Categories
grief

Grief: 6 years on

It’s as if my body and heart remember first, then my mind catches up. In late summer I start feeling not quite myself. I have moments of feeling sad, seemingly for no reason, and my body slows a little. A little strength leaves. I sit a little more often, and it’s a little harder to get up. I start wondering – am I getting a bit run down? My life is going okay, why am I so emotional? Then my mind catches up.

It’s February. Six Februaries ago, I lost my mum. And somehow even if I don’t want to focus on the ‘anniversary’ of that day in February, and I’d rather focus on celebrating the day she was born, March 25th, it’s as if my body remembers the beginning of February, lodged in me, and won’t let me forget. I cannot forget her and wouldn’t want to forget her. But I want to forget the day she was taken from me, and what happened in the weeks and months after that.

I know, six years on, I’m supposed to be able to reflect on things with a little more balance. But I don’t want to remember. I don’t want to remember the look on my dad’s face when I first saw him after the accident as he sat in a hospital bed at midnight. In all the thousands of expressions I’d seen on my Dad’s face as I grew up, I never saw this one before. In a single moment, he’d lost his wife.

I don’t want to remember seeing mum’s body on the white bed or in the casket.

I don’t want to remember standing inside a church in the stifling February heat, my mum’s casket at the front of the auditorium, asking people to help me move the plastic flowers that were in the church out into a back room before the funeral because she never liked fake flowers. I only wanted the real ones there on the day of her funeral.

Somehow getting every fake flower out of the room became something so important in the middle of everything. I had to have real red roses at her funeral because she liked those. And there had to be an unlined book for people to write in, not a book with lines. And stickers. Because she liked those too.

I don’t want to remember that I needed sleeping pills for a while, and that I needed to turn the radio on all night at a very low volume because sometimes it felt like darkness or death was in the room with me as I tried to get to sleep, and hearing the radio meant I felt a bit less alone.

I don’t want to remember meeting the man who caused the accident that made her lose her life. I don’t want to remember because there are flashes of anger embedded in that. Him walking into the room. Him wanting to get as small a punishment as possible for the charges: careless driving causing death.

I don’t want to remember the days, months and years of wrestling and surrender, wrestling and surrender, sweating fire, to get to the point of forgiveness; the wrestling and surrender continues whenever I allow myself to remember – the continual journey back to forgiveness that might still be an ongoing, active, repeating journey of surrender for the rest of my life.

For the first while, I was okay with remembering because I felt like it was part of ‘processing grief’. I let myself remember and let myself feel sad, accepted that feeling of strength draining out of me as tears burned. I liked looking through all the photos of my mum. Reading her handwriting. But maybe after the first two or three years, I told myself I didn’t want to keep feeling grief. It felt like I’d spent years of my life crying and adjusting to the shock of her being there one minute and gone the next. I didn’t want to feel it anymore.

I had some happy moments too of course even during the process of grief but there came a point where I just didn’t want the grief anymore. And it felt like I never found a person who I was comfortable to talk about things fully and unfiltered (yes, I had few counselling sessions and a Sozo or two) so it was easier just to try to not remember.

But I also made a promise to myself (I know some of you have heard it before) that I would not stop sharing my experience of grief in some way, even if I couldn’t articulate everything. And even if there were parts of me that didn’t want to remember. When I was in the most intense part of shock, trauma and grief, I tried to find church messages, teaching, sharing, of any Christians who had experienced grief, and I didn’t find much.

So I decided that as long as I still felt like there was some grief there, or was walking through processing it, I would share what I could at times. I would, even if I didn’t want to remember, put bits of my story out there, stubbornly throwing my words like a small silver offering into this large dark void in my culture of a grief that no one seems to want to talk about.

So here I am. Writing about grief. Six years later.

I lost a friend a couple of weeks ago to cancer and my experience at the marae where her body was laid impacted me greatly. I felt too vulnerable to go, but another friend offered to go there with me. I asked her to tell me what to do at the marae as I had no idea of tikanga. We stood outside the gate, waiting for the group before us to leave.

When they left and we heard the kaikaranga welcoming us, I instantly broke down. I remember Michelle’s conversations and debates with me about karanga. I remember saying to her that I didn’t feel comfortable with that feeling that came with karanga – that feeling of grief. I never thought I’d hear one at her tangi so soon. We walked slowly over the concrete, took off our shoes and entered. Michelle’s body was lying in the casket on the floor. And I still couldn’t stop crying. Not pretty crying. Ugly crying. I felt like, what are they going to think? I’m losing it. Usually I can rein it in at least a bit.

We went forward to the left side of the casket. Michelle’s body with carved wood in her hand; little warrior. Crying uncontrollably still, following my friend, worrying about tikanga and respecting protocol, kissed the lady on the cheek. Then to the right side of the casket, crying uncontrollably still. Kissed the man on the cheek, trying to even out my breathing while spluttering tears and embarrassment.

My first hongi. Crying uncontrollably. Not knowing where to put my hands or how to even my breathing.

And sitting on the seats to hear a man korero in Maori, me still crying uncontrollably. Catching a word here or there. And then when he translated in English, he gave tribute to Michelle then looked directly at me and said ‘If I can suggest something…’ and I was thinking oh no, he’s going to tell me I’ve forgotten some protocol or done something wrong. But he went on to say he wanted to acknowledge my bravery in letting my tears of aroha fall. And he gave me the honour and opportunity to say a few words in honour of Michelle, in whatever language I wanted.

So I stood up – there were only about six of us in there altogether. Just me and my friend on the right. I apologised for my lack of knowledge of tikanga, then spluttered and cried, my voice cracking, and got a few sentences out in the most undignified English I’ve ever spoken in my life, probably. But somehow I felt brave. My friend followed with a beautiful waiata. The man who saw my awkwardness in my grief, my out of control-ness, my not knowing what to do, chose to also see my bravery. He said ‘your tears are like the clothing Michelle wears as she goes to her heavenly father’. I’ll never forget this moment, someone drawing attention to my tears, in stark contrast to hiding or covering tears, or feeling awkward around tears, which is often what my own culture does.

So if you are grieving, in whatever way, loudly, quietly, or in not wanting to remember, you are brave. Remember that. You are brave.

What do you know – grief doesn’t have a neat, defined finish line. It has a rugged edge that rakes through you even when you’ve been through a lot of healing. It doesn’t take one form. It changes over time. It is a season that is finished and yet at the same time, it’s not.

I do feel that God has done a lot of healing in me and I’m so grateful for that. I don’t often have moments of feeling deep grief now – those moments are rarer, and moments of joy are much more common. And yes, I know I’ll see my mum and my friend again because they know Jesus. I grieve with hope. But I still grieve. And I still feel there is unfinished business.

There’s unfinished business in wanting more healing. And there’s unfinished business because I want to see God’s power healing people miraculously and raising the dead – with bolts of the Holy Spirit more powerful than death itself. I want to see Kingdom avenging for what happened to my mum and everyone else who had their best years stolen from them.

I’ve also decided that I never want to speak at another person’s funeral, if possible. Because I want to say how much I love and appreciate my friends, family, mentors and teachers BEFORE they die, no matter how imperfect our relationships may be. This means, for the rest of my life, I’ll be looking for little moments to speak and write to people to tell them how much I honour and value them, and tell them what I value about them.

So be encouraged – if you are experiencing grief or anything like it, you are not alone. If you have had some healing and yet still feel that rugged edge of grief raking through you at times, or that dysfunctional urge to be in denial, or the desire to forget, or that feeling of not knowing what to do with this memory or that, it’s okay. You are brave for simply grieving in whatever way you do. God is acquainted with grief, not far removed from it. May you know He’s with you. He sees your courage.

Categories
relationships

Dear Aotearoa

I wonder what sort of letter our generation could be writing to the next generations?

