Raising Mature Sons and Daughters

fullsizeoutput_75dWhen God created humanity, He created family. His desire for a family, I believe, came from the relationship within Himself, the Trinity. Though we think of and refer to God as being male, Scripture tells us that He created both men and women in His likeness. Without going into a lot of detail, I believe the Holy Spirit displays the feminine side of God. I wrote an article on this some time ago, if you haven’t read it, you can do so here. So family, humanly speaking, is an extension and overflow of the family that exists within the Trinity.

We are God’s sons and daughters. We are capable of producing sons and daughters, both biologically and spiritually. Everything in the natural is a picture of a far greater spiritual reality. (1 Cor. 15:46) As biological, or natural, parents, we are responsible to help guide and teach our children, disciplining them as we see fit, until they reach maturity. The same is true of spiritual parents. Parenting is not about controlling our children. When children are raised by controlling parents, they become controlling parents, as the sins of the father and mother are passed down the family line. It matters not if they are our biological or spiritual children. (I’m not ignoring adopted children here, the same applies to them as well).

In order for children, natural or spiritual, to reach maturity, they must be given the freedom and opportunity to make choices for themselves. This is of critical importance, even when those choices are poor ones. Failing to do so will create victims, people who refuse to take responsibility for their choices, who blame shift when they make mistakes. Our society is full of victims now, we certainly don’t need anymore. I’m not saying we should let them do things that are illegal, obviously; if they are doing something to hurt themselves or others, we should intervene whenever possible.

People, including children, learn best by making mistakes and then dealing with the consequences of those mistakes. If we continually correct them, chastise them when they fail, or bail them out when they get in trouble, we are robbing them of their chance to develop wisdom. Yes, it is hard to watch our children suffer, but we must if they are going to become mature. Parents who must control their children’s choices and behavior do so out of their own insecurity and fear of their children reflecting negatively upon them. This, in essence, is putting your own needs and desires above those of your children. In addition, it is helping to foster a fear of failure that is difficult to get free from.

Children need lots of encouragement and affirmation. I’ve heard it said that it takes twenty positive statements to counter one negative one. As parents, we should be our children’s biggest fans and greatest cheerleaders. They sure won’t get that from the world, and if they don’t get it from us, they will live life always looking for it in their relationships, accomplishments, career, etc., none of which can substitute or satisfy that need. Scripture says that if God is for us, who can be against us? He is for us even in our weakness, brokenness, and sinfulness. When we have the assurance of our parent’s love and acceptance, we will have confidence to face the critics that are out there.

When a child knows his parents love him unconditionally – no matter what – they are free to grow into their mature identity as a much loved child. When they know they will not be rejected in the face of failure, they will feel the freedom to take risks which are so important to walking by faith. All good parents want their children to exceed what they have accomplished in life, and will do all that is in their power to help them do that. If you want to raise mature biological or spiritual sons and daughters, you will make whatever sacrifices are necessary. We must remember they really belong to God and are given to us as gifts we must steward wisely.

 

 

God’s Leadership Model

bible1Last week, I wrote about God’s design for His church, specifically in terms of the leadership structure. If you didn’t see it, you can read it here. In today’s article, I want to describe briefly the function of each role mentioned in Ephesians 4:11-13. Another Scripture passage that mentions some of these roles is 1 Corinthians 12:28-30, And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.”  The following are very brief and simplified descriptions – entire books have been written on each individual role. 

The first role mentioned is apostle. Interestingly, the word was not used in religious circles until the New Testament; it was a secular word meaning, “a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders.” Their key role is authority, as seen in the life of Paul and other apostles, who operated in supernatural power, performing miracles of healing, deliverance from demons, and raising the dead, among other acts. Paul was commissioned by Jesus Himself and sent as an apostle to the Gentiles after supernaturally receiving the gospel through direct encounters with the Lord. Peter was appointed an apostle to the Jews. Other apostles mentioned were Barnabas, Timothy, and Silvanus, in addition to the original twelve. Within the Church, modern day apostles serve the body by equipping them in apostolic ministry and overseeing the other ministries of the church. They receive regular revelation from heaven that they bring to the other leaders who also use it to equip the body. They use their gifts to bring the body to maturity and unity.

Prophets work closely with apostles, as both roles receive supernatural revelation for the purpose of training and equipping the body. A prophet’s key role is to train the body to hear from God for themselves, and to properly discern, interpret, and deliver His personal words with increasing accuracy, love, and grace. In the Old Testament, there were “schools of the prophets” which trained those called to that office. Many believe that if one is called as a prophet, they will instinctively know how to prophesy, but that is not true. All the gifts start as a seed and must be developed, nurtured, and exercised in a safe community where mistakes can be made without judgment. We don’t believe it is odd to train pastors and teachers, and the same is true for all the other gifts. Both apostles and prophets are more Kingdom-minded than Church-minded; as visionaries, they see the big picture and live with an eternal perspective.

