What It Means to Be Captivated by Christ

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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.

Others May, You Cannot

Let this Mind Be in You

The Mind of Christ

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5, NRS)

What is the nature of the mind of Christ? I think we can safely say that it is a mind that is totally open and obedient to the voice of the Father. There is an old saying, “Some people’s minds are like concrete… all mixed up and permanently set.” Thank God that He knows how to use a jackhammer on those of us that have become fixed in our confusion about Himself and His kingdom. The key to our continuing growth in Christ is found in this verse:

Keep on asking and it will be given you; keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking [reverently] and [the door] will be opened to you. For everyone who keeps on asking receives; and he who keeps on seeking finds; and to him who keeps on knocking, [the door] will be opened. (Matt 7:7-8, AMP)

The biggest obstacle to finding God’s truth and His leading in our lives is pride. Many of us become satisfied with our knowledge of God, His kingdom and the Bible (becoming proud of the knowledge we have) and forget the verse that says that the Word of God is LIVING (Hebrews 4:12). It is living and fluid, not static and dead. The Amplified Version rightly translates the above passage by saying, “KEEP ON asking… KEEP ON seeking… and KEEP ON knocking!” God’s word keeps getting deeper and sheds ever greater light if we keep seeking Him and listening to the Spirit!

Austin-Sparks wrote,

One of the most common causes of spiritual stultification is fixedness. It is peculiarly common in the realm where Christian truth has been reduced to a fixed form, order, system, and creed. The doctrines of Christianity are such and such; so many. The accepted and established ideas of Christian service and methods are so-and-so. Peter had his fixed position as to Jews and Gentiles, and, because of it, came perilously near missing the larger purpose of God, and presented the Lord with a real battleground in his Christianity. It has so very largely resolved itself into a finality of position, which results in a closed door to fuller revelation as to what God means by His Word. The fact is, that God only gives us enough light to get us to take the next step, but when that step has been taken, we are in the way of being shown that much more was meant by the Lord than He showed then. The first expectations of many servants of the Lord in the Bible, expectations resultant from something said by the Lord to them, were later seen to have been not all that He really meant, but there was something more, and perhaps other than they thought. [1]

When I was younger in the Lord, He gave me many meaningful dreams. In one of them I found myself standing on a darkened stage in a theater. I was afraid to move until a spot light lit up a small round circle on the floor in front of me. Instinctively I stepped into that spot and then the light went out. As I waited another spot lit up in front of me once again and I stepped into it. This process of light and darkness went on as long as I stepped into the next spot that was lit up before me. After being led all over that stage the light shown on a flight of stairs at the back left corner of the platform and I stepped down to find that there was a door awaiting me that led out into a bright sunny day outside. Upon stepping out into daylight, the dream ended. So you see, these words by Sparks have much meaning to me, “The fact is, that God only gives us enough light to get us to take the next step, but when that step has been taken, we are in the way of being shown that much more was meant by the Lord than He showed [back] then.”

Sparks continues:

Can anyone really dispute that full light very often means a shedding of things and ideas that we thought were of God? Is it not true that, as we go on, we find that certain leadings of the Lord were tactical, intended to get us to a certain place where alone we could learn of a greater necessity? There is very much of this kind of thing in relation to both doctrine, practice, and service—its nature and ways, and while Divine principles will never change to all eternity, the clothing of those principles may vary and change with both dispensations and generations and stages of our own lives.

In all this—while Truth remains unalterable—the only way to grow is to be adjustable and not static and fixed. Do your religious traditions bind you in such a way that you are not free to move with God? If He sees this to be so, He may not give you the light necessary to [for] enlargement. But if He sees that, although you may be in a comparatively false position, your heart is really set on His fulness at any cost, He may present you with light which will test your adjustableness severely. See the case of the disciples of John the Baptist transferring their discipleship to Christ. See the case of Peter and what happened in the home of Cornelius. See also the case of Apollos in Acts 18:24–28; as also the disciples mentioned earlier in that chapter. [1]

We make the commandments of the Spirit of no effect as He tries to lead us into new light by hanging on to our current understanding of an old familiar Bible verse or the rigid dogma of a church statute (see Matt. 15:3-6). Like Peter, we can be so blind that we tell God, “Not so!” when He commands us to kill and eat, while we blindly call Him “Lord” (See Acts 10:9-16). We should always be aware that God can sanctify what we once saw as unclean, especially when it comes to pouring out His life changing grace on the lives of others we have judged as being terrible sinners.

