Building the Wall Part 1

Whenever we hear teaching regarding the book of Nehemiah the subject of the wall around Jerusalem is generally raised (okay, pun intended). In reading Nehemiah, we discover that his major focus as a leader was the rebuilding of the wall to protect the city. He had a God-given mission birthed in intercession, that was rooted in his concern for Jerusalem. If you are not familiar with the book of Nehemiah, once he started rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, he monitored progress, encouraged others, dealt with opposition and remained focused until the task was complete.

We see Nehemiah’s mission come about in chapter one (1:1-8) when he identified the problem and responded with intercession. In chapter two he acted when given the opportunity to do something about the problem he saw (2:1-8). We see Nehemiah’s motivation here.

3 And they said to me, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.” 4 So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. Nehemiah 1:3-4 (NKJV)

Let’s connect rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem to rebuilding a scriptural worldview. If you are not familiar with the concept of worldview, think of it like wearing glasses. Our prescription determines how we see. In my book, and daily life, I define worldview simply as, “The lens through which we view and interpret reality.” For us as the church to change our worldview to align with scripture, we, like Nehemiah, first need to do an assessment of the present state of the worldview of the church. This requires an honest look at what Christians believe to understand how badly the “walls” of our worldview have been neglected. Warning, the numbers are sobering and the walls are badly in need of repair!

Here is some of what Christians believe about their world. The following statistics are excerpts from my book, Worldview: The Adventure of Seeing Through Scripture (available on Amazon). The statistics highlight the problem in the church regarding what Christians believe.

In the 2018 State of Theology Study sponsored by Ligonier Ministries, LifeWay Research polled 3,000 Americans and asked them a number of questions about God, Christian ethics and religion in general. They found:

  • 32 percent of those with evangelical beliefs say their religious beliefs are not objectively true.
  • 51 percent of those with evangelical beliefs also believe God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.
  • 78 percent of those with evangelical beliefs also believe Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.

Many Americans who hold evangelical beliefs about the Bible, salvation, and Jesus Christ, also hold beliefs that are not (in) keeping with Scripture.[1]

More recent research on worldview continues to paint a bleak picture. Here are some highlights from the 2021 worldview survey completed by George Barna and the Cultural Research Center (CRC) at Arizona Christian University in Glendale, Arizona and released August 31, 2021. The CRC uses the following categories in their research.

“The segments explored include those who call themselves Christian; self-identified born-again Christians; self-described evangelical Christians; people who theological beliefs establish them as born-again Christians; and people who possess a biblical worldview (referred to as Integrated Disciples).”[2]

The percentages who hold to biblical worldview is very telling. The study found that only 6% of those who claim to be Christian hold to a biblical worldview, that is those who live their beliefs. I won’t go through the data on every category. Samples will suffice. Here is what those who profess to be Christians believe that is at odds with scripture. Among the errant perspectives most widely embraced are:

• 72% argue that people are basically good

• 71% consider feelings, experience, or the input of friends and family as their most trusted sources of moral guidance

• 66% say that having faith matters more than which faith you pursue

• 64% say that all religious faiths are of equal value

• 58% believe that if a person is good enough, or does enough good things, they can earn their way into Heaven

• 58% contend that the Holy Spirit is not a real, living being but is merely a symbol of God’s power, presence, or purity

• 57% believe in karma

• 52% claim that determining moral truth is up to each individual; there are no moral absolutes that apply to everyone, all the time.[3]

By contrast, those who embrace a biblical worldview, the Integrated Disciples, hold to the following. There are a number of issues for which a shockingly large minority of Integrated Disciples challenges biblical principles include the following beliefs:

• 25% say there is no absolute moral truth

• 33% believe in karma

• 39% contend that the Holy Spirit is not a real, living being but is merely a symbol of God’s power, presence, or purity

• 42% believe that having faith matters more than which faith you pursue

• 52% argue that people are basically good[4]

These stats highlight the errant beliefs that the best of the best in the church hold. While the above stats are from the US, there is reason to see a major difference in Canada given how much our two countries are affected by similar cultural and social media influences. This is sadly the present state of the church.

However, if we follow Nehemiah’s process, we in the church can rebuild the wall of our worldview. We can assess our own worldview to identify whether we hold a worldview at odds with scripture (most of us do), seek the Lord in intercession and then respond with a plan of action. To that end in my next post (Part 2) I will look more specifically at a plan of action regarding how we shift our worldview to align with scripture based around Paul’s great apostolic heart cry ‘Until Christ be formed in you’ (Galatians 4:19).


