Intimacy, Love and the Glory of God

bride-for-christ-revelation-21-2

Only God’s Light knows us, even in the hidden corners of our hearts. He loves us anyway because He knows our end from the beginning and the power of the cross of Christ to get us there. He loves us unconditionally and once in a while we run into a dear saint in whom this unselfish love abides. What a joy it is to have His fellowship while walking in the Light with another human, yet so rare indeed. God must do a deep killing work in the self, that old nature of Adam in us, for two people to walk in the LIGHT of Christ in His unity and love together.

Just before going to the cross Jesus prayed:

And the glory which you gave me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and you in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that you have sent me, and have loved them, as you have loved me. Father, I will that they also, whom you have given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which you have given me: for you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world has not known you: but I have known you, and these have known that you have sent me. And I have declared unto them your name, and will declare it: that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17:22-26, KJ2000)

Here He ties together unity, Godly perfection, love, and the glory that He has invited us to share with the Father and the Son. When we are in unity, the glory of God is in us. God is love, and when His love shines out from our hearts, His glory is there as well. This is the unconditional love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things,” for one another. It is also the witness to the world that Christ is in us and that we are IN HIM. His glory radiates from those who walk in His perfect love. T. Austin-Sparks wrote,

You have only to look at a concordance and you will find that you have on hand hundreds, more than four hundred occasions in the Bible for the use of this word ‘glory’. And yet, there is a definition that will fit in to every instance. What I mean is this: when glory is mentioned, you ask the question: ‘Well, what does that mean? What does glory mean?’ Then if you define glory, you will see how the definition or the word truly understood just fits into every situation. The definition which we have given before, according (I think) to what the Scripture makes perfectly clear, is that glory is God’s nature… Glory, therefore, is the Divine nature in expression. If you have Divine love in perfection, you have glory. If there is a state of love, Divine love, among the Lord’s people, then it’s glory. Not necessarily something like a blaze of light which you see, but which you sense. You sense it. (1)

Many people have more Bible knowledge than “heart knowledge,” that is, the truth that they have read in the Bible has not yet done its work in their hearts and become intimate in a life-changing way. This head knowledge is all the Pharisees had, so they had no love, only cold legalism in their hearts. They walked in spiritual darkness. When Jesus healed a man who was blind from birth, they could only judge Jesus as a wrong doer and argue with the man about his healing. To these blind guides Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” (John 9:39, ESV2011)

Head knowledge without an accompanying heart change blinds us and makes us think that we have already arrived when we have not yet set out on our heavenly journey! God has to bring a huge crisis into the lives of these people to destroy the fortress of knowledge they have erected around their hearts so that they finally can repent and receive spiritual sight. Imagine what a crisis it was for the Jews after they killed their Messiah. God let the Roman army come in and destroy their precious Temple, kill the priests and scatter their Old Covenant nation! Jesus had warned them that it would happen.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Luke 13:34-35, ESV2011)

And the blind guides insist on calling this “The Holy City of God”?

Christian Suffering and Glory

At the last supper, immediately after Judas went out to betray Jesus to the religious leaders of the Jews, Jesus said:

“Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ (John 13:31-33, ESV2011)

There is a direct connection between suffering in the will of our Father and our glorification. The trial of our faith in Christ is precious in the eyes of God. Peter wrote,

[You] Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In which you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you are in heaviness through manifold trials: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: (1Pet 1:4-7, KJ2000)

God uses our temptations and trials to purge us of the fleshly grip our souls have on our lives so that His Spirit may lead us. When it comes to suffering, many Christians have been told that if they give their lives to Jesus and tithe regularly, He will make them happy, successful in this world and prosperous the rest of their lives. This is lie from hell and a false gospel that is designed to keep us spiritually stinted and immature.  Jesus said:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” (Matt 10:34-36, ESV2011)

“For where your wealth is, there will your heart be. The light of the body is the eye; if then your eye is true, all your body will be full of light. But if your eye is evil, all your body will be dark. If then the light which is in you is dark, how dark it will be! No man is able to be a servant to two masters: for he will have hate for the one and love for the other, or he will keep to one and have no respect for the other. You may not be servants of God and of wealth.” (Matt 6:21-24, BBE)

