Mirror Resolutions

            We begin a new year tomorrow. Given that in our culture we tend to focus on New Years Day as a time of reflection and resolutions let’s apply that idea to this coming year. At present little discernment is required to see that we live in a very self absorbed and self focused culture, including in the church. A lot of time is spent looking in the mirror. There is a good biblical word for what led to this condition, sin. In reflecting back on Genesis 3 we see the immediate effects of sin entering the lives of Adam and Eve.

9 Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.” 11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” 12 Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” 13 And the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” Genesis 3:9–13 (NKJV)

Two things happened in the Fall, a focus on self and ‘our’ condition and the shifting of blame to someone else when challenged. In essence Adam was now focused on himself rather than Yahweh and blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent and so it continues in every culture.

Yet, as believers our calling is different. Our calling is to be mirrors that reflect Jesus and His kingdom, not our culture. This is clearly portrayed in scripture.    

18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NKJV)

Think about the significance. In our mirrors we are to look into and at the glory of the Lord. We are to fix our gaze upon Jesus, seeing His glory in our mirrors, His face replacing ours. The result of that is that we then reflect His glory and others encounter Him in us.

            There is a practical way to do this. Back when I was much younger, I moved to Edmonton from Northern Alberta to attend college. I stayed with my sister and brother in-law that summer and my sister had a plaque on the bathroom wall, it was an old Sanskrit saying and I have always remembered it, “Yesterday is already a dream and tomorrow is only a vision, but today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope.”

So here is my proposal for the New Year. We can still make resolutions like losing weight or getting fit, yet we can also do something I think is much more important. We can resolve to live better among others. We can choose to look into scripture and to gaze upon Jesus, we can be changed into His image, walking in grace and truth, living in forgiveness and compassion. We can resolve to let Him shine through us, reflecting the fruit of the Spirit.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. Galatians 5:22–23 (NKJV)

In this way we can make, “every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope.”

His Building

            Tomorrow, Christmas day, we celebrate Jesus’ birth. Leaving aside the accuracy of the date, it is an important day around the world. As the ultimate strategic planner, the Godhead, Father, Son and Spirit had a plan and purpose in mind. A plan that would be established through Jesus’ birth and subsequent death and resurrection. This plan began to come to fruition with Jesus earthly birth, a plan to begin building something, and we are part of that something.

            The plan was to build a family, a family made in His image, representing, or re presenting, Him. This is seen clearly in scripture.

8 To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; 10 to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, 11 according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. Ephesians 3:8–12 (NKJV)

I will highlight a section of this passage, “the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; 10 to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, 11 according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” There was a mystery unveiled to Paul, the building of a spiritual house through those born again through Jesus. After the Fall it began with the calling of a man, Abraham, the building of a nation through his descendants, the raising up of the Messiah through this lineage and culminating in the full unveiling of the mystery. This mystery involved a revealing of God’s wisdom to the opposing powers in the heavenly places, the ongoing revealing of Jesus to and through the church to the world. An eternal purpose that will be finalized at Jesus return.

            If we have been born again, we are part of what is being built. We have been called into fellowship, participation in a divine plan that was once a mystery and has now been unveiled. We see it expressed earlier in Ephesians.

19 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. Ephesians 2:19–22 (NKJV)

            We are all part of the same building; the church Jesus is building. We display His wisdom before opposing spiritual forces in heavenly places when we focus on building up His body and bringing in new members. Most of us are called not to foreign lands but to our friends and neighbours. This Christmas let’s honour what Jesus did by being expressions of the living Christ to all we encounter. Let us be living stones offering spiritual sacrifices as a spiritual building.

4 Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:4–5 (NKJV)

Nobility and Generosity

Given the season, as we near the celebration of Jesus birth, Christmas, and gift giving, it is a good time to consider the overlap between nobility and generosity. I briefly touched on this concept in blog post in recent years (see the link below). Here I want to dig a little deeper. I will start by saying there is no deep mystery in the Hebrew, the word simply means generous or noble. The verse below in two different translations highlights the translation options.  

8 But a generous man devises generous things, And by generosity he shall stand. Isaiah 32:8 (NKJV)

8 But he who is noble plans noble things, and on noble things he stands. Isaiah 32:8 (ESV)

Our context is found in verse 1.

