“Eye has not seen and ear has not heard, nor has it entered into the human mind, the good things that God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
It has been a trend in our culture for some time to consider the concept of “hell” to be one that is outdated. Some express the mindset by saying that a good God wouldn’t send people to a place like that. Yet we have that best and most-loving One on record, from His walk here with us, referring to it.
Christian writer George MacDonald lived in Victorian times. In his three volumes of Unspoken Sermons, he treated important topics powerfully and in a way that enlarges and encourages his readers. He is the writer whom C.S. Lewis described as “my master.” Scripture is illuminated on MacDonald’s pages, and one is “fed.” He touches on every important subject, just as the Word does. MacDonald’s sense of hell is that the Father who is Love will resort to whatever tormenting tactics He has to use — to cause as many souls as possible to turn to Him in righteousness and recognition.
Righteousness? In referring to the essence of the sacred text, Dr. Isaac Rottenberg, a past president of the Dutch Reform Church, observed, “It’s all about righteousness.”
Recognition? We remember the conversation between Jesus (Yeshua) and His disciples that began with His asking them who other people said He was and culminated with His asking them, “But who do you say that I am?” When Peter — apparently alone — responded with full recognition, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” Jesus expressed profound appreciation for his recognition. “Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jonah, because flesh and blood has not revealed this to you — but my Father in heaven. And I say to you that you are Peter. And upon this rock I will build my church; and the powers of hell shall not prevail against it.”
For much of our early life we appreciated the non-judgmental, progressive qualities of the liberal Christian church that our family preferred. But in more-recent years we have seen this church become increasingly one of the “ear-tickling” variety, as described in Scripture. Its primary spokespeople have chosen to be guided by what is popular to the extent that they are leaning toward secular humanism — largely abandoning this church’s Christian foundation and even disrespecting the Bible.
The perception of “crude salvationism” may have driven some toward secular humanism. This perception would perhaps be voiced by people associated with liberal churches — or even more likely by those who don’t bother with church at all. Of course there is an element of truth to this perception: that a “dumbing down” of something vast has been done by well-meaning, unsophisticated people.
Astrophysicist and pastor Dr. Hugh Ross has devoted his life to searching out answers to important questions — with the unique result being a synthesis that reflects both his considerable personal “assets” and his (at least) two areas of expertise.
We have learned from him and his organization, Reasons to Believe (reasons.org), that our world is apparently fine-tuned to an astonishing degree and in a sufficiently significant number of ways to leave no other rational conclusion than that a Designer of absolute mastery is behind the evidence that He has left for us to find! We have also learned from Dr. Ross that astronomy is entirely focused on determining when cosmological events took place.
He and his associates see evidence of this masterful Designer’s having worked for millions of years to create an ideal environment in which He could, in Dr. Ross’s words, “in the shortest time possible accomplish the elimination of evil.” He notes the many ways in which this present world could be described, as it is in Genesis, as “very good.” Beyond this world, ahead of us, Dr. Ross foresees a “perfect” creation that will be free from every manifestation of evil — just as one reads about in Revelation.
Carlisle Marney expressed it this way: “We know a secret — Jesus is the name of our species.” It has been said that Jesus was the first Human Being; but He invites us all to join Him! Jesus (Yeshua) is the perfect example of what God had in mind for every one of us. In His own precious words to His disciples after the resurrection, as He prepared breakfast for them on a beach, “Come and dine.”
Zola Levitt taught that while the Book of Job tells the story of a man — his story parallels the larger story of the country of Israel.
We remember early glimmerings of the important ideas in Job. For example, its raising the question “Why do the righteous suffer?”
And that most-beautiful statement of faith that Job managed to voice in the midst of his grievous trials: “I know that my Redeemer lives.”
As we read to see if there was anything in Job that opened the door for dark experiences, we consider his realization “The things that I have greatly feared have come upon me.”
We might even have gone so far as to look deeply at why God, rejoicing in Job’s righteousness, more or less paraded Job before Satan for him to consider — and ultimately take aim at. We heard one analyst observe that God’s boasting over Job to Satan was done with the hope that after Satan had taken all of his best shots, God would then be able to bless Job even more. We appreciate this opinion, because it arrives at the same enormously-loving Father that Jesus “walked” before us.
