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 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?

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.

Among Us

I last wrote about the significance of Moses realization that he needed to know Yahweh’s character in addition to His presence. I did this by looking primarily at Exodus 33. The next step is looking at Yahweh’s presence in relation to sacred space.

First a brief primer on sacred space. Eden was sacred space because Yahweh dwelt there and when Adam and Eve sinned, they could no longer remain in sacred space. When Moses met Yahweh in Exodus 3:2-6 he was instructed to remove his sandals, he was on holy ground, sacred space. We see a more explicit understanding of sacred space in the role of the scapegoat. We are likely all familiar with the term scapegoat but we may not know the origin. Below is the Levitical passage that is the source of the term. I have used the ESV as it clarifies something missing in many translations.

10 but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel. Leviticus 16:10 (ESV)

Azazel is the Hebrew term usually translated into English as ‘scapegoat.’ However, the Ancient Near East literature from the Second Temple period and the Dead Sea Scrolls inform us that Azazel is a proper name. Azazel was viewed as the leader of the rebellious Elohim who fell in Genesis 6. In Ancient Near East culture, the sea and the desert both represented chaos, darkness and the realm of the fallen ones. In the annual ritual the live goat was being sent to Azazel not sent as a sacrifice. Once the sins of the nation were confessed over the goat and the goat was taken to the wilderness the sins being sent to the place and being to whom they belonged, Azazel.

21 Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. 22 The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness. Leviticus 16:21–22 (NKJV)

Here, Israel was cleansed of sin both through sacrifice and ritual at the tabernacle as well as sending the sins of the nation to Azazel. This is a primer for understanding the role of sacred space in Israel in terms of Yahweh’s ability to dwell among them. In Exodus 33-34 following the golden calf incident a distinction is made between Yahweh appearing versus dwelling among or in the midst of Israel.

We see it in Exodus 33 and 34.

3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” Exodus 33:3 (NKJV)

8 So Moses made haste and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped. 9 Then he said, “If now I have found grace in Your sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray, go among us, even though we are a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your inheritance.” Exodus 34:8–9 (NKJV)

Whenever Israel failed disaster struck the nation. If Yahweh went among them and they sinned again they would be consumed due to His holiness. There needed to be a way for Yahweh to dwell among them without consuming them, a way for Him to ‘go among’ them as Moses requested. Exodus 13:20-22 describes the behaviour of the pillar of fire and the cloud, the manifestations of Yahweh’s presence, as going ‘before’ Israel, never among them. Then we have Exodus 33:7-11 describing Yahweh’s presence descending on the tent of meeting but it had to be ‘outside the camp.’ We only see His presence in the camp once the Tabernacle of Moses is completed. Chapter 40 describes all of the rituals and sacrifices required in the setting up and use of the Tabernacle. The result is a transition in how Yahweh interacts with them as He is now among them.

34 Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 36 Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, the children of Israel would go onward in all their journeys. 37 But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not journey till the day that it was taken up. 38 For the cloud of the Lord was above the tabernacle by day, and fire was over it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys. Exodus 40:34–38 (NKJV)

The important part is that the Tabernacle of Moses was in the midst of the people of Israel not outside the camp. In Numbers 2 Moses provided instructions for how the tribes of Israel were to camp. They were set up three tribes to each of the four directions, north, south, east and west with the Tabernacle in the middle.  

 An additional part around the role of the Tabernacle relates to the Ark of the Covenant. It was Yahweh’s dwelling place, His footstool (heaven is my throne and earth is my footstool, Isaiah 66:1). This is why we see the following verses in scripture.

7 Let us go into His tabernacle; Let us worship at His footstool. 8 Arise, O Lord, to Your resting place, You and the ark of Your strength. Psalm 132:7-8 (NKJV)

41 “Now therefore, Arise, O Lord God, to Your resting place, You and the ark of Your strength. Let Your priests, O Lord God, be clothed with salvation, And let Your saints rejoice in goodness. 2 Chronicles 6:41 (NKJV)

The people wanted Yahweh to be active among them in His dwelling place, to arise ‘to’ rest upon the Ark of the Covenant between the wings of the cherubim. As a bit of an aside, when I was twenty-two, I had started attending church off and on. The Lord had not yet captured my heart, that would happen at 25. However, I had read and knew a fair bit of scripture. I was in a service and they sang the song ‘O the Glory of His Presence’ based on Psalm 132:8. Not knowing that the song writer had gotten it wrong and written ‘arise from your rest’ rather than ‘arise to your rest’ I pointed this out to the pastor. Rather than showering me with effusive praise he brushed me aside. I was genuinely trying to be helpful and though I didn’t understand all the significance at the time, I knew ‘to’ was correct. Yahweh isn’t engaged in resting and needing to join the people, He is present and the request is for His manifest presence on His resting place.  

