Category Archives: subjectivity

The Word of the Lord in Our Worship Gatherings

by Scott

Today in the gathering of Cornerstone, in continuing our major series on the topic of worship, I looked at Psalm 33. I specifically emphasised four points (or really 3 of them due to time).

  1. Our praise to the Lord (vs1-3)
  2. The word of the Lord (vs4-12)
  3. The eye of the Lord (vs13-19)
  4. Our hope in the Lord (vs20-22)

But more than anything else, burning deep within my heart was the second point – the word of the Lord in our worship gatherings.

The word of the Lord has an extremely important role in our worship gatherings. An extremely important role! If our goal is to simply gather together and sing three, four or five songs and then move on to the next ‘part’ of our gatherings, our services, well, I think we have missed the point.

Oh, I do believe that God speaks through the exposition of the Scriptures. I do believe God stirs through the conversation that takes places amongst the saints. I do believe Christ is very present at the table when we share the bread and wine. All of these things are very important. But if we move through each of these elements and are never really aware of the word of the Lord, then we have missed something.

When I use the phrase, ‘the word of the Lord’, as in Psalm 33:4 and 33:6, I am not only talking about the Scriptures. Oh yes, I believe the Scriptures are the faithful, God-breathed word. Extremely important. But I am convinced the word of the Lord is not only contained in the Scriptures. I believe they are the starting point for our faith and the practise of such. But the word of the Lord continues on, never contradicting that of the testimony of the full and final revelation in Jesus Christ, but nevertheless still coming forth in the present day.

Now, interestingly enough, many of us can identify with God speaking via the biblical text. I can recall a worship gathering where God spoke to me through Exodus 15:3 – The LORD is a man of war, the LORD is His name. I don’t remember how I ended up in Exodus 15, but there I was with it open. And it was like Niagara Falls opened up over me with regards to the revelation that came from that verse. I had an understanding that day like never before with regards to how God fights on behalf of His people.

But I can also point to times when I did not necessarily have Scripture open, but the Spirit of the Lord communicated and spoke something. Not specifically a prophecy that needed to be shared publicly with the saints or with a specific individual. Rather simply God speaking and communicating something about Himself. Oh, it fit in very well with what Scripture teaches, complementing and not contradicting. But there wasn’t a specific chapter and verse to quote.

Specifically, I remember a time in a small church in a small town of England. On one Sunday as the congregation was engaging with God through song, God helped me realise that I have never tasted of His unfaithfulness. Never! I have tasted of difficult times. But never of His unfaithfulness. And I have clung to that on a regular basis for the past 4 or 5 years since that day. I’ve clung to such a revelation very tightly.

So I must say that an insight, no, a revelation has been stirred and kindled a fresh in me this week. It is that we must remember the role of the word of the Lord in our worship, in our gatherings. To go through the service step by step, part by part, portion by portion, without realising the importance of the word of the Lord, well, as I have said, I think we will have missed something.

Please understand that I am not wrapping this all up in some kind of super-charged Pentecostal experience. That is not the point by any means. But if the word of the Lord is truly living and active, even that which He speaks that is not directly found in the Scriptures but still does not go against the teaching of Scripture, then we need the word to come and be alive in our midst. Does man not live on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 5:4)?

But do we listen? Do we turn our ears? Do we ask God to speak? I know plenty of times where the saints have gathered together and I have moved on not even engaging with God on much of any level. Again, I am not trying to tie this all into an extreme subjective experience, though these are not necessarily against the workings of God (see more here). But I suppose this God who has drawn us to Himself, this Jesus who is actively involved in our lives by His Spirit, He wants to communicate with us on a regular basis. Hence, the word of the Lord will come forth. But do we hear.

