The Problem with “Instant” Perfection

false-holiness

When I was a newly born believer, I was so shocked that God did not instantly make me a perfect Christian. There was still this albatross around my neck called “the flesh,” even after experiencing the love and closeness of Christ in my life and even His healing miracles. Why didn’t He just do the “Tinker Bell” thing with His magic wand and make me an instant “super Christian’? I soon learned that the Christian life is a life chastened by trials and that God’s work of bringing forth His Son in us is a lifelong process.

Over the years I have asked Him why He chose this slow agonizing way to bring forth Christ in us. He has shown me that because of our Adamic roots, we have to learn obedience to the Father by the things that we suffer, often the consequences of doing it wrong. Even Christ chose to come in the form of a lowly servant.  We reason, “but wouldn’t God have made Him more useful for His purposes if He had come with the power of a Roman Emperor or High Priest?” No, He forsook that kind of power to show us that a man born of a woman in the lowest social position can overcome everything that is of Adam and learn obedience to the Father through suffering.

So why is it that God does not make us like the angels, perfectly obedient to Him? The answer can be found here in this description of Satan:

You are the anointed cherub that covers; and I have set you so: you were upon the holy mountain of God… You were perfect in your ways from the day that you were created, till iniquity was found in you… you have sinned: therefore I will cast you as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy you, O covering cherub… Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty, you have corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor: I will cast you to the ground, I will lay you before kings, that they may behold you. (Ezek 28:14-17, KJ2000)

How are you fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how are you cut down to the ground, who did weaken the nations! For you have said in your heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the farthest sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet you shall be brought down to sheol, to the sides of the pit. (Isa 14:12-15, KJ2000)

If one of God’s perfectly created beings could be corrupted by his own beauty and wisdom, how much more we who have been born in the likeness of sinful Adam?

God has chosen to bring forth upon the earth–the very domain of Satan–a Son who was first a helpless baby and then a man who had “no form or beauty that any man should desire Him” (see Isaiah 53:2-3). He was the proto-type of many sons and daughters He would bring into full glory by overcoming trials and weakness through faith in His Son.

This life of weakness and living death, dear saints, is for one purpose—so we learn that except for the grace and mercy of God working in us, we would be our own worst devil, capable of the worst sins and pride. God has already lost a third of the angels to this delusion of worshiping their own greatness and perfection and He is making sure that we have the mind of Christ and not Lucifer in His kingdom. He is working by making us weak, humbling us so that we rightly assess our old natures, despise them, and call on Him to do whatever it takes to bring forth the spiritual maturity of His very own Son in us. He wants an unconditional surrender to His perfect will and for us to abide in His wonderful love. We love Him because He first loved us and gave everything He had to save us from ourselves.

So What Is “Perfect” for Us When it Comes to Fellowship?

As I was mulling this over this morning, it became evident that our idea of perfection and God’s idea of perfection are not be the same. Jesus was made perfectly obedient through the things that He suffered. He was also made perfect in love while surrounded by doubters, sinners and twelve disciples who often didn’t get what He was teaching them. To one of them He had to say, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” In all honesty, they ALL desired the things of the typical Jewish male — for Messiah to come and set up a worldly kingdom with them in charge — not so different from another one who said, “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God [the angels and the people of God]: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation”? Some of us have come across that delusion, first in bad church leadership, and finally having to admit that it was in us!

No, dear saints, God uses our imperfection and humanity so that our “iron” sharpens another saint’s “iron” and we call out for Him to form His perfectly forbearing love in our hearts. God puts us with other people (even in marriage) who are not perfect, but that have been made “perfect” in their imperfections to be used by His power to change us! Even Jesus cried out, “Oh you of such little faith. How long must I suffer you?”

In God’s wonderful plan He has been able to turn the tables on Satan by using our flesh to humble us and work forgiveness in our hearts for others just like us. Like Joseph said to his brothers when they came before him in Egypt, “But as for you, you thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good.”

