The Place of Honour Part 3 – The Witnesses

Hebrews is in some ways a rather enigmatic book. Understanding the role of the High Priest in the Old Testament (OT) is a very helpful aid to understanding this book. While Hebrews contrasts the OT role of the priest and Jesus role as the new eternal high priest, there is another area where I think the contrast needs to be recognized. That area is the reference to the great cloud of witnesses.

1  Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, Hebrews 12:1 (NKJV)

In the OT the most important functions of the priest took place within the temple where only the high priest could go and the most important function happened once per year in the Holy of Holies under only the eyes of God. In the New Testament (NT) this ultimate sacrifice took place in public on a hill called Golgotha.

In Hebrews 11 the writer describes the hall of faith, the great honour roll of those who have gone before. There are a couple of ways of looking at this verse in context. While the focus on the whole book is on encouragement to walk uprightly before our Father, some view the reference to the cloud of witnesses as us being able to draw encouragement from those who have gone before and what they accomplished. While I think that is valid, I think there is something more to be discerned.

When we look at the NT Paul, John and others had the veil pulled back and they saw into the eternal heavenly realm. While I do not think we can simply do this at will I think the witnesses who have gone before can peer into our lives and what is happening. I think the image in 12:1 of being surrounded is that of running a marathon and the waiting crowd cheering as we enter the stadium for the final lap. In our culture a better image might be of a football or hockey game with a building full of fans cheering on their team, Jesus team really. Our great High Priest seeing the fruit of His sacrifice.

While I think the great heroes of the faith are in the stands, I think in addition to the heroes of the faith cheering us on to finish well, there are also the godly members of our families that have gone before. If we have a godly heritage behind us these people are cheering us on because we are part of their heritage and they have an investment in the outcome of our lives.

For me this is an encouragement, I want to honour investment of godly men and women into my life by living a godly life. So, who do you have in the stands cheering you on to finish well, encouraging you to draw on Jesus grace to live a life honouring their investment in you?



The Place of Honour Part 2

I started writing about how Yahweh honoured Ezra and the connection to his spiritual heritage. More broadly I want to look at what the scriptures tell us about the concept of honour.

7  Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. Romans 13:7 (NKJV)

This verse tells us that honour is important, yet an interesting inference here is that not everyone deserves to receive honour. Paul’s statement above comes across as a command rather than a suggestion and it follows in a tradition of another command.

12  “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12 (NKJV)

2  “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise: Ephesians 6:2 (NKJV)

We are commanded to honour our parents and we are to honour them because Yahweh has delegated authority to them and when we respect His delegated authority in our lives the Lord honours the respect we give to them. When we walk in honour we release something in the spirit realm and position ourselves to receive. So while we have the command to honour our parents the command illustrates the principle Paul expressed. We are to honour those to whom authority has been given.

In context we can see how important Paul’s exhortation is when we look at his lead in to Romans 13:7.

1  Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Romans 13:1 (NKJV)

Paul was writing to Christians in Rome who lived under a brutal emperor. Didn’t he make a mistake here? Well no he actually took it further in Ephesians. In addition to telling us to honour our parents he said the following.

5  Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; 6  not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7  with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, 8  knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. 9  And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him. Ephesians 6:5-9 (NKJV)

When Paul said bondservants he was referring to slaves. His point is that whatever authority we have over us in our lives we are to treat that authority with honour and respect because it pleases our Father. There is one out, we are not to honour or submit to authority when it is clearly in opposition to the Lord. When Peter and John were brought before the High Priest and leaders in Jerusalem they knew what Paul later taught, the Hebraic concept of honour. Knowing that, when they were commanded to obey these authorities in opposition to what Jesus had commissioned them to do (Matt. 28:18-20, Mk. 16:9-20) they responded in the following way.

19  But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge.” Acts 4:19 (NKJV)

Peter, John and the rest of the young church continued to obey Jesus. It later meant further persecution, the martyrdom of Stephen and the scattering of the church (which led to the spreading of the gospel).

