Making Room for the Spirit to Mature Others in Christ

By Michael Clark and George Davis

Church

“My brethren, be not many teachers, knowing that we shall receive the severer judgment. For in many things we all offend. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man…” (James 3:1-2 KJ2000)

Lately the Lord has drawn our attention to a problem that exists among many of us “more mature” saints of God who have a lot of Bible knowledge and have had many decades of experience following the Lord. That problem is that many of us are not making room for the saints who are more timid or who are still learning to experience first hand the Living Christ and assure them that they can hear the voice of the Spirit speaking to and leading them. Paul wrote,

“Let us have fond affection for one another with brotherly fondness, in honor deeming one another first” (Romans 12:10 CLV)

“Deeming one another first”…How often I (Michael) have listened to a brother or sister tell about their latest insight they got from the Lord only to jump right in with a couple of scriptures and assure them that I also knew all about this truth before they did. You see, this is not demonstrating fond affection and deeming the other saint first before myself. In fact when I have done this or seen it done, the more timid of God’s little ones will often just shut down, feeling that their little offering is only “one talent” compared to ours and go away and bury it out of intimidation because of the glaring neon lights of our own “giftedness” compared to their “pocket flashlight.” Is it any wonder that churches are filled with silent observers that do not personally know the voice of THE Good Shepherd?

When Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am,” it was not so that He could lord over them with His great knowledge as the Son of God. He was the consummate Teacher and often taught by asking questions to draw people to engage with what He taught and to hear God Himself speak to them. When Peter answered Him and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus did not say, “Well, it is about time you guys figured that out! I have known that from the foundation of the world!” No, He commended Peter that he himself could hear the Father speak to him and said that it was upon this foundation that God would build His house! How often do we look for or make opportunities that we might show other saints more honor and commend them in their faith to walk and listen to the Spirit for themselves and move with His wind? We cannot expect to grow the kingdom of God by making people perpetually dependent on professional clerics and teachers. Real maturity takes place when His followers are doing as He did, only speaking what they hear the Spirit saying and doing the works that the Father foreordained them to do.

If we are not making room for others to interact with the Spirit of God and encouraging them to do so, but instead trying to be their “be all and end all” for everything that has to do with faith, we are putting ourselves in their lives instead of Christ. The very definition of the word “anti-christ” is “instead of Christ!” Real maturity does not happen when we do all the “fishing” for those around us. Real maturity takes place when they also learn how to “fish” and can teach others to do the same (See 2 Timothy 2:2).

Jesus taught the 70 disciples for a few months and then sent them out and said, “Okay, boys, go do it!” It was time to “get tough or die.” He equipped them to fly and pushed them out of the nest and they came back with glowing reports of their success (See Luke 10:1-19). How often we have heard in the last few years about the glories of the “five-fold ministries.” Yet, if we read the context of Ephesians 4:11 where these graces are listed we see that they are not an end unto themselves. These were given to individuals so that they would work themselves out of a job,

“to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” (Ephesians 4:12-15 ESV)

In our experience the more we have heard men teach the importance of these five gifts they claim to have, the less we have seen the saints under them “all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Rather we have seen these men and women trying to do all ministry (except the nursery, setting up chairs, mowing lawns, and janitorial work, etc.) while the faithful sit there Sunday after Sunday in their pews sucking on their spiritual thumbs. One dear saint referred to this syndrome as “the perpetual babyhood of the believer.”

Dear saints, we cannot count on that system that men have built around themselves, that produces weak Christians at best, to get the gospel out into the highways and byways or teach those who are saved to listen to the Spirit as Jesus did, growing up in every way into Christ who is their Head. We have to point all who believe Christ to Him and His Spirit, not ourselves! Like John the Baptist, we must decrease and Christ must increase. He who is supposed to have the bride is the Bridegroom not the friends of the Bridegroom (See John 3:25-31).

