The Church Part 4

In my last post I raised the idea of whether principalities and powers tremble as we gather as His ekklesia. I think they should and I will explain both why and how. In the process I will attempt to address what Jesus envisioned when He said, “I will build my church/ekklesia” and the importance of the injunction in Hebrews 10 to be ‘assembled.’ If you are concerned that I am going to delve into how we rebuke and bind spiritual entities, let me assure you, I believe that to be both foolish and potentially dangerous! I want to focus on how we simply walk and live out our faith in genuine spiritual fellowship and community. In recent years I wrote a manual on hearing the Lord’s voice and in my introduction noted that hearing from Jesus isn’t about lofty visions and spiritual encounters. I am all for those if He is initiating them, not so much if we are trying to drum them up. However, my point was that those experiences are not the norm for most of us, nor does scripture suggest they should be.

The same is true of the gathering and assembling of the ekklesia. It has been well said that it is easy to miss the spiritual looking for the supernatural and my whole series on the ‘church’ lies in the shadow of that danger. However, I press on.  I believe that when we are found faithful and walk in love in the midst of ‘this present darkness’ our behaviour is a witness to heaven and the demonic spiritual realm of the power of His love to transform us. Principalities and powers influence the spiritual atmosphere over areas. The more we walk with and are found in Jesus in spite of this oppression and opposition the more we weaken and break their hold and influence over areas. We are not called to bring heaven to earth as much as to walk in a depth of koinonia that demonstrates heaven on earth.

I recently read some material from Dutch Sheets where he shared how believers were praying and not experiencing anything in the moment. No great visions or prophetic words, simply being found faithful, and later learning of the important impact of their prayers. My friend Wouter shared how during WWII a small community in Germany prayed fervently for protection from the Nazi regime. They came through the war without losing their sons and were protected from the Nazi scourge in their country. We have no stories of them seeing angels or other supernatural signs. What they experienced was spiritual reality. The commonality in these stories is that a group of people were engaged in intercession together. They were united for a common purpose. They had gathered, assembled and taken up a task together.

Now, some reflections on a church service compared to a gathering and assembling of the ekklesia. I think the main difference lies in intent and focus. The church and the ekklesia may both gather on a Sunday to worship, pray and hear a message. The church and ekklesia may both proclaim salvation, yet those who recognize that they are the ekklesia also seek to shift the spiritual atmosphere over cities and regions. They engage in this because their responsibility, that they are called out, gathered to Jesus to accomplish His purposes in a region and that they carry the necessary spiritual authority to accomplish the task Jesus has assigned to them.

My real goal here is to help us as the church to see that we are actually called to be the ekklesia. A gathering of people called to assemble and exercise spiritual authority over an area to extend and demonstrate His kingdom. The gathering piece is important, the assembling is critical. I have used this illustration before. If you purchase a product from Ikea or a similar store when you bring it home you need to assemble the pieces, each in the spot it where it was designed to fit. The same is true of Jesus body. We all have a function, and while gathering believers together in a room is a good start, the important step is identifying and releasing said believers into their calling and purpose, both individually and corporately.           

As an individual I know my place in the larger body and like the rest of the ekklesia one thing I am called to is daily prayer, intercession if you will. At times I doubt the efficacy of my own prayers and my ability to hear His voice, even though I have written a practical manual on hearing His voice. Perhaps I need to read it! Yet at the same time I am faithful to read the scriptures, pray and engage with His presence of behalf of others. Out of this I find that when I respond to His promptings to call or email someone because I sense He has placed them on my heart I invariably hit the mark. This is the fruit of simply seeking to be found faithful to this aspect of my calling. I pray you embrace the same goal.

In my next post I will look at some final areas. What a gathering might look like based on what Paul taught to the Corinthians, the focus of Paul’s prayers in some of his letters and the role and importance of church discipline in fulfilling our mandate.

The Church Part 3

In my previous two posts I focused on the idea of the kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven and that the church/ekklesia is called to demonstrate the kingdom. I noted that as the ekklesia, called out ones, we are both called out from something (the world if we read John’s letters and James) and called to someone, Jesus. We have been called to Jesus to represent, re-present Him.

