Revival, Awakening and Reformation Part 2

Following my last post that referenced Revival, Awakening and Reformation I am here focusing on reformation. The reason being that wisdom points to the need to pursue reformation as both a means and an end for revival or awakening. Now, I confess this post has been a struggle to write. Partly because it is a broad subject that requires focus and partly because I need things to settle in my heart to write about them. So here we go.

            To reform something implies that we have the constituent parts but need to make them into a new shape. Obviously Jesus is the most important part. If we remake church structures that He doesn’t fill we have merely wasted our energy. That being said, a thought has persisted in my mind for some time. I have been thinking about Choice Architecture. I came across the term and included it in my Dissertation. The basic idea of Choice Architecture is that we can structure environments to influence behaviour.

            I have been thinking about this in terms of how the average Sunday church service is structured. There are two aspects, the physical space and the relational space. I will go a bit deeper, but first some scripture followed by some thoughts on leadership.

26 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 1 Corinthians 14:26 (NKJV)

11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; Ephesians 4:11–13 (NKJV)

These passages focus on having the body engaged in ministry. The first one referencing the need to make space for body sharing and ministry. The second looking at the role of leadership.

            Leadership isn’t about power and control. It is about drawing out the gifts and callings in people and releasing them into their gifts. When I lead teams at work in my various roles I believed that my responsibility as a leader was to create an environment that freed my staff to function most effectively in their gifts and calling. I have long believed the same thing about church leadership. Whether in small or large groups I believe leaders need to create space to release the gifs in others (there are some great example of this in the article by Craig Keener at the link below).

            When we think of creating physical space, we may have limitations but consider the focus of the average church building. The focus tends to be on the sanctuary and the pulpit. Just as the frame and matting are designed to draw our eyes to certain aspects of a painting, so too, our physical spaces are designed (or default to) drawing our focus to certain places. In considering this I invite you to think of ways to make the physical space about Jesus and about creating opportunities for the body to minister to one another as Paul encourages in 1 Corinthians 14:26.   

            Relationally, how is the church body structured. Is the default mode power and control or relationships. For decades I have been personally opposed to using the term pastor as a title. I have no issue with the term, I simply recognize that the terms apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher in Ephesians 4 are job descriptions not titles. Thus, I think we need to relate to people as people to build relationships and titles, in the church or elsewhere confer something but also create barriers (Choice Architecture). I could say, ‘that is pastor Fred’ or I could say, ‘that is Fred, he is a pastor. His focus is on nurturing and feeding the body.’ The latter creates a different expectation.

            As this is getting long, allow me to draw a conclusion. I think if we reform our churches to be more relational and to release the many gifts among us, we will see more revival and awakening. Conversely, if we persist in intercession for prayer and revival and awakening, we have an opportunity to reform our churches. Either way, we have before us the opportunity to build something that looks like the church Jesus said He would build and see it spread into the broader culture. As we become a place where those who become part of us are released fully into who they are called to be they will affect those around us in the culture with truth and life.

Under His Shadow

When we step out into the sun our body casts a shadow. When we walk in the light of the Son we cast a shadow a different shadow, we reflect His glory. To see how this works the presentation of some scriptures is in order.

1 He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. Psalm 91:1 (NKJV)

18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NKJV)

5 This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:5–7 (NKJV)

            Psalm 91 informs us that we need to abide, 2 Corinthians that we need to behold and 1 John that we need to walk in the light. I believe these are different aspects of the same reality. When we choose to engage with Him and enter into and remain dwelling with Him we experience His abiding presence over our lives. Coming into this secret place creates the opportunity to behold His glory. The result of abiding with and gazing upon Jesus is that we walk in the light. Interestingly, John says that one of the by-products of walking in the light is that we have ‘fellowship with one another.’

            In that vein, I have met people who I just ‘knew’ were a fellow believer and I have had conversations with others who detail the same experience. They meet someone who they sense is a fellow believer and it is confirmed in conversation. It happened to me this winter while on vacation. I met a fellow that I had met the previous summer a couple of times while in the mountains. We had only spoken for a few minutes but I sensed the Lord’s presence in him. When we met again this winter my sense was confirmed and we experienced genuine fellowship.

            Understanding this experience comes when we examine a verse of scripture in Romans 8.

16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, Romans 8:16 (NKJV)

If His Spirit is in me and in you then I should be able to sense His presence in you as the Spirit is bearing witness, bringing that awareness to me. Which takes us back to abiding, beholding and walking in the light. Nothing in scripture or experience has ever led me to conclude that spiritual growth is automatic. Pursuing a deeper relationship with Jesus is a choice. Let’s make that choice so that we live under His shadow and reflect His glory.  

