Not by Willpower, But by Personal Revelation

Saul of Tarsus – Taken from https://www.bobleesays.com – Artist unknown

I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:12 ESV)

Please forgive me, but once again in the following two paragraphs T. Austin Sparks sums up what has taken me a lifetime to discover. My comments on my own journey follow.

Those of us who have tasted of this world’s springs have recognized the kinship between what is there and what is in religion so far as that soul-nature is concerned. It is only a matter of difference of realm, not of nature. What the music and drama of the world produce in one way – the soul-stirring, rousing, craving: the pathos, tears, contempt, hatred, anger, melancholy, pleasure, etc. – are all the same, only under different auspices and in a different setting, and the fact is that it passes and we are really no further on. A little better music, a change of preacher, a less familiar place, a few more thrills, will perhaps stimulate our souls, but where are we, after all? How Satan must laugh behind his mask! Oh, for reality, the reality of the eternal! Oh, that men might see that, while a highly cultured soul with a keen sense of the beautiful and sublime is immeasurably preferable to a sordid one so far as this world is concerned, it is not necessarily a criterion that such has a personal living knowledge of God – of God as a Person – and has really been born anew! (1)

Exactly! It took me a while to discern the difference between the spiritual Church and the soulish one because, like the foolish Galatians (see Galatians 3:1-3), I started out in the Spirit, being born from above, only to be siphoned-off into the works of Christian City (for a very eye opening booklet that speaks of this journey many of us have been on, see Escape from Christendom by Robert Burnell on our website).

What a difference exists once our eyes are opened. We are much like newborn puppies, rooting around for a teat to latch onto that has milk (there are plenty to choose from), until we are ready for the “sincere milk of the Word,” the voice of the Spirit of Christ, leading us in all our ways and not feeding any longer at the breasts of men, a.k.a. religion.  Oh, what dainties Christendom supplies us to draw us by our flesh under its spell! But what a wonderful life it is to walk by spiritual sight (Christ revealed in us as a LIVING person in a moment by moment heavenly journey).

Sparks continues,

When we pray for “Revival” let us be careful as to what we are after and as to what means we use to promote it, or carry it on…. The Apostle Paul makes it very clear that the secret of everything in his life and service was the fact that he received his gospel “by revelation.” We may even know the Bible most perfectly as a book, and yet be spiritually dead and ineffective. When the Scriptures say so much about the knowledge of God and of the truth as the basis of eternal life, resulting in being set free, doing exploits, etc., they also affirm that man cannot by searching find out God, and they make it abundantly clear that it is knowledge in the spirit, not in the natural mind. Thus, a rich knowledge of the Scriptures, an accurate technical grasp of Christian doctrine, a doing of Christian work by all the resources of men’s natural wisdom or ability, a clever manipulation and interesting presentation of Bible content and themes, may get not one whit beyond the natural life of men, and still remain within the realm of spiritual death. Men cannot be argued, reasoned, fascinated, interested, “emotioned,” willed, enthused, impassioned, into the kingdom of the heavens; they can only be born; and that is by spiritual quickening. (1)

I was born again during a revival of the Spirit that swept across the United States and Canada (and eventually to Europe) during the early 1970’s. This revival seemed initially to be one that was primarily outside the churches, so we received a lot of bad-mouthing from them out of pure jealousy. Nonetheless, we who were born of the Spirit had such sweet fellowship with each other and Jesus until men rose up and started to harness what God was doing (many denominations exist today that got their start during this time as they recruited these gullible youth). Feeling the Spirit leave and not knowing why was a sad experience for many of us.

I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. (Acts 20:29-31, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

One time out of desperation a few years ago, I started praying for another Spirit led revival to happen in my lifetime. In short order I heard the Father say, “Do you think that I want to give birth to a mass of spiritual infants just so the whores can hack and split them up for their own soulish gain (See 1 Kings 3:16-28)?” That was the end of my prayers for this. I have since seen that God is still giving spiritual life to thousands of saints, one at a time, here and there all over the world and I am so thankful for each of them.

Needless to say, as men rose-up this revival I experienced died. All these years I have longed for such sweet fellowship in the Spirit we had back then, but have only experience an occasional spiritual oasis on my journey to the City of God that has Foundations. When we find another saint who walks by the Spirit and has broken out of Christendom (or was never entangled in it), what a find they are! Thanks to all of you who have shared the love of Christ with me and those other priceless pilgrims that frequent this blog.

