Beware of Vipers!

paul and viper.jpegPaul wrote that we should not be ignorant of Satan’s devices. Many of us who have come out of organized Christianity have had to learn about his divisive ways in the process of sorting out all the false teachings we absorbed in that system from the voice of the Spirit in us. As we know, Satan can quote scripture to accomplish his twisted goals and vipers are of the very nature of the Great Serpent we must deal with. Jesus called the Pharisees (who often quoted scriptures) a “brood of vipers” as they tried to tempt Him with their logic.

You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. (Matt 12:34-35, ESV2011)

There is a very instructive story about how vipers work in what happened to Paul when they were shipwrecked on the island of Malta.

And when they were escaped, then they knew that the island was called Malta. And the native people showed us no little kindness: for they kindled a fire, and received us every one, because of the present rain, and because of the cold. And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand. And when the natives saw the creature hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped the sea, yet justice allows not to live. And he shook off the creature into the fire, and felt no harm. However they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god. (Acts 28:1-6, KJ2000)

When we are the weakest and struggling to maintain our lives, as it was with Paul, is when Satan likes to sneak in and fasten himself to us and inject his spirit-life-killing lies into our hearts. During these times, there have been those who have shown us kindness and kindled a fire in our hearts with their words. But there is another creature that often comes in. Evidently Paul had picked up this snake with the sticks he had gathered for the fire and even had clutched them to his breast, but because of the cold, the snake did not act until he felt the warmth of the fire. False Christians who harbor demons in their natures are like that. These demons can be dormant until they feel the warmth of the Spirit and then they spring into action and fasten themselves onto a saint of God in a moment of weakness. What should be our response when this happens? Should we listen to, cajole, and try to save these demons from their folly? No! Jesus didn’t give the Pharisees any quarter when they spoke their venomous words and neither should we. We should do just as Paul did and shake them off into the fire least they continue to inject their poison into us and draw us away from the path of Christ, the way of the cross.

It is interesting to note that part of the effect of a viper’s poison is to make us swell up with pride if we take its words to heart. When the gracious islanders saw this attack they, too, were confused and took Paul for an evil man, but when he didn’t swell up or die they started to idolize him. Carnal Christians are like these Maltese. They are easily moved by every wind of doctrine. On the one hand, they might want to make us their spiritual gurus because of God speaking through us, but on the other hand they turn and walk away when they see that our hearts are fixed on following Jesus even unto death. This is how the crowds treated Christ and it’s what Paul was talking about when he wrote this:

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? (2Cor 2:14-16, ESV2011)

Yes, who is sufficient for these things? Our sufficiency must be in Christ.

(I would like to thank Susanne Schuberth for her latest blog entry from which God used to inspire me for this article. https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/2017/04/07/beware-of-jobs-false-friends/ )

Are We to Seek Wisdom, Power and Authority, or Christ?

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Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account. (Isa 53:1-3, NRS)

Thus Isaiah introduced the Jews to their Messiah. Not a very pretty picture, is it? He came to earth in a form that no one would want to follow or admire and was born in a stable in poverty, totally despised by the establishment and all the “beautiful people.” Yet Christ is held up as what the Church was to become. Contrary to what many believe, “the servant is not greater than his Master.”
Susanne Schuberth recently wrote on her blog, “Growth in Christ and His authority happens as we have come to grips that we have nothing in ourselves to help God out in any way. A complete surrender of every area of our life is needed before Christ finally lives in us and works through us as He sees fit.” (https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/).

This is so true! We need ears that hear these words. Too many think they already have everything they need just because they “believe” in Christ or have studied the Bible, without coming to a complete end of themselves. The church is flooded with this kind of false authority. Paul knew the need to die daily to his old self-willed, scripture touting, human authority because it was that Saul of Tarsus that persecuted the Church. The problem with Christians today is that many of us have grown up in church surroundings and we are steeped in religion that has cloaked the fact that in our hearts we are all the grossest of sinners.

