the most conservative theologians and churches have begun to shift their position, admitting their need for a Gospel that is not simply proclaimed but also demonstrated with power.

Perhaps the larger enemy of the operation of the Holy Spirit in the church is more subtle in our time. It is less antagonism and more abdication. "If God wants to act He will," we say."It's not up to me. God is Sovereign."

Paul's answer to this attitude was fairly simple. "Eagerly desire the spiritual gifts." 1 Cor 14:1 Eager desire is not a description of passivity. It is a description of a child at the gates of Disneyland. Many of our approaches to spiritual gifts are more like parents at the gates of Disneyland - We are a bit jaded from our last experience, and if you are anything like me, very reluctant to enter again. Or we feel that we need to be completely rational, hiding all emotion in order to be used by the Spirit. It's okay to be zealous. In fact when Paul talked about prophecy he encouraged people not put out the Spirit's fire, and not to be lacking in zeal. The trick is to be zealous with wisdom and a lack of hype, so that people don't leave our meetings saying,"they are out of their minds."Sensationalism may be almost as dangerous as Cessationism.

I went around the room this week, after an incredibly stirring time at Urban Renewal, and asked each of our elders which spiritual gift they most desired. It was interesting how many said they had once operated in an aspect of spiritual power but that it had grown dormant. We spent time in prayer fanning into flame the Spirit's fire after asking God eagerly to restore His Spirit's power to us.

I suppose if passivity is the weakness of Conservative theology, then presumption is the weakness of Charismatic theology. The word 'gift' in 1 Corinthians 12 is possibly a poor translation, and it may be more true to say, 'expression of grace'. It is also "as the Spirit determines," not as I demand. A 'my gift' mentality and has left many people with a sense of inflexibility, and also of ownership of something that is ultimately God's. It's here that the danger of spiritual identity forming around 'my gift' can become incredibly self-serving. People lose sight of the fact that whatever gift they have been entrusted with is not for them but for the building up of others. They also forget that God may want to have them use another gift for another situation. Perhaps it is better to think of them as 'tools for a task'.God has given us a toolbox with more than just one tool in it. We can become skilful at more than just one tool.

Ultimately, whether you see them as gifts or graces, the expressions of the Spirit are there for the sake of the Gospel. They are not just for the building up of believers, but also for the bowing down of unbelievers. "The secret's of their hearts will be laid bare and they will fall down and proclaim, God is surely among you!" 1 Cor 4:27 Let's be zealous in eagerly desiring his gifts, and humble enough to use them as stewards for His glory and other's good.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Plumber's Prophecy

With just a few days to go until Urban Renewal, registrations and faith expectations are climbing. It's so important to realize we are just a part of what God is doing, but also a part of the fulfillment of what God has been saying for many years. I thought I'd give a a bit of history on a gathering which seeks a convergence of Word and Spirit for the Gospel's sake.

Smith Wigglesworth, the simple Welsh plumber known as 'the apostle of faith,' prophesied the following before he died in 1947.
"During the next few decades there will be two distinct moves of the Holy Spirit across the church in Great Britain. The first move will affect every church that is open to receive it, and will be characterized by a restoration of the baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The second move of the Holy Spirit will result in people leaving historic churches and planting new churches.
In the duration of each of these moves, the people who are involved will say, 'This is a great revival.' But the Lord says, 'No, neither is this the great revival but both are steps towards it.'
When the new church phase is on the wane, there will be evidence in the churches of something that has not been seen before: a coming together of those with an emphasis on the word and those with an emphasis on the Spirit. When the word and the Spirit come together, there will be the biggest move of the Holy Spirit that the nation, and indeed, the world has ever seen. It will mark the beginning of a revival that will eclipse anything that has been witnessed within these shores, even the Wesleyan and Welsh revivals of former years. The outpouring of God’s Spirit will flow over from the United Kingdom to mainland Europe, and from there, will begin a missionary move to the ends of the earth."

Our hope as a leadership team at Southlands, is that Urban Renewal would be a 'pebble in the pond' of this 'Word and Spirit' movement which spread outwards for the Gospel's sake to the glory of God.
See you Thursday! Register at

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Will we Tarry?" A call to community prayer

'Tarry.' Strange word. Forgotten word. The word Jesus used to describe what his disciples should have done with him in the Garden of Gethsemane and didn't.
Essentially, it means to pray watchfully. "Could you not tarry with me for one hour?" was Jesus' rhetorical question to them.

Like most of us, the disciples' spirits were willing but their flesh was weak. In their case it was because they were sleepy. More accurately, they were 'exhausted from sorrow.'Ironic, but so true, that when we are exhausted, discouraged or depressed, the very thing that cures our condition seems so hard to do.

Prayerlessness seems to me to be one of the epidemics of our culture and time. 'I'm too busy to pray!' is the excuse so many give. John Wesley's response to that excuse was, "I'm too busy not to pray."I have found that prayer brings space to my day, and when I neglect it, things seem more frenetic.

I remember another John; John Wimber, speaking about prayerlessness to his congregation not long before he died. They had become a large, high profile church and he felt they had become passive in prayer. "We are charging on someone else's credit card!" he warned. "We are living in the fruit of the prayers of those that have gone before us instead of investing in prayer for the next generation." An extremely sobering statement.

