Knowing Jesus, Applying Grace

As a follow up to my last post on wisdom I am going to drill down further on wisdom and knowledge and look at how to exercise wisdom by acting on our knowledge. To begin, the simple distinction between wisdom and knowledge is that knowledge is possessing information; wisdom is knowing what to do with the information we possess. We see this all of the time in advice on diets and health. It is easy to arm people with knowledge. Imparting the wisdom to act on that knowledge is another matter. The same is true of sermons. Most sermons share knowledge. However, whether we act on that knowledge is another matter.

A major challenge in acting on what we know is the struggle of conflicting desires, as Paul laid out in Romans 7. Knowing what to do but struggling to exercise wisdom and act on it. Paul had both knowledge and wisdom but as he presented in Romans 7, struggled with the actual application.

15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. Romans 7:15–25 (NKJV)

One thing that is clear here is that the application of knowledge isn’t all about willpower. Paul said his will was right, his actions were not. Paul expressed very clearly that he knew what to do, wanted to do it and yet something was hindering his engaging in what he desired to do. Paul then pointed us to the need to draw on something outside of ourselves – grace! Grace has been defined by many as ‘unmerited favour’ but the definition falls short. Grace is that, but it is also His empowering presence, His enablement to do what He has called us to do. We see that in the very next verses in Romans.

1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1–2 (NKJV)

Paul described sin as ‘dwelling’ in his body, not his nature as he received a new nature at conversion (2 Corinthians 5:17, 21) but something inherent in fallen humanity that was not eradicated by his conversion. Which is why we need a glorified body at our resurrection or translation. Paul presented the battle against sin but he also pointed us to the solution. Sin is like gravity; it seeks to pull us down. If I hold my hand out with my phone in it and let go of my phone, unless there is an intervention it will fall to the ground, drawn by gravity. If I reach out and catch it with my other hand, I overcome the force of gravity and interrupt what would naturally take place.

In terms of applying knowledge to overcome the pull of sin, this interruption and overcoming of what would naturally take place is grace. Paul described the effect of grace as, ‘the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.’

At conversion Jesus came to dwell in me and you. If He is in us then He is also the source of the grace we can draw on to interrupt the power of sin in us. We are now back to knowledge. What we need to know now is how to exercise wisdom to draw on this grace. In a single word, intimacy. If I have developed an intimate relationship with Jesus, in my interactions with Him I will find myself rising above and moving away from the pull of sin. I do this by simply looking to His presence in my spirit. This is trusting Christ in me the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27) rather than my abilities. When I do this, I experience His empowering presence (grace) enabling me rise above the pull of sin.  

Two passages of scripture that speak further to this are in Hebrews and 1 Corinthians. We know that Jesus was without sin in the presence of temptation, not only in His wilderness temptation but also throughout the rest of His earthly life.

15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15 (NKJV)

We then have Paul telling us that when we are tempted, just as others are, that there is a way out.  

13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NKJV)

The way out is what I have outlined above, living in the reality of Romans 8 rather than Romans 7 and knowing Jesus within as Paul presented in Colossians. To that end, let’s pursue intimacy with Jesus and look to Him within that we may walk in wisdom.

Our Inner Life

In my last post I referenced one of my daily goals, walking in “presence centred repose.” Another goal I have is “living from an internal frame of reference.” While they are similar, the second goal takes the first a bit further. With presence centred repose I want to learn to always be conscious of His presence. In living from an internal frame or reference I want my decisions to be guided by His voice within my spirit. These goals are aspirational, not achievements. At the same time a Wayne Gretzky quote that has become famous in sports circles is, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” While it is often attributed to Michael Jordan, Gretzky said it in a 1983 interview before Jordan ever played in the NBA. Now back to the application.

What this means for me is that I fail at 100% of the goals I don’t seek to achieve. While my goal in living from an internal frame of reference is not perfection, it is to grow in my sensitivity to His presence, paying attention to His leading throughout each day. I approach this not as some elite spiritual practice, but as what I see Him calling us to in scripture.

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)

Over the years I have heard and read more than one teaching that stops at verse 9, implying we can’t know what God has prepared for us. Yet if we continue in the passage Paul is asserting the exact opposite. Paul says that we can know and the way that we can know is by the Spirit. For context, when Paul wrote this most of the New Testament had not yet been written. Paul wasn’t suggesting someone pull out their copy of the scriptures, as they didn’t have one. The Old Testament was complete but not something one could download or pick up a copy of at your local bookstore. They were rare and treasured. Paul was saying that the believers he wrote to needed to remember what he had taught them but also needed to, and could, receive knowledge of God from God, more specifically from the Holy Spirit.

Now to the implications for us. I have a decades old practice of being in the scriptures and spending time in prayer each morning to set the course of my day. That works for me. I know it doesn’t work for everyone. Some have shared that their prayer time takes place while driving to work, eyes open I assume! Some take time in the evening. Others don’t have an established prayer or reading time, it is random`. Whatever you do, the important thing is that if you have been born again you have the capacity to develop an inner life with your heart tuned to the Spirit. In fact, if you have been born again, I am confident that He has initiated just such a life. He has at times convicted you of the need to apologize or address an issue. He has prompted you to speak with and encourage someone. He has prompted you to be a listening ear. He may have also given you prophetic dreams or visions.

These are all aspects of 1 Corinthians 2 in practice. He initiates the process and we choose whether or not to go deeper. He wants each of us to do that but we get to decide the degree of sensitivity we cultivate. I pray we all choose to cultivate a deeper relationship with the Spirit and choose to live ‘from an internal frame of reference.’

The Church Part 5

I noted in my last post that here I would address 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 to represent (re-present) Jesus to one another and the world around us.

I begin with a verse in 1 Corinthians that I am often drawn to reflect on. A perspective from Paul that reflects the Lord’s heart and that I believe we need to find a way to operationalize when we gather.  

26 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 1 Corinthians 14:26 (NKJV)

First the context. Paul is referencing the gathering of the ekklesia. ‘Come together’ is a single word in Greek and it means to gather or assemble. What is important is what Paul says should happen. Different ones are to bring different gifts to share with the rest of the body. Paul qualifies the purpose of these various gifts – the building up of the body. Yet his view is not that one person would dominate a gathering, rather that leaders would create an environment where many would share and everyone would be blessed. In most church services does that happen? Does everyone feel they have an opportunity to hear from the Lord and share or have we primarily scheduled the Spirit out of our services?

I acknowledge that many good things happen in most church services on a Sunday morning or whenever people gather. Yet I believe that they can be much better. I believe that we can shift our focus so that more are involved and exercising their gifts and the body as a whole is being blessed in the process. I will return to this but first a shift to Paul’s heart for the ekklesia.

Galatians was Paul’s first letter. In it he expressed what I believe was, and remained throughout his life, his apostolic heart cry. The prayers in his later letters are anchored in this verse. Here is what I have long seen as Paul’s apostolic heart cry.  

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

The ‘you’ is plural and his entire focus was on seeing Jesus formed in the ekklesia. He expressed it this way in Colossians.

27 To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. 29 To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily. Colossians 1:27–29 (NKJV)

This is what Paul laboured for and we see it reflected in his prayers. Please read and prayerfully consider how these prayers apply to the ekklesia, a corporate body meant to reflect Jesus to a dying world.

16 do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, 18 the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power Ephesians 1:16–19 (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)

3 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, 5 for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, 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; 7 just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace. Philippians 1:3–7 (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)

Paul’s heart cry was for wisdom and revelation, spiritual understanding and an awareness that we were being built into a spiritual house. In Ephesians 4:16 Paul said the body of Christ, believers, are “joined and knit together by what every joint supplies” and went on to say that the for the body the grow the work of the various parts must be effective. An important reality is that a joint is a relationship between two parts. As we are effectively joined to others in the body, we build one another up. This ties back to 1 Corinthians 14:26.

To be effective, we need not only relationships, we need healthy ones built on koinonia, genuine fellowship. When this is in place, we create a family environment where relationships are open and respectful. An environment where humour and laughter are honoured. I remember when my son was a teenager and his friends would come over to our house. I used to say I knew his friends were comfortable in our home when they started making fun of me too – which a number of them did. They did it because they felt comfortable and safe to do so and many of them also knew me as their coach in sports. What they never knew me as was authoritarian. While I exercised authority, I also respected them and treated them with dignity.

We now come to our final area. In my first offering in this series, I referenced the following passage and said I would come back to it, so I close addressing these verses.

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)

This passage is frequently referenced regarding praying together or agreeing in prayer, fine things in and of themselves. Yet the context is church discipline. The preceding verses deal with how we are to address someone sinning against us by first going to them, then going with witnesses then bringing the matter before the assembly. The reference to ‘two or three’ in the culture is that the creation of a synagogue required ten men. Only two or three were required to constitute the ekklesia because Jesus was also present. Paul knew this and referenced the idea in dealing with disciplinary matters in the church at Corinth.

3 For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 1 Corinthians 5:3–5 (NKJV)

Paul went on in chapter 6 (6:1-11) to upbraid the Corinthians for not acting as judges in issues of sin among the ekklesia. I recognize this is difficult in general and in our present culture in particular. I am an administrator in a Christian and Atheist debate group on Facebook. At one point a young fellow joined the group. When I responded to one of his comments with disagreement, he informed me that he was going to report me to Facebook for bullying. I pointed out that he had joined a debate group and people were going to disagree with him. He left the group. While the example may sound extreme, culturally that type of thinking is becoming more the norm with the emerging generation (a good book on the issue is The Coddling of the American Mind).

While addressing issues, in particular sin, is difficult, in a healthy family environment, issues are in fact addressed and dealt with. In our walk with Jesus if we are seeking to create and be part of a kingdom ekklesia, a family, rather than furthering our present church culture, we will find a way. Leaders will foster an environment where we receive support, flow in our gifts and are free to challenge one another.

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 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?

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.

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 (http://wisdomfromtheword.ca/new-wineskins-part-4/) 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?