This is the NEW Covenant, Not the Old

Most of the dysfunction in the church today is due to an inadequate comprehension of the New Covenant. In the Old Covenant prophets, priests and kings preformed mediatory functions between God and the people. In the new covenant “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Timothy 2:5 RSVA)

In the Old Covenant there were many teachers. In the New there is only one. Christ commanded His disciples not to be called teachers, “. . . for One is your Teacher, the Christ.” (Matthew 23:10). Foreseeing this in the Spirit Jeremiah prophesied,

“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD . “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD ,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD . “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33-34, NIV)

The Author of Hebrews quoted this passage to emphasize the vast difference between the Old and the New Covenants.

“. . . And they shall not teach every one his fellow or every one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest. (see Hebrews 8:10-11 – emphasis added)

they shall not teach . . .

One of the primary differences between the Old and the New Covenants is teaching. In the old, men taught every one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ but in the New Covenant all are taught of God and all know Him.

Quoting Isaiah Jesus said,

 It is written in the prophets, “‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. (John 6:45, NKJV – emphasis added)

John wrote of the individual believer’s submission to this One Teacher saying, “The anointing you received from him abides in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. Instead, because his anointing teaches you about everything and is true and not a lie, abide in him, as he taught you to do” (1 John 2:27, ISV – emphasis added).

To make one’s self the teacher of God’s children is to become a busybody in the affairs of another. To do so is to attempt to control others through doctrine and to usurp the role of the One Teacher. Jesus said, “But you must not be called Rabbi, for One is your teacher, Christ, and you are all brothers” (Matthew 23:8 MKJV – emphasis added).

Paul addressed this at length in Romans 14. Regarding the then hotly debated matter of what one should eat. Paul wrote, “Who are you to condemn God’s servants? They are responsible to the Lord, so let him tell them whether they are right or wrong. The Lord’s power will help them do as they should” (Romans 14:4, NLT – emphasis added).

The Greek word translated condemn here is Krinoto rule, govern, to preside over with the power of giving judicial decisions, to pronounce an opinion concerning right and wrong. This is the same word translated “judge” and “judged” in this verse that we know so well, “”Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1 NKJV).

Individual believers are accountable directly to the Lord not to each other. And so in addressing this inordinate ambition Paul does not advance special doctrines to enforce uniformity, in doing so he would have been guilty of the very thing he was exhorting the Roman believers not to do. He encouraged them to live their lives in direct accountability to the Lord and to allow their brothers and sisters to do the same. knowing that it is God who teaches each one right and wrong and it is He who keeps them standing as they live before Him alone. Our faith finds its proper place privately before God. “Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. . .” (Romans 14:22). The exhortation here is clear– forcing our opinions on the servants of God is counter to true faith. True faith believes that they are kept by Another. True faith believes that they will be made to stand by their own Master. True faith holds its piece and allows the one Teacher to instruct without constantly interjecting our “superior” knowledge, opinions and will..

The Brother with the More Perfect Word

A friend of ours shared with us a problem that repeatedly stifled mutual sharing in there gatherings. Someone would be telling about what God had been teaching them and then a seemingly well-meaning brother would interrupt them and give them a quick course in one-upmanship. He always completed their thought by adding his fuller revelation. Soon no one was sharing. The only one left standing or speaking was the brother with “the more perfect word.” How often have we seen this? Or rather, how often have we been guilty of this very thing? In our pride we want to flaunt our biblical knowledge, but behind it all the underlying message we communicate is this, “Look at me. See how special I am. I have traveled down the Christian road further than the rest of you. My understanding of spiritual things is vastly superior to yours. Who better then to be the final arbiter of truth? Or does experience count for nothing?”

There is a word for such delusion–pride. And by it we reconstruct the old mediatory system and privately christen ourselves king, prophet and priest. By such arrogance we both disrespect our brothers and sisters and their Teacher. Nothing could be further from the self-forgetfulness of those truly spiritual individuals who think of others as being higher or better than themselves.