I have intentionally been using the word ekklesia rather than church as no matter how we frame the idea, in practice most Christians refer to the church as a building rather than a body of people. If you look at the church in the book of Acts, they didn’t have a dedicated building. In Jerusalem they met outdoors at the temple or indoors in the homes of believers. This was the common practice in the world of the New Testament. What the word ekklesia denotes is gathering for a purpose. In Matthew 16:18, if we paraphrase, Jesus said, ‘I will build my gathering of believers called out to serve My purpose.’

I believe that whether believers gather on a Saturday, Sunday or a Friday evening, they still gather for a purpose. What needs to be addressed is whether that is the same purpose Jesus had in mind when He spoke of building His ekklesia. My friend Evelyn stepped from time into eternity a few years ago. In conversation she frequently used the phrase “the church that Jesus is building.” She saw it as something different from what took place at a typical service.

In my decades of church attendance what I have normally experienced is some degree of worship (singing), some public prayers and a sermon. These are all okay things in and of themselves, but perhaps they fall short of what Jesus saw as the purpose of the ekklesia. For example, Paul was clear in scripture that the gospel he taught was given to him by Jesus. Here is one thing Paul said we were to do.

8 To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; 10 to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, Ephesians 3:8–10 (NKJV)

Verse 10 says we as the ekklesia are to make known God’s manifold wisdom to principalities and powers in heavenly places. Paul uses the term ‘principalities and powers’ again in Ephesians 6:12 so we know that in both chapters he is referring to spiritual beings in heavenly places. Do you think that happened at your last gathering? Did principalities and powers tremble as we gathered?

What we need to determine is just how we as the ekklesia demonstrate the Father’s wisdom to principalities and powers if we are function as Jesus called us. A good part of the answer is in the rest of the chapter. Understanding that through what Jesus accomplished we have access to throne of grace – for a purpose! We are called to demonstrate His kingdom in the context of our culture.

Here in part is how Peter and Paul understood Jesus’ goal for the ekklesia.  

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

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

As the ekklesia we are called to gather and build one another into a spiritual house, a holy temple, the dwelling place of the Spirit that reflects Jesus to the surrounding culture. As for my building, I have fallen short of what I intended to accomplish in this post. In my next post I will look at ‘being assembled together’ in Hebrews 10, the role of joints regarding how and what they supply, Ephesians 4, and what that looks like in practice, 1 Corinthians 14 and tie it back to principalities and powers.

            More to come.

The Church Part 2

In my previous post I referenced the idea of the church (ekklesia) being called to demonstrate the kingdom. To further clarify the distinction between the church and the kingdom here is what George Eldon Ladd wrote some decades ago.

The Kingdom is primarily the dynamic reign or kingly rule of God, and derivatively, the sphere in which the rule is experienced. In biblical idiom, the Kingdom is not identified with its subjects. They are the people of God’s rule who enter it, live under it, and are governed by it. The church is the community of the Kingdom but never the Kingdom itself. Jesus’ disciples belong to the Kingdom as the Kingdom belongs to them; but they are not the Kingdom. The Kingdom is the rule of God; the church is a society of women and men. George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI.: Eerdmans, 1974, 2000), 109.

Again, we as the ekklesia are not the kingdom, we are to demonstrate the kingdom and to come under the authority of the kingdom. Following on that, a better understanding of the meaning of ekklesia leads to being better equipped to demonstrate the kingdom. I previously referenced that ekklesia means the ‘called out ones.’ Inherent in the idea of this calling is that we are both called out from something and to something. We better understand this by hearing from Paul.

1 Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God Romans 1:1 (NKJV)

Here I believe Paul is contrasting his calling into the ekklesia with his calling as a Pharisee. The distinction is between Paul’s calling ‘to’ versus a calling ‘from.’ Pharisee literally means a ‘separated one.’ The Pharisees identified themselves by what they were separated from. When Jesus called Paul, he no longer identified himself by what he was separated from but by the One he was separated to – Jesus! In the same manner, at our conversion we were called to be part of the ekklesia, called out and separated not from something but to someone, Jesus, for His purpose. When we see that we can then consider what our focus should be. We have the overview in Matthew.

