Thursday, January 26, 2006

Where are the Nine?

There's a sermon that I like to preach around Thanksgiving time called "where are the nine?" The sermon is based on Luke chapter 17 and the cleansing of ten lepers. Only one of them returned to give glory and thanks to God and Jesus asked "where are the nine?" (Luke 17:17 b KJV). Well today I'm not going to preach that sermon to you (aren't you glad?), but I'm still asking the question "where are the nine?"- this time I'm coming from I Corinthians and the 12th chapter.

I Corinthians 12:8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; 12:9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; 12:10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:

There are nine gifts of the Holy Spirit listed in this chapter. I am very quick to defend the fact that God's gifts are still active today. I do not believe for a moment that the Lord only intended these gifts to operate until the closing of the canon. There is no indication that God ever intended for the gifts to cease during the church age. But I'm not here to refute cessationism today (again...aren't you glad?). What I do want to ask though is "where are the nine?" I don't know what it's like in your church or your sphere of influence, but I rarely see more than a few of these gifts in action. I realize that man does not control the gifts (the Spirit gives as "He" wills according to I Cor 12:11), but I wonder why we do not see more than what we do.

I typically see the gift of tongues, the interpretation of tongues, prophecy (some authentic, some...not so much), and the occasional word of wisdom/word of knowledge (honestly I'm not enough of a Greek scholar to distinguish between the two meanings). We see in the book of Acts, numerous displays of all the gifts in operation. We read of Paul "perceiving" that a man had faith to be healed- we see Peter "knowing" that Ananias and Sapphira were lying to the Holy Spirit- we see the working of miracles by the hand of Paul (and his handkerchiefs)- we see discerning of spirits in action (the "certain damsel" in Acts 16:16 comes to mind)- we see healings (even the shadow of Peter)-and even Paul pronouncing blindness upon a man (Acts 13:11).

Some scoffers would probably answer by saying it is easier to mock or mimic tongues or prophecy, but the others are harder to fake. Perhaps this would be true for some (I don't doubt there are charlatans but I also don't throw away my money just because there are counterfeiters out there), but I wonder if it doesn't have something to do with our experiences. Could it be that the Lord would like to use us in other areas of spiritual giftings, but we have conditioned ourselves to believe He can only use us in one particular way? I'm praying that I will walk in all of the gifts of the Spirit- not so that I can champion myself as a gifted and "anointed" one- but so that I can be a part of expanding God's kingdom. I love the gift of tongues and prophecy, but there may come a time when a gift of healing would be more needful and I would love to be able to walk in that.

I think there should be more emphasis on spiritual gifts and learning about them and their usage. Those who oppose the gifts of the Spirit will always point to the Corinthians and their lack of love and maturity. We must be careful not to lose balance and emphasize gifts above love and Christian service. But I fear that too often we err on the side of neglecting spiritual gifts rather than the other. I'm not talking about having seminars to teach people how to speak in tongues (I didn't even know such non-sense existed until a few years ago), or "training" someone to be a prophet (yes, a lady told me one time she was being trained to be a prophetess).

I just want the Lord to use me, and I want the gifts of the Spirit to flow through me- the world needs the power of God! And I believe the Lord is looking for willing vessels.

Just my musings today

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

"One sows....another reaps"

John 4:37 And herein is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth. 4:38 I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour: other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours.

I know this is not typically thought of as one of the "difficult sayings" of Jesus, but I think this can be difficult to accept at times. It is particularly harder if you are on the "sowing" end of things instead of the reaping end. I believe far too many ministers have given up and fainted along the journey because they did not realize what season they were in. Paul told Timothy to be instant "in season and out of season." This alone should confirm that you and I will not always be in harvest mode. I know there are some ministers who will boldly declare there will be "no dry season" for the faithful, but those with experience will tell you a different story. There are some barren places along this walk of faith. There are some wilderness experiences- never forget that it was the Spirit that initially led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted of Satan.

Jesus' disciples were walking into a great harvest field where they had bestowed no labor. Often we look at the crusades of men like Greg Laurie or Billy Graham, and we marvel at all of the souls they have won to Christ. I'm not here to take anything away from them- God has used both men mightily in the Kingdom of God. But I think we often forget about the massive campaigns of prayer, fasting, and evangelism that take place long before the crusades ever begin. Or about all of the altar workers, volunteers, and people who set up the stadiums (or whatever venue they take place in) and the equipment. We are quick to envy those who ascend to the pulpit and see the decisions for Christ, but we must understand that it probably would never have taken place without the sacrifice for others. Paul had to explain this to the Corinthians. They were notorious for thinking highly of public speakers. He had to remind them that one plants...another waters...but God makes everything grow!