Evangelists are given to the Church to train and equip the people to share their faith every day as a way of life. Their key role is reproducing witnesses.They are not there to “do” the work of evangelizing the lost. All God’s people are called to be witnesses, but many do not, out of fear or insecurity, because they’ve never been trained. A true evangelist will enlist an army of believers to go out and win the lost wherever they go. This will result in a great harvest coming into the Kingdom!

Pastors are called to guide and protect God’s people. With the revelation given by the apostles and prophets, they help people to see the bigger picture of the Kingdom and eternity, rather than focusing on the present with its trials and struggles. They provide counsel at times, but also want to help the people become responsible for their own spirituality and walk with God. They provide assistance, within reason, to enable them to navigate the process of growing up in Christ. Their key role is to protect and prepare the people.

Teachers are provided to teach the people how to personally appropriate the revelation and information given by the other four leadership roles. Their key role is education, and they believe everyone’s issues center around needing more of it. They love to teach classes and recommend courses, books, videos, conferences, and anything else that will help God’s people learn.

These five leadership roles are very different and unique from one another. In order to properly equip and bring God’s people to maturity and unity, it requires great humility and submission to each other and the Holy Spirit. Jesus will build His Church as His appointed leaders do their part by building up the people. It cannot, and will not happen any other way but His. All five of these gifts are critical to successful preparation of the bride.

Historically, we have almost exclusively seen only pastors, teachers, and evangelists recognized and accepted within the local church. Without the supernatural aspect of apostles and prophets, our churches have been largely powerless to affect the real change we need. Only transformed people can transform cities and nations. Until we come into alignment with God’s chosen design and structure, we will likely continue to see more of the same.

 

 

God’s Design for His Church

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Over twenty years ago God gave me a burden for the state of the Church. It began at a three-day fasting and prayer conference I attended in Los Angeles back in 1995. I knew nothing about fasting and not much more about prayer, but my life was marked forever at that conference. At the end, a call was made for two million believers to fast and pray for forty days, for revival to come to His people. I heard the call, as one of those two million, but after I returned home, I let friends and family talk me out of it. Yet God did not give up. I attended the next year and again the call came, but this time I heeded His word.

I didn’t grow up in church, my parents were unsaved until my teenage years after my sister and I began attending and were saved. But I have been in churches long enough at this point in my life to see many things that have troubled my spirit. While attending Bible college around the same time I went to the conference, I noticed that what I learned about the early church was nothing like the churches I had been in or ever even heard of. I had many questions that no one I knew seemed to have answers for. So I prayed and studied and read many books about the church for years.

About thirteen years ago I began reading about a very small number of churches that had a very different structure than the traditional churches with which I was familar. Based on Ephesians 4:11-13, these churches had a group of leaders rather than one or two, and each leader played a very specific and unique role. Scripture outlines the structure very clearly, So Christ Himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip His people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” 

As I read and studied more on this structure, it began to make more sense why the Church, especially in the West, has been so dysfunctional. Of course, some of our dysfunction comes because there are so many wounded and bound believers among God’s people, but even that is evidence that we are doing something wrong. It is understandable for new believers to come into the body like that, but to continue in that condition for years is inexcusable.

One striking difference seen is that the role of these leaders is to equip God’s people for works of service (ministry). Most traditional churches have a pastor or assistant pastor that do the majority of, if not all of the ministry. This could easily explain why so many pastors are burning out, walking away from ministry, falling into scandalous sin, and even taking their own lives. The ministry the believers are to be equipped for is not just “church” ministry like working in the nursery, greeting, ushering, etc. I’m not saying those things aren’t unnecessary. I’m saying Jesus didn’t die and fill us with His Spirit so we could usher or greet people on Sundays.

God’s designed structure is meant to equip His people to minister to each other so that we might be built up, both individually and corporately. The word used there for “built” literally means, “edifying; edification; the act of one who promotes another’s growth in Christian wisdom, piety, happiness, holiness.”  In other words, God has gifted certain individuals within His Church to equip the body to minister to the body – until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”  

The fact that He designed 5 unique roles to do that confirms that no one leader or minister can do the job alone, for no one person has all the gifts needed. It takes five – and five is the number of grace. Jesus embodied all of these gifts in Himself and His ministry, and now He has given five different roles to specific members of His body to bring His bride into maturity and unity. They are critical to the success of His Church and His plan to have a bride without spot, wrinkle or blemish. I will describe each role and its purpose more in my next article.

