…I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel
The apostle Paul is, next to Jesus, probably the most respected and influential leader in the New Testament. He has an almost superhuman status within the Christian faith, including elevation to sainthood within the Catholic church. Because we tend to emphasize his teachings, it is easy to overlook the essential, life-changing truth that God reveals to us through this man’s life: ministry is not just for clergy.
I’ve been studying Paul’s conversion again this week and, for the sake of encouragement, want to focus on the details behind Paul’s calling. Everyone knows he was blinded by the light of God at Damascus, but I wonder if everyone sees the transforming power of what can happen to us as a result of Paul’s experience.
A self-described “zealous” adherent to both religion and Greek philosophies, Paul was a “Hebrew of the Hebrews,” an Israelite of the tribe of Benjamin, Abraham’s seed, and a Pharisee (See Philippians 3:5). He was trained in the classics at a Hillel school under Gamaliel. He says of himself: “I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (Galatians 1:14).
Such a man would seem to be a prime candidate for ministry. And he was, but not because of his resume. Look at what Paul writes in 1 Timothy:
And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it in unbelief.
Paul says he was “put into ministry.” But he had no degree! Some argue that he didn’t need one, because his training in Judaism was so extensive as to be sufficient. However, he repeatedly states that he was “given” his ministry, as opposed to earning it. Besides that, he was one of the most feared persecutors of the Christian faith in his time. God chose him to be a minister of the Gospel!
Certainly, his knowledge of Old Testament scriptures later helped him “prove that Jesus was the Messiah” (Acts 17:2-3). Yet it was not his training that he relied upon. What's interesting is that despite his strict adherence to Judaism, Paul did not recognize Jesus when He first appeared to him:
As (Paul) journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? And he said, “Who are you, Lord?
It was Ananias who confirmed to Paul that Jesus Christ had appeared to him. Who was Ananias? “A certain disciple at Damascus.” (Acts 9:10).
Did you catch that? Here is the conversion and call to ministry of a major figure in the Christian faith, and it happens through someone described only as a “certain disciple!” God uses ordinary people to set amazing things in motion. The details of Paul’s future ministry were first given prophetically to Ananias:
“But the Lord said to (Ananias): Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before the Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” -Acts 9:15-16.
While Ananias helped Paul get started, Paul writes in Romans 1:5 that he received “grace and apostleship” from God directly. He “did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor with the other apostles,” but went into Arabia before returning to the disciples at Damascus (Galatians 1:11-15). I believe, as many scholars do, that Paul had some time after his "ordination" when he was alone with the Spirit of God, perhaps even in the desert as Jesus had been years prior. After being abruptly "introduced" to Jesus, he got to know the Holy Spirit.
The Bible says that “immediately” after his conversion, Paul was baptized and began preaching in the synagogues. True, he spent time with the disciples at Damascus and later with the Apostles in Jerusalem, but the Bible stresses that he began his ministry immediately once he was filled with the Holy Spirit. This challenges our normal ministry paradigm.
When someone becomes a Christian today and wants to get into ministry, we often impose rigid standards upon them. Certainly, we would never allow a new believer to begin preaching in our churches or synagogues! The pulpit, as we all know, is reserved for clergy – for the ordained and the trained. We might notice a gift someone has and encourage them to attend seminary, to practice speaking at Toastmasters, or to do some street preaching (since that does not come with the accolades of a pulpit position). This, however, is not what happened to Paul.
And it wasn't a mistake, either. Those who heard him were “amazed.” Acts 9:21. His experiential preaching was so powerful that it created an “uproar” among the Jews who heard him. Does this remind you of Someone else?
It is no accident that the writer of Acts used the word “amazed” to describe the reaction of the Jews to Paul’s preaching. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all say the same thing about Jesus’ initial teachings. Mark writes that “the people were amazed at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” –Mark 1:22. These authoritative words that bring amazement to the crowds also lead to uproar and confusion that threaten to kill both Jesus and Paul.
While Paul had the equivalent training of a teacher of the law, he was not recognized as a scholar when he preached. He famously stated that he counted all his accomplishments as loss (some translations say “dung”), for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” –Philippians 3:8. He was recognized for the ministry of the Spirit.
