Themes and Patterns

It ‘themes’ like time for another focus. Okay, I admit, a terrible pun, but that is a theme in my life! There are other themes, one of them is balance. I play Pickleball and sometimes people playing with me notice I seem to be using different hands and ask if I use my right or left hand. The answer is ‘yes.’ When I learned to play a few years ago I started serving with alternating hands and worked my left hand into the game. I often explain that I have better fine motor skills with my left hand and more power with my right (I grew up writing and eating left-handed, playing sports right-handed). This theme of balance began for me back in the 1980’s in terms of trying to engage in physical activities using both hands fairly equally, yes, I am getting old! Here is how it played out one time at work. I was delivering a presentation and someone commented that my writing on the whiteboard wasn’t terribly legible so I switched hands. That meant I had to concentrate more, but they said the writing was easier to read! Now, moving beyond my personal illustration, let’s move to scripture.  

We are going to look at themes, using Peter as an illustration and later Paul as an example. Peter’s themes related to boldness and fishing. Even his greatest failure came as a result of his boldness. When grace was removed, he fell!

Peter first appears in John,

40 One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus. Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, “You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas” (which is translated, A Stone). John 1:40–42 (NKJV)

For those of you who have heard sermons about Jesus calling Peter while he was fishing and Peter dropping everything to follow Jesus, sorry. Peter had already been introduced to Jesus by his brother Andrew, a follower of John the Baptist. They spent some time with Jesus then went back to fishing in Galilee before Jesus came and called them (Matthew 4:18-20). We also find in the passage in John that Andrew told Peter Jesus was the Messiah (Christ) long before Peter really got it (Matthew (16:13-17).

            Those corrections aside, Peter combined boldness with failure. In Matthew 16:16-17 Peter knows by revelation rather than information that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God. He follows this up by rebuking Jesus for saying He will suffer and die and get’s called Satan (Matthew 16:21-23). In Matthew 26:31-35 Jesus says they will all abandon Him; Peter insists that he won’t. However, he does just that (Matthew 26:69-75). The theme is boldness followed by failure, which continues even after Pentecost. Peter is the first to take the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10:9-48) then later Peter separates himself from the Gentile believers over his fear of what the disciples from Jerusalem would say (Galatians 2:11-13).

            Another pattern in Peter’s life is fishing. He is called to become a disciple, which is what it meant to follow Jesus, while he is fishing (Matthew 4:18-20), he has a miraculous catch while fishing when he listens to Jesus (Luke 5:1-11). This is the same occasion as his calling in Matthew, Luke simply gives us more detail. Later in walking with Jesus he gets a coin from the mouth of a fish to pay the temple tax for Jesus and himself (Matthew 17:24-27) and finally while waiting for further directions from Jesus after the resurrection he goes fishing and is recommissioned to his life purpose (John 21:1-19).

            If we look at Paul as an example, consider what plagued his ministry. The major theme for Paul was opposition and persecution. He sowed the seeds of it in his own opposition to Jesus prior to his radical conversion and then it followed him until the day of his death.

The Judaizers, we might call them legalists, constantly followed Paul around trying to bring his converts under bondage to the Law. We see the seeds of this issue just after we meet Paul, still called Saul at this point.

1 Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Acts 9:1–2 (NKJV)

What was Saul (Paul) so upset about? The believers were violating the Law, the very issue that later plagued him.

            Now, this all may be nice information but is likely not helpful if we fail to see how it applies to our lives. When we are born again, we receive a new nature (2 Corinthians 5:17, 21), Jesus in our reborn spirit. However, we then need Christ formed in us (Galatians 4:19). What we see in Peter’s life is that this was a long process with fits and starts. We read of no further issues beyond his failure in Galatia in the early years of the church. We also have his instructions on how to break the power of these thematic patterns in our lives in 2 Peter 1:3-11. For Paul victory was found in a recognition of Christ’s empowering presence in his weakness.  

9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NKJV)

If we consider our lives, God is actively working in our present for our future. Given that do you see themes or patterns unfolding in your life? If it a path of victory, what do you need to do to stay on the path? If it is a path replete with frustration, what is the Spirit saying and pointing to as the path to victory? How is/has He been speaking to you?

