Wisdom and Revelation Part 1

About thirty years ago, yes I am getting old, I wrote an article about the importance of Ephesians as a template for the end time church. I still believe that. While I won’t cover all the areas here, I will focus in on Paul’s two great apostolic prayers in chapters 1 and 3. In chapter 1 Paul focuses on the need for ongoing wisdom and revelation to know the Father’s heart and in chapter 3 he focuses on the need for a strengthened inner being to be able to know Jesus love in an experiential way.

We start with Paul’s two 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, Ephesians 1:17 (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. Ephesians 3:14–19 (NKJV)

To begin delving into these verses a couple of points need to be made. Paul was praying that the Ephesian believers would have experiences he had already had. He wasn’t presenting a theory. Secondly, his message and prayers were for a corporate body. He wanted the congregation to have these encounters.

To understand Paul’s prayer for wisdom and revelation it is helpful to see the importance of each. They can be compared to the gifts of a word of knowledge and a word of wisdom in 1 Corinthians 12:7-8. Most people that I know who embrace the spiritual gifts for today place a high value on words of knowledge. A revelation of something about an individual. Note however that Paul places wisdom first. The significance is that revelation is a ‘what’ while wisdom is a ‘how.’ Think of it as going to the doctor and receiving an accurate diagnosis but no treatment. If I have an undiagnosed affliction it is helpful to know what it is, it is even more helpful to know how to treat it.

I will share an example. A few years ago in a small group I was helping to lead I had a sense that a young lady had a prophetic gift that needed to be released (revelation). I took my friend Ivan and explained what I sensed and asked if we could pray for this gift to be released in her. She had no grid for what I was sharing but was open. We prayed for a prophetic release then I asked her to join us in praying for someone else, which we did. I then asked if she had received anything. She said no. I sensed she had so asked her to simply share what was on her heart. She did and gave very accurate details about the other person’s life.

In breaking this encounter down further there was revelation, a what, about something inherent in her but not yet released or activated. The wisdom came in both praying for the release of the gift followed by an opportunity to exercise it and see it released. Paul knew that on an ongoing basis we as the church needed to know both what and how to fulfill Jesus calling and purpose, in every age. Hence his prayer.

In our present hour there is much that is happening politically and culturally. We need wisdom and revelation to navigate what is taking place within the church and our culture. However, to do this effectively we also need to walk in the love that Paul prayed for in Ephesians 3. I will cover that in my next post.

Shifting the Burden

Back in 1990/91 I read a book by Peter Senge called the Fifth Discipline. I have reread parts many times and focused on it in my major paper on leadership when I did my Master’s degree as I found it to be a very significant book. His focus is on the broad application of Systems Theory, more particularly in a business context. In my career I also studied Family Systems theory and decades ago in a theology course discovered that Systems Theory goes back to the early Greeks and predates Christianity. Systems theory looks at patterns that play out over time and the interrelationships between the different parts of a system that lead to these interactions.

One of the tenets of Family Systems theory is that all behaviour is positively intended, similar to the idea that people are doing the best they can with what they have. I believe neither of those tenets as life experience, history, and most importantly scripture, demonstrate them to be false. However it is clear to me that all behaviour is goal directed. Knowingly or unknowingly we are trying to accomplish something through our efforts.

Given our behaviour is goal directed I want to look at a behaviour that Senge describes as “Shifting the Burden.” The idea in shifting the burden is that we put our efforts into managing symptoms rather than addressing the real problem. Shifting the burden is a behaviour that tends to exacerbate the original problem and it shows up all through scripture. We see it in Genesis 3 when Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the serpent and the serpent has no one to blame. In fact Adam blames both Eve and God when in Genesis 3:12 he refers to ‘the woman You gave me.’

Another example of the pattern is with Ahab and Jezebel in 1 Kings 16 and on. Ahab worships Baal and marries Jezebel, who also worships false gods. How does Ahab respond when he sees the prophet Elijah who has confronted his idolatry?

17 Then it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him, “Is that you, O troubler of Israel?” 18 And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and have followed the Baals.” 1 Kings 18:17–18 (NKJV)

Ahab shifts the burden and blames Elijah rather than acknowledging his own culpability. Later in 1 Kings 21 Ahab pouts because Naboth refuses to sell him his ancestral land containing a vineyard that Ahab wants. So Jezebel schemes to have Naboth killed so Ahab can take possession of the vineyard. Elijah confronts their evil and pronounces judgment on both of them. Nowhere in the story do Ahab or Jezebel ever take responsibility for their behaviour. It is always someone else who is the problem.  