Prepared for His Purpose

This week I am more of a reporter than a writer. If you are not aware of what began at Asbury on February 8 (scripturally 8 speaks of new beginnings) please read on.

First some context. Nearly two decades ago I gathered a group and together we organized a conference on Israel and the church which we held at Central Baptist church in Edmonton. The conference title was Prepared for His Purpose. The point we sought to communicate with the name of the conference was that it was about Him, not us. Proverbs 16:1 in the NKJV says it is our responsibility to prepare our hearts and He decides how to answer. In that vein I and many others have prayed for revival for many years. I have had encounters with Jesus’ presence, experienced moving times of worship and seen some dramatic things. I have never been part of anything I would describe as revival of the type I have read about in history or what is taking place now at Asbury.

I have read a number of articles and firsthand accounts of what is happening at Asbury and the tears start, it happens even as I type this. What I love about this movement is that it is quiet worship and genuine repentance and healing of hearts. One of the staff said he didn’t go for the first day and a half because he needed to complete some work. When he went, he said 10 minutes there altered his life forever. One person who drove to Asbury received the following reply when trying to book a hotel room. The staff person at the hotel said, “We have no rooms, we weren’t prepared for revival.” Are we prepared? Please read on.

            Most of the rest of this is about what is happening at Asbury and spreading. For context, I have long believed that one of the things that stops moves of the Spirit is our lack of practical wisdom. I have long believed that in a revival context there are two things that need to happen, ongoing encounters and ongoing teaching paired with practical wisdom. We see this in Acts 6:3-7 when the apostles put the deacons in place to manage practical considerations yet said they would give themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word (verse 4).

There is wisdom needed to steward the human part of what the Spirit is doing. I have just finished reading another book on revival and a common theme is people got off track because they loved the Lord’s presence but failed to exercise wisdom regarding when to rest, when to engage and when to let others lead. Then there are all the practical matters, examples of which are enumerated in the information from Dutch Sheets and others. Here are the accounts.    

Craig Keener – a prolific writer and scholar, a Professor at Asbury, here is his comment on what is happening, “The university chapel (seating 1500) and seminary chapels (seating 1000) and a local church are filled and lines are waiting outside. But what strikes me most is that, even walking near the chapel or out on the street (itself full of cars), I CAN FEEL THE TANGIBLE PRESENCE OF GOD. Not something that can be manufactured. We’d prayed for this to happen someday, but it’s still way beyond my expectations!

 Brian Blount – a Vineyard pastor from Oklahoma – “Here are my thoughts so far on the Asbury, outpouring/revival…This is real. No hype, no flash, no superstars. Real people hungry and thirsty for Jesus. It’s sweet, full of the love of God and love towards one another. It’s an authentic outpouring. Lots of worship, prayer, and testimonies with a bit of teaching and instruction. It’s multigenerational. It’s very much lay led. It’s deep, contemplative, vulnerable, very humble. It’s a move of the fruit of the Spirit and the deep working of the Love of God.

It’s really authentic. It’s really Jesus! This could lead to a real Jesus movement. The main focus is the love of God, and repentance through and only by the love of God. It’s nameless and faceless. The only name and face is Jesus!!! It’s ALL about Jesus moving through His people.”

Pete Greig – pastor and teacher and promoter of 24/7 prayer. Here he includes comments from his friend, the former chaplain at Asbury – The reports coming in privately from those on the ground and behind the scenes at Asbury are…encouraging. Something sovereign does appear to be unfolding and there are seasoned leaders – neither famous nor naive – quietly minimising the hype and maintaining the focus on Jesus.

You won’t find a more trustworthy source, for example, than my friend J D Walt. J D was for many years the Asbury chaplain. He knows the place like the back of his hand having sowed in tears with rare zeal, yearning and longing for something like this to take place.

“Here is the most compelling evidence of authenticity for me,” writes JD. “The first picture (below) depicts the chapel immediately after the usual chapel service last Wednesday. Nothing impressive. Just another day. But then students for unknown reasons other than the hand of God began to come back to the chapel. They asked their professors if they could return— uncharacteristic to say the least—- and within a few hours it was… the second picture below.

“It hasn’t stopped since then— 24-7. People are coming here from all over the country and world. Last night we opened up four overflow buildings and all were packed. Student groups from many campuses are here.