Not understanding the New Covenant, many believers have returned to the Old Covenant mediatory system. They have replaced the one heavenly Teacher with many human ones and have garnered to themselves teachers who tickle their ears (2 Timothy 4:3). Some have ambitiously risen up “. . . speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:30). Some are unduly exalted above their calling while other men and women are dishonored and subjugated. A few high profile people assume responsibilities well beyond their appointed measure leading the rest to abdicate their proper function in the body of Christ. What a travesty! We are not rightly discerning the body of Christ and many are spiritually emaciated and sick among us.

Once again we see an Old Testament system using New Covenant terminology. The result is the same–believers are once again relegated to the outer court instead of boldly coming into the throne of grace.

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Of HIM, by Him and In Him Do All Things Consist – do we believe it?

Milkyway pic

All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. (John 1:3-4 RSVA)

The apostle Paul spoke to the Greeks on Mars Hill and said,

God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwells not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshiped with men’s hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he gives to all life, and breath, and all things; And has made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if perhaps they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. (Acts 17:24-28 KJ2000)

“He gives to ALL life, and breath, and all things… though he be not far from every one of us: For IN HIM we live, and move, and have our being.” So much for the God I was taught about in Catholic school that is way up in heaven and can not be bothered with us little peons down here on earth! God is very much involved with all of His creation and did not put it all in motion and then go on vacation, leaving the rest to us to deal with as some agnostics teach today.

No, the scriptures make it clear that our Father and His Son and the Holy Spirit are and have been very involved with His creation right from the beginning. The Spirit of God brooded over the waters, God said, “Let there be Light and there was Light” when darkness was upon the face of the deep. And John in the first chapter of his gospel records that without the Word, Jesus Christ, was nothing made that was made.

Yet, Paul takes it one step further when He wrote about Jesus Christ saying,

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:17-20 ESV – emphasis added)

Paul tells us that IN Christ all things are held together and that through Christ, God has reconciled to himself ALL things. How? Because God has placed ALL things IN Him. With this in mind, I would like to add this excerpt by Abraham Kuyper on how the very Spirit of Christ has been involved from the very beginning of creation and in the affairs of men, not just in our regeneration and New Covenant anointings as some teach.

Creation and Re-Creation

(from “Work of the Holy Spirit” by Abraham Kuyper – http://www.ccel.org/ccel/kuyper/holy_spirit)

“Behold, I will pour out My Spirit unto you.”—Prov. i. 23.

We approach the special work of the Holy Spirit in Re-creation. We have seen that the Holy Spirit had a part in the creation of all things, particularly in creating man, and most particularly in endowing him with gifts and talents; also that His creative work affects the upholding of “things,” of “man,” and of “talents,” through the providence of God; and that in this double series of threefold activity the Spirit’s work is intimately connected with that of the Father and that of the Son, so that every thing, every man, every talent springs from the Father, is given disposition in their respective natures and being through the Son, and receives the spark of life by the Holy Spirit.

The old church hymn, “Veni, Creator Spiritus,” and the ancient confession of the Holy Spirit as the “Vivificans” agree with this perfectly. For the latter signifies that Person in the Trinity who imparts the spark of life; and the former means, “Seeing that the things which are to live and shall live are ready, come Holy Spirit and quicken them.”

There is always the same deep thought: the Father remains outside of the creature; the Son touches him outwardly; by the Holy Spirit the divine life touches him directly in his inward being.

However, let us not be understood to say that God comes into contact with the creature only in the regeneration of His children, which would be untrue. To the Gentiles at Athens, St. Paul says “In Him we live and move and have our being.” And again “For of His offspring we are.” (Acts xvii. 28) To say nothing of plant or animal, there is on earth no life, energy, law, atom, or element but the Almighty and Omnipresent God quickens and supports that life from moment to moment, causes that energy to work, and enforces that law. Suppose that for an instant God should cease to sustain and animate this life, these forces, and that law; in that same instant they would cease to be. The energy that proceeds from God must therefore touch the creature in the very center of its being, whence, its whole existence must spring. Hence there is no sun, moon, nor star, no material, plant, or animal, and, in much higher sense, no man, skill, gift, or talent unless God touch and support them all.