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

Jesus called us as the ekklesia to demonstrate His kingdom and disciple and teach nations, which in the context of Matthew is people groups, ethnicities. We have the same message in Matthew 24:14.   

14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:14 (NKJV)

Some have taken the Great Commission in Matthew (with variations in Mark 16:15-16 and Acts 1:8) to mean that as the ekklesia we are to disciple nations as in nation states. Yet that is not Jesus’ focus in Mark and Acts. Jesus directed us to make disciples of all ethnicities in the earth within the context of nation states. In this age the goal is not Christian nations but an effective ekklesia, Christians engaged in their calling, within nations. In my next post I will look at examples from the New Testament around the ‘how’ and let that lead further into church history. Hint, showing up on Sunday, sitting and standing on cue and then departing won’t accomplish the task and is not what happened in church history. What did happen is changed lives, communities and social structures.

More to come.

The Church Part 1

If you are happy and content with church as you experience it, perhaps stop now. I want to look at church as we practice it here in the West and look at whether what we are in engaged in is actually what Jesus had in mind. As you walk through this with me consider how you think the average 1st Century Christian would view our practices in light of what they knew and understood.  

The obvious starting point in understanding what we are to be as the church is looking at what Jesus taught us. In His preaching and teaching Jesus talked about both the church and the kingdom. A simple way of understanding the relationship between the two is that the church is called to proclaim and demonstrate the kingdom. A kingdom is simply a place where the king rules or has dominion. In this case we are to extend Jesus’ authority in the earth, we are to bring heaven to earth (see Matt. 6:9-10, 28:18-20). We do that by being the church, or more accurately the ekklesia. Ekklesia refers to an assembly or congregation. You may be familiar with the term ‘called out ones’ as that is literally what ekklesia means. In the Greek culture from where we draw the word, the ekklesia is both called out from something and to something. In ancient Athens all adult male citizens were considered part of the ekklesia, the assembly, and could participate in governmental decisions for their city. It seems that this is what Jesus had in mind when He instituted the church. Not a secular or human government but an assembly of those who could proclaim and demonstrate His kingdom in the earth. Below are some key passages from Matthew that will inform our study.  

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)

18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:18–19 (NKJV)

18 “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:18–20 (NKJV)

14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:14 (NKJV)

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

There are some key phrases in these verses such as, ‘on earth as it is in heaven,’ ‘the gospel of the kingdom’ and the concept of ‘binding and loosing.’ We will look at those and more as we continue. For now, I invite you to mediate on the above passages. For example, the idea of ‘agreeing’ in Matthew is generally used of prayer. Have a look at the context. It isn’t about prayer.  

More to come.

Jesus Answered

At times we come across interesting verses. Here is one.

25 At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Matthew 11:25 (NKJV)

The verse starts out noting that Jesus ‘answered.’ I have thought about this in the past because it is evident that no one was speaking to Him. At least that is evident on the surface. In Greek the word ‘answered’ means just that, to answer or respond. The answer for us requires a little digging, but first a seeming rabbit trail.

Recently I was out for a walk with a pastor friend and he asked what I thought it meant to ‘walk in the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:16). He was going to preach on the passage and felt the Spirit had focused him in this verse. We tossed our ideas back and forth while focusing on the significance of the word walk.

This was significant for me because I often think about our walk with/in the Spirit and this dialogue brought me back to something I read a couple of decades ago. It was Rick Joyner relating a prophetic vision he had. He shared how he was caught up in this prophetic vision and found himself standing on a shoreline by the water with a mountain in the distance. Far down the shoreline he could see a figure walking toward him and said he knew it was the Lord because “He is never in a hurry.” The image has stuck with me all these years. Jesus walking purposefully down the beach. Not dawdling, not running, not distracted. Walking with composure and purpose.    

