Living with a Heavenly Perspective

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Montana Sunset – photo by Michael Clark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

T. Austin Sparks points out:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hindrances to Walking in True Fellowship

Photo taken by Michael Clark

Yesterday my wife and I went to Texas to attend a wedding and reception. Our grandson married a lovely girl whose family are not of the Baptist traditions he was raised in (those traditions are very strong down here in what is called “The Bible Belt” of America).  We found the less formal reception put on by the bride’s family quite fun and we all had a good time. They had country music, line dancing, and even served real wine and beer. In some of the more hard-line Baptist and fundamentalist circles this would be considered a scandal. Not everyone danced or drank alcoholic beverages, but it was good to see most of my family down here “get loose” and have a great time.

This morning I woke up and prayed and read my latest T. Austin-Sparks “Open Windows” devotional and there it was. He wrote about how religious people are so quick to judge others when they dare to do anything outside of their religious traditions and what they consider “acceptable.” In this article I read about many cases where God’s men in the Bible were called to do that very thing. Imagine the scandal it would cause if Jesus was invited to a traditional fundamentalist or “Bible church” fellowship gathering and He went into the church kitchen, turned 150 gallons of water into wine and had it served to all the guests! Or what a scandal it would have been if He took up residence with a Gentile widow for three years just as Elijah had done. God commanded Peter to kill and eat all manner of “unclean” animals and birds in a vision, so signifying that if He had sanctified these new Gentile believers in Christ, who was Peter to say otherwise and isolate himself from having true fellowship with them in their homes? Sparks wrote,

If the children of God will only make Christ their ground of fellowship, so much that hinders spiritual fullness and accounts for the present weakness, limitation, and defeat will be ruled out, and the great hinderer will be despoiled of his ground.

Then there is another direction in which this law of fullness operates and in which some serious adjustment is necessary. It is that of leaving room for the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit. It was on this very matter that the book of “The Acts” was founded. The Lord Jesus enunciated the [this] law when He said to Nicodemus, “The wind bloweth where it listeth… so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” On the day of Pentecost there was “a sound as of a mighty rushing wind.” Have you ever been in a really mighty rushing wind? The thing about a real windstorm is that it takes the government out of all other hands and proceeds to do as it chooses without reference or deference to conventions, traditions, common acceptances, inclinations, or fixed ideas. While it lasts, it is sovereign. That is how it was then; but there were those who were offended, shocked, scandalized, and who said in effect that such a way could never be of God. (1)

Anyone who walks in the Light as Jesus is in the Light will soon find themselves challenged by Him to break free of preconceived ideas of what is acceptable to God and pulled out of the traditions of men and family into His marvelous fellowship with the true saints of God. Growing in Christ truly is a stretching process. Look at the context of this passage:

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1John 1:7, ESV2011)

To walk in the light of God is a progressive thing. The light we start out with is not the same amount of light we receive later on as we progress in that walk.

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

God is all about growing us up into the fullness of His Son and this requires that we break free of the traditions that bind religious minds from following His Spirit in obedience and accepting those whom He has sanctified by the blood of His Son. T. A. Sparks continued,

For instance, there is the matter of our relationship to, and fellowship with, all other children of God. Fellowship with the Lord’s people is an established law of spiritual fullness, and there can be no fullness apart from it. This question of Christian fellowship will have to be taken in both hands and settled finally. We shall – if we are going to have an “open heaven” – have to sit right down with this matter and do some honest and energetic thinking and deciding. What is the Lord’s ground in this matter? It is absolutely nothing other, more, nor less, than Christ Himself and our common sharing of His life through new birth and utter yieldedness to Him as our Sovereign Head and Lord! Get down on to any other ground and we forsake the place of fullness. If we get on to the ground of a teaching, an interpretation, a particular and specific doctrine, or even emphasis, as something in itself, we at once set up standards or draw lines between ourselves and others, and even unconsciously we divide and give out an implication of division.

Or again; if we get on the ground of a denomination, a sect, a mission, a society, a “movement”, or anything crystallized as to an association of the Lord’s people, with an enterprise binding together those concerned – though it may be for the Lord – we open the door to every divisive thing, and we close it to fulness. On the one hand we very soon become governed by false and unsound judgments. Jealousies and rivalries can never see the light of day if the one concern is the Lord. (1)

Regarding the verse in 1st John above, notice that “walking in the light as HE is in the light” is progressive. The verse ends with “…we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” When we set out to have fellowship, when it is God who has made us members of one another, there has been given us the provision of Christ’s blood which cleanses us of all sin, including those which may occur during our God given walks together.