[1] Aaron Earls https://factsandtrends.net/2018/10/26/what-do-evangelicals-believe-about-god/ Accessed March 5, 2019.

[2] CRC_AWVI2021_Release06_Digital_01_20210831.pdf (arizonachristian.edu) Accessed September 24, 2021

[3]  CRC_AWVI2021_Release06_Digital_01_20210831.pdf (arizonachristian.edu) Accessed September 24, 2021

[4] CRC_AWVI2021_Release06_Digital_01_20210831.pdf (arizonachristian.edu) Accessed September 24, 2021

The Transfiguration

In my last post I looked at what was actually taking place in reference to Jesus’ announcement in Matthew 16 regarding the gates of hell. Here we will look at the significance of Jesus transfiguration from two perspectives. The significance of the geographic location and the significance of the timeline in Jesus earthly ministry. 

Like the famous Schwarzenegger movie line, “I’ll be back!” or Nicholson’s “You want the truth, you can’t handle the truth!” another famous movie line came from Clint Eastwood, “Go ahead, make my day.” A line that provoked a response. This is what took place on Mount Hermon, provocation by Jesus, and a response. Understanding this requires a bit of background information. In my recent posts I referenced the descent of some of these fallen supernatural beings, principalities and powers, at Mount Hermon. This was their entry point or gateway to physicality and the further corruption of humanity.  

They had taken on flesh and interacted with humanity at Bashan/Hermon. This was their territory. In Matthew 16 Jesus had announced that He would build His church right at the gate of hell, taking back territory from them. Now Jesus goes further. Matthew 17 presents us with the transfiguration and describes it as follows.

1 Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; 2 and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Matthew 17:1–3 (NKJV)

Jesus unveiled His glory so that there was no doubt about who He was and He had a meeting with Moses and Elijah, who represent the Law and the Prophets, the Old Testament. Though Bashan/Hermon is not named in the text, it is the only high peak in the area (There is presently a ski hill there that operates in the winter months).

In unveiling His glory on what the spiritual opposition considered their territory Jesus was in effect saying, “Go ahead, make my day” and stirring up spiritual opposition. Knowing the fate awaiting Him at Jerusalem, in being transfigured on Mount Hermon Jesus poked the hornets’ nest and stirred up the spiritual opposition that brought about His crucifixion, leading to His glorious resurrection.

We see the opposition intensify immediately with a counter attack. As soon as Jesus, Peter, James and John descended from the mountain they encounter spiritual opposition in the form of a failure on the part of the other apostles to deliver and heal an epileptic boy. While Jesus immediately brough healing and freedom (Matthew 17:14-18), the previously successful apostles (Mark 6:7-13, Luke 9:1-6) were puzzled by their lack of success (Matthew 17:19). The battle had intensified. In Jesus bringing healing and deliverance to the boy He demonstrated His authority and power over the increased opposition, another provocation. 

We know from Luke 9:31 that in addition to being transfigured Jesus discussed His pending death in Jerusalem with Moses and Elijah, He knew what He was doing. These events were a turning point in the gospel narrative. Jesus from here headed to Jerusalem, had His triumphal entry (Palm Sunday) followed by the rising spiritual and political opposition leading to His arrest and crucifixion. Though Jesus provoked these events to fulfill scripture and His purpose, our redemption, the principalities and powers did not understand what was happening until it was too late. Paul references this in 1 Corinthians.

6 However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, 8 which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 1 Corinthians 2:6–8 (NKJV)

When Paul speaks of the “rulers of this age” he is referencing the evil principalities and powers that opposed Jesus. He uses the same language in Ephesians 6:12 describing the principalities and powers as, “the rulers of the darkness of this age”

In conclusion, Jesus provoked the conflict that led to His crucifixion because He was serving a higher purpose and seeing what needed to transpire from the perspective of His Father. In our walk we may at times need to stir things up, not for the sake of controversy but to walk in obedience. Let’s be found faithful and use our authority to demonstrate and extend His kingdom on the earth.

If you would like more information on these ideas, some of what I have written about recently is covered in the videos series below where Michael Heiser teaches on the origin and significance of what is referred to by many as the Divine Council Worldview (DCW). Dr. Heiser readily acknowledges that while these views are not well known, they are not original to him but are rooted in the extensive writings we now have from the writings of the intertestamental period and are the culture in which our faith was birthed.

Video series with Dr. Heiser teaching – https://www.live-in-context.com/

The Gates of Hell

            Here we are going to look at the famous Matthew 16 passage and the rock that the church is built upon. I will provide the traditional Protestant and Roman Catholic interpretations then show why I am convinced that both are incorrect, based on history most of us have never been taught.