“It is clearly an outpouring of the Spirit but beyond that we are reticent to call it anything else. History can define it as it will. It is extraordinary and yet nothing new. Many of us have seen and experienced all that is happening here elsewhere. And yet none of us really have been in this kind of sustained move.

“The hunger of people coming from everywhere is enormous. It is characterized by exuberant worship— empowered by the Spirit— led by students, no production whatsoever—- no screens or words projected—seemingly no song lists— they sing until the Spirit seems to give another song. There is a lot of prayer being led all over the house, there are testimonies given throughout the day. It is the holy love of God rising like a tide and rolling like waves.

“Jesus is the only celebrity here. No one even remotely considers the names of anyone in leadership here. They are not unseasoned just unknown. Incredible humility characterizes this whole move. This has been enormously disruptive to the life of the school but no one seems to care. There is a vigilance of love supporting these students.”

Dutch Sheets – I am receiving numerous reports and updates regarding what is occurring at Asbury University (and elsewhere). Carol Stratton shared the following report, which is especially helpful, as it gives behind-the-scenes information regarding how to pray and support what is taking place. The logistical details that have to be thought through and implemented, as well as the tremendous weight of spiritual responsibility on the leaders, is no doubt daunting.

Carol and her husband, Dr. Stephen Stratton, are local residents, alumni of the university, and active in the community. Dr. Stratton teaches in the seminary. Her insights are astute. She states:

“‘Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I WOULD

RATHER BE A DOORKEEPER in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of

the wicked.” (Psalm 84:10)

“Last night, I got an entirely different perspective on the Asbury Revival, which

is still robustly happening, by the way!

“First, let me provide some context. Wilmore, Kentucky, is our home. Steve and I are alumni of the university, and Steve has enjoyed a career at both the university and the seminary. The leadership team of this Revival are our friends and neighbors. This is happening in our backyard!

“So, yesterday, I arrived on campus at supper time, hoping the crowd had adequately thinned to provide me with a seat in Hughes Auditorium. I didn’t HAVE to be there, but I LONGED to be there. The line that stretched toward entry to Hughes was as long as the line to a thrill ride at Disney!

“By this time, I knew there was no way for me to be a participant as an attendee, like Mary, basking in the presence of Jesus. But I could ‘Martha’ if needed. I walked around to the back and was stopped by a worker, but quickly

informed them that I was a community person and just wondered if the lead team needed anything. I would be happy to run an errand. Get something? Help in

some way?

“A long-time buddy quickly handed me a ‘prayer team’ tag, and instructed me to monitor the side door near the Library, because people were slipping through there. For safety’s sake, the leaders needed to be able to get a head count of folks in the auditorium. So, from 5 to 9:30, I ‘guarded’ the side door, in an alcove behind the auditorium. It was fascinating. I was able to engage attendees with grace and humor, while explaining the needful boundary.

“I was able to thank prayer teams and worship leaders as they entered and exited. I was able to experience the ‘runoff’ of the River of Life, as it swelled its banks and overflowed into my little nook. I was also able to visit with a couple of leaders who gave me an insightful glimpse into all they are addressing as this miracle keeps unfolding! Here are some observations from my Doorkeeping Duties last night:

“Every worship team is prayed with and prayed over before they step on the platform.

“As they exit the platform, every worship team of musicians is met by a leader who helps them process what they just experienced and prays over them. This intentional intervention guides these young musicians back to the focus: Always Jesus. Always God’s glory. Don’t confuse His goodness [with a feeling of greatness on your part]. You had the privilege of participating in a ‘God Thing’!

“Like a River, this God Event is fluid. The leadership is constantly challenged to respond to the ever-increasing swell of people and their needs. Parking, seats, food, water, restrooms…are just the basics. (One mother drove non-stop from North Dakota with her daughter, and begged that her daughter might take a shower, so they didn’t have to leave!) AND the Community is responding again and again! One attendee (knowing I hadn’t eaten all night) handed me a chili dog and informed me that ‘a venue down the street’ was giving away FREE chili dogs, chips, and water!

“More structures and guidelines are being constructed.…college-age folks can attend actual ’Chapel.’ The remaining ‘Program’ starts at 2 PM, though worship continues [after chapel]. Overflow venues are being made available, including Estes Chapel, McKenna Chapel, GCF, and Wilmore UMC. They are all bursting with hungry worshippers. Some buildings are being closed during the early morning hours for the safety of attendees and equipment.

“Prayer is happening constantly: in pockets backstage, in hallways, in places hidden from view but not hidden from God.

“The Front Line of leaders is running on grace. They are understandably weary, yet undaunted in their mission. One leader had worked a 40-hour week as of yesterday (Tuesday night). They need reinforcements and refreshments. God is sustaining them, and they continue to serve with unbridled joy and faith-filled fatigue.