I close with another theme in my own life. I know He has called me to His word and I know it well. However, when I listen to a message from a teacher or preacher, I find myself constantly assessing what they say in relation to scripture. I don’t have an off button for this function! My internal, and sometimes external response, used to be judgement. At present the assessing theme is still there but over time in paying attention to the Spirit my assessing has matured to following up to connect with the person if that is an option or praying for them. He has turned my weakness into a strength through His grace. Let’s all cooperate with His grace to see our themes redeemed.

Seeing His Heart

One of the places I have been reading is Ezekiel. I assume that most of us would not read chapter 16 and find great encouragement in it. Here we have Yahweh labeling Jerusalem, more specifically the inhabitants, in some very unflattering ways. In fact, the descriptions of pending judgement and the reasons for it are more than unflattering, they describe a perverse and rebellious group of people, a people who have despised and rejected love and mercy. What is most interesting is how the chapter ends.

62 “And I will establish My covenant with you. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, 63 that you may remember and be ashamed, and never open your mouth anymore because of your shame, when I provide you an atonement for all you have done,” says the Lord God.’” Ezekiel 16:62–63 (NKJV)

In spite of all of their sin and rebellion, Yahweh affirms that as part of establishing His covenant He will provide atonement for them. What this really tells us is about His heart! Many view the Old Testament (OT) as Law and the New Testament (NT) as grace, as we see in John.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John 1:14, 17 (NKJV)

Jesus embodied grace and truth in His incarnation. However, that doesn’t mean it was absent in the OT era. The purpose of the Law was to bring us to Jesus.

21 Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. 22 But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. Galatians 3:21–24 (NKJV)

While we clearly have the Law in the OT. Paul tells us why it came about.

19 What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. Galatians 3:19 (NKJV)

The original plan was relationship, and after the fall in Genesis 3 when we read further, we still see the pattern of Yahweh seeking relationship. The pattern is there with Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and continues. He always wants obedience, but His desire is that it would flow from a heart of love not a fear of punishment. Hence the ending of Ezekiel 16.  

While we clearly see grace and truth in the NT, when we look closely, we see it in the OT as well. The bottom line – Yahweh is always seeking to draw us into relationship and to have us draw on His atoning grace. That is His heart.  

Exercising Authority

Authority in Christ is a scriptural concept and here we will look at an aspect of how to exercise it in our lives. Consider the following exclamations, “I can’t believe it!” or, “Unbelievable.” At some point in time most of us have uttered one of these expressions or something similar. Our utterance may be connected to terrible unexpected news, like the sudden demise of someone we knew or it may be great news that a couple has just become engaged or the wife is pregnant and expecting. It could also be that someone who was hardened against the gospel has now become a Christian.

Whatever the case, the expression generally conveys shock, a sense of something that doesn’t seem quite real, making it hard to believe or implausible. Yet even if something is implausible it is not impossible. I am confident that over time all of us have changed our beliefs about something. Here we are going to look at that process and how it relates to exercising our authority in Christ.

A term that describes our ability or capacity to believe something is ‘plausibility structure.’ A simple definition comes from philosopher J. P. Moreland, “A person’s plausibility structure is the set of ideas the person either is or is not willing to entertain as possibly true.”[1] I will expand a bit. We all hold ideas in our mind about what is and is not possible. They help shape our worldview, the lens through which we view and interpret reality. What is believable or plausible is not determined by reality but by how we view reality, including the spiritual realm.

We can move beyond definitions and apply this idea to our prayer lives regarding the efficacy of our prayers. Our beliefs about prayer are firmly tied to our plausibility structures and our worldview – both of which we can change. A good starting point is reflecting on whether we believe our prayers make a difference. If we do believe our prayers are making a difference and we are seeing results, great. If not then let’s hold our plausibility structure in this area up to the light of scripture and examine it. To do so we will look at an aspect of what scripture has to teach about authority, more specifically spiritual authority, so that where needed we can shift our views to align them with scripture. To explore how we exercise authority we will look at relational versus positional authority.

