Motivated Only by His Love

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Please forgive me, but as many of you have discovered, I only tend to write when the Spirit wind is blowing in my neck of the woods. Thus you get my blog articles in short bursts and then I must be still and listen for a while in silence. So here is number three in about as many days. You might call this a “book report” on a YouTube video that came to my attention out of a time of fellowship, so the format is a bit different than my usual missive.

I was having coffee with an old friend of mine who has been in the wilderness of God for many years. We had often bumped into one another as we tried to find a local church that felt like home, without much success. I had also met much of his family over the years. Like many of us, he has struggled with discerning the difference between the flesh and spirit in him and struggle with being set out to dry in Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones. But this time he spoke to me about being encouraged by listening to a YouTube message by Paul Keith Davis, who in some circles has been regarded as a prophet. This alone made me skeptical of his message at first, but I went home at the Spirit’s urging and listened to it. You can hear it here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBsg0J-ZILk).

Listening to it was a rough start for me, because he spoke with some religious overtones and traditions of today’s “prophetic movement” that God brought me out of, but the Lord told me to keep listening because there was a word for God’s called-out one, Ekklesia, in this video. As he told the story of his own wilderness period, I realized there were some life similarities we share, but mind you I no way endorse all of the messages on his YouTube site.

In 1980 the Lord showed me in a vision of how I looked to Him after I prayed that he would show me as He saw me–not as I thought He saw me–in my “glorious ministry.” What I saw was not pretty. I was filled with pride and ministered with the gifts of the Spirit so that I could draw people to myself and become somebody of notoriety in their eyes. I was stealing His praises and glory to myself. After that I prayed, “God this is ugly! You do not share your glory with any man. If this is what I am doing, just kill it! Show it no mercy.” That was the beginning of my 14 years in His wilderness, a time of being stripped of everything I once was and knew so He could build His house on the foundation of Christ in me and nothing else.

Brother Paul Davis also spoke of a time of stripping where God forced him into seclusion and inactivity with a back injury (another thing we shared). I found there was still a bit of a ministry fixation about him in this message, but the further I listened, the more his focus was not on ministry and ruling and reigning with Christ, but on a love relationship with Jesus and the Father. He had an encounter with the Father and His great love during that time that touched him deeply, even though it lasted only a few minutes.

One thing I disagreed with was when he said in effect, “Because of this love, the bride of Christ wants to lay there with her head on His breast, but the Lord wants to push her out to do ministry….” Not quite. In the final battle Jesus leads His army of saints forth to do battle and they follow the Lamb wherever He goes because of their love for Him. There is no “pushing us out ahead to do battle or ministry” for that matter. Jesus made it clear that apart from Him we can do nothing! The taking of the Promised Land by the sword became necessary because the Children of Israel sinned. He had planned at first to go before them and fight their battles, but since they failed to enter in because of their fear and unbelief, they had to fight when they went in forty years later (see Exodus 23). This is the difference between the Old and the New Covenants. In the Old Covenant, where they sinned, they strived and fought to gain the land, but in the New Covenant all things are ours as we abide in Christ. When He cried out from the cross, “It is finished,” it was!

We must get out of Martha’s kitchen and join Mary, who was madly in love with Jesus and sat at His feet with the other disciples because she chose the better part. Without our first love for Him abiding in us (the great flaw of those seven churches of Asia in Revelation), we will miss the will of God because we’ll lack the spiritual closeness of those who lay their heads on His heart. It is there that we discern His needs, desires and purposes and are motivated by His love. Ministry cannot be our first love. Until Jesus is once again our First Love, we have nothing to give of any eternal value, and most all of what we do will be out of our own flesh instead of from Him. The last god to go in the lives of men and women who want to be somebody in the church is the god called, my ministry. Sooner or later, God demands that all such things be laid on the altar of sacrifice where His fire burns up everything that is of the flesh. Apostle Paul wrote:

For no other foundation can a man lay than what is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall test every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he has built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. (1Cor 3:11-15, KJ2000)

I get a check in my spirit when I hear a person focusing on ruling and reigning “with Christ” instead of being a servant with Christ. Jesus’ whole example was that of a lowly and loving servant, not a king who came to be served. When John heard the angels of heaven call out, “Behold the Lion of the Tribe of Judah,” he turned and was shown “a Lamb as though it had been slain.” There will be a final battle at the end of the age, but those who go forth behind Christ will be there out of love for Him and He has already conquered Satan on the cross.