1 Behold, a king will reign in righteousness, And princes will rule with justice. Isaiah 32:1 (NKJV)

Here Isaiah is prophesying a future time when righteousness and justice will rule in Israel. A theme in scripture is the blessing on nations and individual lives when righteousness and justice are the foundation and practice of leadership. One of the by-products of righteous leadership is people who demonstrate nobility and generosity. Thus, Isaiah highlights this as a characteristic of this future national state.

There are however a couple of givens for us as the church. Our calling is to reflect an already not yet kingdom, one where righteousness reigns. The kingdom of God. It was inaugurated on earth through Jesus’ ministry and subsequent sacrifice and resurrection. It will be fully consummated at His return. In the meantime, we have His command to go and make disciples of all nations in The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). There is debate over whether this means making disciples of nations or making disciples of people within nations. For our purposes the point is moot.

We as the church are called to walk in Jesus’ righteousness and under His leadership so it should translate into behaviour that is both noble and generous. Behaviour that seeks to honour and build others up. Behaviour that seeks to identify and draw out the gifts and callings of those around us.  

Lest you think we are going to go down the financial road, that is not my intent. Being generous with our finances and blessing others is a noble thing. Yet, giving money is often easy in our culture. What is harder to give, and likely of more value in the kingdom, is our time. I am blessed to have friends that have been generous with their time, whether helping with home projects or church activities. There is something noble about their willingness to help out. I remember many years ago working on an extensive plumbing project in our home. Two of my friends came to help. The project took longer than planned, what home reno doesn’t? I gauge the length of projects by the number of trips to the hardware store. This one took quite a few!

We had worked all day and the project was not yet complete. My wife and I had tickets for an event that evening. When my friends found out they told us to leave, said they would finish the project, and lock the door. They did just that! This was a noble and generous thing to do. In projects like these there is the opportunity to deepen fellowship and connect with our fellow believers in a deeper a way that dollars would never achieve.

Our calling is to build people and we do that through engaging with them, giving of ourselves and loving one another as Jesus has called us to demonstrate. So, in this season, and throughout the year, let’s look for opportunities to build His kingdom by demonstrating nobility and generosity, engaging with Jesus in building His kingdom through investing in the lives of others in His body. 

NOTE – I briefly touched on Nobility and Generosity a few years ago in my series on Reflective Leadership (http://wisdomfromtheword.ca/reflective-leadership-part-12/)

Faith and Action Part 3

In my last posted I noted that here I would address individual and corporate discernment in relation to Faith and Action. To do that we need to look at the authority structure in the church. In scripture Christ is the head, the ultimate authority (Ephesians 1:22, 5:23). That is without question. What we need to consider is how Jesus uses His authority as the head. It is clear in The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) and His instructions to wait for the Spirit (Acts 1:4-5) that He expects us to obey Him. The important point is that He doesn’t use force or control. He will apply both to unbelievers when He returns and all of us believers will appear before His judgment seat under His authority (2 Corinthians 5:10). However, at present He exhorts and convicts, He does not force. The same is true regarding the role and calling of human leaders in the church, as represented in the passages below.

24 And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, 25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, 26 and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:24–26 (NKJV)

17 Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you. Hebrews 13:17 (NKJV)

1 The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: 2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; 3 nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; 4 and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. 5 Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” 6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, 7 casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:1–7 (NKJV)

            Leaders who actually follow Jesus seek to lead others by example and teaching, not coercion. Once we recognize the scriptural importance of submission to authority we can make the connection to discernment, both individual and corporate. If we want to hear clearly and discern His leading, we need to submit to the leaders Jesus has appointed as we need come under Jesus’ authority through them. We see this in action in corporate discernment in 1 Corinthians.

26 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 1 Corinthians 14:26 (NKJV)

29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. 1 Corinthians 14:29 (NKJV)

We see here the sharing by many of what they are receiving from Jesus and the submission of what they are hearing or receiving to others in the body. In essence our discernment is tied to our submission because Jesus designed us to need one another. If we are unwilling to come under spiritual authority we cannot expect to hear clearly in our walk with Jesus.

The context for 1 Corinthians 14:29 is corporate discernment. Through sharing what we are hearing from the Lord and letting others weigh the accuracy we demonstrate a willingness to submit to the spiritual maturity and authority of others. We see the same principle in Proverbs.