We have a great-grandson who will be one year old today. He can only take a few steps before he falls. He still finds crawling faster and his speech is not well developed yet. But for a one year old child he is perfect. If he still fell a lot while walking and grunted and yelled loudly without words when wanting something at the age of five he would be considered handicapped. In the same way, the perfection of walking in the light as Christ is in the light includes life which is given us by God and as such it grows. If we judge one another for not being fully perfect in our walk and being fully Christ-like, we do one another a great disservice and will hinder and harm the fellowship we could be having with the saints of God. Rather, we should be praying for one another and not receiving each other “unto doubtful disputations.”(2)  Self-righteousness is a poison that kills true fellowship IN Christ. Remember Paul’s warning,

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Rom 14:4, ESV2011)

Thank you Father that you are able and willing by the blood of Christ and your Spirit to make us stand in your Son and thank you for the sweet fellowship you have given us as we abide together in Him. Amen.

 

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/000521.html

(2) Romans 14:1

Standing on a Sea of Glass with One Another Before His Throne

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Red Fish Lake near Stanley, Idaho – Photo by Michael Clark

I recently got a comment on A Wilderness Voice blog from Susanne Schuberth of Germany. She said something that stirred me to consider its truth.

“I love it too [when two saints are of one mind], since it is very encouraging to see when we are on the same spiritual track IN Him.

I believe spiritual fellowship is meant to strengthen each member, but never to rule over them.”

What a joy it is when we hear another member of Christ’s body saying the very thing that His Spirit has been saying to us.

When I first came to Christ many years ago, He filled me with a deep desire to know Him and a hunger to read about Him in the scriptures. When I first met my wife about four years earlier, she remarked that I couldn’t even name the four gospels, much less Paul’s letters. Being raised a Catholic, I was totally ignorant of the Bible. But when the Spirit of God entered me in 1970, things changed rapidly (thank God for a praying wife and mother-in-law).

At first I read the gospels over and over until I found a center reference that pointed to His words and actions in the Old Testament. I found prophecies about Him and His very words all over the Psalms and then Isaiah and other prophets (See Luke 24:44). Eventually I read the whole Bible. It seems God had a plan for this–He often speaks to me with a portion of a verse, and when I look it up, it’s perfect for the situation or the person I am fellowshipping with. This often happens when He has me write an article or a reply on our bog. Over the last four years this has happened between Susanne and me and she has also spoken into my life, humbly showing me where I am weak and need a heart change. This can only work unto edification as we each humble ourselves before Christ. To “minister” to another out of pride destroys all true fellowship in the Spirit (See Gal. 6:1).

Paul had much to say about the unifying and edifying power of the Spirit of God and how He gifts each of us for the profit of the whole body of Christ.  He wrote to the Corinthians on how the Spirit desires to function in the body of Christ.

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. (1Cor 12:4-7, ESV2011 – emphasis added) (See also: 1Cor 12:18-26 and 1Cor 14:12)

We are all one body, we have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future. There is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and there is only one God and Father, who is over us all and in us all and living through us all. However, he has given each one of us a special gift according to the generosity of Christ. That is why the Scriptures say, “When he ascended to the heights, he led a crowd of captives and gave gifts to his people.” (Eph 4:4-8, NLT- emphasis added)

God makes sure that each member of Christ’s body is empowered by the Spirit to function according to His eternal plan so that Christ might be manifest throughout the whole earth. But when one member rises up and lords over other members with His gift (see 1Peter 5:1-3 ESV), the rest of the body suffers and, like the parable of Jesus, he causes them to hide their talent [gift] in the dirt. They say to themselves, “I am only a lowly foot covered with dust, what good am I compared to this other brother who is the head with all the talents (seeing, hearing and speaking) this body needs.” Sad to say, this is how most modern churches function today. Yet Paul made it clear if we are members of one another and in Christ’s body, ALL members are equally necessary and gifted to edify one another in the Spirit, giving all glory to our Father. There is nothing more wonderful than a group of the saints of God flowing together in His Spirit. It’s like an angelic choir singing praises to the Lord.

Paul wrote this to the Romans:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Rom 12:3-8, ESV2011)

The world’s hierarchic mindset of ruling over one another has no place in the body of Christ. Jesus said, If any man would be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all.”  (Mark 9:35, ASV- see also Matthew 20:25-28)

If we are ONE IN Christ, the ground where we stand before His throne is perfectly level. John saw this in his heavenly vision in Revelation.

And before the throne [of God] there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. (Rev 4:6, KJ2000)

And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God. (Rev 15:2, KJ2000)

Some of the most beautiful photos I have ever taken have been of a body of water that is flat calm like a mirror, reflecting the far shoreline, the mountains behind it and the sky. A sea of glass is like a mirror because it is perfectly flat. We all stand with equal stature on a sea like this before the throne of God, reflecting the beauty of our Lord and His glory, not our own. We can do this only if we have entered into His rest and ceased from our own labors. There is no place for posturing, hierarchy or dead works as we abide together in the love of Christ before our heavenly Father.

May His Spirit drive this truth home in our hearts, Amen.

Picnik Bay Morning

Picnic Bay Morning – Photo by Michael Clark

 

What Does it Mean to be One IN Christ?

