What Is True Friendship?

By Michael Clark and Susanne Schuberth

20181006_122407[1]

Picture taken by Susanne Schuberth

What is true friendship? With most people I have met, “friendship” is very conditional. If I do or say something that offends them or don’t meet their “needs,” they turn off and distance themselves immediately. It is a form of conditional love. “I will be your friend as long as you live up to my expectations.” Sad to say, this is the kind of “friendship” that most Christians endure in that system known as the “Institutional Church.” But was this the kind of friendship that Jesus had with the eleven disciples who loved Him for who He is?

We know that Judas loved mammon. He was the one who held the money bag in the group and finally betrayed Christ at the end for thirty pieces of silver. We also know that the seventy other disciples that Jesus sent out with power to preach the gospel turned away from Him as well (see John 6:66-71). But to those faithful eleven He said:

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.  No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. (John 15:13-17, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

Jesus told us that we were His friends if we did what He commanded. Love is, of course, the greatest commandment. But we need to love God before we can share His love with our neighbors. We may love our enemies with this God-given love (see Romans 5:5), but we won’t be that ‘loving’ when we take part in their lawless living. From hence, we might see why this world is at enmity with us. As soon as we share the gospel by doing what God commands us to do, NOW, they will reject us. However, the good news is that He gives us His peace for having been obedient to Him and then we can pray for those who do not know our Lord yet.

We know that Jesus’ disciples were often fearful even when He was with them, yet He was always patient with them. He was their friend to the very end, even unto dying for them and their sins alone on the cross. What kind of love lays down one’s own life for a friend? It is one thing for a soldier to dive on a live grenade to save the life of his fellow soldiers. But there is another more practical and sacrificial way of laying down one’s life. That is laying down your own will daily for the good of another because you love them more than you love yourself.  THIS is true friendship! Following the leading of Christ’s Spirit in our daily lives is laying down our life for our Friend just as He laid down His live for us. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “But he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” There is a wonderful dynamic that kicks in when we have this kind of friendship with another who reciprocates in kind.

Austin-Sparks wrote:

It is indeed a very wonderful and beautiful thing that the Son of God called such as the disciples were, and such as we are, His friends. I do not think there is a greater or more beautiful word in all our language than that word ‘friend’. It is the most intimate title in all human relationships. Every other relationship that we can think of may exist without this. Perhaps we think that the marriage relationship is the most intimate, but it is possible for that relationship to exist without friendship. Happy indeed is the man whose wife is his friend, and happy is the wife whose husband is her friend. It is a very close relationship between children and parents and parents and children, but it is a great thing when the father can call his son his friend, and when he can say, not ‘my son’, but ‘my friend’. And, again, it is a great thing when a child can say, not only ‘my father’, but ‘my friend’: ‘my father is my friend’ – ‘my mother is my friend’. It is something extra in relationship. We may admire a person and have a lot of association with them: we may think that we know them and could say: ‘Well, I know so-and-so very well’, but, even so, there may not be friendship. Friendship is always just that bit extra.

When Jesus said: “Ye are my friends”. He was going beyond ‘Ye are My disciples’ and ‘Ye are My followers’. He could have called them by many other names, but when He said: “Ye are my friends” He went beyond anything else. And I think that the Lord Jesus found the most complete satisfaction of His heart in this word. To say “Ye are my friends” was as far as anybody could possibly go. Really, there is nothing beyond it. You reach the end of all relationships when you really come to friendship. How rich and how precious, then, is this title! (1)

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A true friend is one that you can share everything in your life with. Not only can you tell them about your joys and successes, but you can share with them what makes you sad, even your worst failures. When you need someone to stand with you in prayer, knowing that it will not be used to separate themselves from you for your failings nor will they use these precious things as a tidbit of gossip as soon as you part. A true friend hopes all things for the other and hardly notice when his friend does him wrong. As Solomon wrote, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Prov 18:24, ESV2011)

You see, there are “friends” and then there are FRIENDS, just as there are “believers” then there are BELIEVERS! In John chapter two we read,

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man. (John 2:23-25, KJ2000)

Jesus could not commit Himself to this kind of follower. He dared not open His heart up to them. They “believed in His name” because He did miracles for them. But they were “loaves and fishes” Christians and would soon turn against Him when their temporal needs were no longer being met (see John ch. 6). They were not His friends.

Friends do not use friends. That is a feigned relationship at best. But how many times do we hear Christians say, “I just want to be used by Jesus!” This is an institutional mindset at best. The devil uses people to fulfill his agenda of destruction. But Christ walks with us as our friend and as we rest in Him, His will is carried out in our lives by the love and friendship we share. The kingdom of God is a family of close friends, not an institution!

In our Christian walks we will have many occasions where we will prove ourselves as to whether we are HIS friend or not. It is one thing to be a “follower of Christ,” but it is a far greater thing to be His friend. For in this kind of relationship is where He starts revealing to us all things (see and He can say to us, “I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” Do you want spiritual revelation from Christ? This is where it starts, walking with Him day by day and moment by moment as His friend.

Consider how Christ handled this kind of situation with one of His own disciples:

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matt 16:21-23, ESV2011)

When we insist on knowing Christ or each other after the flesh, seeking our own desires to be fulfilled instead of knowing one another after the Spirit, we will find ourselves acting contrary to His will. Paul wrote,

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2Cor 5:16-17, ESV2011)

Toward the end of my 14 years in the wilderness (where He had been stripping me of all that I once thought of myself as a “Christian”) I, Michael, was invited to go to a worship conference, so I went. There were many speakers and workshop teachers at this conference but Father spoke to me through the words in a song that we were singing. It went,

 “I will change your name. You shall no longer be called Wounded, outcast, lonely or afraid.”

I thought, “Yes, that is me; a wounded, outcast, lonely and afraid in this world.” Then the Lord started to speak to me in the verses that followed…

“I will change your name. Your new name shall be confidence, joyfulness, overcoming one, faithfulness, friend of God…”

At that moment I thought, “Oh God, who am I that you would call me your friend?!” He replied to me in the last phrase of this song, because you are

“one who seeks My face.” (2)

This was a life changing moment for me, because He told me how much He loves me and counted me as His friend. When we really love someone, we will not ever be totally happy until we can share our love with them face to face. God is no different. As His friends we will always seek His face. David prayed,

Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.” (Ps 27:7-8, ESV2011)

Dear saints, We pray that we may all come to know this kind of friendship with Jesus and His Father and find others who walk in this same intimate knowledge of Him so that we might truly have Friends in Christ’s love. True followers of Jesus Christ are true friends and we thank the Father for the ones we have known.

(1) https://www.austin-sparks.net/english/000419.html

(2) “I Will Change Your Name,” by D.J. Butler

Obeying God’s Voice for He is Your Life

All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” (Exod 17:1-4, ESV2011)

And he called the name of the place Massah [testing] and Meribah [quarrelling], because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” (Exod 17:7, ESV2011)

And Jesus answering said unto him, “It is said, ‘You shall not test the Lord your God.’” (Luke 4:12, KJ2000)

In the preceding passages there is much to be learned when it comes to following the Lord and hearing the voice of His Spirit. The people of Israel in the wilderness were always complaining to Moses about one thing or another. As far as I know there is no record of them taking their petitions to God in prayer. They had no faith in Him as their God, but wanted a mere man to provide them with all their creature comforts. They looked to Moses as their king instead of to God as their Provider. Is it any different today among most professing Christians? Samuel had the same problem with the people of Israel, even after they had entered into the Promised Land.

Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah, And said unto him, Behold, you are old, and your sons walk not in your ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations. (1Sam 8:4-5, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

As it was with their ancestors in the wilderness, so it was with this generation. They still had not entered into His rest. They put their trust in men instead of in God. So God gave them Saul to be their king and they languished under his rule. It is one thing to be asking God to act according to the needs and ways of our flesh, but it is a whole different matter to know Him after His ways.

But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the LORD. And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto you: for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. (1Sam 8:6-7, KJ2000- emphasis added)

He made known his ways [his course of life] to Moses, his acts [his doings] to the people of Israel. (Ps 103:7, ESV2011)

We can know God as our provider of worldly things and never know His heart’s desire to know us as His spiritual sons and daughters in Christ. To know His life in us and to hear the voice of His Spirit speaking to us as a friend as Abraham and Moses did (see James 2:23 and Exodus 33:11) is what He really desires for us to walk in. Carnal Christians today, even when they pray, most often seek things from Him to make their natural, temporal lives more comfortable instead of those things which are eternal like a new heart with His laws and desires written upon them. God desires to hear us pray as David did,

​Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. ​Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. (Ps 51:10-12, ESV2011)

When we have hearts that are longing after the things of this world, we know no rest. Our lives consist of the next pleasure, the next possession, the next lofty position, etc. How often we see a pop music legend end their lives in suicide or from an overdose of drugs. They spend their lives climbing to the top only to find out that there is no happiness in there. How different this is from the Apostle Paul who knew God’s rest in Christ who wrote, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2Cor 12:10, ESV2011). How opposite this is from our human natures.

Since therefore it remains for some to enter it [His rest], and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb 4:6-12, ESV2011)

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” Notice that He says, “Today!” How much of our lives are governed by minds that are worried about tomorrow or what happened yesterday? To live in God’s rest is to live by faith in the here and now, one day at a time. And part of living in today is to live by hearing and obeying His voice moment by moment. The one thing that keeps us from hearing and obeying His voice is our hardness of heart. As with Israel we turn a stony heart toward Him as we prefer our own will to His. We live as if we are our own gods. Is it any wonder that our lives are filled with UN-rest? We fail to enter into His rest because we do not believe that He desires what is eternally best for us and choose our own way. “There is a way that seems right unto a man, but the end thereof is death.”

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life… (Deut 30:19-20, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

To choose God’s way for us moment by moment is to choose life even if it seems uncomfortable and inconvenient at the time.

Hindrances to Walking in True Fellowship

Photo taken by Michael Clark

Yesterday my wife and I went to Texas to attend a wedding and reception. Our grandson married a lovely girl whose family are not of the Baptist traditions he was raised in (those traditions are very strong down here in what is called “The Bible Belt” of America).  We found the less formal reception put on by the bride’s family quite fun and we all had a good time. They had country music, line dancing, and even served real wine and beer. In some of the more hard-line Baptist and fundamentalist circles this would be considered a scandal. Not everyone danced or drank alcoholic beverages, but it was good to see most of my family down here “get loose” and have a great time.

This morning I woke up and prayed and read my latest T. Austin-Sparks “Open Windows” devotional and there it was. He wrote about how religious people are so quick to judge others when they dare to do anything outside of their religious traditions and what they consider “acceptable.” In this article I read about many cases where God’s men in the Bible were called to do that very thing. Imagine the scandal it would cause if Jesus was invited to a traditional fundamentalist or “Bible church” fellowship gathering and He went into the church kitchen, turned 150 gallons of water into wine and had it served to all the guests! Or what a scandal it would have been if He took up residence with a Gentile widow for three years just as Elijah had done. God commanded Peter to kill and eat all manner of “unclean” animals and birds in a vision, so signifying that if He had sanctified these new Gentile believers in Christ, who was Peter to say otherwise and isolate himself from having true fellowship with them in their homes? Sparks wrote,

If the children of God will only make Christ their ground of fellowship, so much that hinders spiritual fullness and accounts for the present weakness, limitation, and defeat will be ruled out, and the great hinderer will be despoiled of his ground.

Then there is another direction in which this law of fullness operates and in which some serious adjustment is necessary. It is that of leaving room for the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit. It was on this very matter that the book of “The Acts” was founded. The Lord Jesus enunciated the [this] law when He said to Nicodemus, “The wind bloweth where it listeth… so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” On the day of Pentecost there was “a sound as of a mighty rushing wind.” Have you ever been in a really mighty rushing wind? The thing about a real windstorm is that it takes the government out of all other hands and proceeds to do as it chooses without reference or deference to conventions, traditions, common acceptances, inclinations, or fixed ideas. While it lasts, it is sovereign. That is how it was then; but there were those who were offended, shocked, scandalized, and who said in effect that such a way could never be of God. (1)

Anyone who walks in the Light as Jesus is in the Light will soon find themselves challenged by Him to break free of preconceived ideas of what is acceptable to God and pulled out of the traditions of men and family into His marvelous fellowship with the true saints of God. Growing in Christ truly is a stretching process. Look at the context of this passage:

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1John 1:7, ESV2011)

To walk in the light of God is a progressive thing. The light we start out with is not the same amount of light we receive later on as we progress in that walk.

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. (Prov 4:18, ESV2011)

God is all about growing us up into the fullness of His Son and this requires that we break free of the traditions that bind religious minds from following His Spirit in obedience and accepting those whom He has sanctified by the blood of His Son. T. A. Sparks continued,

For instance, there is the matter of our relationship to, and fellowship with, all other children of God. Fellowship with the Lord’s people is an established law of spiritual fullness, and there can be no fullness apart from it. This question of Christian fellowship will have to be taken in both hands and settled finally. We shall – if we are going to have an “open heaven” – have to sit right down with this matter and do some honest and energetic thinking and deciding. What is the Lord’s ground in this matter? It is absolutely nothing other, more, nor less, than Christ Himself and our common sharing of His life through new birth and utter yieldedness to Him as our Sovereign Head and Lord! Get down on to any other ground and we forsake the place of fullness. If we get on to the ground of a teaching, an interpretation, a particular and specific doctrine, or even emphasis, as something in itself, we at once set up standards or draw lines between ourselves and others, and even unconsciously we divide and give out an implication of division.

Or again; if we get on the ground of a denomination, a sect, a mission, a society, a “movement”, or anything crystallized as to an association of the Lord’s people, with an enterprise binding together those concerned – though it may be for the Lord – we open the door to every divisive thing, and we close it to fulness. On the one hand we very soon become governed by false and unsound judgments. Jealousies and rivalries can never see the light of day if the one concern is the Lord. (1)

Regarding the verse in 1st John above, notice that “walking in the light as HE is in the light” is progressive. The verse ends with “…we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” When we set out to have fellowship, when it is God who has made us members of one another, there has been given us the provision of Christ’s blood which cleanses us of all sin, including those which may occur during our God given walks together.

We have a great-grandson who will be one year old today. He can only take a few steps before he falls. He still finds crawling faster and his speech is not well developed yet. But for a one year old child he is perfect. If he still fell a lot while walking and grunted and yelled loudly without words when wanting something at the age of five he would be considered handicapped. In the same way, the perfection of walking in the light as Christ is in the light includes life which is given us by God and as such it grows. If we judge one another for not being fully perfect in our walk and being fully Christ-like, we do one another a great disservice and will hinder and harm the fellowship we could be having with the saints of God. Rather, we should be praying for one another and not receiving each other “unto doubtful disputations.”(2)  Self-righteousness is a poison that kills true fellowship IN Christ. Remember Paul’s warning,

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Rom 14:4, ESV2011)

Thank you Father that you are able and willing by the blood of Christ and your Spirit to make us stand in your Son and thank you for the sweet fellowship you have given us as we abide together in Him. Amen.

 

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/000521.html

(2) Romans 14:1

Where Is True Spirituality Found?

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2Cor 12:9, ESV2011)

When we read about David in the Old Testament, we see a “mighty man of valor.” As a boy, David killed a lion and a bear, then went out to battle and killed a giant with his sling and a stone! God appointed him to be king over Israel in the place of Saul, where he continued to do exploits against the enemies of God in that land. Finally, we see him becoming quite sure of himself in his exalted place there in Jerusalem, the city of David. It is as if God exalted him ever higher until David’s pride finally brought him down. He became a man of leisure. Instead of going out to battle with his troops against the Ammonites, he stayed home and lusted after his general’s wife, Bathsheba. You know the rest of the story how he started living a lie. Bathsheba became pregnant so he called for Uriah, her husband, to come back home to be with her so that it will look like he made her pregnant while there. Uriah refused to go into his house and slept on the door step. So David in his wrath sent him back to the war front and gave orders for the other warriors to pull back from him in the heat of battle so that the enemy could kill him. Once again we see that Lord Acton of England identified the problem dead on, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

God loved David and He made sure that David would not get away with his folly. He deflated his ego through a confrontation with Nathan the prophet and convicted him out of the words of his own mouth.

And the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.’” (2Sam 12:1-9, ESV2011- emphasis added)

 

The prophet went on to say that the sword would never depart from the house of David and we know this to be true, but David finally repented and the words of Psalm 51 are his confession and contrition.

 

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. ​Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. ​Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. ​Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. ​Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. ​Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. ​For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Ps 51:1-17, ESV2011- emphasis added)

 

In the very beginning of my walk, God prophetically gave me Psalm 51 as if it were a prophesy of how He would be dealing with me during my life. God knows how to save us from our soulish power that so easily corrupts us, He takes us down so that He might raise us up IN Christ and keeps us weak in our own eyes if necessary that He won’t lose us. Oh the pride that was in David when he pronounced judgment on that evil man in His kingdom who Nathan told him about. And oh the pain that must have shot through David’s heart when Nathan said, “You are the man!” God does not need strong, self-assured men in His kingdom. He does not need men who try to cover their sin with religious activities and sacrifices, but what do we see as we look at the leaders in Christendom today? No wonder so many of them are brought down before the eyes of the whole world! What He wants are those saints who know that they are only dust. He wants us to walk in brokenness and a contrite heart before Him, not in an elevated self-confidence about our own spirituality as we live a lie before men.

David wrote, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. ​Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” The longer I live in my Christian experience, the more I see that these words apply to me. What a discovery it is when we can see that when we sin it is against God and Him only. We must be brought to the place where we see that He is justified in all His words and judgments and that our only salvation is walking in the life of Jesus Christ by His great grace.

 

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Rom 5:10, ESV2011)

T. A. Sparks in his excellent book, “God’s Reactions Against Man’s Defections,” wrote,

Well, spiritual and natural abilities are in altogether different worlds! And when God reacts to recover, or acts to provide against a threat, a peril, a danger that has the characteristics we have noted, He brings His instrument down to nothingness – He empties it out and makes it more conscious of its weakness and of its dependence than of anything else. In this greatest of all works of God – the maintaining of His testimony in absolute purity and truth – there is no place whatever, amongst those who are involved, for assumption: for assuming that they are something, or assuming that they can do something, or assuming that they are called to this or that. There is no place, either, for presumption – that is, running ahead of God, running ahead of the Spirit. There is no place for self-importance, for self-sufficiency, for self-assertiveness – no place for any of these things. If you and I are going to be used for spiritual purposes, God will take us in hand to drain us of the last drop of anything like that, until we know that of all men we are the most unfit and unsuited to the thing to which God has called us; that from all natural standpoints we have no right to be in that position at all. That is God’s way of making spiritual men and women.

[Paul wrote to Timothy saying], “Be strong” – but it does not stop there. “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1). That is not self-strength, that is not natural strength of any kind. “The grace that is in Christ Jesus” – be strong in that. So we see what is the strength in the case of Timothy, as the symbol of God’s reactionary method and means in a day of declension [which the church is in today]. The strength is to be spiritual strength.

That works both ways. It is a word of encouragement to those who are conscious of no strength, who only feel their weakness; as though to say: ‘Look here, that is not the criterion, how weak you feel, at all: the criterion is “the grace that is in Christ Jesus”.’ And it works the other way. If any of us should feel that we can do it, and press into the situation or into the position, and take it on, assuming or presuming, then we are in for a bad time under the hand of God – that is, if we are going to be of any use to the Lord. Any such attitude is going to be emptied out. (1)

Dear Father, empty us out of all that is of our natural man and fill us with your Son no matter how great the cost. Amen.

(1) https://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/000856.html

 

How to water dry land spiritually

Picture taken by Susanne Schuberth © 2018

 

via How to water dry land spiritually

This article by Susanne Schuberth touched me in an area where I needed it, the importance of prayer and why we go through dry spells in our lives in Christ. I hope it blesses you as well.

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray…” (Luke 11:1, ESV2011)

Michael


Spiritual wildernesses do exist. Dry spells where you are tempted to believe you pray to a wall as nobody seems to hear your requests, they are real to the one who gets closer and closer to God. As illogical as it might seem, people who do not really seek more from God have less problems with prayer as they do not really expect God to answer them, either, when they keep clinging to pre-formulated prayers and hymns. However, can our relationship with our Creator ever be business as usual…?  🙄 In fact, if we truly want to feed on the living God, we must quit our comfort zone and cherished traditions because seeking God is always an adventure! An adventure that can be both exhausting and rewarding, unnerving and intriguing. Or as T. Austin Sparks put it so well,


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Our Quest to Find the City of God

He is Faithful

God has had me in the Book of Hebrews for some time as He has been teaching me what it means to walk by faith. This fantastic book is rich with hundreds of contrasts between mere religion and a faith walk in the kingdom of God and in His Christ. I believe that the following verses from chapter eleven about says it all.

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith –for he was like a foreigner, living in a tent. And so did Isaac and Jacob, to whom God gave the same promise. Abraham did this because he was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.

… All these faithful ones died without receiving what God had promised them, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed the promises of God. They agreed that they were no more than foreigners and nomads here on earth. And obviously people who talk like that are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had meant the country they came from, they would have found a way to go back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a heavenly city for them. (Heb 11:8-16, NLT)

Last night my wife and I spent two hours talking with our neighbors, a couple who are born again and attend Sunday church. They are good people who live godly lives and have done much to reach out to others. We spoke about our struggles to find real fellowship in this town. We agreed that Sunday “services,” as they are called, are not a place for real fellowship, evangelization maybe, but not true fellowship. We observed that real fellowship with the family of God is found in a family setting with people who are members one of another coming together because of their common love for Jesus and a lecture hall setting (church service) keeps that from happening. I think you will agree that a family gathering with one person dominating all that goes on is a real drag. It takes interaction with love for one another flowing freely to make a family work.

I awoke this morning while it was still dark outside with the above passages from the Book of Hebrews going over and over in my mind. As they did, my life-long struggle became clearer. I have been seeking “a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God” and sad to say, I have rarely found others who have the same intense desire.  Lots of Christians are content to meet in an industrialized setting where everything is done according to the expected norm called “the order of service,” but few have this longing deep within them as did those mentioned above in Hebrews chapter eleven.

In the movie, The Matrix, there is a scene where Morpheus is talking with Neo about a “splinter in his mind.” My life long search has been like that for me, but my “splinter” has been calling me to what is right. It has been easy to get sidetracked by all that is contrary to that search, but it is not enough to know what is wrong with this world. We must look beyond all that to what is right! What is wrong is summed up in the following discourse between Morpheus and Neo.

MORPHEUS: “Let me tell you why you are here. You have come because you know something. What you know you can’t explain but you feel it. You’ve felt it your whole life, felt that something is wrong with the world. You don’t know what, but it’s there like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?”

NEO: “The Matrix?”

MORPHEUS: “Do you want to know what it is? …The Matrix is everywhere, it’s all around us, here even in this room. You can see it out your window or on your television. You feel it when you go to work, or go to church or pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”

The methodology of the enemy of the Truth (that is ours IN Jesus Christ) is just like Morpheus described the Matrix. The A.I. (artificial intelligence) was a super computer that controlled everything in the lives of those in the movie without them knowing that it was feeding them a false reality, even by controlling their very thoughts. Yet many of us, like Neo, have been in a battle to find something more than what our enemy has to offer–success in this world and in its systems. Without knowing it, we have been seeking a city with eternal foundations, a spiritual city designed and built by God. Sad to say, short-stopping our quest at “Christian City,” as many of us have done, has not satisfied our quest. (1)

As it was with Abraham, so it is with those who truly walk by faith in Jesus Christ. God has put a longing in our hearts to not settle for anything less than finding His eternal city, “…which is above is free, which is the mother of us all” (Gal 4:26, KJ2000). In the meantime the closest we can come to it is to find other pilgrims and wanderers on this earth who have the same love for Jesus in their hearts and are on the same quest. No institutionalized system of men can fill that hunger. “For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.”

Those who walk by faith have the same heart that Abraham had and are confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.” Jesus said, “Abraham saw my day and rejoiced.” Only those who do not walk by faith can settle for the distractions of this world system as Lot did in Sodom. Those whom He has called might spend a season in man-made institutions or try to fill the void inside with the things of this world, but there is that “splinter in their minds” and hearts that there’s not only something wrong, but that there is still something more.

So, my dear brothers and sisters, like the writer of Hebrews said, “So let us stop going over the basics of Christianity again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding.” Let us obey the upward call of Jesus Christ who said to John, “Come up here and I will show you things…” He has given us the Holy Spirit to teach us all that we need to know about His kingdom and a discerning of spirits to let us know when we are being lied to.

Has your quest for the City of God made you a reproach in Christendom? That is all part of the package of following the voice of the Lord in your life. The Book of Hebrews sums it all up with the following statement:

So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates in order to make his people holy by shedding his own blood. So let us go out to him outside the camp and bear the disgrace he bore. For this world is not our home; we are looking forward to our city in heaven, which is yet to come. (Heb 13:12-14, NLT)

May God bless you as you settle for nothing less than the fullness of Jesus Christ in your life.

(1) http://www.awildernessvoice.com/Escape.html

Why Pastoral Abuse Continues Unabated in America

Then came his disciples, and said unto him, “Know you that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying?” But he answered and said, “Every plant, which my heavenly Father has not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.” (Matt 15:12-14, KJ2000)

Recently in her blog “A Voice Reclaimed,” Anna Waldherr wrote two articles about pastoral abuse in both Catholic (1) and Protestant churches (2) that seems to be running rampant here in America today. She quoted this astute observation by a New York Times writer who did an investigative report on one such church, Willow Creek in Barrington, IL, and its pastor Bill Hybels.

In many evangelical churches, a magnetic pastor like Mr. Hybels is the superstar on whom everything else rests, making accusations of harassment particularly difficult to confront. Such a pastor is seen as a conduit to Christ, giving sermons so mesmerizing that congregants rush to buy tapes of them after services.

In the evangelical world, Mr. Hybels is considered a giant, revered as a leadership guru who discovered the formula for bringing to church people who were skeptical of Christianity. His books and speeches have crossed over into the business world.

Mr. Hybels built a church independent of any denomination. In such churches, there is no larger hierarchy to set policies and keep the pastor accountable. Boards of elders are usually volunteers recommended, and often approved, by the pastor.

But the most significant reason sexual harassment can go unchecked is that victims do not want to hurt the mission of their churches. (3)

There is a principle that never fails to be true whether it be in secular governments, corporations, Catholic or Protestant churches. Lord Acton of England said it well in about 1904 while talking with an Anglican bishop.

“It is not a question of who has the right rule [over others]. No one has the right to rule. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely!”

Below the sentences in bold are from the above N.Y. Times quote.

  • “a magnetic pastor like Mr. Hybels is the superstar on whom everything else rests”

People flock to charismatic and powerful personalities whether it be in sports, Hollywood, politics, or even in the churches. It is a form of idolatry. They are looking for a flesh and blood god to stand before them. Even in Christian circles, Jesus who they cannot see is not enough, because believing in Him requires faith (see Hebrews 11:1). Most “Christians” lack a faith that trusts in Christ alone without being fortified by highly visible men telling them what they want to hear. At best these are “carnal Christians” or at worst pagans with a religion. They even fall down before their gods and worship. When these church leaders have an “altar call,” the faithful go forward and kneel before them and pray, awaiting a touch or a word from their holy man to let them know that they got “saved.” This tradition is not scriptural, neither is the “altar call,” nor kneeling before a man (a tradition popularized by Charles Finney, not Jesus or the Apostles). For instance, look at the way that Apostle Paul dealt with this kind of idolatry when it was aimed at him and Barnabas.

While they were at Lystra, Paul and Barnabas came upon a man with crippled feet. He had been that way from birth, so he had never walked. He was listening as Paul preached, and Paul noticed him and realized he had faith to be healed. So Paul called to him in a loud voice, “Stand up!” And the man jumped to his feet and started walking. When the listening crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in their local dialect, “These men are gods in human bodies!” They decided that Barnabas was the Greek god Zeus and that Paul, because he was the chief speaker, was Hermes. The temple of Zeus was located on the outskirts of the city. The priest of the temple and the crowd brought oxen and wreaths of flowers, and they prepared to sacrifice to the apostles at the city gates. But when Barnabas and Paul heard what was happening, they tore their clothing in dismay and ran out among the people, shouting, “Friends, why are you doing this? We are merely human beings like yourselves! We have come to bring you the Good News that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them. In earlier days he permitted all the nations to go their own ways, but he never left himself without a witness. There were always his reminders, such as sending you rain and good crops and giving you food and joyful hearts.” But even so, Paul and Barnabas could scarcely restrain the people from sacrificing to them. (Acts 14:8-18, NLT)

Today, we don’t offer animal sacrifices to these men, but we gladly dig deep into our pockets and purses to bless them as the offering plate goes by. (This practice was initiated by Queen Elizabeth I in 1662 in the Church of England and it has stuck ever since). Paul did not encourage this practice either (see below).

Paul did not rely on his speaking ability or personal charisma to sway men into believing in Christ.

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1Cor 2:1-5, ESV2011).

For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed— God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ” (1Thess 2:5-6, ESV2011).

The problem today is that very few men who share the gospel rely in the power of God, but rather their own powers of human persuasion. The result is millions of people who think they are born again, but instead they are spiritual stillbirths. Salvation has to be the result of God personally gifting us with saving faith IN Jesus Christ and in no other.

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13, RSV)

  • Such a pastor is seen as a conduit to Christ

The apostles pointed all men to Christ and away from themselves (who were mere servants of Jesus). When the Corinthians were putting Christ’s messengers in the place of Christ, Paul told them they were “carnal” and not spiritual at all. I am afraid that the churches in America more resemble the believers in Corinth than those in Ephesus whom Jesus commended.

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each” (1Cor 3:1-5, ESV2011).

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, (1Tim 2:5, RSV- emphasis added)

  • “giving sermons so mesmerizing that congregants rush to buy tapes of them after services.”
  • “In the evangelical world, Mr. Hybels is considered a giant, revered as a leadership guru… His books and speeches have crossed over into the business world.”

Oh, yes, the true sign of a “powerhouse for God”–MONEY! And what did Jesus have to say about this?

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matt 6:24, NLT)

And  Paul wrote,

“I have never coveted anyone’s money or fine clothing. You know that these hands of mine have worked to pay my own way, and I have even supplied the needs of those who were with me. And I have been a constant example of how you can help the poor by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: `It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” (Acts 20:33-35, NLT)

Did the apostles retail their messages as is so common today with the sales of seminars, books and tapes? Here is what Paul and Peter had to say about that.

What then is my reward? Just this: that in my preaching I may make the gospel free of charge, not making full use of my right in the gospel. (1Cor 9:18, RSV)

For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, we did not eat any one’s bread without paying, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you. It was not because we have not that right, but to give you in our conduct an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If any one will not work, let him not eat. (2Thess 3:7-10, RSV)

But there were also false prophets in Israel, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will cleverly teach their destructive heresies about God and even turn against their Master who bought them. Theirs will be a swift and terrible end. Many will follow their evil teaching and shameful immorality. And because of them, Christ and his true way will be slandered. In their greed they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money. But God condemned them long ago, and their destruction is on the way. (2Pet 2:1-3, NLT- emphasis added)

  • “In such churches, there is no larger hierarchy to set policies and keep the pastor accountable. Boards of elders are usually volunteers recommended, and often approved, by the pastor.”

Even when there is a hierarchy, elders or a denominational board of directors in these churches, they are likely to rubber stamp the wishes of their cash-cow man in the limelight. When he is asked to step down because he caused them so much embarrassment, it is with the mindset of laundering him as quickly as possible so that he can get back on center stage once again and cut their losses. Bill Hybels might have stepped away from the pulpit, but he is still active behind the scenes at Willow Creek Church.

  • “But the most significant reason sexual harassment can go unchecked is that victims do not want to hurt the mission of their churches.”

Oh yes. The “No Speak” rule. This is how it works: cover for the one caught in sin and cast blame on the ones he has enticed and seduced. We have seen in recent years the fruit of this rule being carried out “in spades” in the Catholic church where pedophile priests have abused thousands of children and been covered for by the hierarchy. But it is often the same in Protestant churches. The higher the profile (and the more money they bring into the denomination), the more they cover up the abuses of these men and keep the machine going.

I typed in “pastoral abuse of authority” on Google and got 3,070,000 hits! Do you think that this problem might be completely out of control? If we had only followed Jesus’ command to His disciples…

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45, RSV)

A few years back, George Davis and I wrote an article, “Apostles, True or False.”

Jesus said, “…you tried those pretending to be apostles, and are not, and have found them liars” (Revelation 2:2). The trial of those who pretended to be apostles is listed among the positive actions of the Ephesian Church, which pleased the Lord. We are fully aware that we are living in a day when many of God’s children fail to understand the difference between testing and judgment, discernment and criticism, and view all speech and writing of a negative nature as critical and destructive. This has led to a general no-speak climate enforced by those in control that resists reform and allows unchecked deception. We are commanded to prove (dokimazo – to test, examine, scrutinize) the genuineness of all things and hold fast to what is good. (See 1Thessalonians 5:21). (4)

The more things change in the churches, the more that the root problem in them remains–abuse of authority that was never supposed to be in the hands of church men, but rather only in hands of Christ. This is part of the reason why instead of only ONE Church throughout the whole world (see John 17:21), there are over 41,000 Christian denominations and sects that only give lip-service to Him as the Head and Builder of His Church. God’s judgment is on this system called “The Christian Church.”

Then this message came to me from the LORD: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign LORD: Destruction is certain for you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the broken bones. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with force and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd… Though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost. You took care of yourselves and left the sheep to starve. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD. This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, along with their right to feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey. “For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places to which they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. (Ezek 34:1-12, NLT)

He judged the Shepherds of Israel and His heavy hand will come down on this Christian system that is abusing His people as well. Dear saints, this last days religious system is called “Babylon the Great” in Revelations and the warning to us is clear. Do all pastors abuse their place as shepherds? No, but the larger a congregation gets and the larger their church building, the greater is the propensity for corruption for Satan still knows that if he can smite the shepherd with sin, his sheep will be scattered. Jesus called this system Babylon the Great the mother of harlots in Revelation and to those who in its grip He calls today,

“Come away from her, my people. Do not take part in her sins, or you will be punished with her. For her sins are piled as high as heaven, and God is ready to judge her for her evil deeds.” (Rev 18:4-5, NLT)

After he [Jesus] has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they recognize his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t recognize his voice.” (John 10:4-5, NLT)

Dear saints of God, learn the different between the voices of strangers and the voice of Christ’s Spirit and no matter what they say follow HIM.

(1) https://avoicereclaimed.com/2018/08/19/predator-priests-part-1/

(2) https://avoicereclaimed.com/2018/08/26/predator-priests-part-2/

(3) https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/05/us/bill-hybels-willow-creek-pat-baranowski.html

(4) http://awildernessvoice.com/ApostlesTorF.html