Tuesday, August 31, 2010

IN CHAINS FOR CHRIST

IN CHAINS FOR CHRIST
A. Brother
©2010 Narrowgate Publishing

“Now I want you to know, brothers,
that what has happened to me
has really served to advance the gospel.”
Phil. 1:12

What had happened to Paul?  He had been confined in prison for his subversive activities.  Accused of spreading dissension and political turmoil, or impacting the livelihoods of local merchants and businessmen, or teaching people to worship God rather than the works of their hands, or disrupting the religious lives of the self-righteous religious people.  Thrown in prison for the crime of preaching Christ, he had been accused, convicted, sentenced.  He was in chains now, literally.

Paul was in prison a number of times, but it certainly could not have been routine for him.  It was uncomfortable, dirty, and considered unworthy of good men.  Common criminals surrounded him, and his jailers would have been, in the main, anything but kind and helpful men.  This was a dank, smelly, sour, unwashed, filthy prison before the days of prison reform gave us the modern jail’s decent living conditions.  There was no running water, no flushing toilets, no televisions or lunchrooms or clean uniforms.  These were the foulest places on earth.

Yet his entire letter to the Christ-followers in Philippi was an encouragement.  How could Paul, out of such extreme circumstances, be so full of power and joy?

This is where modern Christianity and the true gospel of Christ are miles apart. 

There is no connection between our affluent, must-have-our-comforts-and-fun Christian religion and this vital, powerful, thrive-in-the-worst-conditions Christ-life Paul was living.  There may be words we use in common, or verses we quote, or sermons we preach that bear some resemblance to what many would term “the Christian life”.  But overall, there is so little commonality that even casual observation would not connect them.

Paul’s only concern, his only purpose, his only life, his only ambition or thought or actions, were Christ.  He was not concerned about himself, or his position or status in the churches, or in the community.  He was not concerned about his worldly reputation.  He was not concerned about his own body, whether it was treated well, or treated poorly.

He cared only that Christ would be exalted, even in his imprisonment.  His prayers were constant, and were for the Philippians themselves, and their spiritual growth in Christ.  His thoughts were upon how he was representing Christ Jesus, not whether he had attorneys representing him.  His heart was in heavenly places with Christ, not in the dark, dirty cell where his body lay daily.  His zeal was for the truth of Christ to be declared, whether by those who preached Christ out of bad motives or good. 

He taught from prison through his letters, urging the brothers to be willing to suffer for Christ as he was, and to pursue humility, love, patience, and servanthood.  While he was being “poured out like a drink offering”  (2:17), an older man well along in years, suffering physically and mentally every hour, he was powerfully exhorting, encouraging, strengthening, correcting, warning, pleading, and being the voice of Christ to those he loved.

What a difference between this life portrayed to us in Scripture, and what we see and hear around us in our modern “Christian” subculture. 

For one simple reason.  We have not learned the basic truths of the Christ-life.  We have been brought up and taught a lie.  That is why we have people by the thousands crowding our comfortable sanctuaries on Sundays, listening to comfortable, uplifting sermons, and enjoying the entertainments we prepare for one another.  That is why there is a form of godliness without power.  Even if there is much noise, God’s ears are stopped because of our self-focus, and the sentimental attachment we have to all our religious ways.  We love ourselves, and our ways of doing church, and we feel at ease with our lives, and the blessings we believe God has bestowed on us.

What do we have in common with this poor, ragged, suffering man kneeling in a filthy stone prison and praying in the power of God for the life of Christ to be shown in His people?  This man who, like Christ Himself, was willing to be sacrificed so that others could know the Truth, and be set free from their lives of self-indulgence and self-focus?  This brother who knew such betrayal and pain, shipwreck, disaster, opposition, hatred, danger, difficulty, disease, chains, flogging, beatings and separation from those he loved?  All for the sake of Christ, for whom he was willing to suffer the loss of all things?

“Join with others in following my example, brothers,
And take note of those who live according to the pattern
we gave you.  For, as I have often told you before
and say now again with tears,
many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.
Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach,
and their glory is in their shame.
Their mind is on earthly things.”
Phil. 3:17-19

The examples we see today are not the example Paul talks of here.  The pattern we see is not the pattern we see here in Scripture.  The examples we see portrayed by our churches and our leaders in modern, affluent “Christianity” are far removed from these examples and patterns.  Many of us, we must say with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  We have our minds on earthly things.  We have our agendas, and our plans, and our goals, and we run our churches and our ministries like they are businesses, with boards and balance sheets, and careful programs and marketing campaigns.  We pride ourselves on our wonderful ministries, and how far we have come from those dismal days when being with Christ meant suffering and opposition, being hunted and persecuted.

Today, if you are called to minister, then you are called to emulate Paul, and emulate those who live according to the Biblical call.  This call involved death to self, no personal agenda, and an absolute giving up of all things for the sake of the gospel.  We must get back to this pure, unadulterated Christ-life, or we will be lost.  There is no room for personal or professional agendas in the Christ-life.  We must be willing to die, today, every day, to all that. 