“Goodwill Shews Christian the Way” from “Pilgrim’s Progress”

Then said Evangelist, If this be thy condition, why standest thou still? He answered, Because I know not whither to go. Then he gave him a parchment roll, and there was written within, “Fly from the wrath to come”. The man therefore, read it, and looking upon Evangelist very carefully, said, Whither must I fly? Then said Evangelist, pointing with his finger over a very wide field, Do you see yonder wicket gate [see John 10:9-10]? The man said, No. Then said the other, Do you see yonder shining light [see John 8:12]? He said, I think I do. Then said Evangelist, Keep that light in your eye, and go up directly thereto, so shalt thou see the gate; at which, when thou knockest, it shall be told thee what thou shalt do. ~ “Pilgrims Progress” by John Bunyon (2)

Your brother IN the Son (who has been ruined by Jesus for “playing church”),

Michael

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/002776.html

(2) https://www.ccel.org/ccel/bunyan/pilgrim.pdf

Living with a Heavenly Perspective

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Montana Sunset – photo by Michael Clark

And the Lord said to Moses, Come up to me on the mountain, and take your place there… (Exod 24:12, BBE – emphasis added)

My beloved spoke, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. (Song 2:10, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

Come with me … look from the top [of the mountain]… (Song 4:8, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. (Song 2:13, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

For you are the temple of the living God; as God has said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore come out from among them, and be you separate, says the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty. (2Cor 6:16-18, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will eat with him, and he with me. To him that overcomes will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and sat down with my Father in his throne. He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the churches. After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up here, and I will show you things which must be hereafter. (Rev 3:20-4:1, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up here. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them. (Rev 11:12, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

All through the scriptures we see this common thread, God is calling a people unto Himself so He can have a loving relationship with them as His living temple. The Son is calling to Himself His bride that He can have an intimate relationship with her. Our call is emphatic. “Come to me!” “Rise up my love!” “Arise my love and come away!” “Come out from among them and I will receive you!” “Come up here and I will show you things.” The very meaning of the Greek word so glibly translated “church” (ecclesia) means “a called-out assembly.” We start out our Christian walk as His called-out ones and that call continues to grow in our hearts as we obey His voice.

Most of what is called “church” is composed of institutions focused on the things of this earth and not on the One who has called them into an intimate relationship with Him. It is concerned with buildings, organization, programs, mind tickling sermons, salaries, insurance policies, retirement programs, hierarchy, etc.

 

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Christchurch Cathedral – Photo by andrewprice001 on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

 

T. Austin Sparks points out:

The Lord has not called upon us to form churches. That is not our business. Would to God men had recognized the fact! A very different situation would obtain today from what exists, if that had been recognized. It is the Lord Who expands His Church, Who governs its growth. What we have to do is to live in the place of His appointment in the power of His resurrection. If, in the midst of others, the Lord can get but two of His children, in whom His Life is full and free, to live on the basis of that Life, and not to seek to gather others to themselves or to get them to congregate together on the basis of their acceptance of certain truths or teaching, but simply to witness to what Christ means and is to them, then He has an open way…[emphasis added] (1)

Learning that we do not gather together after the manner of this world and its corporations and then living accordingly by HIS life in us is a life-long lesson. We who are Christ’s are His body. We are an organism with Him as our Head and the source of our very life. It is He who builds HIS church… never by might or by power, but always by His Spirit are we birthed and then knit together into His heavenly body as He wills. We have an upward call both as individuals and as members one of another, not of a “church.”

And [God] has raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: (Eph 2:6, KJ2000)

In another treatise, “Looking from the Heavenly Places,” W. C. Saunders wrote:

We are to live in the good of this [heavenly life]. He calls us to come with Him and look from the top. Here is a new realm for the exercise of faith, we are to reckon ourselves to be seated with Christ in His position of being far above all. Many Christians are too earthbound. They fail to realise and enter into the values of their true position in Christ. He wants His people to get on to higher ground, ever calling to us “Come with me … look from the top”. Our position ‘in Christ’ brings a new elevation into our lives. We can see things — even earthly things — from heavenly heights.

How different everything in life appears if we see it from Christ’s level rather than our own. Here is the secret of spiritual ascendancy, to stand with Christ on high and view your life “from the top”. I believe that whenever the way is hard and we are prone to be cast down, the Lord Jesus would whisper in our ears this invitation to rise up to Him and view the situation as He sees it. When Elijah was so depressed and sat under his juniper tree wanting to die, God sent the message to him: “Go forth and stand upon the Mount before the Lord”. The prophet found that from that position everything took on a different face… He reminds us that our true position is to be one with Him, even now. By His Word He calls us into those heavenly places that, with His help and encouragement we may look from the top. This is surely the true significance of the promise that we shall mount up with wings as eagles (Isaiah 40:31)… It is of supreme importance that we learn to look on things as He sees them. (2)

Paul wrote about this heavenly viewpoint in light of how we relate to Jesus and to one another.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2Cor 5:16-17, ESV2011)

As I was growing up in the Catholic church, everything about their buildings was focused in knowing Jesus after the flesh. There was the statue of Mary holding the baby Jesus or He was hanging on a cross above the altar.  But the living Christ was somewhere way out in space with the Father, far out of reach of mere mortals. Yet, Paul makes it clear that it is our privilege to know Him after the Spirit and abide with Him and the Father in heavenly places. And not only that, we are to know our brothers and sisters as His NEW creations and not after the flesh. But do we afford one another the grace to see them with spiritual eyes? How quick we are to find fault and judge one another after the flesh (especially in Protestant Bible, fundamental and charismatic churches) instead of seeing each other as a work of the Spirit in progress.  Or how quick we look upon the outward beauty, intelligence or wealth or lack thereof instead of looking upon our hearts (see 1 Samuel 16:7). Yes, we Christians are still way too earthbound and the whole structure of our churches teach us to be so. Christ’s call is still the same since John heard it on the island of Patmos two thousand years ago.

