Exercising Discernment Part 1 – The Right River

4  There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. Psalm 46:4 (NKJV)

Have you ever been on a mountain and observed how different little streams and tributaries flow together to become a river, or stood looking up a mountain seeing water coming from various places merging into one larger stream? As the volume of water increases so too does the depth and breadth of the river. At the same time some small streams diverge off and simply disappear into the mountainside as they end. Ultimately what provides water to all of the communities downstream from mountainous and glacial areas is the rivers that form from the merging streams in these areas.

Let me illustrate further. My wife and I have spent a lot of time in Invermere BC. Twenty minutes south the Columbia River begins and flows north through Invermere, then Radium, up north past Golden, then turns and heads south and eventually west out into the Pacific Ocean through Oregon. It is referred to as the Mighty Columbia. Now if you were to canoe or kayak between Invermere and Radium and someone told you that you were on the ‘Mighty Columbia’ you might say, ‘really?’ After all in places it is about 15 metres wide and you can often touch the bottom with your paddle. So what makes it mighty? All the tributaries that feed it before it reaches the Pacific Ocean and provides water and life to so many communities as it journeys. For example Lake Okanogan, which is 135 kilometres long and 4-5 kilometres wide in places, flows into it.

What does this have to do with His river as expressed in Psalm 46? When we see or understand something or some teacher brings along a new ‘revelation’ we need to test it. The first place of course is the scriptures. Another test is looking at church history. Does this teaching align with the practice or teaching of our historic faith? Let me provide a couple of examples. Some modern teachers have said that God judged Jesus on the cross so He won’t bring any further judgement on sinners. That teaching is clearly at odds with scripture. The Old and New Testaments are replete with warnings of coming end time judgment from His hand. This is part of the process He will use in creating a qualitatively new heaven and earth.

Another aberrant teaching that has been promoted for decades in the ‘faith’ movement is that Jesus was tormented in hell after He died on the cross. The clear error here is that Jesus said on the cross His sacrifice had accomplished what was intended, this battle was finished, as the scriptures attest.

30  So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. John 19:30 (NKJV)

46  And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’ ” Having said this, He breathed His last. Luke 23:46 (NKJV)

When we look at the two passages above what Jesus cried out in a loud voice was, “It is finished!” Then He committed His Spirit into His Father’s hand, not to the devil.

So what do we do with wrong teachings like these? We look to the river. Movements that hold to teachings like these are off in these areas, they have streams diverging from His river that will not produce life. We need to avoid those streams. At the same time when I have heard teachings like these I have often also recognized a great deal of the river of life in these movements. I need to follow those streams of life into His river. Knowing how to follow the right river requires; knowing the scriptures, knowing how to interpret them, knowing something of church history, being rooted in a family of believers that are committed to His word, and paying attention to His leading in our spirits.

In coming posts I will further explore these areas.

Nurturing Life Part 5 – Found in Him

What happens when we are squeezed? If we put apples in a juicer we can expect apple juice, if oranges then orange juice. So what should come out when Christians are squeezed? We should expect Christ.

20  I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (NKJV)

Yes, when we are squeezed Jesus should come out. I remember many years ago my friend telling the story of wrestling around with someone on a construction site and when he put them in a headlock they started cursing. He said, “I was just squeezing you to see what would come out.” This aligns with the old adage that ‘character isn’t formed in crisis, it is revealed.’ Who and what we are comes out under pressure.

We know that Jesus doesn’t always come out when believers are squeezed. Before addressing how to reconcile this I want to look at who is doing the squeezing. Would it surprise you to know that our squeezing often comes from our Father?

2  And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. Deuteronomy 8:2 (NKJV)

Our Father squeezes us so that we can see what comes out when we are squeezed. He already knows, He wants us to know. When we see what it is in us we know what needs to be dealt with.

Let me provide an example from my life. Too often for my liking I become frustrated with the behaviour of other drivers (I am sure none of them ever have reason to be frustrated with me!). What comes out at these times is a feeling of frustration/anger rather than grace and Jesus presence. I don’t mean that I am sitting in my car cursing other drivers or that it happens every time I drive to and from work in rush hour. However, when it does happen I recognize that my heart attitude is wrong and what I often say under my breath at these times reflects a wrong heart attitude. Where this lessens or is absent in difficult circumstances is when I am more aware of Jesus presence with me and when I catch myself in the moment, quickly repent and look to the Holy Spirit. This is practical faith 101.

What I want to manifest in all difficult driving experiences or similar situations is His presence. My goal and what I desire, and believe I am growing toward, is what Paul expressed.

9  and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; Philippians 3:9 (NKJV)

I want to be found in Jesus when I am squeezed so that what Jesus is the one who is revealed.

So what is coming out of us when squeezed? What is the Holy Spirit seeking to transform in our lives?

Nurturing Life Part 4 – Be Still and Know Psalm 46:10

What does this verse mean and what is the context?

10  Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! Psalm 46:10 (NKJV)

10  “Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10 (NASB)

The Psalm is directed to the nation of Israel, assuring them that though they may be surrounded by conflict, Yahweh is their strength and deliverance. In other words what Israel cannot accomplish, their own deliverance, Yahweh will.