18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:18–19 (NKJV)

The Roman Catholic interpretation is that Peter was the first Pope and the rock the church was built upon, which is why he was given keys to bind and loose (never mind that this same authority was given to all disciples in Matthew 18:18). The general Protestant interpretation is that with Jesus’ wordplay regarding rocks Peter (petros, a rock or boulder) and upon this rock (petra, a large mass of rock) that the rock is the revelation of who Jesus is.

            To actually understand this passage, we need an Old Testament context and some knowledge of the writings from the intertestamental period. It is often said that between the Old and New Testaments there were the 400 silent years. While no scripture was written they were far from silent. A great deal was written. The writing from that period informs us about the culture and context. We will get to the significance of that after we look at the location and the timeline in Jesus’ ministry.

            The events took place in Caesarea Philippi, about a two day walk north of the sea of Galilee. On the surface this may not seem significant but in the region, there was a pagan temple known as the “Gate of Hell” at the foot of Mount Hermon (also referred to at times as Bashan). This was one region in Israel where the giants dwelt and scripture informs us that Og King of Bashan reigned over the area, ruled Mount Hermon and was a one of the giants (Joshua 12:4-5). The other significant fact is that the intertestamental writers said that Mount Hermon was where the rebellious sons of God descended to earth and had children with the daughters of men and there were then giants (Nephilim) in the earth and great wickedness (Genesis 6:1-5).

The gate of hell and Hermon were associated with rebellion. All cultural facts the disciples would have grown up knowing. Peter and Jude reference the events of Genesis 6 and quote Enoch (Jude 6, 14-15, 2 Peter 2:4). The scholarly consensus is that Enoch as we have it today was written in the intertestamental period. While it is not scripture it does inform us about the cultural context that the early church was familiar with. Beyond the first century, in the second century the early church fathers, notably Justin Martyr and Irenaeus affirmed the view of the rebellious angels producing offspring through human women (Genesis 6:1-5). Irenaeus is the author of the famous tome Against Heresies. He was a disciple of Polycarp who had been a disciple of the apostle John.  

            We are now in a position to make sense of Jesus statement “on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” The gate of hell, the place where the rebellious released great wickedness, would not prevail, would not stand up against the church. Here is the Randy paraphrased version of what Jesus said, ‘Right here, at the gate of hell, on this rock, Mount Hermon, the place of the great rebellion, I am going to build my church!’ The church need not tremble in the face of hell, just the opposite.

Knowing this we can take a closer look at the Great Commission in light of what Jesus accomplished through His death and resurrection. Though we only have snippets of it in the gospels most scholars believe Jesus quoted Psalm 22 while on the cross. Whether He did, it certainly describes what He went through in His crucifixion. The verses below are describing what Jesus experienced on the cross and we can see the significance knowing what took place at Bashan (Mount Hermon).

12 Many bulls have surrounded Me; Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled Me. 13 They gape at Me with their mouths, Like a raging and roaring lion. Psalm 22:12–13 (NKJV)

These rebellious spiritual beings surrounded Jesus on the cross and mocked Him thinking it was their victory when in actuality it signaled their defeat. In His resurrection Jesus demonstrated His victory over His spiritual enemies ‘bulls of Bashan’ (Colossians 2:15). Thus, when Jesus says we have authority and we are to ‘go’ and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) we can go being confident that we are helping to build the church right at the gate of hell! Like Jesus, let us be about our Father’s business.

Making Peace

In my last post I looked at wisdom, here we will look at peace coming from wisdom by focusing on two verses from a longer passage I highlighted in my previous post.

17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. 18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:17–18 (NKJV)

James referenced righteousness being sown by those who make peace. James didn’t reference those who maintain peace, those who seek peace or those who want peace. James spoke of those who make peace. Jesus made a similar statement.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God. Matthew 5:9 (NKJV)

Understanding the role of peacemakers requires looking at the process of actually making peace and the outcome. James said that righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. The words and concepts in verses 17-18 are relational. Take the phrases ‘without partiality’ and ‘without hypocrisy.’ Here James is getting at our motivations. Being peacemakers and sowing peace requires that we be fair and just (see also Micah 6:8). That is inherent in these statements. We are also required to be merciful. In essence sowing peace is a calling to walk in integrity and compassion.

            Being a peacemaker is also a call to exercise discernment and apply wisdom from above in situations that may be fraught with conflict. Exercising discernment is also a call to walk in love.

9 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, 10 that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, 11 being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9–11 (NKJV)

After all Paul informed us that faith works through love (Galatians 5:6).