“The needs remain varied and enormous! One student gave a testimony from the stage, and immediately, people physically responded to his expressed need. It was like watching the Church in Acts leap into action! The eruption of applause as they responded to his need was deafening!

“Our prayers are making a difference. Just before I ended my ‘shift’ a couple approached my door. I asked if I could help them. They looked at my tag and said, ‘We just wanted someone to pray with us before we drove home to Memphis. We are dealing with a lot.’

“I smiled, opened the door, ushered them into the warmth, and said, ‘Right. Come talk with me, and we will pray.’ And we did. I walked them to their car, and they left satisfied by the One who is ’feeding the 5,000’ again!

“YOUR prayers are needed. The needs are enormous. The mechanics of practical need-meeting are daunting. The Leadership Team is tired. God continues to pour out His Spirit in box-bursting ways! Please cover all of this in prayer!! It is THRILLING!! God is pouring out His power, grace, mercy, and goodness! And He is pouring out opportunities for each of us to be the hands and feet of Jesus where we are!

“I heard someone quote: ‘There are FIVE Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and You. Most people will never read the first four.’

“Keep praying. Keep watch. Hold the door OPEN that all may enter!”

Thank you, Carol, for allowing us to share this insightful, first-hand report. Finally, we must also pray for this entire community. As glorious as this is, Wilmore will likely be hit with a tidal wave of people. Unlike past revivals there and elsewhere, social media has already caused this one to go viral. Millions have heard about it. And people are hungry. Alumni, pastors, and seekers are showing up from everywhere. If my sources are correct, busloads of students have arrived from:

Anderson University

Bethel University (Mishawaka)

Campbellsville University

Eastern Kentucky University

Eastern Nazarene University

Georgetown University

God’s Bible School (Cincinnati)

Indiana Wesleyan University

Kentucky Mountain Bible College

Lee University

Midway University

Mt. Vernon Nazarene University

The Ohio Christian University

Ohio State University

Olivet Nazarene University

Oral Roberts University

Purdue University

Southern Wesleyan University

Spring Arbor University

Taylor University

Trevecca Nazarene University

University of Kentucky

United (OH)

University of Cumberlands In conclusion, let’s pray that this grows and spills over here to Canada. Moves of the Spirit always start with scenes like the ones below from Asbury. They are the pictures Pete Greig referenced. The first picture, a handful of the faithful praying after the chapel service that started this off. Later that day the second scene emerged.

A Right Focus

            I recently had an online debate with a fellow who was concerned that people in the church didn’t see themselves as sinners. He viewed it as heresy and dangerous if we didn’t focus on being sinners. That was how he saw scripture. I was unable to dissuade him of his views so left the matter alone after sharing my thoughts and scripture with him. I have learned over the years that continuing to beat my head against the wall only gives me a sore head, it doesn’t enlighten the other person. I do however recognize the importance of the issue so want to share what scripture presents to us.       

            My first point is that I see in scripture that as believers we will have a battle with sin as long as we are in this body. Paul said it this way.

15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. Romans 7:15–20 (NKJV)

Paul acknowledged his ongoing battle with sin, something within him that wanted to lead him to wrong thoughts and actions. However, Paul didn’t stop there, he pointed us to the solution to the problem.

5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Romans 8:5–6 (NKJV)

12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. Romans 8:12–14 (NKJV)

Paul’s teaching in Romans is parallel to his earlier teaching in Galatians 5:18-25 about walking with or by the Spirit rather than the flesh.

            I do think we are in a dangerous position if we deny that we have a capacity or propensity to sin. However, I also see in scripture that if we focus on sin and view ourselves as sinners, holding that as our identity, we are far more prone to sin. I have often used the analogy regarding repentance. Repentance is a change of mind and heart that produces a change in behaviour. We are often told that to repent means ‘to turn and go the other way.’ That is in fact the result or fruit of true repentance, not the repentance itself. Now, imagine you were a lost sinner, had a change of mind and heart (repented) and started following Jesus. You have done a 180 degree turn. Now imagine you keep looking back to where you were while trying to walk forward. It would occasion a lot of falling.

That is how I see our walk with Jesus. If I am focused on sin and hold onto an identity as a sinner, I am looking back. Scripture doesn’t teach that. Scripture says that if I am to walk in victory over sin I need to look to Jesus, the ‘author and finisher’ of my faith (Hebrews 12:1-2). Scripture makes provision for when we fail and do sin, it doesn’t tell us to hold onto an identity as sinners.   

