Thoughts on God

Some decades ago, early in my Christian walk, I wanted to know the Lord better. In seeking to accomplish this I came across and purchased J. I Packer’s book Knowing God. I confess, I found it very dry and never finished it, as from my perspective it was more theoretical than practical. Given the popularity of the book (over 1,000,000 copies sold in North America) the shortcoming may have lain with me at the time. Be that as it may, I am presently not inclined to revisit the book. I am however inclined to think upon scripture and meditate upon the Lord’s attributes as that is a major part of knowing Him and what drew me to this verse.

9 We have thought, O God, on Your lovingkindness, In the midst of Your temple. Psalm 48:9 (NKJV)

This is a Psalm from the sons of Korah. They were prophetic musicians and worshippers as set up by David (1 Chronicles 6:22, 31) and were descended from the Korah who rebelled against Moses and Aaron. He and those with him perished (Numbers 16, Jude 11) yet since our Father’s heart is to redeem, we find that Samuel the prophet and judge of Israel was a descendant of Korah and an ancestor of the sons of Korah (1 Chronicles 6:22-23, 33-34).

Whether the temple of Solomon or the heavenly temple is in view in Psalm 48 we don’t know as it is not clear whether Solomon’s temple had been completed when this Psalm was written. What we do know is that being in the temple inspired them to reflect on Yahweh’s lovingkindness. The word in Hebrew is an important one, chesed, and it is generally translated as lovingkindness or mercy. It is the word we have in the famous Micah 6:8 passage where we are enjoined to ‘love mercy.’

Since we are now His temple it seems appropriate to reflect on His chesed and how it is evident in our lives. We may be tempted to view chesed in our lives in terms of health and abundance but that is not the case for many believers around the world. For the persecuted believers around the world life is very different and many have little in the way of material goods. Yet what they do have is a good and loving Father, one whose care and presence can be tangibly experienced where they are, just as it can be here.   

One way to become more conscious of His presence and His chesed in our lives is to simply turn our thoughts to Him and reflect on His character. If we wonder what He is like Jesus said He came to reveal Him and in John 17:26 promises to still do so for us. We also have in scripture His character unveiled to Moses.

6 Then Yahweh passed by in front of him and called out, “Yahweh, Yahweh God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” Exodus 34:6–7 (LSB – Legacy Standard Bible, a new update of the NASB)

The word translated as ‘lovingkindness’ in this passage is chesed. We can thus pray something like this as we respond to the invitation from the sons of Korah,’ Father, I thank You that You are merciful, gracious and patient. I thank You that You abound in lovingkindness/chesed and that Your heart is toward me.” Pray and think about that and see how it affects your day.  

 Here is a song by Jesus Image extolling the virtues of Jesus.;_ylt=Awr92XwqhgVlJqYU_gDrFAx.;_ylu=Y29sbwNncTEEcG9zAzEEdnRpZAMEc2VjA3BpdnM-?p=Jesus+image+Yeshua&fr2=piv-web&type=E210CA1485G0&fr=mcafee#id=1&vid=774aff9752b071439ca761344a0db4c7&action=view

How is the Soil?

I briefly wrote about the parable of the sower in part of 4 of my New Wineskins series in September 2020 ( and there I focused on the importance of purpose. Here I am focusing on Mark 4 and a different aspect, the power of the seed. Here is how Mark presents what Jesus taught.

3 “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the air came and devoured it. 5 Some fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth. 6 But when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered away. 7 And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. 8 But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.” Mark 4:3–8 (NKJV)

We know from Mark 4:14 that the seed is Jesus’ teaching, the word of God. From Luke we know that that the type of soil is representative of our heart condition and the seed produces a harvest in good soil.

15 But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience. Luke 8:15 (NKJV)

In Hebrews, more light is shed on the power of the seed.

