Flattering Words and Deceiving Spirits

stanic-flatteryFor many years the churches in America each have had a dominate leader called pastor or priest. Back in the sixties when I started attending Protestant churches, the pastor visited the homes of the faithful, and when they were sick in the hospital, he visited them there too. But along the way men bought into the teaching of church growth, and it became more important to grow a forest and ignore the individual trees. They stopped seeing people as individuals with individual needs. The larger the institution, the more impersonal it became. The thrust was all about church growth by amassing numbers of tithing members with very little attention to their spiritual progress. Men rose up with “great swelling words” and personal charisma and many people were drawn to those churches. Church programs became focused on satisfying the flesh and there was soon a club for everybody’s personal interests–except for seeking the way of the cross that deals with all these diverse soulish interests and makes Christ our ALL in all. Thus the “seeker friendly” church was born and catering to the flesh became a common practice.

During this same period a movement to restore the “five-fold ministries” began. These leaders taught that if we could just restore the ministries spoken of in Ephesians 4:11, Jesus would be pleased and the power that the church had in its infant days 2000 years ago would be restored. This sounded logical to many of us and it was an improvement over the one-man band method of leadership that we grew up with. Using the following verse that says what these five ministries are for convinced people to jump on this band wagon.

For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: (Eph 4:12, KJ2000)

In theory, these five ministries would raise up all the saints to do the work of the ministry for the edifying of the church. Everybody would have a real ministry in the church and if you obeyed and brought yourself under their authority, eventually you would get to be one of the big guys, join in and play in their “reindeer games.” Who knows, you even might get a paid staff position. In reality, the available slots just kept the machine going and made sure the five-fold guys kept their positions. So as you can imagine, there were hundreds of new ministry titles not found in the Bible like parking ministry, coffee counter ministry, children’s church ministry, snow removal ministry, or church decorating ministry. You get the idea.

This shtick got old pretty quick and the enemy had to come up with a new one. Next came men who pointed at the fallacy of the former five-fold teaching. They told their prospective followers that God wanted them to raise up everyone into their own callings. They stressed how important each of person was to God. Some even went around giving people biblical sounding titles such as “the apostle over the church in Smallville,” and flattered their followers with their words, all the time never letting go of their positions as overseer of this new pyramid they were building.

flattery-quoteFlattery! This is the tool the enemy has used from the very beginning. The serpent used this to deceive Eve.

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…” (Gen 3:2-5, ESV2011- emphasis added)

Wait a minute, aren’t we to be godly and god-like? So what is wrong with that? Didn’t God say, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”? And all Eve had to do was simply eat the fruit of this forbidden tree and she could be just like God. Finally, a fast track to holiness wherein she would know the difference between good and evil for herself! Who needs God, anyway.

You see, dear saints, there is no fast track. There is no holy Stratolounger for spiritual couch potatoes to lie on and get in spiritual shape. But there IS one thing that God has provided that is imperative for those who would follow Christ. It is not having a ministry given to them in the church. Jesus told us what it was, but this entitlement generation totally ignores these verses.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matt 16:24-25, ESV2011)

Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:27, ESV2011)

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (2Tim 3:12-13, ESV2011)

It is much more convenient, profitable and satisfying to rise up over people with convincing lies and flattery than it is to be persecuted and rejected for telling them the truth.  Paul had the Bible knowledge, intellect, and speaking abilities to preach the gospel, but while using these natural abilities, he persecuted the Church of Christ! This is why Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, (1Cor 2:1-3, ESV2011)

He was determined to not use his soulish intellect and flowery language to win these people by tickling their ears, much less flattery, but instead he preached the cross of Christ. He taught that we must each take up our cross and follow Jesus. He knew that our un-crucified souls are of no avail to God, and are a tool of the devil that causes division in the church. The Corinthian believes had already proven this (see 1 Cor. Ch. 3).

Today, Susanne Schuberth shared with me a very enlightening portion from T. Austin-Sparks’ writings that exposes just how Satan has tried to use flattery to deceive God’s people:

Next we come to the Gibeonites. The thing that is said about the Gibeonites, and which sums them up, is this: “They also did work wilily [with guile]…” (Joshua 9:4).  Lies, and flattery, and sentiment all working together.

Flattery! “Oh, we know that you are the Lord’s people! We know the Lord is with you! We have heard all about it! We have no doubt whatever that you are specially led of God! You are bound to succeed!”