But Zola’s teaching that in Job, as in other scriptural stories, there is a parallel between the central figure’s story and Israel’s story is particularly helpful.
God knew that while Satan’s worst arrows would bring Job — and Israel — very low, even close to despairing — that Job and the Jewish people would never turn their backs on God. He knew that the crusades, the pogroms, World War II — all the horrific anti-Semitic experiences — would leave Israel an emaciated, disenfranchised state of “dry bones.” But He also knew, and even prophesied for Satan to see, that the dry bones would come together again, the scales would fall from Israel’s eyes; that the second time Yeshua appears, His own beloved brethren would run to embrace Him. That like Job, God’s beloved Israel will finally come into her own.
“Every man will sit under his own vine
and under his own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
for the LORD Almighty has spoken.” -Mic. 4.4
The picture of the world, after being set aright by the judgments and mercies of God at the end of the age, is one of “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Micah 4 is one of the most remarkable statements of that renovated order of reality, when God Himself dwells amongst men, and His ways become the prevailing government.
There is something about our consumeristic society- the pervasive addictions to entertainment and food, the rat races of the corporate world, the machinic and often heartless nature of industry, the radical mixture of truth and untruth in politics, and the overall nature of a me-first, ‘take care of number one’ culture- that is totally antithetical to the eschatological vision given in the Scriptures.
We are consumers to the hilt, from the nature of our eating and shopping to the whole tenor of our egomaniacal and inconsiderate customs, and they even find frequent expression in the best of our militaristic endeavors and political agendas. Everyone is wanting to be seen and recognized as the greatest and biggest, and this is even prevalent in American ministry. We are willing to step on the backs of others to consume what we desire, and to secure a place of prominence and prosperity for ourselves. The reality of the cross- which is the revelation of God’s self-sacrificial character- has become ‘old hat’, and we have fallen under the waves of an all-too-often noisy, glittery, violent, and irreverent culture.
When at once we are touched by the Spirit of God and brought into contact with His nature, we see that His way and His Kingdom are totally incompatible with the busy-headed spirit of this age.
Everything is calculated to trample the inner-man these days, and if we would come into the rest and sabbath reality of the Gospel, it will require us shutting the door on the world, entering the place of prayer, and “tasting of the powers of the age to come.” If we give in to this consumeristic age we will consume the wine of this world, and consequently, our inner-man will be consumed by the fires of sin and the debilitating values of the powers of darkness. But if we turn from the crookedness of this age, and abide in the reality of God by the Spirit, we will walk in a transcendent peace, humility, and righteousness.
Have you an awareness that the same Spirit and glory that the prophets foresaw in visions of the coming age have been shed abroad in your own heart, if indeed you have believed upon Christ? You need only to surrender your own heart daily, receive the life of the Spirit, and abide in the wisdom and power of that life. It is not in trying, but in dying, that the new life issues. Authentic kingdom living is not an issue of performing religious feats or exerting moral audacity, but abiding in the Man, Christ Jesus. As it will be in the age to come, when the Divine dew of His government permeates the earth, so will it be for the believer in the present age, who surrenders to His governance and luxuriates in His fellowship.
Hear this scholar’s description of the age to come as it is set forth in Micah 4; namely, the ending of war and the destruction of consumeristic values:
As a result of disarmament, every individual enjoys the fruit of his own labor in security (4.4). The rewards of righteousness on the international level work themselves out to peace for everyone. Instead of having to flee to the narrow confines of fortified cities as in times of war, in the new era of peace everyone can sit peacefully ‘under his own vine and under his own fig tree.’ The concrete image depicts the full enjoyment of God’s abiding peace and prosperity without fear of danger. The new age will re-experience the joy and happiness of Solomon’s golden days (1 Kgs 4.20; 5.5 [4.25]; 1 Macc 14.11-12). Zech 3.10 speaks of neighborly fellowship. In fact, there is a flip side to Micah’s vision: by sitting under their own vines and fig trees they show that they have also disciplined their swollen appetites. The dreams of disarmament and of agrarian well-being are inseparable. Those who live by war will die in war (Matt 26.52), and those with ‘swollen appetites’ cannot anticipate peace. W. Brueggemann wrote: ‘The prophecy anticipates lowered economic expectations. It anticipates a modest life-style of not having more than one’s produce and therefore a respect for the produce of others…. Thus this radical vision understands that a dismantling of the military machine carries with it a break with consumeristic values.”
