Bell Creek Community Church

A non-denominational church in Livonia, Michigan with Biblical teaching, worship, and kid's ministries.

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Free eBook: ‘Happily Ever After’

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 11:02am

This weekend only, download ‘Happily Ever After’ free of charge in three digital formats, and learn how to find grace in the messes of marriage.

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Do You Pray Against Temptation?

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 8:02pm

“Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

Jesus kneels in the garden of his agony and directs his men to pray, not just against sin, but against temptation.

On the front-end of the greatest temptation of his life, he charges his disciples — not once but twice (Luke 22:40, 46) — to pray against temptation. Forty long days of fasting in the wilderness must now feel like child’s play compared to the test he’s about to endure. His hour has come.

He faces the single greatest test in the history of the world: Will the sinless God-man suffer torture-to-death for the sins of the rebels he loves? And yet, as his own great temptation begins, bringing such agony that sweat falls from his head like drops of blood (Luke 22:44), he turns to his men twice to say, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Luke 22:40, 46).

Emphatic in His Famous Prayer

This is not the first (and second) time he has instructed his disciples to pray against temptation.

When they came to him and asked, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1), he answered with the memorably powerful and brief “Lord’s Prayer,” which in Luke is a mere 36 words in our English! In such a tight, focused prayer, he not only mentions but concludes with the petition “lead us not into temptation” (Luke 11:4).

Praying against temptation is no fleeting aside, as if any words from God himself may be overlooked. Here in the garden, and in the very moment Jesus taught us to pray, he says to pray not only against sin (that’s implied), but explicitly to pray against temptation.

For those of us who heed his words, we find at least three implications of Jesus’s (perhaps surprising) command.

Pray Against Temptation

First, God really does keep us from some temptations in response to our prayers. God and his Son do not charge us to play at prayer. Prayer matters. The sovereign God chooses to rule the universe in such a way that prayer plays a role. Under his hand, some events transpire (or not) because his people prayed; others do not transpire (or do) because they did not.

When we pray not only against our sin, but against temptation to sin, we display a maturing humility. We acknowledge our weakness and the power of sin. And we remember our Father’s heart for holiness and for our good. God “himself tempts no one” (James 1:13). The blame for sin falls squarely on the sinner. “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (James 1:14). And yet God, in his grace and mercy, delights to keep us from many temptations — countless times perhaps even when we fail to ask, and how many precious instances in direct response to our asking?

If we take seriously the depths of sin in us, and the depths of mercy in our Father, we will heed the words of Jesus, and the commentary of John Owen: “Let no man pretend to fear sin that does not fear temptation also! These two are too closely united to be separated. He does not truly hate the fruit who delights in the root.” For the sake of truth and good conscience, we distinguish temptation from sin, and for the sake of holiness and joy, we do not separate them. And so we pray not only against our sins, but our temptations.

Plan Against Temptation

Secondly, when we pray against temptation, we begin the process of seeking to avoid it and, in doing so, we become a means to God answering our prayer. God not only often keeps us from temptation because of our prayers, but in the very act of praying, we engage more deeply in the fight. We fortify our souls against sin. We become more deeply invested. We resolve, by the Spirit, to hold to the truth and not “be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). We remind our hearts that the pleasures of sin are shallow and fleeting (Hebrews 11:25), while pleasure in God is deep and enduring (Psalm 16:11).

Praying against temptation leads us, then, to plan against temptation in tangible ways. Knowing our patterns and proclivities to particular sins, we avoid unwise contexts. We “flee youthful passions” (2 Timothy 2:22) and “make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14). We heed the wisdom of a loving father to his son (Proverbs 5:1) about the “forbidden woman” (Proverbs 5:3): not just to stay out of her bed but to “keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house” (Proverbs 5:8).

It is grace not only to be kept from sin but also from temptation (Revelation 3:10). Our spirit indeed may be willing to say no to sin, but the flesh can be weak (Matthew 26:41). And praying against temptation sets us on the path of planning against it as well.

Prepare for Temptation Still

Finally, when we do enter into temptation, if we have prayed against it, then we should be least taken off guard by it, and most ready for battle. God loves a heart that prays against temptation, and he often answers our plea. And yet his ways are higher than ours. He knows, in love, when to allow temptation to come. In fact, Jesus says, temptations are sure to come (Luke 17:1). Pray as we may against them, God has not promised to always answer this prayer the way we want. Not yet.

