Even in Deep Darkness Thou Art with Me

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The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. (Isa 9:2, ESV2011)

Dear precious saints of God,

Our Father has a process that He puts many of us through of which the above verse speaks. It is here that all dependence on our natural abilities is stripped away and all we can do is throw ourselves on the mercy and grace of God, even when He seems far away. It is the “afterwards” that He is after (see Hebrews 12:11) even though this dark time in our lives seems to never end. There is a day when the Refiner of Silver and Gold (see Malachi 3:3) looks into the crucible of our afflictions and sees only His own reflection instead of all that soulish dross that is mixed in with it, because our God is a consuming fire.

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1John 3:2-3, ESV2011)

We start out as God’s children, but what He is after is sons who are like Christ, the Pattern Son.

For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to perfect the Author of their salvation by sufferings. For both he that sanctifies, and they who are sanctified, are all of one. For which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, (Heb 2:10-11, Haweis)

So we submit ourselves under His mighty hand with this blessed hope of being conformed into the image of Christ.

There are those of us who have passed through the valley of the shadow of death in one way or another, have come out the other side, and fully believe by experience that the flesh (our soul life, that old Adam we were born into) profits nothing. The result is a deeper relationship with our Lord in heavenly places IN Christ Jesus. Isn’t that what we are after, no matter what the cost?

I’ve felt led to post this excerpt from T. Austin-Sparks for those who feel cut-off from God and cry out in the depths of your darkness as Jesus did on the cross, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?!” Remember, rather, His final words in that dark hour, “Into your hands, Father, I commend my spirit.” This is the victory on the other side of this test, the release of our spirit IN Christ Jesus.

We close by referring to this one point. We must seek always to believe in the fact that this Divine life, with all its tremendous potencies, is far deeper down than surrounding conditions and circumstances, than our own physical life, and than our own soul-life. Unless we grasp that, hold that firmly, we have not the ground of victory. When we feel that death is working with such tremendous force in the realm of our bodies or our souls, and everything in this sentient life of ours speaks of death, we are too often in danger of surrendering the whole position. I believe that this thing which is of God is deeper than our mortal being. I believe that it is possible even for children of God, being truly born again and possessing eternal life, to lose their reason and go into an asylum, and yet to have no change made in the deepest fact and reality of the being in relation to the Lord. We touch that point to indicate what we mean – that if our rational life is the sum total of our life, then it is a poor look-out for us. If our sanity, our natural mental balance, is the ground of our being children of God, then some from time to time would have real reason to doubt whether they were born again. And if that is true in the mental, it is true in the physical. This life of the Lord is far deeper than this mortal life of ours.

I am going to say something which may, to some, sound very terrible. It may perplex some, but it may help others. It is this: it is possible for a true child or servant of God, living in true fellowship with Him and walking in the light as far as they have it, to pass through a time of deep and terrible darkness. At such a time it may seem as though the Lord has left them and that Satan has taken His place of government. Prayer seems impossible or useless, and the Bible closed. Evil seems triumphant. The promises of God never to leave nor in anywise to forsake seem to have failed. Things may seem to be even worse than that, and one’s salvation may be brought into question. Such has been the experience of some of the most saintly, devoted, and God-used servants of the Lord. Abraham had it (Genesis 15:12). Jeremiah knew it (Jeremiah 20:7). David knew it (Psalm 22). Job knew it. Our Lord Jesus knew it (Matthew 27:46). Dr. A. B. Simpson had this experience near the end of his wonderful life for God. And so it has been with others.

What is the explanation? With all my heart I do not believe that this seeming forsakenness is true, however real it may seem. In many cases it is because those concerned have done so much damage to the kingdom of Satan that he has rallied all his forces to quench their life and testimony. Or it may be that the enemy has discerned the potential value of a life which will be a menace to his interests. But, whether either of these explanations be true or not so, the fact remains that, where the Lord Jesus truly is, the battle for life often assumes most serious forms. Sometimes it is a devastating and desolating experience.

