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)

 

Only Those Unshakeable Things Found IN Christ Will Remain

Foggy_Church_Graveyard

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. (Heb 12:25-27, ESV2011)

In this passage we see the prophecy of a great shaking that will be upon not only the earth, but the very Church “heaven” itself. The word translated “heaven” above is defined in Strong’s Bible Dictionary as:

οὐρανός ouranos (ou-ra-nos’) n.

  1. the sky.
  2. (by extension) heaven (as the abode of God).
  3. (by implication) happiness, power, eternity.
  4. (specially) the Gospel (Christianity).

In the context of this passage in Hebrews it is obvious that God is going to not only shake the earth and the heavens as Jesus prophesied in Matthew 24 and Luke 21, but all things which have been made. This final shaking will destroy all the material things that Christianity clings to and identifies with so that only that which is of His Spirit in us will “survive the cut.” As much as we are attached to church buildings, liturgy, church hierarchy, Christian tradition and man-made institutions, all that will be done away with so that only the Heavenly Jerusalem, that assembly of the First Born, Jesus Christ, whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will remain (see Hebrews 12:22-24). What is stubble and chaff compared to wheat? God is not gathering stubble and chaff into His heavenly storehouse, but these are gathered into piles to be burned. Those things have done their job and soon will be of no further use.

Have you ever had a time of fellowship with your fellow saints that was so heavenly that you did not want it to end? I don’t mean just a church service or a Christian conference, but being part of a group of believers in an in-depth relationship (that goes beyond those found in most churches) where the love and grace of our Father flowed between you all and built you up in a way that no sermon or mere sacramental-ism can. I am speaking of a time together of the  members of Christ’s body with Him orchestrating all that happened as only HE can. This has become so rare, now at the end of this age, that most of you probably have never experienced heaven coming down and touching the earth with the Light and Life of Christ Himself filling His body. It truly is a gift from our Father. It is such a witness of His “kingdom come upon the earth as it is in heaven” that the hordes of hell are unleashed against it when it happens. In any case, experiencing the real ecclesia of God in the love and unity of the Spirit ruins you for ever again being satisfied with orchestrated Sunday meetings as is the norm today.

Sad to say, Christians today have struck a compromise with the devil that says, “You leave us alone and we will leave you alone,” What we have masquerading as “the church” is no threat to the prince of this world or his kingdom. Instead of preaching Christ and Him crucified, the pulpits are preaching worldly goals and gain and cutesy sermons that tickle the ears of the hearers. They have twisted Paul’s words, “I have become all things to all men that I might win some,” to mean that we should become as likeable and like the world and its people as much as possible. As a result, the “salt of the earth” that the church was meant to be has lost its savor and is being trodden under the feet of men. We must be born of the Spirit to see the kingdom of God. Christianity has become so worldly and self seeking that I really doubt that most “Christians” today have the Spirit of God dwelling in them. If they did, their hearts would not be so focused on material things, the world and the affairs of carnal men, much less content with the status quo in the churches.

Austin-Sparks wrote about the status of church around the world which he observed 60 years ago during world wide ministry (it is much worse now). He could see that the judgment of God was coming on the church as its enemy was rapidly squeezing out any representation of the church in huge areas of the world with the onslaught of atheistic communism, Islam and humanism. But even more than that the church was dying a slow death by becoming more worldly than it was spiritual (see http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/002091.html).

Apostle Paul saw this coming upon the church even as early as the first century and he warned:

Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That you be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, that the day of the Lord is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come the falling away [Grk – apostasia- apostasy]  first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; (2Thess 2:1-3, KJ2000 – emphasis added – see also Acts 20:29-31 – emphasis added)

Sparks compared the status of the church to the temple system and what Judaism had become at the time of Christ. Rome, not God, had placed Herod as king over Judea and Judaism was influenced by its power more than God. King Herod’s father was an Edomite and not of the linage of David as Israel’s king should have been. When Jesus came as a baby and the rightful heir, “The Son of David” Herod tried to kill Him!  This despot had more to do with who ruled over the temple as High Priest than any spiritual leading from God. This is why there were two “High Priests” during the time of Jesus’ sojourn here on earth. They were both political appointees and one came up out of Egypt. Only those who catered to Herod and his wishes were chosen for this influential priestly position. It was a purely political system.