Body life in the body of Christ is not something perfect in our way of thinking, but it is perfect in His if we live in close enough proximity to one another and dwell together in transparency. Fellowship is designed to bring us into His perfection as we work through our own imperfections and those of our fellow saints. John wrote:

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1John 1:7-9, ESV2011)

Dear saints, may we look upon the imperfections in one another and see the hand of God working. It is easy to find fault with one another, but it is best to look for those things that are “…true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things… and the God of peace shall be with you.” (Phil 4:8-9, KJ2000)

Bondservants of God… to be Led by the Holy Spirit

by Michael Clark and Susanne Schuberth*

Bondservants of the Lord pic

Austin-Sparks rightfully observed,

Many things are being constructed to which the Name of the Lord is being affixed – things which appear fine and great and like “the Church,” but which are destined to collapse when God’s hurricane and fire test every man’s work. Good works – philanthropy, hospitality, reform, education, religion, relief, etc. – may be the products, or byproducts, of what is called “Christian civilization” …and things for which to be profoundly grateful… but let us not confuse these with “a new creation,” regeneration, a being “born from above.” (1)

Today the highly visible church systems of men have become something that has a life of its own with the leading of Christ’s Spirit among them a rare thing. There is no resemblance of what calls itself “church life” today and what happened when the Holy Spirit was poured out on those who believed in Christ which we read about in the Book of Acts. All of our best attempts to even duplicate what they had back then will fail for one reason, they are our best attempts! Either Christ builds the household of God upon Himself, The Rock, as its foundation and enlivens what He builds or it is a sham subject to the eroding winds of time and the whims of presumptuous men (See Ephesians 4:14), doomed to live without His blessing on it and subject to the wiles of the devil and his delusions.

Jesus left the Holy Spirit in His place to give life, instruction, direction and power to His body (the ekklesia of God) and His presence was so powerful in those early days that those who lied to Him dropped dead and no one dared to add themselves to those who were called and empowered by Him for fear! The body with its many God-gifted members moved in the unity of a normally functioning human body. In fact the human body is a parable of what our Creator meant the body of Christ on this earth to be… unified, coordinated, obedient to the Head as it builds itself up in the love of God. No amount of human organization can cause this to happen.

T. A. Sparks continues,

The Church is nothing which man can build by any resource in himself personally or collectively. The Church is an organism, not an organization: “Behold, I show you a mystery – we are members of His flesh and of His bones.” Build that, if you can! Launch that; organize that; “run” that! It cannot be done. It is the spontaneous outworking of spiritual forces released… in the acceptance by faith of tremendous facts concerning Christ – facts which are proclaimed out of experience in the power of the Holy Ghost. Not the theological Christ; not the doctrinal Christ; not the Christ of the letter; much less the Jesus of history; but the Christ of Eternity in all the meaning of His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension into the Throne of God revealed in the heart by the Holy Spirit – this alone is authority to preach, to serve, to occupy position, to “build” in relation to the House of God. It is folly to spend time and strength otherwise. It is wisdom to labor on this foundation. (1)

Paul wrote,

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… individually as he wills. (1Cor 12:4-11, ESV2011)

 Today, few who believe in Christ wait on the Holy Spirit to empower us as HE wills, rather we put our eyes on something that titillates our flesh and makes us feel important as we answer our own call. Or if we yield to the will of God in our initial calling, how soon is it until we cast our eyes on something that is more pleasing and appealing to our natural man who wants to maintain his own preeminence and wars against the Spirit within us? We get away with this in today’s church because even church leadership to whom we look to as an example has often fallen victim to such things.

In my own case, I started out with what some called a “ministry of helps.” I was with a street ministry in the early ‘70’s that had many homes and facilities for those being saved off the streets and it was my gifting to rejuvenate, repair and maintain them. I spent many an hour re-plumbing and unclogging sewer pipes in basements and such, out of the sight of those who had the more glorious positions in that ministry. You might say that I was the guy behind the scenes who kept it all going with my mechanical, electrical and plumbing skills. After leaving that group I was often the church janitor and handy man that kept “things” unplugged the sound system, etc. going.

