Blessed Is He Who Is Not Offended in Me

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

As it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Rom 9:33, ESV2011)

John the Baptist was in King Herod’s prison because he dared to preach against that man’s sinful ways. Herod and his mistress (his brother’s wife) were greatly offended with him, so John was looking at a death sentence. John had been preaching in the wilderness as the forerunner of Jesus the Messiah, telling all who heard him to repent and prepare their hearts to receive the Christ who was about to come. But what does the scripture say about this Messiah? What would He be like (See Isaiah ch. 53)?

The Spirit of God was upon John and his preaching offended many, but had he forgotten that even Jesus and His ways would be a stone of stumbling? We go on to read that while he was in prison, John sent messengers to Jesus to ask Him a question.

“John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” …And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Luke 7:19-23, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

In our immaturity as new Christians, we have often received a gospel that if we just accept Jesus into our hearts everything will be wonderful from then on. After the Spirit comes into us, things do seem to be all new and blessings abound. Having the love of Christ in us is a real heartwarming experience. But our Father is not raising up “hot house Christians.” At first we may be protected from the elements like plants in a greenhouse, but eventually those plants have to be set out to face the real world of cold nights and biting insects.

So here we have John, who had been looked up to by thousands as the incarnation of “Elijah the prophet who would come before the great and terrible day of the Lord (See Malachi 4:5-6).” But now he was in prison and his only hope was that Jesus would do something about it as a conquering Messiah. “If you are really the One, then get me out of here!” And what was Jesus’ reply? He enumerated the many things that marked Him as the Messiah and then said, “Blessed is he who is not offended with me.” What? What does that have to do with anything?

You see, my dear Christian friends, if we are to be conformed into the image of Christ, something is necessary. We must see Him as HE is with spiritual eyes, not how we want Him to be in our immaturity. Oh, How we love to be healed, how we love to have everything we need provided by Him. Remember the crowds that wanted to make Him King because He fed them? But they were soon offended with Him because He preached hard things. The offense that day was so great that not only the large crowd of thousands left Him but even His 70 disciples ceased to follow Him (see John ch. 6). It is one thing to feast on free loaves and fishes, but another thing to eat His flesh and drink His blood.

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. (John 6:52-56, ESV2011)

What did He mean by this saying? Many were offended with Him that day for He put them to the test. In effect He was saying, “You followed me because I fed you, but will you follow me to the cross? Will you partake in my cup of sufferings or will a suffering and dying Messiah be too much for you? Didn’t Jesus say, “If any man will be my disciple let him take up HIS cross and follow me.” THIS is what it means to eat His flesh and drink His blood. Christ in us will be persecuted. Suffering will come into our lives. We loved Jesus as our provider who made “everything come up roses,” but will we take up our own cross and continue to follow Him even unto death? He was talking about something much deeper than eating a cracker and drinking a thimble of grape juice in a religious ritual on “communion Sunday” when it comes to eating His flesh and drinking His blood. He was talking about “the fellowship of His sufferings.” John had entered into the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings in Herod’s prison. Just as he was the forerunner of the gospel, he was soon to become the forerunner in type of Christ’s death.

We are now living in a time where people are acting out of great offense which Jesus foretold. saying,

And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures [Grk. hupomeno – to bear up courageously] to the end will be saved. (Matt 24:12-13, ESV2011)

Lawlessness is the byword of this hour. Everywhere we look in this world people are rising up and protesting, rioting, looting and even killing one another. All authority has become their target, even literally as we see policemen killed in the streets for trying to enforce the law and officials homes being attacked at night terrifying their families. Men are casting off all restraint. Is this something strange? Job described what we are seeing in our streets around the world.