(Micah, Bruce Waltke; Eerdman’s, 2007; p. 212)
If we are dominated by “swollen appetites”, moved by fashion and entertainment, delighting in violence and war, or gripped with fear of danger or poverty, we can be sure that we are neglecting the high calling of the saints; namely, to “taste of the powers of the age to come,” and to drink deeply of the knowledge of God in the place of prayer.
If our hearts have been transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and we are abiding in Him and giving Him pre-eminence in all things, the evidence of that reality will be a grace-charged discipline in areas of appetite, a transcendent rest and peace, and a grace to love and forgive all men, even our enemies.
There is a remarkable kind of Kingdom modesty that we are lacking in this sensational age; a modesty in speech, attitude, appetite, and philosophy, and a bumptious, consumeristic value system has even been the basis for many of our church and ministry methodologies and paradigms. “Brethren, this ought not to be…”
The reason the prophets can describe this most beautiful version of the earth is that their visions are yet future. They predict a time when the earth, the remnant of Israel, and the nations have been purged with the fires of judgment, and after the smoke of that time has cleared, all that remains is a wonderfully God-centric existence.
Yet even now, if we have been touched by the “power” of that future age through the Gospel, and we are in fact abiding in a God-centric manner, our lives will exhibit the same qualitative majesty. Weak clay vessels that we are, a heavenly wisdom, character, and power will be demonstrated through us that will put the Kingdom of our God on display in the present age. We will go from living as consumers, and being puppets in the hands of a self-obsessed society, to “strangers and pilgrims on the earth,” who “desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” (Heb. 11)
“…. and you shall be witnesses to Mein Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1.8b)
It behooves us then to abide in Him, not merely to toss around theories about what the faith is, and what the future age will entail. “Righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” have been brought nigh to us by the Blood of the Lamb.
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. -Jn. 15.5
Matthew 11:19 “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
A friend is hard to come by,
Proverbs 20:6 Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?
2 Timothy 4:10a for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica
who shares desire,
Luke 15:6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’
2 Samuel 23:15-17 David had a craving and said, “Oh that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem which is by the gate!” 16 So the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines, and drew water from the well of Bethlehem which was by the gate, and took it and brought it to David. Nevertheless he would not drink it, but poured it out to the LORD; 17 and he said, “Be it far from me, O LORD, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went in jeopardy of their lives?” Therefore he would not drink it. These things the three mighty men did.
2 Thessalonians 3:1-2 Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you; 2 and that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith.
knows the heart
Deuteronomy 13:6b … your friend who is as your own soul …
1 Samuel 18:1 Now it came about when he had finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself.
Who wants his friend to triumph
1 Chronicles 12:18 Then the Spirit came upon Amasai, who was the chief of the thirty, and he said, “We are yours, O David, And with you, O son of Jesse! Peace, peace to you, And peace to him who helps you; Indeed, your God helps you!” Then David received them and made them captains of the band.
Psalm 122:8 For the sake of my brothers and my friends, I will now say, “May peace be within you.”
Luke 12:4 “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do.
John 3:29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.
Luke 14:10b ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you.
A friend who stands beside you,
Psalm 55:13 But it is you, a man my equal, My companion and my familiar friend;
Proverbs 17:17 A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
who understands, will empathize and comfort in the sorrow –
Job 19:21“Pity me, pity me, O you my friends, For the hand of God has struck me.
John 11:33-35 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept.
and Lord, You are…
Hebrews 13:8 Jesus [the Messiah] is the same yesterday and today and forever.
You are a Friend of Sinners,
Matthew 9:10 Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples.
Revelation 3:20 ’Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.
You are a friend to me
1 Samuel 20:17 Jonathan made David vow again because of his love for him, because he loved him as he loved his own life.
You are the Friend of Sinners,
Luke 15:2 Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
John 3:17-18 ”For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
You are my Friend
Matthew 11:19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”
Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, [the Messiah] died for us.
I guess I’ll always qualify as long as I’m alive
1 Timothy 1:15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that [the Messiah] Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.