After reading this article by Sparks, it was as if God wanted to drive this point about His expanding revelation.  I got a flash of new revelation from an old familiar passage, the very thing that Sparks was pointing out about being open to fresh life changing insight from the Lord. In Romans Paul wrote:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:1-2, ESV2011)

This term “living sacrifice” is what jumped into my mind with new meaning as I read the above quote from Sparks. The light of the Lord cleanses us of all darkness, but first we must allow the cross of Christ to kill that thing within that still clings to spiritual darkness (see John 3:19). This is a process. We wish we could die to that old Adam in us once and for all, but like Peter and the others named above in the TAS article, the dying we must go through is a continuing and progressive process as the Lord shines His light into us. In this process we literally are LIVING SACRIFICES! We must continually present ourselves to Him as He kills our adamic flesh (our strongholds) in stages and brings forth the Light of Jesus Christ within. This is true worship! David wrote:

”For you will not delight in [animal] sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering [our religious service to Him]. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Ps 51:16-17, ESV2011)

We worship God as we make our lives a living sacrifice, letting Him put the knife to everything in us that resists His leading. This is done when we fall down before Him with a broken and contrite heart as He shows us what must go. Our old natures find it easy to be conformed to this world system that is lorded over by the prince of this world. The flesh (soulish-ness of man) is his breeding ground for rebellion against God. We must be transformed into God’s NEW creation and be given the mind of Christ if we are to prove that His will for us is good and acceptable, no matter what our old contrary natures try to convince us of. I thank God that we can be God’s living sacrifices, always coming into greater revelations of His riches in glory IN Christ Jesus.  We must die daily until we can say with Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

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

[1] http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/001606.html

A special thanks to Susanne Schuberth who read my comment on her blog and encouraged me to seek God about making it into an article on AWV. She also found this article by T. Austin-Sparks and wrote about it on her blog at https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/2016/05/31/is-spiritual-growth-a-miracle/

Have You Ever Felt Hung Out to Dry?

But who will survive the day when he comes? Or who can stand when he appears? For he’s like a refiner’s fire and a launderer’s soap. He will sit refining and purifying silver, purifying the descendants of Levi, refining them like gold and silver. Then they’ll bring a righteous offering to the Lord. (Mal 3:2-3, ISV)

Yes, who shall survive the day of His coming? How many of you have been going through times of deep trials and even spiritual dryness, when  all of a sudden the night is over and the morning sun arises in your hearts?  It seems that in the ongoing process of God’s purification of our hearts, He takes us through dark nights, but eventually there is a glorious sunrise. We want the sunshine to last with no more periods of darkness and trials, yet another night comes all too soon! Will this process ever end? You start to feel like you are in the hands of a launderer who is scrubbing you up and down on a washboard with lye soap!

I was looking at Psalm 30 and noticed the ups and downs that David spoke of in his own walk.

“Sing unto the LORD, O you saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness [up]. For his anger endures but for a moment [down]; in his favor is life [up]: weeping may endure for a night [down], but joy comes in the morning. And in my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved. LORD, by your favor you have made my mountain to stand strong [up]: you did hide your face, and I was troubled [down].” (Ps 30:4-7, KJ2000)

Does this look familiar? He blesses us and we rejoice and praise His name and are feeling pretty good about our place in His kingdom. Then we feel His displeasure and we are troubled and sad and another trial begins. We know His favor to be our life. We weep again and are sad for a season as He goes deeper into our souls, but when we see the reason for our suffering, we once again take courage that God’s hand is in it for our good. We eventually start to feel like we have arrived and are prosperous in the Spirit and say, “Finally, I shall never be moved! The Lord has made me to stand like a strong mountain in His presence!” Then He hides his face from our exalted pride and we are once again brought low. Poor David was going through this same process that has become so familiar to many of us as we seek to be made whole IN Christ.

John of the Cross wrote about this very process in his book, The Dark Night of the Soul.

