Why We Have the Discipline of the Lord in Our Lives

Photo by Maria Krasnova on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bearing in Our Bodies His Death, But Oh the Glory!

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For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him… (Romans 6:5-6, KJV)

“We have been planted together in the likeness of His death.” Have you ever given much thought to what that means? Lately, with all the suffering of the saints I have encountered, including the pains of my own aging process, Christ’s death has, by His mercy, been brought more into focus than ever.

As I contemplated the above passage, all of a sudden I saw myself literally inside of Christ’s body on the cross and it was even in color! There was light in there! There was a glow and warmth and even a since of love, forgiveness, acceptance and peace. Yes, all hell had broken loose on Him outside, but it was a glorious experience as I was tucked safely inside Him through it all. Amazing! I had often tried to imagine what it meant to be “crucified with Christ” with no luck… just a blank. But with this experience a whole raft of scriptures opened up to me. Paul wrote:

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God… (Gal 2:20, KJ2000)

Those hours on the cross were the focal point of all of God’s creation and His purpose for it! We were literally placed IN Him with all our sins and sufferings. In that moment we were made pure and complete IN Him so that Christ could live in us by the power of His resurrection life.

So, why all this suffering that we must go through? Think of it. If we have been “planted in the likeness of His death,” what was that like? All hell was going on outside of Him. He was not only made to suffer physically, but emotionally as well, so much so that He cried out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Not only had all men forsaken Him, but He couldn’t even feel His Father’s loving care and pleasure any longer. And the demons! They were mocking and spitting on Him for His faithfulness to the Father. They even tried to make Him doubt who He was, “If you are truly the Son of God, come down off that cross. Spare yourself!” Yet, He did not cave. He was bearing our sins on that cross, not His own. We and all that we are were IN Him as God’s chosen ones (See Galatians 2:20). Isaiah saw this focal point in the eternity of time and wrote,

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. (Isa 53:10-11, ESV2011)

In Satan’s hate and jealousy Jesus was being attacked for never having sinned and being the perfect obedient Son of His Father, but it was God who was in control to fulfill His will for us all. Satan had given the temptation of Christ his best shot and failed. Oh, the wrath of hell! Here was his chance to get even with Jesus for all He had done to upset his worldly kingdom, but God won the battle by what seemed the weakness of Christ. For in this final blow against Christ he lost the keys to hell’s prison and enabled our release into God’s kingdom. This why Paul who walked in Christ could say, “When am weak, then I am strong.”

Don’t you think that our being IN Christ in this life also stirs up Satan’s anger? Most of us as worldly people had never known the suffering that we have gone through since we were born from above in Christ. The enemy hates Christ and he hates those He lives and manifests Himself in. T. Austin-Sparks wrote about this fact so well.

May I remind you that the nature of this planting is just that with which we are so familiar. “Planted together in the likeness of His death.” That is the word of the Apostle, “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection.” The enemy is the instrument so often, of planting us more deeply into the death of Christ. His assaults, his attacks, his accusations, everything – yes. The Lord is not the source of evil, but the Lord allows it. So often our hearts cry out: “Why did the Lord ever allow that in our lives?” That thing which has meant such a deep, dark passage. Why did the Lord allow it? He could have prevented it. Well, we were planted by it into the death of the Lord Jesus. We were brought more than ever to an end of ourselves. Yes, and therefore, to know the Lord in a larger measure than we have ever known Him, and to be brought to a place where it will not be so easy for the Devil to shake us next time.

That is the sovereign way of God in deeper death experiences. “Planted together in the likeness of His death.” Have you been planted there initially? Have you been planted in Christ crucified? Or are you one of those attachments to something? Are you planted? And when a deeper planting comes, remember it is the roots being driven downwards, and the issue is going to be most surely endurance, stability, and ability to stand; but, oh, there is going to be greater fruitfulness. [1]

Yes, most of our suffering since we were planted in Christ has been at the hands of the demons of hell. But it is also true that God said, “Those whom I love, I rebuke and chasten…” and He does this to get us back on the right path again when we wander. Yet, we often suffer when we have not sinned or done anything to deserve it. As in Christ, in all this suffering God has a purpose–that we might live “also in the likeness of his resurrection.” Have you ever met dear older saint who has a sweetness about them that draws you? They seem to radiate God’s love no matter what comes their way. When you do you just want to sit there in silence and hold their hand and soak it up, especially if you have been going through a time of suffering yourself. Words in a moment like this can only take away from what God is doing. True fellowship in the Spirit goes so much deeper than words. When God makes it happen it is like experiencing heaven itself. Oh, the glory that is our in the unity of the Father and the Son!