It is this act of coming into immediate contact with every creature, animate or inanimate, organic or inorganic, rational or irrational, that, according to the profound conception of the Word of God, is performed not by the Father, nor by the Son, but by the Holy Spirit…

Hence we have spared no pain, and omitted no detail, in order, by the grace of God, to place before the Church two distinct thoughts, viz.:

First, The work of the Holy Spirit is not confined to the elect, and does not begin with their regeneration; but it touches every creature, animate and inanimate, and begins its operations in the elect at the very moment of their origin.

Second, The proper work of the Holy Spirit in every creature consists in the quickening and sustaining of life with reference to his being and talents, and, in its highest sense, with reference to eternal life, which is his salvation.

Thus we have regained the true standpoint requisite for considering the work of the Holy Spirit in the re-creation. For thus it appears:

First, that this work of re-creation is not performed in fallen man independently of his original creation; but that the Holy Spirit, who in regeneration kindles the spark of eternal life, has already kindled and sustained the spark of natural life. And, again, that the Holy Spirit, who imparts unto man born from above gifts necessary to sanctification and to his calling in the new sphere of life, has in the first creation endowed him with natural gifts and talents…

Second, it is evident that the work of the Holy Spirit bears the same character in creation and re-creation. If we admit that He quickens life in that which is created by the Father and by the Son, what does He do in the re-creation but once more quicken life in him that is called of the Father and redeemed by the Son? Again, if the Spirit’s work is God’s touching the creature’s being by Him, what is re-creation but the Spirit entering man’s heart, making it His temple, comforting, animating, and sanctifying it?

Thus following the Sacred Scripture and the superior theologians, we reach a confession that maintains the unity of the Spirit’s work, and makes it unite organically the natural and the spiritual life, the realm of nature and that of grace.

Of course His work in the latter surpasses that in the former:

First, since it is His work to touch the inward being of the creature, the more tender and natural the contact the more glorious the work. Hence it appears more beautiful in man than in the animal; and more lustrous in the spiritual man than in the natural, since the contact with the former is more intimate, the fellowship sweeter, the union complete.

Secondly, since creation lies so far behind us and re-creation touches us personally and daily, the Word of God directs more attention to the latter, claiming for it more prominence in our confession. But, however different the measures of operation and of energy, the Holy Spirit remains in creation and re-creation the one omnipotent Worker of all life and quickening, and is therefore worthy of all praise and adoration.

Truly IN HIM we live and move and have our being and by Him do ALL things consist. What a great and wonderful God and Father we have who has made ALL things ours IN Christ.

For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, (Ephesians 1:9-11 RSVA)

And he has put all things under his [Christ] feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:22-23 RSVA)

How God Is Building HIS Temple

Stone quaryWhen the house [Solomon’s Temple] was built, it was with stone prepared at the quarry; so that neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron was heard in the temple, while it was being built. (1 Kings 6:7 RSVA)

Some Pharisees asked Jesus when the Kingdom of God would come. His answer was, “The Kingdom of God does not come in such a way as to be seen. No one will say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’; because the Kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21 GNB)

Have you ever wondered why we are so scattered from one another when it comes to fellowship? Those of us who really want to have loving communion together in Christ seem to be scattered all over the globe and it is rare that two saints who seek real depth of relationship in the Spirit live in close proximity with one another. I thank God for the internet! Could it be that we, as Paul said, would come together not for the better, but for the worse? And that the whole thing would be counter-productive if we came together too soon?

In the above verse from First Kings, we see that while Solomon’s great and magnificent temple was being built, the sounds of any iron tools at the temple site was absolutely forbidden. Each stone and timber had to be made to fit with precision many miles away, and once they were brought to the temple site, no pieces could be chipped or sawn off to make them fit. All this work on each stone and timber was done under the supervision of the Master Builder in advance while these pieces were in isolation. Isn’t this a magnificent picture of what God is doing today?

The New Testament tells us that each of us is a living stone being fashioned to fit together in His holy and eternal temple which is not made with hands (See Ephesians 2:20-22 and 1 Peter 2:1-9). We long to finally be “fitly joined together” in heavenly fellowship, but God seems to put a higher value on the preparation of each of us than He does on the final assembly of the temple.

