“…. thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.” -2 Cor. 3.14
The greatest triumph is not in the establishment of an impressive organization, the saving of my reputation, or the performance of some great spiritual feat before men. The greatest triumph is led by God Himself, and it has to do with wringing out my personality and aura until I am a broken vessel through whom He shows forth “the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.”
Though I have adapted to the niceties and expected behaviors of Christian culture, though I know how to act around the right people, though I have “stopped doing what I used to do, because now I’m a Christian,” I may yet be bound by self-conscious spirituality. The life of faith does not have to do with conforming to external expectations in relation to the Christian subculture that I’ve been inducted into. It has to do with an ultimate inward surrender to the Lord of history, “who always leads us in triumph in Christ,” over every earthly influence and power. When we are so conscious of the Lord that we are able to love our enemies, resist the lusts of the flesh, and we are no longer moved inwardly to seek glory from men, only then is it evident that we are following the Lamb of God in His holy triumph.
If I am not emanating the fragrance of Jesus Christ, I must still be bound by self-consciousness in some way or another. When the light of heaven shines upon me, it may yet be seen that I am still concerned for my own glorification. The evidence of this is that I am not yet “broken bread and poured out wine”; I am failing to emit the “sweet aroma” of Jesus Christ. When “the least of these” come into contact with me, are they coming into contact with the vitality of the Son of God, or something that smells too much like the work of man?
When we have soulish ties to men, to this earth, or to our own religious ideals and presumptions, rather than a total jealousy for God’s glory, it becomes impossible for us to “triumph in Christ,” and we are incapable of manifesting His “sweet aroma,” which is His very character and nature. His fragrance is always antithetical to our self-conscious attempts at spirituality. I may need to ask myself some questions along these lines.
When challenging or rebuking another saint, am I abiding in the kindness of Jesus Christ? Would the Lamb of God deal as abrasively as I have when addressing that child or that struggling brother? When complimenting or encouraging someone, am I using flattery to gain some end myself, or am I actually expressing His own encouragement? When correcting some faulty doctrine in another brother, am I exhibiting my own knowledge and correctness, or am I speaking out of a true jealousy for the glory of God and the good of that soul?
I may claim to be radical for the Lord, carrying the cross and going against the tide of this age, but am I emitting the very fragrance of Jesus Christ in the process? If I am not, it may well be that the “tide of this age” is still sweeping me away, except that I am blanketed in Christian phraseologies and ideas. The only solution to self-conscious spirituality is God-conscious living, and Jesus has rent the veil that we might abide with Him in that holy place. From there we triumph in Christ, and manifest the sweet aroma of the knowledge of God “in every place.”
You are not required to pass through a religious maze to “manifest” the fragrance of the Lord. There is no puzzle involved, no trick up His sleeve, no riddle to unpack. To experience the depths of Christ, you need only to go down into death, taking up your cross and following the Lamb wheresoever He goes. He will inevitably lead you on paths that will wring out your personality and press His glorious image into your person. You will still be unique as an individual, but you will exhibit the wisdom and power of the age to come, which is “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
We do not triumph in Christ by boasting in a meeting, seeking favor from men, or finding our way onto some platform of religious fame. We triumph in Christ when the power of self is broken from our lives, and the very fragrance of Jesus flows from our being. When He leads us in triumph, we will bring to bear the knowledge of God Himself upon a world that is perishing for want of that great Light.
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: character, christian subculture, doctrine, fragrance, glory of God, jealousy, Jesus Christ, organization, religion, righteousness, Son of God
“Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.” -Acts 8.4
A man’s adherence to a doctrine or Christian theme in an ideal religious atmosphere can be a very dubious thing. When we are in our preferred sanctuaries, listening to our preferred worship songs, and standing alongside our preferred co-members, there is little to test the reality of the faith that we profess.
Western Christianity, which usually functions along utilitarian, humanistic, and convenient lines, is radically removed from the kind of gritty and authentic faith that was the experience of the early Church. If all the glitter and all the facades were removed, we would find in the Church a corporate character quite different than what we may have appreciated and even boasted of when we could only see on a surface level.
