Thursday, February 19, 2009

Now Is the Time for Prosperity

Things are rough out there. Unemployment is high and will get much higher before any turn around might come. Houses are losing value, are hard to move, or tap into for spending capital. The stock market is abysmal and bonds are wobbly too. George Bush's, and now President Obama's answer to the situation is the same socialism that's made Europe the poster child for underachieving since WWII. You've got to wonder whether or not America is about to flip belly-up, cough her last and give up the ghost.

Whereas there are voices that are calling this crisis the death knell of the prosperity Gospel, the contrarian in me sees things slightly differently. If the church ever needed to embrace a prosperity message, NOW IS THE TIME! I can't possibly be stupid enough to believe that, can I? Definitely stupid enough, but more importantly, BIBLICAL enough. Let me explain.

Biblical prosperity does not hinge upon our storehouse (stocks, bonds, lands, homes, and cash), but God's. We may have nothing in ours, his is infinitely abundant, not effected at all by upheavals like we're experiencing now. We don't have to have millions in our hand to be in the hand of him who has millions upon millions in his. He knows what we need and can timely dispatch it. That is a prosperity message custom ordered to the day, and one we need to put faith in, if we're to navigate these turbulent seas unsunk by the weight of worry.

Biblical prosperity cannot be measured by worldly standards. God gives according to his standard, not ours. We think we need a bigger barn and the ability to have peace by sight, God knows we need to follow Christ and live by faith. Desiring God to bless us by worldly standards instead of his is flirting with disaster spiritually. Do we not trust God's judgment, his grace, his character? If we do, we can relax, and get on with what God wants us to get on with. Just exactly how big is our God, anyhow?

In the midst of this storm, we must ask ourselves what kind of people we are: those that are frantic, wasting ourselves desperately rowing against the wind, or those that are at rest in Christ. Jesus did what he did in lowly fashion, and without the American dream; can we not do even greater works, even if it seems we have no more means? If ever there was a time we needed to understand and embrace true, biblical prosperity, I think, now is that time.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Wade In, the Water's Fine

To those of you who may be wondering how what I've been sharing on 1 Corinthians 14 can be implemented in today's church, I'd like to give some clear action points, but first I'd like to tackle and tear apart a couple of things that are NOT putting this scripture into practice.

Developing pigeon hole jobs or tasks to spread across the broadest possible swath of a congregation is not putting this passage into practice. That everyone should be active in the body in some way is a biblical concept, but where in the scriptures does it say that the preacher is the one who speaks, conceives and acts and everyone else helps him or her? Acts of service cast as helping the preacher (or for more sophisticated congregations, helping the ministry) is not only unscriptural, it's pathetic. Most of the attempts I'm familiar with by churches to involve people in ministry actually fall into that variety of thing: top down, make 'em feel a buy in, keep 'em busy so they don't cause trouble manipulations. Please, how many of us don't see right through that? Is that what the body of Christ is supposed to be about? Why not just pat the good folks on the head, melodiously intone, "good dog," and tell them to just be happy handing everyone who walks in a flier about the Great Church Yard Sale. ;-)

Plugging people into pigeon hole jobs by means of giftedness testing is not putting this passage into practice. I can't even find a whiff in the scriptures to support the practice. It's worldly, developed from worldly wisdom from a worldly perspective. It treats the church as just another organization of people, subject to psychosocial management, rather than the body of Christ that it is. Spiritual giftedness has nothing to do with what you like or dislike, what tasks you're good or bad at, or anything about your track record. It's giftedness from the Spirit, not you! If Christians have no inkling of their spiritual giftedness, it's because they haven't asked God to clarify it, or are insisting upon being something God isn't making them. It does help to be baptized in the Holy Spirit, but if one does what one senses to do in his or her closest moments with Christ, that one will discover what gift he or she is to the body with ease.

Now to those action points I promised...
When we come together, i.e. meet as a church, everyone should be able to participate, vocally as well as cooperatively. Some may have special areas of service; ushering, sound room, nursery, instrumental music, etc., but everyone has the potential and should have the possibility of participating vocally.

If our meetings are too large to make that realistic, maybe our meetings are too large. In those cases, we have to ask ourselves whether it is better to divide and be scriptural in practice, or to cherish egotism and convenience and be large? If our meetings are too structured to make this possible, we've bowed down at the altar of order rather than the feet of Jesus. The people are not served well by asking nothing of them, allowing little for them to experience or offer, or by encouraging superstition by giving them a convenient opportunity to salve the religion sore and then move on with their real life. This is the body of Christ, not a supermarket, and we need to start acting like we believe that.

