A Modern Woman's Perspective On The Kingdom of God on Earth

Showing posts with label Spiritual gifts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Spiritual gifts. Show all posts

December 21, 2021

The Gift of the Atonement


This is the Christmas season ... the time when gifts are freely given and received. We don't do anything to earn them and for most of us, we do it because we want to please those we love. God gave us the gift of His Son, and His ultimate purpose was to atone for the sins of man to bring us back into relationship with our Heavenly Father. He did that by becoming the Lamb of God; the One whose sacrifice took away the sins of the world. His Atonement [for us] is the greatest act [and gift] in all of history, and a testament to the all-consuming love of God.

I know that sometimes we 21st Century Christians still struggle with believing we have to do something to earn God's love. In the materialistic, self-centered, narcissistic world we live in, even those of us who profess our faith in Jesus may find ourselves bargaining with God to make sure we are still in covenant with Him. It's like it's too difficult to believe that Jesus's death on the Cross -- the final Atonement -- is enough to secure our state of being "At One With God". We get hyper-focused on our needs and begin to question if there might be something else we could be doing to assure the promise of the Atonement. 

And what is that promise? How are we to understand the Atonement? The answer to that question is, at once, both a simple and deep one. The central message of the Atonement is that man's sin has separated him from the original relationship between man and God. God is a Holy God and He demands holiness, but there is nothing that sinful man can do to repair the breach. In other words, we can't be "holy enough". So God has provided a way for all men to come back into a harmonious relationship with our Creator. It is an act done by God because of His infinite and incalculable love for us. It was done by God for us and there is nothing we can do to add to it that makes us more worthy. 

But what about all the animal sacrifices that the Israelites did in following God's commandments? It is important that we understand that from the beginning of man's sin in the Garden, God inaugurated a blood sacrifice to "cover" the sin. God, Himself, sacrificed animals on behalf of Adam and Eve to provide garments to cover their nakedness. He also provided a ram as a sacrificial substitute for Isaac in response to Abraham's faith. And He ultimately sent His own Son as a final sacrifice for all sins [for all time] for those who have received faith in Jesus [by His Grace]. These sacrifices involved the spilling of blood, and this is at the heart of the Atonement ... Leviticus 17:11 makes the significance of blood quite clear in the sacrificial system: For the life of the body is in its blood. I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you; to make you right with the Lord. It is the blood, given in exchange for a life, that makes purification possible. "Making atonement for you" is what "making you right with the Lord" means. You are "at one" with Him; forgiven, reconciled and ransomed [rescued and redeemed from sin]. 

The sacrificial system in the Old Testament exemplified the need for a blood sacrifice, but it was only temporary. Each year, on the Day of Atonement,  the priests would carry the blood from the animal sacrifices into the Holy of Holies to atone for the sins of the people during the year. But it would have to be repeated each year because it was not enough to adequately make amends for the sins against God and His Holy Character. The atonement of the sacrificial system was not only temporary, it was insufficient and inadequate. But God had another plan... Jesus, Himself, the Son of God, "went once for all into the Holy Place [the Holy of Holies of Heaven, into the presence of God], and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, having obtained and secured eternal redemption [that is, the salvation of all who personally believe in Him as Savior]" Hebrews 9:12..

Go back and read the second paragraph again ... The Atonement is an act done by God! Yet somehow, we humans sometimes doubt that it is enough. And that, my friends, is called unbelief! We believe the lie of the Enemy that maybe we don't deserve the Atonement because we haven't done enough -- haven't prayed enough or in the right way; haven't served in the Church enough; haven't been perfect enough; haven't tithed enough; haven't been "Christian" enough! 