Although we long to be assembled together as God’s house, if we are assembled too soon we will not fit. The house will be divided against itself and it will not stand. Like Herod’s temple that was not built by God’s design, not one stone will be left upon another. God’s judgment will be on it because it was not built according to His eternal design.

David discovered that God is very specific about how things are to be done when he tried to move the ark. When he moved it on an oxcart, just as the Philistines had, the result was the death of Uzza. Finally David asked God why, and when he heard His answer, David told the priests:

For because ye [did it] not at the first [move the ark of God], the LORD our God made a breach upon us, for that we sought him not after the due order. (1 Chronicles 15:13 KJV)

Isaiah prophesied that when God sets out to do something, He will not deviate from that plan. The beginning governs the end.

Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ (Isaiah 46:9-10 RSVA)

God knows our end from the beginning. He knew from the very foundation of the world how each one of us fits in His heavenly temple. He knows what needs to happen in each of our lives to shape us into what is needed and best for us. He has the master blueprint in His mind and there is no deviation permitted from it. It was because of this that Paul prayed,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved… For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:3-12 RSVA – emphasis added)

So, dear saints, though it feels like God is not getting anything done according to our short time span, be assured that He will accomplish all that He has set out to do in perfecting each one of us into the image of His Son. All we can do is yield ourselves “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to Him.” Our Daddy is doing a perfect work in us and will continue to do so, though it seems that the whole world around us is racing to hell at high speed. Remember one thing–God’s purposes will not be deterred even if our own smaller plans seem to be suffering in the short run. It is not our worldly perspective and design that He is building from, but His eternal plan and we will be far better off in the long run that our immature view points did not prevail. Or as Paul put it,

May the God who gives us peace make you holy in every way and keep your whole being—spirit, soul, and body—free from every fault at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you will do it, because he is faithful. (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 GNB – emphasis added)

Alexander MacLaren wrote in his commentary with great insight about our text in 1 Kings 6:7 saying,

Perhaps it was merely for convenience of transport and to save time that the stones were dressed in the quarries, but more probably the silence was due to an instinct of reverence. We may fairly use it as suggesting two thoughts.

I. How God’s house is mostly built in silence. ‘The Kingdom of God cometh not with observation.’

In reference to its advance in the world:

Destructive work is noisy, constructive work is silent. God was in ‘the still small voice,’ not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire. Christ’s own career, how silent it was! Drums are loud and empty. The spread of the kingdom was unnoticed by the world’s great ones-Caesars, philosophers, patricians, and it silently grew underground.

[This is]: {a} An encouragement to those whose work is inconspicuous, {b} A lesson not to mistake noise and notoriety for spiritual progress and, {c} Guidance as to our expectations of the advance of Christ’s kingdom… Sudden changes are short-lived changes. ‘Lightly come, lightly go.’ What matures slowly will last long.

In reference to its growth in our souls, silence is needed for that. There must be much still communion and quiet reflection. The advance in the Christian life is variously likened to a battle, since there are antagonists and struggle is needed to overcome; and [as it is with plant life]… the mysterious indwelling life works without effort and almost without consciousness… the work of building is work that must be done in silence. If we are to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, we must silently drink in the sunshine and dew, and so prosperously pass from blade to ear, and thence to full corn in the ear.

Surely nothing is more needed in these days of noisy advertisement and measurement of the importance of things by the noise that they can make, than this lesson of the place of silence in Christian progress, both for individuals and for the Christian Church as a whole.

II. How God’s house is built of prepared stones:
That is true, in one view of the matter, in regard to the Church on earth, for there must be the individual act of repentance and faith before a soul is fit to be built into the fabric of the Church. There is providential training of men [and women] for their tasks before these are given to them.