            Now, it is important to look at what this means for us as believers. When we were born again the Holy Spirit brought about a new birth in our spirit and we became His dwelling place individually and corporately (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:19). As a result, we both are and also carry sacred space. We carry Him with us wherever we go and one of our jobs is to influence the spiritual atmosphere around us by asking Jesus to move with us as His resting place whenever we interact with others. Let’s do that.

Here is the song Oh the Glory of His Presence by Jesus Image. They do the song correctly with ‘to Your rest.’

Oh The Glory Of His Presence (Live) – Bing video

A Thin Place

Three decades ago, I realized the important connection in Exodus 33 and 34 between opportunity and experiential reality and wrote about it. I have often come back to this awareness and I am still pursuing the experiential reality. Given how I view the importance of it I have written about it again.

Over the years I have heard a number of sermons regarding Moses’ prayer in Exodus 33 and his heart cry for Yahweh’s presence to go with them to the land of their promised inheritance. With the exception of one I heard a couple of years ago, I believe they all missed the point. I will delve into the verses below to illustrate what I mean.     

1 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Depart and go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’ 2 And I will send My Angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanite and the Amorite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. 3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” Exodus 33:1–3 (NKJV)

12 Then Moses said to the Lord, “See, You say to me, ‘Bring up this people.’ But You have not let me know whom You will send with me. Yet You have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found grace in My sight.’ 13 Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight. And consider that this nation is Your people.” 14 And He said, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 Then he said to Him, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth.” 17 So the Lord said to Moses, “I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name.” 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 33:12–20 (NKJV)

We see in these verses that Yahweh promised His presence as they traveled and Moses knew the importance of His presence, given he had spent so much time in it. Yet in spite of that assurance his heart longed for something more. He had the realization that while Yahweh’s presence was to be valued it didn’t automatically confer intimacy! It was the doorway or access point, a thin place. The opportunity to pierce the veil between the natural and spiritual realms.

We see a remarkable event being played out starting in verse 12. Moses had been on the mountain with Yahweh, he had spent hour upon hour interacting with Him in ‘the tent of meeting,’ that Yahweh’s visible presence rested upon. They met ‘face to face’ (though Yahweh spoke, it is clear from the text that Moses never actually saw His face). Here in verse 12 Moses in essence says, “You know me but I don’t really know You, who are You?” Moses has the realization that though Yahweh knows Him, all of his time with Yahweh has not given him a revelation of Yahweh’s character.

This whole episode wasn’t about whether Yahweh would go with them, it was about who Yahweh was, the one going with them.

Now we may wonder what this encounter has to do with us and our walk of faith. Let me carry it over to our prayer and worship times, whether individual or corporate. In both circumstances, like Moses, we are spending time with Yahweh. Like Israel, we have a given, His presence is with us. I believe prayer and worship times are thin places, places that provide the opportunity for intimate encounter. They are an opportunity to know Him, to ask Him to show us His glory (we see from Exodus 33:18-20 and 34:5-7 that Yahweh’s glory is His character).

Times of prayer and worship are ‘thin places.’ Places where if we are sensitive to His presence, we have encounter opportunities. May we use them in a wise and ‘timely’ manner.  

Thin Place by Vineyard Worship captures this concept.

Carrying His Heart

In my last post I wrote about the relationship and importance of prayer regarding an eternal perspective. Here I am continuing to expand on prayer, beginning with a little bit of context. I have read many accounts of people having amazing spiritual encounters with the Lord and that leading to prayer and travail. I have heard testimonies and read accounts of people praying for hours and it seemed like minutes. Wonderful – not me. I find that I need to be disciplined and diligent in prayer. I have never prayed in the morning, or any other time, and had an experience where even half an hour seemed like it was mere minutes. I have however had greater and lesser experiences of His presence and leading in prayer.

At the same time, I choose to simply follow His command to pray whether or not I have a sense of His presence and leading in the morning. This is simply honouring His requirement to be found faithful (1 Corinthians 4:2). This is one aspect of carrying His heart and I think it is encapsulated in this verse, which I will illustrate.

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 (NKJV)

The idea of praying without ceasing does not mean praying 24 hours a day, a logical impossibility. It does mean holding our heart in an attitude of prayer and responding to His leading in prayer whenever the opportunity arises.

Here we will focus in on carrying His heart outside of a set prayer time (hopefully you have one). In my life I regularly have experiences of thinking of someone and sensing a call to pray for them. This can happen at any time during the day or when I am walking, hiking or biking. At times I wake up during the night and He brings someone to mind and I sense a call to pray for them. I often wake up during the night, I don’t always pray!

