Live in a Better Story – Mike Frost Sermon

Mike Frost photoWhat story do you live in? Is it one controlled by self, consumerism, fear and greed? God invites us to live in a different story of radical mercy, hospitality, equality, reconciliation and generosity!

In this sermon from the combined Manly Life Church and Small Boat Big Sea service, Mike Frost challenges us to live in a better story! As you listen, be commissioned to tell and live out this story in your life.

(click play and then wait 30 or so seconds for audio to start)

Does God Heal Today?

jesus healingI love reading about the ministry of Jesus. Particularly I am drawn to his healing ministry recorded all through the Gospels. In Luke 5:17 it says “the power of the Spirit was with Jesus to heal”. A quick example would be in Luke 5 where a man covered in leprosy begs Jesus to make him clean. It says Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately, we are told, the leprosy left him. What must it have been like to have been there to see that. More importantly what would it have felt like to have been this man? Amazing! His longings to be healed met with God’s power and love! New life…

For, Jesus, Paul, and the rest of the early church lived in regular expectation that God would heal people’s physical bodies. This relates in part to the OT prophecies that in the messianic age God would heal people (Is 53:5 – the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed). Jesus says the Kingdom of God is here… no wonder we then read about so much healing in the New Testament.

Is this for today though?

I was watching an interview with John Wimber last week. John was the leader of the Vineyard church and he was describing his conversion. The basic gist is that he gave up drugs to follow Christ only to find all of the churches he went to telling him that God doesn’t heal like that any more today. Needless to say, he wasn’t impressed and pursued the promise of healing in the church. What ensued was a remarkable move of God across the world where thousands of churches woke up to the power of the ministry of the Holy Spirit today.

I pray that Manly Life will do the Jesus stuff. Both in our meetings and out on the streets… Is that realistic? Sometimes modern faith or modern churches seem to have very little to do with what Jesus did. You can spend your time talking about the music, or the building, or the ministers annoying habits… but how often do we talk about the stuff Jesus did happening amongst us?

When I lived in Kenya I would often preach at open air meetings. Some of the guys I ministered with suggested that at the end of preaching the Gospel there should also be made an opportunity for people to come forward to be prayed for healing. That had never occurred to me… I had never thought of doing that after all I thought our job as Christians was just to tell people about Jesus. But 2 things happened… firstly I read the scriptures and realised this was what Jesus would do… preach and heal… secondly I began to saw God do these things in and around the ministry I was involved in. These were supernatural things I couldn’t deny like evil spirits coming out of people and healings.

In Luke 4 Jesus sets outs his mission and a part of it was recovery of sight for the blind…  But is this just a spiritual blindness? John Baptist disciples ask in Luke 7 – are you the one? Jesus answers… “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the good news is preached to the poor.” Clearly Jesus came to bring holistic healing and refreshing. This is not just a kingdom of talk but of power.

It seems to me there are two types of faith, safe faith and Jesus faith. In safe faith you don’t expect much, and you don’t get much. It mainly ends up about ideas and reasoning. I would suggest that it often reflects the experience of the person… and we all have a way of theologizing our experiences rather than believing and pursuing the promises of the scripture. Jack Deere who wrote the excellent book Surprised by the Power of the Spirit was one such safe faith Christian. He didn’t believe in the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit in the church to heal people… until he experienced the power of the Holy Spirit himself. If you are on a similar journey I recommend his book!

All of this stands in contrast to the Jesus Faith… Jesus announced the kingdom of God is here… then he demonstrated it. In other words God begun a new work of restoring things! That is what Jesus did. That is what the early church did. And history tells us that often when revival breaks out it is accompanied by a move of the Spirit…That is why we often hear stories from overseas, where Christianity is fastest growing of signs and wonders accompanying the preaching Jesus as Lord. Check out Iris Ministries for some amazing stories.

So Jesus faith is closer to what he did, what the early church did and what the NT writers encouraged us to do… But it can also involve disappointment. In the time between Jesus ministry and his return we do not fully experience the total renewal of the Kingdom of God. But Jesus taught us to pray to long for the kingdom and to ask for his Holy Spirit. It is always hard when for every story of healing we know of people who have prayed and haven’t got well… Clearly just as the kingdom involves healing and restoration it still involves patience and endurance in suffering! Paul who ministered powerfully in the Spirit would still talk about his thorn in the flesh.