We need to remember that these are spiritual forces, and spiritual forces stand at no physical barriers. We have a soul, a great nervous system. Children of God for many reasons, and very often after a time of pouring out spiritually, will find their nerves are all a jangle, and they feel anything but good and holy. But are you going to say that that means that after all they are not children of God, and that it is all a myth? Do you mean to say that Elijah was no longer the prophet of the Most High when he cast himself under the juniper tree and asked the Lord to take away his life? He was still the servant of God, still as true to God as ever. We are not trying to excuse our weaknesses, but trying to get to the heart of a situation. That does not argue that the Lord has forsaken, that the Lord is not there, and that such are not the Lord’s children or His servants. It indicates that the enemy has made them marked men or women because of something he is trying to destroy in the life. If you get into that realm, do not accept the suggestions of the enemy or seek to interpret things in the light of circumstances.

If you do not understand this that we are saying, do not strive after an explanation, and please do not put your own construction upon it. There are some who know what it is to have such an assault upon their being, their physical and nervous life as to make them feel that they are lost. I do not believe that it means that they are lost, and it is because some people accept that suggestion from the tempter that they sink into darkness. Oh, that many of these people who feel this thing upon them could know what we are trying to say, that it is for the spirit to rise up in faith and refuse the argument of the seeming! The seeming is sometimes so terribly real. People who have not suffered sometimes say to us: ‘It only seems to be so; it is not really so!’ And we reply: ‘You do not know what you are talking about! It is more real than anything else to those concerned.’ But the Lord will teach us as we go on not to accept that as the final thing. There is something deeper than that. The Lord is deeper than our physical feelings. The Lord is deeper than our soul.

Let me say here what I have said elsewhere. There are times and situations when ordinary lines of communication with a child of God are suspended. They are in a state of unconsciousness. It is useless to speak to them, for they can make no response. But if you pray, so often there is a response, not in words, but deeper than natural consciousness. You touch something deeper; it is the spirit, and spirit responds to spirit. We have known this to happen, even to the point of a hand-squeeze, or a facial glow. It is the mystery of Divine life.

https://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/000706.html
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

On a personal note:

Sparks in the above paragraph wrote, “There are times and situations when ordinary lines of communication with a child of God are suspended. They are in a state of unconsciousness. It is useless to speak to them, for they can make no response. But if you pray, so often there is a response, not in words, but deeper than natural consciousness. You touch something deeper; it is the spirit, and spirit responds to spirit. We have known this to happen, even to the point of a hand-squeeze, or a facial glow. It is the mystery of Divine life.”

This is very personal to me. I spent 14 years in His wilderness (the dark night of the soul) and I was in this state of “spiritual suspended animation,” during the whole time. It was here that all the things that used to speak to me of the presence of God were gone; fellowship with the saints, inspired reading of the Bible and Christian books, prayer, and even inward feelings of His love, etc. It was like He truly was not there. This was necessary to weaken my soul nature that always wanted to “surf” on what God was doing. My soul would always add its “two bits” to what God was saying and was always seeking to be recognized by others. “I, I, me, me, my!” “Look at me, I’m one of the boys, too!”

But at one point during this time of isolation I met a dear old saint, sat at a table with him, held his hand and felt something deeper. No words were spoken for to do so would have been to defile what God was doing. When I felt I could go on no longer, God would give me enough assurance to hang in there and seek His face. When my wife, Dorothy, felt she could not handle my depression any longer He would give her a promise and encouragement as well. I found out after the end of this long dark tunnel when I came out again into His Light, that He had been teaching me subliminally the whole time in a way that my soul could not feel, relate or find pleasure in. As one brother said to me near the end, “I can see this vast resource God has put within you. When are you going to speak?” I just said, “Only when He tells me to.” So, to this day I try to only write a blog when He gives it to me. I hope some of you can relate and are blessed.

Michael

They Who Wait Upon the Lord…

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In our modern industrial culture, we seldom have to wait for much of anything. Everything is about speed and efficiency. If we want carrots we don’t need to go out and plant carrot seeds and wait two or more months to pick them. We just go down to the corner market and buy some carrots. When we want our prepared meal done fast, we go to a fast food restaurant and order it. Five minutes later we are eating! Years ago we would turn on our TV sets and then have to wait for a minute or more for the tubes to warm up before we had a picture and sound, but now with flat screens the picture comes on in less than four seconds. In the past a couple who wanted to get married waited a minimum of six months during what was called the “engagement period,” while they got to know one another better before they married. Here in my town, two people can meet in a tavern, go down to the city hall the next morning, fill out the papers, plop down a filing fee, walk across the street to the Hitching Post with two witnesses and the deed is done. They will even provide the two witnesses! But there is a saying, “The best things in life come to those who wait.” There is more wisdom to that than we might know.