Seasons of Testing

722ef7429d5bef55b02631684d622cdcA while back, I wrote an article about the different seasons of life. If you didn’t read it, you can here. This morning, my thoughts led me to ponder these seasons a little more deeply. One in particular seemed fitting for the particular season I have been in – the season of testing. As is often the case, a conversation with a friend I haven’t talked to in a while provided the inspiration and hence, this article. After recounting the various trials I’ve been through in the past several months – having major surgery to remove my left hip and the long, painful road to recovery, learning to deal with the difficulties of being in a wheelchair most of the time, losing my dad suddenly and unexpectedly, plus the loss of my husband’s job – she asked me, “How is your faith holding up?”

There is no greater test of our faith than when we are in the midst of the fire. In fact, I have come to believe that you don’t really know where your faith level is at UNTIL it is being tested. Anyone can have faith when things are going smoothly, according to our plans. However, God wants much more from us than being comfortable, while claiming to have great faith. When God was commending Job to the devil, even the devil understood this when he said, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have You not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out Your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face.” (Job 1:9-11) And we all know what happened next; Job was put to the test. 

So is God mean, or angry, does He enjoy watching us suffer? Every saint mentioned in the Bible underwent some form of testing, some more severe than others. It’s understandable why many who don’t believe use this as an excuse. “If God is good, then why do innocent people suffer?” they ask. I admit to wondering this at times, too. Especially when it comes to children. It is true that much suffering is a result of living in a fallen world, or because of our poor choices. But that’s not the point of this article. Why does God allow His beloved children, His chosen ones to go through such trials and testings, even when they have faithfully served Him? I have wrestled with this question for many years.

To understand God’s ways in our seasons of testing requires that we step back from the moment and take a good, hard look at the big picture. In other words, we must have an eternal perspective. As finite humans, we get confused when we focus in on our little world with all of its difficulties – the things that get in the way of us having or doing what we want. Financial lack, sickness, job losses, relational issues, etc., often consume us and turn our focus inward. We seek the quickest, easiest way to get out of the pain. When that doesn’t work, we cry, moan, and groan. We are not unlike the children of Israel wandering through the wilderness.

But God in His wisdom, allows what He could easily prevent in His power. He does this because He sees and knows the big picture, and what He is trying to accomplish in us. James had this revelation when he wrote, Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the TESTING OF YOUR FAITH produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4, emphasis mine) There it is – the testing of your faith. Faith must be tested. Testing produces perseverance, endurance, patience. These characteristics, found within the nature of God, will bring us to maturity and perfection. In other words, God’s purpose in allowing seasons of testing is to make us more like Him. If we fail to understand that and resist the process, we only prolong the trials and suffering. Israel’s eleven day journey became forty years of wandering. 

God is not mean, angry, or vengeful. He does not enjoy seeing His people suffer. But like a good parent, He knows that we don’t know what is best for us. He understands how to raise us up into mature sons and daughters. Granted, it’s a painful process, as any parent would testify. It often hurts to discipline our children because we feel their pain. Even more so, does our heavenly Father. Though it may seem harsh at times, His goodness is seen as He walks with us through the fire, and doesn’t prolong it beyond what is absolutely necessary to accomplish His perfect will in us. Instead of praying to get out of the test, may He give us grace to cooperate with Him so we may pass the tests and move on to maturity!

 

The Marks of True Spiritual Authority

I’m late getting this post done this week because of things I had going on this pastlion weekend, so, better late than never, as they say. I don’t normally feel inspired to write, but today I was soaking up some glorious sunshine in my back yard and had a thought hit me that I felt I should write about.

As with all of my posts, I write, not from the perspective of an expert, but from one journeying toward maturity. I have found that sharing the things I am learning not only often helps others, but it helps me process and take to heart what I am gleaning along the way. In fact, one key to discipleship, I believe, is to have some who speak into our lives, and others whose lives we pour into. It should be a circle, a cycle, of receiving and giving, receiving and giving, that continues until we reach the end of our lives. But this is not the subject of today’s post.

What came to me was a topic the Lord began to teach me about several years ago. In my spirit, I heard Him say, “I am going to teach you about true spiritual authority because what you have been taught until now has come from a spirit of control.” My initial reaction, as it usually is when He speaks to me, was one of bewilderment, like, “Huh?” “What do You mean?” But He had my attention, so I began to listen and journal what He showed me.