So as we pray against temptation, we prepare ourselves to not be surprised when they do come (1 Peter 4:12). And when we’ve prayed against temptation, we can feel all the more clearheaded that God has lovingly allowed this test into my life. And he has not left me without his promises for these very moments. “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Like Joseph, it may mean running (Genesis 39:11–12). Like Jesus, it often will mean rehearsing the very words of God (Matthew 4:1–11) or staying silent before fools (Matthew 26:63; Mark 14:61; Acts 8:32).

“The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials” (2 Peter 2:9), not just guard them from trials. And the Christian most prepared to conquer temptation is the one who prays and plans against it.

Kept by God in the Test

Pray against your specific besetting sins, and as you do, go a step further and pray against specific temptations as well.

When we pray against temptation, we can expect two outcomes: (1) in real and tangible ways, God will be pleased to keep us from temptations we otherwise would have encountered had we not prayed. And (2) at times God may see fit to have us encounter the very temptation we have prayed (and planned!) against — and when we do, having prayed, we will be better prepared to face it and defeat it in the power of his Spirit.

God will provide a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13). Look for it and take it. And thank him, not only for the many times, unbeknownst to you, that he guarded you from temptation altogether, but also for the times he answered your prayers differently, not just keeping you from temptation but keeping you through temptation.

The Key to Simultaneous Sorrow and Joy

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 11:00am

Jesus has purchased something infinitely better than anything this world has to offer: the glory of God himself. We have every reason to boast in him.

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Alive to Religion, Dead to God

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 8:00am

The new birth is not about getting a new religion; it is about getting new life. Too many have found religion, but missed Jesus altogether.

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The Most Repeated Verse in the Bible

Tue, 10/02/2018 - 8:02pm

Symmetry can be wonderful. Think of the intricacy of a snowflake, or the geometry of certain iconic buildings like the U.S. Capitol or London’s Buckingham Palace, or the rotational symmetry of a pine cone. If any of these were distorted and the symmetry lost, the aesthetic appeal would immediately go as well.

Several years ago, the corporate sponsorship of the London Eye transferred to a new company, which then painted one of the giant wheel’s capsules in the distinctive red of their branding. There was an outcry: all of a sudden, the wheel had lost its symmetry. It just didn’t look the same.

But there are times when asymmetry is beautiful too. Human faces are not symmetrical, and while that may seem like an imperfection, it is not. If you were able to make one half of your face the mirror image of the other, it would look symmetrical, but it wouldn’t look right. It would look neat, but in a way that shows you faces are not meant to look neat. They are too personal. Symmetry doesn’t work. The asymmetry of your face is one of the things that makes it so wonderfully and distinctively you.

God’s Asymmetry

There is a certain asymmetry to God too. And just like ours, there is a distinctive beauty to it.

For many years, I assumed that God’s love and his wrath were equal and parallel outworkings of who he is. After all, God is love (1 John 4:8) and God is light (1 John 1:5), and so I presumed each was the source of either God’s salvation or judgment. I could even draw a chart that lined God’s love and wrath alongside each other, with biblical examples and verses for each. It looked neat and tidy, which is how I instinctively like my theology to be.

But while both God’s love and wrath are undeniable and necessary features of his dealings with us, they are not symmetrical. They do not spring from the same central part of God’s being with equal force. The two are not parallel components of God’s work.

In the book of Lamentations, we are given an exquisite and agonizing reflection on the judgment of God in decimating the Old Testament nation of Israel. The book is deeply raw and yet meticulously structured, taking the form of long acrostics.

At its center, in the middle of the middle chapter, we find words of affirmation and hope. Hope thus becomes the crux of the whole book, though not the final note of it — the final passages return to further expressions of lament. What Lamentations, therefore, gives us is not a progression away from lament and into hope, but instead hope in the (literal) midst of lament — or, as the New Testament puts it, rejoicing in our sufferings (Romans 5:3).

Merciful and Gracious

What is this hope? The hope is that this judgment will not have the last word for God’s people:

The Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love. (Lamentations 3:31–32)

What is this hope founded on? The asymmetry of God:

For he does not afflict from his heart, or grieve the children of men. (Lamentations 3:33)

The writer continues to be unflinching in acknowledging the pain of judgment. God is casting off; God is causing grief; God is afflicting. This the writer does not doubt.

But while such judgment is undeniable, it is not what lies deepest in God’s purposes for his people. God’s judgment will not be forever (Lamentations 3:31); he will yet have compassion (Lamentations 3:32). And, most fundamentally, it is not what God is about (Lamentations 3:33). It is not “from his heart.” God is doing it. He means to do it. But it is not where his heart ultimately lies.

