What is True Holiness?

Sunrise over Coeur d Alene Lake, photo taken by Michael Clark

 “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” (John 14:10, ESV2011)

“The glory that you have given me I have given to them that they may be one even as we are one.” (John 17:22, ESV2011)

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1Pet 1:14-16, ESV2011)

I was about 23 years old when, out of desperation, I walked away from the Catholic Church never to return. I had been brainwashed by the nuns in Catholic schools about who Jesus is and what He required (abject obedience to the Church, its hierarchy and its laws), but I had no peace in my heart, nor did I know that God loved me or even the meaning of biblical salvation. I had a deep spiritual hunger that drove me to find peace with Him, so I ended up in what some call “a holiness Bible church.” We heard a lot of preaching on holiness there, but we saw very little of it. You see, true holiness is not walking around with our hands up our sleeves with an ornate cross hanging around our necks. Nor is it looking down our noses at all the sinners with a holier than thou attitude. I had seen both but what I saw of “the church” left me empty and did not satiate the deep hunger within me.

No one was/is holier than Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, and He was not like what I had seen at all. What set Jesus apart from the devout Jews that worshiped in their temples and synagogues was that He was touchable and in touch first of all with His Father and secondly with the common man and woman and the pains that they suffered. And He is still in touch with us today as our High Priest in heaven.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are… (Heb 4:14-15, NIV)

Who is to condemn [us]? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Rom 8:34, ESV2011)

Someone once said, “Christians seem to have a vested interest in the misery of others.” Much to the chagrin of many in this world who count themselves as “holy,” God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but rather that it might be saved through Him (see John 3:17).

Living a holy life is living a life that is wed to Christ within us. This unity with Him by His Spirit is why God can rightfully say, “Be ye holy for I am holy.” Holiness is not something we have to generate on our own, but it comes through our unity in spirit with Jesus Christ just as He was in unity with His Father.

This unity with Him can often take us to that place where we pray as He did, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.” Paul wrote that the flesh in us wars against the Spirit and the Spirit against our flesh. Just as water wants to escape from being under pressure, there seems to be a constant temptation within us to take the easy road and not the path that God has set before  us to walk.

God desires to reveal His Son in us and if He who had the power to do almost anything he wanted, denied that power, how much more should we in our weakness? Paul wrote,

“…it was the good pleasure of God, who separated me from my mother’s womb… to reveal his Son in me…” (Gal 1:15-16, ASV)

The outworking of Paul doing the good pleasure of God through His Son within was to grow into the place where he could say, “For me to live IS Christ and to die is gain.”  THIS dear saints, is what Holiness really IS. We give up our wills to our Father on a daily basis and He does the rest (see Hebrews 8:8-12).

the adoration of the golden calf

The Adoration of the Golden Calf 1633-4, Nicolas Poussin

We by nature are creatures that desire comfort, pain and suffering is to be avoided by all means. Yet, it is this very thing that God uses to weaken our self seeking wills so that Jesus might be more readily manifested in us. I am not speaking of self inflicted pain and flagellation here, but rather the pain and suffering that God allows in our lives that defies any quick fix. Many of us who have unconditionally surrendered our lives to Christ know this kind of walk. God uses many kinds of pain to accomplish His work in us and some of it is not just physical. Sometimes it is the pain of the loss or serious injury of a loved one. Sometimes it is sorrow for doing something we deeply regret later. Some of us end up marrying our crosses. We, like Paul, pray that we might be delivered from our “thorn in our flesh (even the thorn of our flesh),” only to find out that the more Christ reveals Himself in and to us in a very real way, the more suffering we encounter.

grow where you are planted

Root Out of Dry Ground- photo by Michael Clark

Remember that Isaiah prophesied of Jesus saying, “…as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.”

Yes, this life not only includes suffering and grief as Jesus freely lives in us, but rejection by our families, our fellow man and even by Christians. We need to contemplate such things before we glibly pray, “Lord, I just want to be like Jesus.”