The whole Jewish system had fallen under carnal rulers and been corrupted to the point that even their precious temple built by Herod the Great was not according to the pattern that Moses was given by God, but rather a garish monument to this despotic king’s own greatness. The arc of the covenant was no longer in the Holy of Holies and God’s judgment of “Ichabod” was on the whole thing (see Luke 21:5-6). The Fortress of Antonia that housed the Roman garrison was purposely built right up against the temple walls so the Roman shoulders could have access to the temple grounds and the Court the Gentiles in the temple complex was where the buying and selling of animals was going on under the oversight of Annas, one of the two high priests. This was his business enterprise and became known as “the Bazaar of Annas.” It was into this political mess that Jesus came, overthrowing the tables of the merchants and announcing, “It is written that my house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it a den of thieves.”

Anyone who has been part of organized Christianity for very long can easily see all the parallels in the church today with its preaching of political affiliations, social activism, worldly prosperity, and mercantilism. Its seminaries crank out men that are no longer lowly servants as was Christ, but that want to become famous in this world and make their churches into a cash cow operation. Just as it was back then when God pronounced judgment on that perverted system and it was destroyed by 70 A.D., His judgment is on this worldly church system of today.

Jesus did not come to establish another religion ruled over by men! He came to point all men to His Father’s kingdom and restore each of us to a perfect fellowship with Him. Jesus is its Prince of Peace and its members are transformed into spiritual beings who are not of this world, but rather the sons and daughters of God. Do you doubt that God’s judgment is on this worldly religious system, this whore that prostitutes herself for worldly position and gain? Then you might look closer at these verses that describe the great apostasy that Paul warned us about and is now its final stage.

And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters [peoples]: With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication. (Rev 17:1-2, KJV)

And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration [astonishment]. (Rev 17:5-6, KJV)

These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful. And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. (Rev 17:14-15, KJV)

And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory. And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies. And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities. (Rev 18:1-5, KJV)

How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow. Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her. (Rev 18:7-8, KJV) (emphasis added in all the above verses)

All that said, the church of today is as fallen from what was once spiritual under the direction of the Holy Spirit as the Herodian temple system was fallen from the tabernacle in the wilderness under Moses and Aaron. Jesus proclaimed God’s judgment upon that Jewish system and it was removed from the face of the earth in 70 A. D. (read Matthew ch. 23). That system’s fate was sealed when its followers and leaders murdered the Son of Righteousness the Father sent to redeem them. Jesus told them just before He died,

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. (Matt 23:37-38, ESV2011)

So, dear brothers and sisters, do you find yourself rejected and alone in today’s church systems? Didn’t Jesus warn us that if they hated Him they would hate and abuse His servants also?

Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, who planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into a far country: And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants, that they might receive the fruits of it. And the tenants took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise. But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will respect my son. But when the tenants saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. When the lord therefore of the vineyard comes, what will he do unto those tenants? (Matt 21:33-40, KJ2000)

Dear friends, the rightful heirs to the Kingdom of God are those who walk by faith and the leading of the Spirit of God as His servants, not those who claim the name “Christian” and abuse their power and His flock as they seek worldly gain.

Many years ago, as I saw the truth in this, I wanted to do like Moses did, grab them by their ecclesiastical throats and deliver God’s people from these taskmasters one at a time (I speak figuratively). I spent many years focusing on what was wrong with the church and its leadership and wrote volumes about it, but God finally told me that this system is nothing more than blind guides leading the blind and to leave it alone and let them all fall in the ditch (see Matthew 15:14). Sometimes it takes following church leaders into a few spiritual ditches to wake us up and get us to seek true spiritual sight and Truth that is ours alone as we abide IN Jesus Christ.

Paul said, “I did not build upon another man’s foundation.” You cannot build the house of God on the twisted teachings and traditions of Christendom that continue to confuse the minds of its adherents. Only the Holy Spirit can teach these truths and give us the experiences to drive them deep into our hearts. He must purge our minds and hearts of all that is false concerning God’s kingdom and our place in it before He can build HIS temple with us as His living stones.

It took 40 years in the wilderness and a lot of dying to get Egypt out of His people and make them ready to enter His Promised Land, and so it is today. Whether you call it a period in the wilderness or “the dark night of the soul,” these religious souls in us that the Bible calls “the flesh” are not compatible for His kingdom. We must be stripped of all the religious foundations of men and our carnal natures before we can start to comprehend what the Spirit is saying to us, because all that false teaching blocks us from hearing His gentle voice as it resonates in our hearts. Once that false foundation is done away with, He can start building us on the only true Foundation, which is Christ. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians chapter three that every man’s work will be proven by fire for the day shall declare and expose what kind of structure was built. There is a day in each of our lives that God comes to set His house in order. It is better to face His purging now than to face His all-consuming fire in “the Day of the Lord.”

