New Wineskins Part 3

Here is a look at the wineskin we need to embrace regarding how we see others if we are to walk like and with Jesus. In Luke 10:30-37 in response to a lawyer’s question Jesus shares the story of the Good Samaritan. The dialogue concludes with Jesus question and both of their responses.

36  “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” 37  And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:36-37 (NKJV)

While the conclusion is that those in need are our neighbours, the story highlights different wineskins. We have the perspective of the thieves, the priest, the Levite and the Samaritan. The wineskin of the thieves was that they were free to take advantage of others to gain what they desired. Now we may not rob and beat people to steal from them but if we seek to take advantage of the vulnerability of others we may have unconsciously embraced this wineskin.

The priest and Levite (for a distinction, all priests were required to be Levites, not all Levites were priests, some had other duties). Their wineskin said they were not to get involved with those who could make them unclean. They may have thought the man was dead, we don’t know. What we do know is they crossed the road to avoid getting too close. They were experts in the law and knew they were to care for their neighbour (Lev. 19:18) but either ignored the Law or chose to not see the injured man as their neighbour. When seeing those in need makes us uncomfortable and leads to avoid getting involved perhaps we are not actually loving our neighbour.

Lastly we have the Samaritan. The Samaritans were a mixture of Jewish and other races and were despised by the Jewish community for their mixture and the two groups disagreed over who to worship. Jesus uses someone rejected by the lawyer to show a right heart. The Samaritan not only gets very personally involved he, like Jesus, bears the cost and inconvenience of getting involved. If we see those in need as our neighbours then we have embraced the wineskin of the kingdom, thinking and acting like Jesus.

In summary, here are the different wineskins Jesus presents. The thieves, take advantage. The priest and Levite, don’t get involved and don’t become defiled. The Samaritan, help those in need 

Let’s walk with Jesus.

Vision?

Recently lying in a tent in the back country listening to the rain I was reflecting on Proverbs 29:18. The old King James is likely familiar to people from the oft repeated quote, “Where there is no vision the people perish.” It is applied by business people and self help gurus alike. Yet the latter half of the verse receives short shrift. Here is the whole verse.

18  Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; But happy is he who keeps the law. Proverbs 29:18 (NKJV)

To properly understand and apply the first half we need to embrace the second half. The first half tells us that the lack of something leads to a casting off of restraint, a loss. We find in the second half of the verse that the thing lost is an understanding of the law, in this case the Mosaic Law. The law was given to guide proper behaviour and as a restraint on wrong behaviour. The implication is that it isn’t about the need for vision or revelation in general. It is a need for a revelation of the role of the law in our lives.

The English Standard Version translates the first phrase as “Where there is no prophetic vision.” While the word ‘prophetic’ is added for clarity it is implied in the context. The role of the prophets in the Old Testament was primarily calling the people back to obedience to the law.  

So, given this let’s apply it to our lives. In our natural lives one of the roles of parents and other authority figures is to provide external controls in the lives of children. As they grow and mature children develop greater internal control and so need less external control. As believers we start out as spiritual children and are supposed to mature and grow (see 1 Jn. 2 for examples of the stages of spiritual growth). 

The implication from Proverbs 29:18 is that in our growth we need to learn to adhere to the principles of scripture by knowing His word and as we mature we develop a greater sensitivity to His internal leading and less reliance on knowing the ‘right’ thing to do in different situations. The learning of the principles is the fruit of disciplined time spent in His word and meaningful fellowship with more mature believers.

In the church at present we have many varied and conflicting beliefs. One movement gaining many adherents is ‘progressive’ Christianity, which when examined isn’t Christianity at all. Below are the first two of the eight points from progressivechristianity.org, updated for 2020.

