Friday, 21 October 2016

Spiritual Gifts 101 #3

Weighing and Testing

Remember the verse from the last blog? 

1 Thessalonians 5
19 "Do not quench the spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecy with contempt 21 but test them all. Hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil."

Below I have attempted to weigh the prophetic elements of last Sunday’s service. My hope is that as you read, it will give you an idea of how we go about weighing / testing prophecy.

What does that mean?
However, a quick definition of terms is in order. The definitions are more for our working purposes at this point, rather than technical, biblical definitions - important as they are.

By ‘Prophecy’ I mean to use the term in its broadest sense. So for our purposes, the term ‘prophecy’ includes all the following … 
  1. The verbal articulation of an impression of what a believer feels convicted, that God is saying, to the church for the churches edification. 
  2. It is a message to the Church from God - but could be for an individual within the church. (1 Corinthians 12: 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.) It follows that if one part is edified, the every part is edified. 
  3. It needs to be weighed because it may or may not be of the Lord or may be a mixture.

By ‘Prophesy’ (Spelt with an ’s’ instead of a ‘c’) I mean the actual act of bringing the ‘prophecy’, the person is ‘prophesying’. 

It is important to understand, the we say a person is ‘prophesying’, we are saying, the person is acting in faith in bringing what s/he believes to be a message from God, impressed upon them by the Holy Spirit. We are not saying that their actual prophesying is God speaking, but the person is articulating as best they can what they believe the Lord has impressed upon them for the churches encouragement, and so they are submitting it to the church to be tested / weighed.

Context and Flow
Point 1
It is important to see prophecy in the context within which it was given. 

So it is good to consider, what is the general flow of the service? What was the preach on? Does the prophesy encourage in that direction? Or is the prophecy completely disconnect from the whole service - a curve ball - distraction? It is less likely to be of the Lord if it seems to be a distraction from what was preached.

So, in light of the above we should bear in mind the following ...

The service on the whole, was an expression of ...

  1. A desire to see God at working in greater measure during our time together, both during the service and in the future.
  2. A desire to open our hearts to hear anything God wants to say to us
  3. A desire to open our hearts for God to work in us in any way he pleases.
  4. Trust in God as our loving father. This is important because it expresses a child-like trust, one that says, "Lord we know we are vulnerable in this, but it is to you we want to be vulnerable and so we are trusting that as we do so, you will protect us, guide us and do us good.” In other words, we are trusting in God's character, as Jesus Himself said, "Which of you father's, if your child asks for an egg will give them a scorpion?” We know that if we are asking our Father for good, He will not do us bad. As we make ourselves vulnerable to God our Father, He will not say, "Oh you suckers, now you have become vulnerable to me and are relying on me to be faithful and protect you and do you good, I will let Satan come and deceive you and let you think it is me". We trust Him, He will not do that.

That all means, even if we got lots of details wrong (and I am conscious of some things), essentially - what happened was an act of genuine faith and trust in God - and Jesus loves that.  But that is why we test and weigh it. Not because we are suspiscious, cynical and critical, but because we know Jesus loves it when we act in faith and He often responds - but we also know details etc could be wrong, so we just want to spit out any bones. So we can affirm God’s pleasure in His church in stepping out in faith for Jesus’ sake and the good of the church, but recognising our fallibility we test and weigh. It is all good so far!

Point 2
The four sub-points under Point 1 above are good. But, if we are to not quench the spirit, we must (a) not despise what happened, (b) we must test it all (c) we must hold on to what is good and (d) reject what is evil. I think we can add to that (e) ignore what is neither good nor bad - just a bit of man’s thoughts getting mixed up in it all.

So, however we felt about the service, 'if we liked it or not' is not so important, but ‘what we do’ following the service is important.

Below I have tried to tease out the actual core - the things I think we can all heartily agree on, that is the main things. 

Also you will see, not only the actual prophecy is being weighed - but all contributions - since I’m sure all who contributed felt compelled by Jesus.

There were four particular elements I felt came out of the service.