Jesus was always and will always be the abject Servant and His message for His bride was that she should do likewise.

And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” [ruling and reigning with Jesus] But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” [the cup of suffering] They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:21-28, NRS, emphasis added)

There is no ruling and reigning with our beloved Slain Lamb until we drink our own cup of suffering that kills our fleshly desires and urges and enables us to hear His voice instead of the din of our own untamed thought processses. Right up until the end when Jesus was about to go to the cross, the disciples were still believing in an earthly kingdom with Jesus on the throne and them ruling and reigning with Him as His executive administrators just like the kings of the Gentiles and their governments. We are no different today. For all too many of us, our focus is on the kingdoms of this world–what the Russians are doing, what the Democrats or Republicans are doing, what Trump or Obama are saying and doing, etc. As a result, we have a worldly kingdom mindset of top down over-lording when we hear “The Kingdom of God.” As Jesus stood before Pilate at His sentencing, He said clearly, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom was of this world my armies would come and fight.” His final lesson to them, as it still is today to us, was about the necessity of being a lowly servant motivated only by love.

So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was seated again, he said unto them, Know you what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord: and you say rightly; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet; you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If you know these things, happy are you if you do them. (John 13:12-17, KJ2000, emphasis added)

In this video brother Davis said, “I wanted to stay home until this (wilderness) process is done,” but he went out and did some ministry meetings before it was finished. I also had prayed about half way through mine that He would not release me until He had fully accomplished what He set out to do and to please forgive me for my whimpering to the contrary. During our wilderness testing, there is a great temptation for us to escape it and go “do something for God.” At one point in the wilderness, Israel plotted to kill Moses and appoint a new ruler who would lead them back into Egypt and its slavery rather than let the wilderness kill them. It is the same for us. I ministered at a couple of meetings before my flesh was bleached white by the sun in the wilderness (see Ezekiel ch. 37) and what I did had no anointing upon it and it stank!

About half way through this YouTube recording, Davis started to teach about the metamorphosis of a butterfly and how that applies to our death to the old self and rising again newness of life in Christ during this lifetime. A butterfly has no similarity to its former caterpillar self.  Peter spoke of this process.

“[you have an] inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fades not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In which you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you are in heaviness through manifold trials: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:” (1Pet 1:4-7, KJ2000)

Like Jesus said, if we are to reign with Him we must first drink His cup of suffering, but it releases in us an unbarred relationship of love with the Father and the Son (see John 17:21-26).

Paul Davis also went on to teach about the process of starting out as spiritual infants and going on to become adopted sons of the Father. It’s important that we see the need for this and pray that God does all that it takes in our lives to come into full maturity. George Davis and I wrote about it here, “A Child or a Son?”

Paul said in the video that because of what the church has become in these days, the Spirit of adoption is driving us into the secret place of the Most High, into the heart of the Father and out of the limelight of  “doing church” as usual. So true! This is why many of us do not take in church meetings anymore and if we do, we usually go away feeling empty. As it was with the Shulamite woman in Song of Songs, no one or anything in Solomon’s kingdom could take the place of her lover who said, “Arise my love, my fair one, come away.” Second-hand love never works. There is no comparison in these crowded church meetings to being alone in the arms of the One who loves us.

The Paul Davis quoted Jesus, “To him that overcomes I will grant to sit down with me in my throne, WE must overcome!” Excellent! We must overcome the flesh that desires preeminence, to be in control at all times, to be a somebody, or have our own way. The first enemy we must conquer is the one within! Our hearts must come to the place where they are totally focused on a love relationship with Jesus and the Father, not in love with ourselves. The earmark of the Laodicean church is not that she doesn’t work, but that she does! Jesus said, “I know your works!” But because she has lost her red hot first love for Jesus, she does all her works out of duty and lukewarm religious tradition. There is a smug, self-centered completeness about her that does not need Jesus as well, “I am rich, I am increased with goods, I have need of nothing.”

Paul Davis went on to say, “I was granted to stand for a few minutes in the perfect love of the Father and I have groaned to be there ever since. I groan to get back into that place of perfect love… Jesus is coming back for a bride that has perfect love for the Bridegroom.” The Christian walk is all about love for God is love. We must be motivated by His love for and in us, not ministry, not ruling and reigning, not what’s in it for us. All that is of the flesh. It takes being touched by His love in our innermost being for us to get our priorities straight and have true Kingdom vision. Just before the going to the cross Jesus prayed His final will and testament,

Father, I will that they also, whom you have given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which you have given me: for you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world has not known you: but I have known you, and these have known that you have sent me. And I have declared unto them your name, and will declare it: that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17:24-26, KJ2000)

Oh,  Jesus, please draw us into the fullness of the love of the Father and the Son that we might become spiritually whole and one. Amen.