God did not anoint me to write for him for 22 years after He filled me with His Spirit and even then my writings were not allowed to go public for another eight years. It was then a brother found me and put what I shared with him on the web. I did not call myself to this more visible ministry of blogging book writing and website publishing and to this day I am quite content to remain in obscurity in the back woods of northern Idaho, unknown by others even in my own small town.

Somebody high in Christian circles observed a few years back with pride that in the sixties men were pastors. In the seventies they became teachers. In the eighties they became evangelists and in the nineties they became prophets and finally in the beginning of this century they became apostles. It is as if church leadership is a military or corporate machine in which we are entitled to go up the ladder and achieve higher ranks and titles regardless of our original callings. Far from the minds of leadership today is the downward calling of God regarding our flesh ever descending until we, as Paul, we see ourselves rightfully as “the chief of sinners” not the chief of the apostles. Truly, Paul called it right when he said, “The flesh wars against the Spirit…”

T.A. Sparks continues,

When one called of God to do the work of an evangelist assumes the role of a teacher, or vice-versa, or anyone marked out for this particular functioning attempts to do that, or when one goes beyond their scope and assumes any prerogative which is not theirs by Divine ordering, they are in the way of an arrested ministry, and more, they will be landed into serious confusion. People and things – otherwise occupying a vital position in the Divine plan – put into their wrong places have the Divine unction withdrawn from them… The Holy Spirit’s method is to set His seal upon us as we move according to His leading; not according to our fancy, choice, aptitude, predilection or ambition. (2)

 

Bondservants of the Lord

The apostle Paul wrote,

“For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.” (1 Cor 9:16-19 ESV)

How many bondservants of the Lord do we have leading in the churches today? How many men will do the work that God called them to without pay or remuneration from those they serve? How many find presenting the gospel free of charge out of obedience to Christ enough reward in itself as Paul (see also 2 Thes. 3:7-12)? How many leaders seek reward for their efforts because they have not been called by God and have not been entrusted by Him with their stewardship? Today, men in our pulpits shamelessly beg for money and support. If God calls a man to be His servant He meets their needs and as David observed, “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” (Ps 37:25, KJV). It is not righteous for men and women to approach the service of the Lord as if it is a worldly profession, using worldly methods to ascend and succeed.

T. A. Sparks continues,

“Christian service” has come to be a realm in which all the acquisitive, ambitious, obtrusive, assertive, self-seeking, and numerous other elements of the natural man have been vented and taken hold. It has created a system in which human distinctions are the order of the day. Yes, and much more which it is too painful to mention.

We need an adjustment of our minds by a true spiritual perception of the real nature of service, and it will be well for us ever to remember that all work for Christ is not service to Christ (emphasis mine). A child may be very well-meaning and industrious in its “helping [out] mother”, but poor mother may find rather more work created than done.

Now let us say right away… with emphasis… that the indispensable and basic thing to real service is THE SERVANT-SPIRIT AND THE SERVANT-MIND. The matter of service is infinitely more than busy-ness in religious causes, earthly activities in Christian interests; it is the accomplishment of a heavenly will and Divine purpose which registers its impact in the breaking of another foreign will and destroying the works of the devil. This is the force of “obedience” and the “not my will” …and this is the servant-mind and servant-spirit. (1)

Paul wrote,

“For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men.” (1 Cor 7:22-23 ESV)

We are called to be the bondservants of Christ not of soulish, self-promoting men. We have been bought by Him as His own with His precious blood. No man has the right to rule over us in the place of Christ’s Spirit. Yes, we are to obey the laws of the land in which we live (see 1 Peter 2:13-17), but we are always to obey the leading of the Spirit and when these two are in conflict it is better to obey God than man.