And you know what, when God speaks things happen. If we are listening and truly hear God speak, things will take place. At times, fulfilment will come instantaneously (think about the creation account or the changing of Abraham’s name). At times, there will be waiting (think the birth of Isaac or the coming of the Messiah in flesh). But, regardless of immediate fulfilment or a time of waiting, things will happen if we hear the word of the Lord. Faith will be stirred, hearts will be awakened, hope will be kindled. And we will be confident that what God has said is truly what He said.

If there is an element of fulfilment to come, we can be certain it will be fulfilled at just the right time. This is not an excuse to appease the skeptic who challenges something as truly from God because it was not fulfilled immediately. We can keep on listing that which is in the Scripture itself that was spoken from God but took years, decades or even centuries to be fulfilled. Rather, I remind us that His word is certain and will certainly be fulfilled to encourage us to cling to the word of the Lord.

Weigh it – with Scripture, with our leaders, with our brothers and sisters in the body. But that which is truly the word of the Lord will come to fruition. And our spirits will testify when the Spirit of the Lord has truly brought forth the word of the Lord. But if we are not sure, again, we have the Scripture, our faithful leaders, and the faithful body.

So, let us dearly remember the importance of the word of the Lord. It is of absolute import in our gatherings. Yes, in our personal devotion and walk with God as well. But the word of the Lord in the gathering of the saints, when it is truly His word, will come forth like a two-edged sword, and God’s people will testify to it’s changing power.

For the word of the LORD is right and true;
he is faithful in all he does. (Psalm 33:4)

An Example of Hearing God’s Voice

by Scott

In the past, I posted an article giving an everyday example of prophecy – God revealing or unveiling something, even if it’s not in Scripture, but not contradicting Scripture. And this is all done for exhortation, encouragement and the building up of the body of Christ. Sometimes it’s hard to bring prophecy ‘out of the clouds’ and make it part of real life, for I believe God wants these things to be a part of our lives, not just super-spiritual gatherings. So it’s good to get a real-life, down-to-earth example.

I also recently posted an article of how God specifically spoke to me to help guide my praying for our neighbours. You can read it here. But, in this article, I wanted to post an example of hearing God’s voice today.

These past couple of weeks, I’ve been reading through a book by John and Stasi Eldredge called Love & War, a book about marriage. I like the Eldredge’s and their understanding of the role of the male and the role of the female, and now they have shared some thoughts on marriage. I am not going to give any kind of review on the book right now. But rather I wanted to share something I read the other night, an example of God speaking, God revealing His heart in the present day.

So here it is…

I [John] gave a talk on learning to hear the voice of God to a group of youth pastors. Afterward there was a book signing. I’m standing at my table – feeling a little bit like some guy selling Florida swampland – hoping that I don’t stand here and no one comes up when a man finally approached the table. “I don’t need a book signed,” he says. I try to keep a smile like it’s no big deal and I say, “That’s okay,” but he goes right on to say, “But I wanted to tell you a story.” “I’d love to hear it.” He looks right and left, sort of like You’re not gonna believe this. “So, I’m sitting there listening to your talk, and not real sure what I think about the whole thing. Then you invite us to listen to God.” I nod, eager to hear what happened for him, but also sort of dreading that nothing happened and he’s here to tell me God doesn’t speak to him. Too many dear souls have come to that conclusion because of a bad experience, or because no one has helped them learn to hear.

“Look, I’m not a mystic,” he says.

I smile but I’m thinking, Since when did hearing God’s voice become something reserved for mystics?

“But I decided to give it a try,” he continues. “So, I quiet down and just sit there. After a minute or so I asked God, What do you want to say to me? And what I hear is this: Take Janet to St. John.” “Janet’s my wife,” he explains, and I think, Well that’s a relief. “We’ve been wanting to take a trip together for a long time but we haven’t been able to pull it off. Anyhow, that’s what I hear – Take Janet to St. John.”

I’m thinking that’s the end of the story, so I say, “Well, she’s going to be delighted to heart that!”

He says, “No – the story’s not over.”