In Isaiah there is a verse about waiting that most of us have read many times. We would all like to soar like an eagle, run and not become weary, etc… but waiting… not so much.

But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. (Isa 40:31, KJV)

Several years ago I was seeking the Lord about what it means to “wait upon” Him. It turned out to be much deeper than the KJV translators revealed. I understood that it is dangerous to get an idea or read something in the Bible, claim it, and run out and try to make it happen on my own. I have known Christians in the so-called “Faith Movement” that post pictures of material possessions on their refrigerator doors and pray to get them every time they walk by. You know that teaching, “Name it and claim it.” “Blab it and grab it.” I soon learned that praying and waiting on God to make things happen could be a test to see if He would do what He had promised. Or I could be like Abraham, the “father of faith,” who got tired of waiting for his wife to get pregnant, went to bed with Sarah’s slave girl, and got a son. This Ishmael was born 13 years before God moved to finally heal Sarah’s womb and Isaac, the child of promise, was born. During this time the slave girl mocked Sarah, and when Isaac was still a baby Ishmael persecuted him. We know how all that ended up. As my dear wife has often said, “Act in haste, repent at leisure.”

As I was looking up Isaiah 40:31, knowing that there was more here than meets the eye, I was amazed at what I found. The Hebrew word translated “wait” meant so much more than it does in our English language.

H6960 קָוָהqavah (kaw-vaw’) v.

  1. to bind together (perhaps by twisting)

In the above photo we see shocks of grain bound together with ropes made of twisted stalks the way grain was harvested in biblical times.

So what is happening to us while we wait on God? He makes us wait so we will grow up spiritually until we are bound together with Him in His will in the matter we pray about. More importantly, that we are bound together in the love of the Father and the Son that we might be one in them even as they are one (see John 17:20-23). Only those who are bound together in His love are truly free, because Satan is constantly tempting us to be bound to his will. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36, KJ2000)

The Father and Jesus not only want to bind us together with them, but the same is true of two of His dear saints that are bound together in the love of Christ. Why? In Ecclesiastes we read, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their work. And if one has a fall, the other will give him a hand; but unhappy is the man who is by himself, because he has no helper” (Eccl 4:9-10, BBE). And this, “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Eccl 4:12, ESV2011). It’s no wonder Jesus sent out the disciples by twos with His authority to heal, cast out demons, do miracles and announce, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This “threefold cord” is not easily assailed by the devil.

Almost eight years ago Susanne Schuberth [1] shared the following quote from T. Austin-Sparks on our blog and its truth is more evident to me today than ever.

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! [2]

Our enemy loves to pick-off those in ministry who think they have everything in themselves that is needed to minister to God’s people. We see those who have unquestioned authority in the churches fall one after another, because in their own minds they are above listening to the council of others. Once I had seen the danger of being alone I started praying that He would send another believer that I could walk together with in His light. He has been progressively answering this prayer. When we are joined together by Jesus the other person often sees a pitfall that we can’t and when it comes to spiritual revelation, they often have another piece of the picture that we haven’t seen. When both parts are allowed to be joined we see the whole. I have found that God had been working in both lives to bring them to a place where He could fit them together. Once again we see His timing at work. These things cannot be rushed because it is a spiritual house He is building, not one made with human hands.

Another thing I discovered about Isaiah 40:31 was the meaning of the word “renew” in “shall renew their strength.” With a superficial reading of this, one might conclude that if we wait on Him, God will renew our existing strength and make us stronger. Not! This word in the Hebrew is:

H2498 חָלַף chalaph (chaw-laf’) v. Often translated to change or be changed.

God is not interested in renewing our old natural strength that is often demonstrated by our strong self-will. He is after a NEW creation IN Christ! Paul understood this. He wrote that when he was weak that Christ was made perfect within him. Consider this verse:

Therefore if any person is [ingrafted] in Christ (the Messiah) he is a new creation (a new creature altogether); the old [previous moral and spiritual condition] has passed away. Behold, the fresh and new has come! (2Cor 5:17, AMP)

If we wait for the entwining of ourselves by the Spirit with the Father and the Son, we will truly be made into NEW creations. If we get ahead of His leading and try to accomplish His work by our own might and abilities (that of our natural man; the emotions, will and intellect), He will let us run ourselves into the ground by exhaustion trying to get things done. Remember Jesus’ words, “The flesh profits nothing” and “Apart from me you can do nothing.

So, dear saints, it is in His will that we mount up with wings as eagles and walk and not faint from that of trying to do His work without Him, but this will only happens if our old nature of relying on self is broken and we have come to rely totally on Him. Our Father wants many sons and daughters who exist by His strength for His glory just as Jesus did here on earth for He only did the works He saw His Father doing (see John 10:37&38). We can only do His works from a position of spiritual rest, believing that He will accomplish what HE wills once we get out of the way.

So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his [own] works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. (see Heb 4:9-11, ESV2011)

Yes, if we do not abide in His rest but run ahead of Him or do His work by our own strength, it is considered by Him as disobedience. As Paul wrote, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

[1] https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/

[2] http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/openwindows/003503.html

I Have Not Come to Bring Peace, but the Sword

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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

“These Are Times that Try Men’s Souls”

Painting of Thomas Paine

I am by my human nature a political creature. I speak this as a confession of weakness. Times like these try not only my soul (my mind, will and emotions), but my faith as well, revealing where I place my trust and hope. We Americans (and much of the rest of the world) are watching our bodies and souls being taxed by Covid 19 and all the laws and rules that governments are putting in place to keep both this disease and ourselves contained, regardless of our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. Speaking of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine prophetically wrote in 1776, “These are times that try men’s souls.” It’s our souls that are being tried! I just read the following this morning on a web news site:

Trump campaign fundraiser, Pamela Martin, said at a rally in Washington D.C. on Saturday, there is no doubt that President Trump won the election, but that it was stolen and she wants to take it back, adding that the battle is both spiritual and physical [so far, so good]. She continued,

God is in charge. There are many corrupt judges, all the way up to the top, and that will be turned around by God. God will see that every enemy be turned down. Victory will be here because President Donald Trump is one of our greatest presidents in all of history.”

And I will tell you this, nobody, nobody can come against God and his army and his army is the people, that people and the Constitution of the United States and every single person standing here will stand for Him,” Martin said. [1]

It seems that America is also filled with false prophets these days, all thinking that Christian America is God’s answer to all that the world needs. I used to think that way before Jesus saved me from right-wing politics. He took a heart of stone out of me and replaced it with a heart that could respond to His Spirit with love for all mankind, not just conservatives. Back then, anyone to the left of where I stood was suspect! Before God intervened over 50 years ago, I truly hated everyone I perceived as attacking or trying to pull down my “America the Beautiful.” Yes, for me “God, Jesus and Country” were on equal footing in my religious pantheon. But is this what Jesus taught us 2000 years ago?

In your reading of the Gospels, have you noticed that Jesus was not political? Most Jews back then equated Israel and Jerusalem as God’s seat of government on this earth. The chief priests and Pharisees thought they were God’s gift to mankind and when the Messiah came, He would place them in His seats of power in the new administration. They were “God’s People” and that’s all there was to it! They even had the throne of God right there in their temple – never mind that the Holy of Holies had not had the Arc of the Covenant, where God’s glory once shone, in it for centuries! Let’s look at what the scriptures say.

Yet the most High dwells not in temples made with hands; as says the prophet, Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will you build me? says the Lord: or what is the place of my rest? Has not my hand made all these things? (Acts 7:48-50, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from here… Every one that is of the truth hears my voice.” (John 18:36-37, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

And when the disciples were infatuated with the temple and all its buildings Jesus said,

“As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” (Luke 21:6, ESV2011)

With all these things being true, Christianity still is all about putting up great buildings “for the glory of God” until this very day. When I see just how material Christianity is, I wonder if we really know what Covenant we are of? Didn’t Jesus also say, “The kingdom of God comes not with outward observation.Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” And, “Wherever two or three of you are gathered together in my name, I am there.”

The Jews wanted to kill Jesus, their Messiah, and their leaders were appealing to Pilate to crucify Him. Why? Because He did not perform according to their political expectations. He didn’t come as a mighty general leading a vast army to deliver them from the Romans. The more things change, the more they remain the same! The leaders of the Jews were totally political, so much so that they no longer wanted the will of God or recognized when God was no longer dealing with them according to the Old Covenant.

For finding fault with them, he says, Behold, the days come, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, says the Lord… In that he says, A new covenant, he has made the first old. Now that which decays and grows old is ready to vanish away. (Heb 8:8-13, KJ2000)

No, they refused the New Covenant of grace given them because, as enforcers of the Old Covenant law, they had stature and power over men. Consider this passage:

So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man [Jesus] performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” (John 11:47-48, ESV2011)

They forgot that God does not take sides with human governments and armies but rather with HIS Son and all who are walking by His Spirit IN Him! Yet, to this day religious zealots insist that God is on their side! To this He still answers, “NO: but I!”

When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come”… (Josh 5:13-14, ESV2011)

At the time of the above passage, Israel had finally fallen in line with the will of God after forty years of rebellion in the wilderness with Him finally forsaking that generation. The one thing that I find troubling about President Trump (not that I like Joe Biden any better) is his pride and the pride in Christians who stand behind him as if they are “God’s Army.” Many of us want to see America turn to Christ and be healed, but God has made a requirement before this can happen. He “resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Solomon had just finished his palace and the temple as a place of sacrifice in Jerusalem when God said to him,

When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence [Heb. Loimos – a pestilence, any deadly infectious malady] among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2Chr 7:13-14, ESV2011)

I would say that Covid 19 is one of the most “deadly infectious maladies” that the world has had to deal with in modern times. We can build up our mighty armies and concoct our medical cures to deal with enemies and diseases, but as Bob Mumford once said, “If you fix the fix that God fixes to fix you, then He will fix another fix to fix you!” Yes, until we humble ourselves and pray in brokenness and truly start walking in the Spirit as HIS people, we can expect our enemies to continue to gain power over us and Covid 19 will not be the last plague that we will have to deal with in this world.

It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes. (Ps 118:8-9, KJ2000)

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded… Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (Jas 4:8-10, ESV2011)

Thomas Paine concluded his treatise, “The American Crisis,” by saying something even more profound,

“Yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”

Or as Paul put it, “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” (Rom 8:37, KJ2000)

[1] https://www.theepochtimes.com/trump-campaign-fundraiser-this-is-a-spiritual-battle_3616489.html

The Letter of the Law vs. The Leading of the Spirit (part 2)

Photo by Fuu J on Unsplash

We might not have given it much thought, but each of us are under one form of law or another. Law is an absolute in God’s universe. For instance, no matter where we go, the law of gravity is there. Even the tiny planet Pluto is under the law of gravity, held in orbit around the sun though it is over 3.6 trillion miles away! One might think that they are free of the law of gravity because they feel weightless after bailing out of an airplane at 35,000 feet, but in short order they will find out that they did not succeed in breaking the law of gravity, it broke them. The same is true about anarchists who think they can live free of all laws and live happily ever after in their new version of utopia.

Recently a five block area in downtown Seattle was declared an “autonomous zone,” free of any legal jurisdiction or its enforcement. The mayor was all for it and told the police to abandon their precinct enclosed in that area and said all was wonderful and peaceful and it would be a “summer of love” in its confines. But right away people were stealing one another’s food. There were rapes, burglaries and a couple nights ago two people were shot. One died while they used private vehicles to transport the victims instead of allowing an ambulance to come into their lawless zone to give medical help and retrieve the victims for hospitalization. The one thing that they have proven with their little experiment in social engineering is that without Christ, there is no freedom from sin.

Spiritually speaking there are two types of law. There is the law of sin and its consequence, death. Then there is the law of the Spirit of Life IN Christ Jesus in which we live in true freedom and peace as we walk by the Spirit and not by the dictates of our fleshly desires. Where the Spirit prevails, there is freedom and peace, but where the law of sin prevails, there is captivity and warfare because our fallen nature is Satan’s fertile ground. He was a liar and a murder from the beginning and without the Holy Spirit within we are fair game to his devices. Paul wrote:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Rom 8:1-4, ESV)

The nation of Israel agreed to walk under the laws of Moses (see Exodus 24:6-7) and they were a miserable failure. As a result of their rebellion, they were no longer under the protecting hand of God and had to walk in captivity of the nations who conquered and enslaved them. They would eventually repent and be given their freedom once again only to fall right back into their old sinful ways and repeat the cycle all over again. Why did this happen? It was because their real enemy was within them, a fifth column undermining their best efforts. Without the Spirit of God dwelling within us we cannot please God, much less keep His commandments. Paul wrote,

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will 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 keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Gal 5:16-17, ESV)

Paul understood that the law is spiritual (See Romans 7:14) and can only be fulfilled by the life of the Spirit within us, but the people of Israel did not have the Spirit. If the whole of the Old Covenant proved anything, it proved that in the flesh of man dwells no good thing. Yes, the Spirit would come upon one of them from time to time to accomplish the will of God for the nation, but He never dwelt IN them. As the Son of God, the Spirit dwelt in Jesus Christ and He came to make the way for the Holy Spirit to dwell in whosoever would truly believe in Him. Just before Jesus went to the cross He prayed,

Neither for these alone [His disciples] do I pray [it is not for their sake only that I make this request], but also for all those who will ever come to believe in (trust in, cling to, rely on) Me through their word and teaching, That they all may be one, [just] as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be one in Us, so that the world may believe and be convinced that You have sent Me. (John 17:20-21, AMP)

With all these principles in mind, I conclude with this short excerpt from T. Austin Sparks regarding the difference between law, lawlessness and being led by the Spirit.

Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. (Galatians 5:25 NLT)

Satan is a great master of strategy, and one of his favourite lines is that of pushing things to extremes. Among the Galatian believers, he had sought to push legalism to an extreme. But now he is thwarted along that line; Paul wins the battle – there is no doubt about it. What is the enemy’s next line of attack? “Very well then,” he says, “if you won’t have the law, then don’t have any law; discard all law. You are no longer under law, you are under grace – you can do as you like! Just behave as you like; just carry on as you like; you must know no limitations, no restrictions. Any kind of restriction is law – repudiate it! Go to the other extreme – licence instead of law!” I believe that, if Paul were alive today, he would be just as vehement against this as he was against the other: for here is a work of Satan indeed. If Satan cannot bind by the law, and change the whole nature of things in that way, he will seek to dismiss all law and make us wholly lawless.

But remember, if this Letter to the Galatians is the letter of the liberty of the Spirit, it is also the letter of the government of the Spirit. We are only free when we are governed. In George Matheson’s well-known words, that we sometimes sing: “Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free.” A paradox – but how true. We are not free when we are giving way to licence, when we take liberty that far. No: this Letter, and the Letters to the Romans and to the Hebrews, are not documents of lawlessness. Even if they do set aside the whole of the Jewish system, they do not introduce a regime of lawlessness. But they do most clearly bring in the life and government of the Holy Spirit. Remember – no child of God who is governed by the Holy Spirit, who is really living a life in the Spirit, will infringe any Divine principle. Indeed, a life governed by the Holy Spirit will be the more meticulously careful about spiritual principles.

http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/002047.html

We Are Christ’s Ambassadors and Not Our Own

He who speaks on his own authority seeks to win honor for himself. [He whose teaching originates with himself seeks his own glory.] But He Who seeks the glory and is eager for the honor of Him Who sent Him, He is true; and there is no unrighteousness or falsehood or deception in Him. (John 7:17-18, AMP)

So we are Christ’s ambassadors, God making His appeal as it were through us. We [as Christ’s personal representatives] beg you for His sake to lay hold of the divine favor [now offered you] and be reconciled to God. (2Cor 5:20, AMP)

Some of us here in America have been watching the impeachment hearings of our President. One thing that has struck me is how so many in the U.S. Executive branch, even so-called “ambassadors,” not only do not represent the President, instead, they seem to represent a united force with its own agenda within the government that is against him. It is evident from their own words that they are use to having things go their own way. Congress can do as it will, but Constitutionally the Executive Branch is supposed to represent the will of the Executive, the President of the United States!

As we can see from the above verse in 2 Corinthians, we who are Christ’s are to be HIS ambassadors. As Jesus pointed out to the Pharisees above, we are to represent Him in all that we say (and write) just as He represented the Father by His words and actions. If we write or speak from ourselves, we seek our own glory and not that of the one who has sent us into this world as members of HIS body and kingdom. All too much of the “Christian” preaching and teaching we hear today is out of the minds and intellects of carnal men and women who seek their own glory and advancement.

In “the parable of the talents,” Jesus warned what would happen to His earthly kingdom after He left. He knew that very few in His kingdom would represent His will even though He gave many of them the power and resources to carry it out.

As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive a kingdom and then return. Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten pounds, and said to them, `Trade with these till I come.’ But his citizens hated him and sent an embassy after him, saying, `We do not want this man to reign over us.’ When he returned, having received the kingdom, he commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by trading. The first came before him, saying, `Lord, your pound has made ten pounds more.’ And he said to him, `Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ And the second came, saying, `Lord, your pound has made five pounds.’ And he said to him, `And you are to be over five cities.’ Then another came, saying, `Lord, here is your pound, which I kept laid away in a napkin; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man; you take up what you did not lay down, and reap what you did not sow.’ He said to him, `I will condemn you out of your own mouth, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money into the bank, and at my coming I should have collected it with interest?’ And he said to those who stood by, `Take the pound from him, and give it to him who has the ten pounds.’ (And they said to him, `Lord, he has ten pounds!’) `I tell you, that to every one who has will more be given; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them before me.'” (Luke 19:11-27, RSV)

Most of the preaching I’ve heard regarding this passage has emphasized the need for human talents to be used for God. That is not at all what Jesus was saying! Human gifts and talents that have not been crucified are of no use to Him. First we see Him warning them that He would be going away for a long time. Then we see the treachery of His own so-called followers. But his citizens hated him and sent an embassy after him, saying, `We do not want this man to reign over us.’ (Luke 19:14, RSV) What treachery! We might not say those words to Jesus, but don’t we enact them when we constantly do our own wills in this life? We can choose to be His ambassadors here on earth or we can prove by our hearts and actions that we really do not want Christ ruling over us as His devout followers and representatives. This is truly demonstrated when we follow false teachers, prophets and apostles instead of the leading of HIS Spirit! Paul wrote:

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2Cor 5:20-21, NIV)

Dear saints, it is as we abide IN Him as His ambassadors on earth and not in and out-from ourselves, we prove our true motivation is of the Spirit, not by doing our own wills for our own glory. He gives each of us the spiritual gifts we need to give back what belongs to Him. As we can see from the above parable, anything less in the eyes of God is rebellion. Finally, let us be encouraged by what Paul wrote to the Corinthians.

I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way–in all your speaking and in all your knowledge– because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1Cor 1:4-10, NIV)

If we are all abiding in HIS Spirit, doing His will, we will manifest that we are all ONE in the Spirit. May all our knowledge and all our speaking and teaching be a confirmation that we are abiding IN Him. As Paul put it, “You are not your own, you have been bought with a price.”

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)

How Should We Pray?

Man in Prayer

“Grace” – by Eric Enstrom (1918)

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

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

Alone in the wilderness- web

Photo by David Marcu on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

In Our Weakness Is Christ Made Perfect

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1Pet 5:5, ESV2011)

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations [given to me], a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it 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 12:7-10, ESV2011)

Recently I received a communication from a brother in Kenya, Africa in which he was concerned about a younger relative who was “prophesying” over and trying to lord over the members of his family and telling them what they needed to do “for God.” This young woman considers herself a “prophetess” and has been using her “words of knowledge” and prophetic insight to exercise authority over his family. She has caused much confusion and heartache among them to the point that his young daughter doesn’t want to see her aunt any longer.

When I was in my thirties, I was influenced by a prophet in our non-denominational Pentecostal church to seek such a gift. Soon I was doing many of the things that this young woman was doing and drawing a lot of attention to myself (all “in the name of the Lord,” of course). The problem was that I could not discern between what was from Him and what was from one of Satan’s minions working through my flesh. I was a mixture and God hates mixtures.

