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).

In His Image Part 3

I began this series sharing that as image bearers we have a responsibility to represent Yahweh on earth. That is the main idea of being an image bearer. I also looked at how even after the fall of Adam and Eve scripture still presents us as being made in His image. I then moved to looking at how we are called to use our minds to bear His image. Now as we dig a little deeper, here is a passage that apparently muddies the waters. A passage we will explore in the broader New Testament context.

47 The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man. 1 Corinthians 15:47–49 (NKJV)

What Paul is referring to here is the idea of wearing or carrying an image. We ‘wear’ the image of the first Adam as fallen and sinful in our humanity. In the resurrection we will ‘wear’ the image of the second Adam, Jesus. John put it this way.

2 Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. 1 John 3:2–3 (NKJV)

For me the danger in accepting this image idea without exploration is that we put wearing Jesus’ image off into the future, taking place at our resurrection or translation. While that is inherent in the language of both Paul and John, both are referring to an ultimate consummation. Paul in particular calls us in our life on earth to begin the process now.

14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. Romans 13:14 (NKJV)

27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Galatians 3:27 (NKJV)

19 My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you, Galatians 4:19 (NKJV)

20 But you have not so learned Christ, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: 22 that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:20–24 (NKJV)

These verses all refer to our responsibility as image bearers to bear the divine image here and now. We do that by pursing a relationship with Jesus, more specifically an intimate relationship with Him where we hear His voice and heart. What unclutters our life to hear His voice and heart is what Paul wrote, the putting off or removal of our former conduct. It is an ongoing process. We put off some old behaviour, we are renewed in the spirit of our mind, we think differently about it, and then drawing on His grace we put on new conduct – we walk like Jesus in righteousness and holiness.

            This means letting go of our pre-conversion way of thinking and acting, believing by faith that we can behave in a different way and receiving His grace through leaning into the moment by moment leading of the Spirit, actually living in a different way. If we maintain soft hearts, we can hear His voice of guidance and correction. Let’s pray that we individually and corporately do that.  

In His Image Part 2

In my last post I referenced being made in His image as Yahweh’s image bearers and I referenced capacity. That is what I want to focus on here – capacity. We are told the following in scripture.

37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:37–40 (NKJV)

Here Jesus is quoting from a combination of Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 and telling us what we are called to do with the capacity we have been given.

5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:5 (NKJV)

18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:18 (NKJV)

            Jesus’ instruction here is wholistic and not a new command for His hearers. They were familiar with the exhortation, as I am sure we are as well. We too have a responsibility and calling to love Yahweh with all of our being. Sadly, one of the neglected aspects in the broader evangelical church is the mind. We can be passionate about worship, that is enjoyable. We can express love with our body in activities like worship and service. We exercise our will in these activities. Yet we are also called to love Him with our mind.   

Loving Yahweh with our mind is something that Paul stressed and said that as believers it is key in our spiritual growth and development.

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)

1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1–2 (ESV)

A note here for those of you who may be inclined to do some research, the Greek words for mind in Matthew 22 and Romans 12 are not the same word, (dianoia and nous respectively), as Matthew and Paul were different writers, dianoia and nous are however synonyms and both refer to our mind, understanding or disposition. Now back to what Paul is teaching us. We are to present our bodies, our physical faculties and attributes to God. I provided two translations for the following reason. While ‘reasonable service’ in the NKJV is the more literal rendering, many translators believe the intended meaning is what we have in the ESV, ‘spiritual worship.’ Putting the two ideas together, Paul is saying here that presenting our bodies simply makes sense as an act of worship. He then informs us that the use of our body will undergo a transformation when our mind is renewed.

            Paul’s idea of the importance of our minds is not new. In the Old Testament we have Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes referred to as ‘wisdom literature.’ There are many exhortations to thinking throughout scripture and if we never had people who valued the use of their minds in the service of God, we would not have a bible or the scholarly work on the original languages and the resulting translations we have today.  

            We can thus conclude that not only are our mental capacities a gift from Yahweh, He wants us to use them in His service. This means understanding His word, understanding what the gospel message is and how to present it. It means being willing to think deeply about important spiritual and cultural matters. This is particularly relevant when our present culture tends to elevate feeling over thinking in engaging in many types of ‘unreasonable service’ in the things they worship. Which is not what we as the church should be either modeling or following.

            To take the place God has designed for us in our culture we need to use our minds to glorify Him in our words and actions. He wants us to represent, or re-present, Him well and that includes accepting our responsibility as image bearers to use our intellectual capacity well in the furtherance of His kingdom and for His glory, whatever our vocation and calling in life.

