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

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The Battle Against Our Unity in Christ

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In Jesus’ final prayer before the cross we read,

 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,  I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.  O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me.  I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:22-26, ESV2011)

I have never known such a battle in my life or the lives of God’s people than the one to maintain our unity in His love. There is a reason for this. When the world’s people see Christians truly living together in Christ’s love for one another (and I don’t mean one hour together on Sundays only), as a family in the Father, Satan starts to lose his grip on his kosmos—his worldly kingdom. Those deluded by him can see that these special people have something that they do not have, but need desperately. So, all the minions of hell are brought to bear against even two people walking together in the unity of Jesus and the Father. Remember, our unity is exponential. One can put to flight a thousand but two ten thousand.

T. A. Sparks wrote:

The higher position of “Ephesians” is this – that now, being quickened and raised together with Christ and seated in the heavenlies is a matter of relatedness to other believers, and in that relatedness, you are going to find your fullness. You are never going to find spiritual enlargement just as an isolated, separate individual, but in relation with other believers. “God setteth the solitary in families” (Ps. 68:6), and there is no doubt about it, whether or not you understand or accept the doctrine of it, you can prove very quickly in experience that our spiritual enlargement does come by way of true spiritual and heavenly relatedness with other believers. That is proved by the fact that it is not always easy for Christians to live together for very long. It sounds a terrible thing to say, but you have a lot of other factors to reckon with. If you were ordinary people in this world, you might get on very well, but being Christians you have to meet the whole force of Satan working upon any little bit of natural life he can find. So he makes for difficulty between Christians that they would not find if they were not in a heavenly position. They are meeting forces in the heavenlies. There are the rub and friction and all the cross currents that try to divide Christians but which do not try to divide other people, because there is so much bound up with true spiritual oneness amongst the Lord’s people – so much for the Lord, and so much against Satan. Satan is going to break up that spiritual oneness if he can. He knows what that means for him, and the Lord knows what that means for Himself – and hence the special and extra difficulties when it is a case of Christians living together, especially for a long time.

Now what is the upshot? When these difficulties arise we must say, “It is evidently necessary for me to get a new spiritual position, to get on top of this. If I am not going to give it up and leave, I must come to some spiritual enlargement; I have to know the Lord in a new way, to have more grace, love and patience.” That is spiritual enlargement, and it comes by relatedness. (Of course, that is only one way; there are many others by which spiritual enlargement comes by relatedness.) If only we can keep together in prayer, there is spiritual enlargement.

http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/001719.html

Yes, unlike many eastern religions, there are no “holy hermits” in the kingdom of God. There are no Christian one-man-bands! The prophet spoke of this unity we are to have in Christ when he said, “A body have you prepared for me (see Hebrews 10:5).” Those who belong to Christ are called as members of His body AND members of one another.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Rom 12:3-5, ESV2011)

Christ has equipped each one of us who are His to function as a member so that the whole body might be edified and built up. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we read:

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Eph 4:15-16, ESV2011)

To speak the truth to one another in love is to walk in the light as Jesus is in the light and make no provision for the flesh hiding its faults in darkness, not just for our sakes, but for the sake of the body of Christ.

Paul wrote, “every man that is among you [those who have surrendered to Christ]… not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God has dealt to every man the measure of faith,” This is about rightfully accessing our current state of growth and faith in Christ according to the working of our Father to bring about our transformation. We don’t over estimate who we have become by His grace and we don’t underestimate it, either, by burying our “talent” in the earth. The temptation is to become too proud in our estimate of who we are, exalting ourselves as having some “Christian office” to lord over others, or to spend our time downcast as we constantly look at how far there is to go. Our hope is found as we see ourselves by God’s grace IN the arms of the Son while His perfecting work in us proceeds. We are not our own, but Jesus has bought us with the great price He paid for each of us on the cross and as such we are to be led by the wind of the Spirit, not our carnal minds.

We not only have to battle the enemy in gaining and keeping our unity in Christ’s body, but we have to battle our fleshly thinking as well. The whole thing is a very humbling process once we see this life with spiritual eyes and set our goal to function as a spiritual member of Jesus’ mystical body with one another.

Father, please do whatever it takes to make us all one in your Son. Amen

 

 

Can These Two Walk Together?

