Friday, April 30, 2010

DISTORTION

"Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth..."
Acts 20:30

       I'm writing with a heavy heart today, as I'm overwhelmed by the massive distortions of truth perpetuated by men who call themselves believers in Christ.  Just visiting the blog world, the writings of the people central to all the so-called "Christian industries" such as publishing, and music, and the arts, education, and ministry is a journey into the chaos of self-promotion.
      This is not Christ.  This smorgasbord of self-focus is not Christ.  The name of Christ is not mentioned, except in passing, like a reference on a resume.  
      Of course I serve Christ, so I do this, or that, and look at me, and at my fine, wonderful life of achievements.  Of course I serve Christ, but look at me and my family, and my latest book, or CD, or degree, or conference speaking schedule.  Of course I serve Jesus, that's why I'm so successful, and have a big following on all the social media sites, and why my book is being published, and I have a speaking tour set up.  Of course I am a Christian, and that's why my blog has a community of thousands, and my every word is commented on by hundreds of people a day.  Of course my life is an example, because so many people say nice things about me, and buy my stuff.
      ME, ME, ME, I, I, I, MINE, MINE, MINE!
      How lonely and ignored the Lord Jesus is today among our affluent, modern, fantabulous Christians!  In reading this drivel I'm driven by the Holy Spirit to remember and read in Scripture about my Lord's ministry--how humble it was, and how He never exalted Himself.  I think of Paul and the other apostles--outcasts and hated by the world, persecuted and hunted down, opposed even by many in the religious world.  Rioted over in the marketplace, lowered down city walls to escape mobs, protected from religious zealots by the pagan Roman armies, shipwrecked, beaten, hungry, cold, without permanent homes, and all because of their love for Christ and their refusal to compromise with the world.
      No such life for the modern, fantabulous American Christian.  Why should we live in such a Way?  Why should we not live lusciously delicious lives, full of success, full of ourselves?  After all, we've earned it!  How talented we are, and how brilliant!  We have become all we need, and to boot, we have Christ and the church!  The Christian mob throws its uncritical approval upon us, and garlands of praise, and so stamps us with glory!
      The Lord God stands aside for this procession.  He is not the subject of all this self-adoration.  He does not participate.  His Word stands today as it always has, and we either humble ourselves, giving all, dying to self, following Jesus, or we will be left out on the Day coming, when God's true ekklesia, His scattered, suffering, persecuted, loved, cherished, faithful remnant, will be gathered from the four winds to His arms.
      Other great processions, self-congratulatory parades of so-called 'Christian' religiosity, have marched across the globe at various times in history.  Where are they now?  Dead and buried and forgotten.  Like all man's endeavors, they pass away like the grass.  But the Word of God stands forever, and His Truth will always be, and only those who obey the Lord Jesus and follow Him on the nearly forgotten Narrow Road will be there with Him when He returns.
     Many across the globe have not bowed their knee to the modern, affluent, fantabulous Baal.  Thousands have continued to stand, uncompromised, unbowed, silent before those who ignore them, or accuse them, as our Lord Jesus was silent before the religious Jews and Pilate.
      What will you do when you find out that your celebrity, your achievements in the 'Christian world', your fine plaques and trophies, your long resume, your leadership, your popularity, your self-accomplishments, all mean nothing to Christ?  What will you do when He asks you who you are?  If you can't answer 'I am nothing--my life has been You, and You alone, dear Friend'--then He will have to throw away your press releases, and your framed photos of you and your adoring fans and say, "Depart from Me, I never knew you."
      Is all this temporary partying worth that?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

DIVIDING WITH JESUS

A. Brother
©2010 Narrowgate Publishing



“Do you think I came to bring peace on earth?
No, I tell you, but division. 
From now on, there will be five in one family
divided against each other…”
--Luke 12:51,52

          A great dividing began with Christ, and continues unabated today.  His work was to do what He saw His Father doing, no matter what the religious establishment thought about Him, or told Him, or taught the people.
          So with true disciples of Christ throughout the centuries since.
          God’s called out people become Jesus to the world.  By the Spirit of God living in us, we become the Plumb Line, and we become Living Stones over whom the people stumble.  We, as true, obedient followers of the Lord, cause division wherever we go.  As we live out the Word of God, we each become a double-edged sword that divides men soul from spirit, and causes them discomfort, if only by the lives we lead that run counter to theirs.
          Like Jesus, His true disciples will be persecuted by both the pagan and religious worlds.  The God-haters will be united over only one issue—that of hating Christ and His followers.
         