Paul demonstrated the power of God everywhere he went. It wasn’t his eloquent speech that stood out; people called his speech “contemptible!” (2 Corinthians 10:10). He preached so long once that a (bored?) congregant actually fell asleep, tumbled out a window, and died! The sermon was only revitalized when Paul raised the boy from the dead. His personal presence was weak. But the Presence of God in him was strong. His relationship with God changed the entire course of human history.
He has enabled us to be ministers of His new covenant.
Do you believe that ministry is not just for clergy? That your relationship with God gives you the authority and right to preach to the nations? Jesus does! He called all disciples to do exactly that in Matthew 28. “But I’m not a minister,” you argue; “I’m just a lay person!” I am too. But 2 Corinthians 5:18 says that because I have been reconciled to Christ (as Paul was), I, too have been given the ministry of reconciliation. All disciples are called as Ambassadors for Christ. Where and how we minister is up to us to decide as we listen for God’s leadings.
A close look at Paul’s life quickly demolishes any insecurities we may have concerning our lack of degrees or our low stations in life. “For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends,” writes Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:18.
When God set His seal upon you through the Holy Spirit at salvation, you were immediately “ordained.” You have all the credentials you need to be a minister, because the gospel has been committed to your trust, just as it was to Paul’s. (See 1 Timothy 1:11). There may be a specific call God gives you as you progress in Him - a specific purpose for your life, as there was for Paul's, but all are called to preach the good news of our relationship with Him. The only question is, how soon will you start your new job?
c.Deborah Perkins, 2015. All references NKJV unless noted.
Summary: Owned by the Kingdom of God Corporation (TM), the Prayer Communications Network (PCN) is the oldest existing wireless communications plan, and the first such plan ever created. Once again this year, they have topped all other wireless network providers. AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint combined do not match the upload or download speeds of PCN.
PCN's global cell coverage is impeccable. Their slogan boasts: "Our Difference is Omnipresence." I wondered if there was anything this company couldn't do!
To find out, His Inscriptions took advantage of a rare opportunity this week to interview a member of PCN's staff, a local "Brand Ambassador" for the New England Region. A rather impressive yet somewhat "transparent" being, he surprised me by stating that he preferred (for undisclosed reasons) to remain anonymous. What follows is a transcript from our interview.
Deborah: Welcome to His Inscriptions, and thanks for talking with us today!
PCN Rep: Thank you. I am honored to be of service to you.
Deborah: I am a happy member of the Prayer Communications Network myself, and I'm so glad you accepted my invitation to join us today. I think my readers would appreciate knowing more about your company. Would you please tell us a little about PCN?
PCN Rep: Certainly. PCN is a subsidiary of the Kingdom of God Corporation, and exists to serve the communications needs of our customers, worldwide. We are a private, family-owned company. PCN offers a superior network with high customer satisfaction ratings and 24/7 tech support. We carry a lifetime guarantee of no dropped calls, and our upload and download speeds are faster than FiOS. (TM) The reason for this is because our O/S is actually a supernaturally-powered transmission grid.
Deborah: That IS impressive. How do you do it?
PCN Rep: Well, as our motto goes, the power is in our omnipresence. There is literally nowhere on earth that you will not find coverage.
Deborah: Actually, I'm glad you mentioned that, because in preparation for our interview today I did some research on what previous customers have said about you. I'm wondering if you would be willing to address some of those complaints for our readers?
PCN Rep: I'd be happy to clear up any misconceptions, yes.
Deborah: Thanks. For starters, what I've gathered is that there is some argument with PCN's claim of "no dropped calls, ever." It seems that there are some folks out there who feel they have lost their connections or run into more "dead zones" than they had anticipated with your plan.
PCN Rep: Yes, we are aware of that. Unfortunately, we have found that our customers don't always take advantage of our 24/7 tech support to clear up these issues. Many have actually left PCN when they had simple fixes that could have been resolved.