But God has loosened his cord and afflicted me; so they’ve cast off all restraints in my presence. A wretched crowd ambushes me to my right; they trip my feet; they build up their path of calamity for me. They tear up my pathways; they profit from my destruction [looting], and they need no help to do this! They come like those who breach through a wall; as everything crashes around me they’ll roll on and on! (Job 30:11-14, ISV)

Need I say more? The question is, will we who are Christians let the love of Christ leave our hearts as we become offended and react in kind or will we endure in His love unto the end? Yes, the true gospel of Christ will bring with it an offense into our lives. Our natural man, our old natures, will be offended.

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up.” (Matt 15:12-13, ESV2011)

The times we are in will test us as to whether our Father has really planted us IN Christ or we are simply “hot house Christians” who bought into a false prosperity gospel or some other convenient lie. Yes, “blessed is he who is not offended in me.”

Oh Father, give us your grace and change our hearts so that we are not offended in all that you are allowing to come upon us. Open the eyes of our hearts so that we truly see that “ALL things work together for those who love God and are called according to Your purpose.” Amen.

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

The Process of Christ Being Manifest in Us, the Way of the Cross

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways” (Jer 17:9-10, ESV)

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2Cor 4:6-11, ESV)

No matter how sweet we might have been as infants, we eventually show that there is something broken within us, something that wants to lie, cheat, manifest anger, steal, and do everything that the ten commandments tell us not to do. The heart within us is desperately sick! No matter how hard we try to be “good people,” we find ourselves doing the things that we would not and not doing the things that we would. In short, God knows we need help!

I thank our Father that He commanded His light to shine in our hearts and expose the darkness that He sees there, but not only that, He has chosen to replace our darkness with “the light of the knowledge of His glory in the face of Jesus Christ.” What a gift! How does this happen? Is it an instant bit of magic that our Father does in us when we get saved? I remember when I first started to experiencing trials after coming to Christ that I wanted Him to be like Tinkerbell and use His magic wand and, “Chwing!” instant super Christian! I was soon to find out that this is not His way.

As we read further down in the above quote from Paul we see that we still have this treasure of Christ in clay vessels which are weak by their very natures. God has chosen to let us see that we have no power in ourselves to live godly lives in Christ. By making us live with the weakness in us, He gets us to cry out to Him to do something about it. We soon discover that we are helpless in and of ourselves and that all power belongs to Him. We go through a process in which we are afflicted in every way only to find out that we have no strength in us to change. He allows us to be pressed upon, but not crushed; afflicted with all manner of suffering and pain and be rejected by this world and its people to the point of despair, only to find out that He has not forsaken us and is very much in it all. Paul wrote that we are “always carrying in our bodies the death of Jesus Christ so that the Life of Jesus might be what is manifest in us.” Little did we know that when we “asked Jesus into our hearts,” we also asked His suffering and death to come in to deal with that old Adam within us that Christ’s resurrection and Life might also be made manifest in us.

As this body of mine gets older, I am discovering how fragile this clay vessel really is! Where once I was healthy and self-asserting, I seem to come in contact with one affliction after another that keeps me weak. Did you notice that word “always” in what Paul wrote above? Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus.” Yikes! I seem to go from one source of pain to another. I go to the doctor with each new symptom and he sends me from one “specialist” and another! What it comes down to is that you can’t fix what God fixes to fix you. Is it any wonder that for every “miracle drug” they prescribe for us, there are even more nasty “side effects” that take the place of the “cure”? He seems to be teaching me to leave it all in the hands of the Great Physician to deal with me as HE wills.

God is myopic! He has a singular focus on one thing, the perfect manifestation of His Son in us. Early on in my Christian walk I prayed as Paul did, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection. It has taken years for me to pray the rest of that verse with sincerity–the fellowship of His suffering and be made conformed unto His death. To be conformed unto Christ’s death by suffering is also to be transformed into His resurrection life! You cannot have one without the other.