So, seeing something of the principle of honour from the perspective of scripture how are we doing with the supervisor at work, the mayor, the Premier, the Prime Minister? Are we interceding or criticizing?

The Place of Honour Part 1

Ezra is well known as an effective leader and manager. He was instrumental in the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem in the first return from captivity in Babylon as prophesied by Jeremiah (Jer. 25:11-12, 29:10-11) and interceded for by Daniel (Dan. 9:1-19).  This means that what Ezra took part in regarding the rebuilding in Jerusalem was the fulfillment of prophecy brought about by intercession.

So that leads us to looking at Era and why he was chosen. When I read scripture I have a tendency to gloss over genealogies. Numbers is not the first book I think about reading in the Old Testament! Yet the Holy Spirit inspired these passages for a reason and there is some very important information in the passage below.

1  Now after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra the son of Seraiah, the son of Azariah, the son of Hilkiah, 2  the son of Shallum, the son of Zadok, the son of Ahitub, 3  the son of Amariah, the son of Azariah, the son of Meraioth, 4  the son of Zerahiah, the son of Uzzi, the son of Bukki, 5  the son of Abishua, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the chief priest – 6  this Ezra came up from Babylon; and he was a skilled scribe in the Law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given. The king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the LORD his God upon him. Ezra 7:1-6 (NKJV)

In reading this we see that Ezra was a scribe, but he was also a priest (Ezra 8:1-2, 9), albeit without a temple to serve in. Ezra’s priestly qualifications came from being a direct descendant of Aaron, Phinehas and Zadok. Aaaron was the first high priest of Israel, Phinehas was his grandson who was jealous for the Lord. Zadok was a priest under David and remained faithful when the nation abandoned David.

A key point is that Yahweh is faithful to honour those who are faithful to Him. We see the background that led to Ezra’s role in the passages below.

10  Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 11  “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the children of Israel, because he was zealous with My zeal among them, so that I did not consume the children of Israel in My zeal. 12  Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him My covenant of peace; 13  and it shall be to him and his descendants after him a covenant of an everlasting priesthood, because he was zealous for his God, and made atonement for the children of Israel.’ ” Numbers 25:10-13 (NKJV)

15  “But the priests, the Levites, the sons of Zadok, who kept charge of My sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from Me, they shall come near Me to minister to Me; and they shall stand before Me to offer to Me the fat and the blood,” says the Lord GOD. Ezekiel 44:15 (NKJV)

In Ezra’s lineage, tracing his family back to Zadok and Phinehas, we see that he was put in a position to be instrumental in the restoration and rebuilding at Jerusalem because of the faithfulness his ancestors had demonstrated. The other side of this coin is that I believe Ezra’s being chosen was also connected to his faithfulness to serve Yahweh wherever he was. There were others with the same lineage who were not chosen. Our Father is an efficient historian who has eternal purposes in keeping records.

16  Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, And the LORD listened and heard them; So a book of remembrance was written before Him For those who fear the LORD And who meditate on His name. Malachi 3:16 (NKJV)

12  And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. 13  The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. 14  Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15  And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:12-15 (NKJV)

20  Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:20 (NKJV)

So what is my point in all of this? Yahweh is recording the good things we do to honour Him and they will not be forgotten. In addition He seeks to bring forth good things from our family line. If we don’t have a godly family history to draw from then let us start an honourable one that our descendants may draw from ours. It can be be as simple as handing out water. After all what did Jesus say?