…the soul that desires to consider it will be able to see how on this road… it has to suffer many ups and downs, and how the prosperity which it enjoys is followed immediately by certain storms and trials; so much so, that it appears to have been given that period of calm in order that it might be forewarned and strengthened against the poverty which has followed; just as after misery and torment there come abundance and calm… This is the ordinary course and proceeding of the state of contemplation until the soul arrives at the state of quietness; it never remains in the same state for long together, but is ascending and descending continually.

The reason for this is that, as the state of perfection, which consists in the perfect love of God and contempt for self, cannot exist unless it have these two parts, which are the knowledge of God and of oneself, the soul has of necessity to be practised first in the one and then in the other, now being given to taste of the one—that is, exaltation—and now being made to experience the other—that is, humiliation…*

David finally ends his observation by saying this:

Hear, O LORD, and have mercy upon me: LORD, be my helper. You have turned for me my mourning into dancing: you have put off my sackcloth, and [you have] girded me with gladness; To the end that my glory may sing praise to you, and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks unto you forever. (Ps 30:10-12, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

In these last two verses David, is no longer strong in himself. He pleads to God for mercy and to be His help. There is no mention of never being moved, of prosperity, or of being strong like a mountain; now he is weak and pleads for God to be his strength. It is God who turns his mourning into dancing. It is God who girds him with gladness that he might sing His praises and give Him thanks forever. There is a subtle difference between verses 4-7 and verses 10-12, but that difference is true brokenness and humility. Jesus said this to Nathanial:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter you shall see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. (John 1:51, KJ2000)

Jesus was referring to Himself as the ladder that Jacob saw in his dream. John of the Cross wrote that this process of exaltation and humiliation continues

…until it has acquired perfect habits; and then this ascending and descending will cease, since the soul will have attained to God and become united with Him, which comes to pass at the summit of this ladder, for the ladder [Christ] rests and leans upon Him… All this, says Divine Scripture, took place by night, when Jacob slept, in order to express how secret is this road and ascent to God [and few be they who find it], and how different from that of man’s knowledge. This is very evident, since ordinarily that which is of the greatest profit in it—namely, to be ever losing oneself and becoming as nothing—is considered the worst thing possible; and that which is of least worth, which is for a soul to find consolation and sweetness (wherein it ordinarily loses rather than gains), is considered best. *

I am reminded of Ezekiel chapter 37 when God sets the prophet in the middle of a valley littered with dry human bones and asked the prophet if the bones could live again.

And he said unto me, “Son of man, can these bones live”? And I answered, “O Lord GOD, [only] you know.” (Ezek 37:3, KJ2000)

When He has made our bones not just dry to outward appearances, but very dry so that even the marrow inside the bones of our souls is dried up. Then there is progress (remember, “the life is in the blood” and the blood is made in the marrow. Our natural soulish life is what He is drying up in us). Finally after many trials, we are done trying to out-guess Him and find a way out of our miseries. We even quit hoping that things will change under His mighty hand.  We resign ourselves to the will of God alone with no reservations saying, “Oh Lord God, only YOU know. Your will be done with me according to YOUR good pleasure.” This is when we enter into the glory of the Father and the Son, immersed in their love. That glory sings praises to them forevermore.  Finally, John of the Cross describes God’s goal in putting us through this process.

…we shall observe that the principal characteristic of [this] contemplation, on account of which it is here called a ladder, is that it is the science of love. This, as we have said, is an infused and loving knowledge of God, which enlightens the soul and at the same time enkindles it with love, until it is raised up step by step, even unto God its Creator. For it is love alone that unites and joins the soul with God. *

The Apostle John wrote:

And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love; and he that dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him. In this is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has to do with punishment. He that fears is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us. (1John 4:16-19, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

*http://www.ccel.org/ccel/john_cross/dark_night.viii.xviii.html?highlight=secret%20wisdom#highlight

(A special thanks to Susanne Schuberth for finding this writing in “The Dark Night of the Soul” for me. She and I have been going through this process for years, and are starting to see our Father’s purpose it all. Though the heart pains during the downward cycle can really be painful, the glorious joy afterwards is heavenly.)

