Obscured Vision

I have been slowly going through the entire bible. I started in January 2017 with a plan to read through the bible in a year. This has shifted to my current plan to instead get through it in two years, which I will do. I have been reading through it slowly. I don’t follow some well known plan but do have my own method. I treat the Gospels and Acts as a section and the rest of the NT as a section. So I have gone through those sections more than once in this timeframe. For the OT I started Genesis forward and Job forward. I am now at Ezra and the last few of the Minor Prophets. In addition I have been reading through Proverbs every month. I could have crammed and completed this in a year but I have been focused on going more slowly and thoughtfully. I find I get more out of the scriptures using this approach. Small bites are easier to chew and digest than big ones.

Going through this process I saw something in 2 Chronicles. I never saw in previous readings that Uzziah never again sat on the throne after his transgression with the incense and that Jotham reigned while Uzziah lived out the remainder of his life primarily in isolation. I am going to look at two passages, 2 Chronicles 26 and Isaiah 6. You may find the connection between them interesting.

The ‘he’ in verse 16 below refers to Uzziah. Uzziah was a good king in Judah up to this point. Isaiah was an advisor and probably his friend. Isaiah had a decades long ministry and prophesied across the reign of four kings, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah (Is. 1:1)

16  But when he was strong his heart was lifted up, to his destruction, for he transgressed against the LORD his God by entering the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. 2 Chronicles 26:16 (NKJV)

19  Then Uzziah became furious; and he had a censer in his hand to burn incense. And while he was angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead, before the priests in the house of the LORD, beside the incense altar. 2 Chronicles 26:19 (NKJV)

When Uzziah was seeking to burn incense and the priests opposed him he lost his temper and refused to back down. His transgression, rooted in his pride, resulted in the Lord giving him leprosy until the day of his death. In Kings he is referred to as Azariah. Once he became a leper he dwelt in an isolated house and his son Jotham sat on the throne in his place until his death (2 Kings 15:15, 2 Chron. 26:21). There is a spiritual principle. If the enemy cannot oppose our work for the Lord, which he could not do with Uzziah, then he gets behind us and pushes us beyond the boundaries the Lord has set. He whispers in our ear and appeals to any root of pride or insecurity in our hearts and speaks to what we could or should be doing. In this case the reign of Uzziah had been blessed but here he presumed he could take on an office that was not his, the priestly role.

His vision was obscured by his pride. What of Isaiah?

1  In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. 2  Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3  And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!” 4  And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. 5  So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts.” 6  Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. 7  And he touched my mouth with it, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, And your sin purged.” Isaiah 6:1-7 (NKJV)

I have mentioned this before in my writing. This was not Isaiah’s prophetic call. He was already functioning in the prophetic office. When he had this encounter with Yahweh he realized that his vision was also obscured. Lepers were required to cry out ‘unclean, unclean’ in public so no one would have contact with them. King Uzziah would have suffered this indignity. Isaiah and the nation knew of Uzziah’s pride and failure but he was now gone and a new era had begun (Proverbs 14:34) and Jotham was a godly king. Yet when the veil between the natural and spiritual realm was removed something that was obscuring Isaiah’s vision and perspective was also removed. Here Isaiah saw the one on whose behalf he was speaking. How did he respond? Isaiah saw himself and the nation as being people of unclean lips compared to the transcendent holiness he encountered and recognized the need to be cleansed. His pride was consumed by the coal from the altar. It didn’t; burn Isaiah’s lips, it burned away any confidence in himself.

What of us? Do we see the problem as ‘out there,’ the Uzziah’s in life? Is the problem our political leaders? Our supervisor at work? These issues are real but even more real is our need for cleansing like Isaiah, having a coal from the altar touch our lips and cleanse our hearts. If we have had a cleansing encounter we are ready to speak with authority and power as Isaiah did. Perhaps Isaiah had other encounters he never recorded. I do not know. I do know I can remember where I was driving in my car decades ago when I began to pray for the fear of the Lord in my life because I saw it as a lack. I still need it.

The Living Word Part 2

How do the scriptures come alive in us as a ‘living word?’ That the scriptures are living and powerful is an established fact, more real than the ground we stand upon because He said it is true.

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)

Sit with this fact. God’s word is living and powerful.

