Let No Man Usurp the Place of Christ, Part 1

Preacher

 

But you are not to be called rabbi (teacher), for you have one Teacher and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone [in the church] on earth father, for you have one Father, Who is in heaven. And you must not be called masters (leaders), for you have one Master (Leader), the Christ. (Matt 23:8-10, AMP)

Now why did Jesus say this? Aren’t we to have human teachers and leaders in the church? Dear saints, as I pointed out in my last blog the Holy Spirit is our Teacher and here we see that only Christ is our Leader for HE alone is THE Good Shepard.

It really disturbs my heart when people write or come to me as if I was “The Bible Answer Man,” especially when they are old enough in Christ to hear His voice for themselves as their Teacher. When this happens I feel like I am usurping His place in their lives. Yet, this is the accepted norm in today’s Christendom. Men get degrees and clamor to be in this place of authority in the lives of Christ’s sheep. Not only that, but some of His sheep, like ancient Israel, desire to have a human king to rule over them (see 1 Samuel 8:4-7). It offended God then and it offends Him now.

I just read the March 24th “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers and he put his finger right on where the problem lies and why this accepted norm among Christians bothers me so much…

Decreasing for His Purpose

He must increase, but I must decrease.John 3:30

If you become a necessity to someone else’s life, you are out of God’s will. As a servant, your primary responsibility is to be a “friend of the bridegroom” [never the Bridegroom Himself] (John 3:29). When you see a person who is close to grasping the claims of Jesus Christ, you know that your influence has been used in the right direction. And when you begin to see that person in the middle of a difficult and painful struggle, don’t try to prevent it, but pray that his difficulty will grow even ten times stronger, until no power on earth or in hell could hold him away from Jesus Christ. Over and over again, we try to be amateur providences in someone’s life. We are indeed amateurs, coming in and actually preventing God’s will and saying, “This person should not have to experience this difficulty.” Instead of being friends of the Bridegroom, our sympathy gets in the way. One day that person will say to us, “You are a thief; you stole my desire to follow Jesus, and because of you I lost sight of Him.”

Beware of rejoicing with someone over the wrong thing, but always look to rejoice over the right thing. “…the friend of the bridegroom…rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:29-30). This was spoken with joy, not with sadness— at last they were to see the Bridegroom! And John said this was his joy. It represents a stepping aside, an absolute removal of the servant, never to be thought of again.

Listen intently with your entire being until you hear the Bridegroom’s voice in the life of another person. And never give any thought to what devastation, difficulties, or sickness it will bring. Just rejoice with godly excitement that His voice has been heard. You may often have to watch Jesus Christ wreck a life before He saves it (see Matthew 10:34).

One time I was with a small home fellowship and we were talking about listening to the Lord’s voice when this older sister spoke up and said that she had never heard Him speak to her. I asked her what she listened to all day and she replied, “I get up in the morning and watch TBN on my TV and then in the afternoon I listen to radio preachers or sermon tapes.” I said to her, “See here! This is your problem. God can’t get a word in edgewise! Turn all that stuff off and practice listening to His quiet small voice.”

She came back the next week and reported that where she would have had the car radio on and listen to a “Christian station” she decided to pray and listen to Him. On her way home on a dark night on a country road that week He brought her attention to a sign that said, “Beware of Moose!” so she slowed down and right around the next corner was a big dark colored moose right in her lane. If she had not slowed down she would not have seen it in time and hit it and totaled her car and injured herself. We all “rejoiced with godly excitement that His voice has been heard.”

When I Am Weak, then Am I Strong

Simmon carrying the cross.jpg

Dear saints,

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

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

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

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

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

 

Does His End Justify OUR Means with God?

