Friday, April 29, 2011

Thor (2011) Not A Review Rather A Brief Thor-ght From a Thor-ally Forgettable Movie

I’m not sure I like the  remediation of the Marvel comic character Thor. I went to see it in 3D simply to fill in a couple of hours on a Friday night while my wife was in a Math’s exam. Thor of course is the Norse God of thunder and war, and also a character in the Marvel comic world. The movie is a retelling of his origins as a super hero.

There is an interesting blend of Myth and Science fiction, some good CGI of other worlds, Chris helmsman provides some eye candy for the ladies, and Anthony Hopkins adds some weight and solemnity to the role of Odin and Natalie Portman is allowed to be a romantic interest that is both intelligent and human. I did appreciate the fact that Director Kenneth Branagh knows how to use 3D as a tool to enhance story telling rather than as a gimmick. The 3D wasn’t all in your face, you can guess which way the spear or rock or whatever is going to come. The sweeps through space and across iconic South Western US desert landscape were exceptional. My daughter couldn’t help but wonder when the 3D technology will get over the whole looking like a diorama thing and become more authentic.

However I found myself coming away from this retelling of ancient and comic myth with a couple of reflections from my Christian perspective.

The first came from a line in a dialogue between the character Erik Selvig (played by Stellan Skarsgard) , a mentor to Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster character, and Thor (chris Hemsworth). Thor has been exiled after disobeying his father, showing his arrogance and lack of maturity. Now on earth he is thwarted from regaining his hammer and his powers by his father words only one who is worthy can weld such power. Selvig comments that “It’s only when we realise that we don’t have all the answers that start to be able to ask the right questions?”. I couldn’t help but wonder about the western evangelical approach to the gospel when he said this. The Myth we hold on to is that Jesus is the answer. We’ve got all the answers and I wonder if that has meant that we haven’t been able to ask the right questions and learn. Is it part of the reason that there is a mistrust of fundamentalism; I also see it is a reason that it is a good thing that in the west the church is being removed from it privileged position in the centre of our society.

Maybe instead of being the Answer, we need to embrace Jesus as our question, the one who we, the church, let ask us the questions. In my reading of the gospel that does seem to be the basic relationship between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day. They were pious and dedicated and thought they knew the answers and Jesus, with grace, challenges all their perceptions. Just maybe Jesus is the question, the one who initiates and guide us on our quest. We have traded Jesus who is the way the truth and the life which are words which for me at least invoke journey and discovery with the word Answer that denote an end and a stopping. This is not original thought and I looked through my bookshelves for the book of Leonard Sweets that first twigged me to this upside-down understanding of the kingdom of God.

The second thing that I reflected on was that the response of Thor to this in the next couple of scenes was to engage in relationship with humans. He listens and shares his understanding of things with Jane Foster as a fellow being after having had a superior attitude before this and then there is a scene of breakfast the next day where Thor is seen serving Jane and Selvig and , and Jane’s comic sidekick Darcy breakfast. From my Christian perspective I couldn’t help but see the biblical idea of leadership as being a servant, the word diakonos ; literally means to wait tables. This is the posture that comes when we are willing to lose the arrogance of thinking we have the answers to being willing to ask the right questions.

Am I right to draw such reflections on the Christian faith in the west, from someone elses myths and meanderings??? As a brief answer I was amazed at the mixed symbolism of the movie particularly when Odin puts his judgement on Thor's hammer the image of a Celtic knot appears in the shape of a triangle, without beginning and end. Which of course is a symbol of the trinity.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Stones Been Rolled Away: A Prayer For Easter Sunday and The easter Season

I have used this prayer over the past few years on Easter Sunday or when I have preached in the Easter season.  I thought I would post it in time for Easter Sunday but I missed (thus two posting today). Please feel free to use it during the Christian season of Easter or on any Sunday which of course is when we celebrate Jesus Risen from the grave.

i have used it with the congregation doing the responses in the "the stones been rolled away" refrain and also had multiple voices do the stanza's (if I may call them that) giving it a chance for m,ale and female, young and (not so young) or various ethnic voices to be heard and to celebrate  "He Is Risen".


Lord of the star fields, ancient of days

Our mighty and gracious God
You spoke and all that is came into being
You formed us from clay and breathed your life into us
We were made in your image to obey and enjoy you always
Yet we turned our backs on you and went our own way
Death entered the world and injustice flourished
While still able to reach great heights and good
We are capable of such darkness, cruelty and the worst of sin
What hope is there for this fallen humanity?

The stones been rolled away
All: The body is not there
Jesus is risen
All: He is risen indeed

Loving God you sent your son Jesus, to heal the rift between us,
To show and teach us what you were like
Jesus spoke of love and righteousness
Of you, O God in heaven, as Abba
A parent who loves and sustains us
Jesus healed the sick; spoke for justice, cared for the poor,
He was the shinning light of the world
Yet we betrayed him, condemned him
We beat him and mocked him and nailed him to a cross
He died there and was buried
What hope is there for us?

The stones been rolled away
All: The body is not there
Jesus is risen
All: He is risen indeed

In this there is great joy beyond compare
You did not leave Jesus in the grave
Sin and death have not won
Jesus death paid the price for our sin
Jesus rising gives us new life,
Life free from sin, lived in gods embrace
Life that goes beyond the grave to eternity
O God of power that raised Jesus you are at work in us.
You sent your Holy Spirit to those who believe
That we may bear witness that Jesus is alive
O God we have a great hope to share

The stones been rolled away
All: The body is not there
Jesus is risen
All: He is risen indeed

Yes Jesus is alive and we affirm that victory
There is forgiveness that smashes the chains of sin and shame
There is light that shines and vanquishes darkness
There is another chance when we’ve blown all our chances
There is hope that reaches down, even to our deepest despair
There is healing for sickness of bodies, mind and soul
There is life even as we face death; it has lost its sting
There is power to withstand and overcome injustice
There is love that can restore broken lives and relationships
There is joy that dances even in the face of sorrow
We are an Easter people and alleluia is our song

The stones been rolled away
All: The body is not there
Jesus is risen
All: He is risen indeed

A Prayer of Thanksgiving and Confession

This is simply a prayer of thanksgiving and confession where I have tried to keep a poetic and pithy rhythm. which can lead to a congregational response "we praise you" and 'Forgive us Lord"

We do indeed rejoice because you are our God
You made us
You saved us
You lead and guide us
You call us to follow you
And to be your people
Thank you Lord.

For the wonder of your creation
We praise you
The majestic array of the star fields at night
The explosion of colour in the blooming of flowers (spring line)
the explosion of colour as leaves glory at their job well done, turn and fall  (autumn line)

For Jesus Christ our saviour
We praise you
That he became one of us even a servant
That in his life and death and resurrection we have new life

For your Holy Spirits presence
We praise you
You as our comforter and councillor leading us in the truth
You work within us to make us more and more like Jesus

For your provision and providence
We praise you
You have surrounded us with good things
Our friends, family and this good earth are a gift from you

For the fact you are with us in the midst of life
We praise you
In the midst of it all you call us to be still and know you are God
But not to stagnate rather to come and follow you and be fishers of men.

We confess our sins before you
O gracious and loving God
We have done things we should not have done
We have left undone the good you call us to

Forgive us Lord
For our pride that wants it our way
That looks first to our wants and needs
For our greed that wants it all
Even to the detriment of others and your creation

Forgive us Lord
We have not loved as you love
We are slow to show grace
We are not always moved to mercy
We consume poverty and suffering like entertainment

Thank you Lord
That as we have confessed our sins you are faithful and just and forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness

For this fresh new start in you
We praise you
Fill us a fresh with your spirit
Renew us to worship and serve you


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Healing and the L Plate; A Reflection on Healing from a Series on Gifts of The Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12, 1-11, James 5: 13-20

This is the final sermon in the series I've posted on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. It's hard to look at Healing int this light as I fear that when we do we can easily get caught up in the personalities of people who are seen as miracle or faith healers  and loose sight of good solid biblical teaching.
We’ve been working our way through a series of messages looking at the gifts of the Holy Spirit, that is manifestations of the Spirit in and through us the body of Christ. Manifestations of the Spirit so that we may be the body of Christ, empowered to love and serve one another, and embody Christ in the world around us, empowerment to be witnesses to Jesus. Today we are going to finish that series by look at the gift of healing.

