The Place of Inconvenience

            We live in a culture that values convenience, instant results and instant gratification. We are loathe to make sacrifices. I don’t know how many of you have ever fasted, I haven’t done it for some time, I do confess that when I did it regularly, I never enjoyed it! I also don’t think I did it very well. That aside, we need to address how being trained to convenience in our culture can get in the way of spiritual development. I am not going to focus on works or earning spiritual gifts. Yet, here is something to consider. Spiritual growth requires our involvement and commitment.

            To better understand this let’s inject ourselves into first century culture in Israel. Most communication was verbal, access to a library was a luxury. For the majority of the population the bulk of their time was spent surviving. You had to raise your food, get supplies for your fire to heat your oven to cook, walk if you wanted to get somewhere and make your own clothing and shoes. No phones, no newspapers, no hot showers and a host of other conveniences. The newspaper was whatever was shared at the local market or by strangers passing through your village.

I share this to provide a bit of perspective. Now, think of John the Baptist then Jesus. Crowds followed both of them and frequently did so at great inconvenience. They went into the wilderness to find them. They needed to pack with them whatever food was required. Based on Jesus feeding the multitudes more than once, many of them either stayed too long or were unable to take enough with them when they followed Him. They ended up physically hungry because what they valued more than physical hunger was seeking to satisfy their spiritual hunger.

            I recognize that while the crowds went out into the wilderness to hear from Jesus and followed Him around to desolate and dusty places this wasn’t all that happened. Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding, healed in the synagogue and attended banquets. Yet wherever He went Jesus called for commitment because He wanted us to value what He offered.      

            Thus, in our present culture of convenience are we demonstrating that we value spiritual growth and are willing to be inconvenienced to achieve it? Study the history of revival and the commitment people made to prayer to see it happen. Hungry people traveled great distances to touch and catch the fire and vision. Jesus is still looking for the hungry, not the complacent. A few scriptures from Matthew demonstrate that.

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled. Matthew 5:6 (NKJV)

33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Matthew 6:33 (NKJV)

18 And when Jesus saw great multitudes about Him, He gave a command to depart to the other side. 19 Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” 20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 21 Then another of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 22 But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” 23 Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him. Matthew 8:18–23 (NKJV)

28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:28–29 (NKJV)

Jesus calls us to hunger and thirst, to pursue His kingdom, to follow Him and to take on His yoke, a euphemism for becoming His disciple.

            Scripture has a way of sometimes casually highlighting truth. In the passage above where some found the call to follow Jesus inconvenient verse 23 captures the attitude of others, ‘His disciples followed Him.’ Plain simple unvarnished truth. Jesus disciples follow Him. It is that simple. When He calls us He expects us to follow. My good friend Evelyn stepped from time into eternity in December of 2017. On a couple of occasions she shared with me a simple encounter she had with Jesus in a vision. She said He appeared, looked at her and then turned and began walking. She knew He was saying, ‘follow me’ and that is what she did with her life.

            He still calls and He still expects us to follow. Let’s do that. After all, much is waiting for us in walking with Him, but we may have to pray the price of inconvenience to receive it.

The Mind of Christ Part 3

            In my previous two posts on this subject, we addressed that the mind of Christ is accessible but not automatic and then looked at how we access Jesus’ mind via the Spirit, though not in detail. He we get further into the details.

Years ago, there was a movie with the title Lost in Translation. While I never saw the movie, the title captures what sometimes happens with scripture. In the process of translation, we sometimes lose important and practical information. The passage below is an example. We can gain what was lost by looking closely at the meaning of the words natural and spiritual in verses 14 and 15.

13 These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. 16 For “who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:13-16 (NKJV)

The word translated as spiritual in verse 15 is the adjective form of spirit. The word translated as natural is the adjective form of soul, Thus, it would be better rendered as soulish so that we can see the contrast between soulish and spiritual that is actually what Paul is highlighting. (As an aside, I first came across this idea in Watchman Nee’s most significant work, The Spiritual Man about 35 years ago.) Many assume that ‘natural’ means unregenerate but that doesn’t fit the context. Let’s look at verses 14-15 again plugging in both adjective forms.

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

Paul’s contrast between soulish and spiritual is not on whether or not we are born again. It is on what we are drawing from or living from. The soulish person may be unregenerate or they may not be paying attention to the Spirit and so be soulish when they should be spiritual. After all, that is the focus of Paul’s rebuke in in the next chapter. He rebukes the Corinthian believers for not being spiritual and is shocked that they are acting like ‘mere men’ (verses 1 and 3).

            To be spiritual is to look to and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s point from chapter 2 verse 9 on into chapter 3 is that we don’t receive the things of the Spirit through our natural/soulish reasoning. He says that the Lord wants to speak to us but also says that the only one who knows the things of God is the Spirit because He searches the depths (2:10) and He reveals things to us, which must be discerned by comparing spiritual things with spiritual things rather than soulish things.   

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. 13 These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

            What we see in 1 Corinthians as a whole is people who were focused on who they followed (name dropping – Paul, Apollos, Peter), people who were misusing spiritual gifts out of ambition and a desire for recognition rather than love, and people creating division around communion, the very antithesis of the unity the act proclaims. Paul’s point is that if they were actually spiritual rather than soulish their behaviour would be much different, it would look a lot more like 1 Corinthians 13 (the love chapter).

We are called to be led by the Spirit and discern His voice. This is generally an inner prompting regarding our thoughts and actions. I am confident we have all had them. The caution to say or not say something the inner cautions regarding our thinking. I can remember decades ago I was walking up the parkade steps to my office. I was frustrated with the behaviour of one of the staff and not having the best thoughts about them. I don’t remember the situation or what I was thinking. I do remember I stumbled on the stairs and internally I clearly heard the Holy Spirit say, “That kind of thinking will make you stumble.” I also remember being tempted to do something once and clearly hearing Galatians 5:8, “This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you.”

Many times, I have had inner promptings regarding a call to say or do something. Recently a friend had asked me to pray about something. A couple of days later I had an inner leading to pray for him. As I began praying, I had an image of him being encrusted with a thin translucent substance that hindered his movements. I then saw it being shattered and him moving more freely. He responded by sending me a picture of a large electrical panel he was working on, the brand was ‘Freer.’ Confirmations of having His mind are not always that quick or clear. We can however know whether or not we have His mind.   

To know if we are receiving from and being led by the Spirit, we only need to look at whether we are acting in love toward our fellow believers and those around us. After all the message of 1 Corinthians is the message of Galatians. Being led by the Spirt produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control. If we are living this way, no matter our gifts or lack thereof, we have the mind of Christ!  

The Mind of Christ Part 2

            As noted in my previous post, the phrase ‘we have the mind of Christ’ is from 1 Corinthians 2:16. I stated that I would get into the practical aspects of accessing Jesus’ mind. To do that we start by backing up a bit in the chapter with the following verses.

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)

            First, a little more context. We know that Paul concluded this section by stating that he and Sosthenes had the mind of Christ. However, he wasn’t simply contrasting his views with the views of the believers in Corinth. Clearly, they did not have the mind of Christ or he wouldn’t have written this corrective letter, yet in his writing he was also contrasting his views with those of the world and those who crucified Jesus!

Importantly, Paul shares how he received the mind of Christ – through the Spirit. Having the Lord’s mind, as I noted in my last post, is about having His perspective. Paul’s point in the passage above is that the things of God are revealed to us by the Spirit, that is they are available to us as believers. He is quite explicit in his conclusion, ‘we have received…the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.’

            In applying this idea of receiving from the Spirit we immediately run into a problem. In the modern church many people claim to hear things from the Spirit that the discerning recognize are not in line with scripture. Just as some in the Corinthian church had very wrong ideas. To sort through this, it is important to recognize that Paul did not arbitrarily claim to receive things from the Spirit then try to present them as settled doctrine. Even though he received the gospel directly from Jesus (Galatians 1:11-12), he went and submitted it to those who were apostles before he was to confirm he was hearing correctly (Galatians 2:1-10). We see in larger doctrinal debates in the church a reference back to existing scripture, the Old Testament. In Acts 15:15-17 James quoted Amos to support his conclusion. On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 Peter appealed to what was happening by drawing on the Old Testament, Joel chapter 2.

My point, whatever perspective we hold must be rooted in scripture. In writing to Timothy, Paul highlighted the importance of scripture.  

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16–17 (NKJV)

We can and should hear and receive from the Spirit so that we have the mind of Christ. However, given Paul felt the need to assess what he heard directly from Jesus we certainly need to weigh whatever we hear alongside what the scriptures have to say.

            In my next and final post on this subject I will address what Paul is getting at regarding the spiritual and natural as we go a little deeper into 1 Corinthians 2:13-16.

What Every Joint Supplies

In my last post I addressed the importance of community in general and the role that we as believers are called to play in strengthening our communities. Here we will look more specifically at the importance of community within the church. We are called to be salt and light in our culture and one way we do that is by demonstrating a community which is far greater than that which the world around us possesses. I know that isn’t the experience of many of us in the church but it is clearly the call of scripture. Every time we partake of communion (koinonia in Greek, which means participation or fellowship) we are declaring our common union and fellowship with Jesus and our brothers and sisters in Christ. I believe we need to not only announce it, we need to live it.    

Ephesian 4 is one place where we see the purpose ad benefit of our common union. Here we see the fruit of community within the church illustrated.

11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. Ephesians 4:11-16 (NKJV)

While I believe in the present day need for the five-fold ministry giftings of verse 11 I am aware not everyone does, which is fine. We can simply think if it as leadership in the church. The passage is about the purpose of leaders in equipping the saints and preparing them to minister. We also have the exhortation to speak the truth in love. These are important points. However, while providing the passage for context, I want to focus on one verse, 16.

            This verse is about community and growth in the body. When we break it down a bit we first, we see “the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies.” We then see, “according to the effective working by which every part does its share.” Finally, the result, “causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” 

            Bodies cannot function without joints. While that is obvious, I don’t know how often we reflect on what a joint is and does. A joint is a relationship between parts. Some joints are simple hinge joints like our knee or elbow. Others like the ankle are a little more complex and one that is often injured is the shoulder. Most of us are familiar with the term ‘rotator cuff injury’ because it is quite common. The reason it is easily injured is that the shoulder joint is a complex number of parts coming together.  

Going back to Paul, his point is that the body of Christ is held together and grows by the relationships within it, community. The more the parts the greater the opportunity for injury and the greater capacity to move through a varied range of motion. Taking this analogy into church life, the greater the number of people the greater the opportunity for both offences and effective growth.

As per my note on different joints, some relationships are more complex than others, but all are needed. Joints supply something, they accomplish work. When that is done effectively in the human body it enables effective functioning, in the body of Christ it causes growth.

            We can relate this to a home group, bible study or church service. I will use a Sunday morning service to illustrate how joints should function. The sermon and worship are important on any given Sunday morning, yet the focus for Paul is not on the music or sermon. His focus is on whether they lead to the members connecting, being joints, and building one another up. The interaction at the entrance, outside the bathroom, at the back of the sanctuary, are all opportunities for the body to experience community. Leadership should facilitate this and many other opportunities. If they don’t we come in on a Sunday, stand and sit on cue and leave without these interactions. In that case we are not part of a community, we are part of an organization or system.

            Given that most of us are not leaders in the body of Christ our role is to make connections, find the other parts of our joint when we have the opportunity so that the body will grow. To paraphrase a famous line from Martin Luther King Junior, “Be the best part of a joint in the world and the world will beat a path to your door.” I have often thought that King came up with his idea from Proverbs.

29 Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before unknown men. Proverbs 22:29 (NKJV)

Whenever we encounter another member of the body of Christ, we have the opportunity to be part of a joint, to join with them in strengthening the body by encouraging them, praying for one another, helping one another focus on Jesus and many other similar things. We can be a healthy joint.

As a concluding thought, the idea of a solitary Christian is an oxymoron. We were created for community and to strengthen one another. As Paul put it,

13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free – and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:13 (NKJV)  

If we aren’t presently taking the opportunities to embrace our function as part of a joint let’s find some other parts we can connect and join with to see His body grow in a healthy way. We are called to do what we can with what we have where are, demonstrating koinonia, Christian community!

Community

            A principle I was taught while growing up was to try and leave things better than I found them. Here I will apply that concept to community. I have in the past referenced the importance of the following verse from Proverbs.

11 By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted, But it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked. Proverbs 11:11 (NKJV)

In looking at this it is important to remember that a city is a community made up of many people with differing views and desires. Here is a brief example that highlights what I am referencing. I was recently speaking with someone at a Pickleball court and I noted all he has done over the years to build community where he lives. He volunteers and helps out in a variety of areas. He does this because he not only sees what is, he sees what could be and so invests his life in his community. While this man is not a believer, he blesses and strengthens his community by his actions.

I seek to think from a scriptural perspective and part of a scriptural perspective is recognizing the importance of building a community. For example, I remember years ago helping to rebuild the playground in our neighbourhood. This wasn’t a ‘Christian’ event but it was an event that helped to strengthen community in our neighbourhood, which is Christian.

In line with the broader idea of community there is another verse in Proverbs that is important.

2 Because of the transgression of a land, many are its princes; But by a man of understanding and knowledge Right will be prolonged. Proverbs 28:2 (NKJV)

Currently in our land, Canada, we are in a precarious place. Right is not only not being prolonged; it is being fought against in our nation. The most vehement opposition is coming from many of our elected officials and our education system. We need men and women with understanding and knowledge to rise up to establish righteousness in our nation. We won’t get anywhere by cursing the darkness, it is easy to see the transgressions. What we need is wisdom to shine the light of truth in every corner of our land so that what is right is strengthened.

            One way to shine the light of truth is through looking at how we engage in prayer. The pattern of prayer for specific places is a pattern in scripture. In Psalm 122 there is an exhortation to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. That would include praying for the spiritual and religious leaders to walk in the way of peace and wisdom. In context Israel was at the time living in the land Yahweh had given them and Jerusalem was their capital city, religiously and politically.  

6  Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you.” Psalm 122:6 (NKJV)

Another example of the call to pray for a specific city is in Jeremiah. The nation was going into captivity. Rather than telling them to curse their captors (the Lord was causing this as judgement for their apostasy) Jeremiah said to pray for the city because by blessing it they would have peace in living in this new place.

 
7  And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace. Jeremiah 29:7 (NKJV)

            In summary, wherever we live and act we have the opportunity to be a blessing and strengthen our community and nation. After all, a nation is made up of many communities. We have the opportunity to focus our prayers and actions on ways to build supportive godly communities. Without knowing when Jesus will return, we can focus our efforts on doing what we can with what we have where we are. We all have the opportunity to leave things better than we found them so let’s bless the places we live!  

Building the Wall Part 2

In my last post I used the example of how Nehemiah rebuilt the wall in Jerusalem to look at the importance of rebuilding an actual scriptural worldview in the church. I noted the need to assess our own worldview to identify whether we hold a worldview at odds with scripture (most of us do), seek the Lord in intercession and then respond with a plan of action. As noted in Part 1, research demonstrates the terrible lack of a scriptural worldview in the church. Thus, using my definition of worldview, ‘The lens through which we view and interpret reality’ let’s take a look at our lens to determine whether we individually hold a scriptural worldview.

We begin by acknowledging the obvious, for the most part, the church rather than influencing the culture has been greatly influenced by the surrounding culture. It is like the idea of a ship in the sea. If the ship is in the sea, it can travel and navigate. If the sea is in the ship, it may sink or flounder. It is certainly difficult to navigate! Now that the need is so glaringly obvious let’s get the sea out of our ship by applying what Paul presented.

1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:1-2 (NKJV)

If we apply Romans 12:1-2 our right thinking should lead to right behaviour. The challenge of course is that there is a difference between professing a belief and living out a belief. In theological terms the distinction is between orthodoxy (right beliefs) and orthopraxy (right practice or actions). I can tell you from surveying a broad spectrum of Evangelical doctrinal statements that our issue in the church is not our doctrine, it is clearly our practice! Broadly, as the church, we profess a lot that the majority of us don’t live out.  

In looking at how to shift our worldview to align with scripture a critical point is that we tend to think with rather than about our worldview. Knowing the stats and research we have the opportunity to intentionally think about our worldview in order to shift it. Making a shift in our thinking, examining whether something is unscriptural or unfamiliar, requires reflection. This requires a conscious choice, stepping back from our regular practices (thinking with) and thinking and reflecting (thinking about) on what has led us to our present beliefs in order to determine whether they align with scripture. Applying this idea takes us to Paul’s first letter and a verse I referenced in Part 1. Paul’s ongoing apostolic heart cry throughout his ministry is summed up in this verse.

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

In the normal course of Christian growth Christ should be formed in us after we come to faith. That is, we reflect His nature and character. This process requires our active and intentional cooperation and that is what most in the Western church have failed to do. Though we may find the idea of change and growth daunting, consider those who followed Jesus in the gospels. They had to stand against the familiar beliefs of their culture and embrace beliefs at odds with how the majority of their culture understood scripture. We are now in a similar place in our culture. Christians and the scripture are not held in high regard by most of our culture and to truly walk with Him requires the church to once again become a counter culture.

To the end of bringing about a worldview shift here is a tool for self assessment. I have covered orthodoxy, orthopraxy and samples of different worldviews. Review them, prayerfully  reflect on whether what you believe and how you act is aligned with scripture so you can determine the change required. In areas where change is needed make a plan, review the scriptures and act on the plan.

Statements of Orthodoxy

  1. I believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.
  2. I believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  3. I believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His future personal return in power and glory.
  4. I believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling power I am able to live a godly life.
  5. I believe in the future resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.

Statements of Orthopraxy

  1. I give regularly to support the ministry of the church.
  2. I regularly read the Bible and desire to align my behavior with what it says
  3. I regularly pray for myself, my family and others.
  4. I have a clear sense of what Jesus has called me to do in my daily life and seek to be faithful to His call.
  5. I regularly speak to others about my faith and the importance of knowing Jesus.

Worldview Examples

  1. I believe in what I can see, feel and touch. These things are what are truly real.
  2. I believe there are influences beyond what we can see, feel and touch that have an effect on my behavior and that of others.
  3. I believe that truth is truth no matter where I am in the world and that I am objective in what I believe.
  4. I believe that my life experiences and culture give me my truth and you have your truth.
  5. I believe that while my experience and perspective is subjective and different than yours that truth is objective and can be known.

The numbers below correspond to the Worldview Examples above.

1. Reflects Materialism.

2. Reflects a Scriptural Worldview.

3. Reflects Modernism.

4. Reflects Post-Modernism.

5. Reflects a Scriptural Worldview.

Take and prayerfully assess your beliefs and practices in light of what I have shared above. Ideally, engage others and begin a shared journey of aligning or realigning your views with scripture. If want more detail in my book (Worldview: The Adventure of Seeing Through Scripture available on Amazon) I include the role of repentance and plausibility structures in the change process.

The Gates of Hell

            Here we are going to look at the famous Matthew 16 passage and the rock that the church is built upon. I will provide the traditional Protestant and Roman Catholic interpretations then show why I am convinced that both are incorrect, based on history most of us have never been taught.

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)

The Roman Catholic interpretation is that Peter was the first Pope and the rock the church was built upon, which is why he was given keys to bind and loose (never mind that this same authority was given to all disciples in Matthew 18:18). The general Protestant interpretation is that with Jesus’ wordplay regarding rocks Peter (petros, a rock or boulder) and upon this rock (petra, a large mass of rock) that the rock is the revelation of who Jesus is.

            To actually understand this passage, we need an Old Testament context and some knowledge of the writings from the intertestamental period. It is often said that between the Old and New Testaments there were the 400 silent years. While no scripture was written they were far from silent. A great deal was written. The writing from that period informs us about the culture and context. We will get to the significance of that after we look at the location and the timeline in Jesus’ ministry.

            The events took place in Caesarea Philippi, about a two day walk north of the sea of Galilee. On the surface this may not seem significant but in the region, there was a pagan temple known as the “Gate of Hell” at the foot of Mount Hermon (also referred to at times as Bashan). This was one region in Israel where the giants dwelt and scripture informs us that Og King of Bashan reigned over the area, ruled Mount Hermon and was a one of the giants (Joshua 12:4-5). The other significant fact is that the intertestamental writers said that Mount Hermon was where the rebellious sons of God descended to earth and had children with the daughters of men and there were then giants (Nephilim) in the earth and great wickedness (Genesis 6:1-5).

The gate of hell and Hermon were associated with rebellion. All cultural facts the disciples would have grown up knowing. Peter and Jude reference the events of Genesis 6 and quote Enoch (Jude 6, 14-15, 2 Peter 2:4). The scholarly consensus is that Enoch as we have it today was written in the intertestamental period. While it is not scripture it does inform us about the cultural context that the early church was familiar with. Beyond the first century, in the second century the early church fathers, notably Justin Martyr and Irenaeus affirmed the view of the rebellious angels producing offspring through human women (Genesis 6:1-5). Irenaeus is the author of the famous tome Against Heresies. He was a disciple of Polycarp who had been a disciple of the apostle John.  

            We are now in a position to make sense of Jesus statement “on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” The gate of hell, the place where the rebellious released great wickedness, would not prevail, would not stand up against the church. Here is the Randy paraphrased version of what Jesus said, ‘Right here, at the gate of hell, on this rock, Mount Hermon, the place of the great rebellion, I am going to build my church!’ The church need not tremble in the face of hell, just the opposite.

Knowing this we can take a closer look at the Great Commission in light of what Jesus accomplished through His death and resurrection. Though we only have snippets of it in the gospels most scholars believe Jesus quoted Psalm 22 while on the cross. Whether He did, it certainly describes what He went through in His crucifixion. The verses below are describing what Jesus experienced on the cross and we can see the significance knowing what took place at Bashan (Mount Hermon).

12 Many bulls have surrounded Me; Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled Me. 13 They gape at Me with their mouths, Like a raging and roaring lion. Psalm 22:12–13 (NKJV)

These rebellious spiritual beings surrounded Jesus on the cross and mocked Him thinking it was their victory when in actuality it signaled their defeat. In His resurrection Jesus demonstrated His victory over His spiritual enemies ‘bulls of Bashan’ (Colossians 2:15). Thus, when Jesus says we have authority and we are to ‘go’ and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) we can go being confident that we are helping to build the church right at the gate of hell! Like Jesus, let us be about our Father’s business.

Whispers in our Spirit

            Here I am going to look at whispers and how we discern the of the Lord. Whispers could also be described as little internal nudges or a sense to do or share something. The obvious issue that needs to be addressed is clarifying why the Lord isn’t clear in His communication. One response is something C. S. Lewis wrote many decades ago, “He cannot overwhelm. He can only woo.” The idea inherent in what Lewis stated was that there is an element of faith on our part and an element of drawing seeking hearts on His part. Adding to what can seem confusing is what scripture tells us. Look at the verses below.

17 From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17 (NKJV)

19 Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19 (NKJV)

34 All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, 35 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.” Matthew 13:34–35 (NKJV)

We see here that ‘repent’ and ‘follow Me’ are quite clear commands. We then have the obscurity of parables to the multitudes and then teachings in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) to the multitudes, which were quite clear.

Sorting through this requires recognizing that Jesus calls us into relationship with Himself and part of that relationship is learning to know His word, know His voice and develop a sensitivity to His presence. It is clear from the scriptures that we can and should hear His voice.

16 And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd. John 10:16

(NKJV) 

27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. John 10:27 (NKJV)

8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. James 4:8 (NKJV)

14 For God may speak in one way, or in another, Yet man does not perceive it. 15 In a dream, in a vision of the night, When deep sleep falls upon men, While slumbering on their beds, 16 Then He opens the ears of men, And seals their instruction. Job 33:14-16 (NKJV)

Knowing He speaks and recognizing when it is Him speaking requires some understanding. We have likely all had the experience of sensing the need to call or reach out to someone and hearing something like, ‘I was just thinking about you.’ I have at times had an internal sense to call or write and encourage someone with something specific and have had them affirm that was just what they needed to hear. It requires faith/risk and I generally present what I am hearing by offering rather than telling.

My most recent experience in hearing His whisper in regard to praying for someone was in a church service this previous Sunday. During the worship time I had a sense I was to pray for a lady behind me and what I was to pray. I at first thought it was my own idea but there was a sense of persistence with it so I went back, asked if I could pray for her and when she agreed I prayed what I had felt I was to pray. She was very appreciative and said that what I had prayed was an answer to what she had asked the Lord about the previous day.

I have learned that when these ideas won’t ‘go away’ and carry of sense of ‘importance’ or ‘urgency’ that the prompting is from the Spirit. This comes out a relationship that has been cultivated over time. Another example comes from a recent interview I listened to with Carol Wimber. She was reflecting back on the events of the Vineyard when John was around. At one point she referenced how John received words of knowledge for others. She said they were simply impressions he had in his mind but he recognized that they were thoughts he wouldn’t think and they would benefit others so he assumed it was the Lord’s voice and acted accordingly. Something worked because from the time John Wimber began to lead the Vineyard in 1977 to his death in 1997 it grew from a handful of house churches to 700 congregations around the world. It wasn’t all about ‘whispers’ but a lot of it was.

Most of us likely want a little more than nudges or impressions. We want clarity and certainty. However, He doesn’t work that way for most of us. He woos us, He draws our hearts, and in many ways whispers, ‘Trust Me.’ When we do and take risks with what we think we are hearing we come to know His heart, which is really what this is about. We discern His heart for others and His heart for us. We come to understand that He wants all of us to participate in the building of His church. Given that His church is composed of people that means encouraging and building up one another through listening to whispers from His heart to ours.

So, listen for His voice. Ground yourself in His word. Weigh what you hear through His word and through godly counsel and go partner with Jesus in building His church!

Discernment or Judgment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worship in Unexpected Places

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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