The Church that God Leads

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It has been very encouraging to see the Lord moving the hearts of VCFers to respond to the call for training to be harvesters and to minister in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is a precious time that God has given us as a church to prepare ourselves for the days to come.

God is preparing us

As you may know, we believe that God’s agenda and priorities for us as a church are shaped by what He is preparing us for. The future will require a certain quality of disciple that God, in His foreknowledge, is preparing. We don’t have to know what the future holds, but we can rest assured that in the present time, God will be preparing us, if we have ears to hear. What an amazing thought – that God is preparing us for action that can only be brought about by what God is doing in us right now! It will be unique, but will require diligence, time, commitment, growth in the Spirit, and unity of heart and purpose.

Implications for the church

This has serious implications for the corporate nature of church. Instead of seeing church as a group of people who engage in a smorgasbord of activities in which each of us contributes or volunteers our gifts to things that are important to us during our spare time – a bit like weekend warriors, we see a totally different picture. We see the church as among other things, an army that moves in rank, with each person being trained, moving in sync with each other, understanding what God is saying to us as a body, being in fellowship in a deep way, and most importantly, understanding our mission. This understanding is to be to such a sharp degree that we know our distinct call in a way that is as much generic to the Body of Christ, as it is different from those who are not called to this particular body. There is a specific way in which God is leading, training and preparing us for the role that he has for us. Understanding what God has not called us to is an important aspect of knowing what He has called us to.

Psalm 80 tells us that God leads us like a shepherd and shines forth from between the cherubim. This means that He leads us stage by stage in our development. Like a good shepherd, He is nuanced in the way He focuses on certain things at one time, and not on others. Then in the next stage of our journey, He may lead us into things that He previously did not permit us to engage in. That is because our learning of Him is led, and in real time. If we can understand this, we will find our time in VCF will begin to be very meaningful. We are not just learning and applying all the values that we see in scripture in a wooden way, and all at once. No, we are being led, fed, shepherded and built up in stages by Someone. Line on line, precept upon precept.

Under His tutelage

This means that there may be times in which people may ask why we are not doing this or engaging in that issue or imperative. It’s because our priority is to follow His leading, and to be under His tutelage. For example, we have for many years, not felt led to focus on spiritual warfare, even though we know it’s crucial role in ministry. We have had to be built up to it, so that our discernment, strength and spiritual maturity was ready for it. I believe that it is the Holy Spirit who has been leading us. Today, I believe that it is time for us to pick up the heavier weapons of our warfare in a way we have not done so up to now.

To be continued…

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Daily Training Set #1

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As always, the training set will be in addition to your devotions.

We will begin slowly, so for this week and next (till Dec 7), we’ll focus on orienting towards God and praying in the spirit till we experience what it is to feel subjectively immersed in God.

Training Tools

  1. Download and print out the VCF Spirit Tool if you don’t have one already.
  2. Purchase a journal or notebook to take notes.

Training Set

1. Whatever you are feeling, pray in the spirit (in tongues, or praising Him repetitively, focusing on inviting Him to be Lord) in a relaxed way for 20 minutes using the Spirit Tool. Go for longer if you like. But do this everyday. That will be our staple.  Pray towards the point where you feel that the distractions, concerns and depressing thoughts begin to fade, and God’s peace takes over. The Spirit Tool may help you identify some signs of His rising in you and your circumstances around you.

2. During the day, be sensitive to times when you feel “off”, then find a space to pray back into orientation towards God. Keep drawing your attention back to His peace. What we are doing is to find a position of living from the presence of God. We are learning to find our way back to our dwelling place (where Jesus says “where I am there you will be also”) from places where we don’t feel at peace. Use your notebook to record how it goes.

3. Look out for opportunities for ministering to needs around you and for inviting people for Christmas. Pray in the spirit for them. Again, use your notebook to keep track of who you ministered to or interceded for.

4. As you feel led, begin praying for your land, expecting God to put certain people on your heart. Begin interceding for people that keep coming up and note them in your notebook.

