Where Is True Spirituality Found?

But he 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. (2Cor 12:9, ESV2011)

When we read about David in the Old Testament, we see a “mighty man of valor.” As a boy, David killed a lion and a bear, then went out to battle and killed a giant with his sling and a stone! God appointed him to be king over Israel in the place of Saul, where he continued to do exploits against the enemies of God in that land. Finally, we see him becoming quite sure of himself in his exalted place there in Jerusalem, the city of David. It is as if God exalted him ever higher until David’s pride finally brought him down. He became a man of leisure. Instead of going out to battle with his troops against the Ammonites, he stayed home and lusted after his general’s wife, Bathsheba. You know the rest of the story how he started living a lie. Bathsheba became pregnant so he called for Uriah, her husband, to come back home to be with her so that it will look like he made her pregnant while there. Uriah refused to go into his house and slept on the door step. So David in his wrath sent him back to the war front and gave orders for the other warriors to pull back from him in the heat of battle so that the enemy could kill him. Once again we see that Lord Acton of England identified the problem dead on, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

God loved David and He made sure that David would not get away with his folly. He deflated his ego through a confrontation with Nathan the prophet and convicted him out of the words of his own mouth.

And the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.’” (2Sam 12:1-9, ESV2011- emphasis added)

 

The prophet went on to say that the sword would never depart from the house of David and we know this to be true, but David finally repented and the words of Psalm 51 are his confession and contrition.

 

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. ​Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. ​Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. ​Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. ​Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. ​Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. ​For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Ps 51:1-17, ESV2011- emphasis added)

 

In the very beginning of my walk, God prophetically gave me Psalm 51 as if it were a prophesy of how He would be dealing with me during my life. God knows how to save us from our soulish power that so easily corrupts us, He takes us down so that He might raise us up IN Christ and keeps us weak in our own eyes if necessary that He won’t lose us. Oh the pride that was in David when he pronounced judgment on that evil man in His kingdom who Nathan told him about. And oh the pain that must have shot through David’s heart when Nathan said, “You are the man!” God does not need strong, self-assured men in His kingdom. He does not need men who try to cover their sin with religious activities and sacrifices, but what do we see as we look at the leaders in Christendom today? No wonder so many of them are brought down before the eyes of the whole world! What He wants are those saints who know that they are only dust. He wants us to walk in brokenness and a contrite heart before Him, not in an elevated self-confidence about our own spirituality as we live a lie before men.

David wrote, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. ​Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” The longer I live in my Christian experience, the more I see that these words apply to me. What a discovery it is when we can see that when we sin it is against God and Him only. We must be brought to the place where we see that He is justified in all His words and judgments and that our only salvation is walking in the life of Jesus Christ by His great grace.

 

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Rom 5:10, ESV2011)

T. A. Sparks in his excellent book, “God’s Reactions Against Man’s Defections,” wrote,

Well, spiritual and natural abilities are in altogether different worlds! And when God reacts to recover, or acts to provide against a threat, a peril, a danger that has the characteristics we have noted, He brings His instrument down to nothingness – He empties it out and makes it more conscious of its weakness and of its dependence than of anything else. In this greatest of all works of God – the maintaining of His testimony in absolute purity and truth – there is no place whatever, amongst those who are involved, for assumption: for assuming that they are something, or assuming that they can do something, or assuming that they are called to this or that. There is no place, either, for presumption – that is, running ahead of God, running ahead of the Spirit. There is no place for self-importance, for self-sufficiency, for self-assertiveness – no place for any of these things. If you and I are going to be used for spiritual purposes, God will take us in hand to drain us of the last drop of anything like that, until we know that of all men we are the most unfit and unsuited to the thing to which God has called us; that from all natural standpoints we have no right to be in that position at all. That is God’s way of making spiritual men and women.

[Paul wrote to Timothy saying], “Be strong” – but it does not stop there. “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1). That is not self-strength, that is not natural strength of any kind. “The grace that is in Christ Jesus” – be strong in that. So we see what is the strength in the case of Timothy, as the symbol of God’s reactionary method and means in a day of declension [which the church is in today]. The strength is to be spiritual strength.

That works both ways. It is a word of encouragement to those who are conscious of no strength, who only feel their weakness; as though to say: ‘Look here, that is not the criterion, how weak you feel, at all: the criterion is “the grace that is in Christ Jesus”.’ And it works the other way. If any of us should feel that we can do it, and press into the situation or into the position, and take it on, assuming or presuming, then we are in for a bad time under the hand of God – that is, if we are going to be of any use to the Lord. Any such attitude is going to be emptied out. (1)

Dear Father, empty us out of all that is of our natural man and fill us with your Son no matter how great the cost. Amen.

(1) https://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/000856.html

 

Saved by the Life of the Word of God

man in yellow field

Since I wrote my last blog entry where I talked about my longing for a local manifestation of the body of Christ, the Lord led me to a gathering of older men in our area that have a Bible study once a week. The leader is younger than most of us, but he leads from weakness and allows each man in the group to speak, one at a time, as they feel led. According to 1 Corinthians chapter 14, this is how a gathering of the ekklesia (translated in KJV as “church”) is supposed to be conducted. The leader is there to keep the discussion moving along in an orderly way (1 Cor. 14:26). I was amazed at how often the Spirit speaks through one of these men in the group as they functioned in the freedom of the Spirit.

As we were going over chapter one of Revelation this week we read this:

In his [the ascended Christ’s] right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. (Rev 1:16, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

I was intrigued by this one verse more than the others. We know that in John chapter one Jesus is referred to as the Word of God and “in the beginning was the Word.” This same Word said, “Let there be light and there was light” for “without Him nothing was made that was made.” We also have heard the Bible referred to as “the word of God.” This is true as long as the meaning of the scriptures is being taught us by the Holy Spirit whom Jesus sent to lead us into all truth (See John 16:13 and Luke 24:32). The Spirit does use teachers who speak by the power of the Spirit as well.

When I first started reading the scriptures without the enlightenment of the Spirit, it was a collection of thoughts and stories that had no depth of meaning to me. It wasn’t until two years later that the Spirit of Christ came into me and what a difference that made! The Word of God became alive in me and not just something external. His Spirit was bearing witness with my spirit as I read it.

So as I contemplated why in this verse in Revelation Jesus is depicted as having a two-edged sword coming from His mouth? I was led to these verses,

…The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword. (Rev 2:12b, ESV2011)

… the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, (Eph 6:17b, ESV2011)

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Heb 4:12-13, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

The Word of God is living and it is He by His Spirit that gives us spiritual light and sight. Like the man who was born blind who Jesus healed, we are born into this world spiritually blind. But when He makes our spirits alive and shines His light into us, we finally begin to see as God sees. Just as it was with the two disciples that walked with Jesus along the road to Emmaus, He still opens our understanding to see how all the scriptures point to and speak of Him, and when He does this our hearts truly burn within us (see Luke 24:13-32).

In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in darkness; and the darkness overcame it not. (John 1:3-5, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

Thank God that our spiritual darkness is overcome as He shines His light into our hearts! He came that we might have life and that more abundantly.

That [Jesus Christ] was the true Light, that lights every man that comes into the world… as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the children of God, even to them that believe on his name: Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:9-13, KJ2000 )

The Word of God, through His Spirit working in and speaking to us, often does so as we prayerfully read the scriptures. He knows that I have a concordance so He often gives me a few words from the Bible to get me to go there and look it up and see the context of what He is saying. I thank God that He also speaks through our fellow believers in Christ.

This LIVING Word is that same two-edged sword that comes forth from the mouth of the ascended Christ John saw. It is HE that discerns the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. It is He that divides our soulish inclinations (also spoken of in Paul’s letters as our “old man,” “the flesh” or “the outer man”) from ruling over our spirits (the “new man,” “the spiritual man,” or the “inner man”) within us. I am so glad that He has come into us and that “greater is He that is in us than he (our old Adamic nature) that is in the world.”

Like Jesus told Nicodemus, we must be born of the Spirit if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven. Salvation means more than just having our sins taken way by the death of Christ on the cross. Way more! A dear old saint in this men’s group pointed out the following verse to me:

For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. (Rom 5:10, KJ2000)

MUCH MORE, we are saved by His Life! There is so much more to our salvation than the simple blotting out of our sins and being reconciled to the Father. It is Christ’s life in us that is our guiding light and saves us from ourselves. His life becomes our life. We go from living on the negative side of the ledger over to the positive side when HE is our Life. Having our sins removed only brings up to the “zero line.”

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, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20, KJ2000)

We are called not just to be saved, but to become sons and daughters of God to shine forth with His glorious life within us (Romans 8:14-18). Wow! What shall we say if we neglect so great a salvation?

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon you. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon you, and his glory shall be seen upon you. And the Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. (Isa 60:1-3, KJ2000)

“I Have Seen the Lord!”

Coeur d Alene Sunrise – Photo by Michael Clark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I Am Weak, then Am I Strong

Simmon carrying the cross.jpg

Dear saints,

It is such a temptation in our Christian walks that because of our much learning,  wonderful teachers, degrees, many experiences ministering in the churches, blogs and books we have written, etc. that we are strong, powerful and complete in our walks and have arrived. This might all be true without the cross of Christ working DEEP into our old self natures on a daily basis.

Some of you might have been asking what it means to take up our cross and follow Jesus. Well, Brother Sparks says it quite well…

He said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV)

What is your idea of power? What is your mentality concerning power? Are you clamoring for power, wanting power? Well, it all works out this way. True power from God’s standpoint is Calvary power. Christ crucified is the power of God. What is Calvary power? Well, it is emptiness of self, you and I being emptied of self – and truly, that is easier said than endured! Oh, how very much there is of this self about us still! How we hate – how we suffer – being emptied of ourselves! What a terrible thing it is to feel our inability – to know that we do not count in ourselves. Oh, to be ABLE! And yet have we not proved, again and again, that our times of greatest emptiness and weakness have been the times when God has done most, and got glory by what He has done? Yes, it has been true. We have learnt it along various lines and different ways, but God has been working right into the very inside of us, so that the thing is done – it becomes a part of us. He does not have to maintain it by external conditions. But He frequently uses such – very often physical – conditions, to bring us to that place of utter dependence upon Himself. It is really not good enough, is it, to be forced to it, compelled to it? That is God’s way of education, but it would be very much better for us to be fit and well and as dependent upon God as ever.

So it all resolves itself into the need, in the first place, for what is meant by being born from above: an entirely new nature and disposition, to begin with, and then a letting God do His work of conforming us to the image of His Son. I am not saying that works and words do not come in, but it is a heartbreaking business to be working and speaking with no power, and no registration of heaven. The Lord give us light as to what He means by this. http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/000840.html

 

Let Us Go On Unto Maturity!

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Anyone who has followed the leading of the Lord for any length of time can look back and see that He gave them people to fellowship with, learn from and even spiritual gifts from which a “ministry” in the church rose around, only to discover that He asked them to walk away from it and move on. This often causes great confusion and consternation and results in an emotional struggle. We cry out, “But God, didn’t you give this fellowship/gift to me? Hasn’t it been wonderfully used by you in my life and in the lives of others? What is going on?! Is this really you?” What’s worse, once we start to accept it as Him, well-meaning saints see this change coming and try to persuade us to not follow the Lord’s leading.

There is a principle well established in the Bible of God taking His saints out of their comfort zones, stretching them and getting them to grow up further into Him and all that He has for them Look at the lives of Enoch, Abraham, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, and all the disciples. Most of these saints had a wilderness period that separated the earlier part of their walk from the last. Its like a spiritual circumcision.

Jesus didn’t teach His disciples to be static in their obedience to Him. They had to leave their nets, their tax business, their parents, their politics, and even their religious traditions to follow Him. To a Pharisee who was stuck in his traditions, Jesus compared being led by the Spirit to being blown around by the wind, not knowing where it is taking you next. Because of his adherence to a temple worship system Nicodemus could only say, “How could this be?”

As one dear older saint pointed out, “the opposite of the Wind of God is bricks.” Like Peter who was always being stretched by the Lord, God does something wonderful in our lives and we want to enshrine and fix it in place saying, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. Let us build…” (see Matt. 17:1-5). God’s answer to this is always the same, “This is my beloved Son… hear [and follow] Him!” Remember, we serve a God who makes all things new as the old things in our lives pass away. Consider these two passages from Hebrews:

Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto maturity; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. (Heb 6:1-2, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

We have an altar, of which they have no right to eat who serve the tabernacle. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come. (Heb 13:10-14, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

I recently encountered a man with “a recognized prophetic ministry” who has been suffering from a bad back that has sidelined him for a while. He saw this as three years in his own personal wilderness. The problem is that his ministry has become fixed, a tradition in his life that must be continued and served. He is struggling to keep doing what he had been doing before this period with his weakened back. The doctors wanted to do surgery that would have fixed it but incapacitated him for two years while it healed and he refused saying, “This won’t do!” Has he even considered that God’s hand was in it to get him to stop and take a new and better direction in his life? This is so typical of ministers today. They get a name and surround themselves with a ministry machine they create that must be constantly fed or it will die. Soon Jesus challenges them with a new direction that precludes the former work and most of them refuse to answer the wilderness call that they might have something much better. It is like Peter who went back to fishing after Jesus rose again. Jesus appeared to Him while fishing and said, “Peter, do you love me more than these (a net full of fish)? Feed my sheep!”

I can tell you that when God put me into my 14 year wilderness, all that I had at the beginning (ministry, church, fellowship, friends, job, neighbors, local, money, etc.) was soon gone. As I struggled with this void in my life I wondered how long it would last. The more I pushed against it seeking a way out, longing for the good old days, the stronger His chains on me became. It all started when I gave Him permission to kill the pride in me (from moving in spiritual gifts) and make me like His Son — only doing the works I see Him doing and speaking the words that I heard Him saying. To do that He had to wipe my spiritual slate clean!

Toward the end of this wilderness period He let me know that the things that fell into the ground and died (what He took away) was not what He would cause to spring forth when the stripping was over. I was thinking that the former little prophetic ministry would emerge as a GREAT prophetic ministry! As I was coming out at the other end of this dark night experience He said, “You have not been this way before!” This would be a whole new ballgame. What has happened since end of it in1994 has proven this to be true and I am so glad I obeyed.

Once again as I was reading my Open Windows daily devotion, T. Austin-Sparks spoke right to what was happened and is happening in my life as I continue to pursue that for which God has apprehended me.

Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the Head. (Ephesians 4:15 ESV)

Things may be taking a new and different shape, but the purpose of God is the same. We may be presented with His vision in new and further-on aspects, but it is only what He originally meant. Can we adjust? Can we leave “the things that are behind”? Without raising any questions as to the right or wrong of what has been, can we “go on” and “grow up,” “attain”? God-given vision makes men of prayer. This is almost too obvious when we remember the men of the Bible. It was vision that got them away from the trivial and petty. It requires vision to get prayer on to the major lines and to make it real travail. What a bound and range those prophets had in prayer! But what immense issues were precipitated. It is not our vision for God, but His vision in us that will be dynamic, and that will determine value.

I cannot conclude without pointing out that what could be voluntary with much gain has often to be made compulsory with much loss. This is because we do not stand back from time to time and in detachment and waiting upon the Lord give Him an opportunity of enlarging vision. Many a work which has mightily served the Lord and been a great spiritual testimony has lost its former glory, purity, and impact because it has become a “Work,” a “Movement,” an Organization, and its ramifications and responsibilities have become such as to completely rule out any such “retreat” with God, where that work is put back and a real openness to the Lord for anything else, more or other, is enquired after. The Lord might send prophetic vision by ministry to lead into His fuller meanings if there was a way for it, but we are too busy. What tragedy is related to such preoccupation! (emphasis added by me)

http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/002082.html

Are We to Seek Wisdom, Power and Authority, or Christ?

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Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account. (Isa 53:1-3, NRS)

Thus Isaiah introduced the Jews to their Messiah. Not a very pretty picture, is it? He came to earth in a form that no one would want to follow or admire and was born in a stable in poverty, totally despised by the establishment and all the “beautiful people.” Yet Christ is held up as what the Church was to become. Contrary to what many believe, “the servant is not greater than his Master.”
Susanne Schuberth recently wrote on her blog, “Growth in Christ and His authority happens as we have come to grips that we have nothing in ourselves to help God out in any way. A complete surrender of every area of our life is needed before Christ finally lives in us and works through us as He sees fit.” (https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/).

This is so true! We need ears that hear these words. Too many think they already have everything they need just because they “believe” in Christ or have studied the Bible, without coming to a complete end of themselves. The church is flooded with this kind of false authority. Paul knew the need to die daily to his old self-willed, scripture touting, human authority because it was that Saul of Tarsus that persecuted the Church. The problem with Christians today is that many of us have grown up in church surroundings and we are steeped in religion that has cloaked the fact that in our hearts we are all the grossest of sinners.

There is a seemingly wise teaching that we as Christians should get Biblical knowledge, that God would make us wise and give us power to do His work on this earth. This might sound like a good thing to most Christians so we can do the work of the Church “for Jesus.” Thus we have the myriad of Bible schools, seminaries and the never ending desire to sit under men at Christian conferences and Sunday sermons. Yet, is this what Jesus did, or is it what Paul did to gain the effectiveness that they had in spreading the gospel? Jesus never sat under Jewish teachers to get to the place where He could say that He only spoke the words He heard His Father saying or only did the works that He saw His Father doing. Neither did Paul! Let us look at what Paul did say about such things.

…though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— (Phil 3:4-9, ESV2011)

Paul had all the credentials to be a “somebody” among the Jews. He sat at the feet of their best scholars and teachers (see Acts 22:3). He was of the bloodline of Benjamin an elite among the Jews. He was an enforcer and keeper of the Jewish law, respected among his peers. He was a rising star in Judaism. Yet, he threw all this away and counted it as rubbish (dung) once he met the risen Christ! He came to know Christ Who was abiding in him in a most personal way. He never learned at the feet of the apostles who actually walked with Jesus in His human body. Of these he said, “they added nothing to me.” No, Christ was his Life and His all. He had a moment by moment relationship with Jesus just as Jesus did (and does) with the Father. This is why he said to the Corinthians:

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. (1Cor 2:1-3, NRS)

No, Paul did not even come to them teaching from his previous experiences with Christ, but rather he approached these people in all weakness, emptied of everything he could have confidence in, waiting on the Spirit of Christ to speak and act through him. Paul was Christ crucified and Jesus had full reign. It was Jesus who taught, spoke and worked through him, not Paul. Paul was so weakened by the working of the cross in him that all he could do was tremble in weakness while Jesus did the rest.
And if this soulish weakness was not enough, God gave him a thorn in his flesh (his body), a messenger from Satan to buffet him and keep him physically weak as well. He prayed to be healed and here is what happened:

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

Paul did not have power in himself. He only had debilitating weaknesses. He was totally thrown upon the mercy and grace of God and he knew that Jesus wouldn’t have it any other way. He didn’t have power or wisdom or knowledge, all the things that men seek after, but rather Christ. All that Jesus is and all the treasures of God were manifest in a broken clay vessel Paul was nothing and he was determined to be nothing because of his love for Jesus Christ as his all (see 1 Corinthians 1:30-31). This is why this little man of no physical stature and Christ who had no form of beauty about Himself could be used by God to turn the most powerful kingdom on earth upside down and send ripples down through history to this day. We Christians should learn this simple lesson–God does not need our knowledge, wisdom, oratory powers, strength, health or wit to do His work. Quite the opposite. Only Christ in us is the hope of glory as we yield all to Him and He makes us into manifest sons and daughters of God.

A Death that Brings Glory to God

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When I was a young Christian I often heard other new Christians say, “I would gladly die for Jesus!” Well, it seems that there is a deeper kind of dying than just taking our last breath as a martyr. Susanne Schuberth recently wrote on her blog, “Suffering continues when we grow up and see that this world is not what we hoped for or expected it to be. Neither are we perfect, nor is our environment including the people we know. We may have had many wishes and desires in our lifetime of which only a few were fulfilled. Or worst case, even none of them! Furthermore, we suffer from diseases we would not have chosen if we had been asked before. We suffer from being rejected and misunderstood, from being hurt and offended, and so on and so on…” (1)

Peter wrote, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (1Pet 4:1, ESV2011). Suffering is the most powerful weapon in God’s arsenal to put an end to our old selves and bring forth His Son in us.

Now that I have had time to read her blog once again (being interrupted by pain and medical issues of my own) I see how much of what Susanne wrote reveals my own walk since I came to Christ. I appreciate her openness. Her transparency has been an inspiration to me after being immersed in a Christian world where leaders strive to put their best face forward and appear “larger than life” to the masses instead of walking in the light of Christ with the saints of God.

Yes, our suffering starts at birth and it continues throughout our lifetime. I was born with a collapsed lung and isolated from human touch for the first two weeks of my life in an oxygen tent at the hospital. Then I did not see or hear my father for most of the following year while he was shipped off to fight the war that was still raging in Europe. Maybe this set in motion this deep longing in my heart to have a truly close and open relationship with another human who can reciprocate on the same level in heart to heart fellowship with me. Because of this, life has been rather disappointing for the most part because most (not all) people freak out and run when they sense that being close to me demands that they open up and reveal what is in their heart of hearts and communicate with me in total transparency.

A casual reading of the Bible reveals that God didn’t show only the best parts of His people whose lives are spread across its pages. Even in the blood line of Christ He reveals murderers, thieves, idolaters, liars, and even harlots. It is obvious that God is more interested in honest transparency than He is in making a good impression because He wants truth in our inward parts. John wrote,

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 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 1:5-7, ESV2011)

The spiritual reality of this longing in me to live in transparent heart to heart relationships is exactly what God has always wanted as well. Man started out this way in his walk with God, but soon interrupted this journey by hiding and covering himself up from God and his fellow man because of sin. Religion, I have found, has a giant wardrobe of fig leaf garments that we use to cover our spiritual nakedness even though God created us naked and unashamed while we walked with Him in that primeval, perfect garden where there was no toil for food or clothing and no death, pain or fear. In short, there were no distractions in their totally loving relationship that was always in perfect peace, transparency and light. Trusting God was so easy for Adam in the beginning until he fell for the lies of Satan and hid from Him. In Isaiah we read,

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Isa 26:3, ESV2011)

Susanne wrote about another result of the fall of man, “…we suffer from diseases we would not have chosen if we had been asked before.” Now we are getting down to where I find myself lately. I have had good health, for the most part, all of my life. At least I had nothing that altered my plans for any length of time. I, like many, have always identified with the exuberant and self-willed disciple named Peter. He was a robust outdoors-man and commercial fisherman by trade. The following words of Jesus to Peter have spoken to me in a much deeper way recently.

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, When you were young, you dressed yourself, and walked where you would: but when you shall be old, you shall stretch forth your hands, and another shall dress you, and carry you where you would not.” This spoke he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he said unto him, “Follow me.” (John 21:18-19, KJ2000)

There is so much for me to take to heart here! I have always been the “go to guy” who could just about do anything if I put my mind to it. That served me well in the kingdoms of this world. I often was called on by my employers to do what the other employees could not. The problem with this is that in the kingdom of God, “the flesh profits nothing!” My greatest strength in the world is my greatest weakness in God’s kingdom.

I will soon turn 72 and, for the most part, it has been 72 years of dressing myself (spiritually and physically) and walking where I wanted to go–until recently. It seems that my back is the weakest point in my body in my old age. When your back is in pain and aggravated by any activity, it is soon “ALL STOP!” I have a collapsed vertebra in the middle of my back that radiates pain through my whole torso and causes muscle spasms that lock me up from doing much of anything. Lately I’m to the point where I “stretch forth my hands” and my wife helps me get dressed and undressed. Since the doctors have put me on notice to not lift anything heavier than five pounds, she has to do things that I was able to do easily all my life. She even is doing the driving, taking me to places I do not want to go, to doctors’ offices and the hospital so they can figure out what went wrong with my old body.

Yesterday I got x-rayed and then spent 40 minutes on my back being perfectly still in a noisy tube called an MRI. After all that, they decided that I have a compression fracture of my T8 vertebra, confirming the diagnosis of a chiropractor I finally saw in desperation after many prescriptions of men dealing with the symptoms. There was evidence that the same thing already happened to my T5 vertebra earlier this summer. That had the same disabling effect, but eventually healed with me bent over a bit more than before. Now with a second collapsed vertebra I have a “second witness” that God wants me to yield my “can do” self-will to Him. He has a lot more vertebra to call on until I get the message! 🙂

The above passage of Jesus speaking to Peter has a curious ending, “This spoke He (Jesus), signifying by what death he (Peter) should glorify God… Follow me!” Death, oh that dreaded fact of life called death! It seems if we are to truly follow Jesus it has to happen. Jesus said, “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25, NIV). As natural men we love our lives and are very short sighted when it comes to living in God’s eternity with Christ. We like our own here and now better. We love to stretch out our hands and go forth and live our lives as we wish. We even try to make a bargain with God to maintain our control and promise to live “for Him” if we can just be a somebody in Christendom. What a con game! No, the only way we can glorify God is through a complete death to all our wants, hopes and desires and lie on that heavenly altar as a trussed-up living sacrifice unto Him. Someone said, “When we work, God stops working. When we stop working, God starts.” What a hard lesson to learn and live.

I would like to close this with a more positive observation from Oswald Chambers,

 The New Testament teaching about regeneration is that when a person is hit by his own sense of need, God will put the Holy Spirit into his spirit, and his personal spirit will be energized by the Spirit of the Son of God— “…until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19)  (2)

So, dear Father, once again I lay it all down before you. I give up my “best laid plans of mice and men” and surrender my all to you, knowing that apart from your Son I can do nothing. Do what it takes that I might glorify you with the death of my old Adam within so that Christ’s life might abound in me. Amen.

(1) https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/2016/10/04/knowing-the-lord-through-the-fellowship-of-his-sufferings/

(2) http://utmost.org/  “My Utmost for His Highest” for October 6th