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. (John 17:22-23, ESV2011)

Our lives on this earth as God’s children are all about death and resurrection and every moment is in His hands as He conforms us into the image of His Son. Satan never has the authority to do anything to us that is not in our Father’s designed outcome–that He might have many sons and daughters who manifest HIS glory and the glory of His Son. My dear brothers and sisters it is all worth it!

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Heb 12:11, ESV2011)

Remember, dear brothers and sisters,

…Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, (2Cor 4:16-17, ESV2011)

Dear Daddy, please give these dear saints who suffer a brief moment of experiencing that glory that they might be strengthened and push on for the goal that they might share the glory of your Son. Amen.

[1] http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/002932.html

We Are Individually Members One of Another

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As I was reading my daily devotional by T. Austin-Sparks [1] something jumped off the page and into my heart. The lead verse in this missive read,

For as in one body we have many members… so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Rom 12:4-5, ESV2011)

It was the word, “individually” that got my attention. God places us not only in Christ’s body in a general way, but in an individual way. Yes, we are part of what is called “the Church,” but this has been way over-emphasized, so much so that we can’t see the trees for the forest. When we think of “church” we think of a mass of people coming together on Sunday (Catholics even call this “the mass”) in a very impersonal way. We are arranged in rows facing forward so we can see the face of the pastor and hear his words, only being allowed to see the backs of hundreds of heads which we call “church members.” And they call this fellowship? Is this really what Paul had in mind when he referred to us as being ONE in Christ’s body and members one of another?

In this system we call “doing church,” how much individual interconnection in Christ’s Spirit do we really have? Think about it–this system even divides families, God’s building block of humanity. Under its rule we have little time to be together as a family. As soon as we hit the door the children are ushered off to the nursery or “children’s church.” Then there is “teen church,” the “adult Sunday school class” and during the week there is “men’s fellowship,” the “women’s Bible study,” “Wednesday night prayer meeting,” etc. Everything is about division under the rigid control of an appointed leader. Let’s face it, most of the involvement we have in that system is controlled by a human head and is anything but an organic connection where we are “individually members one of another” with Christ’s Spirit leading and inspiring our fellowship.

So, as I was reading the above passage from Romans, the Spirit was making it clear that there is an inner-working of the individual members of Christ’s body where we, as in the case of a human body, are interconnected in an interdependent way, INDIVIDUALLY members of one another. Elsewhere, Paul wrote, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” (1Cor 12:21, ESV2011), yet do we live that way with one another? Isn’t there a cold indifference in our church membership outside of our organized meetings?

Sparks went on to write about an even greater intimacy between members of the body of Christ where one member is suffering and we feel it in a personal way.

We are a part of a Body. Many of our sufferings are not on our own account at all. Many of the sufferings of the children of God have nothing whatever to do with their own faults or their own failing. They are suffering in a related way, they are suffering for the Body’s sake, they are entering into the battle; the conflict of this one great testimony. Sometimes it is almost uncanny when the Lord has something in view in relation to His testimony of Life, how for no reason whatever, on no account at all, we discover that we are involved and ours is not an isolated experience. All sorts of people all over the place are having the same kind of experience – a terrific sense of pressure, upset, annoyance, anything to frustrate – it is happening all round, testifying that in the spiritual realm, in the realm of the Spirit, there is a fine, sensitive oneness which matters to the Lord, and therefore matters to the enemy.

Do not always take your sufferings as some controversy that the Lord has with you. That is the twist the enemy often gives. Be open to the Lord to be checked up on anything, but do not always take it that the things which are happening to you and causing you trouble and suffering are due to your own failure or wrong. You are involved in something very much more than that. [2]

One time my wife and I were at a “couples weekend retreat” and the opening meeting was on a Friday night at a lodge on a scenic lake in north Idaho. As the meeting started, the leader of this function said he was feeling a heaviness in his spirit for some reason and asked us all to start by praying for the Lord’s direction as to what it could be. I also was feeling this heaviness and as I prayed, I heard the following words, “Rachel weeping for her children because they were not.” When we were through praying, he asked what we might have heard and I shared that verse. I sensed there had been a massacre somewhere, just as this passage was speaking of all those babies who were killed by Herod in Bethlehem that day (see Matthew 2:16-18). We were all puzzled until we got home and heard the news. That very day the massacre at Jonestown had taken place and we were feeling the tragedy of so many innocent people being killed by that maniacal cult’s leadership.

