The men God is making/Surveying the local landscape/conclusion

In a former article I wrote a section called “Who is wise among you?” It states;

In relation to how a man builds Paul wrote;

“Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise”

After giving the reason why each of us must become foolish to be wise he concludes with this:

“So then, let no one boast in men.” Now why would men do that? And what was Paul’s solution to that problem? “For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.” [1 Corinthians 3:18-23]

The wise man no longer sees himself as separate from his brothers and sisters in Christ. He does not view himself as separate, he does not view his belongings as separate, he does not view his job as separate- he views nothing in this world (present) or even things to come as separate. He sees all in Christ; and needless to say that those who wisely view things and their family as such will live in such a manner that exemplifies that view…..that is consistent with that view…..the way God sees things.

Gone are allegiances to men. “My pastor” will no longer work. Gone are allegiances to various entities. “My church” doesn’t work either.” Gone are allegiances to things. “My possessions” doesn’t cut it. Can you see why all these things are opposed to true Biblical Christianity?

It seems unfortunate for the few who have been ostracized from formal religion to be cast aside as unnecessary or unwanted. Just as we once thought this unfair and ourselves wronged, oh how we now see the bigger picture as it really is. No longer are we deceiving ourselves. Just as Him who was cast far from the eyes and hearts of men, so we too know the pains of being sacrificed for the few He will eventually call unto Himself. We no longer regret having died to that former manner of living now do we?

These days, God is still calling for men to be sacrificed once again. We are called to a new manner of living, all divisions aside, nothing remains but a cross laid upon the path in front of me. It is my duty, my responsibility, my privilege in sharing that cross. Only as I do, will any remaining independence and the pride of independent accomplishment  be diminished and abandoned.

THE CROSS PREPARES ME FOR SCRIPTURAL SUBMISSION

Every true Christian has been taught things by God Himself. For others, they simply follow the direction of someone who they believe to be more spiritual and enlightened- they take that persons word for what they say is the truth. At other times, people believe He is speaking to them when in reality what we they hear has an altogether different source than God. Are we all free to believe whatever we want or is their a consistent pattern all Christians are obligated to follow?

In my last post I wrote out the verse found in 2 Corinthians 11:3, 4 which says;

“But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we (the apostles) have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not (initially and through us) received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully” (you put up and tolerate this as if it is no big deal)

Several things can be ascertained from the verse above:

  • True spiritual devotion is to a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ
  • There are people about who preach false conceptions of Jesus (they don’t preach the real Jesus)
  • There are “spirits” that accompany these false teachers and their false concepts of Jesus- they do not derive from the Holy Spirit.
  • There also exist false concepts of the one true gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is obvious by the surrounding verses in this chapter that Paul is concerned about these falsehoods affecting the saints. These falsehoods lead people away from the simplicity and purity of devotion Jesus commands and deserves- they corrupt both the gospel message itself and the one practice of the true gospel.

We have talked much about the fact that only ONE TRUE GOSPEL exists and that there is only ONE TRUE PRACTICE of this gospel among the saints. (See: 1 Corinthians 4:17, 11:1, 16, 14:33, 37) for some aids about this.

It becomes readily apparent if we believe the Bible that what Paul called “my gospel” and “my ways” (that which he claimed he received by revelation (not by or from men, Galatians 1:11, 12) are the real thing- they are the real gospel and practice which we are commanded to believe. Paul even says to those in his day to those who considered themselves a prophet or spiritual (referring to those who thought they were capable of bringing God’s message to others) that they should recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment, AND if anyone does not recognize this (refuses to believe this) they themselves are not to be recognized. (as having the message from God as his messengers). See 1 Corinthians 14:37. In other words, those who were not speaking the same message as Paul in word and practice were not sent from God!

The simplicity of Christ

If you could think of a single Bible verse that would describe the simplicity of the mutual gathering of the saints with Jesus at its center, what verse would that be? How about this:

“For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” [Matthew 18:20]

Looking closer, this is an illustration of exactly what Jesus is building. One, two, three, (or twenty, the number isn’t relevant)gathered together in His name in various locales (not in any other name) with Jesus present. (Jesus dwelling in the individual Christians gathered)

What, that’s it? That’s what Jesus is building you ask? Yep, that’s it, nothing more. Surprised? Could it be that you have forgotten who the real Jesus is and what He promises to build?