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. (John 15:19-20, ESV2011)

What I am sharing with you here is the message of the true gospel, not that of the prosperity preachers or professional “healers” who get rich and fat off the funds they can bilk out of the gullible who follow them by listening with their fleshly ears  to what they want to hear. Remember, Jesus said, “If you would be MY disciple, you must take up YOUR CROSS and follow Me.” I think it is obvious that many believe in Him as a historic figure, but few are truly His disciples. I question the depth of spirituality of those who have to run off to some temple, or big crusade or Christian conference or even go on a “Holy Land” tour so they can get a special touch from God (I was also a conference junky once in my immaturity). I wish it was all that easy to become holy, but it is not. Jesus warned us saying,

For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. (Matt 24:24-26, ESV2011)

When Jesus first started to do miracles He had many who “believed in Him” but only in a fleshly way. They wanted their worldly desires fulfilled, but they did not want HIM as their Lord. The closer He got to the cross that was set before Him, the more they rejected Him. They wanted a Messiah that was a conquering king that met all their needs and expectations, not a suffering Savior that was crucified in weakness.

“Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, MANY BELIEVED IN HIS NAME when they saw the signs that he was doing. BUT Jesus …did not entrust himself to them, because… he himself knew what was in (the heart of) man.” (John 2:23-25, ESV2011- emphasis added)

Do we want to be entrusted by Jesus with the spiritual treasures of heaven and His very life being manifest within us? We need a NEW heart from God within not the heart of that old Adam we were born with (our carnal natures). This is what it means to be born of the Spirit and not just being born of a woman. There are “believers” and then there are those who BELIEVE– that is they; cling to, trust in and totally rely upon Him (read John 3:16 in the Amplified Version)! We can be “believers” in Christ on an intellectual or religious level and still not have that new heart with His daily commands written upon it, to whom His spiritual treasures are revealed. Hearing and obeying His voice is what a “holy life” is all about.

As I shared my thoughts about suffering with Susanne Schuberth on her current blog article (1) she pointed out that Christians are not the only ones who suffer, but suffering seems to be common to all of mankind. She is right. Suffering seems to be the lot of the human creature since the fall of man. The difference is the heart within us. Do we have a heart that has been made new by our Father or is it still that old heart that is a home for our adversary? A changed heart will only become more beautiful through all it endures, but that old adamic nature will only become more bitter and vile by the same suffering. The same sun that shines down upon wax makes it soft and pliable, but it makes clay hard and brittle. John wrote about a great company of people he saw in heaven saying,

revelation ch. 7 vs.13-14

Revelation ch. 7 vs.13-14, artist unknown

And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, “What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?” And I said unto him, “Sir, thou knowest.” And he said to me, “These are they which came out of great tribulation [Grk. thlipsis – pressure; anguish, burden, persecution, and troubles], and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev 7:13-14, KJV- emphasis added)

In this life we are not only immersed in troubles, but we also come out of them and are a transformed as the filth of this world is washed away and are made His holy people by His blood.

“Father, do whatever it takes to completely transform us that we may also be found with this assembly who hears and obeys your voice before your throne. Amen.”

(1) Called to Live a Holy Life  (As I meditated on this recent article by Susanne Schuberth, this blog article I share here came to life within me. Thanks you Susanne for obeying Him.)

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.

 

What Is True Friendship?

By Michael Clark and Susanne Schuberth

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Picture taken by Susanne Schuberth

What is true friendship? With most people I have met, “friendship” is very conditional. If I do or say something that offends them or don’t meet their “needs,” they turn off and distance themselves immediately. It is a form of conditional love. “I will be your friend as long as you live up to my expectations.” Sad to say, this is the kind of “friendship” that most Christians endure in that system known as the “Institutional Church.” But was this the kind of friendship that Jesus had with the eleven disciples who loved Him for who He is?

We know that Judas loved mammon. He was the one who held the money bag in the group and finally betrayed Christ at the end for thirty pieces of silver. We also know that the seventy other disciples that Jesus sent out with power to preach the gospel turned away from Him as well (see John 6:66-71). But to those faithful eleven He said:

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.  No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. (John 15:13-17, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

Jesus told us that we were His friends if we did what He commanded. Love is, of course, the greatest commandment. But we need to love God before we can share His love with our neighbors. We may love our enemies with this God-given love (see Romans 5:5), but we won’t be that ‘loving’ when we take part in their lawless living. From hence, we might see why this world is at enmity with us. As soon as we share the gospel by doing what God commands us to do, NOW, they will reject us. However, the good news is that He gives us His peace for having been obedient to Him and then we can pray for those who do not know our Lord yet.

We know that Jesus’ disciples were often fearful even when He was with them, yet He was always patient with them. He was their friend to the very end, even unto dying for them and their sins alone on the cross. What kind of love lays down one’s own life for a friend? It is one thing for a soldier to dive on a live grenade to save the life of his fellow soldiers. But there is another more practical and sacrificial way of laying down one’s life. That is laying down your own will daily for the good of another because you love them more than you love yourself.  THIS is true friendship! Following the leading of Christ’s Spirit in our daily lives is laying down our life for our Friend just as He laid down His live for us. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “But he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” There is a wonderful dynamic that kicks in when we have this kind of friendship with another who reciprocates in kind.

Austin-Sparks wrote:

It is indeed a very wonderful and beautiful thing that the Son of God called such as the disciples were, and such as we are, His friends. I do not think there is a greater or more beautiful word in all our language than that word ‘friend’. It is the most intimate title in all human relationships. Every other relationship that we can think of may exist without this. Perhaps we think that the marriage relationship is the most intimate, but it is possible for that relationship to exist without friendship. Happy indeed is the man whose wife is his friend, and happy is the wife whose husband is her friend. It is a very close relationship between children and parents and parents and children, but it is a great thing when the father can call his son his friend, and when he can say, not ‘my son’, but ‘my friend’. And, again, it is a great thing when a child can say, not only ‘my father’, but ‘my friend’: ‘my father is my friend’ – ‘my mother is my friend’. It is something extra in relationship. We may admire a person and have a lot of association with them: we may think that we know them and could say: ‘Well, I know so-and-so very well’, but, even so, there may not be friendship. Friendship is always just that bit extra.

When Jesus said: “Ye are my friends”. He was going beyond ‘Ye are My disciples’ and ‘Ye are My followers’. He could have called them by many other names, but when He said: “Ye are my friends” He went beyond anything else. And I think that the Lord Jesus found the most complete satisfaction of His heart in this word. To say “Ye are my friends” was as far as anybody could possibly go. Really, there is nothing beyond it. You reach the end of all relationships when you really come to friendship. How rich and how precious, then, is this title! (1)

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A true friend is one that you can share everything in your life with. Not only can you tell them about your joys and successes, but you can share with them what makes you sad, even your worst failures. When you need someone to stand with you in prayer, knowing that it will not be used to separate themselves from you for your failings nor will they use these precious things as a tidbit of gossip as soon as you part. A true friend hopes all things for the other and hardly notice when his friend does him wrong. As Solomon wrote, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Prov 18:24, ESV2011)

You see, there are “friends” and then there are FRIENDS, just as there are “believers” then there are BELIEVERS! In John chapter two we read,

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man. (John 2:23-25, KJ2000)

Jesus could not commit Himself to this kind of follower. He dared not open His heart up to them. They “believed in His name” because He did miracles for them. But they were “loaves and fishes” Christians and would soon turn against Him when their temporal needs were no longer being met (see John ch. 6). They were not His friends.

Friends do not use friends. That is a feigned relationship at best. But how many times do we hear Christians say, “I just want to be used by Jesus!” This is an institutional mindset at best. The devil uses people to fulfill his agenda of destruction. But Christ walks with us as our friend and as we rest in Him, His will is carried out in our lives by the love and friendship we share. The kingdom of God is a family of close friends, not an institution!

In our Christian walks we will have many occasions where we will prove ourselves as to whether we are HIS friend or not. It is one thing to be a “follower of Christ,” but it is a far greater thing to be His friend. For in this kind of relationship is where He starts revealing to us all things (see and He can say to us, “I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” Do you want spiritual revelation from Christ? This is where it starts, walking with Him day by day and moment by moment as His friend.

