Religious Cults, How to Find Out if You Are in One

1984 big brother

The mesmerized crowd scene from the movie “1984”

“The true teacher defends his pupils against his own personal influence. He inspires self-distrust. He guides their eyes from himself to the spirit that quickens him. He will have no disciple.” — Amos Bronson Alcott, The Dial (1840)

In 1970 I had an encounter with Jesus Christ that changed my life forever. There were many young people at that same time that were touched by Him in a life changing way. Most of them had been into the hippie scene of free love, drugs, and other forms of hedonism.  Because America seemed to have no meaning for them with its constant wars, materialism and empty, cold religious systems, they went the other way. Some of them had even turned to Eastern mysticism trying to find some kind of reality in their lives.

Most of these young people, like myself, had a genuine conversion experience and this phenomenon became known as “The Jesus Revolution.” But as it is in most cases, when one turns to the Lord from this evil world, Satan is out to get us back any way he can and as soon as possible. Satan is a judo expert. He takes our fleshly forward motion adds his power to it and throws us off course. That is what happened to our group as well. Because we had a hunger to grow in Christ and become “mature Christians,” we soon found ourselves following a man who knew the Bible. We wanted to know what it had to say about Jesus, so we submitted to this man and his teachings. This happened all over the USA and anywhere God was working in the lives of these young people with their new found love for Jesus. Soon, Bible wielding leaders rose up wherever God had moved and subjugated many of these people under their absolute control, often isolating them from the rest of society. Our group soon pooled its resources under our new leadership and bought a ranch about thirty miles from town. It was a hippie’s dream come true. We were out of the city and back to nature. The trouble is that isolation is another tactic of cult leaders. Our teacher held himself up as having special knowledge of the scriptures that nobody else had and as a result we became isolated from other Christians. This way he didn’t have to constantly contend with teachings that were adverse to his and there were many older Christians that tried to warn us of what we were getting into. Many Christian cults like this still exist today that were started by these abhorrent leaders. Though they are sectarian by nature, some of them are even counted as “main line denominations” to this present day and no one in the dare stray from the teachings of “the Founder.”

Recently Susanne Schuberth wrote an article about religious cults that quoted a woman who grew up in an Indian cult under a guru who had settled in the northeastern USA. This man had total control over her life from her birth until she was twenty five when Jayanti Tamm got set free of his control. In her blog article, Susanne quoted a list of fifteen things Jayanti wrote that most cults, Christian or otherwise, have in common (1). I found that they fit my own experience, but are not complete. In my hunger to do the will of God in my life, I also stumbled into two Christian cult situations in the first ten years of my walk. The first lasted for six years and the second had control of us for less than six months. It seems that I had learned something from the first one that helped me see more clearly into what the second one was rapidly becoming. I must say here that one of those things I learned was to listen to my dear wife’s warnings instead of subjugating her under my “authority” and that of the cult as I had done the first time around. To this day she reads and proof reads all that I write and often has helpful comments to share before I publish a blog.

All that said, I wish to share my own observations of what cults do to gain and maintain control over those who get sucked into them. I think you will find that even some “mainline churches” use some of these tactics. Here are some of my own observations.

Most cults have a charismatic founder (alive or passed on) who has a magnetic personality that people fall prey to. Have you ever found yourself under the influence of a sales person that gets you to buy something that you really don’t need, want or can’t afford? This is what I am talking about. Not only cult leaders, but many pastors and evangelists today use their personal charisma and charm to get people to do what they want and donate money that they can’t afford to give. Many have lost their homes and even more because of this. Leaders with this kind of soul power can often get others to do their will regardless of their own personal well being and even to the destruction of their own families.