There is a seemingly wise teaching that we as Christians should get Biblical knowledge, that God would make us wise and give us power to do His work on this earth. This might sound like a good thing to most Christians so we can do the work of the Church “for Jesus.” Thus we have the myriad of Bible schools, seminaries and the never ending desire to sit under men at Christian conferences and Sunday sermons. Yet, is this what Jesus did, or is it what Paul did to gain the effectiveness that they had in spreading the gospel? Jesus never sat under Jewish teachers to get to the place where He could say that He only spoke the words He heard His Father saying or only did the works that He saw His Father doing. Neither did Paul! Let us look at what Paul did say about such things.

…though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— (Phil 3:4-9, ESV2011)

Paul had all the credentials to be a “somebody” among the Jews. He sat at the feet of their best scholars and teachers (see Acts 22:3). He was of the bloodline of Benjamin an elite among the Jews. He was an enforcer and keeper of the Jewish law, respected among his peers. He was a rising star in Judaism. Yet, he threw all this away and counted it as rubbish (dung) once he met the risen Christ! He came to know Christ Who was abiding in him in a most personal way. He never learned at the feet of the apostles who actually walked with Jesus in His human body. Of these he said, “they added nothing to me.” No, Christ was his Life and His all. He had a moment by moment relationship with Jesus just as Jesus did (and does) with the Father. This is why he said to the Corinthians:

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. (1Cor 2:1-3, NRS)

No, Paul did not even come to them teaching from his previous experiences with Christ, but rather he approached these people in all weakness, emptied of everything he could have confidence in, waiting on the Spirit of Christ to speak and act through him. Paul was Christ crucified and Jesus had full reign. It was Jesus who taught, spoke and worked through him, not Paul. Paul was so weakened by the working of the cross in him that all he could do was tremble in weakness while Jesus did the rest.
And if this soulish weakness was not enough, God gave him a thorn in his flesh (his body), a messenger from Satan to buffet him and keep him physically weak as well. He prayed to be healed and here is what happened:

But he [Jesus] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong. (2Cor 12:9-10, NRS)

Paul did not have power in himself. He only had debilitating weaknesses. He was totally thrown upon the mercy and grace of God and he knew that Jesus wouldn’t have it any other way. He didn’t have power or wisdom or knowledge, all the things that men seek after, but rather Christ. All that Jesus is and all the treasures of God were manifest in a broken clay vessel Paul was nothing and he was determined to be nothing because of his love for Jesus Christ as his all (see 1 Corinthians 1:30-31). This is why this little man of no physical stature and Christ who had no form of beauty about Himself could be used by God to turn the most powerful kingdom on earth upside down and send ripples down through history to this day. We Christians should learn this simple lesson–God does not need our knowledge, wisdom, oratory powers, strength, health or wit to do His work. Quite the opposite. Only Christ in us is the hope of glory as we yield all to Him and He makes us into manifest sons and daughters of God.

The Problem with “Instant” Perfection

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When I was a newly born believer, I was so shocked that God did not instantly make me a perfect Christian. There was still this albatross around my neck called “the flesh,” even after experiencing the love and closeness of Christ in my life and even His healing miracles. Why didn’t He just do the “Tinker Bell” thing with His magic wand and make me an instant “super Christian’? I soon learned that the Christian life is a life chastened by trials and that God’s work of bringing forth His Son in us is a lifelong process.

Over the years I have asked Him why He chose this slow agonizing way to bring forth Christ in us. He has shown me that because of our Adamic roots, we have to learn obedience to the Father by the things that we suffer, often the consequences of doing it wrong. Even Christ chose to come in the form of a lowly servant.  We reason, “but wouldn’t God have made Him more useful for His purposes if He had come with the power of a Roman Emperor or High Priest?” No, He forsook that kind of power to show us that a man born of a woman in the lowest social position can overcome everything that is of Adam and learn obedience to the Father through suffering.

