Hindrances to Walking in True Fellowship

Photo taken by Michael Clark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

(2) Romans 14:1

The Body Is One!

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)

Have you ever felt a deep longing to be truly one with other saints of God? I mean one in heart, and one in longing for all that the Father has for each of us as we become members one of another IN Him. Since I came to Christ and was filled with His Spirit, my life has been a constant longing to know Him in His fullness, and part of that longing is to know Him as He is manifest in the members of His body, the true ekklesia of God (those who have been called out of this world and its seductions into Him). This has been a life-long struggle for me and I am sure for many of you. Whenever we found a group of Christians who were coming together in the love of Christ for one another, it wasn’t long until all hell broke in and divided that unity. As a result, many of us have been forced back into seclusion where we lick our wounds and pledge not to ever let religious divisiveness touch us again. The problem is that in our caution we can still remain divided from other members of Christ’s body.  Austin Sparks wrote,

Another thing that is basic to the Lord’s purpose is the necessity for an apprehension of the inclusiveness of Christ as to the church which is His Body. In those parts of the revelation given to us in the Word of God, such as the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians where the fulness of Christ is brought into view most definitely, the thing that is right before us is the church which is His Body. The ultimate thing, the great end, is the fulness of Christ but, unto that, the church His Body is brought into view. Does Ephesians bring in the vast dimensions of divine fulness in Christ? “Filled unto all the fulness of Christ“; “The fulness of Him that fills all in all“. What is connected with that? “The church, which is His Body“. The church is essential for the expression of the ultimate fulness of Christ. That means that unto the fulness of Christ we must have an apprehension of the inclusiveness of Christ in His church. That is the collective nature of the instrument, the vessel, which is to express the fulness of Christ. Over against that is the impossibility of an individual, or any number of individuals as such, ever expressing the fulness of Christ. The necessity is for a life of corporate relationship unto the fulness of Christ.

(…)

This is God’s way of illustrating what we have in the New Testament: “The body is one“. There must be an apprehension of the corporate, the collective life of the church, the Body of Christ, before we can go on to fulness. We demand this fellowship for fulness; it is essential. Limitation is always brought about by separation. The defeat of God’s end is always accomplished by breaking up the Lord’s people into fragments. Schism is a real device of the devil to frustrate God’s end concerning His Son, the Lord Jesus. He has pursued that course from the beginning. It is very impressive and very significant that when the fulness of Christ is brought into view in these letters, there is such a tremendous emphasis laid upon the relationships of the members of the Body one to another.

The Lord Jesus stands to suffer loss in the expression of His fulness when the saints are out of fellowship with one another; and we can strike the greatest blows at the adversary by a solid, determined stand, when on no ground save apostasy, will we be divided in spirit from our brethren. To fight for fellowship, to stand for fellowship, to refuse a break in fellowship, is the way of defeating some of the forms of Satanic activity. It is quite easy to take the other line. It is the most difficult thing to refuse spiritual division, because all the power of hell is out to bring that about. It is only as we see how much is bound up with fellowship, with relationship and the fulness of Christ, that we shall be able to move on toward that fulness, for the Lord counts upon it for His ends.

This is no organised one-ness. This is not the unity that is outward. This is not anything that can be brought about by agreements externally. This is not the uniting of the churches. This is not consenting to a common agreement of credal expression; this is the uniting of the Spirit. This works two ways. It is necessary for us to go on in the Spirit in order that we may have the fullest measure of fellowship. We do not mean that fellowship is impossible between the mature and the less mature. We must be very careful that we do not allow any larger measure of light (as we may conceive it) to interfere with our fellowship with those whom we think have not so much light. There ought to be fellowship between children and adults spiritually, but any kind of refusal of light, of the revealed will of God, is bound sooner or later to limit fellowship, so that unto full fellowship there must be a walking according to the light given. The other way round operates, of course, that as we walk in the light we have fellowship one with another. Going on in the light means an increase of fellowship, and that makes the measure of Christ to increase. (emphasis added) (1)

