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Discernment

If you could ask for anything – yes, anything – what would it be?

Imagine if God appeared to you saying that he will give you whatever you ask. Above all else, what one thing do you want?

That’s what happened to Solomon after he became King of Israel at about 20 years old. God came to him in a dream at a place of worship, saying, “Ask for whatever you want me to give to you” (1 Kings 3:4-14).

Kings commonly asked for long life, or wealth, or the death of their enemies (v.11). Kings and Queens and national leaders embody their people, representing their hopes, wishes and desires. Everyone wants happiness, health and long life, riches, peace and security with no enemies. It’s the equivalent of the ‘Health & Wealth’ gospel – the quest for power, miracles, prosperity… the good life!    

Not Solomon. What he wanted most was “a discerning heart” (1 Kings 3:9). In Hebrew, literally “a hearing heart”. Able to listen deeply and patiently to all sides of an issue. Including God. Hearing God’s whispers – God’s word and will in each situation. The ability to listen, evaluate, and know what is right and wrong. To distinguish between good and evil.

God responded, “I will give you a wise and discerning heart” (1 Kings 3:12). The Hebrew lev hakam wenabon is “a heart of wise discernment” – the wisdom to discern truth from untruth.

This is, arguably, the greatest need in our postmodern world of post-truth, where lies and fake news are the order of the day. Where lying presidents lead the way. “Truth is nowhere to be found… truth has stumbled in the public square, honesty cannot enter” (Isaiah 59:14-15). The battle for truth, for reliable and true knowledge of reality.

The crisis in our world is (due to) the failure of leadership, which, in turn, is the failure of character. The failure of ethics and truth in leaders, and in people in general. The way of the leader is the way of the people. We live with narcissist, power-hungry, nationalistic leaders.

We don’t know what truth is anymore. How do we know what is true? What can we trust as reliable knowledge of reality? More so, WHO can we trust for truth? WHO is true?

Accurate knowledge of reality is not enough. We need wisdom. Wisdom is the skilful application of knowledge to make the correct decisions in each situation, by discerning good from evil, right from wrong, for the wellbeing of all concerned. The Truth sets us free (John 8:31-32).

What Solomon asked and received was the character quality most associated with good godly kings, as in Isaiah 11:1-5. This text was prophetic of the Messiah-King, Jesus, who lived by God’s “Spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and power… to judge with righteousness… with justice he will give decisions for the poor and needy…”

Such wise discernment is both given and acquired. Discerning wisdom is both gift and training. Solomon says we acquire it by treasuring God’s Word within us, by inclining our ear to God’s Wisdom, by literally crying aloud for insight and discernment, seeking her as for hidden treasures – because God gives wisdom, from his mouth come knowledge and understanding (Proverbs 2:1-9).

Do you cry out for discernment and wisdom? How much do you want it?

Hebrews 5:14 says that the spiritually mature in God are those who have trained their faculties, by practice, to distinguish good from evil. How mature are you?

Solomon’s purpose in asking for wise discernment was to lead and govern his people well (1 Kings 3:9). It was not for his own sake, for his ego, popularity, or success. It was for the people’s wellbeing and prosperity.

And his posture was not that of entitlement or presumption because he was king. He identified himself before God as “your servant” (1 Kings 3:7-8). He saw himself as God’s servant to serve the people by listening to God in the silence of his heart, as he listened to the people in their need, challenges, issues, etc. That is how he discerned what was really happening, where truth lay, what was good and right – the will of God in each situation.  

Finally, in asking for discernment and wisdom, God also gave Solomon long life, wealth, and the defeat of his enemies. As Jesus told his followers, “Seek FIRST the Kingdom of God and all the other things you need will be given to you” (Matthew 6:33).

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Forming (in) Community: Practicing Servant Gifts (2)

To listen to the audio teaching of these notes, click on this link
http://followingjesus.org.za/sermons/being-the-beloved-servant-gifts-2-part-29/

Recap on Servant Gifts (1): I made three basic points regarding the practice of servant gifts to form – and be formed in – Jesus’ community: 1) The local church is Christ’s Body, that operates organically by spiritual gifts (charisma, “enabling graces”) given through each member. 2) The right motivation (heart) and context (attitude) for the operation of the gifts is servanthood. The gifts are service (“ministry”) in Jesus’ name to one another; thus we speak of servant gifts. 3) The model of servanthood is Jesus, the Servant of YHWH who, in his service, suffers our sin and brokenness in love, to cleanse, enfold and heal us into his life and community (as he dramatically enacted in John 13).