In Genesis we read about God’s plan for the creation of man:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Gen 1:26-27, ESV2011)

Here we see there was a council in heaven when it comes to the creation of man, “Let us make man…” When He created all other things He simply said, “let there be… and there was…” Why did God consult the Son and the Spirit at this point? It was because He knew that it was one thing to make man in His own image, that is, designed and shaped after His own form, but that it would take an ongoing process and great sacrifice to make man in His likeness, that is, like Him in His character and personage, sharing His outlook, goals and values. It was at this point that Jesus agreed with the Father about His role in bringing forth man into the image of the Son. We read about it in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us IN HIM before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. IN HIM we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace… (Eph 1:3-6, ESV2011- emphasis added)

This is why the Father brought Jesus and the Holy Spirit into His council at this point. Christ is the exact expression of the Father, “He [Christ] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint [image] of his nature…” (Heb 1:3, ESV2011), and God desires many sons and daughters after His own glory. It was one thing to make man after His image, but a whole other thing to make man so that he lives out the very nature of God in His Son. Here entered the mystery of the cross.
The Father also knew that unless His Spirit was the life source of man, he would only be two dimensional in nature, lacking any way to connect and communicate with God, spirit to spirit. God is Spirit and man would have to be born of the Spirit or there would be no connection for man to intuitively know the will of God for him (See John chapter three).

There is knowledge and then there is Knowledge!
At this point in the creation story of man, a wrench was thrown into the works. Satan stepped in and convinced man that he could speed up the process. Man no longer had to listen to and obey God, but he could take a “short-cut to holiness” by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil to become “like God” (See Genesis 3:5).

Beware, dear saints for right here is where Satan desires to catch us all in his subterfuge of lies. Aren’t we to become “godlike?” Aren’t we to strive to obtain “the imitation of Christ”? Aren’t we to constantly ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do,” and then just do it? Man loves to try to do the works of God, accumulate knowledge, know with his own mind, and imitate God instead of knowing God intimately with his heart and allowing God to conform him into the image of Christ by the plan and design of the Father. The fleshly state of fallen man still loves to eat the fruit of that same forbidden tree instead of Jesus, the Tree of Life (See John 6:51).

Religious man loves to collect Bible knowledge and knowledge of doctrines so he can decide for himself what is good and what is evil. He loves to heap to himself teachers that tickle his religious ears and to garner to himself degrees in theology. Yet, when the New Testament speaks of “knowing the Lord,” it speaks of an intimate knowing that goes much deeper than a mere accumulation of facts. W. E. Vine gives the most concise meaning of this Greek word translated know and knew in the New Testament.

In the NT ginosko frequently indicates a relation between the person “knowing” and the object known; in this respect, what is “known” is of value or importance to the one who knows, and hence the establishment of the relationship…

Without a viable relationship in Jesus Christ there is no knowing and being known by the Father. Peter put it this way:

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2Pet 1:5-8, ESV2011- emphasis added)

Here Peter is speaking spiritual fruitfulness by what Paul calls the “fruit of the Spirit,” which is an integral part of us if we truly know the Lord and if He knows us. Without it we will be unfruitful in our relationship with Him. This is why Jesus spoke of those who did many works and miraculous things “in His name” as those He never knew (see Matthew 7:22-23). There was no intimacy in their “knowing” Him and in His “knowing” them. This same word ginosko was used in the most intimate way when speaking of Joseph and Mary’s relationship after Christ was born (see Matthew 1:25). Without intimacy with Christ, there is no knowing in the kingdom of God.

Back to my opening question, Does the end justify the means when it comes to our serving in the purposes of God? Jesus told Nicodemus, “That which is born of [out from] the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of [out from] the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6). You see, if we are to produce fruit unto the Father and the Son, that fruit must be born out from the Spirit of God in us and never out from ourselves. His children must be born “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God,” and so must our works be if they are to be works unto eternal life (See Jude 1:21).

We cannot rise in the morning and say, “I wonder how many people I can lead to Christ today?” or, “I think I will cast out some demons today ”or “I think I will pray for so and so to be healed today,” or not even “I think I will write a blog article today.” This is all being done by the will of the flesh, dear saints, not by the will of God! Jesus said quite bluntly, “Apart from me you can do nothing!” If our works are not born from above in the council of the heaven and He has foreordained that we should walk in them (see Ephesians 2:10), they are dead works at best. Yup! They are D. O. A., dead on arrival. Our ends do not justify His means and His ends are not justified by our means. We Christians must learn what Jesus meant when He told the disciples, “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh profits nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:63, KJ2000).

