Sunday, June 27, 2010

A time for...prophets?

"The word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations." Jeremiah 1:5

"To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven;" Ecclesiastes 3:1

"And such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he (the Anti-Christ) corrupt by flatteries: but the people who do know their God shall be strong AND DO EXPLOITS. And they that understand among the people shall instruct many:..."

Recently, I was asked about my testimonies of my conversion and my call to preach. Since then, through some comments from my wife as well as some gentle nudgings of the spirit, God has had me go back and reexamine the passages he used to call me to preach. One of them was Jeremiah 1: 4-10.

The part that stuck out at me was, "I ordained thee a prophet...". I know what you're thinking: "Who is this guy to think he's a prophet? Will we see him on TBN soon? First of all, I don't think of myself as a prophet, most assuredly not one like the name it claim it hucksters of our day. God has been dropping some disturbing (to me) thoughts into my mind about this. Maybe I should think that way. In fact, maybe we should all think about ourselves that way.

We are entering the very end times. We are watching the beginnings of the final horrible days ahead. Some say we won't be here for the church will have been raptured. I don't happen to agree with that, though I wish it were true. Who really wants to be here and live through the time of Satan's wrath on Earth? Yet, we are told by another prophet (Daniel) that "the people that do know their God shall be strong and do exploits". In the midst of the awful days to come, we are told of how powerful God's people will become in the Lord. After all, doesn't the word also say that, "the glory of the latter house (us) will be greater than the glory of the former house" (the early church).

We've all been looking for that end time revival. We've all been praying for it to come, yet very little seems to be happening in God's kingdom nowadays. What's the difference?

In the OT, the revival was always brought on by a prophet- God's man for that hour- who would come with God's word for that generation. Many times he was used to show God's power in the land. When God's power was manifested, the people repented.

In the early church, it was the same, yet different. Yes, God had powerful leaders, and he showed up and showed out! Everything from casting out demons, to healing the sick, etc., was being done and many were converted. However, I would submit to you that our church structure seems to be the opposite of theirs.

"And he gave some, Apostles; and some, prophets; and some evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints; for the work of the ministry; for the edifying of the body of Christ." Eph. 4: 11-12

Our modern churches seem to be set up as a TOP DOWN hierarchy. We read these verses and are taught by many that these verses mean that:
It is the five fold ministries job to a) perfect the saints b) work the ministry, and c) edify the body of Christ. The sheep are to show up, worship, give their offerings, and hang on every word that their "enlightened leaders" say. Then they are free to go home and be all starry eyed about having been in the presence of God and, by extension, God's man. What if that's not what these verses mean?

What if they really mean that a) it is the 5-fold ministries job to help perfect the saints so that b) THEY (and us) can do the work of the ministry, in order that c) the body of Christ is edified (or grown and lifted up). What do I mean? It is the leaderships job to pray for, teach and correct, and lead God's people to higher places in God. For what reason? So that they, too, can learn to be used in ministry!

There are nine or more gifts of the spirit listed between 1 Cor 12 and Romans 12. These gifts are there and are available to the whole body of Christ, to be exercised by whoever God wishes to use in these capacities. "These signs shall follow THEM THAT BELIEVE.." Mark 16 says, yet in many churches, we are given the idea that only those special few on the platform can do these things. Indeed, in some places, the "sheep" are not allowed to operate in the gifts. If they do, they are accused of stepping into the pastors authority. How absurd!

On the flip side, if a congregation is encouraged to operate in the spirit of God, and taught how to do this, this gets a congregation excited! Why? They're involved. Their not just money giving pew warmers. They are an active part of what God is doing there. How many have been lost and have given up on God because they were not allowed to operate in the way God wished them to?

When they see a need for prayer and have the freedom to go do that? OH, what a difference that makes! When they have an opportunity to give a Bible study to a sinner, and that person (or people) get born again as a result? How excited will they get? How many more Bible studies will they give? How many, when they see the tears of joy and release on the face of the family that they just helped with groceries or a car, or their bills, or clothes, etc won't be encouraged to help more? Especially when they see the family they helped reached for God!