“After you end the talk everybody’s getting up to go to lunch. I turn to the guy next to me – we didn’t come together or anything – and tell him, ‘God told me to take my wife to St. John.'”

The way he tells this part of the story is sort of in a spirit of, Yeah right – Can you believe it? What am I supposed to do with that? I simply listen.

“And this guys says to me, ‘Well. I have been holding two tickets to St. John for a year, and God has told me they are not for me, that I’m to give them to someone else. So, there you go. I have your tickets.'”

Needless to say, Mr. I’m-Not-Much-of-a-Mystic became a believer in hearing the voice of God.

And you know what? This is actually pretty normal for the Christian life. Over the years we’ve heard a jigawillion stories like that. Ordinary folks, learning to listen for the voice of God and how he blesses them for doing so. God loves to speak, he loves to surprise us, and he has hundreds of adventures in store.

So – ask him.

End of excerpt.

Very beautiful. A man who was not open to the Spirit of God speaking today gets spoken to and has it confirmed immediately. Beautiful.

Now, Eldredge (and possibly most of these youth pastors, though I don’t know) is no self-pr0claimed charismatic or Pentecostal or Third Wave or whatever. He is simply a guy reaching out to other guys, his wife reaching out to other women, and he has become convinced of the reality that God still speaks today.

And this story is a very simple story. The man who heard God speak for the first time was not glorified. The other man with the tickets to St. John was not being glorified. John Eldredge was not even trying to glorify himself. But God was at work, drawing one of His sons into the inheritance of hearing His voice.

God is that good.

Just as a side note, please don’t think Eldredge and this story is somehow being used to proclaim an extreme prosperity gospel because God spoke about a holiday to St. John. I suppose that in the larger picture, this was one way God wanted to reveal His Father-heart to the man, and it was specifically for that man. I, too, have a story of God’s provision for my family to head to the Canary Islands for a week’s holiday this coming summer. And God wants to bless His children. But we have to be careful in embracing an over-the-top prosperity gospel. So, just making sure that is clear.

This is a clear, yet down-to-earth, example of God speaking today.

And, you know what, this is also an example of experience shaping theology. I’ve shared about this before, that it’s ok to recognise that our experience shapes our theology. God is not bothered by this, so we should not be. Now, of course, our experience is not the only thing that informs our theology. And it’s not even the foremost factor. But it is a reality and we need to both remember this and accept it.

Read the Scripture. Every single person’s theology was shaped by their experience with the living God. Every single one.

And so, in this example from Eldredge’s book, this one man shifted from a place of not believing that God speaks today (or being very cautious about it) to a place of truly believing that God does speak. And it wasn’t even in the midst of a ‘Thus saith the Lord’ statement. It was very simple, but very direct, and in this situation, His voice was confirmed immediately by another brother. Beautiful. And biblical.

But you know what. I really believe this happens more often than we think. Not just with charismatics and Pentecostals, though maybe more for those who are continually looking for and listening for God to speak (remember Eldredge is not charismatic or Pentecostal, per se). But I believe even the cessationist (or cautious continuationist) can give testimony to the reality of God’s voice. There might be a carefulness in labelling it as ‘revelation from God’ or ‘ hearing the voice of God speaking’. But the terminology matters less in the bigger scheme of things.

Of course, I would say it is God’s voice, and thus, His revelation. But, in the end, this stuff happens regularly for the sons and daughters of God. Yes, I will even go so far as to say this is normative, part of the normal Christian life.

It’s not to create a two-tier of have’s and have not’s, of those who hear God’s voice and those who don’t. It’s just to encourage us of the availability of God’s voice in everyday life. He is constantly revealing Himself. He never stopped and He won’t ever stop until the consummation of all things (1 Corinthians 13:8-12).

It could be through a reflective devotional time, through reading the Scripture, through a walk amongst the beauty of creation, listening to a song, reading a book, a prophetic word from a brother or sister, or a whole plethora of other things. But our Father is just that good – to continue to communicate with us.