  1. Grenville’s message: God expresses His love to us by giving gifts and abilities. He gives us these gifts and abilities so that we can use them, to express God’s love through us, to one another, in order to edify the church. It is wrong to use gifts for self edification and it is wrong to not use the gifts he has given to edify others because we are shy or cannot be bothered etc. We can use the word ‘gifts’ but in reality they are more like ‘tools for the trade’ - the trade being, edifying one another. They are given to us to use for His purposes. They are not like gifts we give at Christmas - where the gift is given, not only to, but also for the person we give the gift to. They are more like tools given to get a job done. This we can and should take to heart.
  2. Hannah’s testimony: Hannah encouraged the church with a personal testimony. She told us how God used someone in the church to speak into a specific situation in her life, and how it was definitely from God and she really needed to hear it. She wanted to encourage people that if they think God may have given them a word for someone in the church, to be bold and go for it. Hannah’s exhortation was ‘Be bold, be courageous, take those steps of faith, take a risk - don’t let the opportunity pass you by, the Lord will use us to edify one another in remarkable ways and it can make a real difference to people. Without question, we can take to heart that we should be willing to take steps of faith to edify one another - stepping out of our comfort zone and acting in faith and with a clear conscience for the common good. This will mean different things for different people. And it is in keeping with what Grenville brought to us.
  3. Dave’s prophetic word: “The Lord says; “What do you want me to do for you, ask and I will do it”. This was brought as a prophecy. Which again is consistent with Grenville’s message and Hannah’s encouragment. The prophecy itself is consistent with Bible verses such as Matthew 7:7 “Ask and you will receive”. However, there are many other verses that modify this verse. So just as we would with Matthew 7 - we want to allow God’s wider word inform our understanding. Clearly, the Lord does not give us all our ‘wants’. But often, as James tells us “You don’t have because you don’t ask God’ (James 4:2). So we can certainly take this as a timely exhortation from the Lord to get asking for the things we really want - the deep, enduring and godly desires of our heart. Since this was addressed to the church, we should ask, ‘what is it the church wants?’ Now we are all aware of a very current issue for us as a church - that is our concern for our future. And we have all expressed a desire, a want, to see the church continue and not close. It would seem to me, the Lord is encouraging us to ask Him. Tell Him - we want this church to continue. He wants us to be asking Him. Don’t just want the church to continue - ask God for what we want. Wouldn’t it be terrible if the church closed even though we wanted it to continue, planned for it etc. Then imagine that God told us when we finally see Him, “I know you wanted the church to continue, you worked harder than ever, made and carried out plans, asked churches for money - but you never actually asked me. “Lord, please make the Church continue, please provide all we need, please sustain us. One or two of you did - but not the whole church”. So, let’s reply to the Lord’s question by saying, “we want you to provide all we need to continue”. And tell Him what those things are. Now I don’t want to limit Dave’s prophecy to that, but since it was given to ‘the church’ and not an individual, this is the one thing right now ‘the church wants’. 
  4. Jade’s exhortation “Posture is important. I believe the Lord would have us get on our knees and pray”. This exhortation seems to challenge us to reflect on our praying, to consider the urgency of our situation - now is not the time for being reserved and conservative - but to cry out to God - to throw ourselves upon Him. To overcome pride etc and humble ourselves before Him. To get down on our knees. We will do that for what we really want, for what is really important to us. And since we know the Church is really important to God - it seems fitting that we acquire the kind of posture in our praying at this time. This seems to fit with all the above. It tells us how God wants to ask. Earnestly. Seriously. Passionately. He wants us to really want it so that we are driven to our knees. It reminds me of the famous prayer of the great Scottish preacher John Knox, “Lord, Give me Scotland or I die!” Let’s lay hold of God. 
  5. George exhorted us to read a specific book in light of her experience at Soul Survivor. She expressed that she feels we are too minimalistic. Without wanting to read too much into it, there is a positive and a negative exhortation in what George said - something to do and something not to do. ‘’Do read’ and ‘Do not be minimalistic’. Of course, the real issue is ‘Does the Lord want us to read that book?’ and ‘Was George serving the Lord in telling us we are minimalistic and that it is a problem?’ Or is that just George’s perspective.?

So I have cannot say I have any conviction from God to read the book - perhaps he does and perhaps I will see that when I read it - I certainly intend to read it just because George is raving about it - it sounds like a good book. That we are too minimalistic - I can certainly see what George sees there - but that does not mean it is God’s view. 

However - remember, we must see what good there is and hold on to it - and I think there is good for us.

As I have prayed and examined what George said, I would say - let’s hear George’s heart behind the words - I think there we will hear God’s heart too.