Bondservants of God… to be Led by the Holy Spirit

by Michael Clark and Susanne Schuberth*

Bondservants of the Lord pic

Austin-Sparks rightfully observed,

Many things are being constructed to which the Name of the Lord is being affixed – things which appear fine and great and like “the Church,” but which are destined to collapse when God’s hurricane and fire test every man’s work. Good works – philanthropy, hospitality, reform, education, religion, relief, etc. – may be the products, or byproducts, of what is called “Christian civilization” …and things for which to be profoundly grateful… but let us not confuse these with “a new creation,” regeneration, a being “born from above.” (1)

Today the highly visible church systems of men have become something that has a life of its own with the leading of Christ’s Spirit among them a rare thing. There is no resemblance of what calls itself “church life” today and what happened when the Holy Spirit was poured out on those who believed in Christ which we read about in the Book of Acts. All of our best attempts to even duplicate what they had back then will fail for one reason, they are our best attempts! Either Christ builds the household of God upon Himself, The Rock, as its foundation and enlivens what He builds or it is a sham subject to the eroding winds of time and the whims of presumptuous men (See Ephesians 4:14), doomed to live without His blessing on it and subject to the wiles of the devil and his delusions.

Jesus left the Holy Spirit in His place to give life, instruction, direction and power to His body (the ekklesia of God) and His presence was so powerful in those early days that those who lied to Him dropped dead and no one dared to add themselves to those who were called and empowered by Him for fear! The body with its many God-gifted members moved in the unity of a normally functioning human body. In fact the human body is a parable of what our Creator meant the body of Christ on this earth to be… unified, coordinated, obedient to the Head as it builds itself up in the love of God. No amount of human organization can cause this to happen.

T. A. Sparks continues,

The Church is nothing which man can build by any resource in himself personally or collectively. The Church is an organism, not an organization: “Behold, I show you a mystery – we are members of His flesh and of His bones.” Build that, if you can! Launch that; organize that; “run” that! It cannot be done. It is the spontaneous outworking of spiritual forces released… in the acceptance by faith of tremendous facts concerning Christ – facts which are proclaimed out of experience in the power of the Holy Ghost. Not the theological Christ; not the doctrinal Christ; not the Christ of the letter; much less the Jesus of history; but the Christ of Eternity in all the meaning of His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension into the Throne of God revealed in the heart by the Holy Spirit – this alone is authority to preach, to serve, to occupy position, to “build” in relation to the House of God. It is folly to spend time and strength otherwise. It is wisdom to labor on this foundation. (1)

Paul wrote,

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good… individually as he wills. (1Cor 12:4-11, ESV2011)

 Today, few who believe in Christ wait on the Holy Spirit to empower us as HE wills, rather we put our eyes on something that titillates our flesh and makes us feel important as we answer our own call. Or if we yield to the will of God in our initial calling, how soon is it until we cast our eyes on something that is more pleasing and appealing to our natural man who wants to maintain his own preeminence and wars against the Spirit within us? We get away with this in today’s church because even church leadership to whom we look to as an example has often fallen victim to such things.

In my own case, I started out with what some called a “ministry of helps.” I was with a street ministry in the early ‘70’s that had many homes and facilities for those being saved off the streets and it was my gifting to rejuvenate, repair and maintain them. I spent many an hour re-plumbing and unclogging sewer pipes in basements and such, out of the sight of those who had the more glorious positions in that ministry. You might say that I was the guy behind the scenes who kept it all going with my mechanical, electrical and plumbing skills. After leaving that group I was often the church janitor and handy man that kept “things” unplugged the sound system, etc. going.

God did not anoint me to write for him for 22 years after He filled me with His Spirit and even then my writings were not allowed to go public for another eight years. It was then a brother found me and put what I shared with him on the web. I did not call myself to this more visible ministry of blogging book writing and website publishing and to this day I am quite content to remain in obscurity in the back woods of northern Idaho, unknown by others even in my own small town.