Lies! You are familiar with the lies of the Gibeonites. They are recorded in chapter nine of the book of Joshua.

Sentiment! “Though we started out on this long journey with new wineskins, and warm bread from the oven in our bags, see how tired out we are, and how worn out these wineskins are: and all because we believe in you! We know the Lord is with you, and we appeal to your kind-heartedness!”

It is very striking that when Paul in chapter 6 of the letter to the Ephesians exhorts believers to take unto them the whole armour of God he does not say, Wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fierce onslaughts of the Devil. You would expect him to say that, when he has told of such an equipment; a helmet of salvation, a breastplate of righteousness, a shield of faith, a girdle of truth, and a sword of the Spirit. This surely means that the Devil is coming in with fierce onslaughts. No! The Scripture is, “…that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” All this provision of God is given to that end.

What is the object of the Devil? Arrest! And what are we to say of the alliance with the Gibeonites? Something which ought to have been slain became an institution. That peril is not so far from us as it pretends to be. The Gibeonites said to Joshua: “From a very far country thy servants are come…” when as a matter of fact they were next door neighbours. The peril is much nearer to us than perhaps we realize.

(…)

From time to time, in the face of a situation which seems to be perfectly good and right the Lord inwardly says, Be careful! Do not commit yourself to that! You will discover later on what is wrong with it! And so we do. We are in a realm where it is so necessary for us to walk in the Spirit, because only the Spirit can keep us moving on in a clear way to the fulness; for if in a case like that of the two and a half tribes, or Achan, or the Gibeonites, we come down on to the natural ground in our endeavour to deal with heavenly things, with spiritual forces, we are bound to have our course checked, and our progress toward the Divine fulness brought under arrest.

Beware of any alliance with the enemy through a lie…  (1)

Daniel the prophet saw this great delusion of Satan coming on the church in the last days when he wrote:

He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action. And the wise among the people shall make many understand, though for some days they shall stumble… When they stumble, they shall receive a little help. And many shall join themselves to them with flattery, and some of the wise shall stumble, so that they may be refined, purified, and made white, until the time of the end, for it still awaits the appointed time. (Dan 11:32-35, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

“Oh brother, you are so wise and know so much about the Bible. God has gifted you with so much, come and let me sit at your feet as your disciple.” To this I have one answer–the same one John gave the church when many anti-Christ teachers were among them.

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

Our most important defense against the lies of Satan is having the Holy Spirit abiding in us and listening to HIS voice as He warns us.  Beware of flattery that appeals to your pride or soulish inclinations, dear saints. Satan is even able to make those who are wise in spiritual things to stumble over this one.

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/003396.html

Do We Desire the Kingdom of God or the Kingdoms of Men?

He is Faithful

Today we see well-meaning men and women building their kingdoms and pushing their agendas all in the name of Christ all through Christendom. Some put their hopes in who gets elected in the world’s political systems. Some are so bold (and blind) as to name their ministries after themselves, yet we take this all to be perfectly normal. Can you see a huge sign above the banks of the Jordan 2000 years ago reading, “John the Baptist Ministries”?  Can you see ushers seating all the people that went out to observe him in action, handing out baptism request cards, and taking up a collection (or two) at every “service”? Of course, all had to be done “decently and in order.” No, none of this nonsense was how the Spirit wind moved through John the Baptist. He upset the whole religious and political establishment and told everyone they needed to repent as he prepared the way for Christ to appear. The religious establishment didn’t take too kindly to him either.

How easy it is for us who call ourselves “Christian” to hold on to our worldly mindsets, values, earthly ambitions and views on what the Father’s kingdom should look like and how it should operate. Such was the case with the disciples of Christ. They all knew that when Messiah came, He would set up a new world order with the Jews at the top of the heap and themselves as its administrators. How wrong they were! He made it clear to Pilate at His trial that HIS kingdom is not of this world! Jesus finally told the disciples that He had to go up to Jerusalem, be rejected by the leaders of the Jews, be tormented by them and die the death of the cross. Their minds went “tilt”! Peter even took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him saying, “Be it far from you, Lord: this shall not be unto you.” (Matthew 16:22, KJ2000).