Dear Aotearoa

We knew you were struggling already to protect and treasure your elderly. We knew you had big problems with elder abuse, Aotearoa – in 2019 there were 2,200 referrals to Age concern for things like psychological abuse, preventing decision-making, misuse of power of attorney, physical abuse like hitting, pushing or rough handling, deprivation of food or shelter, lack of social contact and sexual abuse of the elderly in this nation.

But despite knowing these things, we decided to go ahead with a law that would place an even greater weight on this vulnerable group anyway, all for the sake of a minority who insisted on their right to die on their own selected day and time.

We knew that passing this law would mean that some terminally ill elderly would face spoken or unspoken pressure, simply by having the knowledge that ‘assisted dying’ was legally available. We knew this would inevitably result in some sick and greedy individuals manipulating elderly into signing their own death warrant to ensure a quick inheritance. Elderly were already being abused and manipulated in the community, so it stood to reason that someone, somewhere would do this terrible thing.

We knew that within the older generation, many have the attitude already that they don’t want to be a ‘burden’ on anyone, and that this would inevitably play a role in many elderly automatically feeling that they might be a ‘burden’ to family so they would sign their death warrant even if they actually preferred to see out their remaining days in a natural way.

We knew that describing the End of Life Choice Bill as a way for people to ‘end their suffering’ was a vast and grotesque oversimplification. We knew that any reasonable person considering the idea of assisted dying would not simply be thinking of their right to end their own suffering; that even in considering their suffering as a factor, the human psyche would also be inevitably considering other complicated factors such as whether they might be creating extra expense and stresses on their family, healthcare systems and government by staying alive. We knew it would never just be a personal choice about ending one’s own suffering, but always a choice that would be messily inextricable from feelings of obligation and burden.

We also knew that this End of Life Bill did not provide a way to test whether elderly were being coerced, threatened or bullied when deciding whether to have a lethal dose of medication. We could have spent our time and energy helping prevent and address the elder abuse that is currently a huge problem in this nation. But instead we decided to add a shoddy piece of legislation into the cocktail of an already toxic problem, and ignore the vulnerable elderly who became collateral damage.

We knew the proven statistic that doctors are wrong 25% of the time when they give a prognosis that someone who is terminally ill is not going to live for less than 6 months. We knew that there would be some terminally ill who could have lived for longer than 6 months, and their conditions could have improved or even healed, they could have had more time with their children, because there are records to show that this happens sometimes too despite the odds, but we still went ahead and gave the nation the ‘choice’ to have someone kill them.

We chose, in 2020, to ignore the fact that we, as humans, have not mastered the art of predicting the future. A choice in favour of death may have pre-empted a future where more memories could have been made, more wisdom gained, yes, even in those last six months of our lives. We could have focused on the highly developed pain relief that we already have available to us, and made it even more effective, but we chose to spend millions on a law change to pre-empt all of this and end lives prematurely.

We knew that some young adults have an extremely rough time in this nation. They are growing up in an increasingly uncertain world. We knew we have suicide rates among young people that are terribly high, dear Aotearoa. But still, we decided to give eighteen-year-olds the option of ‘assisted dying’ if they are told (by a fallible doctor who has a 25% chance of getting it wrong) that they have less than 6 months to live.

While we were at it, we thought we’d add another toxic law into the mix too, so that young ones of 2020 have another addictive legal poison to buy over the counter. Although we all knew someone in our friend or family circle who had lost their motivation, drive and personality while using marijuana, we chose to make this drug legal too.

We knew the fact that human brains are not fully developed until the age of 25 yrs, and that a drug like marijuana is proven to affect the neuropathways of the developing brain in adverse ways. We knew that marijuana could even cause psychosis for some, sometimes irreversibly.

Instead of putting money into giving young people the message and helping them really grasp that their unique personalities, talents and minds are our most valuable asset, we chose instead to give them the message that it’s okay to escape stress by buying another mind-altering poison at the shop, even if it harms their brain function.

Instead of putting resources into the support of our elderly and giving them the message that we need their wisdom, love and presence right to the end of their days, and that we will invest everything that we can into making them comfortable, we gave them the message that we aren’t going to put more effort in to resolve the massive elder abuse issues in this nation, and it is okay for them to see themselves as a burden on society.

We knew exactly what we were doing, but we went ahead anyway.

Yours sincerely,

The voting public of 2020.

Vote NO.

Photo credit: Paolo Bendandi on Unsplash

Categories
church

What Will History Say About Us?

What will history say about us, the 21st century Western church? I took a moment to imagine what the historians might write:

The Western church of the 21st century, led largely by white middle-aged men, was great at talking about racial and gender equality but not so great at implementing it.

These white middle-aged men, wearing button-up shirts and jeans, (and their wives, looking beautiful) would traditionally appoint their close friends or family members to various positions of leadership even if these friends and family members did not have giftings in the areas they were appointed to.

Single (unmarried) people were rarely included in leadership or in the social circles of leaders. Women were not often appointed as leaders in their own right, but usually only if their husbands were also leaders.

When Senior Leaders retired or burned out, they were typically succeeded by said friends or family members, thus perpetuating a dynasty of church leadership based on social circles and family lineage rather than anointing.

While verbally agreeing that having prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists and apostles was probably a good idea, the Western church refused to actually identify and receive these people in positions of any influence, leaving the institution of ‘church’ largely in the same state it had been in for decades prior: each local church was led by one white man who labelled himself ‘Pastor’ and thought he could perform all of the ascension ministries, only to burn out within 6 or 7 years.

Little to no equipping of the church members took place, with many Christians being ‘saved’ for thirty or more years without learning what their areas of gifting actually were.

In addition, while most leaders in the 21st century church were liberally given the title of ‘Pastor’, very few with such titles actually provided pastoral care to their church members; neither did they train or delegate others to do so. Many leaders would go overseas to minister on short term ‘Missions Trips’ to the homeless, poor, traumatised, diseased and mentally ill in developing nations and would post colourful photos of such trips to their social media.

But leaders and Pastors were reluctant to minister to those in their own country who were also suffering in these areas, viewing such issues as something for the government to take care of, or concluding that those in poverty or mental illness should just adapt their ‘wrong mindsets’ or ‘poverty mentalities’. Rather than attempting to help people with emotional difficulties, the church often told vulnerable people to go to professional Counsellors instead, where they would need to pay a fee in return for guidance.

Many in the 21st century church agreed that deliverance was a major part of Jesus’ ministry and was still ‘for today’, but most church members never got around to casting out any actual demons.

Instead, those who needed deliverance were ignored, or referred to specialist ministries (some would even pay to go overseas to receive from such specialist ministers).

These specialists would charge a fee for clients to go through a lengthy written manual that outlined dozens of potential areas that they could need deliverance in (including repenting of the sins of multiple previous generations and every possible connection, no matter how tenuous, to “Freemasonry”), or, alternatively, specialists would ask people receiving treatment to answer some formulaic questions and then pray (also according to a formula) in order to get rid of demonic influences.

Most average Christians loved praying for ‘healing’ but were far too frightened to cast demons out of either the saved or the unsaved. There was an underlying fear that demons ‘could come back’ and they could create too much noise and distraction in services, or create legal liability if ‘things went wrong’ therefore proceedings were so cautious that deliverance was never actually undertaken in church services or small group gatherings, only occasionally in private rooms by ministers who considered themselves to have undergone rigorous ‘training’ in this area.

The Church of this era also loved to use the word ‘discipleship’ in its rhetoric, yet it did very little discipleship on the ground. Both new Christians and those who had been Christians a while had to fend for themselves in their personal development.

Local Church leaders and ‘Bible colleges’ of the 21st century church would often organise courses, e-courses, conferences and workshops for aspects of discipleship and charge church members a fee to attend, sometimes for hundreds or thousands of dollars, with the result that Christians with some disposable income received some degree of (usually online) ‘discipleship’, and the poor did not.

