Are We Supposed to Fit?

Two of our grand daughters walking together when we took them to the zoo in Seattle

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. (Heb 11:13, ESV2011)

How many of us really relate to the above verse? The more this world system rots from within the more isolated we feel… cut off from anything that we once found comfort in. Our streets have been taken over by rioters and demonstrators who use filthy language, our government is at war with what was once considered good and acceptable and even church services we once enjoyed seem distant and far away.

A couple of days ago, I was reading an article by T. Austin-Sparks titled, “Jealousy for God,” and as I read, it became an overlay of my experiences in organized Christianity. In his article he started out with the life of Elijah, how he was jealous for God and His rightful place among the people of Israel. His very presence in the land made him a hated target because he was the opposite of all that Ahab and Jezebel stood for. Elijah stood with God in His Spirit and Ahab, Jezebel, 450 false prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the groves who ate at Jezebel’s table were all under the influence of the devil. Most of the people of Israel were completely under their influence as well. As a result he felt all alone while they had lots of company as they worshiped in their temples under the blessings of the king and queen and all the false prophets. The apostle Paul quoted Elijah,

“Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. (Rom 11:3-5, ESV2011)

Many hundreds of years later, we see a member of this “remnant chosen by grace” standing alone against the apostate Jewish system that killed their Messiah out of pure jealousy. A young man named Stephen stood before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. He was all alone as he spoke up for God and His Son, Jesus Christ. Stephen’s words struck at the heart of all that was wrong with the Jews and their temple worship and they hated him for it!

But it was Solomon who built a house for him.Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says, “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?’ “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” (Acts 7:47-53, ESV2011)

The more things change, the more they remain the same. False prophets, false religious systems, and false worship. Where in the New Testament did Jesus or the apostles command the early Christians to go out and build church buildings and cathedrals to worship in? No, Jesus told the woman at the well that true worship did not require religions and building, “They who worship God must worship Him in Spirit and in truth.” Peter made it clear that the true church of God was not a system of buildings.

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1Pet 2:4-5, ESV2011)

It is this spiritual house built by God, those who walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh that is the Church and they are a threat to the very system that draws attention and worship away from Christ unto itself. This is why they killed Stephen! His face shone like that of an angel and theirs was the face of the devil. Darkness cannot stand in the presence of God’s Light.

Sparks points out that in this apostate system that focuses on buildings and human hierarchy, anyone who dares to speak the truth and tries to bring Christians back into worshiping in spirit and in truth is considered a “trouble maker.” Human nature in its fleshly ways takes those things that are holy and pulls them down onto this earthly plane, and anyone who dares to point this out is a threat to the status quo. If you dare to speak to these things in today’s churches, you will get the same reception that Stephen got when he spoke out in one of their synagogues long ago. Anyone who lifts up Christ in His body and draws attention to Him is a threat and the jealousy of false prophets, false pastors, and false apostles, etc., will rise up in a foaming rage.

Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him…” (Acts 7:54-58, ESV2011)

T. Austin-Sparks describes what we can expect when we walk in the Light as Stephen did.

Now that touches a principle. You and I, on the broadest basis of the Christian life, are here in this world in this very capacity, to straddle the path of iniquity, of sin – of the very course of man – and to represent a check; and because we are here for that, we shall be called ‘trouble makers’. In a very real sense we shall BE trouble makers. The trouble will focus itself upon us, and we shall have to suffer for it. The very fact that you are jealous for the Lord will bring you into conflict with that trend that there is in this world, in man. It is going to be a really gruelling business for any testimony for God in this world, because, in the very nature of things, it counters the whole course of this world, which is downhill.

That is, as I have said, the broad line of the principle. Let us get nearer to the heart of things, so far as what is represented by this chapter is concerned. When the SPIRITUAL stands to confront the merely formal, traditional, nominal and ‘natural’, then there is going to be trouble. This is not now merely the reaction from the world: it is the reaction from religion. I would go further, and say it may be the reaction from Christianity. There is a very great difference between formal, traditional, nominal, ‘natural’ Christianity, on the one side, and spiritual Christianity, on the other; a great deal of difference. So much so, that this also becomes a battlefield – the battlefield of a lot of trouble.

Leave formalism alone, and everything will go on quite quietly. Leave traditionalism alone – that is, the set order of things as it has always been; that framework of things as it has been constituted and set up and established by man; that Christianity which is the fixed, accepted system of things – and you will escape a great deal of trouble. But seek to bring in a truly spiritual order of things, and trouble arises at once. And YOU are the trouble maker! The truth is that the trouble lies in the existing condition, the situation, the state; but it is only brought out by your action. And so spiritual men and women, and spiritual ministry, are called ‘trouble makers’, because the two things cannot go on together.

That is where Israel was. They had the traditions, they had the oracles, they had the ordinances, they had the testimonies; they had the forms, they had the system – they had it all; BUT, in the days of the prophets, there was ever this vast gap between the ‘externals’ and ‘internals’ of life in relation with God. The heart is far removed from the lips. The spiritual reality is not found in the formal. You may have it all – but then bring in the truly spiritual meaning of things, and trouble begins in that very realm. It is the trouble which arises when what is external and traditional comes into conflict with something which is truly spiritual….