Introduction to Daily Training

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The purpose of this blog post is to begin to introduce you to a daily regimen of “exercising in godliness”, or spiritual training that would be necessary for us to minister consistently in the power of the Holy Spirit. The ministry of the Holy Spirit is a divine-human thing. We understand that we minister not out of our own works but by the grace of God. What’s not often understood is that this grace is not held aloof from our humanity, but is worked into our habits, our soul, and even our bodies – but always by grace.

Another way of thinking about this is that just as the Son of God was incarnated by the Spirit into a flesh-and-blood human, so too the life of the Spirit has an inescapable human aspect that is subject to all our human traits. If Jesus often said that healing was “according to your faith” and there are degrees of faith, then it is therefore true that we are like spiritual athletes that bring into the ministry situations, a certain condition of spirit that does have an effect on our effectiveness. If you read Paul’s 2 epistles to Timothy, much of it sounds like a coach, advising his athlete on the inner workings of effective ministry.

Context of Training

One thing that is distinctive about spiritual training is that it is always in the context of God’s River moving dynamically to minister to the dry places of people’s lives. He is now moving you into position to be an answer to people’s hearts’ cries. I’m always finding that ministry never stops even outside church! That means that everything we do in training is in real situations where the Holy Spirit is calling out to His children, always wanting to find a harvester who can be sensitive to that. If we refuse to be like the shepherds of Is 56 who “always look their own way”, we will find God at work calling His children everywhere. We are never in a situation in which we are able to extract ourselves from God’s presence. In other words, training is never offline.

As a community of practice, we do have our fields of harvest, both in church as well as in our lands.  Those who came to our last Spirit training received the Spirit Tool and how to use it to correlate what happens in prayer with what happens in the external world, e.g., in church as well as in our lands. Please use the tool often!  In addition, I would like to remind you to carry a notebook with you so that you can note often the situations of ministry, what happened, what worked, what didn’t.

Daily Training – Practicing Sets

To use the analogy from competitive swimming, like any serious sports team, its activities don’t only take place once a month, or even once a week. There is a daily practice and engagement that individuals do on a regular basis. Without that daily lifestyle of spiritual practice, the depth of skill will still be pretty shallow, and the talk about the ministry will be far greater than the practice of it.  But if we are taking seriously Jesus’ call to taking up our cross daily, then we move from being mere weekend warriors who do ministry recreationally, to a whole different category of Christian – not as subject to the flesh and spiritual inconsistency, and always going deeper and having deeper effects in our ministries. The change is radical and in this the cost should be counted. What we are going for is a quantumly different ministry that is akin to the difference between “weekend- warrioring” and everyday living as anointed ministers of God. It involves a whole different self understanding and call.

So just as a club swim team practices sets every day (and not practicing every day does affect performance) so too I would like to introduce a regimen of spiritual sets every week in order for people to grow. This would not be confined to corporate meetings at church but especially practiced at home and in the land. The fact is that we are called to minister out of our store of real being, so how we live in the habit of practicing the presence of God and being led by the Spirit is critical to embodying what we minister to others. Either it’s real every day in our lives, or it’s not. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have hard, even bad days. Actually those hard days may sometimes be harder, but they will now be an integral part of our life with God and His training of us. That’s because He will constantly be pushing us up against our barriers and eventually, through that process, breaking through to greater freedom. Swimming sensation Katie Ledecky, a few days ago at the Golden Goggles Awards, said very simply, “This award represents a process”.

Each week I will have “sets” for us to practice. That would be the nearest thing to centralized training in a training college that I can think of. That way, training does not just happen once a month, but everyday. Each of us will be doing our sets (spiritual exercises) at the level of maturity that we are at.

One Note of Caution

One thing that is important to watch out for is that the spirit in which we do this sets has to be one of worship, and not performance-orientation or self-empowerment. These exercises actually move in the opposite direction. In all this, we are decreasing as He is increasing. If you find that they actually make you feel less liberty in your heart, or more stressed out, please stop them and see me about it. What may be needed is just a few clarifications and reorientations.