The 21st century church adhered to the idea that its members would be best to donate 10% of their income to the local church, largely with reference to an Old Testament scripture in Malachi. However, the church had a double standard in this area – while it found it convenient to encourage people to adhere to the old testament guidelines of each person giving 10% of their income, the church did not adhere to the other aspects of this Old Testament tithing law, which required that spiritual leaders collecting the tithe would use it, in part, to help the poor among its own community. Rather, the leaders kept this tithe for their personal income and for expenses related to the church building and running of elaborate weekly ‘services’.

Rather than investing in actual discipleship so that they could leave a legacy of strong, well-equipped Christians for the next generation, the 21st century church decided to use most of its human and financial resources to ensure it created slick Sunday services complete with carpark attendants, hand-shakers at the door, a full ‘worship’ band, dry ice, lyrics on large screens, podcasts or videoed teachings, runsheets that ensured everything was timed down to the last minute, and exemplary chair alignment inside church buildings.

New people getting ‘saved’ and making ‘first time decisions for the Lord’ were a rare event in the 21st century Western church, with most Christians only leading one or two people to Christ in their entire lifetime. ‘New Christians’ in the church were welcomed with open arms as somewhat of a joyous novelty for the first few months of their joining, only to be neglected in the areas of discipleship and pastoral care as time went on.

The 21st century Western church viewed itself as superior in being ‘less religious’ and more ‘Spirit filled’ than the church of centuries prior, and it did produce some fruit for the glory of Jesus, yet it is questionable as to whether it was effective in working towards the great commission of ‘making disciples of all nations’, or, indeed, whether it fulfilled Jesus’ most foundational command to ‘love one another’.

……………………………………………………………………

Let me be clear about how I feel…I hope history doesn’t sum us up this way. I know not all churches are like this. I know I’ve made some generalisations here. But sadly, a lot of what I’ve written is not an exaggeration; it’s a reality for many. And yes, I know Jesus appoints people and we’re not totally reliant on humans to open doors of opportunity to leadership. But we, as the church, are also responsible for the decisions we make in the way we run things.

What will history say about us? And, more importantly, what will Jesus say about us? He wrote letters to seven local churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3, outlining their successes and their failures. If he wrote a letter to the 21st century church in your nation, what would it say?

Now, in 2020, two decades of this century have already gone. We have eight decades to go until another century clocks over: 2100. Now is as good a time as any to re-evaluate where we’re heading.

~Alicia

For other free resources and videos feel free to check out my Facebook page Spiritual Growth and Giftings.

Photo credit: Matt Collamer on Unsplash
Categories
church

Christians – all talk, or are we taking our opportunity to humble ourselves and pray?

What would happen if all the slick logos, branding, selfie videos, livestreams, emails and messenger group chats disappeared? I’m not predicting the internet will go down but it’s an interesting thought for a number of reasons…

If the internet went down and we couldn’t hold our old familiar ‘congregations’ together via technology, what would we do instead? Maybe the thousands of materially poor Christians around the globe could tell us. They’ve been doing church without wifi or devices or big buildings for years already. Maybe church would look like Heidi’s words: stopping for the one in front of us, in the flesh. The family in front of us. The neighbour in front of us. Loving one another in real time, intentionally and actively, the whole time.

There’s nothing wrong with the internet: I believe it’s been a massive help to most of us at this time. I’m loving the online services and online connection; long may it last. But if we’re worried at the (hypothetical) thought of what would happen to ‘church’ without the internet, maybe we’re still totally missing the opportunity that’s being presented to us.

What if Jesus has very little concern for how tech savvy we are in maintaining our local church branding online, and a much bigger concern for how we do church with the people in front of us? What if Jesus wants to ‘turn the hearts of the parents to the children, and the hearts of the children to the parents’? From the beginning of humanity, Adam and Eve, it appears that this is pretty big on God’s list of desires.

In the past few weeks, a legal pathway has been blown open which allows our entire nation to be locked down, largely so that we can protect those in our community whose biological cells are a bit older than most i.e. the elderly. At the same time, a legal pathway has been blown open which makes it easier to kill large numbers of people in our community whose biological cells are a bit younger than most: unborn children. An extreme Abortion Bill was passed in NZ just a few weeks ago, adding to our already-terrible history: 13,282 babies aborted in 2018, 13,285 aborted in 2017…the list goes on (these are official numbers taken from Stats NZ).

But before we as Christians get on our horse to judge and ‘pray against’ these legislators, maybe we should humble ourselves and look at this as a clue to the things God wants to deal with in us, the Christians of this nation, first.

It’s not our job to judge those who don’t know Jesus. But it is our job to look at ourselves. Where have we, as Christians, aborted the ways of love in our own relationships? Do we really think we’re superior to the rest of the world in this area?

In NZ right now, people aren’t legally allowed to leave their homes except to access essential services, so it’s a time when children can’t escape their parents, and parents can’t escape their children, and those who live alone can’t escape the absence of family connection they might feel. I don’t think it’s coincidence that this is also a time when many adult children are back at home living with their adult parents, and there is, for most, more contact with our ‘families of origin’ than we’ve had in a very long time, maybe ever.

What happens in our families, behind closed doors? There are some Christian parents who are in abusive relationships, and they choose to stay there, knowing it’s destroying the souls of their children. There are some Christian parents who think it’s okay to lose their temper, say demeaning things, pull the hair of their children or leave bruises on them, calling it ‘discipline’ or ‘being pushed too far’. There are Christian parents who verbally dishonour and undermine each others’ authority in front of their children, even though they know it creates anxiety and instability in the home.

There are some Christians who have the capacity to be spiritual parents, to be a spiritual father or mother – a mentor, and more than a mentor, to those who need some guidance, but they abort that concept of being spiritual parents, they abort the idea of being spiritually responsible for helping a ‘baby’ Christian in a close and loving way. They don’t want to be faced with ‘needy’ people.

They’re too busy building their own public profile in their own glorious online ministry to be concerned with stopping for the one year old Christian who is struggling with kicking that addiction, who never had a father figure and could really do with a Christian one now.

There are some Christian adults who have all but aborted their relationship with a biological parent because they decided it was too hard to love them for whatever reason, or are holding judgement against their parents. There are Christian adults who have switched off their love towards those who were spiritual parents to them – their church leaders or mentors or ministry team leaders – because some disagreement happened, they realised their spiritual parent was far from perfect, and instead of choosing to love and forgive, they swallowed the bait of satan, hook, line and sinker: offense and bitterness.

There are people who live alone or who have no solid connections with biological family who are waiting to see if some Christian will adopt them into their hearts and become family to them, like John adopted Jesus’ mother Mary after Jesus died. Do we adopt single or widowed people in our church fully or do we abort them from our clique and hope someone else will take care of them?

How many prophets and pastors and teachers in the making have been stunted in their spiritual growth or never reached their full potential because leaders wanted to be their on-stage, online teachers, but no one wanted to be their spiritual father. We have an entire generation of people, I believe, who have been spiritually ‘taught’ by all those beautiful podcasts and Sunday sermons from the stage, but they have not been spiritually parented even though the Bible makes it incredibly clear how important this is. Even worse, some spiritual leaders have used the giftings of people under their authority to make their own ministries look good, while aborting love towards those that they lead, not caring about their human needs.

At the age of eleven I was invited out to a restaurant with my best friend and her family. During dinner, my best friend said something her Christian mother didn’t quite like. So her mother slapped her on the face in front of everyone. I’ll never forget that day. I’ll never forget the tears that started to form in my friend’s eyes which she quickly held back because we were in a public place.

And I’ll never forget the dozens of other similar things I’ve seen and heard in ‘Christian’ families over the years. I’m not talking about any particular church with this post, but I’ve seen and heard enough from my childhood upwards to know these situations exist within the wider church.

So many people have been quoting that scripture ‘if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land’ (1 Chronicles 7:14). When people quote this verse, the emphasis is usually on the praying and the healing; but what about humbling ourselves and turning from our wicked ways?