There has been much teaching in recent decades on our position in Christ and our relationship with Him. What I have never heard discussed is the difference between positional authority and relational authority. We all have a measure of positional authority by virtue of our relationship with Jesus. However, more importantly we need to develop relational authority. This idea developed in me over time through my leadership work in various roles. Yes, it is scriptural, and we will get to that. Over the years, many times I said to my staff and colleagues, “If all we have is positional authority, we don’t have any. We need relational authority.” I will explain. When I had a position of authority at work, I could direct my staff to engage in specific tasks within their scope of work as outlined in their job description. However, my positional authority didn’t determine how they did the work or the attitude they held. They could have done it begrudgingly and resented me all the while. So yes, I did have positional authority. However, what had much greater influence on how they did their work was the relationship I had with them. This didn’t mean we had to be friends. It did mean developing a relationship where I was available to provide support, develop mutual respect and create an atmosphere conducive to them doing their job well. My positional authority gave me the responsibility to create relational authority so that work was done well.

Now we apply this to our authority in Christ in prayer. We can place demands on the Lord, but Paul told us in Galatians that what counts is ‘faith working through love,’ (Galatians 5:6), which implies a relationship. Paul’s statement is relational not positional. If I want to see greater results in prayer then I need to cultivate a deeper relationship with the one to whom I am praying!

Jesus presented it this way,

7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. John 15:7–8 (NKJV)

14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. John 15:14–15 (NKJV)

Coming back to plausibility structures and our worldview – do we see ourselves as Jesus’ friends? Have we cultivated that relationship so that we can have confidence in our authority in Christ? Are our prayers in line with His word? My desire is that we would come before the throne of grace and see our city and communities changed. We can do that if are His friends and see ourselves that way. John said it like this.

14 Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him. 1 John 5:14–15 (NKJV)

If we are in this place great! If not let us come back to some other things Jesus told us.

29 Then He touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith let it be to you.” Matthew 9:29 (NKJV)

Jesus said we would receive based on our faith. If we struggle with our faith, if our plausibility structure doesn’t include answers to prayer then let’s join in with the prayers of a desperate father.

23 Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” Mark 9:23–24 (NKJV)

Jesus, may our unbelief be transformed to faith! May we live in relational circles and communities seeing Your kingdom come and Your will done!

[1] Moreland, J.P.. Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul (p. 56). The Navigators. Kindle Edition.

In His Image Part 4

The final aspect of being made in His image that we will look at is fellowship and communion, something the rest of the creation that we observe does not have. That is, animals cannot commune and fellowship with God. Angels can to an extent commune and interact but they lack something found in the new creation, Jesus’ nature (2 Corinthians 5:17, 21). All of this is rooted in something that we may not think about often, or ever, communion and fellowship originate and take place within the Godhead. As believers we are called into an intimate communion and fellowship with the Godhead (2 Corinthians 13:14, 2 Peter 1: 4, 1 John 1:3) but only because that is something that eternally pre-existed within the Godhead.

We see this fellowship in Jesus’ teaching and high priestly prayer in John. In His teaching and prayer Jesus referenced the love between the Father and Himself and the role of the Spirit.

20 At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. John 14:20 (NKJV)

31 But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do. Arise, let us go from here. John 14:31 (NKJV)

9 “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. John 15:9–10 (NKJV)

26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. John 15:26 (NKJV)

13 However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. 15 All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you. John 16:13–15 (NKJV)

28 I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.” John 16:28 (NKJV)

Implicit in these verses is the fellowship between the three persons of the Godhead. Being made in His image we are called to enter in and participate in this eternal fellowship. We do that by fixing the gaze of our hearts upon Jesus. Jesus and Paul expressed the same truth, the same glorious opportunity, in similar ways.

24 “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. 26 And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” John 17:24–26 (NKJV)

 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)

Jesus prayed that as His followers, as those made in His image, we would behold His glory! Paul was simply echoing that in 2 Corinthians but making it explicit that it is an opportunity that lies before us in this life. This is available to us and as we by faith fix the gaze of our hearts upon Jesus, we are transformed from the inside out! We experience what Paul presented as his great apostolic heart cry in his first letter, the forming of Christ within us (Galatians 4:19). This is truly the culmination of being made in His image. A foretaste and the fullness when we step from time into eternity (1 John 3:2).