What is central to God instead is his compassion and faithfulness. His judgment is real, but it is not foundational. His love and anger are not symmetrical, as God’s own words about himself show so clearly, words so foundational they resound and echo throughout the rest of the Old Testament:

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (Exodus 34:6)

This is the banner hanging over everything else God shows us about himself. We see it reiterated time and again throughout the whole Old Testament. It is the most repeated verse in all the Bible. Many things are true about God. All of them are glorious. Yet not all of them are fundamental. But this is.

God’s Pinned Tweet

God is slow to anger. He is not touchy and explosive. He is not trigger-happy. As Ray Ortlund has put it, God “is not itching to bring down the hammer. We have to drive him to that.” Instead, “His spontaneous heart is to love us.”

God is not slow to love; he’s slow to anger. It is his love that has the engine running — always ready to go at a moment’s notice. In contrast, his anger has to be worked up within him. The two do not occupy the same place in his affections. Love abounds where anger doesn’t. It is love he possesses in boundless measure, not anger.

This is God’s pinned tweet. Everything else needs to be read in the light of this. It forms the context and framework for everything else God will reveal to us about himself. This faithful, steadfast, covenant love is what we find at the deepest core of God’s being. Nothing better expresses the heart of who he is.

God’s anger is real, but it is not central. Love and wrath are not perfectly balanced on some divine fulcrum: God leans heavily and unmistakably on one more than the other. It is his love that comes from the heart, and therein lies wonderful news and great comfort for his people.

Are We Fighting Against Sin or for Joy?

Tue, 10/02/2018 - 8:00pm

Should we focus on fighting against our sin? Or should we focus on fighting for pleasure in God, which will in turn kill our sin?

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Philippians 2:19–24: One Thing to Be Anxious About

Tue, 10/02/2018 - 8:02am

Don’t be anxious about anything — except for this.

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Let Your Dream Small Group Die: Five Ways to Meaningful Community

Mon, 10/01/2018 - 8:02pm

You don’t have to be a Christian long to feel disappointed by Christian community.

Our high expectations are understandable. The church is the body and bride of Christ (Ephesians 1:22–23; 5:25–27), heaven’s earthly outpost (1 Peter 2:9), God’s cosmic stage for showcasing his wisdom (Ephesians 3:10). But when we look at our own community — our local church or small group — the reality can seem to fall so short. We expected the friendships would be deeper. We hoped the people would be more welcoming. We thought the pastor would remember our name.

Sometimes, to be sure, we feel disappointed with our community because something is fundamentally wrong. We attached ourselves to a sick body, and then we caught the virus. Now, it’s time for us to recover somewhere else. But often, my own disappointments with Christian community have sprung from my unrealistic expectations. I walked into a church expecting to find an unblemished bride, and instead I found a wife-in-progress.

Jesus’s Bride-to-Be

Some of us take our community’s flaws as a license to flee. We flit from church to church, small group to small group, in search of a bride with fewer blemishes. Others of us may stay with our communities, but we’ve traded warm affection for mere tolerance, like a spouse whose love has cooled.

God has a harder but happier way forward for us when we feel disappointed by our community: we honestly admit our grievances, acknowledge our own deep flaws, and let our dream community die. Then, with a dose of hopeful realism, we labor to love the real community God has given us. We join Jesus as he removes every spot and wrinkle from his bride-to-be (Ephesians 5:27).

In my own small-group life, I have needed consistent reminders to reform my faulty expectations and send me back to my group with fresh resolves for good. And that’s what the apostle Peter gave me recently with these five callings to every member of a flawed community: “All of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8).

1. Lay Aside Personal Preferences

The first quality Peter lists is unity of mind. As much as possible, Peter says, the members of this patchwork called the church should share the same mind and attitude. Despite all their differences of culture and personality, they should carry the same vision into their gatherings each week.

As we think of the people in our small groups, the call to have unity of mind may sound like telling a field of wildflowers to all be yellow. How does a hipster college student have unity of mind with a middle-aged mechanic? How does an older black woman from south Chicago have unity of mind with a teenage boy from the white suburbs?

We can have unity of mind with one another because we have all been captured by Jesus Christ. Our communities, diverse as they often are, have one identity: sojourners and exiles (1 Peter 2:11). We have one calling: proclaim God’s excellencies (1 Peter 2:9). And we have one grand ambition: to so speak and act that “in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11). Every small group is a family of exiles who live for heaven’s King.