            A final note. My purpose here is encouragement not guilt. As I pointed out at the beginning, He wants each of us to use our minds based on the capacity He has given us. For me that means constantly reading and researching and seeking to understand theological and spiritual truth. For others it may mean meditating on a particular verse or passage of scripture for an extended period of time. We are not all called to teach, we are all called to learn.

In His Image Part 1

Scripture tells as that we are made in the image of God and have authority or dominion over material creation.

26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Genesis 1:26–27 (NKJV)

We have two words, image and likeness. Now whatever else this passage means; it does not mean that we physically look like God because He is spirit (John 4:24). It does mean that we are His image bearers.

1 This is the book of the genealogy of Adam. In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. 2 He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind in the day they were created. 3 And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. Genesis 5:1–3 (NKJV)

6 “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man. Genesis 9:6 (NKJV)

Through Moses, Yahweh affirms the importance of us being made in His image and likeness both at creation and after the fall in the garden.

           Given that it isn’t about physical image and likeness we need to dig a bit into what it does mean, then look at how we apply this reality in our day to day lives. I confess, historically I looked at the idea of being Yahweh’s image bearer in terms of things like intelligence, rationality and similar attributes. These all obviously come from Yahweh, but what about the fertilized egg in the womb? If these ideas are true, they are only potentially possible at this point in life so the fertilized egg would not be made in His image. While I don’t believe that to be true, it does cause us to dig a little deeper into what image actually means. After all, if I am made in His image and as a result of some accident, I am brain dead in a coma am I now no longer made in His image?   

           We may understand our role as image bearers better if instead of looking at intelligence or our ability to communicate, we recognize ourselves as His representatives. Adam and Eve’s role in terms of dominion was as representatives of Yahweh on earth. Bearing Yahweh’s image is about responsibility not capacity. It is what we are as humanity. Thus, the emerging child in the womb and the dying elderly person carry this same responsibility, to be carried out according to their capacity. My grandson is nearing two. He is not responsible to drive his parents to work. He is however an image bearer of Yahweh and as his capacity to exercise that responsibility grows so too does his responsibility to exercise it wisely.

            I think this is reflected in Matthew 6.

9 In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 6:9–10 (NKJV)

To understand how this applies to being image bearers we need to understand the role of angels in the heavenly realm. We are His image bearers on earth, created to do His bidding and exercise His dominion here. As we see in scripture, angels have that function in the spirit realm.

20 Bless the Lord, you His angels, Who excel in strength, who do His word, Heeding the voice of His word. Psalm 103:20 (NKJV)

When we understand that image bearing involves responsibility first and the exercise of it is tied to capacity we can understand ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ The angels don’t debate Yahweh’s will or go on strike, they heed His commands as they bear His image in the spirit realm. When we pray ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ we are to do the same, carry out His will. I think many of us expect to see the conditions on earth as they are in heaven, which will only happen when His kingdom is fully consummated here. In the interim, I think what we are really praying for is His people to walk in obedience and carry out His will, seeing His kingdom manifest ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’

            Knowing this, let’s go do that.

PS There is a growing promotion and acceptance of theistic evolution in the church. This idea is at odds with scripture as it teaches that some type of humanoid eventually became human but scripture teaches that we were created in His image and animals were not. It also fails science and observation, but while I have researched these ideas, they are not my area of expertise.

How Worldviews Shift – Part 4

I close this series looking at what is generally the neglected aspect of evangelical faith, orthopraxy. The word ortho means right, straight, upright or correct. The orthodontist straightens teeth. As can be seen in the verses below, Jesus seeks to do the same; straightening, setting things in right order, making crooked places straight.

4 Every valley shall be exalted And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough places smooth; Isaiah 40:4 (NKJV)

2 ‘I will go before you And make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the gates of bronze And cut the bars of iron. Isaiah 45:2 (NKJV)

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. 5 Every valley shall be filled And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough ways smooth; 6 And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” Luke 3:4–6 (NKJV)

The ministry of John the Baptist was one aspect of making things straight. He prepared people for Jesus ministry by calling them to repentance, a change of mind and heart, that led to a change in behaviour, as John put it in the first phrase of Luke 3:8, “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance.” Jesus continued this. His charter for how to behave under the authority of the kingdom of God is found in Matthew 5-7, what we refer to as The Sermon on the Mount.