For a while I was a part of a church that was founded in California by a charismatic leader from the Hollywood area, in fact he was involved in the music industry there before God called him. He was highly respected in the ranks of the church, but he often taught things that were not scriptural and his will and writings were respected by the church leadership under him without question. Our pastor would quote him before he would quote the Bible and was constantly reading his books and often attended seminars taught by him. He was definitely a “company man.” Finally, when I showed him how what he was teaching was contrary to the scriptures the pastor got offended and I told him that this man did not own me. I knew that I was already purchased with the blood of Christ and that I was to obey His Spirit and not the whims of men with their winds of doctrine. We were finally forced to leave that church and since then that pastor was forced to step down in shame and the denomination’s founder and his son (the heir apparent) both died not long after we left. Jesus said, “Every plant that my Father has not planted shall be rooted up.” We are called to be the bond-servants of Christ and obey the leading of His Spirit for He alone is our Savior and Lord. Sparks continues,

The Lord’s need is to have bond-servants… even though the extreme pressure at some time might make them say that they would “no more speak in this Name” … they find that they cannot forbear for long; but cost what it may, they must be in it and at it – the fire is in their bones and zeal of His House eats them up. May we be such, and may the true ground and motive of this fellowship in service be:

“I love, I love my Master,
I will not go out free!
For He is my Redeemer,
He paid the price for me.
I would not leave His service,
It is so sweet and blest;
And in the weariest moments
He gives the truest rest.

“My Master shed His life-blood
My vassal life to win,
And save me from the bondage
Of tyrant self and sin.
He chose me for His service,
And gave me power to choose
That blessed, perfect freedom
Which I shall never lose.” (1)

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/001520.html

(2) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/003697.html

* I want to give a special thanks to Susanne Schuberth who sent me these quotes from T. Austin-Sparks and the quotes from Paul that inspired me to write this blog. Once again she and I are hearing the Lord say the same things. What a blessing to walk together in the unity of the Spirit.

Do We Weep or Do We Rejoice?

Two Babies-laughing-cryingRejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited. (Romans 12:15-16 RSVA)

Susanne Schuberth wrote on her blog:

“Just today I realized that I do need trials in order to get me focused on God and Christ, again and again. If I am full of joy, instead, and cannot sense any trial anywhere, I am always in great danger of being deceived – by the wrong spirits, so to speak.” *

In the last few months I have been having tremendous victories over some long standing spiritual bondages and weaknesses I have been plagued with. Each time I get a new release from God, I get so excited and have so much joy that I do not notice the pain in others around me. I get in a mode where I can only rejoice with those who rejoice, but if they are in sorrow or pain when I am so exuberant, I don’t notice what they are going through and my joy only adds to their pain! Paul wrote that we should rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, but if we are so wrapped up with our own pain or joy, can we do this? Or do we find ourselves out of sync with the ones Father has put us in fellowship with instead of walking in unity with them in true empathy? The Corinthian church seemed to have this same problem because everything they did seemed to be all about them! Paul wrote to them like this:

“And why stand we in jeopardy every hour? I protest by your boasting… I die daily.” (1 Corinthians 15:30-31 KJ2000)

They were out of touch with Paul’s sufferings for them. I am just starting to understand what he was saying after reading these verses for forty-five years, thanks to what Susanne shared above in her blog. We seem to be in the greatest danger of being used by the devil to hurt others or being deceived by him when we are happy, happy, clappy, clappy Christians, thinking that we stand and are doing fine. James wrote something that seems very harsh to our way of thinking in the church today.

But he gives more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you. (James 4:6-10 RSVA

Susanne, you probably didn’t know that you were speaking scripture when you wrote that sentence above. I thank God that you did, because God has used your words once again to sensitize me to a very important aspect of what it means to be one with one another in the body of Christ. Where once I always looked at what Paul wrote in Romans as everyone else’s duty to get in sync with me, weep with me when I weep and rejoice with me when I am happy, now I see that when I am flying high I am in the greatest danger of falling and doing damage to others who are hurting.