Even Abraham struggled with this notion. God's covenant with Abraham included the promises that are still affecting the world today... that God would show Abraham a land and make him a great nation and the father of many [the nation of Israel was the fulfillment]; that Abraham would receive personal blessings [a great name, and a son in his old age, both of which were fulfilled]; and in Abraham's "seed", all the families of the earth would be blessed [fulfilled through Jesus Christ, by whom we have been blessed with Salvation]. Yet, there were times Abraham struggled with waiting on the Lord and took matters into his own hands, thinking his own deeds might be enough of a subtle attempt to manipulate God into following through on His promises. Abraham was beginning to doubt God's promise of a son, so he listened to his wife's suggestion of arranging [themselves] for a son to be born to Abraham. And we know where that got them! 

The truth is, we often question God's promise of the Atonement for those who believe in faith in His Son. Shouldn't we be doing something to prove we are worthy of God saving us? Shouldn't we be trying harder to forgive everyone who has hurt us? Isn't there something else I need to confess and repent for? But we must discern when our "doing" becomes more about focusing on ourselves and our "works", rather than a genuine response of love towards the One who has done the sacrificial work of reconciliation.

I can explain it in these simple terms, as it applies to me. God has given me a gift to write. And I write for Him, just to please Him, with no expectation of fame, wealth, power, status or "extra points in Heaven". I know He gave me this gift and I use it in response to His love in giving it to me. That should be how we approach the Atonement of Jesus. Here is the heart of the matter: We can do nothing to enhance the gift His Atonement has brought us. Repentance, forgiveness, holiness and righteousness on our part can only be "done" [or accomplished] by the grace of God, which is HIS POWER IN US, to do what we can't do on our own! We can't do anything to add to what Jesus accomplished by His sacrificial death on the Cross! There is nothing we can do to add one iota to the all-sufficiency of the sacrifice He made to purify us from our sins. 

As we contemplate the birth of the Christ child this week, let us see the "big picture" of just what that gift of love has given us. God, Himself, came to redeem us in the form of an innocent baby to the backwaters of the Roman Empire. Yet, He was willing to pay the exorbitant price demanded by our Holy God to deliver us from eternal death into Eternal Life, and it cost Him dearly. He suffered a brutal death and shed His own blood so that we who believe in Him would not have to pay the price we owed. So, let us never doubt that what He paid was enough; let us never think that anything we can offer is needed or warranted. By His blood we are all healed of our sins! Let us praise Him because He is worthy of praise for His great love for us. The Atonement is the greatest gift we will ever receive!

Colossians 1:20      And by the blood of His cross, everything in heaven and earth is brought back to Himself—back to its original intent, restored to innocence again!

January 26, 2021

What Do We Do While We're Waiting On God?

Over the past couple of weeks my husband and I have had many conversations with people who are, frankly, perplexed and deeply concerned about our present circumstances. And their state of confusion is not necessarily coming as disappointment from a political or social perspective. These are people from all walks of life; all economic and social backgrounds; and they are all worried. They all recognize that we've never seen such division and discord in this nation in our lifetimes, and there is a deep sense something dark is hanging over the land.

I will be honest and tell you that for those who do not have God as their anchor, it is difficult for me to offer any solace or suggestion to ease their anxiety. There is no "quick fix" for the mess we're in, and I'm afraid their normalcy bias keeps them from seeing the truth of what our future may look like.

Even the Believers are struggling; some because they just don't have a template for what happens when God doesn't automatically restore us or rescue us from our troubles. They're beginning to get a picture that doesn't fit the narrative they've been told about our exceptionalism, or match the visions and dreams of the modern-day "prophets". There are others who have discerned [and accepted] that our disobedience and rebellion against God calls for repentance and humility and yes, even discipline. For them it is a matter of dealing with God's silence. And I will tell you that it has been somewhat comforting to know that I am not alone in my eagerness to hear from Him.

I am not fearful, nor am I deluded. I am not trying to convince myself that things will be back to normal soon, or that nothing is going to happen. I am a watchman on the wall and I see the darkness coming. But along with many others whom the Lord has designated watchmen, I have been determining what my role is while we are waiting for God to speak into this realm. I am trying to be patient as I wait on the Lord. I know that this waiting has a purpose -- to strengthen my resolve to complete my Kingdom assignment; to seek more knowledge and wisdom in Him; to seek His face and rest in Him; to focus on the hope that is in Him. So it's been mostly me talking and praying to Him in the early, early morning hours; and waiting for instructions.