Training unto harvest, part 4

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Foundations: the 4 Core Areas of Training

1. Spirit

This involves gaining greater intimacy with God in terms of facility of moving with Him in a level commensurate with that intimacy – not presumptuously, but soberly and increasing in accuracy. Prior to engaging in more formal aspects of ministry, we are aiming to lay a solid foundation of prayer in the spirit, sensing His movements, following a trajectory in prayer and overcoming the Enemy in personal and corporate prayer. Having a good feel of these basics would be important to have insinuated into our blood, so that we can function well even when we are in non-ideal conditions. The strengthening of the inner person of the spirit is an important core process underlying the ministry we will engage in. Some of the ministries under the category of Spirit are: leading in worship, leading prayer meetings, prayer and deliverance ministry, moving in the gifts of the Spirit, and corporate prayer unto a move of God.

The most basic exercise of “praying up” in the spirit will be something we will practice as a staple.

2. Word

What we mean by Word is not just scriptures, but the dynamic living word mediated by the Spirit and springing from the scripture. When the Word of God comes through the scriptures, we experience the opening up of the texts, and the opening up of ourselves in a strange and total way. The first effect of the word is not necessarily on our cognition, but on our spirits.

So receiving a word from God, listening to the word, opening the word in a revelatory way, ministering the word, in prophecy, teaching and preaching are included here.

3. Winning (Harvesting)

I am sure many of us became part of VCF, not just to bless people in a generic way. And when we discovered Dan. 11:32, I’m sure we knew that God had more in mind than doing what we already could do.

Beyond being a blessing to people, there is a way in which Christ the Evangelist moves towards the real goal of winning people unto Himself, in all His awesome Lordship. The actuality of harvest involves separating the life of a person from everything that he or she has been possessed of before. Unfortunately, so much of ministry lacks the cutting edge needed to really save a person such that he/she is no longer functioning from the pseudo life of the old identity and source of life. The convert no longer lives for self or any of those “good” things that has been the orientation. The authentic life in him/her makes for a different zeal. That’s why when people are genuinely converted, the first thing that happens is a new passion for people to experience what they have experiences. So we will focus on the dimension of winning; not just blessing, or edifying in and of themselves.

4. Discipling

The 4th core ingredient of ministry that we want to focus on is raising people – not just maintaining a certain level of well-being, but catching a vision of what God is raising them up to be. This involves knowing what spiritual ingredients a new Christian needs to be a person who can be used by God. God is preparing a people who will know how to take action. Only disciples will by ready and on time. Our 4th concentration will have to do with wrestling with what to disciple people in at each stage of growth. As leaders, we are tasked with a call to raise people with spiritual ingredients that are needed. Like Paul, we are conscious about how we build – what ingredients are involved, and what God is doing in real time.

Training Schedule

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Focus of the training:

  • Spirit and Word unto Winning
  • Timeline: 1st set – Nov, Dec, Jan

Spirit:

  • Training: Monthly prayer meetings on Saturday 10am in Stalder Chapel (Nov 9, Dec 7, Dec 14, Jan 11)
  • Opportunity to intercede with others: weekly on Sundays: 9:15 to 9:45am in Fellowship Hall (downstairs)

Word:

  • Monthly teaching on devotions – how to hear from God through His Word (with mentoring available)
  • Starts week of Nov 11 – exact schedule to be announced soon
  • Idea is to make use of small group structure mid-week – offer Saturday morning for those who can’t come mid-week

Winning:

  • Christmas service – Dec 15

Why Train?

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“Prepare your chariot and go down lest the rain prevent you”… and the hand of the LORD was upon Elijah, and he gathered up his garment and ran before Ahab. (From 1 Kings 18:41-46)

The perils of not being prepared

It may come as a surprise that the things we pray for often involve a challenging degree of turmoil, chaos, danger and even potential for destruction. The promise of spiritual outpouring is accompanied by perils that, if we are not prepared for, can be overwhelming. The big things that we pray for require a requisite largeness, strength and spiritual heft on our part, to carry them through.

The rain that the king, nation and prophet had earnestly prayed for came with devastating suddenness and required a pace of movement, understanding and strength that Ahab did not have. Elijah, on the other hand, was able to run at a pace that overtook the chariot and function in a capacity that reflected supernatural power.

How we function depends on training and preparation

And it is this realm of functioning that is called for and brought in by the outpouring of the Spirit. If we have not been used to moving in the realm of faith and revelation, we find ourselves flat-footed in this new dynamic.