 

unity-in-christFor as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:27-28, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

We are IN Him because we were baptized (Grk. baptizo – immersed or submerged) INTO Christ by the Spirit. Many have been immersed into water in a ceremony without being immersed into Him and they struggle all their lives trying to be “good” Christians. On the other hand we who have believed into Christ (the true meaning of John 3:16) are immersed in Christ! We have put on Christ just as a swimmer “puts on water” when he dives into the pool! Do you want to put on the full armor of God? It is the armor of Christ! Put on Christ and you will be wearing His armor, too. The sooner we quit seeing ourselves as separate from and outside of Him, the sooner we will walk totally by faith in Him.

In this state of being in Christ, we are no longer separated from each other by gender, nationality, religion, distance or even age. All things that were lost by Adam and Eve in their relationship with our Father and each other when they fell have been recovered by the power of Christ’s death and resurrection as we now dwell in heavenly places in Christ just as they dwelt with the Father in the Garden of Eden.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ …and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, (Eph 2:4-6, ESV2011)

We might even live on a different continent and many time zones away from another dear saint that we know in Christ, but that doesn’t mean that we live separate lives if we are both in the Son. Paul wrote that in Christ’s body we are members one of another, and when one member suffers all members suffer with them. When one member rejoices, all members rejoice with them. Neither time, distance, gender, nationality nor any other earthly institution or thing can separate us when we are knit together as one in Christ. The only thing that can separate us from one another and our heavenly place with the Father is unbelief, which pulls us back down into the realm where the prince of this world reigns and can torment us.

Do we have to be good enough to be one with and in Christ before the Father? No! The Amplified version makes it even clearer.

But God–so rich is He in His mercy! Because of and in order to satisfy the great and wonderful and intense love with which He loved us, Even when we were dead (slain) by [our own] shortcomings and trespasses, He made us alive together in fellowship and in union with Christ; [He gave us the very life of Christ Himself, the same new life with which He quickened Him, for] it is by grace that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ’s salvation). (Eph 2:4-5, AMP)

The largest part of our salvation is seeing that we sit together in heavenly places in Christ and that all the “normal” things that once divided us in this world are gone! We have become a new creation, heavenly beings, because we are citizens of our Father’s kingdom (Philippians 3:20) and our fellowship is with the Father and the Son. Paul wrote something that we really need to understand and walk in if we are ever to be one IN Christ,

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)

When I was a Catholic, we were taught to kneel down and look at earthly things when we prayed. We looked at statues and images of Jesus hanging on the cross or Mary or the saints for our inspiration. The problem was that these were earthly images and we were trying to know Him “after the flesh.” Even today among Protestants we read the Bible and think on Him and His earthly ministry 2000 years ago. We say, “What would Jesus do?” as if we could conjure up an image of what He would have us do in every situation. Isn’t this still trying to know Him after the days of His flesh on earth? If we never get beyond that, we can be every bit as earth bound as those Catholics who look to images of Him. Why do we gaze off into the heavens (see Acts 1:9-11) when we now are already seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus at the right hand of the Father? Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is in our midst. If we have a heavenly walk with Christ who abides in us, we will know what He IS DOING, and walk that out IN Him. We are new creatures in Christ not by our works, but by His mighty grace and the power of His cross in our lives. It is only our lack of faith in His completed work that holds us earthbound in our sins (falling short of the glory of God). We seem to have more faith in our weakness as sinners and humans than we have in His power to lead us with His Spirit. We fail every time when we look to ourselves or to another member of His body in a fleshly way instead of looking off from ourselves unto Him and seeing them as He does. I once had a pastor who told the elders of the church to quit being critical of how I seemed outwardly and look at my heart for God had shown this man who I really was despite all my outward struggles I was going through. We must know one another in Him after the Spirit, not after the flesh.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith… and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:1-2, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

Dear saints, let us be heavenly minded IN Christ and not earthly minded in ourselves for this is where we will find victorious living together in the unity of the Spirit.

(T. A. Sparks wrote an excellent chapter on what it means to be beyond all our earthy bounds as we walk in the Spirit and fellowship IN Him, ( Divine Life Unlimited by Time and Space )

Our Fellowship Is Like a Wheel

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Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. For some time the Lord has been teaching me about the nature of true Christian fellowship. Ever since I was born of the Spirit in 1970, I have loved my time with the saints of God and have made it a priority in my life. I was rewarded openly at first because I was seeking Jesus as He abode in other believers I knew. We were all young believers with our wonderful new found love for Christ bubbling out. Our fellowship with each other and with Jesus was filled with His love.  It was like living the Book of Acts as His love freely flowed between us.

But then one day after many months, Jesus said to me, “Michael, I have someone I want you to meet.” I thought, “Who could this be?” He then said, “I want you to meet my Father.” I about freaked out. I was raised Catholic, and in my mind God was like “The Great and Mighty Oz,” greatly to be feared.  I said, “Jesus, if I were to have a relationship directly with your Father, what happens to You?”  He then said, “Don’t you understand? This is why I came and dwelt among men, that they might be restored to my Father.”