To be clear, there are no flashes of lightening, no deep travail, just the sense of a calling and opportunity to pray. I think this is something available to all of us if we cultivate an awareness of His presence and ask Him to develop and deepen our awareness of Him throughout our days.

I believe this sensitivity to His presence requires a gentleness on our part, which I will illustrate with something that happened a few days ago when I was walking my son’s dog. I came across a large and beautiful butterfly on the sidewalk that was struggling to get airborne. I put my finger under the many legs and it climbed on and I gently lifted it up. It was amazing to study close up, face to face as it were. On my finger it began to move its wings then slowly flew off gaining altitude. I continued my walk.

Think of this as Him calling us to prayer at various times throughout the day. He brings our awareness to something; I saw the butterfly struggling. We then engage with what He brings to our attention, usually a person. We follow up by lifting this object of prayer up to Him and release it (unless He keeps bringing it back) then continue on with our day. This is carrying His heart.

Embracing His Kingdom Part 2

In my last post I stated that in this one I would delve into how the kingdom of God functions and our role in it. The first thing to note is that the kingdom functions based on authority. That may seem too obvious but it is an important reality. Jesus operated under the Father’s authority in His earthly ministry. His submission in His humanity is what enabled Him to function. The key passage in scripture that relates to our role in the advancement of the kingdom is what we refer to as The Great Commission.

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)

Here we see that all authority has been given to Jesus due to His sacrificial submission to the Father’s purpose in redemption. Next, we see that He has delegated to us the responsibility to extend His kingdom on the earth through two things. 1 – Evangelism, 2- Discipleship. Every time someone is newly born again the kingdom is extended or expanded in the earth. Every time someone grows in their faith and the application of it, the kingdom grows deeper in the earth.

            Practically we need to walk in submission, come under His authority, to operate in the authority He has delegated to us. We see this with Jesus when He submitted to baptism by John the Baptist and when He shared how He ministered in response to what the Father was showing Him.  

14 And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” 15 But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him. Matthew 3:14–15 (NKJV)

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)

The practical implication of these verses is that for us to walk in authority and live out The Great Commission we need to embrace submission to the Father’s heart and move as He directs us. When He prompts us to speak up, we need to speak up. When He prompts us to remain silent, we need to remain silent. When He nudges us to give a prophetic word to someone, we need to give the word.

            In my own experience I have ministered to a lot of people over the years through both teaching and prayer ministry. I have sought to be sensitive to His voice in the process. At times I have had words from the Lord for someone that I had to wait to share. At other times I have given words from the Lord when it was clear He had opened a door, a kairos moment. I have had things to share with individuals or groups that I knew needed to be bathed in intercession prior to being shared. Each of these moments were the extending of His kingdom and exercising His authority through submission to His word and presence.

The above illustrates some ways that He has called us to embrace His kingdom. They may be different for each of us. Some are called to focus on evangelism, some to focus on intercession, others on discipling others. I know in my own life my primary calling is to build His body through teaching and intercession.

            A key factor I referenced last week was the distinction between seeing and entering the kingdom as Jesus presented it to Nicodemus.

3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” John 3:3-5 (NKJV)

When we were born again, we perceived and became aware of the kingdom of God. Our next choice was whether we entered into it and became actively involved, whether we embraced the kingdom. I encourage you, ask Him how He wants you to be involved then walk in submission to Him exercising the authority He has given you to extend His kingdom.

Following Part 1

We may desire to follow Jesus but doing so is a daily choice as we compete with the siren call of our culture. Jesus has called each of us to daily follow Him and He expressed it this way.

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. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. Luke 9:23–24 (NKJV)

            We need to do a little excavating of the context and text to understand this passage (see also Matthew 16 and Mark 8). Jesus presented this challenge just after the 12 recognized Jesus as the Messiah and He predicted His pending death and resurrection. The larger context is that while the 12 and the crowd were familiar with crucifixion, they didn’t understand at the time that Jesus was to be crucified so Jesus wasn’t calling them, or by extension us, to crucifixion. He was calling us to follow Him.

            Matthew, Mark and Luke were all pointing to something and all wrote on this side of the cross, while Jesus spoke these words on the other side of the cross. He told us that we needed to deny ourselves and take up our cross in order to follow Him. Bear in mind, many of His hearers had already sacrificed a great deal to follow Him. What was put before them here was the need to maintain this heart attitude of daily choosing to follow.

Jesus’ cross was His purpose. We see this as He begins His final journey to Jerusalem.