Every time we shift the burden we exacerbate the problem and drive the roots deeper. Our goal in shifting the burden is to avoid responsibility or avoid dealing with the consequences of our behaviour. We have two types of issues, sins of omission and sins of commission. One is not doing the right thing and the other is doing the wrong thing. In either case the burden of responsibility rests in the wrong place. Those of us engaging in commission or omission need to step up. When we fail to do so we allow sin to infect or affect our lives and the lives of others. Hence it is systemic.  

The key to change in this area if it is an issue in our lives, home or work culture is to turn to and address roots not fruits. A good example of addressing the roots is Jesus messages to the seven churches in the first chapters of Revelation. Jesus speaks to some symptoms but then addresses the roots. Here is one example.

20 Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. 21 And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. 22 Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. 23 I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works. Revelation 2:20–23 (NKJV)

The fruit here is sexual immorality and false worship. Jesus addresses the issue and His main concern is not the behaviour of Jezebel. It is the behaviour of the rest of the church. He says, ‘you allow that woman.’ The NASB says ‘tolerate’ rather than allow. The word can also be translated as ‘permit.’ In essence Jesus was telling the church in Thyatira that the root of their problem was allowing this behaviour in their midst as they gave blatant sin permission to operate. He was also clear that if they didn’t deal with the problem He would. Note, the issue of ‘Jezebel’ operating in the church isn’t about gender. It is about people allowing themselves to be led astray to false worship through seduction and manipulation.

A final example that addresses the same behaviour as the problem in Thyatira takes place in Corinth. Paul writes the following.

1 Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly – and indeed you do bear with me. For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it! 2 Corinthians 11:1–4 (NKJV)

Paul’s concern is the Corinthians being deceived. What opens the door to deception? Putting up with something they should not be tolerating. If we read all of 2 Corinthians we discover that some in the church were challenging Paul’s authority and apostleship, instead of testing and rejecting false teachers they shift the burden to Paul. He responds by speaking to the root. Their tolerance and acceptance of falsehood.

Given the current state of the church in North America this is a major issue. Much of the church tolerates false teaching because it is comfortable. The most outrageous example I recently encountered was something posted in an Apologetics Facebook I follow. A story was posted of a recent church plant in San Diego with a couple who co-pastor. They claim to preach the gospel but the husband is in business and seems to be promoting hype rather than truth. His wife is in an ‘actress’ in the ‘adult entertainment’ industry. A fancy euphemism for the pornography industry. I thought it was a joke, sadly it isn’t. Yet they claim to be “Christians.” Just like in Thyatira however, I think the issue is the congregation. They have shifted the responsibility for discernment elsewhere and have abandoned any commitment to the scriptures.

In this current season in the church let’s embrace the burden of following truth and reality by taking to heart Jude’s exhortation.

Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. Jude 3 (NKJV)

Standing with Peter

Recently I was listening to a podcast and the speakers referred to Peter giving up his calling and going back to fishing after Jesus death and resurrection. I have heard sermons say the same thing. However, I think that rather than leaning on human opinions we need to look at what the scriptures actually say. The fishing story takes place in John 21 at the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel. The Sea of Tiberias is the Roman name for the Sea of Galilee. This is where Peter, Andrew, James and John were from (Matt. 4:18-22).

1 After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself: Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.”

They said to him, “We are going with you also.” They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing. John 21:1-3 NKJV

Was Peter in Galilee because he had abandoned Jesus and his calling? Was there some other reason he may have been there? Actually the scriptures are clear. We know from verse 1 above that this was not Jesus first resurrection appearance to the disciples. In fact 21:14 tells us it was Jesus third appearance to them. We also know that they were told to go to Galilee, Jesus had an appointment with them there.

10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.” Matthew 28:10 (NKJV)

So, a quick review. Peter and the others are in Galilee because Jesus directed them to go there. They didn’t know where or when Jesus would meet them in the area but I think it is fair to assume there was some anticipation on their part. After all they had gone through the devastating loss of their mission and their own abandonment of Jesus. This was followed by His resurrection and appearance to them in Jerusalem. These were not normal times. Now he and the others had just walked 125 kilometres from Jerusalem to Galilee to see Jesus. I hike in the mountains a lot and they hiked through mountains and desert to get to see Jesus. No trivial task and one with plenty of time to think and discuss.