Then yesterday, the Holy Spirit prompted me with His wisdom and counsel.  His advice went something like this: "You know, don't you, that even in His silence, the Father is busy and working behind the scenes in the events of the world? So, while you're waiting, you can still use your spiritual giftings and Teach, Equip, and Train, and Encourage. The Father has given you those assignments and the ability to do them, in and out of season, in good times and bad. You don't think the Enemy is going to just sit back and wait for you to hear the Father's voice, do you? While you're on that wall, you're seeing things that the Body of Christ is unprepared for. Why don't you use your gifts and your calling to help them see the things coming on the earth more clearly; then teach them the spiritual tools they will need to press into the Father; to train them to seek their own gifts; to encourage them to go to a higher level of intimacy and power with God, so that our nation does not have to descend into further darkness?  

Just because our Father is silent in this moment of time doesn't mean that I have to be -- or that you need to be! We all have been given gifts that can be used to educate, empower, and encourage ourselves [and each other] to assist God and His angels in defending His Kingdom here on earth. Those gifts work, in conjunction with the keys of the Kingdom, to make us "living stones" that are responsive and reactive to the Spirit within us to become more and more like the foundational stone of our lives, Jesus Christ. 

Jesus walked in all the gifts. He is our model, and He expects us to use our gifts in these troubled times. "As the Father has sent me, I also send you" (John 20:21). So while I am waiting on God and the Lord to reveal their next move, I will move to teach and equip and train and encourage Christians to persevere in the coming years and to walk in the power and authority as Kingdom ambassadors, citizens, and priests. I call on my brothers and sisters in Christ to join me in sharing their gifts. I ask those who have been called to intercede in prayer and fasting to teach and encourage others to follow them. I ask those who have been called to lead others to seek the Face of the Lord in intimacy and spirit  to help others experience that encounter with God. I ask those who have been called to worship to bring their talents, and change the atmosphere with voices full of joy and reverence. I ask those who have been called to give Words of Knowledge to reveal the Lord's prophecies over lives and watch as the plans of the Evil One to destroy those lives are stopped in their tracks. And I ask those who have been called to bring healing to the broken-hearted to help the wounded overcome their pain and to both give and receive forgiveness, the biggest stumbling block to our freedom in Christ.

In summary, I know many of you are also experiencing God's silence right now. You are not receiving answers to your questions or prayers. But this is where the rubber of our faith hits the proverbial road, and we must not submit to Evil, but rather stand in our identity, our assignments, and our callings. There is much we can and should and must be doing while we wait. Do not cower in fear. Do not retreat into numbness. And do not look back. We go forward in boldness and with the spiritual insight and knowledge that God goes with us. He is still a God of miracles and hope; and we steward that hope, even when things seem hopeless. So, let us engage with Him and in our gifts and callings, and let's transform lives, nations, and the world!