My oldest daughter is learning to drive at the moment. She’s got what is called a learners licence, it means she can drive a car with an instructor alongside and that one of the things she needs to do is display one of these it’s an L plate a learner’s plate. When it comes to talking about healing I have to admit that I’m a learner. I believe God heals people today in answer to prayer, that’s scriptural, we have healing mentioned in both list of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that Paul gives us in 1 Corinthians 12. I believe that we should pray for people who are sick that they may be healed, that scriptural, as we had in the reading from the book of James. Healing prayer has touched my life directly, I’ve mentioned several times about my wife Kris’s experience, that at Bible College her asthma was getting worse and worse to the point that she was contemplating heading back home and not finishing her training. Then she she was healed of asthma as a direct result of Deloris Winder’s having a word of knowledge and praying for Kris.

Sadly I’ve prayed for people and they haven’t got better. As a young youth leader one of the events that impacted my life was one of our youth group girls, dying of leukaemia. Christians all round the country had prayed for her. She had gone into remission, then had the disease come back, we again prayer and she went into remission for an unheard of second time, then after several years, she again became sick and well we prayed but she died. I remember being asked to go round and take some photo’s of this girl just before she went in for her final chemo therapy so she could have a photo with her with her own hair and within a matter of weeks that photo sat on top of the coffin at her funeral.

One of the most amazing sermons I have ever heard was given by a women confined to a wheel chair who suffered from cerebral palsy. We had to crane forward to hear her words and concentrate to distinguish what she had to say as her body twitched and her speech was distorted by that. She talked of her journey and how she had been made to feel unwelcome in certain churches because they had prayed for her with faith and she hadn’t got better. They made her fell like her faith was lacking. Yet she told us of her deepening relationship with God in the midst of her suffering and the abundance of life she had in Christ.

People today say that science disproves God and takes away our need for such things as faith healing. Yet the reality is that medical science is just the application of God given wisdom and knowledge on how we are made and put together and how the created world can be used or to heal.

In our country with our welfare state we forget that the church in the past has really been at the forefront of healing. The church and Christians have played significant roles in developing what we call modern medical science. In America and Europe the oldest most established places of healing and hospitals have names associating them to various church groups and Saints. Monasteries used to be the equivalent of hospitals in early Christian Europe. They were seen as places of hospitality for the stranger, education and learning, peace and safety, succour for the poor and of healing: where the sick were tended and cared for.

WE also need to be reminded how much Christians and Christian groups are part of bring health and healing into the poorer and developing places in the world. We pray for Diane and Jim Young who are missionaries in Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world. Diane is there as a doctor as a healer, using her skills and abilities and her faith, to treat both those who can afford to pay and using that to subsidise a free clinic. A recently read an article by a journalist who spoke of often being the last person out of the worst trouble and disaster spots in the world and as they were jumping the last plane out they noticed that all that was left behind were mad doctors and Christians, there to care for the poor and treat the sick and injured.

These people must be seen as being given a gift of healing. While my mum was dying someone said as they had been praying for her they had a sense that she was being surrounded by angles and I replied ‘yes she was some of them were beings of light, hid from our sight, summoned on their wings, and others were dressed in white and had come by bus. One Filipino nurse who joined as us I said the Lord’s Prayer with my mum said she was a nurse because it was how she was called to serve her master. We can often forget that all this medicine and healing and these carers are a gifts from God.

But beyond that I believe that we are called to pray for the sick and that God does heal people today through prayer.

Healing and the fall?

Sickness and death are a result of our sinful fallen world. When Christ came to conquer sin and usher in his kingdom he did not only make it possible for our sins to be forgiven but also for the consequences of the fall to be forgiven as well. I need to emphasise that I do not believe illness or disability is a result of personal sin, but of our fallen world. The book of Job in the Old Testament wrestles with the problem of bad things happening to good people and The book rejects the wisdom of the day that people suffered bad things, disasters and illness and suffering because they had done something to offend God. In Luke 13 Jesus is told of a group who meet a horrible death at the hand of Herod and he mentions an incident where eighteen people are crushed by a falling wall in Jerusalem and says these people did not suffer this because they were worse than anyone else, rather we all need to repent and turn again to God to have our sins forgiven.

Does that mean that everyone we pray for will be healed? Again in Jesus day there were many crippled folk at the pool of Solomon waiting for the waters to rippled by an angle and Jesus only healed one of them. In the church at Corinth there was a faction who thought that they had become spiritual beings like angles that because of Christ’s death and resurrection they had fully entered into the kingdom of God. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul takes great pains to explain to them about the death and resurrection of Christ and what that will mean in terms of our final destinations. He points out that we live in the tension between the already, Christ’s kingdom has come and the not yet, that there is still a final consummation to come where we will receive new bodies and eternal life. The reality is that while sin and death are defeated, death is the last enemy to be overcome by Christ. In our world in this present age, people will and do get sick and die.

Healing and faith

I hinted at it before but there is a connection in scripture between faith and healing. Jesus tells the women who had menstrual problems and is healed when she but touches the hem of his cloak that her faith has made her well. In the list of gifts we had read out to us faith is said to be a gift and it is linked with the gift of healing and the gift of performing miracles. It’s never said who has the gift of faith people who pray for miracles and healing or those who are prayed for. There is a real sense however that the faith needed for such activity comes from God, it’s not something that we can psyche ourselves up to do. It shows I think that healing comes totally from God and is as with all the gifts a sign of God’s grace. If it requires faith God is able to supply that as well.

Some teaching I often hear that connects with the idea of healing and faith comes from the prosperity doctrine arm of the Pentecostal movement; you may have heard it summed up in the expression that we should name it and claim it. That going to a doctor after you’ve been prayed for or continuing on medication is a sign of disbelief and having little faith. The press is very good at picking up stories of people in Christian fringe groups refusing treatment because they want to trust God to heal. I just have to say that I don’t see those things as being signs of doubt or disbelief. That’s not the case, you just don’t know but maybe God’s healing will come through us going to the medical profession and through medicine. Also if it is a genuine healing that takes place, it will stand up to medical scrutiny. I worked at St Columba in Tauranga for a couple of years and an elderly lady there was prayed for healing from a degenerative disease. One of elders called round to see her a week later and the women’s face was beaming, she invited her visitor into the bathroom and said look at this and took hold of the towel rail and proceeded to rise up on to her tip toes and back down to flat feet she did it about twenty times. Her visitor as perplexed until she was told before you prayed I could only do one or two at the most. A month later we were saddened to hear that this women was getting worse again. However after a visit to the doctor she was told that she had improved so much that she didn’t need the high dosage of medicine she was on any more and her decline was a side effect to too much medication. Our faith is in the one who is faithful, in Christ and that will hold up in the face of continuing medical monitoring and care.

Healing and technique
There have been many books written about healing and how to pray for people to be healed. I remember being angry one day as we as a church prayed for the youth group who had, to hear one man whom I respected suggest that the reason that she didn’t get healed was because we had not prayed against certain demonic forces in the right order. Thinking that God was not a lukemia legalist or like some over officious referee wanting to penalise people for any infringement or non compliance, that according to the scriptures our salvation and our wholeness and healing was a result of God’s grace not our work, not our technique or our process. In fact when you look through scripture there does not seem to be any techniques or tips for how to pray for the sick. Naaman the leper is told to go wash seven times in the Jordon River, Elisha doesn’t even go see him but rather sends his servant out to convey the message. Jesus healing encounters don’t really have a pattern. It moves right through from saying to some get up and walk after Jesus had forgiven his sins, spiting in the mud and making a slave for someone eyes. Something you don’t see too much in church right through to simply being told by a non Jewish roman centurion that in his army he simply tells a soldier under his command to do something and it is done, and asking Jesus to do the same. In Acts we have Peter and John being used to heal people again in a variety of ways. Paul does as well and people even get to the point of being out their sick just in case the Apostles shadow will fall on them. The closest we get to any teaching on how to go about healing seems to be in the book of James, where the author tells people who are sick to get the elders to lay hand son them anoint them with oil and pray

This hasn’t been an exhaustive look at the gift of healing. It isn’t a how to. I can’t tell you why God heals some people and other he does not. All I know is that we are called to exercise our faith and to pray for the sick to be healed. It’s amazing often when I pray for the sick I don’t see people healed but I am aware that when we pray there is a real sense of God’s presence and peace and often that is what people need as they face the situation they are in and it gives them the strength to trust God in the midst of it. We are called to walk with and show Christ like care for the sick amongst us. I am amazed at how healing a place the local hospice, run by Presbyterian Support, is even in the midst of death. I’ve mentioned it before but John Wimber the founder of the Vineyard church talked about coming from a tradition with in the Christian faith that did not believe that God healed today. However as he studied the scriptures and questioned that belief and began praying for people he was asked about God not healing everyone and he said all he knew was that he had seen more healing since he started praying for people than when he didn’t.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Prophecy and the Art of Not Being A Clanging Cymbal (1 Corinthians 13-14)

We've been focusing on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The gifts God gives to his people so that we can be the body of Christ and embody Christ in the world. The way we have gone about this is to work our way through the passages in Paul’s epistles in the New Testament that deal with the gifts of the spirit.