12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 (NKJV)

What is significant is that if the seed, the word, encounters good soil it increases thirty, sixty or one hundredfold. The application is obvious. If we are not seeing a harvest from the seed, then Jesus is telling us we need to examine the soil where the seed is being sown.

In the parable there are four condition which includes three types of soil. We have soil that is rocky and shallow, soil infested with thorns and good soil. The first seed never germinates as the birds make off with it. Even though the seed germinates in the rocky shallow soil the seed won’t continue to grow due to the poor quality of the soil. The second type of soil is that in which the seed can grow but due to the thorns the life is choked out of the seed. The fourth type of soil without the rocks and thorns produces a harvest.  

In explaining the parable (Mark 4:13-20) Jesus says the birds of the air represent Satan stealing the seed that has been sown. The shallow rocky soil represents a lack of depth in us. The thorns in the soil represent all of the things around us that distract us and take our attention away from the word that has been sown in our hearts. If we want His word to produce fruit in our lives, we need to keep the soil in our hearts tilled and free of rocks and thorns so that it is receptive to the seed. I know in my life that I regularly need to address distractions to keep my heart focused on Him so that when I interact with His word it produces change in me. As for you, how is your heart? Do you need to remove some rocks or thorns?

In His Presence

I have shared some of this previously. In addition to a regular prayer and scripture time in the morning I like to pray and worship when I am hiking, walking or biking. I obviously also need to be aware of my surroundings so the prayer and worship in these times is part of what I am doing. I am simultaneously paying attention at a couple of levels. While doing this I can have a greater or lesser focus on each aspect depending on where my attention is being drawn in that moment.

While it doesn’t happen it nearly as often as I would like, due to my wandering thoughts, I want my heart to be drawn to His presence throughout the day. Earlier this summer I was cycling through the woods and praying when I verbalized a prayer that arose from my heart, “Help me to live in and out of your presence.” That is my desire and I hope it is yours as well. Yet to do to do this effectively we need His ongoing presence and leading. As Paul put it long ago.  

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)

We need grace from Jesus to walk in the Father’s love for us and need to live in and out of communion/fellowship with the Spirit. This doesn’t simply happen to us; it is the result of the pursuit of His presence.

As I noted, I desire to do this more effectively. Presently I have struggled in my prayer life for a number of months and it has at times felt both routine and disconnected. Yet, in spite of how I ‘feel’ I encounter His presence resting upon me at various times, whether praying or doing something else. This past Sunday in a small congregation I felt His presence on me leading me to share something with the congregation near the end of the service. It was one of those times where I knew that I would be disobedient if I didn’t share so I waited for an opportunity but there wasn’t one. So, after the service was dismissed, I asked if I could share something. Permission was granted and I did. As we filed out of the service one person came up and thanked and encouraged me and someone else came up and said they thought the word I shared was for them.  

I share this as in my experience I am generally more conscious of His presence during worship. Yet, as I shared earlier, I spontaneously released a prayer while biking because His presence rose up within me. That happened because I have cultivated the pursuit of His presence and I was thinking about Him and worshipping when this prayer arose from my heart. I believe and experience that the more we seek Him the more He opens up encounters to us.

This leads to a closing thought. Though I know theologically that at conversion each of us was transferred into Jesus’ kingdom (Colossians 1:13) I believe the fuller gospel message isn’t about getting us into the kingdom of God, that is the first step in a process. The aim of the gospel is getting the kingdom of God into us so that we can carry it in our daily activities and change the culture and environment around us. After all, He saved us to be a blessing to others, not to live for ourselves. To accomplish this let’s pursue His presence and purpose so that He spills over into more of our days.

Seeing His Face

Sometimes we need to sort out how to reconcile scripture with scripture. Recently I read some comments about whether or not a person could see God’s face, and while I have had thoughts about it over the years, I had never actually studied the issue so I decided to look at it. Many people have used the following passage to assert that no one can see God’s face. Primarily because that is plainly what the text states.

