It’s been a while, too long actually since I’ve posted anything publically, but I felt God tugging on my heart to post this. So here we go.
To say Pastor Steve is an anointed man is an understatement – his passion, love, trust, and dependence on Christ is boldly and unashamedly shown in his preaching, his prayers, his actions, and his convictions. It’s evident that God works mightily through him, and will continue to use him for His kingdom and glory until heaven meets earth.
I love expository preaching. I love going through the context of a particular passage, learning and emphasizing the meaning and original intents of that passage and what is means for us in this day and age. I like topical preaching too. Good biblical truths can be brought up that are capable of directly addressing and even begin healing both personal and communal sins.
I honestly don’t know where to categorize P. Steve’s sermons. I don’t know if I can even call them as the traditional sermon than as sharing life story after life story with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit moving powerfully in each one, scattered throughout with frequent “we are dead” messages. I can’t call his messages ordered or systematic, but I can genuinely say that his stories are some of the most powerful, moving truths about repentance and fellowship with God that I have ever heard.
However, one thought bugged me as we were heading home on Sunday after reflecting on retreat in the morning. And it’s this thought that prompts me to write up this reflection.
For background and context, I was cessationist until I came to Berkeley, not because I had this personal conviction that the spiritual gifts ceased with the apostles, but because I was raised in a conservative, Chinese church that had no practice of such things, and so that simply became part of my belief. Then Berkeley happened and I saw news ways in which God moves through the Spirit, whether in tongues, healing, or prophetic prayer. I came to believe in the gifts (after all, the Bible never explicitly states the gifts had ended with the apostles, and just because some charismatics abuse their gifts against proper biblical usage doesn’t invalidate the whole charismatic movement). *
What I felt wasn’t emphasized nor expounded enough was the role of these gifts in revival. The last night of retreat was comfortable for some and strange for others. Some went to sleep in peace and others went to sleep in confusion. As much as I experienced the Spirit moving powerfully the last night, I sensed the enemy planting doubt in those not accustomed to the charismatic atmosphere, precisely because we never mentioned the purpose of pursuing spiritual gifts or the purpose of the gifts themselves. And so I’d like to make two points.
1. We should pursue spiritual gifts with love for the purpose of building up the church
We should eagerly pursue spiritual gifts as Paul tells us in the Bible (1 Cor. 12:31, 1 Cor. 14:1), but for the sole purpose of building up the church and its people (1 Cor. 14:12). I pray that we don’t seek specific gifts so we can attain a sense of self-achievement, nor because we see them in our fellow brothers and sisters, and certainly not because of a pressure to false thinking that we need spiritual gifts to partake in revival, or even partake in the church community. When we get caught up and pursue spiritual gifts without love, we lose sight of our identity and mission. We begin to doubt and find our worth in these gifts. The Word of God says that even if we speak magnificently in the tongues of men and angels, or encounter vivid prophesies, but have not love, we are nothing (1 Cor. 13: 1-2). I’d rather have the church emanate the love of Christ than speak the sweetest heavenly languages without love, because it’s the love of Christ that compels us to be ambassadors for Him (2 Cor. 5: 11-21).
2. Spiritual gifts do not cause revival and are not your identity
Spiritual gifts are not the cause of revival. It doesn’t make you a better or worse Christian and doesn’t make God love you more or any less, because our identity is found in Christ and Christ alone. And it should never result in confusing or alienating people in a church, but rather the opposite – to build up the body. God is so much bigger than simply blessing us with spiritual gifts. He’s so much bigger than just tongues and healing and prophesying. Even if the Spirit doesn’t grant us the power of tongues, healing, or prophesy, sometimes we forget that these aren’t the only gifts the Spirit blesses us with. Teaching. Assisting. Words of affirmation. Knowledge. Discernment. All gifts that the Spirit freely gives us – gifts cessationists and non-cessationists can agree on (1 Cor. 12: 8-11). And God is still bigger than all of that.
Revival isn’t dependent on us. Revival isn’t dependent on whether we can speak in tongues, heal, or prophesy. Revival is dependent on whether the Holy Spirit moves and convicts. Jonathan Edwards preached fire and brimstone sermons in a monotone voice and thousands came to know Jesus because the Spirit was moving and convicting. The one who convicts isn’t the one praying in tongues, healing, or prophesying. The one who convicts is the Holy Spirit (John 16:8). So let’s pray for the Spirit to convict and move. Let’s cry out for the Spirit to work in us and bring revival to us first. Let’s die to our old selves and pronounce our victory that is in Christ Jesus (Col. 3:3, 1 Cor. 15:57) Let’s surrender ourselves at the feet of the cross and earnestly cry out for the Holy Spirit to stir us up in order for us to go out into the city of Berkeley to boldly and unashamedly preach the Gospel, to love the unlovable, bless the unblessable, and forgive the unforgivable, because Christ first loved, blessed, and forgave us (1John 4:19).
*For those wanting to know how to administer specific spiritual gifts, please read 1 Corinthians 14-15.