Often, disappointment settles over us because we have lost sight of this controlling vision and have smuggled in our own. So we begin to evaluate our small group based on how well it meets our perceived needs rather than how well it glorifies Christ, and we inevitably walk away feeling neglected. But as we remind ourselves of God’s vision for our community, we will lay aside a host of personal preferences in order to glorify him with one voice.

2. Enter the Emotions of Others

Second, Peter tells the church to show sympathy toward one another. Contrary to some modern definitions, biblical sympathy is not detached or merely cerebral. Sympathy is the ability to enter another’s emotional house, make your way to the living room, and sit with them for a while in their joys or sorrows.

Sympathy is what the Lord Jesus feels toward his people’s weaknesses, and what fellow Christians should feel when they see a brother or sister in prison (Hebrews 4:15; 10:34). In both cases, sympathy stirs up the emotions so powerfully that action follows: Jesus gives his tempted people mercy and grace (Hebrews 4:16), and fellow Christians gladly associate with their imprisoned friends (Hebrews 10:34). Sympathy moves us to weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice, and then do what we can to soothe the sorrow or swell the joy (Romans 12:15).

Deep, sincere sympathy does not come naturally to most of us. We may listen for a time to someone’s story of sorrow or joy, but seldom do we linger there, put aside the impulse to tell our own tale, and allow their emotions to sink down into our own. Such tender care comes from God himself as he shapes us into Jesus’s image. As he does, we will gather more often with our communities on the lookout for people to listen to, and we will find that it is more blessed to show sympathy than to receive it (Acts 20:35).

3. Treat the Church Like Your Family

Next, Peter tells his readers to embrace brotherly love. The first-century world restricted the term brotherly love to blood relatives. But here, Peter takes that family affection and applies it to God’s family — all those who have been “born again to a living hope” and now have the same Father (1 Peter 1:3).

As with our biological families, we don’t get to choose the members of God’s family. God just welcomes us into this wonderful, unusual, and sometimes frustrating collection of mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and children, and then tells each of us, “Love each other.” Apart from the blood of Jesus that binds us together, many of us have little in common. But these are our family members, and like Jesus, we should not be ashamed to call any one of them brother (Hebrews 2:11).

Brotherly love, like all family love, will hurt. These family members will annoy us, offend us, and even wound us deeply. We will feel tempted at times to find a more normal family, one more like us. But precisely at that point, we have the opportunity to press into the glory of brotherly love — a love that stretches across seemingly insurmountable differences for Jesus’s sake, and finds on the other side a richer affection than any we could have formed in an affinity group. We were born again for this kind of love (1 Peter 1:22).

4. Move Toward the Hurting

The fourth quality Peter lists is tenderheartedness. Similar to sympathy, tenderheartedness is sensitive to others’ emotions. The tenderhearted are willing to put their own lives on pause while they enter into another’s emotions and linger there for a while. But more specifically than sympathy, the tenderhearted are particularly touched by pain.

When the tenderhearted meet the pain of suffering, they extend mercy, as when Jesus “had compassion” (the same word for tenderheartedness) on the harassed, the helpless, the hungry, and the sick (Matthew 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; Luke 7:13).

And when the tenderhearted meet the pain of sin, they extend forgiveness. Keenly aware of their own failings, these people are “kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). You don’t have to take a battering ram to reach the compassion of the tenderhearted; a slight touch of another’s pain will prick them.

Many of our small groups include people who carry two tons of sorrow on their shoulders. Bent down beneath their own pain, they can appear cold, aloof, and anti-social. We can wonder why they aren’t more friendly and welcoming, not realizing that they lack the strength to move toward us. As our hearts grow more tender, we will feel less disappointed with these bruised reeds, and more prone to move toward them, praying that God would use us to bind them up.

5. Go Low to Lift Others Up

Finally, Peter tells the church to adopt a humble mind. Humility was a despised quality in the Greco-Roman world, the lot of slaves rather than self-respecting citizens. But Jesus Christ — the King who carried a cross — shows us a new way to be human. We go low to lift others up.

When Christians walk into our communities, we should want humility to be as characteristic as the clothes we wear (1 Peter 5:5). We believe the best about each other. We are slow to speak and quick to listen. We are more ready to cover over a sin than to expose it. We dream of how we might do our brothers and sisters good. We hold our rights loosely. And we never think anyone is too low for us to love, serve, and honor.

