What if it turns out that America has been conned? What if we discover that an entire movement – a revolution – has been built on lies, exaggerations and deception? What if we learn that we have been duped by the mainstream media and deceived by the propagandizing press?
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True preaching has almost diminished in modern times because prayer has diminished. When prayer decreases, all true proclamation becomes extinct. In prayer the preacher is fit to proclaim eternal realities, and the people of God are fit to receive them. If you stifle prayer, the giving and receiving of God’s Word become an impossibility.
Preaching has almost diminished because the Church and its ministers are no longer preoccupied with the glory of God. When the Church and those who are called to establish it are occupied with the fading lights of this world, there will be no hunger for God and no savoring of His Word. This diminishes a value for the Scriptures in the Church, and all true preaching is paralyzed by worldly distraction.
Preaching has almost diminished because we’ve lost a value for the gift of speech, and the Church has mostly lost its prophetic distinction in the world. The Church is the only entity in the earth that bears the stewardship of proclamation, and if we have lost the value for it, there will be no bearing witness of Jesus’ glory to Israel or the nations.
Preaching has almost diminished because we’ve catered to a generation that is too undisciplined to still its heart and too smug to listen for the voice of God. Our preachers and congregations are mostly distracted by technology, entertainment, and the praise of men, and have failed to function in their distinctive priestly calling as men of prayer and of the Scriptures. This lethargy has passed on to the saints at large, and has produced a generation of undisciplined, purposeless, self-satisfied Church-goers.
Preaching has almost diminished because we have forgotten that God’s choice is to speak through flesh and blood, not through machinery. We have not seen to the formation of foundational servants, but to the carrying out of impressive programs. We have mastered the art of performing services, but we have scarcely seen incarnational preaching, where men speak, “as it were, the utterances of God.” “God anoints men, not methods.” –EM Bounds
Preaching has almost diminished because we have had in mind the preservation of our ministries rather than the salvation of men and the building up of the Church. We have had little concern for foundational doctrine and have been dull to eternity. True preaching becomes irrelevant and old hat to the Church that has left its first love, for it is only when the people of God have a vital affection and honor for the Lord Himself that His Word becomes their treasure.
Preaching has almost diminished because our conception of God is too small, and many do not see Him or His purposes as worthy of the time, energy, and labor that foundational proclamation requires both of the speaker and the hearers. When we see Him as He is, glorious and worthy of supreme attention, those called to proclaim Him will catch fire inwardly, and a fresh eagerness for the Word will grip the people of God. Life-giving, convicting, heart-lifting proclamation will increase in the Church, our vision of Christ will become fuller and richer, and we will be empowered to set Him forth as witnesses in these last days.
“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” -Ps. 34.19
It is a “gospel” of naivete which claims that once a man comes to faith in Christ he will never know affliction. To state the Biblical view clearly, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14.22) According to Luke, this was a word of encouragement to the saints.
This Pauline perspective was expressed thusly:
“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” -1 Cor. 12.10
“…as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way by great endurance in afflictions, hardships, calamities…” -2 Cor. 6.4
For Paul, remarkable sufferings did not disqualify him from the blessing of God, but were the commendation of his ministry, that “in every way by great endurance” he was “content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities.”
On every front the Biblical writers recognized that suffering was integral to the life of faith. It is on the ground of affliction that our faith is tempered, reinforced, and proven. The modern paradigm has digressed into a tooth-and-nail scrap for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and seldom do the saints operate on the basis of apostolic wisdom, which leads us to becoming “broken bread and poured out wine” for the sake of Christ.
We need to rightly interpret our present affliction and God-orchestrated tensions, for so long as we have as our ambition the circumvention of all hardship, we impede the formation of Christ in our own life and character. To circumvent the cross is to obstruct the flow of resurrection life.
Whenever a thing becomes difficult in personal experience, we are in danger of blaming God, but it is we who are in the wrong, not God; there is some perversity somewhere that we will not let go. Immediately we do, everything becomes as clear as daylight.
….The attitude must be one of complete reliance on God. When once we get there, there is nothing easier than living the saintly life; difficulty comes in when we want to usurp the authority of the Holy Spirit for our own ends.
-Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, Dec. 14th selection
We need to recognize that in large part, difficulties are permitted to come upon us “when we want to usurp the authority of the Holy Spirit for our own ends.” Paul himself, in all of his apostolic character and stature, was brought to the view that his “thorn in the flesh” was meant to keep his own soul in check before the Lord, lest he “exalt” himself. Whatever that “thorn” was, he had prayed for a release from it, and finally concluded at the encouragement of the Lord that it was to remain as a life-giving affliction.
We see here the two-fold view of Paul, for he had seen mighty deliverances, and for this reason he pleaded with the Lord for a release. But when the Lord gave word that His grace was “sufficient” to carry Paul through, immediately he interpreted the affliction as a safeguard for his soul. He saw that his own propensity for self-exaltation, which was yet alive in his recesses after years of apostolic labor, needed the release of grace that could only be attained through suffering.
It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces. -Ps. 119.71-72
The “law” or wisdom of His “mouth” must become “better” to us “than thousands of gold and silver pieces.” For Paul, the wisdom of God prevailed over his own, and so he recognized the goodness of God, even in the land of affliction. Indeed, he was able to discern the kindness of God, not only in the midst of affliction, but through the affliction itself.
O taste and see that the Lord is good;
How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!
O fear the Lord, you His saints;
For to those who fear Him there is no want. (Ps. 34.8-9)
The goodness and fear of the Lord, when rightly apprehended, will shepherd us well in the barren grasslands of trial, and lead us to the waters that “make glad the city of God.”
‘Fear of the Lord’ in Psm. 34 means to recognize YHWH in His actuality, particularly in His reality for salvation, and to behave accordingly.
….He who fears YHWH recognizes and acknowledges His reality.
….The righteous experience the reality and the saving activity of YHWH, especially in times of distress.
(Hans Joachim Kraus, PSALMS: A Continental Commentary, Fortress Press)
The “saving activity of YHWH, especially in times of distress,” is the great work of ringing out our propensity for self-exaltation, so that through and through we might be infused with the light of His glorious character and wisdom.
Whether suffering persecution for righteousness’ sake, friction in relationships, or experiencing some other form of affliction, we can be sure that the Lord means to effect His “saving activity” by the very means of that hardship. “Death works in us, so life” does as well, in our own hearts and unto those souls whom the Lord has put us in touch with. This is an apostolic view too infrequently celebrated by the Church, but when we are apprehended by it, we take on a whole new panoramic outlook, and Jesus Christ has the preeminence in our lives.
“We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” -1 Jn. 4.6
“….even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!” -Gal. 1.8-9
There is a thread of the knowledge of God which runs through the Scriptures, and which we need desperately to cling to in these last days. It is the accumulated revelation of God, beginning in Genesis, running right through the Patriarchs, Judges, and Prophets of the Hebrew Bible.
It continues on in the New Testament record, finding it’s revelatory climax in Jesus Himself.
The foundational apostles, having a firm grasp on that thread, found themselves in a continuum with the knowledge of God set forth by their progenitors. What the prophet of old saw in part, the apostle viewed in fuller measure, but that fuller measure never ground against the revelation of God given before. Isaiah and Ezekiel’s visions were not trumped by Paul’s, but rather summed up in Christ. “I have not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it.” The apostle’s teaching did not replace the revelation of God given in the Hebrew Bible (after all, Paul charged the Gentiles to read the prophets!), it brought type and shadow to manifested definition through the Gospel of Jesus.
In obedience to the Gospel call, the apostles poured out their lives to convey and deliver that precious knowledge of Christ to the Gentiles. On the shoulders of that great Hebraic history and sacrifice, the Church finds its foundation, and out of the sap which comes from Israel’s tree, we “live, move, and have our being.”
When the Gnostic heresy was affecting the community to which John wrote, he was gripped with concern and addressed the Church along these lines:
These men do not have a hold on the holy thread which has been given through Christ; namely, the intimate knowledge of the God of Israel, which was delivered to us by the full-orbed demonstration of His wisdom on the Cross. They deny His flesh-and-blood witness, and thereby prove that they are false. They didn’t come from the apostolic fellowship, they have a hold on some faulty version of faith, and are operating in a spirit of error.
When the Judaizers were infiltrating the congregations in Galatia, Paul was equally concerned, though the impostors were of a different order than the Gnostics. In essence, he charged the Church thusly:
The Gospel that we delivered to you was not the concoction of men. It was given to me by way of holy revelation, through a vital encounter with the God of Israel. Before my confrontation with the Messiah on the road to Damascus, I thought I had a hold on the thread of the Lord’s doctrine, but I was on a windy path of religiosity that had impressive forms, but no viable union with Him in truth. The Messiah Jesus appeared to me, transformed my heart and view, and introduced me to the true thread of the knowledge of my father Abraham’s God. Now, why would you make room in your hearts for those who would proclaim a so-called Gospel that is totally out of touch with the foundational word that you received from me? It may have manners of formality and superstructures that seem spiritual, but its foundations are faulty. They have not been laid by foundational servants who are in that holy continuum, but by men with agendas. Flee from these “different gospels”!
We look upon the congregations in Galatia and wonder how they fell prey to the Judaizers. We look upon the ones to whom John wrote, baffled that any of them would even consider the strange ideas and ruminations of Gnosticism. But it behooves us in these days, with a shortage of foundational servants in the Church, to raise very serious and applicable questions.
Do we have a firm grasp on the “thread” of the knowledge of God, as He has set Himself forth in the Scriptures?
Are “different Gospels”, that the apostles of old would hardly recognize, taking center stage in our congregations?
Do we find ourselves in a continuum with the prophets and apostles of the Scriptures, or is our “revelation” of Jesus and the Gospel a caricature of the true and foundational revelation once and for all given?
Certainly, we all “see in part” and “prophesy in part”, but my own heart is alarmed these days, as I’m hearing “different gospels” promulgated, even in evangelical and charismatic congregations. “Gospels” that seem to have a hold on some other thread of knowledge- one that grinds against the revelation of God given through the Scriptures.
I’m hearing statements like this:
“There’s no need to preach repentance in the church. I refuse to preach repentance to people who are already repenting.”
“God is not the author of any suffering or any natural disasters. In fact, because all of His judgment was fulfilled at the cross, He does not act in that way any more. That was Old Testament.”
“The Gospels were actually written to support Paul’s epistles.”
“Maybe you’ve been spending too much time in Jeremiah. Maybe you’ve even spent too much time in the Gospels. Jesus was not a grace preacher. He was a preacher of the Law. You need to get out of the red letters for a while and get into Paul.”
The man who made the latter statement declared, “I may be a little too Pauline for you all…”, to which I responded, “Actually, he is not being Pauline at all!”
Dear saints, I am not into “watchdog ministry” or looking under every rock and behind every bush for the slightest spasm of doctrinal error. I am not one to find pleasure in naming names or exposing faults in others to my own elevation. But my heart is breaking over the kinds of things I’m hearing these days, and I’m told by itinerant preacher friends that they are running into this all over the nation.
….there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master [and His Lordship] who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. -2 Pet. 2.1
This applied to Peter’s day, and it will apply in an increasing measure in the days leading up to the Lord’s return. The Lord has never been fond of mixtures, and we are seeing a staggering kind of mixture in our day. It is likely an old mixture, but it is being repackaged and is spreading in an unprecedented manner. It’s a profession of Jesus as Savior, but a denial of Jesus as Lord. A profession of Jesus as “good”, but a denial of Jesus as “the Judge of all the earth.” A profession of Jesus as compassionate, but a denial of Jesus as the One who calls “all men to repent.”
Dear saints, it is not either/or. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” “Behold then the kindness and severity of God…” If we are unwilling to grow in the knowledge of God as He has set Himself forth in the Scriptures, we can be sure that we do not have a hold on the right “thread”.
More than ever, we have come to a time when an “utterness” toward the Lord is the matter of life and death for the Church and for Israel. We’ve got to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints,” lest we find ourselves swimming in the polluted waters of “different gospels,” which will have great appeal to men, while leading them away from the reality of of Christ, though their movements will likely bear the name “Jesus.”
The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity. The oracles they gave you were false and misleading. -Lam. 2.14
We need to be cognizant of the fact that as the final pages of history are turned, there will be demonstrations of power that are from the Lord, and demonstrations of power that are from below. The safeguard against falling prey to “different gospels” is to be found in the secret place with the Lord, to immerse ourselves in the Scriptures, and to walk in humility one with another in a continued pursuit of the true knowledge of God.
The world is evil, the times are waxing late, and the glory of God has departed from the church as the fiery cloud once lifted from the door of the Temple in the sight of Ezekiel the prophet.
The God of Abraham has withdrawn His conscious Presence from us, and another God whom our fathers knew not is making himself at home among us. This God we have made and because we have made him we can understand him; because we have created him he can never surprise us, never overwhelm us, nor astonish us, nor transcend us.
….The God of our fathers wills to be the God of their succeeding race. We have only to prepare Him a habitation in love and faith and humility.
–A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, Ch. 8, God’s Infinitude
I do not want to leave you with a note of hopelessness, for He has made Himself overwhelmingly available to us. No person has more copiously poured our their affection or condescended so far to reach you. If we seek Him with all our heart, we “shall find Him,” and when we get a hold of the “thread” there is no greater place of holy delight, “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” All the more grievously does it strike me, that many would wallow in habitual sin and a “different gospel”, when the glories of the Man Christ Jesus have been made available to all who would come.
We must dig deeply into the Scriptures. We must be found in the place of prayer. We have a privileged calling to make a demonstration of His wisdom to the “principalities and powers of the air,” to “move Israel to jealousy,” to take the Gospel of glory to the “uttermost parts of the earth,” and ultimately, to “hasten” the day of our glorious Lord’s return.
Dear saints, I say again, there is nothing more crucial than coming into a knowledge of God as He is, and not as we ourselves have conceived Him to be.
Little children, guard yourselves from idols. -1 Jn. 5.21
“Every morning I will silence all the wicked of the land, so as to cut off from the city of the Lord all those who do iniquity.” -Ps. 101.8
There is a remarkable call within this word from King David. He is singing from the authority of a Kingly Throne in Jerusalem, and His governmental position has little to do with our everyday experience, but there is a heavenly value system being propounded here, and it has everything to do with our calling as the people of God.
I find it awesome that David’s governmental thoughts are intertwined with the value system of the Heavenly Kingdom. David is wanting to silence or destroy “all the wicked of the land,” which he defines earlier as those who set “worthless things” before their eyes, “those who fall away,” those with “perverse hearts,” those who “slander their neighbors,” those with “haughty looks” and “arrogant hearts,” and those who “practice deceit” and “speak falsehood.”
David had responsibility over the land of Judah, and he did not want to see any form of wickedness taking root among his people. He did not wink at immorality or tolerate the haughty and lying tenor of his generation.
We have responsibility over the land of our own hearts, yet how often are believers removed from this kind of vigilant jealousy for the reality of God’s government? How often are we entertained by those with haughty looks and arrogant hearts? How often do we admire and esteem actors or sports figures or co-workers who practice deceit and speak falsehood? Are we envious of what they possess? Are we coveting popularity or riches or some other quality that the old King of Israel would’ve called a “worthless thing?”
We need daily to have our mentality and paradigm altered in the place of prayer, wherein we encounter the One who makes all things new. “Every morning” we need to prostrate our souls before the King of the New Jerusalem, to disown our petty jealousies, lusts, and self-centric fantasies. We need to be converted and brought onto His holy ground, to destroy all wicked attributes from the land of our hearts.
This thread of Davidic thought weaved its way through the New Testament as well, when Jesus called us to “take up the cross daily,” and the seasoned apostle set the example by declaring, “I die daily.” We are keen on big religious events, but the foundational men of the Scriptures had a consciousness of the “dailiness” of true obedience, in great publicity or total obscurity.
We are called and privileged to walk with God, not merely to have a blowout spiritual event every once and a while. Jesus took up the cross daily. Paul died daily. David sought to eradicate the wicked of the land daily. So also are we called, and when we respond so utterly, that is when our Christianity transitions from being the religion of our choice, to the true power of God Himself, and the ultimate reality of authentic faith.
David’s motive was not for religious accolades, nor was it a self-righteous expression of his personal piety. His passion for the destruction of wickedness was the result of his yearning after the living God, and this he sets forth in the second verse:
“I will give heed to the blameless way.
When will You come to me?”
Do not embark on your days without first dying to the spirit of this age, dear saint. Find a quiet place to sing praises to the Lamb, to enter into the work of intercession, to wait before Him in holy adoration, and to delve deeply into the Scriptures. Take up David’s burden and heart, that “every morning” would be for the silencing of wickedness, and the ardent pursuit of the only One who is worth the full investment of our souls.
He will make all things new, transmit His own life, love, and holiness to your person, and you will emerge from the dust of the secret prayer closet with the light of heaven upon your soul. “Righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit….”
“O Yahweh, all your creatures shall praise you,
and your godly people shall pay homage to you!
About the glory of your kingdom they shall speak
and talk about your heroic strength!
So that your strength may become known to the children of men,
the glorious splendor of your kingdom!” -Ps. 145.10-12 (Kraus’ tr.)
The psalmist sees creation from a majestic vantage point. From his view, all the splendor of creation points Godward, and he is eager for all Israel, indeed all mankind, to enter into the high praises of the Lord.
“…. the invitation to praise Yahweh in vv. 10-12 now turns to “all his creatures,” so that the power and salvation of Yahweh may become known to “all the children of men.” “King Yahweh” (v. 1) rules a universal “kingdom,” which endures through all generations and radiates benevolent effects to all the world.
…. It is the wish of the singer that in the universal kingship of Yahweh “all flesh” would join in the praise.
…. In statements of praise the singer pays tribute to the great deeds of “King Yahweh.” He renders homage to the majesty of the powerful and merciful God. In the invitations and challenges that pulse through the hymn and determine its content all creatures- without regard for time and space- are drawn into the praise of God. To them the ideal government of the kingdom of Yahweh is impressively described and witnessed. Yahweh’s rule is characterized by salvific faithfulness and goodness that is bent down to those who pray and are afflicted.
(PSALMS: A Continental Commentary Vol. 2, Hans Joachim-Kraus; Fortress Press, pp. 548-549)
It is not the religious specialist who beholds the “salvific faithfulness and goodness” of God, but rather the one who accepts the invitation to “praise Yahweh,” and to pray even though he is experiencing very present affliction. The psalmists are preeminently God-centered men, and they are ever and always calling us out of self-absorption, and into the high praises of the One who is ruling and reigning from the heavenly throne.
To pray in the midst of affliction is to acknowledge our weakness and frailty, but in that acknowledgement we are surrounded by the protective power of the immeasurable strength of God Himself. From the place of praise we realize that His kingdom “radiates benevolent effects to all the world,” including the pieces of dust that we are. His wisdom transcends our own and yet He warmly responds to the one who honors Him in the valley, and for that very reason it is the highest human privilege to enter into prayer and praise from the context of affliction.
We should not think of affliction as sickness or physical pain only, for the most frequent afflictions are inward. The pains of disillusionment, confusion, shaken paradigms, self-conscious idiosyncrasies. Entering into prayer and praise from the place of inward affliction is the great privilege of the saint.
David even has the audacity, powered by his intimate knowledge of the Lord, to pray for a theophany, an appearance of God Himself, during a season of remarkable pressure and trial (Ps. 144.5ff.). While the unbeliever has no place to turn in such times, the child of God has a faithful Father and King whose ear is bent in his favor.
Paul and Silas sung high praises from the ground of affliction, and the cosmos could not contain the contradictory dynamic of weak souls seeing beyond their present trial and into the heavens, “where Christ is.” The earth, and the powers which influenced it, were not accustomed to suffering men radiating the “benevolent effects” of God’s kingdom. An earthquake ensued and bonds were broken. “….the kingdom of God has come upon you….”
To behold the works of God and the character of God rightly, our self-inflicted “inward afflictions” have got to be jostled, and it is the act of praise itself that breaks the lies and shatters the presumptions that have so often caused them.
The works of God which man explores speak a language which provokes him to a hymn of praise. And in praise fragmentary perceptions turn into a unity and a whole, together with the still unexplored secrets which continue to threaten even the most thoroughly established knowledge.
(H.W. Wolff, ibid. p. 549)
Our “thoroughly established knowledge” is frequently the culprit and cause of our inward afflictions. We need repeatedly to be jolted into reality through the singular revelation of God on the throne, ruling in beauty and holiness and wisdom. When at once we see Him exalted on high, our suspicions, presumptions, bitternesses, and distorted perceptions are dashed to the dust, and we enter into the extraordinary liberty of praise. This is not to say that we are not called to wrestle through the seasons of breaking and trial, but to say that a wrestling on any lesser ground than the ground of prayer and praise will only keep us fixed in cycles of self-centered thought. We need daily and increasingly to be struck by the vision of God, as He actually is, and to praise Him in that glorious light.
Die. Lose your life. Crucify the flesh with its lusts and evil desires. Nail all of it to the bloody, violent finality of Jesus’ cross. Murder the passions for worldly things that stain the conscience and compromise the saint. What is there to lose? Mediocre spirituality? An impotent prayer life? Half-hearted worship and service? The nagging of an unclean conscience? Depression? God’s displeasure? Eternal damnation? Carry your cross.
And what is there to gain by such radical self-denial? The removal of every weight? Liberty to serve the holy Lord with a clean conscience? Sweet communion with Jesus? A powerful, joyful anointing for divine service (Heb 1:9)? Freedom from slavery? The right to be called God’s child and to receive His heavenly inheritance (John 8)? The awesome privilege of being a witness to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself in a world dying in its sin? Eternal life? The new, perfect, glorious heavens, earth, and Jerusalem? Carry your cross.
Oh dreadful cross! It means denying the temporary pleasure of sin. Pleasure, that is, which usually turns into all kinds of misery in this life, and definitely the untold pain of God’s wrath in the next. The cross nullifies this empty, present life and infuses an abundant, eternal life. How dreadful the cross is to futile things!
But the cross is so barbarous, so violent! Yes, it’s violent… against everything evil, sinful, and demonic. Against any- and everything attempting to destroy God’s glorious life and goodness in His human creation. It cruelly slams the door on the devil and swings it open to joy unspeakable and full of glory, to the promise of an everlasting kingdom, to real power and godly fulfillment. It conquers. It kills. It shows no mercy to lust, pride, and greed. The cross hates sin. In fact, it hates even a good thing when we put it between the Lord and us: whether parents, spouses, children, or our own souls (Luke 14:25-26). The cross is indeed violent… overwhelmingly violent.
How painful, this cross! Most assuredly. Feel the pain and hear the screams as it removes deep-set guilt from the human heart and viciously robs death of its terror and sting. How awfully it tortures the demons fleeing from our souls. Mercilessly it deals blow after blow to the Grim Reaper, for six agonizing hours, until he loses all the keys to his tombs. How weak he has become! He bows low before a Higher Authority, moaning and gasping for breath. He clutches his throat and chokes in agony as resurrection victory slowly suffocates him until the final hour – until God’s Son utters His voice. The dead hear. Tombstones crack. Memorials burn. And the dead in Christ rise. Death looks on, paralyzed, devoid now of all mortal oxygen, as broken crypts release their prisoners and a nail-scarred hand hurls him into the lake of fire. The resurrection swallows what that cross kills. Oh, cruel cross.
And what pain will we have suffered? What will we truly have sacrificed? We will lose that which we could not keep to gain what we cannot lose. Oh precious cross of Christ. Your dread is joy; your pain is relief; your death is life. We carry you gladly, following our Savior proudly.
But remember: the world hates this cross. To the present evil system and world of carnal opinions, it is the emblem of suffering and shame. It contradicts all aspirations for fame and fortune in this life. It cancels every hope for world peace and religious unity. It divides before it conquers, captures before it frees, cuts before it sews, kills before it conceives. Such is the narrow way the fallen race abhors with all its might. For the blessed cross is brutal to the proud. It reminds us of our sins and calls us to account. It strips us naked to expose how wretched we really are before the holy Savior Who hung on it perfectly. It blames us for crucifying the Lord of glory. It forces us to admit our guilt. Then it saves us from that very crime.
Oh blessed cross. Hailed by heaven and hated by humanity. You promise forgiveness, but demand repentance. You require what we least want to give: ourselves – our spirits, souls, and bodies. We want to substitute our hypnotic religion for your harsh reality. We hang you on the wall as religious decoration instead of on our backs in radical devotion. We want to feel your blessings, but we refuse to feel your nails. The world hates you! Our flesh hates you! You are a foolish idea to our natural minds and a weak display to our proud spirits. You are a stumbling block to our religious hearts. But you are God’s wisdom, power, and salvation to everyone who believes. Those who accept you carry you happily after Jesus.
And this cross means literal, physical death to many. Like Jesus, some saints – to the world’s utter bewilderment – actually shed their own blood carrying the cross. They lose their earthly lives for the secret, holy joy set before them. Their reward is special in heaven. They are the martyrs – those who, in a very real sense, understand the sacrificial aspect of Jesus’ redemption more than the others. Their robe of righteousness will be marked by Lamb’s blood, but mingled with their own. Meanwhile, their persecutors, who hated the cross, will look up at them from hell and see the martyrs’ crowns. They will see the light and delight of those they crucified while they themselves suffer in righteous agony. Suddenly they will know the full meaning of the cross: eternal life.
The revelation will shock and dismay them. They will sense deeply and horribly the justice of it all, receiving the due penalty for their sins in their own persons. They’ll be absolutely convinced that they deserve what they experience. Such knowledge will be part of their eternal torture. They will “gnash their teeth” because the physical pain is unbearable and unrelenting. But they’ll “weep” because they know they deserve it. Cross-haters will chant Jesus’ own words out of unfathomable misery – words they now fulfill: “I saved my life, now I’ve lost it… I saved my life, now I’ve lost it… I hated the cross… and now it’s too late.”
So die. Lose your life. Nail it to the only instrument violent enough to murder your passion for dead things and ignite your passion for eternal things. Jesus carried a cross all the way to glory. “If any man will come after Me…” he must do the same.
“JESUS IS THE CENTER”
Jesus Over Form Must Be The Center of The Current Authentic Church Movement
The trap that seems to be all too successful in snaring the Christian who desires an “Authentic Community” situation, seems to be, that such a God bestowed desire can be idolized to the point of deification of an ideal image. Such an ideal can drive a man into manipulation, which is to cleverly craft that which is God must create. But, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Pslam 127.1). Jesus said, “…upon this rock I WILL BUILD my church” (Matthew 16.18). The Lord added to the number of the early church (Acts 5.14).
Manipulation, driven by the idol of an ideal has eclipsed the Lord’s presence and thus exited man from the very possibility of Spiritual prosperity in the matter, “as long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper” (2 Chronicles 26.5). It is not the pursuit of an “Authentic Church” situation that will invoke the very shower of heaven, but the pursuit of the person and presence of the Spirit.
Ironically, the argument of the modern “Authentic Church” movement is this, “I just want to follow the bible.” In stating and standing with such a noble motivation, there is the neglect of a major Spiritual truth, that in the Spiritual means to establish the first church, namely, the divine pattern laid out in the Scriptures, the church was not implemented but irrupted from an outpouring of the Spirit. The arrangement of seats in a meeting, whether a pulpit is used, scheduled services or not – the main ingredient and chief qualification is the presence of the Spirit, producing genuine love for Jesus and as a result genuine love for one another. The desire of the Lord for His church is not a specific form but a result of His pursued person. The lack of “Authentic Community” in our midst is to the degree that our hearts are not in position to the power of the Spirit. Not the form in which we gather.
There was a young boy who decided to walk through the woods one day after school. In his pocket was a little Swiss Army knife that his father had memorably given to him on his last birthday. And he walked down a worn trail in the woods, extending his hand to touch the leaves as he passed them; he saw a strange thing on one of the closest branches to him. It was a cocoon, a caterpillar to butterfly cocoon. As his interest brought him closer and closer to it, he noticed that the butterfly was struggling intensely to get out of the cocoon. He stood by and watched, with a hurting heart for this struggling butterfly, he watched and waited until he could no longer bear his struggling. He reached into his pocket, took out his Swiss Army knife and sliced open the cocoon to aid the release of the butterfly into the freedom of the air. To his sorrow and amazement he saw the that other half of the struggling butterfly had not yet developed enough to be released and it fell to the ground, half mucus and other half butterfly. In sorrow he took the butterfly home to his father and said, “Dad, I tried to help this butterfly out of his cocoon and I think I hurt him.” His dad, judging by the site of the butterfly and having learned from experience, said to his son, “Son, it is the butterflies growth to work his way out himself. If you help him, he won’t ever make it.”
We cannot manipulate those things that God must do Himself. If salvation is God’s hands alone so are all His other works. We look to Him. We keep our focus on the person of God and love people to the degree of maturity we are in now and we will position ourselves to receive the breath of the Spirit that alone performs those works that are His alone to do.
Many things in the “Authentic Church” movement are powerful and correct. Organic is the grounds of growth, but the last thing God is after is form. The last thing He has is an outward guide line that must be followed. The same way He is against a religious heart that holds to form without power, He is not for a movement that holds to form over Person.
The devil is a master deviator. He is after anything that will distract us from receiving from the Person of Jesus. The formal and informalities of Church are irrelevant. Jesus worshipped and adored, honored and preached, loved and experienced is the heart of life in a fellowship. The inevitable consequence of such a life will be love toward one another. John told us that the evidence of love for God is the outflow of love for others (1 John 4.20). Jesus leading a family knit together by the power of the Spirit in love – whatever form it has, be it, choirs with robes, pulpits and prayer teams or a simple house gathering, is God’s desire.
The heresies of the devil all start with the a portion of truth but focus on part rather than the whole. As David Ravenhill so wisely stated, “Nothing is more likely to lead to error or heresy than to focus on part rather than the whole. Never let the means of worship eclipse the object of worship.”
The danger of the rebellion against the systems of men is isolation, elitism and unreachability. All of which, reek with the stench of pride. And turn God’s face against you (James 4.6). It is leaning upon what you have come to learn more than on the person of Jesus that creates such subtle dispositions of arrogance. If a man separates himself form the body that God has placed him in and the leadership he has been connected to because his “knowledge of Authentic Church” is greater than the Pastor’s, he is in a self centered land and is not internally in keeping with the quality of love that, “…bears all things…”(1 Corinthians 13.7). It is not in keeping with the selfless love of the cross. The brokenness of love, this is why, love is the perfect bond of unity (Colossians 3.14). “A man who isolates himself, seeks his own desire” (Proverbs 18.1). He is selfish and not selfless. Let us not reject God’s character in the name of God’s “authenticity.”
Another sneaking defilement is the twisting of “priesthood of all believers” founded upon 1 Peter 2.5-9. The perversion is the mindset that there is no need for positional subordination, nor does there exist a specific grace for the equipping and sheparding of God’s people upon His appointed leaders. Now it is a wonderful glory that we are all priests connected to God in the same way, but to resists positional subordination and grace to train and equip upon faithful individuals is to look past God’s order into the face of an idol of partial truth and heretical idealism.
The man who uses 1 John 2.27, “you have no need for any man to teach you…” as a basis to remove himself from authority and teaching is neglecting Ephesians 4.11 as the balance of such a truth. God has established teachers to “…equip the body for the work of the ministry.” The early church dedicated themselves to the apostles teaching (Acts 2.42). I heard a friend say one time, using this Scripture, “I don’t need a teacher.” I am fearful that such a statement is partial and board line foolishness. If a man sees himself to be wise, there is more hope for a fool than for him (Proverbs 26.12; 29.20). If such a man has been corrected and he refuses to yield, soon he will be broken beyond remedy (Proverbs 29.1; 12.1). Such dispositions are an arrogant assault against the character of God in the name of Christ.
During the time period of extreme segregation, there was a man who sold balloons to both blacks and whites. A white little boy purchased a white balloon from the man with a black boy standing next to him. When the white boy reached out to grab the balloon he lost control of it and the white balloon soared into the heavens. The black boy watched the white balloon ascend to the heavens and then looked at the balloon man and said, “If you made me a black balloon and I lost it, would it go up into the heavens just like that white balloon?” And the balloon man said, “Sure, it isn’t the color of the balloon, but what is inside the balloon that makes it go up.”
It is not the package that God is concerned with, but the heart. We are not building something for Jesus to inhabit, but looking to Jesus collectively and letting Him build us as He wishes.
This is what God is after, people, loving Jesus with people who love Jesus and as a result, loving each other.
There is something so special about the burning heart on fire with the words of God. Such a speaking cannot come from any other place than the secret place where a man has chosen to thrust himself into God to be burned away! Let these men call us deeper into the flame. Maybe you are near the fire and you can feel the heat, or maybe you can see the fire from far away. Brother, jump in to the fire by casting your life aside and allow the flames of heaven to eat your life away, so that there remains nothing but God!