Even in Deep Darkness Thou Art with Me

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The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. (Isa 9:2, ESV2011)

Dear precious saints of God,

Our Father has a process that He puts many of us through of which the above verse speaks. It is here that all dependence on our natural abilities is stripped away and all we can do is throw ourselves on the mercy and grace of God, even when He seems far away. It is the “afterwards” that He is after (see Hebrews 12:11) even though this dark time in our lives seems to never end. There is a day when the Refiner of Silver and Gold (see Malachi 3:3) looks into the crucible of our afflictions and sees only His own reflection instead of all that soulish dross that is mixed in with it, because our God is a consuming fire.

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1John 3:2-3, ESV2011)

We start out as God’s children, but what He is after is sons who are like Christ, the Pattern Son.

For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to perfect the Author of their salvation by sufferings. For both he that sanctifies, and they who are sanctified, are all of one. For which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, (Heb 2:10-11, Haweis)

So we submit ourselves under His mighty hand with this blessed hope of being conformed into the image of Christ.

There are those of us who have passed through the valley of the shadow of death in one way or another, have come out the other side, and fully believe by experience that the flesh (our soul life, that old Adam we were born into) profits nothing. The result is a deeper relationship with our Lord in heavenly places IN Christ Jesus. Isn’t that what we are after, no matter what the cost?

I’ve felt led to post this excerpt from T. Austin-Sparks for those who feel cut-off from God and cry out in the depths of your darkness as Jesus did on the cross, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?!” Remember, rather, His final words in that dark hour, “Into your hands, Father, I commend my spirit.” This is the victory on the other side of this test, the release of our spirit IN Christ Jesus.

We close by referring to this one point. We must seek always to believe in the fact that this Divine life, with all its tremendous potencies, is far deeper down than surrounding conditions and circumstances, than our own physical life, and than our own soul-life. Unless we grasp that, hold that firmly, we have not the ground of victory. When we feel that death is working with such tremendous force in the realm of our bodies or our souls, and everything in this sentient life of ours speaks of death, we are too often in danger of surrendering the whole position. I believe that this thing which is of God is deeper than our mortal being. I believe that it is possible even for children of God, being truly born again and possessing eternal life, to lose their reason and go into an asylum, and yet to have no change made in the deepest fact and reality of the being in relation to the Lord. We touch that point to indicate what we mean – that if our rational life is the sum total of our life, then it is a poor look-out for us. If our sanity, our natural mental balance, is the ground of our being children of God, then some from time to time would have real reason to doubt whether they were born again. And if that is true in the mental, it is true in the physical. This life of the Lord is far deeper than this mortal life of ours.

I am going to say something which may, to some, sound very terrible. It may perplex some, but it may help others. It is this: it is possible for a true child or servant of God, living in true fellowship with Him and walking in the light as far as they have it, to pass through a time of deep and terrible darkness. At such a time it may seem as though the Lord has left them and that Satan has taken His place of government. Prayer seems impossible or useless, and the Bible closed. Evil seems triumphant. The promises of God never to leave nor in anywise to forsake seem to have failed. Things may seem to be even worse than that, and one’s salvation may be brought into question. Such has been the experience of some of the most saintly, devoted, and God-used servants of the Lord. Abraham had it (Genesis 15:12). Jeremiah knew it (Jeremiah 20:7). David knew it (Psalm 22). Job knew it. Our Lord Jesus knew it (Matthew 27:46). Dr. A. B. Simpson had this experience near the end of his wonderful life for God. And so it has been with others.

What is the explanation? With all my heart I do not believe that this seeming forsakenness is true, however real it may seem. In many cases it is because those concerned have done so much damage to the kingdom of Satan that he has rallied all his forces to quench their life and testimony. Or it may be that the enemy has discerned the potential value of a life which will be a menace to his interests. But, whether either of these explanations be true or not so, the fact remains that, where the Lord Jesus truly is, the battle for life often assumes most serious forms. Sometimes it is a devastating and desolating experience.