But what should we do – stay safe or seek the kingdom of Jesus? I know what I would prefer…

Finally to get practical how do we see the power of God released amongst us today? In the NT healing is called a Spiritual Gift – with things like prophecy, miracles, wisdom… Spiritual gifts are concrete expressions of God’s grace given for the building up of the church… In Ephesians 2:22 we are told the Spirit dwells in the church. This is the same Spirit that was at work in Jesus ministry and is then poured out on the church (you can read about it Acts and the early church Fathers…) and this is the same God at work in his people today!

Healing is a part of being a church body… 1 Corinthians 12:7 says the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 1 Co 12:9 talking about how these gifts are given… “to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit”. So this is to be understood as gracious gifts of the Spirit in the gathered community for the sake of building up the people of God. This is about the church being built up just as much as for your own individual blessing… how encouraging is it when we see God move in our own churches? Everyone grows in faith as a result.

So why is healing given to us? How does it build the church up? Well it is a sign of the new creation; the kingdom of God breaking in. Indeed it is the same as in Jesus ministry – people are being made new! It also grows faith in us which is a blessing because there is enough out there these days to beat faith out of us… Gordon Fee calls gifts like healing truth verified by power… It is a gift… simply it is God being compassionate to us. This is one concrete way that we can know – from time to time – that God loves us! The ultimate expression of course is always the cross of Christ, but gifts of the Spirit are to be understood as a concrete expression of grace for the church – that God gives from time to time out of love!

Final, final thing… is to talk a bit about ministry times. At Manly Life we make sure there is time in our gathered meetings to create space to let God move. It is easy to do all the talking at church but God is present by his Spirit – in the preaching, the prayers, the worship, the fellowship… and present to heal and move amongst us. Sometimes you have to let God speak. In John 10 Jesus says my sheep know my voice… So we ask him to come by his Spirit and minister to us, to speak to us, to heal us. We may get a word of knowledge about a specific healing God wants to do, or we may simply pray for those with need. God is good, and in my experience even if we are not immediately healed, receiving prayer is always a blessing. Of course there is much more to say but I will stop there. Thoughts? Please leave a reply…

Vision Sunday 2013 Sermon

Vision Sunday 2013

Here is the sermon from Vision Sunday 2013. Pastor Tim Giovanelli looks at how God builds his church through giving everyone a role to play and infusing the church with His Spirit.

Note: The orchestra playing in the middle of the sermon goes for about 5 minutes. It is of an orchestra playing in a town square which starts with one individual playing and grows until the whole orchestra has emerged to join him.

It is Vision Sunday this Weekend!

Vision Sunday 2013Beyond Christmas and Easter, Vision Sunday is my favourite weekend of the year! It is our opportunity as a church to take stock, thank God and get energised for the year ahead! Victoria and I are feeling excited by what is coming. We have had lots of words from God and encouragements to keep going, to be expectant for what God will do, and to dream big for 2013.

This Sunday we will look at two fantastic verses; Ephesians 2:22 which speaks of God’s Spirit dwelling/living in the church and Romans 12:4-8 which exhorts us to be a body where every person has a part to play. The gist then is that as we play our role in the church, and with God infusing all that we do, we will see the church grow, mature and bring life to all who come.

It is always easy to hang on the edges of a church… they can be messy places… full of broken people like you and me! But God promises to build his church, to give us a role and to be present by his Spirit when we gather. Although it will always face challenges, I can think of no better community to give my life to serving and loving. The scriptures say where the Spirit of God is, there is life! That is what I want to be a part of. Let me offer an invitation to you to join us at Manly Life this Sunday!

Encountering Glory – Being Changed

gloryI have been living in 2 Corinthians 3 this last week in preparation for our Celebration Service this Sunday and have been blown away. What Paul claims is nothing less than if we turn to Jesus, the veil separating us from God will be taken away and we will encounter his glory – and be changed! Through the grace of Jesus and the power of the Spirit we are ushered into presence of God, nothing now separating us from the creator of the universe!

Glory is an interesting word in the scriptures. It means weightiness – hence the glory of God is his presence, his weight, his character that leaves a mark. In the OT Moses encounters the glory of God and has to veil his face when he meets with the people. It is too much even though it is ultimately fading glory. The astonishing claim through Jesus is that this veil gets taken away and we can fully encounter the glory of God. And it is this weightiness that we often encounter when we gather and we worship. The Holy Spirit comes and we feel the  glory of God pressing down on us – revealing his presence to us. It is a joyful ecstasy to know God in this way, and if we are open to his Holy Spirit coming and revealing himself to us, we can enjoy the very presence of the living God.