When we come to Christ the two edged sword (see Hebrews 4:12-13), THE Word of God, sets out to divide our soul from our spirit. This allows the Spirit of God in our spirits to have the preeminence over our souls (our intellects, wills and emotions) that have always ruled in our lives. Sorry, but this does not happen “insto-chango,” just because we have said “a sinner’s prayer.” Jesus learned obedience to the Father through the things that He suffered, and so must we. God does not do a Tinkerbell thing with His magic wand and all of a sudden we are super Christians and ready to rock the spirit world. No! He also has to separate bone from marrow in us. Our bones are our support system and the marrow in those bones is where the blood is made and “the life is in the blood.” Our natural support system and our natural life source (our blood) is not compatible for living in the Kingdom of God. Jesus has to wield a spiritual sword in us to bring an end to our natural strength and life. We need His strength in our weakness and His life’s blood flowing in us. Consider His words:

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. (John 6:53-57, ESV2011)

After Jesus said this, the crowd that wanted to make Him king because He fed them a few minutes earlier, all turned away from Him. It was a hard saying that they could not receive and only the twelve remained. Jesus asked them if they would leave also. To this, Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69, ESV2011). It is the business of God to separate the “loaves and fishes Christians” from the true followers of Christ by suffering, rejection and persecution.

The Holy Spirit must speak into our hearts the very words of Jesus. THIS is our life source. Jesus said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.‘” In Hebrews we read a warning about this very thing, “Today if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts…” Do we get our daily bread and spiritual life from listening to every word that proceeds from the mouth of God? The lack of this intimate relationship with our Father and the Spirit is why so many Christians are spiritually emaciated today.

All these verses I have been sharing speak of God’s desire to have an intimate relationship with us that is not entangled by the things of this world. We must live by the Living Word of God in us. The life of the old Adam (the flesh) in us is in agreement with Satan and it competes with the Life of Christ, the Father’s ever present Word. We must take up our flesh-killing crosses daily and follow the voice of the Spirit if we are to be Jesus’ disciples.

I have been writing about the separation of soul and spirit so that the Spirit of God may be preeminent within us. We are made of three parts; spirit, soul and body. The body is made subject to the will of our souls. If our souls are subject to the will of the Spirit in our spirits, they will do the will of God and our bodies will also be holy in the eyes of God.

Paul wrote:

“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” (1Thess 5:23-24, ESV2011).

We need to understand that our bodies are supposed to be the temple of God (see 2 Cor. 6:16-18) and they are not evil in themselves. They are only evil when Satan uses them for his purposes. God wants to sanctify us completely that our whole spirit, soul and body may be pure and belong to Jesus as His bride. Eventually “this corruption (our natural bodies) will put on incorruption (our heavenly bodies), but in the mean time God wants us to be like His Son, spiritual beings motivated by the Holy Spirit in all things.

There is a mystery in these words, “Behold, I stand at the door (Greek, thura – portal or opening), and knock: if any man [any person] hears my voice, and opens the door (thura), I will come in to him, and will eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev 3:20, KJ2000). This is so much more than a verse to be used for an “altar call.” To sup with Jesus, we must eat His flesh, drink His blood and He must come into us. All these things speak of a wonderful intimacy that Jesus and the Father want to have with us as the very bride of Christ. Paul wrote about this mystery in intimate terms.

For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. (Eph 5:30-32, KJ2000)

True Christianity is not a religion; it is an intimate Husband (Jesus Christ) and wife (the bride of Christ) relationship that is constantly motivated to draw ever closer in His unity and love to the Father and the Son and one another.

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/004310.html

Advertisements

God’s Wonderful Expanding and Abounding Love

god-is-love

Sunset over Mica Peak – Photo taken by Michael Clark

I think that it is safe to say that real Christian maturity is measured by the amount that God is present in a life-changing way within us. Paul wrote about this growth as “the increase of God.”

“Holding fast the Head from whom all the body being supplied… increases with the increase of God.” – Col. 2:19.

If God is love as John wrote in His letter, then it stands to reason that with an increase of God’s presence within us there would be an increase of His love as well! Paul wrote about this very thing.