Theologically and practically, this enters our lives when we embrace both of the ‘orthos’ that we have in the church – orthodoxy (right doctrine) and orthpraxy (right practice or behaviour). In general, as the church, we are quite good at ensuring at least some level of alignment with orthodoxy, not so much orthopraxy. So here is a way we can each do our own brief self assessment.

I closed my last post with a worldview test we could take, a test about orthodoxy, believing the right things. That is important, but if our right beliefs don’t also produce right behaviour there is something deficient in our beliefs, or in how we view the need to integrate them into our lives. Thus, here is a simple test of orthopraxy, right behaviour followed by some brief worldview options to reflect on. I have removed the rating scale so you can simply use each statement as a reflective question.

  • I give regularly to support the ministry of the church.
  • I regularly read the Bible and desire to align my behavior with what it says.
  • I regularly pray for myself, my family and others.
  • I have a sense of what Jesus has called me to do in my daily life and seek to be faithful to His call.
  • I regularly speak to others about my faith and the importance of knowing Jesus.

If we engage in all of these things we are engaging in a measure of orthopraxy. Lastly, I offer a reflective piece on different worldview options.

  • I believe in what I can see, feel and touch. These things are what are truly real.
  • I believe there are influences beyond what we can see, feel and touch that have an effect on my behavior and that of others.
  • I believe that truth is truth no matter where I am in the world and that I am objective in what I believe.  
  • I believe that my life experiences and culture give me my truth and you have your truth.
  • I believe that while my experience and perspective is subjective and different than yours that truth is objective and can be known.

As you consider these statements which do you see as scriptural? What leads you to believe that? Here are my answers.  

  • The first statement reflects materialism.
  • The second statement reflects a scriptural worldview at best and a least a belief in an unseen or spiritual realm.
  • The third statement reflects a scriptural worldview.
  • The fourth statement reflects post modernism.
  • The fifth statement reflects a scriptural worldview.

How Worldviews Shift – Part 3

            In my last post I noted that I would look at the process in personally shifting our worldviews. While Peter’s worldview shift required a dramatic intervention, as did Paul’s initial change, his ‘Road to Damascus’ experience, they needn’t be that dramatic or intense. Paul and Peter’s were thrust upon them. I suggest we embrace the option of choosing ours and here I lay out how.

            As I highlighted in my worldview book, our tendency is to ‘think with rather than about our worldview.’ Essentially, ‘we don’t know what we don’t know.’ While that is obvious, moving beyond it requires intention and effort on our part. I am going to go a bit deeper than we usually do in normal discourse to highlight this issue. Presently in our Western culture there is a tendency to highlight feelings over facts. The absurdity of this can be seen in the sadly popular idea of ‘speaking our truth.’ Truth is something that coheres with reality but we have undergone a cultural shift where many have relabelled their experiences and perspectives as ‘truth.’ The precursor to this was the idea ‘that may be true for you but it’s not true for me.’ Perspectives have been labeled truth, which is a falsehood. We may believe a falsehood to be true but that won’t magically make it so.

            In the cultural quagmire that we find ourselves in it can be difficult to discern the right road and recognize the impact our culture has on shaping our worldview. To engage in thinking about our worldview we begin looking at the ideas of presuppositions and plausibility structures. Presuppositions are part of our worldview, ideas that we hold to be true. Plausibility structures are ideas we hold about what is possible or probable. Here are scriptural examples of both presuppositions and plausibility structures. We begin with Paul and then move to a distraught father.

3 As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. 4 Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” 6 So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” Acts 9:3–6 (NKJV)

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)

Paul believed that in persecuting the Christians he was doing God a favour when in fact his presupposition, what he held to be true, was the opposite of reality. He was even daily praying to the one he was persecuting! This is an example of someone believing something to be true that was in fact false. The belief system Paul was persecuting was in fact the solution, not the problem he believed it to be. The distraught father held that it was plausible for healing to take place, he just needed to see it happen for his son to shift from the plausible to the actual.

            In both cases a worldview shift took place. Personally, I have gone through many over the years. I believe that is because of two factors. One, I have pursued truth and understanding in and of the scriptures. Two, I am open to being wrong. I used to tell my staff at work to feel free to challenge my thinking because I had no illusion that I was right all the time. Many did and collectively it led to better decisions. Yet, this wasn’t always the case, when I was younger, I used to believe that there was the way I did things then a number of wrong ways!

            The shift for me was a combination of life experience and reflection. Which brings us to how we shift our worldviews. Paul didn’t recognize that his worldview was wrong until confronted by a reality he was denying. Yet had he reflected and studied the scriptures with an open rather than an angry heart (Acts 9:1-2) he may not have needed to be confronted by Jesus on the road to Damascus, he could have had the same experience as the Bereans he later shared the gospel with.