Why does this matter?

Because it gives us hope and it encourages us to be bold. Hope because we now have face to face access to God just like Moses did, but in an even more extraordinary way. 2 Corinthians 3 suggests that it is in this encounter that leads to freedom and being transformed into God’s likeness. Think the fruit of the Spirit being formed in us – his character, his power, his peace. And boldness because we are now assured of who God is and what we are called to do. Simply we are to carry and give away this glory!

This Christmas get to know the glory of God. In John 1 it says we have beheld his glory – and it is full of grace and truth. Through the Gospels we read of people meeting Jesus and being changed. Sinful men and women like you and me. The veil is taken away – they encounter glory and are changed. Sickness is healed, evil spirits are cast out, good news is received, circumstances are overcome. And thankfully this is not just a history book – it is the same stories that emerge today in our churches.

How have you encountered the glory of God this year? Has it brought hope, has it changed your life, has it made you bold? Go with peace to love and serve the Lord!

Confusing Charismatic with Contemporary or Missional ministry

I have a passion to see churches minister in the power of the Holy Spirit. I draw a lot of strength from the ministries of John Wimber and the Vineyard, the New Wine network of churches and HTB and the Alpha Course. In our city of Sydney though there seems to be a confusion about, and suspicion of what exactly charismatic is. Just the other day a friend told me about how their church was on the more charismatic end of their denomination. All he could point to though was occasional raising of hands in worship and contemporary music. While that is a fantastic thing, it is not to be confused with charismatic expressions of church and ministry.

Before I get to what I believe is the difference between charismatic and contemporary, let me state why I believe it is so important that the church moves more effectively in the power of the Holy Spirit. This was the source and type of Jesus’ ministry. While it is great that some churches want to be missional by being involved in sports clubs and schools and so on… to be truly missional is to do the ministry of Jesus like Jesus. For him this was proclaiming the kingdom through preaching, healing, casting out evil and doing miracles. We also need to be charismatic because this is how the early church was commissioned and acted in the first century. They continued the ACTS of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit throughout the world. Finally we must seek the power of the ministry of the Holy Spirit because I believe that is the truest expression of ministry today. While I affirm social justice and missional ministry, the stuff that I truly believe changes our communities and lives is seeing the ministry of Jesus happening today through his church.

On Tuesday night at Alpha a young guy from a Buddhist background had a strong experience of the Holy Spirit during the ministry time after a talk on healing. His question to me afterwards was how do I become a Christian? It was the power of the Spirit at work in him that is leading him towards wanting to follow Christ. What a joy to give him a bible and begin the walk of faith with him!

So here is just two common confusions between what is contemporary and missional and what is charismatic?

– A Christian befriending a person or community group is being missional… praying for them for healing or having a word of knowledge that leads to evangelism is charismatic.

– Waving your hands in the air to a modern worship band is contemporary… experiencing the power of his presence or being filled with His peace in worship is charismatic.

None of this is to downplay the importance of a whole range of ministries and ways of reaching out or being the church. My passion though is that we will be a body of believers who take the continuing ministry of Jesus, powered by His Holy Spirit seriously. We are to be lovers of his presences, seekers of his power and servants of his gospel – for the sake of the coming of His kingdom and the redemption of the world.

What do you think?

Leading a Response after Sermons

When I was 21 I lived for a year in South Africa and Kenya. I was blessed to be asked to do quite a bit of open air preaching. The expectation was that after my message I would ask people to respond by making a decision to follow Jesus. Hence about half way through the sermon I would begin to get a sickening feeling in my stomach… the end is approaching… I am going to have to ask people to respond… what if no one comes forward… this could look very stupid.

Graciously, God would often draw people to respond, but what was most helpful was a Kenyan friend of mine who took me aside. He basically encouraged me that it was the Gospel that is powerful, it is God through his Holy Spirit that will convict people, so all we needed to do was preach faithfully and then relax. It is God who draws out a response in people! It was a great relief to hear this and I actually found myself growing in confidence in my ministry… because it was no longer about me.