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Can two walk together, except they are agreed? (Amos 3:3, KJ2000)

Do not keep company with those who have not faith: for what is there in common between righteousness and evil, or between light and dark? …for we are a house of the living God; even as God has said, I will be living among them, and walking with them; and I will be their God, and they will be my people. (2Cor 6:14-16, BBE)

God has always hated a mixture. According to the law wool could not be woven with linen, meat and dairy products could not be cooked together, they could not intermarry with foreigners and in the New Testament we read that believers are not to be unequally yoke with unbelievers. Oh, the misery that has been caused in the Church and marriages by that!

God feels the same way about the work of the Spirit and the work of the flesh. The work will either be instigated by Him and done by His Spirit as it was with Christ or He will withdraw until we figure out that our flesh profits nothing! As Paul said said, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” We can struggle by our own strength to be righteous, but He backs away until we figure out that apart from Him, we can do nothing. Paul wrote,

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Gal 5:16-17, ESV2011)

Watchmen Nee and some other Christian men were swimming in a river when one of the men got a cramp in his leg and began struggling and was sinking. Mr. Nee motioned to one of the other men, who was an excellent swimmer, about the drowning man. To his astonishment, however, the man did not move. He just stood there and watched the man fight to keep his head above water.

Mr. Nee was angry to say the least, but the swimmer was calm and collected. Meanwhile, the voice of the drowning man grew fainter and more desperate. Mr. Nee hated the good swimmer who just stood and watched him suffer from the shore when he could have jumped into the river and rescued the drowning man. As the drowning man went under for what looked like the last time, the swimmer dove in and was there in a moment, and both were soon safely on shore.

After the rescue, Mr. Nee accused the man of loving his own life too much and being selfish. The response of the swimmer revealed, however, that he knew what he was doing. He told Watchman that if he had gone too soon, the drowning man would have put a death grip on him and they would have both drowned in the river, and he was right. He told Mr. Nee that a drowning man cannot be saved until he is utterly exhausted and ceases to make the slightest effort to save himself.

Such is the case with our salvation. When we stop trying to save ourselves, then the Lord can step in and save us as we fully surrender to Him. The same is true about our efforts to be righteous. He will allow a temptation to beset us that is beyond our strength to resist unless we cry out to Him to deliver us. He leads us not into temptation for as James says, we are drawn away by our own lusts. But God DOES deliver us from evil if we cry out to Him, though we may have to become totally exhausted in the process to reach the level of desperation that He is looking for. You see one of the desired outcomes is to get us to have mercy on all sinners and KNOW that “except for the grace of God, there go I,” by first hand experience.

And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (Gal 5:24-25, KJ2000)

Thank you to Susanne Schuberth for her encouragement and inspiration. See her latest blog: https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/2016/09/10/death-and-resurrection-or-i-need-a-savior/

Unity in Christ’s Light…Coming Into Full Stature

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…until we come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature and full grown in the Lord, measuring up to the full stature of Christ. (Eph 4:13, NLT)

God has one goal for each of us and that is to grow up in the Lord until we measure-up to the full stature of His Son. That cannot happen without the unity of His saints (See John 17:21-23). What is Christian unity? Does it happen when we reach 100% church attendance on any given Sunday? Or does it happen when we all adhere to the “articles of faith” handed down by the home office of our denomination? Maybe it happens when all the local churches (as they did in our area) agree to have a great rally together at the local fairgrounds one Sunday each year. All these things were totally foreign to the early church, yet they had a unity in the Spirit that caught the attention of the world around them. They were even accused of turning the world upside down for Christ.

Oh, how far this thing called Christianity has fallen! How about we start with just two people walking together in unity for openers? How often do we see that in our Christian experience? Many of us who “have a ministry” are still Lone Rangers at best and it shows our weakness to the spirit realm. Our “ministry” is still all about us! It is interesting to me that most of the examples of effective ministry in the New Testament are found when two people walked together in the Spirit of God. Wouldn’t this be good place to start? Maybe we should be praying that God puts us together with another saint so we can both prayerfully support one another as we encourage each other to focus on Christ and what His Spirit is saying and directing us to do.

God has no Lone Rangers when it comes to walking in the power of the Spirit much less the unity of the Spirit, yet we totally overlook this in modern Christianity. A person who walks alone is an easy target for the enemy and “one-man band” ministries fall every day. In Mark we read a very interesting thing that Jesus did. “And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth two by two; and gave them power over unclean spirits” (Mark 6:7, KJ2000). It was being sent forth by Him in pairs that they were given power over the works of the devil. When will we ever learn, dear saints?

