The Letter Kills, But the Spirit Gives Life

Stephen's Face

(Reading: 2 Corinthians chapter three)

A year or two ago, some Christian friends invited me to attend a church service with them at a “Bible church.” As I sat there looking around the auditorium, I saw many faces that had no life in them and that included the pastor. There was no life in his preaching–or in the whole service for that matter. It was just a bunch of people going through the motions as they kept the law of church attendance on Sunday. Sad to say, I have seen this same lifelessness in some house church meetings as well.

In 2 Corinthians chapter three Paul makes it clear that when the Bible becomes a letter of legalism (so many commandments that we must keep) it kills us. In this chapter he speaks of the glory of Christ that is ours in His NEW Covenant that should shine from our faces as we follow the Spirit in fellowship with Him. If the New Testament becomes a system of rule keeping, we will entirely miss what the New Covenant is (read Hebrews chapter 8)! Here in chapter three, Paul refers to  what happened to Moses as he ministered the Old Covenant Law. Moses’ face shone brightly when he came back down from the mountain after receiving the law in a personal encounter with God, but that glory faded as the letter of the law he ministered worked death within him. As time went on the shining on his face faded because the letter of the law kills, but it is the Spirit that gives life (vs. 6).

This whole chapter is about there being no need for written letters if we are walking in the Spirit of Christ. If we are abiding in the Spirit we are the letters from God. We are the only letters that are needed to minister the gospel as our faces shine with His glory and His Spirit is speaking through us. It is sad that legalism (you must attend church on Sunday, you must tithe, you must not do this or that, etc.) has so taken over in our churches that few Christians today have faces that shine with the glory of the abiding Christ.

Paul wrote, But their minds were hardened; for to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away.” I remember my first two years of trying to be a “born again” Christian. It began when I was led in a “sinner’s prayer” by a well-meaning pastor in my living room one evening. But soon it was evident that something was missing. I was encouraged to read the Bible, but it was all so many words with no life in them. I might as well have been reading a phone-book with so many names and numbers with no coherent flow. I attended church on Sunday and Wednesday evening every week and went to Sunday school class and even taught one, all to no avail. That empty hole inside prevailed. It was not until I finally surrendered my whole life to Christ unconditionally that the Spirit of God came into me for the first time. In my first attempt to become a Christian I had made a mental decision at the encouragement of a man, but after a spiritual crisis two years later, I surrendered all that I was (a confused mess at best) to Him as He drew me to Himself and filled me with His Spirit. It was then that His glory began to shine from my life and the words of the Bible began to leap off its pages into my heart.

The spiritual meaning of the entire Bible will be veiled to us just as it is and was to those Jews under the Old Covenant if we do not have the Spirit of Christ abiding in us as our Teacher. It will become a letter of laws that we must keep by our mental gyrations instead of a love letter from our Father in heaven that leads us into a deeper loving relationship with Him through His Spirit. Paul wrote, “You are a letter from Christ written with the Spirit of the living God on tablets of human hearts.”

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent [sufficient] of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence [sufficiency] is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2Cor 3:4-6, RSV – emphasis added)

Let No Man Usurp the Place of Christ, Part 2

Holy man

“All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men to do nothing.” ~ attributed to Edmond Burke

How many times have we heard this quoted that we might be stirred into political  or social action without giving the will of God for us (as individuals) a second thought? Now contrast this quote with the following one,

“Why do you call me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.” ~ Jesus Christ

If Jesus, the Son of God, would not let men call Him “good” as if He was separate from His Father, what makes us think that any of us are good as individual Christians? As Jeremiah put it, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” You see, ALL goodness in the universe comes from our heavenly Father. We should never call one another good; “Oh, she (or He) is such a good Christian!”

With this in mind, along the theme of usurping the place of Christ, I would like to share today’s post (March 25th) from “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers.”

Maintaining the Proper Relationship

the friend of the bridegroom…John 3:29

Goodness and purity should never be traits that draw attention to themselves, but should simply be magnets that draw people to Jesus Christ. If my holiness is not drawing others to Him, it is not the right kind of holiness; it is only an influence which awakens undue emotions and evil desires in people and diverts them from heading in the right direction. A person who is a beautiful saint can be a hindrance in leading people to the Lord by presenting only what Christ has done for him, instead of presenting Jesus Christ Himself. Others will be left with this thought— “What a fine person that man is!” That is not being a true “friend of the bridegroom”— I am increasing all the time; He is not.