Many seek and/or claim positions of authority, but true spiritual authority is only given by God, the Ultimate Authority of heaven and earth. (Matt. 28:18) Those who confer authority upon themselves are often wounded and in need of healing. Their so called authority is a cover for their fear, pride and insecurity, and a vehicle by which they seek to control others. In order to gain authority, they will seek to usurp it from those having true God given authority. (See the story of Absalom and David in 1 Sam. 13-15) Spiritual hosts, both heavenly and demonic, recognize true spiritual authority. (Acts 19:13-16; Acts 16:16-18; Dan. 9:21-27)

Those God gives authority to will be humble, as seen in the examples of Joseph, Daniel, and Moses, among others. Rather than seeking to control, they will strive to spur those around them unto maturity and fruit bearing. (John 15; 1 Thess. 2:4-12) True authority is given for the purpose of pulling down that which is not of God, and building up that which is. (Jer. 1:10) This purpose is accomplished through intimacy with God and intercession, coming into agreement with His will, not ours. (Matt. 26:39, 42; 6:9-10) Those whom God gives authority to will face extraordinary tests and trials, as seen in the lives of Joseph, David, Daniel, Paul, and Jesus, to name a few. These afflictions serve to burn away selfish ambition, pride, insecurity, fear of man, arrogance and anything else that would hinder the purpose for which He conferred it.

Jesus is always our model for life and ministry. As Sovereign of all creation, He is the source of all true authority for He will rule and reign forever and ever. We should be wary of those claiming positions of authority that are not noticeably growing in Christlikeness, who are arrogant and boastful, prideful and controlling. Those who gather followers unto themselves, as Absalom, are also to be avoided. We can trust leaders who have the heart of our Good Shepherd for He will never, ever lead us astray. We must pray for those whom God has granted authority to, for the body of Christ will never become the bride without them.

4 Steps to Biblical Faith

Charlene S Hughes

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the necessity of having patience in order to inherit faithGod’s promises. If you didn’t see that, you can read it here. The other ingredient we must have is faith. Faith, like love, is a word that is used so much we seem to have lost the significance of its meaning. For the past several years, I have been wrestling with the concept of faith. Here are a few nuggets I’ve come across so far; I hope you find them helpful as well.

From what I’ve observed in many churches and in the majority of Christians I’ve ministered to for many years, it seems faith has been reduced to a mental agreement with certain beliefs. This is in stark contrast to what is depicted in Scripture. What preceded belief in the saints was a firm conviction. This conviction was birthed through revelation…

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The Necessity of Intimacy with God

When it comes to walking with God and learning to grow spiritually, I believe keeping Father-and-sonthings simple is always best. We human beings seem to enjoy complicating matters. This usually leads to confusion and misunderstanding and none of us have time for that. I strongly believe time is short. We must be about our Father’s business of expanding the Kingdom, first in our own lives, and then in our spheres of influence.

We hear a lot of talk, stories, and testimonies these days of God’s Kingdom breaking in here on earth. People are getting saved, healed, and delivered of demons, and all of this is good! God can certainly use anyone, including a donkey, to accomplish His purposes (see Numbers 22:21-30). Yet He is waiting for mature sons and daughters that He can use most effectively. Even creation expectantly waits and longs for that reality (see Romans 8:19). We are told in Revelation 19:7-8 that the bride must make herself ready. God is always faithful to do His part, but we must do ours. We cannot do His part and He will not do our part.

One of the most sobering passages of Scripture to me is Matthew 7:21-23. Jesus describes people who call Him “Lord” and walk in signs and wonders (prophecy, deliverance, and miracles). He prefaces this description with, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (v. 21). This statement begs the question — isn’t operating in spiritual gifts the will of the Father? These people He speaks of seem shocked by His statement as well. They reply, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” (v. 22). His response to them is, “I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers!” (v. 23). So what exactly is He getting at here?

In the verses immediately before, Jesus is speaking of how to discern false prophets. (Of course, this would also apply to false teachers, pastors, apostles, evangelists, etc.) He says that we will recognize them by their fruit. Many, even today, consider the “fruit” of one’s life or ministry to be that which is seen outwardly, like miracles, signs, and wonders, operating in spiritual gifts. I have seen and known many who flock to meetings and conferences to receive some kind of impartation, prophetic word, or other “touch from God” that will radically change their lives. Not all of this is bad, nor am I condemning their desires. I have done the same thing many times. However, so often, our flesh wants to take the easy way – have somebody lay hands on me and impart to me what they have in God – and it just doesn’t work that way. Spiritual growth is a process. God will, at times, use others to impart gifts to us, but we cannot neglect taking responsibility for our personal growth and relationship with Him.

In verse 23, Jesus states, I never knew you. This word means: to come to know, understand, recognize, to understand completely. It implies the “knowing” of relationship. It is also used to convey the thought of connection or union, as between man and woman. In other words, it speaks of intimacy. Jesus is saying that intimacy with Him must come first. So what does this look like and what does it mean for us? We will look at that in next week’s post, stay tuned!