42  And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.” Matthew 10:42 (NKJV)

Obscured Vision

I have been slowly going through the entire bible. I started in January 2017 with a plan to read through the bible in a year. This has shifted to my current plan to instead get through it in two years, which I will do. I have been reading through it slowly. I don’t follow some well known plan but do have my own method. I treat the Gospels and Acts as a section and the rest of the NT as a section. So I have gone through those sections more than once in this timeframe. For the OT I started Genesis forward and Job forward. I am now at Ezra and the last few of the Minor Prophets. In addition I have been reading through Proverbs every month. I could have crammed and completed this in a year but I have been focused on going more slowly and thoughtfully. I find I get more out of the scriptures using this approach. Small bites are easier to chew and digest than big ones.

Going through this process I saw something in 2 Chronicles. I never saw in previous readings that Uzziah never again sat on the throne after his transgression with the incense and that Jotham reigned while Uzziah lived out the remainder of his life primarily in isolation. I am going to look at two passages, 2 Chronicles 26 and Isaiah 6. You may find the connection between them interesting.

The ‘he’ in verse 16 below refers to Uzziah. Uzziah was a good king in Judah up to this point. Isaiah was an advisor and probably his friend. Isaiah had a decades long ministry and prophesied across the reign of four kings, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah (Is. 1:1)

16  But when he was strong his heart was lifted up, to his destruction, for he transgressed against the LORD his God by entering the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. 2 Chronicles 26:16 (NKJV)

19  Then Uzziah became furious; and he had a censer in his hand to burn incense. And while he was angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead, before the priests in the house of the LORD, beside the incense altar. 2 Chronicles 26:19 (NKJV)

When Uzziah was seeking to burn incense and the priests opposed him he lost his temper and refused to back down. His transgression, rooted in his pride, resulted in the Lord giving him leprosy until the day of his death. In Kings he is referred to as Azariah. Once he became a leper he dwelt in an isolated house and his son Jotham sat on the throne in his place until his death (2 Kings 15:15, 2 Chron. 26:21). There is a spiritual principle. If the enemy cannot oppose our work for the Lord, which he could not do with Uzziah, then he gets behind us and pushes us beyond the boundaries the Lord has set. He whispers in our ear and appeals to any root of pride or insecurity in our hearts and speaks to what we could or should be doing. In this case the reign of Uzziah had been blessed but here he presumed he could take on an office that was not his, the priestly role.

His vision was obscured by his pride. What of Isaiah?

1  In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. 2  Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3  And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!” 4  And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. 5  So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts.” 6  Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. 7  And he touched my mouth with it, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, And your sin purged.” Isaiah 6:1-7 (NKJV)

I have mentioned this before in my writing. This was not Isaiah’s prophetic call. He was already functioning in the prophetic office. When he had this encounter with Yahweh he realized that his vision was also obscured. Lepers were required to cry out ‘unclean, unclean’ in public so no one would have contact with them. King Uzziah would have suffered this indignity. Isaiah and the nation knew of Uzziah’s pride and failure but he was now gone and a new era had begun (Proverbs 14:34) and Jotham was a godly king. Yet when the veil between the natural and spiritual realm was removed something that was obscuring Isaiah’s vision and perspective was also removed. Here Isaiah saw the one on whose behalf he was speaking. How did he respond? Isaiah saw himself and the nation as being people of unclean lips compared to the transcendent holiness he encountered and recognized the need to be cleansed. His pride was consumed by the coal from the altar. It didn’t; burn Isaiah’s lips, it burned away any confidence in himself.

What of us? Do we see the problem as ‘out there,’ the Uzziah’s in life? Is the problem our political leaders? Our supervisor at work? These issues are real but even more real is our need for cleansing like Isaiah, having a coal from the altar touch our lips and cleanse our hearts. If we have had a cleansing encounter we are ready to speak with authority and power as Isaiah did. Perhaps Isaiah had other encounters he never recorded. I do not know. I do know I can remember where I was driving in my car decades ago when I began to pray for the fear of the Lord in my life because I saw it as a lack. I still need it.

The Living Word Part 2

How do the scriptures come alive in us as a ‘living word?’ That the scriptures are living and powerful is an established fact, more real than the ground we stand upon because He said it is true.