This became real for me just this past weekend. I received a phone call from a dear friend from another church on Sunday afternoon. He and some others had organized a church just down the street from us about 4 or 5 years ago. They had dwindled some in attendance and had become frustrated. With just a small group of faithful believers remaining, they decided this past weekend to close their doors. Although my friend was sad that this was the end of an era for them (nobody likes it when churches close!), he was excited about the new things God was going to do. To get straight to the point- they took a vote on Sunday, and decided to donate all of their resources to our church (since we had such a good relationship). They are a Southern Baptist church and we are a Pentecostal church. I had bestowed no labor in their church- they have carried the burden...planted doubt watered them numerous times. And yet I am reaping a harvest from their plowing. This in no way belittles what they have done- it merely illustrates the principle that sometimes we are in the plowing stages while others are reaping.

I have seen this in my own ministry. More often than not, I have been a planter and a plower, while others seemingly are more on the reaping end. But that does not diminish the work that God has allowed me to do nor does it diminish either of our reward(s). I want to encourage you today- you may be in a season of sowing and plowing and watering. But don't be surprised if one day you enter into another man's labors- and by all means- do not forget to be thankful for the sacrifices that they have made. I reference this man's name a lot, but I really enjoy hearing Raymond Culpepper speak. He tells a story of his father speaking to him as a young minister. He says his dad always told him no matter what size church that he went to preach in that he should thank God that someone made a sacrifice so that he would have somewhere to preach. The freedoms that you and I enjoy are because someone was willing to sacrifice their lives for a cause greater than themselves.

Be encouraged today!


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

"I being in the way....the Lord led me"

Genesis 24:27 And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of my master Abraham, who hath not left destitute my master of his mercy and his truth: I being in the way, the LORD led me to the house of my master's brethren

Who hasn't wondered at some point or another if God even knows where we are? Of course we know theologically that God is omniscient, omnipresent, and nothing is hidden from His eyes. We can boldly state without hesitation that God knows all things, and works all things after the counsel of His own will. But if we will be honest with ourselves (and others), then we must admit there are times when we question if we are on the right track spiritually. I suppose that one of the most oft-asked questions I receive has to do with God's will. Many have become so anxious and worried about this that they run to and fro looking for a prophetic "word" of guidance from a minister. While it is true that God does use men and women at times to bring confirmation through a prophetic word, I believe that most of us are led "in the way."

We know that the psalmist declared "the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord." One of my denomination's leaders, Dr. Raymond Culpepper wrote something about this in his book "Power Living." He stated (and I'm paraphrasing here) that many Christians look at the will of God as a tightrope in which we perilously teeter on the brink of destruction constantly. Culpepper stated that he prefers to think of God's will more like a canyon. This is not to say that a person cannot step outside of God's will through disobedience or unbelief, but we need to realize that God has a handle on our future. As badly as we want to do the will of God for our lives...I believe that God wants it even more. We can look at the life of Abraham and see how God intervened on behalf of this man in order to fulfill his prophetic destiny. We read several times where Abraham lied about Sarah and said she was his sister in order to save his own hide! (we find later on that his son Isaac did the same thing...I could really preach here but I'm going to resist the temptation) Not only that, but he and Sarah cooked up (what I like to call affectionately) "plan B" with Hagar. Despite these embarassing acts, God managed to keep Abraham on the right track and get him where he needed to be.

