A Death that Brings Glory to God

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When I was a young Christian I often heard other new Christians say, “I would gladly die for Jesus!” Well, it seems that there is a deeper kind of dying than just taking our last breath as a martyr. Susanne Schuberth recently wrote on her blog, “Suffering continues when we grow up and see that this world is not what we hoped for or expected it to be. Neither are we perfect, nor is our environment including the people we know. We may have had many wishes and desires in our lifetime of which only a few were fulfilled. Or worst case, even none of them! Furthermore, we suffer from diseases we would not have chosen if we had been asked before. We suffer from being rejected and misunderstood, from being hurt and offended, and so on and so on…” (1)

Peter wrote, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (1Pet 4:1, ESV2011). Suffering is the most powerful weapon in God’s arsenal to put an end to our old selves and bring forth His Son in us.

Now that I have had time to read her blog once again (being interrupted by pain and medical issues of my own) I see how much of what Susanne wrote reveals my own walk since I came to Christ. I appreciate her openness. Her transparency has been an inspiration to me after being immersed in a Christian world where leaders strive to put their best face forward and appear “larger than life” to the masses instead of walking in the light of Christ with the saints of God.

Yes, our suffering starts at birth and it continues throughout our lifetime. I was born with a collapsed lung and isolated from human touch for the first two weeks of my life in an oxygen tent at the hospital. Then I did not see or hear my father for most of the following year while he was shipped off to fight the war that was still raging in Europe. Maybe this set in motion this deep longing in my heart to have a truly close and open relationship with another human who can reciprocate on the same level in heart to heart fellowship with me. Because of this, life has been rather disappointing for the most part because most (not all) people freak out and run when they sense that being close to me demands that they open up and reveal what is in their heart of hearts and communicate with me in total transparency.

A casual reading of the Bible reveals that God didn’t show only the best parts of His people whose lives are spread across its pages. Even in the blood line of Christ He reveals murderers, thieves, idolaters, liars, and even harlots. It is obvious that God is more interested in honest transparency than He is in making a good impression because He wants truth in our inward parts. John wrote,

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1John 1:5-7, ESV2011)

The spiritual reality of this longing in me to live in transparent heart to heart relationships is exactly what God has always wanted as well. Man started out this way in his walk with God, but soon interrupted this journey by hiding and covering himself up from God and his fellow man because of sin. Religion, I have found, has a giant wardrobe of fig leaf garments that we use to cover our spiritual nakedness even though God created us naked and unashamed while we walked with Him in that primeval, perfect garden where there was no toil for food or clothing and no death, pain or fear. In short, there were no distractions in their totally loving relationship that was always in perfect peace, transparency and light. Trusting God was so easy for Adam in the beginning until he fell for the lies of Satan and hid from Him. In Isaiah we read,

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Isa 26:3, ESV2011)

Susanne wrote about another result of the fall of man, “…we suffer from diseases we would not have chosen if we had been asked before.” Now we are getting down to where I find myself lately. I have had good health, for the most part, all of my life. At least I had nothing that altered my plans for any length of time. I, like many, have always identified with the exuberant and self-willed disciple named Peter. He was a robust outdoors-man and commercial fisherman by trade. The following words of Jesus to Peter have spoken to me in a much deeper way recently.

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, When you were young, you dressed yourself, and walked where you would: but when you shall be old, you shall stretch forth your hands, and another shall dress you, and carry you where you would not.” This spoke he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he said unto him, “Follow me.” (John 21:18-19, KJ2000)

There is so much for me to take to heart here! I have always been the “go to guy” who could just about do anything if I put my mind to it. That served me well in the kingdoms of this world. I often was called on by my employers to do what the other employees could not. The problem with this is that in the kingdom of God, “the flesh profits nothing!” My greatest strength in the world is my greatest weakness in God’s kingdom.