George clearly experienced something of a personal revival at Soul Survivor (Which I can testify to). Now she wants others to experience personal revival. George has been stirred by God and wants others to be stirred too. And God did not re-invigorate Georges faith for her to keep to herself - but God wants George’s fire to spread. Her desire is that we read the book in the hope we will be encouraged and instructed as she has been. It seems to me her heart is that we all experience spiritual renewal, personal spiritual revival - which I believe is also the heart of God.

However, she knows we won’t even bother reading the book if we are minimalistic. Whatever the case, it is true that if we are minimalistic in our faith - we must repent. 

Consider Paul’s similar exhortation: Romans 12:11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. We must take responsibility to do the things that will fan into flame our love and passion for God and His church. The book George suggests may well help. But it is not a magic wand - we must continually pour upon the flickering wick of our faith the combustive fuel that God provides through His servants, within New Life but also others too, like George Verwer who you all missed :-( 

To this end I have heard several people speak of feeling ‘weary’. But the scriptures tell us “Do not grow weary”. We are weary when we fail to maintain our zeal and fervour in the Lord. The `lord is always willing to energise and strengthen us, and He always makes provision for us - it is we who fail to avail ourselves of God’s provision to energise and strengthen us. If we are minimalistic and want God to do it for us while we are passive. We must repent. 

All the above from Grenville, and the other contributions are at least consistent with Revelation 3 - the Lord’s words to the church in Sardis which I find to be striking for us … 

Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, 

The rest of the verse is negative and I don’t want to apply it to us as it may not be appropriate. But I would say that, if all the above is correct, then there is positive Change the Lord is speaking to us about. In terms of stepping out in faith in acts of love and service. In terms of praying and actually asking God for this Church. In terms of being passionate, earnest, relentless about it - getting on our knees. In terms off ‘shake off any minimalism, passivity, spiritual slumber - be ‘go-getters’ - reading the book, getting to see the George Verwers. The Lord wants us to be that kind of people - which we can be excited about - it is a good plan He has for us. 

If that is all the kind of stuff the Lord is after - if my ‘weighing’ is on track with God, then to fail to do those things, to fall short of them would mean the negative elements of the verse above would apply … 

I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. 

But, rather than ‘fall short’, let’s do the exact opposite and ‘excel’. Let’s love more than is required, give more than is required, pray more and more earnestly than is required, do more than the minimum to maintain our zeal. Let’s excel.

What about you?
The exhortation to weigh and test prophecy is given to the Church - not just the Church leader. Where do you think I have missed something the Lord is saying, where do you think I have interpreted incorrectly and why? What would you affirm? What would you add? What would you take away?

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Spiritual Gifts 101 #2

Last Sunday 16th October
I wanted to comment on the service yesterday because, apart from anything else, it was, (a) unconventional as our services go and (b) included some prophetic words and the exercise of spiritual gifts - which demand comment.
Second I’d like to make a personal comment.

Regarding being unconventional, perhaps like me, you prefer conventional. Personally I really don't like anything I cannot see is explicitly biblical, and I was a bit uncomfortable with how the service went - perhaps you feel the same? Or maybe you really appreciated the sense of freedom and openness? Perhaps you really felt that God is among us and we are ‘getting real’ with God? How we feel is not unimportant, but there are certainly more important things. Eg, never mind if Julian is pleased, are we pleasing the Lord? Wherever you are on that scale, I want to reassure and encourage us all in what follows. I hope that what I write will be helpful to us all.

There are three responses we can have to the Sunday’s service.

  1. “What a load of rubbish - let’s hope that doesn’t happen again - I really didn’t like that”.
  2. “That was wonderful - at last we are moving in the Spirit! God was at work!”
  3. We virtually ignore it.

None of those responses would be quite right. Certainly, alone they will quench the Holy Spirit. Paul’s instruction makes this point clear and gives us specific instruction on how we should respond … 

1 Thessalonians 5
19 "Do not quench the spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecy with contempt 21 but test them all. Hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil."

There are five imperatives (commands) listed in that verse … 

1) Do not quench the Spirit.
This means we can quench the Spirit - and if we do not want to, we must obey what follows, and to disobey what follows will result in quenching the Spirit.

