Growing into the Fullness of Christ

Photo by Yoal Desurmont on Unsplash

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain… (Rev 5:6, ESV2011)

It is interesting to note that Jesus is standing as a sacrificial Lamb among the four living creatures and the elders and not sitting apart in all His glory on the throne. He is our advocate who loves us, and He is our Pattern Son. Just as He laid down His life for us, so are we called to lay down our lives in love for one another. He came to show us the way of eternal life and suffering is all part of it. But oh, how we hate suffering! We have heard the lie, “Jesus suffered and died so that we don’t have to.” Some of us were sold a “bill of goods” that said if we only gave our lives to Jesus all would be better and we would be happy the rest of our lives. I’m sorry, but that is a false gospel.

In order for God to have the preeminence in our lives, He must deal with us as His sons and daughters. We must go through much “child training” to overcome walking in our old, childish, Adamic natures. But when some of us find out that being a Christian is not all that was advertised and our lives are not going to be “all puppy dogs and roses,” we get offended and go back to our old worldly ways. Because of offenses the first love we had for Jesus waxes cold. It should not be this way, dear saints. The culture we live in has set us up to receive this false gospel and as a result we often fall away! The message of the cross does not fill mega-churches, nor does it build a large following on a blog. Someone said that A. W. Tozer was invited to speak from every conference platform in America, never to be invited to do so again. That speaks more of the nature of today’s Christian church than it does the speaker.

Today we are seeing rebellious people running wild in our streets, looting, burning, rioting, shooting police, old people, children and one another. In America we have thousands of unfilled job positions because we have a workforce that refuses to show up for work on time and do what they are hired to do — if they bother to work at all — and our government enables them in all of it!

The fact of the matter is the degeneration of society is all a product of improper child raising. Children who were not raised with fathers who discipline them in a loving way are manifesting their undisciplined hearts as adults. Those who are of this same heart in the seats of government are encouraging it and allowing it to go on without due recompense. Paul wrote,

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (Gal 6:7-8, ESV2011)

Satan’s plan for our lives is the total opposite of that of our loving Father. In Hebrews we read:

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. ”It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. (Heb 12:5-8, ESV2011)

The Good News of the Gospel is that we are called to be the sons and daughters of God and share in His glory. Just as Jesus walked in a love relationship with His Father and obeyed Him out of that love, so are we called to do the same. If Jesus learned obedience by His sufferings, how much more must we frail humans who are called into the family of God do the same?

T. Austin-Sparks wrote:

The city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. (Revelation 21:23 NLT)

Light is not a mental thing: that is to say, it is not just a matter of having a store of mental knowledge. That is not light. It is possible to have an enormous amount of doctrine and truth and never be luminaries, that is, never register impact upon darkness. Real light is experimental [experiential]: that is to say, it is the fruit of experience, the experience of suffering. How have you children of God come to know what you do know of the Lord, that real kind of knowledge of the Lord which is so precious to us, which means so much and which makes you in that measure of value to others? It is through suffering, it is through the difficult way the Lord has led you, it is through the work of the Cross that He has wrought in you. “The Lamb is the lamp” – suffering leading to knowledge, to light, to understanding. It is the only way. These people at the end will be in the good of a great and wonderful revelation which has come by their fellowship with Christ in His sufferings. It is very true. It may not be too comforting from one standpoint, but it is true; and it ought to help us to realize this: that the Lord, in the way in which He is dealing with us, in the sufferings which He allows to come upon us, is really seeking our education, that we may have a knowledge of Himself which can only come that way, and which is a peculiar kind of knowledge of tremendous value to us and through us to others. We do not learn in any other way. It is the Lamb, always the Lamb-principle, the way of suffering and sacrifice and self-emptying, that brings us into the knowledge of the Lord. “The Lamb is the lamp thereof”; and, just as it is deeper death unto fuller life, so it may often be deeper darkness unto fuller light.