I will soon turn 72 and, for the most part, it has been 72 years of dressing myself (spiritually and physically) and walking where I wanted to go–until recently. It seems that my back is the weakest point in my body in my old age. When your back is in pain and aggravated by any activity, it is soon “ALL STOP!” I have a collapsed vertebra in the middle of my back that radiates pain through my whole torso and causes muscle spasms that lock me up from doing much of anything. Lately I’m to the point where I “stretch forth my hands” and my wife helps me get dressed and undressed. Since the doctors have put me on notice to not lift anything heavier than five pounds, she has to do things that I was able to do easily all my life. She even is doing the driving, taking me to places I do not want to go, to doctors’ offices and the hospital so they can figure out what went wrong with my old body.

Yesterday I got x-rayed and then spent 40 minutes on my back being perfectly still in a noisy tube called an MRI. After all that, they decided that I have a compression fracture of my T8 vertebra, confirming the diagnosis of a chiropractor I finally saw in desperation after many prescriptions of men dealing with the symptoms. There was evidence that the same thing already happened to my T5 vertebra earlier this summer. That had the same disabling effect, but eventually healed with me bent over a bit more than before. Now with a second collapsed vertebra I have a “second witness” that God wants me to yield my “can do” self-will to Him. He has a lot more vertebra to call on until I get the message! 🙂

The above passage of Jesus speaking to Peter has a curious ending, “This spoke He (Jesus), signifying by what death he (Peter) should glorify God… Follow me!” Death, oh that dreaded fact of life called death! It seems if we are to truly follow Jesus it has to happen. Jesus said, “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25, NIV). As natural men we love our lives and are very short sighted when it comes to living in God’s eternity with Christ. We like our own here and now better. We love to stretch out our hands and go forth and live our lives as we wish. We even try to make a bargain with God to maintain our control and promise to live “for Him” if we can just be a somebody in Christendom. What a con game! No, the only way we can glorify God is through a complete death to all our wants, hopes and desires and lie on that heavenly altar as a trussed-up living sacrifice unto Him. Someone said, “When we work, God stops working. When we stop working, God starts.” What a hard lesson to learn and live.

I would like to close this with a more positive observation from Oswald Chambers,

 The New Testament teaching about regeneration is that when a person is hit by his own sense of need, God will put the Holy Spirit into his spirit, and his personal spirit will be energized by the Spirit of the Son of God— “…until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19)  (2)

So, dear Father, once again I lay it all down before you. I give up my “best laid plans of mice and men” and surrender my all to you, knowing that apart from your Son I can do nothing. Do what it takes that I might glorify you with the death of my old Adam within so that Christ’s life might abound in me. Amen.

(1) https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/2016/10/04/knowing-the-lord-through-the-fellowship-of-his-sufferings/

(2) http://utmost.org/  “My Utmost for His Highest” for October 6th

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/

Being Faithful to Our Call

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Camas Prairie Sunset – taken by Michael Clark

 

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: And.. I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee…” (Gen 12:1-3, KJV)

The call of God contains both grace and truth. Truth is the separating instrument. “Get thee out.” Grace is the promise. “I will bless and make a blessing.” Man often grasps at the grace, the “I will bless” of God, and fails to comply with the demand thereof – “Get thee out.” Now this does not only apply in the matter of our salvation in its first steps, but it comes in new revelations and calls at different times in the Christian life. ~ T. Austin-Sparks [1]

The call of God on our lives demands change. When He calls us, he calls us out. First there is the initial call to come out from the world system and its ways among its people. When His Spirit comes into us, we quickly find that we no longer want to do the things that we once allowed. We no longer enjoy the things we once found entertaining or laughed at things we once thought were funny. We have changed, not because we have rigidly adopted a new set of religious laws to keep, but because we have found ourselves immersed in His love for us, God’s ways are what we long for.

Many of us at this point, like Abram, leave our country (our nationalism) and its ways and our worldly families (and their desires) behind as we seek that kingdom which has foundations whose Builder and Maker is God, the kingdom of heaven. But also like Abram’s father, Terah, we often settle for a habitation that falls short of what God has in mind for us–a land called Christendom. As Abram did, we head out with Terah, our old man (our old human nature), and find a place where it will be appeased as we try to please God. We get sucked into the religious ways of man which are less demanding than the ways of God. Just how long we abide in the ways of Christendom varies. Many of us go from one religious camp to another seeking the truth of our original call, but always something is just not quite right, so we move on, hoping the next church or fellowship will be the right one. Even when Abraham entered Canaan he looked for the city of God, but never found it because he was a pilgrim and sojourner in a strange land.