In Pentecostal circles I often heard people quoting this verse hoping that they would become great in the eyes of others, “A man’s gift makes room for him, And brings him before great men (Prov 18:16, NKJV). We all love the way that God called Paul to go forth with the gospel with resurrection power and even appear before kings, but let’s read the rest of that call…

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he [Paul] is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Acts 9:15-16, NKJV)

For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Giving our lives to Christ is a “full meal deal.” We don’t get to pick and choose which part of that life we get to have manifest within us. In the gospel of Matthew we read this:

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” (Matt 16:21-22, ESV)

It is the very nature of the carnal man to reject suffering. Jesus embraced the will of His Father and the cross that was set before Him. Notice how the flesh in Peter reacted to this “bad news.” “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” The fleshly man has no place for suffering in his life or the lives of his loved ones. Now look at how Jesus responded to Peter’s outburst:

But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matt 16:23, ESV)

He spoke to Satan that was manifesting in Peter’s fleshly mind trying to get Jesus to disobey the will of His Father. If He had turned away from the cross and become the new earthly King of Israel as they all wanted, none of us would have ever been redeemed! The flesh is an ally of Satan and to embrace our suffering that our Father has willed is to reject the devil in our lives. The will of God is just the opposite of the wills of many of my Pentecostal friends who want to rebuke demons anytime someone is suffering.

Dear saints, don’t be robbed of the fellowship that is ours as we embrace His sufferings. There is more to fellowship than to meet, eat and retreat one day a week in a warm and fuzzy church meeting. Paul wrote, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. (1Cor 12:24-26, NKJV). How often do we see this depth of fellowship within our “seeker friendly” and easy believe-ism churches of today?

You see, dear saints, suffering is very much a part of the plan of God as He conforms us into the image of Christ. Embrace the fellowship of His suffering as Paul did for it is part of His resurrection power working in us.

Father, open our the eyes of our understanding that we might see the depths of our salvation and fully embrace all that you have for us to walk in together as we follow Christ in our lives. Amen.

 

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/ )

 

Spiritual Learning

my sheep hear my voice

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, ESV2011)

The apostle Paul wrote the most concise description of how we mature in Christ if we are truly spiritual people and not just carnal people wanting to appear spiritual or wanting to heap to ourselves teachers who will tickle our ears.

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1Cor 2:9-16, ESV2011)

Let’s look at this passage piece by piece. “’What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.”  What no eye has seen… this includes reading and watching teaching videos, etc.  Nor ear has heard… This includes all human teachers and preachers that stand before us with their words of wisdom. Nor the heart of man imagined… Why can’t the imaginations of our hearts be trusted? Because the heart of man is desperately wicked and deceitful above all things. The carnal man loves to delve into spiritual things, but because of his lack of the Holy Spirit within, these things always come out twisted and bring more bondage because of his ignorance. Peter wrote about this problem regarding Paul’s New Testament teachings.

….our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. (2Pet 3:15-16, ESV2011)

What God has prepared for those who love him. These spiritual things are for a spiritual people. They are not meant for those who approach Him with their carnal minds. God feeds those who love Him with His spiritual food and spiritual gifts both now and in eternity.

These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. His Spirit speaks to and teaches us through our spirits. If either one is missing there is no heavenly connection. It is like using two-way radios–they must both be turned on with the volume up and set to the same frequency or we cannot communicate. We must first be “born of the Spirit” if we are to have the transmitter/receiver in us that can hear Him and communicate with Him. This is why Jesus’ words to the Bible-smart Nicodemus fell on deaf ears (see John ch. 3). All he could do was reply, “How can these things be?” When the human mind that has not been renewed by the Spirit (see Romans 12:2) takes hold of the Spirit’s teaching, it always comes out twisted and confused, missing the point of what God has said.

For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God… no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. God has appointed His Holy Spirit to be the one who teaches us. Father sent Him to us as a gift so that we would not be left alone without a Teacher on this earth after Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus spoke of this gift.

