13.5.18 – Mothers’ Day, Birth and the Spirit! – Annie-Kate Williams

Good morning and happy mother’s day, we celebrate mothers and mother figures, and honour all women today but I also want to acknowledge those who find mother’s day difficult and not sure a happy day.

My one and a half year old is named Cecil not to be confused with my husband who is also called Cecil. Before little Cecil was born I had a bunch of ideas about how to raise kids, I had worked with a lot of kids at Camp Columba and well I thought I could teach most parents a thing or two. Thankfully I mostly kept my mouth shut regarding this. But I had a bunch of ideas for other parents in how to do this parenting thing. Things to do and not do…

And then I had Cecil and a lot of those ideas all became chaff in the wind. I had no idea what I was talking about. Co-sleeping may have seemed like a terrible idea until your right there, in the middle of it at 3am with a child who won’t sleep. I was naive and rightly so, I thought I knew but really I didn’t understand at all. I thought I knew but I didn’t understand at all.

Nicodemus in John chapter 3 is a bit similar. He thought he knew but really doesn’t understand at all.

Read John 3v1-8

“Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Jesus uses a childbirth metaphor to explain salvation. Fitting for mother’s day I thought. Here God expresses his salvation to us in a way that makes us the child and God a mother in labour for us.

Probably not a normal metaphor to use. But if there was anyone who might understand what Jesus was saying Nicodemus would have been a good bet. He was a pharisee which meant he was well-educated in religious concepts, he was even a teacher of religious concepts and would have been called Rabbi. He was a member of the ruling council- which meant he was one of 70 ruling councillors. This made Nicodemus the modern equivalent of a politician, priest, and professor all rolled into one.

Nicodemus had all the knowledge but didn’t understand.

He was a Pharisee and we often give pharisees and Sadducees a hard time. We often make them out to be the bad guys. But the uncomfterable truth is, soo often we are just like them. We have knowledge but often don’t understand.

There was a president of a well-known theological university who was shopping during the Christmas season and happened to pass by a Salvation Army volunteer, standing by a “donation bucket” and ringing a bell. As he paused to make a donation, the woman volunteer asked this president: “Sir, are you saved?” When he replied that he supposed he was, she was not satisfied, so she pursued the matter further: “I mean, have you ever given your full life to the Lord?” At this point, the president thought he should enlighten this persistent woman concerning his identity: “I am the president of such and such university, and as such, I am also president of its school of theology.” The lady considered his response for a moment, and then replied, “It doesn’t matter wherever you’ve been, or whatever you are, you can still be saved.”

We can have lots of knowledge like Nicodemus, and we can have lots of Churchy knowledge. It can be part of our identity, I’ve always gone to church, its who I am, and this is not bad at all, it’s often a blessing. But it’s not enough!

What if Jesus was to arrive and say- all those things you do your bible reading, quiet times, your tithing, your upbringing in a Christian home, how you serve the church, all of these things don’t cut it, you must be born again to see the kingdom of God.

Jesus flips all Nicodemus stood for on its head in one sentence.

“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

Nicodemus was probably pretty secure in his Jewishness. And I’m sure a lot of us are secure in our Christiness, some of us probably aren’t as secure in our Christianess. There is probably a little bit of a Pharisee mindset inside all of us. A little spiritual pride or showmanship where we think we got it all together or at least we want it to appear like we do. At times we find life in doing religious activities, not because we are serving the Lord, rather because that’s what we do.

Nicodemus was secure in his Jewishness, he was even an expert, a top leader, born into the right family. Showmanship, spiritual pride or not Nicodemus had a lot of knowledge but he didn’t understand.

Jesus says- you must be born again! And Nicodemus didn’t get it!

8 times in as many verses the word birth, womb, born, or gives birth, are used. Birth is the metaphor! Which I found quite fitting on mother’s day I have to say. Jesus uses childbirth as a metaphor for salvation.

After I had given birth to Cecil yes I am going to use the actual language as that’s what our scripture reading uses today. So after I gave birth to Cecil I had this huge respect for all women. Anyone who had given birth was raised to superhero status over night! Just walking around town, at the supermarket. Ever women I saw I was thinking wow you are amazing. You are amazing as well. And you too! To go through that gosh you are strong and deserve a gold medal or a trophy or a monument or something. You are all amazing, I had no idea before!

I had knowledge of birth before giving birth but I didn’t understand until I had given birth. Jesus is saying unless we are born again spiritually we just wont understand. We may have knowledge. But we will be missing understanding and we will be missing so much that its like we haven’t even been born yet!

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 

People I have talked to about birth tend to be on either end of a spectrum. One side birth is a beautiful, magical experience, the joy of new life, and its very positive and empowering for women. It’s a time full of God’s blessings and just awe and fluffy ducklings.

The other end of the spectrum birth is chaotic and traumatic. Filled with complications which can be life threating before, during, and after birth which leaves scars of all kinds with lasting impact. Physically needing surgery to repair the damage done. And emotionally, mentally, spiritually its as if surgery also needs to be done from experiencing near death places.

And yet Jesus uses childbirth as the metaphor for new life. We must go through a spiritual birth which could be beautiful and empowering or it may be chaotic and traumatic but new life is created to see the kingdom of God.

Before Cecil was born when the terms born again were used in a Christian way I did not link them to childbirth at all. Born again, made new, new life, all were spiritual ideas. And born again was often about making a decision to follow Jesus. Usually it signified the turning point of making that decision. And that was a happy joyful occasion, it wasn’t a lengthy process involving any pain.

Talking with a friend last week we were having a discussion about a monk he knew. And we were discussing whether the gospel looked like good news for this monk. If he chose to follow Jesus there was serious ramifications. His family would probably renounce him, Following Jesus could mean the monk could loose his whole family, he would lose his place in society, loose his current calling or vocation in life. His whole way of life, all the friends and family he had back home would be lost or at least strained a lot. Becoming a follower of Jesus for this monk from our perspective looked really hard, messy, painful, it will probably be a process, and there will probably be a sense of death and loss of identity and relationships. And yet Jesus says to Nicodemus regardless of the ramifications “very very truly I tell you, you must be born again”, born from above. Jesus uses strong language. Its as if Jesus is saying look you just have to be born again. Without the Holy Spirit making you new there are many things you just wont have a clue about. You just wont understand. You won’t see the kingdom of God!

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 

The Spirit is at work. Born of water signifies cleansing and baptism. Born of Spirit I have this funny feeling is all about the Holy Spirit I figure. Spirit gives birth to Spirit.

So if being born again is more than just us making a decision sometime. What is it? How does it relate to birth? One of the problems with it being all about our decision is that it takes away that God is involved in the process and decision- as if the mother is not involved with the birth. The Holy Spirit births new life!