“It is the most difficult thing to refuse spiritual division, because all the power of hell is out to bring that [division] about. It is only as we see how much is bound up with fellowship, with relationship and the fulness of Christ, that we shall be able to move on toward that fulness, for the Lord counts upon it for His ends.” Yes, “as we see what is bound up in fellowship with the fullness of Christ,” we see our own limitations. Seeing this need can get us beyond our fear that leads us to isolation from other saints of God. The saying goes, “No man is an island.” How true. God has been teaching me in my own tendency for isolation from others. He speaks into my heart most often when He leads me into fellowship by the Spirit with other saints of God. I have found that many of my blog articles come from being in touch on a heart-to-heart level with one of His saints.

We are all familiar with Hebrews 10:25 being used to urge us to “go to church,” but let us read it in context:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith… And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb 10:19-25, ESV2011)

Many of us have spent most of our Christian lives going to church “services” where we “meet together” hoping to have heart-to-heart fellowship, only to have the whole time dominated by a preacher or a teacher. Notice that in the context of this Hebrews verse it says, “We have a Great Priest over the house (Grk. oikos – family) of God.” It’s not talking about an auditorium setting here! Jesus presides over our fellowship by His Spirit so that we may “encourage one another to love and good works all the more so as we see the end drawing near.” This speaks of a gathering together of the members of His body who all function together under the anointing of the Holy Spirit to the building up of itself in love. Jesus said, “Where two or three of you are gathered together in my name [in His character], I am there in your midst.” The smallest gathering of the saints, “two,” is honored by our Lord with His presence.

I have experienced this from time to time and it has ruined me for the standard church service setting. I will continue to seek out my fellow saints on this interpersonal level — usually in a small home gathering and sometimes on the internet or even on a street corner– and I hope you do as well. We who are in the Spirit have God graces to edify and build one another up in Christ. We need each other and are being robbed when this doesn’t happen.

Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name. “They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. (Mal 3:16-18, ESV2011)

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/002858.html

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.

Standing on a Sea of Glass with One Another Before His Throne

RedFishLk1

Red Fish Lake near Stanley, Idaho – Photo by Michael Clark

I recently got a comment on A Wilderness Voice blog from Susanne Schuberth of Germany. She said something that stirred me to consider its truth.

“I love it too [when two saints are of one mind], since it is very encouraging to see when we are on the same spiritual track IN Him.

I believe spiritual fellowship is meant to strengthen each member, but never to rule over them.”

What a joy it is when we hear another member of Christ’s body saying the very thing that His Spirit has been saying to us.

When I first came to Christ many years ago, He filled me with a deep desire to know Him and a hunger to read about Him in the scriptures. When I first met my wife about four years earlier, she remarked that I couldn’t even name the four gospels, much less Paul’s letters. Being raised a Catholic, I was totally ignorant of the Bible. But when the Spirit of God entered me in 1970, things changed rapidly (thank God for a praying wife and mother-in-law).

At first I read the gospels over and over until I found a center reference that pointed to His words and actions in the Old Testament. I found prophecies about Him and His very words all over the Psalms and then Isaiah and other prophets (See Luke 24:44). Eventually I read the whole Bible. It seems God had a plan for this–He often speaks to me with a portion of a verse, and when I look it up, it’s perfect for the situation or the person I am fellowshipping with. This often happens when He has me write an article or a reply on our bog. Over the last four years this has happened between Susanne and me and she has also spoken into my life, humbly showing me where I am weak and need a heart change. This can only work unto edification as we each humble ourselves before Christ. To “minister” to another out of pride destroys all true fellowship in the Spirit (See Gal. 6:1).

Paul had much to say about the unifying and edifying power of the Spirit of God and how He gifts each of us for the profit of the whole body of Christ.  He wrote to the Corinthians on how the Spirit desires to function in the body of Christ.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1Cor 12:4-7, ESV2011 – emphasis added) (See also: 1Cor 12:18-26 and 1Cor 14:12)

We are all one body, we have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future. There is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and there is only one God and Father, who is over us all and in us all and living through us all. However, he has given each one of us a special gift according to the generosity of Christ. That is why the Scriptures say, “When he ascended to the heights, he led a crowd of captives and gave gifts to his people.” (Eph 4:4-8, NLT- emphasis added)

God makes sure that each member of Christ’s body is empowered by the Spirit to function according to His eternal plan so that Christ might be manifest throughout the whole earth. But when one member rises up and lords over other members with His gift (see 1Peter 5:1-3 ESV), the rest of the body suffers and, like the parable of Jesus, he causes them to hide their talent [gift] in the dirt. They say to themselves, “I am only a lowly foot covered with dust, what good am I compared to this other brother who is the head with all the talents (seeing, hearing and speaking) this body needs.” Sad to say, this is how most modern churches function today. Yet Paul made it clear if we are members of one another and in Christ’s body, ALL members are equally necessary and gifted to edify one another in the Spirit, giving all glory to our Father. There is nothing more wonderful than a group of the saints of God flowing together in His Spirit. It’s like an angelic choir singing praises to the Lord.

Paul wrote this to the Romans:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Rom 12:3-8, ESV2011)

The world’s hierarchic mindset of ruling over one another has no place in the body of Christ. Jesus said, If any man would be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all.”  (Mark 9:35, ASV- see also Matthew 20:25-28)

If we are ONE IN Christ, the ground where we stand before His throne is perfectly level. John saw this in his heavenly vision in Revelation.

And before the throne [of God] there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. (Rev 4:6, KJ2000)

And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God. (Rev 15:2, KJ2000)

Some of the most beautiful photos I have ever taken have been of a body of water that is flat calm like a mirror, reflecting the far shoreline, the mountains behind it and the sky. A sea of glass is like a mirror because it is perfectly flat. We all stand with equal stature on a sea like this before the throne of God, reflecting the beauty of our Lord and His glory, not our own. We can do this only if we have entered into His rest and ceased from our own labors. There is no place for posturing, hierarchy or dead works as we abide together in the love of Christ before our heavenly Father.

May His Spirit drive this truth home in our hearts, Amen.

Picnik Bay Morning

Picnic Bay Morning – Photo by Michael Clark

 

What Does it Mean to be One IN Christ?

 

unity-in-christFor as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:27-28, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

We are IN Him because we were baptized (Grk. baptizo – immersed or submerged) INTO Christ by the Spirit. Many have been immersed into water in a ceremony without being immersed into Him and they struggle all their lives trying to be “good” Christians. On the other hand we who have believed into Christ (the true meaning of John 3:16) are immersed in Christ! We have put on Christ just as a swimmer “puts on water” when he dives into the pool! Do you want to put on the full armor of God? It is the armor of Christ! Put on Christ and you will be wearing His armor, too. The sooner we quit seeing ourselves as separate from and outside of Him, the sooner we will walk totally by faith in Him.

In this state of being in Christ, we are no longer separated from each other by gender, nationality, religion, distance or even age. All things that were lost by Adam and Eve in their relationship with our Father and each other when they fell have been recovered by the power of Christ’s death and resurrection as we now dwell in heavenly places in Christ just as they dwelt with the Father in the Garden of Eden.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ …and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, (Eph 2:4-6, ESV2011)

We might even live on a different continent and many time zones away from another dear saint that we know in Christ, but that doesn’t mean that we live separate lives if we are both in the Son. Paul wrote that in Christ’s body we are members one of another, and when one member suffers all members suffer with them. When one member rejoices, all members rejoice with them. Neither time, distance, gender, nationality nor any other earthly institution or thing can separate us when we are knit together as one in Christ. The only thing that can separate us from one another and our heavenly place with the Father is unbelief, which pulls us back down into the realm where the prince of this world reigns and can torment us.

Do we have to be good enough to be one with and in Christ before the Father? No! The Amplified version makes it even clearer.

But God–so rich is He in His mercy! Because of and in order to satisfy the great and wonderful and intense love with which He loved us, Even when we were dead (slain) by [our own] shortcomings and trespasses, He made us alive together in fellowship and in union with Christ; [He gave us the very life of Christ Himself, the same new life with which He quickened Him, for] it is by grace that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ’s salvation). (Eph 2:4-5, AMP)

The largest part of our salvation is seeing that we sit together in heavenly places in Christ and that all the “normal” things that once divided us in this world are gone! We have become a new creation, heavenly beings, because we are citizens of our Father’s kingdom (Philippians 3:20) and our fellowship is with the Father and the Son. Paul wrote something that we really need to understand and walk in if we are ever to be one IN Christ,

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

When I was a Catholic, we were taught to kneel down and look at earthly things when we prayed. We looked at statues and images of Jesus hanging on the cross or Mary or the saints for our inspiration. The problem was that these were earthly images and we were trying to know Him “after the flesh.” Even today among Protestants we read the Bible and think on Him and His earthly ministry 2000 years ago. We say, “What would Jesus do?” as if we could conjure up an image of what He would have us do in every situation. Isn’t this still trying to know Him after the days of His flesh on earth? If we never get beyond that, we can be every bit as earth bound as those Catholics who look to images of Him. Why do we gaze off into the heavens (see Acts 1:9-11) when we now are already seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus at the right hand of the Father? Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is in our midst. If we have a heavenly walk with Christ who abides in us, we will know what He IS DOING, and walk that out IN Him. We are new creatures in Christ not by our works, but by His mighty grace and the power of His cross in our lives. It is only our lack of faith in His completed work that holds us earthbound in our sins (falling short of the glory of God). We seem to have more faith in our weakness as sinners and humans than we have in His power to lead us with His Spirit. We fail every time when we look to ourselves or to another member of His body in a fleshly way instead of looking off from ourselves unto Him and seeing them as He does. I once had a pastor who told the elders of the church to quit being critical of how I seemed outwardly and look at my heart for God had shown this man who I really was despite all my outward struggles I was going through. We must know one another in Him after the Spirit, not after the flesh.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith… and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:1-2, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

Dear saints, let us be heavenly minded IN Christ and not earthly minded in ourselves for this is where we will find victorious living together in the unity of the Spirit.

(T. A. Sparks wrote an excellent chapter on what it means to be beyond all our earthy bounds as we walk in the Spirit and fellowship IN Him, ( Divine Life Unlimited by Time and Space )

God’s Wonderful Expanding and Abounding Love

god-is-love

Sunset over Mica Peak – Photo taken by Michael Clark

I think that it is safe to say that real Christian maturity is measured by the amount that God is present in a life-changing way within us. Paul wrote about this growth as “the increase of God.”

“Holding fast the Head from whom all the body being supplied… increases with the increase of God.” – Col. 2:19.

If God is love as John wrote in His letter, then it stands to reason that with an increase of God’s presence within us there would be an increase of His love as well! Paul wrote about this very thing.

“And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1Thess 3:12-13, ESV2011)

When God and Jesus come down and abide in us we feel their love in our hearts often so greatly that it overflows outward to others, breaking down all barriers that once were in us against others. Paul felt his heart ever expanding with the love of God and from that love he wrote to the Corinthian church about their lack of love for him and one another. They had many spiritual gifts which they held over one another as if they were personal trophies and even divided from one another in a party spirit claiming to be followers of either Peter, Apollos and or Paul. He rebuked them for their carnality because it was an affront to the love of God and the gospel of Christ.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians about his love for them and their lack:

Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians [we are hiding nothing, keeping nothing back], and our heart is expanded wide (KJV- enlarged) [for you]! There is no lack of room for you in [our hearts], but you lack room in your own affections (Greek – splagchnon – bowels). By way of return then, do this for me–I speak as to children–open wide your hearts also [to us]. (2Cor 6:11-13, AMP)

As we read in 1 Corinthians chapter thirteen, they lacked the greatest spiritual attribute–they lacked the love of God. For many years after I became a Christian I followed the example of other Christians around me. Just as children follow the example of their parents, I followed those in church authority who were over me. My father had an expression, “Do as I say and not as I do.” Of course I did what he did instead. He smoked and drank and as soon as I joined the navy, I smoked and drank. Like the Christian leaders I admired, I pursued spiritual gifts, wisdom, Bible knowledge, ascending above my fellow believers, worldly power and notoriety — all to the stifling of my real spiritual growth — growing in the love of God.

In the above verse Paul spoke of his expanding heart as it opened wide with the love of God for the Corinthians. I also have been feeling this enlarging Paul wrote about in my own heart. I have felt the Source of that love within me growing even stronger in the last few weeks. For the last four or five years, God has had me focus on the unity of the Father and the Son and their desire for us to be ONE in them just as they are one. With this came a deep desire to know this strong unity with my fellow believers in Christ (See John 17:21-26). But as I went through these verses and meditated on them, the Spirit took me beyond the theme of spiritual unity into the reality of the love of the Father and the Son and how they love us and desire that same love to be in us. John ended that chapter quoting Jesus:

And I have declared unto them your name, and will declare it: that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17:26, KJ2000)

Often when we read this verse we get hung-up on wondering what the name of God is which He declared unto them. The Greek word for “name” here is onoma which means “authority and character.” Jesus is not speaking of God’s moniker, but the very character of the Father that He lived out before them as His perfect Son. It is the rest of the verse that has caught my attention, “that the love with which you have loved me may be in them and I in them”! This is the goal of the gospel, dear saints, that we might not only be one with the Father and the Son, but dwell in their unity together and become instruments of their great love for one another. John wrote to the saints of God:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1John 4:7-8, ESV2011)

Paul felt his heart enlarging for the Corinthian believers, but they were closed off and did not reciprocate in love to him. What a heart pain it is when those whom we love don’t love us with the same open and enlarged hearts as we have for them.

The love of God is a very powerful thing. It is the greatest positive force on earth because it can change people into sons and daughters of God and even win over our enemies. Paul spoke of this love being in his heart, but also of it being in his “bowels.” This word in the Greek splagchnon, includes our whole torso and abdomen. I started feeling love’s overflow coming from my expanding heart and going further down in my body and rising up into face as well. There was a tingling from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet! Paul wrote about this filling as Christ totally fills us up with His presence:

May Christ through your faith [actually] dwell (settle down, abide, make His permanent home) in your hearts! May you be rooted deep in love and founded securely on love, That you may have the power and be strong to apprehend and grasp with all the saints [God’s devoted people, the experience of that love] what is the breadth and length and height and depth [of it]; [That you may really come] to know [practically,  through experience for yourselves] the love of Christ, which far surpasses mere knowledge [without experience]; that you may be filled [through all your being] unto all the fullness of God [may have the richest measure of the divine Presence, and become a body wholly filled and flooded with God Himself]! (Eph 3:17-19, AMP)

Being totally filled with God and His love is a wonderful, all consuming experience that touches us in ways that cannot be easily spoken of with those who have not had it. Once our hearts have been enlarged by Him, the love of God can become all consuming because God totally fills us up with His presence. Austin-Sparks wrote,

What the Lord needs is an open pure spirit towards HIMSELF, and love toward ALL saints, the Lord will bring into His greater fulness where there is a genuine love one to the other – IN HIM. The sure way of being locked up and limited is to have a closed heart to any of the Lord’s children. LOVE is the way to spiritual increase. The Ephesian letter in which there is the fullest unveiling of heavenly truth in the deepest teaching concerning the Church, the Body of Christ, there is from start to finish the golden thread of LOVE running all through, this is significant when you consider what the letter contains.

(…)

The measure of our spiritual life is no greater than our heart; the knowledge that is in the head is not the measure of spirituality, the way for your release, emancipation, increase, abundance is the way of the heart. Spirituality is not mental agreement on things stated in the Word, it is the melting [welding] of one heart to another – to all saints. The devil has locked up a number of the Lord’s children as in a padded room of their own limitations; frozen their love by something between them and other children of God. The way out is by increase of love; and we shall remain locked, up until we are there!

“Speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into HIM, who is the Head, even Christ; from whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love.” – (Eph. 4:15-16, A.R.V.)  (1)

Can you see here that the expanding of His love in our hearts also makes for the expanding of the body of Christ who share this love? This is true spiritual growth. This is also the growth of the church. The early church overflowed with the love of God and thousands were touched by their mutual love and were added to their numbers. The most effective evangelism happens through a body of believers who are in love with Christ, the Father and with one another. In “the information age” words are cheap and the world is full of them, but as the love of our Father changes us and overflows from our hearts to all who are around us, THAT not mere words will change the world.

The Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another. – 1 Thess. 3:12.

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, (1Thess 4:9-10, ESV2011)

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/002964.html

Our Fellowship Is Like a Wheel

acts-2-46-47

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. For some time the Lord has been teaching me about the nature of true Christian fellowship. Ever since I was born of the Spirit in 1970, I have loved my time with the saints of God and have made it a priority in my life. I was rewarded openly at first because I was seeking Jesus as He abode in other believers I knew. We were all young believers with our wonderful new found love for Christ bubbling out. Our fellowship with each other and with Jesus was filled with His love.  It was like living the Book of Acts as His love freely flowed between us.

But then one day after many months, Jesus said to me, “Michael, I have someone I want you to meet.” I thought, “Who could this be?” He then said, “I want you to meet my Father.” I about freaked out. I was raised Catholic, and in my mind God was like “The Great and Mighty Oz,” greatly to be feared.  I said, “Jesus, if I were to have a relationship directly with your Father, what happens to You?”  He then said, “Don’t you understand? This is why I came and dwelt among men, that they might be restored to my Father.”

This dialogue was a turning point in my relationship with God. Shortly after that I started experiencing Him not only as a loving Father in Christ, but one who rebukes and chastens those who are His sons. Many trials and hardships were to follow. The honeymoon time with Jesus that lasted for months seemed to be over. My flesh rebelled against this new phase of my relationship with Daddy. He was now taking me from spiritual childhood into sonship, and it was not fun (see Proverbs 29:17, Acts 14:21-22, and Hebrews 12: 7-11).

After that, heartfelt fellowship with other saints, grew very thin, for the most part. I so loved those early days of such sweet times with His saints that I went on searching for it everywhere I went, but it has often been disheartening. If I found fellowship with others in the churches, it never seemed to last. Today, I can see the depths of what was prophesied in the following passage, because this is what Father was doing with me.

And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? 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. Therefore come out from among them, and be you separate, says the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty. (2Cor 6:16-18, KJ2000)

He was weaning me from my dependence on church going! Not all that goes by the name “church” is THE Church. There is a great unclean mixture and many conflicting voices out there in Christendom and God was pulling me away from the confusion unto Himself.  Brethren, I am not the only one He has done this with. This is not an exclusive thing that has happening only to me. This is God’s way with His elect. He has separated to Himself a called-out people all through the scriptures (Enoch, Abraham, Moses, the children of Israel, David, the prophets, Jesus, the disciples, Paul and finally the ekklesia of called-out ones — His Church). Many of us have been called outside the camp unto Him and it is a great reproach to those who are still inside the camps of Christendom (see Heb. 13:11-14).

More Fine Tuning

gods-fine-tuning

Recently God has been fine-tuning me regarding this thing called “fellowship.” He has had First John 1:7 on my mind almost continually. John connects fellowship with walking in the Light as Jesus is in the Light.  During this time I have learned much by watching the example of a dear saint who I have come to know in the last few years. This person has put fellowship with the Father and the Son first before fellowship with other believers. This was so strange to me that I didn’t know how to take it. It almost felt like rejection, because at times that devotion to Christ seemed to come between us. He had become this dear saint’s first priority. All my Christian life I have rarely found such devotion to the Father and the Son as with this person.

One other time I came up against this kind of devotion to God and His calling when I asked a dear older saint to please pray for me. Their answer stunned me. They said, “No! I do not take on a prayer burden for anyone unless God puts it on my heart. I have to hear it from Him.” Well, that gave me a lot to think about! We so glibly say, “I will pray for you, brother,” without giving it much thought. For the mature in Christ, obedience becomes a matter of spiritual survival because the enemy can load us up with all manner of “good things” we should do!

We all seem to put something else first before God, even “good” things like our well being, careers, family, friendships, even our churches. He has been showing me that looking for fellowship with other believers first is a near miss if we are to truly come into real fellowship with one another. John shed light on how spiritual fellowship works when He wrote about the priority that God demands before it can happen.

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light… if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1John 1:3-7, ESV2011 -emphasis added)

Let me be more concise and paraphrase John. “Indeed our fellowship is with the Father and the Son… God is light, if we walk in that light as HE is in the light we have fellowship first with Him and then with those who are also walking in His light.” John’s fellowship with the Father and the Son is what gave him the Light of Life because God is Light. John wrote to the saints from this same Light.  No one wrote about the love of God like John did. His priority was His fellowship with the Father and the Son, and that made all the difference between walking after the Spirit and walking in the flesh.

When we find a brother or sister who walks in God’s Light, what a find they are! We want to be around them all the time, but therein is the danger. We soon can put another person or persons in the place that our Father wants with us. We rejoice when we hear God speaking into our hearts by one of His servants, but the message we should be hearing from a true servant of God is to seek God FIRST (read 1 Cor. Ch. 3).

When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” As a dear saint pointed out to me recently, here we see the priority our love and devotion should have–first for God, then others and finally ourselves. It is so easy to get this all turned around.

We Are Like Individual Spokes in a Wheel

About two weeks ago as I contemplated and prayed about where true Christian fellowship can be found, God showed me a picture of a bicycle wheel with its many spokes, all attached to one central hub. The hub contains the axel that every other part revolves around. He showed me that we who belong to Him are like the spokes on that wheel. We are further apart from one another out by the rim of the wheel than we are when we are closer to the Hub. Jesus Christ is our Hub we must all be attached to, just as He is the Vine and we are His branches! If we are not attached to Him, we wither up and die.  If our attachment is to one another alone instead of Him, our fellowship soon falls apart! What a parable this was for me. It explains why so many of my attempts at having fellowship with other Christians, even mature Christians, has failed. We do serve a jealous God.

many-believers-spokes-wheel-the-body-of-christ-1024x683

The above is a telling picture of our fellowship with one another with Christ as our Hub. The rim may be the body of Christ as the caption says, but it is also the part that is closest to the world. It is attached only to the spokes and not the Hub. No, the true body of Christ is attached directly to Him and the rim is their outreach to the world. We are to be in the world, but not of the world. Our attempts to relate to worldly people and their ways can also draw us away from Christ if we make that our priority instead of our fellowship with Him. Jesus prayed, “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.  And the glory which you gave me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:23-22 – emphasis added). Our witness to the world that Jesus is the Christ all hinges on our individual unity and fellowship with the Father and the Son, not the world. Ezekiel prophesied about the working of this unity.

Wherever the spirit wanted to go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. (Ezek 1:20-21, ESV2011)

Wow, what a picture of our fellowship with the Father and the Son, the Wheel inside the Wheel and the Spirit in and among us as we follow Him. May we forever live our lives within them and do their will.