None of this is to be contradictory to Scripture, contradictory to the nature of who God is, contradictory to being accountable to the body of Christ and the leaders of our local church. Rather, such will be a blessing as we are seekers of our God who breathed out Scripture, who has shown Himself in those pages, and who has connected us to His body. And this is how God designed it.

So let us be encouraged to draw in to listening. Let us draw into His heart.

Strangeness and Subjectivity

by Scott

There are a lot of strange things that happen in this world. Our televisions, newspapers, magazines, radio and internet help remind us of this. Such things not only happen in ‘the world’, but they also happen amongst Christians. Again, televisions, newspapers, magazines, radio and internet help remind us of this reality.

And sometimes it hurts. It can really hurt!

And the branch of the church that can easily get hit with this is the charismatic-Pentecostal branch. We have a lot to be ashamed of and apologise for.

Such strange occurrences in charismatic and Pentecostal circles are highlighted in places like Hank Hanegraaff’s book, Counterfeit Revival. This book was handed to me by my college pastor (and friend) from my former Baptist church back when I was first entering into a charismatic church. As someone new to the gifts of the Spirit, at least from the 1 Corinthians 12 sense, this book did scare me a little. Not a big fear, but questions did arise.

Roaring like lions, slain in the Spirit, Holy Ghost bartenders, holy laughter?!

Some ten or eleven years later, I’m at a place where nothing really surprises me or catches me off guard anymore. I still shake my head at some things that I see on ‘Christian television’, but there is not much shock value anymore.

Even more, what I have come to realise over the past decade is that strangeness does not disqualify something as being from God.

Some will continue to point out the strange happenings in the Pentecostal and charismatic churches. And I agree, some of it is just plain weird and shameful. But, again, strangeness does not automatically determine that something is not of God.

I’ve written before on the scandalous nature of God (post 1, post 2, post 3). But let me just list a few weird activities found in Scripture:

  • Isaiah walked around naked for 3 years as a prophetic action pointing out what would happen to the Egyptians (Isaiah 20:1-4)
  • Hannah prayed so fervently for a son that Eli thought she was drunk (1 Samuel 1:9-16)
  • When Nehemiah and Ezra read the Law to the Jews, they mourned and wept (Nehemiah 8:9)
  • Jesus had a spitting ministry, or He healed people by use of saliva, sometimes mixed with mud (Mark 7:33; 8:23; John 9:6-7)
  • Following the outpouring of the Spirit, the onlookers declared that those speaking in tongues must have been drunk (Acts 2:1-13). As a side note, the behaviour identified with drunkness might have not been the activity of tongues, since the people understood what was being said in their own language, and no one speaks in another language by getting drunk. Rather, other behaviour must have exhibited other forms of strangeness.
  • Not to mention the varied reactions during exorcisms (i.e. Mark 1:23-28; Luke 4:33-35)

My goal is not to say that things must be strange, nor to glorify strange occurrences. Such is unnecessary, even unhealthy. But my point is to show that strangeness does not mean that something is ungodly or evil.

I know that a lot of these activities is equated with emotionalism. We live in a day and age, and have for a while, where emotions are seen as weak. Any show of emotions and it is automatically assumed that something is ‘wrong’. So, someone cries out in a gathering or begins to laugh out loud and the action is branded as emotionalism, or even worse, of the flesh or of the devil.

Of course, such could be. I’ve seen it before. It’s worse when such has been manipulatively contrived. And I believe responsible leaders will approach the person(s) and graciously instruct them. If it carries on, a godly firmness might need to be employed.

But I don’t believe we need to be so scared of emotions, or strange occurrences. As Jack Deere points out in his book Surprised by the Power of the Spirit – We are more willing to give the devil the ability to deceive us than God to work amongst us. Specifically, he states:

‘I frequently encounter Christians who have no difficult at all in believing that demons can speak in an audible voice, prompt thoughts, produce physical sensations and other bodily effects, but they don’t believe God can or would do these things today. Anytime they see one of these physical manifestations, therefore, they automatically assume that it is a work of the devil.’