We don’t know how long Adam walked alone in the garden with God until God observed, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” In Ecclesiastics we read:

Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falls; for he has not another to help him up… and if one prevails against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Eccl 4:9-12, KJ2000)

Two saints walking together in the Spirit of Christ are that threefold cord. Unity in the Spirit and walking in the transparency of the truth of God He calls “walking in the light” and it is imperative if we are to know the fellowship that Jesus shares with His Father. In John’s first letter we read:

This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1John 1:5-7, KJ2000)

First, notice he did not write, “If you walk in the light as He is in the light…” He wrote we! If we walk in the light of the Father and the Son, the light of the Spirit that He defines as doing the truth, not just talking about it, we will have fellowship with one another. All through Christendom we see people desiring fellowship and not finding any meaningful form because they overlook this one important prerequisite, walking in the light of the Spirit. Allowing God to shine His marvelous light into our hearts seems to be too great a price for most of us. John put the problem this way:

And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone that does evil hates the light, neither comes to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he that does truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are worked in God. (John 3:19-21, KJ2000)

Revelation by the Spirit

It is one thing to read the scriptures and another thing to have them revealed to us by the Spirit of Christ. When we walk together in the unity of the Spirit, we soon find out that His marvelous light starts showing us things that He wants us to walk in and understand so that we can enjoy the unity of the Father and the Son. We soon start experiencing our fellowship around the deeper things on God’s heart.

And their eyes were opened, and they knew him… And they said one to another, Did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures? (Luke 24:31-32, KJ2000)

I believe that the unity of the Spirit in revelation is what was meant when Peter wrote,

We have also a more sure word of prophecy; to which you do well that you take heed, as unto a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of one’s own interpretation. (2Pet 1:19-21, KJ2000)

Here in this passage we see light, revelation and fellowship among the saints of God who walk in His light together.  They don’t try to be complete in themselves, have their own private interpretations, or compete with each other. We need to have the light of God shine into our darkened hearts! Darkness attracts darkness and Light attracts light. We need the Day Star to arise in our hearts as we fellowship together in the Father and the Son.

Praying in God’s Love

James gave us a key to keeping our unity alive in the Spirit.

 “Confess to one another therefore your faults (your slips, your false steps, your offenses, your sins) and pray [also] for one another, that you may be healed and restored [to a spiritual tone of mind and heart]. The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available [dynamic in its working].” (Jas 5:16, AMP)


When we walk in unity with the one that God puts us with, we soon find that totally opening up to one another in transparency is imperative if we are to continue to walk in the light. Two people who hope to walk this way must be so crucified to themselves that they can trust one another with their deepest secrets and know that the other person will not use these things against them or turn away when we dare to “hang out their dirty laundry.” We dare to reveal such intimate things so that we can pray for one another and be healed of what caused these slips and missteps in the first place. There is one thing needed for this to happen–God’s agape love that knows no selfishness and lives for the good of others. There is tremendous power over sin when we pray for one another in this kind of unity.

The Christianity most of us have experienced in the churches rarely knows what it means to worship God in Spirit and in truth, but what a blessing it is when we dare to embrace and seek the truth with one another and truly walk in His all-revealing light. But this can only be experienced between two hearts that have been broken and crucified in Christ. May these hearts find one another by the power of God. Amen.

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

“The Answer of Death” – the Wisdom of the Crucified Life in Christ

By Michael Clark and Susanne Schuberth

mountain-hiking-people

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair… always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2Cor 4:7-12, ESV2011)

How can two people walk together in close fellowship as Christians and not fall into the many pitfalls and snares of the devil that are designed to destroy true Spirit unity? The answer is simple, two words: The Cross. Why do so many ministries fall? Because they have not embraced the cross of Christ as their cross and invited it to do a deep cleansing work in them. Most would rather rely on their own fleshly power and wisdom to do God’s work and enjoy the perks of staying in the flesh. (Let’s face it. Sin might be fun — for a while — but its dividends are death). But this is only true if we do not have the Spirit of God abiding in us! To put it bluntly, I (Susanne) know that there are “Christians” out there who feel no conviction from His Spirit because they are not His (see Romans 8:9). They might still think sin is fun and keep up their sinful lifestyle, which means they are not Christians as yet. “What fellowship does Light have with darkness? John wrote, By this we may know that we are in him [Christ]: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1John 2:5-6, ESV2011).