Finally, after praying that He would show me how He saw me, He showed me that it was my pride working in me that made way for the devil to work there as well. I prayed that He would purge me of that terrible pride and I soon found how God uses spiritual wildernesses in our lives to strip us of everything we are in that old Adamic nature we are all born with. How I hated being put on “the back burner” for all those years! I kicked against it for 12 years until I finally acknowledged that HE is God and that all His ways are perfect and good in our lives. As it was with Moses and Israel, He had to strip me of all that was of “Egypt” that still remained in me through a 14 year spiritual famine. But the outcome of it was as Ezekiel prophesied over Israel.

I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord GOD; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel. (Ezek 36:30-32, ESV2011- emphasis added)

I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (Isa 43:6-7, ESV2011- emphasis added)

Isaiah also prophesied of this process.

He gives power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. (Isa 40:29-31, KJ2000- emphasis added)

In our youth, spiritually speaking, we have to come to the end of ourselves and “utterly fall.” It is in this state that all we can do is wait upon the Lord. The meaning of the word “renew” in this passage is that you will be given a whole new source of strength. In the Pulpit commentary regarding this verse, it reads:

We are thus “changed men,” for the Hebrew word here, “to renew,” means “to change.” Experiences like these alter alike [both] character and countenance. (1)

If God is going to use us to effectively speak by His Spirit to others whether through prophesy, teaching, writing or preaching, it will take more than any seminary or Bible school can provide. After all, the danger with these institutions is that upon completion they give us a degree and we believe that we have become “something.” The problem is that “knowledge puffs up” and we become as proud as any worldly college grad or young corporate head.  T. Austin-Sparks wrote,

Do you desire to signify something for God, to be, after all, of a right kind of significance, accountability [and] meaning? [If so] you see the need of getting Christ’s Holy constitution in us. The most powerful thing, we have… is meekness. Power is spiritual. That is the point. You see the place of weakness in the New Testament. “When I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). “Most gladly… will I… glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9). There is a lot said about human weakness. It is just the opposite of the devil; it is just the opposite of what the devil made man [see Gen. 3:1-5]…

What is your idea of power? What is your mentality concerning power? Are you clamouring for power, wanting power? Well, it all works out this way; true power from God’s standpoint is Calvary power. Christ crucified is the power of God. What is Calvary power? Well, it is emptiness of self, you and I being emptied of self – and truly, that is easier said than endured! Oh, how very much there is of this self about us still! How we hate… being emptied of ourselves! What a terrible thing it is to feel our inability… Oh, to be ABLE! And yet have we not proved, again and again, that our times of greatest emptiness and weakness have been the times when God has done most, and got glory by what He has done? Yes, it has been true. We have learnt it along various lines and different ways, but God has been working right into the very inside of us, so that the thing is done – it becomes a part of us. He does not have to maintain it by external conditions. But He frequently uses such – very often physical – conditions, to bring us to that place of utter dependence upon Himself… That is God’s way of education, but it would be very much better for us to be fit and well and as dependent upon God as ever.

“Power belongeth unto God.” Power is a spiritual thing. The true nature of power is of a totally different order from our natural idea and conception of it. The Lord is so different. Power is not a temporal matter, it is not a physical matter, it is not an intellectual matter, it is not a social, a positional, or a possessional matter, at all. Power is essentially spiritual: I say again, it is what we are… “The prince of this world cometh: and he hath nothing in me” (John 14:30), said the Lord. So, in the hour of the power of darkness, He could say, “Now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (John 12:31). I say again, that was not objectively and officially done. It was done by what He was. Satan had no ground, and so no power. This Man defeated every contemplation of Satan as he walked round Him. “How can I get in? I have been trying all these years to find some little gap; I cannot find it, I am beaten, I can do nothing with Him, He does not give me a chance. I offer Him prizes – He snaps His fingers at them; I threaten Him with the direst consequences of the course He is taking – it does not make any difference! I cannot get this Man.” That is how the prince of this world is cast out.

So it all resolves itself into the need, in the first place, for what is meant by being born from above: an entirely new nature and disposition, to begin with, and then a letting God do His work of conforming us to the image of His Son. I am not saying that works and words do not come in, but it is a heartbreaking business to be working and speaking with no power, no registration of heaven. (2)

(1) The Pulpit Commentary (1880-1919)

(2) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/000840.html