By the Blessing

Last week I wrote about the need for cultural transformation. This week I want to focus on one aspect of how.

11 By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted, But it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked. Proverbs 11:11 (NKJV)

The verse above focuses on cities; however, I believe it can also be applied to families, a small group, provinces and nations. After all, the verse is about how a the behaviour of individuals within a group of people causes the group to prosper or break down.

To have a better grasp of the concept it is important to look at the meaning of blessing. It refers to the idea of good or prosperity. Not prosperity in the sense of necessarily being rich in material things but prospering in what is right. Think of Matthew 6:33 where Jesus tells us that if we seek first God’s kingdom then all the other things we need will be added. This verse could be viewed as a commentary on Proverbs 11:11.   

            Given that, there are a couple of ways to look at the concept of blessing by the upright. One is the blessing they convey through their words; the other is the blessing they bring by their presence. Think of a time when you felt better simply being around someone. You had a sense that things were going to be okay. That is the blessing that a true shepherd brings to a congregation. The congregation is settled and at ease when a true shepherd is present, leading and functioning in their calling.

            The same is true of words. Think of John 6:67-68. Jesus shared some hard truths and many of the crowd left. Jesus then asked the disciples if they wanted to leave as well. Look at Peter’s response.

68  But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68 (NKJV)

Peter recognized the blessing in Jesus words, they carried life!

            Whether we consider our words or our behaviour, there is a ripple effect. Like a stone cast into a pond that sends out ever expanding ripples, our words and actions send out an expanding influence. Of course, the problem comes in when we are not a blessing but a detriment. I believe this extends not only to our public words and deeds, it also includes our private words and deeds. The spiritual realm is not like the visible realm, it has a window into our lives and we have an effect there that while unseen by many has a visible effect over time. In conclusion, if we want to see our culture transformed, we need to be what we want to see in our public and private lives and encourage the same in others. In this way all of the ripples have a reinforcing impact. All that we do is a point of demarcation between two kingdoms. Let’s focus on building His.

I Will be Found by You

We will look at a verse in Jeremiah, the context, and how we can apply it to our lives today.

14 I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive. Jeremiah 29:14 (NKJV)

The phrase I am focusing on is the first six words, ‘I will be found by you.’ Through Jeremiah the Lord was speaking to the nation of Judah who were going into captivity in Babylon. After 70 years in captivity, they would begin to wholeheartedly seek the Lord and would encounter Him. This is the promise Daniel brought before the Lord in praying for the return to Jerusalem. That is our context.

Given that this verse what written for us rather than to us it is important to see how we apply it to our lives. In our present circumstances church attendance in Canada and the US has been on the decline for decades. During this period our culture has continued to head down the wrong road, and barring a revival or turning on a large scale, this slide will continue and likely accelerate. This is what was happening in Israel (Judah) prior to their deportation to Babylon.

Notice the statement again, ‘I will be found by you.’ Inherent in the statement is seeking. This is a principle in scripture. The Lord promises that when we genuinely seek Him we will find Him. In fact, that is what the preceding verse promises.

13 And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13 (NKJV)

Seeing the end from the beginning the Lord referenced this taking place even before Israel became a nation or had a king. While I think this prophetic word from Moses has a broader application than just the return from Babylon the principle and message are there. When we turn our hearts to Him our captivity is broken.

1 “Now it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God drives you, 2 and you return to the Lord your God and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul, 3 that the Lord your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where the Lord your God has scattered you. Deuteronomy 30:1–3 (NKJV)

            Applying this to our lives and situation requires that we view our situation differently. The church is not a nation like Israel that has been scattered to be regathered. We are scattered among the nations to be salt and light. However, given the state of our culture our light is dim and our salt is presently ineffective. For that to change we need to wholeheartedly seek Him. Our desire needs to be knowing Him and having Him move through us to capture hearts and minds for His kingdom. Our goal must not be a better or nicer lifestyle, a more comfortable or friendlier culture. Our goal needs to be transformation into His image so that our culture will see Jesus.

The testimony of scripture is that people were drawn to Jesus. Some were threatened by Him but most wanted to hear Him and be near Him. May we be like that so that those around us want to be near us and hear us. Let us seek Him and find Him in a deeper corporate way that others may see Him.   Next week I will delve into the how of shifting culture.

Attaining Full Assurance

            In our current culture it is important to look at where we find meaning and assurance as followers of Jesus. There are obvious pressures in any culture, peer group or family to push us toward conformity. For better or worse that is the nature of life. Yet, while it is common it varies in intensity. In the time of the early church many risked their lives by being counter cultural. Those from the Jewish community who embraced Yeshua as the Messiah would be removed from the synagogue and ostracized from their family and friends. They could only pray that others from their previous community would join them, or seek to build an alternate community. Those in the Gentile community had their gods, in particular Caesar, that they were supposed to worship. They underwent similar hardships upon conversion. The church became that alternate community.

            As an aside, if you want to understand how these same pressures affect some of our fellow believers around the world look at Voice of the Martyrs website.

            In our modern western culture, we don’t face the same pressures around danger to our physical lives for following Jesus, though there are at times serious family issues, particularly if converting from another faith. However, in general persecution is not an issue for western believers. What is an issue is drift and the accompanying pressure to conform to the surrounding culture. The writer of Hebrews and Paul put it this way.

