Archive | May, 2012

Everything they said I shouldn’t do…

23 May

When talking to Christians from non-charismatic or conservative evangelical backgrounds, I often find myself having to deal with their resistance to the idea that God would want to manifest the gifts of the Holy Spirit through them, bless them finanically or meet with them personally in day-to-day life.

Some attempt to write these things off as minor doctrines, but God has spoken clearly in the Bible about a great many things besides forgiveness, holiness and salvation. Generally I find that people start to mention the issue of “minor doctrines” when they are trying to excuse themselves from dealing with parts of Scripture that they find challenging. Unbelief regarding God’s word or fear of what other Christians will think of them is what holds them back from exploring God’s ways. How often do we say, “We don’t do it like that at my church?”

Nothing is as important as knowing you’re saved from sin, but God has given us a lot of very clear teaching about how to live and how to build His kingdom. Receiving salvation (being born again) is just the first step. It’s amazing to see how all the stuff people at my old conservative evangelical Baptist church tried to talk me out of when I was in my teens has become the most liberating and powerful teaching – and all I had to do was take God at his word.

They said I didn’t need to ask God to fill me with the Holy Spirit, but when I did ask Him to fill me with the Spirit, I found power to witness and a sense of Jesus living in me that being a born-again Christian from age 10 and going to church all my life had never given me. (Acts 1:8; Romans 8:11)

They said speaking in tongues was a waste of time, but the more I speak in tongues, the more I hear from God when ministering to people and am empowered to use the gifts of the Spirit. (Romans 8:26,27; Jude v20)

They said I shouldn’t bother raising my hands in the air when I worship, but when I do it I feel more connected to God and worship takes me into two-way communion with Him. (Psalm 63:4)

They said I shouldn’t bother laying hands on people to pray for healing, but I have done it and people have been healed and shown the love of Jesus as a result. (Mark 16:18)

They said I shouldn’t bother trusting God to prosper me, but every time I do, He blesses me financially! (Luke 6:38; 2 Corinthians 9:6-11)

The bottom line is that we can do things God’s way, as the apostles and prophets did, and if we do so, we will see what the apostles and prophets saw. Many Christians are discovering this to be true and are seeing God do amazing things through the gifts of the Spirit, as well as being abundantly blessed with financial and material provision, enabling them in turn to provide for the preaching of the gospel and ministry to the needy. Alternatively, we can find reasons not to do those things and have the kind of church I grew up in, in which most of the people we reach are those who are already stable in life and part of the church system.

I’ve begun to see what God does when we take Him at His word.  If you’re looking to see Him do what He said He would do, don’t let well-meaning, “unbelieving believers” talk you out of it.

Is tithing for today? Testimony and teaching

22 May

Somebody asked this question on a forum to which I regularly contribute. This is gonna be a long one, for which I apologise in advance, but if you’re seeking God’s will on this subject or are grappling with financial issues, this may shed some light. (And please don’t just take my word for it, but get out your Bible and concordance and study the subject prayerfully.)

Tithing is one of those issues which people sometimes view as a bit “Old Testament”; perhaps unnecessarily legalistic. To properly understand an issue like this, we have to look not just at the do’s and don’ts, but also at God’s promises and the attitudes He requires of us.

I think firstly it is important to be Spirit-led in all things, rather than laying down hard and fast rules. However, when I have prayed about my giving, God has always brought me back to black-and-white Scripture and given me the choice to obey it in faith or not. However, if somebody is struggling to find the faith to tithe, let them give what they can give in faith and just walk through it with God. A healthy attitude is one that seeks to obey, asking God to help in one’s weakness.

The original purpose of the tithe (giving of 10%) of one’s income was to support the Levites, who had no land (Deuteronomy 14:27), as we find in Leviticus 27. The tithe was holy to the Lord (Lev 27:30-32). The tithe of the produce was to be eaten in the presence of the Lord (Dt 14:23), but every third year it was to be given to the Levites and the poor and needy in the land (Dt 14:27-29). So the tithe embodied firstly worship, secondly celebration and thirdly provision for God’s house and those in need.

The tithe in Bible times was their version of the welfare state.