That's how it's supposed to work! We teach and preach and lead. We do take part in doing the work of the ministry, but God's people are let loose to let God work through them as well. The more God works through all of us, the more we are all willing to do more work for God. The more we see God doing, the more excited we become and want to see and experience more. This circle naturally edifies (lifts up and grows) the whole body of Christ. We all get closer and closer to God and see God doing more and more.

One of the gifts of the Spirit is Prophecy. We tend to think of it as "foretelling the future or giving divine warnings". If God chooses to use people that way, so be it. However, simply put, prophecy means, "to speak forth the word of God". Yes, there are gender specific requirements to certain offices in the church. But, anyone can be used to speak a word in due season to a hungry soul that they meet- if God directs. Anyone can be used to pray.

Yes, there is a specific office called a prophet that is part of the 5 fold ministry (prophetess is not a part of this), but anyone can prophecy. What does it say in Revelations about the end time saints (our generation?)?

"...And he said unto me, these are they they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb." (Rev 7:14) See, we are going through the great tribulation. Sorry, had to throw that in. But, how did they (we) make it through?
"And they overcame him (Satan) by the blood of the lamb, and by the word of their testimony, and they loved not their lives unto death" (Rev 12:11).

That kind of commitment only comes through great spiritual excitement and freedom. The TOP DOWN church system does not bring revival. Only a people that are freed to follow God and experience their own love affair with him can do this.

I'm not advocating "no fences". I'm not advocating the abolishing of "pastoral authority". Yes, people need guidance and people need correction. All of these things are covered, in detail, in the scriptures. My point is that the five fold ministry was never intended to take the place of God in peoples lives. When we do, we hinder the move of God. When we preach or teach what God gives us, and the service is over, other than prayer, that message is now between the hearers and GOD. We have no authority from God to run other peoples lives.

Will they make mistakes and mess things up? Of course! But would a parent rather help a fallen toddler get back up and try to walk again, or would they prefer that they never walk because there's a possibility they may get hurt, hurt someone else, or inconvenience us? If we want to see more people staying in the church and getting excited about the things of God, then we've got to let go the strangle hold we think we have to have in order that they won't get out of control. The beauty of living for God is that HE"S IN CONTROL, not us. We're just blessed to be able to be used by him to serve others.

We need more people to walk in the gifts of God, not a centralized few. We need more people to prophecy, not just the leadership. We need more people to teach God's truth and reach out to the lost, and help the hurting, and pray for the sick, NOT JUST "THE MINISTRY". Everyone who is born of God has a ministry. I say, let the saints loose and see what God does!

After all, in the end times, "The PEOPLE (not just the ministry) that do know their God shall be strong and do exploits" and "they that understand among the people (not just the ministry) shall instruct many. Let this begin the era of the "ministry of the saints" and watch God work. Let the prophets arise!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Peace of God versus the God of Peace- 2 different levels in God

" Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, rejoice.
Let you moderation be known unto all men, The Lord is at hand.
Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
And the peace of God that passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Finally, brethren, whatsoever ever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things.
Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you." - Philippians 4: 4-9

A dear friend of mine sent me an encouraging word about keeping the peace of God in our hearts and lives, in spite of the cares of this old world. It was a great comfort to me. It also got me to thinking about this section of scripture. Maybe we should rethink some things.

REJOICE: When we, in our society, think of the word rejoice, we tend to think about exuberance. We picture loud clapping and shouting, etc- especially those of us in the Apostolic church. It's even been taught to us that if we aren't living our lives in this way that we don't have "the joy of the Lord" in our lives. Many is the person who has felt somehow, less than Christian, because they don't feel all joyful.

Unfortunately, those who believe this way are ignoring some obvious facts. Job, for example, was not at all happy and joyful in this way. In fact, Job said, "My soul is weary of my life; I will leave my complaint upon myself; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul." (Job 10: 1) He even went so far as to say, "I will say unto God, Do not condemn me; Show me wherefore thou contendest with me" (Job 10:2) Yet, scripture clearly says that, in God's view of him, "...and still he holdeth fast his integrity..." (Job 2:3).

So what does it mean to be joyful? To rejoice, in the Greek, means, "to be cheerful, i.e. CALMLY HAPPY or well off:..." Yes, it does include feeling happy sometimes. But, it also includes a calmness. A calm trust that, no matter what happens, God has our back. It also includes having a made up mind that, as Job said, "Though you slay me, yet will I trust you".