So why is it that God does not make us like the angels, perfectly obedient to Him? The answer can be found here in this description of Satan:

You are the anointed cherub that covers; and I have set you so: you were upon the holy mountain of God… You were perfect in your ways from the day that you were created, till iniquity was found in you… you have sinned: therefore I will cast you as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy you, O covering cherub… Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty, you have corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor: I will cast you to the ground, I will lay you before kings, that they may behold you. (Ezek 28:14-17, KJ2000)

How are you fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how are you cut down to the ground, who did weaken the nations! For you have said in your heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the farthest sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet you shall be brought down to sheol, to the sides of the pit. (Isa 14:12-15, KJ2000)

If one of God’s perfectly created beings could be corrupted by his own beauty and wisdom, how much more we who have been born in the likeness of sinful Adam?

God has chosen to bring forth upon the earth–the very domain of Satan–a Son who was first a helpless baby and then a man who had “no form or beauty that any man should desire Him” (see Isaiah 53:2-3). He was the proto-type of many sons and daughters He would bring into full glory by overcoming trials and weakness through faith in His Son.

This life of weakness and living death, dear saints, is for one purpose—so we learn that except for the grace and mercy of God working in us, we would be our own worst devil, capable of the worst sins and pride. God has already lost a third of the angels to this delusion of worshiping their own greatness and perfection and He is making sure that we have the mind of Christ and not Lucifer in His kingdom. He is working by making us weak, humbling us so that we rightly assess our old natures, despise them, and call on Him to do whatever it takes to bring forth the spiritual maturity of His very own Son in us. He wants an unconditional surrender to His perfect will and for us to abide in His wonderful love. We love Him because He first loved us and gave everything He had to save us from ourselves.

So What Is “Perfect” for Us When it Comes to Fellowship?

As I was mulling this over this morning, it became evident that our idea of perfection and God’s idea of perfection are not be the same. Jesus was made perfectly obedient through the things that He suffered. He was also made perfect in love while surrounded by doubters, sinners and twelve disciples who often didn’t get what He was teaching them. To one of them He had to say, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” In all honesty, they ALL desired the things of the typical Jewish male — for Messiah to come and set up a worldly kingdom with them in charge — not so different from another one who said, “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God [the angels and the people of God]: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation”? Some of us have come across that delusion, first in bad church leadership, and finally having to admit that it was in us!

No, dear saints, God uses our imperfection and humanity so that our “iron” sharpens another saint’s “iron” and we call out for Him to form His perfectly forbearing love in our hearts. God puts us with other people (even in marriage) who are not perfect, but that have been made “perfect” in their imperfections to be used by His power to change us! Even Jesus cried out, “Oh you of such little faith. How long must I suffer you?”

In God’s wonderful plan He has been able to turn the tables on Satan by using our flesh to humble us and work forgiveness in our hearts for others just like us. Like Joseph said to his brothers when they came before him in Egypt, “But as for you, you thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good.”

Body life in the body of Christ is not something perfect in our way of thinking, but it is perfect in His if we live in close enough proximity to one another and dwell together in transparency. Fellowship is designed to bring us into His perfection as we work through our own imperfections and those of our fellow saints. John wrote:

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1John 1:7-9, ESV2011)

Dear saints, may we look upon the imperfections in one another and see the hand of God working. It is easy to find fault with one another, but it is best to look for those things that are “…true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things… and the God of peace shall be with you.” (Phil 4:8-9, KJ2000)

A Death that Brings Glory to God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can These Two Walk Together?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What It Means to Be Captivated by Christ

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For three and a half years people were captivated by the words that Jesus spoke. Crowds seemed to follow Him everywhere He went. When I first started following Jesus, this was all the deeper the meaning went in my mind of what it meant to be captivated by Him. After I was saved, I went to every Christian meeting I could. I couldn’t get enough of hearing about Jesus. But as time went by a greater revelation came to me. I started to see a deeper meaning of what it means to be His captive. Jesus spoke to Peter about this process.

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

Death? Yes, the price we must pay if we dare to follow Him! After the newness of my experience wore off, I started to go to Christian meetings just because that was the thing to do on that day of the week. Then the time came when I had to ask God for permission before I went to a meeting. Slowly over time, going to meetings became less and less important to me and a deeper personal and obedient walk with Christ came to mean more, even when He had me stay home.

The more time I spent in obedience to His leading, the more He showed me the deeper meaning of the scriptures that I never heard come from a pulpit or conference podium. At the end of an isolation of many years in His spiritual wilderness, He had me start writing these things down. Eventually the wilderness and isolation ended and I was encouraged by others to put the things I had written into articles on a website and books so the saints of God could have access to them. (Did you know that Paul spent many years in isolation between His Damascus road experience with Jesus and when he was sent by the Spirit on his first “missionary journey”?) God eventually put me together with another brother on a similar journey, and we fellowshipped and wrote together and even took in some meetings for a season. Then he started showing us the depths of another scripture:

He must increase, but I must decrease. He that comes from above is above all… (John 3:30-31, KJ2000)

It seems that those glorious days of writing with that brother have come to an end. He has also been coming into a deeper meaning of what it means to be the Lord’s captive, learning the depths of what Jesus said, “you shall stretch forth your hands, and another shall dress you, and carry you where you would not.”

Yes, I have been writing this blog for the last three or four years, but slowly even that seems to be winding down as He increases in my life and I decrease. “He that comes from above is above all.” Christ and the will of Christ and the Father must be above all. His life must become our only life. Paul had a highly visible ministry among the Gentiles in Asia Minor, yet that was coming to a close as he wrote to the Ephesians about this same process in His life and called himself “the prisoner of Jesus Christ.” It is oh so easy for our flesh to ride the wave of what the Spirit is doing through us and get some of the glory for ourselves along the way, but all glory belongs to the One who died and rose again and sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven. He must increase and we (that old Adam in man) must decrease. We can only share His glory to the extent that Christ is our ALL in all. All the rest, the adulation and attention that comes to us from men–even the saints of God–only provides a temptation for us to think we are something without Him.

The life of Paul, how he decreased as a mere human, and how God increased His effectiveness in life (and death) is a spiritual principle that must work in any true disciple of Jesus.  He said, “If any man would be my disciple let him take up his cross and follow me.” T. Austin-Sparks wrote about this very thing from his own experience.

I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you…. (Ephesians 3:1)

The measure of approximation to the fullness of the revelation has always been accompanied by a relative cost. Every instrument of the testimony has been laid under suspicion and reproach in a measure commensurate with the degree of value to the Lord, and this has meant that, humanly, they were limited to that extent. Many have withdrawn, fallen away, held aloof, doubted, feared, and questioned. But as Paul could say “My tribulations for you, which are your glory” (Eph. 3:13), or “The prisoner of Christ Jesus in behalf of you Gentiles” (Eph. 3:1), so the measure of limitation in the Lord is the measure of enrichment in His people. The fuller the revelation, the fewer those who apprehend, or the greater the number of those who stand aloof. Revelation only comes through suffering and limitation, and to have it experimentally means sharing the cost in some way. But this is God’s way of securing for Himself a spiritual seed plot….

All this may apply to individual lives in relation to the Lord’s testimony. There may often be a chafing against limitation, confinement, and a restless hankering after what we would call something wider or less restricted. If the Lord has willed us to the place where we are, our acceptance of it in faith may prove that it becomes a far bigger thing than any human reckoning can judge. I wonder if Paul had any idea that his prison meant his continuous expansion of value to the Lord Jesus through nineteen hundred years? What applies to individuals also applies to corporate bodies, assemblies, or companies of the Lord’s people scattered in the earth but one in their fellowship in relation to the Lord’s full testimony. May the Lord be graciously pleased to cause the merely human aspect of prison walls to fall away, and give the realization that, far from being limited by men and circumstances, it is imprisonment in the Lord, and this means that all ages and all realms are entered through that prison. (http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/000689.html)

Dear saints, may we each look beyond the limitations of our natural lives and situations to see that God is doing something far greater for HIS glory that is beyond our sight and our reach at this present time. Love to you all.

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

He is Faithful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(1) The Cost of Discipleship, pp. 99

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