Catch a Wave

I am in San Diego as I write this. Earlier this week I was walking on some cool windy beaches and spent some time watching surfers in their wetsuits. Not swimming weather in my opinion! However, allow me to use surfing as an analogy to capture the spirit of revival, beginning with a little more context. That morning I had been thinking about revival. As I was walking along the very windy beach in the blowing sand a song kept rising up in my spirit as I walked and I was quietly singing some lines from it. The song was Shine Jesus Shine by Graham Kendrick, the lyrics are well worth reading and the song one that draws us into worship. The part I was singing over and over was, “Shine, Jesus, shine. Fill this land with the Father’s glory.” It is a song about outpouring, filling and transformation. In a word, revival! The same day that I was walking and worshipping the winds were so strong that one of the major parks was closed due to trees being blown over. The weather report said they had last experienced winds like this in the 90’s. So back to surfing, starting with my observations.

The first observation is that surfers spend the vast majority of their time waiting and preparing. They are paddling while looking for the big wave. They are not casually resting on their boards; they are looking out at the waves in expectation and preparing for them. As the waves come rolling in, they need to time their paddling with the wave. If they start to paddle too soon, they miss they wave, if they start to paddle too late, they miss the wave. Once they catch the wave they need to quickly get on their board and balance. They then need to pay attention to the wave and ride it back and forth to maintain their place on it.

 Now to the revival application. Whether we think of revival as a move of the Spirit, wind from the Spirit or a variety of other perspectives, a wave is simply one example of something that moves powerfully that we can join with and be caught up in. Having studied revival over the years I see the wave application. I believe we need to both pray and prepare. Revivals in history were always preceded by prayer, preparation and expectation. At times people missed the moment (wave) because they didn’t like the package it came in. For example, it was said that the bloodline washed away the colour barrier at Asuza Street. Here the different ethnicities came together and worshipped, yet at that time in history some were offended at this integration and missed the wave. For others the wave was too wild and they missed it because they were offended by excesses.

The Toronto Blessing from the 1990’s is another example. I am confident there were spirits present leading people to do things that were not from the Holy Spirit. I am also confident that some people simply did things out of emotional immaturity or a desire for attention. I am however very confident that the Holy Spirit initiated and led the outpouring and people came from all over the world and were touched and transformed by the Spirit.  

If errors are our focus in a revival season, we will miss the big wave being offended by the little ones. Fleshly excesses have always accompanied moves of the Spirit. We navigate a move of the Spirit by focusing on the genuine and remaining humble. Scripture exhorts us to test all things and hold fast to the good.

21 Test all things; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.  1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 (NKJV)  

In conclusion, let us pray for revival, let us prepare our hearts and when we see the wave let us paddle out to meet it, join it and ride it while paying close attention to the Spirit to navigate what He is doing.

A further Application Addendum regarding Wind and the Spirit

Jesus said the following in likening the wind and the Spirit

8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8 (NKJV)

We then have Acts 2.

1 When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Acts 2:1–2 (NKJV)

The Holy Spirit at times reveals Himself through wind. I referenced the strong winds the day I was walking on the beach worshipping and praying. I had sand blown into both of my ears due to the wind. I mentioned the trees being blown over. When the wind is blowing over trees, things are being uprooted! If this represents a wind of the Spirit, is He wanting to uproot and remove things from our lives?

I had another experience with wind when we were in Scotland in June 2018. On June 12th we toured Edinburgh Castle and I saw the small room where King James VI of King James Bible fame, was born. On the 13th took the train out to Stirling Castle. We toured the castle, the Wallace Monument and looked into the Church of the Rude just outside the gates of Stirling Castle. That day Edinburgh Castle was closed and parts of Stirling and the Wallace Monument due to the strong winds. A guide informed us this was only the second time since the 1990’s that the castle had been closed.   

The significance of the city of Stirling is that it is where William Wallace first fought Edward I of England and liberated Scotland, where King James VI was raised, though he was born in Edinburgh Castle. It was also here that John Knox preached, shook a nation and also presided over King James VI’s baptism and coronation at the church of Rude.

