What It Means to Be Captivated by Christ

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For three and a half years people were captivated by the words that Jesus spoke. Crowds seemed to follow Him everywhere He went. When I first started following Jesus, this was all the deeper the meaning went in my mind of what it meant to be captivated by Him. After I was saved, I went to every Christian meeting I could. I couldn’t get enough of hearing about Jesus. But as time went by a greater revelation came to me. I started to see a deeper meaning of what it means to be His captive. Jesus spoke to Peter about this process.

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

Death? Yes, the price we must pay if we dare to follow Him! After the newness of my experience wore off, I started to go to Christian meetings just because that was the thing to do on that day of the week. Then the time came when I had to ask God for permission before I went to a meeting. Slowly over time, going to meetings became less and less important to me and a deeper personal and obedient walk with Christ came to mean more, even when He had me stay home.

The more time I spent in obedience to His leading, the more He showed me the deeper meaning of the scriptures that I never heard come from a pulpit or conference podium. At the end of an isolation of many years in His spiritual wilderness, He had me start writing these things down. Eventually the wilderness and isolation ended and I was encouraged by others to put the things I had written into articles on a website and books so the saints of God could have access to them. (Did you know that Paul spent many years in isolation between His Damascus road experience with Jesus and when he was sent by the Spirit on his first “missionary journey”?) God eventually put me together with another brother on a similar journey, and we fellowshipped and wrote together and even took in some meetings for a season. Then he started showing us the depths of another scripture:

He must increase, but I must decrease. He that comes from above is above all… (John 3:30-31, KJ2000)

It seems that those glorious days of writing with that brother have come to an end. He has also been coming into a deeper meaning of what it means to be the Lord’s captive, learning the depths of what Jesus said, “you shall stretch forth your hands, and another shall dress you, and carry you where you would not.”

Yes, I have been writing this blog for the last three or four years, but slowly even that seems to be winding down as He increases in my life and I decrease. “He that comes from above is above all.” Christ and the will of Christ and the Father must be above all. His life must become our only life. Paul had a highly visible ministry among the Gentiles in Asia Minor, yet that was coming to a close as he wrote to the Ephesians about this same process in His life and called himself “the prisoner of Jesus Christ.” It is oh so easy for our flesh to ride the wave of what the Spirit is doing through us and get some of the glory for ourselves along the way, but all glory belongs to the One who died and rose again and sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven. He must increase and we (that old Adam in man) must decrease. We can only share His glory to the extent that Christ is our ALL in all. All the rest, the adulation and attention that comes to us from men–even the saints of God–only provides a temptation for us to think we are something without Him.

The life of Paul, how he decreased as a mere human, and how God increased His effectiveness in life (and death) is a spiritual principle that must work in any true disciple of Jesus.  He said, “If any man would be my disciple let him take up his cross and follow me.” T. Austin-Sparks wrote about this very thing from his own experience.

I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you…. (Ephesians 3:1)

The measure of approximation to the fullness of the revelation has always been accompanied by a relative cost. Every instrument of the testimony has been laid under suspicion and reproach in a measure commensurate with the degree of value to the Lord, and this has meant that, humanly, they were limited to that extent. Many have withdrawn, fallen away, held aloof, doubted, feared, and questioned. But as Paul could say “My tribulations for you, which are your glory” (Eph. 3:13), or “The prisoner of Christ Jesus in behalf of you Gentiles” (Eph. 3:1), so the measure of limitation in the Lord is the measure of enrichment in His people. The fuller the revelation, the fewer those who apprehend, or the greater the number of those who stand aloof. Revelation only comes through suffering and limitation, and to have it experimentally means sharing the cost in some way. But this is God’s way of securing for Himself a spiritual seed plot….

All this may apply to individual lives in relation to the Lord’s testimony. There may often be a chafing against limitation, confinement, and a restless hankering after what we would call something wider or less restricted. If the Lord has willed us to the place where we are, our acceptance of it in faith may prove that it becomes a far bigger thing than any human reckoning can judge. I wonder if Paul had any idea that his prison meant his continuous expansion of value to the Lord Jesus through nineteen hundred years? What applies to individuals also applies to corporate bodies, assemblies, or companies of the Lord’s people scattered in the earth but one in their fellowship in relation to the Lord’s full testimony. May the Lord be graciously pleased to cause the merely human aspect of prison walls to fall away, and give the realization that, far from being limited by men and circumstances, it is imprisonment in the Lord, and this means that all ages and all realms are entered through that prison. (http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/000689.html)

Dear saints, may we each look beyond the limitations of our natural lives and situations to see that God is doing something far greater for HIS glory that is beyond our sight and our reach at this present time. Love to you all.

Do We Desire the Kingdom of God or the Kingdoms of Men?

