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)

Choose You this Day

You may be familiar with Joshua’s famous speech addressing the nation of Israel and challenging them to choose, choose that day who they would serve, Yahweh or the gods of the surrounding culture (Joshua 23-24, main verses 24:16-18). That day the people chose Yahweh. Chronologically the book of Judges follows the events of Joshua where we see the people of Israel vacillating back and forth between that choice and the gods of the surrounding cultures. In 1 Samuel we come to a key turning point in the following statement. The context is the leaders of Israel asking for a king like the nations/cultures around them.

7 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. 8 According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day – with which they have forsaken Me and served other gods – so they are doing to you also.” 1 Samuel 8:7–8 (NKJV)

            In reading this we do well to ask ourselves how asking for a king is connected to rejecting Yahweh and serving other gods. The answer comes in understanding something about the surrounding Ancient Near East (ANE) culture and how their kings were seen. If we go back to Pharoah, he was considered a god. If we go forward to Caesar, he was considered a god. This was the culture of the area, kings were god-men representing divinity on earth. Some of the gods of the surrounding ANE culture were Baal, Ashtoreth, Dagon and Molok. This god-king motif is also seen in the prophetic passages in Isaiah and Ezekiel rebuking Satan.

In Isaiah 14:4-14 we have Isaiah prophesying doom for the king of Babylon, shifting to a description of how Lucifer/Satan fell, and then returning to the king of Babylon. The characters were intertwined and the spiritual being was seen as the power behind the king. In Ezekiel 28:1-19 we see the same thing. The king of Tyre sees himself as a god and Ezekiel rebukes and denounces his arrogance, then in verse 12 turns to denouncing the anointed cherub (Satan) who dwelt before Yahweh’s throne in the garden on the holy mountain.  

Now back to Samuel. In essence when the elders of Israel came to Samuel asking that they have a king like the surrounding nations the people were saying Yahweh, we can’t see you so we reject you, we want a king to be/represent our god, we want a visible god. We may think this is merely interesting ANE history, yet there is an application for our lives. In their expressed desires the people were trying to serve two masters, the king god-man and Yahweh. They didn’t trust the One they could not see so were seeking a physical embodiment of Yahweh through the king.

In our culture we may not see spiritual or political leaders as an embodiment of God, yet we need to ask what we are actually serving and what takes priority in our lives. If we are looking for a certain leader or authority to rise up and make things better our heart may have shifted. As per the verses below we are called to pray for our communities and for civic and national leaders and seek to influence them toward righteousness. We are called to trust Yahweh.  

11 By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted, But it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked. Proverbs 11:11 (NKJV)

7 And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace. Jeremiah 29:7 (NKJV)

1 Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. 1 Timothy 2:1–2 (NKJV)

Our Generational God

I wrote some time ago about David accomplishing his purposes in serving his generation. I am back at that idea, the importance of a generational perspective. The significance of generations and purposes became deeply rooted in me a number of years ago. I was helping to lead a prayer and worship group and someone asked a question. I don’t remember the question; I do remember my answer. I said, “God is generational” and something clicked in my spirit when I said it. This type of experience has happened to me a few times over the years. Something flows out of my spirit in response to a question and I find myself thinking, ‘That’s interesting, I never knew that/thought about that.’ That is what happened then.

Prior to this experience I was aware of the Father having purposes for different generations but it really took root when I answered the persons question. My mind immediately went to Yahweh’s response to Moses in Exodus 3.

16 Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt,” Exodus 3:16 (ESV)

The significance of the Lord speaking of being the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is that He began to focus in on His ultimate redemptive purposes through Abraham. Abraham was called out of his culture and the gods of his culture into a faith relationship with the one true God. This purpose continued in his family line culminating in the Messiah, Jesus coming to earth as descendant of Abraham. What began in Ur culminated in a tomb in Jerusalem ablaze with the light of the glory of God!  

            Given this we need to consider how we follow our generational God. Understanding comes in embracing our purpose as David did.  

36 “For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and saw corruption; Acts 13:36 (NKJV)

36 For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, Acts 13:36 (ESV)

I included the ESV translation above because it gets at the heart of the issue. David served God’s purpose in his generation. If we want to know how David did that, we need only look a bit further back in Acts 13.

22 And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will. 23 From this man’s seed, according to the promise, God raised up for Israel a Savior—Jesus— Acts 13:22–23 (NKJV)

Jesus as the Messiah was a descendant of the man after God’s own heart, David. David was not aware that the Messiah would come through his lineage when he began to serve God’s purpose. Likewise, we don’t know what greater purpose we are serving through pursuing the heart of our Father and seeking to be obedient. What we do know is that those who came before us had an impact on our lives and we will have an impact on the lives of those after us. I for example, do not know what the fruit of my writing, teaching and praying for others will be. At times I feel very inadequate and question the fruit of it all. Yet, 27 years ago He spoke 1 Corinthians 4:2 to me and I have tried to live out of it ever since.

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

Only eternity will reveal the fruit of what we have accomplished in time, what we have done with what was invested in us and what we have invested in others. Therefore, let us seek to be found faithful and serve His purpose, leaving the final results in His hands.

Free to Serve

            If we know Jesus, we know that He set us free. We have been set free from the penalty and power of sin and the Father’s plan for our lives it to conform us to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). We see the emphatic reality of our freedom in Galatians 5:1, which includes a call to use our freedom wisely and not return to bondage.

1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Galatians 5:1 (NKJV)

            A further understanding of our freedom comes when we heed what Paul said. In 1 Corinthians 10:1-11 Paul shared with the Corinthians what had happened to Israel in their wilderness journey and pointed out these events were an example to learn from. Going back to the events that led to the Exodus we see another example to learn from. Through Moses, Yahweh demanded the freedom of His people.

1 Afterward Moses and Aaron went in and told Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness.’” Exodus 5:1 (NKJV)

1 And the LORD spoke to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Let My people go, that they may serve Me.’” Exodus 8:1 (NKJV)

20 And the LORD said to Moses, “Rise early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh as he comes out to the water. Then say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Let My people go, that they may serve Me.’” Exodus 8:20 (NKJV)

            Moses began demanding the Israelites be set free to hold a feast to Yahweh and then began a pattern of demanding they be set free to serve Yahweh. Their freedom, as does ours, had a purpose. The annual feasts that were eventually instituted (Leviticus 23) were about worship, building community and maintaining a national identity. Likewise, as His children we have been set free to worship, build community and maintain an identity. It is sad to see the body of Christ as fractured and broken as it is at present. In spite of that, each of us as believers can seek to worship with others who know Him, build relationships with others who know Him and be established in our identity as His people in the midst of whatever culture we find ourselves.

            There is an additional purpose for our freedom. Adding to the community. We find this in The Great Commission.

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)

            As much as we are able let’s stand fast in the liberty we have in Jesus, use our freedom to worship, build community and extend His kingdom within our spheres of influence.

The Mind of Christ Part 3

            In my previous two posts on this subject, we addressed that the mind of Christ is accessible but not automatic and then looked at how we access Jesus’ mind via the Spirit, though not in detail. He we get further into the details.

Years ago, there was a movie with the title Lost in Translation. While I never saw the movie, the title captures what sometimes happens with scripture. In the process of translation, we sometimes lose important and practical information. The passage below is an example. We can gain what was lost by looking closely at the meaning of the words natural and spiritual in verses 14 and 15.

13 These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. 16 For “who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:13-16 (NKJV)

The word translated as spiritual in verse 15 is the adjective form of spirit. The word translated as natural is the adjective form of soul, Thus, it would be better rendered as soulish so that we can see the contrast between soulish and spiritual that is actually what Paul is highlighting. (As an aside, I first came across this idea in Watchman Nee’s most significant work, The Spiritual Man about 35 years ago.) Many assume that ‘natural’ means unregenerate but that doesn’t fit the context. Let’s look at verses 14-15 again plugging in both adjective forms.

14 But the soulish man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one.

Paul’s contrast between soulish and spiritual is not on whether or not we are born again. It is on what we are drawing from or living from. The soulish person may be unregenerate or they may not be paying attention to the Spirit and so be soulish when they should be spiritual. After all, that is the focus of Paul’s rebuke in in the next chapter. He rebukes the Corinthian believers for not being spiritual and is shocked that they are acting like ‘mere men’ (verses 1 and 3).

            To be spiritual is to look to and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s point from chapter 2 verse 9 on into chapter 3 is that we don’t receive the things of the Spirit through our natural/soulish reasoning. He says that the Lord wants to speak to us but also says that the only one who knows the things of God is the Spirit because He searches the depths (2:10) and He reveals things to us, which must be discerned by comparing spiritual things with spiritual things rather than soulish things.   

12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. 13 These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

            What we see in 1 Corinthians as a whole is people who were focused on who they followed (name dropping – Paul, Apollos, Peter), people who were misusing spiritual gifts out of ambition and a desire for recognition rather than love, and people creating division around communion, the very antithesis of the unity the act proclaims. Paul’s point is that if they were actually spiritual rather than soulish their behaviour would be much different, it would look a lot more like 1 Corinthians 13 (the love chapter).

We are called to be led by the Spirit and discern His voice. This is generally an inner prompting regarding our thoughts and actions. I am confident we have all had them. The caution to say or not say something the inner cautions regarding our thinking. I can remember decades ago I was walking up the parkade steps to my office. I was frustrated with the behaviour of one of the staff and not having the best thoughts about them. I don’t remember the situation or what I was thinking. I do remember I stumbled on the stairs and internally I clearly heard the Holy Spirit say, “That kind of thinking will make you stumble.” I also remember being tempted to do something once and clearly hearing Galatians 5:8, “This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you.”

Many times, I have had inner promptings regarding a call to say or do something. Recently a friend had asked me to pray about something. A couple of days later I had an inner leading to pray for him. As I began praying, I had an image of him being encrusted with a thin translucent substance that hindered his movements. I then saw it being shattered and him moving more freely. He responded by sending me a picture of a large electrical panel he was working on, the brand was ‘Freer.’ Confirmations of having His mind are not always that quick or clear. We can however know whether or not we have His mind.   

To know if we are receiving from and being led by the Spirit, we only need to look at whether we are acting in love toward our fellow believers and those around us. After all the message of 1 Corinthians is the message of Galatians. Being led by the Spirt produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control. If we are living this way, no matter our gifts or lack thereof, we have the mind of Christ!  

The Mind of Christ Part 1

            We have the mind of Christ is a phrase we can use or a reality we choose to try and live out each day. I prefer the latter. To understand how we live it we need to start with scripture.

16 For “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:16 (NKJV)

20 But you have not so learned Christ, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: 22 that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:20–24 (NKJV)

1 If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. Colossians 3:1–2 (NKJV)

            In general, when I have heard the phrase ‘we have the mind of Christ’ used it is in reference to the idea that we as Christians have Christ’s mind. When thinking that through the idea is clearly not that simple. If we as believers all have the mind of Christ there would be no doctrinal issues in the church, we would all agree. Quite frankly, in my nearly four decades of Christian experience I can state emphatically that many of us frequently do not have the mind of Christ on a matter.

To understand how Paul expressed the concept we will look at the context and the meaning of the idea of having someone’s mind on something. A better expression might be perspective. We can see it when we plug it in and look at the Randy version, 16 For “who has known the perspective of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But we have the perspective of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:16.

My bible has a centre column reference for the verses from the Old Testament verses that Paul draws upon to say, ‘who has known the mind of the Lord?’ The verses are below.  

8 Have you heard the counsel of God? Do you limit wisdom to yourself? Job 15:8 (NKJV)

13 Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, Or as His counselor has taught Him? Isaiah 40:13 (NKJV)

The idea of counsel is just that the sharing of ideas, hearing the counsel of others to gain perspective. In context Paul was saying that in writing to the Corinthians he and Sosthenes (1 Corinthians 1:1) had determined Jesus’ perspective on the matters they had written to Paul asking about. It would be wonderful if Paul had added, ‘this is how we determined Jesus’ perspective.’ Obviously, Paul didn’t do that, at least not here.

For Part 1 I have raised the issue of the need for the perspective of Jesus, having His mind. I have also asserted that it is something we need to determine, not something we have by default as a believer. I do believe we have access, however, just as I may have food in the fridge or cupboard, it does me no good sitting there, I need to access it. In Part 2 I will get at the practical aspect of getting Jesus’ perspective on a matter – being renewed in the spirit of our minds and setting our minds on things above.

What Every Joint Supplies

In my last post I addressed the importance of community in general and the role that we as believers are called to play in strengthening our communities. Here we will look more specifically at the importance of community within the church. We are called to be salt and light in our culture and one way we do that is by demonstrating a community which is far greater than that which the world around us possesses. I know that isn’t the experience of many of us in the church but it is clearly the call of scripture. Every time we partake of communion (koinonia in Greek, which means participation or fellowship) we are declaring our common union and fellowship with Jesus and our brothers and sisters in Christ. I believe we need to not only announce it, we need to live it.    

Ephesian 4 is one place where we see the purpose ad benefit of our common union. Here we see the fruit of community within the church illustrated.

11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. Ephesians 4:11-16 (NKJV)

While I believe in the present day need for the five-fold ministry giftings of verse 11 I am aware not everyone does, which is fine. We can simply think if it as leadership in the church. The passage is about the purpose of leaders in equipping the saints and preparing them to minister. We also have the exhortation to speak the truth in love. These are important points. However, while providing the passage for context, I want to focus on one verse, 16.

            This verse is about community and growth in the body. When we break it down a bit we first, we see “the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies.” We then see, “according to the effective working by which every part does its share.” Finally, the result, “causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” 

            Bodies cannot function without joints. While that is obvious, I don’t know how often we reflect on what a joint is and does. A joint is a relationship between parts. Some joints are simple hinge joints like our knee or elbow. Others like the ankle are a little more complex and one that is often injured is the shoulder. Most of us are familiar with the term ‘rotator cuff injury’ because it is quite common. The reason it is easily injured is that the shoulder joint is a complex number of parts coming together.  

Going back to Paul, his point is that the body of Christ is held together and grows by the relationships within it, community. The more the parts the greater the opportunity for injury and the greater capacity to move through a varied range of motion. Taking this analogy into church life, the greater the number of people the greater the opportunity for both offences and effective growth.

As per my note on different joints, some relationships are more complex than others, but all are needed. Joints supply something, they accomplish work. When that is done effectively in the human body it enables effective functioning, in the body of Christ it causes growth.

            We can relate this to a home group, bible study or church service. I will use a Sunday morning service to illustrate how joints should function. The sermon and worship are important on any given Sunday morning, yet the focus for Paul is not on the music or sermon. His focus is on whether they lead to the members connecting, being joints, and building one another up. The interaction at the entrance, outside the bathroom, at the back of the sanctuary, are all opportunities for the body to experience community. Leadership should facilitate this and many other opportunities. If they don’t we come in on a Sunday, stand and sit on cue and leave without these interactions. In that case we are not part of a community, we are part of an organization or system.

            Given that most of us are not leaders in the body of Christ our role is to make connections, find the other parts of our joint when we have the opportunity so that the body will grow. To paraphrase a famous line from Martin Luther King Junior, “Be the best part of a joint in the world and the world will beat a path to your door.” I have often thought that King came up with his idea from Proverbs.

29 Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before unknown men. Proverbs 22:29 (NKJV)

Whenever we encounter another member of the body of Christ, we have the opportunity to be part of a joint, to join with them in strengthening the body by encouraging them, praying for one another, helping one another focus on Jesus and many other similar things. We can be a healthy joint.

As a concluding thought, the idea of a solitary Christian is an oxymoron. We were created for community and to strengthen one another. As Paul put it,

13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free – and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:13 (NKJV)  

If we aren’t presently taking the opportunities to embrace our function as part of a joint let’s find some other parts we can connect and join with to see His body grow in a healthy way. We are called to do what we can with what we have where are, demonstrating koinonia, Christian community!

Community

            A principle I was taught while growing up was to try and leave things better than I found them. Here I will apply that concept to community. I have in the past referenced the importance of the following verse from Proverbs.

11 By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted, But it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked. Proverbs 11:11 (NKJV)

In looking at this it is important to remember that a city is a community made up of many people with differing views and desires. Here is a brief example that highlights what I am referencing. I was recently speaking with someone at a Pickleball court and I noted all he has done over the years to build community where he lives. He volunteers and helps out in a variety of areas. He does this because he not only sees what is, he sees what could be and so invests his life in his community. While this man is not a believer, he blesses and strengthens his community by his actions.

I seek to think from a scriptural perspective and part of a scriptural perspective is recognizing the importance of building a community. For example, I remember years ago helping to rebuild the playground in our neighbourhood. This wasn’t a ‘Christian’ event but it was an event that helped to strengthen community in our neighbourhood, which is Christian.

In line with the broader idea of community there is another verse in Proverbs that is important.

2 Because of the transgression of a land, many are its princes; But by a man of understanding and knowledge Right will be prolonged. Proverbs 28:2 (NKJV)

Currently in our land, Canada, we are in a precarious place. Right is not only not being prolonged; it is being fought against in our nation. The most vehement opposition is coming from many of our elected officials and our education system. We need men and women with understanding and knowledge to rise up to establish righteousness in our nation. We won’t get anywhere by cursing the darkness, it is easy to see the transgressions. What we need is wisdom to shine the light of truth in every corner of our land so that what is right is strengthened.

            One way to shine the light of truth is through looking at how we engage in prayer. The pattern of prayer for specific places is a pattern in scripture. In Psalm 122 there is an exhortation to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. That would include praying for the spiritual and religious leaders to walk in the way of peace and wisdom. In context Israel was at the time living in the land Yahweh had given them and Jerusalem was their capital city, religiously and politically.  

6  Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you.” Psalm 122:6 (NKJV)

Another example of the call to pray for a specific city is in Jeremiah. The nation was going into captivity. Rather than telling them to curse their captors (the Lord was causing this as judgement for their apostasy) Jeremiah said to pray for the city because by blessing it they would have peace in living in this new place.

 
7  And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace. Jeremiah 29:7 (NKJV)

            In summary, wherever we live and act we have the opportunity to be a blessing and strengthen our community and nation. After all, a nation is made up of many communities. We have the opportunity to focus our prayers and actions on ways to build supportive godly communities. Without knowing when Jesus will return, we can focus our efforts on doing what we can with what we have where we are. We all have the opportunity to leave things better than we found them so let’s bless the places we live!  

Draw Me Away

There is an interesting phrase early in the Song of Solomon. Chapter 1 verse 4 begins with the phrase “Draw me away!” There is ardour inherent in this expression of a desire for the heart to be drawn to following the one we love. Whether we view the focus or intent of the Song of Solomon as being primarily about Israel and Yahweh, Jesus and the church or a bride and bridegroom, we can know one thing, as believers we are called to passionately love Jesus with everything we have (Deuteronomy 6:5, Mark 12:30). Thus, the Song of Solomon can teach us about the love relationship we are called to have with Jesus.

            The bride begins by expressing a heart cry, the desire to be drawn away by her beloved, to be with him. Later in the book we find her desire compromised by inconvenience.

2 I sleep, but my heart is awake; It is the voice of my beloved! He knocks, saying, “Open for me, my sister, my love, My dove, my perfect one; For my head is covered with dew, My locks with the drops of the night.” 3 I have taken off my robe; How can I put it on again? I have washed my feet; How can I defile them? 4 My beloved put his hand By the latch of the door, And my heart yearned for him. 5 I arose to open for my beloved, And my hands dripped with myrrh, My fingers with liquid myrrh, On the handles of the lock. 6 I opened for my beloved, But my beloved had turned away and was gone. My heart leaped up when he spoke. I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer. Song of Solomon 5:2–6 (NKJV)

In this scene the bridegroom came for the bride but she found it inconvenient to respond even though she longed for him. As a result, she lost out. If we carry that over to our relationship with Jesus, He sometimes calls our hearts to engage with His at inconvenient times. I know at times I have not responded because I was ‘busy.’ What a foolish choice. Other times my heart has simply responded to His drawing and I have rested in His presence, even in the midst of activity. I don’t need to stop and assume the right posture or breathe the right way to know and enjoy His presence. I can simply let my heart encounter His.

In the above scene the bride was left with myrrh on her fingers, scented oil. In our walk with Jesus the scented oil represents anointing and the fragrance of His presence. We can be left with a measure of anointing even if we miss responding to His presence but it will fade over time. We need more than a reminder of His presence; we need to daily walk closely with Him knowing His heart.

The danger of not responding to His call is found in Revelation and Hebrews. In Revelation Jesus commends the church at Ephesus for many things but chastises them for their failure in their call to love Him.

2 “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; 3 and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. 4 Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Revelation 2:2–4 (NKJV)

The primary message in this warning is that good works are no substitute for a good relationship. Jesus may be pleased with our works but what He desires is our hearts. Similarly, in Hebrews 2:1 we are warned of the danger of drifting away. Not walking away, drifting. We see that with the bride in the Song of Solomon. Her passion was intense in her desire to be drawn away but then when the bridegroom came for her later, she failed to respond with the same intensity. She had to some extent drifted away.

            We too can drift away simply by becoming caught up in other things or being busy doing things ‘for Jesus’ rather than being with Him. The good news for the bride in the Song of Solomon is that she came to the place where her one desire was the bridegroom and she gave expression to it when she asked not to be drawn but to be set as a seal upon his heart (Song of Solomon 8:5-6).

For us, we may start by asking to be drawn and we may then drift. Yet, if we look at the pattern in the Song of Solomon, when we renew our pursuit of Him we find Him and again find ourselves in the place of intimacy with Him. I don’t know if can we be sealed in this lifetime, I do know we can always reorient our heart to pursuing His presence and thus His purpose. I pray we all remain sensitive to His call and respond when He calls.   

As I reflected on what I had written He brought a well known hymn to mind, here are the last two verse of an 18th century hymn by Robert Robinson, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, they capture what I have tried to write quite well.

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, oh take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

Here’s my heart
Oh take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

Building the Wall Part 1

Whenever we hear teaching regarding the book of Nehemiah the subject of the wall around Jerusalem is generally raised (okay, pun intended). In reading Nehemiah, we discover that his major focus as a leader was the rebuilding of the wall to protect the city. He had a God-given mission birthed in intercession, that was rooted in his concern for Jerusalem. If you are not familiar with the book of Nehemiah, once he started rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, he monitored progress, encouraged others, dealt with opposition and remained focused until the task was complete.

We see Nehemiah’s mission come about in chapter one (1:1-8) when he identified the problem and responded with intercession. In chapter two he acted when given the opportunity to do something about the problem he saw (2:1-8). We see Nehemiah’s motivation here.

3 And they said to me, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.” 4 So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. Nehemiah 1:3-4 (NKJV)

Let’s connect rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem to rebuilding a scriptural worldview. If you are not familiar with the concept of worldview, think of it like wearing glasses. Our prescription determines how we see. In my book, and daily life, I define worldview simply as, “The lens through which we view and interpret reality.” For us as the church to change our worldview to align with scripture, we, like Nehemiah, first need to do an assessment of the present state of the worldview of the church. This requires an honest look at what Christians believe to understand how badly the “walls” of our worldview have been neglected. Warning, the numbers are sobering and the walls are badly in need of repair!

Here is some of what Christians believe about their world. The following statistics are excerpts from my book, Worldview: The Adventure of Seeing Through Scripture (available on Amazon). The statistics highlight the problem in the church regarding what Christians believe.

In the 2018 State of Theology Study sponsored by Ligonier Ministries, LifeWay Research polled 3,000 Americans and asked them a number of questions about God, Christian ethics and religion in general. They found:

  • 32 percent of those with evangelical beliefs say their religious beliefs are not objectively true.
  • 51 percent of those with evangelical beliefs also believe God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.
  • 78 percent of those with evangelical beliefs also believe Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.

Many Americans who hold evangelical beliefs about the Bible, salvation, and Jesus Christ, also hold beliefs that are not (in) keeping with Scripture.[1]

More recent research on worldview continues to paint a bleak picture. Here are some highlights from the 2021 worldview survey completed by George Barna and the Cultural Research Center (CRC) at Arizona Christian University in Glendale, Arizona and released August 31, 2021. The CRC uses the following categories in their research.

“The segments explored include those who call themselves Christian; self-identified born-again Christians; self-described evangelical Christians; people who theological beliefs establish them as born-again Christians; and people who possess a biblical worldview (referred to as Integrated Disciples).”[2]

The percentages who hold to biblical worldview is very telling. The study found that only 6% of those who claim to be Christian hold to a biblical worldview, that is those who live their beliefs. I won’t go through the data on every category. Samples will suffice. Here is what those who profess to be Christians believe that is at odds with scripture. Among the errant perspectives most widely embraced are:

• 72% argue that people are basically good

• 71% consider feelings, experience, or the input of friends and family as their most trusted sources of moral guidance

• 66% say that having faith matters more than which faith you pursue

• 64% say that all religious faiths are of equal value

• 58% believe that if a person is good enough, or does enough good things, they can earn their way into Heaven

• 58% contend that the Holy Spirit is not a real, living being but is merely a symbol of God’s power, presence, or purity

• 57% believe in karma

• 52% claim that determining moral truth is up to each individual; there are no moral absolutes that apply to everyone, all the time.[3]

By contrast, those who embrace a biblical worldview, the Integrated Disciples, hold to the following. There are a number of issues for which a shockingly large minority of Integrated Disciples challenges biblical principles include the following beliefs:

• 25% say there is no absolute moral truth

• 33% believe in karma

• 39% contend that the Holy Spirit is not a real, living being but is merely a symbol of God’s power, presence, or purity

• 42% believe that having faith matters more than which faith you pursue

• 52% argue that people are basically good[4]

These stats highlight the errant beliefs that the best of the best in the church hold. While the above stats are from the US, there is reason to see a major difference in Canada given how much our two countries are affected by similar cultural and social media influences. This is sadly the present state of the church.

However, if we follow Nehemiah’s process, we in the church can rebuild the wall of our worldview. We can assess our own worldview to identify whether we hold a worldview at odds with scripture (most of us do), seek the Lord in intercession and then respond with a plan of action. To that end in my next post (Part 2) I will look more specifically at a plan of action regarding how we shift our worldview to align with scripture based around Paul’s great apostolic heart cry ‘Until Christ be formed in you’ (Galatians 4:19).


[1] Aaron Earls https://factsandtrends.net/2018/10/26/what-do-evangelicals-believe-about-god/ Accessed March 5, 2019.

[2] CRC_AWVI2021_Release06_Digital_01_20210831.pdf (arizonachristian.edu) Accessed September 24, 2021

[3]  CRC_AWVI2021_Release06_Digital_01_20210831.pdf (arizonachristian.edu) Accessed September 24, 2021

[4] CRC_AWVI2021_Release06_Digital_01_20210831.pdf (arizonachristian.edu) Accessed September 24, 2021