Of course prayer is inconvenient. But being a Christ -follower, means that the full and inconvenient gift of the Cross, calls for a full response from us. And in the inconvenience of it all, we discover the rare privilege of partnering with the Lord of All, fueling the shaping of history one prayer at a time.

My prayer for the community I lead, is that we would rediscover the power of 'Tarrying Together.' 2nd Friday prayer is the one hour every month that we express that most powerfully."No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind conceived what God has prepared for those who wait for Him" Is 64. Let's see you there Southlands.

Friday, May 6, 2011

"Carrot, Stick or Cross?" Thoughts on leading God's people

As far as I can see, there are essentially three ways of leading God's people.
You either lead them by shaking a stick at them, or dangling a carrot in front of them, or by helping them to respond to the cross.

The first two are much easier ways to lead. They get good results but produce bad Christians.

When you lead by shaking a stick, you lead through the negative consequences of disobedience. So you paint a picture of how God will feel, or what He will or won't do if they do not do what you are calling them to do. People often respond very well to this kind of leadership. Initially anyway. They respond out of fear. But fear has a way of draining people after a while. So most people will either leave or become very resentful towards both you and God.

When you lead by dangling a carrot, you tell people of the positive reward they will get if they obey. You paint a compelling picture of how God will be pleased and how they will be rewarded by recognition,responsibility or prosperity. While this is a better way of leading than shaking a stick, and there is much biblical basis for God rewarding faithfulness, it is very easy to manipulate people through carrot dangling. It can just be a more polite way of stick shaking.Carrot dangling does also get results for a while, until people realize that reward is not always cause and effect in the kingdom. Sometimes the rewards don't come straight away. Sometimes they get given to others before them. Sometimes they only get given after you die. So after a while people just get a little bit jaded by carrot dangling.

The third way is certainly the most difficult way to lead. But I believe it is the most effective, and long lasting way to lead. It's by urging people to respond fully to the full gift of Jesus at the cross. Paul led this way. "I urge you, brethren, in view of His mercy, to present your bodies to God as a living sacrifice, which is your acceptable service of worship." Romans 12:1-2.

Leading people, in view of God's mercy, keeps them free from responding out of fear. They are responding to God's kindness. They are not responding in order to get God's mercy, but because they have it. Yet it also keeps them mindful of the greatest example of Someone who gave themselves away - God spent absolutely everything on us in Jesus - and so people are held responsible before the cross if they are holding themselves back. The cross also inspires them to hang in there in times when they do not feel rewarded or recognized, because Christ endured the cross for the joy set before him. Leading through the cross sometimes gets worse results initially, but it produces better Christians for sure, and in time does produce results if you persist in it.

I know this sounds simple, but whether it is a call to pray, to serve, to give or to forgive, I urge you to motivate God's people through the cross. I don't think there is really any other way.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Sacred Sex

So I preached on sex this past Sunday as part of our 'Love Re-Imagined' series. I called it 'loving the temple.' Talking about sex in church is a bit like borrowing someone else's baseball mit. A bit awkward. A bit too close for comfort. But better than playing with no mit at all. After all, if preachers stay silent about sex, they simply have to accept that comedians and talk show hosts will fill the vacuum. Or the glove. Thing is, I want to carry on next week with it, but it's Mother's day and I am not sure how that will go down with all the moms.

Paul talked pretty straight about sex in 1 Corinthians. Fascinating that Paul used the idea of our bodies being temples. The temple was seen as sacred by the Corinthians. It was also ridiculously expensive; An Estimated $500 million to build an ancient Greek temple. The Corinthians saw their bodies as amusement parks - John Mayer's, "Your body is a wonderland" would have described their attitude towards sex real well; just a place of cheap thrills with no consequences, but Paul was intent on them seeing their bodies as valuable and sacred in God's eyes.

Our bodies are temples because of the price Jesus paid to redeem us. Our value doesn't come from what we've done with our bodies. We might have cheapened them by our sexual choices, but their value comes from the priceless blood of Jesus which bought us from slavery. We are expensive whether we feel it or not.
And the blood that redeemed us,keeps on redeeming us, setting us free from the chains of sexual brokenness. I've seen it work countless times. It is still potent to redeem today.

Redemption works both ways though. In Corinth, slaves who were redeemed by a generous master, were set free from a life of forced labor. Often though, out of gratitude, that slave would become a willing bond-servant to that master, saying in effect,"You have set me free but I will willingly serve you the rest of my days because of your kindness.'That is what Paul was saying. If we understand God's kindness in setting us free, we willingly give ourselves back to Him. 'You are not your own, You were bought with a price. Honor God with your body."

Our bodies are temples not just because of the price paid for them, but also because the Holy Spirit owns them and resides in them.

After one of our meetings, a mom with three teenage/college age daughters in the church came up to me and said, 'I love that my daughters get to hear this stuff. Hearing it again on Mother's day would be fantastic."
So I guess I'll be sticking my hand inside that baseball mit again this Sunday.