Standing on a Sea of Glass with One Another Before His Throne

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Red Fish Lake near Stanley, Idaho – Photo by Michael Clark

I recently got a comment on A Wilderness Voice blog from Susanne Schuberth of Germany. She said something that stirred me to consider its truth.

“I love it too [when two saints are of one mind], since it is very encouraging to see when we are on the same spiritual track IN Him.

I believe spiritual fellowship is meant to strengthen each member, but never to rule over them.”

What a joy it is when we hear another member of Christ’s body saying the very thing that His Spirit has been saying to us.

When I first came to Christ many years ago, He filled me with a deep desire to know Him and a hunger to read about Him in the scriptures. When I first met my wife about four years earlier, she remarked that I couldn’t even name the four gospels, much less Paul’s letters. Being raised a Catholic, I was totally ignorant of the Bible. But when the Spirit of God entered me in 1970, things changed rapidly (thank God for a praying wife and mother-in-law).

At first I read the gospels over and over until I found a center reference that pointed to His words and actions in the Old Testament. I found prophecies about Him and His very words all over the Psalms and then Isaiah and other prophets (See Luke 24:44). Eventually I read the whole Bible. It seems God had a plan for this–He often speaks to me with a portion of a verse, and when I look it up, it’s perfect for the situation or the person I am fellowshipping with. This often happens when He has me write an article or a reply on our bog. Over the last four years this has happened between Susanne and me and she has also spoken into my life, humbly showing me where I am weak and need a heart change. This can only work unto edification as we each humble ourselves before Christ. To “minister” to another out of pride destroys all true fellowship in the Spirit (See Gal. 6:1).

Paul had much to say about the unifying and edifying power of the Spirit of God and how He gifts each of us for the profit of the whole body of Christ.  He wrote to the Corinthians on how the Spirit desires to function in the body of Christ.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1Cor 12:4-7, ESV2011 – emphasis added) (See also: 1Cor 12:18-26 and 1Cor 14:12)

We are all one body, we have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future. There is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and there is only one God and Father, who is over us all and in us all and living through us all. However, he has given each one of us a special gift according to the generosity of Christ. That is why the Scriptures say, “When he ascended to the heights, he led a crowd of captives and gave gifts to his people.” (Eph 4:4-8, NLT- emphasis added)

God makes sure that each member of Christ’s body is empowered by the Spirit to function according to His eternal plan so that Christ might be manifest throughout the whole earth. But when one member rises up and lords over other members with His gift (see 1Peter 5:1-3 ESV), the rest of the body suffers and, like the parable of Jesus, he causes them to hide their talent [gift] in the dirt. They say to themselves, “I am only a lowly foot covered with dust, what good am I compared to this other brother who is the head with all the talents (seeing, hearing and speaking) this body needs.” Sad to say, this is how most modern churches function today. Yet Paul made it clear if we are members of one another and in Christ’s body, ALL members are equally necessary and gifted to edify one another in the Spirit, giving all glory to our Father. There is nothing more wonderful than a group of the saints of God flowing together in His Spirit. It’s like an angelic choir singing praises to the Lord.

Paul wrote this to the Romans:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Rom 12:3-8, ESV2011)

The world’s hierarchic mindset of ruling over one another has no place in the body of Christ. Jesus said, If any man would be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all.”  (Mark 9:35, ASV- see also Matthew 20:25-28)

If we are ONE IN Christ, the ground where we stand before His throne is perfectly level. John saw this in his heavenly vision in Revelation.

And before the throne [of God] there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. (Rev 4:6, KJ2000)

And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God. (Rev 15:2, KJ2000)

Some of the most beautiful photos I have ever taken have been of a body of water that is flat calm like a mirror, reflecting the far shoreline, the mountains behind it and the sky. A sea of glass is like a mirror because it is perfectly flat. We all stand with equal stature on a sea like this before the throne of God, reflecting the beauty of our Lord and His glory, not our own. We can do this only if we have entered into His rest and ceased from our own labors. There is no place for posturing, hierarchy or dead works as we abide together in the love of Christ before our heavenly Father.

May His Spirit drive this truth home in our hearts, Amen.