What do we think this means? To ‘humble ourselves and pray’ doesn’t mean lying on the ground, praying against the people who have changed the abortion laws. I don’t think it means repenting on behalf of other people who we look down on as terrible sinners, or repenting on behalf of every sin committed by every person who ever existed going back ten generations before us.

I think humbling ourselves means asking God what we need to repent of in our own lives. Right now. Today. And then actually repenting. Even if we think it’s just ‘something small’ in our own eyes. Repenting isn’t crying for a few minutes and then going back to our old habits. Repenting means changing our behaviour. Choosing to actively love where we have aborted love before. Choosing to serve others and honour others, even spiritual parents who might have failed us, despite what we might see as their imperfections or even the ways they’ve hurt us (and yes, it is necessary to confront when someone has deliberately hurt us and it is necessary to remove ourselves from the influence of people who habitually abuse us if that’s the situation; this is not negating that part of the process, but this is about searching our own hearts and staying clean in our attitudes towards them).

Humbling ourselves means looking around for those who are without family, without children of their own, without biological parents, or without spiritual parents, or living on their own, and instead of aborting them out of our circles, adopting them in love, truly adopting them in our hearts, not just buying them a few groceries one time solely to ease our guilt complex.

It means protecting our children from any kind of abuse or neglect – even if that means cutting off a relationship with an abusive partner, living in Women’s Refuge for a while and moving house. It sometimes means confessing our sins out loud to someone else. It means apologising out loud and sincerely to our children. To those who would say to me ‘It’s too hard, you don’t understand my situation’, I would say that if you’re a Christian, Jesus has made a way – He volunteered to be beaten to death so He could give us freedom and power; what are we thinking if we’re continually choosing to live under violence and abuse? In complicated situations, we have free access to Him in asking for wisdom, and sometimes wisdom means reaching out to another human for help. Do that if you need to.

Some Christians are scared of talking about or confessing what’s really going on in their home because they’re afraid of Oranga Tamariki getting involved. Shouldn’t we be more respectfully afraid of our God who sees everything – a God who avenges those who are vulnerable, such as children who are being forced to live in abusive households when they have no power to get out of it themselves? Never mind how Oranga Tamariki sees this; how does God see this?

How can we be repairers of the breach in our communities when we’re not even willing to, first of all, be honest with ourselves about our situation, and then humble ourselves to repair the breaches, the rifts large and small, in our own families?

I know there are some in the situation where they want to have a relationship with a family member but they are forced not to because that family member has refused contact. I’ve experienced this myself and I know how painful it is. But we have a choice in those times – do we slowly and subtly close our hearts off to that person who has rejected us or do we daily love them from the depth of love that Jesus has given us, and continue to pray for them from that position of love, even if they don’t want to see or hear from us?

Maybe humbling ourselves and praying for our nation and our land means dropping the excuses when it comes to sin and the ‘wicked ways’ in our own families. WE need to stop saying ‘I was just under pressure, so I lost it’, or ‘well, he knows how to push my buttons and he won’t stop pushing them, so he deserved it’ or ‘I should probably be more of a mentor to her but she’s just so needy’. No. We have been given everlasting supplies of love – we just need to come to Jesus when we’re wearing thin. We have been given self-control. We have been given the power to forgive. We have everything we need to be repairers of the breach and lovers of family.

So maybe it’s time we humble ourselves, turn our hearts fully towards our spiritual parents, turn our hearts fully towards our biological parents, turn our hearts fully towards our spiritual children, and turn our hearts fully towards our biological children.

Maybe the last verse in the Old Testament which refers to ‘Elijah’ who will ‘turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and turn the hearts of the children to their parents’ (NIV) is foreshadowing the essence of the ‘church’ in the New Testament: a church that exists without needing the internet to prop it up, a church that has an open, warm heart towards God as our Father, and an open, warm heart towards its own children and parents, a church that is a safe place for the vulnerable, a church that can then reach the world.

~Alicia

Feel free to check out my Facebook page Spiritual Growth and Giftings for more resources and videos.

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema on unsplash

Categories
giftings

What Are Your Giftings? Part Three

There are no closing hours on your giftings – they are there, waiting to be discovered, unwrapped, used. There’s never been a better time to whip out your giftings and spread more of God’s love around! The world needs it. Many businesses are shutting down and our travel is being limited if we live in countries affected by Covid 19, but our giftings need to be opened up and activated in every way possible.

I’m fascinated with the fact that God gives us giftings that we wouldn’t necessarily see as ‘spiritual’ at first glance, and this concept is captured really well in the third passage we’re going to look at. In Part One of this series we looked at the ‘five-fold’ ministry gifts; in Part Two we looked at the ‘nine spiritual giftings’ listed in Corinthians, and now we’re taking a look at gifts that God has given you which don’t fit so much into nice neat categories:

‘For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.’ (Romans 12:4-8).

Prophesying and teaching are mentioned – usually we’d see ‘prophesying’ as one of the nine spiritual gifts (see Part Two for more details) and ‘teaching’ as a five-fold gift, but here they’re placed alongside ‘serving’ and other gifts that most people would think of as ‘less spiritual’, more crossing over into our natural giftings or personality traits: encouragement, giving, leadership and mercy. I think Paul deliberately places a five fold gifting, a ‘gift of the spirit’ and other gifts that don’t fall into those packaged categories beside each other.

I think this passage emphasises that although we might try to make boxes for different types of gifts and different types of giftings, at the end of the day every good and perfect gift is from God (James 1:17) – even the things that don’t appear to be particularly ‘spiritual’.

Anything that God has empowered you to be good at, when submitted to Him, is a gift or a gifting! It can be developed, given to others, and is of great value to the world, no matter how small or obscure you think your gifting is.

We shouldn’t compare ourselves to others because God has given us different measures of grace, right from the outset, so the gift He gives to one person will never be exactly the same as the gift He gives to someone else (even if the general gift is the same e.g. we can all prophesy, but I believe we are all different in the way we outwork that gift, and the niche that God will use us in).

Here’s a closer look at some of the gifts mentioned in the passage above:

Serving: People who have a gift for serving just love doing things for others – you can’t stop them! They’ll see a need, whether it’s a garden that needs weeding, a table that needs wiping, or an older member of the family who needs a bottle of milk. They are aware of moments where someone might need a hand, and they actually get joy from lending a hand. Without the servers – the toilet cleaners, the tea-pourers, the picker-uppers of those who don’t have a car, church – and the world – as we know it wouldn’t really exist. There are many many ways we can develop a gift of serving in the context of being light to a fear-infected world right now; let’s ask our families and neighbours if they need anything.

Encouraging: Encouragers will give you that one text message or that one little pep talk at just the right moment to help you get through the day. They are amazing at looking for things that people are good at – seeing giftings in others, speaking out what they see, and they have a strong sense of empathy that draws them to people who might be going through a bit of a rough day, week, month or year! There have been times in my life where God has sent me encouragers who helped change my entire perspective. Never underestimate the power of this gift. It’s crucial in these times (and any other time really). There are many lonely and hope-depleted people out there. We need you encouragers!

Giving: If you have one of those aunties who won’t let you leave the house until you’ve eaten the biscuits she offers, had a cuppa and taken a bag of ‘leftover’ goods with you, she might just have a gift of giving! If you often get joy from giving money, goods, or other things to people, you might just have a gift of giving! Again, the church as we know it and the world as we know it wouldn’t exist without this gift. Those who have the gift of giving will have their internal switchboards lighting up with happiness right now as there are so many opportunities to give to those in need.

Leadership: Those gifted in leadership are sometimes obvious – the one who can’t help but take the reigns even in a small group. These ones love facilitating meetings, making decisions, helping teams to run smoothly. However, I’ve learned over the years that some of the most gifted leaders actually take a while to realise that they are gifted in this area (and others may not see leadership in them at first) because the best leaders are servant-hearted; God loves to appoint those who actually want to champion the giftings of those that they lead, making space for each person to use their strengths. So gifted leaders don’t always look like the loudest, most confident people in the group; sometimes their anointing is much more subtle and they will be strong influencers of culture at grass-roots level, bringing an atmosphere of kindness and uplifting others wherever they are. Leaders are crucial to any church, from ‘Senior Leaders’ to creche leaders, to those who are not officially appointed but who create Jesus-culture wherever they go, and whatever group chat they land in!