2) Do not treat prophecy with contempt.
Remember, Paul is writing to a church. This suggests that prophecy was taking place in the church and at least some people didn’t like it, they were dismissive, contemptuous of it. So Paul corrects this attitude “Do not treat prophecy with contempt”. We will quench the Spirit if we allow such attitudes to prevail - therefore we must resist that temptation or repent if necessary. This shows us that RESPONSE 1 above is wrong.

3) Test them all!
This tells us, we will quench the spirit if we allow people to prophesy but fail to ‘test them all’. Sadly, where prophecy is practised, it is seldom tested. We must not just ‘accept it’. Prophecy should be scrutinised and weighed. This shows us RESPONSE 2 above is naive and presumptuous. It may have been good and of the Lord - but we don’t declare the results of the test before we have carried out the test - that is presumptuous. 

4) Hold on to what is good
This means, do not throw the baby out with the bath-water. That is, if while testing prophecy we find stuff that is clearly not of the Lord - or inconsequential - still we should not reject the whole thing. The implication is, that there is likely some good in it somewhere. This shouldn’t surprise us when contributions are born out of a desire to love and serve the church and God. We should look for any good and grab hold of it and hold onto it. Not forgetting it, not letting it go.

5) Reject every kind of evil
This means that in any prophecy - or anything else that is allegedly ‘of God’, there is the potential for evil to be in it. Any evil must be identified and outright rejected. However, it is also obvious that it is not just a question of good and evil. Imagine that pure good is ‘white’ and pure evil (you know what I mean) is black. In a prophecy, there could be both - not to mention ‘grey’ - stuff that is not evil - but also is not of the Lord - a bit of human ideas mixed in. Again, this is why prophecy etc must be tested. I suggest, though, that our expectation is that any prophecy a church member might bring is not likely to be ‘evil’.

If the above is true - whatever was or was not of God in the service yesterday will not quench the Spirit - but failure to reflect on it in a biblical way will quench the Spirit - and I don’t want to do that. In my next blog on ‘The Gifts of the Spirit, we’ll test/weigh the prophecy.

New Life Brighton - Hot, Cold, Lukewarm? #1

Dear brothers and sisters,

Point 1 - Our situation
As a church, you will now be aware, we are in a ‘sticky’ situation to say the least. If all continues as things are, the church will close in less than six months because we will have run out of money.

Point 2 - Jesus is with us
However, there is every reason to believe the Lord is, absolutely, 100% with us … 

  • Conversions
  • A genuine sense of His presence during Sunday services
  • Additions to the church (Bob and Lou, Most recently Mary (if she continues with us - for our encouragement, she text me the Sunday before last saying … “Hello Pastor, I am going to London today so will not be at Church. I had an amazing time last Sunday. Stay blessed.”)) 
  • A will from other churches to support us. Eg, I got an email from Jon Hobbs at Grace Community Church, telling us how encouraged they were to hear most recently about how the Lord has worked, and that they will be increasing their support of us from next Sept from 2k to 3k per year, and that they may be able to do more as they grow, but cannot commit to more at the present time. The subtext here is, “we believe God is with you, we recognise the huge value of NLC and we are rooting for you and want to do what we can to help!”
  • Two members from Grace Church have also volunteered to serve us when John Gillespie comes. Again, a tangible expression of God being with us.

More could be said - the point is, Jesus unquestionably loves us and values our church. He has no desire to close us down at all. He has plans and a future for us without doubt. 

Therefore … with all that follows, please take hold of, and do not let go of the unshakeable truth, Jesus is with us, is for us and has a glorious future for us.

Point 3 - Money is not our problem
However, we have every reason to believe that Jesus is not in a flap because he doesn’t have any money left for us. If Jesus cannot raise the funds we need to save the church - He really is not much of a Saviour - in fact, if that were the case - He is no Saviour! Money may be Hi mechanism for closing us, but it is not the reason.

Point 4 - ‘Something’ needs to change.
Therefore, we have good reason to believe that, if we do run out of money, it is because Jesus has chosen to shut us down. He wasn’t trying to save us because He thinks we are worthwhile but couldn’t. Jesus does not fail - ever. We can all see Jesus’ proverbial writing on the wall, in our plain sight which reads, “You have 5-6 months, and if ‘something’ does not change, I will shut you down”. That much we know.