It is evident from the text that to accuse Peter of abandoning his calling is to both impugn his motives and ignore scripture. It is also evident from later in the chapter that while Peter needed his heart healed (21:15-19) he wasn’t trying to avoid Jesus or his calling. When he knew it was Jesus on shore he jumped out of the boat and into the sea in his eagerness to get to Jesus (21:7). This suggests that out of obedience he had been waiting for Jesus in Galilee, not giving up on his calling.  

Now back to the waiting. None of them knew what to do as they had received no instructions in that regard. We know from numerous examples in scripture that Peter was a man of action not contemplation. So instead of waiting he announced he was going fishing and the other six there joined him.

This all took place prior to the upper room prayer meeting in Acts 1. It is easy to embrace ideas that aren’t in scripture and the idea that Peter abandoned his calling and went back to his old way of life is one of those. It may make for some good sermons but they are sermons based on human opinions not on scripture. I happen to believe that what scripture has to say is important just as Paul wrote in the following verse.

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)

Scripture trains and profits us when we properly interpret and apply it. There are a number of things we could focus on in the rest of John 21 but I think the main lesson we can learn from our fishing story is that obedience to Jesus releases us into our calling. Instead of passing judgment, as has often been done with Peter, let’s stand with him and embrace his example of obedience to Jesus and see His purpose in our lives come to pass.  

The Blood of Jesus

Over the years I have heard many fanciful ideas about the power of the blood of Jesus, including the exhortation to ‘plead the blood of Jesus’ over situations. I suspect many of you have as well. So let’s go to the source and see what the scriptures say about the efficacy of Jesus blood and how it applies to our lives. The concept is introduced in the Old Testament where the blood of the lamb protects the Israelites from the death of their firstborn sons.

13 Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. Exodus 12:13 (NKJV)

23 For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to strike you. Exodus 12:23 (NKJV)

 The blood of the Passover lamb looks forward to Jesus sacrifice as the true Lamb of God. The fulfillment is seen in what the New Testament records.

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29 (NKJV)

Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. 1 Corinthians 5:7 (NKJV)

Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll,

And to open its seals;

For You were slain,

And have redeemed us to God by Your blood

Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,

10         And have made us kings and priests to our God;

And we shall reign on the earth.” Revelation 5:8–10 (NKJV)

There are a few things here. Jesus was the fulfillment of what every Passover lamb pointed to, a final sacrifice that would take away the sins of the world by paying the price for them. We also see that Jesus was sacrificed for His people, those who would believe in His sacrifice. The result of His redemptive sacrifice is that His people have been made kings and priests and shall ultimately reign on the earth. These are things that the blood of Jesus has accomplished, and will accomplish.

Let us now look at our present day application. We know Jesus shed blood paid the price for our sins, past present and future. Jesus shedding His blood on the cross inaugurated and sealed a new covenant. We can see the benefits in how Jesus shed blood takes away our sins and in the reality of an everlasting covenant. That is, Jesus blood is eternally effective.  

20 Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you. Luke 22:20 (NKJV)

20 Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Hebrews 13:20 (NKJV)

But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. 1 John 1:7–10 (NKJV)

We can see that we are called to walk in fellowship, in community with others. In this context we experience the reality of the ongoing effectiveness of Jesus shed blood. We are cleansed from sin and can walk uprightly before Him. We need to confess any ongoing sin and seek His forgiveness, which He gives. John is pointing out that Jesus sacrifice is effective and that we are called to walk together. So, here is a simple prayer I have prayed for myself and others for many years that highlights what Jesus blood has accomplished. No pleading required, just simple faith.     

“Father, I thank You that we are bound to You by the covenant made in Jesus’ blood. I thank You that His blood is continually protecting us and cleansing us from all sin as we walk in the light of Your presence.”

The Same Mind in the Lord

Currently we have a lot of conflict in our world and differing views over a lot of subjects. In the last year we have had riots, marches, protests and ongoing online battles on social media. There is a good deal of discussion of ‘polarization.’ Mores so in the US than in Canada. So, let’s take a look at how we see others.

Some of you may recognize that the title is a quote from a portion of Philippians 4:2. We know from what Paul wrote that there was some disagreement between Euodia and Syntyche (any of you have friends or children with these names?). We also know from 4:3 that these two women were co-labourers with Paul in spreading the gospel.

We learn from these two verses that people who are serious about the gospel can have conflict. We also have a record in Acts of conflict between Paul and Barnabas that led to their separation after they had been friends who journeyed together and taught together (Acts 15:36-40). What I want to address here is what we do with conflict. Howver, I am not going over the process Jesus presented to us in Matthew 18. Instead I want to look at our perceptions.