But the highest application of the symbol which we venture to find in our text is to the relation between the earthly and the heavenly life. This world is the quarry where the stones are dressed for the Temple in the heavens;

{a} Life is the chipping and hewing. The unnecessary pieces are struck off with heavy mallet and sharp chisel. Pain and sorrow are thus explained, if not wholly, yet sufficiently to bring about submission and trust, {b} The Builder has His plan clearly before Him, and works accurately to realize it. He perfectly knows what He means to build, and every stroke of the dressing-tool is accurately directed. There are no mistakes made in His quarrying and {c} We may be sure that the prepared stones will be brought to the Temple site and built into it… We may repose on the Apostle’s assurance that ‘He that has begun a good work in you will perform it,’ or rather on the more sure word of Jesus Himself, ‘He that overcometh, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God.’

http://biblehub.com/commentaries/maclaren/1_kings/6.htm

What Is Hope?

hope-quote-6“I always see the Lord near me, and I will not be afraid with him at my right side. Because of this, my heart will be glad, my words will be joyful, and I will live in hope.” (Acts 2:25-26 CEV)

Have you ever been in a situation where God gave you faith and love, but you were losing any hope that things will change for the better as the days, months and years drag on with no sign of it happening (at least in the form you thought it would)?

Some time back I was pondering why Paul wrote, “These three shall remain, faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). In Hebrews we read:

And without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6 RSVA)

I have no argument with the need for faith. And as for love, oh, what a wonderful gift that is! We all need to be loved and to love those around us. Love is a gift from God–we love Him because He first loved us. What a cruel and lonely world this would be without love. But what about hope? Paul says that we need hope, too! In fact he even says we are saved by hope…

For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man sees, why does he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. (Romans 8:24-25 KJVCNT)

Faith and love are great, but I had not thought much about our need for hope until I got in what seemed to be a hopeless situation. I had a degree of faith and love. I loved God and had faith that He loved me, but I had lost all hope that God would act on my behalf as time dragged on and things seemed so impossible. As I was praying about my lack of hope, I saw this huge hole in my heart. Yes, there was faith and love there around the edges, but there was no hope to fill in the hole. Hope was the one thing I lacked to have continuing peace and joy in the situation. I had no hope and I felt so hopeless!

How often do we glibly say, “Well, I sure hope so”? But is that real hope? Could it be that hope has substance? The longer I have pursued the Kingdom of Heaven, the more I see that all things eternal have substance. It is the temporary things that are mere vapors that cease to exist. As it says in Hebrews, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” so it is with love and hope. As I thought about hope I saw that hope was also a divine gift from God, not just a positive mental attitude. When I saw Him filling that hole in my heart with hope, His peace and joy started to flow into me again as well. I started to feel faith in a stronger way too. I had never prayed for hope before, but on seeing that even this is a necessary gift from God, I started praying for it each time a hopeless situation presented itself in my life.

As Paul wrote, “These three remain, faith, hope and love,” I believe that in this life we must have all three of them. They must remain as long as we are in this world. It takes all three; faith, hope and love, but as Paul pointed out “the greatest of these is love.” Why? Because once we are truly dwelling in heavenly places in Christ, faith and hope are no longer needed because everything we ever hoped for in faith has come to pass. All we will need to happily live in heavenly bliss with Jesus, our Father and our fellow saints is love. As Paul said, “what is seen is no longer hoped for” and heaven is the result of our faith. God’s great love shed abroad in our hearts is what makes heaven what it is, filled with peace and joy. Paul wrote,

Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. (Romans 5:2-5 RSVA)

 

“There is no end to hope, for there is no end to God.”– Taylor Caldwell, A Pillar of Iron

“Oft hope is born when all is forlorn.”  ~ J. R. R. Tolkien

“Male and Female Made He Them”… the Gospel

boy and girl and benchSteadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. (Psalms 85:10 RSVA)

So God created humans in his image. In the image of God he created them. He created them male and female. (Genesis 1:27 GW)

Many of us have grown up in a misogynistic culture that was promulgated by the churches we attended where only men could do the “God stuff” at the altar and gave out, under certain conditions, the sacraments that made the difference in one’s life between heaven and hell as our final destination. Women need not apply!