Therefore sprang there even of one [Abraham], and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable. These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city. (Heb 11:12-16, KJV)

For us who refuse to settle for a worldly counterfeit, the call from God will continue to be “get thee out,” and “keep seeking my face.” We would like to find a place and a family here on earth we could settle down and be in a comfortable fellowship with, but He puts a desire in us to find a heavenly abode with a heavenly people and not settle for anything less.

Many of us want to be blessed by God and be a blessing to those around us, but the promise was clear–we must first get out of our former comfort zones. We must leave those who have settled there and seek not only God’s grace, but God’s truth in our lives as well. In John’s gospel we read:

For from his [Christ’s] fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:15-17, ESV2011)

Grace upon grace, yes, we all want the grace of God to abound in our lives and to not live under the law, but both grace and Truth came through Jesus Christ. God desires not only to bless us, but He also wants us to live lives true to Him. He desires truth to dwell in our inward parts (Psalm 51:6) — in our hearts. Both grace and Truth are ours only as we live our lives in Christ and not in our own fleshly ways or the fleshly desires of those who want to pull us down to their level. T.A. Sparks continues:

The call of God to some fuller and higher acceptance of truth and ministry; of testimony and witness; of surrender and experience, will undoubtedly come by one or another of the Divine forms of visitation to such as the Lord wishes to lead in grace. This will be timed, definite, and challenging. A messenger may come as out from nowhere; the nowhere of [no] reputation, recognition, worldly fame or honour. He will deliver a message, only staying long enough to leave its essential implications with those who hear. Then, having passed on, things can never be the same for them again.

The “call” has sounded. The crisis has been precipitated. The issue is between the life which has been with its limitations known or unrecognised, and that which God offers. But, as usually is the case, this truth is going to call for a “getting out.” Getting out, it may be, [out] of a certain popularity, a comparative easy going. There may be a risking of reputation, a loss of prestige, a disfavour among men, a being labelled “singular,” “peculiar,” “extreme,” “unsafe.” It may mean a head-on impact of all the prejudice, tradition, and disfavour of the religious world. It may involve exclusion, ostracism, and suspicion. These are the accompaniments of all calls of God to advance with Him beyond accepted standards. This is the cost of path-finding for souls. This is the price to be paid for the higher serviceableness to God and men…

“These shall war against the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them, for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings; and they also shall overcome that are with him, called and chosen and faithful.” (Revelation 17:14)

Oh, beloved of God, let us go all the way and whatever it may involve – it will never be in advance of the apostolic suffering – aspire to be of “the called, chosen, and faithful.”  [1]

[1] http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/002783.html

~ A Special thanks to Susanne Schuberth for bringing this article by T.A. Sparks to my attention ~

 

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

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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)

 

Pressed Beyond Measure Into Christ

By Michael Clark and Susanne  Schuberth

Pressed Into ChristFor we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence [Grk, apokrima – an answer] of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead: (2Cor 1:8-9, KJ2000)

Susanne Schuberth recently took this picture on one of her prayer walks and sent it to me (Michael) and I cropped it to fit.

I (Susanne) thought about the biblical meaning of the number four. These four arrows represent the world system that puts those under pressure who eagerly want to follow the Lord. The two people with arrows coming at them from all directions seems to portray what we have been going through for some time with many attacks from the enemy causing afflictions in our bodies and our hearts. This sign depicts what it is like when two walk together in the unity of the Spirit and how the adversary presses in on them from every side. As we looked at the picture of the sign we noticed that these two are not alone, there is a third Person behind them as if He is looking over them with His arms around them. We are being pressed in from every side, but the enemy is actually pressing us into Christ! In the above verse Paul actually said, “we have the answer of death.” Death of our old self-natures is the answer to our prayers that we be conformed into the image of God’s Son.

As I (Michael) thought about what this sign depicts, many scriptures came flooding into my mind. Here are a few of them.