Now as we know the baby doesn’t do much of the birthing process, it happens to them and while they do a little most of the pain and effort comes from the mother rather than the baby. So it is with Spiritual birth. God does the work, God even does most of the pain, Jesus dies on the cross for our new life, and I believe God experiences the joy of our new life, the joy of us being born to him. In new life- in birth, the change is mostly on the part of the child, but the pain is mostly on the part of the parent. In this case, the pain suffered by God, in the form of Jesus on a cross, produces new life and change in those who believe in God.

Now you may be thinking yes Annie-Kate I get all of that I’ve been a Christian for so many years. I’ve been born again, so this is old news to me, how can I learn from this. What can I apply to my life from this.

For our own lives we often need to be reminded we are saved by grace not works. It is not our Christianess- it’s not about how good our prayer life is or isn’t. It’s about what God has done for us, giving us new life, birthing us into new life. It’s not Christian knowledge that saves us. For Nicodemus a Pharisee who were all about the law, all about following the religious ways this will not cut it.

You must be born of the Spirit. The Spirit gives us understanding, but so much more than that. Newness, gifts of the Spirit, the freedom from the law. Gal 5v18 You are lead by the Spirit you are not under the law. This was a new way of living for Nicodemus – and it’s a new way of living for us. A way of life lead by the Spirit, a life that is made new and is still in the process of being made new and will be made new fully one day.

The birth metaphor shapes how we see mission, it shapes how we see evangelism but also shapes how we DO evangelism. Because we don’t just talk about things like we accuse Pharisees and Sadducees of, but we live out what we believe. So friends and family we would love to see become followers of Jesus, people we would love to see born again. We need to understand the messiness, the pain, and joy of birth, the vulnerability of the new life, and realise it is The Spirit who does the saving not us. Nicodemus understood all the ways to be a Jew and how to become one. Which was mostly through being born into a Jewish family. Here in John 3v8

“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Everyone born of the Spirit is the Spirits work. Birth is a bit unpredictable about when it happens, Spiritual birth is also not up to us alone but is from God. It is the Spirits work in us and the Spirits work who brings new life in our friends and family. And as we live in step with the Spirit I believe we participate with God in his saving plan for others.

I want to encourage us all to not be satisfied with just knowledge of God but- be willing to be born again- in all its messiness, in all the pain it often takes to produce new life, a process that ends in joy. Are you willing to be born of the Spirit if you haven’t already?

Are you willing to be lead by the Spirit beside people who are still in the labour of new life, who are not yet here.

Are you willing to be with people through their Spiritual birth? It may be painful, it may be hard to watch, but it will also be joyful in the end we hope and pray.

I am sorry if this topic has brought up memories you would rather not remember. If you want to talk about those or have someone pray with you please do ask for prayer today after the last song or sometime this week.

To finish with Nicodemus – he is mentioned twice more. This first time is in the dark in secret coming to Jesus, the second Nicodemus speaks up in a way defending that Jesus should get a fair trail, and finally He brings a huge amount of spices (like an amount for royalty) at Jesus burial and is not in the dark, not hiding. Nicodemus didn’t stay where he was

Are we willing to be born of the Spirit?

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6.5.18 – Gift Envy – Peter Cheyne

Today, I am going to finish talking about spiritual gifts by talking about “gift envy”. Gift envy is a thing. In Number 11, the Holy Spirit came on a group of people and they started prophesying. But two men who were not part of that group also received the Holy Spirit and started prophesying. Oh no, imagine that! People who are not part of our group are prophesying!

Joshua went to Moses and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!”

Moses’ response was, “I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit on them!” (Num 11:24-30)

God poured out His Spirit on those two men so that they might prophesy. So, the group was complaining about whom? And why? Gift envy. “We don’t want other people having the gift we have.”

In Mark 9, the disciple, John, said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop because he was not one of us.” Jesus said, “Do not stop him. If he is doing it in my name, he is part of our team.” (Mk 9:38-41)

In Acts 8, Simon, a sorcerer, the Dynamo of his day, was converted. He became a believer but when he saw the disciples laying hands on people who then received the Holy Spirit, he wanted that ability and tried to buy with money. He was severely rebuked. Gift envy. “I want the gift you have. I don’t want you to have the gift I have.” Moses, Jesus and the disciples all reacted strongly. Gift envy is bad behaviour.

But it is natural, is it not? We can look at someone with a particular gift and wish that we had it, or wish that they didn’t. It is natural but it is not good.

1 Corinthians 12 talks about the variety of gifts and how they are distributed by the Holy Spirit. To each person some gift is given for the common good. One person has this gift; another person has that gift. But then there is a passage about gift envy.

READ 1 Corinthians 12:15-27.

Two situations are described. Firstly, in verse 15-20, the situation where the foot says, “I am not a hand so I am not part of the body” or the ear says, “I am not an eye so I am not part of the body.”

Maybe that indicates a sense of inferiority or inadequacy. “I am only a foot. The hand is much more important. I am only an ear. The eye has a much more important role. I’m not really part of this body. I am not needed. If only I was a hand or an eye. Then I would really be needed” Gift envy.

But notice Paul’s response. “You might feel like that but that does not stop you being part of the body. The body also needs feet and ears. Imagine if the whole body was just a big eye! That is not even a body. And how would it hear? An eye by itself would be very limited. You might wish you were an eye but the eye needs you, the ear.” Oh, so ears are really important. “Yes, but if the whole body was an ear, how would it smell? Eyes need ears and ears need noses and so on. Every part is needed.”

We can think that we have been given only some unimportant gift. We can think that our gift is not even noticed by anyone else and we get no recognition. And we can think, “I am not part of the body. I’m not needed in this church. If I was in the music team, that would be different. If I was a leader or had a spectacular gift like healing, then I would be part of the body. But I don’t so I’m not.”

What does God say? “You are still part of the body. The church needs your gift as much as any other.”

To resent your place in the body is to criticise God’s good design.

The second situation is in v.21. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you!” Nor can the head say to the feet, “I do not need you.”

That speaks of independence. “I do not need anybody else. I am self-sufficient. I have everything I need.” This is not gift envy so much as gift pride. The reality is that we need lots of help from lots of other people. A very clear part of the teaching on spiritual gifts is that no one person has all of the gifts. There are always areas where we are weak and we are dependent on others.

To be fair, in the passage, the eye does not say that no other parts are needed. It just says that it does not need the hand. And the head just says that it does not need the feet. It might not be complete independence but it is still an arrogant attitude that says that some of the parts are unnecessary.

Instead of independence, God talks about interdependence: all of the parts need all of the other parts.

This passage explains why no part is not needed. Basically it says that God sees things differently from the way we do. We might say that a certain person, or their gift, is not worth much but God compensates for that. If a person scores low in one respect, he/she scores high in another. Look at this.

  • The parts that seem weak… Notice that they seem God does not say they are weak but only that people see them as weak. The parts that seem weak, are indispensable. They seem weak to us but God knows we cannot do without them
  • The parts that we think are less honourable, we treat with special honour.
  • The parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty.

 

God sees no distinction between the parts. We might but God doesn’t. We think servants are lowly. God loves servants. God will put the servant ahead of the CEO.