Do not be deceived, dear brothers and sisters. Those who live in sin still need to be saved by Jesus! I (Susanne) will not have fellowship with such people since God gave me a severe warning last year. I had many demons in our flat (apartment) after two people had surprised me with a visit. I could not believe my ears as I heard that they thought that their sinful relationship was God’s gift to them. Oh, what a deception! 😦  Instead, dear saints, if we are truly indwelt by His Spirit and have come to know Him, we will fear and hate sin more and more.

Paul understood the need of the cross working in him and wrote about it all through his letters. For instance, he wrote:

 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it [his debilitating trial] should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2Cor 12:8-10, ESV2011)

So many who write on the Net rely totally on their minds to do God’s work. This is foolishness in the eyes of God. I (Susanne) was just reminded of an article I wrote two years ago titled, “What Is Inspiration, then?”. While writing that entry, God clearly showed me the difference between my own limited mind and His that has no eternal boundaries. (If you would like to read about God’s humorous leading in this particular case, you might check this out  https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/2014/07/21/what-is-inspiration-then/).

In Proverbs we read:

 Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered. (Proverbs 28:26, ESV2011)

So what did Paul rely on when he taught and preached? What delivered him from the snares of the flesh? He relied on the wisdom and voice of the Spirit, which was only manifest through him when he was weak, denying himself, though he had been educated by the best teachers of Judaism (see 1 Cor. 2:1-7). Why did he deny the power of his own mind and education?  “So that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” Christ crucified is the power and the wisdom of God (See 1 Cor. 1:24).

Back to our original question, “How can two people walk together in close fellowship as Christians and not fall into the many pitfalls and snares of the devil?” The only way is by weakness and the cross working daily in them to keep them weak. Those who rise up by the power of their fleshly minds and abilities are ripe pickings for the devil. The natural man does not want to be seen as weak in the eyes of others. Natural man struts, postures, flexes and does all it can to blow people’s minds, get their adoration and gain power over them. Yet, it ignores the sober warning of God that “pride comes before a fall and a haughty spirit before destruction.”

God’s ways are not the ways of fallen Adam. He takes no pleasure in the arm of the flesh, especially when that fleshly person claims to represent Him. Paul wrote,

 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; (1Cor 1:26-27, ESV2011)

Thank God that our ability to resist the temptations of the devil does not rely alone on our being “careful.” The Father has given us His answer to the flesh of Adam in us and its natural affections—the death of the cross working in us. We have not liked all this dying we have been going through. Our outer man is perishing in each of our bodies in sickness, pain, and so much weakness and despair over our daily circumstances in life and yes, we have complained a lot. When we have prayed for healing and it has not come or for our circumstances to change and they don’t, it has become evident that God is in it. It has all became clear as to why things are the way they are as we surrender our lives to our Father and we pray from our hearts, “I wish that this cup would pass from me, Father, but nevertheless not my will but yours be done.”  Paul wrote:

 …we were weighed down exceedingly, beyond our power, insomuch that we despaired even of life: yea, we ourselves have had the answer of death within ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God… (2Cor 1:8-10, ERV – emphasis added)

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming [out] from us, but our sufficiency is from God. (2Cor 3:4-5, ESV2011)

Dear saints, we cannot be victorious in Christ if we continue to rely on our flesh, our minds and our abilities to do God’s work or even our own power to stay free of sin. “Take heed when you think you stand, lest you should fall.” We need to be ruthless with our flesh and pray daily that God does the deep work of the cross in us until we can truthfully say with Paul,

 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20, KJ2000)

 

Gleanings from “Into the Heart of God”

Embracing the Son

Recently I felt led to read a book by T. Austin-Sparks called, Into the Heart of God. It is so relevant that I felt it good to quote a great deal of it here in this blog article. I hope you don’t mind and will even read it in its entirety on their website (see below *).

Sparks used the life of Abraham to show what it means to answer the call of God on one’s life by walking in true faith. This walk is far more radical than the “bill of goods” that most Christians buy into when they are told to simply “say a sinner’s prayer” and you are “in.” The question is, will we go all the way and become a “friend of God” as Abraham (who is the father of faith) did or just settle to be a casual observer of God’s kingdom from a far off in the comfort of our Sunday pews or some worldly distraction? Sparks wrote,