Picnik Bay Morning

Picnic Bay Morning – Photo by Michael Clark

 

We Have Been Given the Mind of Christ!

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“For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1Cor 2:16, ESV2011)

What a curious thing to say, Paul! Do we as members of Christ’s body (those who have the His Holy Spirit within us) truly function as if we are “out of our minds” in the eyes of he world or do we function as if we have a mind that is compatible with the world’s way of thinking? Paul had the mind of Christ and he did not fit in with the world or its religious establishments, much less their accepted mores and beliefs.

And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus [an officiate of Cesar’s over Judea] said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. (Acts 26:24-25, ESV2011)

What Paul had to say in His defense was the truth of Christ and words from the mind of Christ, yet to the carnal mind of this official in high standing in the Roman Empire, he was insane! Just what does it mean to have the mind of Christ? I have often wondered about this verse in First Corinthians. This morning as I was reading my devotional from T. Austin-Sparks and following up on it, I found the following paragraphs where he uses the natural body as a type. It was a clear explanation of what the Spirit wanted me to understand.

Everything has its location in the head, all the sensibilities of the members are registered in the head. It is possible to take a needle and, if the whole brain system is understood, to apply the needle-point to any given part of the brain and put out of action any member of the body, and leave the others untouched. By an understanding of that system a needle can be applied to a certain point in the brain and put the hand, or the foot, out of operation and leave the other members operating, this whole thing is so wonderfully gathered up in the head. Christ is the Head of the Body, all the members are joined to the Head, all the members are consciously registered in the Head, have their consciousness by reason of their relationship to the Head, their consciousness spiritually, which Paul means when he says, “We have the mind of Christ” (I Cor. 2:16b).

But what is that nerve system? It is the Holy Spirit. He is the spiritual nerve system of the whole Body, linking all with the Head, He is the consciousness of the Body, He is the One Who brings from the Head those reactions of the judgments and decisions of the Head. He is the One Who brings to the Head everything concerning every member, and so makes the Body and the Head one complete whole. (1)

If we have been given the Holy Spirit, we have a direct connection with the very mind of Christ. And as functioning members of His body, unity in our thoughts and deeds becomes automatic. Disunity and sectarianism shows itself for what it is. Unity in the mind of Christ has always been the plan of God for us, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.” (Isa 55:7-9, ESV2011) Since Christ died for us and sent His Holy Spirit we are no longer worldly creatures, but strangers and aliens upon this earth. We have the mind of Christ governing our thoughts and actions instead of Lucifer who came into Adam and Eve when they decided to eat the forbidden fruit and “be like God knowing both good and evil.”

To have a mind operating in conjunction with the world or even a religious mind, the mind of the flesh, is to be of our father the devil who was a liar and a murder from the beginning and his works we will do (see John 8:44). Today, I read an email that was filled with scriptures, but it was all about his thoughts and his will and his doings. It was easy for me to see the conflict going on in this poor soul. He is a man of worldly intellect and who holds high college degrees and has bowed down at the feet of “Higher Education,” but to the mind of the Spirit it was all confusion. Without the cross dealing with the natural mind within us, even our highest thoughts and reasoning are anathema to God. Just as Jesus only did the works He saw His Father doing and only spoke the words His Father was saying, God only acknowledges the mind of Christ and that is why the Spirit of Christ has been given us. The natural mind will not do. It only seeks ways to quench the Spirit within us and to have its own preeminence. As followers of Christ we only have one choice. Failing to do so we will become followers of Satan at best, wearing sheep’s clothing.

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not a thing to be grasped to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Phil 2:5-8, KJ2000)

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/000755.html

In Faithfully Following the Lamb, True Fellowship Is Found

But he that enters in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out. And when he puts forth his own sheep, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. (John 10:2-4, KJ2000)

 

Oh, how often I and many other Christians have tried to have fellowship with one another. The more the world goes its destructive way, the more we think, “If only I could find the right church (home fellowship, men’s group, etc.), I would find fellowship there.” The more spiritually mature we become, the more we realize that true fellowship is spirit to spirit and not just flesh to flesh with common worldly likes and beliefs. Finding the “right person” or human shepherd will not work for long either if that is our focus.

In Revelation, we read about a great group of people who all have one thing in common and it is not an organization or group focused on a human teacher, denominational doctrine or even one another. No.