These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, who is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14:25-26, KJ2000)

He will teach us all things because He searches the depths of God’s thoughts. Do we get all of His thoughts at once in a massive download? If we did our pride would rise up and we would become like Satan on this earth. God teaches us the things that we need to understand as we go through experiences in our daily lives. This converts what might have been mere theory into practical life applications that make our spirits grow step by step and not just our natural minds. God is after spiritual sons and daughters, not carnal people with massive intellects

temptation of christ by vasily surikov- 1872Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. Notice that this world has a spirit operating in it as well. The word world is from the Greek word kosmos. It speaks of not only the earth, but Satan who is the god of this world, the spirit that is in it and rules over it. The New Testament uses the Greek word ge when speaking of this earthly planet upon which we live. The earth itself was created by God as good. It is Satan who has defiled it with his influence, power and presence. Notice that there are two realities for those who live on the earth. We are either under the power of the prince of the earth if we live as fleshly souls or we are under the influence of the Holy Spirit as spiritual men and women. Adam and Eve gave Satan an open door when they rebelled against God and this evil presence working on our minds and hearts has been with mankind ever since. Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, but that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Like Nicodemus to whom He was speaking who was born into Judaism, many Christians today have been raise up in the churches or convinced to attend them, but they are still fleshly people without any spiritual understanding. Being born of the Spirit is not optional in the Kingdom of God (see Romans 8:5-17).

And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. This right here is what makes the difference between your average Bible teacher and those who teach spiritual truths by the Spirit. If you are born of the Spirit, you can discern the difference. Even when the Bible is being preached from or taught and the Spirit is not doing it, these words are like chewing on a bone stripped of its meat. You just can’t swallow it because it gets caught sideways in your spirit’s throat and you go away empty and sometimes confused. Learning to discern the spirits that are in church leaders and teachers might take time and a lot of suffering, but once we rely on the Spirit’s gift of discerning of spirits, we will save ourselves a lot of grief and confusion from following the wrong paths.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Once, as a young born again Christian, I submitted to a man who had a strong personal charisma and a working knowledge of the scriptures. But the problem was that he added his own natural thoughts and desires to the words of God and used them to take and keep us captive to his will and intellect. This is called the power of the soul and many people use their souls to influence us to do what they want. Take an encounter with a smooth talking salesperson as an instance. Remember, Satan often cloaks his lies in 99% truth.

We eventually became this man’s personal slaves in a religious cult on a remote piece of land in northwestern United States. Many of us had become born again in a move of the Spirit that swept through America in the early ‘70’s and had a hunger to know more about Jesus, but when we met this man (and others like him) with both our lack spiritual maturity and knowing the ways of God, we fell into his clutches. We thought that we had found a fast track to becoming spiritually mature (be very wary when men offer you a quick and sure way to become “spiritual”). By the end of that decade of being under his influence we were filled with confusion and depression. Finally, God opened our eyes to see that we had taken the wrong fork in the road years earlier by following a man and we had to start all over again. As long as we follow men instead of God we will be in constant “reset mode.” God always does this. He takes us right back to where we made the wrong choice and starts from there once again — teaching us HIS ways and not the ways of carnal men. Spiritual understanding often comes through the school of hard knocks (see Hebrews 5:14).

The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. The Greek word that was translated as judges and judged in this verse does not mean to pass judgment. It is anakrino which means; to scrutinize, investigate, interrogate, discern and to determine. Properly translated this verse says, “The spiritual person scrutinizes all things, but is himself scrutinized (or discerned) by no one.” So the next time you discern that a man is a false teacher, don’t let a shallow Christian tell you, “But brother, we are not to judge!” No, we are not to pass judicial judgment (krino in the Greek) on that person and say to him, “You are going to hell!” Only God is our judge. But we are to scrutinize all things by the Spirit within us whether they are from our Father or not. Remember, Jesus said, “My sheep HEAR my voice and they follow ME.”

“For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. Do we dare believe we have the mind of Christ in us? Yes, by His Spirit being alive in us, we do! The problem is that when we start out, we are more dependent on our own minds as we have been our whole lives, and that mind wars against the mind of the Spirit within us. Paul wrote about this struggle.