Mercy: The one who stops on the street to find out the life story of the homeless person? Merciful. The one who believes the best in everyone and overlooks sins and flaws? Merciful. The one who gives us a second, third, fourth, fifth chance? Merciful. We desperately need people who model the mercy of God in our generation. It’s a quality that speaks volumes about the undeserving, lavish love of God towards us. We love you people who have the gift of mercy! And we need to learn more of your ways in this area. In days like these, our patience is also tested and we need to exercise mercy towards each other on a daily basis.

So with those gifts in mind, and with the main point of the passage in mind – that we all value and honour each other because we all have a very wide variety of giftings, and they’re all important – what are some of the other ‘good gifts’ that you can think of in your own or someone else’s life?

Are you gifted at music? Art? Fixing the car? Teaching older people how to use technology? Creating a safe place for kids to talk about how they feel? Turning a house into a home? Baking? Making room for joy? Listening well? Finding the perfect emoji or GIF to make someone laugh when they read your message? You are just as important as a prophet, an apostle, a teacher or anyone else with any other kind of gifting. Use your ‘good and perfect’ gifts from God while on earth. And honour and receive those around you who have gifts that are different to yours, including your spouse or kids or others you’ve become familiar with – look for their giftings and call them out. Because we’re needed – each one of us, and each one of our gifts.

Don’t forget to check out our new Facebook page Spiritual Growth and Giftings for more resources and encouragement.

~Alicia

 

 

 

 

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giftings

What Are Your Giftings? Part Two

You may be gifted in an area that you didn’t realise because you thought you would experience the gift like a bolt of lightning, but it often comes as a still small voice, an inner desire that you haven’t spoken about, or a gut feeling or nudging. We only step out in these gifts as we practice them, so I’d encourage you, even if you feel the slightest leaning towards one or more of these gifts, ask God to show you more about it, and how to partner with His Holy Spirit in activating it more.

The gifts are God-given, so we don’t receive the gift by practicing, but most of us have so much self-doubt (or perhaps a lot of self-assurance but a lack of wisdom, on the flipside) that I believe practice is an essential way for us to learn HOW to move in the gift without second guessing all the time, or how to move in it with wisdom so that that we don’t get in the way of ourselves.

Spiritual Giftings

Click the link here to check out Part One in the series and you’ll see what it means to be a five-fold gift – a prophet, pastor, teacher, evangelist or apostle. This second article is focusing another patch of scripture looking at what most people would call ‘the nine gifts of the Spirit’ of 1 Corinthians 12 (just read the whole chapter, it’s all good!) These are gifts that are given to us by the Holy Spirit after we’ve received Jesus into our hearts. The Holy Spirit chooses which gifts we get – ‘distributing each one individually as He wills’ – but the scripture also suggests that the Holy Spirit wants us to ask Him for more gifts in addition to the ones we are given initially by Him, because we’re told to ‘earnestly desire the best gifts’. He wants to know what giftings we want! This is different to the five-fold gifts where Jesus gives people to be gifts and we don’t get to choose which one we are wired to be (see previous article). With the nine gifts of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit distributes the gifts however He wants, BUT He’s open and flexible to lean into our desires!

Breaking down the nine ‘Gifts of the Spirit’ mentioned in 1 Corinthians chapter 12:

1.Word of Wisdom: We all have moment where we have to make gnarly decisions and we feel like we’re darned if we do and darned if we don’t. The gift of wisdom has a way of helping us make decisions even when it seems like an impossible or overly complicated situation. Wisdom allows us to make decisions, strategies, or take approaches to situations (or give other people advice on this) that will benefit not just in the short run but also in the long run and in serving the bigger picture. We all need some-a-that!!

2. Word of Knowledge: This is where someone knows something about another person’s current life (or past history) that they could not possibly know other than having a supernatural source (the Holy Spirit!). So someone with a word of knowledge might sense that a person in the room has a sore knee, then they could offer to pray for them to demonstrate God’s power. Or it might be as simple as a sense that someone is struggling with depression, even though on the outside everything looks fine and they are acting cheerful, not giving anything away. Word of Knowledge is very powerful in showing people God knows them and loves them – it can be particularly spectacular when used as an entry point to evangelism!

3. Faith: People with a gift of faith will believe that the weather will change when they pray, mountains will be moved when they seek God, that God will provide even when there’s only two bucks in the bank account, and that your family members WILL come to God even if they’re currently P addicts who curse Jesus. We need the gift of faith! It’s the belief in the substance of things that haven’t even happened yet, based on the authority and promises God has given us. If you have crazy ‘impossible’ visionary ideas of things you want to see God doing, or you are the one still believing for something great when others have given up, maybe you have a gift of faith.

4. Gifts of healing: People with gifts of healing will pray and see healings happen! Most of the time people think of physical healings when they mention this gift, and this is an amazing aspect of it – healings of injuries, sicknesses, cancer, other illnesses or ailments – but I wonder if it also includes inner healing issues to do with the emotions. It’s a gift that is an incredible demonstrator of God’s power and love. The word ‘gifts’ is plural with this one, suggesting there are different types or areas or ways of healing available. If you have a passion for healing, God might want to use you in this! I think the concept of plural ‘gifts’ of healing is fascinating and would love to explore this more in Jesus.

5. Miracles: miracles is such a gloriously broad category! So I guess this is the area of mind-blowing things that God does which don’t fit into the other more specific categories. A miracle is something that goes against the laws of nature or something that is impossible in a physical, scientific sense. Sundials moving backwards, a sea parting, angel armies defeating the opposition, feeding five thousand people with just a little bread, finding money to pay the IRD in a fish’s mouth! There are so many miracles in the Bible and I believe God just keeps on extending his range of things that He wants to do which contravene his own laws of creation! Fun!! I don’t want to really put limits on this one by defining what a miracle is other than that. Let your imagination run!

6. Prophecy: Someone with a gift of prophecy will sense God communicating something to them which is then to be communicated to someone else, or to a group of people with the purpose of encouraging, building them up or adding momentum to that person to do good and follow God’s ways (usually God won’t communicate via an audible voice but it will often be through things like an inner knowing, thought, impression, dream and interpretation, vision, or circumstances or symbolic ‘signs’ that seem more than ‘coincidence’ etc). If you get an impression that a person has a particular gifting that is a bit hidden, or you see amazing qualities in them that remind you of a Bible character/person, God might be wanting you to speak this out to encourage them, and to develop the gift of prophecy in you. Prophecy can include foretelling future events as well, but this is only one facet of the gift.

7. The Discernment of Spirits: There are many spirits and a lot of spiritual activity in the world. Only one Spirit out of all the spirits is perfectly pure: the Holy Spirit, sent to be our teacher, advocate, comforter and our empowerment here on earth. The gift of discernment of spirits will allow us to see the difference between supernatural activity that is of God, and supernatural activity that isn’t of God – aka unclean spirits, demons. We might meet someone for the first time and get a really uncomfortable nudging that the person struggles with being abusive towards others without us having hard evidence of this – situations like this could be God showing you He wants you to move in the discernment of spirits. This is very helpful for steering clear of, or confronting, when we sense things that are not of God, but also for focusing on what God is doing even when we perceive darkness – for example, praying for freedom when someone is trapped by darkness. It’s essential to ask for wisdom to know what to do with the type of information the Holy Spirit brings us in this gift.