Psalm 37:7-9    Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

December 28, 2018

We Have Spiritual Gifts To Unwrap

     The rush of the Christmas season has passed, we've all over-eaten, and stacks of presents are everywhere. The joy of watching your loved ones unwrapping their gifts with joy can be the highlight of the holiday. Can you imagine how pleased it makes the Holy Spirit when we open ourselves up to receiving the gifts He has for us?  It is important for both the Kingdom of God and the Body of Christ that we believe, first of all, that we have gifts to be used; and secondly, that we earnestly desire to receive them all.
     I say this, because I know of some Christians who have expressed that they don't think they've been given any gifts, and others who think that desiring gifts is somehow exalting themselves. I personally do not believe that either of these suppositions is true. To begin with, 1 Corinthians, Chapter 12 is one of our "go to" Biblical destinations to find out what the Word says about our gifts. Verse one confronts an obvious stumbling block among the believers in the Church of Corinth. Various translations record Paul saying this about the spiritual gifts: "I don't want you to be confused about the gifts -- or misinformed -- or uninformed". So this was a very important topic in the First Century Church! So should it be today.
     Paul continues in what he wants the Corinthians to understand ... "Now there are distinctive varieties and distributions of endowments (gifts, extraordinary powers distinguishing certain Christians, due to the power of divine grace operating in their souls by the Holy Spirit) and they vary, but the [Holy] Spirit remains the same". Paul goes on to explain that the Holy Spirit distributes these various empowering gifts to different people so that the Body of Christ [when considered as a whole] can expand the influence of the Kingdom of God upon the earth.
      There is to be no competition or envy among believers concerning the gifts because we all have a vital part to play in the Kingdom, and the gifts are the divine power source from God that confirms His Word and establishes His righteousness on the earth.  When we properly use the gifts imparted to us, the Body of Christ is equipped to change the world. You see, the imparted gifts are not for us, they are for the benefit of others. Yet, today, there seems to be such controversy and much discord among the Body regarding the pursuit of the gifts. 
     If someone is operating in their gift(s) -- yes, one may be empowered with more than one gift by the Holy Spirit -- I have seen that person ostracized and excluded from the Body because they don't resemble everyone else. I think there are times we have forgotten this important advice from Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:19: "A diversity is required, for if the body consisted of one single part, there wouldn’t be a body at all!" In other words, we should support each other's differences and be thankful for the wisdom of the Holy Spirit in bestowing the impartations from God. Furthermore, we should be using our own divine power source to encourage others. Paul exhorts us in 1 Corinthians 14:1 to "earnestly desire and cultivate the spiritual endowments (gifts)". 
     There is a beautiful picture of this encouragement in Acts 13 where inspired prophets and teachers of the Church at Antioch heard this from the Holy Spirit: "I have called Barnabas and Saul to do an important work for me. Now, release them to go and fulfill it.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they laid hands on them and sent them off. Here, we see the Church working with the Holy Spirit to equip and send believers out into the world to share the Word of God and His Kingdom message. 
     Now, the modern Church does send missionaries into the world to share the Gospel. And, yes, many of them are endowed with spiritual gifts. And I daresay that these gifts of revelation, wisdom, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, and tongues are well-used and well-received among unbelievers who are seeing the manifestation of the Most High God for the first time.
     So, why is it so hard to get the Western Church to embrace the desire and pursuit of these divine gifts? Why are they so neglected, or even misused? What builds the Church up more as the representative of God's kingdom -- denying His empowerment, or selflessly strengthening and encouraging the Body to manifest His power and glory?
     I can only speak for myself, but as I have grown in my relationship with Jesus, I have also sought more of the Holy Spirit and God's empowerment through Him. Because He lives in me, I have access to all the gifts, and I have no problem saying I earnestly desire and pursue all of them! I know that these gifts provide supernatural power and ability to demonstrate God to those I come in contact with. I want to drink deeply of the Spirit [and cooperate with Him] to help unlock the potential of the gifts in others. Just as on Christmas morning, the anticipation of unwrapping a pile of gifts is something we look forward to. It's time for the Church to apply the same expectancy towards the spiritual gifts. Let us desire their distribution, activation and operation in our lives!

1 Peter 4:10    As each of you has received a gift (a particular spiritual talent, a gracious divine endowment), employ it for one another as [befits] good trustees of God’s many-sided grace [faithful stewards of the extremely diverse powers and gifts granted to Christians by unmerited favor]. 

May 20, 2018

Unpacking 1 Corinthians 12

     I think I'm safe in saying that 1 Corinthians, Chapter 12 is one of the most deliberated chapters in the Bible. At the heart of the chapter is the subject of spiritual gifts given to believers by the Holy Spirit. In fact, Paul begins his letter to the growing Church in Corinth (scholarly estimates suggest the number of members was between 40 and 150) by telling them he doesn't want them to be "confused" about spiritual gifts. Other translations say, "I don't want you to be uninformed [or misunderstand] the gifts", so obviously the Early Church also struggled with coming to terms with the divine gifts distributed by the Holy Spirit.
     And I have to admit that I have not heard a teaching in the churches I have attended over the years that satisfied all the questions I, myself, had. And, as I am again making my way through the Bible [in chronological order], and I reached this important chapter, I figured it was time to develop my own understanding according to the revelation God would give me as I dug in.
     Let me say this before I begin to share my apprehension of Chapter 12 ... this time I am reading from The Passion Translation, and understanding jumped out at me so quickly as I saw the methodical way Paul "unpacked" the knowledge he had received from his own revelations. I no longer saw all the various interpretations different pastors had given this chapter; nor was Scripture tainted with denominational doctrine that obscured its clear meaning. At least this is how 1 Corinthians, Chapter 12 was revealed to me. And of course, I urge you to study it yourself with the help of the Holy Spirit, free of any man's bias [including mine]. With that caveat, let me begin to share what I have perceived...
     Paul says he wants to impart to the believers in the Church in Corinth this conviction: It is the power and influence of the Holy Spirit that reveals that Jesus is God, and reveals the understanding of of His Word. Then 1 Corinthians 12:4 says this same Holy Spirit "distributes many different varieties of spiritual gifts". And the Passion Translation actually says "continues to distribute" these gifts. [Note: none of the other translations give any indication that the spiritual gifts were not for all believers, for all time]. These gifts include: the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, the gifts of faith, gifts of healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, discerning of spirits, speaking in different kinds of tongues, and interpretation of tongues. I will elaborate more on these in a moment.
     Verse 5 then says that the Lord Yahweh (Jesus who is One with the Father) "apportions to believers different varieties of ministries". These ministries [apportioned by grace] are the ministries of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher. Notice that Scripture calls these roles ministries or areas of service, NOT offices in the Church heirarchy. And then it is verse 6 that struck me as so important. I want to give it to you in several different translations so that it is clear that the meaning is consistent. Verse 6 in the Passion Translation reads, "The same God distributes different kinds of powers that accomplish different results through each believer’s gift AND ministry as He energizes and activates them". The New Living Translation says, "God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us".  The Amplified version reads, "And there are [distinctive] ways of working [to accomplish things], but it is the same God who produces all things in all believers [inspiring, energizing, and empowering them]".  And finally, the King James version says, "And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all."
     Then Paul summarizes it all by saying, "Each believer is given continuous revelation by the Holy Spirit to benefit not just himself but all".  First of all, I want to say that I truly believe Scripture is telling us that every believer has the Holy Spirit in us, and since the Holy Spirit possesses all the spiritual gifts, we each have ALL the gifts in us, and they are available to us as the Holy Spirit leads us to use them. Secondly, I also believe that verse 5 makes it clear that those five ministries [of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher] are available for each believer. We should all be walking in the gifts [as distributed by the Holy Spirit] and in a ministry [as apportioned by Jesus]. Not what you've been taught in Church? Let's go back and consider verses 4 through 6 again:

It is the same Holy Spirit who continues to distribute many different varieties of gifts.
The Lord Yahweh is one, and He is the one who apportions to believers different varieties of ministries.
The same God distributes different kinds of powers that accomplish different results through each believer’s gift and ministry as He energizes and activates them.