For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. (Rom 8:5-6, KJ2000)

It is the mind of the Spirit in us that we must let operate without constantly overriding it with what we think is a better idea or the less painful way to go. This is imperative if we are to have His life and peace remain in us. When we feel His peace lift while saying or taking an action prompted by your carnal minds, that is a good indicator for us to stop and seek Him before we go any further. Listening to and acting according to what the Spirit is saying is our salvation from a life filled with grief.

May the Lord bless and keep you all as you are taught by His Spirit. Amen.

 

 

What is True Holiness?

Sunrise over Coeur d Alene Lake, photo taken by Michael Clark

 “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” (John 14:10, ESV2011)

“The glory that you have given me I have given to them that they may be one even as we are one.” (John 17:22, ESV2011)

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1Pet 1:14-16, ESV2011)

I was about 23 years old when, out of desperation, I walked away from the Catholic Church never to return. I had been brainwashed by the nuns in Catholic schools about who Jesus is and what He required (abject obedience to the Church, its hierarchy and its laws), but I had no peace in my heart, nor did I know that God loved me or even the meaning of biblical salvation. I had a deep spiritual hunger that drove me to find peace with Him, so I ended up in what some call “a holiness Bible church.” We heard a lot of preaching on holiness there, but we saw very little of it. You see, true holiness is not walking around with our hands up our sleeves with an ornate cross hanging around our necks. Nor is it looking down our noses at all the sinners with a holier than thou attitude. I had seen both but what I saw of “the church” left me empty and did not satiate the deep hunger within me.

No one was/is holier than Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, and He was not like what I had seen at all. What set Jesus apart from the devout Jews that worshiped in their temples and synagogues was that He was touchable and in touch first of all with His Father and secondly with the common man and woman and the pains that they suffered. And He is still in touch with us today as our High Priest in heaven.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are… (Heb 4:14-15, NIV)

Who is to condemn [us]? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Rom 8:34, ESV2011)

Someone once said, “Christians seem to have a vested interest in the misery of others.” Much to the chagrin of many in this world who count themselves as “holy,” God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but rather that it might be saved through Him (see John 3:17).

Living a holy life is living a life that is wed to Christ within us. This unity with Him by His Spirit is why God can rightfully say, “Be ye holy for I am holy.” Holiness is not something we have to generate on our own, but it comes through our unity in spirit with Jesus Christ just as He was in unity with His Father.

This unity with Him can often take us to that place where we pray as He did, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.” Paul wrote that the flesh in us wars against the Spirit and the Spirit against our flesh. Just as water wants to escape from being under pressure, there seems to be a constant temptation within us to take the easy road and not the path that God has set before  us to walk.

God desires to reveal His Son in us and if He who had the power to do almost anything he wanted, denied that power, how much more should we in our weakness? Paul wrote,

“…it was the good pleasure of God, who separated me from my mother’s womb… to reveal his Son in me…” (Gal 1:15-16, ASV)

The outworking of Paul doing the good pleasure of God through His Son within was to grow into the place where he could say, “For me to live IS Christ and to die is gain.”  THIS dear saints, is what Holiness really IS. We give up our wills to our Father on a daily basis and He does the rest (see Hebrews 8:8-12).

the adoration of the golden calf

The Adoration of the Golden Calf 1633-4, Nicolas Poussin

We by nature are creatures that desire comfort, pain and suffering is to be avoided by all means. Yet, it is this very thing that God uses to weaken our self seeking wills so that Jesus might be more readily manifested in us. I am not speaking of self inflicted pain and flagellation here, but rather the pain and suffering that God allows in our lives that defies any quick fix. Many of us who have unconditionally surrendered our lives to Christ know this kind of walk. God uses many kinds of pain to accomplish His work in us and some of it is not just physical. Sometimes it is the pain of the loss or serious injury of a loved one. Sometimes it is sorrow for doing something we deeply regret later. Some of us end up marrying our crosses. We, like Paul, pray that we might be delivered from our “thorn in our flesh (even the thorn of our flesh),” only to find out that the more Christ reveals Himself in and to us in a very real way, the more suffering we encounter.

grow where you are planted

Root Out of Dry Ground- photo by Michael Clark

Remember that Isaiah prophesied of Jesus saying, “…as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.”

