These Are They Who Follow the Lamb Wherever He Goes

following-jesus-aloneAll my Christian walk I have run into church leaders and high profile people with various titles in the body of Christ who wanted me to submit to them and their teachings and giv  e them carte blanche authority over my life. “Submit! Submit!” they said. “You need to be under the covering of a pastor and listen to him.” At first this sounded like a reasonable request and I submitted to many different pastors who had many different views and agendas. One by one they either, were squeezed out by a political coup, were found to be in an adulterous relationship, exposed as an alcoholic, or were so incessant about fleecing the flock under them that they ignored the gospel of Christ and the welfare of their people in favor of the love of Mammon in their teachings. After a while I started understanding why Jesus said we would know what manner of tree we are under by its fruit, not by its title, position or lofty words. I have found that godly leadership who are actually led by the Spirit of God and obedient to the voice of Christ exist, but in America at least, they are hard to come by.
In the book of Judges there is a very revealing story that we can learn from today.

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Now there was a young man of Bethlehem in Judah, of the family of Judah, who was a Levite, and he sojourned there. And the man departed from the town of Bethlehem in Judah to sojourn where he could find a place. And as he journeyed, he came to the hill country of Ephraim to the house of Micah. And Micah said to him, “Where do you come from?” And he said to him, “I am a Levite of Bethlehem in Judah, and I am going to sojourn where I may find a place.” And Micah said to him, “Stay with me, and be to me a father and a priest, and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year and a suit of clothes and your living.” And the Levite went in. (Judges 17:6-10, ESV2011)

Does this sound familiar? It should! Every year we have thousands of young men graduating from seminary and going out to find a church that they can be pastor over, that will provide them with a living (“ten shekels and a shirt”). So, the above passage probably goes by unnoticed as many Christians read it, because this is the norm in the church today. But notice that the passage starts out with, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Answer me this: Is Jesus our King, or do we hire a man to be Lord over us who agrees with what we expect from him? If he continues to do what is right in our own eyes, we pay him to keep the status quo. If he preaches a message that steps on too many toes, down the road he goes! Do we hire a man to “do the God stuff” so we can do the world’s stuff in our daily lives and live vicariously through his spirituality on Sundays? When we shop around for a church, what do we look for? Do we look for leadership that can hear the voice of our Lord and guide us until we can hear Him and submit to Him as our King or do we look for those who tickle the ears of our flesh?
Remember Paul’s words,

Become imitators of me, according as I also am of Christ. (1Cor 11:1, CLV – emphasis added)

Paul did not say, “Submit to me and do as I say.” Or, “I am in authority here, I am the Pastor (or apostle or whatever)!” Or like one pastor said from the pulpit one Sunday, “If you can’t get behind me and my vision (agenda) for this church, then go find a pastor who’s vision you CAN get behind.” We are so used to this kind of leadership in our churches that we see it as totally acceptable, but what about Jesus? You know, that Man that died on the cross and affirmed to us that HE is building HIS Church (see Matthew 16:18)? Is He really our Lord and King? To “build the Church” it is not about buying some land and putting up a building. It is not even about gathering great numbers of people in to fill a building one day a week. No, it is about bringing people who have come out of the world by the call of the gospel and maturing them and raising them up into the fullness of Christ!

Today, church planters and church builders are a dime a dozen. But where is the pastor who will do as John did and encourage the people to listen to and obey the Holy Spirit and grow in Christ to where they no longer need human teachers (see 1 John 2:26-27)? My experience in the churches is that the leadership is more interested in their own job security than they are in seeing the saints of God to grow up so that THEY can do the works of service (ministry) in the body of Christ. Instead, men like this try and keep people in their churches as long as possible so that a “Failure to Launch” becomes the norm. True Spirit inspired leaders rejoice instead of feeling threatened when the saints grow up INTO the fullness of Christ and move on to follow their upward call wherever that might take them. Paul wrote about this kind of maturing process,

He [Jesus Christ] who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry [service], for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the [intimate] knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Eph 4:10-16, ESV2011)

We hear a lot of teaching about the importance of the so-called “five-fold ministries” in verse eleven (yanked out of its context), but do we hear the rest of this passage preached? Do we see the maturing of Christians who are no longer influenced by every wind of doctrine and cunning teachers with their humanly devised church programs and schemes? To avoid these kinds of pitfalls the saints need to be able to hear the guiding voice of the Holy Spirit for themselves.

