A Talking Snake?

If you know your bible you obviously get my reference to Genesis 3. This is our introduction to the serpent in scripture. One of the tools atheists use to mock believers is to derisively refer to the foolishness of believing in a ‘talking snake.’ Holding to the importance and value of scripture and truth I think it is important to have a deeper understanding of the context of Genesis 3 and what happened. Like the atheists, I don’t believe in a snake coming up to Eve for a friendly dialogue.

The context is a good beginning point. The events of Genesis 3 took place in Eden. The rest of the planet was not like Eden, hence the command for humanity to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it (Genesis 1:28). Eden was a garden and when we move forward in scripture, we discover that it was also a mountain (Isaiah 14:13, Ezekiel 28:14). If this is a new thought for you, it highlights the importance the ancient near eastern worldview of the culture in which Genesis was written. In the culture of the day the ‘gods’ lived in gardens and mountains. They were a place of abundance and remoteness. Much of the culture was subsistence based and people saw the ‘gods’ as having a much better life, hence the abundance of the garden and the inaccessibility of the mountain. We also have the reality that the cultural stories were also rooted in something real, creation and the fall.

As I write this I am in the mountains and the serious spring melt has not yet begun. When it does there will be an awful lot of water flowing to the valleys from the mountains. Eden had four rivers flowing out of it (Genesis 2:10). Physically my own view is that the ‘mountain of God’ had the garden at the base. Given that it was made inaccessible after the fall, and later disappeared at the flood, we won’t know in this lifetime. My point is really to place what happened in Genesis 3 within the historical cultural context.

Now, if you delve a little further into the population of the garden, like me, you may have had an image of Eden as a garden that was populated by Adam and Eve and a huge number of birds and animals. This is how I once viewed it with God visiting in the evening to walk and talk with Adam and Eve. The mountain and the garden represented God’s place of government on earth so there was likely a lot more going on then we tend to think. Hang onto your theological hats as I propose something. First some scriptures.

9 “I watched till thrones were put in place, And the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, And the hair of His head was like pure wool. His throne was a fiery flame, Its wheels a burning fire; 10 A fiery stream issued And came forth from before Him. A thousand thousands ministered to Him; Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was seated, And the books were opened. Daniel 7:9–10 (NKJV)

1 After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.” 2 Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. 3 And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. 4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. 5 And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. 6 Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. 7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. 8 The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!” 9 Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: 11 “You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created.” Revelation 4:1–11 (NKJV)

            These two scriptures passages both depict throne room council scenes in heaven and in a limited way describe the myriad supernatural creatures that form Yahweh’s heavenly family and government. If Eden was God’s throne room on earth, then there was likely far more that Adam and Ever were exposed to than just the animals in the garden. Obviously, given their interactions with Yahweh, prior to the fall Adam and Eve could interact with more than the natural realm. While it is unlikely that they saw anything like Daniel and Revelation describe, these things were happening around them and they were likely exposed to other supernatural beings. Which brings us back to the serpent.

We begin to understand the serpent by examining Genesis 3:1.

1 Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” Genesis 3:1 (NKJV)

We have two important words here, serpent and cunning. Before looking at them I want to look at how we read this verse. I think in general when we read ‘any beast of the field’ we think of it as ‘any other beast of the field.’ However, the point being made is that the serpent was more cunning and was different than the beasts of the field. Some bible translations say ‘any other beast…’ but that reflects the theology of the translators not the Hebrew text. We aren’t dealing with a talking snake; we are dealing with a supernatural cunning being that either embodied a serpent or was a luminous being that looked like a serpent. We see echoes and memories of the Genesis event in a number of the surrounding cultures in that in them the serpent was a god or associated with the gods, a tree and wisdom.

The word serpent is nachash and refers to a snake or serpent and has hissing sound at the end of the word, as in the hissing of a snake. The word cunning is aruwm and refers to being cunning or subtle in a negative sense. While we know from Revelation 12:9 and 20:2 that this serpent is Satan, the adversary, all Eve knew was that she was interacting with a divine being who knew things beyond what the creatures of the field knew. My purpose in presenting all of this is twofold. One, there is often more going on in scripture than a casual reading suggests. Two, we need to discern, see the reality that lies behind appearances, and respond accordingly. The serpent’s agenda has not changed throughout human history. He seeks to comes to us and cast doubt on God’s word to make us stumble or rebel in our thoughts and actions. Let’s be alert, discerning and thus confident in His leading as we come to His word and interact with Him in the place of prayer.