8. Speaking in different kinds of tongues:  I’ve heard it said that every Christian can ‘speak in tongues’ because this can be our prayer language to God, a direct line from our spirit to God’s spirit, and it builds our spirit as we speak. I tend to agree with this – but speaking in ‘different kinds of tongues’ is a specific gift listed in the scripture which appears to suggest that some people have several kinds of languages that they speak through the Holy Spirit (sometimes these are actual human languages that the person never studied, or can be heard as human language as a supernatural sign to those who don’t speak our own native tongue) as evidenced in the book of Acts, or it could be multiple prayer language tongues, not necessarily human languages. The Holy Spirit is big on communication – communicating the heart of God – so if He can use spiritual languages and also sometimes impart to us other human languages that we didn’t naturally learn so that foreigners to our culture can hear Him, He’ll use that too!

9. Interpretation of tongues: This is when someone hears a God-given language or ‘tongue’ being spoken by someone else usually, and God downloads to them the meaning  or interpretation of the foreign-sounding words so that everyone can understand something that otherwise might sound like gobbledegook! This is important as someone with the gift of different kinds of tongues might be unknowingly prophesying an important message and it takes teamwork – the person with interpretation – to bring that message in a way that the rest of us, or someone visiting the church, will understand.

And with that final mention of teamwork, that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day. If you do read the whole chapter of 1 Corinthians 12 (hey, and why not go on to chapter 13 too which outlines something we need to have way more important than the gifts of the Spirit), you’ll see that God has given different gifts to different people through the Holy Spirit. If anyone claims to have every gift and be all of the five-fold rolled into one, that person is a phony. Only Jesus had every gift and was every gift all rolled into one. We are all parts of the ‘body’ of church, and the second half of 1 Corinthians 12 explains how God has designed us to each contribute something different, and we need to honour each other for those differences.

When Jesus went to heaven after His resurrection, He broke up his ministry (His work on earth) into pieces – so that we would have to work together in love to have a full picture and appreciation for who He is. So be encouraged to get around other believers in Jesus, and it’s in that community that we’ll truly discover more of ourselves and learn more about the gifts. We need each other.

My new Facebook page Spiritual Growth and Giftings  is a great place to grow more with others –  if you like my blog, you’ll like this page – don’t forget to click ‘LIKE’ on the Facebook home page to stay up to date with the free resources that are offered. I’m currently working on part three of ‘What are your giftings?’ This will cover some things you might not initially think of when you hear the word ‘giftings’ – I’m excited to share it soon.

~Alicia


Categories
church

Coronavirus – what would Jesus say?

Yep, I thought I’d do a post on old Covid. What does Jesus want to say about coronavirus? Do I buy more toilet paper, Jesus? Jesus hasn’t answered me about the loo paper but I do think there are some things on His heart.

I’m sure He’s been speaking to many people – I just felt to share my puzzle piece of what I’m sensing. Since last night, I’ve been feeling to pray for people with a ‘Joseph’ type of anointing to be raised into positions of power for this time. Joseph knew a massive disaster was coming on Egypt – seven years of famine. But God raised up Joseph at the right time with supernatural wisdom that saved many lives.

Even though it was the OLD TESTAMENT, folks, Joseph didn’t get stuck in judging politicians like Pharoah. He got straight to work after he was appointed 2IC of Egypt. He collected grain in the years of plenty prior to the famine. He organised. He did what would be an administrative nightmare – appointing leaders, building storehouses, creating systems to collect grain, communicating the plan to an entire nation without the internet, not to mention the bamboozling task of redistributing food to a bunch of people who would’ve been more irate than Australians fighting over the last packet of toilet paper. Yet because God’s hand was on him, it worked. The grain was enough to feed the people. (See Genesis chapters 37-41 for his story).

Because he worked with God’s wisdom, he saved an ‘unbelieving’ nation from destruction as well as his own! Don’t we want the same thing? There’s a problem right now that even the biggest world leaders cannot solve, just like there were problems that world leaders couldn’t solve until Joseph and Daniel were appointed, in order that they would show the power and grace of a God who is bigger than any person.

I’m praying that God will appoint Christians right now in leadership, in governments, science and medicine, and other areas – people who seemingly ‘come from nowhere’ because in this time of desperation, the Spirit of God will be so obvious in them – the Spirit of wisdom and might. It’s a time when the thrones of power and authority are being shaken and we need to pray into those shifts, decreeing God’s way and God’s appointments. If God could bring damage control to a seven-year famine, don’t we think he can bring damage control to a virus? It’s very sad that there are so many deaths already and I don’t want to ever downplay the losses of those families. We need to pray for them too, help them, and of course pray fiercely that the virus will be stamped out.

Let’s also pray that God will give each one of us, along with the leaders, supernatural wisdom in the practicalities of this situation every day, and let us demonstrate the love, peace, power and grace of God to our neighbours.

I’ve also been praying for us to awaken to tending our home fires. It’s a time when many people are stuck at home in isolation or are restricted in their travel and their ability to gather in groups. Emergency laws are being passed and tightened in these areas, even in lil old NZ. That means we’re all increasingly forced to pay attention to our home nation, our home town, our home street, our home church, and our family at home. The world is re-evaluating its priorities – placing life and survival above the need to travel and the need to be entertained in stadiums – so maybe it’s a good time for us to lead the way as Christians in re-evaluating and re-prioritising too.

Let’s take this opportunity to look at our home fires – our home church, our family, our own heart. How are we doing? Are we taking care of those who are under our care or have we been a little too busy with conferences and missions trips, organising this or that ministry event, or making sure our guest speakers have celebrity treatment and that their environmentally-friendly bottle of filtered distilled mountain spring water is primed and ready to be handed to them to drink, when actually there are people in our congregation who desperately need more care, teaching, equipping, discipleship, inner healing, commissioning and releasing into their own ministries?

Are we treating our kids right? Are we attentive to our kids with the same vigilance and care that we have towards our projects, endeavours, work, sports, ministries? Are we treating our husbands or wives or parents right? Would two weeks inside the house together feel like torture, or would we be at peace? Where are we at in the home fire of our relationship with Jesus? Are we okay to be alone with Him? Or are there things we’ve been ignoring for too long, allowing ourselves to be distracted by – the routines, the school run, work, going out to restaurants, getting that elusive perfect coffee at the elusive perfect cafe, saving for and fantasizing about that next trip overseas?

Has the coronavirus brought out fear and anxiety that’s been in us which needs to be dealt with and replaced with love? Or are there other things in the personal ‘vineyard’ of our love relationship with God that have been neglected? Maybe it’s a good time to ask God what He’s saying in all of this (I’m interested in your further thoughts on what you feel He’s saying), a good time to align ourselves to be the people who are anointed with peace, love and wisdom among our neighbours, a good time to self-reflect, re-prioritise and seek Him some more.

Don’t forget to check out my brand new Facebook page Spiritual Growth and Giftings which has more resources and content – click LIKE to stay updated.

sravan-v-Ejxn-sCAI9M-unsplashPhoto credit: Sravan V on Unsplash

Categories
giftings

What Are Your Giftings? Part One

Any talk of giftings is usually dripping with Christianese so I felt to do a break-down of giftings for us normal people.

If you’re not a Christian, keep reading anyway 😀 God has a plan for you just as much as He has for anyone else and you might see yourself in the description of some of these gifts.

Disclaimer: I’m not a Bible scholar, I haven’t been to Bible school, but I studied Literature at University and I’ll always remember the advice of Prof Brian Boyd for Literature 101: read, read and re-read your text before reading anyone else’s commentary on it!

So that’s one of the things I’ve been doing for the 17 years that I’ve been walking with God and that’s what I’m basing these thoughts on – reading the ‘primary text’ of the Bible and asking the Holy Spirit for guidance in finding meaning, in addition to gleaning some great things from messages I’ve heard or read over the years. I’m open to people bringing questions or their own perspective to what I write.

It’s an inherent thing for us to have a curiosity about our giftings because it links so directly to our sense of purpose, our place in the world, how we can help others, and the direction our lives take.