When, therefore, there is the purest testimony, the fullest expression of what is of God, the heavenly over against the earthly, the spiritual over against the carnal or the natural, the enemy gives a turn to things, a twist to things, and lays the responsibility at the door of a spiritual and a heavenly ministry. He says: ‘You are the cause of all the trouble – you are the troubler!’ But no. The trouble lies deeper than that, and in another realm. The truth is, there is something here that, in its very nature, MUST create trouble, MUST be a source of trouble, so long as God’s known will, His revealed mind, is being violated; while the full expression of God’s purpose is being withstood. To bring in something that stands for that, there is going to be trouble.

http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/001248.html

This spiritual principle will probably seem strange to many Christians who read this article, but I know that some of you who have had a spiritual walk similar to my own where no matter how hard you tried to fit-in and “be one of the boys” in that church system, the more you were rejected and persecuted. You might have thought, “Well, maybe if I just kept my mouth shut and smiled they would welcome me,” but that didn’t work for long either. It is not the words alone that offend, it is the Who that is in YOU that bothers them! “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship,” but only then. It is a heart thing. Out of many frustrating attempts to be part of that system, I cried out to God, “Lord, I DON’T FIT! I just DON’T FIT!” To this He replied, “YOU are not supposed to FIT!” Some of us like Stephen or Elijah have a “prophetic gifting” that makes us a target no matter what. If we walk into a room full of religious people they immediately know we aren’t one of them. I have written this article to you, hoping that you might find some comfort in knowing it is alright not to FIT, but rather as John did, find your  place at the breast of Jesus Christ instead of nursing at the breasts of men.

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2Cor 3:4-6, ESV2011)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Spirit and in Truth on Easter Morning?

He-is-Risen-3

Image by Debby McDaniel.com

It’s Easter morning here in Houston where thousands of people are putting on their “Sunday best” and going to their favorite church building, temple, cathedral, etc. Many of them are convinced that their “church” is the right one to worship in and that they are doing exactly what God requires of them. Here in the Bible Belt of southern USA, it’s considered a sin to miss church on Sundays and a sacrilege to miss on Easter and Christmas! It was this mindset that Jesus was confronted with by that Samaritan woman He met by the well outside her village that day.

The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” (John 4:19-20, ESV)

As usual, Jesus did not answer people’s questions from their earthbound mindsets, but from the viewpoint of His Father in heaven.

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:19-24, ESV)

 What? Her head must have been spinning! You mean that real worship in the eyes of the Father has nothing to do with going to sacred buildings and temples on “holy days of obligation?” Nope! True worship comes from the Spirit of God in hearts that live IN His truth, not in an outward pretense of the religious norms and traditions of men. Even David of old had that figured out (read Psalm 51). It is interesting that today’s Open Windows (1) daily reading that I receive is addressing this very thing on the day when an outward show or piety is at its max.

You desire truth in the inner being. (Psalm 51:6)

In the course of our spiritual history God deals with us in ever-deepening ways. Down, down, down, He goes, until He touches bottom to have things true at our very depth. He undercuts all our professions, doctrines, assumptions, pretensions, illusions, and customs…. There is no mere formalism about this; no mere Jewish ritual in this; no mere outward observance of rites and ceremonies in this! No! This has got to go right into the inmost being, in the inward parts. God works toward that. God is ever working toward the most inward parts. Do you recognize that? Do you understand what He is doing with us? Oh, He will meet us with blessing on a certain level, as we walk before Him, like the man in Psalm 1. He will meet us with His gracious provision when we transgress and trespass and fail, and do wrong – He will meet us there in grace. But God is going to pursue this matter to the most inward place of our being, and register there His work of grace and redemption.

The Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are characterized by this one feature – truth! And God desires and has set His heart upon having people who are partakers of the Divine nature, and so He is working ever more deeply toward this end: what is true of Himself shall be true of His children – those begotten of Him – that they should be true sons of God in this sense. (2)

Oh yes, He deals with us in ever deepening ways. Most of us Christians feel His probing gaze into our hearts and it makes us uncomfortable to say the least. So, what do we do? We run off to a church, Bible school or seminary (our Samaritan “holy mountains”) and offer the sacrifice of our lips to try and appease Him so that our soulish discomfort will go away. It’s this holding to the traditions of men (which are not supported by the New Testament) that keeps us going to these places while the piercing gaze of the Father goes ever deeper into our souls. So what’s next? We give more money, more time to those systems and more effort to make them work while we try to appease our inward discomfort. Eventually, we get the picture that all this institutionalism is not getting the job done, so we try meeting in homes on a regular basis, not understanding that our Father is not going to let up until He finds truth, His Son, freely living in our inward parts.

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

I thank God that He never lets-up until He sees His divine truth in our inner most being where He desires to dwell. With David I pray,

​Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.​ Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:10-12, ESV)