Bearing in Our Bodies His Death, But Oh the Glory!

Photo from https://unsplash.com/@jae462

For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him… (Romans 6:5-6, KJV)

“We have been planted together in the likeness of His death.” Have you ever given much thought to what that means? Lately, with all the suffering of the saints I have encountered, including the pains of my own aging process, Christ’s death has, by His mercy, been brought more into focus than ever.

As I contemplated the above passage, all of a sudden I saw myself literally inside of Christ’s body on the cross and it was even in color! There was light in there! There was a glow and warmth and even a since of love, forgiveness, acceptance and peace. Yes, all hell had broken loose on Him outside, but it was a glorious experience as I was tucked safely inside Him through it all. Amazing! I had often tried to imagine what it meant to be “crucified with Christ” with no luck… just a blank. But with this experience a whole raft of scriptures opened up to me. Paul wrote:

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God… (Gal 2:20, KJ2000)

Those hours on the cross were the focal point of all of God’s creation and His purpose for it! We were literally placed IN Him with all our sins and sufferings. In that moment we were made pure and complete IN Him so that Christ could live in us by the power of His resurrection life.

So, why all this suffering that we must go through? Think of it. If we have been “planted in the likeness of His death,” what was that like? All hell was going on outside of Him. He was not only made to suffer physically, but emotionally as well, so much so that He cried out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Not only had all men forsaken Him, but He couldn’t even feel His Father’s loving care and pleasure any longer. And the demons! They were mocking and spitting on Him for His faithfulness to the Father. They even tried to make Him doubt who He was, “If you are truly the Son of God, come down off that cross. Spare yourself!” Yet, He did not cave. He was bearing our sins on that cross, not His own. We and all that we are were IN Him as God’s chosen ones (See Galatians 2:20). Isaiah saw this focal point in the eternity of time and wrote,

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. (Isa 53:10-11, ESV2011)

In Satan’s hate and jealousy Jesus was being attacked for never having sinned and being the perfect obedient Son of His Father, but it was God who was in control to fulfill His will for us all. Satan had given the temptation of Christ his best shot and failed. Oh, the wrath of hell! Here was his chance to get even with Jesus for all He had done to upset his worldly kingdom, but God won the battle by what seemed the weakness of Christ. For in this final blow against Christ he lost the keys to hell’s prison and enabled our release into God’s kingdom. This why Paul who walked in Christ could say, “When am weak, then I am strong.”

Don’t you think that our being IN Christ in this life also stirs up Satan’s anger? Most of us as worldly people had never known the suffering that we have gone through since we were born from above in Christ. The enemy hates Christ and he hates those He lives and manifests Himself in. T. Austin-Sparks wrote about this fact so well.

May I remind you that the nature of this planting is just that with which we are so familiar. “Planted together in the likeness of His death.” That is the word of the Apostle, “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection.” The enemy is the instrument so often, of planting us more deeply into the death of Christ. His assaults, his attacks, his accusations, everything – yes. The Lord is not the source of evil, but the Lord allows it. So often our hearts cry out: “Why did the Lord ever allow that in our lives?” That thing which has meant such a deep, dark passage. Why did the Lord allow it? He could have prevented it. Well, we were planted by it into the death of the Lord Jesus. We were brought more than ever to an end of ourselves. Yes, and therefore, to know the Lord in a larger measure than we have ever known Him, and to be brought to a place where it will not be so easy for the Devil to shake us next time.

That is the sovereign way of God in deeper death experiences. “Planted together in the likeness of His death.” Have you been planted there initially? Have you been planted in Christ crucified? Or are you one of those attachments to something? Are you planted? And when a deeper planting comes, remember it is the roots being driven downwards, and the issue is going to be most surely endurance, stability, and ability to stand; but, oh, there is going to be greater fruitfulness. [1]

Yes, most of our suffering since we were planted in Christ has been at the hands of the demons of hell. But it is also true that God said, “Those whom I love, I rebuke and chasten…” and He does this to get us back on the right path again when we wander. Yet, we often suffer when we have not sinned or done anything to deserve it. As in Christ, in all this suffering God has a purpose–that we might live “also in the likeness of his resurrection.” Have you ever met dear older saint who has a sweetness about them that draws you? They seem to radiate God’s love no matter what comes their way. When you do you just want to sit there in silence and hold their hand and soak it up, especially if you have been going through a time of suffering yourself. Words in a moment like this can only take away from what God is doing. True fellowship in the Spirit goes so much deeper than words. When God makes it happen it is like experiencing heaven itself. Oh, the glory that is our in the unity of the Father and the Son!

The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:22-23, ESV2011)

Our lives on this earth as God’s children are all about death and resurrection and every moment is in His hands as He conforms us into the image of His Son. Satan never has the authority to do anything to us that is not in our Father’s designed outcome–that He might have many sons and daughters who manifest HIS glory and the glory of His Son. My dear brothers and sisters it is all worth it!

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Heb 12:11, ESV2011)

Remember, dear brothers and sisters,

…Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, (2Cor 4:16-17, ESV2011)

Dear Daddy, please give these dear saints who suffer a brief moment of experiencing that glory that they might be strengthened and push on for the goal that they might share the glory of your Son. Amen.

[1] http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/002932.html

The Common Misconception of Christian Authority

In this blog Susanne brings out the difference between doing things FOR God as opposed to only what HE gives you to do by HIS power and covering. As a Christian there is much to take to heart here in the article as well as the comments.