Is tithing in today’s church actually “legalistic” because the OT law has been superseded?

Tithing actually began before the law was given, with Abraham giving Melchizedek the priest-king a tenth of all he had (Genesis 14:20). Jesus is described (Hebrews 7) as a “priest in the order of Melchizedek”: a king-priest who receives tithes, so one could say that tithing is still “in force”.

Malachi 3:10 talks about the “storehouse”, which I have heard interpreted as the local church. My personal view is that if one is benefiting from the ministry of a church, it should have first call upon one’s tithe, and if one wants to support some other ministry, that should be seen as a freewill offering, given in addition to, and separately from, the tithe. There is perhaps scope for manoeuvre on this, and clearly what is most important is to be led by the Spirit and one’s conscience. However, one should be wary of withholding the tithe from the church, for we find God accusing the Israelites of robbing Him in Malachi 3, because they were not bringing the tithe into the storehouse (Mal 3:7-12)

Where it gets really interesting, for my money (no pun intended) is not in the legalism of “Do I have to do this?” but in the promises God makes concerning tithing.

I began tithing at 15 after it was shown to me that God says in Malachi 3:10:

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”

Suddenly there was no question of whether I could afford to tithe: I saw on the basis of God’s promise that I could not afford not to tithe!

God makes other promises of abundant blessing:

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38)

“Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. … And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. … Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. … You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” (see 2Cor 9:6-11)

Generosity is also linked with abundant blessing and prosperity on several occasions in Proverbs (concordance keywords: “generous”; “prosper” and associated terms).

 Why generosity?

We need to ask ourselves what God is looking for when we consider finances. God is generous and rich in blessings; He gave us his Son (John 3:16) and “along with Him, he will graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32). It follows that He is asking the same of us: generosity in our giving, in response to which, God will give generously to us.

This teaching revolutionised my attitude to money (I used to be quite keen to hold onto my cash!): I instantly began giving at every opportunity to support church, the gospel, and to help the needy.

This has had huge benefits: God has really met me!

I have frequently had it happen in my life that God met my needs unexpectedly. When I was a student in France, I got through my grant money a lot more quickly than expected. Without being asked or told of my needs, my grandmother began regularly sending me cheques for £100: several cheques in all. I also had other needs met while I was a student, e.g. I needed new shoes one day, and I received a cheque from my mother, along with a letter saying she had decided to increase the support she and my father were giving me while I was at university.

It has been happening more recently too. For a number of years I have been unable to work and living on benefits. Yet God has again continually met me. For a while I ran an evangelistic project giving away DVDs all over the world via the web. Every time I went to God asking for a particular amount of money, somebody either gave me that exact amount within 48 hours or offered me a little work that would pay the amount I prayed for (amounts that were permissible for me to earn whilst receiving state benefits). I never told anybody of my needs: it was God who spoke to them and provided.

More recently, still while living on benefits, God challenged me to increase my regular support to a homeless chap I have befriended, who hands out my gospel literature advertising my website. I am now giving him the sum God said, and God has continued to meet my needs. Recently an elderly chap next door started paying me for helping him with doing his shopping and other chores, ensuring that while I was supporting my homeless friend, my needs were still being met.

As the man next door became more independent again, that resource began to dry up. Meanwhile, I found myself praying about another need which could not be covered out of my regular income. Within two days, I had a phone call from friends offering me a little paid work that would cover that need!

The “lifestyle of generosity”

 God asks us to have faith in his provision, not just our salaries or the state, to meet all our needs. And He wants us to develop what I call the “lifestyle of generosity” so that we meet the needs of those around us. God always looks at our hearts. The attitude of the world is generally that one should put oneself first. When God sees us with finances, I believe He says, “Does this person have my heart of seeking to bless people; of putting others first?” Then he knows that we are faithful with little and can be entrusted with much (see e.g. Matt 25:21).