Another practice you run into in these groups is what I call “group think.” Everyone that does not act and think according to the “party line” or the precepts of the cult are castigated and made an example before the rest of the group. They might not be hauled before the Sanhedrin as the Jews did to their disobedient members, but in many cases the pastor or leader just preaches a sermon in such a way that all the members know who it is about and the fallen one knows that they will be shunned or worse if they don’t get back in line again. Peer pressure can be very effective when a person wants to be accepted in a loving family. As a result everyone becomes afraid to do anything that the leader might find fault with. They end up in abject obedience and become more fearful of disappointing the leader than of disobeying the will of God. This is not so hard to do in today’s Christianity where few are encouraged by church leadership to cultivate listening for God’s voice and to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in their lives. It was to this very thing that John warned the early church writing,

I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from him [the Holy Spirit] 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)

In an earlier verse, John was speaking of many antichrists that had already risen-up among them (see 1 John 2:18). The word in the Greek is antichristos and it not only means against Christ, but even worse, it means instead of Christ. These false teachers put themselves ahead of Christ in the lives of believers who submit to them. They “deny Christ” by taking His place in the hearts of His saints, just as a man might try to deny me of my wife by seducing her away from me. Imagine how Jesus feels when His church leaders do this very thing to Him concerning His bride!

This mind control can become very strong in many groups to the point that members must get permission from the leader before they can make any purchases, move from one house to another, decide who they may or may not marry or even get permission to take their own wives out on a date! It is no wonder that every one of the marriages arranged by our first cult leader ended in divorce. It is no wonder that many of their kids grew up hating God.

Another part of this control mechanism is to keep the people busy to the point that they have no time for themselves or their families. Sometimes this even leads to sleep deprivation which makes the person even easier to control. In the first cult I was in we often were working or attending meeting up to 18 hours a day. This tool was perfected during the Korean War by the communists in their concentration camps on the American prisoners of war. Another thing that the guards used was that of giving special favors to prisoners who would spy on the rest and report if anyone said or did a negative thing against their captors. In these cases, such a violator was severely beaten while the rest watched. The enemy finally attained such mind control that a camp with as many as 150 prisoners in it might only need one guard to keep them in line. Sad to say, many of us have seen these same tactics (short of physical beatings) practiced in churches, often with the same results. Some cults actually spanked or whipped errant followers to make them and the others fear anything that might be counted as disobedience.

These groups also tend to be sectarian in nature. They believe that their leader or founder is the only one that knows the “whole body of truth” by which they may please God. Most of them are subjugated to a legal system that binds them in fear, the fear of being ousted from the group they have grown to love. When the ostracized are forced to leave, curses are often spoken on them and their families, and most of them turn from God and never want Him in their lives again. It is sad that such leadership often presents themselves as being God’s man (or woman) on earth who was sent to rule over their followers through their teachings. In this mindset to displease the leader is to displease God. When I was a young Catholic in parochial school, the nuns taught us that they were married to Jesus and to displease or speak ill of them was to insult Jesus with the accompanying consequences. Even non-Christian cults have their counterparts to most of the things I am writing about here. Former adherents of Scientology went through hell to get loose of that organization and this cult’s enforcers continue to harass them even for years afterwards. We had to finally move out of town to get away from the cults we were in.

There is a practice of meditation that is encouraged in eastern religions where the adherents blank-out their minds and open up to the spirits they worship. There is a form of this being practiced in some “Christian” churches today. We were told at “Toronto Fellowship” type meetings in the mid ‘90’s to let our minds go blank and “just receive the ‘father’s blessing.’” If we questioned what was going on while being prayed for, we were being “cerebral Christians” and were resisting what God wanted in our lives. Many people who followed their advice ended up getting “drunk in the spirit,” roaring like lions and making other animal noises and slithering around on the floor. The more outlandish the manifestation, the more we were considered “under the anointing.” Many of these people came under demonic spirits in these meetings that ruined their lives.

Some churches have even taken up the practice of Eastern mysticism like Yoga meditation and Kundalini with no thought whatsoever about the teachings of Christ against such things. They are told by the such meditation will release their captivity within and bring about greater creativity, sexual power and prosperity… everything a worldly person could want. No wonder Jesus told the Jews that it is an evil and adulterous generation that seeks after a sign. It is spiritual adultery to have encounters with demons and their signs.

Another tool that many cult leaders use is the subjugation of women. When Jim Jones was starting to go in an obviously deluded direction, it was the older women in the group that spoke up and gave warning at their isolated compound in the jungles of Guyana. As a result they were castigated and intimidated into silence and if that didn’t work they were finally imprisoned. Jones finally got his way and over 900 people drank poisonous Kool Aid in a fake communion service.

