The Need for an Epiphany

Taken from https://www.bobleesays.com – Artist unknown

 

I cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of his calling, and what is the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, (Eph 1:16-19, KJ2000)

Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines the word epiphany as:

(1)  an usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something

(2)  an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking

(3)  an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure

Oh, how we all need an epiphany on the spiritual reality of our high callings IN Christ Jesus! Many of us, like myself, are familiar with those wonderful scriptures in the New Testament that speak of our being called into a divine relationship with the Father and the Son and some of us think that because we know about it from reading the Bible or have an intellectual grasp of many of these related truths, we have already arrived. What a delusion this is! Can we also say with Paul that it has pleased the Father to reveal His Son not just to us, but IN us? In Christian circles we talk about having a “personal” relationship with Jesus, but just how personal has our discovery of Him been? I have experienced enough of Christ in a personal way to know that I have not arrived and that there is MORE yet to come. On this journey I have often tried to grasp onto something, a knowing or an event (or even a spiritual person), but this has only held me back as long as I refused to let go. Paul put it this way:

that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:10-14, RSV)

I would like to share once again an excerpt from T. Austin-Sparks writings that helps explain what I am seeing. I am not a follower of Sparks, but I have not found any other writer that the Lord uses during this time of my life to confirm in me what He is saying as this dear saint’s writings have.

Spiritual illumination, therefore, is a basic thing to God’s end. We can never come to the fulness of Christ by the mere enquiry and investigation of our own brains into spiritual things. There must of necessity be the Holy Spirit giving revelation concerning Christ. The Testimony of Jesus has as its essential law: spiritual illumination and revelation – through the Word. The Testimony of Jesus can never be something static, something that you take up and say: “This is the Testimony of Jesus” and then put it into a formula. The Testimony of Jesus is something that has been revealed. The Testimony of Jesus is: “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” Stephen died for that Testimony. “At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them that journeyed with me. And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice…” The inner meaning of that is not something apart from the Word, but something that comes by the Holy Ghost through the Word. That is more than the letter; it is life. It is something that makes you say: I have read the Scriptures on that for a long time, but I have really never seen that before.

The Holy Spirit’s illumination concerning the church is a thing so difficult to explain to any who may not have experienced it. But to those who have seen it, it needs no explanation. It makes such a difference on all these matters. You will [may] be able to preach Ephesians, Colossians, Romans; preach all about the church as the Body of Christ; you may read it all in books, and still there may be no real expression of it. Then one day it is as though the heavens opened and the thing broke upon your spirit, and you saw it; and all kinds of adjustments became necessary in life. You can say, “I saw that the church was no denominational or national thing; I believed in the oneness of all believers…” yes, you can say all that! And yet there is something more. That something can only come by revelation. You can have the other, and it will just take you so far. But get that something more, and it will take you a long way ahead. It brings you into the realm of the conflict and cost, but you are out in an altogether new realm. It is necessary to God’s end.

It is one thing to say these things and point them out and emphasise them; you say: “How do you get it? We see what you mean, it is all quite clear, but we have not got it!” Well, if you really are of the undivided heart, if your heart is wholly set upon the Lord and you see as far as you can see these things, and have very definite dealings with the Lord about it; it may not be in a day, it may be slowly, steadily, quietly you begin to move into a new realm of understanding. And you find that your point of view changes; your standard of values changes; your insight changes. It may take months, but at the end of the time you say: “I am changed! Something has happened to me. I can no longer accept what I used to accept!” It may be like that, or it may come in a flash. How it comes does not matter very much, the fact is the importance of this thing – spiritual illumination. The apostle prayed that these to whom he wrote might have it. Let us pray that we might have it, and that all the Lord’s people might come into that (emphasis added). http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/002858.html

Dear Father, please shine the light of your Spirit into our hearts and draw us ever deeper into that light as you did with Stephen and Paul that we might not fall short of our high callings in your Son. Amen.

Are We Still Clinging to Our Zoar?

Leaving it all behind

Photo by Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash

 

Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed. (Luke 17:28-30, KJ2000)

Many Christians who read the Bible compartmentalize its verses. They either make them apply to people they do not approve of, or apply them to another time (dispensationalism), especially if those verses start to make them feel uncomfortable about themselves. But the Holy Spirit won’t let me get away with that any more. He always reminds me of this verse as I contemplate any passage in the Bible:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (2Tim 3:16, ESV2011)

What part of ALL don’t we understand? ALL scripture is breathed out by God not only for teaching, but for reproof and correction as well as training us in HIS righteousness. So, I am used to not only listening to the voice of the Spirit for what He might say to me, but when He gives me a scripture, I have to ask Him, “Where do I fit in what He is saying to me?”

