Friday, December 2, 2016

OUR DAILY ROUTINE. GETHSEMANE COMES BEFORE GOLGOTHA.

It's impossible to die with Christ, if we haven't first given ourselves up and said "nevertheless, not my will but Yours".

Just a reminder for each of  us, brought to me courtesy of the Living Word, Christ Himself, that I cannot experience Resurrection if first I refuse the preliminary steps.  

Gethsemane was a necessary stop for our Lord Jesus. Thus it's necessary daily for us. We must fall to our knees in our hearts every day, saying "here is what I would prefer to happen, Father".  Jesus prayed to escape the pain and suffering He knew was soon coming to Him. He knew betrayal and capture, torture, humiliation and death lay just ahead.  He would have preferred another way. But there was no ram in the thicket for Jesus.  Isaac escaped, but Christ would not.  So, He had to say what we need to learn daily to say after giving God our preferences...."Nevertheless, not my will but Yours, Father".

The second stop is often involuntary. When the deep rivers must be crossed. When we must be thrown in the fiery furnace. Or climb seemingly impossible mountains.  Or endure rejection and disappointment.  Or stay when we want to run.  Or work when we want to relax. Or give when we want to be given to.  Or love when we want to hate.

This second step is the Place of the Skull.  Golgotha.  The crucifixion of our own desires, and the will of the Father, for our good, for the good of all, carried out.  YET, do we see that it's our choice? That's why it must be Gethsemane before Golgotha every day.  We must be like Christ, knowing there is always a choice.  That we must opt for the highest and best every day, which is..."Nevertheless, not my will but Yours, Father."

And that's our lesson, so hard to learn, the hardest lesson of all.  We cannot be led to the Cross kicking and screaming, crying and moaning, reaching out to all around us for rescue. We must be like our Lord Jesus.  He was led, and He was quiet, and He took His suffering with grace.  

Gethsemane. Then Golgotha. Then Resurrection. No other order will do.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

IN MY DREAM I MURDERED MY BROTHER

DON'T BE LIKE CAIN
A. Brother

"Don't be like Cain, 
who belonged to the evil one
and murdered his brother."
1 John 3:12

In my dream last night, I struggled underwater with a young man I knew to be my brother.  I don't have a brother, but like many dreams, that reality was suspended.  We were fighting furiously, frothing up the deep green in our rage.

He struck me, and I struck him.  We wrestled, and I noticed a speargun in his hand, and it was pointed at my heart.  With a quick grab my hand went to the trigger, and held his fingers back.  In my fury, I was stronger.  My arms gradually turned the long, thin weapon around toward him.  It was pointed at his neck, and, though running out of air in my lungs, I jerked his finger on the steel curved piece that would release the sharp spear, and it suddenly leaped out of the tube, and pierced him, impaling his neck.  He looked at me, and his eyes held fear and regret.

He floated, his arms stretched out, and we both surfaced.  My anger still held me, and I twisted the spear, trying to make sure it did its work, and he just looked at me.  No sense of guilt pervaded my conscious, but only a satisfaction that he would never bother me again, and my mind plotted ways in which I would make this look like an accident.

In the small lake, nobody else was around.  I brought him to shore, and used his cellphone on the beach to call an emergency vehicle.  "My brother has been in a scuba accident," I lied, "can you come right away?"  I tried to put urgency in my voice.

At that point I woke, and with a sense of regret and sadness that was profound.

"What did you mean by this, Lord?"  I asked.  And He immediately gave me the Scripture above.

Brothers and sisters:

We must love those who love Christ, and not hate them.  We must not hurt or cause grief to our brothers and sisters.  Scripture teaches us that to love your brother is not optional, but is the most important "Mark of the Christian", as Francis Schaeffer wrote in his profound essay on love.

"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers."  1 John 3:16

This issue is the most important of our day.  Many of us claim Christ, yet walk in darkness because we hate and want to murder our brothers.  John was writing to this problem in the early ekklesia of God, which afflicts us today, too.