This is why Paul could rejoice and give out the light of Christ from the darkest situations a man can encounter.  Why he could have power in weakness, and give that to others.  It was Christ in him; Christ’s energy, Christ’s love, Christ’s strength, Christ’s joy, Christ’s mind speaking and writing.  It was not Paul, it was Christ.  This is the life we must strive for, brothers and sisters, and accept nothing less.

We must begin the rebellion against disobedience to Scripture, or be lost along with the world.  We must begin to confess and repent of our own sins, our own worldliness, our own depravity, and turn to Christ in humility, willing to forsake these things for the sake of the One and Only who calls to a disobedient and rebellious people now.




Monday, August 30, 2010

CHRIST IN YOU. YOU IN CHRIST.

"To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse..." (Col. 1:2)


"I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness--the mystery...that is now disclosed to the saints...which is Christ in you, the hope of glory."  (Col. 1:25-27)


In Christ.  This phrase is the key to all knowledge, wisdom and life.  Christ in you.  This phrase sums up the whole message of the gospel.  These are the truths upon which the entire span of eternity, and the entire universe hinge.  The door of truth swings on these massive, smooth, beautifully and perfectly forged hinges, and can be swung open by a single touch of the weakest, tiniest hand.


If we come as children to Christ, as He commands we do (Matt. 19:14 et.al.), then we can, with the feeblest of cries, call the entire power of God to our disposal in Christ.  He is ready and willing to uphold us in danger, to strengthen us in turmoil, to fill us with His peace in the worst of circumstances if we come like this.  If we come as able adults, sure in our religious place, content in our righteousness, holding up hands of complacency and self-worth, then God is bored with us, and cannot invest in us this life of Christ Jesus.


If you have not died with Christ (Col. 2:20), then you cannot be raised with Christ (Col. 3:1).  If you are not raised with Christ, you are not alive in Christ and dead to the world.  If you are not dead to the world, then you are living in your own power, not in Christ's.


In Christ.  Christ in you.  These sum up all mysteries that have been solved by His coming.  Today, we must dwell here, in the childlike realm of this Truth, and stay every day until He reveals the fullness of His own character in us.  Once we know this, we can never leave this place without damaging what God is doing in us.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

AYN RAND OR CHRIST: EXPOSING DECEPTION

AYN RAND OR CHRIST?
A. Brother
©2010 Narrowgate Publishing


“So whether you eat or drink,
or whatever you do,
do it all for the glory of God.”
1 Cor. 10:31

“Nobody should seek his own good,
but the good of others.”
1 Cor. 10:24

“Man is an end to himself.”
Ayn Rand


Do we understand the depth of separation from the Truth that has taken place in our modern societies over the past century?  From my observation most of us who claim Christ are at least partially swimming in the Sea of Self that has engulfed our land.  This flood of man-worship has infected nearly all we do and believe, and must be called out for what it is: a tool of Satan to keep men, women and children focused on worldly foolishness, instead of on Christ and His Kingdom.

Ayn Rand lived during nearly the entire span of the 20th century, and was a voice of so-called “reason”, “individualism” and “objectivism” that influenced generations of Americans.  Posthumously, her Ayn Rand Institute carries on her ideas and philosophies, seeking to instill in young people especially her brand of self-worship. 

She is just one of a host of men and women who’ve paraded across our social landscape in these past decades, preaching a gospel of self-focus and self-fulfillment, and the result is what we’re seeing around us today.  Selfishness has always been the hallmark of Satan’s prophets, and the fruits of this evil philosophy litter the highways of human history. 

Everything is about self, and about the attainment of whatever that self wants, from the worship of self-pleasure and money, to the worship of self-fulfillment, to the worship of self-focused idols of every kind, including possessions, beauty, educational achievement, and church-achievement.  At every level of this contest, we hear the churches chiming in, seeking to be “cool” and to pander to these selfish needs, rather than standing true to God’s Word, and ignoring the surging tides of society’s mad rush toward the brink.

We look at Rand’s bald statement above, and we contrast it with Scripture, and see immediately that it is falsehood of the most obvious kind.  Yet is it so obvious?  From all we practice, and many of the things we preach and teach in the churches, the conclusion might be drawn from a casual onlooker that we’re graduates of her institute.

Christians today fight for their “rights as individuals” on all fronts.  Politically, economically, socially—we engage with whatever party, left or right, we feel most represents our “selves”—or we fight as independents—but we fight for our rights. 

This fight consumes the energies and pocketbooks of millions, many of whom claim Christ.  It is easier to raise funds from “Christians” for a good political battle than to help a hurting family next door.  Ask anyone who’s been in that position. 

