Growing into the Fullness of Christ

Photo by Yoal Desurmont on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

T. Austin-Sparks wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Have Not Come to Bring Peace, but the Sword

Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do Not Be Anxious…

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matt 6:26, ESV)

Recently I read an article on Allan Halton’s blog, A Mending Feast, “Disciples of the Lily” [1] and wrote the following comment,

Thank you, Allan, for this enlightening post. As of late it seems that all or my senses have been assaulted on every front with things that seek to trouble me and take away the peace that is ours IN Christ. Your blog article was what I needed to read. As I read and contemplated Jesus’ words I looked out our front window and watched a pair of tiny birds pausing on our front porch hand rail as they took turns flying up into the eaves of our house and feeding their little brood in the humble nest they built. They fly away empty and return with a bug in their beaks without a care in the world, knowing that our Heavenly Father will provide for them and their family. They have no thoughts whatever about the rioting and shootings going on in our cities and live in the world that God has given them. As I joined them in my thoughts and Jesus’ words, I felt the peace of the Lord come into me once again. All His creation is there to teach us what a wonderful God we have and how we can trust in Him. Thanks so much for this timely reminder, my brother.

While teaching the disciples in what is called “The Sermon on the Mount” Jesus said,

“Do not be anxious…” The Lord knows how I needed to hear that message in my heart!

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Looting in Argentina

saying ‘What shall we eat…”

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Or, ‘What shall we drink…”

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or ‘What shall we wear.’

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For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. (Matt 6:31-32, ESV)

The lead picture in this article is of women in Argentina reacting to the rioting and looting in their own country. God knows that there has been a lot of anxiety all over this world with the Covid-19 virus pandemic, all the rioting, businesses burned to the ground, shootings, the loss of jobs as a result of these things, and the upheaval and widespread ethnic violence. Jesus called these events, “the beginning of birth-pains.” It seems that all these things are a precursor to His imminent return for His bride. The more we are attached to the things of the world, the more anxiety we are going to suffer, but as Christians we have a great hope because of what He went on to say.

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matt 6:26-30, ESV)

Jesus didn’t preach this Sermon on the Mount with a walk-in closet full of Armani suits and a 21 cubic foot freezer full of food. He actually lived from day to day like the birds of the air, totally relying on His Father to meet His needs as He obeyed His voice moment by moment!

In times like these, with the birth pains coming ever closer together and increasing in intensity, our faith in God is surly being tested and proven, but even that has God’s purpose behind it. Peter wrote:

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1Pet 1:6-7, ESV)

Dear saints, as I was contemplating Jesus’ words in Matthew chapter six, I looked out our picture window and watched a pair of sparrows taking turns fetching bugs for their babies in a nest up under our front porch eaves. God used that to drive the point home and dispatch all my anxieties. Here is a picture I took of one of their babies in his nest patiently waiting for his next morsel of food:

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Photo by Michael Clark

Jesus went on to teach me about entering into His rest and casting all my cares upon Him. I went out on the front porch to check on the birds, only to discover one of our neighborhood deer lying on the grass less than twenty feet away and not bothered a bit by my announced presence.

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Photo by Michael Clark

One word seemed to sum up the lesson that our Father was trying teach me, PEACE.

Peace that comes from believing that,

“…for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom 8:28-32, ESV)

[1] https://amendingfeast.org/2018/01/27/disciples-of-the-lily/

Abiding in His Perfect Peace in Times Like These

The Coeur d Alene River near the Cataldo Mission

 

In Susanne Schuberth’s recent blog article (1) she quoted the whole of Isaiah chapter twenty-eight and spoke of how it applies to the world we are in and our place in it as the saints of God.  I would like to quote the first few verses…

In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: “We have a strong city; he sets up salvation as walls and bulwarks. Open the gates, that the righteous nation which keeps faith may enter in. Thou dost keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusts in thee. Trust in the LORD for ever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock. For he has brought low the inhabitants of the height, the lofty city. He lays it low, lays it low to the ground, casts it to the dust. The foot tramples it, the feet of the poor, the steps of the needy.” The way of the righteous is level; thou dost make smooth the path of the righteous. In the path of thy judgments, O LORD, we wait for thee; thy memorial name is the desire of our soul. My soul yearns for thee in the night, my spirit within me earnestly seeks thee. For when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness. (Isa 26:1-9, RSV)

There is so much panic around the world as we see people coming down with and dying of Covid-19. Most of the world has put its faith in what powerful men and governments can do along with their scientists and medical professionals. Their disillusionment and anger with these people when they do not come through with a fix makes this all too obvious. People have gathered together in huge cities seeking protection and employment, only to see these same cities become a threat as those who are bunched together come down with the disease through social transmission and their incomes  are threatened as businesses close down out of fear.  It seems this thing is made to overwhelm all things of this world system, even when our governments throw trillions of dollars at it! In Hebrews we read,

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. His voice then shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken, as of what has been made, in order that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire. (Heb 12:25-29, RSV)

Through all these calamities that are upon us, God IS SPEAKING! Jesus called it “birth pangs.” His salvation has been made known through His Son, Jesus Christ, and God uses these things to cause men and women to draw close to Him and the Son of His salvation.