Romans 12

We saw in Romans 12 that these various gifts were graciously given by God and that we were not to think to highly of ourselves but use them in service in the body .

Ephesians 4

In Ephesians 4 Paul talks about Christ giving specific gifts to the church and that they were not an end in themselves but rather gifts given so that all may be equipped to minister, use their gifts and grow in maturity. We saw that we are all the ministers and these people are gifts to empower them to be the assistants to the ministers.

1 Corinthians 12-14

Then for the past two weeks we’ve been working our way through Paul’s largest body of teaching on the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12-14.

It starts off with Paul saying he doesn’t want his readers to be uninformed about the gifts of the Spirit. The church was divided into many different groupings and factions and when it came to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, there was an unhealthy focus on the Gift of speaking in tongues. It was seen as being evidence of God’s blessing on a particular group. They saw themselves as the Spiritual ones and others as less Christian or sub Christian because they didn’t manifest this gift openly in public worship.

Many gifts one Spirit, many services One Lord, many works one God

Paul's starts his argument by saying that there are in actual fact many different gifts given by the one Spirit. That the focus is not just on the one, on tongues, but that God wanting to speak and move through his people in a diversity of ways.

One body many parts

He illustrates that by saying that just like a human body needs different parts with different functions to be alive and healthy so it is with the church as the body of Christ. We all need to play our part and we have been given gifts to do that.

Given for the common Good

He moves the focus from being about the individual to the fact that these various gifts are given for the common good. To illustrate that in 1 Corinthians 12 we have two different lists of the various gifts of the spirit. In each list he places speaking in tongues at the end, not to denigrate it or put it down but as a way of correction the thinking of the group of people within the church.

Seek greater gifts but there is a better way

Paul encourages his hearers to seek the greater gifts and then tells them that he can show them a better way. That leads us onto the passage we had read out to us today where Paul tells them that the context for using the gifts of the Holy Spirit is Love. Then he illustrates that context by showing how the gift of prophecy is superior to tongues when it comes to public worship. So our focus today is the gift of prophecy and how not to sound like a clanging gong.

Paul starts his teaching about the better way by saying if I speak with the tongues of angels and men but do not have love I’m just like a loud annoying unmusical clanging gong or cymbal. He cuts right to the heart of the thoughts of the ‘spiritual' group in Corinth. They thought that because they were in Christ that they were now spiritual beings, like the angels, it’s part of the reason that this group had given up on sex even within the confines of marriage. Scholars think that this may also be behind Paul having to teach on head coverings and hair lengths in 1 Corinthians 11, they had decided that as they were now totally in Christ that they didn’t need to follow any of the conventions of their culture in terms of gender identity. They were living as if Christ had come and the kingdom of God was not only inaugurated but consummated. Paul in this section uses a metaphor in this passage from a prominent industry in Corinth to illustrate that is not the case. Corinth was known for its high quality bronze mirrors and at the end of the chapter on Love Paul says now we only see as if in a mirror darkly: The sort of mirror that the quality control people in Corinth would send back to be polished again.

He tells them that they may think their speaking in the tongues of angels and man was a badge of their spiritual supremacy but if there was not love it wasn’t anything. He’s not putting down speaking in tongues here because he goes on to say well any gift even prophecy, or knowledge, another gift highly prized by the Corinthians even wonderful acts of self sacrifice were nothing if we don’t have love for each other.

The evidence of Christ in our lives, of spiritual maturity is Love, Christ like love. Spiritual manifestation could be faked, they came with pagan worship as well as Christian faith. They were no guarantee of Christian ethics, in fact in Corinth they were being used in a unloving way, in one up man ship, to show that I’m more spiritual than you are. There is no way that could possibly be because the sign of Christ in our presence is ... Love.

Paul then goes on in a passage I often preach on at weddings but is for the church to spell out the qualities of this Love. In the diagram we’ve been using as we’ve looked at the Holy Spirit’s work in believers lives, we’ve seen that foundational to that work is changing our character to resemble Christ’s. That is why the longest section of our series on the Holy Spirit is going to focus on the fruit of the Spirit. When Paul talks about Love here note that many of these attributes of Love he later writes as being the fruit of the Spirit working in our lives: The fruit which is the sign that we are growing into maturity in Christ; that we are ripening as we abide in the vine. At the heart of the Christian faith is Love is the care and concern we have for each other and how we live that out. People will know about Jesus, because we speak in tongues or we sacrifice our lives, give our money away out a sense of duty... no. They we will know Christ because of the Christ like love we have for each other.

Paul is very clear. Love is a better way says Paul because its eternal, this other stuff will pass away when Christ returns but love is eternal . Now people have tried to use this paragraph at the end of Corinthians 13 to say the gifts of the spirit were only for the early church, once we had the new testament we didn’t need them anymore. But the emphasis is very much on Christ’s return. Paul wouldn’t have had the remotest idea that his writing and the gospels that were being written about this time would have become the authoritative collection we have now. And the focus is on seeing him face to face, which the Corinthians thought was the case now. Paul finishes his letter by explaining the physical resurrection from the dead when Christ returns as being different than now. Only when that happens will we not need the gifts of the Spirit.

So Paul says to the Corinthians to stop acting like children. You know what it’s like at Christmas with gifts. They are opened and the focus is on the gifts, we’ve got some new toys to play with and look at mine isn’t it cool. Then you’ve got the teenager stage haven’t you, Oh I wish you’d got me the other more expensive brand. But says Paul now I am a man and I realise it’s not the gift it’s the love behind the gift. he emphasis is on the one who gives the gift.

I have a stone in my office that James gave me, It didn’t cost a thing but the fact when he picked it up he thought of me is what gives it value. It’s the love that’s important that will last. In fact says Paul there are three things that remain faith, hope and Love and even out of those three the greatest is love. So love seeks the gifts of the spirit yes but in love, as abilities and manifestations from the Spirit that empower us to love.

Prophecy v. Tongues in public worship

Then Paul moves on to talk about why he thinks prophecy is more significant in the context of Public worship than speaking in tongues. He’s not deriding tongues as we will see next week but saying that for him prophecy in public worship is better because it is about Love.

Speaking to God v.Speaking to people

Build up individual v. build up body

Mystery v. intelligible

Speaking in tongues says Paul is directed towards God and builds up the individual believer. It is a prayer language between the person and God. There is nothing wrong with building up the individual believer but it’s not the function or focus of public worship. Prophecy is about speaking to people, its intelligible it is God timeless word spoken in a timely manner; therefore it edifies and builds up the church as a whole. That’s why it’s more significant. It is spoken out of love to encourage and build up the whole body. What is spoken in tongues is a mystery unless it is interpreted when it becomes a form of prophetic utterance. But to speak Gods word builds everyone up.

We tend to think of prophecy in the context of telling the future of foretelling, but in scripture prophecy is telling forth the word of God, applying it to today to our situation. When Paul talks of prophecy we don’t actually have a total grasp on what he is meaning. In contemporary Charismatic understanding in It can be that someone shares a brief word that they felt God had them to give. It could be bring a bible passage. One of the ladies in our congregation talks about her bible study guide that she reads each day and says that it takes the scripture reading and it connects it to what she is going through that day.  I remember one time we had a time of open prayer here at Knox that I really felt one of the prayers prayed was a form of prophetic message for us today. Classically it has been connected with preaching. I hope is when I preach it’s prophetic, not just pathetic, that as well as expounding and explaining God’s word that it is timely and poignant for us today. Some see it as speaking and acting in  away that addresses the social justice issues of our day.

Gordon Fee believes that Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 1 about the resurrection is an example of what Paul considers prophecy. It takes the scriptures and the gospel message and applies it to the question and issue that the church is wrestling with, in this case the correct understanding of eschatology, and how it effects the way they were living as Christians.
Can be negative for non believers v. can be positive for non believers

Paul also goes on to say that prophecy is better in public worship because of the impact it can have on unbelievers who come into meetings. Now 1 Corinthians 14:22 has been used to justify tongues been seen as a positive sign of being filled with the Holy Spirit but that’s hard to justify in the context of the passage. Paul almost says the opposite it’s a turn off. The Corinthians thought it was a sign of Gods favour and blessing but Paul actually suggests that if it is used all the time in public worship then it’s a negative sign. That  uninitiated folk would come in and say it’s a sign that all these folk are crazy. Whereas Prophecy intelligibly speaking the word of God in a timely manner, would have the result of having all secrets revelled and lead to people’s conversion. In public worship it was more loving because it allowed God to speak through his people to the believers to build them up and to the non believers to bring them to Christ.