This is how I see we are to navigate our daily ‘walk’ in the Spirit. I also see this as where we find Jesus ‘answering.’ In His earthly ministry Jesus walked in communion with the Father and lived out of that reality. Here are some examples from scripture.

19 Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. John 5:19 (NKJV)

49 For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. 50 And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak.” John 12:49–50 (NKJV)

8 But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? Mark 2:8 (NKJV)

In each of these example Jesus was describing or demonstrating how He lived from another realm while walking in this one. The Greek word translated as ‘walk’ in Galatians 5:14 means to walk or conduct ourselves. That is what Jesus did and we are called to do the same. Let’s learn to look to Him and live in and out from an awareness of His presence. Let’s ‘walk in the Spirit.’

Following Your Heart

Recently I was again exposed to a short list of ‘Thing Jesus never said’ contrasted with ‘Things Jesus said.’ One point in particular was that Jesus never said to ‘follow your heart.’ While I get the intent behind the phrase, I also find it simplistic and scripturally inaccurate On the occasions that I have challenged the simplistic idea that it may not be entirely wrong to ‘follow your heart’ (I have no issue with the other points) I have received the obvious follow, a reference to Jeremiah 17:9 saying I am wrong because our hearts are ‘deceitfully wicked.’ I don’t want to go too far down a road here but frankly I find a lot of my fellow believers come across as far better at quoting standard scriptures than engaging in some scriptural research and critical thinking.

Now, lest I simply come across as a cranky old man, I have a deep concern, backed up by numerous research studies and polls others have done, that a great many who claim Jesus’ name do not seem to know His word. Granted He has called me to teach so I am more invested in scripture, but I think we all need a level of investment that goes beyond cliché scriptures. Thus, let’s explore the issue of heart from both the Old and New Testaments by looking at some sample scriptures. Here are some scriptures followed by my comments.

5 Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Genesis 6:5 (NKJV)

This seems to support Jeremiah quoting Yahweh as saying our hearts are deceitfully wicked. Yet in context if we read a few verses further we find that Noah was a just man and the ‘intent of the thoughts of his heart’ were not continually evil. Well both Genesis 6 and Jeremiah 17 seem be blanket statements I think they are generalities.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:10 (NKJV)

If our hearts could not be cleansed then David’s prayer of contrition and repentance was not inspired by the Spirit.

1 My son, do not forget my law, But let your heart keep my commands; 2 For length of days and long life And peace they will add to you. 3 Let not mercy and truth forsake you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart, 4 And so find favor and high esteem In the sight of God and man. 5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; Proverbs 3:1–5 (NKJV)

23 Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life. Proverbs 4:23 (NKJV)

We are enjoined in Proverbs 3 to keep His commands with our heart, to write His law on the tablet of our hearts and trust Him with all our heart. Seemingly summed up in Proverbs 4:23. All things contrary to what can be done with a completely wicked and deceitful heart.

9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? Jeremiah 17:9 (NKJV)

Here we come to the core verse everyone seems to know without seeming to not know the context. Jeremiah is delivering a message and contrasting those who follow Yahweh with those who do not. The very next verse is always left out.

10 I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings. Jeremiah 17:10

This takes us back to the context. If every heart is deceitfully wicked then the only proper response is judgment for everyone but that is not what we see in Jeremiah’s message. Yahweh is judging good and evil according to their ways.

26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26 (NKJV)

This is the promise of the new covenant and minimally should teach believers that when we have been born again our heart has been renewed.

7 And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, 9 and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Acts 15:7–9 (NKJV)

Here Peter teaches that our hearts can be purified through faith in Jesus.

43 “For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. 45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. Luke 6:43–45 (NKJV)

Here, prior to the inauguration of the new covenant Jesus taught that our hearts could bring forth good our evil depending on the values we had embraced.   

6 For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6 (NKJV)

Here Paul taught us that it is with our hearts that we encounter Jesus. The heart is where He shines into our lives.