1. Believe that following the path of the teacher Jesus can lead to healing and wholeness, a mystical connection to “God,” as well as an awareness and experience of not only the Sacred, but the Oneness and Unity of all life;

2. Affirm that the teachings of Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience “God,” the Sacredness, Oneness and Unity of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources of wisdom, including Earth, in our spiritual journey;

Notice that Jesus is just a good ‘teacher’ and one of many ways to God. This movement has made great inroads in the evangelical church because of our lack of knowledge of and understanding of scripture. There has been a casting off of restraint and a rejection the ‘law,’ the truths of scripture. So, if we are seeking vision or revelation let us seek that which calls and draws us to adherence to the timeless truths of scripture and anchors us in His word and presence.

He Sees Part 2

In my previous post I looked at how Jesus seeks to support right hearts and wants us to see from His perspective. We can see more of what He sees by digging a bit deeper into Luke 4:18-19.

18  “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; 19  To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” Luke 4:18-19 (NKJV)

In context Jesus read this in the synagogue in Nazareth and it was His first public declaration that He was the long awaited Messiah. He was reading from Isaiah 61:1-2 and His hearers knew it was a messianic prophetic promise. It was even clearer when Jesus finished reading and addressed those assembled.  

  20  Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 21  And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:20-21 (NKJV)

In essence Jesus said, “This prophetic promise is about Me.” Luke 4:18-19 tell us that Jesus sees the poor who need the gospel, He sees and heals the brokenhearted, He sees the captives and sets them free from bondage to sin. He sees the spiritually and naturally blind and enables them to see again. He sees the oppressed and breaks the burdens off of them. He sees the need for repentance and a welcome into God’s family and so proclaims His redemptive favour, the doors of the kingdom are open wide to the repentant.

Given that Jesus does these things and calls us as co-labourers we can see our role in two ways. We can be both the recipients and conduits of His grace.  We are called to see the poor who need the gospel, to see and heal the brokenhearted, to see the captives and set them free from bondage to sin. We are called to see the spiritually and naturally blind and enable them to see again. We are called to see the oppressed and break the burdens off of them. We are called to see the need for repentance and to offer a welcome into God’s family. Conversely, when we are in need of any of these things others are called to see and come alongside.

Our calling is to see His work in one another’s lives and build what He is building. Nothing more, nothing less.

A Steadfast Heart

In my last post I wrote about preparing our hearts for a move of the Spirit. Preparing our heart is one thing. Maintaining it is another. An analogy that comes to mind for me is going backpacking. I prepare by getting all of my food and gear ready. If I have prepared well I am able to respond to the things that happen on the trail. However, during the hike there is the need to constantly assess what is happening and adjust plans as necessary.

Two years ago my son and I did an overnight backpacking trip. It had rained a lot and rained somewhat on our hike in. It cleared up by noon and after we arrived at our destination we did a further day hike. We were hiking out the next morning under a beautiful blue sky with the sun shining. Just what one would like in the mountains. Then a brief sprinkle started and we debated about putting on our raingear, decided it might pass and so kept going as we were. A few minutes later the sky opened up and we had heavy downpour that turned into a steady rain pretty much the rest of the hike out. Not putting on our raingear while it was sprinkling meant putting it on under much wetter conditions.

What does any of this have to do with revival or refreshing seasons? While we can prepare, once things begin to happen we need to continually reassess and adjust. When His manifest presence is there we may start to abandon regular schedules. It is sunny after all so who needs raingear? Yet times of spiritual outpouring also become times of spiritual testing. We are tested in how we respond to His presence, our ability to discern and exercise wisdom. We are tested in our willingness to pay attention to His promoting when He calls us to come aside and rest awhile.

While much is happening around us in revival seasons we need to lean into that ‘still small voice.’ That is how Evan Roberts guided the Welsh Revival and how William Seymour maintained Azusa Street. Roberts would sit quietly, sometimes for an hour or more, waiting to sense the leading of the Spirit. Seymour would sit at the front with his head inside a wooden apple crate, praying and seeking to discern.

Remember, when the Lord sows good seed the enemy sows tares and they look alike while immature. Many things manifest under His presence. There will be pride, immaturity, false humility and a host of other things to test. I believe the most important attribute we can possess is a steady heart. A steady heart is one focused on leaning into and listening to His heart no matter what is happening around us. It is also a heart constantly seeking the wisdom to discern rather than quickly judge. We need both the heart of David and Paul.