To maintain this friendship and faithfulness to the Bridegroom, we have to be more careful to have the moral and vital relationship to Him above everything else, including obedience. Sometimes there is nothing to obey and our only task is to maintain a vital connection with Jesus Christ, seeing that nothing interferes with it. Only occasionally is it a matter of obedience. At those times when a crisis arises, we have to find out what God’s will is. Yet most of our life is not spent in trying to be consciously obedient, but in maintaining this relationship— being the “friend of the bridegroom.” Christian work can actually be a means of diverting a person’s focus away from Jesus Christ. Instead of being friends “of the bridegroom,” we may become amateur providences of God to someone else, working against Him while we use His weapons.

Wow! Does that get right down to the deepest motivation in the hearts of many who walk in “holiness” (“Touch me not for I am holier than thou”) or that just want to be thought well of remember by other people? I have found that his whole principle of decreasing while Jesus increases is foreign to most Christians. I was at a small home meeting once and told the group that I wanted to be like John the Baptist and be found by God as a true “friend of the bridegroom,” to so decrease for His sake that I would not leave a mark on this earth, no website, no published books, not even a grave marker, but only leave people behind me that were looking to Jesus as their only desire. There was a man in the room that spoke up and said, “It doesn’t have to be that extreme does it?” I am sorry, but if we are to be HIS disciples, it does.

One time I was in a men’s meeting at my church and we were in a small room where there was a florescent light fixture that was giving off poor light, but was making a loud buzzing sound. The Lord said to me, “That is how most Christians are, a lot of noise and not much light.” Well, that gave me much to contemplate in my own life and finally repent of (sometimes daily).

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world: he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” We are not the Light of Life, but we can have it abiding in us as we surrender to the One who IS the Light of the world and let His cross deal with our carnal natures (that buzzing light fixture that gives off poor light).

For more on what it means to decrease while He increases and what it means to be a “friend of the Bridegroom” as John the Baptist was, follow this link http://awildernessvoice.com/ElijahCompany.pdf

 

Let No Man Usurp the Place of Christ, Part 1

Preacher

 

But you are not to be called rabbi (teacher), for you have one Teacher and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone [in the church] on earth father, for you have one Father, Who is in heaven. And you must not be called masters (leaders), for you have one Master (Leader), the Christ. (Matt 23:8-10, AMP)

Now why did Jesus say this? Aren’t we to have human teachers and leaders in the church? Dear saints, as I pointed out in my last blog the Holy Spirit is our Teacher and here we see that only Christ is our Leader for HE alone is THE Good Shepard.

It really disturbs my heart when people write or come to me as if I was “The Bible Answer Man,” especially when they are old enough in Christ to hear His voice for themselves as their Teacher. When this happens I feel like I am usurping His place in their lives. Yet, this is the accepted norm in today’s Christendom. Men get degrees and clamor to be in this place of authority in the lives of Christ’s sheep. Not only that, but some of His sheep, like ancient Israel, desire to have a human king to rule over them (see 1 Samuel 8:4-7). It offended God then and it offends Him now.

I just read the March 24th “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers and he put his finger right on where the problem lies and why this accepted norm among Christians bothers me so much…

Decreasing for His Purpose

He must increase, but I must decrease.John 3:30

If you become a necessity to someone else’s life, you are out of God’s will. As a servant, your primary responsibility is to be a “friend of the bridegroom” [never the Bridegroom Himself] (John 3:29). When you see a person who is close to grasping the claims of Jesus Christ, you know that your influence has been used in the right direction. And when you begin to see that person in the middle of a difficult and painful struggle, don’t try to prevent it, but pray that his difficulty will grow even ten times stronger, until no power on earth or in hell could hold him away from Jesus Christ. Over and over again, we try to be amateur providences in someone’s life. We are indeed amateurs, coming in and actually preventing God’s will and saying, “This person should not have to experience this difficulty.” Instead of being friends of the Bridegroom, our sympathy gets in the way. One day that person will say to us, “You are a thief; you stole my desire to follow Jesus, and because of you I lost sight of Him.”