That’s why Paul says we should all seek to prophecy. We should all seek to hear what God has to say and to share it with one another. What if you’ve miss heard well Paul will go on in this chapter to say its up to the person to say what they believe God is telling them to say and it’s up to the people of God corporately to discern if it is from God. That’s why in 1 Corinthians 12 discernment of spirits and prophecy are closely linked. We need to be flexible in our worship together to allow room for people to speak what they believe God is saying. If you feel God speaking then please write it down and give it to me. Folk we are called to love one another and part of that love for each other is having stuff to share with each other, not only materially, but in the serving of our gifts and in speaking God’s word to one another. You are the body of Christ; you have been filled with God’s spirit he wants to use you to speak his word.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Many Endings But One Conclusion: An Easter Sunday Reflection On The Endings of Marks Gospel

I watched the movie “16 Blocks” recently on DVD. It was a good movie with a gripping story. All the way through the movie runs a theme that the main characters wrestle with: can people change? A criminal who is now giving states evidence against crooked cops is wanting to turn over a new leaf move out west and open a bakery and a warn out cop crippled with guilt has a chance to do something right for a change. They both have the chance to change from their past. I don’t want to ruin the movie by telling you the end. But I do want to tell you that the movie has two endings. On the DVD you can choice to watch the movie with the ending that went out on the cinema release and also an alternative ending. The cinema ending is a typical Hollywood one leaving you smiling, and all warm and fuzzy inside. The alternative ending is sadder and you may need your tissues. But either way at the end of the movie it comes to the same conclusion people can change. Marks gospel is kind of like that movie it too has several endings. Scholars in fact identify three endings: It cuts off abruptly at v 9 and leaves us dangling in the air, there is a shorter ending found on some manuscripts that tries to tie everything together and there is a longer ending that does not appear on early manuscripts but seems to be a later writers attempt to finish Mark’s gospel by rounding it out with all the other gospel narratives about Jesus resurrection. Three different endings but one irrefutable conclusion Jesus is Alive.

Mark starts his ending with an account of the women coming to the tomb.

The women named again as the ones who had faithfully stood at the cross and faithfully followed Joseph of Arimathia to see where Jesus was buried bought spices to anoint Jesus body as soon as the Sabbath had ended. Then having spent the night waiting at first light they went to the tomb wondering as they went who would roll the stone away for them.

They arrive and find the stone already rolled away and a young man dressed in white sitting on the right side of it alarms the women. Their reaction and the young mans opening words “do not be alarmed “ are enough for us to realise that this was no man but rather an angel. Every time people encounter angels in the scriptures they find themselves filled with alarm and fear and the first thing that the angel has to do is calm them down: fear not, don’t be alarmed.

The angel then tells the women that Jesus of Nazarene is not there that he is risen and he is alive, that they are to tell the peter and the disciples that he has gone ahead of them to Galilee and will met with him there.

Then the earliest manuscripts finish up in the air and with great irony. All through Jesus ministry he had told people not to tell about the wonders he had done, its what we call the messianic secret. It’s as if we have been let into the secret of who Jesus is as we read the gospel and the people in his time have to work it out for themselves. But now when the angel tells the women to go and tell the greatest news of all these women who had courageously been at the foot of the cross and had followed Jesus even when his disciples had deserted him are too frightened and do not say any thing.

Scholars have wondered if Mark never really finished his gospel, the whole gospel the feel of being a hurried account of Jesus life all the way through and maybe because of something that happened to him he never finished it off. But the conclusion is very clear. Jesus is alive.

Even if it stops here somewhat up in the air there is a lot for us it’s enough. Peter and the disciples had run away and deserted Jesus. Peter had denied Jesus three times, but in the message from Jesus that he has gone ahead of them to Galilee is Jesus offering them a chance to be reconciled with him to have their sins forgiven and follow him. In John Chapter 21 the disciples say lets go back home lets go fishing and there is the wonderful account of Jesus meeting them there on the lake front and Jesus asking Peter the question do you love me three times giving him the chance to publicly declare himself for Jesus. They may have thought they were running away but according to Mark Jesus went before them to meet with them. Jesus is alive and the invitation to all of us is to come and meet with the risen Jesus Christ. Come and have the past failings and sins forgiven, the slate whipped clean and start afresh following Jesus. If you never have or even if you feel like you’ve blown it and blown it and blown it Jesus offers the chance to start again. He is alive you can meet with him and be renewed.

The faithful women who are rewarded by being the first to hear the good news that Jesus is alive were afraid to tell the others at first. In the other gospel accounts we know that they got over that and told the disciples. But in Mark’s gospel we are left with the invitation to declare what the women know. The gospel leaves it in our hands to proclaim the good news Jesus is risen from the dead just as he said he would do. It is the singularly most important fact for the Christian faith and we are invited to proclaim that at the end of the narrative. With all that it means.

There is also a shorter ending to Marks gospel, which appears in a few later Greek manuscripts.

They reported all these instructions briefly to Peter’s companions. Afterwards, Jesus himself sent out through them the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.

It’s treated as a latter inclusion and in most new translations of the bible it’s not included in the text like the more common longer ending. Scholars say that the language used is totally different than the language Mark uses in his gospel. But again its a different ending with the same conclusion, Jesus is alive. It ends not with the messianic secret, not giving us a chance to declare our own affirmation that Jesus is alive but to add our cry to those of the disciples and apostles and people down through history who Jesus himself has sent out with the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation. It is many endings from one conclusion: Jesus is alive.

It is the end of the hold of sin and death on us. Nicki Cruz was recently in New Zealand invited by affiliates of the gangs in this country to them the story of how the risen Jesus Christ had turned him from a feared gangland warrior into a follow of Christ. You may know the story Niki and his gang the MauMau’s were invited to a gospel meeting by David Wilkinson and they had arranged with their arch rivals to battle it out to the death at this stupid preachers rally. They would lock the doors and the last gang standing would rule it all. But Nikki and many others met Jesus Christ that day. The next day many were seen returning goods they had stolen to their rightful owners. They went and apologised to the police for causing so much trouble asking the police to sign their bibles. Nikki began working with drug addicts and gang members to have their lives turned around. Jesus is alive the power of sin is defeated.

The good news of eternal salvation lead Paul to proclaim ‘death where is your victory, where is your sting death has been swallowed up victory. For those who believe death is not the end but rather it is a doorway through which we step from this world knowing and following Christ to the next where we will see him face to face and dwell in the house of the lord forever. Many endings because of that one conclusion Jesus is alive

Mark's gospel has a longer ending as well. Again it’s pretty well considered by all as a latter addition to the gospel. Possibly even a second century tag on, trying to provide a good rounded end to Mark’s gospel. In the pew bible you will see that it is introduced as ‘An Old Ending To The Gospel’. Again scholars tell us that its form and structure are different than the rest of Marks gospel. What it does is it ties together all the other gospel traditions, Jesus other appearances, to Mary Magdalene recorded in John’s gospel. The two on the road to Emmaus that Luke writes of. He appears to the eleven scalding them for their unbelief, possibly talking of Jesus appearance to Thomas as well. Like Luke and Matthew’s gospel Jesus gives the disciples the commission to go throughout all the world and proclaim the good news. There is an affirmation that Jesus would send his spirit and that the disciples would preform signs and wonders that would be God’s backing up their words. The list reads like a summary of what is recorded in Luke’s sequel to the gospel the book of Acts. The apostles speak in tongues at Pentecost and other times, the sick are healed, Paul is bitten by a snake but lives, demons were driven out, miracles preformed, The stepping on scorpions and drinking poison and not being harmed may be a bit strange to our ears.

Then this longer ending has the ascension and affirms that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the father and the disciples went and did what Jesus had commanded them and the lord worked with them preforming miracles that proved their preaching was true.

Many endings and one conclusion, Jesus is alive.

In this ending the effect of Jesus resurrection is worked out in Jesus being seated at the right hand of the father, but also Jesus being present by his spirit in the lives of his followers. He is at work through them, through us, to spread the good news that Jesus the Son of God is alive and we can know him and be saved from our darkness to live and serve him in his kingdom.

Jesus is alive, our journeys all will have different ending. We will go different ways and face different things in life and by his spirit he is with on that journey. On that journey we too are called to tell the wonderful news we know of Jesus the Son of God and we can have confidence that Jesus will back up the words we have to say.
Like this gospel all who believe in him will have different endings to our journey, and we will be called to proclaim the good news along that journey and Christ will be with us There will be many endings there is one conclusion the tomb is empty, Jesus is alive.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The God Who Moves Through His Body In A Myriad Of Ways (1 Corinthians 12:12-31)

The body of Christ is a metaphor for the church that we have become very familiar with, we are comfortable with it. We use it so often we may be in danger of not being able to hear what Paul has to say to us in passages like 1 Corinthians 12.