The mental brilliance we had which looked so good in the absence of God’s move, looks clumsy and pedestrian where we need to be stepping out boldly at the impulse and leading of our spiritual instincts. The reliance on relational adeptness and listening techniques are left at the post in the face of the need for decisive action that shows forth God’s wisdom. The much-touted humanistic creativity, so valued in the absence of a move of God, seems irrelevant and awkward in the midst of more powerful spiritual weapons.

When Pharaohs and Nebuchadnezzar need a word from the gods, naturalistic, hip Christianity, for all its contrived “relevance” and emergent postmodernism, is brushed aside. A move of God is a dangerous thing, and can only be met by spiritual preparation.

In other words, revival can actually be painful for those unaccustomed to moving in sync with the Spirit. Just as God is exposed in revivals, so is our reliance on the flesh. But just as the San Francisco earthquake at the turn of the Century, and the Chicago Fire have been read as times of great calamity, they also happen to have been the occasion for great revivals – the awaited times that certain men and women of God had been preparing for. These were the “such a time as this” moments that required them to be able to minister more than human help to people who had been devastated. They had to have the spiritual wherewithal to rise to the situation. Just as the rain in Ahab’s and Elijah’s case required them to move faster than they could under normal circumstances, so too will the opportunities that God affords require a level of united, committed corporate prayer to see harvest. The opportunities will be there – for those who know their God, have developed a strong spirit, and can take action.

This is what our training is preparing us for.

Training unto harvest, part 3

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The Call – Type 2 Harvesting

I believe that God has more for us as ministers when He calls us to be in VCF. The call to be the subjects of Dan. 11:32 – a people who know God, display strength and do exploits is much more akin to Type 2 harvesting than to doing things that don’t really require the supernatural, wholly other power of God’s love. As ministers, we are here not to do what we could already do before we joined the church. VCF has a purpose for existence that entails being raised to do His mighty works based on a process of formation in intimacy, love and holiness.

Although there are many leaders in the Christian church, there are not many harvesters who are able to have eyes and strength to harvest on time. Most ministers go by what their eyes observe, rather than by revelation, so they miss the harvest, even when they are standing right in the midst of it. That’s why Jesus asked the disciples to pray for a certain kind of laborer who could with lifted eyes, penetrate past the surface to discern the harvest. These ones would often confound those who experience no harvest, and find ripeness right where others have labored fruitlessly for years and have said that it could not be done. Again and again, I see God moving in people whom others have written off and effectively pronounced, “They’re not ready.” It’s a certain kind of person whom Jesus is praying for. Unfortunately the Church is filled with a multitude of people who want “to do ministry”, but are not seeing the harvest. It has to be that God has better for us!

The Training

For many years, there have been some basic core areas of ministry empowerment that I’ve come to see as a staple for the minister of God, the Servant of Yahweh. I’ve discovered that when people were trained even in the most basic levels, God would use them in remarkable ways, always marked by the supernatural – both providential as well as miraculous (note the distinction). Over the years, I have found that people that I have discipled and trained have been used by God greatly when they faithfully practiced in these areas.

4 Core Areas

I propose that we focus on these areas. Only a ministry that is empowered greatly in these areas will be compelling. Here are the 4 areas I propose to focus our training on. They are also the same areas that we want to pass on to the next generation.

  1. Spirit
  2. Word
  3. Winning (people to the Lord)
  4. Discipling

In the next blog post, I will go more in depth into these 4 core areas.  You will see that 3 and 4 are built on the basic building blocks of 1 and 2.

Training unto harvest, part 2

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What’s different about Harvesters?

It looks like Jesus was not just keen to bless people, nor to merely alleviate suffering, nor to elevate people’s standards of living. He was going for something that would be far greater than the short-lived elevation of an earth-bound existence. His incarnation, death and resurrection stretched forth unto eternity. So He looked forward to drinking the cup again in His Father’s kingdom. His harvest was not one of short-lived, temporary blessings, but one of eternal transformation that came from people being grafted into the vine, the body of Christ for all Eternity. His was not a goal of “meaningful conversations”, but of harvesting souls that would be separated from the stem of worldly allegiance and identity.

