Motivated Only by His Love

A Heart after God.jpg

Please forgive me, but as many of you have discovered, I only tend to write when the Spirit wind is blowing in my neck of the woods. Thus you get my blog articles in short bursts and then I must be still and listen for a while in silence. So here is number three in about as many days. You might call this a “book report” on a YouTube video that came to my attention out of a time of fellowship, so the format is a bit different than my usual missive.

I was having coffee with an old friend of mine who has been in the wilderness of God for many years. We had often bumped into one another as we tried to find a local church that felt like home, without much success. I had also met much of his family over the years. Like many of us, he has struggled with discerning the difference between the flesh and spirit in him and struggle with being set out to dry in Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones. But this time he spoke to me about being encouraged by listening to a YouTube message by Paul Keith Davis, who in some circles has been regarded as a prophet. This alone made me skeptical of his message at first, but I went home at the Spirit’s urging and listened to it. You can hear it here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBsg0J-ZILk).

Listening to it was a rough start for me, because he spoke with some religious overtones and traditions of today’s “prophetic movement” that God brought me out of, but the Lord told me to keep listening because there was a word for God’s called-out one, Ekklesia, in this video. As he told the story of his own wilderness period, I realized there were some life similarities we share, but mind you I no way endorse all of the messages on his YouTube site.

In 1980 the Lord showed me in a vision of how I looked to Him after I prayed that he would show me as He saw me–not as I thought He saw me–in my “glorious ministry.” What I saw was not pretty. I was filled with pride and ministered with the gifts of the Spirit so that I could draw people to myself and become somebody of notoriety in their eyes. I was stealing His praises and glory to myself. After that I prayed, “God this is ugly! You do not share your glory with any man. If this is what I am doing, just kill it! Show it no mercy.” That was the beginning of my 14 years in His wilderness, a time of being stripped of everything I once was and knew so He could build His house on the foundation of Christ in me and nothing else.

Brother Paul Davis also spoke of a time of stripping where God forced him into seclusion and inactivity with a back injury (another thing we shared). I found there was still a bit of a ministry fixation about him in this message, but the further I listened, the more his focus was not on ministry and ruling and reigning with Christ, but on a love relationship with Jesus and the Father. He had an encounter with the Father and His great love during that time that touched him deeply, even though it lasted only a few minutes.

One thing I disagreed with was when he said in effect, “Because of this love, the bride of Christ wants to lay there with her head on His breast, but the Lord wants to push her out to do ministry….” Not quite. In the final battle Jesus leads His army of saints forth to do battle and they follow the Lamb wherever He goes because of their love for Him. There is no “pushing us out ahead to do battle or ministry” for that matter. Jesus made it clear that apart from Him we can do nothing! The taking of the Promised Land by the sword became necessary because the Children of Israel sinned. He had planned at first to go before them and fight their battles, but since they failed to enter in because of their fear and unbelief, they had to fight when they went in forty years later (see Exodus 23). This is the difference between the Old and the New Covenants. In the Old Covenant, where they sinned, they strived and fought to gain the land, but in the New Covenant all things are ours as we abide in Christ. When He cried out from the cross, “It is finished,” it was!

We must get out of Martha’s kitchen and join Mary, who was madly in love with Jesus and sat at His feet with the other disciples because she chose the better part. Without our first love for Him abiding in us (the great flaw of those seven churches of Asia in Revelation), we will miss the will of God because we’ll lack the spiritual closeness of those who lay their heads on His heart. It is there that we discern His needs, desires and purposes and are motivated by His love. Ministry cannot be our first love. Until Jesus is once again our First Love, we have nothing to give of any eternal value, and most all of what we do will be out of our own flesh instead of from Him. The last god to go in the lives of men and women who want to be somebody in the church is the god called, my ministry. Sooner or later, God demands that all such things be laid on the altar of sacrifice where His fire burns up everything that is of the flesh. Apostle Paul wrote:

For no other foundation can a man lay than what is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall test every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he has built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. (1Cor 3:11-15, KJ2000)

I get a check in my spirit when I hear a person focusing on ruling and reigning “with Christ” instead of being a servant with Christ. Jesus’ whole example was that of a lowly and loving servant, not a king who came to be served. When John heard the angels of heaven call out, “Behold the Lion of the Tribe of Judah,” he turned and was shown “a Lamb as though it had been slain.” There will be a final battle at the end of the age, but those who go forth behind Christ will be there out of love for Him and He has already conquered Satan on the cross.

Jesus was always and will always be the abject Servant and His message for His bride was that she should do likewise.

And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” [ruling and reigning with Jesus] But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” [the cup of suffering] They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:21-28, NRS, emphasis added)

There is no ruling and reigning with our beloved Slain Lamb until we drink our own cup of suffering that kills our fleshly desires and urges and enables us to hear His voice instead of the din of our own untamed thought processses. Right up until the end when Jesus was about to go to the cross, the disciples were still believing in an earthly kingdom with Jesus on the throne and them ruling and reigning with Him as His executive administrators just like the kings of the Gentiles and their governments. We are no different today. For all too many of us, our focus is on the kingdoms of this world–what the Russians are doing, what the Democrats or Republicans are doing, what Trump or Obama are saying and doing, etc. As a result, we have a worldly kingdom mindset of top down over-lording when we hear “The Kingdom of God.” As Jesus stood before Pilate at His sentencing, He said clearly, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom was of this world my armies would come and fight.” His final lesson to them, as it still is today to us, was about the necessity of being a lowly servant motivated only by love.

So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was seated again, he said unto them, Know you what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord: and you say rightly; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet; you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If you know these things, happy are you if you do them. (John 13:12-17, KJ2000, emphasis added)

In this video brother Davis said, “I wanted to stay home until this (wilderness) process is done,” but he went out and did some ministry meetings before it was finished. I also had prayed about half way through mine that He would not release me until He had fully accomplished what He set out to do and to please forgive me for my whimpering to the contrary. During our wilderness testing, there is a great temptation for us to escape it and go “do something for God.” At one point in the wilderness, Israel plotted to kill Moses and appoint a new ruler who would lead them back into Egypt and its slavery rather than let the wilderness kill them. It is the same for us. I ministered at a couple of meetings before my flesh was bleached white by the sun in the wilderness (see Ezekiel ch. 37) and what I did had no anointing upon it and it stank!

About half way through this YouTube recording, Davis started to teach about the metamorphosis of a butterfly and how that applies to our death to the old self and rising again newness of life in Christ during this lifetime. A butterfly has no similarity to its former caterpillar self.  Peter spoke of this process.

“[you have an] inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fades not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In which you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you are in heaviness through manifold trials: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:” (1Pet 1:4-7, KJ2000)

Like Jesus said, if we are to reign with Him we must first drink His cup of suffering, but it releases in us an unbarred relationship of love with the Father and the Son (see John 17:21-26).

Paul Davis also went on to teach about the process of starting out as spiritual infants and going on to become adopted sons of the Father. It’s important that we see the need for this and pray that God does all that it takes in our lives to come into full maturity. George Davis and I wrote about it here, “A Child or a Son?”

Paul said in the video that because of what the church has become in these days, the Spirit of adoption is driving us into the secret place of the Most High, into the heart of the Father and out of the limelight of  “doing church” as usual. So true! This is why many of us do not take in church meetings anymore and if we do, we usually go away feeling empty. As it was with the Shulamite woman in Song of Songs, no one or anything in Solomon’s kingdom could take the place of her lover who said, “Arise my love, my fair one, come away.” Second-hand love never works. There is no comparison in these crowded church meetings to being alone in the arms of the One who loves us.

The Paul Davis quoted Jesus, “To him that overcomes I will grant to sit down with me in my throne, WE must overcome!” Excellent! We must overcome the flesh that desires preeminence, to be in control at all times, to be a somebody, or have our own way. The first enemy we must conquer is the one within! Our hearts must come to the place where they are totally focused on a love relationship with Jesus and the Father, not in love with ourselves. The earmark of the Laodicean church is not that she doesn’t work, but that she does! Jesus said, “I know your works!” But because she has lost her red hot first love for Jesus, she does all her works out of duty and lukewarm religious tradition. There is a smug, self-centered completeness about her that does not need Jesus as well, “I am rich, I am increased with goods, I have need of nothing.”

Paul Davis went on to say, “I was granted to stand for a few minutes in the perfect love of the Father and I have groaned to be there ever since. I groan to get back into that place of perfect love… Jesus is coming back for a bride that has perfect love for the Bridegroom.” The Christian walk is all about love for God is love. We must be motivated by His love for and in us, not ministry, not ruling and reigning, not what’s in it for us. All that is of the flesh. It takes being touched by His love in our innermost being for us to get our priorities straight and have true Kingdom vision. Just before the going to the cross Jesus prayed His final will and testament,

Father, I will that they also, whom you have given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which you have given me: for you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world has not known you: but I have known you, and these have known that you have sent me. 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 17:24-26, KJ2000)

Oh,  Jesus, please draw us into the fullness of the love of the Father and the Son that we might become spiritually whole and one. Amen.

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

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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

 

In Faithfully Following the Lamb, True Fellowship Is Found

But he that enters in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out. And when he puts forth his own sheep, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. (John 10:2-4, KJ2000)

 

Oh, how often I and many other Christians have tried to have fellowship with one another. The more the world goes its destructive way, the more we think, “If only I could find the right church (home fellowship, men’s group, etc.), I would find fellowship there.” The more spiritually mature we become, the more we realize that true fellowship is spirit to spirit and not just flesh to flesh with common worldly likes and beliefs. Finding the “right person” or human shepherd will not work for long either if that is our focus.

In Revelation, we read about a great group of people who all have one thing in common and it is not an organization or group focused on a human teacher, denominational doctrine or even one another. No.

And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders… These are they who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These were redeemed from among men, being the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb. (Rev 14:3-4, KJ2000)

These people have been redeemed not only from their own sins, but from among men… unto God and to the Lamb for they follow the Lamb wherever He goes. I have learned that to have real fellowship with one another we must first as individuals have our fellowship with the Father and the Son and be lead by their love (see John 17:16-26) keeping our focus on them. We must be of a heavenly harvest from among men, devoted unto them. As soon as we focus on one another in place of the Father and the Son, everything becomes stale and dead.

I and many others have had to learn this lesson the same way that we really learn spiritual things… by experience (see Romans 5:3-5). How often have we joined a group of Christians or a movement we at first thought was “the cat’s meow,” the real thing, only to become disillusioned after a few months or seen it blown apart by some schism? This is not always the devil at work, but rather the Spirit calling us to seek out our Heavenly Father first and foremost. Jesus said, “But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt 6:33, KJ2000). The kingdom of God is found where God is King! ALL these other things, including fellowship, are added when we worship Him and seek the fellowship of the Father and the Son above all else.

Austin Sparks wrote regarding Revelation chapter fourteen.

“A virgin people,” notice some other particulars about them. “Purchased out of the earth… not defiled with women; for they are virgins”. In that statement we must not read the literal meaning. It cannot mean that at all. It is in keeping with the whole of that particular meaning throughout the Old Testament and the New where God’s elect people are regarded as a virgin people. Fornication in Israel was that of having spiritual relationship with other nations, the peoples of this world, and this is what is meant — that there has been created and preserved an absolute separateness from that spiritual system which lies behind this world; there must be no link with it at all… They “follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth,” that is in the present participle, which means they are following the Lamb because they always have been. It has become a habit, it is a disposition which has been born in them, created in them. They did it on the earth and they go on doing it, people who are not spasmodic in following the Lamb, who are not of those who go on one day and go back the next. They are continuously following the Lamb. It is an utterness of devotion to the Lord Jesus. They are the firstfruits unto the Lamb. Note the way it is put — “Firstfruits… unto the LAMB”. The Lamb has in them the first maturity of His Lamb character and work; in them He first sees of the travail of His soul and is satisfied. It is unto the Lamb, His satisfaction.

“Unto the Lamb,” it means this, that their conception of salvation was not one governed by personal interest, that they would be saved in order to be saved and enjoy salvation for themselves; but their conception was that it was all unto the Lord, it was for Him. That is a higher level altogether, and I beg to suggest that this is a discriminating thing. There are multitudes of people, Christians, who are glad to be saved in order to be saved, because it is a good thing to be saved for themselves; it secures a lot for them and it means heaven and glory; but the primary concern of these others is the glory of the LAMB. “Unto the LAMB”. They follow wherever HE goes.

“The Fellowship of His Sufferings,” naturally, it might be easier to follow the KING whithersoever He goeth. There were many in the days of His flesh who pursued Him wherever He went. You would always find them there. Oh, He said, “loaves and fishes”; to see His mighty works. But these follow the Lamb, and that means that they have a disposition to respond to the “fellowship of his sufferings”, like the apostle who first used that phrase. For him it was not something to be shunned: “that l may know him and the fellowship of his sufferings” (Phil. 3:10); there was a disposition to share the sufferings of the Lamb. That issues in a specific kind of people, a particular company; and if we look at it in that way surely our suspicions and our fears are dismissed. Identify these people and the other ground gives way.

What all this means becomes clear as we look at it in its relation to all that is said about the Lamb. That is, you have got to comprehend the whole Word of God in connection with the Lamb in order to understand who and what these people are, for undoubtedly they are the people who have embraced, entered into, and become the embodiment of all that that phrase means — the Lamb, His life, His character, His work. What is here is this: firstly, a company marked out and distinguished by a peculiar fellowship with Christ as the Lamb. Underline the word Lamb, the name Lamb, with all that that means, and then see here a people who are in a peculiar relationship with Christ as the Lamb, and with what He means as being the Lamb. There is little doubt that there is a special honour given to this company. They are mentioned here with peculiar honour; their position is one of peculiar honour. The very tone in which they are mentioned is that of a people of very sacred and precious meaning to the Lord.

“A Song Learned Through Suffering,” they possess an exclusive secret. They sing a song, and no one could learn that song save the hundred and forty-four thousand. No one else had the faculty. How do they possess this exclusive secret? Oh, the answer goes to the heart of so much in our experience. You know that it is a true principle that you learn secrets through suffering that you learn in no other way. It is in suffering that we learn those things that no one else knows. We cannot explain them, we cannot teach them, or make others understand. We can only say, “When you have been through what I have been through you will understand, you will know; until you have, it is all closed to you”. These people have been a way in which capacity for something has been created.  (1)

Let me repeat what Sparks said once again, “You know that it is a true principle that you learn secrets through suffering that you learn in no other way. It is in suffering that we learn those things that no one else knows. We cannot explain them, we cannot teach them, or make others understand.” And we have to learn these secrets the same way that Jesus did—He “learned obedience through the things that He suffered.” He teaches us these hard lessons to align us with the will of the Father as His children.

That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that you also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. (1John 1:3-4, KJ2000)

There is no greater joy than to be in fellowship with the Father and the Son and no amount of suffering and tribulation can take that away. When we find another saint that is also on this path how sweet that fellowship is!

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/tas-3.pdf  – pg. 26&27

Can God Provide a Table in the Wilderness?

Bench at Castle Quarry Overlook

Photo by Susanne Schuberth

Yea, they spoke against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? (Ps 78:19, KJ2000)

And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now late; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves food. But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; you give them to eat. (Matt 14:15-16, KJ2000)

In the meanwhile his disciples besought him, saying, Teacher, eat. But he said unto them, I have food to eat that you know not of. Therefore said the disciples one to another, has any man brought him anything to eat? Jesus said unto them, My food is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. (John 4:31-34, KJ2000)

I met a brother while fishing a while back, and when he found out that I’m a believer in Christ, he invited me to join him on Saturday mornings for a “men’s fellowship” he goes to at a local church. He assured me that I would enjoy it and with my knowledge of the Bible would fit right in and be appreciated. He is still young in the Lord and has much to learn when it comes to following the Spirit vs. following men. After inviting me every time he sees me, I finally assured him that I would pray about his invitation and do what the Lord tells me to do and only that.

So, you might be asking what this has to do with the verses that I quoted in the beginning of this blog. This brother and I met on the bank of a lake where there is little sign of man and his doings. Compared to many fishing places, some would call this a wilderness. There are no docks to fish from, no toilet facilities, no picnic tables, no trash cans, and no benches to sit on. We were able to fellowship in the Spirit’s leading without anyone supervising or interrupting our time together. He was amazed. God had prepared a “table” in the wilderness for us. It was totally outside a church setting and he was blessed, yet unwittingly in his immaturity, he wanted to pull what we shared into a place where he was used to getting his spiritual food under the control of a church official.

How many times have you heard church-minded people say that they go to a certain church because they are getting fed there or they are looking for another church to attend because they are not getting fed? As I grew in the Lord, I found myself in that mindset and became less and less content with the food that was provided by men in their religious institutions. The Spirit started leading me to go out into the wilderness to hear the words of my Lord. Because I grew to where I could hear His voice without all the intellects of men interfering, Church people would say, “What church do you attend?” “Did you go to Bible school somewhere?” Or like the disciples they were asking of Jesus, “Has any MAN brought him something to eat?”  When the lame man at the pool was asked by Jesus if he would be made whole he replied, “I have no man…” We are all too focused on men for our provision and because of this we miss out on what God has for us.

Jesus said, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” and this was HIS food. God can and does prepare for us a table in the wilderness where there are no churches, no fellowship meetings, no Bible schools and none of the things that most religious people relate to for “daily bread” for their hungry souls. This is the way that the Israelites thought in the wilderness (Psalm 78:19) – we doubt that He can speak to us and provide food for our spirits with every word that proceeds from HIS mouth through His Spirit within us. It is just as the prophet warned:

Behold, the days come, says the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it. In that day shall the fair virgins and young men faint for thirst. (Amos 8:11-13, KJ2000)

I am reminded of the visible church systems of today compared to His table set for us in the wilderness in the following account about John the Baptist:

Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zachariah in the wilderness. (Luke 3:1-2, KJ2000)

Can you see it? Every person who was considered the world’s authorities in their centers of civilization, the people “in the know” are mentioned here, even the temple high priests in Jerusalem, but the word of God came to John in the wilderness! As we mature in Christ, we will find ourselves being drawn more and more to Him that we might live by every word that proceeds out of His mouth. Our spiritual walk will become more and more isolated from those who “live by bread alone” as He fine-tunes us to hear and obey His voice. Just as John found more than enough “ministry” to do in the wilderness, so did Jesus as the crowds so often followed Him out into the wilderness to hear His words and be healed by Him. As we mature in Christ and obey His leading, we might often find ourselves alone, but God knows how to arrange for us to speak and to do His will when the time is right. Remember, God is more interested in what He wants to put into us than what He stands to get out of us.

(A special thanks to Susanne Schuberth for letting me use her picture of that old hand carved table and benches in the Bavarian woods. Also, thanks to George Davis and the time of sharing we had together this morning when the Spirit made those opening passages from the Bible take on new meaning for me.)

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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.