Somebody high in Christian circles observed a few years back with pride that in the sixties men were pastors. In the seventies they became teachers. In the eighties they became evangelists and in the nineties they became prophets and finally in the beginning of this century they became apostles. It is as if church leadership is a military or corporate machine in which we are entitled to go up the ladder and achieve higher ranks and titles regardless of our original callings. Far from the minds of leadership today is the downward calling of God regarding our flesh ever descending until we, as Paul, we see ourselves rightfully as “the chief of sinners” not the chief of the apostles. Truly, Paul called it right when he said, “The flesh wars against the Spirit…”

T.A. Sparks continues,

When one called of God to do the work of an evangelist assumes the role of a teacher, or vice-versa, or anyone marked out for this particular functioning attempts to do that, or when one goes beyond their scope and assumes any prerogative which is not theirs by Divine ordering, they are in the way of an arrested ministry, and more, they will be landed into serious confusion. People and things – otherwise occupying a vital position in the Divine plan – put into their wrong places have the Divine unction withdrawn from them… The Holy Spirit’s method is to set His seal upon us as we move according to His leading; not according to our fancy, choice, aptitude, predilection or ambition. (2)

 

Bondservants of the Lord

The apostle Paul wrote,

“For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.” (1 Cor 9:16-19 ESV)

How many bondservants of the Lord do we have leading in the churches today? How many men will do the work that God called them to without pay or remuneration from those they serve? How many find presenting the gospel free of charge out of obedience to Christ enough reward in itself as Paul (see also 2 Thes. 3:7-12)? How many leaders seek reward for their efforts because they have not been called by God and have not been entrusted by Him with their stewardship? Today, men in our pulpits shamelessly beg for money and support. If God calls a man to be His servant He meets their needs and as David observed, “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” (Ps 37:25, KJV). It is not righteous for men and women to approach the service of the Lord as if it is a worldly profession, using worldly methods to ascend and succeed.

T. A. Sparks continues,

“Christian service” has come to be a realm in which all the acquisitive, ambitious, obtrusive, assertive, self-seeking, and numerous other elements of the natural man have been vented and taken hold. It has created a system in which human distinctions are the order of the day. Yes, and much more which it is too painful to mention.

We need an adjustment of our minds by a true spiritual perception of the real nature of service, and it will be well for us ever to remember that all work for Christ is not service to Christ (emphasis mine). A child may be very well-meaning and industrious in its “helping [out] mother”, but poor mother may find rather more work created than done.

Now let us say right away… with emphasis… that the indispensable and basic thing to real service is THE SERVANT-SPIRIT AND THE SERVANT-MIND. The matter of service is infinitely more than busy-ness in religious causes, earthly activities in Christian interests; it is the accomplishment of a heavenly will and Divine purpose which registers its impact in the breaking of another foreign will and destroying the works of the devil. This is the force of “obedience” and the “not my will” …and this is the servant-mind and servant-spirit. (1)

Paul wrote,

“For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men.” (1 Cor 7:22-23 ESV)

We are called to be the bondservants of Christ not of soulish, self-promoting men. We have been bought by Him as His own with His precious blood. No man has the right to rule over us in the place of Christ’s Spirit. Yes, we are to obey the laws of the land in which we live (see 1 Peter 2:13-17), but we are always to obey the leading of the Spirit and when these two are in conflict it is better to obey God than man.

For a while I was a part of a church that was founded in California by a charismatic leader from the Hollywood area, in fact he was involved in the music industry there before God called him. He was highly respected in the ranks of the church, but he often taught things that were not scriptural and his will and writings were respected by the church leadership under him without question. Our pastor would quote him before he would quote the Bible and was constantly reading his books and often attended seminars taught by him. He was definitely a “company man.” Finally, when I showed him how what he was teaching was contrary to the scriptures the pastor got offended and I told him that this man did not own me. I knew that I was already purchased with the blood of Christ and that I was to obey His Spirit and not the whims of men with their winds of doctrine. We were finally forced to leave that church and since then that pastor was forced to step down in shame and the denomination’s founder and his son (the heir apparent) both died not long after we left. Jesus said, “Every plant that my Father has not planted shall be rooted up.” We are called to be the bond-servants of Christ and obey the leading of His Spirit for He alone is our Savior and Lord. Sparks continues,

The Lord’s need is to have bond-servants… even though the extreme pressure at some time might make them say that they would “no more speak in this Name” … they find that they cannot forbear for long; but cost what it may, they must be in it and at it – the fire is in their bones and zeal of His House eats them up. May we be such, and may the true ground and motive of this fellowship in service be:

“I love, I love my Master,
I will not go out free!
For He is my Redeemer,
He paid the price for me.
I would not leave His service,
It is so sweet and blest;
And in the weariest moments
He gives the truest rest.