Do you remember where it is written that Satan stopped tempting Jesus for a season after His temptation in the wilderness? That season was now over. Satan was back in His face in the form of a beloved disciple who Jesus loved, trying to get Him to go against the will of His Father and save Himself. Until then, Jesus had always said regarding going up to Jerusalem, “My time is not yet come.” What was Peter thinking? Jesus answered Peter’s challenge by saying, “Get you behind me, Satan: you are an offense unto me: for you consider not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” Yes, Satan wants us to spare ourselves and save our lives by finding our niche here on earth. To this mindset Jesus went on to say to the disciples, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” After this Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not: and when you are converted, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32, AKJV).

Even though we might confess–as Peter did–that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, that is not enough. Down deep inside we have to ask ourselves, “Have I truly been converted?” Or do we, like Peter, still desire and consider the things of men and operate in the ways of men–ways like seeking popularity, fame and wanting worldly safety and comfort more than the plan that God has for our lives? When Jesus bids us to take up our flesh-killing cross and follow Him, will we deny ourselves all these temptations of Satan and His world system and do the “unreasonable thing” even in the eyes of our fellow Christians? When God allows him to sift us, will our faith in Christ survive? It will if we submit to Christ’s preparatory work of the cross in us. We know for sure that when God calls us to walk in His kingdom way, we will hear those who are still in the world and not truly converted calling us to be “reasonable” and spare ourselves as Peter did with Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it well:

“…the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” (1)

God has no use for our flesh and its talents (see Romans 7:18). They are useless to Him. The more talented we are, the larger obstacle these talents become and the greater temptation to “do something great for Christ” without His Spirit leading us.

How many of us American Christians have heard the lie of Satan that we as Christians are called to live a happy, successful life in the eyes of the world as a living advertisement on why they should also be Christians? This is not the gospel of God’s kingdom, but rather a false gospel designed by Satan to keep us under his control in his kingdom. If we have bought into this, we are no different than Peter under the influence of Satan, desiring the things of men instead of the things of God. Yes, Satan desires the things that carnal men desire! The flesh of man wars against the Spirit of God and His Spirit wars against our flesh. Which side will our hearts come down on? That is the question.

If the cross has not yet met us in a real way and become a life changing crisis in our daily lives, we are still like Peter was. We have not yet been converted and we have not yet turned from the ways of the world in our hearts. T. Austin-Sparks wrote:

 You see it is a matter, in the first place, of the ground which is taken and occupied by the one concerned. When Peter took heavenly ground – “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” – he was in a very strong position. The keys of the kingdom of heaven, binding on earth and binding in heaven, were his. He was weak, and in a very weak position, when he took earthly ground, the ground of men, the ground of his own judgment and of his own selfhood. The ground taken decided whether he was spiritually strong or weak, and whether Satan had power over him or not. (2)

The flesh in man loves religion because religion gives him an opportunity to have the best of both worlds. With religion we can claim Christ as our Lord, yet remain the one in control of our lives, seeing His cross as a thing of the past and go after “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” After all, isn’t this our God-given “inalienable right”? This phrase from the Declaration of Independence is the opposite of desiring the things of our Father in heaven, yet you would think it came from the very mouth of Jesus Christ if you observe the lives and goals of American Christians. There is no life, liberty and true happiness outside of living IN Christ in obedience to and unity with the Father. We might think we are independent of Satan as we pursue the things of this world, but we are deluded and have not yet been converted in the eyes of God. We are still not seeking to find our lives in God’s kingdom nor His desires for us. Finally Sparks wrote,

 Then, if we are really going to come through to the place of spiritual power as did Peter, that ground of the enemy must continually be forsaken and refused. The enemy has to be robbed of that which will destroy us and give him power to destroy us, and we have to be very ruthless with anything that arises to give him that position and defeat God’s intention where we are concerned. This battle of heaven and hell, God and Satan, goes on in our souls, but there is for us this consolation, that we have a High Priest ever living to make intercession. We have a great asset in the continual intercession of the Lord Jesus for us. Let us close on that note of encouragement and assurance. (2)

May God continue to draw us ever deeper into Christ and out of Satan’s delusions in this world. Only then can we know the love and unity that is ours in Christ, the abundant life of which He spoke.

(1) The Cost of Discipleship, pp. 99

(2) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/000476.html

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.