Father, open our eyes that we might see ourselves as YOU see us and repent that we might walk according to the Light of your Spirit. Amen.

Let Us Go On Unto Maturity!

001a-jesus-questions-peter

Anyone who has followed the leading of the Lord for any length of time can look back and see that He gave them people to fellowship with, learn from and even spiritual gifts from which a “ministry” in the church rose around, only to discover that He asked them to walk away from it and move on. This often causes great confusion and consternation and results in an emotional struggle. We cry out, “But God, didn’t you give this fellowship/gift to me? Hasn’t it been wonderfully used by you in my life and in the lives of others? What is going on?! Is this really you?” What’s worse, once we start to accept it as Him, well-meaning saints see this change coming and try to persuade us to not follow the Lord’s leading.

There is a principle well established in the Bible of God taking His saints out of their comfort zones, stretching them and getting them to grow up further into Him and all that He has for them Look at the lives of Enoch, Abraham, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, and all the disciples. Most of these saints had a wilderness period that separated the earlier part of their walk from the last. Its like a spiritual circumcision.

Jesus didn’t teach His disciples to be static in their obedience to Him. They had to leave their nets, their tax business, their parents, their politics, and even their religious traditions to follow Him. To a Pharisee who was stuck in his traditions, Jesus compared being led by the Spirit to being blown around by the wind, not knowing where it is taking you next. Because of his adherence to a temple worship system Nicodemus could only say, “How could this be?”

As one dear older saint pointed out, “the opposite of the Wind of God is bricks.” Like Peter who was always being stretched by the Lord, God does something wonderful in our lives and we want to enshrine and fix it in place saying, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. Let us build…” (see Matt. 17:1-5). God’s answer to this is always the same, “This is my beloved Son… hear [and follow] Him!” Remember, we serve a God who makes all things new as the old things in our lives pass away. Consider these two passages from Hebrews:

Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto maturity; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. (Heb 6:1-2, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

We have an altar, of which they have no right to eat who serve the tabernacle. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come. (Heb 13:10-14, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

I recently encountered a man with “a recognized prophetic ministry” who has been suffering from a bad back that has sidelined him for a while. He saw this as three years in his own personal wilderness. The problem is that his ministry has become fixed, a tradition in his life that must be continued and served. He is struggling to keep doing what he had been doing before this period with his weakened back. The doctors wanted to do surgery that would have fixed it but incapacitated him for two years while it healed and he refused saying, “This won’t do!” Has he even considered that God’s hand was in it to get him to stop and take a new and better direction in his life? This is so typical of ministers today. They get a name and surround themselves with a ministry machine they create that must be constantly fed or it will die. Soon Jesus challenges them with a new direction that precludes the former work and most of them refuse to answer the wilderness call that they might have something much better. It is like Peter who went back to fishing after Jesus rose again. Jesus appeared to Him while fishing and said, “Peter, do you love me more than these (a net full of fish)? Feed my sheep!”

I can tell you that when God put me into my 14 year wilderness, all that I had at the beginning (ministry, church, fellowship, friends, job, neighbors, local, money, etc.) was soon gone. As I struggled with this void in my life I wondered how long it would last. The more I pushed against it seeking a way out, longing for the good old days, the stronger His chains on me became. It all started when I gave Him permission to kill the pride in me (from moving in spiritual gifts) and make me like His Son — only doing the works I see Him doing and speaking the words that I heard Him saying. To do that He had to wipe my spiritual slate clean!

Toward the end of this wilderness period He let me know that the things that fell into the ground and died (what He took away) was not what He would cause to spring forth when the stripping was over. I was thinking that the former little prophetic ministry would emerge as a GREAT prophetic ministry! As I was coming out at the other end of this dark night experience He said, “You have not been this way before!” This would be a whole new ballgame. What has happened since end of it in1994 has proven this to be true and I am so glad I obeyed.

Once again as I was reading my Open Windows daily devotion, T. Austin-Sparks spoke right to what was happened and is happening in my life as I continue to pursue that for which God has apprehended me.

Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the Head. (Ephesians 4:15 ESV)

Things may be taking a new and different shape, but the purpose of God is the same. We may be presented with His vision in new and further-on aspects, but it is only what He originally meant. Can we adjust? Can we leave “the things that are behind”? Without raising any questions as to the right or wrong of what has been, can we “go on” and “grow up,” “attain”? God-given vision makes men of prayer. This is almost too obvious when we remember the men of the Bible. It was vision that got them away from the trivial and petty. It requires vision to get prayer on to the major lines and to make it real travail. What a bound and range those prophets had in prayer! But what immense issues were precipitated. It is not our vision for God, but His vision in us that will be dynamic, and that will determine value.

I cannot conclude without pointing out that what could be voluntary with much gain has often to be made compulsory with much loss. This is because we do not stand back from time to time and in detachment and waiting upon the Lord give Him an opportunity of enlarging vision. Many a work which has mightily served the Lord and been a great spiritual testimony has lost its former glory, purity, and impact because it has become a “Work,” a “Movement,” an Organization, and its ramifications and responsibilities have become such as to completely rule out any such “retreat” with God, where that work is put back and a real openness to the Lord for anything else, more or other, is enquired after. The Lord might send prophetic vision by ministry to lead into His fuller meanings if there was a way for it, but we are too busy. What tragedy is related to such preoccupation! (emphasis added by me)

http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/002082.html

We Have Been Given the Mind of Christ!

jesus-washing-feet

“For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1Cor 2:16, ESV2011)

What a curious thing to say, Paul! Do we as members of Christ’s body (those who have the His Holy Spirit within us) truly function as if we are “out of our minds” in the eyes of he world or do we function as if we have a mind that is compatible with the world’s way of thinking? Paul had the mind of Christ and he did not fit in with the world or its religious establishments, much less their accepted mores and beliefs.

And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus [an officiate of Cesar’s over Judea] said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. (Acts 26:24-25, ESV2011)

What Paul had to say in His defense was the truth of Christ and words from the mind of Christ, yet to the carnal mind of this official in high standing in the Roman Empire, he was insane! Just what does it mean to have the mind of Christ? I have often wondered about this verse in First Corinthians. This morning as I was reading my devotional from T. Austin-Sparks and following up on it, I found the following paragraphs where he uses the natural body as a type. It was a clear explanation of what the Spirit wanted me to understand.

Everything has its location in the head, all the sensibilities of the members are registered in the head. It is possible to take a needle and, if the whole brain system is understood, to apply the needle-point to any given part of the brain and put out of action any member of the body, and leave the others untouched. By an understanding of that system a needle can be applied to a certain point in the brain and put the hand, or the foot, out of operation and leave the other members operating, this whole thing is so wonderfully gathered up in the head. Christ is the Head of the Body, all the members are joined to the Head, all the members are consciously registered in the Head, have their consciousness by reason of their relationship to the Head, their consciousness spiritually, which Paul means when he says, “We have the mind of Christ” (I Cor. 2:16b).

But what is that nerve system? It is the Holy Spirit. He is the spiritual nerve system of the whole Body, linking all with the Head, He is the consciousness of the Body, He is the One Who brings from the Head those reactions of the judgments and decisions of the Head. He is the One Who brings to the Head everything concerning every member, and so makes the Body and the Head one complete whole. (1)

If we have been given the Holy Spirit, we have a direct connection with the very mind of Christ. And as functioning members of His body, unity in our thoughts and deeds becomes automatic. Disunity and sectarianism shows itself for what it is. Unity in the mind of Christ has always been the plan of God for us, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.” (Isa 55:7-9, ESV2011) Since Christ died for us and sent His Holy Spirit we are no longer worldly creatures, but strangers and aliens upon this earth. We have the mind of Christ governing our thoughts and actions instead of Lucifer who came into Adam and Eve when they decided to eat the forbidden fruit and “be like God knowing both good and evil.”

To have a mind operating in conjunction with the world or even a religious mind, the mind of the flesh, is to be of our father the devil who was a liar and a murder from the beginning and his works we will do (see John 8:44). Today, I read an email that was filled with scriptures, but it was all about his thoughts and his will and his doings. It was easy for me to see the conflict going on in this poor soul. He is a man of worldly intellect and who holds high college degrees and has bowed down at the feet of “Higher Education,” but to the mind of the Spirit it was all confusion. Without the cross dealing with the natural mind within us, even our highest thoughts and reasoning are anathema to God. Just as Jesus only did the works He saw His Father doing and only spoke the words His Father was saying, God only acknowledges the mind of Christ and that is why the Spirit of Christ has been given us. The natural mind will not do. It only seeks ways to quench the Spirit within us and to have its own preeminence. As followers of Christ we only have one choice. Failing to do so we will become followers of Satan at best, wearing sheep’s clothing.