And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders… These are they who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These were redeemed from among men, being the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb. (Rev 14:3-4, KJ2000)

These people have been redeemed not only from their own sins, but from among men… unto God and to the Lamb for they follow the Lamb wherever He goes. I have learned that to have real fellowship with one another we must first as individuals have our fellowship with the Father and the Son and be lead by their love (see John 17:16-26) keeping our focus on them. We must be of a heavenly harvest from among men, devoted unto them. As soon as we focus on one another in place of the Father and the Son, everything becomes stale and dead.

I and many others have had to learn this lesson the same way that we really learn spiritual things… by experience (see Romans 5:3-5). How often have we joined a group of Christians or a movement we at first thought was “the cat’s meow,” the real thing, only to become disillusioned after a few months or seen it blown apart by some schism? This is not always the devil at work, but rather the Spirit calling us to seek out our Heavenly Father first and foremost. Jesus said, “But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt 6:33, KJ2000). The kingdom of God is found where God is King! ALL these other things, including fellowship, are added when we worship Him and seek the fellowship of the Father and the Son above all else.

Austin Sparks wrote regarding Revelation chapter fourteen.

“A virgin people,” notice some other particulars about them. “Purchased out of the earth… not defiled with women; for they are virgins”. In that statement we must not read the literal meaning. It cannot mean that at all. It is in keeping with the whole of that particular meaning throughout the Old Testament and the New where God’s elect people are regarded as a virgin people. Fornication in Israel was that of having spiritual relationship with other nations, the peoples of this world, and this is what is meant — that there has been created and preserved an absolute separateness from that spiritual system which lies behind this world; there must be no link with it at all… They “follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth,” that is in the present participle, which means they are following the Lamb because they always have been. It has become a habit, it is a disposition which has been born in them, created in them. They did it on the earth and they go on doing it, people who are not spasmodic in following the Lamb, who are not of those who go on one day and go back the next. They are continuously following the Lamb. It is an utterness of devotion to the Lord Jesus. They are the firstfruits unto the Lamb. Note the way it is put — “Firstfruits… unto the LAMB”. The Lamb has in them the first maturity of His Lamb character and work; in them He first sees of the travail of His soul and is satisfied. It is unto the Lamb, His satisfaction.

“Unto the Lamb,” it means this, that their conception of salvation was not one governed by personal interest, that they would be saved in order to be saved and enjoy salvation for themselves; but their conception was that it was all unto the Lord, it was for Him. That is a higher level altogether, and I beg to suggest that this is a discriminating thing. There are multitudes of people, Christians, who are glad to be saved in order to be saved, because it is a good thing to be saved for themselves; it secures a lot for them and it means heaven and glory; but the primary concern of these others is the glory of the LAMB. “Unto the LAMB”. They follow wherever HE goes.

“The Fellowship of His Sufferings,” naturally, it might be easier to follow the KING whithersoever He goeth. There were many in the days of His flesh who pursued Him wherever He went. You would always find them there. Oh, He said, “loaves and fishes”; to see His mighty works. But these follow the Lamb, and that means that they have a disposition to respond to the “fellowship of his sufferings”, like the apostle who first used that phrase. For him it was not something to be shunned: “that l may know him and the fellowship of his sufferings” (Phil. 3:10); there was a disposition to share the sufferings of the Lamb. That issues in a specific kind of people, a particular company; and if we look at it in that way surely our suspicions and our fears are dismissed. Identify these people and the other ground gives way.

What all this means becomes clear as we look at it in its relation to all that is said about the Lamb. That is, you have got to comprehend the whole Word of God in connection with the Lamb in order to understand who and what these people are, for undoubtedly they are the people who have embraced, entered into, and become the embodiment of all that that phrase means — the Lamb, His life, His character, His work. What is here is this: firstly, a company marked out and distinguished by a peculiar fellowship with Christ as the Lamb. Underline the word Lamb, the name Lamb, with all that that means, and then see here a people who are in a peculiar relationship with Christ as the Lamb, and with what He means as being the Lamb. There is little doubt that there is a special honour given to this company. They are mentioned here with peculiar honour; their position is one of peculiar honour. The very tone in which they are mentioned is that of a people of very sacred and precious meaning to the Lord.