Cleaning out the cupboards of “old stuff” we won’t use and donating it is often the extent of our charity for the friend or stranger who is in dire need down the street or at church.  Yet we’ll whip out the checkbook to send our kids to the right private school, to remodel the kitchen, to maintain the expensive automobile we’ve chosen, or to elect the guy who’s going to support our stance on business in the upcoming contest.  We’ll never touch our retirement fund, thinking that will secure our future, yet ignore the present needs of the poor, the sick, the hurting all around us.  How little we understand about God’s heart if we believe He approves of these attitudes and actions.

Christ Jesus gave up all His “rights” to come and be among us and save us.  We are called to the same life.  To live His life of “giving up” these rights.  Paul chose to give up his rights as an apostle, and as an individual, and follow Christ and win others to Christ.  (1 Cor. 9:12-33)  We must do the same. 

Everything we do is to be examined in this Light:  Does it bring glory to God?  Does it put other’s interests above my own?







Saturday, August 28, 2010

WHERE HAVE CONFESSION AND REPENTANCE GONE?

CONFESSION AND REPENTANCE
A. Brother
©2010 Narrowgate Publishing



“If we claim to be without sin,
we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just
and will forgive us our sins
and purify us from all unrighteousness. 
If we claim we have not sinned,
we make Him out to be a liar
and His Word has no place in our lives.” 
1 John 1:8-10

“For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me. 
Against You, You only have I sinned
and done what is evil in Your sight…
Surely You desire truth in the inward parts…”
Psalm 51:3,4,6

Confession is not just good for the soul, as the old saying goes, it is essential at all times for true communion with God.  Only men and women who have hearts deeply repentant for their sinfulness can know the depths of God’s love.
 
Jesus said this about the fruit of confession and repentance:

“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins
have been forgiven---for she loved much. 
But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” 
Luke 7:47

The woman, a common prostitute, had come into the Pharisee’s house when he had Jesus over for dinner.  She just showed up, and proceeded to kneel at the Lord’s feet, weeping.  She wet his feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, kissed His feet, and poured perfume on them.

The Lord Jesus commended her, and forgave her many sins.  The Pharisee was offended, because all he could see was his own righteousness in relation to the woman’s sinfulness.  But Jesus didn’t care.  He showed his disciples and all of us who would follow the Lord, that understanding our sin and confessing it is essential to having love for God, and for knowing His love in return.

The man who thinks he has little sin in his life will experience little forgiveness and have little love.  That’s how it works.

Those of us who would be close to God the Father and His Son Jesus must learn our own sinfulness.  We must, like David, be willing to constantly confess and turn away from our sins.  We will sin, but we have the great high priest, the Lord Jesus, who is our advocate with the Father when we do sin.  To confess our sin is not a sign of weakness, it is proof we love God.  To kneel at Jesus’ feet weeping over our sins and wiping His feet with our tears is a beautiful thing in God’s eyes.  To love Him is a satisfying perfume that pleases Him.  To know His forgiveness is to love much.

The apostle John knew all about Jesus’ love.  He talked about it constantly in his letters, and emphasized it in his gospel.  This love sprang from having been forgiven much, and knowing true repentance daily in his soul.  Like David, Peter, Paul, and a host of other men in Scripture, John knew his own deeply sinful nature, acknowledged it constantly before God, and so had become a lover of God. 

John knew that the one who is forgiven much, loves much, and the one who would be forgiven must learn to love.  They go hand in hand.  The man who loves much will forgive, and be forgiven.  The man who doesn’t love hasn’t learned God’s love, and therefore won’t forgive others, and won’t be forgiven himself.  These interlocking truths were core teachings of Jesus.

When David sinned by lusting after Bathsheba, having her husband killed, and then taking her as his wife, he resisted confession and repentance for a time.  He hardened his heart and refused to acknowledge his sin.  This terrible sin was taking his very life away, and he had no true communion with God during the months he lived without forgiveness. 

This is the essence of what John says in the first chapter of his first letter.  That when a man or woman refuses to admit their guilt and sin, they are out of fellowship with the Father and His Son, and with their brethren in Christ.  They are hypocrites, and the Word of God is not in them.

We in the churches of God must learn this truth, or perish.  Keep in mind that God is no respecter of position or affluence.  You may be King, or you may be a pauper.  But all must confess and repent of their sin daily, or be lost.
 
There are many in the churches who live as if they are minor sinners, and really have nothing much to confess.  That is why confession has gone out of our gatherings, and out of our sermons, and out of our songs.  We don’t think we need it.  We really feel pretty good about ourselves, and we think we’re just doing fine.  We don’t identify with David, or Paul, or John, or the repentant prostitute.
 
We are like the Pharisee, my friends, who could only mutter to himself about the woman not being good enough for Jesus to touch.  He had that pride and arrogance we have today, that our position, our affluence, our good jobs, our nice homes and cars, our bank accounts, our busy lifestyles, all add up to our being approved by God.  Even our rich church buildings and busy church programs, and good sermons and many Bible classes attest to our spirituality.  So we ignore the Word of God for the sake of our traditions.

The Word of God makes it plain that confession and repentance is the constant activity of those who would know and love God.  This is not a one-time thing at the point of believing, it is the minute-by-minute privilege of those who love the Lord Jesus with all their hearts, and who recognize their own capacity for evil.  No matter how long they have walked with Him, they know they must be constantly on guard against their capacity to sin.
 
To the ones who truly love and know Jesus, sin is illumined in all its ugliness, and the things that seemed small are brought into the light.  All our hidden tendencies are spotlighted, and we see ourselves clearly.  And though we see our sin, we also see the love and light of Jesus’ forgiveness, and He restores the joy of our salvation, and grants us a willing and loving spirit to sustain us.

It is only through honest and sincere confession and forgiveness that we can approach God with confidence.  Our tentative, distant relationship with God gradually becomes real, and strong, and full of grateful love.

“For we do not have a high priest
who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but we have One who has been tempted
in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 
Let us then approach the throne of grace
with confidence, so that we may receive mercy
and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
--Heb. 4:15,16

Remember, brothers and sisters in Christ, if you truly are in Christ you will go to your knees every day confessing and turning away from your sin.  You will not allow the enemy one foothold.  But if you do sin, you will have our great high priest Jesus, who died for every sin you will ever commit. 

But his dying for you is only effective in your honest acknowledgement and willingness to turn away from that sin.  Don’t think that your years in the church, your faithful service to religion, your position or affluence or membership or business for God makes you exempt.
 
On the contrary, those of us who claim leadership must set an example of humble, repentant lives, full of mercy and grace to help, as our Lord Jesus gave us the example Himself.  You must set the example of prayer and supplication for your own sins, and then be the example of love to others in their sins, because you have been forgiven much!


IN REPLY: IS ANY MAN PREDESTINED TO EVIL AND SIN?

NOTE:  There is much misunderstanding of Scripture on the matter of "predestination" and "God's Sovereignty" over men.  I loved this question that was put to me by a brother in Christ.  Here is his question, and my answer.


Dear A. Brother:


I have a friend that says we are "elected" by God and that some are not. I think his examples are Pharoah and Hitler. I say that God has said we have free will and that all are "elected" through their own choice, whether that is choices made or presently make, he says no, that from birth these individuals were put here for the purposes they lived and exemplify, he will reference the story of the potter and the clay relentlessly. My question is this, is he is right, and if so is there freewill? Personally I think that those individuals made choices that led them to be used by God to glorifying him. I think that if Hitler turned to God and chose Jesus then God would have accepted him with open arms. Believe me, I know that sounds crazy, but if I believe that Christ is a kind, forgiving God, then I must believe that all who seek him will recieve him, and if the other is true, then why bother, we have been chosen from birth and it is not of our freewill. Hopefully all that makes sense and any clarity would be apprieciated. Thanks A Brother....
A. Bondservant


Dear A. Bondservant:
 
From my understanding of Scripture, this brother doesn't realize what you've already sensed from the Spirit of God in your heart and mind.

God desires all men to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2:3).  There is not one person who's ever been born whom God destined to not know Him.  But God foreknows, too.  This mystery is too deep for us to judge, hence our commandment from Jesus, "Judge not, lest you be judged."  

Even Christ Himself wasn't sent to judge. In John 3:16-21 (this is the whole passage, not just the one verse Christians quote!) Jesus lays out for us a clear understanding of this.  He didn't come into the world to condemn anyone.  Neither are we to condemn anyone.  He came because "God so loved...that He gave".  We are to do the same.  End of story.  

Pharoah hardened his own heart, and to fulfill His own purposes, God let Him, and used the Egyptian leader in that position to accomplish His purposes.  Paul's point in Romans 9 is that God knew that Pharoah wasn't going to let His people go, even after all the plagues.  So God used that to fulfill His will for His people.  Cyrus, King of Persia, was used the same way.  Even Judas, who had incredible opportunities, being side by side with the Lord Jesus daily, decided on his own to betray Him.  To say Judas didn't have a choice would be contrary to Scripture.  We all have choices, and we're all responsible for those choices.

Proof of this comes in Romans 9, mentioned above, though many don't read the whole chapter with the "eyes of their understanding being enlightened".  Paul was argued with by some Jews about their "election".  He makes God's case about this very issue: Pharoah first as an example, and then the Jews themselves.  His point is clear--that God gives everyone free will, but that men, in their freedom, often choose darkness rather than light, at which point, God, in His infinite knowledge, uses even bad choices to further His will and His Kingdom.  This is at the heart of the issue of God's Sovereignty, which is a much misunderstood fact right now due to our general lack of Scriptural understanding.

Today, there are many whose personal choices to live in darkness and do evil are impacting all those around them.  Are these people necessarily lost forever?  I hope not, because until recent years, when God got through to me, I was in sin, struggling mightily, lost in the quagmire of disillusionment and darkness.  Yet God, who is rich in mercy, always holds out His hand to even the Hitlers of the world.


To talk as if some men were programmed by God to be evil, as if they are being "manipulated by God", is to make God some kind of wicked dictator who forces some men to be evil, and others to be good.  This is not God the Father portrayed to us in Scripture.  Our Father created mankind to be saved.  That is His will.  His ultimate Sovereignty is being worked out daily, even in the lives of those who choose evil.  He is bigger than evil, and bigger than our own sins, and His grace shown in Christ fills the universe, and is available to all men, no matter the extent of their evil.  He uses evil men to accomplish His purposes, but He would, as you say, gladly have embraced Hitler if this sad, hate-filled man had turned to Him.  And who among us can condemn Hitler?  If we had been him, and had his life, and known his inner demons, might we have been him?  Today the Spirit of God speaks to me of God's great compassion, not His condemnation.  Why shouldn't we feel love and pity for this man, who at one time was actually a sinless, tiny baby, wishing only to be loved and held and nurtured--not the monstrous character he became?  Where is our love from the heart of God?  

Nevertheless, Hitler could have turned at any time, but he chose darkness rather than light.  And he was no different than any of us, because we all have the capacity to do terrible evils.  Paul understood that.  He called himself the "chief of sinners", and "less than the least of God's people".  But for the grace of God, and my decision to hold to Christ, I could still be wallowing in that cesspool myself.  We cannot let ourselves off the hook by creating a God who manipulates men.

Great question, and one that needs to be addressed head-on, with a full understanding of Scripture!  We can have complete confidence that there is NO CONDEMNATION to those who are in Christ Jesus, and that is the point, to be in Christ Jesus.  If we are, we won't go around condemning others by saying they were destined to evil by God.

Your brother, 
A. Brother  

Thursday, August 26, 2010

DONKEYS BEHAVING BADLY

DONKEYS BEHAVING BADLY
A. Brother
©2010 Narrowgate Publishing

TEXT:  NUMBERS 22:1-35

          This is for all brothers and sisters who know the calling of the Lord to speak for Him;  those who are watchmen, prophets, teachers, and shepherds in Christ, and who seek Him, and work to carry out His Word faithfully by His power, and for His glory.

          Don’t blame the donkey.  I leave it to you to read this account God gives us of a man God called.  This man, Balaam, was on his God-given mission to fulfill this clear calling.  He encountered absolutely strange and unexplainable delays because of his donkey, his only mode of transportation.  Balaam, understandably, was angry and frustrated over the behavior of his normally reliable highway conveyance.  He beat the donkey, raged against the donkey, and tried to make the donkey conform to Balaam’s timetables and plans.

          The donkey would not cooperate.  Balaam was being kept from his God-appointed calling, and this stupid animal was the cause.  The prophet tried three times to make his donkey get up and continue on the road to his appointment. 

          Suddenly, in the middle of a beating Balaam was giving the poor animal, she spoke, sadly asking the prophet why, when she had been faithful to him always, he had suddenly blamed her for her actions. 

          Balaam’s eyes were opened, and in shock, he was staring at an angel of God, sword drawn.

“Why have you beaten your donkey these three times?
I have come here to oppose you
because your path is a reckless one before me.
The donkey saw me and turned away from me
these three times.  If she had not turned away,
I would certainly have killed you by now,
but would have spared her.”
Num. 22:32,33

          Brothers, in our quest to continue on our path while we fulfill our direct calling from God, let us not doubt Him when our own plans and timetables are upset.  When our donkeys fail us, we must lay prostrate before our Lord, and let His Spirit speak to us, and we must calmly give over the plans and timetables to Him.

          Remember Moses.  He was delayed forty years, and God was faithful to do His work anyway.  Remember Joseph, whose delay took the form of betrayal into slavery by his own brothers, and included further betrayal and prison.  Remember the prophets, many of whom never got to see the fulfillment of God’s Word they faithfully preached and died for.  Remember our Lord Jesus Christ, who quietly plied the carpenter’s trade while others went to study among the exalted religious leaders in Jerusalem, and who later walked among the poorest people, and whose entire world-shaking, timeless Life was publicly displayed for only 3 short years.  Remember the apostles, who were last in the procession, and put on display like fools for the world to see, delayed constantly by opposition, beatings, floggings, shipwrecks, imprisonments, house arrest, exile, torture and death.

          This is God’s work, and He will be with you in every delay, every disastrous turn, every hard place, every wilderness mile.  He is Lord, and He loved you and called you by His Name for His sake, and He will never forsake you.  You love His Word, and you have eaten it, and it has become for you the joy and delight of your heart. 

          Now, together, let’s trust Him wholly, the Christ we know and serve, to have a foolproof purpose in every delay, every donkey that behaves badly.  Otherwise, we may find ourselves fighting God, who never makes mistakes.

          All love and encouragement to you, and all strength from the Holy Spirit to give up your anger, your frustration, your well-deserved fits, to fall down before the Father, and accept His will today. 

          Christ’s rest to all who love Him.
          

Monday, August 23, 2010

IN MOURNING FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD

This morning I have been praying, and reading prayer requests sent out from streetscape ministries in Houston, Texas.  This ministry helps the homeless.

What strikes me is the desperate plight of God's people.  The homeless we understand.  They are clearly in trouble.  No place to sleep, begging for food and money, they are poor in the poorest sense.  And often that way because of deep spiritual and emotional problems.

But the people of God are a tragedy all to themselves.  And unrecognized.  I mourn this morning for the cries and heartache of the thousands upon thousands in the churches, or formerly from the churches.  Hurting, angry, confused, sad, lonely, afflicted, disappointed, and wondering where the people of God are when they need them.

Often they have experienced loss and tragedy, personal sickness, financial chaos, or constant attacks from other people.  Unfortunately, many of these attacks are from people who claim to know God.  Having experienced these attacks, and known these kind of "pseudo-Christians", I can attest to the horrible things they can do  in the name of Christ.  They masquerade as leaders, pastors, or just rank-and-file members of the churches, yet they live by creeds and curriculum, rules and regulations, and their hearts do not hold the love of Christ in good measure.  This is why they judge, finding ways to separate themselves from those in trouble, and justify their lack of help and concern, even by twisting Scripture.

Reading the plight of many brethren this morning, and hearing their cries for mercy, I hear also the voice of God from the Word.

"Though the Lord is on high, He looks upon the lowly, but the proud He knows from afar.  Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You preserve my life;  You stretch out Your hand against the anger of my foes, with Your right hand you save me.  The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; Your love, O Lord, endures forever."
Psalm 138:6-8

May we understand this morning that God is with the lowly, not the proud.  He insists that we learn to love one another, up close and personal, and will not bless those who abandon one another and walk by without helping.  We are the hands and feet of Jesus Christ, and if we don't obey Him, He will find those who will.  He is not handicapped, strapped down, unable to save.  He is the Lord, and He will act on behalf of those who cannot act for themselves, even if they are abandoned and attacked by others who claim to be of Christ, but are proud and arrogant, unloving, and hardhearted.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

TOGETHER

TOGETHER
A. Brother
©2010 Narrowgate Publishing


“And I pray that you,
being rooted and established in love,
may have power together with all the saints,
to grasp how wide and high and long and deep
is the love of Christ, and to know this love
that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled
to the measure of all the fullness of God.” 
Eph. 3:17-19

“In Him the whole building is joined together
and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 
And in Him you too are being built together
to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.”
Eph. 2:21,22

“When the day of Pentecost came,
they were all together in one place.”
Acts 2:1

“All the believers were together
and had everything in common.” 
Acts 2:44

How can we understand the “togetherness” depicted here in the Scriptures if we do not understand the meaning of the word?

In our modern, affluent, tech-driven societies, we have lost the ability to be “together.”  We have developed the art and science of living lives of individuality.  In fact, individual fulfillment has become a shrine at which most worship today. 

This concept began with the rugged individualism held up for Americans as a standard of excellence, with Horatio Alger idolized in past generations, and continuing through the decades with many other champions.

Lifting yourself up by your own bootstraps is a physical impossibility, but has nevertheless been touted as a real option for us, the rugged individuals who don’t need anyone else.  Just try it.  Reach down and try to lift yourself off the floor by grabbing your own shoes.  How far do you get?
 
How happy is our individualistic, bootstrap, self-fulfillment, make-it-on-your-own society today?  Just go to the nearest statistic book to see.  This is the most self-destructive, other-destructive society ever produced by the world.  We are a nation of consumers, who end up consuming our own lives and our own relationships in record numbers.

The churches, who claim to follow Jesus, are little better.  We have emulated the world, creating “Christianity for individuals.”  We have taught ourselves that being alone is good, and that this Christ thing is for us as individuals, that we must concentrate on our individual salvation, and that it is our “personal relationship with God” that counts.  Everything is personal, and everything is individual. 

Our “devotions” are individual, our prayer time is individual, and our church times are gatherings where everyone concentrates on looking up at God or the pastor, and ignoring each other.

We don’t even relate to one another as a “together” family.  We don’t seek out time with one another.  We see each other occasionally like ships passing in the night, and we now think of “fellowship” as a pat on the back, a smile, a hello, a short catch-up on a few life details, and/or a brief phone, email or phone text conversation.

We are with a group, and not there at all.  We are either texting someone who is not with us, or talking on the phone with someone who is not with us, or emailing someone who is not with us.  We are together, but thinking about the next contact we will make.  We are the most disconnected society ever, yet pretend it’s all about connection!

My wife and I remember one day being struck by all this.  We were at a large, enclosed mall, and were walking together and talking.  Ahead of us there were three teenagers.  They were walking side by side, and each had a cell phone up to her ear, talking with someone other than the one she was walking side by side with.  Even when we’re together we’re not together!
         
Scripture demands something far different from the true people of God.  If we are to follow Jesus, we are commanded to make love for others our priority.  We are commanded to look out for other’s interests, as well as our own.  We are told to BE TOGETHER. 

And when we’re together, and that is to be as often as possible, we are to actually BE TOGETHER.  That means giving each other our full attention, and our full love and interest.  That doesn’t mean to be grudgingly there, and under compulsion.  That doesn’t mean to be caring more about our next day at work than we do about our brother beside us.  That doesn’t mean to be focusing on all the work we have to do at home, and ignoring our hurting brethren.

One of the primary focuses of God’s Word is TOGETHERNESS.  This foreign concept is only foreign because this world is a foreign land and God’s Nation is to live by rules of a different citizenship.  The world is what should seem foreign to you.  If you seem at home in this world, you must examine quickly your own faith and discipleship to Christ.

The Body of Christ is to be a beacon of light in this dark, individually-messed up world.  The lonely are meant to be in family, and that family is God’s family.  And if the family of God is no family at all, but a bunch of disconnected individuals, then we are not being obedient to our Father, from whom our family derives its Name.

Paul taught each of the ekklesia, the “called out to be together” groups of believers He worked with, to give their very lives for one another.  He and the other apostles and teachers of that day fought to keep the disciples of Jesus TOGETHER, and fought for them to be “one in heart and mind” as in Acts 4:32.
 
We must learn true togetherness, and we learn it by doing it.   We must purposely pursue being together, and letting down our individual walls, becoming as the early disciples, who gathered and prayed together, and received the Holy Spirit in power together.  We must purposely pursue being together as the early disciples, who spent their time together, sharing everything, including their very lives with one another.  They suffered together, bled together, and even died together when needed.  They wept together in sorrow, and rejoiced together in joyful times.  They shared their homes, their possessions, and, most of all, their love together.

Lose all the slogans and posters of this world.  Burn your books that talk about individual achievement, and making it on your own.  Ease up on your bootstraps, because God never designed you to live in frantic individualism.
 
Instead, let’s pursue a life of love together, power in the Spirit together, faith worked out together, and a family life together in the ekklesia of God.

         

         
            

INTO THE DEPTHS TO FIND POWER



NOTE:  I wrote earlier in several teachings what God is showing me about going through the cross, and getting through that narrow gate with Christ.  After the cross, Austin-Sparks says here, “all the fullness of divine power was released upon the world”.  This is what I’m talking about.  We must be brought into this Oneness with Christ by revelation, by the eyes of our understanding being enlightened, as Paul says, and it comes only through the Cross, and through the power of God resident in us in Christ.  Great insight here.

INTO THE DEPTHS TO FIND POWER
T. AUSTIN-SPARKS

“The people who know their God shall be strong,
and carry out great exploits.”
Daniel 11:32

After the Cross, all the fullness of the Divine power was released upon the world through those who had been brought into absolute oneness with the Lord by that Cross. That is the peculiar kind of knowledge which means the release of such forces and such powers upon the world situation as are unknown by the great world systems.

First, let us remember that this knowledge of God is by revelation. 

We can never get this knowledge of God merely by reading, by listening, by attending meetings... You may understand it all by mental apprehension, know the terms and the verses, and use them - but what about the dynamic of this thing? 

What does our personal presence in a situation mean? Does it mean that there is the going out of a power which cannot be accounted for on any human basis whatever, but which is a greater force than the forces that are represented by world organizations, world methods, world resources?

It is a most important question. Is this thing alive, or have we merely got a little more mental apprehension of it through conferences? Do we know God in this thing by reason of a personal inward revelation on the subject?

Secondly, it comes by the way of pain. 

You get a thing revealed to you as truth, perhaps something about the Cross of Christ, or victory over Satan, and you think you know it, and you say, “This is beautiful!” And you begin to talk about it, and it is not very long before something happens - your circumstances are touched.

Now you go down with this truth, down into the vortex of awful agony, right down to the gates of hell—your being is upheaved right from the very bottom—and all the time there is the question - "Will that truth hold good—is it going to work?”

And when you have got down as far as you can go, the flesh elements and the self elements have been dealt with, and you grimly hold on to the Lord in this matter of victory - then it comes out, you have tested it right to the very bottom of your being - that thing has become you, and then you can go to others in their grim conflict and their darkness, and say, "I know - I know this thing, and I know God is faithful, I know the victory."

You have got a mighty emphasis on your knowledge, it is a thing about which you have no doubt, because you have gone down into the depths with it, and proved it down there, and by the very pain the thing has been proved.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

NAKED AS THE DAY WE WERE BORN

NAKED AS THE DAY WE WERE BORN
A. Brother
©2010 Narrowgate Publishing

“For you died, and your life is now hidden
with Christ in God.”
Col. 3:3

When the westward movement of men and families was in full swing in the United States, wagon trains loaded with people, possessions, and precious keepsakes trundled across the plains and mountains.  These people, in essence, were pioneers, looking for a new start, a new life, and huge change.

What they found was hardship beyond their dreams, and the cost of this new life was often death to all they held dear.  The evidence of their struggle was strewn across the grassy landscape.  The way was so hard they had to abandon furniture, clothes, baggage of all kinds.  Heirlooms were the last to go, but just before the final ascent through the western mountains, whole meadows were piled with the leftovers of their old lives, heaps of things that were now useless to them.  They had found that the price of new life was the death of the old one.

In the spiritual realm, this presents a useful picture to us.  Christ is all we need, and all we can use in the new Kingdom.  None of our precious possessions, whether carnal or religious, will be able to come with us.  The narrow gate means nakedness. 

How did I miss this secret for so many years?  Why did I work and reach out and try myself to live the “Christian life” that I thought I was supposed to live?  When was this preached to me and I missed it?  Where was my mind and my heart that I didn’t hear this, or see this in Scripture?  Who was telling me this, or showing me this, and I didn’t get it?

Many of you might be asking yourselves the same questions, as God speaks to you through His Spirit.

God’s will is that we learn His secrets.  God’s Word teaches us clearly, but because of our own religious leanings, our own filters we’ve built in our minds; because of what we’ve been taught and modeled, and taken up ourselves and carried on, we are blind to the true riches of Christ which are held out to us.  Our own religious thoughts and preferences become huge stumbling blocks to us, keeping us from the Christ-life.

If we would know Christ, we must allow Him to take us through death and into His new life. 

“Since you died with Christ to the
basic principles of this world, why,
as though you still belonged to it,
do you submit to its rules…”
Col. 2:20

Brothers and sisters, do you realize how addicted we are to rules?  How loathe we are to live the life of Christ without limits?  How tightly we grasp our precious religious icons, our concepts of church and living the “Christian life” by keeping whatever “basic principles” we’ve learned are in the Bible, or in our religious heritage?  Do we realize we are compromising the very heart of the gospel, and living contrary to the Scripture when we do this?

I cringe now, after finding freedom through death and resurrection to these things, when I hear Christians talking about living by the “basic principles and precepts of Scripture.”  This is a phrase that spells religion, and not the true, empowered-by-the-Spirit Christ-life we’re to live as believers. 

When we step through the cross with Jesus, dying to ourselves, our own religious thoughts and ideas, we die to all things in us, the “good” and the “bad”.  We are born again, not by the letter of the law, but by the power of the Spirit in us.  We don’t replace our “bad” rules with “good” rules.  We replace all rules and regulations with Christ. 

Paul tells us in as quoted above, that our lives are not here on earth anymore.  We no longer live, but Christ lives in us.

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

That’s why Paul tells us here in Colossians to set our hearts on things above, where our life is hidden.  That doesn’t mean to long for heaven when we eventually physically die.  This means to have our hearts and minds with Christ now, in heavenly places, where our life actually dwells.  We no longer live, but Christ lives in us.  He is in us to give us the power to die, so that His life takes over in us more and more.

The old man, that creature of sin and rules, that creature of religious filters and habits, that self-focused man or woman, is to die.  We are to put it to death each day, and that is our daily cross.  We can’t do it, but the Spirit of Jesus in us will do it as we yield to Him.  It is Christ’s work in us, not our own work for Christ.

We now put off the old man and put on Christ.  He clothes us with Himself, His love, His power, His grace and mercy, His purity.  We have stepped into heaven already.  And we live here, on this earth—through the gritty darkness of a world temporarily held by the dark prince, the enemy of God—by Christ’s power alone.

If we are religious Christians, striving and worrying through our own efforts to live a “Christian life”, hoping that someday it’s all worth it and we’ll be in heaven when we die, we’ve missed the point of God’s plan.

Once we step through the narrow gate, dead and buried to our old life, called out from the tomb by the voice of Jesus like Lazarus, we no longer live, but Christ lives in us.  We are citizens, not of whatever earthly nation we inhabit, but of the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven as Christ Jesus called it so often.  Now:

“Here (in this heavenly kingdom)
there is no Greek or Jew,
circumcised or uncircumcised,
barbarian, Scythian, slave or free,
but Christ is all, and in all.”
Col. 3:11

Brothers, today, let’s throw off the heavy mantle of Christianity and dead rules we’ve learned.  Let’s go unencumbered with old religious thoughts and ways, shedding them as we go with Christ, letting Him do the work in us, letting Him be the power in our hearts and minds, letting the old man go. 

When a baby is born, is he fully clothed?  When we are truly born again, we must rise from the resurrection naked as we were on that day.  This understanding is at the core of what it means to follow Christ, and be a disciple.

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