Jesus ascended into heaven that He might fill ALL things! Christ is the head of the body, the ekklesia – the Church. He did not give these five gifts of service (apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher) to men so that they could be the heads of His body. A body with more that one head is in constant chaos and division and this is why there are over 41,000 different denominations and Christian sects today! So, why did Jesus give these five gifts? To bring us all into maturity, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge [an intimate knowing] of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Look around your congregations. Do you see anyone who has come into an intimate knowing relationship with Jesus Christ, so much so that they measure up to the stature of His fullness? If not, why not? I can tell you why, the system today in which we “go to church” is broken! We have leaders who have not come into the fullness of Christ themselves and you cannot teach and demonstrate spiritual maturity to a congregation when you do not have it yourself. As a result we have…

The Perpetual Babyhood of the Believer

We read about this spiritual babyhood in Hebrews. The apostle was quite upset with the status quo and came to a full stop in what he was wanting to teach them saying,

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Heb 5:11-14, ESV2011)

Just like today, the Hebrews to whom this letter was written, were dull of spiritual hearing and constantly needed men to teach them the most rudimentary things over and over. They were still on the breasts (sorry, there were no bottle fed babies in those days) of men! They had not been weaned and taught to feed themselves from the bounty of the Spirit. The maturing process spoken of in Ephesians chapter four had not happened and he was exhorting these believers to grow up and “go on to maturity” (see Heb. 6:1). These believers where constantly going to their teachers and saying, “Pastor, is it right or wrong if a person does …” or “What do you think I should do, Pastor?” They were not mature enough to “have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” To have this kind of discernment, your teacher must encourage you to have a hearing ear to the voice of the Holy Spirit instead of the voices of men! Of course you have to have the Holy Spirit abiding IN you, first and this is not true of many who call themselves, “Christian.”

In Christ Is ALL Wisdom and Knowledge

Finally, I would like to add this quote from our brother, T. Austin-Sparks,

You see, it is this other thing all the time that is robbing so many of the light that the Lord would give them. The Lord would lead them into the greater fullness of the knowledge of His Son, of the enlargement of their spiritual understanding, but they are neglecting the gift that is in them. They are neglecting the Holy Spirit as their illuminator and teacher and instructor and guide and arbiter, and they are going to this one and that one, to this authority and that, and saying, What do you think about it? If you think it is wrong, then I will not touch it! It is fatal to spiritual knowledge to do that. That is going on to natural ground.
Now the Lord wants us off that ground. This matter of occupying resurrection ground, of living a life in the Spirit, is all-important in coming to the full knowledge of God’s Son. How much more we could say about that! Let us be careful as to who our authorities are. So many dear children of God, individually and collectively, have come into dire and grievous bondage, limitation, and confusion by all the time going back to human authorities, to this great leader and that, to this man who was greatly used of God, this man who had a great deal of spiritual light.
”The Lord has yet more light and truth to break forth from His Word” than even this or that servant of His possessed. Do you see what I mean? We get all the benefit of the light given to godly people and seek to profit by true light, but we will never come into bondage and say, “That is the end of that matter!” That must never be. We must maintain our resurrection ground. And who can exhaust that? In other words, who can exhaust the meaning of Christ risen? He is a boundless store, the land of far distances. No man yet has ever done more than begun to know the meaning of Christ risen. If there has been one man who has that meaning more than another, I suppose it was Paul. But to the last from his prison he still cries, ”That I may know Him!” “I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I suffered the loss of all things and do count them but refuse” (Phil. 3:8). Right at the end of a life like his, he is still saying, “That I may know Him!” (1)

Father, please let this message go into the hearts of those who belong to Jesus that they might hear HIS voice and keep pressing into your kingdom as they follow Him. Amen.

These are they who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These were redeemed from among men, being the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb. (Rev 14:4, KJ2000- emphasis added)

“He that hath an ear, let him hear what, the Spirit, IS SAYING unto the assemblies.”~ Jesus Christ

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/000660.html

The Body Is Christ’s Not Man’s

one-body-in-christ

…Christ when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly regions, far above all principality, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come; and hath put all things under his feet, and hath appointed him head over all to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. (Eph 1:20-23, Haweis)

Wow! Did you get that? Jesus has been placed by the Father over all authority in this world and in the eons to come. But how many of us read this and really believe it or have minds that can comprehend the meaning of this passage? How many of us allow men to come between us and the will of Christ for our lives as He seeks to lead us by His Spirit?