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not a thing to be grasped to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Phil 2:5-8, KJ2000)

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/000755.html

Fullness IN Christ or Fullness of Iniquity?

Smokey Sunrise over Fernan Lake

Smokey Sunrise Over Fernan Lake, Idaho ~ by Michael Clark

There seems to be no end to the terror, murder and civil unrest that is going on around the world these days we live in. We are watching Syria destroy itself in a civil war, North Korea threaten the United States with nuclear attack and the U.S. government reacting with counter threats. We see thousands of Christians and others being killed and maimed by Islamic terrorists around the world. The murder and crime rate in our American cities is appalling. And just in the last couple days we have seen the civil unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia end in many injuries and even murder.  How does this measure up to the prophesies about Jesus? For example:

Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this. (Isa 9:7, KJ2000)

This might seem confusing if Christ did not point out that His kingdom would not come with outward manifestations, but would rise within the hearts of those who love Him (See Luke 17:20-21). And what about Jesus’ own prophesy regarding the end?

Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and you shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall grow cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. (Matt 24:9-13, KJ2000)

Many, even many would be Christians, are offended with one another, betraying one another and even killing one another as they are coming under the spirit of this age–murder and lawlessness. What is amazing to me is that even so-called preachers are helping to spread this disease with their words. It is easy to see how radical Islamic clerics are fulminating terror and murder using the Koran in the name of Allah against the infidels, but aren’t some of these Christian preachers and teachers doing the same in the name of Christ? As Jesus warned, “many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.”

With great insight into the workings of God Paul wrote:

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation waits for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creation was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who has subjected the same in hope, Because the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, that is, the redemption of our body. (Rom 8:18-23, KJ2000)

There is much groaning in the pain of childbirth in our hearts as we await the full manifestation of the children of God — those who will be set free from their bondage to their own fleshly corruption and obtain the freedom and glory of the children of God. Father is bringing forth many sons and daughters in the likeness his own glorious Son to manifest His glory. As for the increase of Christ’s kingdom I spoke of earlier, T. Austin- Sparks seems to have summed up what I have been trying to say.

It is a glorious prospect to know that the universe will be filled with Christ, and God is going to have His end. When the Lord gets hold of a life utterly, and when the Cross has really entered into that life, so that that life can say: “I have been crucified with Christ”, nothing passes, nothing gets through that is not Christ. God keeps intensely short accounts with that life. God is alive to everything concerning the first Adam. That is the meaning of: “He that hath the seven spirits of God”. That phrase means the perfection of spiritual vision. Go back to the prophecies of Zechariah and you remember it speaks of “seven eyes”. That means that the Lord Jesus, who has the seven spirits of God, is alive to everything, takes in everything, comprehends everything. Nothing escapes Him. Especially is that perfection of perception related to the things that would be a menace to His ultimate purpose, and in all that we do He knows exactly where the point is which marks the end of what is of Himself and the beginning of us. We do not know, but He does, just where these things overlap, and He is letting nothing pass.

That represents a challenge to us! We have been seeing that God, for His own satisfaction in relation to His own ultimate purpose, must have a candlestick all of gold, a vessel which represents what Christ is in an utter sense, that means a deep cost, a great measure of suffering. That is the challenge which comes to us. Until the Lord reveals it with a heavenly light we do not see how big the difference is between self and Christ. When the Lord does a thing, it is eternal.

Are our hearts set upon God having that which is wholly of Himself? That means ‘I’ crucified! No longer I, but Christ! And that means that Christ in us is the basis of our conformity to His image, until we partake with Him of His own nature – pure gold. It is something to face seriously before Him. It brings to us a challenge, but surely it also brings to us a glorious possibility! What Christ is can be made good in us!

…This is what God is doing in the groaning creation. It does not appear to be so, for to all appearances the ‘fullness’ seems to be evil. Do you remember a very illuminating phrase in Genesis 15:16: “The iniquity of the Amorite is not yet full”? The context shows that Israel’s exodus and occupation of the Promised Land waited upon the Amorite’s full cup of iniquity. “Amorite” is a representative name for all the nations then occupying the land. When that cup of iniquity was full God emancipated Israel. The exodus synchronized with a condition in the world. The filling of the land with what was of God required the enemy’s extension of his evil nature to its limit; then God acted.