We need to remember that these are spiritual forces, and spiritual forces stand at no physical barriers. We have a soul, a great nervous system. Children of God for many reasons, and very often after a time of pouring out spiritually, will find their nerves are all a jangle, and they feel anything but good and holy. But are you going to say that that means that after all they are not children of God, and that it is all a myth? Do you mean to say that Elijah was no longer the prophet of the Most High when he cast himself under the juniper tree and asked the Lord to take away his life? He was still the servant of God, still as true to God as ever. We are not trying to excuse our weaknesses, but trying to get to the heart of a situation. That does not argue that the Lord has forsaken, that the Lord is not there, and that such are not the Lord’s children or His servants. It indicates that the enemy has made them marked men or women because of something he is trying to destroy in the life. If you get into that realm, do not accept the suggestions of the enemy or seek to interpret things in the light of circumstances.

If you do not understand this that we are saying, do not strive after an explanation, and please do not put your own construction upon it. There are some who know what it is to have such an assault upon their being, their physical and nervous life as to make them feel that they are lost. I do not believe that it means that they are lost, and it is because some people accept that suggestion from the tempter that they sink into darkness. Oh, that many of these people who feel this thing upon them could know what we are trying to say, that it is for the spirit to rise up in faith and refuse the argument of the seeming! The seeming is sometimes so terribly real. People who have not suffered sometimes say to us: ‘It only seems to be so; it is not really so!’ And we reply: ‘You do not know what you are talking about! It is more real than anything else to those concerned.’ But the Lord will teach us as we go on not to accept that as the final thing. There is something deeper than that. The Lord is deeper than our physical feelings. The Lord is deeper than our soul.

Let me say here what I have said elsewhere. There are times and situations when ordinary lines of communication with a child of God are suspended. They are in a state of unconsciousness. It is useless to speak to them, for they can make no response. But if you pray, so often there is a response, not in words, but deeper than natural consciousness. You touch something deeper; it is the spirit, and spirit responds to spirit. We have known this to happen, even to the point of a hand-squeeze, or a facial glow. It is the mystery of Divine life.

https://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/000706.html
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On a personal note:

Sparks in the above paragraph wrote, “There are times and situations when ordinary lines of communication with a child of God are suspended. They are in a state of unconsciousness. It is useless to speak to them, for they can make no response. But if you pray, so often there is a response, not in words, but deeper than natural consciousness. You touch something deeper; it is the spirit, and spirit responds to spirit. We have known this to happen, even to the point of a hand-squeeze, or a facial glow. It is the mystery of Divine life.”

This is very personal to me. I spent 14 years in His wilderness (the dark night of the soul) and I was in this state of “spiritual suspended animation,” during the whole time. It was here that all the things that used to speak to me of the presence of God were gone; fellowship with the saints, inspired reading of the Bible and Christian books, prayer, and even inward feelings of His love, etc. It was like He truly was not there. This was necessary to weaken my soul nature that always wanted to “surf” on what God was doing. My soul would always add its “two bits” to what God was saying and was always seeking to be recognized by others. “I, I, me, me, my!” “Look at me, I’m one of the boys, too!”

But at one point during this time of isolation I met a dear old saint, sat at a table with him, held his hand and felt something deeper. No words were spoken for to do so would have been to defile what God was doing. When I felt I could go on no longer, God would give me enough assurance to hang in there and seek His face. When my wife, Dorothy, felt she could not handle my depression any longer He would give her a promise and encouragement as well. I found out after the end of this long dark tunnel when I came out again into His Light, that He had been teaching me subliminally the whole time in a way that my soul could not feel, relate or find pleasure in. As one brother said to me near the end, “I can see this vast resource God has put within you. When are you going to speak?” I just said, “Only when He tells me to.” So, to this day I try to only write a blog when He gives it to me. I hope some of you can relate and are blessed.

Michael

Into His Eternal Truth

I have met many Christians who have grown just so far in Christ and have stop growing in their spiritual walk. In most cases they have found a denomination, doctrine or teacher on which they have settled and the adherence to them become an idol. Quite often they have found a teaching that allows a comfortable compromise with the kingdoms men in this world. They become familiar with the truth they found and stop seeking the Holy Spirit as their Teacher. Some have only known other humans as their teachers and have been counseled by them to not listen to God for themselves because “that is too dangerous.” Yet, this teaching in itself is where the danger lies. There are over 41,000 different Christian denominations and sects on earth today with each of them claiming they have “the truth” while they disagree with one another. Talk about deception! In the three opening chapters of the Book of Revelation Jesus repeats the same phrase to the seven churches, He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the churches.” It seems that by the end of the first century when this was recorded, the Church had already becoming spiritually deaf. Jesus is the Word of God and His Spirit is still speaking, but are we listening?

This week I was seeking the Lord and meditating on the following verses:

But when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you. All things that the Father has are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you. (John 16:13-15, KJ2000)

This guiding us into ALL truth by the Spirit of God is an ongoing process because of the limitations of our own minds and ability to assimilate information. The more we adhere to human teachers, the more cluttered our minds get so that when the Holy Spirit does speak to us we filter it through all we have learned from our human teachers. We tend to latch onto something and quit listening, thinking we have arrived. But when the Spirit teaches us, so many things that we once thought we knew are either done away with or they are expanded and suddenly verses in the scriptures that we are familiar with take on a deeper meaning. Because of this, Isaiah’s prophesy about Jesus took on a deeper meaning for me.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end… from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isa 9:6-7, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

“Of the increase of His government there shall be no end… from this time forth and forevermore.” Yes, more and more people will yield to His oversight and leading in their lives, but in God’s kingdom that oversight and dominion continue to grow in each one of us as well. His zeal for His kingdom within us won’t let us be satisfied with a doctrine that teaches that once we’ve said a “sinner’s prayer,” we’re in! Paul wrote,

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:13-14, KJ2000)

If we are spiritually alive in Christ the Kingdom of God is ever expanding within us, taking over areas in our hearts and lives that He has not yet had dominion over. If we think we have found “the truth” and have fulfilled its purpose by giving mental assent and need not grow any further, we deceive ourselves and we become like the nation of Moab, who settled on their dregs.

Moab has been at ease from his youth and has settled on his dregs; he has not been emptied from vessel to vessel, nor has he gone into exile; so his taste remains in him, and his scent is not changed. (Jer 48:11, ESV2011)

God’s rule, his government, is ever expanding and He won’t let us just “get saved,” join a church, attend our Sunday services regularly and rock on into His kingdom. No, if we continue to follow Christ we will soon find that He pours us from one vessel to another to remove the dregs that we have settled into. I cycled through many churches and denominations and gleaned a bit in each along the way, but he always had more He wanted to show me and so I had to move on to avoid being trapped in their fixed limitations. Sometimes He even forces us into exile away from all such Christian mediocrity and trains us for a period of time in His spiritual wilderness where our souls are weakened so HE can teach us. John wrote about the need to be taught by the Spirit instead of men saying,

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)

God is not satisfied with the smell and taste we pick up as we settle into a Christian system. He only is content with the smell and taste of His own Son, Jesus Christ, thus all the refining we have to go through.

But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD. (Mal 3:2-3, ESV2011)

Without all this purifying work being done by Him in us, none will stand before Him in the righteousness and purity of Christ when the end comes. God isn’t Tinkerbell. When we are saved He doesn’t just wave His magic wand over us and “POOF,” instant Christian! No, it is a process. James put it this way:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (Jas 1:2-4, ESV2011, also see John 16:33)

Science has found that God’s universe is ever expanding. Not only that, it is accelerating against the laws of physics. His creation takes after His own nature. He has done this so that we can look at the created things, learn about Him and know what He desires (see Romans 1:19-21). Only the black holes in space defy this expansion. There is a spiritual lesson in all this. If we refuse to grow IN Christ but rather live in our fleshly ways, we will become sucking spiritual black holes no light can escape from. Sad to say, I have known Christian leaders like this. God’s universe is always expanding and so is His life in us… “and of the increase of His government their shall be no end.” Where there is no steady increase of Christ within us, the Father’s governing power won’t be found. “Where there is no vision [no redemptive revelation of God], the people perish…: (Prov 29:18, AMP)). When John saw heaven he saw a multitude of people standing before God’s throne and was told,

“…These are they who came out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sits on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more… .For the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” (Rev 7:14-17, KJ2000)

In our natural ways, we avoid trials and tribulation at all cost, but we who are Christ’s are purified by being washed in the blood of the Lamb. In His suffering on the cross He led the way saying, “If any man would be my disciple, let HIM take up HIS cross and follow me.” There is a great deal of difference between a personal soul-killing cross and having our ears tickled Sunday after Sunday in our nice, warm, padded pews. As written above, It is my desire to be with Jesus day and night as His servant as He also serves me. If it requires tribulation in my life, so be it! I want to drink from His fountains of Living Water, not from the stagnant pools of Christendom, so I press on toward the high calling of Jesus Christ.

And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, who accused them before our God day and night.” And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto death. (Rev 12:10-11, KJ2000)

Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. (Rom 8:37, KJ2000)

Dear saints, if we continue to abide IN Christ we will never stop growing as His kingdom expands within us. The intensity of His love will continue to enlarge our hearts and our faith in Him will continue to grow in spite of what the enemy throws at us. His hand upholds us through it all and hope in Him becomes greater and greater as a result. As Jesus feeds us spiritual food and as we drink from His fountains of Living water, our spiritual eyes will behold the wonders of His kingdom as it ever enlarges before us.

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. (Isa 30:20, ESV2011)

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1Cor 13:12-13, ESV2011)

Why We Have the Discipline of the Lord in Our Lives

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I have spent a great deal of my life trying to become self-sufficient. In my youth I found that I could not depend on my family for love and support and even so-called “friends” were often self-centered and often cruel with no compassion toward me in my social awkwardness (I grew up in a completely dysfunctional family). So my answer to that was to seek a place where I could show my worth by what I could do. I became quite proficient in many fields, at least proficient enough that I was of value to employers even though I tried some of them with my social ineptitude.

I said all this to say that once I came to a saving faith in Christ, meeting Him was a most wonderful experience. I was on a spiritual honeymoon with Jesus that lasted for many months. He was my constant companion. Because of His great love, the day came that I wanted to become all that He had for me. That was when the trials started in earnest. I had to find out that God was not interested in all my soulish abilities, gifts and self-sufficiency. The Bible says that His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. How little did I know!

One day Jesus and the disciples were walking along and they came across a blind man and the story goes like this:

And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man who was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Teacher, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither has this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. (John 9:1-3, KJ2000)

Did you get that? He did not say, “… so that the works of God might be manifest TO him,” but rather he was born blind so that the works of God might be manifest IN him! This man’s blindness was a gift from God to humble him and prepare him to meet and accept Christ. God knows exactly what we need to bring us into the fullness of Christ. This is the only case where Jesus put His spit on a person and the man did not protest one iota. In his lack of reaction Jesus knew that his blindness had done its work. Truly the working of God was manifest that day in a blind man while he was still blind. He had spit and mud in his eyes, yet he did not curse Jesus and wipe it away. He went by himself and washed in the pool of Siloam as commanded and in his humble obedience he received his sight. Yes, he was healed, but truly the working of God was manifest by his humility and obedience to such a foolish command. Jesus often spoke humiliating things to people to prove their hearts before He healed them. Maybe that is what He is waiting for in us. “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up.”

We have heard that old quote from Benjamin Franklin, “God helps those who help themselves.” Sorry, but it’s a lie! Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1, ESV2011). Then He said a most curious thing, “…In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, ESV2011).

You see troubles and tribulation “go with the territory” when we get serious about our place as God’s children. He wants us to mature into full sonship and not remain as self-focused children. Jeremiah called out to God in his troubles, “Why do the wicked prosper?” How many times have we asked that and how can Jesus say, “Blessed are the poor?” God replied to Jeremiah saying, “If you have tired running with men, how will you make it with horsemen?” In other words, “Quit your complaining, Jeremiah.” Paul wrote:

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (2Tim 3:12-13, ESV2011)

As His children, God puts us into a place where we can no longer trust in our natural abilities, intellect, beauty or any other thing that the world sees as valuable. Jesus said, “Believe in God, believe also in Me.” Herein is the key. The amplified Bible translates the word “believe” as that place where we “cling to, trust in and totally rely upon” Christ. Yes, in this world we who desire truly godly lives in Christ are going to suffer rejection and suffering as He did. Why? So that we will quit trusting in the world, its ways, its people, and our own abilities. Those things that got us ahead in the world system are in conflict with the kingdom of God. You might say that when we come to Christ our “Midas touch” starts working in reverse! I have met men who made themselves millionaires only to see it all vaporize when they surrendered to Christ. Some became bitter and others surrendered to His working, believing that God was in it all. He was making their “camel” fit through the eye of God’s needle (see Luke 18:25-28).

All that we suffer as His saints has an eternal purpose as He conforms us into the image of Christ. Some of us come under severe persecution and some come under physical suffering through diseases or bodily degradation (the effects of Covid 19 has become all too familiar with many of His saints). Some have their riches stripped from them when they come to Christ. One way or another our loving Father brings us to a place in His maturing process where we put our whole trust in Him and removes those things we once took pride in. In my case I had taken pride in being taller than most men, my ability to get things done with my own strength, and not asking others for help when I needed it. That has all changed. In my old age my back is suffering from scoliosis and deteriorating disk disease as well as compression fractures in my spine. Back pain is my constant companion and my height is shrinking. I have to call upon others for help in lifting and moving things and it is totally against my nature to do so. Even technical things I once knew evade my aging mind. I am reminded of what Jesus told that old self-sufficient Peter.

Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:18-19, ESV2011)

This death He spoke of is also dying to self-sufficiency and all other forms of self as we totally surrender to Christ. It is a death in which He alone is glorified. So how do we overcome tribulation and suffering in this world? By escaping it? No! We mature to the place in life through our Father’s discipline where we overcome completely by abiding IN Christ who said, “take heart; I have overcome the world.” Or as Paul put it, “We are more than overcomers IN Christ Jesus.” Jesus told the disciples, “If you abide in Me and I abide in you, you will bring forth much fruit.” The key word in these verses is IN. The Christian walk is not a religion or a belief system, nor is it an organization. It is totally dependent on a moment by moment relationship with and IN Jesus Christ (see John 17:20-21).

Jesus was and is the ultimate obedient Son. He is the forerunner of many sons and daughters unto the glory of the Father. Early in my Christian walk, I prayed what my church friends called “dangerous prayers.” They learned not to pray such prayers in hopes of avoiding suffering. As it is written “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a Living God.” But I wanted all that God had in mind for me so that like Paul, “I might apprehend ALL that I had been apprehended for.” I prayed, “Father make me like your Son, so that I would only speak the words you give me to speak and only do those things you want me to do.” I also prayed as Paul saying, “That I may know Him, the power of His resurrection, the fellowship of His sufferings and be conformed unto His death.” Most Christians I knew wanted the power of God at their disposal and their prayers ended right there. But in the economy of God it is a “full meal deal.” You can’t have the one without the others. We must mature to the place where we find fellowship with Christ not only in the good times but in our suffering instead of moldering in our self-pity when it happens. We must mature to the place where we are conformed into the image of Christ by dying to our old nature and being raised in His newness of life. Remember Jesus’ final prayer before He suffered on the cross, “Father, I would that this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not my will by yours be done.” Few of us ever dreamed that taking up our crosses and following Him would be so literal.

One time I heard a story of a traveling evangelist who spoke at a small church gathering about the power of God. Afterward he had an “altar call” where he said, “All of you who want God’s power line up on the left side of the church and all you who want suffering line up over here on the right side.” Well, the majority lined up on the left side with only two on the right. He then pointed to those two and said, “I will now pray for them. These will experience the power of God.” As Paul wrote, “In my weakness is Christ made perfect within me.”

I would encourage you to read an article by T. Austin-Sparks that I found this morning,

“Maturity- the Lord’s Desire for His People.” http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/003680.html

Love to all of you who desire ALL that Christ has for you. You are my brethren and I look forward to the day we can meet face to face. “When He appears we shall be like Him for we shall see Him [and one another] as He is.”

The Process of Christ Being Manifest in Us, the Way of the Cross

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways” (Jer 17:9-10, ESV)

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2Cor 4:6-11, ESV)

No matter how sweet we might have been as infants, we eventually show that there is something broken within us, something that wants to lie, cheat, manifest anger, steal, and do everything that the ten commandments tell us not to do. The heart within us is desperately sick! No matter how hard we try to be “good people,” we find ourselves doing the things that we would not and not doing the things that we would. In short, God knows we need help!

I thank our Father that He commanded His light to shine in our hearts and expose the darkness that He sees there, but not only that, He has chosen to replace our darkness with “the light of the knowledge of His glory in the face of Jesus Christ.” What a gift! How does this happen? Is it an instant bit of magic that our Father does in us when we get saved? I remember when I first started to experiencing trials after coming to Christ that I wanted Him to be like Tinkerbell and use His magic wand and, “Chwing!” instant super Christian! I was soon to find out that this is not His way.

As we read further down in the above quote from Paul we see that we still have this treasure of Christ in clay vessels which are weak by their very natures. God has chosen to let us see that we have no power in ourselves to live godly lives in Christ. By making us live with the weakness in us, He gets us to cry out to Him to do something about it. We soon discover that we are helpless in and of ourselves and that all power belongs to Him. We go through a process in which we are afflicted in every way only to find out that we have no strength in us to change. He allows us to be pressed upon, but not crushed; afflicted with all manner of suffering and pain and be rejected by this world and its people to the point of despair, only to find out that He has not forsaken us and is very much in it all. Paul wrote that we are “always carrying in our bodies the death of Jesus Christ so that the Life of Jesus might be what is manifest in us.” Little did we know that when we “asked Jesus into our hearts,” we also asked His suffering and death to come in to deal with that old Adam within us that Christ’s resurrection and Life might also be made manifest in us.

As this body of mine gets older, I am discovering how fragile this clay vessel really is! Where once I was healthy and self-asserting, I seem to come in contact with one affliction after another that keeps me weak. Did you notice that word “always” in what Paul wrote above? Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus.” Yikes! I seem to go from one source of pain to another. I go to the doctor with each new symptom and he sends me from one “specialist” and another! What it comes down to is that you can’t fix what God fixes to fix you. Is it any wonder that for every “miracle drug” they prescribe for us, there are even more nasty “side effects” that take the place of the “cure”? He seems to be teaching me to leave it all in the hands of the Great Physician to deal with me as HE wills.

God is myopic! He has a singular focus on one thing, the perfect manifestation of His Son in us. Early on in my Christian walk I prayed as Paul did, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection. It has taken years for me to pray the rest of that verse with sincerity–the fellowship of His suffering and be made conformed unto His death. To be conformed unto Christ’s death by suffering is also to be transformed into His resurrection life! You cannot have one without the other.

In Pentecostal circles I often heard people quoting this verse hoping that they would become great in the eyes of others, “A man’s gift makes room for him, And brings him before great men (Prov 18:16, NKJV). We all love the way that God called Paul to go forth with the gospel with resurrection power and even appear before kings, but let’s read the rest of that call…

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he [Paul] is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Acts 9:15-16, NKJV)

For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Giving our lives to Christ is a “full meal deal.” We don’t get to pick and choose which part of that life we get to have manifest within us. In the gospel of Matthew we read this:

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” (Matt 16:21-22, ESV)

It is the very nature of the carnal man to reject suffering. Jesus embraced the will of His Father and the cross that was set before Him. Notice how the flesh in Peter reacted to this “bad news.” “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” The fleshly man has no place for suffering in his life or the lives of his loved ones. Now look at how Jesus responded to Peter’s outburst:

But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matt 16:23, ESV)

He spoke to Satan that was manifesting in Peter’s fleshly mind trying to get Jesus to disobey the will of His Father. If He had turned away from the cross and become the new earthly King of Israel as they all wanted, none of us would have ever been redeemed! The flesh is an ally of Satan and to embrace our suffering that our Father has willed is to reject the devil in our lives. The will of God is just the opposite of the wills of many of my Pentecostal friends who want to rebuke demons anytime someone is suffering.

Dear saints, don’t be robbed of the fellowship that is ours as we embrace His sufferings. There is more to fellowship than to meet, eat and retreat one day a week in a warm and fuzzy church meeting. Paul wrote, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. (1Cor 12:24-26, NKJV). How often do we see this depth of fellowship within our “seeker friendly” and easy believe-ism churches of today?

You see, dear saints, suffering is very much a part of the plan of God as He conforms us into the image of Christ. Embrace the fellowship of His suffering as Paul did for it is part of His resurrection power working in us.

Father, open our the eyes of our understanding that we might see the depths of our salvation and fully embrace all that you have for us to walk in together as we follow Christ in our lives. Amen.

 

“I Have Seen the Lord!”

Coeur d Alene Sunrise – Photo by Michael Clark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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