12  For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 (NKJV)

Sit with this fact. God’s word is living and powerful.

Given this truth we need it to live in our experience. We do that by actually believing it and declaring the truth of His word until we experience the life of His word moving in us. One example is the song below. The song begins saying, “I am no victim. I live with a vision. I’m covered by the force of love. Covered in my Saviour’s blood.” While I would prefer that the words say the ‘power of love’ the idea is the same. Jesus, out of love shed His blood on the cross. His blood paid the price for my transgressions and was poured out on the mercy seat in heaven (Heb. 9:12, 20-28). The scriptures say His blood is able to cleanse our consciences from dead works (Heb. 9:14). Speaking of a new and deeper encounter with His living word.

Here are more words from the song, “I am who He says I am. He is who He says He is. I’m defined by all His promises. Shaped by every word He says.” Are our lives defined by His promises and shaped by His word? If yes, then no matter how we feel any given day or moment we have His Word living in us.

I Am No Victim by Kristene Dimarco.


The Living Word Part 1

Recently I was reflecting on a phrase from the scriptures, ‘a baptism of repentance.’ Prior to looking at the scripture references, I want to share the impact of the phrase. Whatever one’s theological leanings, whether we are comfortable with sprinkling or immersion, the plain meaning of the word ‘baptize’ is to immerse something. If I put a washcloth in a bathtub full of water the water permeates the cloth. So, if we embrace a ‘baptism of repentance’ it will permeate every aspect of our being. The phrase ‘a baptism of repentance’ describes John’s ministry. The scriptures below highlight the importance of this call on and from John and the reason for it.

2  and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” 3  For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.’ ” Matthew 3:2-3 (NKJV)

8  Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, Matthew 3:8 (NKJV)

3  “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.’ ”  4  John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Mark 1:3-4 (NKJV)

3  And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, 4  as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight. Luke 3:3-4 (NKJV)

23  He said: “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness:Make straight the way of the LORD,” ’as the prophet Isaiah said.” John 1:23 (NKJV)

24  after John had first preached, before His coming, the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. Acts 13:24 (NKJV)

4  Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” Acts 19:4 (NKJV)

Now, if it seems like all of these passages are saying the same thing it is because they are. The four gospel writers thought it was important to include and Luke twice quotes Paul referring to it in Acts. John was a ‘voice’ speaking from the wilderness calling a nation back to their destiny and purpose and in the process paving the way for Jesus ministry. In this hour in the western church what voices are we paying attention to? Are we hearing the call to ‘make straight the way of the LORD?’ Is that the cry of our hearts? If not perhaps we need to come to the place of repentance.

Look at what the writer of Hebrews had to say.

12  For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 (NKJV)

16  Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16 (NKJV)

On the surface these two verses may not seem to relate to the subject I presented. However, I think the writer of Hebrews deliberately set these two verses in a bit of a juxtaposition. I was recently listening to some teaching by Francis Frangipane. He shared a story from many years ago. He was one of the speakers at a conference and Leonard Ravenhill was speaking. Leonard was a voice to a generation. Francis said that something Leonard said pricked his heart and he jumped up at the back and shouted, “Amen brother.” Leonard did not know Francis, he simply responded and said, “If we really believed that we would be on our faces before God!” The living and powerful word moved upon the people, pierced to the division of soul and spirit, and Francis said the Holy Spirit fell and the whole auditorium were suddenly on their faces in repentance.

I have been in meetings where His presence was tangible and powerful and the discerning were afraid to miss a step. I believe that in this hour if we come and submit our desires and agendas to Jesus His word will then pierce our hearts and call us to the place of repentance. In this place we are encouraged that if we boldly come to the throne of grace we can obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Our western Christianity is deeply in need of an outpouring of His Spirit upon the church and an overflow to the surrounding culture. In fact what we need is an army of believers embracing His end time purpose. The most quoted Psalm in the NT is 110. A main verse is this.