He is Faithful

Today we see well-meaning men and women building their kingdoms and pushing their agendas all in the name of Christ all through Christendom. Some put their hopes in who gets elected in the world’s political systems. Some are so bold (and blind) as to name their ministries after themselves, yet we take this all to be perfectly normal. Can you see a huge sign above the banks of the Jordan 2000 years ago reading, “John the Baptist Ministries”?  Can you see ushers seating all the people that went out to observe him in action, handing out baptism request cards, and taking up a collection (or two) at every “service”? Of course, all had to be done “decently and in order.” No, none of this nonsense was how the Spirit wind moved through John the Baptist. He upset the whole religious and political establishment and told everyone they needed to repent as he prepared the way for Christ to appear. The religious establishment didn’t take too kindly to him either.

How easy it is for us who call ourselves “Christian” to hold on to our worldly mindsets, values, earthly ambitions and views on what the Father’s kingdom should look like and how it should operate. Such was the case with the disciples of Christ. They all knew that when Messiah came, He would set up a new world order with the Jews at the top of the heap and themselves as its administrators. How wrong they were! He made it clear to Pilate at His trial that HIS kingdom is not of this world! Jesus finally told the disciples that He had to go up to Jerusalem, be rejected by the leaders of the Jews, be tormented by them and die the death of the cross. Their minds went “tilt”! Peter even took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him saying, “Be it far from you, Lord: this shall not be unto you.” (Matthew 16:22, KJ2000).

Do you remember where it is written that Satan stopped tempting Jesus for a season after His temptation in the wilderness? That season was now over. Satan was back in His face in the form of a beloved disciple who Jesus loved, trying to get Him to go against the will of His Father and save Himself. Until then, Jesus had always said regarding going up to Jerusalem, “My time is not yet come.” What was Peter thinking? Jesus answered Peter’s challenge by saying, “Get you behind me, Satan: you are an offense unto me: for you consider not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” Yes, Satan wants us to spare ourselves and save our lives by finding our niche here on earth. To this mindset Jesus went on to say to the disciples, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” After this Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not: and when you are converted, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32, AKJV).

Even though we might confess–as Peter did–that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, that is not enough. Down deep inside we have to ask ourselves, “Have I truly been converted?” Or do we, like Peter, still desire and consider the things of men and operate in the ways of men–ways like seeking popularity, fame and wanting worldly safety and comfort more than the plan that God has for our lives? When Jesus bids us to take up our flesh-killing cross and follow Him, will we deny ourselves all these temptations of Satan and His world system and do the “unreasonable thing” even in the eyes of our fellow Christians? When God allows him to sift us, will our faith in Christ survive? It will if we submit to Christ’s preparatory work of the cross in us. We know for sure that when God calls us to walk in His kingdom way, we will hear those who are still in the world and not truly converted calling us to be “reasonable” and spare ourselves as Peter did with Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it well:

“…the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” (1)

God has no use for our flesh and its talents (see Romans 7:18). They are useless to Him. The more talented we are, the larger obstacle these talents become and the greater temptation to “do something great for Christ” without His Spirit leading us.

How many of us American Christians have heard the lie of Satan that we as Christians are called to live a happy, successful life in the eyes of the world as a living advertisement on why they should also be Christians? This is not the gospel of God’s kingdom, but rather a false gospel designed by Satan to keep us under his control in his kingdom. If we have bought into this, we are no different than Peter under the influence of Satan, desiring the things of men instead of the things of God. Yes, Satan desires the things that carnal men desire! The flesh of man wars against the Spirit of God and His Spirit wars against our flesh. Which side will our hearts come down on? That is the question.

If the cross has not yet met us in a real way and become a life changing crisis in our daily lives, we are still like Peter was. We have not yet been converted and we have not yet turned from the ways of the world in our hearts. T. Austin-Sparks wrote:

 You see it is a matter, in the first place, of the ground which is taken and occupied by the one concerned. When Peter took heavenly ground – “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” – he was in a very strong position. The keys of the kingdom of heaven, binding on earth and binding in heaven, were his. He was weak, and in a very weak position, when he took earthly ground, the ground of men, the ground of his own judgment and of his own selfhood. The ground taken decided whether he was spiritually strong or weak, and whether Satan had power over him or not. (2)

The flesh in man loves religion because religion gives him an opportunity to have the best of both worlds. With religion we can claim Christ as our Lord, yet remain the one in control of our lives, seeing His cross as a thing of the past and go after “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” After all, isn’t this our God-given “inalienable right”? This phrase from the Declaration of Independence is the opposite of desiring the things of our Father in heaven, yet you would think it came from the very mouth of Jesus Christ if you observe the lives and goals of American Christians. There is no life, liberty and true happiness outside of living IN Christ in obedience to and unity with the Father. We might think we are independent of Satan as we pursue the things of this world, but we are deluded and have not yet been converted in the eyes of God. We are still not seeking to find our lives in God’s kingdom nor His desires for us. Finally Sparks wrote,

 Then, if we are really going to come through to the place of spiritual power as did Peter, that ground of the enemy must continually be forsaken and refused. The enemy has to be robbed of that which will destroy us and give him power to destroy us, and we have to be very ruthless with anything that arises to give him that position and defeat God’s intention where we are concerned. This battle of heaven and hell, God and Satan, goes on in our souls, but there is for us this consolation, that we have a High Priest ever living to make intercession. We have a great asset in the continual intercession of the Lord Jesus for us. Let us close on that note of encouragement and assurance. (2)

May God continue to draw us ever deeper into Christ and out of Satan’s delusions in this world. Only then can we know the love and unity that is ours in Christ, the abundant life of which He spoke.