51 Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, Luke 9:51 (NKJV)

At this point nothing was going to deter Jesus from His purpose. He was headed to Jerusalem where He knew crucifixion and death awaited, followed by a resurrection. Our following Him doesn’t mean literal death, though in some cases it may. It means laying down our agenda and taking up His. This is where the denying part comes in. For some of us in our day it may mean openly sharing our faith at work when we think it safer to remain silent. For some of us denying ourselves will mean remaining silent when we want to speak up. For others it may mean standing against oppression or tyranny.

            The cross may be different for each of us. Where it is the same is in our need to lay down our agenda and take up His. It is counting the cost and setting our face to follow Jesus. I close this post with a brief illustration. Many years ago, my friend Evelyn (who is now with the Lord) shared an encounter she had. She was in the spirit realm and Jesus appeared to her. She said He never said anything, He simply looked at her then turned around and started walking. She said she knew what it meant; He was calling her to follow Him so she did. I won’t share all the details but she lived her life denying herself and following Him and the fruit was very evident to all who knew her. I pray we each make that same daily choice.  

            Next week I will go more into some practical details around how to follow. However, today we are between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, so listen to Forever by Kari Jobe as she captures the significance of both events.

Kari Jobe – Forever (Live) – Bing video

A Fragrance Poured Forth

Easter looms large for the church each year as we celebrate Jesus sacrificial death and resurrection. As we prepare for Easter it is helpful to reflect on an event. In the days leading to Jesus sacrifice we have the oft told story of Mary anointing Jesus with oil. I don’t know about you, but had I been in Jesus’ place I would have been very uncomfortable with this level of public attention and public demonstration. Embarrassment would have likely been my response. Yet Jesus not only accepted the attention, He embraced it. I think there were two reasons for that. Frist, when we view Jesus’ interactions in the gospels He presents as utterly unselfconscious. Second, He knew the prophetic purpose of Mary’s anointing, preparation for His crucifixion and burial.

8 “She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial.”  Mark 14:8 NKJV

To go deeper let’s set the stage a bit. We know from the different gospel accounts that the event took place at the house of Simon the Leper/Pharisee (the passages from Matthew, Mark and John are below). We can safely conclude that Jesus had healed him or there would have only been the two of them at the meal given the culture of the day! We also know that Judas was Simon’s son (John 12:4) so this event appears to have taken place in his family home. This explains Judas taking such offense when publicly rebuked by Jesus. Judas being the son of a Pharisee also explains his easy access to the religious leaders to betray Jesus.

Having set the stage consider the event. The main characters are Mary and Jesus. The others have a role but Mary takes centre stage by way of her sacrifice. She breaks an alabaster box filled with spikenard. Referred to as spikenard or nard, this costly oil was made from the dried roots and stems of the nard plant and imported from India. Not only does Mary engage in an extravagant financial sacrifice, she engages in an extravagant social sacrifice.

Mary defies convention, and out of love for Jesus violates custom and interrupts both the meal and the discourse. She pours the fragrant oil on Jesus’ head and feet and cleans His feet with her hair. The fragrance would have permeated the room and since she poured it on Him, then rubbed it in, the fragrance would have lingered for days on Jesus’ hair and clothes (They didn’t get up and have a hot shower every day in that time and culture).

Now we come to us. What Mary really poured out on Jesus was her love and devotion and the fragrance spread to others. She was willing to sacrifice to love Jesus and He calls us to do the same. I am confident that Mary was directed by the Spirit in what she did, simply based on Jesus’ response. Mary’s sacrifice cost her something precious that she poured out on someone she considered more precious.

As we are in this season of reflection on Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection let’s consider what we have or are willing to sacrifice out of love for Jesus. I know I have poured out my worship on Him, I can’t say that I have loved and worshipped like Mary. When she did this nothing in scripture suggests Mary had any awareness of Jesus pending crucifixion and resurrection. I believe her love for Jesus caused her to act. We don’t know how she felt as she stepped into the room and all eyes turned to her as she broke this box, we do know that her focus was on Jesus not the other guests. Let’s focus on Him and see where it leads us as we seek to leave a lingering fragrance through our worship.

John 12:1–7 (NKJV)

1 Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. 2 There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. 3 Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. 4 But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, 5 “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it. 7 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial.

Mark 14:1–10 (NKJV)

1 After two days it was the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take Him by trickery and put Him to death. 2 But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar of the people.” 3 And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head. 4 But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, “Why was this fragrant oil wasted? 5 For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they criticized her sharply. 6 But Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. 7 For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. 8 She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. 9 Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” 10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Him to them.

Matthew 26:6–16 (NKJV)

6 And when Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table. 8 But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? 9 For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor.” 10 But when Jesus was aware of it, He said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me. 11 For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always. 12 For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial. 13 Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” 14 Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?” And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver. 16 So from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him.

Jesus Culture Look to the Lamb