3  Your people shall be volunteers In the day of Your power; In the beauties of holiness, from the womb of the morning, You have the dew of Your youth. Psalm 110:3 (NKJV)

Do we feel His word calling us to ‘volunteer’ and seek the beauty of holiness as we come before His throne of grace to see our nation embrace His end time purposes? Is it our heart to see a generation that bows the knee to Jesus rather than the surrounding culture?

Good Gifts Part 2

Given that we have motivational or redemptive gifts built into who and what we are, how do we identify them? How do we best use them? The simple answer to the second question is that we use them in the service of His kingdom. The identification part is harder to answer. I believe if we take the time to step back and look at our lives we can see our motivations at play. However, this type of seeing is helped by understanding. There are charts and formulas used to identify motivational gifts, however, I think a better process is to look at the meaning of the words in context.

One qualifier is that the same gift can manifest in different ways in different people. You can have two people who are both skilled teachers but who present very differently. The fruit you want to look for is whether their teaching establishes people and creates in them a hunger for more.

Some have an anointing for speaking, some for writing and some both. I have read numerous books from one well known leader yet initially found their messages pretty much dry as dust. They have improved over the years but are certainly not gripping. Another well-known leader has a powerful anointing on what they speak. I can remember the content of messages I heard over two decades ago. I still have to struggle to get through any of their books. The same gift or anointing manifests in different ways in different individuals.

So here is Romans 12:6-8 again and a breakdown of the gifts.

6  Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; 7  or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; 8  he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Romans 12:6-8 (NKJV)

  • Prophecy – this is knowing God’s mind in the moment. Speaking life into situations and discerning the direction to go.
  • Ministry/Serving – this is a heart to serve and support others to see their destiny realized.
  • Teaching – this is sharing information that builds others up.
  • Exhorting/Encouraging – this is coming alongside others encouraging and challenging them.
  • Giving – this is a desire to give or impart to others to see them established in their calling and purpose.
  • Leading – this is a calling to lead and support others. To see problems and bring solutions.
  • Mercy – this is showing compassion toward the hurting and wounded. Being active on their behalf.

When we reflect on the list we can likely discern these motivations operating in the lives of others. I can think of friends who operate in more than one area but I see one that is dominant. What do we see in our own lives? Reflecting on my own life I see teaching as the driver. Whether I view it as a foundation or the hub of a wheel it is what supports everything else.

For example, I am leading a small group with a focus on worship and hearing His voice. The last couple of times we have met when we have prayed for someone we have had them sit in a chair with others gathered around. That is not unusual. However what I have done as part of the ministry is ask those praying how they are hearing. Is it an image, a feeling/sense, a scripture coming to mind or something else? The person being prayed for is asked how this fits in their current situation and if it makes sense to them. The qualifier is at the beginning not asking the person in the chair what they want prayer for.

The driver for me doing this is teaching even though what is happening may be encouraging, prophecy or showing mercy. I want people to leave having encountered Jesus and having learned something that strengthens them in their walk.

I will share one more example of motivation. I don’t fit well in large crowds of people I don’t know. A driver for me in teaching is spending timing thinking and reflecting. I was in my late 20’s when I began to figure this out. I was at a work event with a large number of people. The venue was in a park and since I knew very few people I ended up going for a walk at lunch time rather than trying to interact with people I didn’t really know (yes, my gift is not evangelism!). I find I am driven to have this type of time to reflect and think and that it energizes my teaching gift.

This was the first time I recognized that it was okay to want to be alone and not try to fit into a crowd. Later as I reflected back on my life I realized I had been spending time by myself tramping around in the outdoors since I was in elementary school. I grew up in a small town in the north and we lived in the edge of town. I could walk out of our vegetable garden, cross the road and be in the woods. I did this a lot by myself or with my dog.