          “If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also…If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin…”
                                                                                                  --John 15:20-22

            Our obedient lives become the dividing line between men.  Notice I said, “obedient lives”.  As long as we live with one foot in the world, and the other in the Kingdom of God, we will not divide anyone.  We are serving Satan, and his purposes.
          Once we decide that Jesus is All, and that we will obey Him completely, then we become an asset to the Kingdom, and a liability to the worlds of paganism and religion.  We are a danger to both systems, and therefore, will be hated by each.
          Then, when we speak, Christ is speaking.  When we act, Christ is acting.  When we become Christ to the world, and stop playing in the religious sandbox with those who are content to remain in that sheltered place, then we are Christ, and we will be hated and persecuted because of His Word.

          I am saying these things for one purpose, the same purpose Jesus had when He taught these things to His disciples:

          “All this I have told you so that you will not go astray.”  --John 16:1

            If we think that following Jesus is going to make us popular, we are mistaken.  If we think that life is going to be easy, and that we will live lives of uninterrupted peace, and that our purpose is to live a pleasing, religious, calm, unifying life, then we will certainly be led astray from the Truth.  Jesus prepared the original disciples for the conflict and division that lay ahead. 
          So must we prepare, brothers, or we will be pulled away from the Way.

         
            

GOD HATES OUR RELIGIOUS POSTURING

A. BROTHER

“I hate, I despise your religious feasts;
I cannot stand your assemblies.
Even though you bring Me burnt offerings,
and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
--Amos 5:21-24


          These are hard words, but they must be spoken today, to the modern American churches.  God is speaking, and we must listen.
          The Lord God Almighty is fed up with our religious posturing and our self-seeking modern Christianity.  We have hewn for ourselves cisterns that cannot hold Living Water, but have made sure we have plenty to eat, and plenty of music, and great religious feasts and assemblies.  We bring what we consider our ‘offerings’ of carefully crafted entertainments, the choicest of programs and talents to display.
          God has no regard for them.  He is not listening to our noisy and insistent sounds of self-satisfied worship.
          There is no obedience to the Word of God among His chosen.  We have abandoned simple obedience in favor of flowery songs.  We have crafted a fine and beautiful religious world with our own hands, and our leaders tell us constantly how fine and good it is.  They proclaim the favor of the Lord, and encourage us to keep on with this religious life.
          God is turning His back.
          God wants our obedience.  He wants our love, which is proven by our obedience to what He commands.  And as Jesus told us, His commands are simple.
         
“As the Father has loved Me, so I have loved you.
Now remain in My love.
If you obey My commands,
You will remain in My love,
just as I have obeyed My Father’s commands,
and remain in His love…
My command is this:
Love each other as I have loved you.”
--John 15:9,10,12

          Like the religious Jews of Amos’ time, we choose instead to make a lot of noise, and ignore the commands of God.
          We don’t love one another, and sacrifice for one another.  We don’t even know each other.  We don’t obey, so we are not in Christ.  As the apostle John said, we claim to be Christ’s, but our disobedience shows we don’t belong to the light.
          God is furious.  We think because of our affluence, and our pleasant lives, and our wonderful worship music, and our fine pastors and teachers, and our great buildings and busy programs we can get Him to ignore the Truth.
          The problem is this:  God is not a man, and we can’t fool Him like we try to fool ourselves and other people.  He is God, and He made us, and He knows us, and He will not tolerate our trickery and deceit.
          Almighty God is going to sift us and that sifting has begun.  But it is just started.  He will discipline those He loves.  If you are without testing, without severe trials, without difficulty and opposition for your walk with Christ, then you are an illegitimate child of God, and not the real thing.  If you claim to be in Christ, then you will eventually meet great tribulation, which will prove either the validity or the invalidity of your claim.
          God says today, to American Christians:

“I will pronounce My judgments on My people
Because of their wickedness in forsaking Me,
in burning incense to other gods
and in worshiping what their hands have made.”
--Jeremiah 1:16

          God will bring judgment.  He is bringing it now.
          Give up the worship of what your own hands have made.  Your wonderful religion is a stench in the nostrils of the Lord.  Learn true humility, practice love for others, including your enemies, and justice for others, including the poor and the needy.  Don’t ignore the needs around you any more.  Go to your knees and repent, deeply, and grieve over your sins and the sins of your so-called Christian brothers.  Those who claim Christ must confess and turn away from sin, not just give lip service to belonging to the Lord Jesus.  We must live lives of love, as He did, and lay down our life for His Body, which is the ekklesia, the ‘called out to be together’ people of God.  We must call the world to true repentance and tell them the Kingdom of God is among us. 
          No more compromise.
          If you hear this, and you are offended, then you are one of the problems that God will deal with.  You must understand that this Word is His Word, not our own.  You must understand that though men stand against this Word, and they always will, as they did throughout history, God will honor His Word, and it will prevail.  Modern American society, including the compromised, ugly, comfortable, religious sub-culture we call modern American Christianity, is judged already.  We have fallen, and cannot get up.  The foundations are rotten, and the building is flawed, and in the tough times to come, it will come crashing down.  Our religious observances and man-made traditions, whether originally born in the first century, or the twenty-first century, will be brought low and become dust.  No man-made extra-biblical or anti-biblical tradition, no matter how long it’s been in practice, will make it through the pruning process in God’s Vineyard.
          God has weighed us in the balances and found us wanting.
          The Kingdom is not in our hands, though we think we have commandeered it and made it in our image.  Our fancy churches, great pulpits, smooth sermons, easy curricula, rich and comfortable buildings, busy programs for every age, great music and worship services—all of it will disappear when the trials and testing come.  There is no room for these things in the fiery furnace.  Only Jesus, and His Spirit, and His will, and not our own fancy ideas about what His church is supposed to be doing.
          Christ came to break us out of old religious molds, but we have fashioned our own, to replace them.

“My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken Me,
the Spring of Living Water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”
Jeremiah 2:13

          Do you understand that this means us?  God wasn’t working fast enough so we have created our own marketing for the churches.  God wasn’t teaching us fast enough so we have taken it upon ourselves to created thousands of books, and hundreds of seminars and meetings to speed up our knowledge.  God wasn’t giving us a regimented church life at all, so we have created our own solid traditions of time, place, and church life.  There was too much flexibility and lack of religious form in the New Testament church, so we have replaced the simple Truth with our great ideas about church.  God designed things to messy, and we like order.  God designed things to be dynamic, and we like steady ‘you can count on sameness’ religion.
          The old wineskins we create by our own efforts cannot possibly hold God’s powerful New Wine, and God will not pour the New Wine of His Holy Spirit into man-made religious systems.  So the impasse is:  God’s Way from Scripture, or our way that does not please Him.  Which will we choose?  It is our choice alone.

          Let’s give up our own ways.  Go to our knees.  Repent, and seek the Kingdom of God, not our religious ways.  Before the darkness overtakes us, and because we have lived in the light of our own torches so long, we cannot negotiate the narrow, dark Way with only the light of Christ to keep us.
          Learn to walk in the darkness, with only His Hand, and His Spirit to guide you.  He is faithful, and He will never leave you, though you give up everything--all your comfort and safety--to walk the mountains with Him.  Make the decision to take the dangerous, difficult road with Jesus and His small band of true disciples, the ekklesia,
the ‘called out to be together’ people of God, surrounded by love, hope, and empowered to live the life of Christ by the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

FIRSTHAND KNOWLEDGE VERSUS SECONDHAND TRUTH

I share another T. Austin Sparks teaching, which talks simply about a problem we have in the churches today.  We thirst for the wrong kind of knowledge-a knowledge that does not save.  We search for objective truth, and yet it is subjective power that we need, from the Holy Spirit, and from knowing the Lord Jesus Christ.  Enjoy, and seek Christ first!
FIRSTHAND KNOWLEDGE
T. AUSTIN SPARKS


The people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits. (Daniel 11:32).
How much do you depend upon conferences and teachers to keep you going? Must you attend meetings just because you feel that the last lot you got has been used up and you must get a fresh supply? Or have you been emancipated from all human props and put into a place of glorious independence, because you KNOW YOUR GOD? It doesn't matter if you are plunged into the middle of the Sahara, you know your God and can stand independently of all natural helps - this thing has become YOU! That is the kind of knowledge that means power. That is the kind of experience which overcomes the world. That is the kind of thing that makes all the other systems go down, and you rise triumphantly above them. That was the secret of the apostolic church. Let kings do what they like, let the people rage - it goes on, and it is the Roman Empire that goes to pieces before this thing, and not this thing that goes down before the Roman Empire. It is an independent personal knowledge of God, resultant from an inward birth, that lives. Not only an objective truth, but a subjective power, and it is a great day when the slightest fragment of known truth becomes a vital personal experience in its working ability. That is what we want. First-hand knowledge, not second-hand truth.
May God work this into our very beings until it becomes us. Take it in fragments if you like, and ask the Lord to work it out in you and make it live in you.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

WHAT I HAVE I GIVE YOU

A. Brother
©2009 Narrowgate Publishing

            “Then Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you.  In the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’ “                                     --Acts 3:6

          When I was in prayer this morning I asked Jesus what I should do right now in light of my present, very limiting circumstances.  A phrase came into my mind.
            “Do what you can with what you have.”  I can’t claim this was God’s voice, nor is it important that I do so.  Because when I opened the Word of God to continue looking at the book of Acts, I immediately came upon this verse, and it was definitely the voice of God confirming what I’d thought.
            Isn’t this the answer to all the questions we have of God today about our circumstances?  Isn’t this the answer to our complicated and convoluted and confusing reasoning about what we should do today?  When we are frightened and confused, or lack any sense of direction, is it not because we don’t believe God is in our present circumstances? 
            We are just like the disciples, who were in the storm, and ran to Jesus and woke Him, saying, “Lord, save us, we’re going to drown!”  And Jesus replies to us, like He replied to them, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” –Matt.8:25,26
          Let’s remember, brothers and sisters, that God was in the storm, just as surely as He was in the boat with them.  And our loving and kind Father is in the storm and in control of the storm, and our older brother Jesus, the Firstborn among us, is in the boat with us no matter how afraid we feel.

          What does God want from us in the middle of the storms of life?
            He wants our simple faith in Him, and simple obedience to His commands.
            When Peter and John came into the temple, they didn’t have any agenda or grand plan.  They were going to the temple to pray at 3pm, which was evidently their routine activity.
            Now Peter and John, though apostles and leaders in the growing body of believers there in Jerusalem, were poor, itinerant fishermen.  They weren’t even fishing at that time, but had gathered with other followers of Jesus and stayed in Jerusalem to obey the Lord’s command to wait for the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit had come, and the first gathering of God’s people had taken place.  The pure, simple life of this early group of Jesus’ ekklesia, which in Greek means basically ‘called out to gather together’, had just begun, and thousands of new followers were living a life of togetherness, love, joy and growth in Jesus.  They were poor for the most part, but were already learning to love one another and share everything together, so that all would have enough, and none would be in need.  They were learning Jesus’ teaching that the Kingdom of God was radically set apart, and that they must be willing to give up everything for Him.
            Peter and John were teaching this life.  They came to the temple that day without worldly power or position.  They came without money.  They came without any earthly means of giving.  They were simple men who’d given up, who’d given up all to follow Jesus, and were now filled with His Holy Spirit.  Their calling had been given.  They knew what it was.  The storm was all around them, with opposition from the religious Jews brewing, and persecution ready to break out.  They were remembering daily all those things Jesus had taught them before and after His resurrection about faith, and love, and the Kingdom of God.  They were wiser now, and knew God was in the storm, and that Jesus would bring them through it.
            This is why Peter could say, with confidence He was doing the will of God:
            “What I have I give you.”
         
          This is our calling, too.
            We have nothing to give people out of worldly wealth right now.  Whatever I had at one point in my life is gone.  There have been times I gave out of my excess of money, or time. 
            But now, I have much more to give.
            What I have to give is Jesus.  I have His love, and His truth, and His heart of compassion to give.  I am His hands and His feet and His smile and His kindness.  I am His.  And He has chosen me to live His life in His place.
            This is why I can say with confidence today:
            “What I have I give you.”
          Like the earliest believers there in the teeming city of Jerusalem--meeting together in their homes, sharing bread together, learning about the Lord, reading the Word of God, weeping with each other, laughing and sharing joys with each other, giving to each other as they had needs, gathering as often as they could because they couldn’t bear to be apart--we can have this same rich life together we are called to have in the Lord Jesus.
            Like Peter and John, we don’t always have money or possessions to give.  But like Peter and John we have life to give in the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
            “What I have I give you.”
          Brothers and sisters, we must give all we have to the Lord, so that He can give, through us, all that we have to others.
            Today, what I have I give you.
            Today, give to others what you have.
            That is all Jesus requires.
                       

          

WHEN LEADERSHIP IS IN THE WRONG

A. Brother
©2010 Narrowgate Publishing


            “As for those who seemed to be important—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance—these men added nothing to my message…James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me.”         --Gal. 2:6,9

            “When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong…When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all…    --Gal. 2:11,14

          Brothers, there is a hugely important truth here, and one that is desperately needed in this hour, among the churches that claim Christ as Lord in our society.
          Leadership in the Body of Christ is a different thing than leadership in the world.  Our leaders are measured by the Word of God, and their obedience to Christ in every matter.  They are not despots, or commanders.  They are servants, and are to be humble and gentle as Jesus was, washing the feet of those they serve.  They are to take the lowest places, and defer to Christ and to other men the privileges of their exalted positions.
          I say exalted positions, because Scripture makes clear that it is a fine thing to want to lead the people of God, as long as we realize it is the most critical leadership position in the universe.
          There is no earthly equivalent.  Being President of the United States is less important than leading a small group of people who are working to become like Jesus, and to follow Him.  In God’s eyes, the men who lead nations are pawns in His hands, ultimately doing exactly what His Sovereign will dictates, while His chosen leaders in the Body of Christ have been given freedom to act in accordance with their own wills, subject to the leading of the Holy Spirit.  The man who sits down to disciple another man, and lead him closer to Christ, is more important than any other leader on the face of the planet at that moment.
          This is why, in God’s wisdom, He puts extreme limits on us as leaders in the Body.  Paul illustrates this in his own life and attitude toward the original apostles.      These original twelve men had been with Jesus.  They had walked with Christ and saw His miracles, and shaken His hand, and hugged Him, and talked with Him endless hours.  They had slept on open ground next to Him, and spent hard days with the Lord under the hot sun walking from village to village.  They had left everything and everyone familiar to take their chances with this itinerant Prophet.  These men had been with Jesus, and had been chosen by the Lord Himself to be the starting group of leaders for His People under the new dispensation of grace that began with the cross and the empty tomb.  He chose these flawed and imperfect eleven men, minus only Judas who had betrayed Him, and all of whom ran away from Him in His hour of greatest need, to lead His ekklesia, His ‘called out to be together’ people, as His Word, His good news of the Kingdom of God coming to earth, went out to the entire world.
          In other words, using normal worldly, human reasoning, these men were important.  Their reputation was big.  Their ministry impact was the biggest.  They were ‘pillars’, which meant Christ’s followers regarded these men as big men, holding up the churches by their strength, and their wisdom.  These men were visible leaders, teaching and preaching, writing, and making decisions with other leaders that would affect the whole Body.
          Yet Paul came in, this outsider who had no normal apostolic standing in the eyes of the churches, and defied the exalted leaders to their faces.
          But—and here is the important question—why?
          Was it because Paul didn’t like or respect Peter, or James, or John?  Was it because He thought they didn’t conduct their services correctly?  Was it because they wore the wrong robes on Thursday, or because they weren’t administering the Lord’s Supper correctly?
          No.  It was because these men were “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel.”
            In this day of hero worship, and leadership idolatry—this day of the exaltation of men and their methods—our day of great departure from “acting in line with the truth of the gospel”—we must get back to the Plumbline and the Cornerstone, Christ Himself, the living Word of God, and measure all by Him.
          So many of our leaders have played ‘fast and loose’ with the Word, and taken licenses upon themselves to ignore certain parts and play up certain others, in order to justify what they are doing.
          Like Paul confronted Peter, so the least among us is allowed—no, required!!—to stand up and confront these men who step out of line with the Word, and therefore defy the very God who has called them to lead His People.  Any one of us can fail in the responsibilities of leadership (and will!), and all of us need the correction of others in this, as Peter and James and John, and even Paul’s partner in ministry Barnabas, were drawn away into error early in the game by the temptation to please men rather than God.
          Brethren, we in the churches are responsible, each of us as equals within the Body of Christ, to reprove and rebuke our leaders when we see that they are not “acting in line” with God’s Word.  This means their lives and actions, as well as their words.  Peter and the other “pillars” were compromising the gospel to get into the good graces of religious people around them.  They were ignoring the commands of God to follow the traditions of men.  They were disobeying their Savior and Master, Jesus Christ, in order to gain more followers and grow their ministries!
          Does this sound familiar to any of you?
          It should, as it surrounds us on a daily basis in our society.  We so-called followers of Christ have compromised in a thousand and one ways with the world, in order to grow our ministries and promote our agendas, supposedly for the Kingdom of God.  However, as Paul points out, “God does not judge by external appearances”, and the importance of these men will be judged by Him, not by us. We are not to be impressed and awed by appearances.  We are to be impressed and awed by Christ Jesus, and the Father, and in the fear of God hold one another to the Word of God.
          Notice here, in this explosive situation that occurred early in the life of the Body of Christ, that God’s appointed leaders, the original apostles, saw their error.  They chose humility when Paul confronted them, and realized they had gone astray.  Not only did they realize it, they acted on it, and came back in line with the revelation of Jesus Christ, in accordance with Paul’s rebuke.  They acted humbly, and repented, and even instructed the rest of the Christians under their care to watch not to fall into the same error.
          God’s real leaders—no matter how small you believe your influence is—you  must remain true to His Word.  And even if you don’t think you are a leader at all, you must hold your own leaders in the Body up to this standard, and speak up against any hypocrisy among us.  This is our duty to Christ Jesus, brethren!

         


Monday, April 26, 2010

CALLING ALL FAILURES IN THIS LIFE


A. Brother
©2010 Narrowgate Publishing



          If I judged by what I see and what I have experienced personally in my life over the past 57 years, I would not follow Christ, or have anything to do with those who claim to follow Him. 
          Why should I?  I have been part of what I consider a monumental failure—my own life, the lives of those I know within the churches, the lives of those within my family who claim to be Christians, and the self-satisfied smug lives of those successful people around me who think they are God’s gift to others because of their success.  The whole charade has made me sick, and caused me to break away from the churches, which organizations and institutions make me physically ill with their pompous, showy worship, and pride of place, and lust for looking good in the eyes of the world.
          I know who I am.  I am a sinful, flawed person, with a deep need for change.  God knows that I know this.  He is not like men—seeing only the surface problems, the hassles, the outward manifestations of my life—but He is the One who knows me, and that is my only comfort.  I certainly receive no comfort from people who claim to know God.  They are so caught up in their frantic activities, even their so-called service to God, that they have no time or energy for me, or for anyone else who isn’t perfect like they are.
          I was born and raised in the churches.  I was a Pharisee of Pharisees, in the sense of having a spiritual pedigree, with ministers and earnest spiritual people down through my earthly bloodline.  My father studied for the ministry, but never made it as a pastor.  My uncle became a very successful pastor/businessman, and pastored large churches, with alternate periods in the corporate world.  My grandfather on one side was a circuit preacher in a prominent evangelical denomination, and was there when it was started.  One of my great-great grandfathers was a Baptist preacher.
          I started out well, in the eyes of the churches.  I was always zealous for the Lord, in my quiet way, and I wanted to serve Him.  I loved the Word of God, and studied it, even as a boy.  When I hit my teens I was active in every part of the church that involved our age group.  Doing quiz team, youth group, music groups, special events, not only attending, but becoming a leader.  I started traveling with significant music groups before there was a Christian music industry, and was involved from almost the beginning with prominent names and groups in its formation.  I traveled all over the world as a Christian musician.  I went to a Christian college, and began studying to go into the ministry, either in music, or as a pastor/teacher.
          Then it all began to unravel, because I was a typical modern Christian.  I knew a tremendous amount about God, and His Word, but had not deep, tough roots, having grown up in our comfortable, easy church world, sheltered from the real difficulties of life. 
          I broke on the rocks of sex, marriage, kids, career, divorce, sex, marriage, more career, money, possessions, running away from trouble, avoiding hard times, chasing after the world, worry, fear, anger, rage, doubting, and disappointment—the deep disappointment that came when I found out that struggling together to find the answers to these things was not something other so-called believers in Christ wanted to deal with.  Not even pastors, or teachers, or leaders in the churches seemed to love Christ enough to help me.  They were uncomfortable when I confessed my sins, and quickly sent me to counseling—under men who had some degree or other, but had little or no understanding or compassion, and no lasting answers.  Brothers in Christ would hem-haw around and tell me they’d pray for me.  In their eyes I could see their fear, their discomfort, even their annoyance that I was having trouble.  The Christian life wasn’t supposed to be this way, and I was out of the box.  There was no sympathy, and having lived many more years now, and gone through enormous upheaval, and worked through many of these things with God, I have realized that these leaders and fellow brothers were unable to help precisely because they were going through similar things, but were not honest enough to admit it.
          The man who steps forward to confess his sins in the churches of today—the slick, modern, fast-paced, well-ordered, professionally-run, programmed, performance-based churches of our society—will be shunned, ostracized, and shunted off onto a side-rail in the rail-yard.  You will be hidden away, the group not wishing to taint their wonderful worship and service to God with failure.  This or that brother might agree to meet with you privately, and will spend some time trying to pray you through the problems.  They might offer a Bible study, or ask why you haven’t been more active in the church.  They might give you advice, from their own personal store of wisdom.  They will never obey Scripture, and confess their own sins to you.  They will never consider you an equal in the Body of Christ, helping you with great love, and laying down their lives and time and energy to help you get through.  They will never weep when you weep, and rejoice when you rejoice.  With great kindness, they will finally explain apologetically that their real duties in the church, and their family obligations, will necessitate them bowing out of your problems.  After all, the churches aren’t made to solve problems, but to be a place of refuge from problems.  That will be the unspoken reason.
          And whatever you do, and I speak from experience, don’t publicly admit your failures and sins in a group situation at the church.  Whether a church service, or a class, or a study group, or a prayer meeting, you’ll upset the apple cart so much, you won’t believe it.  You will be treated politely as a weirdo from then on, and even if it gets you some attention, you will be offered options and sent to see the pastor, or a counselor, and never, never will they stop what they’re doing, admit their own struggles, and get down on their knees in humility to love you and hug you and pray for you.        
          You will eventually have a choice—either get with the program, or find someplace else.  After all, isn’t that what private counseling offices are for?  Doesn’t the government provide programs to help?  Aren’t there poorhouses, and gospel missions, and ministries to those with problems?  For financial problems, don’t we have a small allotment from the benevolence fund?  Why should the churches be sidetracked from their mission—worship and praise to God, and bringing more people into the churches—to love and help a sorry, broken, sinful man?
          Whatever you do, don’t expect anything, my brother in trouble.  Don’t trust yourself to the churches of today with your sorrows, your trouble, your failure, your financial needs or your sin.  You will be severely embarrassed and disappointed.  Like I did, you’ll eventually get wise to the situation, and either fit in, or leave.
          This is all happening for one reason.
          Disobedience.
          God is not abandoning you.  People are.  People are not connected with Christ, and so they act like this.  No matter how religious they appear, and how many Christians are on their bus, God isn’t buying their falseness.
          To the extent they don’t love you, and help you, is the extent to which they have ignored the Word of God, and the extent to which they don’t know God at all.
          Read the Scriptures.  From beginning to end, it’s all about love.  The love of God for each man and each woman born on this earth.  The love we’re to have for each other.  Community, warmth, affection, sharing, being together, giving, working together, loving one another, sacrificing for one another.  The Word of God, Christ Jesus, came to bring that love visibly to us, and to fill us with His Spirit of love, and to example that to us.  We are the ones who ignore His Word, His life, in favor of our religious activities. 
          The problem is us.  Unregenerated man.  Unrepentant, unloving, unkind, unspiritual, ungodly us.
          At is at this point in your life, when you are down, totally disappointed, totally gone, and without hope, that you will have to make a choice.
          You will abandon God, or you will stick with Him, and with His Son Jesus, and decide that He is bigger than the temporary, worldly, sinful church system we see, and that He, as Lord over the true ekklesia of God (the ‘called out to be together’ people of God) will prevail, and that He will somehow bring you into fellowship with other true disciples of Christ who will exhibit a willingness to show their imperfections, to love, to grow together in the Body of Christ you read about in Scripture.
          My plea is this:  don’t abandon the Lord!  
          But would you do me a favor?  Would you look for me?  Would you cast around to find others like yourself, so that we can come together and not be so lonely and have so much heartache?  Would you commit yourself to others like me, so that we can love one another through the messy process of becoming Christ to the world?
          I am sick and tired of seeking the Lord day and night, finding Truth so wonderful, and His love for me, and yet not finding brothers who can share it together.
          Oh, true brothers in Christ, where art thou?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

REVEAL YOUR SON IN ME






A. Brother
©2010 Narrowgate Publishing



“I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up.  I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.”  --Gal. 1:11,12

“But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the gentiles, I did not consult any man…”  --Gal. 1:15,16

            Revelation is a word that comes from the root verb: to reveal.  So Jesus Christ revealed the good news to Paul first, and Paul then prayed that God the Father would reveal Christ to others by his life.
            Notice Paul says God revealed His Son in Paul.  He doesn’t say, “God revealed His Son through my preaching to the gentiles.”
            No, Paul says very distinctly that God was pleased to reveal Jesus in Paul.
            So the revelation of Jesus Christ that Paul received was the one this apostle ended up preaching his entire life:

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”
                                                                                                                --Gal. 2:20

          We are to reveal Christ, not first of all through our words or our preaching and teaching, but through our lives.
            This preempts everything.  By preempts, I mean takes precedence over.  It comes first, and the revealing of Christ through our preaching, teaching and writing comes later.  If we don’t reveal Christ by our lives, then we have no business trying to reveal Him by our words.
            We must go through the crucifixion with Christ of our natural man, our old man—this man who would always fight to do things our way—and die to that man.  Christ then can live fully in us, who live not for our own ideas, thoughts and pleasures, but for the will of God. 
            Brethren, this includes dying to our own great religious and spiritual ideas and thoughts. 
            So many want to be the ones who bring a “new revelation” to the people of God.  So many strive to create new and clever ways of reaching people with the gospel.  So many of us work and sweat to be original, to be recognized as an effective servant for Jesus.
           







            There is one original—that is Christ in you.  There is no other person on earth who can reveal Christ as you can, in your own life.  You are a new creation in Christ, created for good works which were ordained before you were born to be done by you, and only you.
            It is not your words that will win the world, but Christ revealed in you, as He was revealed in the life of Paul.  Uniquely you, uniquely Christ in you.
            Being Christ in the world, our daily world, is what counts.
            That is the revelation of Jesus Christ Paul talks about here, and that is what our lives should center around.
            The words will come out of that.








          

LIKE WINE LEFT ON ITS DREGS


A. Brother
©2010 Narrowgate Publishing



“Moab has been at rest from her youth, like wine left on its dregs,
not poured from one jar to another—
she has not gone into exile.
So she tastes as she did,
and her aroma is unchanged.”
--Jeremiah 48:11

            There is no way to change into the image of God in Christ without a complete disruption of our restful, static lives.
            Would we become a sweet aroma to God’s sense of smell?
            Then we must be poured out.  Like Paul was poured out, his life being given for the ekklesia, the called out to be together people of God, as a living sacrifice we are to be poured out, unsettled, turned upside down and inside out, in order to become the sweet smelling aroma of Christ to His Father.  As Jesus was poured out, His life given freely for us, so we must give our lives freely for one another, sacrificing our own plans and dreams and goals to God in exchange for His Kingdom.
           
“Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it,
and whoever loses his life will preserve it.”
--Luke 17:33

            Jesus tells us plainly that we are not to seek a life of rest and relaxation, finding our fulfillment on this earth in anything we build here.  We are not of this world, we are of His Kingdom, and so cannot feel at home in this body, in this society, in this time and place, no matter how we are urged to do so.
            Jesus calls us to a pouring out.  A pouring out of our own expectations and desires, our own worldly pursuits and dreams. 
            Jesus also promises us new wine.  A pouring in of the Spirit of God, with Kingdom purposes for us that are higher and purer than we can imagine. 
            However, brothers and sisters in Christ, it is impossible for us to receive new wine without first being poured out, being emptied of our old wine, which is the self-focused life we have been taught.  Don’t think you’ll receive anything of Christ’s fullness until you are willing to let go of it all—all the wrong thinking, the wrong expectations, and the unscriptural pursuits we constantly engage in.

“You still lack one thing.  Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow Me…
How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!
…What is impossible with men is possible with God.”
Luke 18:22,23,27

          In this modern age, we have thought to reinvent the gospel, and create some palatable and easy truth for people to follow as Christians.  We are wrong, and it has cost many the Kingdom.  If we would follow Jesus, we will do it on His terms, not ours.
            We have sought lives of rest and fulfillment in this world.  So we have little of Christ, and we are much as we were before we supposedly came to Christ--we smell worldly and we taste worldly to our Father.
            There is no compromise if we would enter the Kingdom of God.
            There is a pouring out required, and it is impossible for us to do it ourselves.  God must direct this pouring out, this emptying process.  We are simply the obedient, willing servants who allow it.  We must let go of our idols—our desires for money, security, status, position, leisure, worldly pleasure—and seek the Kingdom of God first.  There are no assurances we will ever be “healthy, wealthy, or wise” in the eyes of the world by following Jesus.
            God does not regard our protestations and defenses as anything but rebellion and disobedience. 
            He is God, and He designed us for this.  He didn’t design us for self-focus and a life of rich leisure on this earth.  He designed us for this process of becoming Christ, being filled to all the fullness of our Lord Jesus and emptied out of our own inadequate and foolish self-will.  It is through this process of dying to self, and living to Christ that we become the sweet aroma of love, faith, hope and all the other fruits of the Spirit growing and maturing in God’s Vineyard.
            Make no mistake.  God will have His Way in the end.
            If you do not choose willingly to be poured out for Christ, then you will experience a pouring out and a smashing that will be terrifying to you instead of comforting.

“’But days are coming,’ declares the Lord,
‘when I will send men who pour from jars,
And they will pour her out; they will empty her jars and smash her jugs.
Then Moab will be ashamed of Chemesh,
As the house of Israel was ashamed
When they trusted in Bethel.”
--Jeremiah 48:12,13

            Leave your idols behind—your Chemishes and Bethels—to follow Jesus, before He sends His discipline to save you from yourself!


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