14 Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety. Proverbs 11:14 (NKJV)

22 Without counsel, plans go awry, But in the multitude of counselors they are established. Proverbs 15:22 (NKJV)

            It is easy to see how corporate discernment is tied to our recognition of, and submission to, the spiritual authority Jesus has established in the church. The same principles apply to individual discernment. None of us are called to walk alone, we are called to walk with others in the body. Whatever we think we are hearing or think we should do, we discern best in the context of community. At times the Lord speaks to me about something, yet on important matters my habit is to submit what I hear to others. For example, I recently made a significant decision and had a sense of what I was to do. Yet I didn’t move ahead with my decision until I had a couple of friends pray about it for a number of months as the decision affected others. The Lord confirmed the accuracy of the decision so in theory I could have simply gone ahead with my original sense of His direction. Yet in having others weigh it there was confirmation from the Lord that was significant. This is important.

Some final thoughts. Over my years of walking with Jesus I have heard many people come up with novel ‘teachings’ that are not in line with scripture. Invariably it comes out that they are not anchored and submitted in His body, and by extension Jesus. Instead of doing that, let’s simply follow Jesus. When we do, we will find ourselves in fellowship with His people and find a place to weigh and test our spiritual discernment.

Faith and Action Part 2

            In my last post I did a brief overview of the importance of the idea of scriptural inerrancy. Here we will look at some challenging passages and the importance of context and the type of expression or literature. While the bible is presented as a single book made up of 39 Old and 27 New Testament (NT) letters or books we have a whole range of literature in these 66 books. We have history, prophecy, poetry, and pithy teachings such as Proverbs and the parables of Jesus in the NT.  

            In examining the broad view, we start with a key distinction, the scriptures were written for us, not to us. While many are very applicable to our lives, they were all written to a specific audience in a specific time and place. A great example is the book of scripture that is arguably the most confusing, Revelation. It is actually referred to in the first four words as “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” It is both revelation from Jesus and in the end revelation about Jesus. Yet it was addressed to seven specific churches in then Asia Minor, modern Turkey.         

            Now, we will take a look at some of the difficult statements in scripture.

27 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. Matthew 5:27–30 (NKJV)

8 “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire. Matthew 18:8–9 (NKJV)

 20 The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 23 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Then Peter answered and said to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?” 28 So Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. Matthew 19:20–29 (NKJV)

In the passages above, the context is first lust in Matthew 5, then causing the immature to stumble in Matthew 18. In both cases Jesus refers to cutting off our hand or plucking out our eye. These are great examples of hyperbole, using exaggeration to make a point. Jesus is in essence saying that we need to aggressively deal with sin when it rises up in our lives. If looking is leading to lust, don’t look, in essence, ‘pluck out your eye.’ If your behaviour is leading to sin, ‘cut off your hand or foot.’ Don’t allow your actions to lead to sin. Jesus primary point – deal with the issue!  

In the Matthew 19 passage we have what is referred to as the story of the ‘rich young ruler.’ The man comes to Jesus already seeking to live by the standards of the law but sensing a lack in his life. Jesus puts his finger on the man’s issue, his trust and confidence in his money, things, rather than Jesus. Jesus cuts to the heart of the issue and tells him to sell the things he trusts in and to instead trust and follow Jesus. The disciples are astonished about Jesus subsequent comments regarding the difficulty of trusting riches and how doing that is in conflict with trusting Jesus.  

In the eye and hand comments we have statements that are applicable to all of us in how we deal with temptation. In the issue of trusting riches, we have a principle that applies to all of us, trust Jesus not other things, but a command that was directed to an individual. Jesus was not telling all people for all time that the only way to salvation was to sell all they owned and give it to the poor. After all, if we look at who has funded mission work over the years it is generally people who have money.  

Now let us turn to the great commission in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus’ command to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.

18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. Matthew 28:18–20 (NKJV)

This command was spoken to a specific group, the remaining eleven apostles after the defection of Judas. Yet, clearly the eleven of them were not going to be able to go into the entire world with the gospel. Thus, it was spoken to them but written for us, and given the broad nature of Jesus command, applies to us as while. Matthew wrote it so we would know the task appointed to all followers of Jesus.  

In looking at scripture, as a general practice we should look at who it was written to and whether it is straightforward prose, a parable, poetry or history. We then need to look at how it applies to our lives in our time and culture. The prohibitions against sin apply to all of us always, some commands however, like dietary laws apply to Israel not everyone. Specific commands have a context but the Holy Spirit may quicken to our hearts a passage like the story of the rich young ruler and direct us to sell our earthly possessions. Here we need to know how to discern His voice. In the next post we will look at individual and corporate discernment in relation to Faith and Action.