When we come together, anyone, maybe even at anytime, could be inspired by the Holy Spirit to open up his or her mouth and share. That offering may take the form of a spiritual song (psalm) in a known or unknown language, it may be something prophetic that instructs, or uncovers, it may be an utterance in a language unknown to the speaker (and anyone else for that matter), or it may be an interpretation of something brought forward in an unknown language. The key point is that in our gatherings, we should anticipate that any and every one, not just the preacher, could be used of God to vocally bring forth a message from God for the benefit of all.

People, preachers, worry about disorder, and I understand that, but how is silence more spiritual than chaos? Quenching the Spirit, despising prophecy, and limiting anointment (sorry, my Calvinist friends ;-0) are not appropriate responses to the messiness of the Spirit's outpouring on the body. Preachers need hearts more like Moses'!!! To lead meetings in a biblical fashion will require some extra effort from us preachers: we'll need to test everything, we'll need to correct some things, we'll need simply to overlook others and adjust. It can't all be planned and probably wouldn't look good on television; regardless, the attitude of our meetings should be accommodating and inviting to the Spirit's inspiration of the body, period!

Church meetings are for the body, not the preacher. They should be conducted so the body gets to experience and express the Holy Spirit, not so they can watch the preacher do so. This may be a radical concept to you, but read the manual, it's absolutely scriptural. So from one who experiences the Spirit's anointing and speaks, let me say to all of you, especially those who may have never yet experienced the Spirit's inspiration, wade into the river of God's anointing, the water's fine.

Addendum: Check out Dr. D's post on John Wimber.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Speak Up

I have nothing against preaching, I make my living doing so, but I think it is completely against the scripture to have church meetings so slavishly revolve around preaching as they have since the Reformation. It is not unusual for clergy to compose the prayers to be petitioned and to select readings to be read and the music to be performed based upon what they are preaching. Even advertising and promotional materials branding preaching are developed today by those who want to make it big. If things go right, one's preaching material becomes the basis of lucrative book deals and busy schedules of conference engagements. Everything revolves around preaching and preachers are stars of the show.

Don't get me wrong, preaching remains, and always will remain important as a means of communicating the gospel, but is it meant to be the bulk of our congregational meetings? Preaching has become the coach of our services, everything else, and everyone else other than the preacher, is just the fringe on top. Does the Holy Spirit inspire none other than the preacher? My reading of the church meeting manual in the Bible (1 Corinthians 14) says no! It seems to me, input from sources other than the preacher are just as important as anything the preacher might have to say. I would wager that most of our preachers are reasonably good speakers, and our approach to the meeting of the congregation is certainly ordered, but the question that remains is by whom and for whom? We most definitely are not following the pattern communicated in the Spirit breathed scripture!

When I read 1 Corinthians 14, the most important word I see is everyone. Too often what I have seen in church, however, is no one (except the preacher, that is). We need to revisit what we do when the church is together. We're too fascinated, or entertained, or too fearful, or lazy to let anyone other than the star, the emcee, the preacher express his or her anointing. That is not the will of God, and it suppresses what he wants to bring out in the body. But nothing will or can change until the body, not only in correction but also in participation, learns to speak up.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

May I Take Your Order?

No, this isn't a post about the modern, slavering, seeker sensitive, church growth fixated, market driven, entrepreneurial pastor phenomenon. Not that I wouldn't mind poking a pointy stick into that concept, but not here, not now. Today, I align the cross hairs of my scope squarely on the congregation squelching, Spirit-wringing, excuse lading concept of order. It seems to me, whatever puts man in charge is called order, and whatever would let the Spirit move is called indecent. What a circumstance to find ourselves in when that which is good is called evil, and that which is evil (or at least religious, oops, same thing!) is called good.

...everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.
1 Corinthians 14:40

What was the Apostle Paul calling for in this verse? Orders of Service? Lectionaries, liturgies, and canons? Is this the excuse for minister orchestrated meetings and sergeants-at-arms to enforce order? I don't think so, considering he's spent the whole chapter before helping Christians understand that a congregational meeting is about participation, not observation. Participation is stifled by co-opting leadership and trampled by mob chaos. Paul attempted to teach a middle road which allowed the fullest possibility of participation, without having the loudest or the strongest take over to everyone else's detriment.