10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. Romans 10:10 (NKJV)

Lastly and most importantly, if all of us have desperately wicked hearts how could any of us ever be saved? After all, Paul is telling us here that our heart is the organ of faith!

In conclusion. If we ignore the whole counsel of God, we can wholeheartedly embrace what is regularly taught from Jeremiah 17:9, that all of us have deceitfully wicked hearts. However, if we embrace scripture, we see that the issue is much more nuanced and that our hearts can follow Jesus and we can follow our hearts. What led to my conversion was that I followed mine right into His presence. If you have not yet done so I invite you to do the same.

The Lamp of the Lord

The title is from a phrase in Proverbs. It encapsulates the need to pay or give attention to our spirit.

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

The phrase ‘depths of the heart’ is literally ‘rooms of the belly’ in Hebrew. We can discern from Proverbs that we can experience our spirit and that Yahweh uses it as a lamp, that is, He ‘lights up’ something inside of us when He wants to get our attention. I trust most of you have experienced this inner probing or awareness. In the New Testament we have a number of phrases that refer to this process. They include the ideas of being ‘led by the Spirit,’ ‘walking in the Spirit,’ being ‘filled with the Spirit,’ and ‘hearing what the Spirit is saying.’ Each of these points us to one thing, dependence upon, and relationship with, the Spirit, which points to our need to understand how to do each of the above. I am sure that as believers most of us want to walk, be filled with, hear from and be led by the Spirit. Practically we can look at this process in scripture as presented in 1 Corinthians 2.  

9 But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. 1 Corinthians 2:9–12 (NKJV)

Obviously key to understanding and walking in what Paul shared in 1 Corinthians is the meaning of the word ‘know’ along with Paul’s statement in verse 10 that the spiritual things we can know are revealed by the Spirit. Some translations have different words instead of ‘know’ in verses 11-12 but in Greek the word is consistent and it means to know, understand or recognize. Clearly to walk in or be led by or walk in the Spirit we need to understand or recognize His leading. Practically speaking Paul is saying the Spirit knows the things of God and is willing to reveal them to us and we need to be willing or know or hear.

In my experience I spend time in prayer and in His word each day. I also seek to hold an internal awareness and be sensitive to His presence during the day and pray at various times during the day. Not set prayer time but simply carrying things before him throughout the day, offering up prayers for people and circumstances He brings to mind and seeking to hear His voice so that I can walk in and be led by the Spirit. This may mean sharing a scripture passage or concept with someone, sensing a need to call or connect with someone to encourage them or a sense to pray for a certain individual or circumstance.  

I see these experiences as Him ‘turning on the lamp’ inside of me to direct my walk with Him. If I have no internal leading, I simply seek to walk in the light of His word and what I have learned of His character over my many years of walking with Him. I believe this way of ‘walking in the Spirit’ is available to all who seek His face.

Others sense the spiritual atmosphere in cities or regions. Some sense what is happening in someone else physically as a call to prayer or intervention. I know I am at times aware of what is happening with someone and at times I am aware of someone’s gifts or callings. Having said that, I am not given to great prophetic experiences and dreams and visions. These are very practical ways He reveals things to us and I would love to have them as ongoing experiences. Yet He seems to have me anchored in the main, plain and seeming mundane, which is where I think most of us live. Given that, how is He lighting your lamp?

The Word of the Lord Tested Him

This phrase is taken from the life of Jospeh, not in Genesis, in Psalms. I have often been struck by the phrase. It was the ‘word of the Lord’ that tested Joseph. To better understand the idea, I will break it down and we will look at other examples in scripture that illustrate the same principle then reflect on how to apply it to our lives. We start with the phrase then the context.

19 Until the time that his word came to pass, The word of the Lord tested him. Psalm 105:19 (NKJV)

Psalm 105 chronicles the history of Israel. We all have a story and this is the story of a nation. Embedded in this national story is a key character, Joseph. The idea of the ‘word of the Lord’ here is that Joseph was given great promises, then he quickly experienced the opposite. The story of his promises, slavery and imprisonment and eventual rise to their fulfillment is found in Genesis 37-50. A significant portion of the book of history. Joseph’s test and fulfillment took place over a long period, thirteen years. He was sold by his brothers at age 17 (Genesis 37:2) and raised up out of prison and given authority by Pharoah at age 30 (Genesis 41:46).