Are we as Christians living by “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God?” I think not. And until our flesh and all its self-motivated drives have been crucified, we will not know the abundant life flow of God through us to others. Like Jesus said:

You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever you shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it to you. (John 15:16, KJ2000)

Dear saints, by now you are wondering where I am coming from to write such an article. Almost 37 years ago, I was doing all manner of “good works and prophesying in Christ’s name.” After watching me for a while, an old saint came up to me on Sunday morning and said, “Have you ever asked God to show you how He sees you, instead of how you think He sees you?” In my pride, I told him that I would take him up on his challenge and I did just that. That night I asked God, and He showed me in a dream just how I looked to Him, using my spiritual talents and gifts to do His work. The pride and arrogance that was behind all my works was so ugly that I cried out, “God! Kill it! Show it no mercy!” That was the beginning of Him stripping me of all that I was and ever hoped to be “in His name.” At some point in your life you will be brought to this crisis if you are to follow on with the Lord and you will be shocked at what God shows you about your own heart.

Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth. (Hos 6:3, KJV)

There is knowing and then there is “following on to know.” Will we keep listening and following on to know the Lord in an ever growing intimacy with Him or just be content with what we already know? Remember, knowledge puffs us up, but His love edifies.

The Life Is in the Blood

There is a lot of talk in some circles about being in the army of God. Remember that before God could form His army from that valley of dry bones in Ezekiel chapter 37 there was a requirement. In verse two the prophet said, “and lo, they [the bones] were very dry. Dry was not good enough. When God strips us of all the life of the flesh in us, our outside appearance might be dry, but that is not dead enough. Even the marrow inside our “bones” (our natural Adamic life) must be dry and void of all life. Why? “The life is in the blood” and the blood in us comes from the marrow in the depths of our bones. Our very Life Source must be the blood of Jesus Christ and nothing else. In John chapter six we read about His blood and His words that are necessary if we are to have eternal life within us.

Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me… Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum. When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? …This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,” (John 6:56-68, ESV2011)

Finally, let me quote once more from T. Austin-Sparks,

A living Heavenly Man is not made by mere words, even though they be words of Scripture. That is what people have tried to do. They have tried to make the Church by words of Scripture, constitute the Church by what is here as written, and so you have half a dozen different kinds of churches, all standing on what they call the Word of God, and the thing does not live. It is a living, Heavenly Man that God has in view, and to produce that, the Spirit must operate through the Word. “The words that I have spoken unto you are spirit, and are life,” said the Lord to His disciples. “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” On the part of Peter, the spokesman of these latter words, this was a word of discrimination. The scribes and Pharisees had the Scriptures. They claimed that everything they had and held was in the Word of God. Ah yes, but they knew them not as the words of eternal life. There is a difference. This life is in His Son. It has to be in a living relationship to the Lord Jesus that the Scriptures are made effective.
http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/001387.html

The Problem with “Instant” Perfection

false-holiness

When I was a newly born believer, I was so shocked that God did not instantly make me a perfect Christian. There was still this albatross around my neck called “the flesh,” even after experiencing the love and closeness of Christ in my life and even His healing miracles. Why didn’t He just do the “Tinker Bell” thing with His magic wand and make me an instant “super Christian’? I soon learned that the Christian life is a life chastened by trials and that God’s work of bringing forth His Son in us is a lifelong process.

Over the years I have asked Him why He chose this slow agonizing way to bring forth Christ in us. He has shown me that because of our Adamic roots, we have to learn obedience to the Father by the things that we suffer, often the consequences of doing it wrong. Even Christ chose to come in the form of a lowly servant.  We reason, “but wouldn’t God have made Him more useful for His purposes if He had come with the power of a Roman Emperor or High Priest?” No, He forsook that kind of power to show us that a man born of a woman in the lowest social position can overcome everything that is of Adam and learn obedience to the Father through suffering.