Stars?

We are going to look at some reference to stars in the New Testament in terms of what they represent. I think it is easy to miss the point being made if we don’t understand the cultural context.  

29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Matthew 24:29–31 (NKJV)

13 And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Revelation 6:13 (NKJV)

7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, 8 which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 1 Corinthians 2:7–8 (NKJV)

It is easy to see the connection between the Matthew and Revelation references but not so easy to see the connection to 1 Corinthians. We will get there and in doing so we will see an already not yet aspect of the kingdom of God. Below is some information regarding how stars were viewed in the scriptural culture.

Star Worship

In the ancient Near East, stars were often worshiped as divine. Although the book of Deuteronomy condemns star worship as idolatry (Deut 4:19; 17:2–5), other passages seem to indicate that the Israelites practiced star worship at times. For instance, in the eighth century bc, the prophet Amos condemned star worship in the northern kingdom (Amos 5:26). Additionally, King Josiah’s reforms of 621 bc (2 Kgs 23:4–14) addressed star worship in the southern kingdom, which had been promoted by Manasseh (2 Kgs 21:3–5; 2 Chr 33:3). – {Edward W. Watson, “Star,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016}.

            The stars in the Matthew and Revelation quotes represent not physical objects but heavenly beings. In this case heavenly beings in opposition to His purposes. When we move to 1 Corinthians 2 and Paul’s theological perspective, we recognize that Paul is also speaking of heavenly beings when he references the ‘rulers of this age.’ The word translated ‘rulers’ is archon in Greek and refers to someone or something as first in rank or power. While it can be used of human rulers that is not how Paul applies the term. In addition to using it in 1 Corinthians 2 Paul uses it in Ephesians 2:2 when he refers to the ‘prince (archon) of the power of the air.’ It is also clear he is not referring to human rulers in 1 Corinthians as he deals with rulers over the ages, extremely long periods of time.

            Thus far what we have is seeing the stars in Matthew and Revelation refer to heavenly beings as does the term rulers in reference to those who crucified Jesus. Humans carried out the crucifixion but it was initiated by the powers of darkens.

We now turn to the already not yet aspect of this idea of falling stars. These heavenly beings orchestrated Jesus’ crucifixion and to their shock the cross was their downfall. We see this in what Paul says in Colossians.

15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. Colossians 2:15 (NKJV)

The ‘it’ here refers to the cross. Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection broke the power of darkness. However, Jesus then delegated to His church the responsibility to enforce His rule and make disciples from all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). We are called to represent and extend His kingdom until His return.

            The falling stars in Matthew and Revelation, these heavenly beings, were defeated through the cross but still roam the cosmos seeking to destroy the church that Jesus is building. Seeking to prevent their inevitable final destruction. Yet, through these passages we are assured that we will again see them fall, their final fall, at some point in the future. We can be confident of our victory because it is His victory. Jesus has won the battle and will at the end of the age fully enforce His victory.

Whatever we may be facing we know the true source behind troubles in our world and we know that Jesus assures us of the ultimate victory! In the meantime, we are to carry and extend His kingdom wherever we go. Like Jesus let us be ‘about our Father’s business.’

Unscriptural or Unfamiliar

Continuing on the theme of discernment here is a discernment tool the Lord gave to me years ago. I was helping to lead a small group and two friends were going to share with the group that evening on journaling as a way to hear the Lord’s voice. Personally, I have used a journal off and on over the years to record my thoughts. However, I had not used it in the way it was presented that evening nor after the presentation. I did however see it as a useful tool many had used to great effective in their relationship with Jesus.

Having a measure of responsibility for the group I was reflecting on what would be taught as I was driving there with a friend. On the way the Holy Spirit spoke to my spirit and gave me a question to ask the group as an introduction to the teaching. He prompted me to ask the group to reflect on whether what they were about to hear was ‘unscriptural or unfamiliar.’

In the subsequent years I have applied this test regularly and it highlights for me where many run into difficulties. People resist change and new ideas because they like the familiarity of routine, structure and shared worldviews. Routine and structure are good things that help us to organize our lives and move through our days in a somewhat predictable manner. The problem crops up in how we think. In my book, Worldview: The Adventure of Seeing Through Scripture, an idea I highlighted is that we tend to think with instead of about our worldview. Thinking with is fine for our daily activities. Not for more significant issues. Here thinking about needs to be brought into play.