I’ve learned that most of my giftings weren’t obvious to me when I was younger, partly because my baggage and insecurities (big and small) were hiding those giftings. So don’t worry if not much jumps out initially. As you read through this three part series, ask God to show you your obvious giftings but also the ones you may not have realised yet.

In the Bible, there are different types of gifts / giftings listed so in my series I’m going to focus on 3 main patches of scripture where attention is drawn to this. Aside from the five-fold areas, I believe most people have more than one area of gifting. The first patch of scripture I’ll look at is to do with the ‘five-fold’ gifts.

The ‘Five-fold’

The term ‘five fold’ isn’t found anywhere in the Bible – someone at some point made this phrase up and it simply refers to the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers mentioned in Ephesians 4:11-13. When talking about the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, it’s much easier to just call them the ‘five fold’ rather than the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers! Whew. Bit of a tongue twister!

These five-fold people are ‘gifts’ themselves (we are all designed to be gifts to the world around us, but it’s specifically stated that ‘Christ himself gave’ the five-fold people as gifts because it draws attention to the fact that their whole DNA and training process with God is geared towards the end-point of serving people by being equippers). The five-fold equip people of the church to be more like Jesus in the way He operated while on earth – we all need training from the five-fold so that we’re more well-rounded, so that we all catch a bit of the flavour of apostleship, prophetic ministry, evangelism, pastoral care and teacher-mindedness: all attributes of Jesus Christ.

If a church only has apostles in leadership, it will be unbalanced. If a church only has pastors, it will be unbalanced. If a church only has teachers, it will be unbalanced, and so on. We need all five to come to maturity, to be more like Jesus, and so we’re not blown about by every weird teaching out there.

How do you know if you’re one of the five-fold, or which one of the five-fold you’re called to? It takes a process, not a whim, to know –  the scripture suggests that these roles have a high level of responsibility because they each involve training / equipping people, so if we flippantly go around calling ourselves a prophet or teacher, that’s not wise because it brings with it a whole bunch of spiritual heft that we may not be prepared for.

We need to ask God to confirm to us in several ways over a decent period of time if He’s calling us to this. Jesus is the one who gave the gifts so Jesus will make it clear through others around you (without you telling them what you think you’re called to) and through a revelation He gives to you personally if you’re to be operating as one of these people. Jesus decides (again, refer Eph 4:11-13): we don’t decide for ourselves that we just want to be one of these. Some people take the view that we’re all, as Christians, called to be a five-fold member; others see it as a role more specifically for ‘some’ who are called to lay down their lives to equip the church. I’m not sure what I think but either way, knowing more about the five-fold is incredibly helpful so that we don’t lose this important early-church foundation.

Breaking it down:

Apostles: These are the people who often have a big-picture mentality – they’ll walk into a street, community, city or country and want to see it transformed. They’ll want the dark, evil things to be exposed and removed, and they’ll want to get blueprints and build structures that will benefit those areas (businesses, churches, leadership structures, teams, organisations, etc). They’ll want to bring breakthrough, healing, and decreases in negative statistics of crime, homelessness, suicide, etc. They are leaders of leaders, they’re empowered by God to put teams together, to pioneer things and to go forward into new territories. When they train and equip others, it’s often from the angle of helping others to transform their environment via miracles, building teams, and bringing heavenly things to earth. They get excited about being ‘sent’ into new places and endeavours (in fact, ‘apostle’ means ‘sent’). Read about the life of apostle Paul in Acts to see examples of all of these things and more!

Prophets: Prophets can often tune in to things that are outside the world of the five senses – to a ‘gut instinct’ that goes beyond logic or they tend to ‘hear’ in the spirit realm fairly intuitively. They sense the heart of God on many issues, therefore they have a strong sense of justice and they want to communicate that to people (sometimes forcefully)! They will champion the rights of vulnerable people in society, and they tend to be black-and-white in their thinking. When submitted to God’s ways and training process, prophets are powerful in being sensitive to helping steer the ship of ‘church’, noticing potential pitfalls that others wouldn’t notice and warning people to save them heartbreak, establishing new things or movements through prayer, tweaking the finer details of an apostle’s building process, and seeing gifts in people that others might not see. When they train and equip others, it’s often from the angle of helping people to hear from God for themselves, and having intimacy with Jesus.

Teachers: These ones usually have a desire for detail, a high value for truth, a hatred for lies, and an ability to make complicated things easy to understand, and they’ll also help others to apply what they’ve learned because they have a way of showing us how a teaching principle might look on the ground, in real life, in the everyday grind. It goes without saying, an anointed (empowered by God) teacher is worth his or her weight in gold because they can take a scripture passage that might seem obscure, show us what it means and how to implement it!  When they train and equip others, it’s often from the angle of helping people to read the Bible for themselves, embrace the truth, reject lies, and connect with God for their own understanding in how scripture can be outworked.

Evangelists: Evangelists are often good at connecting with anyone from any background through conversation. If you walk around with an evangelist you’ll typically find yourself waiting around while they have a convo with a stranger about said stranger’s kids or some other random topic with some random person they just met. They have a firey passion to see people from all walks of life – druggies, the homeless, CEOS, stay at home mums, relatives, shopkeepers, saved (to see people receiving eternal life by accepting Jesus into their lives.) They are essential to expanding God’s fam! When they train and equip others, it’s often from the angle of helping others to speak about Jesus to non-believing people, to pray for miracles as a witness to the world that God is real, and get to that crunchpoint question with everyone: do you know Jesus and if not, do you want to receive Him into your life?

Pastors: Pastor means ‘shepherd’. People with a pastoral gifting are drawn to help those who are going through difficulties, those who are isolated, those who have been emotionally or physically hurt by others and need healing, those who need guidance and patience because they’re going a bit awol, or those who need a sense of family (we all need that so we all need pastors!) In relatively recent church history, we’ve slapped the title of ‘Pastor’ on anyone who leads anything in church but the original connotation of the word was one of shepherding, which is a less visible often one-to-one, behind the scenes and grass-roots role (that’s why pastors aren’t mentioned much elsewhere in the New Testament other than Ephesians 4, I believe – they are busy with the people at ground level). When pastors train and equip others, it’s often in the area of helping them to see the great need for loving and following up with people in an ongoing way, providing support so that lasting healing can happen, etc.

 I hope this is an exciting process for you as you discover more about who God has called you to be and what your giftings are. Even if you don’t feel that you’re called to be a five-fold ‘gift’ dedicated to equipping others, you might still have leanings towards one or more of the above gifts – you could have a strong pastoral leaning without being ‘a pastor’ as such, or a strong prophetic gifting without being ‘a prophet’ as such, so I hope these descriptions at least give some clarity on that, or areas to ask God more questions.

I have a brand spanking NEW Facebook page called Spiritual Growth and Giftings (click to visit). Please like the page to see other content that you may find helpful, and stay updated on free resources, and of course parts 2 and 3 of this series. Click here to read Part Two! I’d love to hear your comments on other things you want to learn more about, or any other comments in response to this article. If you know any new Christians or seekers who might be interested, don’t forget to invite them to like the page. The goal of the page is to freely give encouragement, ideas and knowledge to help people grow spiritually and in their giftings. There is no other agenda and the resources, as mentioned, are FREE! Enjoy.

~Alicia

Photo credit: Jason Leung Xaa on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
love

Are we missing the most basic element of church structure?

Maybe ‘love one another’ isn’t just a nice sentiment. Maybe it’s also part of church structure. Maybe it’s the most important part of church structure – a joining of parts, a joining of people, that we’ve put to the back of our minds because we prefer creating structures that are hierarchical – hierarchies feel safer than than structures where we are shoulder to shoulder, eye to eye. Or maybe we assume love will automatically ‘happen’ without effort.

Maybe we need to be as deliberate about loving one another as we are about establishing Youth ministries, Worship Teams, Leaders and Assistant Leaders, and the five-fold ministries. I have a huge passion for Pastors, Teachers, Apostles, Prophets and Evangelists to be commissioned and given space to lead as in the early church. But maybe the structure of ‘love one another’ is even more crucial.  Maybe we should start there.