“My Master shed His life-blood
My vassal life to win,
And save me from the bondage
Of tyrant self and sin.
He chose me for His service,
And gave me power to choose
That blessed, perfect freedom
Which I shall never lose.” (1)

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/001520.html

(2) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/003697.html

* I want to give a special thanks to Susanne Schuberth who sent me these quotes from T. Austin-Sparks and the quotes from Paul that inspired me to write this blog. Once again she and I are hearing the Lord say the same things. What a blessing to walk together in the unity of the Spirit.

Making Room for the Spirit to Mature Others in Christ

By Michael Clark and George Davis

Church

“My brethren, be not many teachers, knowing that we shall receive the severer judgment. For in many things we all offend. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man…” (James 3:1-2 KJ2000)

Lately the Lord has drawn our attention to a problem that exists among many of us “more mature” saints of God who have a lot of Bible knowledge and have had many decades of experience following the Lord. That problem is that many of us are not making room for the saints who are more timid or who are still learning to experience first hand the Living Christ and assure them that they can hear the voice of the Spirit speaking to and leading them. Paul wrote,

“Let us have fond affection for one another with brotherly fondness, in honor deeming one another first” (Romans 12:10 CLV)

“Deeming one another first”…How often I (Michael) have listened to a brother or sister tell about their latest insight they got from the Lord only to jump right in with a couple of scriptures and assure them that I also knew all about this truth before they did. You see, this is not demonstrating fond affection and deeming the other saint first before myself. In fact when I have done this or seen it done, the more timid of God’s little ones will often just shut down, feeling that their little offering is only “one talent” compared to ours and go away and bury it out of intimidation because of the glaring neon lights of our own “giftedness” compared to their “pocket flashlight.” Is it any wonder that churches are filled with silent observers that do not personally know the voice of THE Good Shepherd?

When Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am,” it was not so that He could lord over them with His great knowledge as the Son of God. He was the consummate Teacher and often taught by asking questions to draw people to engage with what He taught and to hear God Himself speak to them. When Peter answered Him and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus did not say, “Well, it is about time you guys figured that out! I have known that from the foundation of the world!” No, He commended Peter that he himself could hear the Father speak to him and said that it was upon this foundation that God would build His house! How often do we look for or make opportunities that we might show other saints more honor and commend them in their faith to walk and listen to the Spirit for themselves and move with His wind? We cannot expect to grow the kingdom of God by making people perpetually dependent on professional clerics and teachers. Real maturity takes place when His followers are doing as He did, only speaking what they hear the Spirit saying and doing the works that the Father foreordained them to do.

If we are not making room for others to interact with the Spirit of God and encouraging them to do so, but instead trying to be their “be all and end all” for everything that has to do with faith, we are putting ourselves in their lives instead of Christ. The very definition of the word “anti-christ” is “instead of Christ!” Real maturity does not happen when we do all the “fishing” for those around us. Real maturity takes place when they also learn how to “fish” and can teach others to do the same (See 2 Timothy 2:2).

Jesus taught the 70 disciples for a few months and then sent them out and said, “Okay, boys, go do it!” It was time to “get tough or die.” He equipped them to fly and pushed them out of the nest and they came back with glowing reports of their success (See Luke 10:1-19). How often we have heard in the last few years about the glories of the “five-fold ministries.” Yet, if we read the context of Ephesians 4:11 where these graces are listed we see that they are not an end unto themselves. These were given to individuals so that they would work themselves out of a job,

“to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” (Ephesians 4:12-15 ESV)

In our experience the more we have heard men teach the importance of these five gifts they claim to have, the less we have seen the saints under them “all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Rather we have seen these men and women trying to do all ministry (except the nursery, setting up chairs, mowing lawns, and janitorial work, etc.) while the faithful sit there Sunday after Sunday in their pews sucking on their spiritual thumbs. One dear saint referred to this syndrome as “the perpetual babyhood of the believer.”

Dear saints, we cannot count on that system that men have built around themselves, that produces weak Christians at best, to get the gospel out into the highways and byways or teach those who are saved to listen to the Spirit as Jesus did, growing up in every way into Christ who is their Head. We have to point all who believe Christ to Him and His Spirit, not ourselves! Like John the Baptist, we must decrease and Christ must increase. He who is supposed to have the bride is the Bridegroom not the friends of the Bridegroom (See John 3:25-31).