I didn’t start out that way. Like most church folks I knew, I loved to put the warnings of God’s word on everyone else but me. One of the first books that my church going aunt gave to me upon finding out that I was saved was a book on eschatology! I didn’t need to know about Bible prophesy, but rather who is this Jesus that has taken hold of me? So with the latest group of scriptures he had me contemplating, I wondered what His judgment on Sodom in the days of Lot had to do with today and my life in Christ. It is odd in the above text that Jesus did not have one word to say about sodomy or homosexuality, isn’t it? No, they ate, they drank, they bought and sold, they planted and they built. It was business as usual by people who had the focus of their lives on this world until God’s judgment destroyed all their works. Sound familiar?

As I contemplated this and many other passages about Sodom and let Him apply them to my life, a pattern started to form, and not one that I expected. In Genesis we read about how God forewarned Abraham about the judgment coming on Sodom and Gomorrah. The problem was that Abraham knew that Lot, his wife and his two daughters lived in Sodom and so he did all he could to convince God not to do such a thing. Two angels visited Abraham and told him that Sarah would have a son in her old age and he would be the father of a great nation. The angels then headed off to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because the people there were evil in all their ways. God does that–He destroys a people who have become altogether irredeemable and then raises up a people who will walk with Him by faith.

It is here that I want to quote Abraham’s conversation with God.

Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” He said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place. (Gen 18:23-33, ESV2011)

As the story goes on, the two angels entered Sodom after leaving Abraham and were invited to stay overnight with Lot and his family. As it got dark, the men of that evil city banged on his door and wanted to seduce his guests. While Lot was arguing with them, begging them not to do such an evil thing to his house guests, the angels grabbed him and drew him inside and blinded those men so that they could not find the door. When morning came, the two angels had to take Lot, his wife and two daughters by the hand and drag them out of the city before God’s judgment fell. The story continues:

As morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.” But he lingered. So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the LORD being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city. And as they brought them out, one said, “Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away.” And Lot said to them, “Oh, no, my lords. Behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life. But I cannot escape to the hills, lest the disaster overtake me and I die. Behold, this city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there—is it not a little one?—and my life will be saved!” He said to him, “Behold, I grant you this favor also, that I will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken. Escape there quickly, for I can do nothing till you arrive there.” Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar. (Gen 19:15-22, ESV2011)

We don’t know how many years Lot lived there in Sodom. We do know that when Abraham and he parted ways, Lot chose the fertile plain which was much more pleasant for him and his herds, while Abraham chose what was left, the mountains with all their dangers. Abraham walked by faith and Lot walked by sight. Because of Abraham’s faith, God kept him. It was not long until Lot was living in Sodom and nothing more is heard about him being a herdsman. The easy ways of this world are like that. They just keep sucking us into their more comfortable ways that are in league with our flesh. Abraham walked by faith, but Lot lacked such faith that God would keep him and bless him as He had Abraham, and he chose the artificial city life of fallen man.

Now, to get to what the Lord was saying to me out of all this. In the first passage we see Abraham arguing with the Lord about saving those cities for the sake of a few “good people” that might live in them. In the second we see Lot pleading with the angels to let him live in that “little city.” What harm can a little city do, after all? “Behold, this city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there—is it not a little one?—and my life will be saved!” As we read on we see that what Lot thought would save his life soon became dangerous as well. We do that. We put more trust in something that seems “good” to our natural man that we might save our life, but God knows the hidden dangers to our spiritual walk. Jesus said, “He who finds his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for my sake shall find it.” Our lives in the world and its ways are all too precious to us in the eyes of God.

Escape there quickly, for I can do nothing till you arrive there.” Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar. (Gen 19:22, ESV2011)

Now Lot went up out of Zoar and lived in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to live in Zoar. So he lived in a cave with his two daughters. (Gen 19:30, ESV2011)

“’I can do nothing until you arrive there.’ Therefore the name of the city is Zoar.” Zoar means “little or to be brought low.” God can do nothing with any of us, no matter how gifted we might be, until He has brought us low, and we admit that we have nothing in us that is good. We must become as a little child if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven. As John the Baptist said about Jesus, “He must increase, I must decrease.” God can do nothing with what we think we might have to offer Him, but oh, how we plead for Him to save any perceived “goodness” we have in us. “But Lord, if there be just 50, just 45, just 30, just 20… how about only ten good things in me, can I avoid the destruction that the cross demands in my life?” “Lord, let’s be reasonable. Let me have just a little safe haven, something I can cling to in this life. It all can’t be evil, can it?”  The longer we walk after Christ the more we find out just how uncompromising this walk is.  “None are righteous, no not one.” “All our righteousness is as filthy rags.” “The flesh profits nothing.” And finally in our ever growing weakness by the working of the cross we hear Him say, “Apart from me you can do nothing,” and we believe it.

Escape there quickly, for I can do nothing till you arrive there.” Until we become small in our own sight, so small that we no longer look to our Zoar for safety, but see that even the best hopes in and of ourselves are not safe, God cannot manifest the life of His Son in us. He can do nothing with us but set us aside as so many cave dwellers until we, like Elijah, no longer try to hear His voice in the earthquakes, winds and fires of the fleshly ways of men, but rather hear His slightest whisper saying, “This is the way of the Lord, walk you in it.”

Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot… Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.” In the economy of the Father it is all about his Son being revealed in us. We as individual believers are in the days of Lot, much deeper than we ever thought. But there is hope…

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1Pet 4:12-13, ESV2011)

Not by Willpower, But by Personal Revelation

Saul of Tarsus – Taken from https://www.bobleesays.com – Artist unknown

I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:12 ESV)

Please forgive me, but once again in the following two paragraphs T. Austin Sparks sums up what has taken me a lifetime to discover. My comments on my own journey follow.

Those of us who have tasted of this world’s springs have recognized the kinship between what is there and what is in religion so far as that soul-nature is concerned. It is only a matter of difference of realm, not of nature. What the music and drama of the world produce in one way – the soul-stirring, rousing, craving: the pathos, tears, contempt, hatred, anger, melancholy, pleasure, etc. – are all the same, only under different auspices and in a different setting, and the fact is that it passes and we are really no further on. A little better music, a change of preacher, a less familiar place, a few more thrills, will perhaps stimulate our souls, but where are we, after all? How Satan must laugh behind his mask! Oh, for reality, the reality of the eternal! Oh, that men might see that, while a highly cultured soul with a keen sense of the beautiful and sublime is immeasurably preferable to a sordid one so far as this world is concerned, it is not necessarily a criterion that such has a personal living knowledge of God – of God as a Person – and has really been born anew! (1)

Exactly! It took me a while to discern the difference between the spiritual Church and the soulish one because, like the foolish Galatians (see Galatians 3:1-3), I started out in the Spirit, being born from above, only to be siphoned-off into the works of Christian City (for a very eye opening booklet that speaks of this journey many of us have been on, see Escape from Christendom by Robert Burnell on our website).

What a difference exists once our eyes are opened. We are much like newborn puppies, rooting around for a teat to latch onto that has milk (there are plenty to choose from), until we are ready for the “sincere milk of the Word,” the voice of the Spirit of Christ, leading us in all our ways and not feeding any longer at the breasts of men, a.k.a. religion.  Oh, what dainties Christendom supplies us to draw us by our flesh under its spell! But what a wonderful life it is to walk by spiritual sight (Christ revealed in us as a LIVING person in a moment by moment heavenly journey).

Sparks continues,

When we pray for “Revival” let us be careful as to what we are after and as to what means we use to promote it, or carry it on…. The Apostle Paul makes it very clear that the secret of everything in his life and service was the fact that he received his gospel “by revelation.” We may even know the Bible most perfectly as a book, and yet be spiritually dead and ineffective. When the Scriptures say so much about the knowledge of God and of the truth as the basis of eternal life, resulting in being set free, doing exploits, etc., they also affirm that man cannot by searching find out God, and they make it abundantly clear that it is knowledge in the spirit, not in the natural mind. Thus, a rich knowledge of the Scriptures, an accurate technical grasp of Christian doctrine, a doing of Christian work by all the resources of men’s natural wisdom or ability, a clever manipulation and interesting presentation of Bible content and themes, may get not one whit beyond the natural life of men, and still remain within the realm of spiritual death. Men cannot be argued, reasoned, fascinated, interested, “emotioned,” willed, enthused, impassioned, into the kingdom of the heavens; they can only be born; and that is by spiritual quickening. (1)

I was born again during a revival of the Spirit that swept across the United States and Canada (and eventually to Europe) during the early 1970’s. This revival seemed initially to be one that was primarily outside the churches, so we received a lot of bad-mouthing from them out of pure jealousy. Nonetheless, we who were born of the Spirit had such sweet fellowship with each other and Jesus until men rose up and started to harness what God was doing (many denominations exist today that got their start during this time as they recruited these gullible youth). Feeling the Spirit leave and not knowing why was a sad experience for many of us.

I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. (Acts 20:29-31, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

One time out of desperation a few years ago, I started praying for another Spirit led revival to happen in my lifetime. In short order I heard the Father say, “Do you think that I want to give birth to a mass of spiritual infants just so the whores can hack and split them up for their own soulish gain (See 1 Kings 3:16-28)?” That was the end of my prayers for this. I have since seen that God is still giving spiritual life to thousands of saints, one at a time, here and there all over the world and I am so thankful for each of them.

Needless to say, as men rose-up this revival I experienced died. All these years I have longed for such sweet fellowship in the Spirit we had back then, but have only experience an occasional spiritual oasis on my journey to the City of God that has Foundations. When we find another saint who walks by the Spirit and has broken out of Christendom (or was never entangled in it), what a find they are! Thanks to all of you who have shared the love of Christ with me and those other priceless pilgrims that frequent this blog.

“Goodwill Shews Christian the Way” from “Pilgrim’s Progress”

Then said Evangelist, If this be thy condition, why standest thou still? He answered, Because I know not whither to go. Then he gave him a parchment roll, and there was written within, “Fly from the wrath to come”. The man therefore, read it, and looking upon Evangelist very carefully, said, Whither must I fly? Then said Evangelist, pointing with his finger over a very wide field, Do you see yonder wicket gate [see John 10:9-10]? The man said, No. Then said the other, Do you see yonder shining light [see John 8:12]? He said, I think I do. Then said Evangelist, Keep that light in your eye, and go up directly thereto, so shalt thou see the gate; at which, when thou knockest, it shall be told thee what thou shalt do. ~ “Pilgrims Progress” by John Bunyon (2)

Your brother IN the Son (who has been ruined by Jesus for “playing church”),

Michael

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/002776.html

(2) https://www.ccel.org/ccel/bunyan/pilgrim.pdf

Living with a Heavenly Perspective

Montana Sunset.JPG

Montana Sunset – photo by Michael Clark

And the Lord said to Moses, Come up to me on the mountain, and take your place there… (Exod 24:12, BBE – emphasis added)

My beloved spoke, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. (Song 2:10, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

Come with me … look from the top [of the mountain]… (Song 4:8, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. (Song 2:13, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

For you are the temple of the living God; as God has said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore come out from among them, and be you separate, says the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty. (2Cor 6:16-18, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will eat with him, and he with me. To him that overcomes will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and sat down with my Father in his throne. He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the churches. After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up here, and I will show you things which must be hereafter. (Rev 3:20-4:1, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up here. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them. (Rev 11:12, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

All through the scriptures we see this common thread, God is calling a people unto Himself so He can have a loving relationship with them as His living temple. The Son is calling to Himself His bride that He can have an intimate relationship with her. Our call is emphatic. “Come to me!” “Rise up my love!” “Arise my love and come away!” “Come out from among them and I will receive you!” “Come up here and I will show you things.” The very meaning of the Greek word so glibly translated “church” (ecclesia) means “a called-out assembly.” We start out our Christian walk as His called-out ones and that call continues to grow in our hearts as we obey His voice.

Most of what is called “church” is composed of institutions focused on the things of this earth and not on the One who has called them into an intimate relationship with Him. It is concerned with buildings, organization, programs, mind tickling sermons, salaries, insurance policies, retirement programs, hierarchy, etc.

 

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Christchurch Cathedral – Photo by andrewprice001 on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

 

T. Austin Sparks points out:

The Lord has not called upon us to form churches. That is not our business. Would to God men had recognized the fact! A very different situation would obtain today from what exists, if that had been recognized. It is the Lord Who expands His Church, Who governs its growth. What we have to do is to live in the place of His appointment in the power of His resurrection. If, in the midst of others, the Lord can get but two of His children, in whom His Life is full and free, to live on the basis of that Life, and not to seek to gather others to themselves or to get them to congregate together on the basis of their acceptance of certain truths or teaching, but simply to witness to what Christ means and is to them, then He has an open way…[emphasis added] (1)

Learning that we do not gather together after the manner of this world and its corporations and then living accordingly by HIS life in us is a life-long lesson. We who are Christ’s are His body. We are an organism with Him as our Head and the source of our very life. It is He who builds HIS church… never by might or by power, but always by His Spirit are we birthed and then knit together into His heavenly body as He wills. We have an upward call both as individuals and as members one of another, not of a “church.”

And [God] has raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: (Eph 2:6, KJ2000)

In another treatise, “Looking from the Heavenly Places,” W. C. Saunders wrote:

We are to live in the good of this [heavenly life]. He calls us to come with Him and look from the top. Here is a new realm for the exercise of faith, we are to reckon ourselves to be seated with Christ in His position of being far above all. Many Christians are too earthbound. They fail to realise and enter into the values of their true position in Christ. He wants His people to get on to higher ground, ever calling to us “Come with me … look from the top”. Our position ‘in Christ’ brings a new elevation into our lives. We can see things — even earthly things — from heavenly heights.

How different everything in life appears if we see it from Christ’s level rather than our own. Here is the secret of spiritual ascendancy, to stand with Christ on high and view your life “from the top”. I believe that whenever the way is hard and we are prone to be cast down, the Lord Jesus would whisper in our ears this invitation to rise up to Him and view the situation as He sees it. When Elijah was so depressed and sat under his juniper tree wanting to die, God sent the message to him: “Go forth and stand upon the Mount before the Lord”. The prophet found that from that position everything took on a different face… He reminds us that our true position is to be one with Him, even now. By His Word He calls us into those heavenly places that, with His help and encouragement we may look from the top. This is surely the true significance of the promise that we shall mount up with wings as eagles (Isaiah 40:31)… It is of supreme importance that we learn to look on things as He sees them. (2)

Paul wrote about this heavenly viewpoint in light of how we relate to Jesus and to one another.

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)

As I was growing up in the Catholic church, everything about their buildings was focused in knowing Jesus after the flesh. There was the statue of Mary holding the baby Jesus or He was hanging on a cross above the altar.  But the living Christ was somewhere way out in space with the Father, far out of reach of mere mortals. Yet, Paul makes it clear that it is our privilege to know Him after the Spirit and abide with Him and the Father in heavenly places. And not only that, we are to know our brothers and sisters as His NEW creations and not after the flesh. But do we afford one another the grace to see them with spiritual eyes? How quick we are to find fault and judge one another after the flesh (especially in Protestant Bible, fundamental and charismatic churches) instead of seeing each other as a work of the Spirit in progress.  Or how quick we look upon the outward beauty, intelligence or wealth or lack thereof instead of looking upon our hearts (see 1 Samuel 16:7). Yes, we Christians are still way too earthbound and the whole structure of our churches teach us to be so. Christ’s call is still the same since John heard it on the island of Patmos two thousand years ago.

“Come up here and I will show you things [from My perspective].”

“Dear Father, please do what it takes to raise us up into your heavenly point of view so that we may see all things the way you do and have your divine hope and confidence that all things do work together for the good of we who love you and are called according to your divine plan. Amen.”

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/002226.html

(2) https://www.austin-sparks.net/mags/ttm09-5.html#91

From Where Comes This Emptiness in the Human Heart?

Thors Well - Eric-Muhr-1146201-https unsplash.com

Thor’s Well – photo by Eric Muhr on Unsplash.com

 

There is an emptiness in the human heart that drives us to try all kinds of things to fill it. This leads to all manner of addictions–drugs, alcohol, illicit sex, money, fame, and yes, even religion as we try and get back what Adam and Eve lost in the Garden of Eden. I believe that the void in the human heart started with their caving to the temptation of Satan in the garden. He tempted them to be “wise” and “like God” under his twisted knowledge instead of the law of love and unity with their Creator. Just knowing God as their loving Father was not enough.

The first manifestation of this void came immediately after they ate of the forbidden fruit when their eyes were opened, seeing for the first time that they were naked. This illicit and condemning knowledge of the devil (deciding what is good and what is evil apart from God) came into them as the serpent promised it would (see Genesis 3:5). As a result they hid from God, but He found them. Adam said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself” (Gen 3:10, ESV2011). God then asked, “Who told you that you were naked?” God created them naked and unashamed and pronounced it was good. Satan seduced them under his twisted authority and they became ashamed, believed his lie that nakendness was bad, feared their Father and became subject to the father of Lies. Jesus said Satan was a liar and a murder from the beginning (see John 8:44).

The second recorded manifestation of the devil in man came in Adam and Eve’s offspring. Cain killed his brother, Abel, out of pure jealousy because God favored Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s. Lying, rebellion and murder has continued in the hearts of men since that day. Man had “become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” That “one” was the devil himself.

There is a terrible void in fallen man that cries out for a return of what was lost, perfect communion with our Creator, and He longs for that with us as well. God sent His only begotten Son to earth that He would not only live a perfect sinless life and then die as a spotless sacrifice for the sins of mankind, but that He would also be the first born of many brethren, sons and daughters of God in perfect sinless unity with His Father. Jesus addressed this in His final prayer, His “last will and testament.”

“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,  I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.  O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me.  I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:21-26, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

God showed me the above passage about seven years ago and has been opening its meaning to me little by little as I have grown by experiencing more and more of unity with Him in the Spirit. Do you see the perfect unity that Jesus has made available to us who are His? Christ is IN us and the Father is in Him! The very God of the universe abides IN those of us who believe in the Son of God and have opened our hearts that He might dwell in them. The perfect unity with our Father that was once lost in the garden  has now been restored.  Jesus prayed, “Father, I desire that they also… may be with me where I am.” Where is Jesus? He is in the Father and the Father is in Him (see verse 21).

Jesus has and is making known to us the “name” of the Father. He was sent to earth to model just who His Father in heaven is and that is His name; Himself, his nature, his perfections, especially of grace and mercy, his mind and will, his Gospel” – (John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible). Philip asked Jesus to show them the Father and Jesus replied, Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip?  Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Just as Adam and Eve saw the Father God walking in the garden, so are we restored through the Son to what they once had and even more.

In the Book of Hebrews we read:

Free stock photos – Pexels

For every one that uses milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Heb 5:13-14, KJ2000)

 

God’s idea of what is “good” and what is “evil” is not found in the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That was Satan’s delusion. No, to our Father what is good is when we humbly walk in unity with Him. This is the very definition of righteousness. Unity is obedience that is motivated by love for Him, not the fear of punishment for breaking some law.

“He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic 6:8, KJ2000)

 

“Evil” in the mind of God is when there is discord and disunity in our relationship with Him. Adam and Eve knew evil in their hearts once they ate of the forbidden fruit. They were separated from God in that moment and hid themselves because they no longer had that intimate relationship with Him. They ceased to know Him as their Father. Mere religion will not save us, but Him giving us a NEW heart filled with love for our Father and Christ will. Jesus warned,

“In ‘that day’ many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we preach in your name, didn’t we cast out devils in your name, and do many great things in your name?’ Then I shall tell them plainly, ‘I have never known [Grk. gnosis – intimate knowing] you. Go away from me, you have worked on the side of evil!'”  (Matt 7:22-23, Phillips NT)

What a surprise the Day of Judgment will be for many. Religion is a vast deception when it takes the place of an intimate relationship with our Father and His Son. In the eyes of God all its works are evil!

Jesus came to show us what a life in unity with the Father looks like and then offered Himself up as a perfect sacrifice for sin (man’s disunity with our Father) and fill us with His Spirit so we could once again come into alignment with God in all things. How about going to a “Bible church,” will that save you? So many Christians have fallen short of what God desires for them by never getting beyond the milk of the scriptures. Jesus spoke of this very sin to the Bible scholars of 2000 years ago.

Search the scriptures; for in them you think you have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And you will not come to me, that you might have life. (John 5:39-40, KJ2000)

The writer of Hebrews wrote this warning in chapter five because he wanted to go on and teach them the deeper things that are ours IN Christ, but they were mere spiritual infants desiring milk. He continues in the next chapter.

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)

The sad thing is that most Bible teaching in the churches never goes beyond these first principles, thus adding to the perpetual babyhood of their members (see Hebrews 5:11-13).

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Photo by “Life is Fantastic” on Unsplash.com

Life in the Son is all about our relationship with the Father as it was with Him. As we grow into “full age” by experiencing His joy in our hearts when we are in unity with His will for us and His displeasure when we are not, this is “discerning both good and evil.” The “strong meat” of the knowledge and wisdom that is in Christ becomes ours as well because of our unity with Him. We need to look far beyond our religious preconceived mental list of do’s and don’ts into the very heart of our Father and seek total unity with Him. He leads us by His Spirit to walk just as Jesus walked, doing only the works HE shows us to do and speaking only the words that our Father gives us to speak. Let us go on to maturity, dear saints, seeking our Father’s pleasure in all things.

 

Be Careful Lest the Light in You Be Darkness

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I remember as a young boy watching my grandmother go up to the front left corner of her Catholic church, put a quarter in the money slot and light a votive candle. It was one of about a hundred small candles in little glass containers that looked like an oversized red shot glass. She would then kneel down and pray for a few moments in front of this rack of candles, then return to her seat. We were told that as long as the candle was burning, our prayer request would be before God.  This is just one of thousands of superstitions that we were taught in Catholic school.

Jesus said, “If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matt 6:22-23, ESV2011).

How great indeed. We all thought that spiritual light was to be found in the doctrines of the church. If we submitted to its teachings without question and faithfully received the sacraments, we would be saved from hell. Never mind if what the Bible teaches was contrary to all that. As one priest told me when I was starting to question church doctrine in light of the scriptures, “When it comes to a conflict of the teachings of the church and what the Bible says, church doctrine is always preeminent.” Somehow, deep inside, I knew this was wrong and it started me on a quest to find out the truth about God and Jesus Christ.

A couple years after this I finally overcame my fear of going to hell and walked out of the Catholic church for that last time. My next step along the path that God would put me on was to start going to a “Bible church.” The first time I heard the gospel of Jesus Christ was in that church. After that first Sunday we attended, I invited the pastor to meet with me in my home. That night he led me down the “gospel road” in the Book of Romans and I prayed with him to receive Jesus as my Savior.

We attended that church faithfully for about two years and were faithful to work in the nursery, the “junior boys” class, mow the church lawn and whatever was asked of us. Yet, by the end of that time I still had this terrible spiritual hunger inside. You see, this denomination taught us nothing about being filled with the Spirit of God as part of salvation. Truly, the light that was within me had become darkness because I still had no power over sin in my life. The author of the Book of Hebrews wrote:

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food… Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance… (Heb 5:11 to 6:1, ESV2011)

If we are to grow up and be teachers of Christ and His kingdom we need to abide in THEE Teacher, the Holy Spirit. One of the church elders even told me that seeking the Holy Spirit was “dangerous.” Yes, He is dangerous if you have a vested interest in your own carnality! As God would have it, I finally heard about the Holy Spirit from someone in whom He dwelt where before I was told that the Holy Spirit was optional. Romans chapter eight makes it clear that if we do not have the Spirit of God in us, we are none of His.

My search finally brought me to an unconditional surrender of my life to the Lord. I not only gave him my sins, but my whole life. I repented not just of my sins in the past, but of who I was and all that I ever selfishly wanted to be. The problem was that sin was dwelling in my members and that was what made me a captive sinner and an ineffective Christian. Or like the cartoon Pogo put it, “We have found the enemy and HE IS US!” Once I totally surrendered and asked God to kill everything in me that was not of Him, God did a life changing miracle and made the light of His Spirit shine within me. T. Austin-Sparks wrote:

The first thing for us to remember is that there is an essential ground upon which we are led to the greater fulnesses of the Lord. The Lord’s will for us is these greater fulnesses of Christ. And there is something necessary from our side, which is undoubtedly a spirit of utterness for the Lord. (1)

I will not go into all the other stages that made up my spiritual path after 1970, but after being filled with His Spirit I was flat-out for God! I can look back now and see the meaning of this verse quite clearly,

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

Austin-Sparks continues:

There is one thing made perfectly clear in the Word of the Lord, and which to many has become quite clear in experience, that there is a graduation in the life of fellowship with the Lord – it is an ever growing thing – and that the course of our union with the Lord is marked by stages. These are upward stages, representing different levels and different expanses. As we go on, we are led from one degree to another, from one level to another, and with each successive level there is a wider view and very often a changing view. (1)

If we seek His righteousness in our lives, we will find ourselves on a path that takes us from darkness to the dawn, from the dawn to the sunrise, from the sunrise to the noonday sun that is over our heads and causes all the shadows of our darkness to flee. Salvation is not a onetime reciting of a “sinner’s prayer” nor is it going down to the altar to “recommit your life to Jesus” over and over again. Giving our lives completely over to Christ is just the beginning of the walk He has for us wherein we take up our crosses and follow Him. Like the sun that moves through the sky, Jesus in our life is always on the move. He sets us on a path to righteousness, not on a church pew. If we don’t keep moving with the movement of the Son, we’ll soon find that we are left sitting in the darkness of a dead religious system.

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“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” (Heb 4:12, ESV2011- emphasis added).

He is not limited by the doctrines men have composed from the pages of the Bible that we try to follow by human understanding and effort. Doctrines are static and fixed and human effort and understanding will always fall short of hearing the voice of God. But the Word of God, Jesus Christ, is alive and He desires to be very active in our lives by His Spirit leading us into all truth (see John 16:13). His truth in us grows! It is not static. Paul contrasted Moses and the veil that he wore on his face because the glory of God that was once upon it was fading. He contrasted this with the glory that is ours IN Christ,

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image [as His] from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2Cor 3:18, ESV2011)

In spiritual growth we go from glory to glory. What a promise! “For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:16, ESV2011) His grace is given us so we can have the power to move on into a greater fullness with Him where we will find more grace to grow into a greater filling of Christ within us.

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Jesus Christ is not a dead religion. His Spirit does not stand still. “In him we live and move and have our being… For we are indeed his offspring.” (Acts 17:28, ESV2011 – emphasis added). All creation has been designed by God as our teacher if we have eyes to see. God has put us on a planet that rotates. If we are to stay in the light of the sun we must constantly be moving west at the same speed the earth revolves. It is the same if we are to stay in the grace of God. As soon as we become content with our spiritual growth and put down roots in some denomination or movement, we start to die spiritually. In one religious group I was in, the leader addressed our fears that God had moved on without us by saying, “Didn’t God use this movement to reach you and haven’t you grown in it?” We would agree. Then he would say, “Then what makes you think by leaving it you will remain in His blessing?” That line of reasoning worked for a long time, until it became evident to everyone that the leader was abusing us for his own gain. When Christ moves on and His grace is no longer in the organization you are in because the leadership has taken His place, what might have once been used by God in your life has become a cult.

 “Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness.” (Luke 11:35, ESV2011)

We Christians tend to be campers. We find a nice comfortable place where God has bless us and we want to set up camp. This is why the Father rebuked Peter on the mount that day.

And after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and brought them up into a high mountain apart, And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his clothing was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elijah talking with him. Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if you will, let us make here three tabernacles; one for you, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah. While he yet spoke, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear you him. (Matt 17:1-5, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

These days with a zeal like that, Peter would quickly be put in charge of the “church building committee.” But as soon as we focus on doing something “great for God” instead of on His Son who IS the Greatness of God, the Spirit will move on.

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12, ESV2011)

Sparks sums it up by saying,

There never was anybody so completely, so utterly, and so immediately adjusted to the Father as the Lord Jesus was. His adjustments to the Father were instant and complete. At the end there was a conflict lasting for a little while; a bitter, deep conflict: “…if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done“. There is adjustment.

By a perfect adjustment to the revealed will of the Father He has become the perfect example of the perfect embodiment of the will of God done in a Man. Our course is to become one with Christ by the Holy Spirit in what He is. And subjection to Christ simply means that He, in Whom the will of God has been perfectly done, becomes our Lord. That is only another way of saying that the will of God in Christ becomes absolutely sovereign in us. On our part we become subject to the perfect will of God in Christ. It is a matter of the will. “I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision“, said Paul. (1)

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/002955.html

What Does Spiritual Church Leadership Look Like?

 

1909 painting The Worship of Mammon by Evelyn De Morgan.

There is evidence that the word translated mammon in the New Testament was the name of a pagan god and means much more than just “money.” In John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible he wrote:

The word “mammon” is a Syriac word, and signifies money, wealth, riches, substance, and everything that comes under the name of worldly goods.

In Wikipedia under the word Mammon we read:

The spelling μαμμωνᾷ refers to “a Syrian deity, god of riches; Hence riches, wealth”

Susanne Schuberth had a great observation of how mammon works in her comment on her latest blog.

“As soon as [church] tradition comes in and money is needed for the building, [also] money for those clerical ‘workers’ who believe they need to be paid (as ‘god’ speaks and acts through them), then the Holy Spirit withdraws. Thus [due to His absence] God makes room for other spirits to take over.” (1)

Jesus saw the seductive power of this mammon spirit warning:

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. (Matt 6:24, KJ2000)

Adam Clarke wrote about this verse in his commentary saying,

Our blessed Lord shows here the utter impossibility of loving the world and loving God at the same time; or, in other words, that a man of the world cannot be a truly religious character.  He who gives his heart to the world robs God of it, and, in snatching at the shadow of earthly good, loses substantial and eternal blessedness.  How dangerous is it to set our hearts upon riches, seeing it is so easy to make them our God!

Ever since “church growth” became the new focus, the god of Mammon has always trumped the Holy Spirit in today’s worldly churches.

There was no such thing as a “church building” for the followers of Christ to meet in for the first 290 years of Church history (The pagan Emperor Constantine took control of the church in about 311 AD and changed it into worldly organization. He made Christianity the official bureau of religion in the Roman Empire and appointed his own bishops over it). The early saints knew that the true temple of God was not made of bricks and mortar or wood, but rather it was one made from living stones.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Eph 2:19-22, ESV2011)

Those who trusted in Christ alone met in homes or underground because of persecution so the only “offerings” that were taken up were for the poor and needy among them. There were no “paid Christians,” and no salaried professionals, either. The apostle Paul made that the norm in his teachings.

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Phil 3:17-20, ESV2011)

Jesus was so taken by the need for money to support “His ministry” that He put a known thief in charge of the communal purse. When money was demanded of them to pay the temple tax, He sent Peter to catch a fish with which God miraculously provided a coin in its mouth!

According to Paul, we are NOT to keep our eyes on those who do not follow his example, supporting himself by manual labor. But what we have today are churches with people who can’t wait to get a position on the paid staff. THAT is their only example of what “church leadership” does. How sick! Paul calls the paid professional Christians, “enemies of the cross” whose minds are set on earthly things, and not on their citizenship in heaven.

And again he wrote:

 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. (2Thess 3:6-12, ESV2011- emphasis added)

To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; (1Cor 4:11-12, ESV2011- emphasis added)

The early church leadership suffered much. Church leadership was not a “profession” that worldly men sought after as it is today. They often went without, laboring with their own hands as they provided for themselves, and they did not mooch off other believers. Paul not only supported himself, as an example to all, but he often supported others who were in need among them (see Acts 20:34-35). He had no lust for the things of this world! “The ministry” in churches today is a paid profession just like any other worldly profession. You get a college degree, apply for work in a corporation and settle in, looking for ways to climb higher in the organization (or build up your own organization) as you keep the wheels of the machine turning and the money coming in. If you rise high enough, you get paid vacations, medical benefits, a company car, a corporate jet and even a good retirement.

We have friends who attended one of the local mega-churches here in town while they were barely making it on his wages and she is medically disabled and can’t work. She got very sick for a few weeks and nobody from that church called, came to visit or even cared, even though she was the chairman of a church “ministry.” The final straw for them as members of that church was a collection the officials took up so the pastor could have a bigger and better boat than the expensive one he already had (one that our friends could never dream of owning). They have not attended a church since. A sad thing these days is how many people there are outside the church because they rightfully have observed, “All those people want is your money!”

It is very obvious here in America, at least (and everywhere in the world that the American gospel has been preached), that the example of church leadership is not a heavenly one, but very worldly. The churches here are operated like any other corporation with salaries, perks and bonuses for building ever bigger church buildings and a larger human mechanized force with bigger programs to go with it. It seems that for the most part Paul’s warning to the elders of the Ephesian church has gone unheeded.

“I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.” (Acts 20:29-31, ESV2011)

Paul shed tears over what he saw coming on the church, men speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after themselves. Whatever happened to men and women, who led by a godly example with the Spirit of Christ, and were driven by a passion to make disciples connected to Him instead of to themselves?

Father, please break through the fog over Christian minds and give them the mind of Christ in all things. Amen.

(1) https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/2019/01/31/seventeen-point-checklist-for-unknown-groups/#comment-19119