“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

The Friend of the Bridegroom

JohnBapThey [John’s disciples] came to John, and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, the same baptizes, and everyone is coming to him.” John answered, “A man can receive nothing, unless it has been given him from heaven. You yourselves testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. This, my joy, therefore is made full. He must increase, but I must decrease. He who comes from above is above all.” (John 3:25-36

John the Baptist was the ideal messenger and forerunner of Jesus Christ as his words in this passage reveal. John was not all about John, but he was  a man devoted to pointing to Jesus Christ. His faithfulness is nothing short of inspirational. His famous words, “He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease” were descriptive of his single passion, the spirit in which he came. Do we really know what these words mean? Do we know it on the level that John did? This is John’s mission statement. It was his goal from the outset. It never entered his mind to establish and maintain a high-profile ministry or following. When asked by the religious Jews who he was he simply answered “[I am] the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare you the way of the Lord…” He found his identity in Christ, not in his calling and ministry. He didn’t even call himself, “Prophet John.” From the shores of the Jordan, where he first saw the One whose shoelaces he was not worthy to unloose, John never stopped heralding, he never stopped pointing; he never stopped directing the eyes and hearts of the hearers to Jesus. He never stopped saying, “Behold the Lamb of God!”

But the time came for John to decrease even further. His job was done and he saw the need to disappear. He had prepared the way for Jesus and now it was time for him to make way for the Bridegroom. He knew that if he stayed he would find himself in competition with Jesus. How many of us are willing to decrease? Isn’t it the carnal will of every man to leave a legacy?

John’s followers had not yet left him and gone after Jesus, and now they were tempting him. Their words were filled with jealousy against Christ. “He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!” They wanted John to get with the program; to compete with the very one he was called to serve. Couldn’t John see that his ministry was failing? That people were no longer coming to him? Perhaps they were attempting to get John to hold more meetings, to do what had worked for him in the past. Get up! Do something! Can’t you see that all are coming to Him?

Today in the blogosphere we would say, “Post more blog articles and keep your name in front of the people and the search engines alerted to your presence!” Oh, how aware many of us are about how many followers we have. Many bloggers will go out and click “likes” on hundreds of other blog articles without even reading them in order to get others to come to their sites and boost their stats. If we are about pointing God’s people to Christ and not to ourselves, should our stats be a motivation for our actions and our writing? Shouldn’t we be waiting on the Lord and the voice of His Spirit to tell us what He wants written? I can tell you that if you do, you can count on being led down a path where you decrease and Christ increases.

John’s reply to his followers is teeming with significance. He reminded his disciples that “a man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.” John did acknowledge that he had (past tense) been sent before Christ, but that time was over. John reminded his disciples what his ministry was all about when he said, “He who has the bride is the bridegroom.” In the context of the traditional Hebrew wedding ceremony, John saw himself as the friend of the bridegroom, who helped in any way he could to present the bride unmolested, as a chaste virgin, to the Groom.

The final act of the friend of the bridegroom was on that long awaited night when the groom came to steal the bride away. When she heard the cry, “The bridegroom comes, go out to meet him,” she was swept away to the house that the Groom had been long preparing.

According to the Jewish tradition, the friend of the bridegroom followed the wedding procession at a distance. When the groom took the bride into the bridal chamber, the friend of the bridegroom drew near. Standing just outside the bridal suite, he listened to the sound of lovemaking and at the first note of joy in the Bridegroom’s voice, the friend of the Bridegroom danced and shouted for joy. His job over, the groom’s friend turned and walked away for the marriage was consummated and his calling was fulfilled.

So we see in John a perfect messenger with a perfect heart. May God help us to be such friends and messengers of the Bridegroom today and walk away from any clamoring after our own gain under the guise of ministry!

(Note: I would like to give credit to my good brother in Christ, George Davis, for having much of the original inspiration for this article. To read all of the original essay we wrote together go to: http://www.awildernessvoice.com/ElijahCompany.html )

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

These Three Shall Remain

You are loved “Meanwhile these three remain: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.” St. Augustine wrote:

“…[if] in their [dreams, visions, spiritual gifts] silence He alone spoke to us, not by them but by Himself: so that we should hear His word, not by any tongue of flesh nor the voice of an angel nor the sound of thunder nor in the darkness of a parable, but that we should hear Himself whom in all these things we love, should hear Himself and not them: just as we two had but now reached forth and in a flash of the mind attained to touch the eternal Wisdom which abides over all: and if this could continue, and all other visions so different be quite taken away, and this one should so ravish and absorb and wrap the beholder in inward joys that his life should eternally be such as that one moment of understanding for which we had been sighing – would not this be: Enter Thou into the joy of Thy Lord?(Confessions of St. Augustine, Book 9, pp. 158-159) *

“Not by them, but by HIMSELF!” This is what He wants with us. As Paul wrote in his famous “love chapter” 1 Corinthians 13…