In the beginning of the Book of Hebrews we read, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” (Heb 1:1-2, ESV)

Jesus died for our sins that whosoever would believe in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life. He sits at the right hand of the Father and HE STILL SPEAKS to those who have spiritual ears to hear. Mankind and all its leaders are running to and fro doing all they can to stem the effects of this virus, yet hundreds of thousands are still infected and thousands are still dying. All who are not founded on faith in the Son of God and who are not abiding in His love and obeying His voice are being shaken. This includes today’s Christianity! Churches are shut down and even the Vatican and the pope’s Sunday public message in that vast square that normally holds thousands is vacant. The visible church is being shaken. Even earthquakes and fires seem to be aimed at Christianity’s monolithic church buildings and cathedrals all over the world.  But the ecclesia of God, the true Church is not a building made with hands (see Acts 7: 48-51). It is not a building or a place which can be shaken, but it is composed of all who believe in, trust in and rely totally on Jesus Christ and who have the heart and mind of Christ abiding in them. THESE people cannot be shaken because they do not put their trust in doctors or governments, but in the One who sits at the right hand of God making intercession for them. Recently I have had a bout of premature ventricle contractions in my heart which caused me some alarm at first, because at one point I had chest pains to go with it. The doctors I went to see really had no cure other than some pills to try to keep it under control. God is in all this that I might draw closer to Him and not the things of this world that can be shaken.

We read in Hebrews about our Great High Priest in heaven,

The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Heb 7:23-25, ESV)

Drawing near to and gathering around a priest or a pastor will not save us because they can be shaken just like everything else of the worldly systems of men. But we have a Priest who has overcome death for us to put our trust in if we draw near to our Father through Him. Jesus is our Great Intercessor who ever stands before the Father to deflect the attacks of the accuser of the brethren that we might know that ALL things come to us from the Father. If we abide in Jesus we have no reason to fear no matter what may come upon us in this physical world.

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 through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:35-39, ESV)

Be at peace as you abide in the Son and put your faith in Him especially during this time of shaking, dear saints.

In His love for you all,

Michael.

(1) https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/2020/03/17/the-coronavirus-causing-chaos-or-you-keep-him-in-perfect-peace-whose-mind-is-stayed-on-you/

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/ )

 

“I Have Seen the Lord!”

Coeur d Alene Sunrise – Photo by Michael Clark

Though the LORD is on high, he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar. (Ps 138:6, NIV)

In chapter twenty of John’s gospel we read about Jesus making first contact with a human after He rose again from the dead on the third day. We might expect that He would have chosen to manifest Himself to one of the more prominent disciples like Peter or even John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. He did not choose either of them, although they were among the three followers that came to the His tomb the morning of the third day. No, Jesus chose to make Himself known to Mary Magdalene.

Mary was a woman that had been possessed by seven demons and had been ravaged by many men in her lifetime and suffered much rejection as a result. But Jesus saw something to be treasured in Mary. He delivered her and healed her of everything  Satan had done to her. She was looked down upon by her own people and rejected, but Jesus chose this weak woman to confound Simon the Pharisee and His very own disciples in their self-righteousness as they judged her and Him (See Luke 7:36-50 and Matthew 26:6-13). Mary loved Jesus very much because she had been forgiven much. I know hundreds of Christians who, in their own minds, are not all that bad compared to people in this world. I have found that their love is very thin as a result. I once thought I was pretty good as well (and judgmental) until I was prompted to ask God how HE saw me instead of how I thought He saw me. What He showed me was a self-righteous hypocrite. It didn’t take me long to cry out to Him to change me. The purging of my heart is what has taken so much time.

So it was Mary who had been a harlot that Jesus chose to appear to first and to spread the good news that He had risen. There is a very touching scene that John captured in his gospel about their miraculous meeting.

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” (John 20:1-2, ESV2011)

She rose up early while it was still dark so that she could be with Jesus, though she knew He was dead. Finding the tomb empty, she was distraught. She got Peter and John to go back with her and these two went inside and saw that the tomb was empty except for the grave clothes that Jesus had been wrapped in. Then these two men did something strange… they went home! John records, “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” Not to be so easily deterred, Mary stayed, hoping to find out what happened to His body so she could take care of it herself.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her. (John 20:11-18, ESV2011)

