Understanding the Times Part 2

Think of the idea of understanding the times and knowing what to do in the context of gardening. Wisdom is required to know the rhythm of crops: when to sow, when to water and when to harvest. This requires discerning the times, studying the weather and preparing. In the church we need to discern the times and know when to sow the gospel, when to water the seeds and when to harvest the crop. There are seasons in general and seasons in individual lives in particular.

Based on what Paul wrote to the Corinthian church the significant fact isn’t who does what part. Rather it is being faithful to do our part.

5  Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? 6  I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. 7  So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. 8  Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. 1 Corinthians 3:5-8 (NKJV)

As we in the church grow in better discerning the seasons we will become a more effective and versatile church. Members of the body will be sowing, watering and harvesting as led by the Holy Spirit. As an illustration, when I was asked by more than one person what the Holy Spirit was saying for 2020 I said “the church needs to find her voice.” I had no expectation that we would be in a pandemic that would call for the church to raise her voice to release peace and calm fair. I just knew that what I was hearing from the Spirit was the need to find our voice in this hour.

I believe hearing and releasing His voice is critical in this hour because it is a training time, a preparation for a much greater event. There are many examples in scripture that use agricultural analogies. Scripture tells us that a season is coming when all of this will be happening so rapidly that all aspects – sowing, tending, harvesting, will blend together. Deepening our current understanding of how to exercise wisdom in this season will ready us for this coming season. Here is what Amos prophesied.

13  “Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “When the plowman shall overtake the reaper, And the treader of grapes him who sows seed; The mountains shall drip with sweet wine, And all the hills shall flow with it.” Amos 9:13 (NKJV)

Are we getting ready?

Harvest Time by Ray Hughes, a song crying out for all those that need to encounter Jesus

Ray Hughes One Note

An Important Season

We are in a key time, I am deliberately not using the word critical because it implies we are in a crisis and I do not believe we are. This virus has been labelled a pandemic not because of lethality but due to how rapidly it is spreading. We need to behave in a responsible manner to see it stop. In that context there is the expression, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” While not entirely true it is a good pithy statement that captures an important point. Fear has a debilitating effect. Cognitively and physiologically fear and anxiety lead to the release of stress hormones, a heightened state of arousal and an increased heart rate. All things which decrease the ability of our immune system to fight disease.  

This aroused state is exactly the opposite of what Jesus says.

27  Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. John 14:27 (NKJV)

My wife and I were recently at a gathering and someone shared that we had all been afraid this past week. I leaned over to my wife and whispered, “Not true. I have no fear at all.” In stating that I am not trying to boastful, arrogant or denying reality. The reality is that the lives of many around us are imploding. Yet I have a deep seated confidence that Jesus is in charge of my life. I believe what Isaiah wrote millennia ago about the effectiveness and power of God’s word.

11  So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:11

I also believe what Paul wrote.

8  We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. 9  Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. 2 Corinthians 5:8-9 (NKJV)

21  For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22  But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. 23  For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24  Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. 25  And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, Philippians 1:21-25 (NKJV)

For the church, this is our opportunity to arise and shine, to be seen helping those around us and pointing them to the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Interesting that inherent in this title for Jesus is the idea that He had authority over peace. An example of this can be seen in Jesus sleeping in a terrible storm while the disciples are terrified (Mark 4:35-41). When they wake Him up He releases what He carries and the storm stops. He calls us to carry this same peace and release it to stop the storms of fear sweeping our society and bring about a great calm.

39  Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. Mark 4:39 (NKJV)

Kari Jobe – I Am not Alone https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfveawSAHJA

NOTE I will be doing another post this week on Understanding the Times

Wisdom Calling

Wisdom is presented in different ways in scripture.  

20  Wisdom calls aloud outside; She raises her voice in the open squares. 21  She cries out in the chief concourses, At the openings of the gates in the city She speaks her words: Proverbs 1:20-21 (NKJV)

Much of the book of Proverbs is about practical wisdom. It is about discerning what to do in a variety of situations from parenting to financial planning to managing and maintaining a household. All well and good. I deeply appreciate the book of Proverbs and have read through it a multitude of times. As much as I appreciate practical wisdom there is another type of wisdom.   

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, Ephesians 1:17 (NKJV)

30  But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God – and righteousness and sanctification and redemption – 1 Corinthians 1:30 (NKJV)

These two verses let us know that we can walk in a spirit of wisdom and that Jesus has been made unto us wisdom. This goes beyond understanding Proverbs, it goes to drawing upon Jesus in us. This wisdom is at times contrary to natural wisdom. Many of you have likely at some point felt the leading of the Holy Spirit to do something that did not make sense at the time but you see His hand after the fact. That is spiritual wisdom and is in essence a revealing of heaven’s perspective on the situation.

I have had this experience a number of times. A significant one many years ago was a turning point in my career. What I sensed the Holy Spirit leading me to do made no natural sense, in fact it was contrary to what made sense to me and commitments I had made. In spite of my natural reasoning I followed the leading of the Spirit. It was through this experience, which was very stressful over a period of weeks, that I learned that I could have anxiety in my mind and peace in my heart and that it was spiritual wisdom to follow His peace (Col. 3:15). It all made sense in the end and had I trusted His leading from the beginning I could have save myself a lot of stress and anxiety.

So, let us determine to respond to the call of wisdom, to develop natural, practical Godly wisdom. Even more, let us recognize that it is wisdom to seek His spiritual wisdom that our lives and the lives of those around us may be different and that Jesus may be glorified.  

A Heavy Heart

Generally in Western culture when we refer to someone having a ‘heavy heart’ we are speaking of someone dealing with grief or deep sadness. The Lord has a different perspective.

2  Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, But the LORD weighs the hearts. Proverbs 21:2 (NKJV)

When He speaks of weighing the heart the Lord is examining our motivations. From His perspective a heavy heart is one that carries His presence.

In the New Testament Paul said his afflictions were working in his life the eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Paul was a Hebrew and a former Pharisee. His comment on the ‘weight of glory’ is a reference to the Hebrew word kabod, which literally means ‘heavy’ but is used it in a figurative sense to mean glory, honour or splendour. The reason Paul spoke of the weight is twofold, one is that the primary meaning of kabod is heavy or weighty. The other is that we can see the tangible result of the weight of His presence in the lives of believers.  

The context for Paul talking about the weight of glory is our transformation into the image of Jesus.

18  But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NKJV)

As Christians we carry His presence. When we respond correctly to whatever is happening in our lives the ‘weight of glory,’ His presence, increases in us. I am sure all or most of us have met someone in whom we see Jesus. Those are people that from His perspective have a ‘heavy heart.’ They get that way by how they respond to circumstances. When Paul talked about beholding Jesus I believe He referred to sitting with and before Him, fixing the gaze of our heart upon Him. I also believe, based on what he wrote in chapter four of his afflictions and what they were working in him, that another aspect of beholding Jesus and being changed is seeing Him in whatever we are going through and looking for His presence there.

So what is the Lord looking for when He weighs our hearts? He is looking for Jesus. Are we also looking for Jesus in our circumstances no matter what they are and thus carrying and releasing Jesus splendour, glory and character wherever we go?

The Battle for Water

In Genesis we discover a battle for water that is connected to wells. The first instance happens in Genesis 21.

25  Then Abraham rebuked Abimelech because of a well of water which Abimelech’s servants had seized. Genesis 21:25 (NKJV)

In this case Abraham had dug the well and others tried to take it. We see the same issue, a contention over water being played out in the life of Isaac.

17  Then Isaac departed from there and pitched his tent in the Valley of Gerar, and dwelt there. 18  And Isaac dug again the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Abraham his father, for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham. He called them by the names which his father had called them. 19  Also Isaac’s servants dug in the valley, and found a well of running water there. 20  But the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen, saying, “The water is ours.” So he called the name of the well Esek, because they quarreled with him. 21  Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over that one also. So he called its name Sitnah. 22  And he moved from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it. So he called its name Rehoboth, because he said, “For now the LORD has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.” 23  Then he went up from there to Beersheba. 24  And the LORD appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham; do not fear, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your descendants for My servant Abraham’s sake.” 25  So he built an altar there and called on the name of the LORD, and he pitched his tent there; and there Isaac’s servants dug a well. Genesis 26:17-25 (NKJV)

In the passage above Isaac had to again dig the wells of Abraham because the enemy had filled them with dirt and debris. A message here is that we cannot subsist on the water of our parents. They may have provided something for us but we need to clean it off and engage with it, we need to dig down and keep the well unstopped. Another point is that there is a battle for our well. The word Esek means ‘quarrel’ and the word Sitnah means ‘enmity.” Accessing water is a battle and we must value this water enough to contend for it!

The last point in the passage above is that there is a connection between worship (the altar) and digging wells. It is presented so casually it is easy to miss, build an altar, dig a well. There is no contention mentioned. In fact as the chapter continues later on we find his enemies recognizing God’s favour on Isaac and coming and making a covenant with him and committing to not offend against him. Then what happens?

32  It came to pass the same day that Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well which they had dug, and said to him, “We have found water.” Genesis 26:32 (NKJV)

We see from Jesus that the well represents drawing on the water of the Spirit. Jesus ideal is that living water will flow out from our hearts.

37  On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. 38  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” John 7:37-38 (NKJV)

The order Jesus gives us is that we come to Him and drink and then the water flows out from us. Or as Isaiah put it.

3  Therefore with joy you will draw water From the wells of salvation. Isaiah 12:3 (NKJV)

In summary, when we were born again a well of living water was established in our spirit. To walk as Jesus desires we need to continually draw on this well. The enemy knows this and contends with us for it and seeks to plug it up through things like anger, bitterness and unforgiveness – the quarreling and enmity Isaac experienced. We keep the water flowing by guarding our hearts and walking in love and forgiveness. We like Isaac need to establish an altar of worship that releases this living water to those around us.

My own experience and that of many others is that we keep the well flowing through sitting with Him, drawing on His word and engaging our heart in worship. So let’s contend for the flow of living water by establishing a lifestyle of being in the word, communion and worship.

His Resting Place

Through Isaiah the Lord asks something very interesting.

1  Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest?” Isaiah 66:1 (NKJV)

The obvious answer is that nothing we build or create can contain Him or be a place for Him to rest. Yet what He did when Israel journeyed in the wilderness was have them build a place where His presence would dwell and rest. This place was the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle of Moses. His presence dwelt and rested between the wings of the cherubim over the Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant. Later Solomon built the first temple in Jerusalem and God’s glory came and filled the temple when it was dedicated and He was there in the Holy of Holies over the Mercy Seat (2 Chron.7:1-14).

Given the Tabernacle of Moses and the Temple of Solomon predated Isaiah we need to better understand Isaiah’s prophetic point. In seeking to understand Isaiah there is something else to consider.

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

8  Arise, O LORD, to Your resting place, You and the ark of Your strength. 9  Let Your priests be clothed with righteousness, And let Your saints shout for joy. 10  For Your servant David’s sake, Do not turn away the face of Your Anointed. Psalm 132:8-10 (NKJV)

The passages above both speak of Yahweh arising, ‘to Your resting place.’ We generally arise FROM rest, not TO rest, yet scripture says the opposite. The idea was Yahweh wanted somewhere not just to be but a place to rest in and upon. As already noted, Isaiah raised His prophetic point after the Tabernacle of Moses and the Temple of Solomon had been erected so clearly Isaiah was looking to something else. That something else began long after Isaiah had stepped from time into eternity.

Whether he knew it or not Isaiah’s question pointed forward to the birth of the church. Stephen (Acts. 7:48-49) and Paul (Acts 17:24) both affirm that God does not dwell in physical structures, temples made with human hands. What we know from the New Testament is that He now dwells in flesh and blood temples.

16  Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 1 Corinthians 3:16 (NKJV)

19  Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20  For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NKJV)

So, this answers part of Isaiah’s prophetic question, He dwells in His body birthed through Jesus death and resurrection. He made His own house. Now, we need to answer the other part, are we walking with Him in such a way that in us He can arise TO His rest? Though Jesus is now dwelling in us through the Holy Spirit is He relationally at rest in us?

A Corporate Body

Imagine walking through the forest along a well maintained trail and looking to one side and seeing signs of a faint path in the woods that is covered with dead branches and underbrush. It is an old path but to explore it will require a fresh clearing of the path for it to be usable.

Similarly, a path in the church that is given little focus and is largely overgrown is an understanding of the corporate nature of His body. So to that end let’s clear away some theological underbrush so that we can see this path and explore it.

We may at times reference Paul’s use of the different parts of a body in exploring spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12) but we need to go beyond think of our role/body specifically and see our in His body when we hear the term. In the West we live in a very individualistic culture, however the New Testament (NT) was written in the context of a culture that focused on community over individuals. While every individual is important and of incredible value because of Jesus sacrifice, the focus of the NT, just like the first century culture, is where we as individuals fit into His body, the larger community. We are called to find our place in the body to serve and encourage the other parts of the body (Gal. 5:13, Heb. 10:24-25).

Here is a sampling of verses that highlight this truth.

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)

20  having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone, 21  in whom the whole building, being joined 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 2:20-22 (NKJV)

14  For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15  from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16  that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 17  that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18  may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height– 19  to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20  Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, Ephesians 3:14-20 (NKJV)   

Peter is saying we are individual stones in a larger building. The ‘you’ in Ephesians 2 and 3 are both plural, not singular. Paul’s prayer is for a corporate rather than individual experience. He wants us to know that the church corporate is what we are being built into and that our growth is to be into Jesus. He is the foundation and the purpose of our growth, as Peter also notes, is that we are shaped to align with the cornerstone. We need to look like and reflect Jesus to properly fit into His body. Paul also prays that we as the church corporately would experience the width, length, depth and height of Jesus love.