Peter summarises this well: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Pet 4:10). God’s graces fall into two categories: supernatural gifts (by direct Spirit inspiration) and natural talents (by birth and training). Both are spiritual gifts because they are all God-given. The challenge is: are we faithful stewards of God’s multiple enabling graces, that come through each other in all their rich diverse forms, to heal and grow us to maturity in Christ?

Paul on Servant Gifts in the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:1-31)

Paul gives specific teaching on spiritual gifts in 1 Cor 12 (“manifestation gifts”, written in 54 AD), Rom 12:1-8 (“motivational gifts”, in 57 AD), and Eph 4:7-12 (“ministry-gifts”, in 60 AD). I examine each of these passages in that order to reflect Paul’s developing thinking.

The context of 1 Cor 12 is Paul’s teaching on public worship services – when the church gathers together (see 11:33, 14:26) – from chapter 10 to 14. It’s essentially about the local Body of Christ functioning organically in relational harmony through spiritual gifts. Continue reading Forming (in) Community: Practicing Servant Gifts (2)

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Baptist Pastors Retreat – “Isaiah 58 Network”

Gill and I went to the beautiful town of George (the Southern Cape, South Africa) a Christian Guest farm called Carmel. We were invited to lead a pastor’s retreat from 24 to 27 October, for a group that call themselves the Isaiah 58 Network. They are ministers in the Baptist Union of Churches that are seeking the renewal of the Holy Spirit, not just of the ‘signs and wonders’ kind, but also in the area of social justice – hence Isaiah 58 (it’s worth reading). There were just over 50 leaders mainly from the Eastern and Western Cape.

The way into Carmel Christian Guest Farm
To Carmel guest farm

We were overwhelmed with the beauty of the place. See the photo of the view from our room. The gardens were so fragrance and full of blossoms. The food was delicious – we added a cubit to our stature! But above all, the pastors and leaders were so warm and receptive and open to the Spirit. We felt so at home. They drew the Word of God out of me like sponges soaking up water! And their sense of worship and waiting on God and receiving words from the Spirit, was such a refreshing for Gill and I. It is so amazing to me that we come to minister to them, but so often on retreats and ministry trips of this nature, we are the ones who are ministered to! We went home full of joy!

View of the ocean from our room
This is the view from Carmel

I was asked to teach on Isaiah 58 with a focus on social transformation, healing and spirituality. The first night I shared my personal journey in following Jesus in ministry as a spiritual leader. Then over the next two days I gave five teachings on the themes just mentioned. We spent more time doing Spirit-ministry in the evening sessions, and many reported being deeply touched and cleansed and healed and empowered by God. What a privilege and honor to minister to pastors and leaders in this way. I feel so very grateful to God that I had this wonderful opportunity.

View of chapel on the hill

The lovely chapel at Carmel
Carmel chapel where the meetings were held

Here are two snippets of feedback – among others – that I got from some leaders soon after the retreat.

Alexander, I have so longed for a healthy marriage of the Word and the Spirit and am rejoicing at what the Spirit is doing in Isaiah 58. Your teaching, spirit and ministry was as rain to us all. Thank you once again.

Dear Gill and Alexander,  The more I think about the week that has just gone by the more I feel incredibly blessed to have sat under your ministry. There were four things that stood out for me and were a blessing. A lack of arrogance from both of you. SO many Christian leaders can lose touch with people. You are both so warm and humble. Secondly it was your awesome mix of knowledge and spirit. The Isaiah bunch can be a funny audience because as good Baptists they have the Word grounding but also have a desire for the work of the Spirit. Many people can be strong in one area and weak in another. You are well taught on both sides and blessed me in both ways. Thirdly your testimony challenged me hugely, your willingness to share your story and be vulnerable among a bunch of strangers. There is so much power in a testimony and it opened the ears of everyone in the room, it gave you a platform to share everything else you had to say. And finally, the partnership that you and Gill have really does speak volumes about the power of a good marriage and how it represents Christ to the world. So thank you for the time spent. I am probably not telling you anything that you don’t already know but I felt I needed to tell you that as a ‘thank you for being who you both are’ sort of mail. God Bless.