Remember Christian cult leaders know how to use the Bible [as do other cult leaders with their holy writ] for their own power. The worst of these is radical Islam where they are told that killing non-believers will get them special favor with Allah in heaven and their strict adherence to Sharia law is the worst form of bondage where even the women are sexually mutilated. In most cults the one who knows the holy writ is always the last man standing in any argument. We were in a “holiness cult” where the two leaders used their idea of “holiness” to judge and control the rest of us. They also encourage us in prayer meetings to confess our sins and desires out loud. We were in this group for a short time and were given the “left foot of fellowship” when I finally spoke out against their abusive ways. After we left the group their fear tactics and intimidation continued to increase until certain of the women were imprisoned in a rented house and kept under constant guard to shut them up. These two leaders also encouraged a heavy hand on the children by their parents. This finally ended up with one of the little ones dying from neglect of medical attention.  (The child was being spanked because it was fussing and would not stop crying. He finally slipped into a coma and died at the hospital.) At this point the authorities took notice of the welts on the child and the lack of medical attention and one of the cult leaders ended up in prison, as did the father.

Another thing that cult leaders do is to try and pit husbands against wives and vice versa. They use the old “divide and conquer” method when one has something that the leader wants (sex, money, talent, power, etc.) and the other one is less desirable. Sometimes this occurs when one of them speaks out against their abuses, or are otherwise in the way of them getting what the leaders want. This also happened in the cult mentioned above when the pastor of the church they took control of was made to look like a buffoon and his fair blonde wife was told she was a “prophetess” — of course she prophesied words that the leaders wanted to hear. That marriage ended in divorce and the father was not allowed to see his children until they finally grew up and sought him out many years later.

In short, Satan is more than happy to make leaders like these appear as “an angel of light” through their personal soulish charisma and “giftings.” This is why Jesus said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign.” Demons love to give signs and God gave us One true sign, Jesus dying on the cross and rising again from the grave on the third day (see Matthew 12:39-41).

Paul wrote a strong warning that applies today:

 “The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”(2Thess 2:9-12, ESV2011)

These leaders I have observed and their lieutenants all wanted power, and thus they loved a lie and hated the Truth who manifested Himself as a gentle lamb who laid down His life for us all and loved not His life unto death. Why is seeking power even in the Church a sin? Here is what Jesus warned two of His disciples when they were vying to sit on His right of power and on His left in the kingdom of heaven:

When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:41-45, NIV)

It is not just Christian cults that abuse power, all cults do. That is the siren song of the devil. Satan tempted Eve by saying, “For God knows that when you eat of it [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Only Jesus is like God and there is no shortcut to being conformed into the likeness of Christ. The way of the cross that kills our carnal soul nature is the first requirement and it is no easy road. Jesus said, “He who finds his [soul] life will lose it. But he who loses his [soul] life for my sake and the kingdom’s sake will find it.” There is an old country western song that had a line in it that is very poignant, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”

Dear saints, be aware that our enemy prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour and is often manifest in the form of charismatic Christian leadership. As for our Christian growth? It was Jesus who said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Give your hearts totally to Jesus and pray that He does whatever it takes in your lives that pleases God and He will get you to the goal that the Father has laid out before you in His kingdom. For me it has been learning some very hard lessons in cults and churches. Like my friend George Davis put it, “God rubbed my nose in everything He wanted me to never do.”

(1) https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/2019/01/26/what-is-a-cult-recognizing-and-avoiding-unhealthy-groups-by-jayanti-tamm/

For further reading, here is another site that has listed the earmarks of cults:

http://csj.org/infoserv_cult101/checklis.htm

Spiritual Learning

my sheep hear my voice

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… (Heb 1:1-2, ESV2011)

The apostle Paul wrote the most concise description of how we mature in Christ if we are truly spiritual people and not just carnal people wanting to appear spiritual or wanting to heap to ourselves teachers who will tickle our ears.