God has appointed Christ to be Head over all the church. Yet we have millions of heads in the churches who claim final authority over the body of Christ! Because of this we now have 41,000 (and counting) separate Christian denominations and sects in the world today. What confusion!

Paul was careful not to take the place of Christ as the head of the body. He wrote:

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. (1Cor 7:17, ESV2011)

And Peter didn’t either.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1Pet 4:10-11, ESV2011)

All glory and dominion belongs to Jesus Christ forever, not to Paul, Peter or even Pastor Wonderful! We have each been given gifts by the Spirit to serve one another in love by His leading, not by the totalitarian leadership of some church organization.

church-bondage

This morning I got an email from a brother that was sitting in a Sunday school class where the teacher told them that they “cannot leave a church until the pastor lets them go”! If we really understood that we are members of Christ’s body and that HE is our Head, would we even give such rubbish a second thought? Yet, this twisting of scripture to make mere carnal men the absolute authorities in the lives of the saints seems to permeate the thinking of today’s Christians.

What part of body life do we not understand? Imagine your own human body that is functioning quite well as it was created. Now imagine some outside force, some Dr. Frankenstein, taking you captive, strapping you down on his operating table and grafting on another head. This new head now has power to send confusing messages to the members of your body according to its own will. THIS is what is going on in churches where a man or woman rises up and demands that you submit to their will in all things. This is not the body of Christ. You already have One Head and it is Christ! As His member in His body, you should never be part of a grotesque two headed monster. It is a cult.

When the leaders of the Jews demanded that the apostles in the early church obey them and not Christ’s Spirit they gave a firm reply,

“We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:29-32, ESV2011)

God speaks to us through Christ and His Spirit. We are members of His body and He, as our Head, directs us through the Spirit God has given to those who obey HIM! I would like to share the following by T. Austin-Sparks.

There must be the liberty of the Spirit in us in order to realize the Body and its ministry. I am coming down to practical questions. There must be absolute freedom from human organization, ecclesiastical government, man’s control AS SUCH if there is going to be a full functioning of the Holy Spirit. To get into a hide-bound religious system, ecclesiastical control, a human organization of the Church… is not the principle of the Holy Spirit, and we must be absolutely free from all such things if the Spirit is going to function freely and we are going to have ministry in the Holy Spirit.

That is the principle of the Spirit. It was that that the Jews, the Jewish leaders, were so set against in the case of the Apostle Paul. He said, “certain came in to spy out our liberty” (Gal. 2:4). What was it? That he had thrown off the yoke of the law and the Jewish system [church systems, too, for the leaders of the church in Jerusalem added nothing to him {see Gal. 2:6}- mdc] and now he was exercising himself in the universal realm of the Body of Christ… He was free from all yokes of tradition, system, and organization religiously on the earth, in order to fulfil his ministry of revelation as the Holy Spirit led him. That is essential to the Body of Christ. By which I mean that to try to organize the Body of Christ, the Church, and to try to set a program for it and hand it to the Holy Spirit and say, “will you kindly take the chair and carry out our programme” …is so utterly contrary to the principle here revealed.

The Body of Christ is a thing emancipated from the earthly systems; it must be to function. It is not our forsaking the earthly system because we have taken hold of certain truths, but our being emancipated. (1)

What an important difference Sparks brings out in that last sentence. Reading the Bible and grasping truths that feed our rebellious hearts is not good, but reading it and having the Spirit confirm that we are hearing His voice and obeying Christ is the way it should be. If our freedom is used to bring us back into bondage it is no longer freedom, but slavery. Living in true freedom takes the leading of the Holy Spirit at all times.

God bless you all as you follow the leading of the Spirit in the freedom that Christ died to give you.

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/000755.html

Bondservants of God… to be Led by the Holy Spirit

by Michael Clark and Susanne Schuberth*

Bondservants of the Lord pic

Austin-Sparks rightfully observed,

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

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

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

T. A. Sparks continues,

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

Paul wrote,

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good… individually as he wills. (1Cor 12:4-11, ESV2011)

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

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

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

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

T.A. Sparks continues,

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

 

Bondservants of the Lord

The apostle Paul wrote,

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

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

T. A. Sparks continues,

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

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

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

Paul wrote,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making Room for the Spirit to Mature Others in Christ

By Michael Clark and George Davis

Church

“My brethren, be not many teachers, knowing that we shall receive the severer judgment. For in many things we all offend. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man…” (James 3:1-2 KJ2000)