So why is it that God does not make us like the angels, perfectly obedient to Him? The answer can be found here in this description of Satan:

You are the anointed cherub that covers; and I have set you so: you were upon the holy mountain of God… You were perfect in your ways from the day that you were created, till iniquity was found in you… you have sinned: therefore I will cast you as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy you, O covering cherub… Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty, you have corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor: I will cast you to the ground, I will lay you before kings, that they may behold you. (Ezek 28:14-17, KJ2000)

How are you fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how are you cut down to the ground, who did weaken the nations! For you have said in your heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the farthest sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet you shall be brought down to sheol, to the sides of the pit. (Isa 14:12-15, KJ2000)

If one of God’s perfectly created beings could be corrupted by his own beauty and wisdom, how much more we who have been born in the likeness of sinful Adam?

God has chosen to bring forth upon the earth–the very domain of Satan–a Son who was first a helpless baby and then a man who had “no form or beauty that any man should desire Him” (see Isaiah 53:2-3). He was the proto-type of many sons and daughters He would bring into full glory by overcoming trials and weakness through faith in His Son.

This life of weakness and living death, dear saints, is for one purpose—so we learn that except for the grace and mercy of God working in us, we would be our own worst devil, capable of the worst sins and pride. God has already lost a third of the angels to this delusion of worshiping their own greatness and perfection and He is making sure that we have the mind of Christ and not Lucifer in His kingdom. He is working by making us weak, humbling us so that we rightly assess our old natures, despise them, and call on Him to do whatever it takes to bring forth the spiritual maturity of His very own Son in us. He wants an unconditional surrender to His perfect will and for us to abide in His wonderful love. We love Him because He first loved us and gave everything He had to save us from ourselves.

So What Is “Perfect” for Us When it Comes to Fellowship?

As I was mulling this over this morning, it became evident that our idea of perfection and God’s idea of perfection are not be the same. Jesus was made perfectly obedient through the things that He suffered. He was also made perfect in love while surrounded by doubters, sinners and twelve disciples who often didn’t get what He was teaching them. To one of them He had to say, “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.” In all honesty, they ALL desired the things of the typical Jewish male — for Messiah to come and set up a worldly kingdom with them in charge — not so different from another one who said, “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God [the angels and the people of God]: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation”? Some of us have come across that delusion, first in bad church leadership, and finally having to admit that it was in us!

No, dear saints, God uses our imperfection and humanity so that our “iron” sharpens another saint’s “iron” and we call out for Him to form His perfectly forbearing love in our hearts. God puts us with other people (even in marriage) who are not perfect, but that have been made “perfect” in their imperfections to be used by His power to change us! Even Jesus cried out, “Oh you of such little faith. How long must I suffer you?”

In God’s wonderful plan He has been able to turn the tables on Satan by using our flesh to humble us and work forgiveness in our hearts for others just like us. Like Joseph said to his brothers when they came before him in Egypt, “But as for you, you thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good.”

Body life in the body of Christ is not something perfect in our way of thinking, but it is perfect in His if we live in close enough proximity to one another and dwell together in transparency. Fellowship is designed to bring us into His perfection as we work through our own imperfections and those of our fellow saints. John wrote:

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1John 1:7-9, ESV2011)

Dear saints, may we look upon the imperfections in one another and see the hand of God working. It is easy to find fault with one another, but it is best to look for those things that are “…true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things… and the God of peace shall be with you.” (Phil 4:8-9, KJ2000)

Cloning the Moves of God

john-6-63

An interesting thing to watch in Christendom is the way people who want to “have a ministry” read about a great move of God, study it, then try to clone it and make it happen again with themselves at the top as the directors of this “New Move.” Some want to “get the power” of a healer like John G. Lake. They have actually laid on his grave, hoping to suck some of his anointing out of his dead body. Others study the sermons of Smith Wigglesworth, Spurgeon, or Jonathan Edwards and copy their style hoping to become “powerful preachers.” Carnal people will do anything to have heaven’s power and maintain control of their own lives and the lives of others as well. The flesh dies hard.