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1Cor 2:9-16, ESV2011)

Let’s look at this passage piece by piece. “’What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.”  What no eye has seen… this includes reading and watching teaching videos, etc.  Nor ear has heard… This includes all human teachers and preachers that stand before us with their words of wisdom. Nor the heart of man imagined… Why can’t the imaginations of our hearts be trusted? Because the heart of man is desperately wicked and deceitful above all things. The carnal man loves to delve into spiritual things, but because of his lack of the Holy Spirit within, these things always come out twisted and bring more bondage because of his ignorance. Peter wrote about this problem regarding Paul’s New Testament teachings.

….our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. (2Pet 3:15-16, ESV2011)

What God has prepared for those who love him. These spiritual things are for a spiritual people. They are not meant for those who approach Him with their carnal minds. God feeds those who love Him with His spiritual food and spiritual gifts both now and in eternity.

These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. His Spirit speaks to and teaches us through our spirits. If either one is missing there is no heavenly connection. It is like using two-way radios–they must both be turned on with the volume up and set to the same frequency or we cannot communicate. We must first be “born of the Spirit” if we are to have the transmitter/receiver in us that can hear Him and communicate with Him. This is why Jesus’ words to the Bible-smart Nicodemus fell on deaf ears (see John ch. 3). All he could do was reply, “How can these things be?” When the human mind that has not been renewed by the Spirit (see Romans 12:2) takes hold of the Spirit’s teaching, it always comes out twisted and confused, missing the point of what God has said.

For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God… no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. God has appointed His Holy Spirit to be the one who teaches us. Father sent Him to us as a gift so that we would not be left alone without a Teacher on this earth after Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus spoke of this gift.

These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, who is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14:25-26, KJ2000)

He will teach us all things because He searches the depths of God’s thoughts. Do we get all of His thoughts at once in a massive download? If we did our pride would rise up and we would become like Satan on this earth. God teaches us the things that we need to understand as we go through experiences in our daily lives. This converts what might have been mere theory into practical life applications that make our spirits grow step by step and not just our natural minds. God is after spiritual sons and daughters, not carnal people with massive intellects

temptation of christ by vasily surikov- 1872Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. Notice that this world has a spirit operating in it as well. The word world is from the Greek word kosmos. It speaks of not only the earth, but Satan who is the god of this world, the spirit that is in it and rules over it. The New Testament uses the Greek word ge when speaking of this earthly planet upon which we live. The earth itself was created by God as good. It is Satan who has defiled it with his influence, power and presence. Notice that there are two realities for those who live on the earth. We are either under the power of the prince of the earth if we live as fleshly souls or we are under the influence of the Holy Spirit as spiritual men and women. Adam and Eve gave Satan an open door when they rebelled against God and this evil presence working on our minds and hearts has been with mankind ever since. Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, but that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Like Nicodemus to whom He was speaking who was born into Judaism, many Christians today have been raise up in the churches or convinced to attend them, but they are still fleshly people without any spiritual understanding. Being born of the Spirit is not optional in the Kingdom of God (see Romans 8:5-17).

And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. This right here is what makes the difference between your average Bible teacher and those who teach spiritual truths by the Spirit. If you are born of the Spirit, you can discern the difference. Even when the Bible is being preached from or taught and the Spirit is not doing it, these words are like chewing on a bone stripped of its meat. You just can’t swallow it because it gets caught sideways in your spirit’s throat and you go away empty and sometimes confused. Learning to discern the spirits that are in church leaders and teachers might take time and a lot of suffering, but once we rely on the Spirit’s gift of discerning of spirits, we will save ourselves a lot of grief and confusion from following the wrong paths.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Once, as a young born again Christian, I submitted to a man who had a strong personal charisma and a working knowledge of the scriptures. But the problem was that he added his own natural thoughts and desires to the words of God and used them to take and keep us captive to his will and intellect. This is called the power of the soul and many people use their souls to influence us to do what they want. Take an encounter with a smooth talking salesperson as an instance. Remember, Satan often cloaks his lies in 99% truth.

We eventually became this man’s personal slaves in a religious cult on a remote piece of land in northwestern United States. Many of us had become born again in a move of the Spirit that swept through America in the early ‘70’s and had a hunger to know more about Jesus, but when we met this man (and others like him) with both our lack spiritual maturity and knowing the ways of God, we fell into his clutches. We thought that we had found a fast track to becoming spiritually mature (be very wary when men offer you a quick and sure way to become “spiritual”). By the end of that decade of being under his influence we were filled with confusion and depression. Finally, God opened our eyes to see that we had taken the wrong fork in the road years earlier by following a man and we had to start all over again. As long as we follow men instead of God we will be in constant “reset mode.” God always does this. He takes us right back to where we made the wrong choice and starts from there once again — teaching us HIS ways and not the ways of carnal men. Spiritual understanding often comes through the school of hard knocks (see Hebrews 5:14).

The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. The Greek word that was translated as judges and judged in this verse does not mean to pass judgment. It is anakrino which means; to scrutinize, investigate, interrogate, discern and to determine. Properly translated this verse says, “The spiritual person scrutinizes all things, but is himself scrutinized (or discerned) by no one.” So the next time you discern that a man is a false teacher, don’t let a shallow Christian tell you, “But brother, we are not to judge!” No, we are not to pass judicial judgment (krino in the Greek) on that person and say to him, “You are going to hell!” Only God is our judge. But we are to scrutinize all things by the Spirit within us whether they are from our Father or not. Remember, Jesus said, “My sheep HEAR my voice and they follow ME.”

“For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. Do we dare believe we have the mind of Christ in us? Yes, by His Spirit being alive in us, we do! The problem is that when we start out, we are more dependent on our own minds as we have been our whole lives, and that mind wars against the mind of the Spirit within us. Paul wrote about this struggle.

For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. (Rom 8:5-6, KJ2000)

It is the mind of the Spirit in us that we must let operate without constantly overriding it with what we think is a better idea or the less painful way to go. This is imperative if we are to have His life and peace remain in us. When we feel His peace lift while saying or taking an action prompted by your carnal minds, that is a good indicator for us to stop and seek Him before we go any further. Listening to and acting according to what the Spirit is saying is our salvation from a life filled with grief.

May the Lord bless and keep you all as you are taught by His Spirit. Amen.

 

 

Freedom from Fear as We Abide IN Christ — Let US Go On!

 

Doe & twins 2013-web

Newborn twin fawns and their caring mother – Photo by Michael Clark

Jesus foretold the end of the world saying,

“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” (Luke 21:25-26, ESV2011)

If we watch the news these days we see destructive earthquakes, volcanoes, tidal waves, hurricanes, pestilence, starvation and such in the natural sphere. Then there is the fear of what mankind is doing,–mass shootings, terrorism, wars, rumors of wars (the fear of war) and all sorts of evil and inhumanity being done to the men, women and children of this planet. Lately we even hear that North Korea’s leader has nuclear launch button sitting on his desk to be used at his whim to fire off a barrage of nuclear missiles that can reach anywhere in America. There is no end to the perplexity and feelings of helplessness that distresses the nations. Wherever people are found who have not put their total trust in Jesus Christ there is fear.

Later in this same chapter Jesus says this:

And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be weighed down with carousing, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. (Luke 21:34, KJ2000)

He warns against carousing and getting drunk and then includes with these actions being weighed down with the cares of this life. Those of you who have never tried “hiding in a bottle” might wonder how these three things could be related. I have taken to the bottle to sedate my mind enough in the past and know that once I sobered up my fears and depression were only made worse! My worried mind might have been numbed for a few hours, but my troubles always came crashing down on me afterwards like the bursting of a dam.

When we let the cares of our lives and this world become our focus we are showing that we have more faith in their power over us than we have in our loving Father in heaven. Jesus said to the disciples,  “I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, RSV). We are more than overcomers as we abide in Jesus.

Peter wrote,

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1Pet 5:6-7, ESV2011)

God is mighty, but to be under His care we need to humble ourselves under His hand. All too often we go charging off into the fray in the self-assurance of our own wills, either by focusing on our own strength or on our own weakness in which we are unable to do anything about it. Whether we focus on our supposed might or on our feelings of inadequacy, we still are not humbling ourselves under the covering of our Father’s loving hands. Satan’s greatest ploy with us is to get us to look away from Jesus who loves us and is in constant intercession for us before the Father and focus on our problems as if we had to face them alone. He loves to do this to us that we become totally isolated from God in our fears. Paul wrote:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice… The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:4-7, ESV2011)

The Lord is always at hand! We who place our trust in Him are never alone. Anxiety is a tool of the devil. But when we turn our thoughts to our loving Father with prayer, seeking His solution in these matters, we will finally get our break through. It is in seeing how much He cares for us that we finally well up with rejoicing in our hearts, knowing that He cares for us more even than we do, the enemy is foiled and God’s peace once again comes flowing into our hearts and minds. T. Austin-Sparks wrote about another facet of the obstacle of self-focus causing us weakness in this battle.

The readiness of Paul was constituted by his having settled, once for all, his own personal, spiritual problems. You never find Paul tied up in the knots of personal spiritual problems, going round, and round, and round, and never getting anywhere because his own spiritual problems are all the while bothering him. Paul had that matter settled at the beginning. He got over that fence, and went away into Arabia, and when Paul said he was ready, it meant that he was at leisure from himself spiritually. No man is ready, in this sense, who is not free from himself spiritually. We do not mean that every question that can ever come to us has been answered, and every problem has been solved, but that we are so utterly abandoned to Christ that we know quite well that, if we go on with the Lord, sooner or later all those things will solve themselves. Our business is to GO ON, and get free from ourselves spiritually. Those who are self-occupied in a spiritual way are the unready, the unprepared. Why not relegate your ‘locking-up’ problem to a place where you trust the Lord to deal with it when He pleases, and get on with the business of the Lord and with His interests? Recognize the desperate need that there is spiritually in this world, and give yourself to it? I venture to say you will come back to your pigeon holes and find your problems all solved. You will come back and find that that thing which was laid on the table for the time being has looked after itself and is no longer a problem to you. While you sit there with it all, the Lord’s interests are being suspended, and you, in the meantime, are getting nowhere at all. Abandonment to the Lord in this way in faith is the first essential, the Lord’s interests becoming the predominant thing, the passion of your heart. There is nothing like that abandonment to the Lord for solving personal problems. Christ becomes the Emancipator when we abandon ourselves to Him. That is [spiritual] readiness.

http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/002213.html

 

In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because he first loved us. (1John 4:17-19, RSV)

Father draw us with your love and free our hearts from all fear. Open our eyes to see that greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world. Amen.

Beware of Vipers!

paul and viper.jpegPaul wrote that we should not be ignorant of Satan’s devices. Many of us who have come out of organized Christianity have had to learn about his divisive ways in the process of sorting out all the false teachings we absorbed in that system from the voice of the Spirit in us. As we know, Satan can quote scripture to accomplish his twisted goals and vipers are of the very nature of the Great Serpent we must deal with. Jesus called the Pharisees (who often quoted scriptures) a “brood of vipers” as they tried to tempt Him with their logic.

You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. (Matt 12:34-35, ESV2011)

There is a very instructive story about how vipers work in what happened to Paul when they were shipwrecked on the island of Malta.

And when they were escaped, then they knew that the island was called Malta. And the native people showed us no little kindness: for they kindled a fire, and received us every one, because of the present rain, and because of the cold. And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand. And when the natives saw the creature hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped the sea, yet justice allows not to live. And he shook off the creature into the fire, and felt no harm. However they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god. (Acts 28:1-6, KJ2000)

When we are the weakest and struggling to maintain our lives, as it was with Paul, is when Satan likes to sneak in and fasten himself to us and inject his spirit-life-killing lies into our hearts. During these times, there have been those who have shown us kindness and kindled a fire in our hearts with their words. But there is another creature that often comes in. Evidently Paul had picked up this snake with the sticks he had gathered for the fire and even had clutched them to his breast, but because of the cold, the snake did not act until he felt the warmth of the fire. False Christians who harbor demons in their natures are like that. These demons can be dormant until they feel the warmth of the Spirit and then they spring into action and fasten themselves onto a saint of God in a moment of weakness. What should be our response when this happens? Should we listen to, cajole, and try to save these demons from their folly? No! Jesus didn’t give the Pharisees any quarter when they spoke their venomous words and neither should we. We should do just as Paul did and shake them off into the fire least they continue to inject their poison into us and draw us away from the path of Christ, the way of the cross.