Lately the Lord has drawn our attention to a problem that exists among many of us “more mature” saints of God who have a lot of Bible knowledge and have had many decades of experience following the Lord. That problem is that many of us are not making room for the saints who are more timid or who are still learning to experience first hand the Living Christ and assure them that they can hear the voice of the Spirit speaking to and leading them. Paul wrote,

“Let us have fond affection for one another with brotherly fondness, in honor deeming one another first” (Romans 12:10 CLV)

“Deeming one another first”…How often I (Michael) have listened to a brother or sister tell about their latest insight they got from the Lord only to jump right in with a couple of scriptures and assure them that I also knew all about this truth before they did. You see, this is not demonstrating fond affection and deeming the other saint first before myself. In fact when I have done this or seen it done, the more timid of God’s little ones will often just shut down, feeling that their little offering is only “one talent” compared to ours and go away and bury it out of intimidation because of the glaring neon lights of our own “giftedness” compared to their “pocket flashlight.” Is it any wonder that churches are filled with silent observers that do not personally know the voice of THE Good Shepherd?

When Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am,” it was not so that He could lord over them with His great knowledge as the Son of God. He was the consummate Teacher and often taught by asking questions to draw people to engage with what He taught and to hear God Himself speak to them. When Peter answered Him and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus did not say, “Well, it is about time you guys figured that out! I have known that from the foundation of the world!” No, He commended Peter that he himself could hear the Father speak to him and said that it was upon this foundation that God would build His house! How often do we look for or make opportunities that we might show other saints more honor and commend them in their faith to walk and listen to the Spirit for themselves and move with His wind? We cannot expect to grow the kingdom of God by making people perpetually dependent on professional clerics and teachers. Real maturity takes place when His followers are doing as He did, only speaking what they hear the Spirit saying and doing the works that the Father foreordained them to do.

If we are not making room for others to interact with the Spirit of God and encouraging them to do so, but instead trying to be their “be all and end all” for everything that has to do with faith, we are putting ourselves in their lives instead of Christ. The very definition of the word “anti-christ” is “instead of Christ!” Real maturity does not happen when we do all the “fishing” for those around us. Real maturity takes place when they also learn how to “fish” and can teach others to do the same (See 2 Timothy 2:2).

Jesus taught the 70 disciples for a few months and then sent them out and said, “Okay, boys, go do it!” It was time to “get tough or die.” He equipped them to fly and pushed them out of the nest and they came back with glowing reports of their success (See Luke 10:1-19). How often we have heard in the last few years about the glories of the “five-fold ministries.” Yet, if we read the context of Ephesians 4:11 where these graces are listed we see that they are not an end unto themselves. These were given to individuals so that they would work themselves out of a job,

“to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” (Ephesians 4:12-15 ESV)

In our experience the more we have heard men teach the importance of these five gifts they claim to have, the less we have seen the saints under them “all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Rather we have seen these men and women trying to do all ministry (except the nursery, setting up chairs, mowing lawns, and janitorial work, etc.) while the faithful sit there Sunday after Sunday in their pews sucking on their spiritual thumbs. One dear saint referred to this syndrome as “the perpetual babyhood of the believer.”

Dear saints, we cannot count on that system that men have built around themselves, that produces weak Christians at best, to get the gospel out into the highways and byways or teach those who are saved to listen to the Spirit as Jesus did, growing up in every way into Christ who is their Head. We have to point all who believe Christ to Him and His Spirit, not ourselves! Like John the Baptist, we must decrease and Christ must increase. He who is supposed to have the bride is the Bridegroom not the friends of the Bridegroom (See John 3:25-31).

This is the NEW Covenant, Not the Old

Most of the dysfunction in the church today is due to an inadequate comprehension of the New Covenant. In the Old Covenant prophets, priests and kings preformed mediatory functions between God and the people. In the new covenant “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Timothy 2:5 RSVA)

In the Old Covenant there were many teachers. In the New there is only one. Christ commanded His disciples not to be called teachers, “. . . for One is your Teacher, the Christ.” (Matthew 23:10). Foreseeing this in the Spirit Jeremiah prophesied,

“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD . “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD ,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD . “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33-34, NIV)

The Author of Hebrews quoted this passage to emphasize the vast difference between the Old and the New Covenants.