Some people write off  biblical teaching about prosperity because the impression they have is that it is all about American TV preachers telling us we can all be driving Bentleys or living in mansions with swimming pools. Others think it is wrong to ask God for anything more than our most basic of needs; that God will be angry or that having more than what we need is wrong. The truth is that God calls us to make Him Lord of our finances, in response to which He will entrust us with more. Our response in turn is to continue to give generously. Few of us have seen what God will do through those whose hearts are truly open to giving in faith the way He gives to us. And when we give freely and in obedience to God, we find that God both provides for us and enables us to finance great things for the kingdom.

So I would try never to tell anybody, “You must tithe!” in legalistic fashion, but I hope I can inspire people to have faith to take God at His word and to begin an adventure of giving and receiving generously.

 Praying and believing

And just a very short word on the practical side of praying and trusting God for finances:

When I have a need, I open up the Bible at the places I have mentioned. I read those promises out loud, praise God in faith over them that they are His stated will for me, and pray over the verses in the Spirit (tongues) too.

Then I believe that it is done and that I will receive what I have asked (Mark 11:23-24). Then I wait in faith and keep my eyes open for the way in which God is answering the prayer (it’s different almost every time!).

There is no formula to God’s blessings, but He has taught us principles by which we can live, and when we live by what His Word says and obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit, we will be amazed at what happens.

May God inspire you with faith and may you walk in all of his blessings!

“And my God will meet all your needs

according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

(Philippians 4:19)

No Holy Spirit makes Christianity hard to swallow

17 May

Yesterday I had the unfortunate experience of having to eat a gluten-free biscuit (“cookie”, for American readers). It started off okay, as it was sweet and crunchy, but by the time it came to swallow, it was sticking to my teeth like sawdust. I had to eat a handful of raisins just to dislodge the clumps of biscuit that were still sticking to my teeth.

Gluten in flour acts as a kind of lubricant in bread, cookies and cakes. It gives the baked dough a bouncier consistency, and this makes food more appealing to look at and to handle, as well as much more pleasant to chew and easier to swallow.

Of course, some people cannot eat gluten and have no choice but to eat gluten-free. My mother has had to eat a gluten-free diet for some 30 years. Her allergy to wheat gluten means that if she resumes eating gluten, it brings on an uncomfortable skin-rash. But, given the choice, she would go back to eating normal food, with the gluten left in, in a heartbeat.

It strikes me that the power of the Holy Spirit is a bit like gluten. Christian life is so much more bouncy, so much more enjoyable, when one is full of the Holy Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is… joy…” (Galatians 5:22) Joy and the overflowing life given by the Spirit (John 7:38) not only make our own lives as followers of Christ into the abundant and rich experience Jesus said it would be (“I have come that you may have life in all its fullness” – see John 10:10). Being filled with the Spirit also makes us more palatable to the world. If Christianity is all “Do this; don’t do that,” it can seem dry, lifeless, as hard to swallow as sawdust or those dry crumbs of biscuit that stuck to my teeth. The Spirit-filled life is one of power to do the works of the kingdom of God (Acts 1:8); ability to overcome the traps set by the sinful nature (Galatians 5:16); release from the death-grip of the world (Romans 8:11-14). These are the things the world is crying out for; answers to its problems and keys to its prison cell.

Being filled with the Holy Spirit some twenty years ago immediately transformed my life as a Christian. I was almost 16 years old, and had been saved for six years, having grown up in a church that did not talk about the baptism or gifts of the Spirit. My faith had consistency: I knew I was saved, but it was a dry faith. One could get tired of trying to swallow it. When I got filled with the Spirit and began praying in tongues, all of that changed. His power not only brought me into a new dimension of relating to God; it brought a bounce and a liveliness that had been missing before. Passion was there, along with boldness, focus and a sense of being fully involved in God’s purposes. No longer did Christianity stick in my teeth: it became ever more a delight and, as I began leading people to faith in Jesus, it was clear that the Spirit in me was making the gospel appetising to other people too.

Sometimes we ask what is missing from our Christianity. Since I got filled with the Spirit, I no longer have to ask that question: I have found God’s gluten, the missing ingredient that was needed to provide the “bounce”. Yet some of us seem to be allergic to the answer: the mention of the Holy Spirit and gifts like tongues and prophecy brings us out in a rash. But when we take Jesus at His word and receive the Holy Spirit, not only do we find that there is no allergic reaction; the Spirit brings us life!