The line of inward consecration has been deviated from, the experience of raw faith in the realm of actual life has not been a chief emphasis, and the overall condition of truth and reality has been too infrequently realized by the best of our Church going members.
The depth and profundity of our life in God is not revealed amidst the choruses and events as much as it is revealed when the press of everyday experience is bearing down upon us.
When Saul of Tarsus spearheaded the movement of persecution against Jewish believers in the first century, a great scattering took place. But what was the response of these saints who had been displaced, losing their homes and their possessions while simultaneously being disowned by their own relatives?
“Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.”
What would our response have been?
When the real press of life bears down upon us, when conflict increases and opposition arises against us, it is in that moment that we see the degree to which our hearts have been given to Jesus Christ. It may not be in a city-wide persecution against the saints, though I’m convinced that those kinds of realities are likely to increase in the Western world.
It may be in the press of financial challenge, or being misunderstood by a family member, or being falsely accused at work, or being touched with depression or confusion about life or calling. It may be in some other pressing issue; something minor like a bad look from a brother in the Church, or something heavier like some type of life tragedy. Whatever the press may be, the manner of our response is itself the revelation of our true character. Our mouths and minds will reveal the real state of our hearts.
These saints, when displaced and disowned, hated and rejected, went into the uttermost parts of the earth proclaiming that Jesus Christ was crucified and raised up, for their view of life was not earthbound, but preeminently God-centered. We need to be delivered from the power of self-centric living, and lifted into the heights of true worship, where the line of consecration is drawn in truth and reality, and where God gets the glory out of the nit and grit of our everyday lives.
The apostles knew no other brand of the faith than that which was lived upon the lines of total inward consecration to Jesus Christ, and that is why “great glory” attended their lives. Do we wish for some cheaper brand of Christianity?
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: Acts, calling, character, consecration, faith, preaching, the church, Western Christianity, worship
“The Lord…Who sendeth forth springs in the bottoms of the valleys,
Between the mountains they take their course.”
We tend to glory in those events in our lives that we consider to be “mountain-top” experiences. We humans are emotional beings, blessed with a variety of senses and a wide range of moods. We have been created in the image of God.
He is not a stoic, predictable, hum-drum figure. He is a Living Person. He speaks. He listens. He watches. He feels. He grieves. He laughs. He rejoices. He weeps. He loves. He hates. He Is.
Yet even though we have been created in His image, we are a disjointed and crooked people. Though He is all love, we are naturally spiteful, bitter, and motivated by depravity. Though He is entirely pure in thought and action, we are drawn to the wicked and swallowed up by the low moral tone of this dying age. Though He is fervent and faithful, we are morally spineless, spiritually lazy, covenant breakers, and embarrassingly inconsistent. When we are born from above, this changes in a radical way. Still, there are all kinds of inconsistencies and rough edges in character and thought which need to be refined. We are created in His image, but our “spiritual equilibrium” has been rocked by the influence of the world and we barely know how to walk- especially in a valley.
I love the “mountain-top” times. I love those seasons of my life when it seems that the presence of God and the word of the Lord invade my day and bring to me a consciousness of the Kingdom. I love to be spontaneously moved to prayer and worship. I love it when, in an effortless manner, I find myself yearning for the Word. I love it when there is a sudden grace to serve someone, or a sudden faith to lay hands on a sick person. God Himself has given us “mountain times.” But He is also the Author of the valleys, and it’s the believer that drinks deeply from the “springs in the bottoms of the valleys” who will be the overcomer, both now and at the end of the age.
We all have mountain times, some more often than others. But be assured that if you are going to be an overcomer in the Kingdom of our God, you will have to become a pioneer of the valleys. You will have to allow the Lord to shift your understanding of what the difficult or seemingly uninspired times really mean. You will have to look upon everything- the tension of not knowing what lies ahead, the inconvenience and trial of rugged terrain, the situations that cause offense- through a whole different lens.
I must say, it is a blessed thing to be “unoffendable.” If the valley can offend me, it can rob me of the springs. If I’m offended by what a person said, or by what I didn’t get (that I surely deserved!), or by something unpleasant that sideswipes my life, I’ve lost the race. It is right there, in an offended state, that I lose the gladness which comes from the river of God. Many saints have become discouraged or incapacitated because of offense.
“So-and-so gave me a dirty look.”
“They appointed him a leader in the church and I’ve sacrificed so much more than him!”
“I said I wanted no mustard on this! I’m going back to give them a piece of my mind.”
“Why are they giving him all the attention? I’ve got more revelation and wisdom than him.”
These kinds of offenses are signs that we have not fully realized our adoption “in the Beloved One” (Eph. 1). We are looking for approval from men. We are still dominated by a self-centric mode of thinking. We have not taken up the cross and followed Him with every part of our hearts. We are still trying to save our lives and our reputations. We are still allowing little bumps in the valley to rob us of the joy and fulfillment of knowing the Son of God and walking with Him in a living communion.
By succumbing to offense, we are postponing and potentially forfeiting the eternal reward that has been laid up for us; namely, a crown of righteousness, given to us by the King Himself. If we do not allow the Lord to deal with the issue of offense in our hearts, if we are complainers, if we are whining about how difficult things are, we are still candidates for “falling away” when greater times of turbulence come. If we are not willing to believe God and worship Him from the valleys, we are still fixed in a condition that could eventuate in apostasy when more difficult times come. Are you giving in to offense and bitterness, friend? What will be your response when even greater trial comes? If you are not free to worship and trust the Lord in the valleys of life, you may already be posturing yourself for a backsliding.
We will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Every one of us has the opportunity to hear Him declare, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” What offense can I cling to, what temptation can I bow to, what trial can I allow to consume my heart that is worth delaying or even missing the wonder and glory of that day? Dear child of God, the Father Himself calls you to His springs, and I am suggesting that they spring forth most gloriously when we tap them from the bottom of the valleys.
Pressure will come. Situations will arise. Men will wrong us. Such is life in a fallen world. Yet only those who know and see the Father in the ruggedness and mundaneness of the valley will have the grace to go on unmoved when the daggers of opposition and trial come flying.
Oh beloved children! There is a stream in the very bottom of the valley. Do not be mistaken. It’s there. You will not feel it, you will not hear its flow, you will not automatically be refreshed by the mist it produces. But if you bow low in meekness and acknowledge the Presence of God in your life, you may drink from it and be satisfied.
God’s pioneers are the ones who have learned (over time) to find the “springs in the bottoms of the valleys.” They are not emotionless robots. They too feel the pressure of life’s trying events. They are tested by the same things that cause others to fold and crumble. They have learned to see the valley through the eyes of God. Indeed, they have learned to see God in the valleys. If you ask them, they will tell you, “Yes, yes dear one. There is a stream in the valley. There is a sabbath reality there. It is in Him. He’s there in the valleys as much as He is on the mount. There is unexplainable peace there. There is holiness there. But you must seek His wisdom from the bottoms of the valleys. You must have faith. Oh friend, faith is everything in the valley.”
Are you offended? Anxious? It is only because you have given yourself to some other counsel than the Voice of the Lord. Please hear me: If you have been born from above, you’ve been adopted into a glorious Kingdom, and the Blood of God’s own Son has permanently rent the veil for your sake. You are not an orphan any more. He is calling you to enter, dear saint.
When we see Him, our desire to prove something or impress others is utterly demolished. When we hear Him, we can no longer put on a religious mask or cloak ourselves in some fake piety. When we encounter Him, we are purged and cleansed of all unrighteousness. We are shocked and transformed by the wonder of Divine Love. If we will set our minds on things above “where Christ is” (Col. 3), we will know God in reality- on the height of the mountain and in the most disparaging of valleys- and our joy will be full.
Great Father, have for Yourself a community of pioneers. Pilgrims who refuse to walk in the valleys without You. Build up the “inner-man” of Your Church. Cause us to drink freely, however contrary to the world- and even to our own minds- it may seem. We want to overcome all these things, not just to say we’ve overcome. We want to overcome because to know You in the valleys is to know You in reality. What a joy. What an awesome invitation. We come, Lord.
Even though I walk through the valley… You are with me… -Psm. 23.4
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: character, discipline, emotion, God, overcoming, unoffended