The people we go low for may be no one special in the world’s eyes; they may be weak, awkward, and poor — perhaps just like us. But if we will go low for them, God can give us glimpses of who they really are: Jesus’s beloved sheep, God’s own possession, heirs of the grace of life (1 Peter 2:9, 25; 3:7). One day soon, God himself will lift them up to become something new, something resplendent, something beautiful beyond imagination (1 Peter 5:6, 10).

These are the people in our community. They may disappoint us at times now, but they are destined for glory. And we have the privilege of helping them get there.

What to Do When Sin Starts Rising

Mon, 10/01/2018 - 8:00am

The mark of a true Christian isn’t perfection, but the resilience to keep pressing our foot to sin’s neck by the power of the Spirit.

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What Does Prophecy Look Like Today?

Sun, 09/30/2018 - 8:02pm

What does the New Testament gift of prophecy look like when it’s being exercised today? This is the sincere question of many evangelicals. Some are exploring the possibility that this gift continues in the church, and others have become convinced exegetically that it does, but would be helped by some examples.

But others have different questions. Why do we even need the gift of prophecy now that we have the Bible, the closed canon of the Old and New Testament Scriptures? Why would we “earnestly desire” fallibly-delivered “prophetic words” when we have the infallible word of God at our fingertips? Aren’t the Scriptures enough for us? These are sincere questions for many evangelicals who either believe prophecy has ceased or that the Bible just reduces its importance.

These are all important questions and deserve answers. So what I’m going to do is provide three examples of well-known preacher-teachers exercising the gift of prophecy, and then use them to explain why this spiritual gift plays an important ongoing role in the life of the church — a role that doesn’t replace Scripture but fulfills it.

On the 34th Floor

When John Piper is about to preach, he says he frequently prays something like, “Lord, bring to my mind truths about yourself and about this text and about this people that I will be able to say in such a way that they will pierce with unusual — I might say prophetic — power into their lives.”

One Sunday, while preaching, he was encouraging the people of Bethlehem Baptist to be involved in small groups and start evangelistic Bible studies. At one point, he looked to his left and said, “You might be working on the 34th floor of the IDS Tower, and maybe you should call your people together to have a small group meeting.” After the service a woman, who had been sitting in the area where he looked, came up to him and said, “Why did you say that? I work on the 34th floor of the IDS Tower, and I’ve been praying about whether to start a small group.”

What was that? It was the New Testament gift of prophecy. When that thought came into John’s mind, he wasn’t consciously aware that the Spirit was revealing specific information to him regarding a specific individual, but the Spirit was. And the Spirit wanted to encourage this woman to move forward by answering her prayer in a way that would strengthen her faith. That’s one of the Scripture-defined purposes of prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:3).

His Soul for Fourpence

Here’s a similar example that gets even more specific. Charles Spurgeon (1834–1892) once shared this remarkable story:

While preaching in the hall, on one occasion, I deliberately pointed to a man in the midst of the crowd, and said, “There is a man sitting there, who is a shoemaker; he keeps his shop open on Sundays, it was open last Sabbath morning, he took ninepence, and there was fourpence profit out of it; his soul is sold to Satan for fourpence!”

A city missionary, when going his rounds, met with this man, and seeing that he was reading one of my sermons, he asked the question, “Do you know Mr. Spurgeon?” “Yes,” replied the man, “I have every reason to know him, I have been to hear him; and, under his preaching, by God’s grace I have become a new creature in Christ Jesus. Shall I tell you how it happened? I went to the Music Hall, and took my seat in the middle of the place; Mr. Spurgeon looked at me as if he knew me, and in his sermon he pointed to me, and told the congregation that I was a shoemaker, and that I kept my shop open on Sundays; and I did, sir. I should not have minded that; but he also said that I took ninepence the Sunday before, and that there was fourpence profit out of it. I did take ninepence that day, and fourpence was just the profit; but how he should know that, I could not tell. Then it struck me that it was God who had spoken to my soul through him, so I shut up my shop the next Sunday. At first, I was afraid to go again to hear him, lest he should tell the people more about me; but afterwards I went, and the Lord met with me, and saved my soul.” (Grudem, 357)

In this case, the Spirit revealed very specific details to Spurgeon in order to disclose the secrets of a man’s heart and, in kindness, lead him to repentance (Romans 2:4). How do we know this is prophecy? Because the Scripture calls this precise phenomenon “prophecy” (1 Corinthians 14:24–25).