Perhaps the ‘something’ that changes is, a sudden influx of external financial donors that meets our financial deficit. That would certainly cause the writing on the wall to disappear. Or perhaps the ‘something’ that changes is something to do with our church - perhaps we just need to change our strategy? Or perhaps the ‘something’ is that there is an Achan in the church (Joshua 7), and the ‘something’ that changes is that the ‘Achan' repents, or the Lord exposes their sin so that we put them out of the church. Or perhaps the ‘something’ that changes is something about us as a church - a lukewarmness is changed to a ‘hotness’.

The question for us is, “What is the ‘something’ that needs to change?” If nothing changes, we will close. Is the ‘something’, something to do with us as a church or is it something else? 

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Facing the Unthinkable

It is highly likely that New Life Church will die within the next six months. It is likely, but it is not a foregone conclusion. 

It is really important that as you read below, you adopt a humble, non-defensive attitude. Please remember - the Lord holds leaders and teachers in the church more accountable - so I will be diligently going through this myself. Our aim is that, if the Lord has something against us - that He would show us and bring us to repentance and the church be saved and more alive than ever. There is no other motivation, no condemnation, no finger pointing, but a deep concern for our little church. I want us to be a tough, loving, faithful, faith-filled and humble little church - that grows.

The church is in a critical state. It is running out of money. However, as I have said before I repeat - if the church dies, it is not because Jesus couldn't get any more money for us. What kind of a Lord and Saviour would that make Him? Whatever the reason - we must all be settled in our mind - money may be the Lord's mechanism for closing the church - it is definitely not the reason.

Secondly, we must be clear, if the church dies - it is the Lord who has closed it. Jesus created the church, He sustains the church. If He determines the church will continue - the gates of hell cannot stand against it. If He chooses to close it - no-one can keep it open. 

Churches close because of intense persecution (In Syria churches have been obliterated). But that is not our problem. Churches close because populations move away. We are surrounded by 10,000 people - that is certainly not our problem.

The only other reasons for closure the Lord gives in the scriptures are significant faults within the church. 

There may be other reasons for church closure other than a fault in the church - but if there are - the Lord has not revealed them to us. 

Therefore, we must face the unthinkable. It is possible that I, Julian are the Achan in the camp (Joshua 7-9). If I am, I really want to know and repent. Maybe you are. Or maybe we all, to some degree are. We must face the unthinkable. I could be the reason - part of the reason the church is closing". Only if we humble ourselves and genuinely accept the possibility (that only pride would prevent) that we are the problem,  can we receive from the Lord, repent and be restored.

Please prayerfully consider Jesus words to churches threatened with closure below, asking the Lord to show you if it applies to you or us as a church.

Revelation 2
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

Jesus has much to praise the church in Ephesus for, but for all their good - and there is much good - it is sunk by thier loss of love. And this is as much about love for brothers and sisters within the local church as for God Himself.

Consider - do you love your brothers and sisters more now than ever before? If your answer is 'yes', then answer this ... How is that love expressed in your words, your time and your money, your actions? Get concrete about this. Love is active. If you answer 'no', then will you repent?

Do you think the church has grown in love? The Lord's problem with the Church in Ephesus was not with one or two individuals - but with many in the church - so that the church was characterised by a growing coldness of heart toward God and each other. Is this the case for us? What do you think?

Revelation 3
2 I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

Imagine I interviewed people who know of our church - people you know and I know, from outside of our church and asked -"what is New Life Church like? Is it a good church? What is good about them? What is not so good?" What do you think their answers would be? That is our reputation. But now imagine I interviewed God and asked Him what He thinks of us. Do you think his report would match our reputation? The question here is, are we a fake church. Look good to others - but God sees something different?

What about for yourself. What do you think others in the church think of you? Do you have a reputation for being spiritually alive? What would the report of others say about you? Your integrity, your love for God and others, your diligence, your sacrificial love etc? Imagine I then interview God about you - would His report match your reputation? 

Do you / we as a church. need to 'wake up!" Do we need to 'repent of deadness' and strengthen what remains?'

Revelation 3
15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 

Do you think that in reality, you are luke warm as a Christian? Or are you on fire for God? What would your spouse say about you? What do you think others would think you are most passionate about? Would they need to think about it? Is it possible they could get it wrong? Or would they answer in a heartbeat "they are passionate about Jesus and His church". 

What about the Church - do you think we are / have been lukewarm? If the church is lukewarm, that is because the members are lukewarm. Do we need to repent?