Philippians 3:12-14 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by [the Messiah] Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in [the Messiah] Jesus.
As long as I am in this life I’ll know, I’ll know that You are….
Romans 8:31-32 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?
A friend dares to be honest.
Proverbs 27:9 Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.
1 John 1:8-10 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.
He tells the truth despite the pain
Proverbs 27:6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
Zechariah 13:6 And if one asks him, ‘What are these wounds on your back?’ he will say, ‘The wounds I received in the house of my friends.’
John 8:40 ”But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do.
He presses through rejection
Proverbs 18:24 A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
Isaiah 53:3-4 He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.
Acts 9:4c ”Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
A friend loves to be open, reveals his heart, explains his mind
Psalm 25:14 The secret of the LORD is for those who fear Him, And He will make them know His covenant.
Exodus 33:11 Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.
John 15:15 “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.
He’s there when help is needed –
John 11:11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.”
1 Peter 4:9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.
1 John 3:17-18 But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.
James 2:15-16 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?
and Lord, You are…
Chorus … Bridge 2…
How much more, since I’m justified will You still be my Friend?
Romans 5:9-10 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
John 16:27 for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father.
And though I know I let You down I’ll still, rely, for You are…
Luke 18:13 ”But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’
Romans 8:1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in [the Messiah] Jesus.
Alive and blazing glory
Revelation 1:14-16 14 His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. 15 His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. 16 In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.
Acts 9:3-5,17 As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4 and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, …So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
who can express Your holiness?
Isaiah 6:5 Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”
It beggars all description
2 Corinthians 12:3-4 And I know how such a man– whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows– 4 was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.
And when I fall before You,
Revelation 1:17a When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man.
“Get up”, You say, “don’t be afraid,
Revelation 1:17b-18 17b … And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18 and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.
“Remember what I am. Oh yes, I am”
Galatians 2:20c…the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
I am the Friend of sinners, I’ll always be your Friend
Matthew 28:19-20 ”Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Hebrews 13:5b-6 … for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,” 6 so that we confidently say, “THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID. WHAT WILL MAN DO TO ME?”
I am the Friend of sinners, I’m still Your friend
3 John 1:15 Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends by name.
How much more, since You’re glorified will You still be my Friend?
Hebrews 7:25 Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
And though my motives I decry
Matthew 6:24 ”No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
James 3:14-16 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.
Philippians 1:15-17 Some, to be sure, are preaching [the Messiah] even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; 16 the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17 the former proclaim [the Messiah] out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.
I still rely, for You are
John 6:67-69 So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” 68 Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. 69 “We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”
Hebrews 13:8 Jesus [the Messiah] is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Romans 4:5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,
You are the King of Glory
Psalm 24:7-10 Lift up your heads, O gates, And be lifted up, O ancient doors, That the King of glory may come in! 8 Who is the King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, The LORD mighty in battle. 9 Lift up your heads, O gates, And lift them up, O ancient doors, That the King of glory may come in! 10 Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, He is the King of glory. Selah.
Transcendent and almighty
Psalm 99:1-3 The LORD reigns, let the peoples tremble; He is enthroned above the cherubim, let the earth shake! 2 The LORD is great in Zion, And He is exalted above all the peoples. 3 Let them praise Your great and awesome name; Holy is He.
Enthroned above the angels
Isaiah 37:16 ”O LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, who is enthroned above the cherubim, You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.
Revelation 4:4-8 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads. 5 Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; 6 and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. 7 The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. 8 And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME.”
They trembling bow before You
Job 26:11 ”The pillars of heaven tremble And are amazed at His rebuke.
Isaiah 13:13 Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, And the earth will be shaken from its place At the fury of the LORD of hosts In the day of His burning anger.
Joel 3:16 The LORD roars from Zion And utters His voice from Jerusalem, And the heavens and the earth tremble. But the LORD is a refuge for His people And a stronghold to the sons of Israel.
Philippians 2:9-11 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus [the Messiah] is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
(You’re holy, holy, holy)
Revelation 4:8 And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME.”
Isaiah 6:1b-4 … I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. 2 Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” 4 And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke.
Matthew 11:19 “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
David Harwood is a prophetic teacher and worship leader, and author of the book God’s True Love.