18 And he said, “Please, show me Your glory.” 19 Then He said, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” 20 But He said, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” Exodus 33:18–20 (NKJV)

Yet in spite of what the passage says, we have a number of examples in scripture of people seeing Yahweh so it seems important to consider what this sentence means, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” The Hebrew word means face and a more literal translation of ‘see Me, and live’ is ‘see Me, and remain alive.’ So obviously the phrase means what it says. At the same time context is important and here it is the Father speaking, as earlier in the chapter He refers to the Angel He would send with them, a theophany of the preincarnate Jesus. We also have in Exodus 33:11 Yahweh speaking to Moses ‘face to face’ but nothing to suggest Moses was gazing on Yahweh’s face so the salient point seems to be not ‘seeing’ Yahweh’s face fully revealed. Still later where we have the prohibition against seeing Yahweh’s face, Moses is allowed to gaze at Yahweh’s back (33:20-23, 34:5-7).

Now, we will ‘look’ at some examples from scripture of individuals seeing God. Clearly, prior to Moses there was an awareness of the danger of seeing Yahweh based on Jacob’s comment.  

30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” Genesis 32:30 (NKJV)

We have the same concern generations after Moses with Isaiah’s response to his revelation and encounter with Yahweh.

5 So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.” Isaiah 6:5 (NKJV)

Ezekiel gives us a fuller description of what he saw in one of his encounters.

1 And it came to pass in the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I sat in my house with the elders of Judah sitting before me, that the hand of the Lord God fell upon me there. 2 Then I looked, and there was a likeness, like the appearance of fire – from the appearance of His waist and downward, fire; and from His waist and upward, like the appearance of brightness, like the color of amber. 3 He stretched out the form of a hand, and took me by a lock of my hair; and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven, and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the north gate of the inner court, where the seat of the image of jealousy was, which provokes to jealousy. 4 And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, like the vision that I saw in the plain. Ezekiel 8:1–4 (NKJV)

Jacob asserted that he saw God’s face, Isaiah didn’t specify His face but seemed aware of the issue with his ‘woe is me’ when he saw Yahweh. In Ezekiel, Yahweh is presented as the Spirit and what Ezekiel sees is a fiery body and an amber countenance. No features are described. The one we need to explain is Jacob. Genesis 32:24 states that Jacob “wrestled with a Man” (the capitalization indicating deity). This would have been the preincarnate Jesus, another theophany. We also know that what Isaiah saw was the preincarnate Jesus because John has Jesus sharing that in his gospel.

37 But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, 38 that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: “Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 39 Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: 40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, Lest they should see with their eyes, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.” 41 These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him. John 12:37–41 (NKJV)

The way we can reconcile these seeming contradictions is that Jacob and Isaiah saw the preincarnate Jesus, not the Father. What Ezekiel saw is the only instance in all of scripture where I can find the Holy Spirit described. So not only is there no clear ‘seeing’ of His face, it is not the Father.

When we move beyond the Old Testament warning to the New Testament, we get a fuller ‘picture’ of the solution to seeing His face. In Revelation 1:14-17 John sees Jesus’ glory unveiled and described His eyes and countenance. Meaning the face of Jesus in His unveiled glory can be seen. In Revelation 4 we have the throne room described and it is similar to Ezekiel’s visions with no clear description of the face on the One on the throne. We know it is not Jesus on the throne as the scene continues into chapter 5 and there Jesus is revealed as the Lamb who takes the scroll from the one on the throne (Revelation 5:6-7).

We can thus conclude from these scriptures that no one have ever gazed fully on the unveiled face of the Father and that is what the phrase, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live” references. Meaning that based on scripture we are free to seek Jesus’ face and to encounter the Spirit and the Father in our pursuit of His presence.

Your thoughts?

Praying with a Scriptural Strategy

Continuing with the subject of prayer, here we will look at one way that we can pray strategically, starting with some key scriptures, then focusing on what Paul wrote to the Colossians regarding his great conflict on their behalf and for the believers in Laodicea.