Yes, we who are members of Christ’s body ARE members one of another corporately as well as individually. Have you ever been so knit together with another member that you could feel their sorrow and their joy without even physically being with them or hearing from them to find out about it? You see, Paul spoke of us being individually members one of another. The members of Christ’s body that He has knit us together with in His Spirit have this happen quite often. If we have offended one of them, we can’t stand it until we make it right. We feel the heart-rending separation. We also feel their joy and rejoice. This is true most often with husbands and wives, but it can happen with others who He has brought together as “members one of another.” We can be so knit together that we often have the same thoughts or even find ourselves speaking the same words at the same time. This is where it gets exciting, being made one even as the Son is one with the Father. Jesus said, “I only speak the words that I hear my Father saying.” Isn’t this what Jesus was praying for us to experience as His last will and testament before He died?

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. (John 17:22-23, ESV2011)

That we who are members of His body may become perfectly ONE in His love, this is His will for us. You see, dear saints, anything less than this is not normal Christianity. We who are Christians have settled for so much less in today’s Laodicean church system. Lukewarmness involves much more that a lackadaisical on again off again church attendance. Lukewarmness is being content with anything less than the unity among us of the Father and the Son. God is not satisfied with the status of today’s church and neither should we be content with it in our own lives. Some of us are driven to walk in the unity of the Father and the Son with other members of the body of Christ because we have tasted it. I pray that you all may experience this in the Spirit as well.

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (Ps 34:8, ESV2011)

[1] http://austin-sparks.net/subscribe.html

[2] http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/002986.html

Blessed Is He Who Is Not Offended in Me

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As it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Rom 9:33, ESV2011)

John the Baptist was in King Herod’s prison because he dared to preach against that man’s sinful ways. Herod and his mistress (his brother’s wife) were greatly offended with him, so John was looking at a death sentence. John had been preaching in the wilderness as the forerunner of Jesus the Messiah, telling all who heard him to repent and prepare their hearts to receive the Christ who was about to come. But what does the scripture say about this Messiah? What would He be like (See Isaiah ch. 53)?

The Spirit of God was upon John and his preaching offended many, but had he forgotten that even Jesus and His ways would be a stone of stumbling? We go on to read that while he was in prison, John sent messengers to Jesus to ask Him a question.

“John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” …And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Luke 7:19-23, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

In our immaturity as new Christians, we have often received a gospel that if we just accept Jesus into our hearts everything will be wonderful from then on. After the Spirit comes into us, things do seem to be all new and blessings abound. Having the love of Christ in us is a real heartwarming experience. But our Father is not raising up “hot house Christians.” At first we may be protected from the elements like plants in a greenhouse, but eventually those plants have to be set out to face the real world of cold nights and biting insects.

So here we have John, who had been looked up to by thousands as the incarnation of “Elijah the prophet who would come before the great and terrible day of the Lord (See Malachi 4:5-6).” But now he was in prison and his only hope was that Jesus would do something about it as a conquering Messiah. “If you are really the One, then get me out of here!” And what was Jesus’ reply? He enumerated the many things that marked Him as the Messiah and then said, “Blessed is he who is not offended with me.” What? What does that have to do with anything?

You see, my dear Christian friends, if we are to be conformed into the image of Christ, something is necessary. We must see Him as HE is with spiritual eyes, not how we want Him to be in our immaturity. Oh, How we love to be healed, how we love to have everything we need provided by Him. Remember the crowds that wanted to make Him King because He fed them? But they were soon offended with Him because He preached hard things. The offense that day was so great that not only the large crowd of thousands left Him but even His 70 disciples ceased to follow Him (see John ch. 6). It is one thing to feast on free loaves and fishes, but another thing to eat His flesh and drink His blood.