This dialogue was a turning point in my relationship with God. Shortly after that I started experiencing Him not only as a loving Father in Christ, but one who rebukes and chastens those who are His sons. Many trials and hardships were to follow. The honeymoon time with Jesus that lasted for months seemed to be over. My flesh rebelled against this new phase of my relationship with Daddy. He was now taking me from spiritual childhood into sonship, and it was not fun (see Proverbs 29:17, Acts 14:21-22, and Hebrews 12: 7-11).

After that, heartfelt fellowship with other saints, grew very thin, for the most part. I so loved those early days of such sweet times with His saints that I went on searching for it everywhere I went, but it has often been disheartening. If I found fellowship with others in the churches, it never seemed to last. Today, I can see the depths of what was prophesied in the following passage, because this is what Father was doing with me.

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

He was weaning me from my dependence on church going! Not all that goes by the name “church” is THE Church. There is a great unclean mixture and many conflicting voices out there in Christendom and God was pulling me away from the confusion unto Himself.  Brethren, I am not the only one He has done this with. This is not an exclusive thing that has happening only to me. This is God’s way with His elect. He has separated to Himself a called-out people all through the scriptures (Enoch, Abraham, Moses, the children of Israel, David, the prophets, Jesus, the disciples, Paul and finally the ekklesia of called-out ones — His Church). Many of us have been called outside the camp unto Him and it is a great reproach to those who are still inside the camps of Christendom (see Heb. 13:11-14).

More Fine Tuning

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Recently God has been fine-tuning me regarding this thing called “fellowship.” He has had First John 1:7 on my mind almost continually. John connects fellowship with walking in the Light as Jesus is in the Light.  During this time I have learned much by watching the example of a dear saint who I have come to know in the last few years. This person has put fellowship with the Father and the Son first before fellowship with other believers. This was so strange to me that I didn’t know how to take it. It almost felt like rejection, because at times that devotion to Christ seemed to come between us. He had become this dear saint’s first priority. All my Christian life I have rarely found such devotion to the Father and the Son as with this person.

One other time I came up against this kind of devotion to God and His calling when I asked a dear older saint to please pray for me. Their answer stunned me. They said, “No! I do not take on a prayer burden for anyone unless God puts it on my heart. I have to hear it from Him.” Well, that gave me a lot to think about! We so glibly say, “I will pray for you, brother,” without giving it much thought. For the mature in Christ, obedience becomes a matter of spiritual survival because the enemy can load us up with all manner of “good things” we should do!

We all seem to put something else first before God, even “good” things like our well being, careers, family, friendships, even our churches. He has been showing me that looking for fellowship with other believers first is a near miss if we are to truly come into real fellowship with one another. John shed light on how spiritual fellowship works when He wrote about the priority that God demands before it can happen.

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light… if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1John 1:3-7, ESV2011 -emphasis added)

Let me be more concise and paraphrase John. “Indeed our fellowship is with the Father and the Son… God is light, if we walk in that light as HE is in the light we have fellowship first with Him and then with those who are also walking in His light.” John’s fellowship with the Father and the Son is what gave him the Light of Life because God is Light. John wrote to the saints from this same Light.  No one wrote about the love of God like John did. His priority was His fellowship with the Father and the Son, and that made all the difference between walking after the Spirit and walking in the flesh.

When we find a brother or sister who walks in God’s Light, what a find they are! We want to be around them all the time, but therein is the danger. We soon can put another person or persons in the place that our Father wants with us. We rejoice when we hear God speaking into our hearts by one of His servants, but the message we should be hearing from a true servant of God is to seek God FIRST (read 1 Cor. Ch. 3).

When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” As a dear saint pointed out to me recently, here we see the priority our love and devotion should have–first for God, then others and finally ourselves. It is so easy to get this all turned around.

We Are Like Individual Spokes in a Wheel

About two weeks ago as I contemplated and prayed about where true Christian fellowship can be found, God showed me a picture of a bicycle wheel with its many spokes, all attached to one central hub. The hub contains the axel that every other part revolves around. He showed me that we who belong to Him are like the spokes on that wheel. We are further apart from one another out by the rim of the wheel than we are when we are closer to the Hub. Jesus Christ is our Hub we must all be attached to, just as He is the Vine and we are His branches! If we are not attached to Him, we wither up and die.  If our attachment is to one another alone instead of Him, our fellowship soon falls apart! What a parable this was for me. It explains why so many of my attempts at having fellowship with other Christians, even mature Christians, has failed. We do serve a jealous God.

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The above is a telling picture of our fellowship with one another with Christ as our Hub. The rim may be the body of Christ as the caption says, but it is also the part that is closest to the world. It is attached only to the spokes and not the Hub. No, the true body of Christ is attached directly to Him and the rim is their outreach to the world. We are to be in the world, but not of the world. Our attempts to relate to worldly people and their ways can also draw us away from Christ if we make that our priority instead of our fellowship with Him. Jesus prayed, “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.  And the glory which you gave me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:23-22 – emphasis added). Our witness to the world that Jesus is the Christ all hinges on our individual unity and fellowship with the Father and the Son, not the world. Ezekiel prophesied about the working of this unity.