We can mistake the body of Christ for what we call the body of the church. The body of the church being the place where people come and sit on Sundays and people get ministered to. The focus can be that ministry is what happens up the front. At its best we are lead together in corporate worship and people use their talents and abilities to do that. At its worse it is like a cinematic moment we walk into a cinema or a theatre and while we have some connection with the people round us and we share a common experience we are simply consumers of what is happening up there. But says Paul we are the body of Christ. It’s an active thing. We all have a part to play. It’s about what happens between us.

We use the idea of the body of Christ to talk about a place where everyone belongs. All who are in Christ belong to the body of Christ. Our recent focus has been on words like inclusive, welcoming of diversity and tolerance. That reflects the fact that just like in the first century the church reflects a great cultural diversity and we have a diversity of understanding about the Christian faith and the focus has had to be on fitting all that together. And the metaphor the body of Christ is used in scripture to express that idea of a diversity of people from different backgrounds and worldviews being bought together in Christ. But when we come to passages that deal with the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Pauls writing that is not the way in which that metaphor is used. It’s not about simply belonging to the body. We are the body of Christ and we all have a part to play.

Paul starts this chapter by saying that he did not what his readers to be uninformed about the gifts of the Holy Spirit and we are working our way through a series of messages looking at the gifts of the Holy Spirit so that we to will not be misinformed about them. The gifts of the spirit are manifestations that the spirit gives to the church and its people so that we can grow in our unity in Christ and be empowered and enabled to witness to Jesus Christ in the way we live together as one and in doing the things Jesus did: Using Paul’s metaphor to be the body of Christ and embody Jesus Christ in the world. The gifts are given to the body so that each part can function properly and the body can work together to achieve what Jesus our head wants us to do.

These days we are able to see the human body more clearly than ever before. For example with computers and advances in medical imaging technology scientists and medical educators working for the national medical library in America have embarked on what is known as the visible human project. That is that they have taken a male and female body that were donated to science and have done xrays, cat scans MRI scans and what that they call cryogenic sectioning to build up a comprehensive visual data base for the study of anatomy . They have created photo real and 3D computer images that show where the various body parts are and how they connect with each other.

You can literally fly through the human body and every part becomes visible. It’s a great tool for the study and understanding of the human body and for medical research and training. It makes for some far out amazing images and computer graphics as well.

However there have been quite a lot of criticisms of the project. It started first with the man’s body and it was open to the criticism that it was not right that a man’s body should be seen as the normal human body. So they added a women to the project. Both bodies had come from convicted killers who had been executed, the bodies were then healthy but there was some question as to whether they could be seen as normative. There were other issues as well. While they were as close to a living human being as we have been able to get they were still without life. They couldn’t show how each body part functioned and how it worked together. It was a dead body and none of the parts worked.

Paul says that we are not the inanimate dead body but a living organism. He says that we are an alive body because the spirit of God dwells within us all. Just like God breathed physical life into the body formed out of clay in the genesis creation narrative God has breathed his spiritual life into the body of Christ. We have all been baptised in the same spirit and we all have been given the same spirit to drink. It’s what makes us alive, it’s what says Paul makes us the body of Christ. There has been some though with the coming of the Pentecostal movement and its mainline cousin the charismatic movement that the baptism in the Holy Spirit was like a second experience apart from Salvation, but Paul does not imply this here he says we are all baptised in the same spirit and we all drink the same spirit. However as Gordon fee maintains there have been times in church history when we have forgotten and ignored the role of the spirit or not had any expectation for the spirit to manifest itself in people’s lives. It not that the church is dead it’s, its forgotten the life spirit that flows through it and this has had to be wakened again and the spirits presence and gift giving to all recognised and awakened again.

The focus of Paul’s body metaphor is that the spirit manifests itself in and through people in different ways, the body is active with all people playing a different part. At Corinth the key issue being addressed in the church was divisions and factions who saw the manifestations of the spirit in their group and particularly speaking in tongues as a badge that they were superior to others. If you didn’t do that then well you were sub-Christian. So Paul again says just like the human body has different parts that play a different role in the whole body functioning so it is with the body of Christ. Not one Gift was exclusively the Gift the manifestation, but we all have been given the spirit and gifts by the spirit to actively use together for the common good.

Paul uses the analogy of the body to show that we don’t despise parts of our body in fact the weaker parts are given special consideration it’s not about elitism between body parts. It’s about cooperation and them all doing their part to function properly. The eyes need the ears and the hand needs the feet. There is unity in one body but diversity in the gifts that are given. The manifestations are not given to show off or as badges of superiority but to be used for the common good. If they are not or if all are focusing on one gift the body does not function well or at all.

Then like you are able to fly through the body like you can with the visible human project, he takes us on another highlight tour of the body of Christ to illustrate his point and bring it home.

Apostles, prophets and teachers

He says that there are people who have roles in the church Apostles, prophets and teachers who are a gift to the whole body and that the body needs to function properly. Some people have wanted to see a hierarchy of gifts built into this list that the word first, second and third implies importance. But apart from the fact that the gifts appear in different orders in different lists it is probably better to see that these first three have a particular role within the church that seems to follow on from each other. The planter of the church, the one who takes the word and make it timely and the one who then fleshes out our understanding and helps us to apply and live out the word in our lives. They are ways that God chooses to speak through and to his people, initially and authoritatively , timely and systematically.

Miracles and gifts of healing

Then we have miracles and gifts of healing. Not only does God want to speak through and to his people he wants to move and minister through us as well. We often read through the gospel narratives and the book of acts with some sort of twenty first century scepticism to the miracle and healing stories, but the body of Christ is just that the hands and fett of Jesus to do the things Jesus did. While we were in Dunedin An evangelist from the fledgling church in Mongolia came and spoke to us and it was amazing to hear the story of whole villages coming to know Jesus, he told some stories of miracles and healing but not many. Ray Coster who was travelling with him said he tried to get his guest to tell more stories of the miraculous things God was doing and the healings but his friend was reluctant his reply was well New Zealand is such a Christian country that he expected such things to be common place here and that we would think such stories passé. Maybe as a church in the west we have become reliant on our own means and our own wealth and we have stopped needing the spirit to move in such ways in our midst. Almost like we have allowed that part of our body to stop functioning.

Helps and guidance

Then we have the gift of helps and guidance, we don’t have a great understanding of what is meant by these gifts. In some translation guidance is interpreted administration, but seems to have in mind more the ability to give good guidance and wise counsel to the body of Christ for it to function properly. For the church as the body to run smoothly the spirit gives these gifts as well. Up front and behind the scenes it God working by his Spirit in and through his people.

Speaking in tongues

Speaking in tongues again comes last in this list Paul has tipped the emphasis of the Corinthians on its head to emphasis his point that there is a diversity in the uses of the gifts, he is not writing this one off or putting in down simply placing it alongside the other gifts not in prominence. Its a way of correcting their thinking.

He then reinforces the idea of diversity in unity and our interdependence on each other by asking the questions are all prophets or teachers do all speak in tongues do all interpret? The expected answer of course is no, no it’s not about uniformity of manifestations but about diversity and interdependence.

Then Paul does two things. He says that his readers should earnestly seek the greater gifts and tells them that he can show them an even better way. This is where the challenge comes for us. We need to seek the gifts that Good gives to speak and move in and through his people. They are not according to the scriptures optional extras like leather upholstery and mag wheels on a car they are the things that make it function when they work together. WE all have the Spirit of Christ dwelling in us and we should ask god to give us the gifts he has for us so we can serve each other and be the body of Christ. Paul’s letter focuses on the internal workings of the church at Corinth and we’ve often taken that to be the focus of the whole scriptures and the metaphor of the body of Christ, its inward looking but Paul is writing to a sick and dysfunctional body and he has to do some internal medicine and we have forgotten that the key of being the body of Christ is so we can embody Christ in the world. The spirit was originally given in Acts 2 so that the people of God would be empowered to witness to Jesus Christ. WE need to seek those gifts so we can do what the body is designed to do. People often see unity of the body as the end goal the great aim but it reality unity is an expression of the love of Christ for us all and it is to show the world about Jesus.

There is a better way says Paul. The focus for the Corinthians had been on the manifestations of the Spirit but Paul now will show them that the context for these gifts is love. It’s not about status but about love, it’s not about the gifts themselves it’s about using them in loving service. They are not manifestations of spirituality they are manifested by the spirit to enable us to love. Love one another and love people in the world who do not know Christ.