Maybe it’s more important to look at the person next to us in church and ask Jesus how we can love them in action, not just words, not just a nice Christianese ‘bless you sister’ as we walk out after the service. Maybe when we feel strong, we need to look around for those who are weak and hold them up for a time. Maybe we need to hang out and laugh a bit more with each other. Maybe we need to invite the people who are a bit lonely to dinner instead of sticking with the same friend group all the time.

Maybe we, the universal church, the people, are living stones being built together into a holy temple, and we are held together only by the mortar of loving one another as God has loved us (1 Peter 2:5, Colossians 3:14). Maybe without loving one another, the stones fall apart.

Maybe the bigger structures like walls and rooves and joinery and Kids Church ministries and Intercessory teams and Senior Leadership hierarchies will only fall if we don’t have Jesus’ all-out on-fire self-sacrificing brand of love between us. Forgiveness. Patience with those who we feel irritated by. Kindness. Longsuffering. Gentleness. Believing the best in each other. Eating together, talking together in love. Asking Jesus for more love when we feel we’ve run out. Giving up our lives for our friends.

Maybe there’s a reason Jesus didn’t mention the importance of establishing hierarchical structure in church among His final instructions before being crucified.

Maybe there’s an important reason why He mentioned twice in His final instructions before He left earth: ‘Love each other as I have loved you’. (John 13:34, John 15:12-13)

yegor-chuperka-S1EZapb3HJQ-unsplashPhoto credit: Yegor Chuperka

Categories
Five-fold ministry

How to Receive our Prophets and Little Ones

Traditionally, we kill them, dishonour them, ignore them, or choose to believe they don’t exist. Or, at the other extreme, we idolise them and watch them self-destruct because when prophets have no accountability, they tend to crash and burn (as anyone would).

Surely there’s a better way to interact with prophets? Yep. Jesus outlined it in pretty clearly in a book called ‘The Bible’. We’re supposed to receive the prophets. But what does that mean?

Jesus’ words are often quoted: ‘He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward’.

When it gets mentioned, we usually focus on the second half of the verse – if we good Christians just call a prophet a prophet – ‘the name of a prophet’ – we’ll ‘receive a prophet’s reward.’ Preachers often use the verse with a satisfied air when they’re introducing a guest prophet from out of town, taking pains to call him ‘a prophet’ out loud in front of the church because it’s a good thing to do, right? And it has some kind of ‘reward’, right? Whatever that may be…(I’ve never heard anyone explain what the reward actually is).

Acknowledging that a prophet is a prophet is a great idea (not as a pompous title but just as we would call a leader a leader and a pastor a pastor, identifying the God-given mandate of that person). But I think there’s a lot more to be said about the beginning of the verse: ‘receive a prophet’.

Jesus doesn’t say ‘receive a prophet’s words’ or ‘receive a prophet’s ministry’. He says ‘receive a prophet’. A prophet. A whole person. Not just a mouthpiece.

If we’re only interacting with prophets as intriguing wonders who distribute prophecy after prophecy, something is wrong. Acknowledging that a prophet is a prophet (not just a ‘prophetic voice’ or someone with a ‘prophetic gifting’ or ‘prophetic insight’) is a great start, and that in itself would be a massive mark of progress for some churches, but it’s not all there is. If we think that all we need to do with a prophet is receive their words and throw the word ‘prophet’ around when we introduce them, I think we’re mistaken.

If we only want a prophet to communicate with us when they have a prophetic word, and we’re only interested in needling their latest revelation out of them during our conversations with them, we’re missing the point, in my opinion. And possibly missing the fullness of a reward, too….

Maybe the Shunammite woman had the right idea about how to receive a prophet, a whole prophet. She had an appreciation that a prophet isn’t just supernatural but he or she is also human. When she received Elisha, she didn’t just receive his words and send him on his way in a taxi to the next town. She received HIM. She received the person Elisha into her home.

She did reno for him! She made a room and put a lampstand, a table, a chair and a bed there for him, knowing that prophets get tired and need rest, they need homes, they need to eat, and they need community (2 Kings 4:8-10).

I’m not suggesting we all take a prophet into our homes (although that would be a cool as heck experiment!) But we can learn from the Shunammite because hearing Elisha’s Godly words and receiving miracles was only one aspect of her embrace.

I’m guessing she would have also received his more mundane conversation, his dirty dinner plate, his morning breath and bed hair. And she probably caught glimpses of his insecurities too. Because that’s what happens when people stay.

I truly think that when we receive prophets, and each other, every single person in the body of Christ, as humans and not just a set of giftings and gifts to serve the non-profit factory of ‘church’, we will then receive Jesus.

We have some of Jesus in church. But I don’t think we’ve received all of Him. The extent to which we receive the prophets, and each other, is the extent to which we receive Jesus among us. Jesus Himself said ‘He who receives you receives me’ (Matt 10:40). If we ignore or reject the humanity of each person who joins the church, we reject parts of Jesus because each one of us is a member of His body. We are not supposed to be knitted together by our pretense of perfection, or even by our gifts or ‘serving together on a team’. We’re only bonded together by love (Colossians 3:14).

Are we prepared to receive not only each others’ best bits (our gifts, talents, slick words on a good day) but also each others’ humanness? Are we prepared to be hospitable to the extent that we still receive another person when they’re tired, a bit grumpy, a bit mundane, when they don’t know what to do about their family drama, when they’re in need of care, in need of accountability, or simply in need of a friend?

I’m well aware that the context of that verse about receiving a prophet is Jesus giving instructions to His disciples about preaching the gospel. And He doesn’t just refer to prophets. He also says ‘He who receives a righteous man in the name of  a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward’ (Matt 10:41-42).

We want ‘the world’ and ‘the unsaved’ to receive us and receive the gospel when we speak it, but have we as the church even received each other fully? Are we prepared to receive each other the way Jesus received the disciples?

For three years Jesus received and poured into the lives of twelve men, twelve disciples, twelve ‘little ones’, who certainly could not yet be called fully fledged apostles when he was with them, although they would go on to be. They had no clue what their calling or giftings were when He first received them. He received them as doubters, needy ones, immature ones, triggered ones, cowardly ones who abandoned Him by fleeing when persecution came.

That verse about receiving prophets is perhaps not so much about prophets as it is about our attitude towards each other – can we receive each other fully, every ‘little one’ among us, whether we have many gifts in ministry, good and ‘righteous’ deeds, or if we’re just simply imperfect and unaccomplished, bumbling followers of Jesus? Because aren’t we all ‘little ones’ at the end of the day?

Elijah, Elisha’s mentor, was received by a widow who he stayed with, and it was only after he had stayed with her for some time that she saw him with greater clarity and experienced him as a true prophet through an astounding miracle (1 Kings 17).

If you think you haven’t yet had a conversation with a local prophet, you’re probably wrong. They are there. Maybe we need to ask God to help us receive each other fully, and in receiving each other no matter where we’re at, in really getting to know each other, we can also see each other more clearly as unique gifts from God.

The word translated as ‘receive’ in that verse in our English Bible came from the Greek ‘dechomai’. This word means ‘to take with the hand, to take hold of, to take up, to grant access to, not to refuse friendship with, to receive hospitality, to receive into one’s family to bring up or educate, to receive favourably, give ear to, embrace, make one’s own, approve, not to reject, to take upon oneself, to sustain, endure, bear, get, learn’. 

Receiving someone in this way is very different to just giving someone in church a title and a role.

Can we appreciate the humanity in each other? Can we see a prophet (or an apostle or a teacher, or any little one) sometimes as someone who simply needs a drink of water, someone who needs a laugh over dinner, someone who sighs with relief because even if they are not received everywhere else, they can be received and at home in our community?

Photo Credit: Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash