“The Answer of Death” – the Wisdom of the Crucified Life in Christ

By Michael Clark and Susanne Schuberth

mountain-hiking-people

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… 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. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2Cor 4:7-12, ESV2011)

How can two people walk together in close fellowship as Christians and not fall into the many pitfalls and snares of the devil that are designed to destroy true Spirit unity? The answer is simple, two words: The Cross. Why do so many ministries fall? Because they have not embraced the cross of Christ as their cross and invited it to do a deep cleansing work in them. Most would rather rely on their own fleshly power and wisdom to do God’s work and enjoy the perks of staying in the flesh. (Let’s face it. Sin might be fun — for a while — but its dividends are death). But this is only true if we do not have the Spirit of God abiding in us! To put it bluntly, I (Susanne) know that there are “Christians” out there who feel no conviction from His Spirit because they are not His (see Romans 8:9). They might still think sin is fun and keep up their sinful lifestyle, which means they are not Christians as yet. “What fellowship does Light have with darkness? John wrote, By this we may know that we are in him [Christ]: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1John 2:5-6, ESV2011).

Do not be deceived, dear brothers and sisters. Those who live in sin still need to be saved by Jesus! I (Susanne) will not have fellowship with such people since God gave me a severe warning last year. I had many demons in our flat (apartment) after two people had surprised me with a visit. I could not believe my ears as I heard that they thought that their sinful relationship was God’s gift to them. Oh, what a deception! 😦  Instead, dear saints, if we are truly indwelt by His Spirit and have come to know Him, we will fear and hate sin more and more.

Paul understood the need of the cross working in him and wrote about it all through his letters. For instance, he wrote:

 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it [his debilitating trial] should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2Cor 12:8-10, ESV2011)

So many who write on the Net rely totally on their minds to do God’s work. This is foolishness in the eyes of God. I (Susanne) was just reminded of an article I wrote two years ago titled, “What Is Inspiration, then?”. While writing that entry, God clearly showed me the difference between my own limited mind and His that has no eternal boundaries. (If you would like to read about God’s humorous leading in this particular case, you might check this out  https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/2014/07/21/what-is-inspiration-then/).

In Proverbs we read:

 Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered. (Proverbs 28:26, ESV2011)

So what did Paul rely on when he taught and preached? What delivered him from the snares of the flesh? He relied on the wisdom and voice of the Spirit, which was only manifest through him when he was weak, denying himself, though he had been educated by the best teachers of Judaism (see 1 Cor. 2:1-7). Why did he deny the power of his own mind and education?  “So that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” Christ crucified is the power and the wisdom of God (See 1 Cor. 1:24).

Back to our original question, “How can two people walk together in close fellowship as Christians and not fall into the many pitfalls and snares of the devil?” The only way is by weakness and the cross working daily in them to keep them weak. Those who rise up by the power of their fleshly minds and abilities are ripe pickings for the devil. The natural man does not want to be seen as weak in the eyes of others. Natural man struts, postures, flexes and does all it can to blow people’s minds, get their adoration and gain power over them. Yet, it ignores the sober warning of God that “pride comes before a fall and a haughty spirit before destruction.”

God’s ways are not the ways of fallen Adam. He takes no pleasure in the arm of the flesh, especially when that fleshly person claims to represent Him. Paul wrote,

 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; (1Cor 1:26-27, ESV2011)

Thank God that our ability to resist the temptations of the devil does not rely alone on our being “careful.” The Father has given us His answer to the flesh of Adam in us and its natural affections—the death of the cross working in us. We have not liked all this dying we have been going through. Our outer man is perishing in each of our bodies in sickness, pain, and so much weakness and despair over our daily circumstances in life and yes, we have complained a lot. When we have prayed for healing and it has not come or for our circumstances to change and they don’t, it has become evident that God is in it. It has all became clear as to why things are the way they are as we surrender our lives to our Father and we pray from our hearts, “I wish that this cup would pass from me, Father, but nevertheless not my will but yours be done.”  Paul wrote:

 …we were weighed down exceedingly, beyond our power, insomuch that we despaired even of life: yea, we ourselves have had the answer of death within ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God… (2Cor 1:8-10, ERV – emphasis added)

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming [out] from us, but our sufficiency is from God. (2Cor 3:4-5, ESV2011)

Dear saints, we cannot be victorious in Christ if we continue to rely on our flesh, our minds and our abilities to do God’s work or even our own power to stay free of sin. “Take heed when you think you stand, lest you should fall.” We need to be ruthless with our flesh and pray daily that God does the deep work of the cross in us until we can truthfully say with Paul,

 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, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20, KJ2000)

 

Pressed Beyond Measure Into Christ

By Michael Clark and Susanne  Schuberth

Pressed Into ChristFor we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence [Grk, apokrima – an answer] of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead: (2Cor 1:8-9, KJ2000)

Susanne Schuberth recently took this picture on one of her prayer walks and sent it to me (Michael) and I cropped it to fit.

I (Susanne) thought about the biblical meaning of the number four. These four arrows represent the world system that puts those under pressure who eagerly want to follow the Lord. The two people with arrows coming at them from all directions seems to portray what we have been going through for some time with many attacks from the enemy causing afflictions in our bodies and our hearts. This sign depicts what it is like when two walk together in the unity of the Spirit and how the adversary presses in on them from every side. As we looked at the picture of the sign we noticed that these two are not alone, there is a third Person behind them as if He is looking over them with His arms around them. We are being pressed in from every side, but the enemy is actually pressing us into Christ! In the above verse Paul actually said, “we have the answer of death.” Death of our old self-natures is the answer to our prayers that we be conformed into the image of God’s Son.

As I (Michael) thought about what this sign depicts, many scriptures came flooding into my mind. Here are a few of them.

 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. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. (Isa 30:20-21, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

When we experience adversity and are afflicted with bodily pains, our adversary does all he can to get our eyes off Christ who has not left us, and onto our pains and attacks. But in all this we have the promise that our Teacher, the Holy Spirit, will continue to teach us in and through all these things. He teaches us and fine-tunes us to hear His gentle whisper and follow His leading in the most adverse circumstances.

 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Ps 23:5-6, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

Even after we have passed through the valley of the shadow of death, we are not free of our enemies. Rather, God prepares us a banquet table of spiritual food in the midst of them and their attacks. It is here that we experience the anointing of the Holy Spirit on us and the goodness and mercy of the Lord in spite of what our enemy attempts to do. We start to dwell in the house of the Lord and His covering in all situations.

 Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. (Isa 59:15-16, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

Yes, it seems like a very lonely walk in which we are made a prey of our enemy. As the sign shows, he comes at us from all sides in his attempt to overthrow our faith. We can’t expect any help from men and the world around us. The Lord alone will uphold us and vindicate us because He is with us.

Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind! In the cover of your presence you hide them from the plots of men; you store them in your shelter from the strife of tongues. (Ps 31:19-20, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

Even in the midst of verbal attacks by others, we find that we can take shelter in Christ in heaven and He foils the evil plots against us. It is here that we discover the abundance of our Father’s goodness towards us.

 Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. — Selah God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness! (Ps 57:1-3, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

Yes, we can take refuge in the shadow of His wings! As Jesus said, “How often I would have gathered you together unto me as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” God lets adversity come upon us so that we will cry out to Him and fulfill His purposes in us. He shows His great love and faithfulness to us through it all.

 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all. (Ps 34:19, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

Jesus said:

 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 (Grk. Nikao – to conquer) the world.” (John 16:33, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

Have you ever wondered how the fact that Jesus has overcome the world is supposed to make us take heart in tribulation? We sure have. Just yesterday I (Susanne) was mulling over the frustration I have had with that verse above which tells us that Jesus had overcome the world. How disappointing for us miserable human beings to have to live in this world until we die and to not be able to overcome the world just as Jesus did! But wait a moment… Thinking about ‘death’… Jesus was still alive on this earth and told us that he had overcome the world already. How so? Because He was IN the Father where there is no death any longer. IN God and IN Christ there is only LIFE, and PEACE, and LOVE, and JOY etc., even in tribulation and suffering (Rom 5:3 ESV). If Jesus conquered the kosmos, the “world” system that is under the rule of Satan, why then are we still under his attacks? The key is found in the following verse where Paul wrote:

 Now thanks be unto God, who always causes us to triumph in Christ, and makes manifest the fragrance of his knowledge by us in every place. (2Cor 2:14, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors (Grk. HuperNikao – to totally conquer or totally overcome) through him who loved us. (Rom 8:35-37, ESV2011 – emphasis added).

We are more than overcomers in Christ because that is where our Father places us as His sons and daughters. As soon as we have died to our old Adam natures, this will become obvious. So it is truly a new life after ‘death,’ although we are still in this world when this happens by God’s grace. In Romans we read, “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom 5:2, ESV2011). We stand in Christ. We also stand in faith because we stand in His grace. Here and there is no room for doubt. The enemy always gets us to sell short what is ours in Christ by getting us to doubt. T. Austin-Sparks wrote:

To prevent assurance of faith is the devil’s own work, it is his aim to get the Lord’s people unsettled; and doubt is one of his most subtle means of working. It was so in the beginning, “hath God said?” (Gen. 3:1), and it is still his method. The way, and the only way, to frustrate this is by being established in the faith (Acts 16:5; Col. 2:7). “Stand fast in the faith” (1 Cor. 16)…

The great need of God’s people is to be established in the faith, not just established in doctrine, in an orthodox gospel, or by acquiring knowledge of fundamental truth, but established by an inward knowledge of our standing in the Lord Jesus on the ground of His finished work and complete triumph over the devil and all his works. So many of the Lord’s children lack this assurance of their position in the Lord; yet it is written: “God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world… in love having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto Himself.” (Eph. 1:4,5)…

Stand on God’s facts and not on the quicksands of your own feelings. Some are doubting simply because of feelings! Salvation is not a matter of feeling, it is God’s fact – “It is written” – God hath said. The word of God is “no condemnation“. “There is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus.” – Rom. 8:1. We are perfect in Christ the day we are born anew, that is as to our standing, we have good reason to be sorry for our state; but the word is “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” – 2 Peter 3:18. “My little children of whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you” – Gal. 4:19 A.R.V. Yes it is to be a day by day growing in grace…

Here we are passing through trial, adversity, sorrow, suffering, and we are tempted to think the Lord has given us up; the enemy presses in on every side with accusation, condemnation, question, doubts, fears. “Be ye steadfast, unmovable,” for beloved, this is the establishing principle at work, our faith is being exercised. We know anguish, travail. Remember the establishing work is done while our eyes are unto Him; when things are against us, seeking to press us down, then we look off unto Jesus now in the presence of God for us, having all authority in heaven and on earth, and a NAME that is above every other name, a title of Sovereignty above every other title of sovereignty…

This is the ONE unto whom our eyes are. Faith is thus exercised and enables us in the very midst of pressure and contradictory circumstances to rise upward and stand in Christ Jesus in the position He has given us, “seated together with Him in the heavenlies.” “Ye are made full in Him in Whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead in bodily form.” – Col. 2:9.

So through trial, the establishing work is done; it is the manifestation of His Victory over all the power and pressure of the enemy, “God who giveth us The Victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Cor. 15:57. Yes, it is HIS victory, a life that has conquered death – 1 Cor. 15:54. (1)

Wow! Did you get that? God has chosen us in Christ from before the foundation of the world. In His love, He foreordained us in our adoption as His sons and daughters into Himself (the Greek is clear that we are chosen in Christ and that as we have believed into Him and it is here that we have all the grace and love and faith we need – see 1 Cor. 3:22-23). It is all a matter of the faith of Christ working in us. The enemy does all he can to get us to doubt and live as if we are subject to this world instead of seeing that we abide in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, which is our inheritance now in Him. We are overcomers because we are in Him who has overcome the world. Everything that the enemy does to us only presses us further into our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God: therefore the world knows us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the children of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (1John 3:1-2, KJ2000)


(1) ~ http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/002923.html

“In keeping with T. Austin-Sparks’ wishes that what was freely received should be freely given and not sold for profit, and that his messages be reproduced word for word, we ask if you choose to share these messages with others, to please respect his wishes and offer them freely – free of any changes, free of any charge (except necessary distribution costs) and with this statement included.”

Have You Ever Felt Hung Out to Dry?

But who will survive the day when he comes? Or who can stand when he appears? For he’s like a refiner’s fire and a launderer’s soap. He will sit refining and purifying silver, purifying the descendants of Levi, refining them like gold and silver. Then they’ll bring a righteous offering to the Lord. (Mal 3:2-3, ISV)

Yes, who shall survive the day of His coming? How many of you have been going through times of deep trials and even spiritual dryness, when  all of a sudden the night is over and the morning sun arises in your hearts?  It seems that in the ongoing process of God’s purification of our hearts, He takes us through dark nights, but eventually there is a glorious sunrise. We want the sunshine to last with no more periods of darkness and trials, yet another night comes all too soon! Will this process ever end? You start to feel like you are in the hands of a launderer who is scrubbing you up and down on a washboard with lye soap!

I was looking at Psalm 30 and noticed the ups and downs that David spoke of in his own walk.

“Sing unto the LORD, O you saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness [up]. For his anger endures but for a moment [down]; in his favor is life [up]: weeping may endure for a night [down], but joy comes in the morning. And in my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved. LORD, by your favor you have made my mountain to stand strong [up]: you did hide your face, and I was troubled [down].” (Ps 30:4-7, KJ2000)

Does this look familiar? He blesses us and we rejoice and praise His name and are feeling pretty good about our place in His kingdom. Then we feel His displeasure and we are troubled and sad and another trial begins. We know His favor to be our life. We weep again and are sad for a season as He goes deeper into our souls, but when we see the reason for our suffering, we once again take courage that God’s hand is in it for our good. We eventually start to feel like we have arrived and are prosperous in the Spirit and say, “Finally, I shall never be moved! The Lord has made me to stand like a strong mountain in His presence!” Then He hides his face from our exalted pride and we are once again brought low. Poor David was going through this same process that has become so familiar to many of us as we seek to be made whole IN Christ.

John of the Cross wrote about this very process in his book, The Dark Night of the Soul.

…the soul that desires to consider it will be able to see how on this road… it has to suffer many ups and downs, and how the prosperity which it enjoys is followed immediately by certain storms and trials; so much so, that it appears to have been given that period of calm in order that it might be forewarned and strengthened against the poverty which has followed; just as after misery and torment there come abundance and calm… This is the ordinary course and proceeding of the state of contemplation until the soul arrives at the state of quietness; it never remains in the same state for long together, but is ascending and descending continually.

The reason for this is that, as the state of perfection, which consists in the perfect love of God and contempt for self, cannot exist unless it have these two parts, which are the knowledge of God and of oneself, the soul has of necessity to be practised first in the one and then in the other, now being given to taste of the one—that is, exaltation—and now being made to experience the other—that is, humiliation…*

David finally ends his observation by saying this:

Hear, O LORD, and have mercy upon me: LORD, be my helper. You have turned for me my mourning into dancing: you have put off my sackcloth, and [you have] girded me with gladness; To the end that my glory may sing praise to you, and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks unto you forever. (Ps 30:10-12, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

In these last two verses David, is no longer strong in himself. He pleads to God for mercy and to be His help. There is no mention of never being moved, of prosperity, or of being strong like a mountain; now he is weak and pleads for God to be his strength. It is God who turns his mourning into dancing. It is God who girds him with gladness that he might sing His praises and give Him thanks forever. There is a subtle difference between verses 4-7 and verses 10-12, but that difference is true brokenness and humility. Jesus said this to Nathanial:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter you shall see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. (John 1:51, KJ2000)

Jesus was referring to Himself as the ladder that Jacob saw in his dream. John of the Cross wrote that this process of exaltation and humiliation continues

…until it has acquired perfect habits; and then this ascending and descending will cease, since the soul will have attained to God and become united with Him, which comes to pass at the summit of this ladder, for the ladder [Christ] rests and leans upon Him… All this, says Divine Scripture, took place by night, when Jacob slept, in order to express how secret is this road and ascent to God [and few be they who find it], and how different from that of man’s knowledge. This is very evident, since ordinarily that which is of the greatest profit in it—namely, to be ever losing oneself and becoming as nothing—is considered the worst thing possible; and that which is of least worth, which is for a soul to find consolation and sweetness (wherein it ordinarily loses rather than gains), is considered best. *

I am reminded of Ezekiel chapter 37 when God sets the prophet in the middle of a valley littered with dry human bones and asked the prophet if the bones could live again.

And he said unto me, “Son of man, can these bones live”? And I answered, “O Lord GOD, [only] you know.” (Ezek 37:3, KJ2000)

When He has made our bones not just dry to outward appearances, but very dry so that even the marrow inside the bones of our souls is dried up. Then there is progress (remember, “the life is in the blood” and the blood is made in the marrow. Our natural soulish life is what He is drying up in us). Finally after many trials, we are done trying to out-guess Him and find a way out of our miseries. We even quit hoping that things will change under His mighty hand.  We resign ourselves to the will of God alone with no reservations saying, “Oh Lord God, only YOU know. Your will be done with me according to YOUR good pleasure.” This is when we enter into the glory of the Father and the Son, immersed in their love. That glory sings praises to them forevermore.  Finally, John of the Cross describes God’s goal in putting us through this process.

…we shall observe that the principal characteristic of [this] contemplation, on account of which it is here called a ladder, is that it is the science of love. This, as we have said, is an infused and loving knowledge of God, which enlightens the soul and at the same time enkindles it with love, until it is raised up step by step, even unto God its Creator. For it is love alone that unites and joins the soul with God. *

The Apostle John wrote:

And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love; and he that dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him. In this is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has to do with punishment. He that fears is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us. (1John 4:16-19, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

*http://www.ccel.org/ccel/john_cross/dark_night.viii.xviii.html?highlight=secret%20wisdom#highlight

(A special thanks to Susanne Schuberth for finding this writing in “The Dark Night of the Soul” for me. She and I have been going through this process for years, and are starting to see our Father’s purpose it all. Though the heart pains during the downward cycle can really be painful, the glorious joy afterwards is heavenly.)

The Power in Our Souls to Be Deceived

the_temptation_of_christ_by_armusik-d4x15hc

“The Temptation of Christ” by Armusik

But evil men and seducers shall grow worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. (2Tim 3:13, KJ2000)

What is our real motive for following after the Lord? Is it what Jesus demanded in the Gospels, that if we would be His disciples, we must take up our own flesh-killing crosses and follow Him for the glory of His Father alone? Or do we claim to be His followers, but all the while seek to find our own successful lives and keep them fully under our own control?

There are so many fleshly ways to “serve the Lord” that are really nothing more than a human seeking after pleasure, profit, and notoriety, to further our own grip on the usurping Adamic life in us. This life takes pleasure in control and in ruling over others instead of being a true humble servant IN Christ. One of the most common ways Christians look for illicit power is our pursuit of knowledge and spiritual gifts. The soul loves to be “spiritual” in an outward show of spirituality. This covers our inward sin of rebellion against God. Just like Adam and Eve sewed together fig leaves to cover their nakedness, these so-called “gifts,”scholastic degrees and hierarchic titles can be used to “hide” our spiritual nakedness from others, though God sees right through to our hearts. It is amazing how many high profile people in Christianity have perfected this act and use it to deceive others and themselves. The more people they deceive and garner as followers, the more they deceive themselves into believing what they are doing it “all for the glory of God.” Susanne Schuberth wrote this in her recent blog:

The counterfeit problem arises because we as human beings are usually not that patient by nature. Instead, the old self wants to have ALL of God’s blessings, immediately at that! Normally, we do not want to wait on God. Therefore, Satan who knows about this, sneaks in and offers everything which the old (and seemingly spiritual) self wants to have. He offers spiritual experiences like dreams and visions that are pleasing to the eye and keeps us focused on our imaginary magnificence and our imaginary spiritual virtues. Yes, the devil is a people pleaser. He whispers some pleasant things into our ears until we believe him. It is only later that he begins to discourage and destroy the soul. Yet in the beginning Satan disguises himself as an angel of light and tells us that he is God who loves us. He even appears as “Jesus” at times and leads astray whomever he can by doing so. In fact, Satan also offers a kind of spirit baptism and “bestows” several powerful “spiritual gifts’ on such deceived believers. Actually, as soon as someone has fallen in love with possessing such gifts, it is very difficult to convince them that God was not their author.

One might wonder here about how to discern the difference between true and false spirituality and I admit it is not always easy to recognize it right at the outset. However, we can say if someone is not used to dying daily like the apostle Paul told us he was doing (see 1 Cor 15:31), but (mis)uses his ‘gifts’ in his old and unchanged self, he cannot grow in loving God and his neighbors, either. We do more damage to God’s case and the kingdom of God when we follow our soul’s desires to become someone. If our focus is more on our (old) self and on what God (or not God?) is doing through us instead of enduring those necessary and painful changes in our hearts that always direct us away from our self toward God, we might have been deluded by Satan. Since it is not a rare thing to be deceived by the devil, I thought I needed to point that out, once again. (1)

She went on to quote Paul where he warned:

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

Most Christians are waiting for Antichrist, the “lawless one,” the “man of sin” to build himself a temple in Jerusalem and sit on a throne there and deceive the whole world. The sooner we discover the antichrist that abides in us already,For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work” (verse 7), that is, in our flesh, the sooner we will start giving God the authority to destroy that ugly thing we have been in league with all our lives. The meaning of that Greek word antichristos is not only “against Christ” but more importantly “instead of Christ.” It is that usurper inside of us, “Who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped; so that he as God sits in the temple of God [our hearts], showing himself that he is God.” (2Thess 2:4, KJ2000)

That thing in us wants to be preeminent and take Jesus’ place in ruling our lives. Dear saints, the flesh lusts against the Spirit in us (see Galatians 5:17) and there is a war within us as long as the natural man in us is still in control. As we can see from the verse above, Satan is more than happy to manifest in our flesh with all pretense of signs and wonders to deceive those who do not desire the Truth of Christ where it really counts, in our hearts. David wrote,

“Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.” (Ps 51:6, ESV2011)

We are watching the onslaught of Satan being let loose to raise hell upon the earth and all manner of evil is being done today in the name of God. There is no uglier and more treacherous works on earth than those done through fleshly men under the name of a “righteous cause” or a “holy war.” Men and women are being deceived, and because they have no desire for the truth of Christ to dwell in their hearts, God is giving them strong delusions to follow as they take pleasure in unrighteousness. This is all too evident at this time as we watch Muslims, ethnic groups and yes, even Christians taking sides and feeding on anger in the current political, religious and ethnic conflicts around the world. Jesus told us that this would be a sign of the end of days before He returns:

And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity [literally – no way out] — Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking toward those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. (Luke 21:25-26, KJ2000)

I believe we are watching the last great battle for the souls of men. Will we deny our soulish selves and Satan from feeding on this dust within us and cling to Christ alone or will be caught up in his lies and subterfuge that feel so good to our flesh as we ignore the warnings of Christ and let our hearts become hardened for fear of what is coming upon us?

Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ, if only we hold our first confidence [in Him] firm to the end, (Heb 3:12-14, RSV)

(1) https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/2016/03/13/satans-counterfeit-spirituality/

Bondservants of God… to be Led by the Holy Spirit

by Michael Clark and Susanne Schuberth*

Bondservants of the Lord pic

Austin-Sparks rightfully observed,

Many things are being constructed to which the Name of the Lord is being affixed – things which appear fine and great and like “the Church,” but which are destined to collapse when God’s hurricane and fire test every man’s work. Good works – philanthropy, hospitality, reform, education, religion, relief, etc. – may be the products, or byproducts, of what is called “Christian civilization” …and things for which to be profoundly grateful… but let us not confuse these with “a new creation,” regeneration, a being “born from above.” (1)

Today the highly visible church systems of men have become something that has a life of its own with the leading of Christ’s Spirit among them a rare thing. There is no resemblance of what calls itself “church life” today and what happened when the Holy Spirit was poured out on those who believed in Christ which we read about in the Book of Acts. All of our best attempts to even duplicate what they had back then will fail for one reason, they are our best attempts! Either Christ builds the household of God upon Himself, The Rock, as its foundation and enlivens what He builds or it is a sham subject to the eroding winds of time and the whims of presumptuous men (See Ephesians 4:14), doomed to live without His blessing on it and subject to the wiles of the devil and his delusions.

Jesus left the Holy Spirit in His place to give life, instruction, direction and power to His body (the ekklesia of God) and His presence was so powerful in those early days that those who lied to Him dropped dead and no one dared to add themselves to those who were called and empowered by Him for fear! The body with its many God-gifted members moved in the unity of a normally functioning human body. In fact the human body is a parable of what our Creator meant the body of Christ on this earth to be… unified, coordinated, obedient to the Head as it builds itself up in the love of God. No amount of human organization can cause this to happen.

T. A. Sparks continues,

The Church is nothing which man can build by any resource in himself personally or collectively. The Church is an organism, not an organization: “Behold, I show you a mystery – we are members of His flesh and of His bones.” Build that, if you can! Launch that; organize that; “run” that! It cannot be done. It is the spontaneous outworking of spiritual forces released… in the acceptance by faith of tremendous facts concerning Christ – facts which are proclaimed out of experience in the power of the Holy Ghost. Not the theological Christ; not the doctrinal Christ; not the Christ of the letter; much less the Jesus of history; but the Christ of Eternity in all the meaning of His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension into the Throne of God revealed in the heart by the Holy Spirit – this alone is authority to preach, to serve, to occupy position, to “build” in relation to the House of God. It is folly to spend time and strength otherwise. It is wisdom to labor on this foundation. (1)

Paul wrote,

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good… individually as he wills. (1Cor 12:4-11, ESV2011)

 Today, few who believe in Christ wait on the Holy Spirit to empower us as HE wills, rather we put our eyes on something that titillates our flesh and makes us feel important as we answer our own call. Or if we yield to the will of God in our initial calling, how soon is it until we cast our eyes on something that is more pleasing and appealing to our natural man who wants to maintain his own preeminence and wars against the Spirit within us? We get away with this in today’s church because even church leadership to whom we look to as an example has often fallen victim to such things.

In my own case, I started out with what some called a “ministry of helps.” I was with a street ministry in the early ‘70’s that had many homes and facilities for those being saved off the streets and it was my gifting to rejuvenate, repair and maintain them. I spent many an hour re-plumbing and unclogging sewer pipes in basements and such, out of the sight of those who had the more glorious positions in that ministry. You might say that I was the guy behind the scenes who kept it all going with my mechanical, electrical and plumbing skills. After leaving that group I was often the church janitor and handy man that kept “things” unplugged the sound system, etc. going.

God did not anoint me to write for him for 22 years after He filled me with His Spirit and even then my writings were not allowed to go public for another eight years. It was then a brother found me and put what I shared with him on the web. I did not call myself to this more visible ministry of blogging book writing and website publishing and to this day I am quite content to remain in obscurity in the back woods of northern Idaho, unknown by others even in my own small town.

Somebody high in Christian circles observed a few years back with pride that in the sixties men were pastors. In the seventies they became teachers. In the eighties they became evangelists and in the nineties they became prophets and finally in the beginning of this century they became apostles. It is as if church leadership is a military or corporate machine in which we are entitled to go up the ladder and achieve higher ranks and titles regardless of our original callings. Far from the minds of leadership today is the downward calling of God regarding our flesh ever descending until we, as Paul, we see ourselves rightfully as “the chief of sinners” not the chief of the apostles. Truly, Paul called it right when he said, “The flesh wars against the Spirit…”

T.A. Sparks continues,

When one called of God to do the work of an evangelist assumes the role of a teacher, or vice-versa, or anyone marked out for this particular functioning attempts to do that, or when one goes beyond their scope and assumes any prerogative which is not theirs by Divine ordering, they are in the way of an arrested ministry, and more, they will be landed into serious confusion. People and things – otherwise occupying a vital position in the Divine plan – put into their wrong places have the Divine unction withdrawn from them… The Holy Spirit’s method is to set His seal upon us as we move according to His leading; not according to our fancy, choice, aptitude, predilection or ambition. (2)

 

Bondservants of the Lord

The apostle Paul wrote,

“For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.” (1 Cor 9:16-19 ESV)

How many bondservants of the Lord do we have leading in the churches today? How many men will do the work that God called them to without pay or remuneration from those they serve? How many find presenting the gospel free of charge out of obedience to Christ enough reward in itself as Paul (see also 2 Thes. 3:7-12)? How many leaders seek reward for their efforts because they have not been called by God and have not been entrusted by Him with their stewardship? Today, men in our pulpits shamelessly beg for money and support. If God calls a man to be His servant He meets their needs and as David observed, “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” (Ps 37:25, KJV). It is not righteous for men and women to approach the service of the Lord as if it is a worldly profession, using worldly methods to ascend and succeed.

T. A. Sparks continues,

“Christian service” has come to be a realm in which all the acquisitive, ambitious, obtrusive, assertive, self-seeking, and numerous other elements of the natural man have been vented and taken hold. It has created a system in which human distinctions are the order of the day. Yes, and much more which it is too painful to mention.

We need an adjustment of our minds by a true spiritual perception of the real nature of service, and it will be well for us ever to remember that all work for Christ is not service to Christ (emphasis mine). A child may be very well-meaning and industrious in its “helping [out] mother”, but poor mother may find rather more work created than done.

Now let us say right away… with emphasis… that the indispensable and basic thing to real service is THE SERVANT-SPIRIT AND THE SERVANT-MIND. The matter of service is infinitely more than busy-ness in religious causes, earthly activities in Christian interests; it is the accomplishment of a heavenly will and Divine purpose which registers its impact in the breaking of another foreign will and destroying the works of the devil. This is the force of “obedience” and the “not my will” …and this is the servant-mind and servant-spirit. (1)

Paul wrote,

“For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men.” (1 Cor 7:22-23 ESV)

We are called to be the bondservants of Christ not of soulish, self-promoting men. We have been bought by Him as His own with His precious blood. No man has the right to rule over us in the place of Christ’s Spirit. Yes, we are to obey the laws of the land in which we live (see 1 Peter 2:13-17), but we are always to obey the leading of the Spirit and when these two are in conflict it is better to obey God than man.

For a while I was a part of a church that was founded in California by a charismatic leader from the Hollywood area, in fact he was involved in the music industry there before God called him. He was highly respected in the ranks of the church, but he often taught things that were not scriptural and his will and writings were respected by the church leadership under him without question. Our pastor would quote him before he would quote the Bible and was constantly reading his books and often attended seminars taught by him. He was definitely a “company man.” Finally, when I showed him how what he was teaching was contrary to the scriptures the pastor got offended and I told him that this man did not own me. I knew that I was already purchased with the blood of Christ and that I was to obey His Spirit and not the whims of men with their winds of doctrine. We were finally forced to leave that church and since then that pastor was forced to step down in shame and the denomination’s founder and his son (the heir apparent) both died not long after we left. Jesus said, “Every plant that my Father has not planted shall be rooted up.” We are called to be the bond-servants of Christ and obey the leading of His Spirit for He alone is our Savior and Lord. Sparks continues,

The Lord’s need is to have bond-servants… even though the extreme pressure at some time might make them say that they would “no more speak in this Name” … they find that they cannot forbear for long; but cost what it may, they must be in it and at it – the fire is in their bones and zeal of His House eats them up. May we be such, and may the true ground and motive of this fellowship in service be:

“I love, I love my Master,
I will not go out free!
For He is my Redeemer,
He paid the price for me.
I would not leave His service,
It is so sweet and blest;
And in the weariest moments
He gives the truest rest.

“My Master shed His life-blood
My vassal life to win,
And save me from the bondage
Of tyrant self and sin.
He chose me for His service,
And gave me power to choose
That blessed, perfect freedom
Which I shall never lose.” (1)

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/001520.html

(2) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/003697.html

* I want to give a special thanks to Susanne Schuberth who sent me these quotes from T. Austin-Sparks and the quotes from Paul that inspired me to write this blog. Once again she and I are hearing the Lord say the same things. What a blessing to walk together in the unity of the Spirit.

For Our God Is a Consuming Fire!

Consuming Fire

Susanne Schuberth recently wrote on her inspiring blog in the comments,

“I think everyone inside or outside the [church] system needs to go through God’s cleansing and purifying fire so that God can use us for HIS purposes.” (1)

Yes! This is the way of the Lord and He has always required His offerings to pass through the fire. Everything and every work we propose to give must pass through His fires of purification, including our own hearts. Oswald Chambers wrote of this process,

Whenever God gives a vision to a saint, He puts him, as it were, in the shadow of His hand, and the saint’s duty is to be still and listen. There is a darkness which comes from excess of light, and then is the time to listen. Genesis 16 is an illustration of listening to good advice when it is dark instead of waiting for God to send the light. When God gives a vision and darkness follows, wait. God will make you in accordance with the vision He has given if you will wait His time. Never try and help God fulfil His word. Abraham went through thirteen years of silence, but in those years all self-sufficiency was destroyed; there was no possibility left of relying on common-sense ways. Those years of silence were a time of discipline, not of displeasure. Never pump up joy and confidence, but stay upon God (cf. Isaiah 50:10,11). (2)

In the Book of Numbers we read a very telling commandment that the Jews who had come back from war had to strictly follow.

“Only the gold, and the silver, the bronze, the iron, the tin, and the lead, everything that can endure the fire, you shall make it go through the fire, and it shall be clean: nevertheless it shall be purified with the water of purification: and all that cannot endure the fire you shall make go through the water. And you shall wash your clothes on the seventh day, and you shall be clean, and afterward you shall come into the camp.” (Num 31:22-24, KJ2000)

So many Christians come to Christ and have a vision early on of what God wants for them to do in His kingdom. But they are either unaware that they have nothing in them that God can use without it all passing through His fires of purification (the dark night of the soul and the wilderness), or they are willfully ignorant and use the powers of their flesh and their personal charisma to try doing His work for Him. The trouble is that soon the stinking smell of the flesh and pride is all over it. Just like Cane’s sacrifice, God rejects it and they have to spend more and more human effort to prop it up and keep it going or worse yet, those who get involved in their efforts also become defiled.

“And Abraham said unto God, ‘O that Ishmael might live before you!'”(Gen 17:18, KJ2000) and God’s answer to the works of the flesh is always the same, “But my covenant will I establish with Isaac,” the miraculous child of God’s promise. How often do we see ministries begging for money and help to keep them going? “Oh, God, please bless my Ishmael!”

“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the children of God, even to them that believe on his name: Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13, KJ2000)

We are born into His kingdom by the Spirit and all that is done for His kingdom must also be born of the Spirit. Or as Paul put it, “Are you so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal 3:3, KJ2000).

Paul wrote:

“For no other foundation can a man lay than what is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall test every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he has built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” (1Cor 3:11-15, KJ2000)

The arrogance and pride of church organizations always make men and their works their foundation (they even often name their ministries after themselves). Each of these organizations are founded by a man or a woman with lots of personal charisma  and men blindly follow them. Instead of each follower being founded on Christ and able to follow the wind of His Spirit, they want a following that will give them unquestioned authority, be loyal to their vision, and do what they say!

Well, “the day shall declare” what manner of work each of us have built. We are in that final day of the purifying fire of God and everything that man has done by and of the flesh is going up in smoke. Jesus said, “The flesh profits nothing!” The real question is, what will be left of all our works when we stand before the piercing gaze of God? Those who have been purified by His fire, His sheep who wait for Him to move among them, will hear, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” And the self-motivated and self-promoted goats will hear, “Depart from me you who work inequity, I never knew you.”

Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he has promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifies the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb 12:26-29, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

Oh that more of God’s people waited upon His empowering grace before they acted and  had a godly fear of Him before they built themselves a new oxcart to move Him along or stretch forth an unclean hand to steady what He is doing.

(1) https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/2016/01/21/is-the-church-age-over/#comment-13551

(2) http://utmost.org/vision-and-darkness/

And Two Shall Become One

Two on Road to EmmausAnd that he died for all, that they who live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto him who died for them, and rose again. Therefore from now on know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet from now on know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:15-17 KJ2000)

For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28 RSVA)

If all the forces of hell are arrayed against any one thing that has to do with the Kingdom of Heaven and the Gospel of Christ, it is to keep the saints of God divided. Everywhere, even in the churches the lines of division are clearly to be seen–male against female, clergy against laity, teens against adults, blacks against whites, conservatives against liberals, Fundamentalists against Pentecostals, organized religion against house churches. On and on the list goes.

For about four years the Spirit has been teaching me the depths of what Jesus spoke just before He went to the cross. You could say it was His last will and testament, so we should give close attention to it. He prayed,

[I pray] that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:21-26 ESV)

Unity, love, perfection, glory and witness are all interwoven together in His prayer. These are part of a whole for the people of God to live and walk in. They cannot be divided and were in the plan of God for His creation from the foundation of the world.

Jesus describes His unity with the Father as God in Him and He in God. When I get up in the morning, I pour myself a cup of coffee and add a flavored creamer. With the help of a spoon, they are soon one, and as such, the creamer may not be extracted from the coffee and put back in its jug and the coffee can’t be poured back into the pot. The creamer is in the coffee and the coffee is in the creamer. They have become a whole new creation with an identity of its own that is the best of both parts. This is what it means for us to be one even as the Father is one with the Son and He with the Father. Only as we are one with the Father and the Son can we become truly one with each other. This was the witness that the church had as we read the opening chapters of the Book of Acts. They were all of one heart and one mind, no one said what he had was his own, and no one was lacking because they all cared for one another. Soon the world was saying, “Behold how they love one another!”

Paul wrote about this very same unity using the example of a godly marriage between a man and a wife to demonstrate a deeper truth.

For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; (Ephesians 5:29-32 RSVA)

Here we see tender care, love and unity between a man and a woman as they become one in marriage. Although this is something many take for granted, Paul goes on to tell us that this a profound mystery because it portrays Christ and the Church. “I in thee and thou in me that they may be one in us even as we are one.” Dear saints of God, there is a unity that can be ours in Christ and the Father. In this unity we are enfolded into one another and truly become one in the Father and the Son, just as they are enfolded into one another. “Herein God commands a blessing” (see Psalm 133).

This unity of Jesus and His Father was so profound that He could say to Philip, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” So as Jesus prayed for our unity as His body and bride (the true ekklesia of God), He prayed that she would be just as He is in this world, “That the world might know that you have sent me.” If you have seen that beautifully perfected bride that dwells in unity as members of His body, you have seen Jesus. To this fact John wrote:

Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:1-2 RSVA)

We become what we behold. John wrote that it would happen when Christ appears! He appears because we are like Him in the unity He has with the Father. He becomes evident because we are in the unity, love, perfection and glory of God as a witness of Christ to the world. We have to let Him crucify anything in us that stands in the way of this divine gift of unity in His love. The scripture makes it clear that He will not physically return until He has a perfect bride to return for! “Behold the bride has made herself ready.” “The Spirit and the Bride say, Come!” She is one in the Spirit of Christ.

Dear saints, I have been in many Christian groups and churches and any time that even two people started to come together in the unity of the Spirit, all the forces of hell have risen up against them to divide and conquer. Jesus warned us that Satan was a liar and a murder from the beginning, and all too often we as Christians are ignorant of his ways. We let him make us instruments of his will and become part of the problem, adding to that division. We quickly finding fault with one another and speak against one another. If this happens when only two Christians start to come into agreement in the unity of God’s love, is it any wonder that today’s 41,000 different Christian denominations and sects are so divided when the New Testament says that there is only one church and one body? We can come together in some kind of ecumenical conclave and round-off the corners of our doctrines to make them compatible with the other groups, but unless we are joined in the life and love of Christ with HIM as our Head, it profits nothing.

In reality we cannot do much about the divisive mess the churches have become. The visible church took the wrong fork in the road many years ago and was already dividing along the lines of ethnicity, doctrinal differences, and a party spirit by the end of the first century.

But if just two of us would pray and humble ourselves and ask that our Father would make us one no matter what the personal cost–if being one with the Father and the Son was more important to us than being “right” or being “over” the other person. If serving one another in the self-denying agape love of God becomes most significant, He will command a blessing to spring out of that love and unity and His great grace will go out from us unto a dying world.

One person cannot do this alone. It takes two, always a minimum of two who become one. First we have the Father and the Son becoming one as our example. Jesus sent out the disciples in twos. The idea of “one man band” ministries ended with the Old Covenant, yet what do we have today? Ministries that come from and focus on a single individual. This is travesty and a terrible sin against the heart of Christ! He told us that if two or more would agree as touching any one thing, it would be granted to us. This cannot happen by the flesh when one person is imposing his will on everyone else under him. When God made Adam, He said that it was not good that man should be alone; He made Eve so they could become one flesh. This has always been God’s requirement. The unifying of two people in one heart, one mind and one spirit is where the world sees who Christ really is, “I in thee and thou in me.” May we pray for and allow Him to put us with that other saint He has for us to grow with in Christ and knit us together in His love that the world might know that He has sent us in His Son. This is God’s synergism.

And you shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand; and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. And I will have regard for you and make you fruitful and multiply you, and will confirm my covenant with you. (Leviticus 26:7-9 RSVA)

If this was true of the Old Covenant how much more is it true of the New and Lasting Covenant with Christ as our Head? I would like to end with this quote from T. Austin Sparks,

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore, as you go, disciple people in all nations. (Matthew 28:18,19 ISV)

But who is to go? It is the Church, and His irreducible nucleus of the Church is two. It is a corporate thing, the bringing of the significance of the Body into view. When there is a functioning in the Spirit, it is nothing less than Christ risen, ascended and exalted, going on with His work through His Body, with all those limitations dismissed. That is tremendous! It is either true, or it is not true. If it is true, it is an immense thing. If it is not, well, what fools we are! But here it is, and, oh! that the Church might learn more of what it means to be in living union with a risen Christ! That there should be a company, two or three or more, though limited physically here on this earth by time and space, yet really functioning in the Holy Spirit, so that the universal Christ – all that it means that He is there at God’s right hand – is having some expression! I would to God that this could come home to you by the Spirit and that you could grasp it, for what differences it would make! We have a long way to go yet before this is appreciated adequately. But it is true.

When you touch these things, human language is a vain instrument for expression. “The exceeding greatness of His power” – the superlatives in this realm! Oh, for this enlargement by a new apprehension of the greatness of Christ in His Person, in His death, in His resurrection! Well, then, the supreme thing the New Testament shows is that the Church on its true, spiritual basis corresponds to Christ risen. Not “the Church” that we know here on earth, for it does not. But God’s thought about the Church is not an impossible and merely idealistic one. It is a practical thing. Two saints, simple, humble and unimportant in this world, but really meeting together in the Spirit, can be a functioning instrument of Him to whom has been committed all authority in heaven and on earth. With them all these old limitations can be dismissed and they can at one moment touch all the ends of the earth. Do you believe that? That is really the meaning of our glorying in Christ risen. It has to be something more than emotion, and more than glorious doctrine; yes, more than a truth to which we give some assent…. If it is true that we are one with a risen, enthroned Lord, it ought to have tremendous repercussions. May it be so! ~ http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/002021.html

Are We to Apprehend God by Gaining Knowledge or Revelation?

Seminary GraduationBroken cistern2

Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:12-13 RSVA)

One time I tried to engage a pastor in a heart to heart conversation. I said to him, “God has been giving me this revelation lately…” Upon hearing this, he interrupted me and said, “God no longer gives revelation! All revelation ceased with the closing of the canon of the Bible.” I didn’t ask him which of the eight plus canons he was referring to and on which date it was closed. Well, needless to say, that was the end of my attempt to speak from my heart with this man. After all, he had the degree hanging on his office wall to show he was right!

Austin Sparks wrote:

After the Cross, all the fullness of the Divine power was released upon the world through those who had been brought into absolute oneness with the Lord by that Cross… First, let us remember that this knowledge of God is by revelation. We can never get this knowledge of God merely by reading, by listening, by attending meetings…. You may understand it all by mental apprehension, know the terms and the verses, and use them – but what about the dynamic of this thing? What does our personal presence in a situation mean?… It is a most important question. Is this thing alive, or have we merely got a little more mental apprehension of it through conferences [and book learning]? Do we know God in this thing by reason of a personal inward revelation on the subject?

Secondly, it comes by the way of pain. You get a thing revealed to you as truth, perhaps something about the Cross of Christ, or victory over Satan, and you think you know it, and you say, “This is beautiful!” And you begin to talk about it, and it is not very long before something happens –- your circumstances are touched. Now you go down with this truth, down into the vortex of awful agony, right down to the gates of hell, your being is upheaved right from the very bottom, and all the time there is the question – “Will that truth hold good?” Is it going to work? And when you have got down as far as you can go, the flesh elements and the self elements have been dealt with, and you grimly hold on to the Lord in this matter of victory – then it comes out, you have tested it right to the very bottom of your being – that thing has become you, and then you can go to others in their grim conflict and their darkness, and say, “I know – I know this thing, and I know God is faithful, I know the victory.” You have got a mighty emphasis on your knowledge, it is a thing about which you have no doubt, because you have gone down into the depths with it, and proved it down there, and by the very pain the thing has been proved.

Gaining knowledge about something can be fun and stimulating. The thought of having a degree that says you are accomplished and have expertise in a subject and the monetary rewards that go with it keep a multi-billion industry called “education” going in western culture. But is this the education of the saints of God that is important to Him? When Jesus chose His disciples, He did not go to Jerusalem and seek graduates from the best rabbinical schools. Instead He chose His disciples from the unlearned of that nation.

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ordinary men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13 KJ2000)

What a pregnant verse this is! These men were not educated by other men, but they had spent time with Jesus. Just how much of what we write and speak to others is from hearts that have spent time with Jesus? With the advent of desktop publishing, websites and blogs, knowledge has been on the increase, but we can be “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the Truth.” The knowledge of the Truth only comes through an intimate relationship with the Truth, Jesus Christ. A man or woman can go off to Bible college or seminary and pass all the exams, parrot back what they were taught in the classes, receive a degree and be turned loose to rule over church congregations around the world and never have spent one minute being taught by the Spirit of Christ! In fact, they can take advanced training on how to “grow churches” and look like a total success by the numbers that they gather around them and not even have a relationship with the Father.

Is this the “rock” that Jesus was talking about building His church upon? No! It was the fact that Peter could hear the Father and give witness from his heart to what He heard without having received it from flesh and blood: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”(See Matt. 16:16-17). The called-out ones of God (Greek – ekklesia – mistranslated “church”) are enlivened by the Spirit of God Who leads them into all truth or they are none of His (See John 3:3-7, John 16:13 and Romans 8:9).

I believe that these educational institutions that the church system relies upon for its leaders is what Jesus was warning about:

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber; but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep… This figure Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So Jesus again said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. (John 10:1-7 RSVA – emphasis added)

Thieves! Robbers! Hirelings! The church systems are overrun with them and the people are clueless and unable to discern the voice of the Good Shepherd. Why? Because the whole system is based on scholarship instead of personal life-changing revelation from God. Are there pastors and church leaders that are born of the Spirit? Absolutely, but more and more we see men behind the pulpits that are more concerned with their wages (hirelings) and gaining a following than they are with pointing the people under them to the one Good Shepherd as their All in all. Knowledge puffs up, but the love of God edifies and that love comes from being in a close relationship with Jesus Christ.

Revelation from God has a price attached to it, a very personal price that will cost you everything and not very many want to pay it. As Sparks put it, “And when you have got down as far as you can go, the flesh elements and the self elements have been dealt with, and you grimly hold on to the Lord in this matter of victory – then it comes out, you have tested it right to the very bottom of your being – that thing has become you, and then you can go to others in their grim conflict and their darkness, and say, ‘I know – I know this thing, and I know God is faithful, I know the victory.’”

Dear Father, don’t let us settle for broken cisterns that can hold no water and forsake the Fountain of Living Water. Amen.

What is Spiritual Adultery?

I was involved in two different “moves of God” that took place–the Asbury Revival (from which the Jesus Movement came) and the Toronto Movement (from which came the Pensacola “Brownsville Revival,” and many other special meetings that people flocked to around the world.) I learned much from being involved in these two events. In the spring of 1970 the kids in the college chapel in Wilmore, Kentucky (Asbury Theological Seminary) had a special visitation from God. These kids spent hours and hours in prayer and they got filled with the Spirit on a Christian campus that was not Pentecostal! But it did not stay there. They went home on spring break with their fresh infilling and took the gospel to other young people they knew and it spread from there. Church buildings could not contain it. As a result, the Jesus movement took place in parks, on the streets and in coffee houses in the run down parts of towns. God was saving and filling these young people with the Spirit and they were taking the gospel back out into the highways and byways to the Hippy movement many of them came out of. Thousands were saved out of that “tune in, turn on and drop out” culture that was centered on drugs, sex and rock and roll. I was part of this move of the Spirit. It was an exciting time and was propelled by the Spirit of God… until men rose up, became the new “spiritual gurus,” and started building their own followings and denominations out of what God sovereignly started. That was “the day the music died.” As for Toronto, Brownsville, Rodney Howard Brown, Randy Clark, John Arnott, Todd Bentley, Bill Johnson, etc., I was in on the beginnings of that move too in the early 90’s because I did not want to miss “the next move of God.” The important difference between these two moves was that the people saved in the Jesus movement were not seeking after signs and wonders. They only wanted Jesus! But in the Toronto type meetings I went to, people came flocking to special buildings so that they could get a “special touch” from a guru who “had the power” and as a result many got manifestations in their bodies like “holy laughter,” “spiritual drunkenness,” crawling around on the floor while making animal noises, or shaking violently. Some women even made suggestive movements with their bodies as they danced. It was not God! Why? Paul warned us that this would happen before Christ returned.

“And then shall that Wicked One be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the breath of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, And with all deception of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.” (2 Thessalonians 2:8-10 KJ2000)

Yes, before Christ returns, Satan will be turned lose with “all power and signs.” This is not a time to be seeking signs and power! Many people that I knew who got these “special touches” in these meetings ended up with all kinds of emotional problems and mental disorders. What made the difference was whether they wanted Christ only, or they were looking for manifestations and power in their bodies! Jesus called seeking after signs spiritual adultery (see Matthew 12:38-40). Why? Because we go to mere men to get our signs and wonders preformed! Those Pharisees did not believe that Jesus was the Christ as they looked for a sign from Him. Clamoring after men and women instead of Christ as the Son of God is adultery in the eyes of God. Paul and the early apostles were quite emphatic that people did not do that to them. In Acts we read:

While he [the healed lame man] clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s, astounded. And when Peter saw it he addressed the people, “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? …And his [Jesus Christ] name, by faith in his name, has made this man strong whom you see and know; and the faith which is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all. “And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers…” (Acts 3:11-17 RSVA) He listened to Paul speaking; and Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and walked. And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycao’nian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, because he was the chief speaker, they called Hermes. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the people. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out among the multitude, crying, “Men, why are you doing this? We also are men, of like nature with you, and bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. (Acts 14:9-15 RSVA)

“The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Boy is THAT a pregnant statement as to what is wrong with Christianity today! Paul warned the Corinthians about this very thing…

But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as babes in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not ready for it; and even yet you are not ready, for you are still of the flesh… For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apol’los,” are you not merely men? What then is Apol’los? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apol’los watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth… So let no one boast of men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apol’los or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future, all are yours; and you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” (1 Corinthians 3:1-23 RSVA)

All things pertaining to God are ours in Christ, dear saints. Quit looking to men.

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek HIM. (Hebrews 11:6 KJ2000 – emphasis added)

Is Our Time Always?

Jesus against the crowdDo you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works… Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father. (John 14:10 &12 RSVA)

What could I mean by this by this title, “Is our time always?” When Jesus was with His brothers in Nazareth, one of the big annual feasts came up. Every devout Jew was required to attend it if he could. In the Gospel of John we read:

After this Jesus went about in Galilee; he would not go about in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill him. Now the Jews’ feast of Tabernacles was at hand. So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples may see the works you are doing. For no man works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his brothers did not believe in him. Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify of it that its works are evil. (John 7:1-7 RSVA)

Jesus’ very own brothers did not believe in Him. They were tempting Him to do the “reasonable” thing. “Hey, Jesus! Here is your big chance. Your disciples and all who believe in God will be at this feast in Jerusalem. Get on up there and do your miracles and blow their minds with your wisdom and Bible knowledge. Don’t you know that it pays to advertise? Location, location, location! What are you doing hanging around in this back-water town?” Weren’t they being reasonable according to the way most people think today? “Seize the moment! Go for the gusto!” To this Jesus replied, “Your time is always! You can come and go as you will, but I cannot.” T. Austin Sparks wrote,

You get to the heart of everything in the case of the Lord Jesus when you recognize that the one question which constituted the testing ground of His life was: “Will this Man act alone, speak alone, choose alone, decide alone, move alone?” And His answer was always, “Not out from Myself!” “The Son can do nothing out from Himself.” “The words that I speak unto you I speak not out from Myself.” Every kind of appeal was made to Him to persuade Him on the impulse of the moment, or in response to an entreaty that seemed to promise success, or by an argument that appeared to be the truest wisdom, to move, act, speak, do something as out from Himself….*

Jesus was tempted in this very same way by the devil during His 40 days of fasting in the wilderness.

Then the devil took him to the holy city, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge of you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'” (Matthew 4:5-7 RSVA)

“Yes, Jesus, you are the Son of God, leap off the pinnacle of the temple in front of all the faithful worshipers in Jerusalem and His angels will catch you and you will float down to the ground like a feather. It will blow their minds and you will be able to prove to them and yourself that you are the Messiah! Think of the instant following you will get!” The devil often tempts us to do the “reasonable thing.” Acting on our own for the benefit of others without getting the direction of our Father seems like the reasonable thing to do. “God has given you this gift! Shouldn’t you use it to the max?” But have you asked Jesus what to do? Are not we His disciples? Did not He say to His disciples, “Apart from Me you can do nothing”? T. A. Sparks continues:

That ninety-nine people do a thing is no argument for the hundredth to do it. We are not to be led by the appeals that decide the actions of the many – “It is the popular thing! Everybody else is doing it! It is the recognized thing to do!” No! Does my Father want me to do this thing? That is the question that must ever rule our steps. In the case of the Lord Jesus there was all the time an underworking to get Him to adopt the contrary course, to act without inquiry of His Father, without direct leading from His Father; to act in His individual capacity as though He were His own Master, as though He had not to make appeal elsewhere… *

In the account of Jesus’ temptation by the devil in the wilderness, in Luke we read, “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him for a season.” (Luke 4:13 KJ2000). Have you ever wondered when the “season” of temptation resumed again? In Matthew we read:

From that time forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from you, Lord: this shall not be unto you. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get you behind me, Satan: you are an offense unto me: for you consider not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. (Matthew 16:21-23 KJ2000)

Peter was appealing to Jesus to do the reasonable thing! “Spare yourself, Lord! Don’t go up to die in Jerusalem. Think of all the good you can still do here in Galilee! You have people here that believe in you and need you!” But once again we see Jesus only doing the works that His Father gave Him to do. He recognized the words of Satan in Peter’s mouth, tempting Him to not go to the cross as His Father had destined Him to do so that He could fulfill all righteousness. Sparks continues,

In Him there was none of that which was personal, [or] independent. We are not speaking merely of such things as are sinfully personal, positively personal, but simply of independent action, action taken for the best ends, for a good motive, with quite a proper intention. Yes, all this may be done, but apart from the positive word from the Father. That creates an independent thought, however good may be the motive.*

And it is our independence from God in our words and our actions that is the devil’s playground. Paul wrote:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would. (Galatians 5:16-17 RSVA)

Jesus said that if any one would be His disciple that they would have to take up their cross an follow Him. The cross in each of our lives that He gives us to carry is tailor made to put an end to our childish independence. When we were young in the Lord we ran out and did all kinds of “good works for Jesus.” But was our Father in them or did they come out from us as we tried to outguess God as to what His will for our lives would be? There is a death that must happen to that old foolish Adam in each one of us that seeks to maintain control even when doing “good works.” Old things must pass away and ALL things in us must become new. For this process to occur our Father wants to hear from our hearts just as Jesus prayed before they crucified Him, “Father, I would that this cup pass from me. But none the less, not my will, Father, but thine be done.” The cross He gives us to bare is our doorway into lives filled with His life giving Eternal Life. May we embrace it as an instrument of His Fatherly love for us. Amen.

* http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/002218.html