We are the body of Christ, the spirit dwells within us. The spirit calls us to love one another and in that love to use the gifts of the Spirit to serve one another and the witness to Jesus Christ.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A God Who Speaks Through and To His People (1 Corinthians 12)

We are working our way through the passages in the new testament that speak about the gifts of the Holy Spirit: We looked at Romans 12 and saw that by grace God gives gifts for his people to use and they are to be used to serve each other and God. In Ephesians 4 we saw that Jesus gave gifts to the church so that all may be built up together in maturity in Christ and be enabled to do the things that God has called us as a body to do. Today we are starting to look at the longest section in scripture on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14.

Like all the epistles in the New Testament Paul is writing to a particular context and occasion and really to understand what he is saying here about the gifts of the spirit we need to understand what that context and occasion is.

Paul had established the church in Corinth and then moved on and as he is travelling and he hears some disturbing news as to what is going on back in Corinth. The church seems to be at war with itself wracked by divisions and different groupings and Paul is writing to correct the sort of thinking that has caused these divisions.

Amongst other divisions there seems to be a group within the church who saw themselves as being the spiritual ones. That as Christ had come they had all the benefits of heaven today and now, Paul finishes his letter by explaining that while Christ has come that the consummation of the kingdom is yet to come when Christ returns. The focus of this group was that they could prove that they were the spiritual ones because of the manifestations of the Holy Spirit in their lives and in particular the gift of speaking in tongues. They saw themselves as being like angelic beings because they spoke in the tongues of angels. They saw these manifestations as badges of their spiritual superiority and Paul has to write to correct this. And that is the context we need to keep in mind when we look at the teaching on the gifts of the spirit and their use in Corinthians 12-14.

Paul starts by saying that he does not want his brothers and sisters to be uninformed about the gifts or manifestations of the Spirit. It was Not that they did not know what they were or they did not use them but rather that they needed to understand more about them and their proper uses. They were like men and machines, we like to operate them the moment we get them and we don’t consult the manual unless it all turns pear shape.

We find ourselves in the same situation today.

Some focus negatively on the gifts of the spirit saying the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not for the church today that they stopped, but this is not to be found in the scripture. Some of us may not teach that but we can live that way, Gordon fee laments that in that case the church has lost touch with the spirit of God in its ongoing life and has settled for the ordinary. We try and do it all in our own strength. Others, like those spiritual ones in Corinth, have majored on the gifts of the spirit and in particular speaking in tongues, traditional Pentecostal teaching used to say that you needed to speak in tongues to be filled with the spirit and some even took it as far as saying you needed to speak in tongues to be saved. They again were seen as badges of spirituality and the focus had been on the manifestations of the spirit not the manifesto. Praise god that changing now. But we need to see what Paul has to say to us

In this first section that we had read out to us today Paul makes three important statements about the gifts of the spirit.

Firstly that the manifestation itself is not the important thing rather the message is. As ex-pagan’s Pauls readers would have been used to spiritual manifestations. People who wanted to make important decisions in their lives would consult oracles, people who supposedly spoke on behalf of a certain deity, these people were sometimes in trance states induced by various drugs or starvation or dancing and from examples we still have the messages they gave were cryptic and hard to understand, there would be weird things associated with these folk, maybe even speaking in tongues. Paul says that these manifestations lead people astray to worship dumb idols. But when the spirit of God speaks it’s intelligible and the focus is on exalting Jesus Christ.

The focus of the gifts of the spirit is to glorify Christ. No one says Paul who is speaking by the spirit of God can say Jesus is cursed. Conversely no one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Spirit of God. To say that meant total allegiance to the one person Jesus Christ. This was why it was important to have an intelligible utterance in public worship not just speaking in tongues because the focus was Christ.

The second thing that Paul says is that the one spirit, God’s spirit gives a diversity of gifts. People often read this passage and focus on the nine gifts that Paul mentions in the list at the end of this paragraph and in doing so they miss the point. For Paul the gifts listed are almost secondary the focus is on the fact that the spirit gives a diversity of gifts. People have often seen a hierarchy of gifts in the list here saying that tongues is the least amongst them but rather Paul puts it last to highlight his point that there are many gifts not just that one, not to put that one down but so the focus is not on it.

He uses the trinity in the passage to show how there can be diversity in unity. He says that the one spirit gives many gifts, there are many services but the one Lord there are many works but the one God. Note gifts and service are again synonymous here. Just like the Godhead expresses itself as diversity in unity so it is with the body of Christ, we all have different gifts given for the common good. Diversity in unity.

The third point is that the gifts are given to the church not the individual and the focus is not on the spiritual superiority of the user, but rather they are given for the common good. After this passage Paul will pick up his great metaphor for the church again, that we are the body of Christ and all the parts function together for the good of that body. In our day and culture we do tend to focus on the individual and gifted individuals are given special honour, but Paul says the spirit has given us all gifts , in fact the implication is that all these gifts are available to everyone not the possession of one person, for the benefit of all.

Then Paul runs through a list of spiritual gifts and it’s not exclusive or exhaustive by any means and each list in scripture is different. The focus is on the different gifts given by the same spirit for the common good: diversity in unity.

Words of wisdom and knowledge

He starts with ‘words of wisdom’, we don’t know exactly what Paul has in mind when he said this and there has been much written about what these are. The Corinthians were very captivated by the idea of wisdom. Paul tells them that for the follower of Jesus wisdom and understanding comes not by human means but by the spirit. Paul had told them that the wisdom of God was Christ and Christ crucified and this was foolishness to the world, so a word of wisdom would be an utterance that line up with the gospel insight and how it applies to a certain situation.

Word of knowledge is often seen as knowing something that you could not know except by supernatural means. Jim Wallace tells the story of talking with a business man at a party and having the man tell him that he had no need for God he had everything together. Jim sensed the spirit say then ask him why he sleeps with a gun under his pillow, which Jim did and the man turned white and asked how he knew that. Then he really opened up and shared what was going on his life it was the start of that journey to faith.

It may not only be such supernatural manifestations. In Exodus 35 Bezalel and Oboliab are the first people in scripture who are said to be filled with the spirit. They were said to be filled with wisdom and knowledge and skills to design and work with metal and wood and cloth gifts given so that the tabernacle could be built. These may have seemed to people natural ability and talent but their wisdom and knowledge was in actual fact a gift of the spirit. We need both examples of

Faith, healing and miracles

Faith is seen as a gift. While we are all given the faith to believe and be saved there are some who the spirit gives the faith needed to move mountains. The film amazing grace comes to mind with William Wilberforce’s lifelong battle against the slave trade, a spiritual gift of faith perhaps to see a better future and tough it out. Faith enables us to act trusting God and in this list it is linked with healing and miracles.

It is a mystery it is grace, God uses people to heal, this is the next gift in the list. I am always reminded of John Wimber the founder of the Vineyard church when I think of healing, because he was asked if he believed God heals people today and what about people that don’t get healed and he replied all I know is this that more people get healed now I pray for them to be healed than when I didn’t’. We’ll look more closely at this later in the series.

Miracles are God’s intervention in supernatural ways other than healing. I am always reminded of the video viva christo rei where a catholic community in El Paso became involved with the people on the rubbish dump to the south of the border in Juarez they talked of often seeing God provide in miraculous ways, Having only fifty bags of flour and over sixty in the line and the last sack going to the last person in line. You can see why these two gifts follow on from the gift of faith and are connected with it.

Prophecy and the discernment of spirits

Prophecy, that is speaking God’s timeless word in a timely manner, we talked about last week and will talk about in depth later.

Discerning of spirits has often been equated with a deliverance ministry, but as it is in this list next to prophecy and a parallel with tongues and interpreting tongues and faith and healing and miracles, it does seem to be connected to the idea of prophecy. A prophet is encouraged in scripture to speak what they feel is on their hearts what God is telling them and it is up to the community to weigh that and to see if it is from God and this is where discerning of spirits naturally fits, being able to know and understand by the spirit where something is coming from: From the spirit or just a human voice or from another spiritual source like the demonic.

Tongues and interpretation

Then we have the problematic one for the Corinthians speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues. Again this is in the context of public worship and Paul says that if one is to give a message in tongues there should be someone there to interpret it. If it isn’t interpreted it just builds up the one who speaks but if it is interpreted then it can be a message to encourage everyone. The first time I heard someone give a message in tongues it was done in a very Presbyterian way decently and in order. An elder stood up in an evening service when space was given for such things and said I believe I have a word in tongues for the church and he gave it. Then a few minutes afterwards another elder gave a message in English that we then discerned was the interpretation. A third lady was the wife of an elder had taught in Tonga for many years and said while it was not Tongan it sounded ;like a pacific island language and she heard certain words that she could identify that came out in the translation in the right places.