Matt 20:26b-28   whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Both of these situation finish with a reminder that it is God who puts the body together as He chooses

1 Cor 12:18         [We think we are not part of the body] But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be.

1 Cor 12:24-26   [We think we don’t need some other people] But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lack it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for one each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.

God puts the body together. We need to guard against complaining about our gifts or anybody else’s gifts. But notice why God gives greater honour to some gifts: so that there be no division. No division between important and unimportant. There is absolute equality; absolute unity and absolute mutual respect. The ear respects the eye for what the eye can do. The eye respects the pancreas, recognising its vital function. The pancreas respects fingers and serves them.

A third bad behaviour is thinking “Everybody should be like me. I am passionate about children [for example]. Everybody should be passionate about children.” No, there are many different gifts.

This all about practical relationships in a church. This is about us and the people around us. What if one person has some spectacular success? Do the others get jealous and start criticising? No way! They are excited. What if one person fails badly? Do the others mock and condemn? No way!

Imagine if that happened in a body. The heart gets into a bit of trouble so the other parts all gang up against it and make things worse. No, the opposite happens. If one part of the body is in trouble, the other parts rally to compensate and to help that part recover. The other bits all help fight infection or exists on less blood so that the blood can go where it is needed. The body parts don’t work against each other; they work for each other. If not, something is very wrong and it becomes a downward spiral.

You know, in churches, sometimes there can be jealousy and competition. And sometimes it can be based on the spiritual gifts that God has given people. Do you remember why Jesus made the comment about those wanting to be great needing to be servants? The mother of James and John had just asked Jesus if her two sons could sit at His right and His left in the Kingdom. When the other ten heard it, they were indignant, indicating that they all secretly had hopes of occupying those positions. There were other times when the disciples argued about which of them was the greatest. In God’s Kingdom it is not like that. The world’s values are turned upside-down.

Some people say, “You are important but I am not. I’m not part of the body.” Other people says, “I am important but you are not. You are not part of the body.” Both are wrong. Every part is necessary. God loves servants. Let us serve one another. Instead of trying to look good and look important, we can serve others and try to make them look good and look important.

Let’s consider some far better examples. John the Baptist. Now, he was important! God had given him a once-in-history ministry. Crowds flocked from all over the countryside to be baptised by Him. He could have easily been proud. Instead, he famously said that he was not worthy to even untie Jesus’ sandals and that Jesus must increase but he must decrease. Jesus would become the centre of attention and John would fade out of the picture. His job was simply to prepare the way. He was just a signpost pointing to Jesus but he did not resent that or think that he was not part of the body. He had a God-given role.

Or think of Barnabas. Initially, he was Paul’s mentor. Barnabas is always mentioned first. He was the boss, until later in the story when Paul starts to be mentioned first. Barnabas was a great man but it was obvious that Paul’s gifts were going to eclipse his. Barnabas did not elevate himself and push Paul down so as to remain the leader. He let this new rising star gain prominence.

Or think of Jesus. He obviously could genuinely claim to be more important than anyone else. He could say, “I don’t need you.” He had all the gifts, but He became the servant and laid down His life for us. The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. He raised up others to continue His ministry and said we would do even greater things than He. Jesus is dependent on us! He doesn’t say, “I don’t need you”. He says, “I do need you.” We are the body of Christ.

Gift envy and gift pride are realities but in the church there is to be that Christ-like attitude.

  • Interdependence: you need me but, by golly, I need you too. There are so many areas where I am not gifted. I would be lost without you.
  • Mutual care: If you are in trouble, I will be there for you. I will sacrifice so as to help you.
  • Delight in other people’s success: When you succeed, I am not threatened by that. On the contrary, when you succeed that is a win for us all. When you struggle, I will not delight, thinking it gives me a chance to shine. No, if you are struggling then the whole body is that much weaker. We all struggle. So I will help you in your hard times.

Do you remember why God gives spiritual gifts? To build up the body; to serve others; to bring glory to God. They are not given so that we can look good; they are given so that we can serve. Gift envy and gift pride are all about me but the gifts are all about how I can serve others.

Here’s a little practical exercise. The Bible says we are to eagerly desire spiritual gifts. We are to be eager to serve, empowered by God. But can we be equally passionate about other people serving empowered y God? We should pray regularly that God will use us, but can we pray equally regularly for other people in this church, that God will use them?

And could we make a habit of saying, “I really appreciate it when you… whatever it is; whatever their gift is. You minister to me.” Let’s build each other up. Could it become a habit that we affirm each other when we see others using their gifts? “Wow, God is really using you and I appreciate it.”

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20.5.18 – What Happens When God Is Present? – Peter Cheyne

Do people still say “Goodbye”? Do you know where the expression came from?

Since the 14th century, when people parted, they blessed each other by saying “God be with ye”. Over time, God be with ye became goodbye. Think about that. What were they meaning? And what did they expect? In what ways were they hoping the other person would experience the presence of God?

Was it just a meaningless pleasantry? I suspect they meant it as a prayer, a blessing. So, what were they wanting? God is everywhere without our asking. They knew that. They must have been asking that the other person would know God more personally and more powerfully than in that general sense. If God answered their prayer – if God was with the other person – what would happen?

Can you think of biblical examples of God being present and what happened or how people reacted?

  • God present searching for Adam and Eve after their sin – fear
  • Various examples of people falling to the ground
    • Abraham fell facedown when he saw God (Gen 17:3).
    • When Peter, James and John heard the voice of God, on the Mount of Transfiguration, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified (Mt 17:6)
    • When, on the island of Patmos, John saw the glorified Jesus, he fell at His feet as though dead (Rev 1:17).
  • Moses before the burning bush. “Do not come any closer. Take off your shoes for you are on holy ground.” Moses hid his face, in fear.
  • Think of Isaiah’s reaction when he saw God on His throne, high and exalted. “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Is 6:5)
  • On the other hand, “Fear not, for I am with you.”
    • Joshua 1:9 – Do not be afraid… for the Lord your God will be with you
    • Ps 23:4 – Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.
  • Strolling with Adam and Eve in the garden in the cool of the evening
  • Joseph was highly successful in Potiphar’s house and in the prison because the Lord was with him

Fear, peace and power. If we say “Goodbye” to someone, is this what we are wanting?

That is what happened at Pentecost. Jesus had said, “Goodbye” and God was with them – evidenced by the manifestations of wind and fire. The disciples were empowered and spoke in languages they had never learned. There was conviction of sin and repentance. 3000 were baptised. When God is present.

The Holy Spirit is God with us. On the Thursday night, only hours before He would die, at the Last Supper, Jesus spent a lot of time preparing the disciples for life and mission when Jesus would no longer be there. A large part of that preparation was to talk about the Holy Spirit. John’s gospel has an extended description of Jesus’ teaching so we will look at John 14 through to 16. READ John 14:15-31. [Blank]

Clearly, Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit. In vv.16-17, He said that God would give them another advocate – the Spirit of truth. In v.26 Jesus talked about the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father would send in Jesus’ name. But notice vv.18-19.