            Putting all of this together tells us two things. The first is that we can find the same message woven into the scriptures in a variety of places. The second is that we cannot walk into situations that require peace thinking we already ‘know’ no matter what information we possess. We need to seek His wisdom to navigate the situation. For example, having mediated for decades I have seen the impact of assumptions and judgments over and over. The fruit is lawsuits not peace. In my experience getting people to actually listen to one another rather than judge one another is often the path to resolution.

            If we are to respond to our calling to be peacemakers let us seek His wisdom from above and look for the fruit.

Seeking Wisdom

Scripture often highlights the importance of wisdom and Proverbs often links wisdom, knowledge and understanding.

19 The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; By understanding He established the heavens; 20 By His knowledge the depths were broken up, And clouds drop down the dew. Proverbs 3:19–20 (NKJV)

3 Through wisdom a house is built, And by understanding it is established; 4 By knowledge the rooms are filled With all precious and pleasant riches. Proverbs 24:3–4 (NKJV)

As I have written before I connect these two passages to 1 Corinthians 12:28 where Paul speaks of the importance of apostles, prophets and teachers in building the church. As a practical application I regularly pray for apostolic wisdom, prophetic wisdom and teaching understanding. I see a distinction between practical wisdom, which we all should be seeking, and wisdom from above.

Over the years in conversation, I have many times made the distinction between wisdom and knowledge using the example of being on the road in the path of a moving vehicle. If I simply possess knowledge, I have the awareness that I need to move out of the way. Wisdom is moving. In our current cultural context, we know all of the things coming against the church. We need to apply wisdom to rightly respond. Yet we need more than practical wisdom. We don’t want to set aside or lose practical wisdom, we want to add to it wisdom from above.

James does two things in relation to wisdom, he exhorts us to ask God for it and he also contrasts earthly and godly wisdom, wisdom from above.

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. James 1:5 (NKJV)

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. 16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. 18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:13–18 (NKJV)

In contrasting these two types of wisdom James provides an easy way to discern the source of the wisdom. Earthly wisdom produces confusion, is sensual (literally soulish, in Greek) and doesn’t produce peace. Wisdom from above is marked by meekness (not weakness), purity, gentleness and a willingness to not fight over the wrong things. Wisdom from above is marked by peace rather than contention.

            Now, we need to be careful to not confuse wisdom from above with passivity. Paul demonstrated wisdom from above in Galatians 2 when he publicly confronted Peter over his hypocrisy in relation to the gospel. Most of the New Testament letters are addressing issues in the church, applying wisdom from above. We are called to stand for truth. What James is getting at is not being contentious for the sake of furthering our own agenda.

Now, practical application. As I walk with Jesus, I cannot walk down the road of my culture where it is at odds with Him. This includes the current gender agenda, abortion and numerous other things. If I simply apply practical wisdom, I may speak out against them or simply refuse to endorse them. My actions may be different if I am seeking wisdom from above.

I will share a practical story I heard Steve Thompson share a few years ago. A friend of his was praying about what to do regarding an abortion clinic in his area. The Lord told him to become friends with the owner of the clinic (wisdom from above?). He reached out and began to develop a relationship. Over time he was to meet with the fellow one day and the Lord gave him a vision where he saw the man sitting at his kitchen table contemplating a plate of blue pills. When they met, he shared his vision with the man who ran the abortion clinic. The man who ran the clinic shared that he was suicidal over his lifestyle, repented, gave his heart to Jesus and closed the clinic. Wisdom from above. We may not be engaged in something this dramatic. We do however need to know how to respond to the many things we encounter in our daily walk in our culture. Let’s seek wisdom from above.

Whispers in our Spirit

            Here I am going to look at whispers and how we discern the of the Lord. Whispers could also be described as little internal nudges or a sense to do or share something. The obvious issue that needs to be addressed is clarifying why the Lord isn’t clear in His communication. One response is something C. S. Lewis wrote many decades ago, “He cannot overwhelm. He can only woo.” The idea inherent in what Lewis stated was that there is an element of faith on our part and an element of drawing seeking hearts on His part. Adding to what can seem confusing is what scripture tells us. Look at the verses below.

17 From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17 (NKJV)

19 Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19 (NKJV)

34 All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, 35 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.” Matthew 13:34–35 (NKJV)

We see here that ‘repent’ and ‘follow Me’ are quite clear commands. We then have the obscurity of parables to the multitudes and then teachings in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) to the multitudes, which were quite clear.