7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:7–9 (NKJV)

Paul provides a further key to living rightly in our walk with Jesus.

4 I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, 5 hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints, 6 that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. Philemon 4–6 (NKJV)

I want the good things in me in Jesus, to set my mind on things above, on Christ in me the hope of glory and recognize His ongoing transformative work in my life. What is your focus?

Catch a Wave

I am in San Diego as I write this. Earlier this week I was walking on some cool windy beaches and spent some time watching surfers in their wetsuits. Not swimming weather in my opinion! However, allow me to use surfing as an analogy to capture the spirit of revival, beginning with a little more context. That morning I had been thinking about revival. As I was walking along the very windy beach in the blowing sand a song kept rising up in my spirit as I walked and I was quietly singing some lines from it. The song was Shine Jesus Shine by Graham Kendrick, the lyrics are well worth reading and the song one that draws us into worship. The part I was singing over and over was, “Shine, Jesus, shine. Fill this land with the Father’s glory.” It is a song about outpouring, filling and transformation. In a word, revival! The same day that I was walking and worshipping the winds were so strong that one of the major parks was closed due to trees being blown over. The weather report said they had last experienced winds like this in the 90’s. So back to surfing, starting with my observations.

The first observation is that surfers spend the vast majority of their time waiting and preparing. They are paddling while looking for the big wave. They are not casually resting on their boards; they are looking out at the waves in expectation and preparing for them. As the waves come rolling in, they need to time their paddling with the wave. If they start to paddle too soon, they miss they wave, if they start to paddle too late, they miss the wave. Once they catch the wave they need to quickly get on their board and balance. They then need to pay attention to the wave and ride it back and forth to maintain their place on it.

 Now to the revival application. Whether we think of revival as a move of the Spirit, wind from the Spirit or a variety of other perspectives, a wave is simply one example of something that moves powerfully that we can join with and be caught up in. Having studied revival over the years I see the wave application. I believe we need to both pray and prepare. Revivals in history were always preceded by prayer, preparation and expectation. At times people missed the moment (wave) because they didn’t like the package it came in. For example, it was said that the bloodline washed away the colour barrier at Asuza Street. Here the different ethnicities came together and worshipped, yet at that time in history some were offended at this integration and missed the wave. For others the wave was too wild and they missed it because they were offended by excesses.

The Toronto Blessing from the 1990’s is another example. I am confident there were spirits present leading people to do things that were not from the Holy Spirit. I am also confident that some people simply did things out of emotional immaturity or a desire for attention. I am however very confident that the Holy Spirit initiated and led the outpouring and people came from all over the world and were touched and transformed by the Spirit.  

If errors are our focus in a revival season, we will miss the big wave being offended by the little ones. Fleshly excesses have always accompanied moves of the Spirit. We navigate a move of the Spirit by focusing on the genuine and remaining humble. Scripture exhorts us to test all things and hold fast to the good.

21 Test all things; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.  1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 (NKJV)  

In conclusion, let us pray for revival, let us prepare our hearts and when we see the wave let us paddle out to meet it, join it and ride it while paying close attention to the Spirit to navigate what He is doing.

A further Application Addendum regarding Wind and the Spirit

Jesus said the following in likening the wind and the Spirit

8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8 (NKJV)

We then have Acts 2.

1 When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Acts 2:1–2 (NKJV)

The Holy Spirit at times reveals Himself through wind. I referenced the strong winds the day I was walking on the beach worshipping and praying. I had sand blown into both of my ears due to the wind. I mentioned the trees being blown over. When the wind is blowing over trees, things are being uprooted! If this represents a wind of the Spirit, is He wanting to uproot and remove things from our lives?

I had another experience with wind when we were in Scotland in June 2018. On June 12th we toured Edinburgh Castle and I saw the small room where King James VI of King James Bible fame, was born. On the 13th took the train out to Stirling Castle. We toured the castle, the Wallace Monument and looked into the Church of the Rude just outside the gates of Stirling Castle. That day Edinburgh Castle was closed and parts of Stirling and the Wallace Monument due to the strong winds. A guide informed us this was only the second time since the 1990’s that the castle had been closed.   

The significance of the city of Stirling is that it is where William Wallace first fought Edward I of England and liberated Scotland, where King James VI was raised, though he was born in Edinburgh Castle. It was also here that John Knox preached, shook a nation and also presided over King James VI’s baptism and coronation at the church of Rude.

