What Is True Friendship?

By Michael Clark and Susanne Schuberth

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Picture taken by Susanne Schuberth

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

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

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

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

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

Austin-Sparks wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matt 16:21-23, ESV2011)

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

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2Cor 5:16-17, ESV2011)

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

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

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

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

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

“one who seeks My face.” (2)

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

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

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

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

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

Obeying God’s Voice for He is Your Life

All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” (Exod 17:1-4, ESV2011)

And he called the name of the place Massah [testing] and Meribah [quarrelling], because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” (Exod 17:7, ESV2011)

And Jesus answering said unto him, “It is said, ‘You shall not test the Lord your God.’” (Luke 4:12, KJ2000)

In the preceding passages there is much to be learned when it comes to following the Lord and hearing the voice of His Spirit. The people of Israel in the wilderness were always complaining to Moses about one thing or another. As far as I know there is no record of them taking their petitions to God in prayer. They had no faith in Him as their God, but wanted a mere man to provide them with all their creature comforts. They looked to Moses as their king instead of to God as their Provider. Is it any different today among most professing Christians? Samuel had the same problem with the people of Israel, even after they had entered into the Promised Land.

Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah, And said unto him, Behold, you are old, and your sons walk not in your ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations. (1Sam 8:4-5, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

As it was with their ancestors in the wilderness, so it was with this generation. They still had not entered into His rest. They put their trust in men instead of in God. So God gave them Saul to be their king and they languished under his rule. It is one thing to be asking God to act according to the needs and ways of our flesh, but it is a whole different matter to know Him after His ways.

But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the LORD. And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto you: for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. (1Sam 8:6-7, KJ2000- emphasis added)

He made known his ways [his course of life] to Moses, his acts [his doings] to the people of Israel. (Ps 103:7, ESV2011)

We can know God as our provider of worldly things and never know His heart’s desire to know us as His spiritual sons and daughters in Christ. To know His life in us and to hear the voice of His Spirit speaking to us as a friend as Abraham and Moses did (see James 2:23 and Exodus 33:11) is what He really desires for us to walk in. Carnal Christians today, even when they pray, most often seek things from Him to make their natural, temporal lives more comfortable instead of those things which are eternal like a new heart with His laws and desires written upon them. God desires to hear us pray as David did,

​Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. ​Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. (Ps 51:10-12, ESV2011)

When we have hearts that are longing after the things of this world, we know no rest. Our lives consist of the next pleasure, the next possession, the next lofty position, etc. How often we see a pop music legend end their lives in suicide or from an overdose of drugs. They spend their lives climbing to the top only to find out that there is no happiness in there. How different this is from the Apostle Paul who knew God’s rest in Christ who wrote, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2Cor 12:10, ESV2011). How opposite this is from our human natures.

Since therefore it remains for some to enter it [His rest], and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb 4:6-12, ESV2011)

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” Notice that He says, “Today!” How much of our lives are governed by minds that are worried about tomorrow or what happened yesterday? To live in God’s rest is to live by faith in the here and now, one day at a time. And part of living in today is to live by hearing and obeying His voice moment by moment. The one thing that keeps us from hearing and obeying His voice is our hardness of heart. As with Israel we turn a stony heart toward Him as we prefer our own will to His. We live as if we are our own gods. Is it any wonder that our lives are filled with UN-rest? We fail to enter into His rest because we do not believe that He desires what is eternally best for us and choose our own way. “There is a way that seems right unto a man, but the end thereof is death.”

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life… (Deut 30:19-20, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

To choose God’s way for us moment by moment is to choose life even if it seems uncomfortable and inconvenient at the time.

Our Quest to Find the City of God

He is Faithful

God has had me in the Book of Hebrews for some time as He has been teaching me what it means to walk by faith. This fantastic book is rich with hundreds of contrasts between mere religion and a faith walk in the kingdom of God and in His Christ. I believe that the following verses from chapter eleven about says it all.

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith –for he was like a foreigner, living in a tent. And so did Isaac and Jacob, to whom God gave the same promise. Abraham did this because he was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.

… All these faithful ones died without receiving what God had promised them, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed the promises of God. They agreed that they were no more than foreigners and nomads here on earth. And obviously people who talk like that are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had meant the country they came from, they would have found a way to go back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a heavenly city for them. (Heb 11:8-16, NLT)

Last night my wife and I spent two hours talking with our neighbors, a couple who are born again and attend Sunday church. They are good people who live godly lives and have done much to reach out to others. We spoke about our struggles to find real fellowship in this town. We agreed that Sunday “services,” as they are called, are not a place for real fellowship, evangelization maybe, but not true fellowship. We observed that real fellowship with the family of God is found in a family setting with people who are members one of another coming together because of their common love for Jesus and a lecture hall setting (church service) keeps that from happening. I think you will agree that a family gathering with one person dominating all that goes on is a real drag. It takes interaction with love for one another flowing freely to make a family work.