I believe these winds I have referenced prophetically speak of a move of the Spirit that is coming that will blow back in old things that were spiritually significant, uproot and remove things that offend His heart and sweep the church into His purpose. In closing here is what Knox uttered on his deathbed. May we live likewise. “Whatever influenced me to utter whatever the Lord put into my mouth so boldly, and without respect of persons, was a reverential fear of my God, who called and of his grace appointed me to be a steward of divine mysteries, and a belief that he will demand an account of the manner in which I have discharged the trust committed to me, when I shall stand at last before his tribunal.”

Talents?

            We are likely familiar with the parable of the talents. There are two different versions. The first is found in Matthew 25:14-30 and the second in Luke 19:11-27. The versions are different because Jesus would have taught the same stories in different ways as He travelled about teaching. I am looking at Matthew’s version. When I have heard teaching on the subject the focus has always been on the outcome. Instead of that let’s start at the beginning. At points in my career, particularly in my management roles, there were sometimes ridiculous expectations rather than realistic goals. I once told my staff that what we were being expected to do was ‘change the tire while driving down the highway!’ Goals that stretch us are useful but they still need to be realistic. My response to the ridiculous was, “If you goal for me this year is to be able to jump over the building at the end of the year, we need a new goal as that isn’t going to happen.” In the parable of the talents Jesus presents the goal or task as realistic.

14 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. 15 And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Matthew 25:14–15 (NKJV)

            Here we have a man who had servants and gave them responsibility according to their ‘ability.’ That is, the owner gave each servant an area of responsibility based on what he could realistically be expected to achieve. Jesus embedded a principle here. Our Father has given to each of us talents, gifts or abilities. When our lives are weighed at the end of this age, He will not compare what we have done with what someone else has accomplished. His assessment will be based on what we have done with what we have been given. The two talents servant wasn’t expected to achieve what the five talents servant accomplished. He was expected to achieve what he was able to accomplish with two talents.

            I think one of the problems we have in the church is a tendency to focus on or desire the talents of others without really seeing our own. For example, I may want to be a great preacher and look at great preachers I admire and wish I could be like them. However, that would be wasting my time, and my talent. I have often said over the years that I like neither giving or receiving lectures. I am a teacher not a preacher. I want to engage and interact with people not talk at them. If I look at and seek to learn from great interactive teachers that is a good use of my time. Trying to be a great preacher wouldn’t be.   

            Part of my teaching gift is writing, this being an example. Over the years my friend Wouter has spoken into my life a good deal about my writing and in heeding his advice my writing has improved. Wouter is a gifted teacher and taught high school English for decades. I would be foolish to not receive his advice and corrections. At the same time, though we both teach our styles are not the same and my goal is not to teach or write like Wouter, it is to teach and write well as Randy. I heard Josh McDowell say something nearly forty years ago. He said, “If you spend all of your time being someone else who is going to spend all of their time being you.” That has always stuck with me.

            Each of us have gifts and talents, each of us has a calling from Jesus. There are cases where people have developed gifts that weren’t obvious early on. I know of more than one person who felt called by Jesus to play a musical instrument and be a worshipper. They then just ‘did it’ with no formal training. Jesus calling them activated something He had put in them. A qualifier here, musical training and ability does not in and of itself make one a worship leader. I have heard skilled musicians in church who frankly do not understand worship nor can they lead others into His presence. (My next post will address the pairing of gifts and calling).

            Aside from worship and teaching there are many gifts and callings. We each need to discern ours through prayer, input from others and our inner sense of calling. When we do that and consistently live it out we can look forward to these words at the end of the age, ‘well done good and faithful servant’ (Matthew 25:21).

Walking Well

            Given the time of year there are a plethora of prophetic declarations regarding what the Lord is going to do in 2023. Most are promises of wonderful things that don’t come to pass but they are still put forth each year. Some are balanced and talk about the blessing of His presence in the midst of difficulties. Some are vague and general and some are very specific. A recurring one is the recognition of the need for revival and awakening in the church and prayer to that end. I hold to that promise and continue to intercede for it.

Now to my word for the year. I have had specific ones in the past. I don’t have one this year except something He spoke to me nearly three decades ago from 1 Corinthians.

2 Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. 1 Corinthians 4:2 (NKJV)

To understand this, we need to look at the context, what we are to steward, and what it means to steward something. The context is Paul speaking of being a steward of the mysteries of God.