I believe these winds I have referenced prophetically speak of a move of the Spirit that is coming that will blow back in old things that were spiritually significant, uproot and remove things that offend His heart and sweep the church into His purpose. In closing here is what Knox uttered on his deathbed. May we live likewise. “Whatever influenced me to utter whatever the Lord put into my mouth so boldly, and without respect of persons, was a reverential fear of my God, who called and of his grace appointed me to be a steward of divine mysteries, and a belief that he will demand an account of the manner in which I have discharged the trust committed to me, when I shall stand at last before his tribunal.”

Gifts and Calling

In my last post I wrote about being faithful with our gifts and callings and the need to discern what they are and exercise them. Here I will look at the relationship between gifts and callings. A verse that highlights this is in Romans.

29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Romans 11:29 (NKJV)

Contextually this is about the calling of Israel as a nation and people group and the gift Yahweh gave of them being His representative nation in the earth. While the verse is about a national calling Paul’s point illustrates the fact that there is a link between gifts and callings. Let’s explore it.

Gifts in scriptural language are something given that enable us to do something. The word used in the Romans 11 verse above is charisma. Charisma is also used in Romans 12:6-8 to refer to different gifts or abilities and it is used in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 in referring to spiritual gifts. Charisma is also used in Hebrews 5 to refer to gifts offered on the altar by the priest in the Old Testament.

While a gift is something given not earned, it is also an ability to do something. It is related to charis, which is translated as grace in the New Testament. John Wimber used to describe spiritual gifts as ‘gracelets.’ Grace, beyond being unmerited favour, is God’s enablement to carry out His calling. In essence He gives us gifts to do something, an ability to function in His kingdom and respond to His calling.

While a gift is the ability to do something a calling is a summons. In our calling the Lord is summoning us to a task that He has gifted us for. Israel was summoned to be a light to the nations and had the ability to do so if they walked in obedience to Yahweh’s commands. The prophetic voices in the Old Testament are littered with examples of their rebellion and refusal to walk in their calling. Though as a nation they failed, because the gifts and calling are irrevocable the light did come through them. The light was Jesus.

2 The people who walked in darkness Have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined. Isaiah 9:2 (NKJV)

16The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.” Matthew 4:16 (NKJV)

Seeing this we can be confident that He will accomplish His purpose in the future as He has in the past.

Now to apply this to our lives. Each of us have both a gift or gifts and a calling. A good example is my friend Lynn. She teaches school and is also a worship leader. It doesn’t require much discernment to see that Lynn is both gifted and called to teach. Not all who attempt to teach have a teaching gift, some have a job. True teachers have a gift and are responding to a calling. Lynn is one, yet her greatest gift and calling is to lead others into His presence through worship. It is important to note there is a distinction between musical ability and worship. Many gifted musicians who are Christians are not anointed to lead worship.  

I had the privilege of helping Lynn to lead a small group for a number of years where we focused on worship and prayer ministry. What makes Lynn so effective is that in the realm of worship she has developed and deepened her gift in response to her calling. Her heart is drawn to worship and through her responsiveness to Jesus has been trained by Him to draw others into His presence as she worships. Her gift has been cultivated.

While we may be familiar with the term cultivated, we need to look at the origin. There is the idea of cultivation in terms of refinement and culture. However, when a farmer is cultivating his field, he is not becoming a refined gentleman, he is preparing and working the land. Hard and gritty activities. The soil needs to be prepared, sown, tended and harvested. Out gifts need to be developed through preparing our hearts, sowing into them through prayer and practice and harvesting a functioning calling.  

            We are each called to follow Jesus and we are each gifted to demonstrate our following Him through a responsive heart. Here is how Paul put it in a representative list.

6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; 7 or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; 8 he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Romans 12:6–8 (NKJV)

Paul’s primary exhortation here is to develop our gifts by using them, having a responsive heart. We all have inner tugs and urgings from the Spirit. When we follow them, we walk in our gifts and calling. Let’s cultivate the habit of following them to further His kingdom purposes.  


            We are likely familiar with the parable of the talents. There are two different versions. The first is found in Matthew 25:14-30 and the second in Luke 19:11-27. The versions are different because Jesus would have taught the same stories in different ways as He travelled about teaching. I am looking at Matthew’s version. When I have heard teaching on the subject the focus has always been on the outcome. Instead of that let’s start at the beginning. At points in my career, particularly in my management roles, there were sometimes ridiculous expectations rather than realistic goals. I once told my staff that what we were being expected to do was ‘change the tire while driving down the highway!’ Goals that stretch us are useful but they still need to be realistic. My response to the ridiculous was, “If you goal for me this year is to be able to jump over the building at the end of the year, we need a new goal as that isn’t going to happen.” In the parable of the talents Jesus presents the goal or task as realistic.