This is the NEW Covenant, Not the Old

Most of the dysfunction in the church today is due to an inadequate comprehension of the New Covenant. In the Old Covenant prophets, priests and kings preformed mediatory functions between God and the people. In the new covenant “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Timothy 2:5 RSVA)

In the Old Covenant there were many teachers. In the New there is only one. Christ commanded His disciples not to be called teachers, “. . . for One is your Teacher, the Christ.” (Matthew 23:10). Foreseeing this in the Spirit Jeremiah prophesied,

“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD . “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD ,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD . “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33-34, NIV)

The Author of Hebrews quoted this passage to emphasize the vast difference between the Old and the New Covenants.

“. . . And they shall not teach every one his fellow or every one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest. (see Hebrews 8:10-11 – emphasis added)

they shall not teach . . .

One of the primary differences between the Old and the New Covenants is teaching. In the old, men taught every one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ but in the New Covenant all are taught of God and all know Him.

Quoting Isaiah Jesus said,

 It is written in the prophets, “‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. (John 6:45, NKJV – emphasis added)

John wrote of the individual believer’s submission to this One Teacher saying, “The anointing you received from him abides in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. Instead, because his anointing teaches you about everything and is true and not a lie, abide in him, as he taught you to do” (1 John 2:27, ISV – emphasis added).

To make one’s self the teacher of God’s children is to become a busybody in the affairs of another. To do so is to attempt to control others through doctrine and to usurp the role of the One Teacher. Jesus said, “But you must not be called Rabbi, for One is your teacher, Christ, and you are all brothers” (Matthew 23:8 MKJV – emphasis added).

Paul addressed this at length in Romans 14. Regarding the then hotly debated matter of what one should eat. Paul wrote, “Who are you to condemn God’s servants? They are responsible to the Lord, so let him tell them whether they are right or wrong. The Lord’s power will help them do as they should” (Romans 14:4, NLT – emphasis added).

The Greek word translated condemn here is Krinoto rule, govern, to preside over with the power of giving judicial decisions, to pronounce an opinion concerning right and wrong. This is the same word translated “judge” and “judged” in this verse that we know so well, “”Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1 NKJV).

Individual believers are accountable directly to the Lord not to each other. And so in addressing this inordinate ambition Paul does not advance special doctrines to enforce uniformity, in doing so he would have been guilty of the very thing he was exhorting the Roman believers not to do. He encouraged them to live their lives in direct accountability to the Lord and to allow their brothers and sisters to do the same. knowing that it is God who teaches each one right and wrong and it is He who keeps them standing as they live before Him alone. Our faith finds its proper place privately before God. “Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. . .” (Romans 14:22). The exhortation here is clear– forcing our opinions on the servants of God is counter to true faith. True faith believes that they are kept by Another. True faith believes that they will be made to stand by their own Master. True faith holds its piece and allows the one Teacher to instruct without constantly interjecting our “superior” knowledge, opinions and will..

The Brother with the More Perfect Word

A friend of ours shared with us a problem that repeatedly stifled mutual sharing in there gatherings. Someone would be telling about what God had been teaching them and then a seemingly well-meaning brother would interrupt them and give them a quick course in one-upmanship. He always completed their thought by adding his fuller revelation. Soon no one was sharing. The only one left standing or speaking was the brother with “the more perfect word.” How often have we seen this? Or rather, how often have we been guilty of this very thing? In our pride we want to flaunt our biblical knowledge, but behind it all the underlying message we communicate is this, “Look at me. See how special I am. I have traveled down the Christian road further than the rest of you. My understanding of spiritual things is vastly superior to yours. Who better then to be the final arbiter of truth? Or does experience count for nothing?”

There is a word for such delusion–pride. And by it we reconstruct the old mediatory system and privately christen ourselves king, prophet and priest. By such arrogance we both disrespect our brothers and sisters and their Teacher. Nothing could be further from the self-forgetfulness of those truly spiritual individuals who think of others as being higher or better than themselves.

Not understanding the New Covenant, many believers have returned to the Old Covenant mediatory system. They have replaced the one heavenly Teacher with many human ones and have garnered to themselves teachers who tickle their ears (2 Timothy 4:3). Some have ambitiously risen up “. . . speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:30). Some are unduly exalted above their calling while other men and women are dishonored and subjugated. A few high profile people assume responsibilities well beyond their appointed measure leading the rest to abdicate their proper function in the body of Christ. What a travesty! We are not rightly discerning the body of Christ and many are spiritually emaciated and sick among us.

