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.

The Hope of Glory

I last wrote about the idea of Jesus drawing us to Himself and us being drawn to Him. I want to go a little further. When Jesus walked on the earth He lived in two places at once but He only acted out of one place. That may sound strange but He both lived on earth and before His Father. Yet His every action flowed out of His communion with His Father. He described His dual location this way.

John 3:13 (NKJV)

13 No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.

He then went on to describe the place He lived from.

John 5:19 (NKJV)

19 Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.

Jesus acted out of this place of communion with His Father and revealed His Father. We are called to reveal Jesus. In fact Paul expressed succinctly in Colossians the reality of the source we are to live from.

Colossians 1:27 (NKJV)

27 To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Jesus being manifest through us happens by our learning to live from Him in us. Paul told us that the way to do this was to recognize where to put our focus.

Colossians 3:1–4 (NKJV)

3 If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

I believe based on scripture that Paul stepped into this way of life from his conversion on. I don’t believe he did it without error but it is clear that he did it. He expressed it this way.

Galatians 1:15–16 (NKJV)

15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, 16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood,

Just as Jesus revealed Himself through Paul He has revealed Himself through many down through the centuries and wants each of us to be part of that company. In January of 2020 I felt the word the Lord gave me for the year was, “The church needs to find her voice.” I had no idea at the time how true that would prove to be. While many seemed to feel it was about voices raised in protest, over the year I became convinced it was about finding our voice in the place of intercession before Him. As 2021 begins I feel He has emphasized Psalm 29. I encourage each of us to read it because it isn’t about our voice, it is about His voice being heard. There are many voices in our culture competing for our attention. To sort through them let us get into His presence and tune our hearts to hear Him speak. Let us pray that many will be raised up who will speak His word for this hour, that we will both hear His voice through His servants and be servants through whom His voice is heard.

Persevering to Breakthrough

Living in a northern climate, we are in winter already. Having the blessing of a wood burning fireplace in the family room I have spent some time lately splitting wood. I had some large pieces of birch aging in my backyard for a couple of years. These large logs averaged about 30-35 centimetres across (12-14 inches) and were about 45 centimetres (18 inches) high. I waited until the weather was below freezing to do my splitting because even though there is very little moisture in them, they are easier to split in colder weather.

Given the size of these logs it was a real challenge and I considered getting out the chainsaw to cut them into shorter pieces. However, I never did, I just persevered in my splitting. It is hard work and I split about ten large logs over two sessions. At times I concluded some would simply not split as they had large knots from branches, but then as I persevered, they did. 

If you have spent any time splitting logs you are aware of how difficult it can be. At times the axe gets caught in a log and is hard to extricate. There can be a feeling of futility at times, yes, I felt this. However, the encouragement comes when you see a small crack appear down the side of the log. Even if it is only a quarter of the way you know that if you continue it will get wider and longer and the log will split. At times you will have a very stubborn unyielding piece of log that seems like it will never split and then you strike just the right blow and the pieces seem to burst apart and you now have two or three smaller pieces rather than one large one to deal with. It is much easier to split the remaining smaller pieces.

So, now let us look at how we can draw something of spiritual value from a log splitting experience. In writing this I was thinking of David. His story begins in 1 Samuel 16 where Samuel anointed him as king to replace Saul. In spite of being mocked by some of his older siblings he soon starts his journey to the throne by killing Goliath and subsequently serving Saul. In time out of jealousy Saul drove David away and then over a period of years pursued him to kill him. David had opportunities to kill Saul but refused, trusting the Lord to deal with him.

We pick the story up in 1 Samuel 29. David had fled to seek refuge among the Philistines with king Achish and now all the Philistines were gathering together to battle Israel and David and his men were set to go with them. To this point while seemingly serving Achish David had secretly been venturing out and raiding the enemies of Israel. David however has no way out of this battle with Israel. That is until the other Philistine lords refused to allow David and his men to go with them into the battle against Saul and David and his men are forced to separate from the Philistine army and return to Ziklag.

It is in this pending battle between the Philistines and Israel that Saul and Jonathan will die and the army of Israel will be defeated. David of course does not know this. When he and his men return to their stronghold at Ziklag they discover that the Amalekites have raided their camp, burned their fortress and taken everyone captive, including the families of the men with David.

Consider what David has been through. As a youth he was anointed king, became a warrior, served Saul and served the Lord. Hs loyalty has been rewarded by betrayal, a king hunting him to kill him and being forced to live at various places in the wilderness. In addition to his family and some loyal warriors he has also had the privilege of providing leadership to the discouraged and disgruntled who have come to him from Israel. At this point he is about 30 years of age so it has been well over a decade since he was anointed king and while he now has wives and children he is still a fugitive.

Though David has been faithful in following the Lord what was promised when Samuel anointed him king has certainly not been realized. Now we have the response of those he has been leading when they find their families have been taken captive and their camp burned.

6  Now David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and his daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God. 1 Samuel 30:6 (NKJV)

David’s own men want to stone him! However David continues his pattern and looks to the Lord. Like trying to split a stubborn log, after all David has been through, though he is unaware of it, his perseverance and faithfulness are about to lead to breakthrough. The Lord is about to undertake on his behalf and deal with Saul. This is David’s final test before becoming king.

In our own lives we likely have unfulfilled promises from the Lord and have had various tests and trials. If we have been faithful to steward these promises then we can anticipate a breakthrough. Let’s look for just a little crack in the log and persevere until we see His hand move on our behalf!

Love and Truth

In our current rancorous and escalating culture wars the greatest casualty seems to be truth. Jesus walked in unconditional love. John said that God is love and I think that those of us who know Him would agree. Even many who don’t know Him extol Jesus as an example of love. What I think we can miss if we are not careful is that Jesus also walked on the earth in uncompromising truth! The idea of truth is highlighted in the scriptures below.

10  Mercy and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed. 11  Truth shall spring out of the earth, And righteousness shall look down from heaven. 12  Yes, the LORD will give what is good; And our land will yield its increase. 13  Righteousness will go before Him, And shall make His footsteps our pathway. Psalm 85:10-13 (NKJV)

16  And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. 17  For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John 1:16-17 (NKJV)

In Psalm 85 above truth and righteousness are linked. Righteousness conveys the idea of right conduct but it is right conduct based on His standards not ours, for example the moral precepts in the Ten Commandments or the calls to godly living in the Sermon on the Mount. We see examples of this in Jesus earthly ministry. He called us to hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt. 5:6) and said our priority should be to seek above other things His kingdom and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33). When we do this we are embracing truth because we cannot separate truth from righteousness.

We can see more in the gospels because Jesus didn’t avoid difficult truths. In the reference from John grace and truth are linked. Jesus graciously offers forgiveness if we fail and sin but He provide no license to continue in it. In the well-known example of the woman caught in adultery we see Jesus grace and mercy when He does not condemn the woman but instead offers forgiveness. However consider His parting words to the woman “go and sin no more” (Jn. 8:11). Jesus called her sin what it was, sin.

Another example from John is the man who was healed at the Pool of Bethesda. Jesus healed the man and left but later sought him out and challenged him.

14  Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.” John 5:14 (NKJV)

The truth is that sin has consequences and in a season when we are being told by our culture to not judge or challenge popular cultural we need to embrace our calling to follow Jesus and speak truth. As Jesus did and Paul exhorted (Eph. 4:15) we are to speak the truth in love, but we are called to speak. When we respond to the call of Jesus to demonstrate both love and truth then truth springs out of the earth and righteousness looks down from heaven.

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.