Please be prayerful about this. If we all conclude that we can have a clear conscience before the Lord, then we have self-examined ourselves, trusting the Spirit to convict us and bring us to repentance. Then we can move on. If after self-examination we conclude we need to repent - then we can do that - and move on in confident faith. But we must not leave this out.

Remember also, the Lord loves us with an everlasting love. The Lord wrote to the churches in Revelation because of His great love for them. As we consider them for ourselves, we must keep in mind His great love for us. Jesus is rooting for our church!

Thank you all so much for your grace and willingness to face the unthinkable.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Spiritual Gifts 101 #1

Spiritual Gifts #1

During our Sunday gathering (Church) one of our leaders, Grenville preached on the gifts of the Spirit. The sermon was followed by an opportunity for people to respond - and people did respond. It was encouraging to see people wanting to encourage one another! There seemed to be a recognition that we all ought to use our gifts for the common good more than we do.

However, this is fairly new territory for us, and there is a great deal of confusion surrounding spiritual gifts - hence, I decided to do a series of blogs on the subject to help bring clarity. There are two important elements to consider ...

1) The main thrust, emphasis and teaching of the Bible on the subject
2) How the local church handles and manages those things practically.

For example, the Bible teaches that prophecy must be weighed and tested - but it does not tell us how. There for, that we must weigh and test prophecy is clear, but we as a local church must work out 'how' to do that. It is for leadership to decide under God what the 'house rule' (The way we do things) are to be. We will get to (2) above in a future blog.

What are Spiritual Gifts?
Spiritual gifts are given specifically by the Holy Spirit to a Christian so that the Christian can more effectively serve the church by building up believers. However, it is important from the outset to bring into focus natural gifts. Natural gifts are gifts we have naturally - that is, gifts we had before we were Christians. God wants us to use those gifts to build up the church too.

Spiritual vs Natural gifts
The term 'spiritual' has an air of superiority about it compared with 'natural'. People often think spiritual gifts are superior to natural gifts. However, that is not true. In fact, there is clear overlap. Consider the gifts listed in the following verse ...

Romans 12
if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Are those gifts spiritual or natural? The answer is, they could be either. There are many unbelievers who are naturally servant-hearted. I have an aunt who is not a Christian, but she loves to have people in her home, she will spend a whole day cooking in prep. Then she loves to treat people really well. She is naturally gifted with a servant heart and hospitality. The same is true for all the other gifts. eg, you may remember particularly gifted school teachers. They may have been gifted teachers or leaders and encouragers.

If those people become Christians, they can then use those gifts in God's strength, empowered by the Spirit for God's purposes. Like King David who transferred His skills as a shepherd protecting his flock from lions and bears to slaying Goliath for God!

On the other hand, they can all be spiritual gifts. An unbeliever may not be a natural leader, but then after conversion, he finds a passion, fire and desire to see a church make progress, as he gives himself to the task he finds he is able to enthuse and lead others. His is a spiritual gift of leadership. The same can be said for all those other gifts.

However, it is important to underline that, when we speak of spiritual gifts and natural gifts, we don't mean 'spiritual' gifts and 'unspiritual' gifts. We simply mean, one is given post-conversion by God's spirit, the other is given naturally from birth, and we naturally begin exercising it as we grow. But notice, the difference and emphasis, is on the giver and the time of giving of the gift. One is of the spirit and is given subsequent to faith, the other is given by God before we come to faith, but in practice, they may be exactly the same. A spiritual gift, is a gift given specifically by the Spirit to a Christian to build up the church. 

Then there are spiritual gifts that are exclusive to Christians. Eg, prophecy, tongues and faith (in Jesus).

But the distinctions between natural, spiritual and exclusively Christian gifts are not important. What is important is that they are all used in the strength of God for the edification of the church.

If it is true that natural gifts are as important as spiritual gifts, why does Paul exhort us 'eagerly desire the spiritual gifts' (1 Corinthians 14:1). 'Spiritual gifts' are in addition to our natural gifts. We already have all our natural gifts - there is no need to desire or ask for what we already have - but spiritual gifts are gifts we don't naturally have, so we should desire them as they will help us build up the church - in addition to the gifts we already have. 

Some important bullet points ... 