Given this truth we need it to live in our experience. We do that by actually believing it and declaring the truth of His word until we experience the life of His word moving in us. One example is the song below. The song begins saying, “I am no victim. I live with a vision. I’m covered by the force of love. Covered in my Saviour’s blood.” While I would prefer that the words say the ‘power of love’ the idea is the same. Jesus, out of love shed His blood on the cross. His blood paid the price for my transgressions and was poured out on the mercy seat in heaven (Heb. 9:12, 20-28). The scriptures say His blood is able to cleanse our consciences from dead works (Heb. 9:14). Speaking of a new and deeper encounter with His living word.

Here are more words from the song, “I am who He says I am. He is who He says He is. I’m defined by all His promises. Shaped by every word He says.” Are our lives defined by His promises and shaped by His word? If yes, then no matter how we feel any given day or moment we have His Word living in us.

I Am No Victim by Kristene Dimarco.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxmDMqc15Ak

 

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?

 

Choosing Life Part 2

Choosing life is all about what? I referenced the need to choose to keep partaking of His life in our spirits or leaning on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. However, if we are to continually partake of the Tree of Life how do we do that? Malachi provides an exhortation.

15  But did He not make them one, Having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, And let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. Malachi 2:15 (NKJV)

I have highlighted five words here. We are to take heed to our spirits. When we do so we walk in life. Yet what does that look like? Have you ever planned something and had a nagging sense of unease about it, then felt a need to change direction at the last minute or moved ahead and it simply didn’t work out? It may have made good logical sense but there was something ‘off’ in it. That is the Holy Spirit nudging us from within and trying to get our attention. Another scripture that supports this idea is below.

27  The spirit of a man is the lamp of the LORD, Searching all the inner depths of his heart. Proverbs 20:27 (NKJV)

The Holy Spirit moves within our spirit shining light on the direction He wants us to go. I am not negating planning. That is wise and practical, yet at the same time rather than making plans and asking our Father to bless them is it not wiser to include Him in the planning and seek to get internally quiet and hear His voice so we are being led by Him? The NT strongly reinforces this message.

16  I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. Galatians 5:16 (NKJV)

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

22  Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, 23  having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, 1 Peter 1:22-23 (NKJV)

20  But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things. 1 John 2:20 (NKJV)

27  But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him. 1 John 2:27 (NKJV)

The message in these verses is the same as that in Malachi, we need to pay attention to and be led by the Holy Spirit by paying attention to our spirit. The one piece that may be unclear is 1 John 2:27. John is writing a letter teaching his readers something and in so doing says they don’t need anyone to teach them. Seems to be a little confusion! There isn’t any. John was writing combating some form of Gnosticism. The basic teaching was that to experience God you needed to go through someone who was at a higher ‘spiritual’ level, enlightened if you will. John’s teaching point was that all believers have access to be led by the Holy Spirit. So, if we are not already doing so let’s develop the habit of taking heed to our spirit, which I believe is becoming increasingly important in this hour.

The above verses are examples. In my next post I will dig into a more extensive passage on this issue, Romans 8.

Choosing Life Part 1

What role did the first major choice in our ancestors’ lives point to in our lives? When we look we see the first major choice was in Eden.

9  And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 2:9 (NKJV)

This event set up a pattern in the scriptures in relation to choice. We all know what happened, Adam and Eve both ate of the wrong tree. They chose knowledge over trust. More fundamentally they chose the knowledge of good and evil over receiving life.

In Hebrew the word translated as ‘midst’ in Genesis 2:9 doesn’t just mean the tree of life was somewhere in the middle of the garden, it bisected the garden. The implication is that it was the centrepiece. The idea presented here is that both trees, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil were there together. Clearly this was the point of choice. This implication is clearer in the NLT.

9  The LORD God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground—trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit. In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 2:9 (NLT2)

Our Father continually gives us choice.  We may wonder why but really it is because He wants us to choose Him because to choose Him is to choose life. The first choice was the tree of life or the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That is still the choice we each must make many times each day. Those who have not been born again live from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Their choices are living from the good or evil side of the tree. Many seek salvation by climbing the good side of the tree. However, no matter how high we climb, climbing the wrong tree will not lead us to Jesus.

Once we have partaken of the tree of life in conversion, which is Jesus, we still must choose whether to keep partaking of His life in our spirits or lean on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. More to come on this.

 

 

How Am I Looking? What is our View of Others?

What is the favourite verse of those who are not Christians but have some familiarity with Christianity? What I hear quoted most frequently is Matthew 7:1, usually just the first two words.