“…. 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.
“Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.” -Phil. 4.5
This is a unique verse, and it opens up a panoramic view of the apostolic heart of Paul. What is this “gentle spirit” that he is encouraging, and why does he tell us that the Lord is near in this context?
Philippians is Paul’s great call to a life of rejoicing in the midst of trial, and he was writing to a church that was facing great opposition from persecutors. He repeatedly exhorts the saints to rejoice in the midst of the suffering, and this verse provides for us a concentrated stream of thought from the apostle along these lines.
What is a “gentle spirit” then? To be sure, it is not cowardice, shyness, or any attempt at looking humble or sounding modest. A “gentle spirit” is not something that can be conjured by a self-conscious attempt at meekness. This “gentle spirit” imperative, following Paul’s exhortation to “rejoice in the Lord always,” must be the God-breathed result of delighting in Him in the midst of great pressure and trial.
Anyone can look gentle and meek in a contrived way when men are watching and some religious reward is at stake. But when the rubber hits the road, when the turbulence of life picks up, when the ground begins to shake beneath our feet, the depth of our foundations in God is revealed for what it actually is. It takes a certain kind of soul to demonstrate the gentleness and kindness of God Himself in an atmosphere that is inhospitable and difficult, but this is the privilege and calling of every saint. This “gentle spirit” is not something calculated and performed, but rather received and demonstrated, through the very life of Jesus Himself.
The “gentle spirit” Paul speaks of denotes a disposition that can hardly be rendered in translation by a single word. It is your quite specifically grounded benevolence, gentleness, considerateness, openness, vitality, and at the same time moderation that must be manifest to all men. Luther’s “lenity” well expresses the source of this disposition: Christians are men who have been made lenis, lenient, mellow, “beaten to pulp,” as opposed to the nonrecipients of grace, who can still be stiff and bristly.
(Epistle to the Philippians, Karl Barth; WJK Publications, 2002; p. 121)
It is not in the flighty and jolly moments of positive religious experience that this is proven out, but rather in the hum-drum, grinding, pressing moments of day-to-day life. Our “gentle spirit” is not mainly displayed from a pulpit, at a conference, or at some overt spiritual function. It is in the way we approach others from our innermost being. Have we a tinge of self-righteousness toward them? Have we a hint of superiority toward them? Have we a smidgeon of stiffness or coldness toward them?
What about our spouses or children? Have we a bit of disdain or bitterness toward them? Have we a shade of impatience or anxiety regarding them? Have we any hardness, brashness, or brazenness toward them?
Paul called the church to rejoice in the Lord always, and to allow the gentle and kind Spirit of Jesus Himself to flow through our lives and unto others in an effectual way. It will not happen in some magical and automatic way without our cooperation, for He is looking for co-laborers. We’ve got to allow the Potter to “beat to a pulp” all our anxiety, arrogance, and self-glorification, until we are wrung out souls, ready to be revivified and powered by His own resurrection life. Then shall His own gentleness and kindness flow from us, in the high places and in the low places.
He follows this call with that most striking note, “The Lord is near.”
Paul’s thought is two-fold here:
1. The Lord is near, literally at hand, and as the great coming Judge, He will not be pleased if we have walked in our own stiff-hearted dispositions. He calls us to a higher reality, namely His own gentleness, and if we have treated others unjustly or been hard-hearted toward them, it will not be well for us on the day of His return. “…. to the extent that you did it to one of the least of these…. “
2. Secondly, and most encouraging for the believer, is that the Lord, who is our great help, is not only near in the sense of His soon coming. For the soul that has been redeemed and transformed through the Gospel, He is as near as the inner-man. He is near to us in every plight and every challenge, and He is fervent and eager in His desire to walk us through the tumultuous seasons of life. We do not need to remain in a place of stiffness, arrogance, or brashness towards others. We need only to cry out to Him, and He will break up the hardened ground of our hearts, oil the dry places, and make us tender and loving and gentle towards all men. His own vibrant love and kindness will flow through us like a mighty rushing river.
So turn from your self and unto the Chief Shepherd. He is near to you, dear saint, and His gentle Spirit is ever and always our great good.