 • All spiritual gifts are given for the edification of the church and its members
 • Edification means, building up, strengthening, encouraging (encourage means ‘to give courage / strength to’), for the good of the church (the common good, 1 Corinthians 12:7) and God’s purposes.
 • The lists of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 1:6-8, Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 4:10,11 are not at all exhaustive, they are examples of the more obvious, spiritual / common gifts. The Lord can give any gift he chooses.
 • The ‘gifts’ are in fact, expressions of God’s grace, given to us, that we might express that grace to others. (1 Peter 4:10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.)

The Corinthian Trap
We read more about spiritual gifts in Paul's first letter to the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 12-14) than anywhere else. But the reason is because the church at Corinth was abusing the gifts. Paul writes to instruct and correct, their abuse. The church in Corinth was mad on tongues. To them, it seems to have been a badge of honour they used to show off how spiritual they are.

To correct this abuse Paul tells them that, in fact, tongues are the least of the gifts. This was a direct punch on the nose of their boasting. So they are not so spiritual after all! Paul tells them that the person who prophesies is greater because prophecy builds others up rather than just self. In other words, prophecy is about serving others. It is not a status symbol. 

Another possible motive of Paul's may be that a person with the gift of tongues can speak in tongues at will, but a person cannot authentically prophesy at will. If they would pursue prophecy, the church would be built up and there would not be such an over-use of the gift. It is sad then, that some people pursue prophecy because they want to be great! Their real motive is not to prophesy to build up the church, but to prophecy to build up their own status for their own pleasure! They want to be someone important. This is a wrong motive. 

James 4 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

The result of such a motive will be a 'no' from God at best, worse, inauthentic and carnal prophesying, at worst - outright false prophesying.

The important thing to learn from all this is to be humble. Be a genuine servant. Always seek the good of others. If you are already a servant and so humbly serving others, to build them up, and praying about how you can serve more effectively to do even more people, even more good, then ask God to give gifts to help you help others - He is likely to say ‘yes'.

The most important thing
So remember, God has already given you gifts, natural ones - use them. You don't need to worry about what they are or if you can name them - that is not important. What is important is to give yourself fully as a servant, serving to build others up in love. 

As a servant, wouldn't you love to be able to serve your brothers and sisters even more effectively? Then ask God for the necessary gifts to do so. But watch out for that wretched pride, remember, gifts are not given by God to catapult us to celebrity status. Crush that desire under foot. Ask God to help you repent if that motive keeps creeping into your praying. It may help to repent if you keep telling yourself, "That motive, of pride, is destroying my chances of serving God more effectively". 

So in conclusion, first be a servant, then ask God to help you serve by giving you the  necessary gifts required for the common good of the church.

Friday, 10 June 2016

To Brexit or Remain, That is the Question

So I thought I’d do a blog on ‘Remain’ or ‘Brexit’. I admit I am no expert, but I do know bogus arguments when I see them - and I see them on both sides. Right now I lean toward Brexit and if forced to vote now, that is where I'd very reluctantly make my mark.

Since I am not an expert, I'd appreciate factual corrections and invalid arguments being pointed out. Also, if you have a contrary perspective - share it. But let's please avoid the smoke and screens that seem to prevail - I hope I have not been guilty of that!

1) Ad-hominem arguments
In the first place, we must push aside the ad-hominem arguments. An ad-hominem argument is one that attempts to win an argument by personally attacking the opposition. So, an ad-hominem argument might go like this … 

Nigel Farage and Donald Trump are racist - so don’t join them, vote ‘Remain’.

The question is not if certain people are racist or not, but are their arguments valid or not. Even if Farage is racist - a vote to Brexit need not be racist at all, and a vote to Brexit need not mean joining Nigel Farage. If we followed that logic, we better hope there are no racists, or paedophiles, or rapists who are voting to remain - as that would make all the ‘remainers’ rapists, paedophiles and racists. 

2) The Immigration fallacy
A Brexit vote need not be about anti-immigration at all. But is about filtering who can and cannot enter the country. We can Brexit, and if we want, we can have open borders too - that would be up to us to decide. We can let in as many people as we want. Since we are a democracy, if Farage was Prime Minister (Which is not going to happen) and all our fears about him proved true - guess what, we can vote him out. 