John 14:18-19     18 “I will not leave you all alone. I will come back to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. You will live because I live.

Jesus said, “I will come back to you… You will see me.” When He talked about the Holy Spirit coming He spoke as if He was coming. Jesus would come in the person of the Holy Spirit.

In v.23, Jesus said, “My Father will him/her, and we will come to him/her and make our home with him/her. We will come! Jesus and the Father will both come and reside in this person. Jesus and the Father come into the life of the believer in the person of the Holy Spirit. They are separate and yet they are so intimately united that where one is present, all three are present.

This is a little bit puzzling because we wonder how the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit can be three distinct persons and yet each one is the others. How can there be one God in three persons?

Interesting question for another day! My point is that the Holy Spirit is God present with us; is Jesus present with us; is the Father present with us. So, for example, in Acts 9, Peter healed a paralysed man who had been bedridden for 8 years. He said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.” Jesus wasn’t there! How could Jesus heal him? He could have equally said that God had healed him. When the Holy Spirit is present, Jesus is present and the Father is present. In this passage, there is a lot of “I am in my Father and my Father is in me and we are in you and you are in us”. It might be hard to understand but the Bible says that God promises to be in the life of the believer.

John 14:17 says, “You know Him [the Holy Spirit], for He lives with you and will be in you.” Isn’t it interesting that Jesus said both – with us and in us? To say that the Holy Spirit is with us is pretty amazing. God is with us. God is present. But to say that the Holy Spirit is in us takes it to another level. God, Father, Son and Spirit lives in us. Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19). Our body is where the Holy Spirit lives. And the Holy Spirit is God. Your body is not just a collection of bones and flesh and sinews etc. God lives there.

What has the Holy Spirit in you been doing lately? I don’t think God sits around doing nothing. If God is in your life and in your body, it is for a reason. What happens when God is present? As we saw before, people are terrified; people are strengthened and encouraged by the presence of God; people become aware of their sin; people are called into God’s service; people experienced power and success. Joseph. David was successful in everything he did because the Lord was with him (1 Sam 18:14). King Hezekiah was successful in everything he undertook because the Lord was with him (1 Kings 18:7). Often, we are told that so-and-so in the Bible was full of the Holy Spirit and then did something amazing.

When Peter and John were arrested after healing the paralysed man at the temple, in the name of Jesus, they were interrogated by the religious leaders. How would these uneducated fishermen respond? The passage says, “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them…” They were amazed at his courage and his wisdom. But Jesus had said that they would be brought before governors and kings, they were not to worry about what they would say or how they were to say it. “At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Mt 10:19-20)

So let’s look at what Jesus actually said during the Last Supper.

John14:15-17      15 ‘If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you for ever – 17 the Spirit of truth…

That is a promise: I will ask the Father and He will give you. First point: Jesus promises the Holy Spirit. It reminds us of when Jesus said…

Luke 11:13          If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’

God promises His Holy Spirit to all who ask. But it is a conditional promise. It is “If you love me, keep my commands, and I will ask the Father…” Likewise, in the next chapter of John – the chapter about the vine and the branches. The promise is that you will bear much fruit (15:5). Just as Joseph and David and Hezekiah and so many others were successful because God was with them, so too we will bear much fruit. But the condition is: If you remain in me and I remain in you. Do you love Jesus? Is that apparent in your obedience? Have you asked for the Holy Spirit? Well then, God promises to give the Spirit to you.

Thirdly, Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as “another advocate”. The word translated “another” does not mean “different”. It means, “another of the same type”. Having the Holy Spirit is just like having Jesus.

And He is called an advocate. An advocate is someone who is on your side; someone who argues for you. The Holy Spirit is for you; God is for you; Jesus is for you. God is not your enemy; He is on your side. You are His child (if you have placed your faith in Jesus) and He will fight for you. So, do not be afraid. God is with you, and He is for you.

Could you go into a situation like Peter and John before the rulers or Daniel in the lions’ den and not be afraid because you know that God is all-powerful and you are His child, and He is with you? Could you be hated by the world and yet have peace knowing that God will defend you; He will argue your case?

In John 13-17, Jesus talked a lot about the disciples being hated by the world (15:18-25), being put out of the synagogues and even being killed (16:1-3). But when the Advocate comes, He will prove the world to be wrong about sin, righteousness and judgement. Followers of Jesus will suffer simply because they are followers of Jesus and the world does not understand Jesus. But the Holy Spirit will prove them right.

Jesus said the Holy Spirit would help the disciples and be with them forever. If we look at the subsequent teaching about the Holy Spirit, we see what help Jesus meant.

  • 14:26 – He will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said.
  • 15:2 – He prunes us
    • Admittedly chapter 15 says that the Father is the Gardener but I would suggest it is the Father present by the Holy Spirit.
    • The pruning talks of being refined; of being shaped and moulded, transformed. If you look at John 15:2 it is the branches that are bearing fruit who are pruned. It is about good people becoming better people. The purpose is that we bear even more fruit.
  • 15:26 – He will testify about me. The Holy Spirit points people to Jesus.
  • 16:8-11 – (as we have seen) He will prove the world wrong. He will convict the world.
    • In the presence of the Holy Spirit, people become aware of their sinfulness.
  • 16:13 – He will guide you into all truth
  • 16:14 – He will glorify Jesus.

What happens when God is present?

  1. We have peace. In this passage, in the context of teaching about the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. It is a different peace than anything the world can offer.” It is why, so often in scripture, people are told, “Do not be afraid for I am with you.”
  2. God will fight for His children. We might be in danger. We might even die but God will be our advocate, on our side.
  3. He teaches us and reveals truth and reminds us of His word.
  4. He sanctifies He transforms us to be more Christ-like. He grows us.
  5. He gives success – fruit.
    1. Remember 14:12: Al who have faith in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”
  6. He testifies to Jesus and will glorify Jesus. When we seek to give Jesus glory, the Holy Spirit adds His power because His desire is to see Jesus honoured and glorified.

When we say “God be with you”, it is far more than “May God keep you safe.” It is “May He transform you; may He make you fruitful; may He give you power that changes other lives as well”.

Do you want God in your life? The Bible talks about the Holy Spirit in terms of power. I think we can talk about God’s power for you, God’s power in you and God’s power through you. Do you want that?

There are conditions: Do you love Jesus? Your commitment to obeying Him will tell you the answer to that. Are you obeying His teaching? Then the Holy Spirit is God’s gift for you, His child.

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29.4.18 – Trusted With Treasure – Peter Cheyne

It is one thing knowing about spiritual gifts. It is quite another thing using them. You might have been in a situation where there is the opportunity to pray for someone’s healing but actually doing it is quite daunting. “Will these people think that I am super-spiritual? What of nothing happens; then I will look stupid and I’ll give people yet another reason to reject Jesus. This is a huge risk. How brave am I?”

Or maybe you have been encouraged to listen to the Holy Spirit and share with a group anything you think He is saying. “How do I know if it is the Holy Spirit or just my imagination? What if it sounds really dumb and I reveal my lack of spiritual maturity? What if people don’t like what I say? This is a huge risk. How brave am I?”

Do you know what I am talking about? These things are highly risky. It is easier staying quiet and not playing an active part in the work of God.

With that in mind, I had this brilliant idea for a sermon. I thought of a handful of incidents in which the disciples were encouraged, or expected, to use spiritual gifts. I thought that we might see a sequence; we might see them growing from inept and scared through to confident. We might be able to track their journey from failure through to success, and we might walk that same pathway to success.

These are the incidents I thought of:

  1. Initially, they did nothing except watch Jesus.
  2. The feeding of the 5000. Completely out of their depth. Failure.
  3. The attempted healing of the demon-possessed boy. Trying, but failing. The boy’s father was left saying to Jesus, “I asked your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.”
  4. Being sent out in pairs around the villages to preach the gospel, heal the sick, raise the dead etc. Great! Did it well.
  5. Pentecost and the leadership of the church after that. Fantastic! Teaching, signs and wonders, preaching, leadership… all manner of spiritual gifts being used.

This is a story of growth. And for us it will be a story of growth. Yes, there will be initial failures but look at what is possible if we let God take us on this journey.

If you are training someone to do something, here’s the process. (Driving, swimming, cleaning teeth…)

  1. I’ll do it. You watch.
  2. We will do it together.
  3. You do it and I will watch.
  4. You do it without me.
  5. You train someone else to do it.

You can see that that is very practical. Initially the teacher plays a big role but the intention is that the student plays an increasingly important part while the teacher fades out. And then the student becomes the teacher. It is brilliant. And I thought this is exactly what we see in Jesus’ training of the disciples.

They watched Him. In the feeding of the 5000, they did it together. Jesus performed the miracle but they were part of it. With the healing of the boy, they, at least, tried to do it on their own while Jesus was up the mountain but they were still under supervision and, when He returned, they reflected on it. “Why couldn’t we drive out this demon?” they asked Jesus. He helped them sharpen their skills.

And then they were sent out around the villages and they did cast out demons and heal the sick and preach the gospel. They came back rejoicing and reporting all that God had done. This is huge progress. They were still under supervision; they still came back and reported but they did it by themselves.

Then, of course, there is Pentecost when Jesus wasn’t with them anymore. They were fantastically successful and started training up others. What a brilliant example of training using that sequence.

But my clever little sermon ran into a problem – a major problem. When I looked all this up, I discovered that things didn’t happen in that order and so it didn’t support the sequence at all. Bother!

Well, actually, everything did happen in that order except for one thing: Jesus sent them out around the villages to heal the sick, preach the gospel etc. first. What? They had this really successful experience first and then seemed to go backwards. It wasn’t a nice progression from failure through to success. It was initial success and then a series of failures, slowly building up to success again.

And isn’t life like that? It is not unremitting progress. Sometimes we go backwards and we have to relearn something we had learnt in the past. Sometimes we can experience great success and we think we have got it sorted and then we are brought back to earth with a bump. Maybe our faith is tested because we thought God would act in a certain way – like He did last time – and He doesn’t do it that same way the next time. Sometimes you think you have discovered this really cool pattern and then you find that the Bible doesn’t support what you wanted it to.

The three events between just watching and Pentecost occur in the various gospels but always in the same order. Bother! Somewhat surprisingly, all three occur in Luke 9, so let’s look at that. READ Luke 9:1-6

Before sending them out, Jesus gave them power and authority. He also gave them instruction – don’t take extra stuff; stay when you are welcomed; move on when you are not. And, of course, He had already given them His example. They had seen Him do these things. So, they had the ability – the delegated power and authority – they had understanding and they had an example to follow.

But was that wise of Jesus – when they are so new to this? Today, we might expect someone to have been a Christian for 40 years before having that sort of responsibility but Jesus sent out these novices – proclaim the Kingdom, heal the sick and, as Matthew adds, raise the dead, and drive out demons.

Who are we to question Jesus’ wisdom? Let’s rather learn from His example. If nothing else, this is a demonstration of great trust. Jesus trusted them with very significant ministry. And it worked!

They must have also trusted – trusted that Jesus had truly given them this power and authority, and they obeyed. They were operating under the Lordship of Jesus. Jesus called them together. The power and authority came from Jesus. Jesus sent them out. They came back and reported to Jesus (v.10).

Obviously, this experience would have confirmed for them that this was possible. If they trusted Jesus and they were obedient to Jesus, they would be part of what God was doing.

God hasn’t changed. He still entrusts very significant ministry opportunities to us – even when He knows that we are novices. The gospel is an amazing treasure. The ability to heal or raise the dead is an amazing treasure. Any spiritual gift is an amazing treasure. It is a God-given ability. We also have been given power and authority when we have received the Holy Spirit. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you…” We also have received Jesus’ teaching. We also have been sent. And, maybe, we also have experienced being used by God. We trust God and God trusts us.

The disciples returned and Jesus took them away by themselves to rest. But the crowds followed and Jesus welcomed them, spoke to them about the Kingdom of God and healed those who needed healing. Luke is pointing out that their ministry was exactly the same as His. At the end of the day, the disciples advised Jesus to send them away so that they could find food and lodgings. Jesus said, “You feed them.”

The disciples, who had just had this amazing experience of ministering in the power of God, had nothing to offer. They had no expectation that a miracle was possible. All they could think of was their natural resources: “We have only 5 loaves and 2 fish”. Jesus took over, performed the miracle but, graciously, included them in it so that they would again experience the power of God.

But why did they fail so badly? What was missing? If Jesus had said, “Do you think my Father could multiply these loaves and fishes so as to feed this crowd?” my guess is that they would have said, “Yes”. They might have thought back to the manna in the desert. Of course God is able to provide food. They had just experience the amazing power of God. I don’t think it was lack of faith or lack of willingness. It was lack of expectation. It didn’t occur to them that this was a miracle opportunity. This didn’t exactly fit into the category of proclaiming the gospel, healing the sick and raising the dead. Maybe their understanding of God’s power was limited to those areas and they were thrown when God wanted to do something new. Did their previous success blind them to the possibility of something different?

Maybe that is something we can learn. Are we alert to the times when God wants to do something – maybe even something that is outside our experience? Feeding the 5000 was a huge miracle but are we open the smaller miracles – the times when God wants to speak to someone if only we would be His spokesperson, or wants to answer a prayer if only we would pray it, or wants to save someone if only we will tell him/her about Jesus? God wanted to do a miracle. Jesus told them to do it; but they almost missed the opportunity and the crowd would have missed out on this miracle. Everybody loses when God wants to act but His people are asleep.

Luke’s account then goes on to Peter declaring that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus predicted His death. He then took Peter, James and John up a mountain where they saw Him glowing as bright as a flash of lightning and talking with Moses and Elijah. They saw His heavenly glory but when they came down the mountain, they immediately encountered earthly reality. READ Luke 9:37-43a.

The disciples believed and were willing and possibly expected a miracle. After all, they had cast out demons before. But nothing happened. Luke does not record it but Matthew and Mark both say that the disciples came to Jesus privately later and asked why they had not been able to cast out this demon. Jesus said (in Matthew) that it was because they had so little faith and (in Mark) that this sort of demon comes out only by prayer (or prayer and fasting).

It seems that this was a particularly difficult case. They had cast out other demons but this one required more faith than they had previously had and, for this one, prayer and fasting were required. Maybe we shouldn’t be critical of the disciples. This was a growing thing. This demon was a step up. This was about greater faith, more learning and upskilling. Even when we have a spiritual gift, we still have to learn how to use it and God might want to extend us beyond our past experience.

So what does all this mean? We can say that every Christian has been given some spiritual gift; we might know what those gifts are; but using them can be hard. It was for the disciples. They struggled. They failed. But look where they ended up. Failure is not bad. God is OK with us failing. It is easy for us to laugh at them but their failures were growth opportunities. At least they were willing to trust God and to try. It was through trying that they learned and that they became the people God could use so powerfully after Jesus’ ascension. It wasn’t constant progress. Sometimes they went backwards but going backwards taught them and they went forwards faster.

We too have the opportunity to be people through whom God works powerfully. But it will take courage – courage to trust God, courage to actually try, courage to fail and learn from that. Can we trust God to take us on that journey and to teach us so that we become the people He wants us to be? Will we try?

Jesus has shown that He is willing to give incredible treasures to His followers and He is willing to trust us long before we might have thought it was wise. The disciple must have been hugely encouraged by being trusted. Jesus trusts us with these treasures. They trusted Him too. They had to have an expectation that God would work. They had to have courage. They had to be willing to try and, sometimes, fail. We have to learn how to use our spiritual gifts. But the reward is fantastic – bearing fruit, knowing that God is using us and we are co-workers with Him, seeing lives changed, people set free, the church expanding rapidly and God receiving glory.

Dear Lord, thank you that you have called me to be a co-worker with You for Your Kingdom. Thank You that you have given me spiritual gifts. Thank You that You are willing to use me in ways beyond my natural abilities so as to have a Kingdom impact on others. I believe You want to change lives miraculously and I am open to being part of that. Please help me to notice the opportunities and to be obedient at those times. Please help me to have the courage to use the gifts You have given me. And please help me to be willing to fail. Better to have tried and failed and learned from it than to have never tried at all. Lord, please grow me so that one day I hear You say, “Well done, good and faithful servant”.

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22.4.18 – God Is Able And I Am Willing – Peter Cheyne

One definition of grace is: God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

One thing that is very obvious, when we read the Bible, is that very often people do what they are not capable of. Very often, God uses very ordinary people – people from humble beginnings or people who felt inadequate. We could list dozens of examples. It seems that God’s prefers to work through very ordinary people. God did what the person himself/herself could not have done.

Think of Moses – born to oppressed Jewish slaves in Egypt; a murderer who had to flee the country. And think of all his excuses when God called him: Who am I to do this? What if they don’t believe me? What if they don’t listen to me? What if they deny that You have spoken to me? I am not a good speaker. And then, when he had run out of excuses, he just said, “Please send someone else.” You know, in that story, Moses never actually said that he would do what God was asking him to do. It simply ends with God getting angry and telling Moses, “You will do it.” Moses was neither able nor willing.

And yet, God used Him in what was perhaps the biggest miracle the world has ever seen other than the resurrection – the parting of the Red Sea and the deliverance of the whole nation of Israel out of Egypt. Think of all the other miracles performed in Egypt or while traveling through the desert.

Moses didn’t have a lot of natural ability or qualifications but what spiritual gifts would you say God gave him? Maybe leadership, miracles, intercession… Grace: God did what Moses couldn’t.

Think of David, the youngest of Jesse’s sons and a shepherd – so insignificant that, when the prophet Samuel arrived to anoint the next king, no one thought to even invite David to the occasion. The rest of the family was there! Not David! And yet he became the greatest king Israel ever saw.

Did God give the shepherd boy supernatural (beyond the natural) abilities? Maybe faith, leadership (especially military success), wisdom, humility…

Think of the disciples. There was a bunch of losers if ever there was one – slow to understand, slow to believe, self-centred, always saying the wrong things, uneducated tradesmen. And yet, they did incredible things and became the foundation on which the church was built.

Think of the disciples when there was a crowd of 5000 hungry men. Jesus told them to feed the crowd. They had absolutely no idea what to do. They failed but Jesus still used them. The bread and fish multiplied in their hands. How exciting! Did they expect that? No way! God did what they couldn’t.

Think of the disciples on the Day of Pentecost. Did they go into that day thinking, “Right! Here’s the plan. We’ll take advantage of the crowd in Jerusalem right now. How about we get their attention by all speaking in different languages that we have never learnt and then Peter will preach this amazing sermon; they will be convicted; we will call them to repent and be baptised. Without a doubt, thousands will repent and we will start a church that will grow and spread to every nation”? Did they have that sort of confidence in their own ability? They had no standing, no ability but thousands were converted and the church was born and did spread throughout the world. Grace: God did what they couldn’t.

Most of us are fairly ordinary people. Could God do things through us that we cannot do ourselves? Maybe that is a hard question because we see these things in the Bible but not in our experience. We hear about Christianity exploding in the third world and amazing things happen. But not in New Zealand. Do we have any expectation of God working in power in our place?

In the Bible, spiritual gifts are called “grace gifts”, “charismata”. Through the grace gifts, God enables people to do what they could not do by themselves. As we have seen, over the last few weeks, God gives some spiritual gift, or gifts, to each Christian – to every member of the body (Rom 12:5-6; 1 Cor 12:7-11, 13). God enables every Christian with some sort of ability that is not natural for that person. Some are very dramatic gifts, like healing or prophecy, or miracles. Some are not, like maybe hospitality or wisdom or helping. Nevertheless, when a spiritual gift is used, there is the recognition that God is at work.

What did Jesus say about spiritual gifts? Nothing! Well, that’s not quite true! He didn’t label them “spiritual gifts” but He modelled the use of a wide range of spiritual gifts and He expected people to imitate Him. He gave the disciples authority to cast out demons and heal the sick. He used them to distribute the bread and fish to the crowd of 5000. When He washed the disciples’ feet, was Jesus exercising the spiritual gift of serving, that is, serving in a God-empowered, life-changing way? Yes? And then He told the disciples to do exactly the same thing.

In Matthew 19, Jesus seems to say that some people are gifted by God to be celibate.

But there is much more obvious teaching from Jesus.

John 14:12          Very truly I tell you, all who have faith in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.

That is a mind-boggling verse, but let’s not let our boggled minds prevent us from listening to what Jesus said.

“Very truly I tell you…” Jesus is absolutely emphasising this. Listen up! This is important!