Consider how Christ handled this kind of situation with one of His own disciples:

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.” 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 16:21-23, ESV2011)

When we insist on knowing Christ or each other after the flesh, seeking our own desires to be fulfilled instead of knowing one another after the Spirit, we will find ourselves acting contrary to His will. Paul wrote,

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)

Toward the end of my 14 years in the wilderness (where He had been stripping me of all that I once thought of myself as a “Christian”) I, Michael, was invited to go to a worship conference, so I went. There were many speakers and workshop teachers at this conference but Father spoke to me through the words in a song that we were singing. It went,

 “I will change your name. You shall no longer be called Wounded, outcast, lonely or afraid.”

I thought, “Yes, that is me; a wounded, outcast, lonely and afraid in this world.” Then the Lord started to speak to me in the verses that followed…

“I will change your name. Your new name shall be confidence, joyfulness, overcoming one, faithfulness, friend of God…”

At that moment I thought, “Oh God, who am I that you would call me your friend?!” He replied to me in the last phrase of this song, because you are

“one who seeks My face.” (2)

This was a life changing moment for me, because He told me how much He loves me and counted me as His friend. When we really love someone, we will not ever be totally happy until we can share our love with them face to face. God is no different. As His friends we will always seek His face. David prayed,

Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.” (Ps 27:7-8, ESV2011)

Dear saints, We pray that we may all come to know this kind of friendship with Jesus and His Father and find others who walk in this same intimate knowledge of Him so that we might truly have Friends in Christ’s love. True followers of Jesus Christ are true friends and we thank the Father for the ones we have known.

(1) https://www.austin-sparks.net/english/000419.html

(2) “I Will Change Your Name,” by D.J. Butler

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

The Body Is One!

They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32, ESV2011)

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

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

(…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Standing on God’s Vast Heavenly Shore

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T. Austin-Sparks, wrote:

And what is true at the beginning is true all the way along. There is no end to Divine revelation; there is no end to our seeing. Oh, how little we have seen, how little we know, of the vast stores of Divine intention and thought and purpose and meaning. We stand and paddle on the shores of this vast ocean of God and of His purposes and meanings in our creation. How little we know about it! – and we are not going to know until we have deep heart exercise. But it is there, and it is there for us, and oh, we have got to come in this way – “so much the more.” (1)

In the above excerpt Sparks was using the story of blind Bartimeaus, who upon hearing that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, he cried out to Him for help. The surrounding crowd tried to silence him, “but he cried the more a great deal, ‘You son of David, have mercy on me.'” His persistence was rewarded and he received his sight. God rewards those who cry out for spiritual sight, too.

Just a few days ago the Lord showed me (call it a vision or whatever) a picture of myself. I had been contemplating what Jesus said to Nathaniel about Him being the stairway to heaven upon which the angels (Grk. Angelos– messengers) were ascending and descending. Jesus later told them that He would come again in the form of His Holy Spirit who would lead them into all truth.  Divine vision and insight is a gift from God, not a product of intellectual pursuit.

In this vision I was standing under a transparent pipe that was almost the size of my head that was filled with light coming down from heaven and He told me that it was mine if I would stand still under it instead of running around doing the things that were not being done by HIS leading. Honestly, I have been living the “retired life” without seeking Him each day as to what His will for me for that day and each moment is.

Many years ago, not long after I was filled with His Spirit he gave me a dream. In that dream I was on a darkened stage and all of a sudden a spotlight from the back of the auditorium came on and there was a round spot of light in front of me that was large enough for me to step into, which I did. Soon that light went out and as I waited another spot lit up on the stage not far from me so I stepped into it. This went on until I had gone most of the way around that dark stage and finally I was in the back corner. Then it shined onto a small flight of stairs that led down to an exit door and as I pushed through it was a bright sunny day outside… no more darkness!

My life has been like that. There have been times when God’s light and presence was very pronounced and seasons (more often than not) that I was groping in spiritual darkness, waiting for Him to turn the light on again. One of those dark periods was 14 years long. It was my “dark night of the soul” or “wilderness period.” God used that to tear down many of my former suppositions (the traditions of men) of what Christianity has become and replace it with the design intent of Christ and His Father. He also got to the root of a lot of pride in me that was masking itself as “spirituality.”

Putting this all together with what I shared from brother Sparks in the above quote, I can say that he is right. “Oh how little we have seen.” How little we know about the purposes of God because we often get a little insight and we settle down and camp right there. He shines His light, but are we faithful to step into it and leave our comparative spiritual darkness behind? Apostle Paul wrote,

“If any man thinks he knows something, let him know this; he knows nothing as he ought to know.”

Dear saints, may we have a “deep heart exercise” to explore the depths and the riches that are ours in Christ Jesus and grow in our personal knowledge of Him and the Father. Amen.

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/000843.html

“If I Were You…”

Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world— to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37, ESV2011)

As I was speaking with a dear saint recently, the subject of hearing and obeying Jesus’ voice came up. We were talking about living in the truth. As we fellowshipped in the Spirit it was evident that Jesus is the Truth and to live in the truth is to live in Christ. Many of us who call ourselves “Christians” consult many sources to find the truth of how we should live or what course of action we should take. Some of us go running to our pastor or a Christian counselor for advice. Some of us research on the web, read self-improvement books, or even watch TV shows like Dr. Phil to find out what we should do. Yet again, many search the Bible and believe that in it we will find all that we need to do what is right in this life, but is that what Jesus said (see John 5:39-40)?

In the opening verse above we see that Jesus proclaimed Himself as our King. Why? So that He could show us the truth and that we would obey Him. So, many of us turn to not only the Bible, but to His words in the Bible to know the truth. Yet is that what He told Pilate? To find the truth we must listen to the One who IS the Truth! Jesus said, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Do we really take the time to pray and listen to His voice and let Him direct our thoughts and actions? Do we invite Him into our family relationships and fellowship with others that He might direct our conversations and our hearts?

Susanne Schuberth wrote on her blog about a breaking point in her life.

I had begun to struggle with bipolar depression beginning in summer 2000 after our family had left the Christian cult we had attended for more than 5 years. There were a few reasons why that mental disease could put a stranglehold on me several times until 2008 and one of them was that our marriage seemed to have come to its very end which was one of the most painful situations I/we had to deal with. One day as I had been pondering on the pros and cons of divorce in detail, I eventually asked the Lord what to do. Knowing the legalistic approach both of the RCC and the cult we had joined, I was very surprised to come to know a side of God which had been unknown to me before. At that time I was so insecure about what to do that I dared to ask God how He would deal with me if I really got divorced. I could not have been more amazed as Jesus said, “I will be with you whatever you do.”

Wow!!! Knowing the Scriptures regarding divorce rather well, I was overwhelmed by His answer. That it was really God who spoke to me became immediately clear because I suddenly knew that I trusted Him, esp. in these matters, without any reservation. Such a great love of God…..indeed, only having read the Bible, I would have never thought that God really IS love. From that point on as I was convinced that I could fully trust Him, I even dared to ask Jesus earnestly, “What would You do if you were in my place?” His simple answer was, “If I were you, I would stay.” (1)

In a time of desperation, this sister really dared to trust Jesus with her life and her marriage! She could have read the Old Testament and concluded that divorce was okay. Even the New Testament gives place for divorce in some cases. But she bothered to ask God what HE thought about her case and Jesus gave her an answer that a true lover of Christ could understand, “If I were you, I would stay,” and she did just that. As a result of her listening to His voice on a daily basis and following Him, Jesus has been making Himself manifest in their marriage and healing all the old wounds in their family. God has been proving to her the depth of what Paul said to that Philippian jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved and your household.”

“If I were you…” Isn’t that what Jesus is after in each of our lives? Paul put it this way, “For me to live is Christ…” Daily and moment by moment we face this choice when we abide in Christ. It is not just “What would Jesus do,” in a generic (one size fits all) sense, but “What is Jesus seeking to do in me in a moment by moment personal way?” May we all take the time to seek Him out as we surrender to His rule in our lives.

(1) https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/2015/03/16/christ-in-us-the-hope-of-glory/