How can we do this in trials? "The joy of the Lord" is not, as some teach, an exuberant feeling that defies logic. It is a knowledge that, as long as we hold onto and follow him, God's personal joy is fulfilled. When he looks at our integrity in the face of all the demonic opposition, can he turn to Satan and ask about us, as he did of Job, "Have you considered my servant so and so?" Does God feel joyful when we get knocked down? No. But when we tap into his strength and stand back up again- continuing to "fight the good fight of faith", then God's joy overflows!

I can picture him on the throne watching as our enemy knocks us down. With a determined concern, he waits. Then we pray, he gives us strength, and we begin to rise up again. "Look", he tells the Angels and points! "Look, my child is getting back up! Oh, how I love that child!" Saints of God, we can endure any trouble or any trial- even up to death- as long as we know that God's joy is fulfilled! HIS JOY is our strength. When we know that we make him fill joy by our testimony, we can endure the hardships.

MODERATION: We, as Apostolics are all about letting our moderation be known unto all men, though some of us do it in a bragging and finger pointing way (which is not what this means). The word, in the Greek means, "Appropriate, mild". We believe that the scriptures teach us how we should live, think, talk, dress, and conduct ourselves in all areas of our lives. Unfortunately, to some of us, these principles have become almost a Pharisee like checklist. We almost get the attitude that, as long as we check off these things on our "holiness list" every so often, we are right with God.

My brethren, may I tell you that, if we believe this, our focus is wrong. Does God expect us to live in certain ways? Yes. We must strive to be conformed to his word. However, the focus of the word of God is not to give us more rules and regulations. He didn't save us and give us a checklist. The focus of the Gospel is for us to let HIM live his life THROUGH us. He wants our hands as his hands, our feet as his feet, our mouth as his mouth, our thoughts as his thoughts, etc. He is the vine and we are the branches. Our task is to get our flesh out of the way and let him live through us. It's about relationship with and submission to God! The closer we get to him, the more he lives through us and the less important we are to ourselves. We, like John the baptist, should cry out, "I must decrease that he might increase".

For the checklist brethren who fear what I just wrote, if we let God live through us, the checklist will naturally be taken care of. After all, if God gave us the "standards", then he will live those standards that are biblical through us. We must relinquish control of our lives and let him live through us and have control. "Holiness" doe not come from simple obedience. Holiness comes from a submitted life that allows God to live through it.
CAREFUL: Unlike our modern definition of the word, this word, in the Greek, means, "Anxious". Worry is the modern antithesis of faith. We worry about this. We worry about that. As such, we make contingency plans for this and that to try and minimize any possible damage for any possible scenario. Yet, when we realize that GOD is in control of our lives, not us, then we are free to simply pray and let God give us wisdom in every situation.

It also frees us to be able to thank God in every situation. If, in the midst of our trials, we understand that God is working every situation out for our good and his glory, then we are free to praise him in those trials- even when we don't see the answer to our dilemma on the horizon.
We also understand that our prayer requests are just that- requests. We may think that we know the best way that a given situation should be worked out. However, God knows best for every situation. When we make our faithful requests, we should understand that God sometimes tells us wait (because it's not the right time), or even no (because our solution is not the one that he thinks is the best solution). When we pray, we should end with "thy will be done", allowing that God IS God and he knows best for our lives.

If we do these things, mainly relinquishing control of our lives and letting God live through us, then we can experience the "peace of God which passeth ALL understanding" and this peace of God will keep (Greek: "to be a watcher in advance, to mount guard as a sentinel {post spies at the gates}, to hem in, protect) our hearts (emotions) and minds (thoughts) through Christ Jesus (relationship with him). We can have peace in the tough times, no matter how tough or confusing, as long as we know we are in a right relationship with Jesus!

That's one level in God. This is where the majority of us live and struggle in our walks with God (including myself). We struggle in the wildernesses of our lives. We strive to reach our promised land (I call this our areas of ministry). Yet, like Israel of old, we struggle to kill off our flesh. Therefore, like them, we find ourselves journeying in never ending circles in the wilderness. Yet, if we will just relinquish control and let God have it, we will finally be able to enter our promised lands! The wilderness is there to teach us to let go. The peace of God is there to help us through the wilderness.