Beware of rejoicing with someone over the wrong thing, but always look to rejoice over the right thing. “…the friend of the bridegroom…rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:29-30). This was spoken with joy, not with sadness— at last they were to see the Bridegroom! And John said this was his joy. It represents a stepping aside, an absolute removal of the servant, never to be thought of again.

Listen intently with your entire being until you hear the Bridegroom’s voice in the life of another person. And never give any thought to what devastation, difficulties, or sickness it will bring. Just rejoice with godly excitement that His voice has been heard. You may often have to watch Jesus Christ wreck a life before He saves it (see Matthew 10:34).

One time I was with a small home fellowship and we were talking about listening to the Lord’s voice when this older sister spoke up and said that she had never heard Him speak to her. I asked her what she listened to all day and she replied, “I get up in the morning and watch TBN on my TV and then in the afternoon I listen to radio preachers or sermon tapes.” I said to her, “See here! This is your problem. God can’t get a word in edgewise! Turn all that stuff off and practice listening to His quiet small voice.”

She came back the next week and reported that where she would have had the car radio on and listen to a “Christian station” she decided to pray and listen to Him. On her way home on a dark night on a country road that week He brought her attention to a sign that said, “Beware of Moose!” so she slowed down and right around the next corner was a big dark colored moose right in her lane. If she had not slowed down she would not have seen it in time and hit it and totaled her car and injured herself. We all “rejoiced with godly excitement that His voice has been heard.”

Do We Seek Christ as Our Teacher?

Image result for jesus teaching children

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that hears my word, and believes on him that sent me, has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. (John 5:24, KJ2000)

And the Father himself, who has sent me, has borne witness of me. You have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his form. And you have not his word abiding in you: for whom he has sent, him you believe not. Search the scriptures; for in them you think you have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And you will not come to me, that you might have life. (John 5:37-40, KJ2000)

“And the Father himself, who has sent me, has borne witness of me. You have neither [not] heard his voice at any time.” What an indictment! Jesus was saying to these devout Jews that as far as God was concerned, they were stone deaf! Have you ever thought that these words of Jesus could apply to us who believe in Him?

Recently, I had a conversation over breakfast with a dear brother who loves God and is quite knowledgeable in the scriptures. Over the years God has used him to lead others to Christ and he has become a prolific writer about scriptural things. I have not personally known anyone like him for having insight into the deeper meanings of scriptural teachings. Yet, he confessed to me that he was having to be purged of all the interpretations of his former Bible teachers and things about the scriptures he has read so he can hear what the Spirit wishes to say to him as he reads the Bible. He found that as he reads a verse he hears the voice of these human teachers and their spin on each verse. I have not had any formal Bible school training as this brother has, but I still know what he means. As I read certain passages in the Bible, what my own teachers said about those scriptures either in their writings or personally, pops up in my mind.

So the question came to me as I was pondering this problem, “Do I hear HIS words to me when I read the ‘Word of God’ or do I hear the words of human teachers and preachers and what they said about these scriptures?” Jesus made it clear that after He was to die on the cross, we would not be left alone but that He would come again. The Holy Spirit would be our Teacher and lead us into all truth (See John 14: 18-20 & 26). Yet, how many of us have filled our minds with the teachings of men and their traditions that make the commandments and leadings of God of no effect (see Matt. 15:6)? Even our adherence to the Bible itself can get in the way of obeying God as it did with Peter (See Acts 10:9-16). Isn’t this what Jesus was telling the Jews who wanted to kill Him because He healed a lame man on the Sabbath?

He that HEARS my words and believes shall have everlasting life. We search the scriptures as did these learned Jews, but do we come to Him in the process and listen for His voice?  Or do we look for and unconsciously hear the voices of our Christian teachers as their teachings bounce around between our ears with each verse?

When the Spirit teaches us, there is life in His words. When we do not hear His voice, even as we study the Bible, it is nothing but a dead letter. The letter of the Bible kills, but the Spirit who desires to teach us gives life! Like Peter said after most of the disciples had turned away from Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…” (John 6:68, ESV2011).