This list is not exclusive or definitive. It shows the great diversity of gifts that the one God the one spirit chooses to manifest within us. It’s not about uniformity it’s about diversity in unity. It’s about allowing the spirit to move within us for the common good: Both within the church and without: To be the body and to embody Christ. It is the same spirit that is in all of us and gives all of us gifts to use to glorify Christ lets use them to the glory of God. We serve a God who wants to speak and move through his people. You are the body of Christ We are the body of Christ, we are the body of Christ.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

'Gifted Body Builders Needed To Mature Church (Ephesians 4:1-16)

This is the second in a series on the gifts of the Holy Spirit
‘Gifted bodybuilders needed to mature church’

You open the doors of the church and instead of their being the things you would expect you find it totally transformed: Rowing machines and static bikes to sit and exercise on instead of pews to sit and doze off in. No organ music or even the worship band singing harmonies rather there is the pounding of ‘techno’ tracks and the harsh bark of an instructor taking an aerobics class up by the sanctuary. Instead of the rather old world musty smell tinged with candle smoke and a hint on incense, there is the pungency of sweat and strain. They are not passing round the bread and wine but rather what you hope are just vitamin supplements and energy shakes. As folk walk past decked out in Lycia to show off the results of their hard work to the best effect you realise that people didn’t use to dress like this to come to church. You didn’t need the mirrors round the walls to check you’re hat was on right or to straighten your tie. Instead of the rather weedy gawky nerdy guy up the front, muscle bound folk are there as personal trainers to help people build themselves up, become fit and physically strong.

‘Gifted body builder’s needed to mature church’

I don’t know if Paul had the modern gym or pumping iron in mind when he wrote to the Ephesians but in the passage we had read out to us today, he talks about gifts being given to the church to build us up. Paul says that Jesus has given us gifted body builders to equip and encourage us to exercise our own gifts and roles within the body, so it can be healthy and grow together in Christ and become more Christ like and embody Christ in the world.

This year our major focus is the Holy Spirit agent of renewal. We did a series looking at the person and work of the Holy Spirit earlier in the year. We saw that the Holy Spirit was not just an inanimate force in the universe but a personal being and the third person of the trinity. The passage we had read out to us today contains one of the strongest Trinitarian formulas in the whole of Paul’s writing. We are one body says Paul because we share the same spirit, the Holy Spirit. We are one people because we have the same Lord and faith and have the same baptism in Christ, one because we all have been adopted into the same family and have the same heavenly Father.

Later we are going to do a series looking at the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The characteristics that the Spirit is wanting to develop and grow within us, so that we might be more like Christ. In fact those characteristics and fruit come very much to the fore in the passage we had read to us today. Paul says that we are one body by virtue of the fact that we share the same spirit and then commands his readers and us to guard that unity by developing the virtues of humility, gentleness, patience and bearing one another in love. Three of these four virtues are amongst the list of the fruit of the spirit we will be looking at in Galatians 5:22.

But at the moment we are focusing on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. That we all have a part to play in the body of Christ and in embodying Christ to the world and the Holy Spirit empowers and enables us to do that, to the glory of God. We are looking at the three passages in Paul’s letters that talk of the gifts of the Spirit. Last week we looked at Romans 12 and saw that we are all gifted to serve. Today we are focusing on the list of the gifts in Ephesians 4 and for the next few weeks we’ll be focusing on the passage in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Again while we call them the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, in these three passages we see that the whole of the godhead is involved in equipping and empowering the church. In Romans 12 it says God gives gifts by grace, here in Ephesians we see that it is the risen and glorified Christ who gives gifts to his church and then in Corinthians we see that it is the Spirit who is the one who gives the gifts to the body to use. The whole of the God head is involved in creation, in our salvation and in seeing the church be the body of Christ. The gifts are graciously given, they are not ours by right or personal possessions they are for us to serve God and serve one another.

While we want to focus on the gifts of the Holy Spirit you can’t do so without focusing on the metaphor that Paul uses to talk of the church or of the interconnectedness of believers, that we are the body of Christ, whenever the gifts of the spirit are mentioned it is in this context. Again in Ephesians Paul says it’s a fact because of what God has done for us we are one body, even as we come from across the great cultural divides of our time and history, we are one, but for a body to function and be healthy we need to work at that unity. It’s like having a healthy and functioning body. All the parts need to work together; they need to do their part for the body to function. I have type two diabetes, it means that my pancreas doesn’t produce the right amount of insulin for my body or rather the wrong shaped insulin. Because my pancreas doesn’t function properly the rest of my body is put under a lot of strain and suffers from it.

Paul says that Christ has given people as gifts to the church to help build us up so we can function properly and be healthy. Like the support staff in a sports team. Not people to do the ministry of the church but to help train and equip us all to do our part in the body to help equip us for every good work and to grow into maturity in Christ. In the church I grew up in back in Titirangi this was expressed every week on the front cover of the newssheet. Where it said minister instead of there being the name of the clergy it said the congregation. Then under that it said assistant to the ministers and had the name of what we call the ‘Minister’.

Paul highlights five different gifts that Christ has given to help build up the body of Christ: To help us function and mature in Christ. They are called ministries or service rather than positions within the church. They were not necessarily the people in the early church who carried out the leadership and governance function of the church. Where ever Paul and the early missionaries went they set up a structure based on the Jewish system of setting up elders and there does seem to be a leadership structure based on overseers, elders and deacons. These gifts and servant to the church denote a function within the body not a position. They are the support staff.

Firstly apostles, literally ‘messengers’ there is some controversy over what this means for us today. The orthodox view has been that this refers to the Apostles, those first followers of Christ who actually meet Jesus risen from the grave and were commissioned by him to spread the gospel. They include the twelve and Paul says that he is an apostle of Jesus Christ, in fact he calls himself least amongst the apostles. We also have Andronicus and Junia mentioned as being outstanding amongst the apostles in Romans 16. Junia is interesting because it is a women’s name, for many years it was mistranslated with a masculine ending because they thought there was no way there was a woman apostle, but with modern scholarship and modern sensitivities it’s been rediscovered. Why shouldn’t there be women apostles as the women were the first to hear the good news that Jesus was raised from the dead.

The Apostles are the ones who have passed on the good news of Jesus Christ to us and who originally established the church. It’s their testimony and teaching that is foundational for us and we need to build us up.

Some would say that apostles are simply messengers and it means someone who is a church planter or missionary or pioneer of the faith and people have an apostolic ministry in the world today.

I guess I’d want to say that both are true we need the Apostles and their authoritative testimony to Christ’s resurrection and we also need the messengers of today who have gone out and planted churches and established the church in various cultures, countries and contexts . I would be loathed to call anyone today an Apostle and say they have that authority, but I see there are people who we need in the church today that have an apostolic ministry in terms of planting and establishing churches, people I would listen to because of what they have done in Christ.

Secondly prophets, that is people that God has gifted to be able to take the good news of Jesus Christ and apply it to the here and now. To be a prophet is to tell forth God’s word: To take God’s timeless truth and make it timely. Paul in his letters functions both as an apostle, witnessing to the Good news in Jesus Christ and a prophet in his letters he applies that timeless truth to the occasion of the churches he is writing to. We need that so we can grow together so that God’s message becomes God’s message to us, To you and to me.

WE may think that prophets and prophecy ace about being innovators but in actual fact they are about being faithful to the faith and faithfully applying to new contexts and to our context. You can see how that would build up the church.

Evangelists, good news tellers are people who take the message of Jesus Christ and communicate it in a way that others come to know Jesus Christ and chose to follow him. We need them to build up the body of Christ because well they build up the body of Christ numerically. They may be mass evangelists, but also those who simply out of love and compassion for family and friends share their faith.

Then we have pastors and teachers, these two are linked together and scholars think that while Paul had itinerant ministries in mind when he talked about the first three that here he had the local leadership of a church in mind. To pastor means to oversee and to lead as well as care, it means to be the shepherd of course the model for that is the chief shepherd and the good shepherd Jesus Christ. To teach means that people would know and learn the good news, the scriptures to know what it means to follow Jesus and to apply it their lives. To train people up, in the ancient near east a teacher was more of a mentor than a lecturer, it was to show by example and to invite people to do alongside them. Again the example is Christ, who taught the disciples and then sent them out to do the things he had done.

The end product of all these gifted which by the way I believe we are called to exercise in different degrees according to grace given to us is that we are built up together. That you and I are trained and equipped and encouraged to do our ministry to be the body of Christ. They are not the ministry of the body of Christ they are there like personal trainers to enable us to do what God has called us to do. To love and care for each other to proclaim the good news we have received. You are the body of Christ we are the body of Christ, we are the body of Christ, and the spirit is upon you to be that body and to embody Christ in the world.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Gifted to serve (Romans 12:1-12)

Having posted one sermon from this series on tongues I thought I might post the rest of the series. It works through passages in the New Testament that mention the gifts of the holy Spirit (mainly in Paul's teaching). Hopefully people will find them useful. I must admit that they are not an exhaustive comprehensive study on the gifts of the Spirit. They are my reflections and I hope therefor they will be helpful to people. This first one sounds more like a lecture on the failing of 'Autor theory in film studies' . 