1 Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 1 Corinthians 4:1 (NKJV)

Paul saw his responsibility to be faithful with what God had entrusted to him and recognized his calling as a servant, an underling to the Lord. While none of us are Paul the Lord has given each of us callings and gifts and our calling is to be wise stewards of what He has given. I don’t know each of your specific callings and gifts. However, I do know for example that each of us have been called to live out Matthew 28:18-20, The Great Commission. Given that let’s take a closer look at stewardship.

There is a good example of failed stewardship in popular culture that has often come to mind for me. It is from The Lord of the Rings series. In the one movie the Steward of Gondor had been entrusted with responsibility for the city and surrounding country. His responsibility is to maintain and look after the city and surrounding area until the rightful king shows up. In the movie he is aware that the rightful heir to the throne is coming and that he is to yield the throne to him and serve him. Rather than functioning as a steward he begins to act like an owner and refuses to welcome or yield to the coming king. He instead focuses on his own food and comfort while the city he is responsible for was under attack and falling to the enemy. He has in effect attempted to keep his position while abandoning his responsibility! This is similar to the expression, ‘Nero fiddled while Rome burned.’ Nero had also been given a stewardship (Romans 13:1-3) which he miserably failed to carry out.

We do not want to function like the Steward of Gondor or Nero, we want to be found faithful. If our calling is to prayer let us pray. If our calling is to evangelism let us evangelize. If it is to encouragement let us encourage. Paul provides examples for us.

6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; 7 or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; 8 he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Romans 12:6–8 (NKJV)

If we do respond to this with a right heart, we are faithful stewards. I know in my life that whether I see revival or need to remain in the place of intercession awaiting it, I plan to be faithful to do what I can with what I have where I am.

            In considering our own stewardship it may look different for each of us. What is consistent is the need to consider is our present degree of faithfulness with what He has already tasked us with doing. I spent my career in the social services field and there was an expression, ‘The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.’ If we have not been faithful in the past, we are not positioned to be faithful in the future. If that is our present state, we can shift our future through repentance (a change of heart and mind) that leads to engaging in different behaviour. Once we make this shift the best predictor of our future behaviour will be the new behaviour that we are engaging in. Let us be found faithful and this year will lay a foundation for continued faithfulness next year and beyond.

Mirror Resolutions

            We begin a new year tomorrow. Given that in our culture we tend to focus on New Years Day as a time of reflection and resolutions let’s apply that idea to this coming year. At present little discernment is required to see that we live in a very self absorbed and self focused culture, including in the church. A lot of time is spent looking in the mirror. There is a good biblical word for what led to this condition, sin. In reflecting back on Genesis 3 we see the immediate effects of sin entering the lives of Adam and Eve.

9 Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.” 11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” 12 Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” 13 And the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” Genesis 3:9–13 (NKJV)

Two things happened in the Fall, a focus on self and ‘our’ condition and the shifting of blame to someone else when challenged. In essence Adam was now focused on himself rather than Yahweh and blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent and so it continues in every culture.

Yet, as believers our calling is different. Our calling is to be mirrors that reflect Jesus and His kingdom, not our culture. This is clearly portrayed in scripture.    

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)

Think about the significance. In our mirrors we are to look into and at the glory of the Lord. We are to fix our gaze upon Jesus, seeing His glory in our mirrors, His face replacing ours. The result of that is that we then reflect His glory and others encounter Him in us.

            There is a practical way to do this. Back when I was much younger, I moved to Edmonton from Northern Alberta to attend college. I stayed with my sister and brother in-law that summer and my sister had a plaque on the bathroom wall, it was an old Sanskrit saying and I have always remembered it, “Yesterday is already a dream and tomorrow is only a vision, but today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope.”

So here is my proposal for the New Year. We can still make resolutions like losing weight or getting fit, yet we can also do something I think is much more important. We can resolve to live better among others. We can choose to look into scripture and to gaze upon Jesus, we can be changed into His image, walking in grace and truth, living in forgiveness and compassion. We can resolve to let Him shine through us, reflecting the fruit of the Spirit.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. Galatians 5:22–23 (NKJV)

In this way we can make, “every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope.”