Our employees have verified that PCN's communications network is always operative, even when other companies suffer from downed cell phone towers or power outages. The reason for this, again, is that our network is based on a supernatural grid, rather than fiber optics or radio transmissions. This was the genius of our Founder (CEO Jehovah Shammah). In other words, PCN's network is always transmitting signals. The problem is that despite universally available coverage, people are not always receiving those signals.
Deborah: What causes the poor reception?
PCN Rep: Well, Deborah, that's a good question. Believe it or not, most people can fix their reception problems simply by resetting the batteries on their devices. Since our coverage is universal, when a PCN member loses reception, it usually indicates a need on their end to reset or recharge the battery on their personal device. Depending on their usage, and the age of their model, the recharge time may be longer or shorter.
Deborah: What other issues are there?
PCN Rep: All of PCN's products are equipped with an on/off switch and volume control. What we've noticed is that sometimes, although your personal wireless device may be on, your volume control may be at too low a setting for you to hear incoming messages. Users have the ability to turn on or off their notification settings, too, and if those settings are configured improperly, our customers will not know when new messages are coming in.
Deborah: So, this might sound a little silly, but how does a customer increase the volume on a PCN device?
PCN Rep: No questions are silly, Deborah. Especially not when people leave a perfectly decent company over smaller issues like this!
The volume control feature is labeled "Prayer" on your PCN device, and to increase the volume, you just need to apply a little pressure to the Prayer button. The more pressure you exert, the louder your volume will be. Also, when you leave this feature alone, it will default to the "mute" setting.
Deborah: I understand. As a longtime customer, I know that you also provide both online and print manuals for your customers. How effective are they?
PCN Rep: Our manuals are not just effective, they are infallible! Because they are so comprehensive, we employees call them the "PCN Bibles!" (laughing) A recent survey we conducted told us that although roughly 88% of our customers have copies of the manual in their homes, fewer than 1 in 5 actually refer to them when there is a problem, or ever read them at all.*
Deborah: How sad!
PCN Rep: Yes, it is, especially since reading the manual in the first place would save a lot of frustration and cut down on unnecessary work for us as Brand Ambassadors.
Deborah: Well, I'm truly sorry we have put you to the test, and I appreciate everything you guys do to keep us connected. Are there any other issues that might need clarification?
PCN Rep: Well, I hate to say it since it's so obvious, but in order to qualify for a PCN Network Plan in the first place, you do have to activate your device! (Laughter)
Deborah: (laughing) And where would a new customer do this?
PCN Rep: Just go to your nearest Kingdom of God / PCN Network location. Please be aware that many of our storefronts are actually located in churches. We have found that the overhead is a little less for us that way. Before I forget, as a special for your readers, we're offering FREE activation at any of our network locations, for new customers only. Just mention His Inscriptions when you come.
Deborah: That sounds great! Readers, don't miss your chance to sign up with this wireless prayer communications network at PCN. I'd like to thank PCN's Brand Ambassador for being with us today, and I hope you'll join us again for our next informative interview!
*To send a test message through PCN's network, click here. For more information on the founder of Kingdom of God, Inc., or to schedule an interview with Him directly, please see our "About" page, right here.
c. Deborah Perkins, 2015. Research statistics on Bible reading: Barna Research, 2014
Deborah Perkins is passionate about helping others to connect with God. She writes about knowing God's Word and hearing His voice at His Inscriptions. You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook, or contact her here.
The Bible is not unlike a good cookbook. On its own, it is just a book, and many people never remove it from their bookshelves to savor its delights. But when you choose to read and practice what's in the Bible, its words become delicious recipes for your life: enriching your health, enhancing gatherings with friends, and improving your ability to serve others.
Now, I like to cook, and I love to entertain, and it brings me great joy to serve people in this way. We had friends over this week for a "just dessert" party, and it was a sweet evening filled with good conversation, a few laughs, and deepening relationships. So I wasn't surprised when the Lord began speaking to me this morning about cooking. I just hope you will forgive me for stretching the culinary analogy a little in order to make a point! Here's what He shared with me.