If we claim to know God, and to have the gospel, yet walk around with anger and rage and even hatred in our hearts;  if we think of our brother as a fool;  if we look down upon others;  if we harbor envy and selfish ambition in our hearts toward one another, then we are not living in the Light.  Christ is love, the Father is love, and the Spirit in us He gives us is full of love for others.

So today, we must pass this test, or know, as I knew with grief and sadness in my terrible dream, that we are full of wrong, and the old man of sin and hate is still in control.  We must put that man to death, and in the power of the Spirit be resurrected to the New Man, who is full of Christ's love today.  This is the working of God's mighty power in us, the mightiest work in the universe.  No work of God is more powerful, because hatred runs so deep in the human family.

Love in Christ today to all, and my His love grip and empower us.

Your brother,
A. Brother

Sunday, July 24, 2016

WHAT'S WRONG WITH OUR "CHRISTIAN" POLITICIANS?

With the recent events in politics in the US, I'm urged from within to write something about what's happened.

We have men like Ted Cruz, Governor Kasich of Ohio, and others who have campaigned on their Christianity, wearing it like a badge of honor, and seeking to rally the Christians behind them to sweep into power.

Now, since the rejection of these men by the vast majority of conservatives, including most evangelicals, we've seen Cruz and Kasich snub the convention, acting like petulant children who've been deprived of their rightful place in history.

Here's the point I'm driven to make.  This feels like prophecy because it is.

Who is in charge? Who decides the course of history? Who says to us that we're not to worry when the earth shakes, and leaders clash, and nations war against nations?  Who hand picks even non-believers to rule? (read your Scriptures, brothers and sisters).

God Almighty, that's who.

So when Ted Cruz stands up and defends himself, his family, his beliefs, and acts as if he's the only one who lives by Christian principles, where is his faith? When John Kasich boycotts the convention, where there are thousands of equally zealous believers in attendance, who is he boycotting against?

These men are exhibiting the traits of the modern religious Christian.  Shouting about "living by Biblical principles" is the worst thing they can do.

First of all, nobody can live by "Christian principles". Name me one place in Scripture where we are exhorted to live by "Christian principles".  There are no such things as Christian principles.  That is religion.  Rules, regulations, and principles.  

For us as believers, there is only Christ, and His power, and His love, and His Spirit within us.  He decides elections, and He decides this nation's future.  We can speak out, and vote, and work to persuade others. But when that gavel comes down, and we are not chosen, we MUST exhibit the character of Christ, not our own petulant, power-hungry anger and disappointment.

Ted Cruz and John Kasich have demonstrated to the world the worst of religious Christianity, by not being gracious, and kind and loving, even to those who misuse them, and abuse them.

And who is to say that this is not the hour God chooses a man to lead us who is going to make decisions even he does not understand.  Like Cyrus, perhaps this man is going to be used by God to save God's people, even if he doesn't fully understand what that outcome is to be.  Even if he doesn't live by "Christian principles".  And look who he chose for a running mate: a man who is arguably the most godly of all the men in politics, a man who has demonstrated humility and grace throughout his career.

I do know this by the Spirit of God. If Christians do not give up their pride, their prejudice and their anger over "Christian principles", then the people waiting to continue their power-mongering are the worst of the worst, and will fight against godly men and women everywhere in America over the coming years.
I have personally known men and women who suffered under socialist and communist regimes, and that is something we don't wish upon our nation.

God is not a principle, nor is His Christ.  They are the Living God, and will not be confined to a list of principles.

Beware of following these religious Christians. And listen to the Spirit of God within you for direction.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

MASQUERADE. ANGELS OF LIGHT? OR SATAN'S SERVANTS?

MASQUERADE
A. Brother

“But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived
by the serpent’s cunning, your minds
may somehow be led astray
from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 
Or if someone comes to you
and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached…
you put up with it easily enough.” 
2 Cor. 11:3,4

“…Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 
It is not surprising, then, if his servants
masquerade as servants of righteousness.” 
2 Cor. 11:14,15

            Since Christ came, there have been those who knew Him, and preached Him truly and faithfully.  These men, like Paul, suffered much to follow Christ, and were examples of his love and sacrifice.  They lived the “sincere and pure devotion” which Paul talks about here to the people they brought into the Kingdom of God. 
          They were examples to the flock of Christ’s compassion, humility, and generosity, giving of themselves without thought of being paid back, and desiring only that men and women find Christ for themselves, and that they be taught the truth consistent with Scripture and the life of Jesus.  From the apostles on down, these men and women are our examples for life and service in Christ.

          But today, as always, we have many who do not preach and teach the Jesus of the Bible.  They are fakers and deceivers, deceiving and being deceived, and take many with them down the path of disobedience and confusion.  Our churches in affluent America have gone down this path with alarming speed over the past decades, growing fat and complacent, leaving the elementary truths of God’s Word behind in their love affair with the world and its ways.
          Our leaders, the so-called shepherds of the flock, have led the way in being deceived, and in accepting the wages of the world.
          The vast majority of our church traditions, practiced daily, weekly and monthly among the churches calling themselves by Christ’s Name, are weak and faulted, based upon the traditions of men rather than on the revealed will of God in His Word.
          The traditional church service.  The Sunday School.  The tithe.  The sacred days, like the Sabbath, Christmas, Easter.   The role of pastors.  The clergy/laity division.  All are dangerously removed from Biblical teaching, and must be examined as man-made traditions, much like those gradually adopted by the Jews over the centuries, which Jesus our Lord spoke against, and still speaks against in His Word.  Our desire to have religion and its trappings has resulted in a maze of religious tradition that entraps people who would know Christ from finding the way to Him.
          God abhors religion.  He hates man-created religious tradition, pomp and ceremony.  He despises our attempts to rein in the Holy Spirit and put Him in the confines of liturgy and rigid conformity to comfortable schedules and staid religious structures.
          Who are we to stand against the Word of God?  To ignore His clear Ways?  To replace His power with our placid, powerless religion?  To preach a gospel other than that which Paul and the other apostles preached?  Who are we to disobey the God of Heaven, who reached down in Christ to pluck us out of dead religion, and grabbed us away from the world and its basic principles?  Who are we to mold ourselves after the weak and miserable traditions of men, instead of holding fast to the Truth that is the power of God in us?

          As Paul told the Corinthian ekklesia of God in the passage quoted above, they were already being led astray by smooth-talking professional preachers and teachers who were more interested in securing lucrative and steady employment than in serving Christ by taking up their cross of pain and suffering.  So today, we have a professional clergy that is dedicated to continuing the puny traditions of men, so that they can thrive in steady, salaried, comfortable positions of prominence.
          If Paul were preaching today, he’d be standing against this unholy system of paid prophets and secure shepherds, because he stood against it in his day.
          The tithe we preach and teach today has absolutely no place in the teaching of the New Covenant.  The teaching of the New Covenant in Christ is giving, without reference or basis in tithing.  Generosity, love, sharing, and giving up all one has is the new standard.  Love for the brethren is the key concept in giving, and support for those who preach and teach God’s Word among us is expected, not in worldly business paradigms, but in spontaneous, abundant, loving provision out of hearts full of gratitude to Christ.  Our giving to Christ is not counted in percentages, but in possibilities.
          The church services we hold have no resemblance to those held among the scattered ekklesia of God in New Testament days.  Their coming together was marked by the leading of the Holy Spirit, and though done in orderly fashion, was marked by the enthusiastic input of all in the Body that were present, with songs and teachings being brought by many, and confession of sin and prayer for healing of those sins being a regular part of their gatherings.  The music was spontaneous and came from the heart.  The gifts of the Holy Spirit were allowed to be manifest among the brethren as He led, and the unfettered growth of the Body in love and strength and encouragement was the result.  There was mourning and grieving, repentance and confession as well as joy and praise.  There was no “professional” staff hired to plan and develop sophisticated service traditions, and to do all the leading and teaching and preaching and music themselves.
          Leaders were expected to shepherd the flock, down in the trenches, loving and working individually with their sheep.  They knew their sheep as Jesus knows them, doing the difficult work of feeding and caring for them, as Jesus did.  Every sheep was expected to grow and contribute, and the leaders were charged with teaching and preaching, making sure the flock learned how to follow Jesus, and going after the strays personally, as Jesus would.  The leaders were charged also with training others to lead, and growing up others into the maturity in Christ that would allow them to teach others how to follow Christ.
          There were no special days, because the birth of Christ, His death, and His resurrection were celebrated in the daily life of the Body.  They were in the process of dying to self, and being resurrected to new life, and it wasn’t a once a year thing.  It was daily.  That’s why they met together often, as often as they could, because they loved to be together, and didn’t need special days and special events to make it worthwhile. 
          There were no staid traditions.  It was each day with Christ, each day by faith and not by sight, each day in danger and difficulty on the Narrow Road with their Savior.  They, like many Christians in the non-affluent countries today, knew that following Christ meant exposure to mistreatment, and hardship.  As it would for us in America if we truly followed Christ, instead of playing dead religious games.

          We must fall on our knees and repent, asking the Lord God for forgiveness, and for His will in His Word to be revealed to us in freshness by His Spirit.  We must weep and mourn and wail as James says, seeking God’s forgiveness for our apostasy and comfortable disobedience.  We ask God for the wrong things, and we ask Him with wrong motives, to spend them on our own spiritual comforts and pleasures.

          Woe to those who lead the flock of God into the wrong pastures!  You who eat of the best, and sit at the seats of honor at the banqueting tables, and hold the pulpits away from the Lord’s people so that you can have the preeminence.
          Woe to you who treat the Lord’s holy offices of leadership as a career, and your positions as secure ways of income!
          Woe to you leaders who lead with unexamined and untested lives, emulating not Paul and the other apostles, not the Lord Jesus Himself, but the worldly leaders around you.  Woe to you who rely on worldy management principles to govern the One Holy Nation of God!

“Woe to you who are complacent in Zion,
and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria,
you notable men of the foremost nation,
to whom the people of Israel come…
You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches.
You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves.
You strum away on your harps like David
and improvise on musical instruments.
You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions,
but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.
Therefore you will be the first to go into exile;
your feasting and lounging will end.” 
Amos 6:1-7

            Listen to the Word of God, kneel and repent of your wickedness, before He comes and removes you from your exalted and comfortable position.  Grieve over the ruin of the churches, put aside your self-absorption and insistence upon your security, and become like the Lord Jesus, the Servant, and like the apostles and prophets who are given us as examples in Scripture. 
          Abandon Broadway, and take the Narrow Roads with Christ, and find true fulfillment in your calling, or suffer the loss of all you have worked for!
          Sheep of the One Flock, heed your One Shepherd’s voice, and leave the dead religious traditions of men.  Follow Christ, your Lord and find His joy, His peace, His love, His Way.  Leave the men and women who “masquerade as servants of righteousness” but preach a Jesus other than the Jesus preached by the Word of God.  Leave them and follow Christ, for in the final Day, you will have no excuse!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

THE ONLY THINGS THAT MATTER: PAUL'S FINAL INSTRUCTIONS

THE ONLY THINGS THAT MATTER:
PAUL’S FINAL INSTRUCTIONS FOR US
A. Brother

“Finally, my brothers….”
Phil. 3:1

Paul is close to the end of his life and knows it.  He is writing some of his favorite, dearest friends in Christ—those brothers and sisters he’s known in the City of Philippi—and giving them final instructions.  Paul is under guard in Rome, under house arrest, and living in his own rented apartment there. 

This letter is marked with sadness and joy.  Paul is sad that he may never see any of his beloved brothers and sisters again, and joy that he will soon be with Christ, his first love.  He knows he is going to die, and this letter holds that knowledge close, and so Paul is writing only the most essential, the most important things, the things that matter. 

So he says, getting down to business, “Finally, my brothers…”, which means “Ok, now that we’ve caught up on other matters, and talked in generalities, I’m going to give you the essentials.  I’m going to give you the most important things so that you will remember them after I’m gone.”  He wanted the Philippian Christ-followers to be focused on what would keep them through the fire and flood of their modern lives.  (Yes—all people have lived in modern times—modern to them!)

“It is no trouble for me to write
the same things to you again, and it is a
safeguard for you.”
Phil. 3:1

So Paul is giving his final instructions to them.  He is telling these modern people what will help them to stand firmly in Christ in their futures.  So nothing has changed, and these are the things that matter for us today.  Paul is writing to us, too, and we must heed his words.

“Therefore, my brothers,
you whom I love and long for,
my joy and crown,
that is how you should stand firm
in the Lord, dear friends.”
Phil. 4:1

Paul sums up what he writes in the 3rd chapter of his letter, what we will look at beginning today, with this capstone truth.  The truth he is telling us is this:  if we want to stand firm in Christ, no matter what happens, then we will listen to and follow his instructions in this section of the letter.

 PUT NO CONFIDENCE IN THE FLESH

Paul first warns that putting “confidence in the flesh” (v.3) is a great danger.  He talks about men who will come among us and introduce heresies to draw us away from Christ into religion.  This “confidence in the flesh” comes disguised as religious fervor.  The men who bring new religious systems, and who design new programs and rules and regulations, or who want to take us back into a system of religious principles and creeds to live by such as the Mosaic law are those whom Paul reserves his harshest words for.

“Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil,
those mutilators of the flesh.”
Phil. 3:2

Paul warns against any and all reliance upon the flesh.  All religions are based on fleshly principles.  All devise systems, no matter how benign and harmless we think they are, that put “confidence in the flesh”.  No religion on earth is acceptable in God’s sight.  Not even religious Christianity. 

Christ Himself condemned the religious among His people, and blasted them with the truth that they couldn’t earn a single bit of God’s favor by their religious works.  That included their attendance at meetings, their religious appearances, their giving, their charity, their prayers, their religious festivals and observances, their religious dress, their religious activities of any kind.  None of it mattered to Christ.  So Paul here reminds us that none of it matters, and never will.

“For it is we who are the circumcision,
we who worship by the Spirit of God,
who glory in Christ Jesus,
and who put no confidence in the flesh…”
Phil. 3:3

So Paul reminds us of the great ruth that religion, and religious fervor, and religious works and observances, can never save us.  In fact, religion is direct disobedience to the Word of God.  Circumcision here represents any of our attempts to outwardly mark ourselves as God’s people.

The true marks of a Christ-follower are the ones Paul lists here:

1. We worship by the Spirit of God
2. We glory (boast) only in Christ
3. We put no confidence in the flesh.

Paul makes it absolutely clear.  Christ is the only confidence of a man of God.  The man or woman of God will worship and live by the Spirit of God in them, and put not one shred of confidence in anything else.  Not religious systems, not worldly things, nothing else.  Not even their own accomplishments or talents, nor their own religious ideas and plans.  Not their money, or status, or job, or friends.  Not one other thing will the man of God boast of except His Lord Jesus Christ. 

This is foundational, and so important that it lays down our understanding of Paul’s summation of his own life. 

Paul was an accomplished, educated man.  He had plenty to boast about in the eyes of men.  Much of his accomplishment was religious in nature, and here he lays it out in detail for us.  In chapter 3: 4-6, he lists the reasons he could have confidence in the flesh if he wants to. 

His religious pedigree was impeccable.  He was a “Pharisee of Pharisees”, in other words, a leading religious figure of his day.  He was even a righteous man in terms of keeping the Mosaic law.  He was zealous for God.  In fact, not listed here is the fact that Paul was also a Roman citizen by birth, which means he undoubtedly came with a worldly pedigree, both a leading Jew and a leading citizen of Rome in the City of Tarsus where he was born and raised.  In other words, Paul had more to brag about, if he wished to, than almost anyone he was talking to.  Both from a worldly and a religious standpoint.

Yet we will find out in the next verses that Paul actually gave no value to these things he possessed.  Instead, he’d found someone of far greater worth.  Someone worth living for, and someone worth dying for.





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