I awoke this morning while it was still dark outside with the above passages from the Book of Hebrews going over and over in my mind. As they did, my life-long struggle became clearer. I have been seeking “a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God” and sad to say, I have rarely found others who have the same intense desire.  Lots of Christians are content to meet in an industrialized setting where everything is done according to the expected norm called “the order of service,” but few have this longing deep within them as did those mentioned above in Hebrews chapter eleven.

In the movie, The Matrix, there is a scene where Morpheus is talking with Neo about a “splinter in his mind.” My life long search has been like that for me, but my “splinter” has been calling me to what is right. It has been easy to get sidetracked by all that is contrary to that search, but it is not enough to know what is wrong with this world. We must look beyond all that to what is right! What is wrong is summed up in the following discourse between Morpheus and Neo.

MORPHEUS: “Let me tell you why you are here. You have come because you know something. What you know you can’t explain but you feel it. You’ve felt it your whole life, felt that something is wrong with the world. You don’t know what, but it’s there like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?”

NEO: “The Matrix?”

MORPHEUS: “Do you want to know what it is? …The Matrix is everywhere, it’s all around us, here even in this room. You can see it out your window or on your television. You feel it when you go to work, or go to church or pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”

The methodology of the enemy of the Truth (that is ours IN Jesus Christ) is just like Morpheus described the Matrix. The A.I. (artificial intelligence) was a super computer that controlled everything in the lives of those in the movie without them knowing that it was feeding them a false reality, even by controlling their very thoughts. Yet many of us, like Neo, have been in a battle to find something more than what our enemy has to offer–success in this world and in its systems. Without knowing it, we have been seeking a city with eternal foundations, a spiritual city designed and built by God. Sad to say, short-stopping our quest at “Christian City,” as many of us have done, has not satisfied our quest. (1)

As it was with Abraham, so it is with those who truly walk by faith in Jesus Christ. God has put a longing in our hearts to not settle for anything less than finding His eternal city, “…which is above is free, which is the mother of us all” (Gal 4:26, KJ2000). In the meantime the closest we can come to it is to find other pilgrims and wanderers on this earth who have the same love for Jesus in their hearts and are on the same quest. No institutionalized system of men can fill that hunger. “For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.”

Those who walk by faith have the same heart that Abraham had and are confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.” Jesus said, “Abraham saw my day and rejoiced.” Only those who do not walk by faith can settle for the distractions of this world system as Lot did in Sodom. Those whom He has called might spend a season in man-made institutions or try to fill the void inside with the things of this world, but there is that “splinter in their minds” and hearts that there’s not only something wrong, but that there is still something more.

So, my dear brothers and sisters, like the writer of Hebrews said, “So let us stop going over the basics of Christianity again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding.” Let us obey the upward call of Jesus Christ who said to John, “Come up here and I will show you things…” He has given us the Holy Spirit to teach us all that we need to know about His kingdom and a discerning of spirits to let us know when we are being lied to.

Has your quest for the City of God made you a reproach in Christendom? That is all part of the package of following the voice of the Lord in your life. The Book of Hebrews sums it all up with the following statement:

So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates in order to make his people holy by shedding his own blood. So let us go out to him outside the camp and bear the disgrace he bore. For this world is not our home; we are looking forward to our city in heaven, which is yet to come. (Heb 13:12-14, NLT)

May God bless you as you settle for nothing less than the fullness of Jesus Christ in your life.

(1) http://www.awildernessvoice.com/Escape.html

“If I Were You…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Letter Kills, But the Spirit Gives Life

Stephen's Face

(Reading: 2 Corinthians chapter three)

A year or two ago, some Christian friends invited me to attend a church service with them at a “Bible church.” As I sat there looking around the auditorium, I saw many faces that had no life in them and that included the pastor. There was no life in his preaching–or in the whole service for that matter. It was just a bunch of people going through the motions as they kept the law of church attendance on Sunday. Sad to say, I have seen this same lifelessness in some house church meetings as well.

In 2 Corinthians chapter three Paul makes it clear that when the Bible becomes a letter of legalism (so many commandments that we must keep) it kills us. In this chapter he speaks of the glory of Christ that is ours in His NEW Covenant that should shine from our faces as we follow the Spirit in fellowship with Him. If the New Testament becomes a system of rule keeping, we will entirely miss what the New Covenant is (read Hebrews chapter 8)! Here in chapter three, Paul refers to  what happened to Moses as he ministered the Old Covenant Law. Moses’ face shone brightly when he came back down from the mountain after receiving the law in a personal encounter with God, but that glory faded as the letter of the law he ministered worked death within him. As time went on the shining on his face faded because the letter of the law kills, but it is the Spirit that gives life (vs. 6).