Once again we see an Old Testament system using New Covenant terminology. The result is the same–believers are once again relegated to the outer court instead of boldly coming into the throne of grace.

The Friend of the Bridegroom

JohnBapThey [John’s disciples] came to John, and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, the same baptizes, and everyone is coming to him.” John answered, “A man can receive nothing, unless it has been given him from heaven. You yourselves testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. This, my joy, therefore is made full. He must increase, but I must decrease. He who comes from above is above all.” (John 3:25-36

John the Baptist was the ideal messenger and forerunner of Jesus Christ as his words in this passage reveal. John was not all about John, but he was  a man devoted to pointing to Jesus Christ. His faithfulness is nothing short of inspirational. His famous words, “He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease” were descriptive of his single passion, the spirit in which he came. Do we really know what these words mean? Do we know it on the level that John did? This is John’s mission statement. It was his goal from the outset. It never entered his mind to establish and maintain a high-profile ministry or following. When asked by the religious Jews who he was he simply answered “[I am] the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare you the way of the Lord…” He found his identity in Christ, not in his calling and ministry. He didn’t even call himself, “Prophet John.” From the shores of the Jordan, where he first saw the One whose shoelaces he was not worthy to unloose, John never stopped heralding, he never stopped pointing; he never stopped directing the eyes and hearts of the hearers to Jesus. He never stopped saying, “Behold the Lamb of God!”

But the time came for John to decrease even further. His job was done and he saw the need to disappear. He had prepared the way for Jesus and now it was time for him to make way for the Bridegroom. He knew that if he stayed he would find himself in competition with Jesus. How many of us are willing to decrease? Isn’t it the carnal will of every man to leave a legacy?

John’s followers had not yet left him and gone after Jesus, and now they were tempting him. Their words were filled with jealousy against Christ. “He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!” They wanted John to get with the program; to compete with the very one he was called to serve. Couldn’t John see that his ministry was failing? That people were no longer coming to him? Perhaps they were attempting to get John to hold more meetings, to do what had worked for him in the past. Get up! Do something! Can’t you see that all are coming to Him?

Today in the blogosphere we would say, “Post more blog articles and keep your name in front of the people and the search engines alerted to your presence!” Oh, how aware many of us are about how many followers we have. Many bloggers will go out and click “likes” on hundreds of other blog articles without even reading them in order to get others to come to their sites and boost their stats. If we are about pointing God’s people to Christ and not to ourselves, should our stats be a motivation for our actions and our writing? Shouldn’t we be waiting on the Lord and the voice of His Spirit to tell us what He wants written? I can tell you that if you do, you can count on being led down a path where you decrease and Christ increases.

John’s reply to his followers is teeming with significance. He reminded his disciples that “a man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.” John did acknowledge that he had (past tense) been sent before Christ, but that time was over. John reminded his disciples what his ministry was all about when he said, “He who has the bride is the bridegroom.” In the context of the traditional Hebrew wedding ceremony, John saw himself as the friend of the bridegroom, who helped in any way he could to present the bride unmolested, as a chaste virgin, to the Groom.

The final act of the friend of the bridegroom was on that long awaited night when the groom came to steal the bride away. When she heard the cry, “The bridegroom comes, go out to meet him,” she was swept away to the house that the Groom had been long preparing.

According to the Jewish tradition, the friend of the bridegroom followed the wedding procession at a distance. When the groom took the bride into the bridal chamber, the friend of the bridegroom drew near. Standing just outside the bridal suite, he listened to the sound of lovemaking and at the first note of joy in the Bridegroom’s voice, the friend of the Bridegroom danced and shouted for joy. His job over, the groom’s friend turned and walked away for the marriage was consummated and his calling was fulfilled.

So we see in John a perfect messenger with a perfect heart. May God help us to be such friends and messengers of the Bridegroom today and walk away from any clamoring after our own gain under the guise of ministry!

(Note: I would like to give credit to my good brother in Christ, George Davis, for having much of the original inspiration for this article. To read all of the original essay we wrote together go to: http://www.awildernessvoice.com/ElijahCompany.html )