The Spirit had been speaking to me about the last half of the Gospel of John for some time. But as I progressed through it, I got to John 17:20-28 and it was as if the Captain yelled down the speaking tube to the engine room, “ALL STOP!” Jesus prayed something here that has not come to fruition for the body of Christ. For the last 1900 plus years, the church has become a house divided against itself, and as a result the salt has lost its savor and is being trodden under the feet of worldly men.

“I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which thou hast given me in thy love for me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world has not known thee, but I have known thee; and these know that thou hast sent me. I made known to them thy name, and I will make it known, that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:20-26 RSVA)

Here we have the unity of the Father and the Son and the glorious love they share as a benchmark for the true ekklesia of God! The Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father. They are totally one! Why? Because of their intense love that they share for one another. Where you find this kind of love, the Father and the Son’s glory and unity will not be far away. But it does not end there. Jesus prayed that we who are His would have this same unity and love for one another as well.

When I get arthritic pain in my elbow, wrist or hands, do the rest of the members of my arm go right on with their agenda as if it was no concern to them? Not hardly! In fact, my whole body takes notice and tries to find a way to alleviate the pain so it can go on in harmony. Either my whole body is suffering or it is all rejoicing because the body is not indifferent to its parts. What does the love of God demand of us, so that we might be truly one, more sensitive to the hearts and spirits of other members of the body of Christ that He is knitting together?

Real selfless love, the agape love of God, unifies and makes the members of the body of Christ one with each other and with God. Just as Jesus is our heavenly High Priest who is not out of touch with our sufferings (see Hebrews 4:15), so it is with those who are His. May the Lord do what it takes to make us all aware of the needs of others more than our own needs, victories and joys.

* https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/2014/09/26/against-all-anxieties/comment-page-1/#comment-13330

It’s a Matter of Life and Death… the Love of God

Solitude and LightThis year has been a blessing as Father continues to draw us closer to Him even though the trials have often been severe. As His love has grown in me, so has the scope of suffering and joy grown as my heart has been opened to feel what is going on in the lives of those He has placed me with in His kingdom. They have been a great encouragement to me as we have prayed for one another and seen Him move in our lives. I would like to thank my wife, Dorothy, for her steadfast encouragement and proof reading and editing skills in these articles I write. I would also like to give a special thanks to Susanne Schuberth and her blog* and the many times God has used her to inspire the things that I have shared as we both have grown in Christ and have encouraged one another.

 The events of this year so remind me of this stanza from “Amazing Grace,”

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I [we] have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me [us] safe thus far,
And grace will lead me [us] home.

I was recently reading something by T. Austin Sparks that really spoke to me about the nature of our Father’s working in our lives and the pattern of terrible lows, followed by His wonderful heavenly highs.

We can have many times of glory in our Christian lives. It is progressive, progressive in this sense: that it is an increasing matter. The Christian finds that from time to time he or she is taken into a deeper, deeper experience of trial, affliction, sorrow… something deeper and more difficult than anything before, and it’s a time when there does not seem to be very much glory; the glory seems to be veiled. There is nothing necessarily wrong about that, dear friends… That is the common experience and that is recognised as being true to Christian experience. But, you see, God is the God of glory and we are called unto His eternal glory and what the Lord means by this is more glory. The deeper the trial, the greater the suffering, the greater the glory, presently. It is only to bring about the glory in fuller measure. It is progressive, like that. And so there seems to be no end to these going-down experiences, but equally there is no end to the coming-up experiences. If there seems to be no end to the dark experiences, be assured that there is no end to the light [enlightening] ones. (http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/004310.html)

As I read this, something that Paul wrote took on greater meaning.