Sorting through this requires recognizing that Jesus calls us into relationship with Himself and part of that relationship is learning to know His word, know His voice and develop a sensitivity to His presence. It is clear from the scriptures that we can and should hear His voice.

16 And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd. John 10:16

(NKJV) 

27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. John 10:27 (NKJV)

8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. James 4:8 (NKJV)

14 For God may speak in one way, or in another, Yet man does not perceive it. 15 In a dream, in a vision of the night, When deep sleep falls upon men, While slumbering on their beds, 16 Then He opens the ears of men, And seals their instruction. Job 33:14-16 (NKJV)

Knowing He speaks and recognizing when it is Him speaking requires some understanding. We have likely all had the experience of sensing the need to call or reach out to someone and hearing something like, ‘I was just thinking about you.’ I have at times had an internal sense to call or write and encourage someone with something specific and have had them affirm that was just what they needed to hear. It requires faith/risk and I generally present what I am hearing by offering rather than telling.

My most recent experience in hearing His whisper in regard to praying for someone was in a church service this previous Sunday. During the worship time I had a sense I was to pray for a lady behind me and what I was to pray. I at first thought it was my own idea but there was a sense of persistence with it so I went back, asked if I could pray for her and when she agreed I prayed what I had felt I was to pray. She was very appreciative and said that what I had prayed was an answer to what she had asked the Lord about the previous day.

I have learned that when these ideas won’t ‘go away’ and carry of sense of ‘importance’ or ‘urgency’ that the prompting is from the Spirit. This comes out a relationship that has been cultivated over time. Another example comes from a recent interview I listened to with Carol Wimber. She was reflecting back on the events of the Vineyard when John was around. At one point she referenced how John received words of knowledge for others. She said they were simply impressions he had in his mind but he recognized that they were thoughts he wouldn’t think and they would benefit others so he assumed it was the Lord’s voice and acted accordingly. Something worked because from the time John Wimber began to lead the Vineyard in 1977 to his death in 1997 it grew from a handful of house churches to 700 congregations around the world. It wasn’t all about ‘whispers’ but a lot of it was.

Most of us likely want a little more than nudges or impressions. We want clarity and certainty. However, He doesn’t work that way for most of us. He woos us, He draws our hearts, and in many ways whispers, ‘Trust Me.’ When we do and take risks with what we think we are hearing we come to know His heart, which is really what this is about. We discern His heart for others and His heart for us. We come to understand that He wants all of us to participate in the building of His church. Given that His church is composed of people that means encouraging and building up one another through listening to whispers from His heart to ours.

So, listen for His voice. Ground yourself in His word. Weigh what you hear through His word and through godly counsel and go partner with Jesus in building His church!

A Talking Snake?

If you know your bible you obviously get my reference to Genesis 3. This is our introduction to the serpent in scripture. One of the tools atheists use to mock believers is to derisively refer to the foolishness of believing in a ‘talking snake.’ Holding to the importance and value of scripture and truth I think it is important to have a deeper understanding of the context of Genesis 3 and what happened. Like the atheists, I don’t believe in a snake coming up to Eve for a friendly dialogue.

The context is a good beginning point. The events of Genesis 3 took place in Eden. The rest of the planet was not like Eden, hence the command for humanity to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it (Genesis 1:28). Eden was a garden and when we move forward in scripture, we discover that it was also a mountain (Isaiah 14:13, Ezekiel 28:14). If this is a new thought for you, it highlights the importance the ancient near eastern worldview of the culture in which Genesis was written. In the culture of the day the ‘gods’ lived in gardens and mountains. They were a place of abundance and remoteness. Much of the culture was subsistence based and people saw the ‘gods’ as having a much better life, hence the abundance of the garden and the inaccessibility of the mountain. We also have the reality that the cultural stories were also rooted in something real, creation and the fall.

As I write this I am in the mountains and the serious spring melt has not yet begun. When it does there will be an awful lot of water flowing to the valleys from the mountains. Eden had four rivers flowing out of it (Genesis 2:10). Physically my own view is that the ‘mountain of God’ had the garden at the base. Given that it was made inaccessible after the fall, and later disappeared at the flood, we won’t know in this lifetime. My point is really to place what happened in Genesis 3 within the historical cultural context.

Now, if you delve a little further into the population of the garden, like me, you may have had an image of Eden as a garden that was populated by Adam and Eve and a huge number of birds and animals. This is how I once viewed it with God visiting in the evening to walk and talk with Adam and Eve. The mountain and the garden represented God’s place of government on earth so there was likely a lot more going on then we tend to think. Hang onto your theological hats as I propose something. First some scriptures.

9 “I watched till thrones were put in place, And the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, And the hair of His head was like pure wool. His throne was a fiery flame, Its wheels a burning fire; 10 A fiery stream issued And came forth from before Him. A thousand thousands ministered to Him; Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was seated, And the books were opened. Daniel 7:9–10 (NKJV)

1 After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.” 2 Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. 3 And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. 4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. 5 And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. 6 Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. 7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. 8 The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!” 9 Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: 11 “You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created.” Revelation 4:1–11 (NKJV)

            These two scriptures passages both depict throne room council scenes in heaven and in a limited way describe the myriad supernatural creatures that form Yahweh’s heavenly family and government. If Eden was God’s throne room on earth, then there was likely far more that Adam and Ever were exposed to than just the animals in the garden. Obviously, given their interactions with Yahweh, prior to the fall Adam and Eve could interact with more than the natural realm. While it is unlikely that they saw anything like Daniel and Revelation describe, these things were happening around them and they were likely exposed to other supernatural beings. Which brings us back to the serpent.

We begin to understand the serpent by examining Genesis 3:1.

1 Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” Genesis 3:1 (NKJV)

We have two important words here, serpent and cunning. Before looking at them I want to look at how we read this verse. I think in general when we read ‘any beast of the field’ we think of it as ‘any other beast of the field.’ However, the point being made is that the serpent was more cunning and was different than the beasts of the field. Some bible translations say ‘any other beast…’ but that reflects the theology of the translators not the Hebrew text. We aren’t dealing with a talking snake; we are dealing with a supernatural cunning being that either embodied a serpent or was a luminous being that looked like a serpent. We see echoes and memories of the Genesis event in a number of the surrounding cultures in that in them the serpent was a god or associated with the gods, a tree and wisdom.

The word serpent is nachash and refers to a snake or serpent and has hissing sound at the end of the word, as in the hissing of a snake. The word cunning is aruwm and refers to being cunning or subtle in a negative sense. While we know from Revelation 12:9 and 20:2 that this serpent is Satan, the adversary, all Eve knew was that she was interacting with a divine being who knew things beyond what the creatures of the field knew. My purpose in presenting all of this is twofold. One, there is often more going on in scripture than a casual reading suggests. Two, we need to discern, see the reality that lies behind appearances, and respond accordingly. The serpent’s agenda has not changed throughout human history. He seeks to comes to us and cast doubt on God’s word to make us stumble or rebel in our thoughts and actions. Let’s be alert, discerning and thus confident in His leading as we come to His word and interact with Him in the place of prayer.

Stars?

We are going to look at some reference to stars in the New Testament in terms of what they represent. I think it is easy to miss the point being made if we don’t understand the cultural context.  

29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Matthew 24:29–31 (NKJV)

13 And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Revelation 6:13 (NKJV)

7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, 8 which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 1 Corinthians 2:7–8 (NKJV)

It is easy to see the connection between the Matthew and Revelation references but not so easy to see the connection to 1 Corinthians. We will get there and in doing so we will see an already not yet aspect of the kingdom of God. Below is some information regarding how stars were viewed in the scriptural culture.

Star Worship

In the ancient Near East, stars were often worshiped as divine. Although the book of Deuteronomy condemns star worship as idolatry (Deut 4:19; 17:2–5), other passages seem to indicate that the Israelites practiced star worship at times. For instance, in the eighth century bc, the prophet Amos condemned star worship in the northern kingdom (Amos 5:26). Additionally, King Josiah’s reforms of 621 bc (2 Kgs 23:4–14) addressed star worship in the southern kingdom, which had been promoted by Manasseh (2 Kgs 21:3–5; 2 Chr 33:3). – {Edward W. Watson, “Star,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016}.

            The stars in the Matthew and Revelation quotes represent not physical objects but heavenly beings. In this case heavenly beings in opposition to His purposes. When we move to 1 Corinthians 2 and Paul’s theological perspective, we recognize that Paul is also speaking of heavenly beings when he references the ‘rulers of this age.’ The word translated ‘rulers’ is archon in Greek and refers to someone or something as first in rank or power. While it can be used of human rulers that is not how Paul applies the term. In addition to using it in 1 Corinthians 2 Paul uses it in Ephesians 2:2 when he refers to the ‘prince (archon) of the power of the air.’ It is also clear he is not referring to human rulers in 1 Corinthians as he deals with rulers over the ages, extremely long periods of time.

            Thus far what we have is seeing the stars in Matthew and Revelation refer to heavenly beings as does the term rulers in reference to those who crucified Jesus. Humans carried out the crucifixion but it was initiated by the powers of darkens.