When I moved to London I ended up at a great church called St Paul’s Hammersmith. It was an Anglican church that had come alive in the things of the Spirit. Again I experienced great times of ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit. After each message an opportunity was given for people to respond to the Word of God by coming forward to be prayed for. I loved it! The journey I have been on since has been in discovering the value of response and the power of the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Last Sunday at Manly Life we looked at Ezekiel 37 and the valley of the dry bones. God promises that he will breathe His Spirit into us and we will live. At the end of the sermon it was obvious that we needed an opportunity for people to respond. For those without hope or life, to come forward and be prayed for. It allows God to take what has been said and then move powerfully in the lives of those being prayed for. Over half the church probably came forward for prayer and we are hearing great testimonies of what God did and is doing in his people.

Here are some keys…

– Without an opportunity for response and prayer a lot of our preaching can just end up being information. But information with response can lead to transformation. It allows God to minister prophetically into peoples lives, and to meet them where they are.

– Often when we have a ministry time we will see God move powerfully in the life of the responder. These visible manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s power are often a sign that God is doing something new or powerful in a person. Other times we just see a sense of peace enter the person (think Jesus appearing to his disciples after his death, saying peace be with you and breathing his Holy Spirit on them).

– We need to trust God that he will move as he promises to, in the lives of those who respond. We simply ask the Holy Spirit to come and minister. We don’t need to whip it up or be all emotional… In the words of John Wimber, we can be naturally supernatural. “God we ask you to come and fill x with your Spirit.” Then shut up… and let God move! If you are saying a lot, often that can be a sign that you don’t trust God to move. Come Holy Spirit…

– Responses can be defining moments in a persons life. God loves a decision, he loves an act of faith, he loves a heart responding to him. God will use that! Never underestimate the power of putting a stake in the ground. Faith in God is a choice, it is an action, it is a response.

– Don’t be afraid of coming forward time and time again. Often if we don’t see God move like we hoped for, we lose that hope. But like the persistent widow, we need to personally be responding time and time again. Seek first the Kingdom, ask, seek, knock, open the door, reach out to touch his robe, come in the dark of night, confess simple prayers of faith… Go after God!

– Finally I would say try and build in a culture of response in your lives and ministry. I take my hat off to the Hillsong’s, and C3’s of this world. They are always giving people an opportunity to respond to the Gospel. There is a reason these churches have experienced huge growth for the kingdom. They give opportunities for people to respond, and then create space and believe God will move.

Bless your ministry and please keep praying for Manly Life!

I will put my Spirit in you and you will live

For those who are coming on Sunday to church I thought I would give you a taste of what we are going to be looking at and experiencing. In the amazing prophesy of Ezekiel 37 God gives Ezekiel a vision of a valley of dry bones. I want to not only speak a word of hope but also to ask God to come and fill us with his Spirit!

In life it is easy to settle for a mentality that this is as good as it gets – so deal with it. And while our faith is not a magic wand that makes everything ok, it is a promise that God will come and fill us with life. In other words, if we can walk in the Spirit as the Apostle Paul encourages to do, a quality of life will emerge. 

The prophecy of Ezekiel comes at a time when the people of God had been dragged off into captivity by the Babylonians, their temple had been robbed and they were under the judgement of God. Although their scriptures told stories of a God who acts powerfully to bring life, they were without hope. It was not their experience of God… And like them, sometimes as our lives don’t turn out like we hope they will, we too can lose faith in God. We rationalise the promises of the bible down to our own experiences. Sick, just cope, depressed, somehow just get on with it, broken – aren’t we all…

But into their story, into our lives, God’s promise is to move. Breathing new life, restoring hope, making us his people. So let’s orient ourselves to this passage, and  ask him to come… to once again breathe this new life into our tired and weary bones! 

The picture Ezekiel paints starts as one of the people of God without hope. In a valley where a battle may have taken place, the people have been reduced to a great pile of dried out bones. It suggests the people have been in this situation for a long time… defeated, deteriorating, decaying. And it was there story – defeated by Babylon, taken into captivity, their temple robbed. Life has got hard. Hope is in short supply.