Find out here how to be filled with the Spirit today.

I’m still waiting to hear an atheist say something impressive

2 May

Hello, and welcome to my first proper blog post on Cookie Supermarket!

I frequently have discussions about faith with atheist friends, usually on Facebook. Many of them are passionate in their claim that there is no such thing as God, or indeed any god. A lot of them appear to put great faith in the pronouncements of prominent atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, et al.

After a couple of years of going around in circles, patterns are emerging. And they don’t bode well for atheism.

    1. Atheism is not rational, analytical, logical and scientific, as its proponents claim. I have never heard so much circular logic as when atheism is boiled down to its essentials. “There is no God because there is no God,” or indeed, “Miracles cannot happen because miracles cannot happen,”  is a fair summation of the logic applied. Much of the logic is founded on a vested interest: there is said to be no God because the atheist cannot or will not bring themselves to believe in God. As one has said, “An atheist cannot find God for the same reason that a thief cannot find a policeman.”
    2. The “high priests” of atheism make arguments based on mockery and disbelief rather than careful consideration of the facts. Consider this gem by Christopher Hitchens – hailed by atheists as a “destruction of biblical miracle claims” – in which he argues that it is possible to consider something a miracle if you are ignorant of the facts, i.e. you see your friend, whom you thought had been executed yesterday, walking around in town and assume he has been raised from the dead. Clearly that is not a miracle if the friend did not die. Christians and atheists can agree on that. Hitchens gets his laugh from the audience, but completely neglects to consider what happens if your friend who was executed (he is, of course, making a jokey reference to Jesus Christ) actually did die and was then seen walking around a few days later. In short, his argument is based upon the a priori conclusion that resurrection is impossible. The actual facts of the Resurrection are not even considered. Hitchens’ argument would not stand up in a court of law.
    3. Scandalous use of red herrings. Hitchens goes on to say that many people were raised from the dead in Jesus’ day, and that this disproves Jesus’ divinity as any of these other people who were raised from the dead could make the same claim. Again, Hitchens fails to consider the facts. Of all those raised from the dead, Jesus alone spoke of being the Messiah, God, and the Son of God. He alone was the fulfilment of centuries of Old Testament prophecy. And of Him alone was it said that “[God] has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31) Hitchens’ reference to the “others” who were raised from the dead is a red herring: it proves (or indeed disproves) nothing, because once again the atheist has not done justice to the facts.

Obviously there is more one could say on so great a subject. Atheists put a huge amount of faith in physics explaining ever more distant acts of cosmic upheaval as proof that God was not involved in creation – yet this only delays the invevitable question of where the original matter, energy or space-time fabric came from which permitted that upheaval to take place. The principle that nothing can come from nothing is basic science, yet it seems to be conveniently ignored by atheists.

There is also the issue that many militant atheists, including Hitchens and Dawkins, apparently cannot see anything good in faith or religion. They give no consideration to the lives changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ: that faith in Him has turned millions from despair, drugs and crime, or indeed that countless acts of selflessness and charity are done by Christians precisely because their faith has inspired them to love, to give, to put themselves through discomfort and deprivation in order to serve those less fortunate. The argument that our law and much of western civilisation (art, music, architecture, various freedoms, etc.) owe their very existence to biblical concepts cuts no ice with the atheist. All this could exist without theistic belief – or so they claim. Never mind that these good things, which we take for granted, were pioneered by men and women whose faith was a passionate fire that blazed within them so that they prevailed against the spirit of the day until history itself was set alight.

In short, atheism is an attitude of mind. It rejects a study of the facts in favour of convenient beliefs; it draws false conclusions based on shaky premises; it places faith in its mockery of concepts rather than real analysis. It sees no good in a faith which in reality inspires virtues which no godless belief system can hope to imitate. Atheism is not a belief in something, but a belief in nothing – one which by its very nature is vandalistic, destructive and impoverished.

You can be an atheist if you wish, but don’t kid yourself about rationality. And for pity’s sake, make up your own mind, rather than being taken in by someone else’s mockery.

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