“A Song Learned Through Suffering,” they possess an exclusive secret. They sing a song, and no one could learn that song save the hundred and forty-four thousand. No one else had the faculty. How do they possess this exclusive secret? Oh, the answer goes to the heart of so much in our experience. You know that it is a true principle that you learn secrets through suffering that you learn in no other way. It is in suffering that we learn those things that no one else knows. We cannot explain them, we cannot teach them, or make others understand. We can only say, “When you have been through what I have been through you will understand, you will know; until you have, it is all closed to you”. These people have been a way in which capacity for something has been created.  (1)

Let me repeat what Sparks said once again, “You know that it is a true principle that you learn secrets through suffering that you learn in no other way. It is in suffering that we learn those things that no one else knows. We cannot explain them, we cannot teach them, or make others understand.” And we have to learn these secrets the same way that Jesus did—He “learned obedience through the things that He suffered.” He teaches us these hard lessons to align us with the will of the Father as His children.

That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that you also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. (1John 1:3-4, KJ2000)

There is no greater joy than to be in fellowship with the Father and the Son and no amount of suffering and tribulation can take that away. When we find another saint that is also on this path how sweet that fellowship is!

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/tas-3.pdf  – pg. 26&27

Can God Provide a Table in the Wilderness?

Bench at Castle Quarry Overlook

Photo by Susanne Schuberth

Yea, they spoke against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? (Ps 78:19, KJ2000)

And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now late; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves food. But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; you give them to eat. (Matt 14:15-16, KJ2000)

In the meanwhile his disciples besought him, saying, Teacher, eat. But he said unto them, I have food to eat that you know not of. Therefore said the disciples one to another, has any man brought him anything to eat? Jesus said unto them, My food is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. (John 4:31-34, KJ2000)

I met a brother while fishing a while back, and when he found out that I’m a believer in Christ, he invited me to join him on Saturday mornings for a “men’s fellowship” he goes to at a local church. He assured me that I would enjoy it and with my knowledge of the Bible would fit right in and be appreciated. He is still young in the Lord and has much to learn when it comes to following the Spirit vs. following men. After inviting me every time he sees me, I finally assured him that I would pray about his invitation and do what the Lord tells me to do and only that.

So, you might be asking what this has to do with the verses that I quoted in the beginning of this blog. This brother and I met on the bank of a lake where there is little sign of man and his doings. Compared to many fishing places, some would call this a wilderness. There are no docks to fish from, no toilet facilities, no picnic tables, no trash cans, and no benches to sit on. We were able to fellowship in the Spirit’s leading without anyone supervising or interrupting our time together. He was amazed. God had prepared a “table” in the wilderness for us. It was totally outside a church setting and he was blessed, yet unwittingly in his immaturity, he wanted to pull what we shared into a place where he was used to getting his spiritual food under the control of a church official.

How many times have you heard church-minded people say that they go to a certain church because they are getting fed there or they are looking for another church to attend because they are not getting fed? As I grew in the Lord, I found myself in that mindset and became less and less content with the food that was provided by men in their religious institutions. The Spirit started leading me to go out into the wilderness to hear the words of my Lord. Because I grew to where I could hear His voice without all the intellects of men interfering, Church people would say, “What church do you attend?” “Did you go to Bible school somewhere?” Or like the disciples they were asking of Jesus, “Has any MAN brought him something to eat?”  When the lame man at the pool was asked by Jesus if he would be made whole he replied, “I have no man…” We are all too focused on men for our provision and because of this we miss out on what God has for us.

Jesus said, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” and this was HIS food. God can and does prepare for us a table in the wilderness where there are no churches, no fellowship meetings, no Bible schools and none of the things that most religious people relate to for “daily bread” for their hungry souls. This is the way that the Israelites thought in the wilderness (Psalm 78:19) – we doubt that He can speak to us and provide food for our spirits with every word that proceeds from HIS mouth through His Spirit within us. It is just as the prophet warned:

Behold, the days come, says the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it. In that day shall the fair virgins and young men faint for thirst. (Amos 8:11-13, KJ2000)

I am reminded of the visible church systems of today compared to His table set for us in the wilderness in the following account about John the Baptist:

Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zachariah in the wilderness. (Luke 3:1-2, KJ2000)

Can you see it? Every person who was considered the world’s authorities in their centers of civilization, the people “in the know” are mentioned here, even the temple high priests in Jerusalem, but the word of God came to John in the wilderness! As we mature in Christ, we will find ourselves being drawn more and more to Him that we might live by every word that proceeds out of His mouth. Our spiritual walk will become more and more isolated from those who “live by bread alone” as He fine-tunes us to hear and obey His voice. Just as John found more than enough “ministry” to do in the wilderness, so did Jesus as the crowds so often followed Him out into the wilderness to hear His words and be healed by Him. As we mature in Christ and obey His leading, we might often find ourselves alone, but God knows how to arrange for us to speak and to do His will when the time is right. Remember, God is more interested in what He wants to put into us than what He stands to get out of us.