His Building

            Tomorrow, Christmas day, we celebrate Jesus’ birth. Leaving aside the accuracy of the date, it is an important day around the world. As the ultimate strategic planner, the Godhead, Father, Son and Spirit had a plan and purpose in mind. A plan that would be established through Jesus’ birth and subsequent death and resurrection. This plan began to come to fruition with Jesus earthly birth, a plan to begin building something, and we are part of that something.

            The plan was to build a family, a family made in His image, representing, or re presenting, Him. This is seen clearly in scripture.

8 To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; 10 to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, 11 according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. Ephesians 3:8–12 (NKJV)

I will highlight a section of this passage, “the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; 10 to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, 11 according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” There was a mystery unveiled to Paul, the building of a spiritual house through those born again through Jesus. After the Fall it began with the calling of a man, Abraham, the building of a nation through his descendants, the raising up of the Messiah through this lineage and culminating in the full unveiling of the mystery. This mystery involved a revealing of God’s wisdom to the opposing powers in the heavenly places, the ongoing revealing of Jesus to and through the church to the world. An eternal purpose that will be finalized at Jesus return.

            If we have been born again, we are part of what is being built. We have been called into fellowship, participation in a divine plan that was once a mystery and has now been unveiled. We see it expressed earlier in Ephesians.

19 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. Ephesians 2:19–22 (NKJV)

            We are all part of the same building; the church Jesus is building. We display His wisdom before opposing spiritual forces in heavenly places when we focus on building up His body and bringing in new members. Most of us are called not to foreign lands but to our friends and neighbours. This Christmas let’s honour what Jesus did by being expressions of the living Christ to all we encounter. Let us be living stones offering spiritual sacrifices as a spiritual building.

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)

Faith and Action Part 3

In my last posted I noted that here I would address individual and corporate discernment in relation to Faith and Action. To do that we need to look at the authority structure in the church. In scripture Christ is the head, the ultimate authority (Ephesians 1:22, 5:23). That is without question. What we need to consider is how Jesus uses His authority as the head. It is clear in The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) and His instructions to wait for the Spirit (Acts 1:4-5) that He expects us to obey Him. The important point is that He doesn’t use force or control. He will apply both to unbelievers when He returns and all of us believers will appear before His judgment seat under His authority (2 Corinthians 5:10). However, at present He exhorts and convicts, He does not force. The same is true regarding the role and calling of human leaders in the church, as represented in the passages below.

24 And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, 25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, 26 and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:24–26 (NKJV)

17 Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you. Hebrews 13:17 (NKJV)

1 The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: 2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; 3 nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; 4 and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. 5 Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” 6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, 7 casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:1–7 (NKJV)

            Leaders who actually follow Jesus seek to lead others by example and teaching, not coercion. Once we recognize the scriptural importance of submission to authority we can make the connection to discernment, both individual and corporate. If we want to hear clearly and discern His leading, we need to submit to the leaders Jesus has appointed as we need come under Jesus’ authority through them. We see this in action in corporate discernment in 1 Corinthians.

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

29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. 1 Corinthians 14:29 (NKJV)

We see here the sharing by many of what they are receiving from Jesus and the submission of what they are hearing or receiving to others in the body. In essence our discernment is tied to our submission because Jesus designed us to need one another. If we are unwilling to come under spiritual authority we cannot expect to hear clearly in our walk with Jesus.

The context for 1 Corinthians 14:29 is corporate discernment. Through sharing what we are hearing from the Lord and letting others weigh the accuracy we demonstrate a willingness to submit to the spiritual maturity and authority of others. We see the same principle in Proverbs.

14 Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety. Proverbs 11:14 (NKJV)

22 Without counsel, plans go awry, But in the multitude of counselors they are established. Proverbs 15:22 (NKJV)

            It is easy to see how corporate discernment is tied to our recognition of, and submission to, the spiritual authority Jesus has established in the church. The same principles apply to individual discernment. None of us are called to walk alone, we are called to walk with others in the body. Whatever we think we are hearing or think we should do, we discern best in the context of community. At times the Lord speaks to me about something, yet on important matters my habit is to submit what I hear to others. For example, I recently made a significant decision and had a sense of what I was to do. Yet I didn’t move ahead with my decision until I had a couple of friends pray about it for a number of months as the decision affected others. The Lord confirmed the accuracy of the decision so in theory I could have simply gone ahead with my original sense of His direction. Yet in having others weigh it there was confirmation from the Lord that was significant. This is important.