Now the LORD had said unto Abram, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee:” (Gen 12:1, KJV)
…the spiritual life is a pilgrimage, and the Christian is on a journey which begins in the world and ends in the heart of God. God’s verdict on the life of Abraham was: “Abraham, my friend” (Isaiah 41:8), that friendship meaning that Abraham had really entered into the heart of God… the first major step is in these words: “Get thee out”. It is a call of God which allows no compromise. There has to be a point to which we come when we step over a line and are out from the world into the way of God. It is a very clear and unmistakable decision to be separated completely from this world unto God… The first decisive step is oneness with the heart of God in His repudiation of the world. *

How many of us have seen the truth of our being called by God into His Son, as a pilgrimage where we have been called out of this world system and its way of thinking into our heavenly home IN Christ Jesus, even in this life instead of seeing our salvation as some kind of “pie in the sky, by and by?” When God called Abraham (Abram) it was not an easy decision for him to leave his native Ur of Chaldees and go to a country that he knew absolutely nothing about, much less to leave his kindred and his father’s household. Though Abraham left ancient Babylon behind, he did not leave his father (Terah) and his household for they traveled with him. Sparks continues,

You see, in type the natural man had taken hold of the divine purpose. Terah and the family not only went out with Abraham, but they took him out. You are not, therefore, surprised that they did not get very far! They came to Haran and there they stayed, we are not told for how long, but probably quite a time. We are told that Abraham was seventy years old at that time, so quite a lot of time was lost. This was the first delay in the progress of this spiritual pilgrimage. They came to Haran, and there they stayed until Terah died. Terah, it says, was a very old man, and “the old man” does take a long time to die! But it was not until Terah died that they were able to resume their journey. *

How true! Our old man (our old adamic nature) dies hard. We not only have a hard time making a clean break with the world, but we also find it hard to make a clean break with our worldly families and all that they represent in our hearts! Yet, God insists that to be part of His kingdom and not influenced by anything that is still of this world, we must sever the ties that they have on our hearts. Jesus put it this way,

And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that takes not his cross, and follows after me, is not worthy of me. He that finds his life shall lose it: and he that loses his life for my sake shall find it. (Matt 10:36-39, KJ2000)

So, after Terah died Abraham moved on and actually got into the land God promised him, but not without his nephew, Lot, and his family. There was still some of that old life back in Babylon hanging on to him! But as is the case with those who seek “a city whose builder and maker is God” and those who do not, conflict finally arose between them, between Abraham’s herdsmen and Lot’s herdsmen over grazing rights (see Genesis 13:1-13). This reminds me of my own short-stop in my called-out journey where I spent many years in that desirable plain called “Christendom” where spiritual Sodom and Gomorrah are located. Here I found constant “turf wars” of shepherds claiming jurisdiction over the sheep of God, each trying to lure the sheep to their pastures from ones staked-out by other shepherds, each claiming that their fenced-in spot was the best available. TAS continues…

So Lot moved his tent in the direction of the city of Sodom. He pitched it for a time outside the city, and then the attractions of that city drew him inside. He yielded to the call of the city of Sodom. Not satisfied with getting outside, and then getting inside, he had to become an important person in the city, and so we eventually find him sitting in the gate of the city, the gate being the place where all the important people met to discuss the affairs of the city. So Lot is at last an important official, and it was not long before trouble began. *

Oh, how true! At first I was content to be a church “wall flower” staying on the fringe and observing, but soon someone notice my knowledge of the Bible or found out that I had musical talent and it was not long before I was sucked into the “inner circle” and put under the thumb of the Task Master in charge. I traded my freedom in Christ and following the leading of His Spirit for having a position and/or title in a man’s system. Each time this happened the Spirit was pulling me to move on and the church leadership was pulling the other way, calling that tug on my heart “rebellion.” The confusion of Babylon was still with me even though I left my “native Ur” behind!  Sparks continues,

Lot… became so much a part of it that when the angels came down to declare that Sodom and Gomorrah were going to be destroyed by fire, he was so reluctant to leave that the angels had to take him by the hand and pull him out. *

The more that a man rises up and rules over the people of God, the more God’s judgment is on what he is building. Eventually, God blows on it and scatters the people. Church infighting with its splits and church collapses are all too common in Christendom. And the work that was not built on the One Foundation, Jesus Christ, is burned up like so much wood, hay and stubble as God tests every man’s work by fire (see 1 Cor. 3:12-15). In my case, God had to force me out by getting these false shepherds to turn on me over and over. I did not have to do anything to provoke them. They just knew that I was not of that worldly spirit that drove them to become great in the eyes of the people instead of raising-up Christ and letting Him draw all men nigh to Himself. False church leadership cannot stand to have Christ’s Spirit getting the attention. Sparks rightly points out the problem in each of us saying,