19 Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Luke 10:19 (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)

10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done. On earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 6:10 (NKJV)

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, 11 according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, Ephesians 3:10–11 (NKJV)

In Luke 10:19 and Matthew 28:18-20 we see the authority Jesus delegated to His followers. In the model prayer Jesus provided, the first two phrases in Matthew 6:10 are declarative statements emphasizing what we can expect and the last phrase locates where this is to take place, on earth as in heaven. This allows us to pray with confidence. In Ephesians 3:10-11 we see that a responsibility and privilege we hold as the church is to make His wisdom known in the heavenly places and are made aware that it is part of the Father’s eternal purpose.

Now we turn to an example from scripture that we can emulate. Paul sharing something regarding the goal of his intercession for the church in Colossae and Laodicea.

1 For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words. 5 For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ. 6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. 8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; 10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. Colossians 2:1–10 (NKJV)

Paul’s heart was for the Colossians and Laodiceans to remain on the right path. In verse 1 the NKJV has the word ‘conflict’ while the ESV translates the word as ‘struggle.’ Neither conflict or struggle fully capture what Paul was expressing. Here is the meaning of the word in Greek. ἀγών agōn; from 71; a gathering, contest, struggle:—conflict(1), fight(2), opposition(1), race(1), struggle(1).[1] Agon is the root of our English word agony, in Greek, ἀγωνία agōnia. Here Paul is describing not a mere conflict or struggle as he qualifies it with the word ‘great.’ He is referencing a battle with dark spiritual forces.

We don’t know the exact words Paul prayed. We do know that his goal was that they would understand what they had and that they would be aware of the treasure they possessed in their relationship with Jesus. Hence his command to not only ‘receive’ Jesus but to ‘walk in Him.’ His concern was that they would lose out by embracing false philosophies built on the principles of the world rather than the truth of scripture.

Thus, in discipling those he knew and those he had never met, Paul let them know he was praying, wrestling and contending for them. We can assume that whatever words he used he would have been declaring that the Father’s kingdom would be present and submitted to in their lives, here on earth just as if they were in heaven. He would have prayed for their minds to be protected from the false philosophies he was concerned about. He knew that his actions would show forth the wisdom of God to the dark spiritual forces in the heavenlies (he wrote Ephesians and Colossians in the same time period).  

Now on to us. We can apply the same approach as Paul in praying for individuals or situations. We can come into agreement with His word and declare that His kingdom will come and His will be done in lives and circumstances. We can do this knowing He has given us spiritual authority to be exercised, authority that is effective based on bearing His name before the throne of grace. Let’s do that.

[1] Robert L. Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries : Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998).

Praying with Scripture

I have for many years engaged with the scriptures as a primary part of my prayer life. Here I will share a bit of the how. One way is to simply pray the scriptures, for example turning Psalm 23:1 into a prayer, taking ‘The Lord is my shepherd’ and praying, ‘Lord, thank You that You are my shepherd. I thank You that you lead and guide me.’ This aligns with what Jesus taught, ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.’ We begin to pray trusting in and honouring who He is. I have used this approach and a common prayer used by many, myself included, is something like, ‘Lord, give us a spirit or wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of You’ (based on Ephesians 1:17).

Though in general, in my own prayer life what I engage in is drawing on a composite of what scripture teaches. Here is an example of something I regularly pray for myself and others, “Father, I thank You that You are drawing out and establishing Your purpose in our lives, helping us to walk uprightly that our prayers may delight You! Father, I declare that in line with Your word You are filling us with the knowledge of Your will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” I know that I can pray this way based on the following scriptures.  