Some final thoughts. Over my years of walking with Jesus I have heard many people come up with novel ‘teachings’ that are not in line with scripture. Invariably it comes out that they are not anchored and submitted in His body, and by extension Jesus. Instead of doing that, let’s simply follow Jesus. When we do, we will find ourselves in fellowship with His people and find a place to weigh and test our spiritual discernment.

Faith and Action Part 2

            In my last post I did a brief overview of the importance of the idea of scriptural inerrancy. Here we will look at some challenging passages and the importance of context and the type of expression or literature. While the bible is presented as a single book made up of 39 Old and 27 New Testament (NT) letters or books we have a whole range of literature in these 66 books. We have history, prophecy, poetry, and pithy teachings such as Proverbs and the parables of Jesus in the NT.  

            In examining the broad view, we start with a key distinction, the scriptures were written for us, not to us. While many are very applicable to our lives, they were all written to a specific audience in a specific time and place. A great example is the book of scripture that is arguably the most confusing, Revelation. It is actually referred to in the first four words as “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” It is both revelation from Jesus and in the end revelation about Jesus. Yet it was addressed to seven specific churches in then Asia Minor, modern Turkey.         

            Now, we will take a look at some of the difficult statements in scripture.

27 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. Matthew 5:27–30 (NKJV)

8 “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire. Matthew 18:8–9 (NKJV)

 20 The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 23 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Then Peter answered and said to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?” 28 So Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. Matthew 19:20–29 (NKJV)

In the passages above, the context is first lust in Matthew 5, then causing the immature to stumble in Matthew 18. In both cases Jesus refers to cutting off our hand or plucking out our eye. These are great examples of hyperbole, using exaggeration to make a point. Jesus is in essence saying that we need to aggressively deal with sin when it rises up in our lives. If looking is leading to lust, don’t look, in essence, ‘pluck out your eye.’ If your behaviour is leading to sin, ‘cut off your hand or foot.’ Don’t allow your actions to lead to sin. Jesus primary point – deal with the issue!  

In the Matthew 19 passage we have what is referred to as the story of the ‘rich young ruler.’ The man comes to Jesus already seeking to live by the standards of the law but sensing a lack in his life. Jesus puts his finger on the man’s issue, his trust and confidence in his money, things, rather than Jesus. Jesus cuts to the heart of the issue and tells him to sell the things he trusts in and to instead trust and follow Jesus. The disciples are astonished about Jesus subsequent comments regarding the difficulty of trusting riches and how doing that is in conflict with trusting Jesus.  

In the eye and hand comments we have statements that are applicable to all of us in how we deal with temptation. In the issue of trusting riches, we have a principle that applies to all of us, trust Jesus not other things, but a command that was directed to an individual. Jesus was not telling all people for all time that the only way to salvation was to sell all they owned and give it to the poor. After all, if we look at who has funded mission work over the years it is generally people who have money.  

Now let us turn to the great commission in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus’ command to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.

18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. Matthew 28:18–20 (NKJV)

This command was spoken to a specific group, the remaining eleven apostles after the defection of Judas. Yet, clearly the eleven of them were not going to be able to go into the entire world with the gospel. Thus, it was spoken to them but written for us, and given the broad nature of Jesus command, applies to us as while. Matthew wrote it so we would know the task appointed to all followers of Jesus.  

In looking at scripture, as a general practice we should look at who it was written to and whether it is straightforward prose, a parable, poetry or history. We then need to look at how it applies to our lives in our time and culture. The prohibitions against sin apply to all of us always, some commands however, like dietary laws apply to Israel not everyone. Specific commands have a context but the Holy Spirit may quicken to our hearts a passage like the story of the rich young ruler and direct us to sell our earthly possessions. Here we need to know how to discern His voice. In the next post we will look at individual and corporate discernment in relation to Faith and Action.

Faith and Action Part 1

When we reflect on our faith, in the evangelical world (of which I am a part) one of the tenets of our faith is generally an adherence to biblical inerrancy (a position Catholicism also holds), along with a statement that our faith and practice are guided by scripture. Here are two typical examples. The first from the North American Baptist statement of beliefs and the second from the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.