The problem is the argument seems to go like this … 

Brexit: Vote out, then we can control our Boarders and decide who can and cannot come in.
Remain: But we need immigration, immigration is good for the country and its economy.
Brexit: But we can still have immigration, just controlled.
Remain: But we need immigration. Immigrants are good for the economy…

You can see what happens - the Remains don’t seem to listen to the Brexits. They seem to think we either have completely open borders within the EU or completely closed borders outside the EU.

The question for the Remains to answer is this: Accepting that we need immigration and that immigration is, on the whole, good for the country and economy; Is every single immigrant that comes into the country good for the country and its economy? Surely the answer is ‘no’. Brexit, many are, most probably are but certainly not all. Brexit enables us to simply say ‘no’ to those who are not good for the country and its economy.

3) The Economy
The fact is, all the so-called experts agree, we are financially better off in Europe. I think if as a country we continue as we are, the elites are probably right. I say ‘probably’ because they may be wrong too. The fat is, nobody knows. But on balance, I reckon the elites are right. But, that would be our fault - not for Brexiting, but for not sorting out our industries and education etc. Britain needs  to concentrate educationally on things like engineering instead of some of the plethora of social sciences. I am not saying they should all be stopped - but the emphasis seriously needs to change. 

If as a country we fail to create, innovate, produce and manufacture things - we have nothing substantial to trade with. This is why Germany is so strong. The make things and sell them. We rely on services, e.g. financial services. This is good but we depend too much on it which may be good for the country as a country - but not good for the average Joe.  When we say that Financial Services are good for the country - by ‘country’, we, in fact, mean the elite within the country.

4) Germany - The Powerhouse of Europe
Now this is not a criticism, but an observation. But it seems to me that what Germany attempted and failed in, in WW2, to rule all of Europe, they are now achieving through an ever-closer EU. Now don’t misunderstand me - this is not a comparison with Nazi Germany at all - Germany is, on the whole, a forward thinking, democratic nation. But they are, without a doubt, the powerhouse of Europe, and the EU strengthens their position toward being the undisputed ruler of Europe. Their influence on the EU is out of all proportion to the size of the country - and this seems to me to be wrong.

5) ‘Remain’ and Change the EU from the inside.
This argument makes a lot of sense on the surface. It is true that if we leave, we will still be affected by various EU rules and regulations regarding trading etc, but being out of the EU, we will have no say about those rules and regulations. If we remain, we can campaign to bring about change.

For me, this really is the big issue. Although at the moment I will probably vote Brexit, I would much prefer to remain in an EU that is much better. Now it seems to me that everyone on both sides of the debate admits the EU is significantly flawed and really needs to change. So I take that as a given. The problem is, I have absolutely no faith whatsoever that a vote to ‘Remain’ will lead to any change at all. 

If David Cameron was unable to negotiate anything at all of any significance with the threat of us leaving as an incentive, then if we vote to remain, the EU will know we are in for good, and will be totally de-incentivised to change. 

6) The EU will give us a good deal even if we Brexit.
I cannot see that it is in the EU’s interest to give Britain a good deal on a Brexit. If they do, they would be signalling to all the other EU countries that they too can leave and still have good deals. I imagine the French will start to get itchy feet and demand a referendum. I’d have thought the EU will need to make an example of us. Of course, they are not going to say that. But from their perspective that would make sense - or others will get itchy feet.

7) If we leave, Scotland will leave
This may be the case. I hope not. We really would be ‘Little Britain’. I think they probably would go for another referendum. If they do have another referendum and leave the UK and join the EU, they would still work very closely with us - that is for sure, as it would still be in both our interests. However, Britain would possibly be a little better off financially as Britain would no longer be subsidising Scotland. On the other hand, they would certainly wait a while before going for a referendum. If the UK fairs better financially out - I think Scotland will stick with us, if we enter another recession - they will likely vote out. I just hope they give it a good five years to let the dust settle first.

For me, it is a really tough decision. Culturally, I love Europe. I love the idea that I can just go there anytime I please. I love the idea of retiring in Spain! I really do. But since I am not remotely persuaded that by remaining within the EU we can change it, then for the sake of a much greater value - Democracy, I think I will take my chances and vote Brexit. I am not 100% though. 

In the end, I will vote with a clear conscience and trust the Lord’s sovereignty, being thankful that my allegiance is not to the United Kingdom or the EU, but with a much better Kingdom to come - praise God for the certainty of that.