5 Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water, But a man of understanding will draw it out. Proverbs 20:5 (NKJV)

8 The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, But the prayer of the upright is His delight. Proverbs 15:8 (NKJV)

9 For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; 10 that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; Colossians 1:9–11 (NKJV)

The word counsel in Proverbs 20:5 also means purpose so I believe that He has placed His purpose in each of our hearts and desires to draw it out directly and through others. Proverbs 15:8 informs us that when we walk uprightly, He delights in our prayers. Thus, I know that when we come to Him with an open humble heart it brings delight to Him. I also know based on what Paul wrote to the believers in Colossae that He wants to fill us with the knowledge of His will more than we want to know it. I can then thank Him that He is in fact doing just that, filling us with the knowledge of His will and that if I quiet our hearts before Him we can discern His will.

The benefit of praying this way is that we can live out what John wrote.

14 Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 1 John 5:14 (NKJV)

In praying the scriptures, we know that we are praying according to His revealed will and that as we present our prayers before the throne of grace He is hearing and responding.

Laying Hold

In 1 Timothy 6 Paul wrote something to Timothy that I think we may miss unless we reflect on what Paul means by his exhortation to ‘lay hold on eternal life.’ We see it in this passage.

12 Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, 14 that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, 15 which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen. 1 Timothy 6:12–16 (NKJV)

The term ‘lay hold’ or ‘take hold’ in the ESV, is a single word in Greek. ἀγωνίζομαι agōnizomai; from 73; to contend for a prize, struggle:—competes in the games(1), fight(1), fighting(1), fought(1), laboring earnestly(1), strive(2), striving(1).[1] If you look closely, you will see the source of our English word ‘agony.’ The Greek word agōnia, translated ‘agony’ in Luke 22:44 has the same root as agōnizomai, agōn, which refers to a contest or struggle. Obviously to ‘lay hold’ requires more than a casual effort on our part.

Inherent in the idea of ‘laying hold’ that Paul presents is that he is talking about something beyond repentance and salvation. Timothy had already received and entered into that state. Here Paul is strongly urging him to not merely ‘receive’ eternal life but to let this life affect every aspect of his daily life, to ‘lay hold.’ Contextually, he tells Timothy to ‘fight the good fight of faith’ and that part of this is living a life that is ‘spotless’ and ‘blameless.’ Doing this requires a focused effort on our part. Not a legalistic rule keeping approach but rather one of daily pursuing His heart and purpose.

We can engage in this ‘laying hold’ process because when we reflect on it, our life is anchored somewhere. Hebrews presents it this way.

17 Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, 18 that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us. 19 This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, 20 where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 6:17–20 (NKJV)

The idea of ‘fleeing for refuge’ comes from the Old Testament where someone who accidently killed another could flee to a ‘city of refuge’ (Deuteronomy 19:1-11) and be safe. In contrast, even though we are all guilty we can all find refuge by laying hold of Jesus and His sacrifice on our behalf.

Let’s do that, let’s focus our efforts to grasp and live in and out of this life He has provided for us. After all, He who promised is faithful.

[1] Robert L. Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries : Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998).

Dreams and Visions

We often use the terms ‘dreams’ or ‘visions’ to refer to things we would like to see happen in our lives, things we desire. We refer to ‘dreaming’ of becoming a movie star, singer, preacher or any number of other aspirations. The reality is that dreams are things we aspire to and are linked to the idea of having a ‘vision’ for out future. While these ideas are often popular, in my experience many of us never achieve them, they remain just that, unfulfilled desires. An important point from a Christian perspective is that we need dreams and visions from the Father’s heart. Those are the ones worth pursuing. Yet, even if we know where we should get them from, and we have them, the ‘how to’ is not automatic.

I remember once hearing that ‘when opportunity knocks it usually shows up in work clothes.’ The idea being that for dreams and visions to be realized we need to do more than simply think about them; we need to take action. So let me tie dreams and visions to the reality of ‘work clothes.’

Dreams and visions are often amorphous. They are like a viewing a mountain from a great distance where specific aspects come into focus as we draw near. Our drawing near requires a strategy and persistence. The dream or vision pull us toward the future while a strategy anchors us in what we need to do in the present to achieve it, to reach our mountain.

