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?