To illustrate the issue, I am part of more than one theological debate group on Facebook. More than once the topic of cessationism (the idea that the spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians 12 ceased with the completion of scripture) has come up in opposition to continuationism (the idea that the spiritual gifts are still active in the church today). I have always been a continuationist and in decades of debating the subject, in person or online, I have never heard a sound scriptural argument for cessationism. Yet in my experience few people change their position. There have been prominent examples like Jack Deere or Sam Storms, both well known theologians and both graduates of the famed Dallas Theological Seminary, which is thoroughly cessationist. Over time they re-examined their views and became continuationists, promoting the use of spiritual gifts.

This leads to the need to look at why others do not make the shift, even in the face of strong evidence that undermines their viewpoint. It comes back to thinking with instead of about our worldview. We all hold what are termed plausibility structures, ideas about what is or is not plausible. For example, treating anything that is unfamiliar in relation to our view of scripture as unscriptural is a plausibility structure. Paul referred to them as strongholds, ways of thinking in 2 Corinthians 10:4-6. If we believe that what we have been taught is correct, whether it is from a trusted teacher or elsewhere, we need to make a conscious decision to examine it to shift it.

In this process questions are useful and I am prone to asking people questions around why they believe what they do or whether they are open to change or seeing things differently. A few are able to explore new perspectives while others are so entrenched in their view that even though they may acknowledge they are unable to defend their position from scripture, they continue to hold to it because it is what they ‘believe.’   

 To make a shift in our thinking, to examine whether something is unscriptural or unfamiliar, we need to be reflective. This requires making a conscious choice to step back from our regular practices and thinking and reflect on what has led us to our present beliefs in order to determine whether they align with scripture.

Though we may find the idea daunting, consider those who followed Jesus in the gospels. They had to stand against the familiar beliefs of their culture and embrace beliefs at odds with how the majority of their culture understood scripture. Personally, I am thankful that they didn’t treat the unfamiliar as unscriptural because they followed Jesus and laid the foundation for the faith that I follow. Let’s seek to emulate them.   

Discernment or Judgment

In June of 1992 I wrote an article on discernment where I defined discernment as “Seeing the reality which lies behind appearances.” I still use this definition. My article was prompted by reading on an article on the ‘gift of discernment,’ which I will address below. Here I have reproduced and revised a portion of what I wrote as it is as relevant or more than when I first wrote it. This is particularly true as I cannot recall a time in my six decades that we have ever been more divided and polarized in our culture with different views and attitudes toward truth and the false idea that perceptions matter more than reality.

We begin our study with 1 Corinthians 2:14-15

14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. 1 Corinthians 2:14–15 (NKJV)

In 1 Corinthians 2:14 the Greek word anakrino is translated discerned and in verse 15 it is translated judges and judged. Discernment and judgment are closely linked and require the exercise of wisdom. Scriptural discernment is basically making right judgments by seeing the reality that lies behind appearances in order to agree with what the Holy Spirit is doing. After all, with what we are facing in the church and our culture we need to exercise discernment, as it is through discernment that we can see the roots of issues and then choose how to respond as He leads.

In seeking to understand and exercise discernment it is helpful to first understand what it is not. I often hear talk in the church about the “gift” of discernment. The scriptures speak of no such gift. 1 Corinthians 12:10 speaks of the gift of discerning of spirits (a revelation gift that any Christian may function in at times). This however is not discernment as the scriptures teach it, even though it is useful in the process of discerning. True discernment is the outflow of wisdom and revelation working together and demonstrates spiritual maturity. Here are the Corinthians verses with more context and three verses from Hebrews.

13 These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. 16 For “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ. 1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal? 1 Corinthians 2:13–3:4 (NKJV)

12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Hebrews 5:12–14 (NKJV)

In both passages we see a link between discernment and spiritual maturity. Discernment needs to be exercises and is the fruit of a humble heart that chooses to be led of the Spirit and recognizes its dependence upon Him. Discernment flows primarily in the lives of those who choose to walk in truth and refuse to compromise because of their love for the truth (2 Thess. 2:16, Eph. 4:21).