7  My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and give praise. Psalm 57:7 (NKJV)

9  And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, 10  that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, 11  being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11 (NKJV)

Holy Spirit You are Welcome Here

His Perspective

I want to draw us into heaven’s perspective. Our culture enjoins the worship of celebrities, a worship of the rich, famous and popular. Yet in the midst of all of this there is an important reframing of the issue by Jesus. He is great at giving us perspective!

15  And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” Luke 16:15 (NKJV)

This is a verse that cuts deeply across the grain of our culture – Jesus plainly declaring to the religious leaders of His day that in seeking popular acclaim they embraced the wrong value system. They were drinking dirty water from polluted cisterns. They didn’t understand that Jesus perspective wasn’t about religious power and control, it was about people. Even those He grew up with in Nazareth were offended by what Jesus said when He declared both who He was and what His priorities were.

18  “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; 19  To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” Luke 4:18-19 (NKJV)

Jesus was publicly declaring He was the Messiah but like any good leader He also laid out His vision for His followers to see. His focus was on the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the blind and the oppressed. Did He accomplish His vision? Luke tells us in a one verse summary of His ministry.

 38  how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. Acts 10:38 (NKJV)  

Getting back to the value system of Luke 16:15, there is an expression, ‘Most of those who are well known on earth are little known in heaven and most of those who are well known in heaven are little known on earth. God’s valuation system is different than our culture. He wants our focus to be on being known in heaven.

In sharing some of these ideas with a friend he said, “The Lord once asked me, ‘Is it good enough that you are famous in heaven.’  He was exposing the fact that it really wasn’t.” What about the rest of us? Is it good enough to be famous in heaven?

Looking for Leadership

In times of crisis large segments of the population look for answers and there is often an expressed desire, an expectation, that governments will provide that leadership. While I appreciate what our elected officials and bureaucracies do, I think there is a better place to look. I often turn to these two verses from Psalm 25. They exemplify something I read recently in a book by Scott Rodin, “It is not whom you are leading but who is leading you that will determine your legacy.” Thus, I regularly join David and turn these verses into a prayer.

4  Show me Your ways, O LORD; Teach me Your paths. 5  Lead me in Your truth and teach me, For You are the God of my salvation; On You I wait all the day. Psalm 25:4-5 (NKJV)

I recognize the need to walk in the path He has prepared for me. Though I may stumble and wander, my desire is to be on the path He has laid out. Notice both ‘ways’ and ‘paths’ are plural. This is akin to what it says elsewhere in Psalms.

4  There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. Psalm 46:4 (NKJV)

The point is not the idea that ‘all roads lead to Rome.’ Rather it is the idea that each of us have a different calling, but we all have the same purpose. Our purpose is to walk in His ways and flow into the river of His purpose. Our gifts and callings have been given by Him to glorify His name. This means seeking to walk in the paths He has prepared for us and looking to Him in expectation that He will lead us on the right path.

The idea that we can expect Him to lead us in the right way is inherent in the Hebrew word which is translated as ‘wait’ in verse 25. The word carries the sense of hope and expectation and being bound up with Him, the opposite of passivity. We are not waiting in the sense of hoping something will happen. The call is to wait the way David expressed it elsewhere. This is the verse I think of when I think of ‘waiting on the Lord’ because it encapsulates in one verse the idea of scriptural waiting, a confident expectancy.

3  My voice You shall hear in the morning, O LORD; In the morning I will direct it to You, And I will look up. Psalm 5:3 (NKJV)

So, in this season we need leadership. Let’s look for it in the right place and leave a legacy that points others to Jesus.

What is God Speaking in our Circumstances

Circumstances are not always what they appear to be. There are many examples in scripture of things not heading to the conclusion one would envision given the circumstances. For example, Joseph being sold into slavery. The children of Israel coming out of Egypt and then having an impassable sea before them and an Egyptian army behind them. Paul seeking to spread the gospel and ending up in prison.