For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:11 RSVA)

For we are like a sweet-smelling incense offered by Christ to God, which spreads among those who are being saved and those who are being lost. For those who are being lost, it is a deadly stench that kills; but for those who are being saved, it is a fragrance that brings life. Who, then, is capable for such a task? (2 Corinthians 2:15-16 GNB)

Who can survive a life such as this, and who is sufficient to understand God’s ways with us? We can only endure such dying in Christ by faith, because it is designed to kill that old Adam in us with whom we have so closely identified, so that only the life of Christ remains in us and is manifest to all who know us. To those who perish we smell like death and they despise us for it, but to those who are being saved, we are the smell of His Life that brings life. Mary broke that alabaster box of perfume and poured it all out on Jesus and totally blessed Him with her act of love, and the smell of that perfume filled the whole house and blessed everyone in it. This is the nature of our own sacrifice in the plan of God… our being broken and poured out on and for Him.

Death and glory go hand in hand, but for those who belong to Jesus, death never has the final word, but rather the glory of God manifest in us through Christ. Just before He went to the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son, that your Son also may glorify you” (John 17:1 KJ2000). Jesus glorified the Father by the sweet smelling sacrifice of His own life in obedience. What love for the Father that He would not only lay down His own life, but that He might redeem all of God’s precious creation from sin and death. I love the fragrance of Christ in His saints!

Jesus went on to pray:

The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:22-23 ESV)

So we not only see that death is a prerequisite to glory in the economy of God, but is also needed to fully live in the love of the Father and the Son. Oh, what manner of love the Father has given unto us that we should be called the children of God and made one with the Father, the Son and one another in perfect agape love!

Thank you all for your kind and loving comments on our blog this year. May He continue to conform us into the image of Christ as we go from death to death and life to life and may He also draw us ever closer together in His great love.

* https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/

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.

“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)

Rightly Discerning the Body of Christ

Aduterous woman and Jesus 2

What right do you have to criticize someone else’s servants? Only their Lord can decide if they are doing right, and the Lord will make sure that they do right. (Romans 14:4 CEV)

What an amazing verse this is! Here Paul wrote that only God has the right to decide whether one of His saints is doing as they should and not only that, He has the power to put them back on the right path. There are many people in the church today who want to take this right into their own hands and speak out against anyone that is not toeing the line as they think should be done.

Another form of judging involves people who judge others in their hearts but do not verbalize it. They think they are okay because of their silence. Yet, the scripture says that as a man thinks in his heart, so is he. God hears our thoughts and knows our hearts. Do you still think you are doing just fine when it comes to judging? Well, listen to your thoughts the next time you are driving in heavy traffic. Paul wrote,

“For by the grace given to me I bid every one 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 which God has assigned him.” (Romans 12:3 RSVA)

Thinking of ourselves as God sees us is a rare thing. We usually think of our spiritual estate as better than it is. Not many of us see ourselves according to the measure of faith that God has given us. Satan is the accuser of the brethren of Christ. Often we find our thoughts agreeing with him as if we are the one who has the right to judge, taking the place of God to ourselves! Funny, but this is exactly what Lucifer did (see Isaiah 14:12-15).

Have you ever noticed that Jesus never went around claiming that He was the Messiah? Even when pressed by the Jewish leaders to say so, He seemed to avoid taking the title to Himself. Instead He let men tell Him what He was while they observed His actions and words (see Matthew 16:16). The title does not make the man, and neither do his degrees. On the other hand, Jesus did take the title “the son of man.” There was nothing special about being “the son of a man.” We read that when He found Himself in the form of a man, He became a lowly servant, not a Prince in a palace or a High Priest. As he grew in Christ the titles Paul the apostle claimed diminished until finally he called himself, “the offscouring of the world” (1 Corinthians 4:13). When we rightfully compare ourselves to Christ, the Father’s Standard of righteousness, it should humble us as it did Paul.

Jesus took the lowest place His whole life. He was born in a barn, and laid in a feed trough in the least of all towns in Judea. He grew up in a town in Galilee that was considered least by the Jewish leaders of that day. Referring to Him they said, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” He spent most of His life in what was called “Galilee of the Gentiles,” disdained by the Jews. He was loved by the common people, but was rejected by the leaders of His own people. Finally, he was tried like a common criminal, crucified between two thieves and His body placed in a borrowed grave. If being born in the right family and having a place of respect in the local community was an asset for gaining power and respectability, somebody forgot to tell God.