Paul’s discernment was rooted in his refusal to compromise truth Jesus had revealed to him. This led to him having to rebuke both Barnabas and Peter (Gal. 2:11-20).  Paul understood something that we in the church have largely neglected. We are frequently told by both the world and much of the church that we are not to judge, and this is true in terms of a critical fault-finding spirit (Jas. 4:11, Rom. 14:4, Matt. 7:1-5). We do however have a responsibility to judge all things in terms of fruit and discern the truth that lies behind appearances (Matt. 7:15-20, 1 Cor. 2:14-15, Heb. 5:12-14, Phil. 1:9-11, Jn. 7:24). At times this means confronting sin and heart motives which can lead to being labeled as “judgmental” or “critical” (Acts 5:1-11, 8:18-24, Gal. 2:11-21).

My idea of discernment as ‘seeing the reality which lies behind appearances’ comes from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:15-20 where He refers to wolves showing up looking like sheep and the importance of inspecting fruit. Jesus teaches that at times we cannot discern wolves from surface appearances because they look like sheep. The same is true of tares looking like wheat until they mature (Matt. 13:24-30). To discern the truth that lies behind appearances we need to love truth more than the package it comes in. We must seek truth and seek to discern it in the lives of our supporters and opponents. A love of the truth is manifest in love for the church, the body of Him who is truth (Eph. 4:21). This is illustrated for us in the Old Testament illustration of the role of discerning.

I began this study by noting the overlap between judging and discerning. In Exodus 28:30 Aaron is commanded to wear the breastplate of judgement when he comes before the Lord. In the breastplate are the Urim and Thummim. Also on the breastplate are the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. This passage specifically says Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel over his heart continually.

What I see in this is that discerning and making right judgments requires carrying the issue we are seeking to discern over our heart. If we want to truly discern what is happening in the lives of others, from the Lord’s perspective, we need to bear people over our heart in intercession (as Aaron did with the breastplate representing the nation). Intercession born of love for Jesus and His church leads to the spirit of wisdom and revelation being released in our lives and manifest as discernment.

Paul knew clearly the relationship between love and discernment. He began Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians with a prayer for discernment only after he was confident of peoples love for the church and one another (Eph. 1-15-21, Phil. 1:9-11, Col. 1:4, 8-11).  This love is, among other things, a deeply rooted commitment to speak truth to others out of a desire to see them come to maturity (Eph. 4:15, Prov. 27:6). 

            The purpose of discernment is protection and growth. We seek to see the reality that lies behind appearances so we can protect His flock, and agree with Him about what He desires in the lives of individuals, local assemblies and the church at large. When we sincerely walk with Him in spirit and truth (Jn. 4:24) His Spirit in us is faithful to guide us into all truth (Jn. 16:13). Walking in this manner positions us to see the church built up and established.

Prophetic Words

In my recent book I defined a worldview as “The lens through which we view and interpret reality.” Here I am going to apply that to a verse of scripture. I have provided the verse in two different translations.

3 But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. 1 Corinthians 14:3 (NKJV)

3 But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. 1 Corinthians 14:3 (NIV)

Personal prophecies or personal prophetic words are very prevalent in some segments of the church. Personally, I highly value them and have a running record of many I have received over the years so I can reflect on them and pray regarding them. I find them encouraging and some very challenging.

When we are speaking prophetic words to others we are seeking to hear from and be led by the Holy Spirit. Our words and actions should be a reflection and extension of His words and actions as He speaks to us to build, encourage and comfort. To that end I will address their application.

The lens through which we view personal prophetic words determines how we respond to 1 Corinthians 14:3. One lens I have actually heard applied on more than one occasion is the teaching that prophecy is always given to encourage and comfort (make us feel good) so we can assess the veracity of prophetic words by how they make us feel. I see that as a well intended but at times misguided application of the verse so I will demonstrate the application of 1 Corinthians 14:3 through an example.

The church is often compared to a building so I will use a construction analogy to demonstrate how to understand and apply this verse. Imagine we are building a house and you are my foreman. At one point my job is to install and wire the plugins in a bedroom. You come along and notice two things. First, I have placed the plugins at the correct height, second, I have attached them to the studs beautifully. There is only one issue, I have installed them where the closet is going to go, making them inaccessible and of no use.

Consider your response. Our larger purpose is building the house. I clearly have useful skills that will make the final product a thing of beauty. You can encourage me by pointing out the skills I have demonstrated, tell me I have done it all wrong and that I need to move the plugins, or embrace a third option. You can point out the skills you see that I have demonstrated but also point out my error in placement so that I can better apply my skills in the future.

I see the third option as how prophecy is to be applied. We can encourage others by highlighting what they do well, be it demonstrating passion, perseverance or some other attribute but then directing or redirecting the application of that attribute so that it builds His body.

Sticking with this example, suppose you come along and find that I have not only installed the plug ins with excellence but they are exactly where they are supposed to be. You could observe and leave or you may be led by the Spirit to not only point out the quality of my work but also prophetically speak into a higher calling you see in my life to be a better builder. This is another example of 1 Corinthians 14:3 in action.

Lastly, for further reflection, imagine the same scene but when you come to observe my work you notice that not only have I installed the plug ins in the wrong location, I have also installed them incorrectly and clearly need to improve my work overall. How would He lead you to respond?

Living Worship

I suspect that if I asked 100 people how to define worship, I would encounter a wide variety of views. As we worship and celebrate Jesus’ resurrection this Sunday, I think it is important to look at how the scriptures present worship. To that end, below are two different translations of the same verses. I will drill down into the meanings to get to worship.

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)

            Romans 12:2 is very similar in both translations. What on the surface appears to be very different is the last two words in verse 1. The NKJV says ‘reasonable service’ while the ESV says ‘spiritual worship.’ Reasonable service and spiritual worship seem to be very different things so we will look at how the translators arrived at their conclusions then apply it to our lives.

            The word reasonable or spiritual is logikos in Greek, worship or service is latreia in Greek. The root of logikos is logos, which we have in John 1.

1 In the beginning was the Word (logos), and the Word (logos) was with God, and the Word (logos) was God. John 1:1 NKJV (clarification added)

Logos is connected to logic, which is why we have the old Greek concept of persuasion rooted in ethos, pathos and logos, or character, emotion and reason. Logikos carries the idea of that which is reasonable or sensible in light of something else based on reflection or forethought. The context allows it to be translated as spiritual because presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice is a spiritual act. Latreia is easier to understand as the root word latreuo means religious worship with latreia meaning to worship or to serve. In this context the service is an act of worship. Putting all of this together, when we present our bodies to be at His service we are engaging in an act of worship.

While I generally think of worship as worshipping through song, I am aware that every aspect of my life is an act of worship if done unto Jesus. Paul certainly understood this, as not only did he exhort us to live this way in Romans 12:1-2 he expressed the same idea in other places.

31 Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 NKJV

17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Colossians 3:17

Thus, if we apply Paul’s exhortation to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, we are then only doing what makes sense in light of what Jesus has done for us. As we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection let us recommit ourselves to doing that which is reasonable and spiritual, living our lives as an act of service and worship unto Him that Jesus may be glorified.

Sensitive to His Presence Part 2

In looking at the practical side of sensitivity to the Spirit I am drawn to two places, Leviticus chapter 8 and Ephesians 1.

8 Then he put the breastplate on him, and he put the Urim and the Thummim in the breastplate. Leviticus 8:8 (NKJV)

17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, Ephesians 1:17 (NKJV)

I have long seen these two passages as connected. Though scripture is not explicit regarding how the Urim and Thummim worked, we do know they were used for decision making. I see Urim and Thummim as corresponding to wisdom and revelation as I view them as the key factors in decision making. I will explain.

            Revelation is something we get in our spirit via His Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 2:9-12) and we acquire wisdom through His word and our life experience. To better understand this in practice here are some practical examples from my own life, one more recent and one from many years ago. I begin with discernment regarding an email. I completed a Doctorate in Apologetics in September 2020. When I initially received an email from the Seminary inviting me to apply to their doctoral program (I had completed my MA there) my first thought was, “That is the last thing on the planet I want to do.” I was nearing the end of my career and wanted to engage in some ministry in retirement but had no appetite for further education. I deleted the email. A year later I received a similar email. This time I had a sense in my spirit that I needed to weigh it before Him. I did that and felt that I needed to proceed, so I did so with a measure of trepidation and began working on my Doctorate around 18 months prior to my retirement.

            The sensitivity part for me was responding to the check in my spirit and not deleting the second email even though it was something I did not want to undertake. I had a sense in my spirit that this was important so I spent some time weighing it before Him prior to proceeding. The fruit of it was that I engaged in the discipline required to work my way through a doctoral program and I learned a great deal that I apply regularly in my writing and interactions with others.

            I had a similar experience in applying for a job over two decades ago. I applied for a transfer to be closer to home and once I confirmed the transfer a management position that I had previously wanted to apply for came open. It was as far away from my home as possible and still in the same city. I decided I could not apply because I had made a commitment to the transfer role to another office. I started in the new office on a Monday and one of my first calls was from a senior HR person asking if I had considered applying for the management role. I explained my interest and how I had made my decision to not apply. I was still urged to consider it. After the phone call there was a sense in my spirit to weigh this option even though it made no sense in my head.

            I spent time weighing matters and felt I was to apply for the job while also feeling that I was to stay in the office that I was in. Logically it made no sense to me. Where wisdom came in was that I recognized His voice and leading so proceeded with the application even though it logically made no sense to me. To shorten a long story, it all made sense in the end. I was offered the position, but in the office, I had transferred to and the existing manager was transferred to the job I had applied for across the city.

            These are two examples of fairly significant decisions in my life. Yet I use this same process on a regular basis. Having a prompting to pray for or email someone. Having a sense to stop and speak with someone or being drawn into prayer at various times during the day for specific people or circumstances. While working on this post I was out on a bike ride and led to pray specifically for some people while I rode. Once kept coming up with a specific focus so I sent the person a text and they affirmed the accuracy of what I was praying for them.

            Practically I think we have options regarding how we are able to develop or deepen our sensitivity to His presence and leading. I think we need to set aside specific times to cultivate our relationship with Jesus. We create a habit that makes room for our relationship with Him to spill over into the other aspects of our day. This creates an awareness of, and sensitivity to, these little promptings. Personally, I don’t look for promptings, I simply try to focus my heart on Jesus at various times throughout the day, the rest follows. If not already on this journey please join me.

Sensitive to His Presence Part 1

            Think about Jesus presence and being sensitive to His moving in and among us. One of the places I am reading in scripture is through Ezekiel. Chapter 10 is one of the tragic chapters in scripture. Here, after being shown in a vision the abominable practices the people have been engaged in (chapter 9), the Lord shows Ezekiel the departure of the His presence from the temple. The greatest tragedy is not that He left, it is that apart from Ezekiel in a vision, no one noticed! There was a terrible lack of sensitivity to His presence.

            We find a similar pattern in the Song of Solomon. The difference here is that there is some awareness but there is still a loss. Think of this as Jesus coming to us but us failing to respond in a timely manner because it is inconvenient.

2 I sleep, but my heart is awake; It is the voice of my beloved! He knocks, saying, “Open for me, my sister, my love, My dove, my perfect one; For my head is covered with dew, My locks with the drops of the night.” 3 I have taken off my robe; How can I put it on again? I have washed my feet; How can I defile them? 4 My beloved put his hand By the latch of the door, And my heart yearned for him. 5 I arose to open for my beloved, And my hands dripped with myrrh, My fingers with liquid myrrh, On the handles of the lock. 6 I opened for my beloved, But my beloved had turned away and was gone. My heart leaped up when he spoke. I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer. Song of Solomon 5:2–6 (NKJV)

In this example the Shulamite is left with a bit of anointing (the oil) but the bridegroom (Jesus) is gone and does not respond to her cries. These examples tell us something about our sensitivity, or lack thereof, to His presence. In Ezekiel the people were busily engaged in idolatry so never noticed when the Lord departed. In the example of the Shulamite, she desired and longed for His presence but responding was an inconvenience and when her desire for Him finally won out over discomfort it was too late!

            It is clear from numerous scriptures that Jesus desires an intimate relationship with us. He wants to meet with us, spend time with us and walk with us. Practically He wants to lead us. He is quite capable but we need to learn to respond to His leading when He calls. We need our hearts tuned so that we are sensitive and responsive to His presence and leading. The two passages below express David’s heart and the Lord’s heart. Hosea gives expression to His desire to draw us away and speak to our hearts. David gives expression to the need so seek His ways and a commitment to have a listening heart.

14 “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, Will bring her into the wilderness, And speak comfort to her.” Hosea 2:14 (NKJV)

 4 Show me Your ways, O Lord; Teach me Your paths. 5 Lead me in Your truth and teach me, For You are the God of my salvation; On You I wait all the day. Psalm 25:4–5 (NKJV)

            The Lord desires to be with us, to lead us away from distractions to be alone with Him to get to know His heart. So let’s join David in praying to see and follow and ask Him to create in us hearts that are attuned to His presence throughout the day.

In my next post I will look more practically at the how we can be sensitive and respond to His presence and calling.

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Serving our Generation

I am going to spend some time on a verse, more specifically a particular phrase.

36 “For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and saw corruption; Acts 13:36 (NKJV)

The phrase I want to focus on is, ‘served his own generation.’ Each of us live in a time period where we can offer service. There is an old expression, ‘The opportunity of a lifetime must be seized within the lifetime of the opportunity.’ David did just that. In looking at his life and history we know he came from obscurity to become king and he ruled the nation with wisdom. While he had his failings, as all of us do, he has this testimony in scripture, that he was a man after God’s own heart.

14 But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” 1 Samuel 13:14 (NKJV)

22 And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will. Acts 13:22 (NKJV)

The interesting part is that Samuel told Saul that the Lord was replacing him with a man after His own heart while not knowing who he was to anoint as the new king. If we read the account in 1 Samuel 16 we discover that Samuel was not at that point looking the way the Lord was looking as he thought some of the other brothers would be the right one. The Lord had to tell him specifically to anoint David (1 Samuel 16:12). What we know from this is that David was described as a man after God’s own heart while still a shepherd and a youth.

Scripture does not include an explanation or commentary on what the phrase means. However, it is something we can deduce from his life. I believe a primary aspect was his heart for worship and the Lord’s presence and that it was from his heart of worship that he received the wisdom to be the warrior and administrator that built and extended the kingdom of Israel. This is because his first major act once he became king of the whole nation and captured Jerusalem was to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem and set up continual worship before Yahweh’s presence (2 Samuel 6, 1 Chronicles 16). Whether by revelation, intuition or lifelong practice, David recognized the importance of worship.            

If we want to walk out our calling and serve our generation, I think the wisest investment we can make is to emulate David by becoming a passionate worshipper and in that pursuit listening for His wisdom as to our next steps.

Worship in Unexpected Places

I trust you found the title interesting. I was going to write on a different topic but felt that my recent writing on worship was not complete. While we probably expect to worship and encounter Jesus in a church service, worship event or prayer meeting, we can meet Him in other places as well.

A few days before beginning to write this I was sitting waiting at a pharmacy. While waiting I began to do what many of us do, I pulled put my phone, multipurpose device really, and began looking at things. I then felt a gentle prompting in my spirit to begin worshipping, so that is what I did. I put my phone away and I began quietly singing a worship song, and His presence came. I was having an intimate encounter with Jesus while others around me were busy shopping.

In the past I have referenced how the outdoors, particularly the mountains, draw my heart to worship. A busy store or mall is not where I would go to be inspired to worship. Yet worship is more connected to the one we worship than it is to any particular location. While a pharmacy waiting area is not all that inspiring, He is. I can encounter Jesus because of my circumstances or I can encounter Jesus in spite of my circumstances (think of Paul and Silas in prison in Acts 16). The important factor is that I can encounter Jesus.  

I have had the experience of being drawn to quietly worship in tongues while grocery shopping, an encounter with Jesus. I am retired now, but when I was working fulltime, on occasions in a meeting, sometimes one I was chairing, I would be aware of my spirit encountering Him, no words, just worship while engaged in the meeting. At times while driving, alone or with others, my heart is simply drawn to worship. I believe this is reflective of something Paul wrote.

14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen. 2 Corinthians 13:14 (NKJV)

Paul added no qualifiers. He used this sentence as a blessing in closing off a disciplinary letter. He was highlighting that we can commune with Jesus anywhere, anytime. It is not a relationship that depends on circumstances. It is a relationship that is tied to heart posture. Through His grace we can know love and communion.

I see these times as little invitations, interruptions of a ‘normal’ routine if you will. Jesus issues a gentle invitation. If we respond to His prompting then we have a time of intimacy, an encounter of heaven touching earth once again. It isn’t a call to neglect or avoid whatever responsibilities we have. It is call to know Him in the midst of them and be strengthened in our spirit. 

I confess, I don’t experience this at all times in all places, nor do I expect this to be the case. I do however experience worship in unexpected places on a regular basis. I believe it is one of His many gifts to us and is available to all who desire to know and walk with Him. If this is not a familiar experience, I encourage you to cultivate a heart habit of regularly looking to Him at various times of the day. In my life I see this as the fruit of daily time in His word and developing a habit of setting my hearts gaze upon Him.