Abraham fell on his face and laughed…
Sarah laughed to herself …
(Genesis 17:17a; 18:12a)
Many are happy to overlook the way God has revealed Himself in the sacred histories. They prefer to view Him through inspired statements made about Him. Then they define His actions in view of those holy declarations. This is a good principle, but we should not neglect to watch carefully to see how He interacts with people that He loves. Perhaps statements about God might be seen through the revelatory record of His relationships. For example, look at Abraham and Sarah’s unbelief. First, look at Abraham:
Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. “I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!” But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. (Genesis 17:15-19)
At least Abraham kept his derision to himself. He only spoke “in his heart.” God didn’t reprove him. God continued to declare His purposes for Abraham. Yet, look at Sarah. Really, this couple just goes from bad to worse…
He said, “I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past childbearing. Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” And the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?’ “Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” Sarah denied it however, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. And He said, “No, but you did laugh.” (Genesis 18:9-15)
Here’s a woman who actually laughs in disbelief at God’s promise. When she’s called on it, in fear and disbelief in God’s goodness, she lies to God’s face. Why wasn’t Sarah turned to ashes where she stood? In the very next chapter (the inexorably severe judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah) we read of Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt for disobeying the word of an angel. Here, we have the inspired record: Lot’s wife’s Aunt Sarah secretly mocking God’s word. She laughed!
Not only did God not destroy Sarah, but He didn’t rescind His promise to her. Not only did God not respond in wrath, but Sarah didn’t disqualify herself from His purposes for her. In fact, the gentle reproof He offered did not even receive a penitent response. What did she say? “I did not laugh.” So, Sarah not only laughs at God’s word, but when convicted by the audible voice of God she doesn’t even have the reverence to humbly confess her fault. She denies, she maintains her righteousness. And this woman lived? What did God say? “No, but you did laugh.” I have been familiar with this story for years, but still can’t quite get over this.
This is as poignant and merciful an interaction as anything we read about in the New Testament. In fact, where else in the Sacred Text do we see this type of behavior? (I’m not just writing about Sarah, but Sarah and God!)
Have you ever received a promise that you believe was from God, but now, if it is mentioned, the very sound of it brings pain? If the LORD, Himself, was to draw near to you and restate His purpose, would you bitterly laugh? Would you mock? Have you done that? If so, take heart. He is the God of Abraham, yes, but He is also the God of Sarah.
Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” (Genesis 21:5-7)
What an incredible display of the God of Sarah’s faithfulness. Before we leave this story, let’s read the way the writer of Hebrews tells this story:
By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. (Hebrews 11:11)
Are you kidding? That’s the apostolic verdict? I am tempted to laugh…
Jacob had a get-rich-quick strategy.He made a deal with Laban, his father-in-law that rather than being paid in cash for his shepherding services he would receive as payment all of the imperfect members of the flock; all the striped, speckled and spotted cattle, sheep and goats.Laban preferred the beautiful ones anyways.He was glad to be rid of the imperfect members of the flock and agreed to Jacob’s pathetic idea of remuneration.But soon Jacob’s motley flock had exceeded Laban’s and the lowly farmhand had grown more rich and powerful than his master.
I visited a church not long ago where the pastor was very proud of the fact that his congregation was made up of some of the wealthiest, most successful and most famous people in town.Everything from the building itself to the demeanor of the staff to the kind of people that were positioned on the platform, shouted that this was a church for the good-looking, the rich and the powerful.Anyone who did not fit into that category might not feel very comfortable there, but for those that were members it was more than a church, it was a sort of elite club for classy Christians.It reminded me of Laban’s perfect flock.
Rich people need Jesus too and I’m glad that they found a place of worship where they could feel comfortable, but somehow I think that if Jesus were pastoring in that city, his church would probably look a lot different. Jesus was known as a “friend of publicans and sinners.He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor” (Luke 4:18).And again, “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick” (Matt 9:12).And again, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32).“The Son of man” He said of Himself, “is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
If Jesus pastored a church I think that it would be “on the wrong side of the tracks”.It would be filled with hookers, drug addicts and bums.It would be a church where the unlovely would feel welcomed and accepted.It would be a church for the striped the speckled and spotted members of society.