We often have this “uppity” attitude toward one another as if we think we are something when we are really nothing. It is a dead give-away when we hear ourselves saying to another saint, “When I was a younger Christian like you I thought that way too.” “I know what you are going through.” “Here is what you need to do…” And the all time classic, “I feel your pain.” We are all too quick to put ourselves in a higher place in our thinking than the one we are “reaching out to in love” or speaking to. We are all too quick to try and do the convicting work of the Spirit of God in each others lives.

One of the subtle ways we elevate ourselves over others is by posturing. We do so by flaunting our experience, our titles, our degrees, even with our attitudes and body language. “Touch me not, for you are unclean!” “I am holier than thou.” We might not say this, but we often act it out and others can sense it. Yet, Jesus, who should be our example as Christians, allowed Himself to be touched by women who were bleeding, and unclean according to the Jewish law. He hung out with sinners and prostitutes and even touched lepers!

Jesus identified with the multitudes (Greek, ochlos by definition – the common people and the rabble) and was often found mingling with them. He was criticized for it by the Jewish leaders. How often we see people who love their titles and respectability keeping the common people at arm’s length or even further, but not our Lord. This attitude is not the Spirit of Christ. He did not have an appointment secretary who acted as if she went to guard dog school. But I am afraid this is all too common today among recognized church leaders. By looking to people such as these as an example, we take on the wrong attitude toward others. Like so many children, we learn more from what we observe in our leaders than by what they say.

In contrast we find Jesus rebuking His disciples for trying to keep women and their children away from Him. He said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” In short, Jesus was a servant to all and always accessible to the “little people,” even saying that they will fill His Father’s kingdom, not the elevated ones.

Saints, there is no substitute for the work of the cross and the excellent knowledge (intimate knowing) of Jesus Christ in our lives. There is no substitute for the unction of the Holy Spirit and the heavenly teaching that comes from Him as we open our hearts to God. Institutions can teach you the history of the church and details about the Bible, but they cannot give you the rhema word and moment by moment guidance of God. No, you must walk by faith in humility if you are to be an effective witness of God’s kingdom and love.

Remember that Paul had the best education the Jewish system could provide and he counted his history, bloodline and education, etc., as less than nothing, except for his intimate relationship (“excellent knowledge of”) with Jesus. Mark his words, “We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know” (1 Corinthians 8:1-2, NKJV). It is not what we know that counts, but whether Jesus knows us and we intimately know Him (see Matthew 7:21-23). We cannot effectively teach what we have not become. As with John, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30, NKJV). There is nothing more detracting in us from portraying Christ to the “lost world” than pride. And pride keeps us from becoming truly one with God and with each other as well.

When the Lord’s people get a new spiritual Holy Ghost revelation of the Sovereign Headship of Christ, and begin to hold fast the Head, they let go of everything that is local, and personal, and different, and scattered on the earth. That is the place to which to come for unity. We cannot be at variance with one another as the Lord’s children if Christ is absolute Sovereign Head in our lives. When the Lord Jesus gets the complete mastery as Head in our lives, then all independence of action, and life, and all self-will, self-direction, self-seeking, self-glory and self-vindication will go. These are the things which set us apart from one another. You pass from Isaiah [Isaiah 6:1-8], and as you do, so you remember that you have the results of such a vision seen in this man Isaiah. Such a vision immediately has the effect of humiliating him to the dust. Oh, yes, we lose all our pride, all our importance when once we see the Lord in glory. “Woe is me….” That is humiliation! Then, after humiliation, there is consecration: “Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.” And, after humiliation and consecration, there comes vocation: “…who will go for Us?” “Then I said, Here am I; send me.” ~ T. Austin Sparks http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/001461.html