We believe the Bible is God’s Word given by divine inspiration, the record of God’s revelation of Himself to humanity (II Timothy 3:16).  It is trustworthy, sufficient, without error – the supreme authority and guide for all doctrine and conduct (I Peter 1:23-25; John 17:17; II Timothy 3:16-17).  It is the truth by which God brings people into a saving relationship with Himself and leads them to Christian maturity (John 20:31; I John 5:9-12; Matthew 4:4; I Peter 2:2).

The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is the written revelation of God’s character and saving purposes for humanity and for all creation. (Ps. 119; John 20:30-31; Rom. 15:4). As God’s revelation, the entire Bible is true and trustworthy, and is the final and absolute authority for belief and conduct. (2Tim 3:16-17; Heb 4:12). The Holy Spirit who inspired the Bible enables its interpretation and application. (2Pet. 1:20-21; John 16:13; 1Cor. 2:12-13).

My experience over the years is that most of us don’t really examine what this means in our day to day lives. Thus, we shall begin that examination process. First, we will look at what the concept of inerrancy means along with the idea the scriptures are the authority for our belief and conduct. One is anchored in the other.

            Inerrancy does not mean that there are zero errors in our present scriptural text. The idea of inerrancy points to the original manuscripts being without error and God communicating what He wanted to communicate to us via scripture. However, even knowing that our present text is not inerrant need not be a major concern. The reason being that with both the Old and New Testaments, no major doctrine related to salvation is challenged or threatened by the differences we have in the text. One of the reasons I like the New King James Version is that it captures the textual differences in notes throughout both testaments. Most of the differences are in the New Testament (NT) text. For example, the longer ending of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6, the longer ending of Mark 16 and the story of the woman taken in adultery in John 7-8. There are three main textual streams in the Greek manuscripts of the NT and we have over 5,000 copies of the NT in Greek.

It is important to point out that in the three streams and numerous manuscripts they are in complete agreement regarding the vast majority of the NT. Critics like to focus on the differences but as I noted earlier, they repudiate no major doctrine. There is a whole area of study referred to as textual criticism that focuses on looking at timelines, locations of writing and patterns of scribal errors in seeking to present the most accurate manuscript. I have done some research out of my own interest, yet in terms of action regarding our faith we do best when we focus on what is referred to as the ‘main and plain.’

The idea of the ‘main and plain’ is that for the most part the instructions in scripture are clear. Here are some examples.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. John 1:1–3 (NKJV)

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16 (NKJV)

8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): 9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. Romans 10:8–10 (NKJV)

There are no disputes about the accuracy of the verses above, or as previously noted, almost all the NT. Thus we can confidently live in these truths and leave the differences in other areas to the scholars to sort through as we walk with Jesus trusting what He has communicated through His word.

            In my next post I will look at some of the difficult texts like how to apply removing an offensive eye, the importance of context, and the different types of literature that make up the scriptures.

Passing Tests

I have long held to the belief that character isn’t formed in crisis, it is revealed. My qualifier is that difficulties and crises are not the same thing. There is a twofold process, the way we respond to difficulties, and daily life in general, forms and shapes us. The way we have been shaped is what will be revealed in a crisis.

            When we are born again, the most important choice in our life, the Spirit begins a process that requires our cooperation. The Spirit works to form Jesus’ character in us (Galatians 4:19, 5:22-23), a process that requires our active cooperation. When we step from time into eternity and appear before the judgement seat, we will all give an account for how we have responded to His shaping. We will all have failures; however, I think the main thing He will be looking for at that time is how much of Jesus was revealed in and through us in our earthly life. This process is outlined in both 1 and 2 Peter.  

22 Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, 23 having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, 24 because “All flesh is as grass, And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, And its flower falls away, 25 But the word of the Lord endures forever.” Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you. 1 Peter 1:22–25 (NKJV)

5 But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 8 For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; 11 for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:5–11 (NKJV)

            The quotes above are lengthy and to have a fuller grasp of the context in 2 Peter I recommend reading all of chapter 1. That aside, we can see in 1 Peter that the way we grow is by walking in obedience to the Spirit, responding rightly in the little things. In 2 Peter we are exhorted to be diligent to see these godly character traits growing in our lives. The growth comes about through our active engagement with the Spirt, daily drawing on His grace and trusting that He will enable us to do what Paul wrote, walk, keep in step with the Spirit.