 And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. (Isa 30:20-21, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

When we experience adversity and are afflicted with bodily pains, our adversary does all he can to get our eyes off Christ who has not left us, and onto our pains and attacks. But in all this we have the promise that our Teacher, the Holy Spirit, will continue to teach us in and through all these things. He teaches us and fine-tunes us to hear His gentle whisper and follow His leading in the most adverse circumstances.

 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Ps 23:5-6, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

Even after we have passed through the valley of the shadow of death, we are not free of our enemies. Rather, God prepares us a banquet table of spiritual food in the midst of them and their attacks. It is here that we experience the anointing of the Holy Spirit on us and the goodness and mercy of the Lord in spite of what our enemy attempts to do. We start to dwell in the house of the Lord and His covering in all situations.

 Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. (Isa 59:15-16, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

Yes, it seems like a very lonely walk in which we are made a prey of our enemy. As the sign shows, he comes at us from all sides in his attempt to overthrow our faith. We can’t expect any help from men and the world around us. The Lord alone will uphold us and vindicate us because He is with us.

Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind! In the cover of your presence you hide them from the plots of men; you store them in your shelter from the strife of tongues. (Ps 31:19-20, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

Even in the midst of verbal attacks by others, we find that we can take shelter in Christ in heaven and He foils the evil plots against us. It is here that we discover the abundance of our Father’s goodness towards us.

 Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. — Selah God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness! (Ps 57:1-3, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

Yes, we can take refuge in the shadow of His wings! As Jesus said, “How often I would have gathered you together unto me as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” God lets adversity come upon us so that we will cry out to Him and fulfill His purposes in us. He shows His great love and faithfulness to us through it all.

 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all. (Ps 34:19, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

Jesus said:

 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome (Grk. Nikao – to conquer) the world.” (John 16:33, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

Have you ever wondered how the fact that Jesus has overcome the world is supposed to make us take heart in tribulation? We sure have. Just yesterday I (Susanne) was mulling over the frustration I have had with that verse above which tells us that Jesus had overcome the world. How disappointing for us miserable human beings to have to live in this world until we die and to not be able to overcome the world just as Jesus did! But wait a moment… Thinking about ‘death’… Jesus was still alive on this earth and told us that he had overcome the world already. How so? Because He was IN the Father where there is no death any longer. IN God and IN Christ there is only LIFE, and PEACE, and LOVE, and JOY etc., even in tribulation and suffering (Rom 5:3 ESV). If Jesus conquered the kosmos, the “world” system that is under the rule of Satan, why then are we still under his attacks? The key is found in the following verse where Paul wrote:

 Now thanks be unto God, who always causes us to triumph in Christ, and makes manifest the fragrance of his knowledge by us in every place. (2Cor 2:14, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors (Grk. HuperNikao – to totally conquer or totally overcome) through him who loved us. (Rom 8:35-37, ESV2011 – emphasis added).

We are more than overcomers in Christ because that is where our Father places us as His sons and daughters. As soon as we have died to our old Adam natures, this will become obvious. So it is truly a new life after ‘death,’ although we are still in this world when this happens by God’s grace. In Romans we read, “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom 5:2, ESV2011). We stand in Christ. We also stand in faith because we stand in His grace. Here and there is no room for doubt. The enemy always gets us to sell short what is ours in Christ by getting us to doubt. T. Austin-Sparks wrote:

To prevent assurance of faith is the devil’s own work, it is his aim to get the Lord’s people unsettled; and doubt is one of his most subtle means of working. It was so in the beginning, “hath God said?” (Gen. 3:1), and it is still his method. The way, and the only way, to frustrate this is by being established in the faith (Acts 16:5; Col. 2:7). “Stand fast in the faith” (1 Cor. 16)…

The great need of God’s people is to be established in the faith, not just established in doctrine, in an orthodox gospel, or by acquiring knowledge of fundamental truth, but established by an inward knowledge of our standing in the Lord Jesus on the ground of His finished work and complete triumph over the devil and all his works. So many of the Lord’s children lack this assurance of their position in the Lord; yet it is written: “God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world… in love having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto Himself.” (Eph. 1:4,5)…