Yes, this life not only includes suffering and grief as Jesus freely lives in us, but rejection by our families, our fellow man and even by Christians. We need to contemplate such things before we glibly pray, “Lord, I just want to be like Jesus.”

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. (John 15:19-20, ESV2011)

What I am sharing with you here is the message of the true gospel, not that of the prosperity preachers or professional “healers” who get rich and fat off the funds they can bilk out of the gullible who follow them by listening with their fleshly ears  to what they want to hear. Remember, Jesus said, “If you would be MY disciple, you must take up YOUR CROSS and follow Me.” I think it is obvious that many believe in Him as a historic figure, but few are truly His disciples. I question the depth of spirituality of those who have to run off to some temple, or big crusade or Christian conference or even go on a “Holy Land” tour so they can get a special touch from God (I was also a conference junky once in my immaturity). I wish it was all that easy to become holy, but it is not. Jesus warned us saying,

For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. (Matt 24:24-26, ESV2011)

When Jesus first started to do miracles He had many who “believed in Him” but only in a fleshly way. They wanted their worldly desires fulfilled, but they did not want HIM as their Lord. The closer He got to the cross that was set before Him, the more they rejected Him. They wanted a Messiah that was a conquering king that met all their needs and expectations, not a suffering Savior that was crucified in weakness.

“Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, MANY BELIEVED IN HIS NAME when they saw the signs that he was doing. BUT Jesus …did not entrust himself to them, because… he himself knew what was in (the heart of) man.” (John 2:23-25, ESV2011- emphasis added)

Do we want to be entrusted by Jesus with the spiritual treasures of heaven and His very life being manifest within us? We need a NEW heart from God within not the heart of that old Adam we were born with (our carnal natures). This is what it means to be born of the Spirit and not just being born of a woman. There are “believers” and then there are those who BELIEVE– that is they; cling to, trust in and totally rely upon Him (read John 3:16 in the Amplified Version)! We can be “believers” in Christ on an intellectual or religious level and still not have that new heart with His daily commands written upon it, to whom His spiritual treasures are revealed. Hearing and obeying His voice is what a “holy life” is all about.

As I shared my thoughts about suffering with Susanne Schuberth on her current blog article (1) she pointed out that Christians are not the only ones who suffer, but suffering seems to be common to all of mankind. She is right. Suffering seems to be the lot of the human creature since the fall of man. The difference is the heart within us. Do we have a heart that has been made new by our Father or is it still that old heart that is a home for our adversary? A changed heart will only become more beautiful through all it endures, but that old adamic nature will only become more bitter and vile by the same suffering. The same sun that shines down upon wax makes it soft and pliable, but it makes clay hard and brittle. John wrote about a great company of people he saw in heaven saying,

revelation ch. 7 vs.13-14

Revelation ch. 7 vs.13-14, artist unknown

And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, “What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?” And I said unto him, “Sir, thou knowest.” And he said to me, “These are they which came out of great tribulation [Grk. thlipsis – pressure; anguish, burden, persecution, and troubles], and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev 7:13-14, KJV- emphasis added)

In this life we are not only immersed in troubles, but we also come out of them and are a transformed as the filth of this world is washed away and are made His holy people by His blood.

“Father, do whatever it takes to completely transform us that we may also be found with this assembly who hears and obeys your voice before your throne. Amen.”

(1) Called to Live a Holy Life  (As I meditated on this recent article by Susanne Schuberth, this blog article I share here came to life within me. Thanks you Susanne for obeying Him.)