Entering the Promised Land

Have you ever heard about Christians having been given a special kind of authority on the grounds of calling themselves a Christian? You know this kind of supernatural ‘power’ that is to enable us to share our testimony wherever and whenever or to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything” (Mt 28:19-20 NIV) that Jesus has said? Others might have been taught that as soon as the devil attacks us, we should put on the whole armor of God (Eph 6:11-18) so that we can resist him. Hmm…  🙄 If you ever tried this and that and you failed, I am afraid you were not the only one. Me too!  🙂 In fact, I thank God for letting us know that simply following the written…

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We Are Individually Members One of Another

biblepic.com

As I was reading my daily devotional by T. Austin-Sparks [1] something jumped off the page and into my heart. The lead verse in this missive read,

For as in one body we have many members… so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Rom 12:4-5, ESV2011)

It was the word, “individually” that got my attention. God places us not only in Christ’s body in a general way, but in an individual way. Yes, we are part of what is called “the Church,” but this has been way over-emphasized, so much so that we can’t see the trees for the forest. When we think of “church” we think of a mass of people coming together on Sunday (Catholics even call this “the mass”) in a very impersonal way. We are arranged in rows facing forward so we can see the face of the pastor and hear his words, only being allowed to see the backs of hundreds of heads which we call “church members.” And they call this fellowship? Is this really what Paul had in mind when he referred to us as being ONE in Christ’s body and members one of another?

In this system we call “doing church,” how much individual interconnection in Christ’s Spirit do we really have? Think about it–this system even divides families, God’s building block of humanity. Under its rule we have little time to be together as a family. As soon as we hit the door the children are ushered off to the nursery or “children’s church.” Then there is “teen church,” the “adult Sunday school class” and during the week there is “men’s fellowship,” the “women’s Bible study,” “Wednesday night prayer meeting,” etc. Everything is about division under the rigid control of an appointed leader. Let’s face it, most of the involvement we have in that system is controlled by a human head and is anything but an organic connection where we are “individually members one of another” with Christ’s Spirit leading and inspiring our fellowship.

So, as I was reading the above passage from Romans, the Spirit was making it clear that there is an inner-working of the individual members of Christ’s body where we, as in the case of a human body, are interconnected in an interdependent way, INDIVIDUALLY members of one another. Elsewhere, Paul wrote, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” (1Cor 12:21, ESV2011), yet do we live that way with one another? Isn’t there a cold indifference in our church membership outside of our organized meetings?

Sparks went on to write about an even greater intimacy between members of the body of Christ where one member is suffering and we feel it in a personal way.

We are a part of a Body. Many of our sufferings are not on our own account at all. Many of the sufferings of the children of God have nothing whatever to do with their own faults or their own failing. They are suffering in a related way, they are suffering for the Body’s sake, they are entering into the battle; the conflict of this one great testimony. Sometimes it is almost uncanny when the Lord has something in view in relation to His testimony of Life, how for no reason whatever, on no account at all, we discover that we are involved and ours is not an isolated experience. All sorts of people all over the place are having the same kind of experience – a terrific sense of pressure, upset, annoyance, anything to frustrate – it is happening all round, testifying that in the spiritual realm, in the realm of the Spirit, there is a fine, sensitive oneness which matters to the Lord, and therefore matters to the enemy.

Do not always take your sufferings as some controversy that the Lord has with you. That is the twist the enemy often gives. Be open to the Lord to be checked up on anything, but do not always take it that the things which are happening to you and causing you trouble and suffering are due to your own failure or wrong. You are involved in something very much more than that. [2]

One time my wife and I were at a “couples weekend retreat” and the opening meeting was on a Friday night at a lodge on a scenic lake in north Idaho. As the meeting started, the leader of this function said he was feeling a heaviness in his spirit for some reason and asked us all to start by praying for the Lord’s direction as to what it could be. I also was feeling this heaviness and as I prayed, I heard the following words, “Rachel weeping for her children because they were not.” When we were through praying, he asked what we might have heard and I shared that verse. I sensed there had been a massacre somewhere, just as this passage was speaking of all those babies who were killed by Herod in Bethlehem that day (see Matthew 2:16-18). We were all puzzled until we got home and heard the news. That very day the massacre at Jonestown had taken place and we were feeling the tragedy of so many innocent people being killed by that maniacal cult’s leadership.

Yes, we who are members of Christ’s body ARE members one of another corporately as well as individually. Have you ever been so knit together with another member that you could feel their sorrow and their joy without even physically being with them or hearing from them to find out about it? You see, Paul spoke of us being individually members one of another. The members of Christ’s body that He has knit us together with in His Spirit have this happen quite often. If we have offended one of them, we can’t stand it until we make it right. We feel the heart-rending separation. We also feel their joy and rejoice. This is true most often with husbands and wives, but it can happen with others who He has brought together as “members one of another.” We can be so knit together that we often have the same thoughts or even find ourselves speaking the same words at the same time. This is where it gets exciting, being made one even as the Son is one with the Father. Jesus said, “I only speak the words that I hear my Father saying.” Isn’t this what Jesus was praying for us to experience as His last will and testament before He died?

The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:22-23, ESV2011)

That we who are members of His body may become perfectly ONE in His love, this is His will for us. You see, dear saints, anything less than this is not normal Christianity. We who are Christians have settled for so much less in today’s Laodicean church system. Lukewarmness involves much more that a lackadaisical on again off again church attendance. Lukewarmness is being content with anything less than the unity among us of the Father and the Son. God is not satisfied with the status of today’s church and neither should we be content with it in our own lives. Some of us are driven to walk in the unity of the Father and the Son with other members of the body of Christ because we have tasted it. I pray that you all may experience this in the Spirit as well.

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (Ps 34:8, ESV2011)

[1] http://austin-sparks.net/subscribe.html

[2] http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/002986.html

I Have Not Come to Bring Peace, but the Sword

Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

The first thing this morning I got up and prayed that the Lord would speak to me regarding the struggle I have been having as I watch the upheaval in the American government. I know I’m not alone. It seems that all over the internet on Christian sites, people both liberal and conservative are writing and preaching about how their side is “God’s side.” If we have eyes to see, this should show us how much the flesh is still in control of our hearts. Dear saints, our only salvation and hope is in the deep working of the cross within each one of us. Jesus prophesied of these times we are in that are splitting governments, churches and yes, even families.

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matt 10:34-39, ESV2011)

This has been quite literal for many of us, sons against fathers, daughters against mothers, daughters-in-law against mothers-in-law. Even our worst enemies being of our own households? Why is this so? Is it because of ethnic or political divisions or is it something much deeper? Have you ever considered that the deeper Christ calls us into HIS kingdom and out of this world by the work of His cross in us, it would put an ever increasing barrier between us and those we love who aren’t there yet?