You know it never ceases to amaze me just how hard life can be for some people. Just this week I was having lunch with the homeless and broken of Manly at the Salvation Army. Many of them wonderful people, but if our brokenness is sometimes internalised, many of these people were wearing it visibly. Sometimes it is our bad choices that lead to life getting off track, but often it is the circumstances that life thrusts into our hands… The result is a valley of dry bones – of a people without hope…

God asks Ezekiel – can these bone live? It is a great question, one to which Ezekiel can only answer “O God, you alone know.” Because from a human point it looks to be a situation without hope. How can these bones live, they have long been dead. A work colleague many years ago when I was working in London took me out to lunch. She shared with me some tragic things that had happened in her life that had overshadowed everything else. She was one of these dry bones… maybe surviving but never thriving in life. Can these bones live? When hope is gone what from a human point of view can we do?

God asks Ezekiel to do something quite incredible. First he asks him to speak! To Prophesy, in other words speak the Word of God to these dry bones! Tell them, God says, that he will make “breath enter you, and you will come alive. Then you will know that I am God.” In Ezekiel’s vision a remarkable thing begins to happen… A noise emerges, a rattling sound and the bones come together, tendons first… and flesh appeared on them, skin begins to covers them… But there is no breath in them… in other words it looks like a sleeping army. They are not yet alive. Hope is coming back but it aint quite there yet.

But it isn’t over. Prophesy to the breath says God. Come from the four winds. O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live. And the breathe enters the bodies, they came to life and stood up on their feet – a vast army. It has echoes of the creation story where breathe enters into the first man Adam and he comes alive. It is something God alone can do! As far as I know scientists haven’t figured out how to take a rock and make it come alive. God is the source of life. It is his creative breath that brings us alive!

And we hear the echoes of this passage after Jesus has been resurrected from the dead! Remember Jesus has said to Nicodemus in John 3 that to be born again you must be born of the Spirit… And so the first disciples… huddled in an upper room, afraid and without hope. Their saviour has been crucified, the movement of new life he has launched into the world seems to be over. Just another dead saviour. And then he appears to them! “Peace be with you.” And then we hear he breathes on them and says… “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Like the prophesy of Ezekiel here is our God – bringing his hopeless people back to life. The wind is blowing, the breath of God is entering them! Filling them with his Spirit – launching them into the world to continue his mission!

It makes sense right? Ezekiel has pointed towards this wonderful future… Verse 14 – I will put my Spirit in you and you will live! The vast army of Ezekiel’s vision is a testimony to the world that God is God. That he breathes life into the hopeless. All pointing towards this glorious future where God would pour out his Spirit into his people through the coming of his Son Jesus Christ.

You know I believe we are living in an age where the church is reawakening to the powerful life of the Spirit. An interesting thing we may note in this passage is that it is a two stage process. The first bit is the coming of the Word of God – Ezekiel is asked to prophesy to the bones! But the life doesn’t fully emerge until the Spirit of God moves on them. It is this powerful combination of Word and Spirit that brings the people of God into the fullness of life that He intends…

I was reading this week about the Great Awakening. This was a powerful move of God in the early 1800’s that came in both the UK and America through the ministries of John and Charles Wesley, Whitefield and Edwards. These great evangelists took the Gospel of Jesus out of the churches and onto the streets. The industrial revolution was bringing huge changes to society, and not all good. Huge swathes were moving from the country into the cities, families were breaking down, children were working in mines, many churches had fallen asleep!

Men like Wesley and Whitefield would ride from town to town preaching in open air gatherings. It was the birth of the Methodist church movement and renewal of many other churches. But the history has been rewritten with much of this powerful move of God’s Spirit removed from the books. But in these huge crowds of up to 30,000 people after the sermons, the Spirit of God would often come and move in the great assembled crowds. Not only did coal covered faces wash white with tears, but it is recorded that hundreds would often fall over under the power of the Spirit. Miraculous manifestations of God would occur as new life came to a broken people. The secularist Benjamin Franklin even noted that during the great awakening you couldn’t go down any street without hearing Psalms and Hymns being sung in every home. The big moves of God are always Word and Spirit – preaching and power!

So let’s ask once again, for God to come and breathe his Spirit on our lives and His church! That is what we will be doing this Sunday at Manly Life Church. As Paul encourages us to be filled with the Spirit, to walk by the Spirit and to live by the Spirit. The breathe of God is moving again in this generation. Come Lord Jesus and move in our lives. Make us come alive so that we might live for your glory! Hope is making a comeback and it is called Jesus. Breathe… breathe… breathe on us we pray!

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