            An important note here, the Spirit generally works to form Christ in us through our interactions with others. If we pay attention, we will find that we have numerous opportunities every day to reveal Jesus in our responses to those around us, even if they can’t hear us and we are driving in rush hour traffic! I have had many opportunities while driving to have Jesus’ character both formed and revealed in me. I am sure you had yours. At times Jesus has been revealed, other times I have had the opportunity to instantly repent over my thoughts or deeds.

            While I have not always had the right response, I have had enough of them to see Jesus revealed. Very recently I was turning left onto a busy road. I was at the front of the line and the light turned green, I began pulling out and as I was crossing the second lane, peripherally I saw a large pickup coming at high speed through the red light, I instantly stopped. My heart response was not to be angry at the other driver but to be thankful to the Spirit for alerting me and likely saving my life and that of the other driver.      

            Another example happened decades ago. We were driving home from church after the Sunday service and something had not gone well nor according to my expectations (I was the pastor). I don’t remember what I was lamenting, I do remember my wife’s words very clearly, “You always give up.” Was that ever encouraging! Okay, not so much. Was it true? Not fully, I didn’t always give up, yet I had a habit of ‘giving up’ or withdrawing from difficult situations rather than pushing through. My wife’s comment hit home, partly because it was shared as an observation not a judgment, and because I looked to the Spirit to respond it shifted something inside of me. Rather than taking offense I reflected on what she said. I made a decision to respond differently that created growth and the further revealing of Jesus in me.

I share these examples to illustrate a process. I am confident that in every decision I have made and every interaction I have each day, that Jesus will not be revealed. I am also confident that because I have developed a habit of submitting to His leading that in most of my interactions each day, Jesus will be revealed. Developing a habit in the little moments creates a character that will be manifest in the big moments. We all have numerous opportunities each day to cooperate with the growth opportunities He provides so that we can look forward to what Peter wrote, having an ‘abundant entrance’ into eternity.

10 Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; 11 for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:11 (NKJV)

Swift to Hear, Slow to Speak

            The verse below is well known and here our focus is on ‘swift to hear, slow to speak.’

19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; James 1:19 (NKJV)

This is of particular importance in our social media culture. I suspect all of us have said things in reaction to what others have said (yes, my hand is up). When I think of this in relation to social media what comes to mind is a cartoon I saw. The wife is telling her husband, ‘It’s time to come to bed.’ He responds, ‘I can’t yet, someone said something wrong on the internet!’ Whether or not we can see ourselves in that, in our current cultural ethos it hits too close to home. We have issues with bullying, new terms that have arisen, ‘ghosting,’ and the resurgence of the idea of ‘gaslighting.’

In response to these issues, we need to hear James afresh. Inherent in the idea of being swift to hear and then slow to speak is that we each have a ‘respond ability.’ Rather than reacting to something that happens we are called to process and then provide a measured response, even under pressure.

            It is easy to say this but we need an approach or strategy to actually do it. I have a friend who often seems to be listening internally in conversation. He is trying to process what has been said and how the Holy Spirit would have him respond. I have another friend where I can send an email or text and the response arrives a day or two later. He is a processor. For some people the pause comes naturally, for most of us the reaction is a more natural response.

            For those of us where reacting is the natural response, James is encouraging us to push pause. If we have cultivated the habit of turning our hearts to Jesus at regular intervals throughout the day this is not difficult. If we have not, we can. Over a century ago Henry Drummond wrote a booklet called The Changed Life where he focused on the practice of trying to turn and tune our hearts to Jesus each morning. His primary point, based on 2 Corinthians 3:18, was that as we posture ourselves before Jesus that the Spirit changes us into His image.

            In my own experience, one of the things I found most helpful was reading a little book called God’s Psychiatry. The author recommended meditating on four keys passages of scripture. I focused on the first. I took the 23 Psalm and spend a few minutes reflecting on it when I got up, after each meal, and then just before bed. His peace reigned in my heart.

            If you need to develop the habit of being reflective, slow to speak and quick to hear and discern then pick a method that suits you and step further into the flow of His Spirit. PS if you are interested in Drummond’s book it used to be available online to download as the copyright had expired. I also have a copy I downloaded into a Word version and tidied up. Contact me if you would like a copy.