“All who have faith in me”. This is true of every Christian. The only requirement is faith.

“will do the works that I have been doing”. According to Jesus, every person who has faith will do the same sorts of things He did. That might boggle our minds if it isn’t our regular experience but it does seem clear, doesn’t it, that Jesus’ expectation was that His followers would do the same things He had done. And you know what? His followers did do the same things.

“and even greater things than these”. Oh my goodness! If doing what Jesus did is mind-boggling, doing even greater things is… I don’t know what it is! Can we even take it seriously? The general understanding, I think, is that Jesus is talking about the church as a whole, spread throughout the world. More would be done than He was able to do, limited to one location and a short time. If that is the case, again the expectation is that the church will be doing the sorts of things that Jesus did.

“Because I am going to the Father”. That’s odd! You will do these things because I am going to the Father. That could mean that Jesus’ ministry was being passed to the church. “I won’t be here so the mantle is passed to you.”

Or it could mean that Jesus’ going to the Father would occasion the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. A lot of John 14, 15 and 16 (i.e. the context of John 14:12) is about the Holy Spirit.

John 16:7            But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate [or, the Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.

This is the key to the whole thing. Can we do what Jesus did? Or what Moses, David, or the Apostles did? No. Can the Holy Spirit? Can the Holy Spirit still do these same thing? Is God still capable of touching people’s lives in powerful ways? Is God still capable of healing? Is God still capable of giving someone just the right words for the occasion – words that heal or words that encourage or words that convict?

Jesus also said,

Acts 1:8               You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Christians, you will receive Holy Spirit power enabling you to be part of God’s mission to the world.

Let’s finish with an example. READ Acts 6:1-8. [Go to next slide i.e. vv.1-4]

Who on earth was Stephen? He pops up out of nowhere. All we know is that he was a disciple. When there was a dispute about the Greek widows missing out in the distribution of food, the Twelve had to find a solution. Should they distribute food? No! That was not what God had called them to or gifted them for. Their ministry was different. This is what the body is about – different parts with different functions. “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.” They could do it. It might even have been easier that teaching the scriptures but it was not what God had called them to, and it would be wrong for them to do it.

So, what qualifications did they look for in those who would distribute this food? Did they need to have a driver’s licence? Did they need to be wealthy or educated? Did they need a diploma? Were they high-profile in the church? No. They needed to be disciples; they needed to be followers of Jesus. They needed to be men. I am not at all sure why that was because lots of women exercise various ministries in the scriptures. But for some reason, God wanted men for this role. More importantly, the church was to look for men “full of the Spirit and wisdom”.

This was a welfare, or pastoral care, role. All it entailed was distributing food to needy widows. Surely anybody can do that. I guess, on one level, anybody could do that but the Apostles said, “No, this is not just a job; this is a ministry. To minister in the name of Jesus, people need to be filled with the Spirit and, for this role, they need wisdom. And so, seven godly men were chosen.

The result was rather surprising! Look at v.7. So, the word of God spread; the number of disciples increased rapidly and many priests were converted. How does that result from this food distribution plan? Maybe the word of God spread because the Apostles were freed to focus on that. But maybe it also spread rapidly because these meals-on-wheels men were spreading it. They were talking as they went from house to house. That is the value of the body working well. That is the value of having Spirit-empowered people, suitably gifted, engaged in the ministries that God has called them to.

Clearly, Stephen did far more than just deliver food. He was a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit but v.8 also described him as being “full of God’s grace and power” and performing great wonders and signs.

As far as we can tell, they were just ordinary people who had faith in Jesus and were filled with the Spirit. Nothing in this passage tell us that Stephen was powerful or influential. Was he capable of great signs and wonders? No, he was full of God’s grace and power. He was full of God doing what He could not do.

In all of these instances, the ability came from God. When Moses said, “I can’t”, God said, “But I can. Are you willing?” Moses wasn’t willing. God proved His power through the various signs that He showed Moses, but still Moses wasn’t willing to be God’s servant – until the very end. He was very slow to yield to God but look at how God used him, when he did. God works through very ordinary people who are willing to trust Him and willing to be used by Him.

I think this raises two questions for us. Do we believe that God is able? This is a question of faith. Do we believe that God is able? It is not a question of our ability. God isn’t asking if we are able. He knows we are not able. Our ability is not the point. Grace is about God doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves. The first question is: Do we believe that God is able?

But God does ask us the second question: Are we willing? Are we willing to let God work through us? If God said, “I want to give you the spiritual gift of leadership” could you say, “Lord, I am available. Use me. I have no idea about leadership but I hear you saying You will enable me. OK, use me.” Or, if He wants to give you the gift of healing, are you able to say, “I cannot heal but you can. OK, I am willing for you to do that”? What are your answers to those two questions?

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8.4.18 – Whatever You’ve Got, Use It – Peter Cheyne

If you can remember back far enough, you will know that we were looking at the concept of the church as a body. There are many aspects of that including that, the way God has designed the church, there is great unity There is one body. But there is also great diversity. There are many part in the body – many different parts. The passages that talk about the body, talk about those parts as being different spiritual gifts. Every Christian has some spiritual gifts that God has determined and God has given. And so there are all sorts of skills and abilities within a church. Some people have certain abilities. Other people have other abilities. When you combine all of those different abilities, the church can do heap of things.

No one individual can do everything. Everybody is required. We all need each other. And each of us is needed because God has designed this church and put in it who He wants to. So, He knows you; He knows what gifts He has given you and He knows how He wants your gifts to be part of the unique mix of this church. There are no redundant parts in the body. Every person is significant.

We defined spiritual gifts as any God-given ability through which God wants to work supernaturally and repeatedly.

Having had all of that introduction, over several weeks, we are getting a lot closer to thinking about our own gifts and discovering what they are. But we are not quite there yet.

First, I want to suggest that knowing and using your spiritual gifts is not optional. It is commanded. If you are thinking this is interesting but you are not planning on doing anything about it, listen to what the Bible says.

1 Peter 4:10-11   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. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Someone might say, “Well, that just talks about gifts, not specifically spiritual gifts. So, maybe Peter is just saying I should use my time, or my money, or my natural abilities – other things God has given me. I’m not really comfortable with spiritual things. I’m happier with the physical. I’ll set out the chairs. I’ll provide food. I’ll arrange flowers. And it doesn’t say I must use my gifts, only that I should.”

By all means see this as referring to everything God has given you. By all means, use everything to serve others. But notice that it says to be a faithful steward – a faithful manager – of God’s grace in all its forms. If God has been generous in any way, then use that to serve other and bring glory to God. But if it is God’s grace in all its forms, then that includes spiritual gifts. Being a faithful steward of God’s grace means using your spiritual gifts. And notice it talks about “speaking the very words of God” and “serving with the strength God provides.” Peter is definitely talking about spiritual things. This is serving in a God-inspired, God-empowered, Holy Spirit way.