(A special thanks to Susanne Schuberth for letting me use her picture of that old hand carved table and benches in the Bavarian woods. Also, thanks to George Davis and the time of sharing we had together this morning when the Spirit made those opening passages from the Bible take on new meaning for me.)

When We Fellowship Together

Two bucks sparring

Two bucks sparring in the fall. Photo by Michael Clark

Paul admonished the Corinthian church saying,

But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. (1Cor 11:17, ESV2011)

Often we take our coming together as members of Christ’s body for granted. Recently when I needed fellowship, the time was spent talking about the things of this world (weather calamities, mass murders, terrorism, politics, etc.) instead of lifting one another up in Christ. I have been as guilty of this as anyone else. I woke up to this fact when I saw the fruit of my words pulling another dear saint down. She was brave enough to tell me about the effect these words were having on her. As I prayed about this, I came across the following excerpt by T. Austin-Sparks, which I later shared with her and apologized.

“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers” [Acts 2:42]. There is a tremendous means of grace, a tremendous enrichment of Christ in the fellowship of the Lord’s people. I believe the enemy will get believers, when they are together, to talk about anything under the sun rather than about the Lord. It is easy when you meet together with the Lord’s people to be carried off with all kinds of matters of interest and not to begin to talk about the Lord; but if you do there is always an enrichment, always a strengthening, always a building up; it is the Divine way. Fellowship is a means of imparting Christ to the believer. And wherever spiritual fellowship is possible, you and I ought to seek it, look after it, cherish it. There are all too many of the Lord’s children today, who have no chance of spiritual fellowship, and who would give anything to have it. The Lord would have us at least two together. That is His order, and there is something in ministering Christ to one another. There will be something lost unless that is so. These are ways in which we feed upon the Lord. (1)

Fellowship in Christ is necessary–even if it is just two or three gathered together in His name–if we are to grow and prosper in Him. Our times of fellowship should be sought out, nurtured and cherished. We should start out our days in prayer instead of being pulled down into the affairs of this world. Satan will do whatever he can to weaken us so that we are not effective to lift others up and encourage them in the Spirit, and we should not be ignorant of his devices.

I often find that the Spirit can use me to speak to others through a scripture He brings to my mind while we fellowship, but like Peter I can be speaking the very words of God and later in an unguarded moment be speaking for the devil (see Mark 8:27-33). James addressed this very thing.

Out of the same mouth proceeds blessing and cursing [Grk. katara – literally “downward prayer” or communications]. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Does a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? (Jas 3:10-11, KJ2000)

I always thought of this word cursing as something more overtly done with words of anger toward a fellow saint. But as we look at the root meaning of this Greek word, it means any communication that pulls us or others down. How often does both bitter and sweet water come from the fountain in our hearts? This should not be so. Jesus said this to the woman at the well in Samaria:

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14, ESV2011)

If we have the Spirit of Christ abiding in us we should always be speaking word of life to one another. As for prayer and how necessary it is to get us on the right track in the Spirit, Sparks went on to explain.

We do feed upon Christ in prayer. To put that in another way, there is an imparting of Himself to His Own in prayer. We may go to prayer in weariness, and rise in freshness; we may go to prayer exhausted, and rise renewed… really seeking the Lord, reaching out, taking hold of the Lord, giving ourselves up to the Lord in prayer, never fails to have renewing, uplifting, strengthening results. You say prayer may wear you out? Yes, but there is a wonderful strength that comes by wearing out prayer. There is vitality given to the spiritual life even in prayer that tires us physically, and we go in the strength of it. Yes, prayer is a way in which Christ is ministered to us by the Holy Spirit. Prayer is a way in which we feed upon Christ; He becomes our life. (1)

Prayer, time spent meditating on the scriptures and fellowshipping in the Spirit is what made the early church such a powerful force in spreading the gospel and lifting each other up. Dear saints, may we all do the same.

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/001510.html

Fullness IN Christ or Fullness of Iniquity?