Stand on God’s facts and not on the quicksands of your own feelings. Some are doubting simply because of feelings! Salvation is not a matter of feeling, it is God’s fact – “It is written” – God hath said. The word of God is “no condemnation“. “There is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus.” – Rom. 8:1. We are perfect in Christ the day we are born anew, that is as to our standing, we have good reason to be sorry for our state; but the word is “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” – 2 Peter 3:18. “My little children of whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you” – Gal. 4:19 A.R.V. Yes it is to be a day by day growing in grace…

Here we are passing through trial, adversity, sorrow, suffering, and we are tempted to think the Lord has given us up; the enemy presses in on every side with accusation, condemnation, question, doubts, fears. “Be ye steadfast, unmovable,” for beloved, this is the establishing principle at work, our faith is being exercised. We know anguish, travail. Remember the establishing work is done while our eyes are unto Him; when things are against us, seeking to press us down, then we look off unto Jesus now in the presence of God for us, having all authority in heaven and on earth, and a NAME that is above every other name, a title of Sovereignty above every other title of sovereignty…

This is the ONE unto whom our eyes are. Faith is thus exercised and enables us in the very midst of pressure and contradictory circumstances to rise upward and stand in Christ Jesus in the position He has given us, “seated together with Him in the heavenlies.” “Ye are made full in Him in Whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead in bodily form.” – Col. 2:9.

So through trial, the establishing work is done; it is the manifestation of His Victory over all the power and pressure of the enemy, “God who giveth us The Victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Cor. 15:57. Yes, it is HIS victory, a life that has conquered death – 1 Cor. 15:54. ~ http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/002923.html

Wow! Did you get that? God has chosen us in Christ from before the foundation of the world. In His love, He foreordained us in our adoption as His sons and daughters into Himself (the Greek is clear that we are chosen in Christ and that as we have believed into Him and it is here that we have all the grace and love and faith we need – see 1 Cor. 3:22-23). It is all a matter of the faith of Christ working in us. The enemy does all he can to get us to doubt and live as if we are subject to this world instead of seeing that we abide in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, which is our inheritance now in Him. We are overcomers because we are in Him who has overcome the world. Everything that the enemy does to us only presses us further into our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God: therefore the world knows us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the children of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (1John 3:1-2, KJ2000)

Have You Ever Felt Hung Out to Dry?

But who will survive the day when he comes? Or who can stand when he appears? For he’s like a refiner’s fire and a launderer’s soap. He will sit refining and purifying silver, purifying the descendants of Levi, refining them like gold and silver. Then they’ll bring a righteous offering to the Lord. (Mal 3:2-3, ISV)

Yes, who shall survive the day of His coming? How many of you have been going through times of deep trials and even spiritual dryness, when  all of a sudden the night is over and the morning sun arises in your hearts?  It seems that in the ongoing process of God’s purification of our hearts, He takes us through dark nights, but eventually there is a glorious sunrise. We want the sunshine to last with no more periods of darkness and trials, yet another night comes all too soon! Will this process ever end? You start to feel like you are in the hands of a launderer who is scrubbing you up and down on a washboard with lye soap!

I was looking at Psalm 30 and noticed the ups and downs that David spoke of in his own walk.

“Sing unto the LORD, O you saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness [up]. For his anger endures but for a moment [down]; in his favor is life [up]: weeping may endure for a night [down], but joy comes in the morning. And in my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved. LORD, by your favor you have made my mountain to stand strong [up]: you did hide your face, and I was troubled [down].” (Ps 30:4-7, KJ2000)

Does this look familiar? He blesses us and we rejoice and praise His name and are feeling pretty good about our place in His kingdom. Then we feel His displeasure and we are troubled and sad and another trial begins. We know His favor to be our life. We weep again and are sad for a season as He goes deeper into our souls, but when we see the reason for our suffering, we once again take courage that God’s hand is in it for our good. We eventually start to feel like we have arrived and are prosperous in the Spirit and say, “Finally, I shall never be moved! The Lord has made me to stand like a strong mountain in His presence!” Then He hides his face from our exalted pride and we are once again brought low. Poor David was going through this same process that has become so familiar to many of us as we seek to be made whole IN Christ.

John of the Cross wrote about this very process in his book, The Dark Night of the Soul.