Wherever the spirit wanted to go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. (Ezek 1:20-21, ESV2011)

Wow, what a picture of our fellowship with the Father and the Son, the Wheel inside the Wheel and the Spirit in and among us as we follow Him. May we forever live our lives within them and do their will.

The Problem with “Instant” Perfection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Battle Against Our Unity in Christ

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In Jesus’ final prayer before the cross we read,

 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,  I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.  O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me.  I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:22-26, ESV2011)

I have never known such a battle in my life or the lives of God’s people than the one to maintain our unity in His love. There is a reason for this. When the world’s people see Christians truly living together in Christ’s love for one another (and I don’t mean one hour together on Sundays only), as a family in the Father, Satan starts to lose his grip on his kosmos—his worldly kingdom. Those deluded by him can see that these special people have something that they do not have, but need desperately. So, all the minions of hell are brought to bear against even two people walking together in the unity of Jesus and the Father. Remember, our unity is exponential. One can put to flight a thousand but two ten thousand.

T. A. Sparks wrote:

The higher position of “Ephesians” is this – that now, being quickened and raised together with Christ and seated in the heavenlies is a matter of relatedness to other believers, and in that relatedness, you are going to find your fullness. You are never going to find spiritual enlargement just as an isolated, separate individual, but in relation with other believers. “God setteth the solitary in families” (Ps. 68:6), and there is no doubt about it, whether or not you understand or accept the doctrine of it, you can prove very quickly in experience that our spiritual enlargement does come by way of true spiritual and heavenly relatedness with other believers. That is proved by the fact that it is not always easy for Christians to live together for very long. It sounds a terrible thing to say, but you have a lot of other factors to reckon with. If you were ordinary people in this world, you might get on very well, but being Christians you have to meet the whole force of Satan working upon any little bit of natural life he can find. So he makes for difficulty between Christians that they would not find if they were not in a heavenly position. They are meeting forces in the heavenlies. There are the rub and friction and all the cross currents that try to divide Christians but which do not try to divide other people, because there is so much bound up with true spiritual oneness amongst the Lord’s people – so much for the Lord, and so much against Satan. Satan is going to break up that spiritual oneness if he can. He knows what that means for him, and the Lord knows what that means for Himself – and hence the special and extra difficulties when it is a case of Christians living together, especially for a long time.

Now what is the upshot? When these difficulties arise we must say, “It is evidently necessary for me to get a new spiritual position, to get on top of this. If I am not going to give it up and leave, I must come to some spiritual enlargement; I have to know the Lord in a new way, to have more grace, love and patience.” That is spiritual enlargement, and it comes by relatedness. (Of course, that is only one way; there are many others by which spiritual enlargement comes by relatedness.) If only we can keep together in prayer, there is spiritual enlargement.

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Yes, unlike many eastern religions, there are no “holy hermits” in the kingdom of God. There are no Christian one-man-bands! The prophet spoke of this unity we are to have in Christ when he said, “A body have you prepared for me (see Hebrews 10:5).” Those who belong to Christ are called as members of His body AND members of one another.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Rom 12:3-5, ESV2011)

Christ has equipped each one of us who are His to function as a member so that the whole body might be edified and built up. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we read:

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Eph 4:15-16, ESV2011)

To speak the truth to one another in love is to walk in the light as Jesus is in the light and make no provision for the flesh hiding its faults in darkness, not just for our sakes, but for the sake of the body of Christ.

Paul wrote, “every man that is among you [those who have surrendered to Christ]… not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God has dealt to every man the measure of faith,” This is about rightfully accessing our current state of growth and faith in Christ according to the working of our Father to bring about our transformation. We don’t over estimate who we have become by His grace and we don’t underestimate it, either, by burying our “talent” in the earth. The temptation is to become too proud in our estimate of who we are, exalting ourselves as having some “Christian office” to lord over others, or to spend our time downcast as we constantly look at how far there is to go. Our hope is found as we see ourselves by God’s grace IN the arms of the Son while His perfecting work in us proceeds. We are not our own, but Jesus has bought us with the great price He paid for each of us on the cross and as such we are to be led by the wind of the Spirit, not our carnal minds.

We not only have to battle the enemy in gaining and keeping our unity in Christ’s body, but we have to battle our fleshly thinking as well. The whole thing is a very humbling process once we see this life with spiritual eyes and set our goal to function as a spiritual member of Jesus’ mystical body with one another.

Father, please do whatever it takes to make us all one in your Son. Amen

 

 

Can These Two Walk Together?

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Can two walk together, except they are agreed? (Amos 3:3, KJ2000)

Do not keep company with those who have not faith: for what is there in common between righteousness and evil, or between light and dark? …for we are a house of the living God; even as God has said, I will be living among them, and walking with them; and I will be their God, and they will be my people. (2Cor 6:14-16, BBE)

God has always hated a mixture. According to the law wool could not be woven with linen, meat and dairy products could not be cooked together, they could not intermarry with foreigners and in the New Testament we read that believers are not to be unequally yoke with unbelievers. Oh, the misery that has been caused in the Church and marriages by that!