     Can you see it now? Each believer has the availability of the spiritual gifts and a ministry. But they are activated and energized by the power of the Holy Spirit in us. Unless one is in communion with the Holy Spirit within themselves, I believe these gifts and ministries can be neglected [at the least] and/or misused [at the worst]. What we need to comprehend is that the spiritual gifts Paul talks about in Chapter 12 are the power source for Christians! If we are not walking in that divine power, or ministering to the Body of Christ in one of the five service ministries, then how much influence do you think Christians or the Church are going to have in the world? 
     A very good friend of mine, who is growing and maturing in her faith at an exponential rate, asked me a wise and insightful question.... Couldn't we operate in more than one gift and more than one ministry? And my first thought was, The Bible doesn't say we're restricted to just one, and then my second thought was, Shouldn't we want to? When you consider the purpose of the spiritual gifts and the ministries, it becomes obvious [to me, at least] that in order for the Kingdom of God on earth to be established, the Body of Christ/Church must step into the identities and gifts to which they've been called.
    Consider the purpose of the spiritual gifts: Word of Wisdom: a revelation gift of the Holy Spirit to impart an understanding of strategy and insight that only God can give to unlock the hearts of people and free the corporate body of Christ to move forward under God's direction. Word of Knowledge: the gift of a revelation message from the Holy Spirit; often through an impression of thought in one's mind, a vision, an audible voice that gives understanding of a situation that cannot be known by the natural mind. Gift of Faith: faith that comes from the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit; released in a person's life to do the [miracle] works of God on earth. Gift of Healing: the power of the Holy Spirit [that raised Jesus from the dead] released in a believer to heal the sick here on earth. Miraculous Works of Power: this is a gift that gives a believer the divine power to do what Jesus did [still a storm, feed thousands, walk on water, cast out demons, turn water into wine, raise the dead, destroy cancer in a body]. Gift of Prophecy: to be given divine revelation from the Holy Spirit to speak the word of God in proclaiming God's will over a person's life or a particular situation. Scripture says this is one gift that every believer should desire and never despise [1 Corinthians 14:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20]. Gift of Discernment: the divine ability to recognize the origin of spirits; whether from God or demons; to hear the voice of the Lord clearly. Gifts of Tongues and Interpretation of Tongues: this is the gift of a divine language for the edification of the Body of Christ/Church and its interpretation [not the same as speaking in tongues, a personal prayer language].      
     Paul goes on in the rest of Chapter 12 to impress upon the Corinthian believers that these gifts are for the benefit of maturing the Church into one effective Body for Christ [with many parts]. There should be no competition for status or position within the Body, and he emphasizes over and over that collectively, they are the body of Jesus, "and each of you is a unique and vital part of it". He then goes on in the final verses to reiterate that God has placed in the Church apostles, prophets, teachers, those with gifts of miracles, gifts of divine healing, gifts of tongues, etc. And his final admonition in the chapter is to say that "not everyone [is these things or has these gifts]". BUT, my spirit discerns that he is not saying that only a select few receive them, but rather, that the Body is not made up of all apostles, or that only the gift of healing is evident in the Body. In fact, he says in verse 31, You should all constantly boil over with passion in seeking the higher gifts. And I believe those five ministries and the nine spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit are the "higher" gifts he is referring to. [Keep in mind there are other "services/ministries" and "gifts" that build up the Body, such as Deacon, Steward, Charity, Hospitality, Helps, etc].  
     Finally, I believe that we can grasp the bigger picture of Paul's message in 1 Corinthians by taking a look at his letter to the Ephesian Church: The ministries given to all believers by the grace of God "will function until we all attain oneness in the faith, until we all experience the fullness of what it means to know the Son of God, and finally we become one perfect man with the full dimensions of spiritual maturity and fully developed in the abundance of Christ". Furthermore, "every member [of the Body] has been given divine gifts to contribute to the growth of all; and as these gifts operate effectively throughout the whole body, we are built up and made perfect in love".
     So, can you see that God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit delight in a Church in which every believer constantly and passionately seeks to fill his particular ministry role, using any and all gifts he/she receives from the Holy Spirit to empower Christ's Body on earth to walk in His image? Can you see how equipped the modern Church would be to battle against the lies and false values the Enemy has instilled in our culture, society, and yes, holy assemblies? I don't know about you, but I want all that God wants to give me, and I want to give my all to Him! Lord, I answer your call and receive as many of Your divine gifts as You will give me. I thank You for the opportunity to serve You!

Ephesians 4:6     And He is the perfect Father who leads us all, works through us all, and lives in us all!