In fact, Jesus identifies with the needy to such an extent that he takes our actions towards them personally saying, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in…to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” (Mat 25) One of the two elements of “pure religion” according to James is to, “…visit and help and care for the orphans and widows in their affliction and need.” (James 1:27 AMP) The ones that, “…turn many to righteousness [shall give forth light] like the stars forever and ever.”
If any evangelist, pastor or church will follow the example of Jesus and Jacob they will soon make an amazing discovery.A church that is after the lost, the unlovely, the poor, the outcasts and the sinners will soon surpass in every way, the wealth of its country-club counterparts.An evangelist that is willing to leave the well-traveled circuit of itinerate preachers and venture into the dark, dangerous and remote areas of the world will discover rich and abundant harvests where no one would have ever expected to find them.
I am convinced that at the end of the day, the greatest reward will be for the ones who have gotten down in the dirt with Jesus and served “the least of these”.The greatest honor will belong to those who have preached the Gospel to the poor and the first prize will go to the ones who have invested in the striped, the speckled and the spotted.
Hindus in Madhya Pradesh, India, have accused Pastor Kamlesh Tahed and three other Christians of murdering a young man who was killed in a fight between two locals, according to Compass Direct News.
On Aug. 8, Roop Singh Baria was killed during violence between the Baria and Tahed clans regarding 1,000 rupees (US $20), which had been borrowed by one of the Tahed family members. When members of the Baria clan filed a report with the police about the incident, they implicated Pastor Tahed, Kasna Tahed and two other believers, Ramesh Tahed and Vasna Tahed, in the murder. The four men and other locals insist that the Christians were not present when the murder took place.
Following the incident, Pastor Tahed said, “I once was one of them, but in the 20 years since I became a Christian, they have been dragging me into false cases and hate me for my work of evangelism.” In 2001, Pastor Tahed was jailed for 20 days on false charges of “forcible conversion.” He was released after a costly court battle, which proved his innocence. At last report, he was in hiding and the three other accused believers were in police custody.
God, shine your light of truth and righteousness on this situation.
“How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked…” -Psm. 1.1a
“You shall charge the sons of Israel, that they bring you clear oil of beaten olives for the light, to make a lamp burn continually.” -Ex. 27.20
It is one thing to declare in a church meeting that the Lord is our Counselor. It is quite another thing to dwell in the clear air of His heavenly sanctuary, and to surrender our lives- lock, stock, and barrel- to the counsel He gives us in real life. Are we naive enough to believe that walking in the counsel of the wicked is limited to practicing Satanism, engaging in prostitution and drug activity, or giving ourselves to some other blatantly dark thing?
What if I told you that we can be just as duped into walking in the counsel of the wicked by things that seem good or religious? What if I told you that being swallowed up in a hundred “decent family movies” can be just as detrimental to your heart as viewing a movie that is morally compromised? What if I told you that you can sing on a worship team, listen to Christian radio, even ‘pastor’ a Church, and still be totally devoid of the life-giving counsel of God?
If we are not pressing past the various voices that seek to penetrate our hearts and distract us from the vital counsel of God Himself, we are vulnerable candidates for walking in the counsel of the wicked. We may speak religiously, but we will not be free from the spirit of this age which rules the hearts of men, binding them in lust, fear, intimidation, anxiety, and self-centeredness. The nature and condition of a man’s life when he is not in a religious meeting is the statement of where he really is in God.
The seven-branched Levitical “lampstand” in the tabernacle of Moses was fueled by “clear oil of beaten olives for the light.” At the command of the Lord, the oil which fed the flame was to be clear, beaten from olives, “to make a lamp burn continually.” The Lord has always desired that His people, who are typified by a “lampstand” in the Revelation to John, would bear a flame of His fullness, and that the bearers of the flame would be fitted to burn continually. The lampstand was to be made of “pure gold,” or literally, “hammered metal.” There was a preparation of heat and hammering that formed it before it was fitted to receive the oil and carry the holy fire.
We have settled for soulish outbursts of religiosity once or twice a week in services, but have been unwilling to go through the heat and pounding- the inward work of the cross- as the Levitical lampstand was required to endure for its formation. Only a rightly fashioned lampstand that is fed by clear oil can bear the seven-fold flame that the Lord has desired it to burn with, and the intention was never to light it only for ceremonies or religious services. It was meant to burn continually, and it was the responsibility of the High Priest to keep it alight. The Son of God is eager to help us along in formation, and He desires to keep the flame of love and righteousness alight in our midst. Why have we so often turned from the hammering work of character formation, and turned away from Him when His desire has been to keep the holy flame alive within us?