God feels the same way about the work of the Spirit and the work of the flesh. The work will either be instigated by Him and done by His Spirit as it was with Christ or He will withdraw until we figure out that our flesh profits nothing! As Paul said said, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” We can struggle by our own strength to be righteous, but He backs away until we figure out that apart from Him, we can do nothing. Paul wrote,

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Gal 5:16-17, ESV2011)

Watchmen Nee and some other Christian men were swimming in a river when one of the men got a cramp in his leg and began struggling and was sinking. Mr. Nee motioned to one of the other men, who was an excellent swimmer, about the drowning man. To his astonishment, however, the man did not move. He just stood there and watched the man fight to keep his head above water.

Mr. Nee was angry to say the least, but the swimmer was calm and collected. Meanwhile, the voice of the drowning man grew fainter and more desperate. Mr. Nee hated the good swimmer who just stood and watched him suffer from the shore when he could have jumped into the river and rescued the drowning man. As the drowning man went under for what looked like the last time, the swimmer dove in and was there in a moment, and both were soon safely on shore.

After the rescue, Mr. Nee accused the man of loving his own life too much and being selfish. The response of the swimmer revealed, however, that he knew what he was doing. He told Watchman that if he had gone too soon, the drowning man would have put a death grip on him and they would have both drowned in the river, and he was right. He told Mr. Nee that a drowning man cannot be saved until he is utterly exhausted and ceases to make the slightest effort to save himself.

Such is the case with our salvation. When we stop trying to save ourselves, then the Lord can step in and save us as we fully surrender to Him. The same is true about our efforts to be righteous. He will allow a temptation to beset us that is beyond our strength to resist unless we cry out to Him to deliver us. He leads us not into temptation for as James says, we are drawn away by our own lusts. But God DOES deliver us from evil if we cry out to Him, though we may have to become totally exhausted in the process to reach the level of desperation that He is looking for. You see one of the desired outcomes is to get us to have mercy on all sinners and KNOW that “except for the grace of God, there go I,” by first hand experience.

And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (Gal 5:24-25, KJ2000)

Thank you to Susanne Schuberth for her encouragement and inspiration. See her latest blog: https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/2016/09/10/death-and-resurrection-or-i-need-a-savior/

Unity in Christ’s Light…Coming Into Full Stature

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…until we come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature and full grown in the Lord, measuring up to the full stature of Christ. (Eph 4:13, NLT)

God has one goal for each of us and that is to grow up in the Lord until we measure-up to the full stature of His Son. That cannot happen without the unity of His saints (See John 17:21-23). What is Christian unity? Does it happen when we reach 100% church attendance on any given Sunday? Or does it happen when we all adhere to the “articles of faith” handed down by the home office of our denomination? Maybe it happens when all the local churches (as they did in our area) agree to have a great rally together at the local fairgrounds one Sunday each year. All these things were totally foreign to the early church, yet they had a unity in the Spirit that caught the attention of the world around them. They were even accused of turning the world upside down for Christ.

Oh, how far this thing called Christianity has fallen! How about we start with just two people walking together in unity for openers? How often do we see that in our Christian experience? Many of us who “have a ministry” are still Lone Rangers at best and it shows our weakness to the spirit realm. Our “ministry” is still all about us! It is interesting to me that most of the examples of effective ministry in the New Testament are found when two people walked together in the Spirit of God. Wouldn’t this be good place to start? Maybe we should be praying that God puts us together with another saint so we can both prayerfully support one another as we encourage each other to focus on Christ and what His Spirit is saying and directing us to do.

God has no Lone Rangers when it comes to walking in the power of the Spirit much less the unity of the Spirit, yet we totally overlook this in modern Christianity. A person who walks alone is an easy target for the enemy and “one-man band” ministries fall every day. In Mark we read a very interesting thing that Jesus did. “And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth two by two; and gave them power over unclean spirits” (Mark 6:7, KJ2000). It was being sent forth by Him in pairs that they were given power over the works of the devil. When will we ever learn, dear saints?

We don’t know how long Adam walked alone in the garden with God until God observed, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” In Ecclesiastics we read:

Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falls; for he has not another to help him up… and if one prevails against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Eccl 4:9-12, KJ2000)

Two saints walking together in the Spirit of Christ are that threefold cord. Unity in the Spirit and walking in the transparency of the truth of God He calls “walking in the light” and it is imperative if we are to know the fellowship that Jesus shares with His Father. In John’s first letter we read:

This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1John 1:5-7, KJ2000)

First, notice he did not write, “If you walk in the light as He is in the light…” He wrote we! If we walk in the light of the Father and the Son, the light of the Spirit that He defines as doing the truth, not just talking about it, we will have fellowship with one another. All through Christendom we see people desiring fellowship and not finding any meaningful form because they overlook this one important prerequisite, walking in the light of the Spirit. Allowing God to shine His marvelous light into our hearts seems to be too great a price for most of us. John put the problem this way:

And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone that does evil hates the light, neither comes to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he that does truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are worked in God. (John 3:19-21, KJ2000)

Revelation by the Spirit

It is one thing to read the scriptures and another thing to have them revealed to us by the Spirit of Christ. When we walk together in the unity of the Spirit, we soon find out that His marvelous light starts showing us things that He wants us to walk in and understand so that we can enjoy the unity of the Father and the Son. We soon start experiencing our fellowship around the deeper things on God’s heart.