Despite the dreams, prophetic words, and other means of encouragement that God sends our way- we can still fall prey to the endless worries about being in the will of God. I posted a passage from Genesis right beneath the title of my article today. Abraham's servant is sent on a mission to find a bride for Isaac. He too is concerned about whether or not Rebekah will be willing to accept his offer and agree to come and be Isaac's bride. What seems like an everyday, ordinary event like hanging out at a watering hole, turns into a glorious revelation of God's leading. After asking for a sign from God (and receiving it) ,the servant extols and praises the God of Abraham saying "I being in the way...the Lord led me." Take comfort today my dear friends- you may feel like you are in a barren wilderness, or that you have totally blown it, but God has not forsaken you. Sometimes the miracle is in the mundane. You may be faithfully working your "dead-end job", cleaning the toilets at your church, mowing the lawn on your church property, but God knows where you are. If you have a desire to serve Him and to do His will- you can rest assured that He knows how to get you where you need to be. David was anointed to be king, and yet still tending to the sheep- but one day the call came to be king in Hebron- later in Jerusalem. Amos was not a fourth-generation prophet, but God called him into His service. Just keep being faithful in the little things and doing all that you know to do and I can assure you that if you stay "in the Way"...the Lord will lead you too!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

How do "when's" become "if's" ?

Ok- I know that was a strange title, but it seemed appropriate. I suppose this time of year I often think about the sermon on the mount from Jesus. Many churches (including ours) declare the first month a special time of emphasis on prayer, fasting, and giving/stewardship. In a world that seems to complicate life so much, Jesus made things sound so simple. He had a way of speaking in plain terminology- it's either a good tree or a bad tree- we are either wise men or foolish men- we're either on the broad path leading to destruction or the strait and narrow path leading to life. some... way, we always (as humans) try to complicate and obfuscate the clear message of Jesus. Such is the case in the subject of my blog today. In this famous sermon, there are three things that Jesus gave instruction on how to obey certain disciplines. Let's look at them briefly:

Matthew 6:3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth

Matthew 6:6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly

Matthew 6:17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;

Three things- giving, praying, and fasting. I find it interesting that these are three areas that we (Christians) tend to really miss the mark. It's almost as if we have changed the words "when" and substituted the word "if" as if they were suggestions rather than commands. I have found that the most difficult things to motivate people to do in my ministry have been praying and giving....fasting is almost unheard of in the modern church. And yet Jesus said "when" you do all of these things. He expects you and I to do these things- they are the bare minimum of our Christian existance. They are not extraordinary feats of spiritual discipline, they are (as Romans 12 declares) our "reasonable service." It is difficult to find Christians today who "have the victory" in most areas of their lives. It is entirely possible that we face these problems time after time because we have changed the truth of God into something else entirely. When we change the "when" to "if", we rob ourselves of the blessings that God has for us. In each of those instances above, Jesus promises an open reward to all who will practice these disciplines in secret. What more motivation do we need?

Ok- I'll quit preaching now.
God bless,

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Time To Bring Forth The Goods

Matthew 3: 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8"Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; (NASB)

Well, today is the 3rd day of the New Year, and hopefully you haven't fallen off the wagon loaded down with well-intentioned resolutions. I thought today might be a good day to share a word from John the Baptist. His prophetic ministry appears to be in full-swing as we see the multitudes coming out to hear his message. His appearance and diet are unconventional, but his message is straight from the throne-room of God. If John were to appear in our community today, we would likely dismiss him as a radical. But God often chooses the unlikely...and the "foolish things" to confound the wise.

The Pharisees and Sadducees no doubt thought that they should be present for such a religious event. If anyone were to have a right to participate in this ecclesiastical excercise...certainly it would be them (so they thought). Fast-forward to 2006- if those two groups came to our church- likely those of us in leadership would acquiesce to their desire. It seems we have a reluctance to denounce the sins of the religious elite. Perhaps this stems from a hidden desire to be accepted by them....or perhaps to appease them in hopes for their praise. Paul told Timothy (regarding elders and leaders in the church) "them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear" (I Tim 5:20). This is a difficult but sometimes necessary aspect of prophetic ministry.

John the Baptist wanted them to realize that participating in his baptism was not merely another religious rite to be involved repentance. Many look at the liturgical calendar and days such as Yom Kippur as ideal times to think about repentance. But I think every day is a good time to think about it..and beginning a new calendar year is also an ideal time. John understood something that many of us in the church have yet to grasp....true repentance involves bearing fruit. We often confuse repentance and sorrow. These two terms are delineated in II Corinthians chapter 7

How often do we come to the altar of prayer confessing the same sins over and over again? I am not saying that we shouldn't come and confess immediately or that God will not forgive, but at some point, do we not need to bring forth the actual "fruit" of repentance? I purpose in my heart this year to actually bring forth the goods. There are some things I intend to "mark off" of my "repentance list" and actually get the victory over in this year- with God's help of course. His grace is sufficient!