But the testimony of Scripture itself is that God can do and does do strange things at times. This is not THE characteristic of God’s acts, but His acts are, at times, characterised by strangeness.

In the end, a large portion of Christians do not like the idea of subjectivity. For something to be objective, this means it is factual and, thus, not influenced by opinion or feeling. An objective statement would be that I wear glasses. It’s a fact (and you would know if you could see my face right now). Another objective fact is that I live in Belgium. These statements are true fact. They really cannot be disputed

So, for many Christians, we stand on the objectivity of the Scripture, since we can be certain of the God-breathed nature of it and that it is truly God’s revelation. But this cannot be established through subjective experiences, which can simply boil down to a person’s feelings or opinion, rather than what is real and true. So, a prophecy could be of God or it could be either someone’s personal feelings or even a false prophecy. Subjectiveness creates a quagmire.

And I’ll just be completely honest. It would be much easier to cast off all subjective experiences, bodily manifestations and the notion that God still speaks today. It would be much more simple for me, as a pastor, to say it’s all found in the Scripture and, therefore, everything else is subject to extreme scrutiny. I’d be saved from a lot of awkward situations (or awkward situations for the congregation). I’d be saved from a lot of, ‘I believe the Lord is telling me to….,’ when I know that is just a bit out of bounds, yet I don’t have a Scripture to quote to bury the suggestion.

I’m not saying that every cessationist chooses to hold to cessationism because of the possible awkardness or false manifestations that could appear. I’m simply noting that, for practical purposes, I know it would be easier to move towards cessationism.

But I also know it would be much easier to join the Roman Catholic church where everything is dogmatically defined for me already. There seems even less room for subjectivity than in evangelical cessationism. But I’m not sure that is God’s desire.

And I am not sure it’s God’s desire that we lay aside all subjective experiences for the sake of ease. I love to be in control. Really I do. Ask my wife. But I’m willing to let go of control of this one. And He does promise that when these things are truly stirred by Him, they are for the common good and edification of His people (1 Corinthians 12:7; 14:3-5). Not too mention how true activity of spiritual gifts glorifies Jesus and can draw people to Jesus.

I know a favourite verse to combat subjective experiences is found in 1 Corinthians 14:33:

For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

This verse is par excellence in the rhetoric of many cessationists. And I don’t want to disregard it. I don’t even want to deal with it flippantly. But can I make a couple of suggestions:

1) This is one verse in the midst of a whole tenor of Scripture. Can I not keep this verse in connection with the other examples I listed in the bullet points above? Examples where God did some strange things?

2) It is amazing how true works of the Spirit bring peace out of confusion. One person is uncontrollably weeping over their ungodly practice of sin. Weeks later they are walking in fruitfulness and godliness not known before in their life. That’s a work of the Spirit.

Listen, please know I am not wanting to put all my eggs in the basket of strange and subjective experiences. I don’t want to glorify them, as they are not THE point and not THE determining factor of the real work of God. But they are also not THE determining factor of what is NOT of God.

I would challenge us to be open to the expression of the emotions. Check out the beauty of the Psalms. I’d ask us to allow for strange occurrences, not as the template, but as acceptable and possibly coming from God. Weigh these experiences with Scripture and amongst godly leadership. But don’t just make a judgment from the get go. Give time. Allow for fruit, for not all fruit comes forth in 3 minutes.

In all, allow for the work of the Holy Spirit via the activity of all His gifts. It will be a blessing in the end, even if some people get their panties in a wad (or knickers in a twist) and head out the door. Jesus is the great shepherd of His sheep, not the few that might get offended. He will be faithful to build His church. Jesus is much more faithful to lead than Satan is to deceive.