(1) The Cost of Discipleship, pp. 99

(2) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/000476.html

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

By Michael Clark and Susanne Schuberth

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But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair… always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2Cor 4:7-12, ESV2011)

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

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

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

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

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

In Proverbs we read:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Have You Ever Felt Hung Out to Dry?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David finally ends his observation by saying this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Apostle John wrote:

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

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

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

The Power in Our Souls to Be Deceived

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“The Temptation of Christ” by Armusik

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

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

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

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

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

She went on to quote Paul where he warned:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bondservants of God… to be Led by the Holy Spirit

by Michael Clark and Susanne Schuberth*

Bondservants of the Lord pic

Austin-Sparks rightfully observed,

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

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

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

T. A. Sparks continues,

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

Paul wrote,

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

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

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

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

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

T.A. Sparks continues,

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

 

Bondservants of the Lord

The apostle Paul wrote,

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

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

T. A. Sparks continues,

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

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

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

Paul wrote,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a Matter of Life and Death… the Love of God

Solitude and LightThis year has been a blessing as Father continues to draw us closer to Him even though the trials have often been severe. As His love has grown in me, so has the scope of suffering and joy grown as my heart has been opened to feel what is going on in the lives of those He has placed me with in His kingdom. They have been a great encouragement to me as we have prayed for one another and seen Him move in our lives. I would like to thank my wife, Dorothy, for her steadfast encouragement and proof reading and editing skills in these articles I write. I would also like to give a special thanks to Susanne Schuberth and her blog* and the many times God has used her to inspire the things that I have shared as we both have grown in Christ and have encouraged one another.

 The events of this year so remind me of this stanza from “Amazing Grace,”

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I [we] have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me [us] safe thus far,
And grace will lead me [us] home.

I was recently reading something by T. Austin Sparks that really spoke to me about the nature of our Father’s working in our lives and the pattern of terrible lows, followed by His wonderful heavenly highs.

We can have many times of glory in our Christian lives. It is progressive, progressive in this sense: that it is an increasing matter. The Christian finds that from time to time he or she is taken into a deeper, deeper experience of trial, affliction, sorrow… something deeper and more difficult than anything before, and it’s a time when there does not seem to be very much glory; the glory seems to be veiled. There is nothing necessarily wrong about that, dear friends… That is the common experience and that is recognised as being true to Christian experience. But, you see, God is the God of glory and we are called unto His eternal glory and what the Lord means by this is more glory. The deeper the trial, the greater the suffering, the greater the glory, presently. It is only to bring about the glory in fuller measure. It is progressive, like that. And so there seems to be no end to these going-down experiences, but equally there is no end to the coming-up experiences. If there seems to be no end to the dark experiences, be assured that there is no end to the light [enlightening] ones. (http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/004310.html)

As I read this, something that Paul wrote took on greater meaning.

For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:11 RSVA)

For we are like a sweet-smelling incense offered by Christ to God, which spreads among those who are being saved and those who are being lost. For those who are being lost, it is a deadly stench that kills; but for those who are being saved, it is a fragrance that brings life. Who, then, is capable for such a task? (2 Corinthians 2:15-16 GNB)

Who can survive a life such as this, and who is sufficient to understand God’s ways with us? We can only endure such dying in Christ by faith, because it is designed to kill that old Adam in us with whom we have so closely identified, so that only the life of Christ remains in us and is manifest to all who know us. To those who perish we smell like death and they despise us for it, but to those who are being saved, we are the smell of His Life that brings life. Mary broke that alabaster box of perfume and poured it all out on Jesus and totally blessed Him with her act of love, and the smell of that perfume filled the whole house and blessed everyone in it. This is the nature of our own sacrifice in the plan of God… our being broken and poured out on and for Him.

Death and glory go hand in hand, but for those who belong to Jesus, death never has the final word, but rather the glory of God manifest in us through Christ. Just before He went to the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son, that your Son also may glorify you” (John 17:1 KJ2000). Jesus glorified the Father by the sweet smelling sacrifice of His own life in obedience. What love for the Father that He would not only lay down His own life, but that He might redeem all of God’s precious creation from sin and death. I love the fragrance of Christ in His saints!

Jesus went on to pray:

The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:22-23 ESV)

So we not only see that death is a prerequisite to glory in the economy of God, but is also needed to fully live in the love of the Father and the Son. Oh, what manner of love the Father has given unto us that we should be called the children of God and made one with the Father, the Son and one another in perfect agape love!

Thank you all for your kind and loving comments on our blog this year. May He continue to conform us into the image of Christ as we go from death to death and life to life and may He also draw us ever closer together in His great love.

* https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/