So, if we want to grow let’s walk a corporate path, looking for ways to build up and serve His body because when one grows we all grow.

Your Will be Done

Your will be done. This is a simple statement from Matthew 6:10. Living by it is not as simple. There are many examples in scripture of people who struggled to walk in God’s will. Among them Abraham, David and Jeremiah. We are in good company if we struggle to always submit our wills to His, yet that is our assignment.

Embracing His will means that in difficult situation we need to look to Him for direction. We look to Him because He not only wants us to see with His eyes, He wants us to see with His heart. A great example of this is the well-known Ezekiel 37 passage.

1  The hand of the LORD came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. 2  Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. 3  And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” So I answered, “O Lord GOD, You know.” 4  Again He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!’ Ezekiel 37:1-4 (NKJV)

The context is Ezekiel being given another prophetic assignment. He had just been directed to prophesy to the mountains and now he gets dry bones! When we read further in the passage we know that the bones represent that nation of Israel and that when Ezekiel prophesies as directed that the bones come to life and take on flesh. An impossible situation is changed when Ezekiel accepts his assignment to release life, a nation is restored.

It is easy to read this, be amazed and keep going. Yet there is a message for each of us. He has given us authority (Matt. 28:18-20). He has told us that life and death are in the power of the tongue (Prov. 18:21). We carry His presence (Col. 1:27). Finally, He regularly brings us to dry bones to see how we will respond. Our dry bones may not be a dead nation or even a broken city. Our assignment may be the one we run into while shopping, our spouse, our neighbour, the person beside us on the bus. The size of the assignment isn’t as important as our response.  

The principle of speaking life is not a suggestion to sugar-coat everything and ignore reality, it is a call to walk like Jesus. Jesus confronted sin and evil many times in His earthly walk, but He always kept His focus on the bigger assignment, laying down His life that others may live. He did this daily and finally. In the same way as we pray ‘Your will be done’ each day we are being given the opportunity to release life into situations around us, are we taking them?

Speak Life by Toby Mac https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeBv9r92VQ0

Waking Up

In a number of places in scripture there is an exhortation to wake up!

1  Awake, awake! Put on your strength, O Zion; Put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city! For the uncircumcised and the unclean Shall no longer come to you. Isaiah 52:1 (NKJV)

11  And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. Romans 13:11 (NKJV)

14  Therefore He says: “Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light.” Ephesians 5:14 (NKJV)

One reason for the call to wake up is that the Lord wants us to see the bigger picture, to understand that our actions have consequences. Psalm 51 is David’s famous psalm of repentance, probably almost as well known as the 23 Psalm. While most of us could likely quote a portion of Psalm 51 the last two verses are likely not the portion we would quote.

18  Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion; Build the walls of Jerusalem. 19  Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, With burnt offering and whole burnt offering; Then they shall offer bulls on Your altar. Psalm 51:18-19 (NKJV)

In the Psalm David acknowledges his sin, asks for purging, cleansing and forgiveness then seems to shift gears in closing off this famous psalm. David’s focus shifts from addressing his individual sin to asking the Lord to do good to Zion and build the walls of Jerusalem because  David recognized that his sin not only affected him personally, it exposed Jerusalem to danger. In the same way, all actions have consequences. Whether public or private, if what we are doing is good we are extending His kingdom, if we are engaging in sin we are strengthening the domain of darkness. Hence the closing focus of Psalm 51 and why Paul addressed the issues in the Corinthian church in the following manner.

34  Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame. 1 Corinthians 15:34 (NKJV)

So, if we are asleep let’s wake up. If we are awake, let’s remain alert and continue to see His kingdom extended in our sphere of influence.

Find Me Faithful by Jenn Johnson https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPOGEjKuLT4

Joined to the Head Part 2

When we are rightly joined to the Head we learn to live from His perspective rather than ours. We are sensitive to hear what the Spirit is saying and live from heaven toward earth. One way to assess our adherence to living from His perspective is whether we are following the guidelines of His word. Yet, there is more than the letter of the law.

When we go beyond the letter of the law we learn to assess both what we are doing and why we are doing it. A simple example. Recently I saw a post on Facebook and the poster was referring to poor customer service at a well-known store. While the complaint was real and appeared justified when I went to comment on the post I felt a check in my spirit. My comment would have been true yet and it would likely have been appreciated. My comment would have also helped entrenched the poster and other commenters in a negative mindset. Which is not what we are called to do as an ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). We are called to represent Jesus not our opinions.

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

Paul says think this way and act this way. If we are thinking about things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely and the like then we won’t participate in some types of talk even though they may be true. This isn’t about degrees of harm, it is about obedience to the Holy Spirit as He leads and guides.