In other words, our services should be arranged (kata taxin) [ordered] with full participation in view. Our participation should be offered in good form (euschemonos) [decently]. Paul was not telling us to idolatrously substitute the direction of our meetings by a guy up front for the leading of the Holy Spirit! I'm beginning to wonder, however, whether or not that is what we're most comfortable with.

God in charge means mystery, uncertainty-- the possibilities that our hearts will be laid bare with no place to hide except in the love of Christ. We might not get out in time to get a table at the restaurant. With that in view, please be advised: when the Holy Spirit drops into our meetings and asks to take our order, he doesn't mean he's there to kowtow to our wishes!

Friday, February 6, 2009

An Itchy Trigger Finger

...eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy
1 Corinthians 14:1

Christians have different opinions about what is really important in practice. No one could deny the centrality of love, for God and for each other; faith is absolutely essential, for whatever is not of faith is sin; holiness cannot be done without, for without it no one will see the Lord, thankfully it's derivative. Why do we rarely see "that which is of the Spirit," i.e. Spiritual things (pneumatika), even be given a seat at the table, despite what the Apostle Paul says about it in the verse above?

Eager desire is no where near the description that most Christians' pursuit of spiritual things could be tagged with. At best, our pursuit is hit and miss, or completely negligent. What is called for, scripturally, is zealousness. Some folks complain, and some are just perplexed that God doesn't move in his church the way he used to. I say why should he, it's not like we care. Do we even want the Holy Spirit to move amongst us? Zealousness is needed-- a roiling, boiling, heated passion to see and experience the things Holy Spirit can inspire.

We can't, and we're not meant to, do this alone. The scriptural pattern is zealousness in concert. There were 120 in the upper room, and the verse above is addressed to the church in Corinth. As much as God loves any of us individually, there are promises and experiences in the Holy Spirit he intends for us to realize together. Together we are the coals, aflame, that set the pot a-boiling!

The expressions, the sensible exertions, the remarkable evidences of the Spirit's presence and activity are not going to rain down on the indifferent, nor drop on the doubtful, nor inspire the insipid. Religion is truly a vain, sickening spectacle. Are we satisfied to go through motions, and rituals, and lifeless assemblies, when according to the plan, we're meant to experience and demonstrate the very presence of God. Either God is real, alive and well, intervening in the affairs of men, or we need to find a new hobby!

Faith embraces the promise of God-- not one of those hands on the shoulder dip inward facsimile hugs, but one of those bear hugs my old friend Dimitrios used to lift me off the ground with. We have been promised more than we have let ourselves be satisfied with. We have found comfort in the comfortless. It's time for some passion. When faith puts its finger on the trigger, it either gets itchy or it dies.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Charismatic Trigger

Those of us in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement revere the "moving" of the Holy Spirit. Moments where God's presence is palpable, where signs and wonders arise unbidden and lives are transformed in a flash is the chocolate we crave. A chocoholic is not satisfied to wait with baited breath in hopes of the next chance to indulge her taste. She figures out how to ensure a ready supply of her desired confection.

There are all kinds of books, videos, conferences, and training schools advertising their ability to inculcate the necessary skills and understanding to replicate whatever example or model of Spirit visitation they're promoting. In fact, every time so much as a whiff of revival wafts on the air[waves], folk rush to the scent hoping to get a taste of the chocolate. If they're fortunate, they might just get some to take home with them.

Generally, what people learn from such things are techniques, or in other words, works. If they fast for so long or they pray so long, in concert with so many; if they confess all known sin and even the sins of others; if they clean up their acts to such and so a degree; if they begin to do this or that... you get the picture: Spiritual visitation comes in answer to works! What does the Bible say about such a construct?

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard? Galatians

The Galatians didn't do anything in order to prime the pumps of the heavenly anointing. They just believed God's promise. That is the pattern of Abraham, it's the pattern of grace. We keep looking for that ever elusive, ever changing trigger that will launch the next Charismatic tidal wave, and we always end up looking at ourselves for the answer. The truth is that God wants to anoint us, wants to bless us, he promises to do so. If the target is a new season of the Spirit moving, the only trigger that needs to be pulled is faith.