“. . . And they shall not teach every one his fellow or every one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest. (see Hebrews 8:10-11 – emphasis added)

they shall not teach . . .

One of the primary differences between the Old and the New Covenants is teaching. In the old, men taught every one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ but in the New Covenant all are taught of God and all know Him.

Quoting Isaiah Jesus said,

 It is written in the prophets, “‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. (John 6:45, NKJV – emphasis added)

John wrote of the individual believer’s submission to this One Teacher saying, “The anointing you received from him abides in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. Instead, because his anointing teaches you about everything and is true and not a lie, abide in him, as he taught you to do” (1 John 2:27, ISV – emphasis added).

To make one’s self the teacher of God’s children is to become a busybody in the affairs of another. To do so is to attempt to control others through doctrine and to usurp the role of the One Teacher. Jesus said, “But you must not be called Rabbi, for One is your teacher, Christ, and you are all brothers” (Matthew 23:8 MKJV – emphasis added).

Paul addressed this at length in Romans 14. Regarding the then hotly debated matter of what one should eat. Paul wrote, “Who are you to condemn God’s servants? They are responsible to the Lord, so let him tell them whether they are right or wrong. The Lord’s power will help them do as they should” (Romans 14:4, NLT – emphasis added).

The Greek word translated condemn here is Krinoto rule, govern, to preside over with the power of giving judicial decisions, to pronounce an opinion concerning right and wrong. This is the same word translated “judge” and “judged” in this verse that we know so well, “”Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1 NKJV).

Individual believers are accountable directly to the Lord not to each other. And so in addressing this inordinate ambition Paul does not advance special doctrines to enforce uniformity, in doing so he would have been guilty of the very thing he was exhorting the Roman believers not to do. He encouraged them to live their lives in direct accountability to the Lord and to allow their brothers and sisters to do the same. knowing that it is God who teaches each one right and wrong and it is He who keeps them standing as they live before Him alone. Our faith finds its proper place privately before God. “Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. . .” (Romans 14:22). The exhortation here is clear– forcing our opinions on the servants of God is counter to true faith. True faith believes that they are kept by Another. True faith believes that they will be made to stand by their own Master. True faith holds its piece and allows the one Teacher to instruct without constantly interjecting our “superior” knowledge, opinions and will..

The Brother with the More Perfect Word

A friend of ours shared with us a problem that repeatedly stifled mutual sharing in there gatherings. Someone would be telling about what God had been teaching them and then a seemingly well-meaning brother would interrupt them and give them a quick course in one-upmanship. He always completed their thought by adding his fuller revelation. Soon no one was sharing. The only one left standing or speaking was the brother with “the more perfect word.” How often have we seen this? Or rather, how often have we been guilty of this very thing? In our pride we want to flaunt our biblical knowledge, but behind it all the underlying message we communicate is this, “Look at me. See how special I am. I have traveled down the Christian road further than the rest of you. My understanding of spiritual things is vastly superior to yours. Who better then to be the final arbiter of truth? Or does experience count for nothing?”

There is a word for such delusion–pride. And by it we reconstruct the old mediatory system and privately christen ourselves king, prophet and priest. By such arrogance we both disrespect our brothers and sisters and their Teacher. Nothing could be further from the self-forgetfulness of those truly spiritual individuals who think of others as being higher or better than themselves.

Not understanding the New Covenant, many believers have returned to the Old Covenant mediatory system. They have replaced the one heavenly Teacher with many human ones and have garnered to themselves teachers who tickle their ears (2 Timothy 4:3). Some have ambitiously risen up “. . . speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:30). Some are unduly exalted above their calling while other men and women are dishonored and subjugated. A few high profile people assume responsibilities well beyond their appointed measure leading the rest to abdicate their proper function in the body of Christ. What a travesty! We are not rightly discerning the body of Christ and many are spiritually emaciated and sick among us.

Once again we see an Old Testament system using New Covenant terminology. The result is the same–believers are once again relegated to the outer court instead of boldly coming into the throne of grace.

Are We to Apprehend God by Gaining Knowledge or Revelation?

Seminary GraduationBroken cistern2

Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:12-13 RSVA)

One time I tried to engage a pastor in a heart to heart conversation. I said to him, “God has been giving me this revelation lately…” Upon hearing this, he interrupted me and said, “God no longer gives revelation! All revelation ceased with the closing of the canon of the Bible.” I didn’t ask him which of the eight plus canons he was referring to and on which date it was closed. Well, needless to say, that was the end of my attempt to speak from my heart with this man. After all, he had the degree hanging on his office wall to show he was right!