1  “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Matthew 7:1 (NKJV)

A number of years ago three of us were having coffee at work (okay, I was having tea). Two of us were believers, the third commented on someone we knew now living with her boyfriend and there plan to get married in the future. I commented that they had it backwards and needed to do the wedding first. She said, “It’s not our place to judge.” That is, she referenced Matthew 7:1. Yet what had she just done? She had judged my view as wrong and hers as right.

We are always assessing things and judging them right or wrong. The liberals judge the conservatives for being too conservative and the conservatives judge the liberals for being too liberal. It reminds me of a little cartoon I used to use in teaching conflict resolution. It was the little ants and the child ant asks his father what a stereotype is and the dad ant responds, “It’s a label we put on someone so we can hate them without having to understand them.”

So, when we take a closer ‘look’ at Matthew 7:1 what is Jesus actually saying to us? What is the context? Jesus statement comes as part of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). A few verses later Jesus references the need to remove the plank in our own eye before seeking to remove the speck in someone else’s. The idea of not judging is to not pass sentence on or condemn someone. We also have Jesus comment in John.

24  “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”  John 7:24 (NKJV)

Here Jesus addresses the religious leaders who condemn Him for healing on the Sabbath while they circumcise on the Sabbath. His point is that they miss the heart of the law, the spirit, while still violating the letter and passing judgment on Him for doing what they are doing.

So how do we look at others? Jesus is clear that our heart approach is to be one of love. That does not mean condoning sin. In John 8:3-11 we have the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery. Now there was hypocrisy here (think judgement) because those who brought the woman violated the Law of Moses by not also bringing the man. Jesus did two things in this passage. He first pointed out that there was sin in the lives of the accusers (Jesus judged their hearts because He knew them) and after telling the woman He did not condemn her (pass sentence on her) Jesus told her to not continue in her sin. That is Jesus was clear that her behaviour was wrong but He was giving her forgiveness.

So what does this mean for us? We are not to pass sentence on others because we do not know their hearts. We are not called to go around pointing out all the sin we see, that is a wrong focus. We are however called to respond and we cannot condone sinful behaviour. So how are we to respond? Paul tells us, we are to respond out of a heart of love and compassion recognizing that we could fall in the same way.

1  Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. 2  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3  For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Galatians 6:1-3 (NKJV)

What is the law of Christ? Jesus summed up all the Law and Prophets in a paragraph.

29  Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. 30  And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31  And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31 (NKJV)

Paul further condensed it.

10  Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:10 (NKJV)

As did James.

8  If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; James 2:8 (NKJV)

We are to walk in love toward others, which means helping people deal with their sinful behaviour through repentance, embracing Jesus forgiveness and supporting one another to walk uprightly before our Father. This means not judging hearts but helping people deal with their behaviour and looking to them to help us with ours.

As a fellow shared with me one day at the fitness centre, he doesn’t trust those who don’t have a limp (he was referencing Jacob in his wrestling with God and coming out broken). So, are we viewing others as being just like us, broken people who need grace, forgiveness and support?

How am I looking?

How Am I Looking?

Have you ever considered that what we see depends on how we look? I’m not talking about what we see in the mirror, but how we receive from scripture and our interactions within our environment. I remember once listening to a John Paul Jackson message and he said after a teaching someone came up and said, “What bible are you using?” John told him it was the NKJV version and the fellow responded something like, “I didn’t mean that. I read the same bible as you but don’t see the things you see.”

Let me give you an example. What was the first instance of food being multiplied in scripture? Did you think of Jesus and the loaves and fishes? Would it surprise you to learn it happened in Elisha’s ministry?

42  Then a man came from Baal Shalisha, and brought the man of God bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley bread, and newly ripened grain in his knapsack. And he said, “Give it to the people, that they may eat.” 43  But his servant said, “What? Shall I set this before one hundred men?” He said again, “Give it to the people, that they may eat; for thus says the LORD: ‘They shall eat and have some left over.’ “ 44  So he set it before them; and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the LORD. 2 Kings 4:42-44 (NKJV)

This is the first example I see in scripture of food being multiplied. My point is not how clever I am in finding this. I have read it more than a few times but never made this connection. When reading it this summer the light went on. Why didn’t I see it before? I didn’t expect to find it here because I knew it only happened in Jesus ministry.

Our expectations tend to set the level of our faith. Look at scripture.

1  Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV)

A primary function of faith is bringing reality to things we are hoping for, making them substantive. I am not speaking of some magical process. True faith is tied to expectant hope that is settled and established in our hearts. So, might it be prudent to ask the Holy Spirit to remove the veils from our hearts and minds that keep us from seeing from His perspective?

How are you looking?