“And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1Thess 3:12-13, ESV2011)

When God and Jesus come down and abide in us we feel their love in our hearts often so greatly that it overflows outward to others, breaking down all barriers that once were in us against others. Paul felt his heart ever expanding with the love of God and from that love he wrote to the Corinthian church about their lack of love for him and one another. They had many spiritual gifts which they held over one another as if they were personal trophies and even divided from one another in a party spirit claiming to be followers of either Peter, Apollos and or Paul. He rebuked them for their carnality because it was an affront to the love of God and the gospel of Christ.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians about his love for them and their lack:

Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians [we are hiding nothing, keeping nothing back], and our heart is expanded wide (KJV- enlarged) [for you]! There is no lack of room for you in [our hearts], but you lack room in your own affections (Greek – splagchnon – bowels). By way of return then, do this for me–I speak as to children–open wide your hearts also [to us]. (2Cor 6:11-13, AMP)

As we read in 1 Corinthians chapter thirteen, they lacked the greatest spiritual attribute–they lacked the love of God. For many years after I became a Christian I followed the example of other Christians around me. Just as children follow the example of their parents, I followed those in church authority who were over me. My father had an expression, “Do as I say and not as I do.” Of course I did what he did instead. He smoked and drank and as soon as I joined the navy, I smoked and drank. Like the Christian leaders I admired, I pursued spiritual gifts, wisdom, Bible knowledge, ascending above my fellow believers, worldly power and notoriety — all to the stifling of my real spiritual growth — growing in the love of God.

In the above verse Paul spoke of his expanding heart as it opened wide with the love of God for the Corinthians. I also have been feeling this enlarging Paul wrote about in my own heart. I have felt the Source of that love within me growing even stronger in the last few weeks. For the last four or five years, God has had me focus on the unity of the Father and the Son and their desire for us to be ONE in them just as they are one. With this came a deep desire to know this strong unity with my fellow believers in Christ (See John 17:21-26). But as I went through these verses and meditated on them, the Spirit took me beyond the theme of spiritual unity into the reality of the love of the Father and the Son and how they love us and desire that same love to be in us. John ended that chapter quoting Jesus:

And I have declared unto them your name, and will declare it: that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17:26, KJ2000)

Often when we read this verse we get hung-up on wondering what the name of God is which He declared unto them. The Greek word for “name” here is onoma which means “authority and character.” Jesus is not speaking of God’s moniker, but the very character of the Father that He lived out before them as His perfect Son. It is the rest of the verse that has caught my attention, “that the love with which you have loved me may be in them and I in them”! This is the goal of the gospel, dear saints, that we might not only be one with the Father and the Son, but dwell in their unity together and become instruments of their great love for one another. John wrote to the saints of God:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1John 4:7-8, ESV2011)

Paul felt his heart enlarging for the Corinthian believers, but they were closed off and did not reciprocate in love to him. What a heart pain it is when those whom we love don’t love us with the same open and enlarged hearts as we have for them.

The love of God is a very powerful thing. It is the greatest positive force on earth because it can change people into sons and daughters of God and even win over our enemies. Paul spoke of this love being in his heart, but also of it being in his “bowels.” This word in the Greek splagchnon, includes our whole torso and abdomen. I started feeling love’s overflow coming from my expanding heart and going further down in my body and rising up into face as well. There was a tingling from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet! Paul wrote about this filling as Christ totally fills us up with His presence:

May Christ through your faith [actually] dwell (settle down, abide, make His permanent home) in your hearts! May you be rooted deep in love and founded securely on love, That you may have the power and be strong to apprehend and grasp with all the saints [God’s devoted people, the experience of that love] what is the breadth and length and height and depth [of it]; [That you may really come] to know [practically,  through experience for yourselves] the love of Christ, which far surpasses mere knowledge [without experience]; that you may be filled [through all your being] unto all the fullness of God [may have the richest measure of the divine Presence, and become a body wholly filled and flooded with God Himself]! (Eph 3:17-19, AMP)

Being totally filled with God and His love is a wonderful, all consuming experience that touches us in ways that cannot be easily spoken of with those who have not had it. Once our hearts have been enlarged by Him, the love of God can become all consuming because God totally fills us up with His presence. Austin-Sparks wrote,

What the Lord needs is an open pure spirit towards HIMSELF, and love toward ALL saints, the Lord will bring into His greater fulness where there is a genuine love one to the other – IN HIM. The sure way of being locked up and limited is to have a closed heart to any of the Lord’s children. LOVE is the way to spiritual increase. The Ephesian letter in which there is the fullest unveiling of heavenly truth in the deepest teaching concerning the Church, the Body of Christ, there is from start to finish the golden thread of LOVE running all through, this is significant when you consider what the letter contains.

(…)

The measure of our spiritual life is no greater than our heart; the knowledge that is in the head is not the measure of spirituality, the way for your release, emancipation, increase, abundance is the way of the heart. Spirituality is not mental agreement on things stated in the Word, it is the melting [welding] of one heart to another – to all saints. The devil has locked up a number of the Lord’s children as in a padded room of their own limitations; frozen their love by something between them and other children of God. The way out is by increase of love; and we shall remain locked, up until we are there!

“Speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into HIM, who is the Head, even Christ; from whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love.” – (Eph. 4:15-16, A.R.V.)  (1)

Can you see here that the expanding of His love in our hearts also makes for the expanding of the body of Christ who share this love? This is true spiritual growth. This is also the growth of the church. The early church overflowed with the love of God and thousands were touched by their mutual love and were added to their numbers. The most effective evangelism happens through a body of believers who are in love with Christ, the Father and with one another. In “the information age” words are cheap and the world is full of them, but as the love of our Father changes us and overflows from our hearts to all who are around us, THAT not mere words will change the world.

The Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another. – 1 Thess. 3:12.

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, (1Thess 4:9-10, ESV2011)

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/002964.html

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

 

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.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus went on to pray:

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

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

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

* https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/

“Male and Female Made He Them”… the Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Personified

By Michael Clark and Susanne Schuberth

woman-at-the-wellSusanne wrote in an earlier blog,

“I was just pondering on the fact why we as human beings are not always the same. I mean, there are people with whom we dare to be more open than with others. People of whom we know that they love us and that they will forgive us whatever we might say or do. But there are other people we do not know that intimately and therefore we are a still bit cautious of how to deal with them.” (https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/2014/12/08/be-who-you-are-since-there-is-no-other-you/)

There is something that the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well felt about Jesus that made her dare to be totally open with Him. When we hear the story about her preached, many like to say that Jesus confronted her with her sins. Susanne and I hold that this was not the case, but rather she was confronted with how much Jesus loved and respected her in spite of knowing what her past history was. She was shocked that He was even talking with her and asked her for a drink, knowing that Jews did not have anything to do with Samaritans, much less a Jewish man with a Samaritan woman! She was the dog of dogs in the mind of an orthodox Jewish Rabbi.

Yet, Jesus personally shared the gospel with her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10 RSVA). Jesus told her that He was the Gift of God and that as such He could give her the water of life that flows freely. “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14 RSVA). What is amazing is that she did not for one moment doubt His offer that He could give her living water and eternal life! She responded, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” (John 4:15 RSVA). She wanted all that He had for her because she realized that she had met the lover of her soul, the first man in her life who was not interested in what she had to offer him, but who wanted to give her what she really needed. We know that this man was God, too. A human being can never fill the void in our hearts which were created by God to only be filled with His Spirit. His love is the only love that can make us whole again.

Jesus, after offering her eternal life and she wanting it, pointed out to her that she was living with a man who was not her husband. Yet, where was the condemnation? It was not there! Rather He commended her for telling the truth, “I have no husband.” This woman felt no shame or condemnation from Him, only love and respect. And what was her response to this divine encounter? She said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he. ” …So the woman left her water jar, and went away into the city, and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?’” (John 4:25-29 RSVA). Jesus had shown her in a few words the very inner thoughts and longings of her heart. Messiah had come and showed her all things including that men would no longer worship God in special buildings or in special places, but that true worship would be done by God’s Spirit within them from lives filled with and demonstrating His truth.

“Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did!” I don’t know about you, but we believe that if this woman had been shamed by what Jesus said to her, would she be telling everyone she knows that there is a man down by the well that knows every sin she ever committed? No, she would be hiding out in her house, hoping He would go away and keep silent! But she ran into her village and rejoiced for having met the Christ. THAT IS THE GOSPEL. She met LOVE personified. He showed her compassion and understood WHY she had sought love in men and had been married five times before. But He did not condemn her in the slightest, but rather told her about where to find eternal life and what real worship of our heavenly Father is all about; therefore she trusted in Him.

All too often the gospel today is presented to people in one of two extremes. On the one hand people get the idea that they have to “clean up their act” before they can come to Christ. The other extreme is that we can be a Christian without ever having to change a thing, we can just go on living in sin with impunity. Neither is true. But we finally see that the love our Father has for us is not contingent on our performance, for He makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall of both the bad and the good. We love Him because He first loves us. What follows from that love relationship is a longing to please the One who loves us so much. We are given the Spirit of God who speaks in our hearts when He wants us to change and what it is that pleases Him and it is because of our love relationship with our Father that we are empowered to change. Love is the most powerful motivator known to man and GOD IS LOVE.