And their eyes were opened, and they knew him… And they said one to another, Did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures? (Luke 24:31-32, KJ2000)

I believe that the unity of the Spirit in revelation is what was meant when Peter wrote,

We have also a more sure word of prophecy; to which you do well that you take heed, as unto a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of one’s own interpretation. (2Pet 1:19-21, KJ2000)

Here in this passage we see light, revelation and fellowship among the saints of God who walk in His light together.  They don’t try to be complete in themselves, have their own private interpretations, or compete with each other. We need to have the light of God shine into our darkened hearts! Darkness attracts darkness and Light attracts light. We need the Day Star to arise in our hearts as we fellowship together in the Father and the Son.

Praying in God’s Love

James gave us a key to keeping our unity alive in the Spirit.

 “Confess to one another therefore your faults (your slips, your false steps, your offenses, your sins) and pray [also] for one another, that you may be healed and restored [to a spiritual tone of mind and heart]. The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available [dynamic in its working].” (Jas 5:16, AMP)


When we walk in unity with the one that God puts us with, we soon find that totally opening up to one another in transparency is imperative if we are to continue to walk in the light. Two people who hope to walk this way must be so crucified to themselves that they can trust one another with their deepest secrets and know that the other person will not use these things against them or turn away when we dare to “hang out their dirty laundry.” We dare to reveal such intimate things so that we can pray for one another and be healed of what caused these slips and missteps in the first place. There is one thing needed for this to happen–God’s agape love that knows no selfishness and lives for the good of others. There is tremendous power over sin when we pray for one another in this kind of unity.

The Christianity most of us have experienced in the churches rarely knows what it means to worship God in Spirit and in truth, but what a blessing it is when we dare to embrace and seek the truth with one another and truly walk in His all-revealing light. But this can only be experienced between two hearts that have been broken and crucified in Christ. May these hearts find one another by the power of God. Amen.

Pressed Beyond Measure Into Christ

By Michael Clark and Susanne  Schuberth

Pressed Into ChristFor we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence [Grk, apokrima – an answer] of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead: (2Cor 1:8-9, KJ2000)

Susanne Schuberth recently took this picture on one of her prayer walks and sent it to me (Michael) and I cropped it to fit.

I (Susanne) thought about the biblical meaning of the number four. These four arrows represent the world system that puts those under pressure who eagerly want to follow the Lord. The two people with arrows coming at them from all directions seems to portray what we have been going through for some time with many attacks from the enemy causing afflictions in our bodies and our hearts. This sign depicts what it is like when two walk together in the unity of the Spirit and how the adversary presses in on them from every side. As we looked at the picture of the sign we noticed that these two are not alone, there is a third Person behind them as if He is looking over them with His arms around them. We are being pressed in from every side, but the enemy is actually pressing us into Christ! In the above verse Paul actually said, “we have the answer of death.” Death of our old self-natures is the answer to our prayers that we be conformed into the image of God’s Son.

As I (Michael) thought about what this sign depicts, many scriptures came flooding into my mind. Here are a few of them.

 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 30:20-21, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

When we experience adversity and are afflicted with bodily pains, our adversary does all he can to get our eyes off Christ who has not left us, and onto our pains and attacks. But in all this we have the promise that our Teacher, the Holy Spirit, will continue to teach us in and through all these things. He teaches us and fine-tunes us to hear His gentle whisper and follow His leading in the most adverse circumstances.

 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Ps 23:5-6, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

Even after we have passed through the valley of the shadow of death, we are not free of our enemies. Rather, God prepares us a banquet table of spiritual food in the midst of them and their attacks. It is here that we experience the anointing of the Holy Spirit on us and the goodness and mercy of the Lord in spite of what our enemy attempts to do. We start to dwell in the house of the Lord and His covering in all situations.

 Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. (Isa 59:15-16, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

Yes, it seems like a very lonely walk in which we are made a prey of our enemy. As the sign shows, he comes at us from all sides in his attempt to overthrow our faith. We can’t expect any help from men and the world around us. The Lord alone will uphold us and vindicate us because He is with us.

Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind! In the cover of your presence you hide them from the plots of men; you store them in your shelter from the strife of tongues. (Ps 31:19-20, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

Even in the midst of verbal attacks by others, we find that we can take shelter in Christ in heaven and He foils the evil plots against us. It is here that we discover the abundance of our Father’s goodness towards us.

 Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. — Selah God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness! (Ps 57:1-3, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

Yes, we can take refuge in the shadow of His wings! As Jesus said, “How often I would have gathered you together unto me as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” God lets adversity come upon us so that we will cry out to Him and fulfill His purposes in us. He shows His great love and faithfulness to us through it all.

 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all. (Ps 34:19, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

Jesus said:

 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome (Grk. Nikao – to conquer) the world.” (John 16:33, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

Have you ever wondered how the fact that Jesus has overcome the world is supposed to make us take heart in tribulation? We sure have. Just yesterday I (Susanne) was mulling over the frustration I have had with that verse above which tells us that Jesus had overcome the world. How disappointing for us miserable human beings to have to live in this world until we die and to not be able to overcome the world just as Jesus did! But wait a moment… Thinking about ‘death’… Jesus was still alive on this earth and told us that he had overcome the world already. How so? Because He was IN the Father where there is no death any longer. IN God and IN Christ there is only LIFE, and PEACE, and LOVE, and JOY etc., even in tribulation and suffering (Rom 5:3 ESV). If Jesus conquered the kosmos, the “world” system that is under the rule of Satan, why then are we still under his attacks? The key is found in the following verse where Paul wrote:

 Now thanks be unto God, who always causes us to triumph in Christ, and makes manifest the fragrance of his knowledge by us in every place. (2Cor 2:14, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors (Grk. HuperNikao – to totally conquer or totally overcome) through him who loved us. (Rom 8:35-37, ESV2011 – emphasis added).

We are more than overcomers in Christ because that is where our Father places us as His sons and daughters. As soon as we have died to our old Adam natures, this will become obvious. So it is truly a new life after ‘death,’ although we are still in this world when this happens by God’s grace. In Romans we read, “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom 5:2, ESV2011). We stand in Christ. We also stand in faith because we stand in His grace. Here and there is no room for doubt. The enemy always gets us to sell short what is ours in Christ by getting us to doubt. T. Austin-Sparks wrote:

To prevent assurance of faith is the devil’s own work, it is his aim to get the Lord’s people unsettled; and doubt is one of his most subtle means of working. It was so in the beginning, “hath God said?” (Gen. 3:1), and it is still his method. The way, and the only way, to frustrate this is by being established in the faith (Acts 16:5; Col. 2:7). “Stand fast in the faith” (1 Cor. 16)…

The great need of God’s people is to be established in the faith, not just established in doctrine, in an orthodox gospel, or by acquiring knowledge of fundamental truth, but established by an inward knowledge of our standing in the Lord Jesus on the ground of His finished work and complete triumph over the devil and all his works. So many of the Lord’s children lack this assurance of their position in the Lord; yet it is written: “God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world… in love having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto Himself.” (Eph. 1:4,5)…

Stand on God’s facts and not on the quicksands of your own feelings. Some are doubting simply because of feelings! Salvation is not a matter of feeling, it is God’s fact – “It is written” – God hath said. The word of God is “no condemnation“. “There is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus.” – Rom. 8:1. We are perfect in Christ the day we are born anew, that is as to our standing, we have good reason to be sorry for our state; but the word is “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” – 2 Peter 3:18. “My little children of whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you” – Gal. 4:19 A.R.V. Yes it is to be a day by day growing in grace…

Here we are passing through trial, adversity, sorrow, suffering, and we are tempted to think the Lord has given us up; the enemy presses in on every side with accusation, condemnation, question, doubts, fears. “Be ye steadfast, unmovable,” for beloved, this is the establishing principle at work, our faith is being exercised. We know anguish, travail. Remember the establishing work is done while our eyes are unto Him; when things are against us, seeking to press us down, then we look off unto Jesus now in the presence of God for us, having all authority in heaven and on earth, and a NAME that is above every other name, a title of Sovereignty above every other title of sovereignty…

This is the ONE unto whom our eyes are. Faith is thus exercised and enables us in the very midst of pressure and contradictory circumstances to rise upward and stand in Christ Jesus in the position He has given us, “seated together with Him in the heavenlies.” “Ye are made full in Him in Whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead in bodily form.” – Col. 2:9.

So through trial, the establishing work is done; it is the manifestation of His Victory over all the power and pressure of the enemy, “God who giveth us The Victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Cor. 15:57. Yes, it is HIS victory, a life that has conquered death – 1 Cor. 15:54. ~ http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/002923.html

Wow! Did you get that? God has chosen us in Christ from before the foundation of the world. In His love, He foreordained us in our adoption as His sons and daughters into Himself (the Greek is clear that we are chosen in Christ and that as we have believed into Him and it is here that we have all the grace and love and faith we need – see 1 Cor. 3:22-23). It is all a matter of the faith of Christ working in us. The enemy does all he can to get us to doubt and live as if we are subject to this world instead of seeing that we abide in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, which is our inheritance now in Him. We are overcomers because we are in Him who has overcome the world. Everything that the enemy does to us only presses us further into our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God: therefore the world knows us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the children of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (1John 3:1-2, KJ2000)