1 Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. Hebrews 2:1 (NKJV)

 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)

            We are likely familiar with these warnings in scripture. It is easy to drift if we are not paying attention. For example, I love hiking. In the mountains it is easy to focus on navigating a difficult trail, eyes down to avoid obstacles. After 15-20 minutes you look up and are amazed at how much elevation you have gained. You have gone further than anticipated. While this is not an example of drift it does illustrate the point. When we become caught up and focused on our immediate surroundings we are not attending to the larger picture. The same is true in our spiritual walk.

            The calling for each of us is not to ‘live our best life’ or to ‘become all that we can be.’ Embracing those ideals merely demonstrates that we have already been conformed to the surrounding culture. We are called to high ideals and a life of excellence. The qualifier is the context, we are to be our best at building up the body, our fellow believers, and the best at being salt and light to those around us. Let us look at an example of Paul’s apostolic heart cry. I see the following verses as a fuller expression of Galatians 4:19, Paul’s desire to see Christ formed in us.

1 For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2:1–3 (NKJV)

            Paul’s teaching, challenging and praying were all focused on one goal, attaining a full assurance. In breaking these verses down, we see the importance of the body to which we have been joined. Paul says it is through being ‘knit together in love,’ that everything else is attained. There is a positive side to conformity, the pressure to being conformed to the image of Jesus. Loving and caring for one another.  The pressure to follow the godly example of others.  

            With this in mind let us seek to respond to and be the pressure to others to conform to the image of Jesus that we might corporately attain ‘the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” The more we grow together the deeper encounter with, and understanding of, we have of the Father and Jesus. This helps us all to ‘live our best corporate life’ reflecting Jesus to others.   

Accommodation and Space Part 2

Accommodation and Space. In our relationship with Jesus, He accommodates our individual gifts and callings as He made us that way. We accommodate Him by submitting to His leading and lordship, by making Him the priority in our lives. Now we need to look at how we can accommodate and make space for our fellow travelers on our journey to Christ likeness. To that end…

            Scripture exhorts us to ‘keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3). To understand how to walk this is out it is necessary to recognize that unity and uniformity are not the same thing. Consider a husband and wife – children are the result of a unity that is focused on appreciating the differences!

            Ephesians has something further to say on the issue.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, Ephesians 1:7-8 NKJV

In what is currently taking place in our culture and in the church culture we need to embrace wisdom and prudence. Prudence is not a word we often hear and it refers to wisdom in how we manage relationships. Paul seems to be emphasizing the importance of practical wisdom. Being prudent in our decision making is demonstrated in exercising wisdom and foresight in the context of respectful words and actions. Jesus demonstrates that in His relationship to us, and we are called to do the same in our relationships with others, both within and outside of the church.

This is where Accommodation and Space come in. We are not called to try and shape others into clones of ourselves or anyone else. We are called to discern their gifts and callings and help them grow in those gifts and callings to build up His body. He loves diversity and makes every snowflake different to demonstrate it.

Creating a respectful psychological, physical and emotional atmosphere creates the opportunity for change and growth. It isn’t a matter of setting aside a scriptural standard of righteousness, it is respecting different gifts and callings in the context of righteousness. True unity is established in the context of diversity. After all, the original meaning of the word university for our institutions of higher learning referred to seeing the unity across diverse subject areas. A liberal arts education, which had nothing to do with a political party.

In our current culture, including the church, we need to learn to appreciate the differences. We need to learn to lean on discernment from the Spirit not media, social or otherwise. Now to a very current cultural example that we in the church can learn from.

I have been a part time mediator for almost three decades and have trained literally hundreds of people in the process. When the process was becoming popular in the US and Canada the dominant model was the Interest Based approach and the first stage in the process was referred to as Story Telling. The reason for this was the recognition that even more than in normal discourse, people in conflict or in trauma have a need to be heard. One of the most respectful things we can do for others, a demonstration of Accommodation and Space, is to give them our attention and listen to their story. Listening, actually focusing on someone else and listening, defuses a great deal of anger and frustration. Understanding does not equal agreement; it does demonstrate respect. Seeking understanding is a tool to build bridges and a demonstration of respect for those we disagree with.

Currently in Canada as I write this, we have had the Freedom Convoy in our nation’s capital, Ottawa, for a week. Whether or not we are in agreement with their demand for change, surely, we can agree that mostly they are simply expressing their frustration out of a desire to be heard, to be listened to, to be given Accommodation and Space. Sadly, not only has our Prime Minister refused to meet with them, in his own words, their views are “unacceptable.” Why are they unacceptable? Because he doesn’t agree with them! Many of the protesters have raised cries of tyranny. Our Prime Minister and the governing Liberal party have responded by seeking to marginalize and demonize those they disagree with. While I do not understand or know his heart, and seek to respect his office, I do know that based on the fruit of his behaviour and the governing party this approach is bringing further division in our nation.

We as the church are called to be salt and light. Salt is a preservative; light helps us to see. There are people from inside and outside the church that are part of the protest and on both sides of the issue. While not everything been done correctly, focusing on the misdeeds of the few to marginalize the all merely exacerbates the process and deepens the divide. Conflicts in life are inevitable, how we respond to them is a choice. So, as we seek to navigate the current issues let us join together in praying for wisdom and prudence to prevail. That voices on both sides of the issue would be heard and respected and understanding sought. May it be a marker for how we navigate the future as well. As Paul wrote so long ago.

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

A friend forwarded a song this week that can be turned into intercession. Apply it to your nation wherever you are.

Lianna Klassen, Song for Canada