The Lord seems to lead us in a way where we are less and less able naturally to understand Him. He gets us altogether out of our natural capacity, beyond our capacity for interpreting His ways. We just do not know what the Lord is doing, or why He is doing what He is doing; yet it is the way by which we come to a very real kind of inward knowledge of Himself. It may not be capable of explanation in words to anybody, but we know, somehow or other we know, and that is a mighty thing, a mighty power of knowledge. It is light through the Cross.

https://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/000809.html

Some of us had fathers and mothers that believed that if they were to spare the rod they would spoil the child. My father was the disciplinarian in our family and he did not always do it out of love, but would use his belt out of frustration and anger. For me it was like that verse in Hebrews above goes on to say, “…We have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” (Heb 12:9, KJV). I honored my father out of fear, but it enabled me to see that God also wanted me to honor and obey Him. It is growing into a love relationship with Him that has taken much longer, but I thank God that there was discipline in my life for it has made suffering as a born-again believer easier to accept.

Many years ago I had a pastor that had a young son named Danny. When the boy would need some firm correction he would say, “Danny, go get the spoon.” He was referring to a long handled, wooden kitchen spoon he used for a paddle. One day He said, “Danny, go get my spoon.” The boy obeyed when he brought the spoon back he said, “Daddy, it is MY spoon too.” Dear saints, God knows He is getting the fruit in our lives He is after when we love Him for chastising us and see all our suffering as coming from His loving hands that we might share in the glory and love of the Father and the Son as His called-out ones. Love to you all IN Christ.

The Danger of Seeking After Signs

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matt 12:38-40, ESV2011)

Have you ever wondered why Jesus equated seeking after signs as being equivalent to adultery? Paul tells us why:

Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day [the second coming of Christ] will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed… The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. (2Thess 2:1-10, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

There are a great many Christians today who run about from meeting to meeting hoping to see and experience signs and wonders. As we can see above, Satan is more than happy to give us a sign, and he can come with “all power.” This word power in the above text is dunamis, the same word used in the following verse:

But ye shall receive power [Grk. dunamis – miraculous power], after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses [Grk. Martus – martyrs] unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1:8, KJV)

Jesus made it clear that those who look for miraculous signs are committing spiritual adultery. Satan is the great counterfeiter of all things spiritual. Jesus said, “And these signs shall follow them that believe…” He did not say, “And them that believe shall follow after these signs.” The only sign we are to seek is signified by the prophet Jonah, Christ’s death and resurrection in us! Why is this so important? Because wanting to be conformed to His death makes way for us to know His resurrection life within us. Apostle Paul’s deepest heart longing was,

That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; (Phil 3:10, KJ2000)

When he sought that God would remove his “thorn in the flesh” and God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul rejoiced and said,

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2Cor 12:9, ESV2011)

Oh, how our flesh loves signs and miracles! We want power and to be delivered from all suffering and anything that makes our lives uncomfortable. This is just the opposite of what Jesus said that is required if we are to be His followers.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matt 16:24-25, ESV2011)

James spoke of spiritual adultery as well.

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (Jas 4:4, ESV2011)

So on the one end of the spiritual spectrum we have spiritual adulterers who seek signs and miracles that feed their flesh and wish to be accepted in this world. Seeking signs and following after spiritual healers and miracle workers can be very dangerous and, believe me, I have seen demons manifest themselves in people in so called “Christian” meetings. Satan might even gain an inroad in our lives when we seek “spiritual gifts” instead of the cross. We have also seen false speaking in tongues, false prophecies and false healings and all with so much pride on display in Christian gatherings.

On the other end of the spectrum of what it means to be a Christian we have those who, like Paul, welcome the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings in their lives that they might be conformed to His death and resurrection. When we place ourselves under the hand of God for His cleansing work in our lives, through this process we will see Christ’s Resurrection power at work in us as well. Jesus said,

Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matt 7:9-11, ESV2011)

True prophesies and healings and other spirituals by the hand of God do happen but only as HE wills in His timing (see 1 Cor. 12:18). Remember, God is Spirit and what He sees as the healing we need is most likely in the realm of the Spirit and not our physical things. When our wills supersede HIS will, Satan can come in. If we seek power and signs without the cross, we will end up committing spiritual adultery and find ourselves “in bed” with demons.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Col 3:1-2, ESV2011)

Finally, after giving that warning in 2 Thessalonians, Paul went on to say this:

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. (2Thess 2:13, ESV2011)

Into His Eternal Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. (Isa 30:20, ESV2011)

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

Why We Have the Discipline of the Lord in Our Lives

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!

Photo from https://unsplash.com/@jae462

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

I Have Not Come to Bring Peace, but the Sword

Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

The first thing this morning I got up and prayed that the Lord would speak to me regarding the struggle I have been having as I watch the upheaval in the American government. I know I’m not alone. It seems that all over the internet on Christian sites, people both liberal and conservative are writing and preaching about how their side is “God’s side.” If we have eyes to see, this should show us how much the flesh is still in control of our hearts. Dear saints, our only salvation and hope is in the deep working of the cross within each one of us. Jesus prophesied of these times we are in that are splitting governments, churches and yes, even families.

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matt 10:34-39, ESV2011)

This has been quite literal for many of us, sons against fathers, daughters against mothers, daughters-in-law against mothers-in-law. Even our worst enemies being of our own households? Why is this so? Is it because of ethnic or political divisions or is it something much deeper? Have you ever considered that the deeper Christ calls us into HIS kingdom and out of this world by the work of His cross in us, it would put an ever increasing barrier between us and those we love who aren’t there yet?

Many of us just want to live in peace with our families and neighbors. But if that peace is a result of being of the same worldly or even religious mindset, is it the peace that God gives or something so shallow that the slightest assault of the enemy can blow it all apart? Jesus said:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27, ESV2011)

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, ESV2011)

Yes, in this world we will have tribulation, so we must quit looking to the world and what its leaders can and are doing. It is all of the kosmos, the world system controlled by Satan that is against Christ and wants to displace Him from being our Lord of all. So where will we find that peace? It is only to be found IN Him. As we abide IN Him, we also overcome the world and all its upheaval. The in-working of the cross is our doorway to heavenly peace as it separates us from the world. Once again T. Austin Sparks wrote something that cleared the air for me and I want to share it.

As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died. (Galatians 6:14 NLT)

A truly crucified people are never in danger of the world. It is only when the Cross has not done its work that the world has a place. The world has no place with a crucified man or woman, or a crucified company of believers. The Cross is a great defensive against the world. If you want to keep the world out, put the Cross in its place. If the Cross is truly in its place in fullness, then everything else will come into order. The Cross is the great defensive against the world. The Cross is the great defensive against evil powers. The Cross makes everything safe; it makes everything safe for the Lord.

You see, the Lord wants to commit Himself. He wants to trust Himself to His people, but if the Cross is not there at work, the Lord cannot trust Himself to them. The Lord says, “It is not safe for Me to give Myself there, or I should be involved in their un-crucified condition.” The Cross makes everything safe for the Lord, and the Cross makes everything safe for the Church. If the Cross is really at work in all of us, we can trust one another. It is quite safe to trust yourself to a crucified man or woman. [1]

Another thing happens as we yield to the cross of Christ working in our lives. The deeper it goes, the more unpopular we become with worldly Christians. As Sparks wrote, “It is only when the Cross has not done its work that the world has a place.” Or as Paul wrote, “Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died.” The closer Jesus got to taking up His cross and laying down His life in obedience to the will of His Father, the thinner the crowds that followed Him. He went from being followed by thousands of people singing His praises as their Messiah (who they thought would deliver them from the Romans) down to the twelve disciples, and one of them betrayed Him while the others ran away in total disillusionment.

Sparks wrote, “You see, the Lord wants to commit Himself. He wants to trust Himself to His people, but if the Cross is not there at work, the Lord cannot trust Himself to them.” We read of Jesus dealing with this very thing in the Gospel of John. “But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.” (John 2:24-25, KJ2000). Oh, what is in man! Today we hear all around us of men testifying of men, Trump this and Biden that! Yes, Jesus wants to commit Himself to us and trust us, but that can only be done as much as the cross has done its soul killing work in us. Our soulish political and familial desires keep Him from revealing to us the deep things of His Father’s kingdom and they keep us from walking in the light as He is in the light. Dear saints, may we all learn to embrace the working of His cross in our daily lives and look to Him in all things instead of men as this world unravels.

And he [Saul] said, Who are you, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom you persecute: it is hard for you to kick against the goads. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what will you have me to do? … (Acts 9:5-6, KJ2000)

[1] http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/000434.html

Blessed Is He Who Is Not Offended in Me

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

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.

Could it Be What We Consider “Normal Christianity” Is Not of Christ?

Have you ever looked around what calls itself “church” today, then looked for it in the New Testament and wondered what happened to that simple faith the saints of old once practiced? For instance, nowhere in the sacred writings will you find a paid clergy. Those who ministered in Christ did so as humble servants among the faithful and did so without begging for or demanding a salary in order to perform. In fact, in his final words to the elders of the church of Ephesus, Paul described his work among them as something quite opposite of what is the accepted norm today.

And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:32-35, ESV2011)

Yes, there were those who donated to the work of Christ from time to time, but that was not his focus. If anything Paul worked not only to support himself, but those who ministered with him and those who dear saints who were poor or too weak to support themselves. In this he was an example to those who were leaders, the elders of the church. And, no, there was no such thing as “the chief elder” in these churches. Jesus made it clear to the disciples what leadership in the churches should be… it should be just like Him.

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45, ESV2011)

No, there was no mandatory tithing because that was of the Old Testament law. They were of the New Covenant, where the Holy Spirit led those who had been given a NEW heart and a NEW mind, the mind of Christ (see Hebrews ch. 8). You will also note that Paul in the above quote from Acts commended them over “to God and the word of His grace,” not some well educated pastor to expound his knowledge to them each Sunday (this is why Jesus said he would send the Spirit after He arose and that He would lead us into all truth). It is from this heart and inspiration that Paul was speaking to these Ephesian elders in his final farewell. The sign of true leadership in the church is unbound generosity, doing whatever the love of Christ compels.

Another thing we do not see in the New Testament Church is “churches!” Yes, there were no church buildings to be found in the New Testament. That came much later, after those who knew the teachings of the apostles had died off. These early saints met together in their homes after persecution forbade them to do so in a public forum like Solomon’s Porch. The fact that they had no temples like the pagan worshipers made them suspect among the populous. These non-believers even called them “pagans” because of this! How can a person worship their god without a temple or building and a priest system to lead their worship? Sound familiar?

No, there were no churches, no tithing, and no paid professional clergy, those things so foundational to Christianity today. You might be wondering where the system we see today known as “the churches” came from and why Christianity as we know it is so weak and ineffective compared to the early church who were accused of “turning the world upside down” (see Acts 17:6). We can thank Emperor Constantine for that as he took power over the the Roman Empire and every aspect of leadership in it. This week I got a new laptop, and while moving all my files and apps over to it, I had to reinstall my favorite Bible program, The Word. While doing so, I found an extensive book on this subject titled, Miller’s Church History from which I quote the following:

The reign of Constantine the Great forms a most important epoch in the history of the church. Both his father Constantius and his mother Helena were religiously inclined, and always favourable to the Christians. Some years of Constantine’s youth were spent at the court of Diocletian and Galerius in the character of a hostage. He witnessed the publication of the persecuting edict at Nicomedia in 303, and the horrors which followed. Having effected his escape, he joined his father in Britain. In 306 Constantius died at York. He had nominated as his successor his son Constantine, who was accordingly saluted Augustus by the army. He continued and extended the toleration which his father had bestowed on the Christians.

There were now six pretenders to the sovereignty of the empire — Galerius, Licinius, Maximian, Maxentius, Maximin and Constantine. A scene of contention followed, scarcely paralleled in the annals of Rome. Among these rivals, Constantine possessed a decided superiority in prudence and abilities, both military and political. In the year 312 Constantine entered Rome victorious. In 313 a new edict was issued, by which the persecuting edicts of Diocletian were repealed, the Christians encouraged, their teachers honoured, and the professors of Christianity advanced to places of trust and influence in the state. This [brought about a] great change in the history of the church… 1

What was this great change? This is where “the wheels fell of the wagon.” The church under Constantine’s favor soon went from being a persecuted, worldly weak, but spiritually effective entity, to being spiritually weak and preeminent part of the Roman Empire. Quoting from Jesus’ corrective word to the seven churches in Revelation Miller continues:

epa04173136 Russian Orthodox Church bishop Panteleimon (R) spreads incense during a cross procession, while celebrating Easter Day at the Church of Christ’s Resurrection in Moscow, Russia, early 20 April 2014. EPA/SERGEI CHIRIKOV

In Ephesus we see the first point of departure, leaving their “first love” — the heart slipping away from Christ, and from the enjoyment of His love. In Smyrna the Lord allowed the saints to be cast into the furnace, that the progress of declension might be stayed. They were persecuted by the heathen. By means of these trials Christianity revived, the gold was purified, the saints held fast the name and the faith of Christ. Thus was Satan defeated; and the Lord so ruled that the emperors, one after the other, in the most humiliating and mortifying circumstances, publicly confessed their defeat. But in Pergamos the enemy changes his tactics. In place of persecution from without, there is seduction from within. Under Diocletian he was the roaring lion, under Constantine he is the deceiving serpent. Pergamos is the scene of Satan’s flattering power; he is within the church. Nicolaitanism is the corruption of grace — the flesh acting in the church of God. In Smyrna he is outside as an adversary, in Pergamos he is inside as a seducer. This was exactly what took place under Constantine.

Historically, it was when the violence of persecution had spent itself — when men had grown weary of their own rage, and when they saw that their efforts were to no purpose that the sufferers ceased to care for the things of the world, and became more devoted to Christianity; while even the numbers of the Christians seemed to increase; Satan tries another and an old artifice, once so successful against Israel. (Num. 25) When he could not obtain the Lord’s permission to curse His people Israel, he allured them to their ruin, by unlawful alliances with the daughters of Moab. As a false prophet he was now in the church at Pergamos, seducing the saints into unlawful alliance with the world — the place of his throne and authority. The world ceases to persecute; great advantages are held out to Christians by the civil establishment of Christianity; Constantine professes to be converted, and ascribes his triumphs to the virtues of the cross. The snare alas! is successful, the church is flattered by his patronage, shakes hands with the world, and sinks into its position — “even where Satan’s seat is.” All was now lost as to her corporate and proper testimony, and the way to popery laid open. Every worldly advantage was no doubt gained; but alas! alas! it was at the cost of the honour and glory of her heavenly Lord and Saviour. 1

Miller tells of the changes in great detail this “benevolent” dictator made in the church itself. To save time and text, I would like to quote from a booklet that George Davis and I wrote, “Falling Away from the Simple Faith,” that sums up what happened to the church under the reign of Constantine.

Many Roman Emperors heavily persecuted the Christians in the first three centuries and the Church flourished and grew rapidly. After the last ditch efforts of Diocletian to wipe out the Church by force, Satan had to come up with a new idea. He found a willing adherent to this new plan in the emperor Constantine. The story of how this monarch became a “Christian” is quite involved, but the upshot was a new age of tolerance toward both Christians and pagans. This worked well for him; Constantine maintained his title of “pontifex maximus.” He was still the chief priest of the pagan state cult and retained his position as the official Roman god as well as taking control of the Church. He also took to himself the title of “The Thirteenth Apostle,” becoming in effect the first pope.

Under him the Church clergy gained a tax-exempt status that only pagan priests had enjoyed before. Soon there was a flood of rich Romans into the priesthood, taking advantage of this great tax loophole. With all these powerful Romans as leaders, the Church soon gained political power that was only wielded by the Roman government itself up until this time. Soon the “Christian” Sunday and special feast days honoring Christian martyrs were observed along with the pagan holidays. Bishops were given the right to hear and settle lawsuits in their courts. Jews were forbidden to stone Jews who became Christians. Christian clergy and bishops became a regular part of the emperor’s court. Next, Constantine started a massive public works program building churches and cathedrals throughout the area [Rome] for his newfound faith.