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. (John 6:52-56, ESV2011)

What did He mean by this saying? Many were offended with Him that day for He put them to the test. In effect He was saying, “You followed me because I fed you, but will you follow me to the cross? Will you partake in my cup of sufferings or will a suffering and dying Messiah be too much for you? Didn’t Jesus say, “If any man will be my disciple let him take up HIS cross and follow me.” THIS is what it means to eat His flesh and drink His blood. Christ in us will be persecuted. Suffering will come into our lives. We loved Jesus as our provider who made “everything come up roses,” but will we take up our own cross and continue to follow Him even unto death? He was talking about something much deeper than eating a cracker and drinking a thimble of grape juice in a religious ritual on “communion Sunday” when it comes to eating His flesh and drinking His blood. He was talking about “the fellowship of His sufferings.” John had entered into the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings in Herod’s prison. Just as he was the forerunner of the gospel, he was soon to become the forerunner in type of Christ’s death.

We are now living in a time where people are acting out of great offense which Jesus foretold. saying,

And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures [Grk. hupomeno – to bear up courageously] to the end will be saved. (Matt 24:12-13, ESV2011)

Lawlessness is the byword of this hour. Everywhere we look in this world people are rising up and protesting, rioting, looting and even killing one another. All authority has become their target, even literally as we see policemen killed in the streets for trying to enforce the law and officials homes being attacked at night terrifying their families. Men are casting off all restraint. Is this something strange? Job described what we are seeing in our streets around the world.

But God has loosened his cord and afflicted me; so they’ve cast off all restraints in my presence. A wretched crowd ambushes me to my right; they trip my feet; they build up their path of calamity for me. They tear up my pathways; they profit from my destruction [looting], and they need no help to do this! They come like those who breach through a wall; as everything crashes around me they’ll roll on and on! (Job 30:11-14, ISV)

Need I say more? The question is, will we who are Christians let the love of Christ leave our hearts as we become offended and react in kind or will we endure in His love unto the end? Yes, the true gospel of Christ will bring with it an offense into our lives. Our natural man, our old natures, will be offended.

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up.” (Matt 15:12-13, ESV2011)

The times we are in will test us as to whether our Father has really planted us IN Christ or we are simply “hot house Christians” who bought into a false prosperity gospel or some other convenient lie. Yes, “blessed is he who is not offended in me.”

Oh Father, give us your grace and change our hearts so that we are not offended in all that you are allowing to come upon us. Open the eyes of our hearts so that we truly see that “ALL things work together for those who love God and are called according to Your purpose.” Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How Should We Pray?

Man in Prayer

“Grace” – by Eric Enstrom (1918)

“If ye be risen with Christ seek those things which are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your affections upon the things which are above, not on the things which are on the earth, for ye are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3)

My brothers and sisters, when God put me out in my spiritual wilderness in 1980 (about the time that Mount St. Helens blew one cubic mile of earth and ash across the states of Washington and Idaho), He shut down any sense in me that He was listening to my prayers. I prayed everything I could think of to get that nil-state to end in me. I would eventually find out after thrashing around over those many years which followed that He was not going to answer any prayers that were against what He put in my life to fix what HE was fixing in me. Or, as Bob Mumford put it, “If you fix the fix that God fixes to fix you, he will just fix another fix to fix you.” It wasn’t until many years of me trying fix His fix in my life that I finally gave up and He finally heard from me what He was waiting for. “Lord, I belong to you and if you want to leave me in this perpetual death and nothingness, that is your business. Once again I surrender “my life,” for what its worth, to YOU!” The purpose of this long lesson was to cause a heart change in me. I was to learn in my heart what Paul spoke of when he wrote,

Alone in the wilderness- web

Photo by David Marcu on Unsplash

… for I have learned how to be content (satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or disquieted) in whatever state I am. I know how to be abased and live humbly in straitened circumstances, and I know also how to enjoy plenty and live in abundance. I have learned in any and all circumstances the secret of facing every situation, whether well-fed or going hungry, having a sufficiency and enough to spare or going without and being in want. I have strength for all things in Christ Who empowers me [I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him Who infuses inner strength into me; I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency]. (Phil 4:11-13, AMP – emphasis added)

This is the secret to a happy and confident life IN Christ where we are focused and occupied with what is happening in heavenly places IN Him. I would like to include the following quote from T. Austin-Sparks that gets right down to where our real need is. Here he is using the type of Old Testament temple which speaks of our eternal lives in the NEW Covenant.

…[The] blood is always in the Scripture a witness against what is of the old creation, to cut it off, and to bring in a new creation; a witness against the earthly, the worldly and the fleshly, and therefore the satanic; a witness unto the heavenly, the spiritual, and that which is of the Lord. It means here that the blood of the sin offering being sprinkled on the horns and on the altar makes everything heavenly. Our prayer life has got to be on a heavenly basis. It is not enough just to be praying for our earthly affairs. It is so easy to get up in the morning and hurry through a few words asking the Lord to bless us and ours, and our earthly things for the day, as though these things of this life were all. Oh, no! The Lord would have prayer touching things heavenly, things spiritual, related to that which is not of time but of eternity, not of this world but in relation to His eternal, heavenly intentions. He would have us separated from the merely temporal. There is a place for bringing those before the Lord, but they have got to be lifted in relation to the heavenly and not be dealt with as things in themselves. The blood makes everything heavenly, separating from the old creation. There is a very great deal of the old creation in our prayers; it is [about] our convenience, our deliverance from inconvenience and discomfort, our salvation from what would bring us a great deal of trouble and sorrow. That is the motive behind a good deal of our praying. “Lord, don’t let anything bad happen today, because it would spoil our life today!”

But supposing the Lord would lift us into something altogether new through sorrow, are we then going to pray that prayer? No, our prayer must be: “Today, Lord, I want that which is of greatest account in relation to spiritual values and if that must be by way of trial and adversity, I do not pray to be delivered from it.” I say, “Lord, there is power to carry me through, and by prayer I come into touch with that power to carry me through the trials of every day in relation to the meaning of the trial.” That is heavenly praying. That is praying with your heart in heaven. “If ye be risen with Christ seek those things which are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your affections upon the things which are above, not on the things which are on the earth, for ye are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3). “Our citizenship is in heaven.” Now the life of the believer is to be, therefore, one with heavenly interests always in view, and our prayer life is in relation to those interests.

Where prayer counts most vitally and effectually is in the heavenlies. Ephesians makes that perfectly clear: “Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers… the spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places.” Then, providing for that warfare, he gathers it all up, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit”. The warfare is in the heavenlies, and the prayer is most effectual there. That is where the power is indeed against the spiritual forces, and that blood brings us out there as our protection for a realm which is spiritual and therefore counts for most. The place of the altar of incense, the holding of it to the end till everything else has been brought in, gives to prayer tremendous significance.

Now one closing thought. There was to be a crown of gold round the top of this altar of incense (verse 3), and that crown speaks of the glorifying of the Lord Jesus as the Victor. “But we behold… Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour” (Heb. 2:9). The crown of the Victor over sin and death and the reason for that victory in this connection is in Isaiah 53: “He made intercession for the transgressors.” The implication is that by His intercession for the transgressors in His cross He won. There were transgressors doomed under judgement, and His cross was a great work of intercession for the transgressors — and we were among them. By intercession in His cross, His great ministry of intercession in giving Himself, He saved us. You and I are today in Christ, saved men and women, because of the intercession of the Lord Jesus. He triumphed in intercession for us, and as High Priest He ever lives to make intercession, and every day we are living in the benefit of His continual intercession. That is the point in the crown of gold, the crown of glory. Now the Lord is calling us into that ministry. It is not only to share the travail, but to share the glory, not only to share the humiliation but to share the crown, and the crown is not just some objective thing given to us but for the Lord to come and crown our lives. That is to be His seal upon us, and He will say, “Well done! As I have overcome so you have overcome; share with Me My throne.” If that can be because my life was a life of prevailing prayer, that is the glory of it; and even now to know what it is to prevail in prayer is glory; it is the crown of glory.

Now you see there is a glory connected with prayer. The Lord calls us, then, to consider our prayer life, because everything depends upon it. It must be the time for trimming the wick, the works of the flesh. It must be the means of keeping the light clear and strong against the darkness and it must be the means of power, the ground of power, and of prevailing. The Lord use His word, then, to bring us back, if needs be, to the strength of a full prayer life. ( emphasis added by me. “The Altar of Incense” http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/003691.html)

(I would like to thank Becky Johnson in Colorado for bringing this fact of our spiritual life IN Christ to my attention once again through her blog article, (https://occupiedwithchrist.wordpress.com/2018/09/21/a-tried-heart-flooded-with-light/ )

 

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.

 

 

Let Us Go On Unto Maturity!

001a-jesus-questions-peter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Faithfully Following the Lamb, True Fellowship Is Found

But he that enters in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out. And when he puts forth his own sheep, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. (John 10:2-4, KJ2000)

 

Oh, how often I and many other Christians have tried to have fellowship with one another. The more the world goes its destructive way, the more we think, “If only I could find the right church (home fellowship, men’s group, etc.), I would find fellowship there.” The more spiritually mature we become, the more we realize that true fellowship is spirit to spirit and not just flesh to flesh with common worldly likes and beliefs. Finding the “right person” or human shepherd will not work for long either if that is our focus.

In Revelation, we read about a great group of people who all have one thing in common and it is not an organization or group focused on a human teacher, denominational doctrine or even one another. No.

And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders… These are they who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These were redeemed from among men, being the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb. (Rev 14:3-4, KJ2000)

These people have been redeemed not only from their own sins, but from among men… unto God and to the Lamb for they follow the Lamb wherever He goes. I have learned that to have real fellowship with one another we must first as individuals have our fellowship with the Father and the Son and be lead by their love (see John 17:16-26) keeping our focus on them. We must be of a heavenly harvest from among men, devoted unto them. As soon as we focus on one another in place of the Father and the Son, everything becomes stale and dead.

I and many others have had to learn this lesson the same way that we really learn spiritual things… by experience (see Romans 5:3-5). How often have we joined a group of Christians or a movement we at first thought was “the cat’s meow,” the real thing, only to become disillusioned after a few months or seen it blown apart by some schism? This is not always the devil at work, but rather the Spirit calling us to seek out our Heavenly Father first and foremost. Jesus said, “But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt 6:33, KJ2000). The kingdom of God is found where God is King! ALL these other things, including fellowship, are added when we worship Him and seek the fellowship of the Father and the Son above all else.

Austin Sparks wrote regarding Revelation chapter fourteen.

“A virgin people,” notice some other particulars about them. “Purchased out of the earth… not defiled with women; for they are virgins”. In that statement we must not read the literal meaning. It cannot mean that at all. It is in keeping with the whole of that particular meaning throughout the Old Testament and the New where God’s elect people are regarded as a virgin people. Fornication in Israel was that of having spiritual relationship with other nations, the peoples of this world, and this is what is meant — that there has been created and preserved an absolute separateness from that spiritual system which lies behind this world; there must be no link with it at all… They “follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth,” that is in the present participle, which means they are following the Lamb because they always have been. It has become a habit, it is a disposition which has been born in them, created in them. They did it on the earth and they go on doing it, people who are not spasmodic in following the Lamb, who are not of those who go on one day and go back the next. They are continuously following the Lamb. It is an utterness of devotion to the Lord Jesus. They are the firstfruits unto the Lamb. Note the way it is put — “Firstfruits… unto the LAMB”. The Lamb has in them the first maturity of His Lamb character and work; in them He first sees of the travail of His soul and is satisfied. It is unto the Lamb, His satisfaction.

“Unto the Lamb,” it means this, that their conception of salvation was not one governed by personal interest, that they would be saved in order to be saved and enjoy salvation for themselves; but their conception was that it was all unto the Lord, it was for Him. That is a higher level altogether, and I beg to suggest that this is a discriminating thing. There are multitudes of people, Christians, who are glad to be saved in order to be saved, because it is a good thing to be saved for themselves; it secures a lot for them and it means heaven and glory; but the primary concern of these others is the glory of the LAMB. “Unto the LAMB”. They follow wherever HE goes.

“The Fellowship of His Sufferings,” naturally, it might be easier to follow the KING whithersoever He goeth. There were many in the days of His flesh who pursued Him wherever He went. You would always find them there. Oh, He said, “loaves and fishes”; to see His mighty works. But these follow the Lamb, and that means that they have a disposition to respond to the “fellowship of his sufferings”, like the apostle who first used that phrase. For him it was not something to be shunned: “that l may know him and the fellowship of his sufferings” (Phil. 3:10); there was a disposition to share the sufferings of the Lamb. That issues in a specific kind of people, a particular company; and if we look at it in that way surely our suspicions and our fears are dismissed. Identify these people and the other ground gives way.