It is interesting to note that part of the effect of a viper’s poison is to make us swell up with pride if we take its words to heart. When the gracious islanders saw this attack they, too, were confused and took Paul for an evil man, but when he didn’t swell up or die they started to idolize him. Carnal Christians are like these Maltese. They are easily moved by every wind of doctrine. On the one hand, they might want to make us their spiritual gurus because of God speaking through us, but on the other hand they turn and walk away when they see that our hearts are fixed on following Jesus even unto death. This is how the crowds treated Christ and it’s what Paul was talking about when he wrote this:

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? (2Cor 2:14-16, ESV2011)

Yes, who is sufficient for these things? Our sufficiency must be in Christ.

(I would like to thank Susanne Schuberth for her latest blog entry from which God used to inspire me for this article. https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/2017/04/07/beware-of-jobs-false-friends/ )

Does His End Justify OUR Means with God?

In Genesis we read about God’s plan for the creation of man:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Gen 1:26-27, ESV2011)

Here we see there was a council in heaven when it comes to the creation of man, “Let us make man…” When He created all other things He simply said, “let there be… and there was…” Why did God consult the Son and the Spirit at this point? It was because He knew that it was one thing to make man in His own image, that is, designed and shaped after His own form, but that it would take an ongoing process and great sacrifice to make man in His likeness, that is, like Him in His character and personage, sharing His outlook, goals and values. It was at this point that Jesus agreed with the Father about His role in bringing forth man into the image of the Son. We read about it in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us IN HIM before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. IN HIM we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace… (Eph 1:3-6, ESV2011- emphasis added)

This is why the Father brought Jesus and the Holy Spirit into His council at this point. Christ is the exact expression of the Father, “He [Christ] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint [image] of his nature…” (Heb 1:3, ESV2011), and God desires many sons and daughters after His own glory. It was one thing to make man after His image, but a whole other thing to make man so that he lives out the very nature of God in His Son. Here entered the mystery of the cross.
The Father also knew that unless His Spirit was the life source of man, he would only be two dimensional in nature, lacking any way to connect and communicate with God, spirit to spirit. God is Spirit and man would have to be born of the Spirit or there would be no connection for man to intuitively know the will of God for him (See John chapter three).

There is knowledge and then there is Knowledge!
At this point in the creation story of man, a wrench was thrown into the works. Satan stepped in and convinced man that he could speed up the process. Man no longer had to listen to and obey God, but he could take a “short-cut to holiness” by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil to become “like God” (See Genesis 3:5).

Beware, dear saints for right here is where Satan desires to catch us all in his subterfuge of lies. Aren’t we to become “godlike?” Aren’t we to strive to obtain “the imitation of Christ”? Aren’t we to constantly ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do,” and then just do it? Man loves to try to do the works of God, accumulate knowledge, know with his own mind, and imitate God instead of knowing God intimately with his heart and allowing God to conform him into the image of Christ by the plan and design of the Father. The fleshly state of fallen man still loves to eat the fruit of that same forbidden tree instead of Jesus, the Tree of Life (See John 6:51).

Religious man loves to collect Bible knowledge and knowledge of doctrines so he can decide for himself what is good and what is evil. He loves to heap to himself teachers that tickle his religious ears and to garner to himself degrees in theology. Yet, when the New Testament speaks of “knowing the Lord,” it speaks of an intimate knowing that goes much deeper than a mere accumulation of facts. W. E. Vine gives the most concise meaning of this Greek word translated know and knew in the New Testament.

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…

Without a viable relationship in Jesus Christ there is no knowing and being known by the Father. Peter put it this way:

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2Pet 1:5-8, ESV2011- emphasis added)

Here Peter is speaking spiritual fruitfulness by what Paul calls the “fruit of the Spirit,” which is an integral part of us if we truly know the Lord and if He knows us. Without it we will be unfruitful in our relationship with Him. This is why Jesus spoke of those who did many works and miraculous things “in His name” as those He never knew (see Matthew 7:22-23). There was no intimacy in their “knowing” Him and in His “knowing” them. This same word ginosko was used in the most intimate way when speaking of Joseph and Mary’s relationship after Christ was born (see Matthew 1:25). Without intimacy with Christ, there is no knowing in the kingdom of God.

Back to my opening question, Does the end justify the means when it comes to our serving in the purposes of God? Jesus told Nicodemus, “That which is born of [out from] the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of [out from] the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6). You see, if we are to produce fruit unto the Father and the Son, that fruit must be born out from the Spirit of God in us and never out from ourselves. His children must be born “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God,” and so must our works be if they are to be works unto eternal life (See Jude 1:21).

We cannot rise in the morning and say, “I wonder how many people I can lead to Christ today?” or, “I think I will cast out some demons today ”or “I think I will pray for so and so to be healed today,” or not even “I think I will write a blog article today.” This is all being done by the will of the flesh, dear saints, not by the will of God! Jesus said quite bluntly, “Apart from me you can do nothing!” If our works are not born from above in the council of the heaven and He has foreordained that we should walk in them (see Ephesians 2:10), they are dead works at best. Yup! They are D. O. A., dead on arrival. Our ends do not justify His means and His ends are not justified by our means. We Christians must learn what Jesus meant when He told the disciples, “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh profits nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:63, KJ2000).

Are we as Christians living by “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God?” I think not. And until our flesh and all its self-motivated drives have been crucified, we will not know the abundant life flow of God through us to others. Like Jesus said:

You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever you shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it to you. (John 15:16, KJ2000)

Dear saints, by now you are wondering where I am coming from to write such an article. Almost 37 years ago, I was doing all manner of “good works and prophesying in Christ’s name.” After watching me for a while, an old saint came up to me on Sunday morning and said, “Have you ever asked God to show you how He sees you, instead of how you think He sees you?” In my pride, I told him that I would take him up on his challenge and I did just that. That night I asked God, and He showed me in a dream just how I looked to Him, using my spiritual talents and gifts to do His work. The pride and arrogance that was behind all my works was so ugly that I cried out, “God! Kill it! Show it no mercy!” That was the beginning of Him stripping me of all that I was and ever hoped to be “in His name.” At some point in your life you will be brought to this crisis if you are to follow on with the Lord and you will be shocked at what God shows you about your own heart.

Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth. (Hos 6:3, KJV)

There is knowing and then there is “following on to know.” Will we keep listening and following on to know the Lord in an ever growing intimacy with Him or just be content with what we already know? Remember, knowledge puffs us up, but His love edifies.

The Life Is in the Blood

There is a lot of talk in some circles about being in the army of God. Remember that before God could form His army from that valley of dry bones in Ezekiel chapter 37 there was a requirement. In verse two the prophet said, “and lo, they [the bones] were very dry. Dry was not good enough. When God strips us of all the life of the flesh in us, our outside appearance might be dry, but that is not dead enough. Even the marrow inside our “bones” (our natural Adamic life) must be dry and void of all life. Why? “The life is in the blood” and the blood in us comes from the marrow in the depths of our bones. Our very Life Source must be the blood of Jesus Christ and nothing else. In John chapter six we read about His blood and His words that are necessary if we are to have eternal life within us.

Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me… Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum. When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? …This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,” (John 6:56-68, ESV2011)

Finally, let me quote once more from T. Austin-Sparks,

A living Heavenly Man is not made by mere words, even though they be words of Scripture. That is what people have tried to do. They have tried to make the Church by words of Scripture, constitute the Church by what is here as written, and so you have half a dozen different kinds of churches, all standing on what they call the Word of God, and the thing does not live. It is a living, Heavenly Man that God has in view, and to produce that, the Spirit must operate through the Word. “The words that I have spoken unto you are spirit, and are life,” said the Lord to His disciples. “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” On the part of Peter, the spokesman of these latter words, this was a word of discrimination. The scribes and Pharisees had the Scriptures. They claimed that everything they had and held was in the Word of God. Ah yes, but they knew them not as the words of eternal life. There is a difference. This life is in His Son. It has to be in a living relationship to the Lord Jesus that the Scriptures are made effective.
http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/001387.html

The Battle Against Our Unity in Christ

Walking together.jpg

In Jesus’ final prayer before the cross we read,

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

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

T. A. Sparks wrote:

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

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

http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/001719.html

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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