To illustrate this, I will share from my own life since I know it best. I can remember as far back as high school having sense of a call to teach. I considered further education as a teacher but frankly I did not have great marks from grade 10-12. I had skipped a lot of school for a variety of reasons and just made it through grade 12 so I began my work career. At age 20 I was visiting my parents and my sister was home for a visit as well. I commented on not being happy with my job and my sister suggested I could go back to school. This comment was a spark that stirred something in me that led to action. I sought out some college information, applied for a program I was interested in, quit my job and moved 500 kilometres away to attend college. I simply assumed I would be accepted into the program, thankfully I was.

For my career I spent thirty-seven years working in the social services field. I was never employed as a teacher. The end? Not quite. In my career I intentionally sought out teaching opportunities, I took a certificate program in adult and continuing education through the university while working. I took training in conflict resolution and taught part time for the provincial program for a decade. I continued my education and did an MA in Conflict Management. Later in my career I became the manager of the training unit for the largest child welfare region in the country. I did some part time teaching at a local university. The last six years of my career I was the Director of Engagement and Education for a legislative office. I did a lot of teaching over my career.

Additionally, I became a believer early in my career and did ongoing teaching at church, including being the interim pastor of a church for about a year. Thus, while I was never formally a ‘teacher’ I frequently taught and still do because I pursued a calling and purpose that He had placed within me and took concrete steps to see this realized.

The idea of a calling or purpose is common in church circles while the fulfillment of it is not even though it is rooted in scriptural concepts. Years ago, I looked more deeply at Proverbs 20:5 because it relates to seeing dreams and visions fulfilled.

5 Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water, But a man of understanding will draw it out. Proverbs 20:5 (NKJV)

I realized there was more depth and so from my research created my own translation of Proverbs 20:5, ‘Purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a discerning man will draw it out.’ I have referenced it many times over the years. Interestingly, after I had done this the English Standard Version came out with this translation of the verse.

5 The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out. Proverbs 20:5 (ESV)

The Hebrew word translated as ‘understanding’ basically means to discern or understand, תְּבוּנָה tebunah (108b); from 995; an understanding:—discernment(1), reasonings(1), skill(1), skillful(1), skillfully(1), understanding(37).[1] Inherent in the verse is the idea that purpose or calling in our lives is put there by the Father and it needs to be drawn out of us. I believe we can draw it out ourselves or have others draw it out of us. We can see our dreams and visions realized if we recognize and respond to His calling, that which He has placed within us.

In each of our lives we have the opportunity to discern and then realize His calling and purpose in our lives. Even when we fail, we can still recover. We have an example of this in scripture with John Mark the cousin of Barnabas (Acts 12:12). He traveled with Paul and Barnabas on their first apostolic journey (Acts 13:5), deserted them and was rejected by Paul (Acts 13:13, 15:36-38). We later see Paul commending John Mark as a fellow worker and comfort to him (Colossians 4:10-11). Church history also tells us he is the author of the gospel of Mark.   

My conclusion, pursue His calling and purpose. If you don’t know what yours is then seek out wise counsel from mature and spiritually gifted believers who can discern and help you develop yours. When you have failures, like John Mark, seek out godly support and counsel and keep going, believing what Paul wrote.

6 being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; Philippians 1:6 (NKJV)

This is available to us, the mountain is calling, go climb it!

[1] Robert L. Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries : Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998).

A Godly Vision

In the business world and in organizational culture the idea of vision is presented as something important to follow. I believe there is truth in that idea but I think it only has lasting merit if it is a godly vison. To that end I am focusing on Proverbs 29:18 in relation to vision for our lives.

18 Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; But happy is he who keeps the law. Proverbs 29:18 (NKJV)

18 Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law. Proverbs 29:18 (ESV)

I have included Proverbs 29:18 from two translations as they capture the full range of meaning. Solomon is referring to prophetic vision/revelation. This is an insight Solomon had and penned for others to learn from. Here in this stand alone verse he contrasts those who lack revelation/prophetic vision with those who keep the law. At the time of his writing the Mosaic Law was the law Solomon was familiar with.

Given the existence of the law we need to consider the role of the prophets in relation to the law. Their primary job description wasn’t declaring things to come and prophesying the future, their main prophetic role was calling a wayward nation back to obedience to the law.

Knowing this let’s consider what Solomon is getting at and how it applies to our lives. Solomon is saying we need a revelation or vision of the importance of adherence to the law to live our lives rightly. That made sense in Solomon’s context. Those in Israel who had a revelation of the importance of the law and followed it lived their lives well. Look at what happened in Israel when Josiah called the nation back to adherence to the law (2 Kings 21:24–23:30; 2 Chronicles 33:25–35:27).

Obviously, we live in a different context so we need to consider how to theologically and practically apply this verse to our lives. Theologically we need a revelation of the importance of Jesus words.

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)

For us this means pursuing His call on our lives to love the Father, Son and Spirit and out of that to love our neighbours as ourselves. That is the theological perspective. Practically speaking loving God brings pleasure to His heart. Loving others means doing what is in their best interest. Not following our culture and seeking to make others feel good, though that may be the result. Loving others means speaking truth to them and living rightly before and toward them. Paul provides many practical examples of this type of life from Ephesians 4:17 – 6:9.  

Paul also provides similar instructions in his other letters for our day to day lives. One very practical example is Philippians where Paul tells us where and how to focus our thinking and the outcome we can anticipate.

8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8–9 (NKJV)

Living practically, we need a revelation of the importance of living rightly before the Lord and others and an awareness of the impact we will have on their lives and our community.

Servants or Leaders?

You have likely heard the term, ‘Lead, follow or get out of the way.’ While meant to encourage leadership I believe it merely demonstrates a lack of understanding of what an actual leader is like. We are all called to lead, which sometimes is demonstrated by following and at other times leading by not obstructing good leadership. Getting out of the way as it were. A good leader is first a good follower and analogous to this is the idea that to exercise authority well you need to have had some experience being under authority. To lead well we need an understanding of the impact of our behaviour on others from having been in their shoes. Wherever you are in your journey through life and in your walk with Jesus you are called to lead. Whether that is leading by example, influencing others or having authority over others, you need to lead. So, let’s look at how we do just that.

We can better understand our call to lead by looking at positional and relational authority. We don’t all have positional authority; we all have the opportunity to develop relational authority. Many times, over my years in leadership at work I made this comment, “If all you have is positional authority you don’t have any.” I would then go on to explain the need for relational authority. I people who follow my lead because they freely choose to, not due to forced compliance. I found in my career that when I developed meaningful working relationships with those over who I had positional authority they were more willing to follow my lead and support me in whatever tasks we needed to accomplish. In most leadership roles we need relational authority to accomplish tasks through others.

A great example of relational authority is friendship. I have friends who can ask me for things or ask me to do things and I do those things because we have a relationship and I trust their judgment. In those cases, they are leading me.

We see this in Jesus leadership style. He gathered His followers and demonstrated and taught many things. He coerced no one to follow Him. He often said hard and difficult things and yet they still followed. They followed because they valued the relationship Jesus had developed with them. Jesus presented it to the apostles this way just as they were vying for positional authority over one another.

24 Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest. 25 And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ 26 But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. 27 For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves. Luke 22:24–27 (NKJV)

Here Jesus contrasts positional authority with relational authority without using the exact words. I suspect my relationship with Him is what led me to begin using the terms many years ago, they described His servant leadership approach. If we believe Jesus, the best way to lead others is to learn to serve them. Which answers the question inherent in my title, are we servants or leaders? Neither really, we are called to be servant leaders so let’s lead by serving others and His kingdom. Whether in practical matters or in the place of prayer, let’s serve.