This whole chapter is about there being no need for written letters if we are walking in the Spirit of Christ. If we are abiding in the Spirit we are the letters from God. We are the only letters that are needed to minister the gospel as our faces shine with His glory and His Spirit is speaking through us. It is sad that legalism (you must attend church on Sunday, you must tithe, you must not do this or that, etc.) has so taken over in our churches that few Christians today have faces that shine with the glory of the abiding Christ.

Paul wrote, But their minds were hardened; for to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away.” I remember my first two years of trying to be a “born again” Christian. It began when I was led in a “sinner’s prayer” by a well-meaning pastor in my living room one evening. But soon it was evident that something was missing. I was encouraged to read the Bible, but it was all so many words with no life in them. I might as well have been reading a phone-book with so many names and numbers with no coherent flow. I attended church on Sunday and Wednesday evening every week and went to Sunday school class and even taught one, all to no avail. That empty hole inside prevailed. It was not until I finally surrendered my whole life to Christ unconditionally that the Spirit of God came into me for the first time. In my first attempt to become a Christian I had made a mental decision at the encouragement of a man, but after a spiritual crisis two years later, I surrendered all that I was (a confused mess at best) to Him as He drew me to Himself and filled me with His Spirit. It was then that His glory began to shine from my life and the words of the Bible began to leap off its pages into my heart.

The spiritual meaning of the entire Bible will be veiled to us just as it is and was to those Jews under the Old Covenant if we do not have the Spirit of Christ abiding in us as our Teacher. It will become a letter of laws that we must keep by our mental gyrations instead of a love letter from our Father in heaven that leads us into a deeper loving relationship with Him through His Spirit. Paul wrote, “You are a letter from Christ written with the Spirit of the living God on tablets of human hearts.”

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent [sufficient] of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence [sufficiency] is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2Cor 3:4-6, RSV – emphasis added)

What Is Spiritual Seeing and Hearing?

Blind man receives his sight – Artist unknown

I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet… And I turned to see the voice that spoke with me… (Rev 1:10-12, KJ2000)

In the above quote from John’s Revelation there is much to be learned if we have spiritual eyes to see and spiritual ears to hear. Its one thing to read the scriptures and gain knowledge the way we gain knowledge from any textbook or course of study, but it is a whole other thing to gain the depth of spiritual knowing that can be ours if we abide in the Spirit of Christ. First of all, John was “in the Spirit” when He heard this voice, yet that was not enough. Most often it takes us entering into the rest of our Father and blocking out the noisy din of this world before we can be in the Spirit while we read the Bible or try to hear His voice. Sometimes He withholds deeper fellowship from us until we deal with some sin that has come between us and Him, and these things often come to our attention as we wait before Him.

Secondly, John turned to see this great Voice which was speaking with him. Spiritual hearing requires that we turn away from where we have been looking or going. Some of us have learned that when God speaks to us or shows us something, it is to get us to grow up spiritually beyond where we have been, and so a “turning” is required. All too often people hear His voice and then set out to put what was heard on everyone else without doing the necessary turning about in their own lives. Jeremiah wrote,

Surely after I was turned, I repented; and after I was instructed, I struck myself upon the thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth. (Jer 31:19, KJ2000)

“I turned to see the voice that spoke with me…”  One might ask, “How do you ever see a voice?” Let me use this word see in another way, “Do you SEE what John means here?” There is hearing and then there is HEARING. There is seeing and then there is SEEING! When what is spoken comes from the Word, Jesus Christ, there is no end to what we can see. For instance we find out that a single Bible verse can, over the years, says many different things to us as we grow in Christ. If we are to get anything from the Spirit of God beyond normal seeing and hearing, “some say it thundered,” we must be IN the Spirit (see John 12:29-31).

The carnal mind and its five senses will never do. We can sit in Sunday school and sit through Sunday sermons all our lives or graduate from the finest Christian seminaries and institutions without the gift of spiritual sight or hearing and die just as clueless as the day we were born as to who God is or the nature of His Kingdom. When the learned Paul, the Pharisee, was met by the living Christ on the Road to Damascus, he asked the right thing, “WHO ARE you, Lord?” and his real spiritual education started that moment, overshadowing all he once thought he knew about God. As with Paul, it takes a crisis for many of us to blast through our accumulated suppositions and to start to let the Spirit teach us.

Job had a collision with God over this very thing. He thought he was wise, righteous and filled with knowledge about God, but let us read about God’s assessment of Job!

“Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge  Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” (Job 38:1-3, NIV)

“Words without knowledge.” This is how God sees our learning that has not come through the Light of the Spirit which opens our understanding to what HE wants us to know. “Brace yourself like a man and I will question you,” “Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute me?” To which Paul replied with that all important lifelong question with its ever growing reply, “Who are you, Lord?”

Then Job replied to the LORD : “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge [Heb. Da’ath from root word yada – to ascertain by seeing]?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6, NIV)

Adam Clarke shed light on this passage.

I have heard of thee] I have now such a discovery of thee as I have never had before. I have only heard of thee by tradition, or from imperfect information; now the eye of my mind clearly perceives thee, and in seeing thee, I see myself; for the light that discovers thy glory and excellence, discovers my meanness and vileness. (Adam Clarke’s Bible Commentary)

Paul spoke by personal experience of the meanness and vile nature of the natural mind with its unenlightened knowing.

… we know that all of us possess knowledge. This “knowledge [Grk, eido]” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known [Grk. ginosko] by God. (1Cor 8:1-3, ESV2011)

Ever since the fall, man has been in love with knowledge and the Serpent still hangs out in that forbidden tree. The problem is that this kind of “knowledge” puffs us up and makes us proud. We end up thinking we really “know” something and as a result that we are somebody because of our knowledge and degrees. In the eyes of God, this kind of “knowing” is totally empty, and if anything, it gets in the way of true spiritual growth that is ours IN Christ. God resists the proud and gives His grace to the humble. Real knowledge in the economy of God has to do with a love relationship with Him and Jesus Christ His Son. W. E. Vine shed light on this meaningful Greek word, ginosko.

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, e.g., especially of God’s “knowledge,” 1Co 8:3, “if any man love God, the same is known of Him;”

To have this kind of knowledge requires that we have a deep relationship with the One who is known. This same Greek word was used in the following passage.

Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife [Mary]: And knew [ginosko] her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS. (Matt 1:24-25, KJ2000)

Here we see ginosko speaks of the consummation of a marriage in the most intimate act that can be had between a man and his wife. Consider Paul’s words once again, But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” Jesus spoke of such intimacy between us and the Father and the Son when He prayed for us, That they all may be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21, KJ2000- emphasis added). When we come into Jesus and the Father and they come into us, the doors of heaven are opened and they start sharing their mysteries and their very lives with us. It is in this same knowing that the Church can also become one, but never by belonging to the same denomination or ascribing to the same doctrines. When two people are IN the Father and the Son and they are IN them, a spiritual intimacy without fear begins because “perfect love casts out all fear.” It takes much more than a casual Sunday acquaintance to come into such a relationship with His saints. Intimate spiritual relationships require us dying to our old carnal natures and what we have once clung to and becoming one IN the Father and the Son.

Paul also wrote about such intimacy with God saying, “’Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Eph 5:31-32, ESV2011– emphasis added)

If we are to know such intimacy with the Father and the Son we must leave all that has fathered and mothered us in this life. That includes any relationships we have had in church with spiritual mothers and spiritual fathers. There might be a season for these types of relationships, but eventually they get in the way of a deeper intimacy with Jesus and His Father. When we say, “I am of Paul or I am of Peter or I am of Apollos or whoever,” we are yet carnal. This is why Jesus said, “Who is my mother…He who does the will of my Father is my mother…” He also said, “Call no man ‘father’ for only One is your Father and He is in heaven.” Jesus was quite adamant about our earthly family ties when they get between us and Him,

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Matt 10:34-37, KJ2000)

Our God is a jealous God (see Exodus 34:14). No man or woman is allowed to come between us and Him. We can come along side one another as we walk out this journey together, but others cannot become our total focus and desire.

Oh, the wonders of the knowledge of God in we who are His! Such intimacy can be ours if we will give up the wrong knowledge and want to know Him above all other relationships, “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” Oh, the depth of meaning in this verse spoken by Paul. I did not learn these things in seminary. In fact, God firmly forbid me go to one of these. No, He showed these things to me personally as I sought to know Him.

Isaiah prophesied hope to the Jews while they were in captivity and it is true of us today,

Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. (Isa 30:18-21, ESV2011- emphasis added)

God is our Teacher through His Holy Spirit who abides in us and gives us spiritual sight and hearing. He is there to show us every detail of how and what to choose in our daily walks with Him. Nothing is too small or too big in our lives that He does not have His will for us in these matters.

Along with Paul I pray for each of us,

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Eph 3:14-21, ESV2011)

 

“I Have Seen the Lord!”

Coeur d Alene Sunrise – Photo by Michael Clark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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