Many of us just want to live in peace with our families and neighbors. But if that peace is a result of being of the same worldly or even religious mindset, is it the peace that God gives or something so shallow that the slightest assault of the enemy can blow it all apart? Jesus said:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27, ESV2011)

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, ESV2011)

Yes, in this world we will have tribulation, so we must quit looking to the world and what its leaders can and are doing. It is all of the kosmos, the world system controlled by Satan that is against Christ and wants to displace Him from being our Lord of all. So where will we find that peace? It is only to be found IN Him. As we abide IN Him, we also overcome the world and all its upheaval. The in-working of the cross is our doorway to heavenly peace as it separates us from the world. Once again T. Austin Sparks wrote something that cleared the air for me and I want to share it.

As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died. (Galatians 6:14 NLT)

A truly crucified people are never in danger of the world. It is only when the Cross has not done its work that the world has a place. The world has no place with a crucified man or woman, or a crucified company of believers. The Cross is a great defensive against the world. If you want to keep the world out, put the Cross in its place. If the Cross is truly in its place in fullness, then everything else will come into order. The Cross is the great defensive against the world. The Cross is the great defensive against evil powers. The Cross makes everything safe; it makes everything safe for the Lord.

You see, the Lord wants to commit Himself. He wants to trust Himself to His people, but if the Cross is not there at work, the Lord cannot trust Himself to them. The Lord says, “It is not safe for Me to give Myself there, or I should be involved in their un-crucified condition.” The Cross makes everything safe for the Lord, and the Cross makes everything safe for the Church. If the Cross is really at work in all of us, we can trust one another. It is quite safe to trust yourself to a crucified man or woman. [1]

Another thing happens as we yield to the cross of Christ working in our lives. The deeper it goes, the more unpopular we become with worldly Christians. As Sparks wrote, “It is only when the Cross has not done its work that the world has a place.” Or as Paul wrote, “Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died.” The closer Jesus got to taking up His cross and laying down His life in obedience to the will of His Father, the thinner the crowds that followed Him. He went from being followed by thousands of people singing His praises as their Messiah (who they thought would deliver them from the Romans) down to the twelve disciples, and one of them betrayed Him while the others ran away in total disillusionment.

Sparks wrote, “You see, the Lord wants to commit Himself. He wants to trust Himself to His people, but if the Cross is not there at work, the Lord cannot trust Himself to them.” We read of Jesus dealing with this very thing in the Gospel of John. “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 2:24-25, KJ2000). Oh, what is in man! Today we hear all around us of men testifying of men, Trump this and Biden that! Yes, Jesus wants to commit Himself to us and trust us, but that can only be done as much as the cross has done its soul killing work in us. Our soulish political and familial desires keep Him from revealing to us the deep things of His Father’s kingdom and they keep us from walking in the light as He is in the light. Dear saints, may we all learn to embrace the working of His cross in our daily lives and look to Him in all things instead of men as this world unravels.

And he [Saul] said, Who are you, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom you persecute: it is hard for you to kick against the goads. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what will you have me to do? … (Acts 9:5-6, KJ2000)

[1] http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/000434.html

A National day of Prayer and Fasting

I was prompted to read and share this proclamation by a leader that understood God and what He wanted of a nation that was going through what America is about to face as the unrest builds in our country. Remember, “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” and this applies to nations as well as individuals. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.” mdc

Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day Washington, D.C.
March 30, 1863
Senator James Harlan of Iowa, whose daughter later married President Lincoln’s son Robert, introduced this Resolution in the Senate on March 2, 1863. The Resolution asked President Lincoln to proclaim a national day of prayer and fasting. The Resolution was adopted on March 3, and signed by Lincoln on March 30, one month before the fast day was observed.
http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/fast.htm

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

Whereas, the Senate of the United States, devoutly recognizing the Supreme Authority and just Government of Almighty God, in all the affairs of men and of nations, has, by a resolution, requested the President to designate and set apart a day for National prayer and humiliation.

And whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.

And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!

It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.

Now, therefore, in compliance with the request, and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do, by this my proclamation, designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th. day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer. And I do hereby request all the People to abstain, on that day, from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.

All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this thirtieth day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty seventh.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward, Secretary of State.

“These Are Times that Try Men’s Souls”

Painting of Thomas Paine

I am by my human nature a political creature. I speak this as a confession of weakness. Times like these try not only my soul (my mind, will and emotions), but my faith as well, revealing where I place my trust and hope. We Americans (and much of the rest of the world) are watching our bodies and souls being taxed by Covid 19 and all the laws and rules that governments are putting in place to keep both this disease and ourselves contained, regardless of our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. Speaking of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine prophetically wrote in 1776, “These are times that try men’s souls.” It’s our souls that are being tried! I just read the following this morning on a web news site:

Trump campaign fundraiser, Pamela Martin, said at a rally in Washington D.C. on Saturday, there is no doubt that President Trump won the election, but that it was stolen and she wants to take it back, adding that the battle is both spiritual and physical [so far, so good]. She continued,

God is in charge. There are many corrupt judges, all the way up to the top, and that will be turned around by God. God will see that every enemy be turned down. Victory will be here because President Donald Trump is one of our greatest presidents in all of history.”

And I will tell you this, nobody, nobody can come against God and his army and his army is the people, that people and the Constitution of the United States and every single person standing here will stand for Him,” Martin said. [1]

It seems that America is also filled with false prophets these days, all thinking that Christian America is God’s answer to all that the world needs. I used to think that way before Jesus saved me from right-wing politics. He took a heart of stone out of me and replaced it with a heart that could respond to His Spirit with love for all mankind, not just conservatives. Back then, anyone to the left of where I stood was suspect! Before God intervened over 50 years ago, I truly hated everyone I perceived as attacking or trying to pull down my “America the Beautiful.” Yes, for me “God, Jesus and Country” were on equal footing in my religious pantheon. But is this what Jesus taught us 2000 years ago?