What came out of the above events? Joseph preserved a nation; God displayed His power to engender trust in a people and Paul had time to reflect and write a good portion of the New Testament. Great outcomes in each case but not the expected outcome based on viewing the circumstances from a simply natural point of view.

There are natural examples of how good can arise out of something that presented as a disaster. Years ago, I remember reading the story of the electronics giant Best Buy. The owner had a chain of nine stores and the main store was hit by a tornado, it tore off the roof of the showroom but left the stockroom intact. The owner made a decision to hold a ‘Tornado Sale’ and advertised the sale as the ‘best buys.’ It was so successful it changed their business approach and led to the changing of the name of the stores to Best Buy. The store literally rebuilt itself and grew to become an international electronics giant, all from how the owner chose to respond to the destruction from a storm.

Obviously not every situation turns out this way but some of how it turns out is based on how we choose to respond. Here are two scriptures most of us are likely familiar with.

20  But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Genesis 50:20 (NKJV)

28  And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28 (NKJV)

Did Joseph suffer? Yes. Did Paul suffer? Yes. Will we suffer in some way? Yes. This is part of our journey through life. Yet if this is a test the right answer for the test is choosing to look to Jesus rather than our circumstances. This is not about ignoring or denying them. When the children of Israel faced the Red Sea with an Egyptian army pursuing them there was no pretending the sea or army were not obstacles. There was a looking to the Father in the midst of their circumstances. Moses did the crying out and we need to do that in each of our lives.   

Our call is to look at and fully acknowledge our circumstances then practice what David encouraged.

1  Give ear to my words, O LORD, Consider my meditation. 2  Give heed to the voice of my cry, My King and my God, For to You I will pray. 3  My voice You shall hear in the morning, O LORD; In the morning I will direct it to You, And I will look up. Psalm 5:1-3 (NKJV)

Let’s look up to Him!

Living from the Right Place

Living from the right place is a lofty aspiration. Years ago I came across an expression, ‘Live from a great depth of being.’ My heart was drawn to the idea. I looked it up recently but could not identify the source. The closest I came was Emerson’s quote, ‘It is not length of life but depth of life.’ That aside, I think it is an important concept and lofty goal. Recently I came across Heidi Baker’s expression of living ‘Presence Centred.’ There could be no greater depth to live from than Jesus presence.

In my own prayer guide I have written the following, ‘Holy Spirit, as I sit and walk with Jesus, I ask You to draw me into the subtleties of the interaction that I might deepen my awareness of Your presence and leading.’ I have it down in writing because I believe it is important and I need to remind myself of this aspiraiton. I know Jesus seeks to interact with me and the depth to which it takes place depends on the response of my heart. I generally put on worship music as I pray in the morning but sometimes I find that as He is drawing my heart I simply need to turn it off because it is a distraction rather than an aid. This is a relationship and He is the lead so I need to pay attention to how Jesus is leading and respond accordingly.

As I write this I have gentle instrumental worship quietly playing in the background. It is an aid because it supports rather than overwhelms and my heart is currently in a reflective place. At other times something a bit more intense is helpful, or silence. After all there is an old Hebrew saying, ‘The beginning of wisdom is silence.’

However we approach Him, He seeks to draw each of our hearts into a place of intimacy in a way that grounds our specific relationship with Him and this has always been the way. For decades a popular phrase in use in evangelism is the idea of knowing Jesus as our ‘personal Lord and Saviour.’ While I get the point and the idea of us making a personal connection I have never liked it and in fact find it a bit offensive. It may just be my reaction but I wonder how our Lord and Saviour could not be personal. I have no concept of an ‘impersonal’ Lord and Saviour.   

Having said that, we are each called to develop and deepen our relationship to Jesus in the way in which He calls us. One of my favourite Proverbs is the first phrase in 14:33.

33  Wisdom rests in the heart of him who has understanding, But what is in the heart of fools is made known. Proverbs 14:33 (NKJV)

Wisdom rests in the heart of him who has understanding. A powerful phrase that speaks to me of Jesus as wisdom being comfortable and at home in my heart if I understand how to respond to His drawing and leading. How is he calling you today?

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