We now turn to the already not yet aspect of this idea of falling stars. These heavenly beings orchestrated Jesus’ crucifixion and to their shock the cross was their downfall. We see this in what Paul says in Colossians.

15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. Colossians 2:15 (NKJV)

The ‘it’ here refers to the cross. Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection broke the power of darkness. However, Jesus then delegated to His church the responsibility to enforce His rule and make disciples from all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). We are called to represent and extend His kingdom until His return.

            The falling stars in Matthew and Revelation, these heavenly beings, were defeated through the cross but still roam the cosmos seeking to destroy the church that Jesus is building. Seeking to prevent their inevitable final destruction. Yet, through these passages we are assured that we will again see them fall, their final fall, at some point in the future. We can be confident of our victory because it is His victory. Jesus has won the battle and will at the end of the age fully enforce His victory.

Whatever we may be facing we know the true source behind troubles in our world and we know that Jesus assures us of the ultimate victory! In the meantime, we are to carry and extend His kingdom wherever we go. Like Jesus let us be ‘about our Father’s business.’

Unscriptural or Unfamiliar

Continuing on the theme of discernment here is a discernment tool the Lord gave to me years ago. I was helping to lead a small group and two friends were going to share with the group that evening on journaling as a way to hear the Lord’s voice. Personally, I have used a journal off and on over the years to record my thoughts. However, I had not used it in the way it was presented that evening nor after the presentation. I did however see it as a useful tool many had used to great effective in their relationship with Jesus.

Having a measure of responsibility for the group I was reflecting on what would be taught as I was driving there with a friend. On the way the Holy Spirit spoke to my spirit and gave me a question to ask the group as an introduction to the teaching. He prompted me to ask the group to reflect on whether what they were about to hear was ‘unscriptural or unfamiliar.’

In the subsequent years I have applied this test regularly and it highlights for me where many run into difficulties. People resist change and new ideas because they like the familiarity of routine, structure and shared worldviews. Routine and structure are good things that help us to organize our lives and move through our days in a somewhat predictable manner. The problem crops up in how we think. In my book, Worldview: The Adventure of Seeing Through Scripture, an idea I highlighted is that we tend to think with instead of about our worldview. Thinking with is fine for our daily activities. Not for more significant issues. Here thinking about needs to be brought into play.

To illustrate the issue, I am part of more than one theological debate group on Facebook. More than once the topic of cessationism (the idea that the spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians 12 ceased with the completion of scripture) has come up in opposition to continuationism (the idea that the spiritual gifts are still active in the church today). I have always been a continuationist and in decades of debating the subject, in person or online, I have never heard a sound scriptural argument for cessationism. Yet in my experience few people change their position. There have been prominent examples like Jack Deere or Sam Storms, both well known theologians and both graduates of the famed Dallas Theological Seminary, which is thoroughly cessationist. Over time they re-examined their views and became continuationists, promoting the use of spiritual gifts.

This leads to the need to look at why others do not make the shift, even in the face of strong evidence that undermines their viewpoint. It comes back to thinking with instead of about our worldview. We all hold what are termed plausibility structures, ideas about what is or is not plausible. For example, treating anything that is unfamiliar in relation to our view of scripture as unscriptural is a plausibility structure. Paul referred to them as strongholds, ways of thinking in 2 Corinthians 10:4-6. If we believe that what we have been taught is correct, whether it is from a trusted teacher or elsewhere, we need to make a conscious decision to examine it to shift it.

In this process questions are useful and I am prone to asking people questions around why they believe what they do or whether they are open to change or seeing things differently. A few are able to explore new perspectives while others are so entrenched in their view that even though they may acknowledge they are unable to defend their position from scripture, they continue to hold to it because it is what they ‘believe.’   

 To make a shift in our thinking, to examine whether something is unscriptural or unfamiliar, we need to be reflective. This requires making a conscious choice to step back from our regular practices and thinking and reflect on what has led us to our present beliefs in order to determine whether they align with scripture.

Though we may find the idea daunting, consider those who followed Jesus in the gospels. They had to stand against the familiar beliefs of their culture and embrace beliefs at odds with how the majority of their culture understood scripture. Personally, I am thankful that they didn’t treat the unfamiliar as unscriptural because they followed Jesus and laid the foundation for the faith that I follow. Let’s seek to emulate them.   

Discernment or Judgment

In June of 1992 I wrote an article on discernment where I defined discernment as “Seeing the reality which lies behind appearances.” I still use this definition. My article was prompted by reading on an article on the ‘gift of discernment,’ which I will address below. Here I have reproduced and revised a portion of what I wrote as it is as relevant or more than when I first wrote it. This is particularly true as I cannot recall a time in my six decades that we have ever been more divided and polarized in our culture with different views and attitudes toward truth and the false idea that perceptions matter more than reality.