14 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. 15 And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Matthew 25:14–15 (NKJV)

            Here we have a man who had servants and gave them responsibility according to their ‘ability.’ That is, the owner gave each servant an area of responsibility based on what he could realistically be expected to achieve. Jesus embedded a principle here. Our Father has given to each of us talents, gifts or abilities. When our lives are weighed at the end of this age, He will not compare what we have done with what someone else has accomplished. His assessment will be based on what we have done with what we have been given. The two talents servant wasn’t expected to achieve what the five talents servant accomplished. He was expected to achieve what he was able to accomplish with two talents.

            I think one of the problems we have in the church is a tendency to focus on or desire the talents of others without really seeing our own. For example, I may want to be a great preacher and look at great preachers I admire and wish I could be like them. However, that would be wasting my time, and my talent. I have often said over the years that I like neither giving or receiving lectures. I am a teacher not a preacher. I want to engage and interact with people not talk at them. If I look at and seek to learn from great interactive teachers that is a good use of my time. Trying to be a great preacher wouldn’t be.   

            Part of my teaching gift is writing, this being an example. Over the years my friend Wouter has spoken into my life a good deal about my writing and in heeding his advice my writing has improved. Wouter is a gifted teacher and taught high school English for decades. I would be foolish to not receive his advice and corrections. At the same time, though we both teach our styles are not the same and my goal is not to teach or write like Wouter, it is to teach and write well as Randy. I heard Josh McDowell say something nearly forty years ago. He said, “If you spend all of your time being someone else who is going to spend all of their time being you.” That has always stuck with me.

            Each of us have gifts and talents, each of us has a calling from Jesus. There are cases where people have developed gifts that weren’t obvious early on. I know of more than one person who felt called by Jesus to play a musical instrument and be a worshipper. They then just ‘did it’ with no formal training. Jesus calling them activated something He had put in them. A qualifier here, musical training and ability does not in and of itself make one a worship leader. I have heard skilled musicians in church who frankly do not understand worship nor can they lead others into His presence. (My next post will address the pairing of gifts and calling).

            Aside from worship and teaching there are many gifts and callings. We each need to discern ours through prayer, input from others and our inner sense of calling. When we do that and consistently live it out we can look forward to these words at the end of the age, ‘well done good and faithful servant’ (Matthew 25:21).

Walking Well

            Given the time of year there are a plethora of prophetic declarations regarding what the Lord is going to do in 2023. Most are promises of wonderful things that don’t come to pass but they are still put forth each year. Some are balanced and talk about the blessing of His presence in the midst of difficulties. Some are vague and general and some are very specific. A recurring one is the recognition of the need for revival and awakening in the church and prayer to that end. I hold to that promise and continue to intercede for it.

Now to my word for the year. I have had specific ones in the past. I don’t have one this year except something He spoke to me nearly three decades ago from 1 Corinthians.

2 Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. 1 Corinthians 4:2 (NKJV)

To understand this, we need to look at the context, what we are to steward, and what it means to steward something. The context is Paul speaking of being a steward of the mysteries of God.

1 Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 1 Corinthians 4:1 (NKJV)

Paul saw his responsibility to be faithful with what God had entrusted to him and recognized his calling as a servant, an underling to the Lord. While none of us are Paul the Lord has given each of us callings and gifts and our calling is to be wise stewards of what He has given. I don’t know each of your specific callings and gifts. However, I do know for example that each of us have been called to live out Matthew 28:18-20, The Great Commission. Given that let’s take a closer look at stewardship.

There is a good example of failed stewardship in popular culture that has often come to mind for me. It is from The Lord of the Rings series. In the one movie the Steward of Gondor had been entrusted with responsibility for the city and surrounding country. His responsibility is to maintain and look after the city and surrounding area until the rightful king shows up. In the movie he is aware that the rightful heir to the throne is coming and that he is to yield the throne to him and serve him. Rather than functioning as a steward he begins to act like an owner and refuses to welcome or yield to the coming king. He instead focuses on his own food and comfort while the city he is responsible for was under attack and falling to the enemy. He has in effect attempted to keep his position while abandoning his responsibility! This is similar to the expression, ‘Nero fiddled while Rome burned.’ Nero had also been given a stewardship (Romans 13:1-3) which he miserably failed to carry out.

We do not want to function like the Steward of Gondor or Nero, we want to be found faithful. If our calling is to prayer let us pray. If our calling is to evangelism let us evangelize. If it is to encouragement let us encourage. Paul provides examples for us.

6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; 7 or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; 8 he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Romans 12:6–8 (NKJV)

If we do respond to this with a right heart, we are faithful stewards. I know in my life that whether I see revival or need to remain in the place of intercession awaiting it, I plan to be faithful to do what I can with what I have where I am.

            In considering our own stewardship it may look different for each of us. What is consistent is the need to consider is our present degree of faithfulness with what He has already tasked us with doing. I spent my career in the social services field and there was an expression, ‘The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.’ If we have not been faithful in the past, we are not positioned to be faithful in the future. If that is our present state, we can shift our future through repentance (a change of heart and mind) that leads to engaging in different behaviour. Once we make this shift the best predictor of our future behaviour will be the new behaviour that we are engaging in. Let us be found faithful and this year will lay a foundation for continued faithfulness next year and beyond.

Mirror Resolutions

            We begin a new year tomorrow. Given that in our culture we tend to focus on New Years Day as a time of reflection and resolutions let’s apply that idea to this coming year. At present little discernment is required to see that we live in a very self absorbed and self focused culture, including in the church. A lot of time is spent looking in the mirror. There is a good biblical word for what led to this condition, sin. In reflecting back on Genesis 3 we see the immediate effects of sin entering the lives of Adam and Eve.

9 Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.” 11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” 12 Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” 13 And the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” Genesis 3:9–13 (NKJV)

Two things happened in the Fall, a focus on self and ‘our’ condition and the shifting of blame to someone else when challenged. In essence Adam was now focused on himself rather than Yahweh and blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent and so it continues in every culture.

Yet, as believers our calling is different. Our calling is to be mirrors that reflect Jesus and His kingdom, not our culture. This is clearly portrayed in scripture.    

18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NKJV)

Think about the significance. In our mirrors we are to look into and at the glory of the Lord. We are to fix our gaze upon Jesus, seeing His glory in our mirrors, His face replacing ours. The result of that is that we then reflect His glory and others encounter Him in us.

            There is a practical way to do this. Back when I was much younger, I moved to Edmonton from Northern Alberta to attend college. I stayed with my sister and brother in-law that summer and my sister had a plaque on the bathroom wall, it was an old Sanskrit saying and I have always remembered it, “Yesterday is already a dream and tomorrow is only a vision, but today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope.”

So here is my proposal for the New Year. We can still make resolutions like losing weight or getting fit, yet we can also do something I think is much more important. We can resolve to live better among others. We can choose to look into scripture and to gaze upon Jesus, we can be changed into His image, walking in grace and truth, living in forgiveness and compassion. We can resolve to let Him shine through us, reflecting the fruit of the Spirit.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. Galatians 5:22–23 (NKJV)

In this way we can make, “every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope.”

His Building

            Tomorrow, Christmas day, we celebrate Jesus’ birth. Leaving aside the accuracy of the date, it is an important day around the world. As the ultimate strategic planner, the Godhead, Father, Son and Spirit had a plan and purpose in mind. A plan that would be established through Jesus’ birth and subsequent death and resurrection. This plan began to come to fruition with Jesus earthly birth, a plan to begin building something, and we are part of that something.

            The plan was to build a family, a family made in His image, representing, or re presenting, Him. This is seen clearly in scripture.

8 To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; 10 to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, 11 according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. Ephesians 3:8–12 (NKJV)

I will highlight a section of this passage, “the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; 10 to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, 11 according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” There was a mystery unveiled to Paul, the building of a spiritual house through those born again through Jesus. After the Fall it began with the calling of a man, Abraham, the building of a nation through his descendants, the raising up of the Messiah through this lineage and culminating in the full unveiling of the mystery. This mystery involved a revealing of God’s wisdom to the opposing powers in the heavenly places, the ongoing revealing of Jesus to and through the church to the world. An eternal purpose that will be finalized at Jesus return.

            If we have been born again, we are part of what is being built. We have been called into fellowship, participation in a divine plan that was once a mystery and has now been unveiled. We see it expressed earlier in Ephesians.

19 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. Ephesians 2:19–22 (NKJV)

            We are all part of the same building; the church Jesus is building. We display His wisdom before opposing spiritual forces in heavenly places when we focus on building up His body and bringing in new members. Most of us are called not to foreign lands but to our friends and neighbours. This Christmas let’s honour what Jesus did by being expressions of the living Christ to all we encounter. Let us be living stones offering spiritual sacrifices as a spiritual building.

4 Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:4–5 (NKJV)