Our first impulse in addressing conflict seems to be determining who was right and who was wrong. However, that is not the most important piece. In fact, there may not be a right and wrong on some issues. We don’t know what the disagreement was between Euodia and Syntyche or whether it was resolved. We know that while Paul and Barnabas had a significant disagreement over John Mark, later Paul was working with the one he rejected.   

10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him), Colossians 4:10 (NKJV)

23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, 24 as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers. Philemon 1:23-24 (NKJV)

In addition to traveling with Barnabas and Paul, is believed to have also spent time with Peter in Rome where he wrote down the Gospel of Mark. A record of what was passed on to him by Peter.

Paul being reconciled to Mark does not however tell us whether Paul or Barnabas was right. It does tell us that the Lord brought something good out of the conflict and there was a later reconciliation. What we need to do in our relationships is draw on His grace to walk in wisdom. We may understand scripture passages differently. We may be Calvinists and have friends who are Arminians – two conflicting theological positions. Yet if we embrace something else Paul taught, we can walk in love and fruitfulness in the midst of differing theological positions. After all, scripture exhorts us to a unity of faith and Jesus prayed for this unity. Not a unity of dotting all the I’s and crossing all the T’s of our theological positions, but a unity of the Spirit.

20 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: 23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. John 17:20-23 (NKJV)

1 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. Ephesians 4:1-6 (NKJV)

We do well to consider that many conflicts may be less a matter of right and wrong and more the inevitable outcome of fallen people living in a fallen world. People have different perceptions of the same event. At times someone is clearly wrong in their behaviour but having been involved in doing mediations for decades I could tell many stories. I have seen people who didn’t want to be in the same room together suddenly have their conflict evaporate when I got them to listen to one another. I have seen people suing one another riding home in the same vehicle after a mediation. I have seen someone who was the aggrieved party offering to help organize the wedding of the person they were suing.

My point, instead of looking through a lens of right and wrong I recommend we put on our 1 Corinthians 13 glasses and take our first look through the eyes of grace filled love that,

7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:7 (NKJV)   

We may find that we simply see things differently and can learn from one another – through grace filled love.

Love Acts

‘Love.’ We use the word a lot. I think it is important to look at love in the context of how Jesus framed it in connection to obedience and abiding in Him. Much has been written on the lack of distinction between Christians and others in the surrounding culture in our time. This highlights the importance of how we live before others as a follower of Jesus. So, let’s take a look at what how scripture calls us to live from what John has written.

In chapter 15 John records Jesus exhorting us to abide in Him if we are to be fruitful.  

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

Clearly to be fruitful we need to abide in Jesus so we need to examine what it means to abide.

As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.

Jesus says we abide in Him by keeping His commandments, and that as we do we will find ourselves resting in His love for us. Jesus makes an important connection between love and obedience. Jesus said His abiding in the Father’s love was an outcome of Him keeping His Father’s commands. Now, lest you think this will move us to legalism, it isn’t a salvation issue, it is a love issue. Jesus is telling us that to abide in His love we need to be obedient.  

Jesus call to obey His commandments is not a call to the Mosaic Law. It is a call to action.

12 This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.

Love in these verses is agape, a sacrificial benevolent love. Jesus said we are to lay down our lives for our friends and that if we obey His commands, we are His friend. We can interpret the laying down of our lives as dying for someone else but as Paul put it elsewhere, “I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31). This is a better application. We love others as we live for others and seek to serve them out of that love. That is how Paul died daily. So, let’s follow Jesus and Paul, laying down our lives in love so that the world may know who we are, friends of Jesus!

Martha, Martha

Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus are famous in the church for their interactions with Jesus. Martha is famous for serving and being rebuked by Jesus for making the wrong choice of serving instead of listening, while Mary is famous for the good choice of sitting at Jesus feet and listening (Luke 10:38-42). At issue here is whether a single interaction should define our legacy and the need for a deeper look at Martha and her heart. After all, I suspect that most of us would not want our life defined by one mistake we made.

We are told to not judge a book by the cover yet for most of us Martha being rebuked by Jesus is the cover of her book! Aside from this interaction in Luke 10 it is helpful to see what else scripture tells us about Martha. To attempt to discern her heart based on what scripture reveals. let’s leave Mary out of the picture and focus in on Martha. We have the following interaction just prior to Jesus raising Lazarus.