The problem with a culture dominated by men is that half of the image of God is missing! He made mankind in His image, both male and female. As a youth when I thought of warriors, judges, law makers, law enforcers and even pastors and priests, I thought of men clad in special uniforms that set them apart from and above the crowd. These men were aloof, stern faced and cold, so that was the image of God I grew up with.

Thank God that in the last fifty years things have changed and women have made inroads in all these areas. But if that same hard male-like image prevails in these professions where women exist, have we really gained anything toward seeing who God really is? He is still the law maker, the law enforcer, the judge, the warrior that avenges, and can even be the distant and set aloof priest who is supposed to be touched by all our afflictions, but he doesn’t have the time to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice because the very size of the church he has built is too much for him.

“God so loved the world…” wrote John as he described the gospel (good news) in his gospel narrative. He did not write, “God so judged the world.” Christ was given to us that we might have Life and that more abundantly. The Old covenant was more about judgment and death than it was about life. In other words, you might say that the Old Covenant was primarily about the male side of God, and the New Covenant takes us deeper into the female aspect of God’s nature.

What I am trying to say is that there is in the nature of women (if it has not been distorted by the harsh world of men in which they exist) a tenderness, kindness and nurturing love that is rarely seen in men. This nature is the “feminine side” of God because He is also the God of forgiveness, kindness, love and mercy. God created Adam in His image and His likeness. But He then said it was not good that man should be alone since Adam didn’t find a helper fit for his human companionship among the animals. So, God put Adam to sleep and took a rib out of him and formed Eve. You might say that God removed the female part of Himself from Adam, formed a separate being from it, and called her Woman. For Adam to become one once again, he had to cling to the woman and she to him in the love and unity of God. Intimacy between a man and a woman was born that day and God saw that it was good! We read later this same verse in Genesis about a man and a woman clinging to one another in unity in the New Testament when Paul wrote:

We are parts of his [Christ’s] body. That’s why a man will leave his father and mother and be united with [joined to] his wife, and the two will be one. This is a great mystery. (I’m talking about Christ’s relationship to the church.) (Ephesians 5:30-32 GW)

You see, we must have the unity of both the man and the woman and all that they are meant to be IN Christ if we are to truly be that city set on a hill that God desires the world to see.

You do not have to teach little boys to play with tools, toy trucks and toy guns. It is natural to them. Likewise you do not have to train little girls to play with dolls or play house or “Nancy Nurse.” Their whole makeup is to love and nurture. God made us to be complementary to one another in His image.

King David grew up in a culture that was all about obeying the laws of God or else. He served in the courts of a harsh and spiteful king named Saul. Yet David was chosen to be king in place of Saul because he was a man after God’s own heart (See 1 Sam. 13:14). This same David handed out judgment as the King of Israel, yet he also handed out mercy, even to his enemies! David understood the love and mercy of God where his predecessor only understood law and punishment and showed no mercy. The law demanded sacrifices to be offered up for sin, but Hosea was quoted by Jesus when He said to those who judged His disciples, “But if you had known what this means, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the guiltless.” (Matthew 12:7 KJ2000)

When David was caught in his sin, plotting the death of Uriah so that he could have Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife, He cried out to God for mercy as the God of all mercy and wrote Psalm 51 as his prayer.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. (Psalms 51:1-10 ESV)

Here we see even in the Old Testament the good news of the gospel. David appealed to God’s love, mercy and tender washing as a mother does with her child. He cried out to God for a new clean heart and for Him to blot out all his sins and to put a new right spirit in him. Jesus was called “The Son of David” because this is what Father sent Him to do in each one of us (Read Hebrews Ch. 8). All these attributes are what the New Covenant is about.

In the same way that Saul judged, he was judged. He lived by the sword and died by the sword. It is interesting that David lived by love and mercy and died in the arms of love and mercy with a young woman named Abishag, who kept him warm in his old age.