What all this means becomes clear as we look at it in its relation to all that is said about the Lamb. That is, you have got to comprehend the whole Word of God in connection with the Lamb in order to understand who and what these people are, for undoubtedly they are the people who have embraced, entered into, and become the embodiment of all that that phrase means — the Lamb, His life, His character, His work. What is here is this: firstly, a company marked out and distinguished by a peculiar fellowship with Christ as the Lamb. Underline the word Lamb, the name Lamb, with all that that means, and then see here a people who are in a peculiar relationship with Christ as the Lamb, and with what He means as being the Lamb. There is little doubt that there is a special honour given to this company. They are mentioned here with peculiar honour; their position is one of peculiar honour. The very tone in which they are mentioned is that of a people of very sacred and precious meaning to the Lord.

“A Song Learned Through Suffering,” they possess an exclusive secret. They sing a song, and no one could learn that song save the hundred and forty-four thousand. No one else had the faculty. How do they possess this exclusive secret? Oh, the answer goes to the heart of so much in our experience. You know that it is a true principle that you learn secrets through suffering that you learn in no other way. It is in suffering that we learn those things that no one else knows. We cannot explain them, we cannot teach them, or make others understand. We can only say, “When you have been through what I have been through you will understand, you will know; until you have, it is all closed to you”. These people have been a way in which capacity for something has been created.  (1)

Let me repeat what Sparks said once again, “You know that it is a true principle that you learn secrets through suffering that you learn in no other way. It is in suffering that we learn those things that no one else knows. We cannot explain them, we cannot teach them, or make others understand.” And we have to learn these secrets the same way that Jesus did—He “learned obedience through the things that He suffered.” He teaches us these hard lessons to align us with the will of the Father as His children.

That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that you also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. (1John 1:3-4, KJ2000)

There is no greater joy than to be in fellowship with the Father and the Son and no amount of suffering and tribulation can take that away. When we find another saint that is also on this path how sweet that fellowship is!

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/tas-3.pdf  – pg. 26&27

A Death that Brings Glory to God

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When I was a young Christian I often heard other new Christians say, “I would gladly die for Jesus!” Well, it seems that there is a deeper kind of dying than just taking our last breath as a martyr. Susanne Schuberth recently wrote on her blog, “Suffering continues when we grow up and see that this world is not what we hoped for or expected it to be. Neither are we perfect, nor is our environment including the people we know. We may have had many wishes and desires in our lifetime of which only a few were fulfilled. Or worst case, even none of them! Furthermore, we suffer from diseases we would not have chosen if we had been asked before. We suffer from being rejected and misunderstood, from being hurt and offended, and so on and so on…” (1)

Peter wrote, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (1Pet 4:1, ESV2011). Suffering is the most powerful weapon in God’s arsenal to put an end to our old selves and bring forth His Son in us.

Now that I have had time to read her blog once again (being interrupted by pain and medical issues of my own) I see how much of what Susanne wrote reveals my own walk since I came to Christ. I appreciate her openness. Her transparency has been an inspiration to me after being immersed in a Christian world where leaders strive to put their best face forward and appear “larger than life” to the masses instead of walking in the light of Christ with the saints of God.

Yes, our suffering starts at birth and it continues throughout our lifetime. I was born with a collapsed lung and isolated from human touch for the first two weeks of my life in an oxygen tent at the hospital. Then I did not see or hear my father for most of the following year while he was shipped off to fight the war that was still raging in Europe. Maybe this set in motion this deep longing in my heart to have a truly close and open relationship with another human who can reciprocate on the same level in heart to heart fellowship with me. Because of this, life has been rather disappointing for the most part because most (not all) people freak out and run when they sense that being close to me demands that they open up and reveal what is in their heart of hearts and communicate with me in total transparency.