Austin Sparks wrote:

After the Cross, all the fullness of the Divine power was released upon the world through those who had been brought into absolute oneness with the Lord by that Cross… First, let us remember that this knowledge of God is by revelation. We can never get this knowledge of God merely by reading, by listening, by attending meetings…. You may understand it all by mental apprehension, know the terms and the verses, and use them – but what about the dynamic of this thing? What does our personal presence in a situation mean?… It is a most important question. Is this thing alive, or have we merely got a little more mental apprehension of it through conferences [and book learning]? Do we know God in this thing by reason of a personal inward revelation on the subject?

Secondly, it comes by the way of pain. You get a thing revealed to you as truth, perhaps something about the Cross of Christ, or victory over Satan, and you think you know it, and you say, “This is beautiful!” And you begin to talk about it, and it is not very long before something happens –- your circumstances are touched. Now you go down with this truth, down into the vortex of awful agony, right down to the gates of hell, your being is upheaved right from the very bottom, and all the time there is the question – “Will that truth hold good?” Is it going to work? And when you have got down as far as you can go, the flesh elements and the self elements have been dealt with, and you grimly hold on to the Lord in this matter of victory – then it comes out, you have tested it right to the very bottom of your being – that thing has become you, and then you can go to others in their grim conflict and their darkness, and say, “I know – I know this thing, and I know God is faithful, I know the victory.” You have got a mighty emphasis on your knowledge, it is a thing about which you have no doubt, because you have gone down into the depths with it, and proved it down there, and by the very pain the thing has been proved.

Gaining knowledge about something can be fun and stimulating. The thought of having a degree that says you are accomplished and have expertise in a subject and the monetary rewards that go with it keep a multi-billion industry called “education” going in western culture. But is this the education of the saints of God that is important to Him? When Jesus chose His disciples, He did not go to Jerusalem and seek graduates from the best rabbinical schools. Instead He chose His disciples from the unlearned of that nation.

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ordinary men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13 KJ2000)

What a pregnant verse this is! These men were not educated by other men, but they had spent time with Jesus. Just how much of what we write and speak to others is from hearts that have spent time with Jesus? With the advent of desktop publishing, websites and blogs, knowledge has been on the increase, but we can be “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the Truth.” The knowledge of the Truth only comes through an intimate relationship with the Truth, Jesus Christ. A man or woman can go off to Bible college or seminary and pass all the exams, parrot back what they were taught in the classes, receive a degree and be turned loose to rule over church congregations around the world and never have spent one minute being taught by the Spirit of Christ! In fact, they can take advanced training on how to “grow churches” and look like a total success by the numbers that they gather around them and not even have a relationship with the Father.

Is this the “rock” that Jesus was talking about building His church upon? No! It was the fact that Peter could hear the Father and give witness from his heart to what He heard without having received it from flesh and blood: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”(See Matt. 16:16-17). The called-out ones of God (Greek – ekklesia – mistranslated “church”) are enlivened by the Spirit of God Who leads them into all truth or they are none of His (See John 3:3-7, John 16:13 and Romans 8:9).

I believe that these educational institutions that the church system relies upon for its leaders is what Jesus was warning about:

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber; but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep… This figure Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So Jesus again said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. (John 10:1-7 RSVA – emphasis added)

Thieves! Robbers! Hirelings! The church systems are overrun with them and the people are clueless and unable to discern the voice of the Good Shepherd. Why? Because the whole system is based on scholarship instead of personal life-changing revelation from God. Are there pastors and church leaders that are born of the Spirit? Absolutely, but more and more we see men behind the pulpits that are more concerned with their wages (hirelings) and gaining a following than they are with pointing the people under them to the one Good Shepherd as their All in all. Knowledge puffs up, but the love of God edifies and that love comes from being in a close relationship with Jesus Christ.

Revelation from God has a price attached to it, a very personal price that will cost you everything and not very many want to pay it. As Sparks put it, “And when you have got down as far as you can go, the flesh elements and the self elements have been dealt with, and you grimly hold on to the Lord in this matter of victory – then it comes out, you have tested it right to the very bottom of your being – that thing has become you, and then you can go to others in their grim conflict and their darkness, and say, ‘I know – I know this thing, and I know God is faithful, I know the victory.’”

Dear Father, don’t let us settle for broken cisterns that can hold no water and forsake the Fountain of Living Water. Amen.