Paul the Pharisee had been taught by the best Jewish scholars in Jerusalem, but when the living Christ confronted Him for the first time in his life he had to ask, “Who are you, Lord?” He knew the words of God, but he still had not met THE Word of God or heard Him as his Teacher! His life would be radically changed as Christ went on to teach him by His Spirit. When we wait on the Spirit to teach us, we have His words of life taking up an abode in our hearts. When we read the scriptures and hear the words of our human teachers or rely on them to tickle our ears with new things, death remains in us. We are no better than Paul who persecuted Christ by killing those who believed in Him thinking he was doing God a service. This radically changed Paul would go on to write,

For who has known the mind of the Lord? or who has been his counselor?… For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen. (Rom 11:34-36, KJ2000)

God desires to un-teach us so that we can once again become as children desiring to hear our Father’s voice or as Peter put it,

As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby: If so be you have tasted that the Lord is gracious. (1Pet 2:2-3, KJ2000)

This process of His stripping might take us out into a dark season of wilderness where we are even removed from Bible reading and teaching until we can hear HIS voice once again. Oswald Chambers wrote,

“At times God puts us through the discipline of darkness to teach us to heed Him. Song birds are taught to sing in the dark, and we are put into the shadow of God’s hand until we learn to hear Him…Watch where God puts you into darkness, and when you are there keep your mouth shut. Are you in the dark just now in your circumstances, or in your life with God? Then remain quiet…” (February 14th– My Utmost for His Highest)

Dear Father, help us to see our need to hear your Spirit as we read the scriptures and blot out of our minds all the voices of our human teachers that we have heaped upon ourselves over the years so we can hear Your voice clearly once again, Amen.

 

What Is Spiritual Seeing and Hearing?

Blind man receives his sight – Artist unknown

I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet… And I turned to see the voice that spoke with me… (Rev 1:10-12, KJ2000)

In the above quote from John’s Revelation there is much to be learned if we have spiritual eyes to see and spiritual ears to hear. Its one thing to read the scriptures and gain knowledge the way we gain knowledge from any textbook or course of study, but it is a whole other thing to gain the depth of spiritual knowing that can be ours if we abide in the Spirit of Christ. First of all, John was “in the Spirit” when He heard this voice, yet that was not enough. Most often it takes us entering into the rest of our Father and blocking out the noisy din of this world before we can be in the Spirit while we read the Bible or try to hear His voice. Sometimes He withholds deeper fellowship from us until we deal with some sin that has come between us and Him, and these things often come to our attention as we wait before Him.

Secondly, John turned to see this great Voice which was speaking with him. Spiritual hearing requires that we turn away from where we have been looking or going. Some of us have learned that when God speaks to us or shows us something, it is to get us to grow up spiritually beyond where we have been, and so a “turning” is required. All too often people hear His voice and then set out to put what was heard on everyone else without doing the necessary turning about in their own lives. Jeremiah wrote,

Surely after I was turned, I repented; and after I was instructed, I struck myself upon the thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth. (Jer 31:19, KJ2000)

“I turned to see the voice that spoke with me…”  One might ask, “How do you ever see a voice?” Let me use this word see in another way, “Do you SEE what John means here?” There is hearing and then there is HEARING. There is seeing and then there is SEEING! When what is spoken comes from the Word, Jesus Christ, there is no end to what we can see. For instance we find out that a single Bible verse can, over the years, says many different things to us as we grow in Christ. If we are to get anything from the Spirit of God beyond normal seeing and hearing, “some say it thundered,” we must be IN the Spirit (see John 12:29-31).

The carnal mind and its five senses will never do. We can sit in Sunday school and sit through Sunday sermons all our lives or graduate from the finest Christian seminaries and institutions without the gift of spiritual sight or hearing and die just as clueless as the day we were born as to who God is or the nature of His Kingdom. When the learned Paul, the Pharisee, was met by the living Christ on the Road to Damascus, he asked the right thing, “WHO ARE you, Lord?” and his real spiritual education started that moment, overshadowing all he once thought he knew about God. As with Paul, it takes a crisis for many of us to blast through our accumulated suppositions and to start to let the Spirit teach us.

Job had a collision with God over this very thing. He thought he was wise, righteous and filled with knowledge about God, but let us read about God’s assessment of Job!

“Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge  Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” (Job 38:1-3, NIV)

“Words without knowledge.” This is how God sees our learning that has not come through the Light of the Spirit which opens our understanding to what HE wants us to know. “Brace yourself like a man and I will question you,” “Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute me?” To which Paul replied with that all important lifelong question with its ever growing reply, “Who are you, Lord?”

Then Job replied to the LORD : “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge [Heb. Da’ath from root word yada – to ascertain by seeing]?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6, NIV)

Adam Clarke shed light on this passage.

I have heard of thee] I have now such a discovery of thee as I have never had before. I have only heard of thee by tradition, or from imperfect information; now the eye of my mind clearly perceives thee, and in seeing thee, I see myself; for the light that discovers thy glory and excellence, discovers my meanness and vileness. (Adam Clarke’s Bible Commentary)

Paul spoke by personal experience of the meanness and vile nature of the natural mind with its unenlightened knowing.

… we know that all of us possess knowledge. This “knowledge [Grk, eido]” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known [Grk. ginosko] by God. (1Cor 8:1-3, ESV2011)

Ever since the fall, man has been in love with knowledge and the Serpent still hangs out in that forbidden tree. The problem is that this kind of “knowledge” puffs us up and makes us proud. We end up thinking we really “know” something and as a result that we are somebody because of our knowledge and degrees. In the eyes of God, this kind of “knowing” is totally empty, and if anything, it gets in the way of true spiritual growth that is ours IN Christ. God resists the proud and gives His grace to the humble. Real knowledge in the economy of God has to do with a love relationship with Him and Jesus Christ His Son. W. E. Vine shed light on this meaningful Greek word, ginosko.

In the NT ginosko frequently indicates a relation between the person “knowing” and the object known; in this respect, what is “known” is of value or importance to the one who knows, and hence the establishment of the relationship, e.g., especially of God’s “knowledge,” 1Co 8:3, “if any man love God, the same is known of Him;”

To have this kind of knowledge requires that we have a deep relationship with the One who is known. This same Greek word was used in the following passage.

Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife [Mary]: And knew [ginosko] her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS. (Matt 1:24-25, KJ2000)

Here we see ginosko speaks of the consummation of a marriage in the most intimate act that can be had between a man and his wife. Consider Paul’s words once again, But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” Jesus spoke of such intimacy between us and the Father and the Son when He prayed for us, That they all may be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21, KJ2000- emphasis added). When we come into Jesus and the Father and they come into us, the doors of heaven are opened and they start sharing their mysteries and their very lives with us. It is in this same knowing that the Church can also become one, but never by belonging to the same denomination or ascribing to the same doctrines. When two people are IN the Father and the Son and they are IN them, a spiritual intimacy without fear begins because “perfect love casts out all fear.” It takes much more than a casual Sunday acquaintance to come into such a relationship with His saints. Intimate spiritual relationships require us dying to our old carnal natures and what we have once clung to and becoming one IN the Father and the Son.

Paul also wrote about such intimacy with God saying, “’Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Eph 5:31-32, ESV2011– emphasis added)

If we are to know such intimacy with the Father and the Son we must leave all that has fathered and mothered us in this life. That includes any relationships we have had in church with spiritual mothers and spiritual fathers. There might be a season for these types of relationships, but eventually they get in the way of a deeper intimacy with Jesus and His Father. When we say, “I am of Paul or I am of Peter or I am of Apollos or whoever,” we are yet carnal. This is why Jesus said, “Who is my mother…He who does the will of my Father is my mother…” He also said, “Call no man ‘father’ for only One is your Father and He is in heaven.” Jesus was quite adamant about our earthly family ties when they get between us and Him,

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Matt 10:34-37, KJ2000)

Our God is a jealous God (see Exodus 34:14). No man or woman is allowed to come between us and Him. We can come along side one another as we walk out this journey together, but others cannot become our total focus and desire.

Oh, the wonders of the knowledge of God in we who are His! Such intimacy can be ours if we will give up the wrong knowledge and want to know Him above all other relationships, “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” Oh, the depth of meaning in this verse spoken by Paul. I did not learn these things in seminary. In fact, God firmly forbid me go to one of these. No, He showed these things to me personally as I sought to know Him.

Isaiah prophesied hope to the Jews while they were in captivity and it is true of us today,

Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. (Isa 30:18-21, ESV2011- emphasis added)

God is our Teacher through His Holy Spirit who abides in us and gives us spiritual sight and hearing. He is there to show us every detail of how and what to choose in our daily walks with Him. Nothing is too small or too big in our lives that He does not have His will for us in these matters.

Along with Paul I pray for each of us,

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Eph 3:14-21, ESV2011)

 

“I Have Seen the Lord!”

Coeur d Alene Sunrise – Photo by Michael Clark

Though the LORD is on high, he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar. (Ps 138:6, NIV)

In chapter twenty of John’s gospel we read about Jesus making first contact with a human after He rose again from the dead on the third day. We might expect that He would have chosen to manifest Himself to one of the more prominent disciples like Peter or even John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. He did not choose either of them, although they were among the three followers that came to the His tomb the morning of the third day. No, Jesus chose to make Himself known to Mary Magdalene.

Mary was a woman that had been possessed by seven demons and had been ravaged by many men in her lifetime and suffered much rejection as a result. But Jesus saw something to be treasured in Mary. He delivered her and healed her of everything  Satan had done to her. She was looked down upon by her own people and rejected, but Jesus chose this weak woman to confound Simon the Pharisee and His very own disciples in their self-righteousness as they judged her and Him (See Luke 7:36-50 and Matthew 26:6-13). Mary loved Jesus very much because she had been forgiven much. I know hundreds of Christians who, in their own minds, are not all that bad compared to people in this world. I have found that their love is very thin as a result. I once thought I was pretty good as well (and judgmental) until I was prompted to ask God how HE saw me instead of how I thought He saw me. What He showed me was a self-righteous hypocrite. It didn’t take me long to cry out to Him to change me. The purging of my heart is what has taken so much time.

So it was Mary who had been a harlot that Jesus chose to appear to first and to spread the good news that He had risen. There is a very touching scene that John captured in his gospel about their miraculous meeting.

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” (John 20:1-2, ESV2011)

She rose up early while it was still dark so that she could be with Jesus, though she knew He was dead. Finding the tomb empty, she was distraught. She got Peter and John to go back with her and these two went inside and saw that the tomb was empty except for the grave clothes that Jesus had been wrapped in. Then these two men did something strange… they went home! John records, “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” Not to be so easily deterred, Mary stayed, hoping to find out what happened to His body so she could take care of it herself.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her. (John 20:11-18, ESV2011)

Through her tears Mary spoke with angels and with her risen Lord, but still did not understand it was Him until He called her by her name, “Mary.” When I go to a restaurant, I always look for a name tag on the server so I can call them by name. There is something about being called by our name that makes us feel closer to someone when we meet them. This intimate touch of hearing Him speak her name once more was all that was needed to awaken Mary to who He was. She answered in her native tongue, “Rabboni.” At this moment, she must have rushed to Him and hugged Him with overflowing love, because He warned her that He had not ascended to the Father, yet. He then said to her, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” This story is no cold liturgy that was carefully scripted by the intellects of religious men. This was an outpouring of love between Christ and a lowly woman who counted for nothing in human society. He told her that His God was her God, and His Father was also her Father. Jesus came to restore all men and women to His Father that we can know Him as OUR Father, too. What joy can also be ours if we will only give up our dead religious routines as well as our sin and seek intimacy with Him

All through the Bible God chose the lowly to manifest Himself to and many of them were women. Jesus’ very blood line came down through numerous rejected, barren women God did a miracle for and gave them hope. His own mother, Mary, was lowly in a no account town named Nazareth, but the angel that appeared to her told her that she was highly esteemed in the mind of God saying, “Hail, you that are highly favored, the Lord is with you: blessed are you among women.” She was to become the mother of the Messiah.  We may think of ourselves as nothing in the eyes of God and men, but God chooses the lives of the lowly and the abased to fulfill His will.

For I know what I have planned for you,’ says the LORD. ‘I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope. When you call out to me and come to me in prayer, I will hear your prayers. (Jer 29:11-12, NET)

Dear Father, give us hearts like that of Mary, hearts that will not give up until we are one with you and your Son. Amen.

Only Those Unshakeable Things Found IN Christ Will Remain

Foggy_Church_Graveyard

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. (Heb 12:25-27, ESV2011)

In this passage we see the prophecy of a great shaking that will be upon not only the earth, but the very Church “heaven” itself. The word translated “heaven” above is defined in Strong’s Bible Dictionary as:

οὐρανός ouranos (ou-ra-nos’) n.

  1. the sky.
  2. (by extension) heaven (as the abode of God).
  3. (by implication) happiness, power, eternity.
  4. (specially) the Gospel (Christianity).

In the context of this passage in Hebrews it is obvious that God is going to not only shake the earth and the heavens as Jesus prophesied in Matthew 24 and Luke 21, but all things which have been made. This final shaking will destroy all the material things that Christianity clings to and identifies with so that only that which is of His Spirit in us will “survive the cut.” As much as we are attached to church buildings, liturgy, church hierarchy, Christian tradition and man-made institutions, all that will be done away with so that only the Heavenly Jerusalem, that assembly of the First Born, Jesus Christ, whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will remain (see Hebrews 12:22-24). What is stubble and chaff compared to wheat? God is not gathering stubble and chaff into His heavenly storehouse, but these are gathered into piles to be burned. Those things have done their job and soon will be of no further use.

Have you ever had a time of fellowship with your fellow saints that was so heavenly that you did not want it to end? I don’t mean just a church service or a Christian conference, but being part of a group of believers in an in-depth relationship (that goes beyond those found in most churches) where the love and grace of our Father flowed between you all and built you up in a way that no sermon or mere sacramental-ism can. I am speaking of a time together of the  members of Christ’s body with Him orchestrating all that happened as only HE can. This has become so rare, now at the end of this age, that most of you probably have never experienced heaven coming down and touching the earth with the Light and Life of Christ Himself filling His body. It truly is a gift from our Father. It is such a witness of His “kingdom come upon the earth as it is in heaven” that the hordes of hell are unleashed against it when it happens. In any case, experiencing the real ecclesia of God in the love and unity of the Spirit ruins you for ever again being satisfied with orchestrated Sunday meetings as is the norm today.

Sad to say, Christians today have struck a compromise with the devil that says, “You leave us alone and we will leave you alone,” What we have masquerading as “the church” is no threat to the prince of this world or his kingdom. Instead of preaching Christ and Him crucified, the pulpits are preaching worldly goals and gain and cutesy sermons that tickle the ears of the hearers. They have twisted Paul’s words, “I have become all things to all men that I might win some,” to mean that we should become as likeable and like the world and its people as much as possible. As a result, the “salt of the earth” that the church was meant to be has lost its savor and is being trodden under the feet of men. We must be born of the Spirit to see the kingdom of God. Christianity has become so worldly and self seeking that I really doubt that most “Christians” today have the Spirit of God dwelling in them. If they did, their hearts would not be so focused on material things, the world and the affairs of carnal men, much less content with the status quo in the churches.

Austin-Sparks wrote about the status of church around the world which he observed 60 years ago during world wide ministry (it is much worse now). He could see that the judgment of God was coming on the church as its enemy was rapidly squeezing out any representation of the church in huge areas of the world with the onslaught of atheistic communism, Islam and humanism. But even more than that the church was dying a slow death by becoming more worldly than it was spiritual (see http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/002091.html).

Apostle Paul saw this coming upon the church even as early as the first century and he warned:

Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That you be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, that the day of the Lord is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come the falling away [Grk – apostasia- apostasy]  first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; (2Thess 2:1-3, KJ2000 – emphasis added – see also Acts 20:29-31 – emphasis added)

Sparks compared the status of the church to the temple system and what Judaism had become at the time of Christ. Rome, not God, had placed Herod as king over Judea and Judaism was influenced by its power more than God. King Herod’s father was an Edomite and not of the linage of David as Israel’s king should have been. When Jesus came as a baby and the rightful heir, “The Son of David” Herod tried to kill Him!  This despot had more to do with who ruled over the temple as High Priest than any spiritual leading from God. This is why there were two “High Priests” during the time of Jesus’ sojourn here on earth. They were both political appointees and one came up out of Egypt. Only those who catered to Herod and his wishes were chosen for this influential priestly position. It was a purely political system.

The whole Jewish system had fallen under carnal rulers and been corrupted to the point that even their precious temple built by Herod the Great was not according to the pattern that Moses was given by God, but rather a garish monument to this despotic king’s own greatness. The arc of the covenant was no longer in the Holy of Holies and God’s judgment of “Ichabod” was on the whole thing (see Luke 21:5-6). The Fortress of Antonia that housed the Roman garrison was purposely built right up against the temple walls so the Roman shoulders could have access to the temple grounds and the Court the Gentiles in the temple complex was where the buying and selling of animals was going on under the oversight of Annas, one of the two high priests. This was his business enterprise and became known as “the Bazaar of Annas.” It was into this political mess that Jesus came, overthrowing the tables of the merchants and announcing, “It is written that my house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it a den of thieves.”

Anyone who has been part of organized Christianity for very long can easily see all the parallels in the church today with its preaching of political affiliations, social activism, worldly prosperity, and mercantilism. Its seminaries crank out men that are no longer lowly servants as was Christ, but that want to become famous in this world and make their churches into a cash cow operation. Just as it was back then when God pronounced judgment on that perverted system and it was destroyed by 70 A.D., His judgment is on this worldly church system of today.

Jesus did not come to establish another religion ruled over by men! He came to point all men to His Father’s kingdom and restore each of us to a perfect fellowship with Him. Jesus is its Prince of Peace and its members are transformed into spiritual beings who are not of this world, but rather the sons and daughters of God. Do you doubt that God’s judgment is on this worldly religious system, this whore that prostitutes herself for worldly position and gain? Then you might look closer at these verses that describe the great apostasy that Paul warned us about and is now its final stage.

And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters [peoples]: With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication. (Rev 17:1-2, KJV)

And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration [astonishment]. (Rev 17:5-6, KJV)

These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful. And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. (Rev 17:14-15, KJV)

And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory. And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies. And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities. (Rev 18:1-5, KJV)

How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow. Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her. (Rev 18:7-8, KJV) (emphasis added in all the above verses)

All that said, the church of today is as fallen from what was once spiritual under the direction of the Holy Spirit as the Herodian temple system was fallen from the tabernacle in the wilderness under Moses and Aaron. Jesus proclaimed God’s judgment upon that Jewish system and it was removed from the face of the earth in 70 A. D. (read Matthew ch. 23). That system’s fate was sealed when its followers and leaders murdered the Son of Righteousness the Father sent to redeem them. Jesus told them just before He died,

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. (Matt 23:37-38, ESV2011)

So, dear brothers and sisters, do you find yourself rejected and alone in today’s church systems? Didn’t Jesus warn us that if they hated Him they would hate and abuse His servants also?

Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, who planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into a far country: And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants, that they might receive the fruits of it. And the tenants took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise. But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will respect my son. But when the tenants saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. When the lord therefore of the vineyard comes, what will he do unto those tenants? (Matt 21:33-40, KJ2000)

Dear friends, the rightful heirs to the Kingdom of God are those who walk by faith and the leading of the Spirit of God as His servants, not those who claim the name “Christian” and abuse their power and His flock as they seek worldly gain.

Many years ago, as I saw the truth in this, I wanted to do like Moses did, grab them by their ecclesiastical throats and deliver God’s people from these taskmasters one at a time (I speak figuratively). I spent many years focusing on what was wrong with the church and its leadership and wrote volumes about it, but God finally told me that this system is nothing more than blind guides leading the blind and to leave it alone and let them all fall in the ditch (see Matthew 15:14). Sometimes it takes following church leaders into a few spiritual ditches to wake us up and get us to seek true spiritual sight and Truth that is ours alone as we abide IN Jesus Christ.

Paul said, “I did not build upon another man’s foundation.” You cannot build the house of God on the twisted teachings and traditions of Christendom that continue to confuse the minds of its adherents. Only the Holy Spirit can teach these truths and give us the experiences to drive them deep into our hearts. He must purge our minds and hearts of all that is false concerning God’s kingdom and our place in it before He can build HIS temple with us as His living stones.

It took 40 years in the wilderness and a lot of dying to get Egypt out of His people and make them ready to enter His Promised Land, and so it is today. Whether you call it a period in the wilderness or “the dark night of the soul,” these religious souls in us that the Bible calls “the flesh” are not compatible for His kingdom. We must be stripped of all the religious foundations of men and our carnal natures before we can start to comprehend what the Spirit is saying to us, because all that false teaching blocks us from hearing His gentle voice as it resonates in our hearts. Once that false foundation is done away with, He can start building us on the only true Foundation, which is Christ. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians chapter three that every man’s work will be proven by fire for the day shall declare and expose what kind of structure was built. There is a day in each of our lives that God comes to set His house in order. It is better to face His purging now than to face His all-consuming fire in “the Day of the Lord.”

Father, open our eyes that we might see ourselves as YOU see us and repent that we might walk according to the Light of your Spirit. Amen.