Earlier this year I was contacted by a person who had started a street ministry after hearing about the Jesus People Movement that took place here in the early ‘70’s. This person was interviewing all the former Jesus People they could find in the area, and was sure that they could make it happen again by cloning what the Spirit of God did among the street people and college kids back then.

Today it is common for Christians to read the Book of Acts and try and come up with a “perfect form of church” like it was in the beginning. You hear much these days about “house churches” and “home fellowships” where people meet in homes like they did in the early years of the church. I have nothing against meeting in homes with other saints. I have done it many times myself, but unless God builds the house, they who build it labor in vain. Let me say right now that you cannot clone or even guess what God does or will do next! He makes ALL things NEW (Revelation 21:5)! He is not a man with a limited imagination that He has to repeat what He did in the past as He moved His kingdom forward among men.

The hardest thing for man to do is to follow His counsel, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). We still have the seed of the first temptation in us to DO something, to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and be like God! The flesh of Adam that abides in an uncrucified man is totally useless. If a work is conceived and given life by God, as it totally relies on Him, He will keep it going and meet its needs. But if it is not, it will take a lot of fleshly activity and manipulation of many people to make it work at all, and it will still lack His supernatural power. The Jesus Movement was a powerful revival, but it died an early death because fleshly men took hold of it and used worldly means and human power to manipulate it. Remember Jesus’ words. In the economy of God “the flesh profits nothing.”

In closing I want to share this quote from T. A. Sparks,

I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel. (Galatians 2:2 NIV)

How important it is that every fresh undertaking in work for God should come by revelation to those chosen for it. Because God has so spoken and given revelation to some chosen instrument and a truly spiritual work has been done, others have taken it as a model and have sought to imitate it in other places. The result has been, and is, that they are called upon to take responsibility for it – find the resources of workers, funds and general support. This, in turn, issues in many sad and pathetic, if not evil and worldly, methods and means being employed, and those concerned find themselves in a false position. Conception, not imitation, is the Divine law of reproduction. Anointing, not human selection, is the Divine law of succession. The fact is that the work of God has become a sphere for so many natural elements to find expression and gratification. Man must do something, see something, have something. Ambition, acquisition, achievement, etc., have found their way over to Christian enterprise, and so, very often (let us be quite frank) things have become ‘ours’ – ‘our work,’ ‘our mission,’ ‘our field,’ ‘our clientele’; and jealousies, rivalries, bitterness and many other things of the flesh abound.

It is a very difficult thing, a crucifixion indeed, for the natural man to do nothing and have nothing, and especially to know nothing. But in the case of His most greatly used instruments, God has made this a very real part of their training and preparation. The utter emptying of all self-resource is the only way to have “all things of (out from) God” (2 Cor. 5:18). On this basis, even Christ elected to live. We need not remind you of Moses’ “I am not eloquent” (Exo. 4:10), and Jeremiah’s “I am a child” (Jer. 1:6), and Paul’s “that we should not trust in ourselves” (2 Cor. 1:9). These were of a school in which the great lesson of the difference between natural and spiritual was taught experimentally. (“What Is Man?” by T. A. Sparks)

A Death that Brings Glory to God

john-21-18

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

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

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

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

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

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1John 1:5-7, ESV2011)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What It Means to Be Captivated by Christ

Jan28_ABQuote2

For three and a half years people were captivated by the words that Jesus spoke. Crowds seemed to follow Him everywhere He went. When I first started following Jesus, this was all the deeper the meaning went in my mind of what it meant to be captivated by Him. After I was saved, I went to every Christian meeting I could. I couldn’t get enough of hearing about Jesus. But as time went by a greater revelation came to me. I started to see a deeper meaning of what it means to be His captive. Jesus spoke to Peter about this process.

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

Death? Yes, the price we must pay if we dare to follow Him! After the newness of my experience wore off, I started to go to Christian meetings just because that was the thing to do on that day of the week. Then the time came when I had to ask God for permission before I went to a meeting. Slowly over time, going to meetings became less and less important to me and a deeper personal and obedient walk with Christ came to mean more, even when He had me stay home.