…the soul that desires to consider it will be able to see how on this road… it has to suffer many ups and downs, and how the prosperity which it enjoys is followed immediately by certain storms and trials; so much so, that it appears to have been given that period of calm in order that it might be forewarned and strengthened against the poverty which has followed; just as after misery and torment there come abundance and calm… This is the ordinary course and proceeding of the state of contemplation until the soul arrives at the state of quietness; it never remains in the same state for long together, but is ascending and descending continually.

The reason for this is that, as the state of perfection, which consists in the perfect love of God and contempt for self, cannot exist unless it have these two parts, which are the knowledge of God and of oneself, the soul has of necessity to be practised first in the one and then in the other, now being given to taste of the one—that is, exaltation—and now being made to experience the other—that is, humiliation…*

David finally ends his observation by saying this:

Hear, O LORD, and have mercy upon me: LORD, be my helper. You have turned for me my mourning into dancing: you have put off my sackcloth, and [you have] girded me with gladness; To the end that my glory may sing praise to you, and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks unto you forever. (Ps 30:10-12, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

In these last two verses David, is no longer strong in himself. He pleads to God for mercy and to be His help. There is no mention of never being moved, of prosperity, or of being strong like a mountain; now he is weak and pleads for God to be his strength. It is God who turns his mourning into dancing. It is God who girds him with gladness that he might sing His praises and give Him thanks forever. There is a subtle difference between verses 4-7 and verses 10-12, but that difference is true brokenness and humility. Jesus said this to Nathanial:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter you shall see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. (John 1:51, KJ2000)

Jesus was referring to Himself as the ladder that Jacob saw in his dream. John of the Cross wrote that this process of exaltation and humiliation continues

…until it has acquired perfect habits; and then this ascending and descending will cease, since the soul will have attained to God and become united with Him, which comes to pass at the summit of this ladder, for the ladder [Christ] rests and leans upon Him… All this, says Divine Scripture, took place by night, when Jacob slept, in order to express how secret is this road and ascent to God [and few be they who find it], and how different from that of man’s knowledge. This is very evident, since ordinarily that which is of the greatest profit in it—namely, to be ever losing oneself and becoming as nothing—is considered the worst thing possible; and that which is of least worth, which is for a soul to find consolation and sweetness (wherein it ordinarily loses rather than gains), is considered best. *

I am reminded of Ezekiel chapter 37 when God sets the prophet in the middle of a valley littered with dry human bones and asked the prophet if the bones could live again.

And he said unto me, “Son of man, can these bones live”? And I answered, “O Lord GOD, [only] you know.” (Ezek 37:3, KJ2000)

When He has made our bones not just dry to outward appearances, but very dry so that even the marrow inside the bones of our souls is dried up. Then there is progress (remember, “the life is in the blood” and the blood is made in the marrow. Our natural soulish life is what He is drying up in us). Finally after many trials, we are done trying to out-guess Him and find a way out of our miseries. We even quit hoping that things will change under His mighty hand.  We resign ourselves to the will of God alone with no reservations saying, “Oh Lord God, only YOU know. Your will be done with me according to YOUR good pleasure.” This is when we enter into the glory of the Father and the Son, immersed in their love. That glory sings praises to them forevermore.  Finally, John of the Cross describes God’s goal in putting us through this process.

…we shall observe that the principal characteristic of [this] contemplation, on account of which it is here called a ladder, is that it is the science of love. This, as we have said, is an infused and loving knowledge of God, which enlightens the soul and at the same time enkindles it with love, until it is raised up step by step, even unto God its Creator. For it is love alone that unites and joins the soul with God. *

The Apostle John wrote:

And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love; and he that dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him. In this is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has to do with punishment. He that fears is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us. (1John 4:16-19, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

*http://www.ccel.org/ccel/john_cross/dark_night.viii.xviii.html?highlight=secret%20wisdom#highlight

(A special thanks to Susanne Schuberth for finding this writing in “The Dark Night of the Soul” for me. She and I have been going through this process for years, and are starting to see our Father’s purpose it all. Though the heart pains during the downward cycle can really be painful, the glorious joy afterwards is heavenly.)