20 Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house. 21 Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” John 11:20–27 (NKJV)

We learn from Martha’s interaction with Jesus that she had faith in Jesus ability to heal and that she recognized Jesus as the long awaited Messiah (the terms Christ and Messiah are interchangeable and both mean The Anointed One). Martha was confident in who Jesus was and trusted Him. We next see Martha after Lazarus has been raised.

1Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. John 12:1–2 (NKJV)

Martha had a heart to serve and she clearly loved and honoured Jesus. It is significant as this meal takes place at the home of Simon the leper (Matthew 26:6-7, Mark 14:3). We can safely assume Simon had been healed as a leper would not be hosting a meal in his house. Thus we know that Martha is serving in the home of someone else. This time we have no record of any rebuke by Jesus and Martha is not contrasted with Mary who extravagantly pours perfume on Jesus. She is merely noted as one who has a servant’s heart.

A last look at Martha through the eyes of scripture. I doubt this short verse spring to mind when we think of Martha but there it is recorded in scripture for all to see.

5Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. John 11:5 NKJV

Knowing that Jesus loved Martha I think there are two primary lessons we can draw from what we know about Martha. First, serving Jesus and others is good thing. After all there are numerous calls to service in the scriptures. Micah 6:8, said to be a summary statement of the Law, it is a call to justice, mercy and a humble walk with God. A call to service. The second lesson is that serving when we should be sitting at His feet is the wrong choice just as sitting in contemplation when He is calling us to action is also a bad thing. Let us embrace serving and sitting, seeking Jesus heart and the wisdom to know when to serve and when to sit at His feet.

Living Truth

Recently I was reading through Galatians 4. In this book in general, and more specifically in this chapter, Paul addresses the issue of identity. That is, how we see ourselves after salvation. Many scholars believe that Galatians is the first of Paul’s letters written in about 49 AD prior to the Jerusalem Council in 50 AD (see Acts 15). The significance of Galatians being written prior to the Jerusalem Council is that the focus there was on whether the Gentile converts had to follow the Jewish Law to be saved. The answer at the Council was a resounding no. However, Paul addressed the issue and the theological implications prior to the Council because many believers from the Jewish community were trying to get the Gentile converts to embrace circumcision and other elements of the Jewish Law.

We might wonder why someone who had found salvation in Jesus would even consider adding something else to their salvation. Yet at this time the church was less than two decades old and many of the theological positions we take for granted had not yet been sorted through and discerned by the church.

A key here is that Paul presented theological truth in Galatians 4 that needed to be internalized. He compared the old covenant with the new and said the old one led to bondage and the new one to freedom. To walk in the freedom meant truly living out of the truth of the new covenant.

4:1 Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. Galatians 4:1–7 (NKJV)

It is one thing to know theologically that we are sons (or daughters) and not slaves. It is another to walk in that reality. I have believed for many years that Paul’s apostolic heart cry is encapsulated in a single verse in his very first letter.

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

We can be saved, have our sins forgiven, have received Jesus righteousness instead of our own, and yet still not live like it. Paul’s heart in Galatians was not that the Galatians would receive something in addition to their salvation. His heart cry was that they would understand what they had already received! Hence his statements about adoption and being a son. Paul presents it not as something to be earned or received but as something to be walked out. 

The issue before us then is whether we understand and believe what we already have and live it out in our daily lives. Understanding our adoption into the family and Christ in us means we pursue regular intimacy and fellowship with the one who dwells in us. It means we seek to encounter Him in relationship and in relationship with His word. If we actually believe it we actually live it. I pray we as the church embrace our adoption not merely as a theological reality but as a living experiential reality that changes us and those around us.   

A Practical God

Ezra is an interesting book of scripture. We can see right from the beginning the Lord’s hand in what took place. Jeremiah had prophesied the return to Jerusalem and the Lord stirred the heart of Cyrus the king of Persia to initiate the process (Ezra 1:1). Ezra was a major instrument in carrying out this purpose and we see in this short book a balance of confidence in God and the practical preparation and working out of His purposes.

There is an idea that when it comes to the outworking of His purposes God won’t do our part and we are unable to do His part. His part was the stirring of the king’s heart to let the captives return and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. Ezra’s part was to provide leadership in practically engaging in the work. Once a number of captives had returned their first task was the restoration of worship.