We have wanted lives that we can control, that we can own, that never discomfort or challenge us with unpredictable counsel from the Ancient of Days. We participate in a measure of Christian devotion, knowing full well that if we were to surrender to the Lord unreservedly, we would likely be shaken from our stationary spirituality, and called into a more dangerous and risky love than we have ever before known.
We have not been willing for Him to surprise us, to consecrate us, to immerse us in His heart and His ways. We have desired a partial involvement, a limited relationship, and it is something that falls short of covenantal glory. Hence, our flame sputters and fluctuates. It’s choppy, sporadic, and usually dim. We have willingly allowed a tainted oil to go through the lampstand for the feeding of the flame, but the Lord will have no such thing. He requires a clear oil, the oil which He Himself provides, rather than something lesser that we have received from men, or something that we have worked up by our own wisdom. Truthfully, dear saint, what oil are you receiving?
Again, I inquire: We may declare the Lord our Counselor in a church meeting, but who’s counsel are we actually walking in? The bad fruit of wicked counsel is a life of religious striving, moral compromise, mistrust and suspicion, fear, anxiety, and self-absorption. To breathe in the clear air of the Heavenly sanctuary, to break into open communion with the God of Life, is to receive the clear oil into our souls, and to dwell in the counsel of the Almighty.
When we sink our lives into His counsel, we hear the clear word of His astonishing love for us. We hear the clear testimony of His Son. We hear the clear statement of the judgment to come. He reveals Himself to us, and we are rooted and grounded in love, and brought into an awareness of the gravity and seriousness of His eternal purposes. Only this kind of profound union with the Lord can charge a steady and full flame in the house of God, and He would have it no other way. For if He Himself is the Smith of the lampstand, and the Producer of the oil, and the Giver of the flame, then not only does He have vessels and servants, He has co-laborers and friends. He has sons and daughters. He has “… a bride adorned for the Bridegroom.” (Rev. 21.2b)
Receiving tainted oil, or allowing the aura and essence of the world to influence our minds and hearts, is the ominous gate to walking in the counsel of the wicked. It results in something less than true communion with God, however innocent that counsel may appear. But to break out of the cobwebs of worldly influence and thought, and into the clear air of God’s holy house, is to be immersed in the counsel of the Lord, which is “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom. 14.17b)
We’ve got to be fiercely desirous of the clear air, saints. The media, Hollywood, and often our co-workers, relatives and neighbors, are wanting to drag us down into the various pits where they have resolved to remain, and which rob them of the Life that His counsel offers. Don’t be duped by a smile, by wealth, or by a confident attitude. If they are not receiving the “clear oil” of God, they are walking in the counsel of the wicked, and if you don’t break out of the pit you will not have Life sufficient to overcome the lies yourself, much less to provide a way of deliverance for them. We’ve got to “delight in the law of the Lord,” and give our lives in the place of prayer, worship and fasting, lest we find our “lampstands” filled with tainted oil or empty altogether, our flames sputtering and fading in the winds of this passing age.
God is not a God of confusion and disarray. He is sounder and more stable than the foundations of the earth, unchanging and eternal, and He lives in the clear air of Heaven. He has always desired a people who would dwell there with Him, and if you have repented and believed the Gospel of God, you have been raised up into His house through the work of His Son. It’s time to cast the murky oil to the side, be it moral compromise, or simply giving our time and energies to too many seemingly good things, while neglecting the place of face to face counsel from Him.
The hour is here for an ultimate consecration of our hearts to the Lord, and the invitation He is giving us is glorious beyond description. “Now is the day of salvation” from all that has hindered us from the full experience of the clear oil of His Spirit; the abiding Life of Jesus Christ. Isn’t this what you long for? He has made His own “righteousness, peace, and joy” available to us in a radical way through His Son.
And what is the glory that alights upon the believer who breaks out of wicked counsel and into the clear air of the heavenly Tabernacle?
“He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,