The next level begins in verse 8, and it begins in our thought lives. We, as God's people, suffer from what one old time preacher called "stinkin thinkin". We don't think this will work out well. We don't like what we see in the world, our family, our brothers and sisters in the Lord, the church we attend, etc. We don't like the political situation. A myriad of negative thoughts constantly bombard us. I'm not saying that there aren't legitimate concerns in any or all of these areas. However, when we leave these concerns at the feet of Jesus, and trust him to care for these needs in his way, we can focus on other things.

We are to focus on (think on) things that are:

True (Greek: "true, as not concealing") - we must think about truth (God's truth), live out God's truth (by his power and spirit living through us), speak God's truth (without fear or favor), and hold on to God's truth (buy the truth and sell it not, the Proverbs declare!).

Honest (Greek: "venerable {deserving respect, from age, character, or associations}, honorable")- we must think honestly, act honestly, speak honestly, work honestly, etc.- even when such honesty may make us look bad in the eyes of others. We must hold fast to our integrity.

Just (Greek: "Equitable in character or act, innocent, holy") We should preach truth and live truth without showing favorites to one. It should not matter to us who has more or less money, who can help or who needs help, who has a pedigree or who doesn't, who has a high position in a company or government or denomination- or who lives under a bridge. God's word is for everyone irregardless of station in life or blood ties.

Pure (Greek: "clean, innocent, modest, perfect") We should be pure in all areas.

Lovely (Greek: "friendly towards, acceptable") We should show ourselves friendly (in Godly ways) and be accepting of whoever God brings our way to help.

Of Good Report (Greek: "well spoken of, reputable") Yes, as Christians, we are to stand against the evils of our society, however, we are also to praise those good things that we see and hear, as well. Give honor where honor is due!

Virtue (Greek: "manliness, excellence") This goes along with "Of Good Report", but deserves it's own category". Instead of the "feministic modern manhood" and the "don't strive for excellence but be as bad as everyone else" attitudes that have clearly taken stronghold in our world, we are to speak and live to be Godly men and strive for excellence.

Praise (Greek: "laudation, a commendable thing") Give honor where honor is due!

This is a heavy list. This is where our thought life should dwell. After all, Proverbs says that, "As a man thinketh, so is he". Just like a horse with a bit in it's mouth, we will naturally go in the direction that our head is going. We need to give God the reigns of our thought life and let him guide us where he sees fit for us to go. We are to be actively looking for truth, honesty, justice, purity, friendliness, things of good reputation, virtuous, and praiseworthy things.

Then, once we've thought on these things, we LEARN and RECEIVE, HEAR and DO (verse 9) these things. In so doing we reach the level that I believe the Apostles and many in the early church operated in: Verse 9 says "THE GOD OF PEACE shall be with you"!

This is both challenging and exciting to me. Instead of fumbling around in our wilderness, getting hurt and spanked, and having very little effect on our world. Instead of bellying up to the Holy Ghost table and reaching for huge portions of "the peace of God". Please, don't take it that I'm belittling the peace of God. On the contrary, I'm grateful for it! It's exactly that peace that has gotten me through many situations.

I believe, however, that God is trying to bring his church back to the level of the early church. Back to an age of Apostolic authority and power. If we, as God's people can somehow get to a place in God where we can get past verses 4-7 (which are important), then we can have the Apostolic revival that God has promised us! The Apostles walked so closely with God that the dead were raised, thousands were saved, and the mere contact with their shadow (mixed with faith in Jesus) brought healing. The lame walked, the dumb talked! They, put simply became an extension of God! They became his hands and feet, his mind and words. In other words, they became so close to Jesus that he was able to live THROUGH them and bring the revival he wanted to bring!

God desires for us to get so close to him that he can live through us and bring the revival that he longs to bring to this day and age. A revival that he prophesied with these words: "The Glory of the latter house (us) will be greater than the Glory of the former house (the early church)."
Lord, help us to get straight with you and get past our wildernesses. Help us to not be content with just being born again. Help us to want what you want!
We don't have to settle for "the peace" of the Rock, we can have the WHOLE MOUNTAIN- you!