10 Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. 12 Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men. Acts 17:10–12 (NKJV)

            If we want to align our worldview with the view of scripture, which should be what we all desire, then we need to take the time and reflect on what the scriptures teach. For my worldview book I developed a Worldview Assessment Tool with a rating scale so we could do just that. I won’t reproduce all of it here, however the questions below are a useful tool for our own reflection and assessment. I introduced the idea with a couple of reflective questions followed by a statement of faith and some further questions to assess how we practice and live out our worldview. I encourage you to set aside a bit of time and go through this process. If you find that you need to better align your worldview with scripture, I encourage you to put forth the effort to do so. Keep in mind that part of your worldview is the presuppositions you hold (for example, do you believe the scriptures are your guide for faith and practice?) and your plausibility structures (do you believe it is possible to live by scriptural values?) that affect your choices. We begin here with two reflective questions.

  • Have we chosen our worldview and values or absorbed them?
  • Are we drinking from the cup of the Lord or the cup of our culture? 

Below is a generic Evangelical Statement of Faith from the National Association of Evangelicals.  

National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) Statement of Faith

  • We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.
  • We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
  • We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
  • We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.
  • We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.
  • We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.[i]

Reflective Questions regarding the NAE statement that can be used by an individual or discussed in a group.

1) Do you believe these statements to be true?

2) If you answered yes, is there a gap between your beliefs and behaviour compared to one or more of the statements in the Statement of Faith?

3) If there is a gap, do you want to close this gap?

4) If you answered yes to 3

A) What do you need to let go of and leave behind?

B) What steps do you need to take?

C) What will it look like when you have succeeded?

Take some time and reflect, imagine the gap has been closed, now list the steps you took to close it.

[i] Accessed February 29, 2020

How Worldviews Shift – Part 2

            Peter’s worldview shift was comprised of three events. The first was his vision, the second the visitors who confirmed his vision and last the outpouring of the Spirit on the Gentiles as Peter shared the gospel. As previously noted, even though Jesus instructed all of the apostles to preach the gospel to everyone everywhere, their worldview filter basically said, ‘the Jews everywhere.’ The Jews in general did not mingle with Gentiles, particularly in spiritual/religious matters, as they considered them unclean. Thus, Peter who was a religious and cultural Jew, stilled followed the Mosaic dietary laws, as reflected in his response to Jesus in his vision, and kept himself separate from Gentiles.  

9 The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. 10 Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance 11 and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. 13 And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” 15 And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” 16 This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again. 17 Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate. Acts 10:9–17 (NKJV)

Applying the common process of Revelation, Interpretation and Application, we will look at what happened to Peter. The revelation was the vision he saw while in a trance. It was repeated three times for emphasis. Peter was adamant that as an observant Jew he had never eaten any of the unclean animals on the sheet. The Lord said that he was not to call common or unclean what He had cleansed. Peter then tried to puzzle out the interpretation.

19 While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are seeking you. 20 Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.” Acts 10:19–20 (NKJV)

Here we have a vision with an event repeated three times and as Peter begins to think about it three men arrive at the door, not a coincidence, particularly given that they were three unclean Gentiles. The Spirit told Peter they were there and he was to go with them. When they shared their story and told Peter of the angel visiting Cornelius, he invited them in as guests and they spent the night (Acts 10:20-23). Peter now had the interpretation and application of his vision. He was to fellowship with these Gentiles and to go and meet with Cornelius and company. Peter described it this way.

28 Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. Acts 10:28 (NKJV)

34 Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. 35 But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. Acts 10:34–35 (NKJV)

            As we reflect on these events it is obvious that Peter went through a worldview shift. His interpretive lens changed and he now saw the Gentiles as potential recipients of the gospel. He understood that his vision was about fellowship with Gentiles not forbidden food.  

            Could things have turned out differently? Potentially if Peter had not made the shift that he had. Granted, it was a pretty dramatic series of events that created this shift but Peter had seen many things that shifted his worldview while walking with Jesus. This was the latest and a crucial one in the spread of the gospel. These shifts often take time to consolidate, as is evident in later events in Galatians 2:11-17 where Paul publicly rebuked Peter for breaking fellowship with Gentile believers. Yet over time Peter became consistent in his faith as we read of no further issues and we find Peter defending Gentile inclusion at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:6-11.

In my next post we will look change our focus and look at the process of personally shifting our worldview.