Secrets of the Heart

Here’s one more example of this “secret-disclosing” sort of prophecy, but in a more personal context. John Wimber (1934–1997), one of the formative leaders of the Vineyard church planting movement, once described an experience he had while on a flight from Chicago to New York. Shortly after takeoff, he casually glanced across the aisle and was startled by seeing the word “adultery” in clear letters across the face of the middle-aged businessman seated across from him.

The man saw John looking at him oddly and snapped, “What do you want?” As the man spoke, a woman’s name came clearly to John’s mind. So John cautiously said, “Does the name [blank] mean anything to you?” The man went pale (his wife was sitting next to him). The man responded, “We need to talk.”

They moved to the plane’s lounge where the man confessed to having an affair with a woman whose name had come to John’s mind. John ended up leading the man to Christ, and then the man returned to his seat, confessed to his wife, and led her to Christ (Power Evangelism, 74–76).

Again, this is an illustration of 1 Corinthians 14:24–25 prophecy in action. But here, Wimber was conscious that the Spirit was revealing information to him, and he shared the information with the man. And there’s little doubt the whole experience resulted in the man and his wife being built up and encouraged and consoled (1 Corinthians 14:3).

Not Replacing Scripture

These three examples illustrate that the new covenant spiritual gift of prophecy isn’t a replacement of Scripture. That’s not its role. As I’ve explained elsewhere, from its inception, this spiritual gift was never intended to overrule the authoritative, infallible testimony of God’s chosen contributors to Scripture.

It’s important we understand that prophecy is not offering something more than Scripture offers, as if it’s some kind of improvement on Scripture. Rather, Scripture says prophecy is one of the means of grace God has given to the church. In other words, prophecy is not Scripture’s competitor, but its prescription.

Like the three stories demonstrate, prophecy provides both the recipient and the giver an experience of God’s real presence among us (1 Corinthians 14:24–25). It helps us experience personally the Scripture-revealed reality that God does indeed know when we “sit down” and when we “rise up,” that he is “acquainted with all [our] ways,” that “even before a word is on [our] tongue, behold, [he knows] it altogether” (Psalm 139:2–4).

It’s not that the experience of prophecy is more true, or more wonderful, than the inspired word of God. It’s one of the gifts the true, wonderful, inspired word tells us is available to us. God’s authoritative and sufficient word, delivered through his Old Testament prophets and Christ’s New Testament apostles, is final and decisive for his church. But we must remember that it’s this final, decisive word that introduces us to a category of New Testament “prophecy” — something Christ wants his church to “earnestly desire” (1 Corinthians 14:1). Jesus wants us to experience a reality testified to in his living and active word (Hebrews 4:12). Our Father wants to give us glimpses of just how fully we are known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Exceptional Gift

I have found this gift to be a great mercy to me and many others. As frail and broken as we are, as prone to unbelief, and as confused and disoriented as we can become in this devil-ruled world (1 John 5:19), God loves to give his children very personal upbuilding, encouragement, and consolation (1 Corinthians 14:3). God has given the church the gift of prophecy, because he loves us. It’s one way he expresses his joy in loving us.

I know the gift of prophecy, like every gift God gives, has been (and is) abused. I know that some can put too much stock in subjective prophecies, or find them more exciting than Scripture. But in my personal experience and observations of others, I have found it rare that prophecy devalues Scripture for those who experience it. Rather, it has almost always heightened their love of, and trust in, Scripture’s authority and sufficiency. Because the God of Scripture has acted for them in a way they recognize from Scripture, reinforcing the final truth and power of Scripture.

One last thing. As I observe it in the Bible, church history, the lives of others, and in my own life, the gift of prophecy is exceptional — not the normative way God speaks to and leads us. God wants us to live by every revealed, authoritative, infallible word he has spoken (Matthew 4:4). Paul tells us to earnestly desire to prophesy for the benefit of others, but he also tells us that Scripture is God-breathed and “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

So let us do what the Scripture instructs for the purpose Scripture defines: let us “earnestly desire” the spiritual gift of prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:1) for the “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” of God’s saints (1 Corinthians 14:3). But let us be careful to do so in the ways (and proportions) that Scripture teaches.

Should We Raise Our Hands in Worship?

Sun, 09/30/2018 - 8:00pm

Should we lift our hands during musical worship, or keep them in our pockets? Pastor John shares some principles from Scripture and his own experience.

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