“Come up here and I will show you things [from My perspective].”

“Dear Father, please do what it takes to raise us up into your heavenly point of view so that we may see all things the way you do and have your divine hope and confidence that all things do work together for the good of we who love you and are called according to your divine plan. Amen.”

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/002226.html

(2) https://www.austin-sparks.net/mags/ttm09-5.html#91

From Where Comes This Emptiness in the Human Heart?

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Thor’s Well – photo by Eric Muhr on Unsplash.com

 

There is an emptiness in the human heart that drives us to try all kinds of things to fill it. This leads to all manner of addictions–drugs, alcohol, illicit sex, money, fame, and yes, even religion as we try and get back what Adam and Eve lost in the Garden of Eden. I believe that the void in the human heart started with their caving to the temptation of Satan in the garden. He tempted them to be “wise” and “like God” under his twisted knowledge instead of the law of love and unity with their Creator. Just knowing God as their loving Father was not enough.

The first manifestation of this void came immediately after they ate of the forbidden fruit when their eyes were opened, seeing for the first time that they were naked. This illicit and condemning knowledge of the devil (deciding what is good and what is evil apart from God) came into them as the serpent promised it would (see Genesis 3:5). As a result they hid from God, but He found them. Adam said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself” (Gen 3:10, ESV2011). God then asked, “Who told you that you were naked?” God created them naked and unashamed and pronounced it was good. Satan seduced them under his twisted authority and they became ashamed, believed his lie that nakendness was bad, feared their Father and became subject to the father of Lies. Jesus said Satan was a liar and a murder from the beginning (see John 8:44).

The second recorded manifestation of the devil in man came in Adam and Eve’s offspring. Cain killed his brother, Abel, out of pure jealousy because God favored Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s. Lying, rebellion and murder has continued in the hearts of men since that day. Man had “become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” That “one” was the devil himself.

There is a terrible void in fallen man that cries out for a return of what was lost, perfect communion with our Creator, and He longs for that with us as well. God sent His only begotten Son to earth that He would not only live a perfect sinless life and then die as a spotless sacrifice for the sins of mankind, but that He would also be the first born of many brethren, sons and daughters of God in perfect sinless unity with His Father. Jesus addressed this in His final prayer, His “last will and testament.”

“That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  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. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.  O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me.  I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:21-26, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

God showed me the above passage about seven years ago and has been opening its meaning to me little by little as I have grown by experiencing more and more of unity with Him in the Spirit. Do you see the perfect unity that Jesus has made available to us who are His? Christ is IN us and the Father is in Him! The very God of the universe abides IN those of us who believe in the Son of God and have opened our hearts that He might dwell in them. The perfect unity with our Father that was once lost in the garden  has now been restored.  Jesus prayed, “Father, I desire that they also… may be with me where I am.” Where is Jesus? He is in the Father and the Father is in Him (see verse 21).

Jesus has and is making known to us the “name” of the Father. He was sent to earth to model just who His Father in heaven is and that is His name; Himself, his nature, his perfections, especially of grace and mercy, his mind and will, his Gospel” – (John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible). Philip asked Jesus to show them the Father and Jesus replied, Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip?  Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Just as Adam and Eve saw the Father God walking in the garden, so are we restored through the Son to what they once had and even more.

In the Book of Hebrews we read:

Free stock photos – Pexels

For every one that uses milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Heb 5:13-14, KJ2000)

 

God’s idea of what is “good” and what is “evil” is not found in the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That was Satan’s delusion. No, to our Father what is good is when we humbly walk in unity with Him. This is the very definition of righteousness. Unity is obedience that is motivated by love for Him, not the fear of punishment for breaking some law.

“He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic 6:8, KJ2000)

 

“Evil” in the mind of God is when there is discord and disunity in our relationship with Him. Adam and Eve knew evil in their hearts once they ate of the forbidden fruit. They were separated from God in that moment and hid themselves because they no longer had that intimate relationship with Him. They ceased to know Him as their Father. Mere religion will not save us, but Him giving us a NEW heart filled with love for our Father and Christ will. Jesus warned,

“In ‘that day’ many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we preach in your name, didn’t we cast out devils in your name, and do many great things in your name?’ Then I shall tell them plainly, ‘I have never known [Grk. gnosis – intimate knowing] you. Go away from me, you have worked on the side of evil!'”  (Matt 7:22-23, Phillips NT)

What a surprise the Day of Judgment will be for many. Religion is a vast deception when it takes the place of an intimate relationship with our Father and His Son. In the eyes of God all its works are evil!

Jesus came to show us what a life in unity with the Father looks like and then offered Himself up as a perfect sacrifice for sin (man’s disunity with our Father) and fill us with His Spirit so we could once again come into alignment with God in all things. How about going to a “Bible church,” will that save you? So many Christians have fallen short of what God desires for them by never getting beyond the milk of the scriptures. Jesus spoke of this very sin to the Bible scholars of 2000 years ago.

Search the scriptures; for in them you think you have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And you will not come to me, that you might have life. (John 5:39-40, KJ2000)

The writer of Hebrews wrote this warning in chapter five because he wanted to go on and teach them the deeper things that are ours IN Christ, but they were mere spiritual infants desiring milk. He continues in the next chapter.

Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto maturity; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. (Heb 6:1-2, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

The sad thing is that most Bible teaching in the churches never goes beyond these first principles, thus adding to the perpetual babyhood of their members (see Hebrews 5:11-13).

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Photo by “Life is Fantastic” on Unsplash.com

Life in the Son is all about our relationship with the Father as it was with Him. As we grow into “full age” by experiencing His joy in our hearts when we are in unity with His will for us and His displeasure when we are not, this is “discerning both good and evil.” The “strong meat” of the knowledge and wisdom that is in Christ becomes ours as well because of our unity with Him. We need to look far beyond our religious preconceived mental list of do’s and don’ts into the very heart of our Father and seek total unity with Him. He leads us by His Spirit to walk just as Jesus walked, doing only the works HE shows us to do and speaking only the words that our Father gives us to speak. Let us go on to maturity, dear saints, seeking our Father’s pleasure in all things.

 

Be Careful Lest the Light in You Be Darkness

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I remember as a young boy watching my grandmother go up to the front left corner of her Catholic church, put a quarter in the money slot and light a votive candle. It was one of about a hundred small candles in little glass containers that looked like an oversized red shot glass. She would then kneel down and pray for a few moments in front of this rack of candles, then return to her seat. We were told that as long as the candle was burning, our prayer request would be before God.  This is just one of thousands of superstitions that we were taught in Catholic school.

Jesus said, “If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matt 6:22-23, ESV2011).

How great indeed. We all thought that spiritual light was to be found in the doctrines of the church. If we submitted to its teachings without question and faithfully received the sacraments, we would be saved from hell. Never mind if what the Bible teaches was contrary to all that. As one priest told me when I was starting to question church doctrine in light of the scriptures, “When it comes to a conflict of the teachings of the church and what the Bible says, church doctrine is always preeminent.” Somehow, deep inside, I knew this was wrong and it started me on a quest to find out the truth about God and Jesus Christ.

A couple years after this I finally overcame my fear of going to hell and walked out of the Catholic church for that last time. My next step along the path that God would put me on was to start going to a “Bible church.” The first time I heard the gospel of Jesus Christ was in that church. After that first Sunday we attended, I invited the pastor to meet with me in my home. That night he led me down the “gospel road” in the Book of Romans and I prayed with him to receive Jesus as my Savior.

We attended that church faithfully for about two years and were faithful to work in the nursery, the “junior boys” class, mow the church lawn and whatever was asked of us. Yet, by the end of that time I still had this terrible spiritual hunger inside. You see, this denomination taught us nothing about being filled with the Spirit of God as part of salvation. Truly, the light that was within me had become darkness because I still had no power over sin in my life. The author of the Book of Hebrews wrote:

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food… Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance… (Heb 5:11 to 6:1, ESV2011)

If we are to grow up and be teachers of Christ and His kingdom we need to abide in THEE Teacher, the Holy Spirit. One of the church elders even told me that seeking the Holy Spirit was “dangerous.” Yes, He is dangerous if you have a vested interest in your own carnality! As God would have it, I finally heard about the Holy Spirit from someone in whom He dwelt where before I was told that the Holy Spirit was optional. Romans chapter eight makes it clear that if we do not have the Spirit of God in us, we are none of His.

My search finally brought me to an unconditional surrender of my life to the Lord. I not only gave him my sins, but my whole life. I repented not just of my sins in the past, but of who I was and all that I ever selfishly wanted to be. The problem was that sin was dwelling in my members and that was what made me a captive sinner and an ineffective Christian. Or like the cartoon Pogo put it, “We have found the enemy and HE IS US!” Once I totally surrendered and asked God to kill everything in me that was not of Him, God did a life changing miracle and made the light of His Spirit shine within me. T. Austin-Sparks wrote:

The first thing for us to remember is that there is an essential ground upon which we are led to the greater fulnesses of the Lord. The Lord’s will for us is these greater fulnesses of Christ. And there is something necessary from our side, which is undoubtedly a spirit of utterness for the Lord. (1)

I will not go into all the other stages that made up my spiritual path after 1970, but after being filled with His Spirit I was flat-out for God! I can look back now and see the meaning of this verse quite clearly,

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. (Prov 4:18, ESV2011)

Austin-Sparks continues:

There is one thing made perfectly clear in the Word of the Lord, and which to many has become quite clear in experience, that there is a graduation in the life of fellowship with the Lord – it is an ever growing thing – and that the course of our union with the Lord is marked by stages. These are upward stages, representing different levels and different expanses. As we go on, we are led from one degree to another, from one level to another, and with each successive level there is a wider view and very often a changing view. (1)

If we seek His righteousness in our lives, we will find ourselves on a path that takes us from darkness to the dawn, from the dawn to the sunrise, from the sunrise to the noonday sun that is over our heads and causes all the shadows of our darkness to flee. Salvation is not a onetime reciting of a “sinner’s prayer” nor is it going down to the altar to “recommit your life to Jesus” over and over again. Giving our lives completely over to Christ is just the beginning of the walk He has for us wherein we take up our crosses and follow Him. Like the sun that moves through the sky, Jesus in our life is always on the move. He sets us on a path to righteousness, not on a church pew. If we don’t keep moving with the movement of the Son, we’ll soon find that we are left sitting in the darkness of a dead religious system.

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“The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12, ESV2011- emphasis added).

He is not limited by the doctrines men have composed from the pages of the Bible that we try to follow by human understanding and effort. Doctrines are static and fixed and human effort and understanding will always fall short of hearing the voice of God. But the Word of God, Jesus Christ, is alive and He desires to be very active in our lives by His Spirit leading us into all truth (see John 16:13). His truth in us grows! It is not static. Paul contrasted Moses and the veil that he wore on his face because the glory of God that was once upon it was fading. He contrasted this with the glory that is ours IN Christ,

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image [as His] from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2Cor 3:18, ESV2011)

In spiritual growth we go from glory to glory. What a promise! “For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:16, ESV2011) His grace is given us so we can have the power to move on into a greater fullness with Him where we will find more grace to grow into a greater filling of Christ within us.

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Jesus Christ is not a dead religion. His Spirit does not stand still. “In him we live and move and have our being… For we are indeed his offspring.” (Acts 17:28, ESV2011 – emphasis added). All creation has been designed by God as our teacher if we have eyes to see. God has put us on a planet that rotates. If we are to stay in the light of the sun we must constantly be moving west at the same speed the earth revolves. It is the same if we are to stay in the grace of God. As soon as we become content with our spiritual growth and put down roots in some denomination or movement, we start to die spiritually. In one religious group I was in, the leader addressed our fears that God had moved on without us by saying, “Didn’t God use this movement to reach you and haven’t you grown in it?” We would agree. Then he would say, “Then what makes you think by leaving it you will remain in His blessing?” That line of reasoning worked for a long time, until it became evident to everyone that the leader was abusing us for his own gain. When Christ moves on and His grace is no longer in the organization you are in because the leadership has taken His place, what might have once been used by God in your life has become a cult.

 “Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness.” (Luke 11:35, ESV2011)

We Christians tend to be campers. We find a nice comfortable place where God has bless us and we want to set up camp. This is why the Father rebuked Peter on the mount that day.

And after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and brought them up into a high mountain apart, And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his clothing was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elijah talking with him. Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if you will, let us make here three tabernacles; one for you, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah. While he yet spoke, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear you him. (Matt 17:1-5, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

These days with a zeal like that, Peter would quickly be put in charge of the “church building committee.” But as soon as we focus on doing something “great for God” instead of on His Son who IS the Greatness of God, the Spirit will move on.

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12, ESV2011)

Sparks sums it up by saying,

There never was anybody so completely, so utterly, and so immediately adjusted to the Father as the Lord Jesus was. His adjustments to the Father were instant and complete. At the end there was a conflict lasting for a little while; a bitter, deep conflict: “…if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done“. There is adjustment.

By a perfect adjustment to the revealed will of the Father He has become the perfect example of the perfect embodiment of the will of God done in a Man. Our course is to become one with Christ by the Holy Spirit in what He is. And subjection to Christ simply means that He, in Whom the will of God has been perfectly done, becomes our Lord. That is only another way of saying that the will of God in Christ becomes absolutely sovereign in us. On our part we become subject to the perfect will of God in Christ. It is a matter of the will. “I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision“, said Paul. (1)

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/002955.html

What Does Spiritual Church Leadership Look Like?

 

1909 painting The Worship of Mammon by Evelyn De Morgan.

There is evidence that the word translated mammon in the New Testament was the name of a pagan god and means much more than just “money.” In John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible he wrote:

The word “mammon” is a Syriac word, and signifies money, wealth, riches, substance, and everything that comes under the name of worldly goods.

In Wikipedia under the word Mammon we read:

The spelling μαμμωνᾷ refers to “a Syrian deity, god of riches; Hence riches, wealth”

Susanne Schuberth had a great observation of how mammon works in her comment on her latest blog.

“As soon as [church] tradition comes in and money is needed for the building, [also] money for those clerical ‘workers’ who believe they need to be paid (as ‘god’ speaks and acts through them), then the Holy Spirit withdraws. Thus [due to His absence] God makes room for other spirits to take over.” (1)

Jesus saw the seductive power of this mammon spirit warning:

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. (Matt 6:24, KJ2000)

Adam Clarke wrote about this verse in his commentary saying,

Our blessed Lord shows here the utter impossibility of loving the world and loving God at the same time; or, in other words, that a man of the world cannot be a truly religious character.  He who gives his heart to the world robs God of it, and, in snatching at the shadow of earthly good, loses substantial and eternal blessedness.  How dangerous is it to set our hearts upon riches, seeing it is so easy to make them our God!

Ever since “church growth” became the new focus, the god of Mammon has always trumped the Holy Spirit in today’s worldly churches.

There was no such thing as a “church building” for the followers of Christ to meet in for the first 290 years of Church history (The pagan Emperor Constantine took control of the church in about 311 AD and changed it into worldly organization. He made Christianity the official bureau of religion in the Roman Empire and appointed his own bishops over it). The early saints knew that the true temple of God was not made of bricks and mortar or wood, but rather it was one made from living stones.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Eph 2:19-22, ESV2011)

Those who trusted in Christ alone met in homes or underground because of persecution so the only “offerings” that were taken up were for the poor and needy among them. There were no “paid Christians,” and no salaried professionals, either. The apostle Paul made that the norm in his teachings.

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Phil 3:17-20, ESV2011)

Jesus was so taken by the need for money to support “His ministry” that He put a known thief in charge of the communal purse. When money was demanded of them to pay the temple tax, He sent Peter to catch a fish with which God miraculously provided a coin in its mouth!

According to Paul, we are NOT to keep our eyes on those who do not follow his example, supporting himself by manual labor. But what we have today are churches with people who can’t wait to get a position on the paid staff. THAT is their only example of what “church leadership” does. How sick! Paul calls the paid professional Christians, “enemies of the cross” whose minds are set on earthly things, and not on their citizenship in heaven.

And again he wrote:

 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. (2Thess 3:6-12, ESV2011- emphasis added)

To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; (1Cor 4:11-12, ESV2011- emphasis added)

The early church leadership suffered much. Church leadership was not a “profession” that worldly men sought after as it is today. They often went without, laboring with their own hands as they provided for themselves, and they did not mooch off other believers. Paul not only supported himself, as an example to all, but he often supported others who were in need among them (see Acts 20:34-35). He had no lust for the things of this world! “The ministry” in churches today is a paid profession just like any other worldly profession. You get a college degree, apply for work in a corporation and settle in, looking for ways to climb higher in the organization (or build up your own organization) as you keep the wheels of the machine turning and the money coming in. If you rise high enough, you get paid vacations, medical benefits, a company car, a corporate jet and even a good retirement.

We have friends who attended one of the local mega-churches here in town while they were barely making it on his wages and she is medically disabled and can’t work. She got very sick for a few weeks and nobody from that church called, came to visit or even cared, even though she was the chairman of a church “ministry.” The final straw for them as members of that church was a collection the officials took up so the pastor could have a bigger and better boat than the expensive one he already had (one that our friends could never dream of owning). They have not attended a church since. A sad thing these days is how many people there are outside the church because they rightfully have observed, “All those people want is your money!”

It is very obvious here in America, at least (and everywhere in the world that the American gospel has been preached), that the example of church leadership is not a heavenly one, but very worldly. The churches here are operated like any other corporation with salaries, perks and bonuses for building ever bigger church buildings and a larger human mechanized force with bigger programs to go with it. It seems that for the most part Paul’s warning to the elders of the Ephesian church has gone unheeded.

“I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.” (Acts 20:29-31, ESV2011)

Paul shed tears over what he saw coming on the church, men speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after themselves. Whatever happened to men and women, who led by a godly example with the Spirit of Christ, and were driven by a passion to make disciples connected to Him instead of to themselves?

Father, please break through the fog over Christian minds and give them the mind of Christ in all things. Amen.

(1) https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/2019/01/31/seventeen-point-checklist-for-unknown-groups/#comment-19119

 

Religious Cults, How to Find Out if You Are in One

1984 big brother

The mesmerized crowd scene from the movie “1984”

“The true teacher defends his pupils against his own personal influence. He inspires self-distrust. He guides their eyes from himself to the spirit that quickens him. He will have no disciple.” — Amos Bronson Alcott, The Dial (1840)

In 1970 I had an encounter with Jesus Christ that changed my life forever. There were many young people at that same time that were touched by Him in a life changing way. Most of them had been into the hippie scene of free love, drugs, and other forms of hedonism.  Because America seemed to have no meaning for them with its constant wars, materialism and empty, cold religious systems, they went the other way. Some of them had even turned to Eastern mysticism trying to find some kind of reality in their lives.

Most of these young people, like myself, had a genuine conversion experience and this phenomenon became known as “The Jesus Revolution.” But as it is in most cases, when one turns to the Lord from this evil world, Satan is out to get us back any way he can and as soon as possible. Satan is a judo expert. He takes our fleshly forward motion adds his power to it and throws us off course. That is what happened to our group as well. Because we had a hunger to grow in Christ and become “mature Christians,” we soon found ourselves following a man who knew the Bible. We wanted to know what it had to say about Jesus, so we submitted to this man and his teachings. This happened all over the USA and anywhere God was working in the lives of these young people with their new found love for Jesus. Soon, Bible wielding leaders rose up wherever God had moved and subjugated many of these people under their absolute control, often isolating them from the rest of society. Our group soon pooled its resources under our new leadership and bought a ranch about thirty miles from town. It was a hippie’s dream come true. We were out of the city and back to nature. The trouble is that isolation is another tactic of cult leaders. Our teacher held himself up as having special knowledge of the scriptures that nobody else had and as a result we became isolated from other Christians. This way he didn’t have to constantly contend with teachings that were adverse to his and there were many older Christians that tried to warn us of what we were getting into. Many Christian cults like this still exist today that were started by these abhorrent leaders. Though they are sectarian by nature, some of them are even counted as “main line denominations” to this present day and no one in the dare stray from the teachings of “the Founder.”

Recently Susanne Schuberth wrote an article about religious cults that quoted a woman who grew up in an Indian cult under a guru who had settled in the northeastern USA. This man had total control over her life from her birth until she was twenty five when Jayanti Tamm got set free of his control. In her blog article, Susanne quoted a list of fifteen things Jayanti wrote that most cults, Christian or otherwise, have in common (1). I found that they fit my own experience, but are not complete. In my hunger to do the will of God in my life, I also stumbled into two Christian cult situations in the first ten years of my walk. The first lasted for six years and the second had control of us for less than six months. It seems that I had learned something from the first one that helped me see more clearly into what the second one was rapidly becoming. I must say here that one of those things I learned was to listen to my dear wife’s warnings instead of subjugating her under my “authority” and that of the cult as I had done the first time around. To this day she reads and proof reads all that I write and often has helpful comments to share before I publish a blog.

All that said, I wish to share my own observations of what cults do to gain and maintain control over those who get sucked into them. I think you will find that even some “mainline churches” use some of these tactics. Here are some of my own observations.

Most cults have a charismatic founder (alive or passed on) who has a magnetic personality that people fall prey to. Have you ever found yourself under the influence of a sales person that gets you to buy something that you really don’t need, want or can’t afford? This is what I am talking about. Not only cult leaders, but many pastors and evangelists today use their personal charisma and charm to get people to do what they want and donate money that they can’t afford to give. Many have lost their homes and even more because of this. Leaders with this kind of soul power can often get others to do their will regardless of their own personal well being and even to the destruction of their own families.

Another practice you run into in these groups is what I call “group think.” Everyone that does not act and think according to the “party line” or the precepts of the cult are castigated and made an example before the rest of the group. They might not be hauled before the Sanhedrin as the Jews did to their disobedient members, but in many cases the pastor or leader just preaches a sermon in such a way that all the members know who it is about and the fallen one knows that they will be shunned or worse if they don’t get back in line again. Peer pressure can be very effective when a person wants to be accepted in a loving family. As a result everyone becomes afraid to do anything that the leader might find fault with. They end up in abject obedience and become more fearful of disappointing the leader than of disobeying the will of God. This is not so hard to do in today’s Christianity where few are encouraged by church leadership to cultivate listening for God’s voice and to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in their lives. It was to this very thing that John warned the early church writing,

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

In an earlier verse, John was speaking of many antichrists that had already risen-up among them (see 1 John 2:18). The word in the Greek is antichristos and it not only means against Christ, but even worse, it means instead of Christ. These false teachers put themselves ahead of Christ in the lives of believers who submit to them. They “deny Christ” by taking His place in the hearts of His saints, just as a man might try to deny me of my wife by seducing her away from me. Imagine how Jesus feels when His church leaders do this very thing to Him concerning His bride!

This mind control can become very strong in many groups to the point that members must get permission from the leader before they can make any purchases, move from one house to another, decide who they may or may not marry or even get permission to take their own wives out on a date! It is no wonder that every one of the marriages arranged by our first cult leader ended in divorce. It is no wonder that many of their kids grew up hating God.

Another part of this control mechanism is to keep the people busy to the point that they have no time for themselves or their families. Sometimes this even leads to sleep deprivation which makes the person even easier to control. In the first cult I was in we often were working or attending meeting up to 18 hours a day. This tool was perfected during the Korean War by the communists in their concentration camps on the American prisoners of war. Another thing that the guards used was that of giving special favors to prisoners who would spy on the rest and report if anyone said or did a negative thing against their captors. In these cases, such a violator was severely beaten while the rest watched. The enemy finally attained such mind control that a camp with as many as 150 prisoners in it might only need one guard to keep them in line. Sad to say, many of us have seen these same tactics (short of physical beatings) practiced in churches, often with the same results. Some cults actually spanked or whipped errant followers to make them and the others fear anything that might be counted as disobedience.

These groups also tend to be sectarian in nature. They believe that their leader or founder is the only one that knows the “whole body of truth” by which they may please God. Most of them are subjugated to a legal system that binds them in fear, the fear of being ousted from the group they have grown to love. When the ostracized are forced to leave, curses are often spoken on them and their families, and most of them turn from God and never want Him in their lives again. It is sad that such leadership often presents themselves as being God’s man (or woman) on earth who was sent to rule over their followers through their teachings. In this mindset to displease the leader is to displease God. When I was a young Catholic in parochial school, the nuns taught us that they were married to Jesus and to displease or speak ill of them was to insult Jesus with the accompanying consequences. Even non-Christian cults have their counterparts to most of the things I am writing about here. Former adherents of Scientology went through hell to get loose of that organization and this cult’s enforcers continue to harass them even for years afterwards. We had to finally move out of town to get away from the cults we were in.