            1 And when the seventh month had come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered together as one man to Jerusalem. Then Jeshua the son of Jozadak and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and his brethren, arose and built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. Ezra 3:1–2 (NKJV)

Worship is a practical expression of our dependence on the Lord and they recognized the need to make it a priority. This was very practical. It is like the old western idea cowboy’s held. At the end of the day you first looked after the needs of your horse before looking to your own needs as you could not do your job without your horse. I did some work in road construction my first summer out of high school and I noticed something. The good heavy equipment operators spent some time looking over their equipment at the end of the day’s work and greasing and refueling it so it was ready for the next day’s work.

Once the altar was completed they focused on the foundation of the temple.

10 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the ordinance of David king of Israel. 11 And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord:

“For He is good,

For His mercy endures forever toward Israel.”

Then all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. Ezra 3:10–11 (NKJV)

Later on their enemies opposed their work and sought to stop it through legal means (4:1-24). The work ceased, however prophetic encouragement rose up and they began rebuilding and at the same time sought their own legal recourse (7:1 – 8:36). They not only received an order from the king to continue their work their enemies were forced to help pay for it (8:36).

So, some lessons we see in Ezra. When the Lord is behind something He is the initiator and our job is to cooperate with His purposes and obey His leading. Our work needs to have worship as a foundational priority. Opposition is not a sign we are doing the wrong thing, it is frequently an indicator that we are in the centre of His purposes. When we encounter opposition we need to seek His face for wisdom and prophetic encouragement. While we need to understand practical legal matters and use the tools at our disposal as needed the main thing is our obedience to His calling and commission. If He is in it then we can be confident in His leading and support.

Whatever He is calling us to do let us bathe it in worship and seek His wisdom in the face of opposition.

Ministering to the Lord

The church at Antioch was different. We find this group of believers in the book of Acts. The only mentions made of Antioch outside of Acts are both by Paul (Galatians 2:11, 2 Timothy 3:11). The first mention in Acts 6:5 identifies Nicolas, one of the first deacons, as a proselyte from Antioch (a proselyte was a non-Jew who converted to Judaism). The gospel came to Antioch as a result of the persecution following Stephen’s martyrdom and was first preached to the Jews and then began to spread to the Gentiles at Antioch so the Jerusalem dispatched Barnabas to help ground them (Acts 11:19-22). Barnabas responded by leaving Antioch and going to Tarsus and getting Paul and returning with him to Antioch. The two of them taught there for a full year and it was here that the followers of Jesus were first referred to as Christians (Acts 11:25-26).

Having provided some background it is time to look at Luke’s record of what made Antioch unique.

1 Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.

Here Barnabas and Saul (Paul) are prophets and/or teachers. As the church ministered to the Lord the Holy Spirit called them to commission Barnabas and Paul in their calling. The work to which they were called was apostolic and Barnabas and Paul were commissioned and sent out by the Antioch church as apostles (Acts 14:4, 14). Other churches in Acts were birthed or established by apostles, the Antioch church raised up and released them. As a result, Barnabas and Paul were now both released into their apostolic callings and the first of their apostolic journeys began. 

In looking at what led to this unique event it is important to focus on ‘ministering to the Lord.’ First however a brief detour to the sons of Zadok. Zadok was one of the priests under David and when Absalom rebelled and drove David into the wilderness Zadok remained faithful to David, and more importantly, faithful to the Lord (2 Samuel 15:24-29). Ezekiel described it this way.

11 It shall be for the priests of the sons of Zadok, who are sanctified, who have kept My charge, who did not go astray when the children of Israel went astray, as the Levites went astray. Ezekiel 48:11 (NKJV)

Ezekiel further describes the privilege passed on to the sons of Zadok. They could come near and minister to the Lord.

46 The chamber which faces north is for the priests who have charge of the altar; these are the sons of Zadok, from the sons of Levi, who come near the Lord to minister to Him.” Ezekiel 40:46 (NKJV)

19 You shall give a young bull for a sin offering to the priests, the Levites, who are of the seed of Zadok, who approach Me to minister to Me,’ says the Lord God. Ezekiel 43:19 (NKJV)

As believers we have the incredible privilege of a daily audience with the King of creation. In this audience we have the opportunity to place our request before Him, which He welcomes. Yet, in the context of this privilege, we also have the opportunity to minister to Him to worship Him simply because He is worthy. That is how the Lord’s Prayer starts, with worship of our Father. I wonder what will happen if we as the church give more time to ministering unto Him? What might He release in our midst? Who might He commission and send out? Let’s give ourselves to it and see.