Verse 10 in this Psalm is often used to encourage us to just get quiet before Him and sit in His presence. I have suggested and practiced this many times myself and find it an effective application of the verse. Yet what of the deeper simplicity inherent in it? ‘Be still,’ ‘cease striving,’ in other words, ‘Quit trying to make things happen on your own. Recognize that you are not in control.’ If we are consistent and purposeful in our walk with Him, then all things will work together for our good (Rom. 8:28) and we can let go of our worries and anxieties. What this can mean in our lives is that we can walk in His peace (shalom) each and every day.

How do we get there? It requires getting our eyes off of our circumstances (the message of Psalm 46) and setting the gaze of our heart upon Jesus throughout the day. This requires practice, the disciplining of our heart and mind. We begin by focusing our heart and mind on Him to set the course for our day then asking for and drawing on His grace to reorient our heart and mind throughout the day. This requires awareness and choices. It also requires a belief in the truth of scripture. Look at verse one in this Psalm.

1  God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1 (NKJV)

When we need help Yahweh is near at hand. His help is available in trouble and I think it is easier to turn to Him in trouble if we have formed the habit of simply turning to Him throughout the day as an outflow of the affections of our heart. Where are you turning?

Nurturing Life Part 3 – Roots and Fruits

There is an interesting verse in Isaiah.

31  And the remnant who have escaped of the house of Judah Shall again take root downward, And bear fruit upward. Isaiah 37:31 (NKJV)

I want to look at the principle embodied in this verse rather than the context, although the context is about a people not a plant, because the principle underlies what spiritual fruit is produced in our lives.

The principle embodied is that of being rooted downward to bear fruit upward. Think of agriculture. Have you ever observed a farmer’s field after it has been sown? You look across and see soil and neat furrows. Over a period of time if there is sufficient water and sunlight you begin to see green shoots appear and they grow and produce seed according to whatever has been planted. What we don’t see is what is happening beneath the soil. Before that first little green shoot appears the seed has been busy. The seed germinated and cracked open and a little green tendril appeared. All unseen to those of us observing the field. Yet without this process nothing green would appear on the surface. The roots nurture and give life to the rest of the plant.

As the plant grows all may appear to be going well but if something attacks or affects the root system you will begin to see the plant wither and eventually die. The plant cannot survive and produce fruit without a healthy root system.

So what is the spiritual application? If we are to produce good spiritual fruit we need to embrace what Paul taught.

14  For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15  from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16  that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 17  that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18  may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height– 19  to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19 (NKJV)

6  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love. Galatians 5:6 (NKJV)

These verses tell us that to function effectively we need our lives rooted and grounded in the love of Jesus so that we can effectively walk out our faith. Our part is to ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen our inner being to experience and live out of the love of Christ. The more we experience the more we release and the more His life (the fruit we want) is revealed through our lives.

Father, help us to develop deep roots and true fruits.

Nurturing Life Part 2 – The End Intended by the Lord

What happened to Job and why? Are those the right questions? We will never understand everything and sometimes we need to simply trust. Not trust in a “whatever will be will be” approach, that is fatalism, not faith. However we do need to trust that if we love Jesus and are pursuing His purpose He is ordering and guiding our life and we are in the process nurturing spiritual life.

In considering Job I have heard or read teachings seeking to explain away what happened to Job as being the responsibility of Job. Why do we do that? Partly because of our natural desire to understand and explain things and sometimes seeking to fit the scriptures into our pre-set theological frameworks. However then we seek to make Yahweh in our image. What we should be doing is submitting our beliefs and perspectives to His word and letting the scriptures actually be our guide.

When we read the story of Job we find that Yahweh initiated this test by pointing Job out to Satan (see Job 1:8-12). He said in verse 8 ‘have you considered my servant Job” or literally, “have you set your heart on my servant Job.” Satan already wanted to attack Job and Yahweh opened the door for Satan. Yet James tells us that the intended end was good. In the story of Job his three friends are at one point described by Job as “miserable comforters” because they kept telling Job he must have sinned or done something wrong to have brought this calamity on himself. In responding to their bad theology Elihu confronted both them and Job.

1  So these three men ceased answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. 2  Then the wrath of Elihu, the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, was aroused against Job; his wrath was aroused because he justified himself rather than God. 3  Also against his three friends his wrath was aroused, because they had found no answer, and yet had condemned Job. Job 32:1-3 (NKJV)

In the end Yahweh confronted and challenged Job and rebuked his three friends. In spite of all he had been through when Job saw the one he contended with he responded in this way.

1  Then Job answered the LORD and said: 2  “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. 3  You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 4  Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’ 5  “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. 6  Therefore I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes.”

7  And so it was, after the LORD had spoken these words to Job, that the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.” Job 42:1-7 (NKJV)

Seeing the end from the beginning we can see that Yahweh had a purpose in what He put Job through.

10  My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. 11  Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord – that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful. James 5:10-11 (NKJV)

So while pursuing our relationship with Him let us trust in His sovereignty and believe He has the same good end intended for us if we submit to His work in our lives. There is a simple expression I once read that encapsulates it, “Work toward goals, pray for desires.” I would add, “and in the process be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2).