We begin our study with 1 Corinthians 2:14-15

14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. 1 Corinthians 2:14–15 (NKJV)

In 1 Corinthians 2:14 the Greek word anakrino is translated discerned and in verse 15 it is translated judges and judged. Discernment and judgment are closely linked and require the exercise of wisdom. Scriptural discernment is basically making right judgments by seeing the reality that lies behind appearances in order to agree with what the Holy Spirit is doing. After all, with what we are facing in the church and our culture we need to exercise discernment, as it is through discernment that we can see the roots of issues and then choose how to respond as He leads.

In seeking to understand and exercise discernment it is helpful to first understand what it is not. I often hear talk in the church about the “gift” of discernment. The scriptures speak of no such gift. 1 Corinthians 12:10 speaks of the gift of discerning of spirits (a revelation gift that any Christian may function in at times). This however is not discernment as the scriptures teach it, even though it is useful in the process of discerning. True discernment is the outflow of wisdom and revelation working together and demonstrates spiritual maturity. Here are the Corinthians verses with more context and three verses from Hebrews.

13 These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. 16 For “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ. 1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal? 1 Corinthians 2:13–3:4 (NKJV)

12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Hebrews 5:12–14 (NKJV)

In both passages we see a link between discernment and spiritual maturity. Discernment needs to be exercises and is the fruit of a humble heart that chooses to be led of the Spirit and recognizes its dependence upon Him. Discernment flows primarily in the lives of those who choose to walk in truth and refuse to compromise because of their love for the truth (2 Thess. 2:16, Eph. 4:21).

Paul’s discernment was rooted in his refusal to compromise truth Jesus had revealed to him. This led to him having to rebuke both Barnabas and Peter (Gal. 2:11-20).  Paul understood something that we in the church have largely neglected. We are frequently told by both the world and much of the church that we are not to judge, and this is true in terms of a critical fault-finding spirit (Jas. 4:11, Rom. 14:4, Matt. 7:1-5). We do however have a responsibility to judge all things in terms of fruit and discern the truth that lies behind appearances (Matt. 7:15-20, 1 Cor. 2:14-15, Heb. 5:12-14, Phil. 1:9-11, Jn. 7:24). At times this means confronting sin and heart motives which can lead to being labeled as “judgmental” or “critical” (Acts 5:1-11, 8:18-24, Gal. 2:11-21).

My idea of discernment as ‘seeing the reality which lies behind appearances’ comes from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:15-20 where He refers to wolves showing up looking like sheep and the importance of inspecting fruit. Jesus teaches that at times we cannot discern wolves from surface appearances because they look like sheep. The same is true of tares looking like wheat until they mature (Matt. 13:24-30). To discern the truth that lies behind appearances we need to love truth more than the package it comes in. We must seek truth and seek to discern it in the lives of our supporters and opponents. A love of the truth is manifest in love for the church, the body of Him who is truth (Eph. 4:21). This is illustrated for us in the Old Testament illustration of the role of discerning.

I began this study by noting the overlap between judging and discerning. In Exodus 28:30 Aaron is commanded to wear the breastplate of judgement when he comes before the Lord. In the breastplate are the Urim and Thummim. Also on the breastplate are the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. This passage specifically says Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel over his heart continually.

What I see in this is that discerning and making right judgments requires carrying the issue we are seeking to discern over our heart. If we want to truly discern what is happening in the lives of others, from the Lord’s perspective, we need to bear people over our heart in intercession (as Aaron did with the breastplate representing the nation). Intercession born of love for Jesus and His church leads to the spirit of wisdom and revelation being released in our lives and manifest as discernment.

Paul knew clearly the relationship between love and discernment. He began Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians with a prayer for discernment only after he was confident of peoples love for the church and one another (Eph. 1-15-21, Phil. 1:9-11, Col. 1:4, 8-11).  This love is, among other things, a deeply rooted commitment to speak truth to others out of a desire to see them come to maturity (Eph. 4:15, Prov. 27:6). 

            The purpose of discernment is protection and growth. We seek to see the reality that lies behind appearances so we can protect His flock, and agree with Him about what He desires in the lives of individuals, local assemblies and the church at large. When we sincerely walk with Him in spirit and truth (Jn. 4:24) His Spirit in us is faithful to guide us into all truth (Jn. 16:13). Walking in this manner positions us to see the church built up and established.