Proverbs 4:22 describes the words of God as "...life to those who find them, and health to all their flesh." Amazingly, the Bible can be as simple as a convenience food or as elaborate as a perpetual feast. It has recipes suitable for every palate, every age, and every type of dietary restriction. In fact, even as we open up this divine "cookbook," the Bible appeals to our culinary natures: "Taste and see that the Lord is good!" (Psalm 34:8).
From Bottles to Banquets: Selecting a Recipe
Your recipe is your message. It's the right word from God at the right time. How do we select the right recipe? The Bible helps us figure this out, too.
Everyone knows that milk is for children. Easily digested, it requires no skill to pour, no cooking to drink, and is readily available. It's a convenience food, sold almost everywhere. Yet despite the benefits, I'm pretty sure Jesus isn't going to be serving baby bottles full of milk at His great marriage banquet!
For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled
The writer of Hebrews compares the basics of the Bible to milk: simple teachings or ideas that "babes" can understand. The Proverbs are basics like that: short, bite-sized maxims that pack a punch. Some of the stories of Jesus are similar: God loves and cares for you. There is hope for your future. It is the stuff we serve in Sunday-school. Simple fare that fuels simple people. Young kids can grab it from the fridge on their own. It edifies.
Of course, adults enjoy the milk, but one cup of milk isn't enough to satisfy a growing body or serve a crowd. Bland food doesn't hold our interest any more, either. We are excited by tasteful, multi-ingredient dishes with complex flavors that nourish both our senses and our systems! We can discern between good and bad food, and we develop appetites for certain types of food that satisfy us. In the spiritual realm, that might mean we begin to identify our gifts and ministry preferences and experiment with different methods of "cooking," or application, to see what works for us.
We also find that we need to plan what meals to serve as we fulfill the Great Commission, reaching various groups of people. The apostle Paul, again in culinary language, says he used only specially-selected "recipes" for feeding the immature Corinthians:
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as
Why could they not receive solid food? Because their spiritual digestive systems were not ready for it yet. You don't serve a baby a pot roast! He tenderized, mashed, and spoon-fed the Word to those who were unable to digest more. But he hoped they wouldn't remain babies. The goal was always maturity. Mature men (at least the ones I know) prefer a steak!
I find it interesting that even as far back as Exodus 16, when Israel was in the wilderness, God ministered to both young and old through the types of food He served. In the morning, He supernaturally rained down sweet wafers that tasted like honey: "manna." In the evening, however, He provided quail: meat for those with more substantial appetites. God's Word is sufficient for the "morning" and the "evening" stages of our lives.
Pleasing Your Guests
When I am expecting company for dinner, I nearly always check first for dietary restrictions or allergies. I would never intentionally serve bread to someone who is gluten-free! If I want to reach people for Jesus, I need to do the same thing by preparing for the audience to whom I will minister. I will need different ingredients, or verses, for different groups.
For example, to serve a Jew, we must accommodate the Jews. We cannot serve the same food to a weak person that we would serve to one who is strong (Romans 14:2). We know that there are times when serving meat to a brother would make him stumble (1 Corinthians 8:13). We need a kosher recipe to reach a Jew!
Adjusting the Temperature and Seasonings
How we serve is as important as what we serve. (See Proverbs 17:1). In the natural, both undercooked and overcooked food can be dangerous to the body. A steak that is charred becomes carcinogenic, even if it is meat.
Spiritually translated, this means that things like high-pressure evangelism tactics, however well-meaning, will usually drive people away by their toxicity. So will coarse, tasteless talk. It's our "saltiness," says Jesus, that makes what we serve palatable! Our choice of positive, edifying words is the seasoning for our messages.
We avoid spiritual cooking disasters by sticking with recipes the Bible gives us for sustaining ourselves and for reaching our world. Proverbs 4:22 is preceded by the caution to attend to the words of the Bible. We must do this as diligently as we would stir a pot of soup or check the oven! We also select the freshest ingredients to prepare meals for our guests. Should we not seek God for the freshest nuggets of revelation to share as we minister to others?
We can improve our cooking by involving God in the preparations. He will give us a list of the things we need for each meal, so we are prepared to reach specific people in a meaningful way. Our success stories will become the picture-testimonies in the newest edition of that shiny cookbook! Others will begin asking us for our recipes or our "secret sauce." And we'll have pulled up chairs for a few more guests at the great marriage supper of the Lamb.
Food for Thought:
c. Deborah Perkins, 2015. All Bible references NKJV
Deborah Perkins is passionate about helping others connect with God. She writes about knowing God and hearing His voice at HisInscriptions.com. Follow her on Twitter, or contact her here if you'd like to stop by for a meal!
Have you ever wished there were some kind of a "litmus test" to tell you if a prophet is for real? Or to discern whether a prophecy you've received is true? I have. In this noisy world full of voices, it's probably a good idea to have a "back pocket" checklist of some sort to help us sort things out! Will this make us faithless Christians or doubting Thomases? Actually, no. It will help us tune in much more accurately to what God is saying. Here's why.
1 Thessalonians 5:21 summarizes the essence of a biblical approach to prophecy. It says: "Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast to what is good." Likewise, the apostle Paul, discussing prophecy (1 Corinthians 14), says he desires that all should prophesy. He elevates prophecy to be among the highest of the gifts. He also encourages believers to judge prophetic words. (Notice that he wants us to judge the words, not the people giving them!)
The New Testament clearly favors the idea of God speaking to us today via the prophetic. It also gives us clear guidelines for how prophets should operate and how we can know if their words are true. Taking a look at five of these will give us greater confidence as we give and receive prophetic words.
1. The Prophet is a Follower of Jesus Christ, Growing in the Faith
This is unquestionably the most important test we can apply to the prophetic. Believe it or not, it IS possible to prophesy without being a Christian! It is unfortunately also true that a Christian can prophesy "soulishly," or from his emotions, rather than giving a true word direct from the Holy Spirit. How do I know this? Take a look at Elijah's prophetic contest on Mount Carmel:
So they (the 450 prophets of Baal) cried aloud, and cut themselves, as was their custom, with knives and lances, until the blood gushed out of them. And when midday was past, they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice. But there was no voice; no one answered, no one paid attention.
How could these Baal-worshipers prophesy if they didn't know God? There are numerous examples in Scripture of seers and prophets who tap into occult power to summon "prophetic" voices or foretell the future. Today's equivalent might be a psychic or fortune-teller. But these prophets on Mount Carmel weren't even that good! Their prophecies were more like "wishful thinking" or vain imaginations. They were devoid of power, and despite the multitude of voices they raised, in the end they were outsmarted by just one true prophetic voice: Elijah's.
A prophet will not always be 100% correct. After all, we see and know spiritual truths only in part. But he or she will be tapping into the authentic Presence of God and relating what they see or hear from the Lord. Yes, it will be in their words. Yes, that's okay. God chose to allow the writers of Scripture to use their own words and personalities to describe His ways, too. What's important here is that the prophet is making time to get into God's Presence, to get to know His Word and His voice.
2. The Life of the Prophet Bears Fruit
This second "test" is an extension of the first. Jesus said "You shall know them by their fruits." Who does He mean by "them?" False prophets. Jesus sets up a powerful contrast in Matthew 7:15-27 to show us the difference between "wolves" (the false prophets) and sheep. Good trees bear good fruit, meaning we should be able to look at the life of an "abiding" prophet and see good things growing:
"Not everyone who says to Me, "Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom
I want to point out several things: first, it is possible to prophesy in the Name of Christ and yet not know Christ or be commissioned to speak for Him. The point Jesus makes here is that even those who function in the most elevated of gifts (prophesying or doing miracles) are still to be judged based on their fruit, not their gifts. In fact, He goes so far as to say that those who do not know Him or who misuse His authority in exercising their gifts are "lawless" (or "rebellious," and therefore about as impressive to Him as the antichrist!) What should make us sit up and take notice is that He says there will be many of them.
The requirements for all believers apply to the prophet, too. Is she submitted to authority? Is he open to correction? Willing to repent? Involved in life-giving relationships within the Body? Being prophetic does not mean someone has "carte blanche" to do or say whatever they want! In fact, given the enormous potential of the gift to help or harm people, prophets do well to stay close to both God and their mentors!