“Love is eternal. There are inspired messages, but they are temporary; there are gifts of speaking in strange tongues, but they will cease; there is knowledge, but it will pass. For our gifts of knowledge and of inspired messages are only partial; but when what is perfect comes, then what is partial will disappear. When I was a child, my speech, feelings, and thinking were all those of a child; now that I am an adult, I have no more use for childish ways. What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror; then we shall see face-to-face. What I know now is only partial; then it will be complete—as complete as God’s knowledge of me. Meanwhile these three remain: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:8-13 GNB – emphasis added)

What Augustine is saying here is that once we have had sweet fellowship with the living Christ face to face, nothing else is important any longer. Have you, like many of us, started out moving in the gift of tongues or prophesy or interpretation of tongues and dreams, visions, miracles, etc.? Or maybe you were absorbed in biblical knowledge and reading books of wisdom from the writings of past saints or reformers? But then one day you awake to the fact that God is doing away with them in YOU! Paul even says that these are things that spiritual children seek after and do and that a time comes when we grow up into something far greater! I know that many who believe in and camp around these verses in 1 Corinthians chapters 12 to 14 about spiritual gifts like to say that they will not be done away with until Christ returns or we are in heaven. Then we have the other crowd that says that with the death of the last of the twelve apostles God put and end to these “spiritual gifts.” I am not here to argue either point. The whole point that the apostle Paul and Augustine are making here is that it is our Father’s desire that we grow up into the fullness of Christ! Paul says, “What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror; then we shall see face-to-face.” What now? What then? The context is spiritual children vs. spiritual adulthood. We only get a dim image of Christ through spiritual gifts. Mature saints are no longer all concerned about “their giftedness!” They have moved on. They only want to see Jesus and hear HIS voice, not their own or their own “profound” thoughts! It is so sad that carnal men have taken the gifts of God for service to one another in the body of Christ and used them to divide it and seek ascendancy over one another. How immature!

“The measure of our spiritual life is no greater than our heart; the knowledge that is in the head is not the measure of spirituality, the way for your release, emancipation, increase, abundance is the way of the heart. Spirituality is not mental agreement on things stated in the Word, it is the melting of one heart to another – to all saints.” ~ T. Austin-Sparks http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/openwindows/003015.html

When we have placed into us a God given hunger to see Jesus face to face in the Spirit and hear His sweet voice because of our love for Him, all these other things lose their appeal by comparison. Paul explains that when that which is perfect is come the imperfect will be done away with. And what is “that which is perfect” that we grow into? John wrote,

And _we_ have known and have believed the love which God has in us; God is love, and the one abiding in that love abides in God, and God in him. By this love has been perfected with us, so that we shall be having confidence in the day of the judgment, because just as that One [Jesus Christ] is, also _we_ are in this world. [There] is no fear in love, _but_ perfect love casts out fear, because fear has punishment. But the one fearing has not been perfected in that love. (1 John 4:16-18 ALT)

We are made perfect in the love of God and it is in this love that we are as Christ in this world for God is love! In Ephesians chapter four we are often reminded by the clergy of verses 11 & 12, about the so called “five fold ministries” and their teaching ends there with the emphasis on them! But Paul did not end the chapter with verse 12! Paul went on to speak of the perfection of the saints of God IN THIS LIFE not pie in the sky by and by!

“until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge [Grk. epegnosis – the full intimate knowing] 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 and carried about with every wind of doctrine [Grk. didache – teaching], by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, (Ephesians 4:13-15 RSVA)

We are to grow up in every way INTO Him! It is in this mature perfecting of God who makes us one with His Son that we are made perfect in the love of God for all mankind… He in us and we in Him. It is here that all these divisive doctrines made by the caprice and cunning of men from the scriptures cease to divide us any longer (Notice how Jesus never engaged in divisive arguments over the doctrines of men). We are made perfect and one in God’s LOVE just as Jesus was. Agape love is self for God and self for others, so much so that the time comes that self is no longer an element to be considered, but our lives are hidden in Christ! At this point we can rightfully say with Paul, “For me to live IS Christ and to die is gain.” “Meanwhile these three remain, faith hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.” Father, please do what you have to do to mature us in your love. Amen.

* I would like to give a special thanks to Susanne Schuberth for bringing this quote from Augustine to our attention in her blog article, “Jumping into the Unknown” https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/2015/06/22/jumping-into-the-unknown/