The Letter Kills, But the Spirit Gives Life

Stephen's Face

(Reading: 2 Corinthians chapter three)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christ, Our Ladder to the Father

Cda Lake Sunrise

Sunrise over Coeur d’ Alene Lake – Photo taken by Michael Clark

As most of you know, Susanne Schuberth often writes about things that the Spirit has been trying to bring to my attention. This happened with her latest blog article, “True Gratefulness and Real Strength”:

“I have come to know several people over the years who usually express thankfulness as they discern a glass half-full and not half-empty. Nonetheless, it is not necessary to be a Christian to be able to do so. It is a matter of personality alone that decides whether we have to do with an optimist or with a pessimist. Indeed, it is nothing but innate thinking and behavior of our old nature that makes people appear as if they were Christians. Bold words, huh?” (1)

Yes, bold, yet true. Many Christians I’ve met cling to church teachings like the “power of positive thinking.” Or they believe in the “name it and claim it faith teachings”– all of which is nothing more than mind games played by their souls that cater to their own lusts for worldly power, position and gain. These belief systems totally bypass the voice of the Holy Spirit of God! Susanne continued along this line with this comment:

“…Whether you call it the ‘wilderness’ that dries you out or ‘the dark night of the soul’ where our own light gets kind of overruled by His true light over time… That is how a true saint is being made, not by discipling through self-appointed men, but through disciplining by God.” (2)

So true, dear sister! So much pride enters in when we say that a certain man has discipled us, especially when he is of high visibility in church circles. The discipline of men, no matter how vigorous it may be, can never accomplish the soul-stripping that our Father is capable of. He sees deep into our innermost being where the soul hides, often disguising itself as dead or submissive while putting on holy airs. Yet, sooner or later it pops-up in all its ugliness when the human who disciples us is either not watching or condones such behavior because of his own sin and pride. I have run into many Christians who are filled with pride because they sat under the teaching of some high profile Christian teacher and/or writer. They often boast about their great libraries of teaching tapes and books on which they rely, yet in so doing their flesh is manifested in all its ugliness. Paul called the Corinthian Church “yet carnal” for this very reason (see 1 Cor. 3:3-6).

This morning I read something by T. Austin-Sparks that cuts to the core and illuminates the difference between walking by the Spirit of Christ and clinging to the teachings of men.

 Jesus said to Nathanael, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels [Grk. aggelos– messenger] of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. (John 1:51, KJV)

(…)

That open heaven for the Lord Jesus was the anointing [the Messenger of God].  The Spirit descended and lighted upon Him. It was the anointing, and it is the same for us. The open heaven is the anointing of the Spirit from the day of Pentecost onward upon Christ within us. That open heaven means a continually growing revelation of Christ.

Oh, let me urge this. I am brought back to urge this…. The open heaven at once brings God’s revelation in Christ to your very door, makes it available to you, so that you are not dependent in the first place upon libraries, books, addresses or anything else. It is there for you. However much the Lord may see good to use these other things for your help and enrichment, you have your own open heaven, your own clear way through, and no closed dome over your head. The Lord Jesus is becoming more and ever more wonderful in your own heart, because “God, that said, Light shall shine out of darkness” hath “shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). (3)

The Holy Spirit is given to us when we first had saving faith. That same Spirit is the Messenger that ascended and descended on Jesus while He walked on this earth, and He still does as Christ abides in our hearts. He is our Teacher on whom we rely, not the teachings of mere men. A human teacher is only useful to the Spirit when he or she speaks or writes what He is already speaking to us in our hearts. We who teach are only a “second witness” at best. If we are teaching something that tickles the ears of the listener and caters to their flesh, we are false teachers with false anointings. When the Spirit speaks, we get an immediate witness within us that makes our spirits leap for joy, yet soon brings death to what is carnal within us. If the Spirit’s voice falls on spiritually deaf ears, the listeners feel nothing and our words just clutter their minds at best. All true teaching only comes into our being by way of the Ladder on whom the Spirit descends, Jesus Christ. Jesus spoke of the difference. “All who come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep do not hear them.” When we listen to men more than the Holy Spirit, they come before Jesus in our lives and, like the Corinthian church, we are “yet carnal.”

Father, give us ears that can hear and eyes that see what you are telling and showing us that we might be fully conformed to the image of your Son. Amen.

(1) https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/2017/12/28/true-gratefulness-and-real-strength/

(2) https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/2017/12/28/true-gratefulness-and-real-strength/comment-page-1/#comment-17519

(3) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/001033.html

Let Us Go On Unto Maturity!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RedFishLk1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1Cor 12:4-7, ESV2011 – emphasis added) (See also: 1Cor 12:18-26 and 1Cor 14:12)

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

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

Paul wrote this to the Romans:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picnik Bay Morning

Picnic Bay Morning – Photo by Michael Clark

 

We Have Been Given the Mind of Christ!

jesus-washing-feet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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/ )

Words, Words, Words or Will We be One?

 

Words, Words, Words

In the musical “My Fair Lady,” Eliza Doolittle (a woman taken off the streets of London by Professor Henry Higgins, a linguist who has been teaching her proper English), says to her would be suitor, “Words, words, words. I’m so sick of words! I get words all day through, first from him, now from you! Is that all you blighters can do?” Good question, Eliza. In this day of desktop publishing the problem of an abundance of words with little Holy Spirit content has become epidemic. T. Austin-Sparks, another Englishman, observed the same problem among Christian ministries where words are cheap and plentiful.

