A Functioning Body

Jesus told us what the church was called to do in what we refer to as The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Paul gave us some information on the how in Ephesians, Colossians and a key portion of 1 Corinthians (12-14). Ephesians informs us where we are to be, seated with Christ (2:6), who we battle, principalities and powers (6:12), and how we can be successful in battle (6:10-18), which requires that we actually put on and use the armour. In Ephesians Paul also included how the church is led and built (4:11-16) which includes leadership, training and impartation to effectively build and release His body.1 Corinthians 12-14 highlights the importance and function of spiritual gifts within the body of Christ and Colossians presents Christ as the source of everything (1:27). In Colossians Paul also denounces festivals and angels as means of grace and revelation, pointing out that the answer is in Jesus not rules and rituals.

My goal in this writing, this first part is merely the introduction, is to have us reflect on how we function as His body in relation to how He has called us to function. I am deeply concerned that in general we as the church, His body, have settled for far less than He has both called and enabled us to walk in. If the church were a car, I would say it badly needs a tune up, or if you prefer an EV analogy, the battery is weak and has trouble taking a charge. Granted, it is easy to see problems, we also need solutions. My aim is to come into agreement with the heavenly physician and offer both a diagnosis and treatment. After all we see that in the first chapters of Revelation that Jesus had a different message for each of the seven churches and each message was specific to their need at that point in time.

I have some sense of where the broader body of Christ is in Canada and the US through what I read and experience yet I am obviously more familiar with what is happening where I fellowship. In writing I have no great prophetic revelation to offer, I am pointing us to scripture and the way He has called us to walk. After nearly four decades in walking with Jesus I echo the heart cry of Paul summed up in a single verse of scripture.

12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Philippians 3:12 (NKJV)

If you have attained, great, show the rest of us the way. If you have not and your heart desire is for more then please read through Ephesians, Colossians and 1 Corinthians 12-14 and join me on this journey.

As an encouragement this new song by Josh Baldwin featuring Jenn Johnson is a call to go higher and fulfill His purpose, not ours, His!

https://ca.video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=mcafee&p=made+for+more+josh+baldwin&type=E210CA1485G0#id=1&vid=40564892dc6bb29bf464a98b4ffebe6a&action=click

Knowing Jesus, Applying Grace

As a follow up to my last post on wisdom I am going to drill down further on wisdom and knowledge and look at how to exercise wisdom by acting on our knowledge. To begin, the simple distinction between wisdom and knowledge is that knowledge is possessing information; wisdom is knowing what to do with the information we possess. We see this all of the time in advice on diets and health. It is easy to arm people with knowledge. Imparting the wisdom to act on that knowledge is another matter. The same is true of sermons. Most sermons share knowledge. However, whether we act on that knowledge is another matter.

A major challenge in acting on what we know is the struggle of conflicting desires, as Paul laid out in Romans 7. Knowing what to do but struggling to exercise wisdom and act on it. Paul had both knowledge and wisdom but as he presented in Romans 7, struggled with the actual application.

15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. Romans 7:15–25 (NKJV)

One thing that is clear here is that the application of knowledge isn’t all about willpower. Paul said his will was right, his actions were not. Paul expressed very clearly that he knew what to do, wanted to do it and yet something was hindering his engaging in what he desired to do. Paul then pointed us to the need to draw on something outside of ourselves – grace! Grace has been defined by many as ‘unmerited favour’ but the definition falls short. Grace is that, but it is also His empowering presence, His enablement to do what He has called us to do. We see that in the very next verses in Romans.

1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1–2 (NKJV)

Paul described sin as ‘dwelling’ in his body, not his nature as he received a new nature at conversion (2 Corinthians 5:17, 21) but something inherent in fallen humanity that was not eradicated by his conversion. Which is why we need a glorified body at our resurrection or translation. Paul presented the battle against sin but he also pointed us to the solution. Sin is like gravity; it seeks to pull us down. If I hold my hand out with my phone in it and let go of my phone, unless there is an intervention it will fall to the ground, drawn by gravity. If I reach out and catch it with my other hand, I overcome the force of gravity and interrupt what would naturally take place.

In terms of applying knowledge to overcome the pull of sin, this interruption and overcoming of what would naturally take place is grace. Paul described the effect of grace as, ‘the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.’

At conversion Jesus came to dwell in me and you. If He is in us then He is also the source of the grace we can draw on to interrupt the power of sin in us. We are now back to knowledge. What we need to know now is how to exercise wisdom to draw on this grace. In a single word, intimacy. If I have developed an intimate relationship with Jesus, in my interactions with Him I will find myself rising above and moving away from the pull of sin. I do this by simply looking to His presence in my spirit. This is trusting Christ in me the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27) rather than my abilities. When I do this, I experience His empowering presence (grace) enabling me rise above the pull of sin.  

Two passages of scripture that speak further to this are in Hebrews and 1 Corinthians. We know that Jesus was without sin in the presence of temptation, not only in His wilderness temptation but also throughout the rest of His earthly life.

15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15 (NKJV)

We then have Paul telling us that when we are tempted, just as others are, that there is a way out.  

13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NKJV)

The way out is what I have outlined above, living in the reality of Romans 8 rather than Romans 7 and knowing Jesus within as Paul presented in Colossians. To that end, let’s pursue intimacy with Jesus and look to Him within that we may walk in wisdom.

Shema

I have in the past written on the Shema – Hear O Israel! What I didn’t delve into was the broader aspects of how our lives and communities are affected if we heed this simple injunction contained in a few short verses. First a bit of context. In later Judaism the Shema has verses added from other texts (Deuteronomy 11:13-21, Numbers 15:37-41) but the original passage referred to as the Shema is simply the text we have in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. We see the significance of it in that when asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus responded by quoting the beginning of the Shema.  

28 Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?” 29 Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is:Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. Mark 12:28–30 (NKJV)

In Judaism the Shema is to be prayed twice a day, morning and evening then before retiring for the night. It is the final prayer in the Yom Kippur service (the holiest day of the year in Judaism and is to be a Jews final prayer before death.

Now we delve into the Shema and the areas it covers. I have used the NKJV but included the names of God and hear in Hebrew rather than the normal rendering.

 4 “Shema, O Israel: Yahweh our Elohim, Yahweh is one! 5 You shall love Yahweh your Elohim with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. 6 “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4–9 (NKJV)

This is what we see in the Shema as we apply it to our lives. The word, scripture, is to be held in our hearts. It is to guide our thinking and acting (on our foreheads and hands). That is the individual aspect. Scripture is to be taught in the home, the impact spreads to our family. As we go further the Shema spreads out, it is to guard our homes by being on our doorposts. The doorposts represent the entryways to our homes. Our entryway is to be grounded in scripture and those who enter our homes should encounter the truth of scripture.

The last place we see scripture needing to be written is on the gates. In the culture of the day when Moses wrote the elders sat in the gates as the town/city gates were the place of governance, where legislative decisions were made and court transactions were enacted. The place this is played out very clearly in scripture is in Ruth 4:1-12. Boaz chooses to function as a kinsmen redeemer and gathers the elders at the gate. Here a legal transaction is performed and witnessed by the Bethlehem elders. This enables Boaz to redeem the land Naomi had lost and also enables him to marry Ruth.

If we have a relationship with Yahweh and honour Him by incorporating the principles of the Shema into our lives, we will see it bring blessing at the level of ourselves, our homes and families, and our communities. It will ultimately affect our nation as nations are composed of communities. So, Shema my friends!   

Our Father

There are two passages in scripture that are more well known than all others. The 23 Psalm and the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6, so named because Jesus our Lord gave it to us, more specifically Jesus gave it to His early disciples, and by extension us. We have it in Luke 11 and Matthew 6 with minor variations. The Matthew one is the commonly taught one but I have included the version Luke shared because there we see Jesus originally gave it in response to a request. We have more than one version because Jesus traveled around the country teaching and taught regularly on the same subjects but wasn’t reading them word for word off of a tablet – tablets where heavy in those days!

1 Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” 2 So He said to them, “When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. 3 Give us day by day our daily bread. 4 And forgive us our sins, For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one.” Luke 11:1–4 (NKJV)

9 In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. 13 And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. Matthew 6:9–13 (NKJV)

A couple of important elements. When one of the disciples requested a prayer Jesus provided a model one that covered key areas, which was the practice of rabbis in that time period, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” I am going to focus on the version Matthew provided from the Sermon on the Mount as it is the longer and more commonly used version.

The prayer in Matthew begins and ends with the Father, starting with His location and ending with His kingdom. A bit more detail may help as we engage our hearts.

Our Father: Jesus instructs us to begin with an acknowledgement to/of our Fathers. A recognition that we are part of a larger family with the Father as the head.

In heaven: A recognition for us of where He resides. The spiritual eternal realm. Our prayers are rising before the throne, the throne of grace we later learn (Hebrews 4:16).

Your kingdom, Your will be done: These are not pleas or requests. The tense in Greek tells us that they are decrees/declarations. We are agreeing with His agenda and expressing our desire to see that His kingdom and will are established. There is submission to His will in this declaration.  

On earth as it is in heaven: A decree and declaration stating that earth is ultimately to come into alignment with heaven.  

Our daily bread: Expressing our dependence on the Father for our sustenance.

Forgive us: Requesting forgiveness in the context of our commitment to walk in forgiveness toward others. This is also a recognition that we all need it at some point (1 John 1:8-9).

Request for protection: We are praying for protection from ourselves and the evil one. He will lead us in right paths. We need to follow.

Yours is the kingdom and power: The Father is king in this eternal kingdom, the glorious one who sits on the throne. He is the one to whom our prayers ascend and the one we are agreeing with as we pray and declare.  

In a brief summary here is the pattern.

  • Acknowledgement and recognition,
  • Declaration,
  • Recognition of dependence for sustenance,
  • Request for forgiveness and a commitment to walk in forgiveness,
  • Request for protection, and
  • Worship.

Now go pray.

Our Inner Life

In my last post I referenced one of my daily goals, walking in “presence centred repose.” Another goal I have is “living from an internal frame of reference.” While they are similar, the second goal takes the first a bit further. With presence centred repose I want to learn to always be conscious of His presence. In living from an internal frame or reference I want my decisions to be guided by His voice within my spirit. These goals are aspirational, not achievements. At the same time a Wayne Gretzky quote that has become famous in sports circles is, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” While it is often attributed to Michael Jordan, Gretzky said it in a 1983 interview before Jordan ever played in the NBA. Now back to the application.

What this means for me is that I fail at 100% of the goals I don’t seek to achieve. While my goal in living from an internal frame of reference is not perfection, it is to grow in my sensitivity to His presence, paying attention to His leading throughout each day. I approach this not as some elite spiritual practice, but as what I see Him calling us to in scripture.

9 But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 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. 1 Corinthians 2:9–12 (NKJV)

Over the years I have heard and read more than one teaching that stops at verse 9, implying we can’t know what God has prepared for us. Yet if we continue in the passage Paul is asserting the exact opposite. Paul says that we can know and the way that we can know is by the Spirit. For context, when Paul wrote this most of the New Testament had not yet been written. Paul wasn’t suggesting someone pull out their copy of the scriptures, as they didn’t have one. The Old Testament was complete but not something one could download or pick up a copy of at your local bookstore. They were rare and treasured. Paul was saying that the believers he wrote to needed to remember what he had taught them but also needed to, and could, receive knowledge of God from God, more specifically from the Holy Spirit.

Now to the implications for us. I have a decades old practice of being in the scriptures and spending time in prayer each morning to set the course of my day. That works for me. I know it doesn’t work for everyone. Some have shared that their prayer time takes place while driving to work, eyes open I assume! Some take time in the evening. Others don’t have an established prayer or reading time, it is random`. Whatever you do, the important thing is that if you have been born again you have the capacity to develop an inner life with your heart tuned to the Spirit. In fact, if you have been born again, I am confident that He has initiated just such a life. He has at times convicted you of the need to apologize or address an issue. He has prompted you to speak with and encourage someone. He has prompted you to be a listening ear. He may have also given you prophetic dreams or visions.

These are all aspects of 1 Corinthians 2 in practice. He initiates the process and we choose whether or not to go deeper. He wants each of us to do that but we get to decide the degree of sensitivity we cultivate. I pray we all choose to cultivate a deeper relationship with the Spirit and choose to live ‘from an internal frame of reference.’

His Path

In our walk with Jesus, we are all called to a continual pursuit of His presence and purpose. In Philippians Paul said he had learned to be content in whatever state he was in (Philippians 4:11). At the same time, we know from the context that Paul was referring to his physical circumstances. Whatever conditions he found himself in his heart was at rest in Jesus. Yet, in terms of his spiritual life, he displayed a holy discontent, a desire to draw nearer.

12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12–14 (NKJV)

As believers we are called to the same type of passion as Paul, a desire to draw nearer and go deeper in our relationship with Jesus. While knowing is not doing, it is the starting point. I know what he has called each of to walk with Him in terms of intimacy, I also know the how of His daily calling may be different for each of us. With our calling to salvation Yahweh has a daily path for each of us that we need to discern (Ephesians 2:8-10). There are things He has not only called each of us to walk in, He has prepared them for us ahead of time.

10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10 (NKJV)

I know in my life what He has called me to, and I have over the years discerned more of the details but I still need to engage in the ‘how.’ I pray and am in the scriptures daily but I know that I also need a measure of specific focus. The way I discern this by praying scriptures related to it. In recent years there are two verses of scripture that I have focused on praying each morning to help me walk in His path each day. The scriptures I have used below are from the NKJV (I have changed the names of God to what they are in Hebrew).

4 Show me Your ways, O Yahweh; Teach me Your paths. 5 Lead me in Your truth and teach me, For You are the Elohim of my salvation; On You I wait all the day. Psalm 25:4–5

Recently while at a small worship event He prompted me to bring another scripture back to my daily prayer regarding my walk.  

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O Yahweh, my strength and my, Redeemer. Psalm 19:14 

It is one thing to pray for the right path, another to pray for a right heart in everything. In general, I am fine with the ‘words of my mouth,’ even the ones I type. Yet I am quite aware that in the ‘meditation of my heart’ I am not always thinking what or how Jesus thinks. When I pray this prayer, I am more aware during the day of when the ‘meditation of my heart’ is not right, which gives me an opportunity to surrender it to Jesus and ask for His thoughts. In my prayer list I have described my daily goal in life as living in “presence centred repose.” Walking in an awareness of the ‘meditation of my heart’ is a step on that path.

Perhaps my approach will work for you, or you will find something else that will. Whatever works I pray each of you are afflicted with a holy discontent and ‘find your path’ in your walk with Jesus.

A Dwelling Place

We have stepped into a new year. Yet I believe we need an old focus as we move through it. The writer of Psalm 132 expresses the passion David carried for a dwelling place for Yahweh.

A Song of Ascents. 1 Remember, O Yahweh, on David’s behalf, All his affliction; 2 How he swore to Yahweh And vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob, 3 “Surely I will not come into my house, Nor lie in the comfort of my bed; 4 I will not give sleep to my eyes Or slumber to my eyelids, 5 Until I find a place for Yahweh, A dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.” 6 Behold, we heard of it in Ephrathah, We found it in the fields of Jaar. 7 Let us come into His dwelling place; Let us worship at the footstool of His feet. 8 Arise, O Yahweh, to Your resting place, You and the ark of Your strength. 9 Let Your priests be clothed with righteousness, And let Your holy ones sing for joy. Psalm 132:1-9 LSB

Just as a house needs a foundation for the rest to be built upon, and to stay in place a ship needs an anchor, so too, we need to look at what we anchor and build our worship on. Not only our faith, but a major aspect of it, our worship. Here the Psalmist sought to anchor the future in the heart that David carried and his passion to see a dwelling place established for Yahweh.

One thing this Psalm tells us is that we need to seek His face and heart. This is always true yet as His body we seem to engage in it only intermittently. Here David’s passion was to see a place for Yahweh to dwell and interact with His people, a place of encounter where heaven met earth.

In our time we don’t need to build a dwelling place, we need to understand how to individually and corporately be a dwelling place! After all we know from the New Testament that we are in fact His dwelling place on earth in this season of time.

16 Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are. 1 Corinthians 3:16–17 (NKJV)

19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 (NKJV)

In these two passages Paul gives both a warning and an exhortation. The context in chapter 3 is the Corinthians demonstrating immaturity by exhibiting selfishness and division in their gatherings. The context is chapter 6 is their defiling Yahweh’s temple through sexual immorality. It is clear from both of these passages that as a group of believers the Corinthians were in danger and seemed not to have recognized that, hence Paul’s warnings.

I believe and pray that we will have a greater awareness of the importance of being His dwelling place on earth and that it will affect how we live our lives before Jesus and before others. It should be very obvious that we cannot walk in sexual immorality and the Father’s favour at the same time, they are mutually exclusive. Most of the church seems to easily get this reality. Yet if we allow division and competition we are in just as much danger. In fact, Paul’s warning is stronger in 3:17 where he warns, “If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him.” Here Paul is addressing envy, strife and division (3:3).   

            This tells us that we need to walk in love and unity to know the benefit of being His dwelling place. This is a key aspect of our worship. It does no good to stand beside a fellow believer on Sunday morning and sing if at other times I am engaged in strife with them. My singing will not bring His favour, my honouring my fellow believer will. Let’s have David’s passion for Yahweh’s dwelling place and see it demonstrated by walking in love and unity. Then we will see His manifest presence resting on us and expressed through us as His dwelling place on earth! We might call that what many of us regularly pray for, revival.

Rivers of Living Water

The idea of life-giving water is found in a number of places in scripture with key passages about it found at the beginning and end, Genesis and Revelation (see also Ezekiel 47:1-12).

10 Now a river went out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it parted and became four riverheads. Genesis 2:10 (NKJV)

1 And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Revelation 22:1 (NKJV)

Now I don’t know if you have considered this, but Eden was not all of the garden. The rivers flowed from Eden and watered the garden. To get a better understanding of Eden we need to move ahead a bit in scripture.

13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; Every precious stone was your covering: The sardius, topaz, and diamond, Beryl, onyx, and jasper, Sapphire, turquoise, and emerald with gold. The workmanship of your timbrels and pipes Was prepared for you on the day you were created. 14 “You were the anointed cherub who covers; I established you; You were on the holy mountain of God; You walked back and forth in the midst of fiery stones. Ezekiel 28:13–14 (NKJV)

Here we see that Eden was a holy mountain in the garden and that the ‘anointed cherub’ was there and ‘covered.’ The mountain was Yahweh’s dwelling place on earth, the site of His throne, the place where heaven met earth. In the culture of the day when Genesis was written throne guardians covered/guarded thrones. This anointed cherub was Lucifer, the light bearer who became Satan, the adversary. His role was to protect the throne but he rebelled and attacked the throne.

If we take this a little further, water flows down from mountains and becomes streams and rivers that eventually flow into oceans. Water is a source of life and growth. From Eden, the throne, flowed the source of life for the garden. This was the beginning, and as we see from the quote from Revelation, Yahweh’s throne is again depicted as the source of the water of life at the end when heaven is fully joined to earth.

1 And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Revelation 22:1 (NKJV)

Yet in scripture Jesus pointed us to another place that living water is to flow from. The place that is to be His present dwelling place on earth – us!

37 On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” 39 But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. John 7:37–39 (NKJV)

Jesus taught that as a result of the new birth and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that He would flow as living water out from the thirsty. A key point in this passage is that if we want living water to flow forth from us, we must first be thirsty! Jesus said that if we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we will be filled (Matthew 5:6). Isaiah invited all who thirst to come to the water (Isaiah 55:1). As we thirst, we drink and what we drink flows out from us.

One of the ways we express our thirst is through worship. In my experience and that of others, worship stirs something up in me and as a result of my thirst living water flows out from me to touch others. It may touch them through intercession, practical help or prayer ministry to them. The important point is that our thirst releases something to bless others, His life flows out from us! When we have enough thirsty people releasing enough water, we change the spiritual environment in our homes and communities. If we want to see change this coming year then recognize that the more we thirst and come to Him to drink, the more living water flows through us to those around us. In the kingdom economy what we thirst for we release! Pray for a deep thirst!

Presence

Of the many interesting and important things Jesus said, the following two are relevant to introduce our subject, Presence.

8 So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. Luke 16:8 (NKJV)

16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Matthew 10:16 (NKJV)

Here Jesus encourages us to be as wise as the world around us. He doesn’t tell us to function as them, hence His exhortation to be ‘wise as serpents and harmless as doves.’ We are to exercise godly wisdom in the world, not behave like the world in our daily interactions.

As we look at Presence, first some background that relates to the scripture references above. While Christmas shopping, I saw an ad prominently displayed on a large screen in a store, “Here for the Presence.” Now, as a public service announcement, I don’t recommend going to a mall in the afternoon in mid December! However, as I had done that, I had plenty of time to reflect on the ad while waiting in line. That aside, the ad caught my attention and stirred my heart. Some clever marketer hit on promoting the idea that people came to this store not merely to shop but to experience a certain atmosphere, a presence in that place. Which meant there had to be something beyond the merchandise drawing them. That could have been being part of a certain subculture, a sense of identity and belonging.

In my brief interactions with the staff, I also sensed that they also were attempting to create a presence. The ad and behaviour were aligned and it was reflected in the long line up at the sales counter. There was congruence between the stated goal of the ad, ‘presence,’ and the behaviour of the staff. Thus, while still in line I put a note in my phone as I wanted to write about what I had encountered.

In my reflections I began to think about our gatherings as His body and wondered what drew us and whether we intentionally sought to create an atmosphere that would draw His Presence. My qualifier here is that there is a difference between the Lord’s omnipresence and the degrees of His manifest presence. I am focused on the latter. In my experience, with some notable exceptions, most events I have attended over the decades have focused more on gathering people than drawing presence. While we need people, we need them to encounter Jesus when we draw them. I deeply believe we should focus more on aligning all we do to draw His presence. I think we need to spend more time in corporate worship and prayer, seeking to bless the Father’s heart. I believe we need to create space for more to share their hearts and learn how to minster to one another as a body.

I believe that if we think and practice along these lines, we will draw His Presence and His Presence will draw us. Why not build our gatherings around Jesus’ agenda and engage in a wholehearted pursuit of His Presence the way it is reflected in scripture.

4 One thing I have desired of the Lord, That will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord All the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the Lord, And to inquire in His temple. Psalm 27:4 (NKJV)

8 When You said, “Seek My face,” My heart said to You, “Your face, Lord, I will seek.” Psalm 27:8 (NKJV)

18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NKJV)

11 You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11 (NKJV)

Here is a song reflecting a heart desire for His Presence.

 Lord Let Your Glory Fall https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGdpMbZey4Y

The Church Part 5

I noted in my last post that here I would address what a gathering might look like based on what Paul taught to the Corinthians, the focus of Paul’s prayers in some of his letters and the role and importance of church discipline in fulfilling our mandate to represent (re-present) Jesus to one another and the world around us.

I begin with a verse in 1 Corinthians that I am often drawn to reflect on. A perspective from Paul that reflects the Lord’s heart and that I believe we need to find a way to operationalize when we gather.  

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

First the context. Paul is referencing the gathering of the ekklesia. ‘Come together’ is a single word in Greek and it means to gather or assemble. What is important is what Paul says should happen. Different ones are to bring different gifts to share with the rest of the body. Paul qualifies the purpose of these various gifts – the building up of the body. Yet his view is not that one person would dominate a gathering, rather that leaders would create an environment where many would share and everyone would be blessed. In most church services does that happen? Does everyone feel they have an opportunity to hear from the Lord and share or have we primarily scheduled the Spirit out of our services?

I acknowledge that many good things happen in most church services on a Sunday morning or whenever people gather. Yet I believe that they can be much better. I believe that we can shift our focus so that more are involved and exercising their gifts and the body as a whole is being blessed in the process. I will return to this but first a shift to Paul’s heart for the ekklesia.

Galatians was Paul’s first letter. In it he expressed what I believe was, and remained throughout his life, his apostolic heart cry. The prayers in his later letters are anchored in this verse. Here is what I have long seen as Paul’s apostolic heart cry.  

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

The ‘you’ is plural and his entire focus was on seeing Jesus formed in the ekklesia. He expressed it this way in Colossians.

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. 28 Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. 29 To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily. Colossians 1:27–29 (NKJV)

This is what Paul laboured for and we see it reflected in his prayers. Please read and prayerfully consider how these prayers apply to the ekklesia, a corporate body meant to reflect Jesus to a dying world.

16 do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, 18 the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power Ephesians 1:16–19 (NKJV)

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

3 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, 5 for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; 7 just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace. Philippians 1:3–7 (NKJV)

9 For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; 10 that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; Colossians 1:9–11 (NKJV)

Paul’s heart cry was for wisdom and revelation, spiritual understanding and an awareness that we were being built into a spiritual house. In Ephesians 4:16 Paul said the body of Christ, believers, are “joined and knit together by what every joint supplies” and went on to say that the for the body the grow the work of the various parts must be effective. An important reality is that a joint is a relationship between two parts. As we are effectively joined to others in the body, we build one another up. This ties back to 1 Corinthians 14:26.

To be effective, we need not only relationships, we need healthy ones built on koinonia, genuine fellowship. When this is in place, we create a family environment where relationships are open and respectful. An environment where humour and laughter are honoured. I remember when my son was a teenager and his friends would come over to our house. I used to say I knew his friends were comfortable in our home when they started making fun of me too – which a number of them did. They did it because they felt comfortable and safe to do so and many of them also knew me as their coach in sports. What they never knew me as was authoritarian. While I exercised authority, I also respected them and treated them with dignity.

We now come to our final area. In my first offering in this series, I referenced the following passage and said I would come back to it, so I close addressing these verses.

18 Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them. Matthew 18:18–20 (NKJV)

This passage is frequently referenced regarding praying together or agreeing in prayer, fine things in and of themselves. Yet the context is church discipline. The preceding verses deal with how we are to address someone sinning against us by first going to them, then going with witnesses then bringing the matter before the assembly. The reference to ‘two or three’ in the culture is that the creation of a synagogue required ten men. Only two or three were required to constitute the ekklesia because Jesus was also present. Paul knew this and referenced the idea in dealing with disciplinary matters in the church at Corinth.

3 For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 1 Corinthians 5:3–5 (NKJV)

Paul went on in chapter 6 (6:1-11) to upbraid the Corinthians for not acting as judges in issues of sin among the ekklesia. I recognize this is difficult in general and in our present culture in particular. I am an administrator in a Christian and Atheist debate group on Facebook. At one point a young fellow joined the group. When I responded to one of his comments with disagreement, he informed me that he was going to report me to Facebook for bullying. I pointed out that he had joined a debate group and people were going to disagree with him. He left the group. While the example may sound extreme, culturally that type of thinking is becoming more the norm with the emerging generation (a good book on the issue is The Coddling of the American Mind).

While addressing issues, in particular sin, is difficult, in a healthy family environment, issues are in fact addressed and dealt with. In our walk with Jesus if we are seeking to create and be part of a kingdom ekklesia, a family, rather than furthering our present church culture, we will find a way. Leaders will foster an environment where we receive support, flow in our gifts and are free to challenge one another.