There is a practice of meditation that is encouraged in eastern religions where the adherents blank-out their minds and open up to the spirits they worship. There is a form of this being practiced in some “Christian” churches today. We were told at “Toronto Fellowship” type meetings in the mid ‘90’s to let our minds go blank and “just receive the ‘father’s blessing.’” If we questioned what was going on while being prayed for, we were being “cerebral Christians” and were resisting what God wanted in our lives. Many people who followed their advice ended up getting “drunk in the spirit,” roaring like lions and making other animal noises and slithering around on the floor. The more outlandish the manifestation, the more we were considered “under the anointing.” Many of these people came under demonic spirits in these meetings that ruined their lives.

Some churches have even taken up the practice of Eastern mysticism like Yoga meditation and Kundalini with no thought whatsoever about the teachings of Christ against such things. They are told by the such meditation will release their captivity within and bring about greater creativity, sexual power and prosperity… everything a worldly person could want. No wonder Jesus told the Jews that it is an evil and adulterous generation that seeks after a sign. It is spiritual adultery to have encounters with demons and their signs.

Another tool that many cult leaders use is the subjugation of women. When Jim Jones was starting to go in an obviously deluded direction, it was the older women in the group that spoke up and gave warning at their isolated compound in the jungles of Guyana. As a result they were castigated and intimidated into silence and if that didn’t work they were finally imprisoned. Jones finally got his way and over 900 people drank poisonous Kool Aid in a fake communion service.

Remember Christian cult leaders know how to use the Bible [as do other cult leaders with their holy writ] for their own power. The worst of these is radical Islam where they are told that killing non-believers will get them special favor with Allah in heaven and their strict adherence to Sharia law is the worst form of bondage where even the women are sexually mutilated. In most cults the one who knows the holy writ is always the last man standing in any argument. We were in a “holiness cult” where the two leaders used their idea of “holiness” to judge and control the rest of us. They also encourage us in prayer meetings to confess our sins and desires out loud. We were in this group for a short time and were given the “left foot of fellowship” when I finally spoke out against their abusive ways. After we left the group their fear tactics and intimidation continued to increase until certain of the women were imprisoned in a rented house and kept under constant guard to shut them up. These two leaders also encouraged a heavy hand on the children by their parents. This finally ended up with one of the little ones dying from neglect of medical attention.  (The child was being spanked because it was fussing and would not stop crying. He finally slipped into a coma and died at the hospital.) At this point the authorities took notice of the welts on the child and the lack of medical attention and one of the cult leaders ended up in prison, as did the father.

Another thing that cult leaders do is to try and pit husbands against wives and vice versa. They use the old “divide and conquer” method when one has something that the leader wants (sex, money, talent, power, etc.) and the other one is less desirable. Sometimes this occurs when one of them speaks out against their abuses, or are otherwise in the way of them getting what the leaders want. This also happened in the cult mentioned above when the pastor of the church they took control of was made to look like a buffoon and his fair blonde wife was told she was a “prophetess” — of course she prophesied words that the leaders wanted to hear. That marriage ended in divorce and the father was not allowed to see his children until they finally grew up and sought him out many years later.

In short, Satan is more than happy to make leaders like these appear as “an angel of light” through their personal soulish charisma and “giftings.” This is why Jesus said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign.” Demons love to give signs and God gave us One true sign, Jesus dying on the cross and rising again from the grave on the third day (see Matthew 12:39-41).

Paul wrote a strong warning that applies today:

 “The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”(2Thess 2:9-12, ESV2011)

These leaders I have observed and their lieutenants all wanted power, and thus they loved a lie and hated the Truth who manifested Himself as a gentle lamb who laid down His life for us all and loved not His life unto death. Why is seeking power even in the Church a sin? Here is what Jesus warned two of His disciples when they were vying to sit on His right of power and on His left in the kingdom of heaven:

When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:41-45, NIV)

It is not just Christian cults that abuse power, all cults do. That is the siren song of the devil. Satan tempted Eve by saying, “For God knows that when you eat of it [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Only Jesus is like God and there is no shortcut to being conformed into the likeness of Christ. The way of the cross that kills our carnal soul nature is the first requirement and it is no easy road. Jesus said, “He who finds his [soul] life will lose it. But he who loses his [soul] life for my sake and the kingdom’s sake will find it.” There is an old country western song that had a line in it that is very poignant, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”

Dear saints, be aware that our enemy prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour and is often manifest in the form of charismatic Christian leadership. As for our Christian growth? It was Jesus who said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Give your hearts totally to Jesus and pray that He does whatever it takes in your lives that pleases God and He will get you to the goal that the Father has laid out before you in His kingdom. For me it has been learning some very hard lessons in cults and churches. Like my friend George Davis put it, “God rubbed my nose in everything He wanted me to never do.”

(1) https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/2019/01/26/what-is-a-cult-recognizing-and-avoiding-unhealthy-groups-by-jayanti-tamm/

For further reading, here is another site that has listed the earmarks of cults:

http://csj.org/infoserv_cult101/checklis.htm