A casual reading of the Bible reveals that God didn’t show only the best parts of His people whose lives are spread across its pages. Even in the blood line of Christ He reveals murderers, thieves, idolaters, liars, and even harlots. It is obvious that God is more interested in honest transparency than He is in making a good impression because He wants truth in our inward parts. John wrote,

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1John 1:5-7, ESV2011)

The spiritual reality of this longing in me to live in transparent heart to heart relationships is exactly what God has always wanted as well. Man started out this way in his walk with God, but soon interrupted this journey by hiding and covering himself up from God and his fellow man because of sin. Religion, I have found, has a giant wardrobe of fig leaf garments that we use to cover our spiritual nakedness even though God created us naked and unashamed while we walked with Him in that primeval, perfect garden where there was no toil for food or clothing and no death, pain or fear. In short, there were no distractions in their totally loving relationship that was always in perfect peace, transparency and light. Trusting God was so easy for Adam in the beginning until he fell for the lies of Satan and hid from Him. In Isaiah we read,

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Isa 26:3, ESV2011)

Susanne wrote about another result of the fall of man, “…we suffer from diseases we would not have chosen if we had been asked before.” Now we are getting down to where I find myself lately. I have had good health, for the most part, all of my life. At least I had nothing that altered my plans for any length of time. I, like many, have always identified with the exuberant and self-willed disciple named Peter. He was a robust outdoors-man and commercial fisherman by trade. The following words of Jesus to Peter have spoken to me in a much deeper way recently.

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, When you were young, you dressed yourself, and walked where you would: but when you shall be old, you shall stretch forth your hands, and another shall dress you, and carry you where you would not.” This spoke he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he said unto him, “Follow me.” (John 21:18-19, KJ2000)

There is so much for me to take to heart here! I have always been the “go to guy” who could just about do anything if I put my mind to it. That served me well in the kingdoms of this world. I often was called on by my employers to do what the other employees could not. The problem with this is that in the kingdom of God, “the flesh profits nothing!” My greatest strength in the world is my greatest weakness in God’s kingdom.

I will soon turn 72 and, for the most part, it has been 72 years of dressing myself (spiritually and physically) and walking where I wanted to go–until recently. It seems that my back is the weakest point in my body in my old age. When your back is in pain and aggravated by any activity, it is soon “ALL STOP!” I have a collapsed vertebra in the middle of my back that radiates pain through my whole torso and causes muscle spasms that lock me up from doing much of anything. Lately I’m to the point where I “stretch forth my hands” and my wife helps me get dressed and undressed. Since the doctors have put me on notice to not lift anything heavier than five pounds, she has to do things that I was able to do easily all my life. She even is doing the driving, taking me to places I do not want to go, to doctors’ offices and the hospital so they can figure out what went wrong with my old body.

Yesterday I got x-rayed and then spent 40 minutes on my back being perfectly still in a noisy tube called an MRI. After all that, they decided that I have a compression fracture of my T8 vertebra, confirming the diagnosis of a chiropractor I finally saw in desperation after many prescriptions of men dealing with the symptoms. There was evidence that the same thing already happened to my T5 vertebra earlier this summer. That had the same disabling effect, but eventually healed with me bent over a bit more than before. Now with a second collapsed vertebra I have a “second witness” that God wants me to yield my “can do” self-will to Him. He has a lot more vertebra to call on until I get the message! 🙂

The above passage of Jesus speaking to Peter has a curious ending, “This spoke He (Jesus), signifying by what death he (Peter) should glorify God… Follow me!” Death, oh that dreaded fact of life called death! It seems if we are to truly follow Jesus it has to happen. Jesus said, “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25, NIV). As natural men we love our lives and are very short sighted when it comes to living in God’s eternity with Christ. We like our own here and now better. We love to stretch out our hands and go forth and live our lives as we wish. We even try to make a bargain with God to maintain our control and promise to live “for Him” if we can just be a somebody in Christendom. What a con game! No, the only way we can glorify God is through a complete death to all our wants, hopes and desires and lie on that heavenly altar as a trussed-up living sacrifice unto Him. Someone said, “When we work, God stops working. When we stop working, God starts.” What a hard lesson to learn and live.

I would like to close this with a more positive observation from Oswald Chambers,

 The New Testament teaching about regeneration is that when a person is hit by his own sense of need, God will put the Holy Spirit into his spirit, and his personal spirit will be energized by the Spirit of the Son of God— “…until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19)  (2)

So, dear Father, once again I lay it all down before you. I give up my “best laid plans of mice and men” and surrender my all to you, knowing that apart from your Son I can do nothing. Do what it takes that I might glorify you with the death of my old Adam within so that Christ’s life might abound in me. Amen.

(1) https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/2016/10/04/knowing-the-lord-through-the-fellowship-of-his-sufferings/

(2) http://utmost.org/  “My Utmost for His Highest” for October 6th