3. Prophecies are Spoken in an Attitude of Love, not Judgment
The maxim of every prophet should be "Encourage, Exhort, Edify!" (1 Corinthians 14). I also like the short checklist in Ephesians 4:1-3, which urges us to "walk worthy of the calling" in lowliness, gentleness, patience, love, unity, and peace. Everything a prophet does should be modeled after the example of Christ's love. Believe me, it could take a lifetime just to perfect walking in these six qualities! Thankfully, there is grace for our failings. But prophetic words that smack of judgment or condescendingly expose others' sins should be restrained, as they are repulsive to believers and unbelievers alike.
The flip side of this coin, and one that the church has not been very good at, is that the handling of the prophetic should also be modeled after the love of God! Prophets, like preachers, need time and safety in order to grow in using and understanding their gift. Any new skill requires practice and patience, and the church has largely failed prophets in this area. We are far quicker to correct and condemn than we are to coach or confirm.
Instead of shutting down the prophetic altogether, we should be looking for ways to train novices and give honest but loving feedback to those who do prophesy. When we react to past abuses by blocking all prophetic words, we eliminate a vital method of communication between God and His church.
4. The Words Bring a Witness
A good prophetic word will "ring true" in a believer's spirit when spoken. This is the inward witness of the Holy Spirit. Difficult to describe, it is a little like the connection that happens when a lamp is plugged in. A spiritual "current," like electricity, is connected from its source (an outlet) to its destination (the lamp). When a prophet, like a connecting cord, delivers a message at "Spirit" voltage from the outlet to the lamp, the light turns on. But if the prophet is plugged in to a foreign voltage, the lamp just won't light up. (And as my electrically-savvy husband pointed out to me, it just might explode instead!)
Prophecies may also confirm things the Lord has already spoken to us, such as a move to a new place or a ministry He wants us to pursue. A true word from God will bring peace to our hearts (1 Cor 14:33). But lest we rest on subjective impressions alone, 2 Timothy 3:16 reminds us that our ultimate measuring rod is the Bible. It is our agreed-upon standard, the inspired Word of God. Anything that is not in alignment with the Word should be questioned.
5. Prophets Exercise Self-Control
Finally, in contrast to the frenzied, exhibitionist demonstrations of Baal's prophets in 1 Kings, God's prophets are called to maintain order as they function in their gifts. Emotional excitement does not validate prophetic words. In fact, our emotions are to be subject to the Spirit of God within us. Paul writes:
You can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may
Beware of prophets who usurp the authority of their leaders or disrupt the flow of the service. God can, of course, redirect a church meeting if He so chooses, but He will confirm that to the ones leading as well. Most churches that honor prophecy have some kind of a protocol for determining whether a word should be given. A true prophet will uphold, not ignore, the order and timing of the church service he is in. Those who cannot are more likely to be moving in selfish ambition than in the unction of the Spirit.
Of all the prophecies we hear, God's authentic voice may not be the loudest. Of the 450 prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18), only one was true. Just four chapters later, 400 of King Ahab's prophets prophesied falsely, while just one, Micaiah, spoke truth. (1 Kings 22).
Like Elijah, we must learn to look for the still, small voice amidst the noisy whirlwinds. We need to focus on the words that bring us peace and security in Christ, not the earth-shattering revelations that exalt their messengers. We need to cling to the gentle voice of our Shepherd that leads us towards heaven, not the fiery warnings of judgment and hell! The wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. But a prophetic ministry built on love will edify us and bear much fruit.
c. Deborah Perkins, 2015. All references NKJV unless noted.
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A severe hearing loss from childhood caused Deborah Perkins to develop what she now calls her secret weapon: tuning in to God's voice. A Wellesley College graduate and an award-winning writer, Deborah is now a wife and mother of 3 boys. Deborah has devoted over 25 years to professional and lay Christian ministry in New England and beyond. Her passion is inspiring people to cultivate greater intimacy with God.