The more time I spent in obedience to His leading, the more He showed me the deeper meaning of the scriptures that I never heard come from a pulpit or conference podium. At the end of an isolation of many years in His spiritual wilderness, He had me start writing these things down. Eventually the wilderness and isolation ended and I was encouraged by others to put the things I had written into articles on a website and books so the saints of God could have access to them. (Did you know that Paul spent many years in isolation between His Damascus road experience with Jesus and when he was sent by the Spirit on his first “missionary journey”?) God eventually put me together with another brother on a similar journey, and we fellowshipped and wrote together and even took in some meetings for a season. Then he started showing us the depths of another scripture:

He must increase, but I must decrease. He that comes from above is above all… (John 3:30-31, KJ2000)

It seems that those glorious days of writing with that brother have come to an end. He has also been coming into a deeper meaning of what it means to be the Lord’s captive, learning the depths of what Jesus said, “you shall stretch forth your hands, and another shall dress you, and carry you where you would not.”

Yes, I have been writing this blog for the last three or four years, but slowly even that seems to be winding down as He increases in my life and I decrease. “He that comes from above is above all.” Christ and the will of Christ and the Father must be above all. His life must become our only life. Paul had a highly visible ministry among the Gentiles in Asia Minor, yet that was coming to a close as he wrote to the Ephesians about this same process in His life and called himself “the prisoner of Jesus Christ.” It is oh so easy for our flesh to ride the wave of what the Spirit is doing through us and get some of the glory for ourselves along the way, but all glory belongs to the One who died and rose again and sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven. He must increase and we (that old Adam in man) must decrease. We can only share His glory to the extent that Christ is our ALL in all. All the rest, the adulation and attention that comes to us from men–even the saints of God–only provides a temptation for us to think we are something without Him.

The life of Paul, how he decreased as a mere human, and how God increased His effectiveness in life (and death) is a spiritual principle that must work in any true disciple of Jesus.  He said, “If any man would be my disciple let him take up his cross and follow me.” T. Austin-Sparks wrote about this very thing from his own experience.

I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you…. (Ephesians 3:1)

The measure of approximation to the fullness of the revelation has always been accompanied by a relative cost. Every instrument of the testimony has been laid under suspicion and reproach in a measure commensurate with the degree of value to the Lord, and this has meant that, humanly, they were limited to that extent. Many have withdrawn, fallen away, held aloof, doubted, feared, and questioned. But as Paul could say “My tribulations for you, which are your glory” (Eph. 3:13), or “The prisoner of Christ Jesus in behalf of you Gentiles” (Eph. 3:1), so the measure of limitation in the Lord is the measure of enrichment in His people. The fuller the revelation, the fewer those who apprehend, or the greater the number of those who stand aloof. Revelation only comes through suffering and limitation, and to have it experimentally means sharing the cost in some way. But this is God’s way of securing for Himself a spiritual seed plot….

All this may apply to individual lives in relation to the Lord’s testimony. There may often be a chafing against limitation, confinement, and a restless hankering after what we would call something wider or less restricted. If the Lord has willed us to the place where we are, our acceptance of it in faith may prove that it becomes a far bigger thing than any human reckoning can judge. I wonder if Paul had any idea that his prison meant his continuous expansion of value to the Lord Jesus through nineteen hundred years? What applies to individuals also applies to corporate bodies, assemblies, or companies of the Lord’s people scattered in the earth but one in their fellowship in relation to the Lord’s full testimony. May the Lord be graciously pleased to cause the merely human aspect of prison walls to fall away, and give the realization that, far from being limited by men and circumstances, it is imprisonment in the Lord, and this means that all ages and all realms are entered through that prison. (http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/000689.html)

Dear saints, may we each look beyond the limitations of our natural lives and situations to see that God is doing something far greater for HIS glory that is beyond our sight and our reach at this present time. Love to you all.