Well, we are all ready to condemn Lot. We think that he was a poor sort, and not much good. But really he is only a type of the natural life in all of us. Anyone who really knows himself or herself knows that there is something like that in their natures. It takes the very mercy and power of God to get us separated from ourselves. Yes, this self-life is a terribly strong thing and will always gravitate in the opposite direction to the spirit. It will always work to keep us back from going on with God, and there has to be a very real crisis in this matter. *

In all honesty, the one thing that kept me coming back for more abuse in the churches was a hunger deep inside my soul to be “a somebody” in that system. Pastors saw that I would do my best to jump through all their hoops like a circus dog, even when they set those hoops on fire! They loved to put me in their harnesses and get me pulling on their church programs, seeing my hopes that I would be promoted. Finally, God had to show me the truth about myself in a very graphic way to get me to cry out to Him to do something effective in me to kill that lust for greatness in the eyes of men. Enter from stage left: 14 years of spiritual wilderness.

Once we get out of spiritual Sodom and Babylon and God gets the lust for what they offer out of us we can move on toward the high calling that is ours in Christ Jesus. We still have not arrived, but at least we are moving in the right direction. Paul wrote about the next leg of our journey saying,

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized [literally immersed] into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. (Rom 6:3-8, ESV2011)

Yes, there is no way around it, we must die, for flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.

I would like to end this article with one more long quote from Sparks about what I feel is a very needed clarification of what it means to go on with Christ in the life of those who have answered the call to get out of this world and its enticements and be separated unto God.

The great crisis of separation between what is of the Spirit and what is of the flesh has taken place, and that is the great crisis of the sixth chapter of the Letter to the Romans. You must remember that that chapter was written to Christians, not to people who were still back in Ur of the Chaldees, that is, to people who were still in the world. It was to people who had taken the first great step in decision for the Lord but had evidently not recognized all that that step involved. The Apostle Paul is not saying: ‘You must be baptized as a testimony of the fact that you have come right out for the Lord’, but: ‘We were crucified with Christ. We were buried with Him in baptism.’ That is what is meant when we were baptized. Our old man was crucified with Christ – but we have brought out Terah and Lot and all the rest with us. We have not recognized all that it meant when God said: “Get thee out!” There has to be this new crisis in our lives when we not only say farewell to the world but we say farewell to ourselves: “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live; and yet no longer I” (Galatians 2:20).

It is Lot and Abraham, one of the flesh, the other of the spirit: of faith and not of faith. With God, these two things are fully and utterly separated in the death and resurrection – the Cross – of Christ, but with His people it is a long history of many applications of the principle through a crisis and a process, or a series of minor crises.

Perhaps we have not been sufficiently aware that the New Testament in its teaching books or letters, as well as in its history, stands wholly related to these two aspects, a basic, all-inclusive crisis, and a process marked by many particular applications of that content; progressive illumination and successive challenges.

These crises created by the conflict between the natural man and the spiritual man in us all are represented in the case of Abram by Lot, Egypt (Genesis 12:9-20), Abimelech (Genesis 20), Hagar (Genesis 16…), all of which represent outcroppings of the natural man in his own wisdom, strength, effort and weakness. These will come up again in these studies, but they are recorded for our instruction in what has to be brought back to the initial transition. Abraham was called the Hebrew, and that means: the Man from Beyond, that is – beyond the river (Euphrates). A river lay between his old and his new realm.

The Christian has a river, like the Red Sea or the Jordan, which is a dividing line; and spiritually it declares what does and what does not belong to each side. According to Romans 6, that dividing line is the Cross of Christ, and baptism is there said to be the believer’s spiritual acceptance of that great divide. The point is that the Cross goes with us throughout our lives and challenges the presence and action of everything belonging to the ‘beyond’ as not to be tolerated here. This history of denying our selfhood is the pathway which brings us ever nearer the heart of God. Every fresh expression of Christ’s victory over the world is a further step into the heart of God. As His ‘being made perfect through suffering’ meant a progressive and final repudiation of the world and the self, so that He arrived at last in the heart of His Father, attested and declared “My Beloved Son”, so every believer is called upon to make the same spiritual pilgrimage to the same most blessed destiny. It is the way of the continuous, “Not I, but Christ”, but this way of His Cross leads right on into God’s heart, when and where He will say “My friend.” *

* http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/into_the_heart_of_god.html