In your reading of the Gospels, have you noticed that Jesus was not political? Most Jews back then equated Israel and Jerusalem as God’s seat of government on this earth. The chief priests and Pharisees thought they were God’s gift to mankind and when the Messiah came, He would place them in His seats of power in the new administration. They were “God’s People” and that’s all there was to it! They even had the throne of God right there in their temple – never mind that the Holy of Holies had not had the Arc of the Covenant, where God’s glory once shone, in it for centuries! Let’s look at what the scriptures say.

Yet the most High dwells not in temples made with hands; as says the prophet, Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will you build me? says the Lord: or what is the place of my rest? Has not my hand made all these things? (Acts 7:48-50, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from here… Every one that is of the truth hears my voice.” (John 18:36-37, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

And when the disciples were infatuated with the temple and all its buildings Jesus said,

“As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” (Luke 21:6, ESV2011)

With all these things being true, Christianity still is all about putting up great buildings “for the glory of God” until this very day. When I see just how material Christianity is, I wonder if we really know what Covenant we are of? Didn’t Jesus also say, “The kingdom of God comes not with outward observation.Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” And, “Wherever two or three of you are gathered together in my name, I am there.”

The Jews wanted to kill Jesus, their Messiah, and their leaders were appealing to Pilate to crucify Him. Why? Because He did not perform according to their political expectations. He didn’t come as a mighty general leading a vast army to deliver them from the Romans. The more things change, the more they remain the same! The leaders of the Jews were totally political, so much so that they no longer wanted the will of God or recognized when God was no longer dealing with them according to the Old Covenant.

For finding fault with them, he says, Behold, the days come, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, says the Lord… In that he says, A new covenant, he has made the first old. Now that which decays and grows old is ready to vanish away. (Heb 8:8-13, KJ2000)

No, they refused the New Covenant of grace given them because, as enforcers of the Old Covenant law, they had stature and power over men. Consider this passage:

So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man [Jesus] performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” (John 11:47-48, ESV2011)

They forgot that God does not take sides with human governments and armies but rather with HIS Son and all who are walking by His Spirit IN Him! Yet, to this day religious zealots insist that God is on their side! To this He still answers, “NO: but I!”

When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come”… (Josh 5:13-14, ESV2011)

At the time of the above passage, Israel had finally fallen in line with the will of God after forty years of rebellion in the wilderness with Him finally forsaking that generation. The one thing that I find troubling about President Trump (not that I like Joe Biden any better) is his pride and the pride in Christians who stand behind him as if they are “God’s Army.” Many of us want to see America turn to Christ and be healed, but God has made a requirement before this can happen. He “resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Solomon had just finished his palace and the temple as a place of sacrifice in Jerusalem when God said to him,

When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence [Heb. Loimos – a pestilence, any deadly infectious malady] among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2Chr 7:13-14, ESV2011)

I would say that Covid 19 is one of the most “deadly infectious maladies” that the world has had to deal with in modern times. We can build up our mighty armies and concoct our medical cures to deal with enemies and diseases, but as Bob Mumford once said, “If you fix the fix that God fixes to fix you, then He will fix another fix to fix you!” Yes, until we humble ourselves and pray in brokenness and truly start walking in the Spirit as HIS people, we can expect our enemies to continue to gain power over us and Covid 19 will not be the last plague that we will have to deal with in this world.

It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes. (Ps 118:8-9, KJ2000)

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded… Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (Jas 4:8-10, ESV2011)

Thomas Paine concluded his treatise, “The American Crisis,” by saying something even more profound,

“Yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”

Or as Paul put it, “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” (Rom 8:37, KJ2000)

[1] https://www.theepochtimes.com/trump-campaign-fundraiser-this-is-a-spiritual-battle_3616489.html

We Have ONE Mediator Not Many

Picture taken at a rest stop along the highway in central Idaho

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all… (1Tim 2:5-6, ESV2011)

The Lord drew my attention today to this word mediator. He wanted me to see just what a great and thorough salvation we have been given to us in Jesus Christ. So I looked up the definition of mediator in Vine’s Dictionary of New Testament Words and found the following:

<Grk. mesites>

lit., “a go-between” (from mesos, “middle,” and eimi, “to go”), is used in two ways in the NT, (a) “one who mediates” between two parties with a view to producing peace, as in 1Ti 2:5, though more than mere “mediatorship” is in view, for the salvation of men necessitated that the Mediator should Himself possess the nature and attributes of Him towards whom He acts, and should likewise participate in the nature of those for whom He acts (sin apart); only by being possessed both of deity and humanity could He comprehend the claims of the one and the needs of the other; further, the claims and the needs could be met only by One who, Himself being proved sinless, would offer Himself an expiatory sacrifice on behalf of men; (b) “one who acts as a guarantee” so as to secure something which otherwise would not be obtained. Thus in Heb 8:6; Heb 9:15; Heb 12:24 Christ is the Surety of “the better covenant,” “the new covenant,” guaranteeing its terms for His people.

Mesites not only means “to go and stand in the middle,” but to accomplish the task for whom He was sent. God sent Jesus to the earth with not only His own attributes and mind, but he was given the attributes and understanding of mere men, yet without sin. Or as it says in the letter to the Hebrews:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb 4:14-16, ESV2011)

What can be added to that? Our salvation has been made complete as we abide by faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. This is why the writer of Hebrews goes on to emphasize that there remains a rest for the people of God and warns us not miss that place of rest like the Hebrew people did in the wilderness. How do we miss it? By not resting, but rather choosing to do works, the works of the law, and the works of religion as we try to justify our existence as Christians. Yet the scriptures tell us, “The just shall live by faith.”

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2:8-9, ESV2011)

Even our faith is a free gift from God and not something we conjure up by positive thinking. Our salvation and faith is not of works! We rest in Christ as sons and daughters of God.

As I thought on this it became clear to me just how many “mediators” we who call ourselves “Christians” cling to in our constant state of un-rest, even though Paul makes it clear that there is only ONE Mediator between us and God. These can all be summed up as works, dead works!

For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb 9:13-14, KJV)

The writer of Hebrews was addressing the works of religion. We can serve our dead works or we can walk by the Spirit and serve God. In this same chapter about entering into God’s rest we read,

…Today, after so long a time; as it is said, Today if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. (Heb 4:7, KJ2000)

“While it is yet today” we are to enter into His rest. Today means moment by moment, living in the now. When we are bound by sin and our self-centered ways we are driven by thoughts of the past, by guilt or by worries of what tomorrow may bring. God’s voice is in the now. He calls Himself, the I AM, not the I Was or the I Will Be. We must leave our old ways of doing things and stop listening to our own thoughts long enough to hear HIS voice moment by moment while it is still called “Today.” We don’t listen to His voice because we habitually listen to our own inner voice and the confusion of our own thoughts. God calls this state of affairs a hardened heart. Yes, today after so long a time we must start listening to His voice, and when we obey that voice we start doing live works instead of dead works.

These dead works were being done by Jewish Christians, Hebrews who were still clinging to the Old Covenant. For them it was all about what the voice of God said Yesterday! All their religious activities were separating them from the perfect work of Christ as their ONE Mediator. They were still loyal to that other mediator of the Old Covenant, the Law of Moses, instead of the New Covenant of the Living Christ (See Jeremiah 31-31-34). They failed to enter into the Promised Land because of unbelief. They had works, but no faith and rebellion against God was the result.

Christianity has many traditions that we as Christians rigidly cling to that are not to be found in the New Testament writings. These traditions stand between us and God and displace Christ as our Mediator. We use them as a shield in our unbelief, just like Adam and Eve who made themselves garments of fig leaves to cover their nakedness after they sinned. Some of our traditions are regular church attendance, tithing, Sunday school, church hierarchy, the need for “all things spiritual” to take place in a special religious building, fellowship based on believing in and adhering to the same doctrines, outward appearances rather than being adorned by the hidden beauty of a heart that is resting in God, or receiving one another only to get into “doubtful disputations.” etc. There is no end to this list. Each of these things we judge as necessary to please God. They are MEDIATORS! They stand “in the middle (mesos)” between us and God and displace Christ as our All, the ONE Mediator between God and man, the Living Logos of God. Jesus told the law keeping Jews, “So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.” (Matt 15:6, ESV2011) This condition contributes to us failing to enter into our Father’s rest because they are all of works and not of faith alone in Jesus Christ. There is no “Jesus And.” He is either our All in all or He is nothing at all. Paul wrote,

That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Eph 1:17-23, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

Christ is our Head, not men. He is our fullness. All we can do is walk by faith and abide in God’s perfect rest as we abide in Jesus. Man was created at the end of the sixth day for a reason, that we might walk with God in His seventh day of rest and abide in heavenly places IN Christ. We must labor therefore to enter into that rest (see Hebrews 4:10) and cease from all our (religious) works as God ceased from His works and rested. The origins of religion (the offerings of Cain and Abel) were the direct result of sin consciousness. By faith in Christ we are set free of sin consciousness. Christ is the fulfillment not only of the Old Covenant law, but also of any laws that we might construe from reading the New Testament. There is nothing we can do or adhere to that can add to what Jesus has already done. Are all works dead works? No, if we do not harden our hearts and obey His voice within, the resulting works will be enlivened by His Spirit and will bring forth good fruit. If we are truly IN Christ as our Life, what can we add to that? As John put it, “In Him was Life and the Life was the light of men,” and it still is!

“…for you are the temple of the living God; as God has said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (2Cor 6:16, KJ2000)

Blessed Is He Who Is Not Offended in Me

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

As it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Rom 9:33, ESV2011)

John the Baptist was in King Herod’s prison because he dared to preach against that man’s sinful ways. Herod and his mistress (his brother’s wife) were greatly offended with him, so John was looking at a death sentence. John had been preaching in the wilderness as the forerunner of Jesus the Messiah, telling all who heard him to repent and prepare their hearts to receive the Christ who was about to come. But what does the scripture say about this Messiah? What would He be like (See Isaiah ch. 53)?

The Spirit of God was upon John and his preaching offended many, but had he forgotten that even Jesus and His ways would be a stone of stumbling? We go on to read that while he was in prison, John sent messengers to Jesus to ask Him a question.

“John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” …And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Luke 7:19-23, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

In our immaturity as new Christians, we have often received a gospel that if we just accept Jesus into our hearts everything will be wonderful from then on. After the Spirit comes into us, things do seem to be all new and blessings abound. Having the love of Christ in us is a real heartwarming experience. But our Father is not raising up “hot house Christians.” At first we may be protected from the elements like plants in a greenhouse, but eventually those plants have to be set out to face the real world of cold nights and biting insects.

So here we have John, who had been looked up to by thousands as the incarnation of “Elijah the prophet who would come before the great and terrible day of the Lord (See Malachi 4:5-6).” But now he was in prison and his only hope was that Jesus would do something about it as a conquering Messiah. “If you are really the One, then get me out of here!” And what was Jesus’ reply? He enumerated the many things that marked Him as the Messiah and then said, “Blessed is he who is not offended with me.” What? What does that have to do with anything?

You see, my dear Christian friends, if we are to be conformed into the image of Christ, something is necessary. We must see Him as HE is with spiritual eyes, not how we want Him to be in our immaturity. Oh, How we love to be healed, how we love to have everything we need provided by Him. Remember the crowds that wanted to make Him King because He fed them? But they were soon offended with Him because He preached hard things. The offense that day was so great that not only the large crowd of thousands left Him but even His 70 disciples ceased to follow Him (see John ch. 6). It is one thing to feast on free loaves and fishes, but another thing to eat His flesh and drink His blood.

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. (John 6:52-56, ESV2011)

What did He mean by this saying? Many were offended with Him that day for He put them to the test. In effect He was saying, “You followed me because I fed you, but will you follow me to the cross? Will you partake in my cup of sufferings or will a suffering and dying Messiah be too much for you? Didn’t Jesus say, “If any man will be my disciple let him take up HIS cross and follow me.” THIS is what it means to eat His flesh and drink His blood. Christ in us will be persecuted. Suffering will come into our lives. We loved Jesus as our provider who made “everything come up roses,” but will we take up our own cross and continue to follow Him even unto death? He was talking about something much deeper than eating a cracker and drinking a thimble of grape juice in a religious ritual on “communion Sunday” when it comes to eating His flesh and drinking His blood. He was talking about “the fellowship of His sufferings.” John had entered into the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings in Herod’s prison. Just as he was the forerunner of the gospel, he was soon to become the forerunner in type of Christ’s death.

We are now living in a time where people are acting out of great offense which Jesus foretold. saying,

And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures [Grk. hupomeno – to bear up courageously] to the end will be saved. (Matt 24:12-13, ESV2011)

Lawlessness is the byword of this hour. Everywhere we look in this world people are rising up and protesting, rioting, looting and even killing one another. All authority has become their target, even literally as we see policemen killed in the streets for trying to enforce the law and officials homes being attacked at night terrifying their families. Men are casting off all restraint. Is this something strange? Job described what we are seeing in our streets around the world.

But God has loosened his cord and afflicted me; so they’ve cast off all restraints in my presence. A wretched crowd ambushes me to my right; they trip my feet; they build up their path of calamity for me. They tear up my pathways; they profit from my destruction [looting], and they need no help to do this! They come like those who breach through a wall; as everything crashes around me they’ll roll on and on! (Job 30:11-14, ISV)

Need I say more? The question is, will we who are Christians let the love of Christ leave our hearts as we become offended and react in kind or will we endure in His love unto the end? Yes, the true gospel of Christ will bring with it an offense into our lives. Our natural man, our old natures, will be offended.

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up.” (Matt 15:12-13, ESV2011)

The times we are in will test us as to whether our Father has really planted us IN Christ or we are simply “hot house Christians” who bought into a false prosperity gospel or some other convenient lie. Yes, “blessed is he who is not offended in me.”

Oh Father, give us your grace and change our hearts so that we are not offended in all that you are allowing to come upon us. Open the eyes of our hearts so that we truly see that “ALL things work together for those who love God and are called according to Your purpose.” Amen.

Are We Supposed to Fit?

Two of our grand daughters walking together when we took them to the zoo in Seattle

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. (Heb 11:13, ESV2011)

How many of us really relate to the above verse? The more this world system rots from within the more isolated we feel… cut off from anything that we once found comfort in. Our streets have been taken over by rioters and demonstrators who use filthy language, our government is at war with what was once considered good and acceptable and even church services we once enjoyed seem distant and far away.

A couple of days ago, I was reading an article by T. Austin-Sparks titled, “Jealousy for God,” and as I read, it became an overlay of my experiences in organized Christianity. In his article he started out with the life of Elijah, how he was jealous for God and His rightful place among the people of Israel. His very presence in the land made him a hated target because he was the opposite of all that Ahab and Jezebel stood for. Elijah stood with God in His Spirit and Ahab, Jezebel, 450 false prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the groves who ate at Jezebel’s table were all under the influence of the devil. Most of the people of Israel were completely under their influence as well. As a result he felt all alone while they had lots of company as they worshiped in their temples under the blessings of the king and queen and all the false prophets. The apostle Paul quoted Elijah,

“Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. (Rom 11:3-5, ESV2011)

Many hundreds of years later, we see a member of this “remnant chosen by grace” standing alone against the apostate Jewish system that killed their Messiah out of pure jealousy. A young man named Stephen stood before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. He was all alone as he spoke up for God and His Son, Jesus Christ. Stephen’s words struck at the heart of all that was wrong with the Jews and their temple worship and they hated him for it!

But it was Solomon who built a house for him.Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says, “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?’ “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” (Acts 7:47-53, ESV2011)

The more things change, the more they remain the same. False prophets, false religious systems, and false worship. Where in the New Testament did Jesus or the apostles command the early Christians to go out and build church buildings and cathedrals to worship in? No, Jesus told the woman at the well that true worship did not require religions and building, “They who worship God must worship Him in Spirit and in truth.” Peter made it clear that the true church of God was not a system of buildings.

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1Pet 2:4-5, ESV2011)

It is this spiritual house built by God, those who walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh that is the Church and they are a threat to the very system that draws attention and worship away from Christ unto itself. This is why they killed Stephen! His face shone like that of an angel and theirs was the face of the devil. Darkness cannot stand in the presence of God’s Light.

Sparks points out that in this apostate system that focuses on buildings and human hierarchy, anyone who dares to speak the truth and tries to bring Christians back into worshiping in spirit and in truth is considered a “trouble maker.” Human nature in its fleshly ways takes those things that are holy and pulls them down onto this earthly plane, and anyone who dares to point this out is a threat to the status quo. If you dare to speak to these things in today’s churches, you will get the same reception that Stephen got when he spoke out in one of their synagogues long ago. Anyone who lifts up Christ in His body and draws attention to Him is a threat and the jealousy of false prophets, false pastors, and false apostles, etc., will rise up in a foaming rage.

Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him…” (Acts 7:54-58, ESV2011)

T. Austin-Sparks describes what we can expect when we walk in the Light as Stephen did.

Now that touches a principle. You and I, on the broadest basis of the Christian life, are here in this world in this very capacity, to straddle the path of iniquity, of sin – of the very course of man – and to represent a check; and because we are here for that, we shall be called ‘trouble makers’. In a very real sense we shall BE trouble makers. The trouble will focus itself upon us, and we shall have to suffer for it. The very fact that you are jealous for the Lord will bring you into conflict with that trend that there is in this world, in man. It is going to be a really gruelling business for any testimony for God in this world, because, in the very nature of things, it counters the whole course of this world, which is downhill.

That is, as I have said, the broad line of the principle. Let us get nearer to the heart of things, so far as what is represented by this chapter is concerned. When the SPIRITUAL stands to confront the merely formal, traditional, nominal and ‘natural’, then there is going to be trouble. This is not now merely the reaction from the world: it is the reaction from religion. I would go further, and say it may be the reaction from Christianity. There is a very great difference between formal, traditional, nominal, ‘natural’ Christianity, on the one side, and spiritual Christianity, on the other; a great deal of difference. So much so, that this also becomes a battlefield – the battlefield of a lot of trouble.

Leave formalism alone, and everything will go on quite quietly. Leave traditionalism alone – that is, the set order of things as it has always been; that framework of things as it has been constituted and set up and established by man; that Christianity which is the fixed, accepted system of things – and you will escape a great deal of trouble. But seek to bring in a truly spiritual order of things, and trouble arises at once. And YOU are the trouble maker! The truth is that the trouble lies in the existing condition, the situation, the state; but it is only brought out by your action. And so spiritual men and women, and spiritual ministry, are called ‘trouble makers’, because the two things cannot go on together.

That is where Israel was. They had the traditions, they had the oracles, they had the ordinances, they had the testimonies; they had the forms, they had the system – they had it all; BUT, in the days of the prophets, there was ever this vast gap between the ‘externals’ and ‘internals’ of life in relation with God. The heart is far removed from the lips. The spiritual reality is not found in the formal. You may have it all – but then bring in the truly spiritual meaning of things, and trouble begins in that very realm. It is the trouble which arises when what is external and traditional comes into conflict with something which is truly spiritual….

When, therefore, there is the purest testimony, the fullest expression of what is of God, the heavenly over against the earthly, the spiritual over against the carnal or the natural, the enemy gives a turn to things, a twist to things, and lays the responsibility at the door of a spiritual and a heavenly ministry. He says: ‘You are the cause of all the trouble – you are the troubler!’ But no. The trouble lies deeper than that, and in another realm. The truth is, there is something here that, in its very nature, MUST create trouble, MUST be a source of trouble, so long as God’s known will, His revealed mind, is being violated; while the full expression of God’s purpose is being withstood. To bring in something that stands for that, there is going to be trouble.

http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/001248.html

This spiritual principle will probably seem strange to many Christians who read this article, but I know that some of you who have had a spiritual walk similar to my own where no matter how hard you tried to fit-in and “be one of the boys” in that church system, the more you were rejected and persecuted. You might have thought, “Well, maybe if I just kept my mouth shut and smiled they would welcome me,” but that didn’t work for long either. It is not the words alone that offend, it is the Who that is in YOU that bothers them! “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship,” but only then. It is a heart thing. Out of many frustrating attempts to be part of that system, I cried out to God, “Lord, I DON’T FIT! I just DON’T FIT!” To this He replied, “YOU are not supposed to FIT!” Some of us like Stephen or Elijah have a “prophetic gifting” that makes us a target no matter what. If we walk into a room full of religious people they immediately know we aren’t one of them. I have written this article to you, hoping that you might find some comfort in knowing it is alright not to FIT, but rather as John did, find your  place at the breast of Jesus Christ instead of nursing at the breasts of men.

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2Cor 3:4-6, ESV2011)

Could it Be What We Consider “Normal Christianity” Is Not of Christ?

Have you ever looked around what calls itself “church” today, then looked for it in the New Testament and wondered what happened to that simple faith the saints of old once practiced? For instance, nowhere in the sacred writings will you find a paid clergy. Those who ministered in Christ did so as humble servants among the faithful and did so without begging for or demanding a salary in order to perform. In fact, in his final words to the elders of the church of Ephesus, Paul described his work among them as something quite opposite of what is the accepted norm today.

And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:32-35, ESV2011)

Yes, there were those who donated to the work of Christ from time to time, but that was not his focus. If anything Paul worked not only to support himself, but those who ministered with him and those who dear saints who were poor or too weak to support themselves. In this he was an example to those who were leaders, the elders of the church. And, no, there was no such thing as “the chief elder” in these churches. Jesus made it clear to the disciples what leadership in the churches should be… it should be just like Him.

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones 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 even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45, ESV2011)

No, there was no mandatory tithing because that was of the Old Testament law. They were of the New Covenant, where the Holy Spirit led those who had been given a NEW heart and a NEW mind, the mind of Christ (see Hebrews ch. 8). You will also note that Paul in the above quote from Acts commended them over “to God and the word of His grace,” not some well educated pastor to expound his knowledge to them each Sunday (this is why Jesus said he would send the Spirit after He arose and that He would lead us into all truth). It is from this heart and inspiration that Paul was speaking to these Ephesian elders in his final farewell. The sign of true leadership in the church is unbound generosity, doing whatever the love of Christ compels.

Another thing we do not see in the New Testament Church is “churches!” Yes, there were no church buildings to be found in the New Testament. That came much later, after those who knew the teachings of the apostles had died off. These early saints met together in their homes after persecution forbade them to do so in a public forum like Solomon’s Porch. The fact that they had no temples like the pagan worshipers made them suspect among the populous. These non-believers even called them “pagans” because of this! How can a person worship their god without a temple or building and a priest system to lead their worship? Sound familiar?

No, there were no churches, no tithing, and no paid professional clergy, those things so foundational to Christianity today. You might be wondering where the system we see today known as “the churches” came from and why Christianity as we know it is so weak and ineffective compared to the early church who were accused of “turning the world upside down” (see Acts 17:6). We can thank Emperor Constantine for that as he took power over the the Roman Empire and every aspect of leadership in it. This week I got a new laptop, and while moving all my files and apps over to it, I had to reinstall my favorite Bible program, The Word. While doing so, I found an extensive book on this subject titled, Miller’s Church History from which I quote the following:

The reign of Constantine the Great forms a most important epoch in the history of the church. Both his father Constantius and his mother Helena were religiously inclined, and always favourable to the Christians. Some years of Constantine’s youth were spent at the court of Diocletian and Galerius in the character of a hostage. He witnessed the publication of the persecuting edict at Nicomedia in 303, and the horrors which followed. Having effected his escape, he joined his father in Britain. In 306 Constantius died at York. He had nominated as his successor his son Constantine, who was accordingly saluted Augustus by the army. He continued and extended the toleration which his father had bestowed on the Christians.

There were now six pretenders to the sovereignty of the empire — Galerius, Licinius, Maximian, Maxentius, Maximin and Constantine. A scene of contention followed, scarcely paralleled in the annals of Rome. Among these rivals, Constantine possessed a decided superiority in prudence and abilities, both military and political. In the year 312 Constantine entered Rome victorious. In 313 a new edict was issued, by which the persecuting edicts of Diocletian were repealed, the Christians encouraged, their teachers honoured, and the professors of Christianity advanced to places of trust and influence in the state. This [brought about a] great change in the history of the church… 1

What was this great change? This is where “the wheels fell of the wagon.” The church under Constantine’s favor soon went from being a persecuted, worldly weak, but spiritually effective entity, to being spiritually weak and preeminent part of the Roman Empire. Quoting from Jesus’ corrective word to the seven churches in Revelation Miller continues:

epa04173136 Russian Orthodox Church bishop Panteleimon (R) spreads incense during a cross procession, while celebrating Easter Day at the Church of Christ’s Resurrection in Moscow, Russia, early 20 April 2014. EPA/SERGEI CHIRIKOV

In Ephesus we see the first point of departure, leaving their “first love” — the heart slipping away from Christ, and from the enjoyment of His love. In Smyrna the Lord allowed the saints to be cast into the furnace, that the progress of declension might be stayed. They were persecuted by the heathen. By means of these trials Christianity revived, the gold was purified, the saints held fast the name and the faith of Christ. Thus was Satan defeated; and the Lord so ruled that the emperors, one after the other, in the most humiliating and mortifying circumstances, publicly confessed their defeat. But in Pergamos the enemy changes his tactics. In place of persecution from without, there is seduction from within. Under Diocletian he was the roaring lion, under Constantine he is the deceiving serpent. Pergamos is the scene of Satan’s flattering power; he is within the church. Nicolaitanism is the corruption of grace — the flesh acting in the church of God. In Smyrna he is outside as an adversary, in Pergamos he is inside as a seducer. This was exactly what took place under Constantine.

Historically, it was when the violence of persecution had spent itself — when men had grown weary of their own rage, and when they saw that their efforts were to no purpose that the sufferers ceased to care for the things of the world, and became more devoted to Christianity; while even the numbers of the Christians seemed to increase; Satan tries another and an old artifice, once so successful against Israel. (Num. 25) When he could not obtain the Lord’s permission to curse His people Israel, he allured them to their ruin, by unlawful alliances with the daughters of Moab. As a false prophet he was now in the church at Pergamos, seducing the saints into unlawful alliance with the world — the place of his throne and authority. The world ceases to persecute; great advantages are held out to Christians by the civil establishment of Christianity; Constantine professes to be converted, and ascribes his triumphs to the virtues of the cross. The snare alas! is successful, the church is flattered by his patronage, shakes hands with the world, and sinks into its position — “even where Satan’s seat is.” All was now lost as to her corporate and proper testimony, and the way to popery laid open. Every worldly advantage was no doubt gained; but alas! alas! it was at the cost of the honour and glory of her heavenly Lord and Saviour. 1

Miller tells of the changes in great detail this “benevolent” dictator made in the church itself. To save time and text, I would like to quote from a booklet that George Davis and I wrote, “Falling Away from the Simple Faith,” that sums up what happened to the church under the reign of Constantine.

Many Roman Emperors heavily persecuted the Christians in the first three centuries and the Church flourished and grew rapidly. After the last ditch efforts of Diocletian to wipe out the Church by force, Satan had to come up with a new idea. He found a willing adherent to this new plan in the emperor Constantine. The story of how this monarch became a “Christian” is quite involved, but the upshot was a new age of tolerance toward both Christians and pagans. This worked well for him; Constantine maintained his title of “pontifex maximus.” He was still the chief priest of the pagan state cult and retained his position as the official Roman god as well as taking control of the Church. He also took to himself the title of “The Thirteenth Apostle,” becoming in effect the first pope.

Under him the Church clergy gained a tax-exempt status that only pagan priests had enjoyed before. Soon there was a flood of rich Romans into the priesthood, taking advantage of this great tax loophole. With all these powerful Romans as leaders, the Church soon gained political power that was only wielded by the Roman government itself up until this time. Soon the “Christian” Sunday and special feast days honoring Christian martyrs were observed along with the pagan holidays. Bishops were given the right to hear and settle lawsuits in their courts. Jews were forbidden to stone Jews who became Christians. Christian clergy and bishops became a regular part of the emperor’s court. Next, Constantine started a massive public works program building churches and cathedrals throughout the area [Rome] for his newfound faith.

He also forbade the repair and construction of pagan temples and Christians were no longer forced to participate in their rituals. Eventually, pagan rituals were totally abolished in Rome and their temples closed. By becoming a Christian, a person could gain official favor of the emperor and even new opportunities for wealth. Anyone who was under the employ of the Roman government was required to be a Christian and to sweeten the pot, Constantine offered a reward of thirteen pieces of gold and a new white garment to anyone who would be baptized into his faith. As you can imagine, the lines were long.

Paganism never was totally wiped out. Many pagan holidays were incorporated into Christian holidays. Pagan priests found their place in this new religion, and they brought their idolatrous ways in with them, instituting Christian ritual. Satan had won a great victory. He drew in his train not only a third of the hosts of heaven, but the very bride of Christ. Authority delegated by the Emperor himself to this new priesthood all but replaced God’s spirit-led authority in His precious bride. 2

So, my dear saints, who no longer feel at home in the church system we see all around us today, there is a reason for this, neither does Jesus or His Spirit. The Kingdom of God is pure and ruled in love by His Spirit in truth, not by worldly minded men. This is why Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst [within] of you.” (Luke 17:20-21, ESV2011) There is a reason why when we are asked, “What church do you go to?” we are counted as pagans by the pagan church when we tell them we don’t go to Sunday services anymore. Jesus told the woman at the well when she asked Him where was the right place to worship God,

“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain [Jeroboam’s high place and altar] nor in Jerusalem [the temple] will you worship the Father… But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:21-24, ESV2011)

There is a reason for what we feel when two of us who walk by the Spirit come together and our hearts are filled with joy… “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matt 18:20, ESV2011). We are not alone, IT’S HIM and no buildings are needed for this.

They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32, ESV2011)

1 https://www.theword.net/index.php?article.download

2 http://awildernessvoice.com/FallingAway.html