Joseph received prophetic promises via a dream from Yahweh then endured hardship and affliction with the word. The word, these promises, tested him until it they came to pass and he had developed the character to carry the authority he was given. Abraham and Sarah waited years for the promised son. We know that Abraham was 75 when Yahweh first promised him descendants (Genesis 12:1-7)  and that he was 100 when Isaac was born (Genesis 21:5). The promise of a son born to him was more explicit in Genesis 15:1-4 but we do not know Abraham’s age then. We do know that Abraham was 86 when Ishmael was born to Hagar. Like his descendant who followed him the word of the Lord had tested Abraham.

While two examples do not constitute a pattern there are many more in scripture. David was anointed as king and soon became a fugitive instead. The word of the Lord tested him over many years. Moses knew he was called by Yahweh to deliver Israel (Exodus 2:11-13, Acts 7:25). He tried in his own strength and then spent 40 years in the wilderness until he encountered Yahweh at the burning bush (Acts 7:25-30). The word of the Lord tested him.  

We even see this pattern in the life of Jesus. He was baptized in the Jordan and received affirmation from His Father that He was the beloved Son and His Father was pleased with Him (Matthew 3:17). What followed was a glorious entry into ministry – no actually, what happened was He was immediately led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by Satan (Matthew 4:1). The word of the Lord tested Him.

Given these examples and this pattern should we expect different treatment? He has called each of us and once He calls us, He tests us. One of the words He spoke to me nearly three decades ago was 1 Corinthians 4:2.

2 Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. 1 Corinthians 4:2 (NKJV)

This means like Paul who wrote it, our faithfulness is the primary test. Joseph had to remain faithful and hold onto his dreams after slavery followed by prison. Abraham has to hold onto the promise of a son in spite of his circumstances – he and Sarah both past the fathering and bearing stage of their lives. David had to remain focused on his calling and commission to be king well the present king sought his death. Moses had to believe Yahweh after his failure and subsequent encounter in the wilderness. Jesus – I, nor anyone else, fully understands His humanity but I believe He had to develop and walk out a trust relationship with His Father in spite of His wilderness experience.

I have a list of things He has spoken to me both directly and through others over the years. Some I am walking in, some I am not. As these words test me, I seek to be found faithful. How about you? What are you reflecting on? How is the test going?

Here to There

Many years ago, I attended a work seminar given by a popular international executive coach, Marshall Goldsmith where he focused on a book he had written, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. His focus was on the need to increase skills to move from one level to the next and his core concept was something call ‘Feed Forward.’ I won’t go into it in depth, it is easy enough to look up and his focus was on how to move up in the corporate world. Not exactly the primary value we find Jesus promoting, although He is not opposed to that for those walking with Him. However, if we are serious about our walk of faith our primary goal is to be successful in walking in the Spirit in His kingdom.

In our pursuit of walking in His kingdom there is a progression and what took us to one place will not take us to the next. Think of the tabernacle of Moses or the temple of Solomon. The outer court required sacrifice at the altar and cleansing at the laver. The inner court required bread upon the table, light in the candlestand and incense rising before the curtain to the holy of holies. I, like others, have long viewed this as the ground flour for the bread representing a submitted will, the burning oil in the lampstand a mind illumined with the truth of scripture and the incense on the small altar a heart of worship. In summary, a soul in passionate pursuit of His presence.

We see that what got one past the outer court was not sufficient for the inner court and what was sufficient for the inner court would not get one into the holy of holies. This was reserved for the high priest and then only one time per year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Now you may be wondering if I am promoting some sort of works mentality through which we earn great favour with Jesus. I am not, He is our ultimate High Priest. He offered Himself in the outer court, lived out of a submitted will, had a mind illuminated by scripture (Hebrews 10) and then took His own blood into the Holy of Holies and poured it out upon the altar (Hebrews 9:12).

Jesus made it possible for us to live in and out from the Holy of Holies, the throne of grace. What is required from us is the continual laying down of our agenda to embrace His. Just as the manna in the wilderness had to be gathered each day, the obedience that brought us to today won’t work tomorrow. We need to seek His face each day, which requires a submitted will, a mind illumined by the truth of scripture and a heart engaged in worship. Paul expressed it this way.  

31 I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. 1 Corinthians 15:31 (NKJV)

And Paul was merely affirming what Jesus instructed us to do.  

23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. Luke 9:23 (NKJV)

Now back to where this post began. The principle applies, what got us here won’t get us there. In the kingdom what we need to accomplish our goal of going deeper in Jesus is daily submission and obedience. An increased laying down of our lives marked by a mantle of humility. Knowing this let us engage in it and like (and with) Jesus be about our Father’s business as each day we present ourselves to Him afresh and seek His will for this day. After all, He is The Great I Am, not the great I Was or Will Be. He is a present saviour who desires that each day we live in and out of His presence.

Weeping to Blessing

Tears, we all have them, sometimes tears of joy, sometimes tears of grief or sadness. In scripture we see tears in a variety of settings in scripture. Yet they are primarily associated with grief, which we will look at.

5 “Return and tell Hezekiah the leader of My people, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord.” 2 Kings 20:5 (NKJV)

6 I am weary with my groaning; All night I make my bed swim; I drench my couch with my tears. Psalm 6:6 (NKJV)

20 My friends scorn me; My eyes pour out tears to God. Job 16:20 (NKJV)

A particular portrait of tears is Jeremiah. He is often referred to as ‘the weeping prophet” for the many tears he shed over the state of Jerusalem. In fact, Jeremiah’s second shorter book is titled ‘Lamentations’ due to all of his tearful laments.

In highlighting the reality of tears, in this case in the Old Testament, we see that the Hebrew people were not stoics. Grief was expressed rather than denied. Yet we also see people moving beyond their tears and in many Psalms, we see laments turn to praise. In this first reference above Hezekiah poured out his heart in tears and received the blessing of health and added years from the Lord. This means that tears can be a place of transition, which brings us to a specific passage in Psalm 84.

5 Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, Whose heart is set on pilgrimage. 6 As they pass through the Valley of Baca, They make it a spring; The rain also covers it with pools. 7 They go from strength to strength; Each one appears before God in Zion. Psalm 84:5–7 (NKJV)

These verses highlight the transition through tears to blessing. Though it isn’t obvious on the surface the reference notes in my bible point out that ‘Baca’ means weeping and ‘pools’ refers to blessings. The Amplified bible puts verse 6 this way,

6 Passing through the Valley of Weeping (Baca), they make it a place of springs; the early rain also fills [the pools] with blessings. Psalm 84:6 (AMP)

The passage is about a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, a difficult journey and near the end Baca is reached before Zion (the hill of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem). This is another Sons of Korah Psalm where we don’t know the timeframe, pre or post Temple. We do have a clue though in that the first verse literally says ‘dwelling places’ in Hebrew and we know that prior to the Temple of Solomon being constructed there were two dwelling places, the Tabernacle of Moses at Gibeon where the daily sacrifices were offered and the Ark of the Covenant in a tent David set up on Mount Zion with open worship before the ark in His presence. The latter seems to be in view.

What the writers of the psalm are telling us is that when we encounter tears on our journey to His presence they will turn into blessing if our hearts are ‘set on pilgrimage.’ If our focus is on walking in His presence then in this life or the next our tears that come as a result of faithfulness will turn into blessing. I am confident that when I appear before His judgment seat I will have tears as a result of sin, failures and opportunities I have missed. Yet I also know that I will rejoice in His presence with ‘joy unspeakable and full of glory’ because for decades my heart has been ‘set on pilgrimage.’ I look forward to the blessing of continually encountering His presence. Tastes here and fullness there. How about you?