If this person thinks this is only a should, not a must, he should read…

1 Corinthians 14:1      Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.

That is a command. Eagerly desire spiritual gifts. Are you eagerly desiring spiritual gifts? Here’s how to answer that question. Are you praying about it regularly? Are you watching people who are using their spiritual gifts and seeking their help in discerning and using your gifts? Are you experimenting so as to discover how God wants to use you?

This is not optional. God’s people are expected to – commanded to – eagerly desire spiritual gifts.

READ Romans 12:3-8

What do you see in that passage – maybe things we have talked about in previous weeks; maybe something about whether using our spiritual gifts is optional?

  • Our bodies are one but are made up of many members with diverse functions
  • Likewise, in Christ, we are many and diverse (in terms of having different gifts) but we form one body
  • Each member belongs to all of the others.
  • Eight gifts are listed
  • For each one, Paul says, “If this is your gift, use it. In fact, use it very well – according to the measure of faith you have, generously, diligently, cheerfully.
  • Don’t try to do something else. Don’t try to pretend you are gifted at something when you are not; do what God is calling you to do and has gifted you to do.

The use of our spiritual, gifts is not optional. The Bible says, “Whatever your gift, use it!”

How do you feel about that? Do you think, “No problem. I am already using my spiritual gifts”? Or do you think, “This is really exciting. I’m keen”? Or do you think it is a bit frightening – something you are unsure of or intimidated by?

There is something I would like us now to work on in groups. I have printed off 12 Bible passages that talk about the purpose of spiritual gifts. I would like you to please firstly identify the purpose and then put them into 3 or 4 categories. In other words, put similar ones together and then name that category with whatever it is that makes them similar.

Get feedback on the categories that groups have decided on.

Question: What do those purposes say about whether using our gifts is optional?

The passages

1 Corinthians 12:7

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

1 Corinthians 14:2, 4

2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit… Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church.

1 Corinthians 14:3-4

3 But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. 4 Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church.

1 Corinthians 14:5

I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.

1 Corinthians 14:12

So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.

1 Corinthians 14:18-19

I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue. 

1 Corinthians 14:24-25

24 But if an unbeliever or an enquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, 25 as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’

1 Corinthians 14:26

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.

Ephesians 4:11-12

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Ephesians 4:16

From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

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.

1 Peter 4:11

If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

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18.3.18 – When The King’s Away – Peter Cheyne

The following was part of a more interactive service. You will see that it consists largely of qurstins and possible responses. It was based on Luke 19:11-27, the parable of the ten minas

Activity

  1. Select 2 people in the congregation
    1. To one give 10x $10 notes
    2. To the other give 5x $10 notes
    3. Tell both to have the money ready to swap with the people in this exercise if they ask.
      1. The first is to swap only with the first “servant”
      2. The second is to swap only with the second “servant”
    4. They don’t have to make it hard. They can even have the money visible if they choose.
      1. But they should not tell anyone they are doing this prior to the exercise
    5. Select 3 “volunteers”
    6. First volunteer
      1. I will give you $20. I want you to make it work.
      2. There is one person in the congregation who will swap it for $200. Your task is to find that person.
      3. However, there is also one person who, if you ask him/her will take your money off you. (In reality there is no one who will do this.)
      4. If you get the $200, bring it back to me.
    7. Second volunteer
      1. The same as above except that there is a person who will give him/her $100.
    8. Third volunteer
      1. I will give you $20. I want you to make it work.
      2. The idea is that you could find a person who will swap it for much more but there is also the chance of losing it. Therefore, you hide your $20 somewhere.
    9. Wait until the first 2 servants return with their money
      1. Summons all three servants
    10. Ask the first servant how much he/she has gained.
      1. Congratulate him/her
      2. Give him/her a certificate declaring him/her to be mayor of 10 cities.
    11. Ask the second servant how much he/she has gained
      1. Congratulate him/her.
      2. Give him/her a certificate declaring him/her to be mayor of 5 cities
    12. Ask the third servant how much he/she has gained
      1. Ask why?
      2. Condemn him/her.

Bible reading

Next week is Palm Sunday. So today I wanted to do something that reflected Jesus’ journey towards the Cross but not get the sequences wrong. I wanted something that preceded Palm Sunday.

In Luke, the thing immediately prior to the account of Jesus entering Jerusalem is a parable – called the parable of the ten minas. It is very, very similar to the parable of the talents but also significantly different. Listen carefully and have your Bibles open because I am going to ask some questions about it.

A mina is a quantity of money – about 3 month’s wages. In our terms that might be ¼ of the average individual annual income i.e. about $12,000 – so a substantial amount of money.

READ Luke 19:11-27

Reflection

Why did the nobleman give the money to the servants?

  • 13 – put this money to work
  • 15 – accountability “to find out what they had gained with it”
  • They were to be his managers and to make a profit

What sort of man was this nobleman?

  • Trusting – he gave them control of his money
  • Generous – the rewards were great
  • Expected results. Tough. High level of accountability

Why did Jesus include the detail that the servants hated the master?

  • If this is about Christians, surely they don’t.
    • Or do we? Are we still naturally resistant to Jesus?
  • Or is it about mankind, in general? God has been generous to all of us but also expects results. Humans want independence from God.
  • NB Jesus will return as king whether we like it or not.

Why did the third servant do what he did?

  • Fear or failure
  • Or was that just an excuse? Was he lazy or simply disobedient?
    • His fear excuse doesn’t really stack up. Why wasn’t he more afraid of the nobleman?

Was the king too tough on the third servant? The story ends with very harsh language.

  • Our natural inclination is to say “Yes”
    • So, are we saying that Jesus is unjust?
  • A nobleman has a right to expect his servants to do what they have been told to do.
    • Jesus will be judge and can expect His people to do as they have bene told.
    • Otherwise, we are saying that people can disobey God and God must accept it.

What is the significance of the statement “to those who have, more will be given”?

  • People who use what they have will find that God uses them more and more. Those who have bene faithful in little things will receive bigger opportunities.

Why did Jesus tell this story?

  • We are told
    • 11 – because He was nearing Jerusalem and the people thought the Kingdom of God was going to appear now
      • It is not yet. There will be a time when the king is absent.
        • But He expects His servants to faithfully be about His business, doing what they have been told to do.

Why did He tell it just before entering Jerusalem?

  • The king was going away
  • This story is about what we do in this period while the king is away.
    • It is not theory. It is immediately applicable

What are we to be doing while the King is away?

  • Many things. And are we?

What is the one thing that Jesus specifically tells us to do that we are most afraid of?

Does this story say anything about spiritual gifts?

  • We are to use what we have been given
  • We will be accountable for not using them

Resources

Cities

  • Whangarei
  • Auckland
  • Hamilton
  • Tauranga
  • Gisborne
  • Rotorua
  • Napier-Hastings
  • New Plymouth
  • Whanganui
  • Palmerston North

 

  • Wellington
  • Nelson
  • Christchurch
  • Dunedin
  • Invercargill

 

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