The Greatest in God’s Kingdom

Washing feet

 

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded… When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13:3-17 RSVA)

I just read a blog posted by a sister that has been learning what true greatness is in the kingdom of Heaven… Not what you might think! It is cleaning toilets and scrubbing floors. Yes, learning that the greatest in the Father’s kingdom will be the slave of all (Mark 10:43-46 RSV), THIS is true leadership… leading by Christ’s example, not that of Church hierarchy today. God has done the same thing in my life, made me a willing servant to all, but where it really shows up (or not) is in my own home, serving the one who knows me best, my wife.

God started me out serving my brothers and sister by fixing broken toilets and replacing the old nasty ones with new ones and roto-rooting out sewer pipes for months on end as part of a street ministry to hippie kids that got saved and were being put-up in old broken down houses that needed a lot of fixing (my job). I was not paid a thing other than the wonderful experience of being around God’s kids and being loved by them. Mind you, before God changed my heart I was a red-neck hippie hater, but He chose THIS way to work Christ deep into me (he chooses the foolish things to confound the wise and the week to confound the mighty. I did this kind work among these people for over six years in the early ’70′s).

Many years later my wife and I were serving in a church as the janitors and during a crowded “worship conference” they put on, some guy went in the men’s room and did a big nasty in the toilet and plugged it up and then flushed it twice more for good measure so that the brown chunks were floating over the bowl and out of the bathroom and down the hall toward the auditorium. The pastor came and grabbed me and said, “Here! Clean that up!” Well, I started in on mopping it up and wringing the mop out by hand in a bucket and got it beat back into the bathroom when I stopped, heart broken, and said to my wife who was standing guard to keep people from walking in it, “Dot, I was doing this same thing over twenty years ago! Nothing has changed!” To this she replied, “Oh, yes it has! YOU have changed!” Right then the presence of the Lord came down over me like I was standing under a waterfall of love! It was one of the most memorable moments of my life.

Transfigured into His Likeness

 

stoning of Stephen

“And after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and brought them up into a high mountain apart, And was transfigured [Grk. metamorphoo] before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his clothing was white as the light.” (Matthew 17:1-2 KJ2000)

What a wonderful sight that must have been for these disciples to behold Jesus in such perfection and glory. Have you ever met a dear saint who had been so changed by the living Christ abiding in them that their face shone with His glory? Is it even possible for a mere human to be so transformed by the indwelling Christ that they shine forth with His love and grace? I think that this is what Stephen’s religious persecutors saw that day as is recorded in Acts chapter seven and they broke out into a frenzied rage and gnashed on him with their teeth!

Paul wrote,

 

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed [Grk. metamorphoo – tranfigured] into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways; we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 3:17-4:2 RSVA)

Stephen, that day 2000 years ago, had an unveiled face… his face shown like that of an angel.  It was the face of Jesus who abode within him. And for those who were followers of Moses with their veiled faces it was too much. His face was a witness before them that what he told them was the truth… that they had slain the Lord of Glory, their Messiah, and that their temple worship was used by them to “always resist God’s Holy Spirit.”

Have you ever noticed in a church service that any time the Spirit starts to rise and the presence of the Lord is starting to become manifest, someone in control feels compelled to rise up and put an end to it? I have seen this happen over and over. The program must go on! And the Spirit wind does not abide in the walls and the programs of men. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom and the purveyors of religious bondage will not allow freedom to take hold and get out of their control so the Spirit wind moves on.

So we who have the Spirit of Christ must move on with Him. We seek HIS glory and abide in HIS life changing truth. We cannot settle for mere words that come forth from those who quench the Spirit and handle the word of God with cunning and much tampering. We would rather read the Bible for ourselves and listen for our Shepherd’s voice speaking to us in a personal way. We would rather behold HIS face than the faces of those who would presume to take His place as they stand before us on their elevated platforms.

In the above passage Paul says we who behold Jesus’ face have a ministry. We have the ministry of Life IN Christ Jesus. We are being changed, transfigured, into the likeness of the One whom we behold. We go from one degree of glory to another because this comes from the Spirit of the Lord who abides in us! As much as we are being transformed into the image of Christ is what proves that our service “ministry” is true, not some man-made title, degree or stance behind a pulpit and in this we do not lose heart for Christ is our sufficiency in all things as we abide IN Him. Behold Him, dear saints, and shine forth with what you behold.