Now King David was old and advanced in years. And although they covered him with clothes, he could not get warm. Therefore his servants said to him, “Let a young woman be sought for my lord the king, and let her wait on the king and be in his service. Let her lie in your arms, that my lord the king may be warm. So they sought for a beautiful young woman throughout all the territory of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king. The young woman was very beautiful, and she was of service to the king and attended to him, but the king knew her not. (1 Kings 1:1-4 ESV)

I believe that in these last days, our culture has disdained the feminine nature, even among those who have advocated women’s lib. Women have left their homes for a career in the world so they can compete with men in harsh environment of dog eat dog business or even choose combat in the military. They have left the raising and nurturing of their children to institutions, just as the church today has become a cold institution and a business run primarily by men. The tenderness of God in the image of “male and female made He them” has, for the most part, been lost in a world gone mad. Without this we do not have a demonstration of the Good News and mercy of the love of God.

The older I become, the more God has tenderized my heart. Like David, the more I see “my [own] sin that is ever before me,” the more I want God’s mercy and the more I want to show His love and mercy to others. Jesus said, “For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you measure, it shall be measured to you again.” (Matthew 7:2 KJ2000). I don’t know about you, but these words are enough to scare the judgment of hell out of me (See Revelation 12:10)!

In closing, I encourage the brothers in the body of Christ to yield to the gift that God has put in the sisters in their loving and nurturing natures and open your eyes to see how Christ Himself so often showed His love and mercy to those who needed healing in not only their bodies, but also their broken hearts. And I would encourage the sisters to see that there is also a need at times for firmness and discipline as when Jesus told the woman caught in the act of adultery, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” Together both the male and female natures of God are needed if we are to see Him as He is.

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are… Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:1-2 RSVA)

“What is Christianity… about?” by Michael and Susanne

He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Photo by Susanne Schuberth)

Good grief, that is a strange question, don’t you think? 🙄
Okay, okay, if someone said Christianity was all about Christ, then we would wholeheartedly agree and could stop writing at this point. Nonetheless, that was not what we wanted to talk about here. Instead, we have often wondered whether we as Christians are more known for what we stand against than for what we stand for.

We could say, for example, that Armenians are against Calvinists and vice versa; fundamentalists are against gifts of the Spirit; Pentecostals tend to depend on what they “feel” regarding divine matters; house-church people are against organized religion and most Christians are against abortion, homosexuality, getting pregnant outside of wedlock…the list goes on and on.
It seems that all too often our identity is not in Christ, but in what we cannot tolerate. It is so easy to be against something. That is human nature! But to be moved by the love of God, THAT is a miracle of God that causes us to transcend our old adamic nature! Jesus told us to love those who hate us and do good to our enemies, yet is that an earmark of Christians today? If our identity is not Christ and His love for all, especially among those of us who believe (cf. Gal 6:10), what witness do we really have as being any different from those in the world without Christ? The Bible tells us that the (unbelieving) world will only believe that God sent Jesus when we are one in God and Jesus, just as our heavenly Father is in Jesus and as Jesus is in His Father (see Jn 17:21).

So, back to our question, “What is Christianity about?” Jesus Christ said, “Don’t you know that I must be about my Father’s business?” Are we as believers in Christ really about our Father’s business? Or have we made a business out of what we believe? When we take a stand against a perceived evil in the world, we as Christians want to organize. We make a business out of the stand. But is that what Jesus did when confronted with the woman caught in adultery or the needs of a hungry people? He just kept it simple and dealt with each need as it arose and did not dehumanize people in their individual needs by turning it into “a ministry.” In fact, our human nature tends to get so focused on the forest that we cannot see the trees any longer. Jesus, instead, never missed out on a chance to reach out to the individual, even when being pressed on by the crowd. While surrounded by a vast number of admirers, he focused on a hated tax collector, Zacchaeus, up in a tree. While being pressed in upon by sick and needy people, He focused on one woman who touched the hem of his garment because she had faith that she could be healed by Him in doing so.

Well, one might argue, aren’t we called as Christians to take a stand for what is right and what is wrong in our world today – by any means? Yes, you are right, but maybe not so much by telling the world what is still wrong, but rather by doing what is right. Or in other words,

Never look for justice in this world, never cease to give it.― Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest