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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember, dear brothers and sisters,

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

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

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

We Are Individually Members One of Another

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are We Supposed to Fit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking by the Spirit Regardless of the World Around Us

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“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. (1John 1:3-4, ESV)

As we watch the effect that this current corona virus epidemic is having on the world, we also see it affecting the visible church systems. There is a controversy over pastors who are holding services regardless of the orders by governments that ban all public meetings where the virus could be transmitted person to person. A well-known mega-church pastor in Florida was even jailed and fined for breaking this ban and holding public meetings. Why is it so important for Christian institutions to hold their church meetings? It is because this is the way that the modern church “does church.”

Zachariah chapter four describes the vision that this prophet and priest saw. There was a lampstand with seven golden oil lamps with a central golden bowl and seven golden pipes feeding each of the lamps with their supply of oil. This bowl was filled from heaven with the oil of the Spirit from the “two witnesses” that stand beside the God of heaven. The poor prophet didn’t understand this vision because there was no such thing to be found in their temple system where it was up to the priests to keep the individual lamps full and their wicks trimmed. When he asked the angel that spoke with him what this all meant the angel replied,

“This is the word of the LORD… ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’  says the LORD of hosts.” (Zech 4:6, NKJV)

We see such a vast difference between the temple system of the Old Testament and what Zachariah saw in this vision. This difference is vast between the Old Covenant and the new as well. I have found that few Christians today realize just how different these two covenants are. A prayerful reading of the Book of Hebrews should be a wake-up call to anyone who has eyes to see. The difference is demonstrated by this current debate about how we should meet during this epidemic.

Zachariah’s vision says it all, dear saints! The true ecclesia (Church) of God is not dependent on buildings, or on the close proximity gatherings that are so important today to keep the business of “church” functioning. We are a spiritual temple made of living stones and supplied by the Spirit of God, not by the might and power of tithes and offerings, intellectually appealing sermons, or even music and mood lighting that moves our souls. The mammon of men and the power and might that goes into “Christian” organizations, the building of church buildings and all that goes on in them are not what the prophet was shown in this vision. Neither did he see the power and might of Solomon, who built the first temple. That temple was a type of what was to come and it was fulfilled by the very Son of God, Jesus Christ and His spiritual Church. When Jesus died on the cross the veil of the temple that separated the Holy of Holies from men was torn from top to bottom, thus signifying the way into the very presence of God through Christ’s torn flesh. We who believe in Him are God’s holy priesthood and Jesus is our High Priest.

When we are walking in His Spirit, our supply is from heaven alone. When we are spirit to spirit, we share that supply with one another. This is what the early Church demonstrated so well in the Book of Acts where none of the said what they had was their own and as a result none of them were lacking. They did not set out to build church buildings in every town where the gospel was preached so they could meet as is the common practice today. Neither did they collect tithes and special offerings for physical church buildings, organizations its salaries. This is the way the world and its corporations operate.

Those who walk according to the Spirit are His lamps that shine forth in this dark world, not by our might or power, but by His Spirit. This whole system built up by men since the Roman Emperor Constantine took control of the early church in 312 AD is a confusing delusion. It takes the eyes and ears of those who believe in Christ away from Him and His Spirit and places them on men and their institutions. This is why this downtime of not meeting in churches is such a controversy and crisis for many. But those of us who walk be the Spirit haven’t been effected by it at all for our supply of the Spirit is in Christ.

If we are truly the temple of God as the New Testament makes so clear, all that goes on in the physical world around us can never touch what we share as we abide IN Christ. When we rest IN Him, our spirits are together in His Spirit and our communications and fellowship are in and by Him. We might be thousands of miles apart from one another, yet our hearts are still one and our fellowship is still very uplifting and our prayers for one another are no less powerful as we abide in the Spirit together. We are still living stones that are one in His spiritual temple, being supplied by the oil of His Spirit that comes down from the throne of God. This is what makes our fellowship so alive and real no matter what happens around us in the physical world.

Paul and Silas, experiencing this sweet heavenly fellowship in that dank and dark Philippian prison after being flogged and put in chains, literally “brought the house down” by an earthquake and gained not only their freedom, but the salvation of their jailer and his household by the Spirit (see Acts 16:22-36)! Paul was able to be with the Church in Corinth and Colossi in spirit in a very real way, yet not be physically with them (See 1 Cor. 5:3 and Col. 2:5). John knew what was happening in the seven churches mentioned in Revelation by the power of the Spirit and ministered to them even though he was exiled on a remote island in the Mediterranean Sea. True witnessing of God’s kingdom and ministry always happens by the power of the Spirit and not by human might and power. This is why Paul wrote,

But he [Jesus] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2Cor 12:9-10, ESV)

Christ’s Church is made up of those God has set apart for Himself and we are safe in Him even in the worst calamities. Our fellowship in the Spirit continues and cannot be shaken no matter what happens here on earth because it is heavenly in nature. Paul was making this very clear in his letter to the Ephesian Church when he wrote:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: (Eph 1:3, AKJV)

And has raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. (Eph 2:6-7, AKJV)

Oh, dear saints, I encourage you to look beyond all the distractions that are being pushed in upon us by this world and fellowship with one another in HIS Spirit just as Paul and Silas did. We are all one in HIS lampstand as we experience the supply of His Spirit together. Set your minds on those things that are above, not these fleeting things that are happening beneath. It is as we abide in the joy of the Father and the Son that we will be witnesses to the world around us.

[What would have become of me] had I not believed that I would see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living! Wait and hope for and expect the Lord; be brave and of good courage and let your heart be stout and enduring. Yes, wait for and hope for and expect the Lord. (Ps 27:13-14, AMP)

The Process of Christ Being Manifest in Us, the Way of the Cross

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways” (Jer 17:9-10, ESV)

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2Cor 4:6-11, ESV)

No matter how sweet we might have been as infants, we eventually show that there is something broken within us, something that wants to lie, cheat, manifest anger, steal, and do everything that the ten commandments tell us not to do. The heart within us is desperately sick! No matter how hard we try to be “good people,” we find ourselves doing the things that we would not and not doing the things that we would. In short, God knows we need help!

I thank our Father that He commanded His light to shine in our hearts and expose the darkness that He sees there, but not only that, He has chosen to replace our darkness with “the light of the knowledge of His glory in the face of Jesus Christ.” What a gift! How does this happen? Is it an instant bit of magic that our Father does in us when we get saved? I remember when I first started to experiencing trials after coming to Christ that I wanted Him to be like Tinkerbell and use His magic wand and, “Chwing!” instant super Christian! I was soon to find out that this is not His way.

As we read further down in the above quote from Paul we see that we still have this treasure of Christ in clay vessels which are weak by their very natures. God has chosen to let us see that we have no power in ourselves to live godly lives in Christ. By making us live with the weakness in us, He gets us to cry out to Him to do something about it. We soon discover that we are helpless in and of ourselves and that all power belongs to Him. We go through a process in which we are afflicted in every way only to find out that we have no strength in us to change. He allows us to be pressed upon, but not crushed; afflicted with all manner of suffering and pain and be rejected by this world and its people to the point of despair, only to find out that He has not forsaken us and is very much in it all. Paul wrote that we are “always carrying in our bodies the death of Jesus Christ so that the Life of Jesus might be what is manifest in us.” Little did we know that when we “asked Jesus into our hearts,” we also asked His suffering and death to come in to deal with that old Adam within us that Christ’s resurrection and Life might also be made manifest in us.

As this body of mine gets older, I am discovering how fragile this clay vessel really is! Where once I was healthy and self-asserting, I seem to come in contact with one affliction after another that keeps me weak. Did you notice that word “always” in what Paul wrote above? Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus.” Yikes! I seem to go from one source of pain to another. I go to the doctor with each new symptom and he sends me from one “specialist” and another! What it comes down to is that you can’t fix what God fixes to fix you. Is it any wonder that for every “miracle drug” they prescribe for us, there are even more nasty “side effects” that take the place of the “cure”? He seems to be teaching me to leave it all in the hands of the Great Physician to deal with me as HE wills.

God is myopic! He has a singular focus on one thing, the perfect manifestation of His Son in us. Early on in my Christian walk I prayed as Paul did, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection. It has taken years for me to pray the rest of that verse with sincerity–the fellowship of His suffering and be made conformed unto His death. To be conformed unto Christ’s death by suffering is also to be transformed into His resurrection life! You cannot have one without the other.

In Pentecostal circles I often heard people quoting this verse hoping that they would become great in the eyes of others, “A man’s gift makes room for him, And brings him before great men (Prov 18:16, NKJV). We all love the way that God called Paul to go forth with the gospel with resurrection power and even appear before kings, but let’s read the rest of that call…

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he [Paul] is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Acts 9:15-16, NKJV)

For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Giving our lives to Christ is a “full meal deal.” We don’t get to pick and choose which part of that life we get to have manifest within us. In the gospel of Matthew we read this:

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” (Matt 16:21-22, ESV)

It is the very nature of the carnal man to reject suffering. Jesus embraced the will of His Father and the cross that was set before Him. Notice how the flesh in Peter reacted to this “bad news.” “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” The fleshly man has no place for suffering in his life or the lives of his loved ones. Now look at how Jesus responded to Peter’s outburst:

But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matt 16:23, ESV)

He spoke to Satan that was manifesting in Peter’s fleshly mind trying to get Jesus to disobey the will of His Father. If He had turned away from the cross and become the new earthly King of Israel as they all wanted, none of us would have ever been redeemed! The flesh is an ally of Satan and to embrace our suffering that our Father has willed is to reject the devil in our lives. The will of God is just the opposite of the wills of many of my Pentecostal friends who want to rebuke demons anytime someone is suffering.

Dear saints, don’t be robbed of the fellowship that is ours as we embrace His sufferings. There is more to fellowship than to meet, eat and retreat one day a week in a warm and fuzzy church meeting. Paul wrote, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. (1Cor 12:24-26, NKJV). How often do we see this depth of fellowship within our “seeker friendly” and easy believe-ism churches of today?

You see, dear saints, suffering is very much a part of the plan of God as He conforms us into the image of Christ. Embrace the fellowship of His suffering as Paul did for it is part of His resurrection power working in us.

Father, open our the eyes of our understanding that we might see the depths of our salvation and fully embrace all that you have for us to walk in together as we follow Christ in our lives. Amen.

 

We Are Not of this World

unseen eternal

“…when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a [smoky] mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1Cor 13:10-12, ESV2011)

Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: That we from now on be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, by which they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, who is the head, even Christ: (Eph 4:13-15, KJ2000)

Recently, I found out why a brother that I had communicated with often had dropped out of sight. He had been taken captive by the teachings of some “Torah observant Christians.” What an oxymoron! Anyone with spiritual light who has read the New Testament, especially Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews should see the contradiction here. He finally met a brother who had been set free of this teaching who was able to set him free once again.

(Please pause for a moment and meditate on these two passages quoted above.)

We come into our belief in Christ as spiritual infants, but we are not called to remain that way. The New Testament refers to us as infant children (Grk. nepios – not yet able to speak), as adolescent children (Grk. teknon )  and  as mature sons (Grk. huios). Our maturity begins when we receive the Holy Spirit, but too many Christians today have not yet received the Holy Spirit, much like the believers in Ephesus (see Acts 19:1-7). This is why they can sit every Sunday feeding on the milk of a salvation message over and over from the pulpit with no hunger to go any further.

preacher & congregation

The writer of Hebrews addressed this saying,

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Heb 5:11-14, ESV2011)

The more we grow IN Christ, the easier it is to see with our developing spiritual sight. And the more we see from a heavenly perspective, the more obvious it becomes that the things that many Christians believe are either incomplete or are bound by deception. Humans, for the most part, are blinded by the Prince of this world. Even when they set out to see and understand the things of God, there is still a double vision problem–one eye is set on heavenly things and the other on the world and its concerns. At best there is a seeing like looking into a smoke covered mirror. The worst smoke screen of all is the one that comes closest to being the truth… man made religion.

The first thing we need to understand is the depths of what Jesus told Pilate at His trial, “My kingdom is NOT of this world!” All religions of men ARE of this world and are concerned with the things of this world, whether it is “touch not, taste not, handle not,” the observation of feast days and Sabbath ceremonies or tithing so they can support church facilities and the paid staff. Almost everything that church leaders are concerned with and teach has to do with things perceived by five human senses. We start out with His heavenly calling upon us, “come up here and I will show you things,” and are soon dragged down into the rudimentary elements of this world through religion. Jesus was and is other worldly and He calls those who would be His disciples to join Him in His heavenly vision of His Father’s kingdom.

George Davis and I wrote an article about this deception of the enemy and how it works,

In Ephesians 4:13-15, Paul sets forth a contrast of truth and deception. Truth is represented by the following words, “…[that] you may grow up into him in all things.” Deception is described by the words, “…tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, by which they lie in wait to deceive.” The words, “by which they lie in wait to deceive” take on [a deeper meaning in the original Greek]… Ephesians 4:14 would more correctly read, “so that we may no longer be minors, tossed to and fro and being carried about by every wind of teaching, by human caprice, by craftiness with a view to the systematizing of the deception [does ‘systematized theology’ ring a bell?].”

Darby translates this passage similarly.

…in order that we may be no longer babes, tossed and carried about by every wind of *that* teaching which is in the sleight of men, in unprincipled cunning with a view to systematized error. (Ephesians 4:14 Darby) (1)

churchesThe religions of men are not something that just grew willy-nilly into what we have today. Where once there was One Faith, now there are over 41,000 different Christian denominations and sect. Once they got their eyes off of Christ they were destined to deceive (see 2 Tim 3:13)! Paul contrasts these systematized deceptions which men fall into with what it really means to follow Christ saying, “But speaking the truth in love, [you] may grow up into him in all things, who is the head, even Christ.”  We who are Christ’s do not grow up spiritually by becoming adept in some theological teaching or even our adherence to Old Testament law or church dogma. All these things pull our focus away from Christ and our fellowship with Him in heavenly places and down into the things of this world and its deceiving systems (see Ephesians 1:3 and 2:6).  We do not grow up by amassing religious knowledge or even by memorizing the Bible, but by growing up INTO HIM in ALL things! The following quote by T. A. Sparks says it quite well,

John wrote for the last hour, “Little children, it is the last hour…” (1 John 2:18) and he brought the beginning up to the last hour: “That which was from the beginning…” (1 John 1:1). But while John has these time marks, he is concerned with what is timeless: and so we see between the reference to the beginning and the reference to the last hour the mention is made of that which abides for ever: “The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives [abides] for ever” (1 John 2:17). So here we have the beginning, the last hour, and the “forever”.

(…)

You only need to read John [John’s letters] to see how unattached everything is, how everything is lifted clean out of this world, and everything is bound up with the fact that Christ is in heaven, and that the Lord’s people are here, but not here; here, but not known; in the world, but not of it; a mystery people in this world so far as the world is concerned… unrecognized, unknown. And yet by that very means and for that very reason, the most potent force that this universe knows: the spiritual, hidden, secret people of God in this earth.

To take hold of Christianity and mold it, and shape it, and systematize it, and crystallize it, and make it some mighty movement here; with its roots here, with all its associations such as man can see, appreciate and approve; to register itself upon the ordinary consciousness of this world as being something; all of that is contrary to the Word of God and is contrary to spiritual life and spiritual power. Christ is in heaven, and we are lifted out, translated, seated together with Him in the heavenlies. Our present purpose in this world is testimony only, by which others will be taken out of the nations, a people for His name. (2)

As long as we manifest that we are of this world with our church buildings, Christian corporations, offices and worldly mindset, there is no witness of the kingdom of God. This is what Jesus meant when He prayed for us at the end of His earthly sojourn.

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: I in them, and you in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that you have sent me, and have loved them, as you have loved me. Father, I will that they also, whom you have given me, be with me where I am; (John 17:21-23, KJ2000)

The trouble with carnal church leaders handling a passage like this is they want to apply its deep spiritual reality to life in the hereafter. He did not pray, “that they may be with me where I am going,” but “that they may be where I AM.” Jesus was and is ONE with the Father in His presence even while on earth and so should we be.

“Dear Father, show us what it means to be one with your and Jesus and draw our hearts up into your heavenly kingdom and out of the clutches of this world. Amen.”

(1) http://awildernessvoice.com/SystematizedDeception.html

(2) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/002953.html

His Is a Land of Far Distances

Jesus and the bride

Fear not: for I am with you: I will bring your descendants from the east, and gather you from the west; I will say to the north, ‘Give up’; and to the south, ‘Keep not back’: bring my sons from afar, and my daughters from the ends of the earth; Even everyone that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him. Bring forth the blind people that have eyes, and the deaf that have ears. Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the people be assembled… let them hear, and say, ‘It is truth.’ (Isa 43:5-9, KJ2000)

Since I have been sharing what God has put on my heart to write on the internet over the last 18 years, I’ve always marveled at how His spiritual people are so scattered across the face of the earth. In my idealistic way of thinking, I’ve wished that more of them were located closer to me so we could have face to face fellowship, but that has rarely happened. It seems as if He has seen fit to place His candles throughout the world so that His whole house might have light by which to see by.

God is gathering to Himself a spiritual people who have spiritual eyes and ears. They are His sons and daughters and they come to Him from far distances around the earth. T. Austin-Sparks wrote:

“But it may be that in these hours of our fellowship together a little more of the light of that story will break upon our hearts. There is a phrase in the Word: “Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty; they shall behold the land of far distances”, and that two-fold statement can quite truly, and rightly, be applied to Him. He is the King in His beauty; and He is also the Land of Far Distances.” (1)

“The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” He is both our King and His is the Land of Far Distances making up the Kingdom of God. His are a people having spiritual eyes to see and spiritual ears to hear who follow the Lamb wherever He goes.

I believe that there is another reason He has us so far apart before He assembles us together into His Holy temple in Heaven. We read in Proverbs, “Iron sharpens iron, so does one man sharpen another.” As we communicate and share what the Lord has been showing us there is a spiritual sharpening that is going on. But what do we read about iron in the making of Solomon’s temple?

And the house, when it was being built, was built of stone made ready before it was brought there: so that there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was being built. (1Kgs 6:7, KJ2000)

There is a spiritual lesson in the building of Solomon’s temple just as all those holy things in the Old Covenant were types of spiritual things in the New Covenant. God is doing a deep work in our hearts while we are in isolation from one another. We are being prepared to fit together perfectly once He assembles us together.

Church dissunity

The problem with most “church assemblies” these days is that few of the stones fit together as they should and a lot of friction and straining happens as we try to force ourselves to come together in that system. Then we have the men at the top who get out their hammers and axes and try and do what only God can do. The result is that many of His people go away wounded and disillusioned with the whole church process leading to the further scattering of His “living stones.”  Today, more and more people have left institutional Christianity, seeking something that is of our Father’s design, a relational family centered on Christ. But we have a promise given us in all this.

Fear not: for I am with you: I will bring your descendants from the east, and gather you from the west; I will say to the north, ‘Give up;’ and to the south, ‘Keep not back: bring my sons from afar, and my daughters from the ends of the earth; Even everyone that is called by my name.’

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:2, KJV- emphasis added)

Be encouraged. Jesus will finish what He has started in our hearts. Only Father knows when His living stones are ready to be assembled. Only He knows when the Bride has made herself ready for the marriage feast of the Lamb. With Paul I pray,

And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calls you, who also will do it. (1Thess 5:23-24, KJ2000- emphasis added)

Amen!

(1) https://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/002835.html

Knowing Christ and His Body after the Spirit – Part 1

 

Two trees-one trunk

And the Two shall become ONE!  Photo by Michael Clark

 

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)

Have you ever thought that while walking on this earth with Christ, the disciples knew Him after the flesh instead after the Spirit? He had to deal with their myopic vision constantly. When they were out in a boat on a stormy lake, and He came walking toward them on the water, they were afraid and thought He was a ghost. Yet He had proven to them that He had spiritual power over the elements time and again. How about the time He was asleep in the bottom of their storm-tossed boat. The last thing He heard the Father say was, “Go to the other side of the lake,” and it was a done deal as far as He was concerned, so he slept while they battled the elements after the flesh. They finally woke Him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that we perish?” What an insult– and it was all because they did not have the Spirit abiding in them yet, so they could see things the way Jesus saw them. They were still fleshly believers.

How much of the way we relate to Him and one another is “after the flesh”? We are affected way too much by the outward appearances of events and one another. How often have we prayed, “Lord, why don’t you do something? Don’t you know that we perish?” Or how often do we also know one another after the flesh? Our speech betrays us. “That brother ought to get his front teeth fixed!” “That sister sure has poor taste in how she dresses!” Or, “That sister is sure beautiful! We need to put her up front on the worship team.”  Or, “Wow! Do you know how much money that guy has? He needs to be on the board of elders.” These are all examples of knowing people after the flesh.

The disciples, like most of the Jews, believed that He had come to set up a physical kingdom among them and did not see just how spiritual His kingdom is. To them He said, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you. (Luke 17:20-21, ESV2011). His kingdom is found wherever two or three are gathered together IN His name (in His very personhood), and these spirit led gatherings do not garner the attention of this world and its people. You can’t advertise them because you do not know when or where they are going to happen.  Jesus does not have a mega-church mentality with all its Hollywood glitter and Madison Avenue advertising methods. He is after spiritual quality among us, many sons and daughters born unto the Father, not mediocre crowds in the thousands (read John chapter six).

Yet, are we any different than those Jews who He spoke with back then? The majority of Christians I know think that everything spiritual must either take place in their church buildings or under the direction of their pastor or priest. When someone who understands where Christ and His kingdom dwells comes in among them the first thing they ask is, “Where do you go to church, if not, why not?” or “Who is your pastor?” And if you do not fit into the expectations of their club membership, you are rejected and not seen as one who belongs to Jesus. How carnal! The Jews rejected Jesus in the same way.

And when he came into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, From where has this man this wisdom, and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brothers, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? from where then has this man all these things? And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and in his own house.” (Matt 13:54-57, KJ2000)

They only knew Jesus after the flesh. How often has He appeared to us in a form we did not expect–in a homely sister or a handicapped brother and we rejected Him (see James 2:1-7). Jesus said, “What you have done to the least of these, my brethren, you have done unto me.”

When we insist that He must be worshiped in this or that physical place or we must be under the authority of this man or that, we are yet carnal. This is all an Old Covenant mindset. We will have a New Covenant way of thinking when we truly are His New Creation and all these “old things pass away and all things become new.”

  Jesus told that Samaritan woman who was making the same mistake that so many Christians make today about worshiping in special locations,

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

And Paul told the Corinthians who were all about their spiritual gifts, manifestations and their favorite human teachers:

…For where there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly and walking according to man? For whenever anyone may be saying, “I, indeed, am of Paul,” yet another, “I, of Apollos,” will he not be fleshly? What, then, is Apollos? Now what is Paul? Servants are they, through whom you believe, and as the Lord gives to each. I plant, Apollos irrigates, but God makes it grow up. (1Cor 3:3-6, CLV)

Yet, most of today’s Christians think they have to be under the covering of a man and the ministry if they are to grow. No wonder they are still in need of milk-toast sermons Sunday after Sunday and cannot receive strong meat (see 1 Cor. 3:1-2). It is also strange that many Christians today think that Paul’s teachings in First Corinthians are “strong meat.” Dear saints, he is addressing fleshly people all through this letter who have pulled down heavenly things and made them into works of the flesh!

Jesus made it clear that it is an evil and adulterous generation that seeks after signs. Why is it evil? Because demons can manifest all these “spiritual gifts” that people long after. Why is it adulterous to seek them in us or another man? Because our carnal affections are fixed upon other things or people besides our husband, Jesus Christ. This is spiritual adultery. Paul wrote:

“So, with yourselves, since you are so eager to possess spiritual gifts, concentrate your ambition upon receiving those which make for the real growth…” (1Cor 14:12, Phillips NT).

Now, Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus was addressed to people who walked after the Spirit.

But speaking the truth in love, [you] may grow up into him in all things, who is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body being fitly joined together and knit together by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, makes increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. (Eph 4:15-16, KJ2000- emphasis added)

Notice in contrast to how churches function today. Hear he speaks of “the whole body” doing the works of ministry and not just a few. Notice, also, that their only motivation is not self-aggrandizement or human idolatry, but rather selfless love working among them by the grace of God as they build one another up in His love.

The goal of the Gospel is not for us to go out, put up great buildings and fill them with immature converts! What we see working in most of these institutions is “the perpetual babyhood of the believer.” No, the goal of the Gospel is to build up the saints of God in His love and bring them into a full relationship with the Father and the Son just as just as Jesus prayed in His final prayer,

“I do not ask for these only [the eleven], but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one.” (John 17:20-22, ESV2011)

Are you ONE in the Father and the Son? Are you even ONE with another fellow saint of God? I mean really one as Jesus is one with the Father? Until we are one with one another as Christ is with the Father, there is no witness of the kingdom of God among men and this world will continue to slide into what men call “the post Christian era.” It is all so sad.

Oh, Father, please enlighten the eyes of our hearts with spiritual understanding to see ourselves as we really are, “poor, miserable, blind and naked,” and then to repent from our carnal ways so that we might build up one another in Christ’s body, the ecclesia of God, through your love for Christ as we are made one you both. Amen.

 

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

Our Quest to Find the City of God

He is Faithful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEO: “The Matrix?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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