I believe that that is what God has for us when He sends us into His ministry. For that, we fain would remain satisfied with seeing movements in people’s hearts, without seeing them won for God and taking their place in His body and His mission. The lack of fruit often comes from being satisfied without a vision of people being won for God all the way! That is what Paul meant when he spoke about being in travail (again!) until Christ be formed in the Galatians. Obviously, the Galatians had tasted the fruit of heaven, but they were now in danger of fading out of communion, and into bondage. As a spiritual parent, Paul was not going to accept that outcome, because of the love of God in him.

A vision of more – searching for answers

If we carry a mentality that contains no vision of God’s desire for men and women to be won over and separated out to his purposes, we will probably see little complete fruition, maybe even be self-satisfied to see the stirrings of God. But if we have a vision of more, then we will begin searching for answers to how we can minister with the cutting edges of a harvesting instrument. The Servant of Yahweh is told in Isaiah that he will be made into a sharp threshing instrument with teeth. What manner of ministry does that entail? What does it mean to be a harvester – that kind that Jesus prays for?

2 Types of Harvesting

There are 2 types of harvesting:

  1. The easy harvesting involves merely placing your hand where the fruit is about to drop. Nothing much is needed here. The fruit will easily drop on your hand. This is the harvest that we are all able to recognize and participate in. Often though, in such cases, by the time the fruit drops, it’s past the optimum harvesting time.
  2. This kind of harvest is where the vast majority of the fruit lies, but it involves having elevated eyes to actually discern ripeness and separate the fruit from the tree by means of a cutting edge, before it drops off.

The key to harvest is not 1 but 2. What we want is to be good at 2. We can already do 1 because it doesn’t take that much to do it. Put another way, the key to fruitfulness has much to do with becoming a Type 2 harvester.

Questions for you

  1. Take a step back to ask, “What is my vision for people I am ministering to?”
  2. What questions arise in your heart as you seek a vision of more?

Training unto harvest, part 1

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Say not ye, There are yet 4 months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields: for they are white already unto harvest.  John 4:35

An analogy from soccer

One of the things that I found heartbreaking as a supporter of the West Ham United soccer club was that in spite of the fact that they were known to play the most fluid, creative and attractive brand of soccer in the English League (now the Premier League), they never won the championship. Never even came close.

They could make openings, set up great scoring opportunities, and rip open the defenses of their opponents, but somehow not win games enough to really WIN. They would often be beaten by the less fashionable, less skilled Yorkshire and Lancashire clubs, who somehow were able to not merely create chances, but convert them into goals. They could harvest the strategic plays and actually come out a match with something to show for it. Not so much my beloved team.

Winning

As you can probably guess where I’m going with this, I won’t need to spend too much time belaboring the point. Of course this is a parable bespeaking spiritual ministry.

I’m sure those of us who desire to minister the transforming power of the Spirit of God, and not just human fleshly good, are searching for answers. Not really winning is disappointing, even if along the way to not winning, a lot of good things happen. The problem in all this is that we may be sitting in the middle of a white harvest field, and experiencing no harvest.

I think that is why Jesus implores us to lift up our eyes to see the white harvest, and to pray to the Lord of the harvest for harvesters.

The first key to spiritual harvest

Spiritual harvest involves one radical thing that is absent in all other process that take place from seedtime on.  It is the element of separation. When a fruit is harvested, it needs be separated from the plant that it has hitherto been a part of. The use of a harvesting knife involves cutting or separating the fruit from its original connections. In the old covenant, it was circumcision that signified the separation unto God from every other life source and identity. The lack of this radical separation from the past, the flesh and allegiance in many Christians is a root cause for so many not experiencing an authentic spiritual life that is not of this world. Many are still not radically and spiritually separated from their former life, self-identities, affections, allegiances and orientations.

If the fields are ripe unto harvest, it must mean that there are more people who are ready for this life of extraordinary power than we currently see naturally. But there’s something about our ministry that lacks that fruit. Many of us subsume our ministries under the category of the helping or caregiving professions, not realizing that God has more for His people. What Jesus asks us to pray for is for Harvesters – laborers for the harvest.