He also forbade the repair and construction of pagan temples and Christians were no longer forced to participate in their rituals. Eventually, pagan rituals were totally abolished in Rome and their temples closed. By becoming a Christian, a person could gain official favor of the emperor and even new opportunities for wealth. Anyone who was under the employ of the Roman government was required to be a Christian and to sweeten the pot, Constantine offered a reward of thirteen pieces of gold and a new white garment to anyone who would be baptized into his faith. As you can imagine, the lines were long.

Paganism never was totally wiped out. Many pagan holidays were incorporated into Christian holidays. Pagan priests found their place in this new religion, and they brought their idolatrous ways in with them, instituting Christian ritual. Satan had won a great victory. He drew in his train not only a third of the hosts of heaven, but the very bride of Christ. Authority delegated by the Emperor himself to this new priesthood all but replaced God’s spirit-led authority in His precious bride. 2

So, my dear saints, who no longer feel at home in the church system we see all around us today, there is a reason for this, neither does Jesus or His Spirit. The Kingdom of God is pure and ruled in love by His Spirit in truth, not by worldly minded men. This is why Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst [within] of you.” (Luke 17:20-21, ESV2011) There is a reason why when we are asked, “What church do you go to?” we are counted as pagans by the pagan church when we tell them we don’t go to Sunday services anymore. Jesus told the woman at the well when she asked Him where was the right place to worship God,

“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain [Jeroboam’s high place and altar] nor in Jerusalem [the temple] will you worship the Father… But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:21-24, ESV2011)

There is a reason for what we feel when two of us who walk by the Spirit come together and our hearts are filled with joy… “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matt 18:20, ESV2011). We are not alone, IT’S HIM and no buildings are needed for this.

They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32, ESV2011)

1 https://www.theword.net/index.php?article.download

2 http://awildernessvoice.com/FallingAway.html

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.

 

Are We Still Clinging to Our Zoar?

Leaving it all behind

Photo by Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash

 

Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed. (Luke 17:28-30, KJ2000)

Many Christians who read the Bible compartmentalize its verses. They either make them apply to people they do not approve of, or apply them to another time (dispensationalism), especially if those verses start to make them feel uncomfortable about themselves. But the Holy Spirit won’t let me get away with that any more. He always reminds me of this verse as I contemplate any passage in the Bible:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (2Tim 3:16, ESV2011)

What part of ALL don’t we understand? ALL scripture is breathed out by God not only for teaching, but for reproof and correction as well as training us in HIS righteousness. So, I am used to not only listening to the voice of the Spirit for what He might say to me, but when He gives me a scripture, I have to ask Him, “Where do I fit in what He is saying to me?”

I didn’t start out that way. Like most church folks I knew, I loved to put the warnings of God’s word on everyone else but me. One of the first books that my church going aunt gave to me upon finding out that I was saved was a book on eschatology! I didn’t need to know about Bible prophesy, but rather who is this Jesus that has taken hold of me? So with the latest group of scriptures he had me contemplating, I wondered what His judgment on Sodom in the days of Lot had to do with today and my life in Christ. It is odd in the above text that Jesus did not have one word to say about sodomy or homosexuality, isn’t it? No, they ate, they drank, they bought and sold, they planted and they built. It was business as usual by people who had the focus of their lives on this world until God’s judgment destroyed all their works. Sound familiar?

As I contemplated this and many other passages about Sodom and let Him apply them to my life, a pattern started to form, and not one that I expected. In Genesis we read about how God forewarned Abraham about the judgment coming on Sodom and Gomorrah. The problem was that Abraham knew that Lot, his wife and his two daughters lived in Sodom and so he did all he could to convince God not to do such a thing. Two angels visited Abraham and told him that Sarah would have a son in her old age and he would be the father of a great nation. The angels then headed off to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because the people there were evil in all their ways. God does that–He destroys a people who have become altogether irredeemable and then raises up a people who will walk with Him by faith.

It is here that I want to quote Abraham’s conversation with God.

Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” He said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place. (Gen 18:23-33, ESV2011)

As the story goes on, the two angels entered Sodom after leaving Abraham and were invited to stay overnight with Lot and his family. As it got dark, the men of that evil city banged on his door and wanted to seduce his guests. While Lot was arguing with them, begging them not to do such an evil thing to his house guests, the angels grabbed him and drew him inside and blinded those men so that they could not find the door. When morning came, the two angels had to take Lot, his wife and two daughters by the hand and drag them out of the city before God’s judgment fell. The story continues:

As morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.” But he lingered. So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the LORD being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city. And as they brought them out, one said, “Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away.” And Lot said to them, “Oh, no, my lords. Behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life. But I cannot escape to the hills, lest the disaster overtake me and I die. Behold, this city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there—is it not a little one?—and my life will be saved!” He said to him, “Behold, I grant you this favor also, that I will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken. Escape there quickly, for I can do nothing till you arrive there.” Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar. (Gen 19:15-22, ESV2011)

We don’t know how many years Lot lived there in Sodom. We do know that when Abraham and he parted ways, Lot chose the fertile plain which was much more pleasant for him and his herds, while Abraham chose what was left, the mountains with all their dangers. Abraham walked by faith and Lot walked by sight. Because of Abraham’s faith, God kept him. It was not long until Lot was living in Sodom and nothing more is heard about him being a herdsman. The easy ways of this world are like that. They just keep sucking us into their more comfortable ways that are in league with our flesh. Abraham walked by faith, but Lot lacked such faith that God would keep him and bless him as He had Abraham, and he chose the artificial city life of fallen man.

Now, to get to what the Lord was saying to me out of all this. In the first passage we see Abraham arguing with the Lord about saving those cities for the sake of a few “good people” that might live in them. In the second we see Lot pleading with the angels to let him live in that “little city.” What harm can a little city do, after all? “Behold, this city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there—is it not a little one?—and my life will be saved!” As we read on we see that what Lot thought would save his life soon became dangerous as well. We do that. We put more trust in something that seems “good” to our natural man that we might save our life, but God knows the hidden dangers to our spiritual walk. Jesus said, “He who finds his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for my sake shall find it.” Our lives in the world and its ways are all too precious to us in the eyes of God.

Escape there quickly, for I can do nothing till you arrive there.” Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar. (Gen 19:22, ESV2011)

Now Lot went up out of Zoar and lived in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to live in Zoar. So he lived in a cave with his two daughters. (Gen 19:30, ESV2011)

“’I can do nothing until you arrive there.’ Therefore the name of the city is Zoar.” Zoar means “little or to be brought low.” God can do nothing with any of us, no matter how gifted we might be, until He has brought us low, and we admit that we have nothing in us that is good. We must become as a little child if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven. As John the Baptist said about Jesus, “He must increase, I must decrease.” God can do nothing with what we think we might have to offer Him, but oh, how we plead for Him to save any perceived “goodness” we have in us. “But Lord, if there be just 50, just 45, just 30, just 20… how about only ten good things in me, can I avoid the destruction that the cross demands in my life?” “Lord, let’s be reasonable. Let me have just a little safe haven, something I can cling to in this life. It all can’t be evil, can it?”  The longer we walk after Christ the more we find out just how uncompromising this walk is.  “None are righteous, no not one.” “All our righteousness is as filthy rags.” “The flesh profits nothing.” And finally in our ever growing weakness by the working of the cross we hear Him say, “Apart from me you can do nothing,” and we believe it.

Escape there quickly, for I can do nothing till you arrive there.” Until we become small in our own sight, so small that we no longer look to our Zoar for safety, but see that even the best hopes in and of ourselves are not safe, God cannot manifest the life of His Son in us. He can do nothing with us but set us aside as so many cave dwellers until we, like Elijah, no longer try to hear His voice in the earthquakes, winds and fires of the fleshly ways of men, but rather hear His slightest whisper saying, “This is the way of the Lord, walk you in it.”

Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot… Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.” In the economy of the Father it is all about his Son being revealed in us. We as individual believers are in the days of Lot, much deeper than we ever thought. But there is hope…

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1Pet 4:12-13, ESV2011)