We need say no more. The end time will be marked by ‘iniquity abounding’. The rapture of the Church will take place – as its exodus – when “the man of sin is revealed”, when the cup of iniquity is full. We are living at a time when there is a positive landslide of moral iniquity…

God is taking account of this. He is causing the simple facts of His salvation to be made known on a scale unprecedented in the world’s history, and when the whole world has had its opportunity “then shall the end come”. Two things are UNMISTAKABLY evident: the world-encircling by the simple gospel of salvation as never before, and the headlong rush of iniquity to ‘fill up the cup’. There is a third feature: it is the ripening of saints by suffering unto the grape-harvest. These three things are the “work in the groaning creation”. (http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/001617.html)

Life’s Clouds

 

Morning Clouds on Fernan Lake – Photo by Michael Clark

Both Sides Now

by Joni Mitchell

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way

 

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

 

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s cloud’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

 

(…)

 

But now old friends they’re acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day.

 

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all…

 

Have you ever thought that if you just prayed, listened to God and obeyed, everything would go smoothly for you? That all your clouds would be “ice cream castles in the air” and so much “angel hair”? In my past I had Christian leaders I submitted to because they taught me that if I just obeyed everything they commanded, everything would turn out just fine in my life. Yet, I can look back now and see the many shipwrecked lives of those who submitted to these leaders without question. Only God is worthy of such devotion and He has given us His Spirit to lead us into all truth. The rest springs from idolatry. This is what John was warning the church about when he wrote:

I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him. (1John 2:26-27, ESV2011)

I must have put this “formula for success,” following men instead of the Spirit, over on my relationship with God along the way.  But as I have grown older He has been teaching me that obedience to Him is not always a comfortable road to follow. Often our clouds in life rain and snow on us and even block the sun, leaving us in darkness at the most inopportune times.

Do you remember the story where Jesus commanded the disciples to get into a boat and go to the other side of the lake? A great storm came up while they were out in the middle, trying to obey. The wind was blowing contrary to them and making it impossible to go where Jesus told them to.

Immediately he made [constrained] the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. (Matt 14:22-25, ESV2011)

About this event Oswald Chamber wrote,

We tend to think that if Jesus Christ compels us to do something and we are obedient to Him, He will lead us to great success. We should never have the thought that our dreams of success are God’s purpose for us. In fact, His purpose may be exactly the opposite. We have the idea that God is leading us toward a particular end or a desired goal, but He is not. The question of whether or not we arrive at a particular goal is of little importance, and reaching it becomes merely an episode along the way. What we see as only the process of reaching a particular end, God sees as the goal itself.

What is my vision of God’s purpose for me? Whatever it may be, His purpose is for me to depend on Him and on His power now. If I can stay calm, faithful, and unconfused while in the middle of the turmoil of life, the goal of the purpose of God is being accomplished in me. God is not working toward a particular finish— His purpose is the process itself. What He desires for me is that I see “Him walking on the sea” with no shore, no success, nor goal in sight, but simply having the absolute certainty that everything is all right because I see “Him walking on the sea” (Mark 6:49). It is the process, not the outcome, that is glorifying to God. (1)

As Joni Mitchell wrote, “But now old friends they’re acting strange. They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed. Well something’s lost, but something’s gained.  In living every day.” The process of His Son being worked in us is the goal as far as our Father is concerned (Hebrews 12:11), not pleasing people or even pleasing ourselves. He shows us His Son, calmly walking toward us on the raging sea of our lives, if we will just look beyond the immediate effect of the storm on our little boat. Our boat is not our salvation. Christ is! The Christian life is not all about us and our comfort zone. In fact, we must have trials and storms in our lives to get us to look to Jesus only. The goal is to get us to look beyond all the stuff of life, learn from it, and see Jesus as all that we need.

Chambers continues:

God’s purpose is to enable me to see that He can walk on the storms of my life right now. If we have a further goal in mind, we are not paying enough attention to the present time. However, if we realize that moment-by-moment obedience is the goal, then each moment as it comes is precious. (1)

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them has the light shined. (Isa 9:2, KJ2000) “God’s goal for us is not to do, but to be.” – Dorothy Clark

(1) “My Utmost for His Highest” July 27