So, look at your own life and reflect on it. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you patterns and the motivations behind them. Ask Him to breathe fresh life on the gift of who you are for the service of the body and see what unfolds.


Good Gifts Part 1

I was having coffee, tea actually, with a friend and he referenced the redemptive gifts of Romans 12. My friend Evelyn used to refer to them as the motivational gifts. The distinction between these and the gifts of 1 Corinthian 12 is that the Romans 12 gifts are built into who and what we are whether or not we have been born again. Obviously they are ideally designed to function in a believer.

Look at the list of gifts below. I have provided a few translations for a clearer understanding.

6  Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; 7  or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; 8  he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Romans 12:6-8 (NKJV)

6  Having gifts (faculties, talents, qualities) that differ according to the grace given us, let us use them: [He whose gift is] prophecy, [let him prophesy] according to the proportion of his faith; 7  [He whose gift is] practical service, let him give himself to serving; he who teaches, to his teaching; 8  He who exhorts (encourages), to his exhortation; he who contributes, let him do it in simplicity and liberality; he who gives aid and superintends, with zeal and singleness of mind; he who does acts of mercy, with genuine cheerfulness and joyful eagerness. Romans 12:6-8 (AMP)

6  We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7  If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8  if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. Romans 12:6-8 (NIV)

6  In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. 7  If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. 8  If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. Romans 12:6-8 (NLT2)

While the different translations bring out different shades of meaning I think the Amplified translation sums it up well, “Having gifts (faculties, talents, qualities) that differ according to the grace given us, let us use them:” Whether we label these abilities as motivational or redemptive they are part of who and what we are. Paul acknowledges that they differ and tells us to use them. I like how the Amplified presents them as talents or qualities. They are gifts of God built into us.

In my own life the primary gift is teaching. To apply what Paul is saying I need to use my gift for the benefit of His body, which I seek to do. While I have functioned prophetically many times it is frequently combined with teaching as that is primarily who and what I am, not just something I do. Why is this important? We function best when we understand what we are designed to do and seek to do it well by His grace. There is also a key connection that I think is often missed when teaching on gifts.

What is the context in which Paul talks about our motivational gifts? What causes these talents/qualities to function most effectively? The answer is in Romans 12.

1  I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:1-2 (NKJV)

The answer is primarily in verse one. If we want to function effectively in terms of how He has designed us we need to present the totality of our being to Jesus as a living sacrifice. That is, we need to submit our talents and abilities to Him for His purposes.

I have an old Labrador Retriever. People often comment on how well trained she is but had they observed her at 3 or 4 months that is not what they would have said. Through some difficult processes she had to learn to submit to a leash and to obey voice commands.

What impresses people the most about her is how far she will swim out into the river to retrieve something, even at 11 years of age. How did I train her to do that? She is naturally motivated to swim and retrieve. It has been bred into her for generations. In essence I worked with her motivational gifts and she presented her body a living sacrifice.

My prayer is that we would all learn to submit and obey that Jesus would be glorified as we use our inherent talents and qualities for His purposes.

Choosing Life Part 3

I started this series reflecting on the tree of life versus the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I also noted it is an ongoing choice. We walk in life when we are led by the Holy Spirit in our spirit. The Romans passage below is a more detailed description of this process.

8  So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9  But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. 10  And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11  But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. 12  Therefore, brethren, we are debtors – not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13  For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14  For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15  For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” 16  The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17  and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. Romans 8:8-17 (NKJV)

This is written to the born again. Notice in verses 8-9 that post conversion we are ‘in the Spirit’ rather than in the ‘flesh.’ What Paul is presenting is an identity issue. The problem that comes in for many is that the NIV translates ‘flesh’ as ‘sinful nature.’ This begs the question, what happened at conversion? Once we are born again do we still possess a sinful nature, isn’t that contrary to the NT? After all the NT says that once we are born again we are a ‘new creation’ (2 Cor. 5:17).