 A striking feature of our time is that so few of the voices have a distinctive message. There is a painful lack of a clear word of authority for the times…. Why is it so? May it not be that so many who might have this ministry have become so much a part of a system? A system which puts preachers so much upon a professional basis, the effect of which is to make preaching a matter of demand and supply; of providing for the established religious order and program? Not only in the matter of preaching, but in the whole organization and activity of “Christianity” as we have it in the systematized form today. There is not the freedom and detachment for speaking ONLY when “the burden of the word of the Lord” is upon the prophet, or when he could say, “The hand of the Lord was upon me.” The present order requires a man [or woman] to speak every so often; hence he must get something, and this necessity means either that God must be offered our program and asked to meet it (which He will not do) or the preacher must make something for the constantly recurring occasion. This is a pernicious system and it opens the door to any number of dangerous and baneful intrusions of what is of man and not of God. The most serious aspect of this way of things is that it results in voices, voices, voices, a confusion of voices, but not the specific voice with the specific utterance of God for the time…. (1)

Frankly, I also am tired of all the “words, words, words” with so little or no anointing behind them. I have had to whittle down my “Following” list to a handful of bloggers. I, also, have grown suspicious of the spiritual content of the ones that put out a periodical posting on a regular basis, whether it is daily or even weekly. Sometimes I go for weeks without Him giving me any inspiration to write and then, “Bang!” I might get three messages in a row only a day or two apart. Can you see Isaiah, Peter or John saying to themselves, “Oops, it is Sunday morning at 10AM and I need to get down to the temple and prophesy a chapter or two. The faithful are counting on me. I need to keep up my presence before the people or I will lose them”?

Amos prophesied this exact problem would be coming upon us saying, “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, “when I will send a famine on the land— not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD” (Amos 8:11, ESV2011). Today there are thousands of Christian websites, blogs, podcasts, books, sermons, YouTube videos, Sunday services, and conferences where would-be authors and “ministers for Christ” spew out their cacophony of words, even laced with Bible verses, but how many of these messages have come out from the heart of God? When He finally does manage to get a word in edgewise, who in the land of Christendom has an ear to hear and distinguish it from the rest? Yes, Amos, there is a famine of hearing the words of the Lord, either because our minds are numb from all the words we bombard them with or we have never had spiritual hearing in the first place.

In 1980, God heard my cry to hear what He wanted me to do while the church we were members of went through a very destructive split. He answered my prayers by unplugging me from going to regular church meetings and reading almost all things by Christian authors so that I would learn to distinguish His voice from the all the other voices speaking in His name. The hardest to distinguish form His were the ones that preached with a lot of Bible verses to back up their points. Satan knows the Bible better than any of us and he knows how to use it to his advantage. It took years for me to get to the place where I could tell the difference and recognize when God was speaking to me and the further I go, the more quietly He whispers forcing me to draw ever closer to Him with greater attentiveness.

Austin-Sparks continues,

Here we have the necessity for an awakening to what God has to say. In the Revelation, this is “He that hath an ear, let him hear,” and in the case of Laodicea – which represents the end – it is “I counsel thee to buy of Me eye salve that thou mayest see.” “And I turned to see the voice that spoke with me,” said John. God is speaking, He has something to say, but there must be “a Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your heart being enlightened.” (1)

Jesus is the Word of God! He speaks to those who are His sheep. They know His voice and will not follow the voices of strangers (read John Ch. 10). Yet, so many Christians have said to me, “How can I know when Jesus is speaking to me?” To many of them the answer is, “Unplug! You are listening to and reading too many teachers. Break this habit of heaping to yourself teachers who tickle your ears. Get alone with God for a few months until you start hearing His whispered voice. Talk with Him and let Him be your friend above all friends.”

I find that few follow my advice. We go to church and read to be entertained and are information addicts. The more He gives me a word that puts the finger on where the spiritual problems are in Christendom, the smaller the audience becomes. Only a few have ears to hear what the Spirit IS saying to the church. If I want to see the stat counter on my blog jump up, all I have to do is speak words of comfort that do not challenge the status quo in Christendom. I completely understand the problem that Isaiah had with the people of Israel when God told him,

Now go, write it before them on a tablet, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come, forever and ever: That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the LORD: Who say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits: Get out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us. (Isa 30:8-11, KJ2000)

The moment Christianity became acceptable, popular and condoned by the Roman Empire in the fourth century, it started to die. The Christian faith is not a popularity contest, but rather a threat to this world and the prince that controls it. Didn’t Jesus say that few would find the straight path and narrow gate to eternal life? I think that the following quotation points out why.

For “the crowd” is untruth. Eternally, godly, christian-ly what Paul says is valid: “only one receives the prize,” [I Corinthians. 9:24] not by way of comparison, for in the comparison “the others” are still present. That is to say, everyone can be that one, with God’s help – but only one receives the prize; again, that is to say, everyone should cautiously have dealings with “the others,” and essentially only talk with God and with himself – for only one receives the prize; again, that is to say, the human being [singular] is in kinship with… the divinity. (2)

This is exactly what Jesus prayed just before He went to the cross,

Sanctify them [purify, consecrate, separate them for Yourself, make them holy] by the Truth; Your Word is Truth… That they all may be one, [just] as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be one in Us, so that the world may believe and be convinced that You have sent Me. (John 17:17 & 21, AMP)

This gives me a whole new light on what Jesus was praying, “Sanctify and set them apart to yourself, Father, that they might be ONE even as we are one…” God desires of us a singleness of eye, not focused on the world or even our fellow Christians, but on our heavenly Father. “Only ONE receives the prize.”

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/001541.html

(2) The Single Individual, by Søren Kierkegaard