The film ends and the credits start to roll and we get up to walk out of the theatre or we flick from the DVD player back to the TV just in time for the all important ads, and we miss something that is of utmost importance to the art of film making. Some movies put bloopers and outtakes amidst the credits to keep our attention so we won’t miss what is so special about the art of film making.

You see at the very heart of film making, the art form of the twentieth century, is the fact that it is a team effort. Not just the vision of one man a director or the abilities of a group of actors whose performances compels them to stardom and fame and everyone’s A list but those credits that roll around reveal, cinematographers, screen writers, editors, costume designers , composers and production designers they all get some recognition at places like the Oscars but also producers and financiers, administration staff, technicians, CGI artists, that’s people who do all the computer generated special effects, folley artists, that the people who do all the sound effects, and sound technicians, musicians, caterers, chauffeurs and truck drivers, animal handlers, set designers and builders, seamstresses, and roadies who lug copious amounts of equipment round , riggers who can put it all together, stunt people. The names roll past and we don’t often stop to think about all these people and their gifts and talents.

One way to talk about films is to see it as the work of an Autor which of course is French for artist. That a film was the work of one person, the director. Alfred Hitchcock is always held up as the prime example of an autor,

but now this idea of the autor is being challenged and as they began to look at Hitchcock and other great directors they found that a key talent they had was to gather around them a team of gifted people whose talents and abilities and characters complemented and offset their own.

Citizen Kane which is Orson Wells first ever movie perhaps epitomises this when Wells the director shares billing on screen with his cinematographer Greg Toland, whose innovation and brilliance enabled Wells to tell the story so well.

Films are acknowledged both as a body of work of a certain director but also the work of a body of people each with different parts to play and its only when they use their gifts together that the art piece forms that the story gets told.

This year we are taking some time to look at the Holy Spirit, the third person of the trinity. We did a series around Pentecost looking at the person and work of the Holy Spirit and now after a break we are starting a series looking at the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

In our first series I introduced you to this diagram that expresses the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer. That first and foremost the Spirit dwells within us and brings us into communion with God. That the spirit then works to reflect that central relationship to the world round us. The Spirit works on our character to make us more like Christ. That’s not at the bottom because it’s least important it’s there because it is foundational. Later in this series we will look at 1 Corinthians 12-14 and Paul, not denigrating the gifts of the Spirit but putting them into context says we maybe the most gifted person in the world but if we don’t have love then well, it’s like being a noisy gong, or if Paul lived in a 21st century urban setting might say its like a jack hammer and road works at dawn and all day long. And we are going to look at what the Spirit wants to develop within us when we do the third part of this series; Hey I’m a science fiction fan everything’s got to be a trilogy, looking at the fruit of the Holy spirit in Ephesians 5:22. The other thing that the spirit does within us is that it gives us a calling and the capability to serve and to witness to Christ. To do the things that Jesus did. Over the next few weeks we are going to be focusing on the passages in the new testament that talk about the gifts that the spirit give and how they are to be used.

In the passage we had read out to us from Romans Paul moves from having explained the gospel and how it relates to the gentile and Jews to deal with how that Good news is to be lived out. ‘Therefore he says’ because of what Christ has done for you. Present your bodies as a living sacrifice’ which is true or spiritual worship. We tend to think of what we do here in church as worship and we do call it public worship, and it is worship but Paul says that true worship is not just when we gather together to sing songs pray and hear the word read and preached that’s part of it, but it’s as we give our whole selves to God and dedicate everything we are and all we do to Christ. In my favourite worship song at the moment offering by the band “third day” the chorus says “lord I give you my life it’s all I have to give because you gave your life for me”.

Then Paul says that the believers are not to be conformed to the world but to allow the Spirit to renew their minds, and it’s in this context then that Paul writes about us being the body of Christ and using the gifts that have been given by grace to all. He says that we are not to think too highly of ourselves rather has sober judgement.

Let’s look at that in three ways.

Ours to own v. Gift of grace

Firstly, the world sees giftedness as being the possession of a person but the emphasis on the passage here is that the gifts are given by God by grace. As such all our talents and gifts and abilities are to cause us not to think more highly of ourselves but to thank God for what he has done and to present them back to him to use for the kingdom of God. Lets realise that they are not ours but God’s given to us. That dictates how we use them.

Individual v. Body

Secondly, In the world’s way of thinking, we see ourselves as individuals. But Paul says no In Christ you are a community together. It’s not just about you it’s about us being together as the body of Christ. We belong together and we all have a part to play. There is an irony that many films made today by teams focus on an individual who is gifted or talented and who is able to save the world or the girl by themselves. Christianity isn’t like that you and I are all together we are one body, and it’s the one whom we embody who has saved the world and we are invited to live out and tell forth that act of grace and service.

Status v. Service

Thirdly, the world tells us that the gifted person is to be respected and given kudos and honour. Gifted athletes command a king’s ransom, gifted actors or people gifted with beauty and pose before a camera get to live a lifestyle that even when it all falls to pieces still demands our attention and sell magazines and the clothes they wear and the accessories they accessorise with. But Paul says well actually we are all gifted we all have a part to play; we need to use those gifts to serve one another: It’s not about status but service. It’s not about getting the gift or the gifts and talents you have it’s about investing them and giving them. In fact did you notice that in the order of gifts Paul uses in this passage leadership comes second to last? That gifts such as service and giving and encouraging come before that. They are all to be used for the common good. We are gifted to serve.

Then like the credits rolling past Paul mentions some of the Gifts that God gives and some direction as to how they are to be used in the body of Christ.


Firstly is prophecy, Prophecy is God speaking to his people and his world today through his people. If we look at the Old Testament prophets you’ll see that they were ordinary people that God called out to tell forth his word to a certain situation. In the New Testament we are all filled with the spirit and all called to tell forth God’s word. Maybe it may simply being sharing a bible verse at the right time. Paul is encouraging people to use the gift they have with the amount of faith they have and for some they are more able to speak what they believe God is calling them to say as God gives them the faith to do it.


If servings your gift says Paul then serve. You know you don’t often have to tell people who have a gift of service to serve, they are usually doing it. But even people who like doing the things behind the scenes are gifted by grace to do it. Their doing it well is worship to God. This covers things like administration and organisation as well as doing the hands on things.


If your gift is to teach then teach. We need people who can both get up front and teach but also those who can get alongside and do what we call mentoring: Teaching by investing time and energy into another person or a small group so they might grow to have faith or grow in their faith. Jesus did both.


Encouragement is an important gift. Often in a church that is in decline or has been struggling just to survive our self speak, what we say to ourselves can be disheartening or reinforcing the way things have been, one of the things that encouragement does is allows us to see where things are going OK and to allow us to look to the future in a positive way. As new Zealanders we are not that good at encouraging each other, I guess we’ve made an art form of the old tall poppy syndrome. So if your gift is encouragement then encourage. We need it.


Giving is a gift and the encouragement from Paul is that if your gift is giving then you should do so generously. I remember a This is your life programme on Michael Jones when he was asked how given his Christian faith he could be such a ferocious tackler. He smiled at and answered ‘well the bible says it’s better to give than receive’. Because there are gifted givers the call on us all is still to give, but once again God has graced the body of Christ people for whom blessing other financially is their gift, there thing and Paul says go for it be generous,


If your gift is leadership then lead diligently. Leadership is a servant role within the body and maybe it easy for a leader to think they can focus on the status put Paul says no leadership is hard work. Those who lead need to be diligent. Also in leadership roles it’s easy to get distracted and leaders need to be diligent in keeping the main thing the main thing.


If your gift is mercy or caring then do so cheerfully. A person have gifts of compassion and mercy they thrive on caring for others and while we are called to all love one another god has given us people who are gifted carers. They can get down in the midst of the misery and suffering Paul’s encouragement for those who care is to do so with cheer. A merry heart is as good as a medicine.

While film is the art form of the twentieth century, a new art form emerging in the twenty first century is Photomosaic’s. That is using computer power making images out of photos. I’ve shown you this before I think but it’s a photo mosaic of a lion , the king of the beasts right! It’s made up of hundreds of pictures of lions. The computer had taken all these individual photos and arranged them is such a way that this bigger picture comes emerges. Each individual photo has a place where it belongs and a part to play so in this body of work people may see the King. We too have a place to belong and a part to play. God has given all of us gifts to use to be the body of Christ and embody Christ in the world. So the call is to use them and develop them that people would see Christ in us.