Through her tears Mary spoke with angels and with her risen Lord, but still did not understand it was Him until He called her by her name, “Mary.” When I go to a restaurant, I always look for a name tag on the server so I can call them by name. There is something about being called by our name that makes us feel closer to someone when we meet them. This intimate touch of hearing Him speak her name once more was all that was needed to awaken Mary to who He was. She answered in her native tongue, “Rabboni.” At this moment, she must have rushed to Him and hugged Him with overflowing love, because He warned her that He had not ascended to the Father, yet. He then said to her, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” This story is no cold liturgy that was carefully scripted by the intellects of religious men. This was an outpouring of love between Christ and a lowly woman who counted for nothing in human society. He told her that His God was her God, and His Father was also her Father. Jesus came to restore all men and women to His Father that we can know Him as OUR Father, too. What joy can also be ours if we will only give up our dead religious routines as well as our sin and seek intimacy with Him

All through the Bible God chose the lowly to manifest Himself to and many of them were women. Jesus’ very blood line came down through numerous rejected, barren women God did a miracle for and gave them hope. His own mother, Mary, was lowly in a no account town named Nazareth, but the angel that appeared to her told her that she was highly esteemed in the mind of God saying, “Hail, you that are highly favored, the Lord is with you: blessed are you among women.” She was to become the mother of the Messiah.  We may think of ourselves as nothing in the eyes of God and men, but God chooses the lives of the lowly and the abased to fulfill His will.

For I know what I have planned for you,’ says the LORD. ‘I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope. When you call out to me and come to me in prayer, I will hear your prayers. (Jer 29:11-12, NET)

Dear Father, give us hearts like that of Mary, hearts that will not give up until we are one with you and your Son. Amen.

Life’s Clouds

 

Morning Clouds on Fernan Lake – Photo by Michael Clark

Both Sides Now

by Joni Mitchell

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way

 

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

 

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s cloud’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

 

(…)

 

But now old friends they’re acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day.

 

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all…

 

Have you ever thought that if you just prayed, listened to God and obeyed, everything would go smoothly for you? That all your clouds would be “ice cream castles in the air” and so much “angel hair”? In my past I had Christian leaders I submitted to because they taught me that if I just obeyed everything they commanded, everything would turn out just fine in my life. Yet, I can look back now and see the many shipwrecked lives of those who submitted to these leaders without question. Only God is worthy of such devotion and He has given us His Spirit to lead us into all truth. The rest springs from idolatry. This is what John was warning the church about when he wrote:

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

I must have put this “formula for success,” following men instead of the Spirit, over on my relationship with God along the way.  But as I have grown older He has been teaching me that obedience to Him is not always a comfortable road to follow. Often our clouds in life rain and snow on us and even block the sun, leaving us in darkness at the most inopportune times.

Do you remember the story where Jesus commanded the disciples to get into a boat and go to the other side of the lake? A great storm came up while they were out in the middle, trying to obey. The wind was blowing contrary to them and making it impossible to go where Jesus told them to.

Immediately he made [constrained] the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. (Matt 14:22-25, ESV2011)

About this event Oswald Chamber wrote,

We tend to think that if Jesus Christ compels us to do something and we are obedient to Him, He will lead us to great success. We should never have the thought that our dreams of success are God’s purpose for us. In fact, His purpose may be exactly the opposite. We have the idea that God is leading us toward a particular end or a desired goal, but He is not. The question of whether or not we arrive at a particular goal is of little importance, and reaching it becomes merely an episode along the way. What we see as only the process of reaching a particular end, God sees as the goal itself.

What is my vision of God’s purpose for me? Whatever it may be, His purpose is for me to depend on Him and on His power now. If I can stay calm, faithful, and unconfused while in the middle of the turmoil of life, the goal of the purpose of God is being accomplished in me. God is not working toward a particular finish— His purpose is the process itself. What He desires for me is that I see “Him walking on the sea” with no shore, no success, nor goal in sight, but simply having the absolute certainty that everything is all right because I see “Him walking on the sea” (Mark 6:49). It is the process, not the outcome, that is glorifying to God. (1)

As Joni Mitchell wrote, “But now old friends they’re acting strange. They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed. Well something’s lost, but something’s gained.  In living every day.” The process of His Son being worked in us is the goal as far as our Father is concerned (Hebrews 12:11), not pleasing people or even pleasing ourselves. He shows us His Son, calmly walking toward us on the raging sea of our lives, if we will just look beyond the immediate effect of the storm on our little boat. Our boat is not our salvation. Christ is! The Christian life is not all about us and our comfort zone. In fact, we must have trials and storms in our lives to get us to look to Jesus only. The goal is to get us to look beyond all the stuff of life, learn from it, and see Jesus as all that we need.

Chambers continues:

God’s purpose is to enable me to see that He can walk on the storms of my life right now. If we have a further goal in mind, we are not paying enough attention to the present time. However, if we realize that moment-by-moment obedience is the goal, then each moment as it comes is precious. (1)

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them has the light shined. (Isa 9:2, KJ2000) “God’s goal for us is not to do, but to be.” – Dorothy Clark

(1) “My Utmost for His Highest” July 27