Smokey Sunrise over Fernan Lake

Smokey Sunrise Over Fernan Lake, Idaho ~ by Michael Clark

There seems to be no end to the terror, murder and civil unrest that is going on around the world these days we live in. We are watching Syria destroy itself in a civil war, North Korea threaten the United States with nuclear attack and the U.S. government reacting with counter threats. We see thousands of Christians and others being killed and maimed by Islamic terrorists around the world. The murder and crime rate in our American cities is appalling. And just in the last couple days we have seen the civil unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia end in many injuries and even murder.  How does this measure up to the prophesies about Jesus? For example:

Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this. (Isa 9:7, KJ2000)

This might seem confusing if Christ did not point out that His kingdom would not come with outward manifestations, but would rise within the hearts of those who love Him (See Luke 17:20-21). And what about Jesus’ own prophesy regarding the end?

Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and you shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall grow cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. (Matt 24:9-13, KJ2000)

Many, even many would be Christians, are offended with one another, betraying one another and even killing one another as they are coming under the spirit of this age–murder and lawlessness. What is amazing to me is that even so-called preachers are helping to spread this disease with their words. It is easy to see how radical Islamic clerics are fulminating terror and murder using the Koran in the name of Allah against the infidels, but aren’t some of these Christian preachers and teachers doing the same in the name of Christ? As Jesus warned, “many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.”

With great insight into the workings of God Paul wrote:

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation waits for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creation was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who has subjected the same in hope, Because the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, that is, the redemption of our body. (Rom 8:18-23, KJ2000)

There is much groaning in the pain of childbirth in our hearts as we await the full manifestation of the children of God — those who will be set free from their bondage to their own fleshly corruption and obtain the freedom and glory of the children of God. Father is bringing forth many sons and daughters in the likeness his own glorious Son to manifest His glory. As for the increase of Christ’s kingdom I spoke of earlier, T. Austin- Sparks seems to have summed up what I have been trying to say.

It is a glorious prospect to know that the universe will be filled with Christ, and God is going to have His end. When the Lord gets hold of a life utterly, and when the Cross has really entered into that life, so that that life can say: “I have been crucified with Christ”, nothing passes, nothing gets through that is not Christ. God keeps intensely short accounts with that life. God is alive to everything concerning the first Adam. That is the meaning of: “He that hath the seven spirits of God”. That phrase means the perfection of spiritual vision. Go back to the prophecies of Zechariah and you remember it speaks of “seven eyes”. That means that the Lord Jesus, who has the seven spirits of God, is alive to everything, takes in everything, comprehends everything. Nothing escapes Him. Especially is that perfection of perception related to the things that would be a menace to His ultimate purpose, and in all that we do He knows exactly where the point is which marks the end of what is of Himself and the beginning of us. We do not know, but He does, just where these things overlap, and He is letting nothing pass.

That represents a challenge to us! We have been seeing that God, for His own satisfaction in relation to His own ultimate purpose, must have a candlestick all of gold, a vessel which represents what Christ is in an utter sense, that means a deep cost, a great measure of suffering. That is the challenge which comes to us. Until the Lord reveals it with a heavenly light we do not see how big the difference is between self and Christ. When the Lord does a thing, it is eternal.

Are our hearts set upon God having that which is wholly of Himself? That means ‘I’ crucified! No longer I, but Christ! And that means that Christ in us is the basis of our conformity to His image, until we partake with Him of His own nature – pure gold. It is something to face seriously before Him. It brings to us a challenge, but surely it also brings to us a glorious possibility! What Christ is can be made good in us!

…This is what God is doing in the groaning creation. It does not appear to be so, for to all appearances the ‘fullness’ seems to be evil. Do you remember a very illuminating phrase in Genesis 15:16: “The iniquity of the Amorite is not yet full”? The context shows that Israel’s exodus and occupation of the Promised Land waited upon the Amorite’s full cup of iniquity. “Amorite” is a representative name for all the nations then occupying the land. When that cup of iniquity was full God emancipated Israel. The exodus synchronized with a condition in the world. The filling of the land with what was of God required the enemy’s extension of his evil nature to its limit; then God acted.

We need say no more. The end time will be marked by ‘iniquity abounding’. The rapture of the Church will take place – as its exodus – when “the man of sin is revealed”, when the cup of iniquity is full. We are living at a time when there is a positive landslide of moral iniquity…

God is taking account of this. He is causing the simple facts of His salvation to be made known on a scale unprecedented in the world’s history, and when the whole world has had its opportunity “then shall the end come”. Two things are UNMISTAKABLY evident: the world-encircling by the simple gospel of salvation as never before, and the headlong rush of iniquity to ‘fill up the cup’. There is a third feature: it is the ripening of saints by suffering unto the grape-harvest. These three things are the “work in the groaning creation”. (http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/001617.html)