In my view this is a major issue with this translation because it identifies the born again as still possessing a sinful nature. After all, if we are at all consistent our behaviours flow from our beliefs, which is why what we believe is so important and one term used for Christians is ‘believers.’ If we believe that our nature is sinful after conversion what kind of salvation do we have? What confidence do we have in our ability to live a holy life?

While we can still follow our flesh rather than the Spirit, a way I have described it over the years is that once converted we are no longer in the flesh but there is still flesh in us. There is something in us still vulnerable to sin and with a propensity toward it, but as Paul notes, we don’t have to follow it. We can follow the Holy Spirit because our nature was changed at conversion.

17  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)

This leads us into Romans 8:14-16. While I use the NKJV as my primary bible the NASB renders Romans 8:14 more accurately.

14  For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. Romans 8:14 (NASB)

The idea conveyed here of ‘being led,’ is that of an active present tense submission to the Spirit. This is consistent with what Paul stated earlier in this passage. We can choose to follow our flesh or we can choose to submit to the Spirit and put to death the deeds of our body. Being led by the Holy Spirit requires a heart attentive to His voice and choosing to submit.

There is a distinction between ‘sons’ and ‘children’ in Romans 8:14, 16. The distinction is that children refers more to the immature or helpless so the message Paul is conveying is that even if we fall and follow our flesh the Holy Spirit we still affirm He is with us and in us. At the same time, Paul’s lead up to the ‘sons’ reference is talking about how to walk in victory in our lives and carries more of a connotation of walking in maturity.

So what is my point? When we submit to the Spirit we are partaking of the tree of life planted within us, deepening our relationship with Jesus and spiritually maturing. If we chose the flesh we are partaking of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and releasing death in our lives.

Which direction are we moving?


Choosing Life Part 2

Choosing life is all about what? I referenced the need to choose to keep partaking of His life in our spirits or leaning on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. However, if we are to continually partake of the Tree of Life how do we do that? Malachi provides an exhortation.

15  But did He not make them one, Having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, And let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. Malachi 2:15 (NKJV)

I have highlighted five words here. We are to take heed to our spirits. When we do so we walk in life. Yet what does that look like? Have you ever planned something and had a nagging sense of unease about it, then felt a need to change direction at the last minute or moved ahead and it simply didn’t work out? It may have made good logical sense but there was something ‘off’ in it. That is the Holy Spirit nudging us from within and trying to get our attention. Another scripture that supports this idea is below.

27  The spirit of a man is the lamp of the LORD, Searching all the inner depths of his heart. Proverbs 20:27 (NKJV)

The Holy Spirit moves within our spirit shining light on the direction He wants us to go. I am not negating planning. That is wise and practical, yet at the same time rather than making plans and asking our Father to bless them is it not wiser to include Him in the planning and seek to get internally quiet and hear His voice so we are being led by Him? The NT strongly reinforces this message.

16  I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. Galatians 5:16 (NKJV)

25  If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (NKJV)

22  Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, 23  having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, 1 Peter 1:22-23 (NKJV)

20  But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things. 1 John 2:20 (NKJV)

27  But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him. 1 John 2:27 (NKJV)

The message in these verses is the same as that in Malachi, we need to pay attention to and be led by the Holy Spirit by paying attention to our spirit. The one piece that may be unclear is 1 John 2:27. John is writing a letter teaching his readers something and in so doing says they don’t need anyone to teach them. Seems to be a little confusion! There isn’t any. John was writing combating some form of Gnosticism. The basic teaching was that to experience God you needed to go through someone who was at a higher ‘spiritual’ level, enlightened if you will. John’s teaching point was that all believers have access to be led by the Holy Spirit. So, if we are not already doing so let’s develop the habit of taking heed to our spirit, which I believe is becoming increasingly important in this hour.

The above verses are examples. In my next post I will dig into a more extensive passage on this issue, Romans 8.