Many people have all kinds of ideas about religion, about Christian service and what they deem to be right, reasonable or acceptable to God. These ideas come from many places from one’s imagination, ingenuity or personal experience or what others around them are claiming to be Christian. The trouble is, God isn’t interested in what we think at all, He’s only interested in whether we will obey what He has clearly said in His Word, the Bible. We don’t dare just assume God’s direction for us until we know for certain what He is speaking.

When an individual is truly converted unto Christ, all that should matter is Him and what he desires- conversion is UNTO HIM. My sole priority as a Christian should be to discover what He desires and to desire by grace to live that out.

God is calling individuals together and these individuals comprise one spiritual body. It is these individual together who share their lives and together discover what God is speaking to them. If you are a Christian, the very first responsibility you have in the area where you live is this, TO LEARN TO DIE TO YOUR INDIVIDUAL INTERESTS. Only after God has sufficiently crushed what remains of “our ways” can we be trusted to help build with Jesus and others. The proof of your arrival here is simple: YOU HAVE NO INTENTION OF DOING ANYTHING FOR GOD, BUT HAVE LEARNED TO DESIRE GOD HIMSELF ABOVE ALL THINGS. Once Jesus becomes our all, then He starts to orchestrate our surroundings and bring along the people that He knows will fit with us in our calling and His purposes for our lives- the two’s and three’s of a local fellowship.

BEING SPIRIT LED THROUGH MUTUAL SUBMISSION

Knowing God’s heart and seeing Jesus’ promise to build His ekklesia, we should pray to that end. We should be looking for opportunities to share:

  • The gospel of Jesus Christ
  • The scriptural practice of that gospel

In time, God will bring others to participate in what he is building in our locales. Most of these people will have previous experience with these things and some are living in or exiting God’s wilderness where He has taught them to rely upon Himself alone. At first these gatherings have no specific agendas as the members are simply enjoying true fellowship one with another. In time though, He will start to move the members in unified directions (they will see the same things, desire the same things and act in a similar manner). The most important things to remember through this is: NO ONE MEMBER DECIDES FOR THE OTHER BELIEVERS. ALL THE MEMBERS PARTICIPATE IN MINISTRY AND ALL DECISIONS ARE MADE CORPORATELY. More and more individual decisions are abandoned for the corporate witness of Jesus among the members. Individuals still hold their individual convictions, they are not forced to abandon them, but the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace becomes paramount. The saints learn to speak and act as “one man” in Christ.

FELLOWSHIP IS THE MINISTRY

Contrary to our old way of thinking, our primary service is not “out there” but among our brothers and sisters. We learn to lay down our lives in service for them as any have need.  We find this priority toward the saints’ needs here:

“So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Christians). [Galatians 6:10] and here:

“Do nothing from selfishness of empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” [Philippians 2:3, 4] 

This does not negate some of the saints’ individuals callings for various service (such as a service to orphans or widows), but all SERVICE STEMS FROM A LOCAL EKKLESIA, where each member submits to the others members. NO ONE ACTS INDEPENDENTLY but has learned to trust the judgments of the saints’ corporate witness. This is especially crucial as it relates to “saints coming in” (for fellowship) and others “going out” (in service).

THE MEN GOD IS MAKING AND HOW

This is the manner Jesus is building His ekklesia, and every Christian is required to submit to the process. The intimate relationship of the families, brothers and sisters, teenagers and young children grows as Jesus is expressed through each one. Jesus remains the head and therefore remains preeminent and the Holy Spirit guides the majority of functions spontaneously.

THE PROMISES OF GOD

The scriptures are chock full of promises that any and every Christian can claim. Most of these promises are conditional and apply to very specific people, places or circumstances. For example, the Bible states in Matthew 16:18 where Jesus speaks to Peter;

“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church  (“ekklesia”); and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (them).

Any honest person can quickly realize that Jesus is not talking about the gates of hell prevailing against some particular church (building). That doesn’t even make sense. Hades is used here as a substitute for sin, sin is what can prevail against people and often does. Jesus is actually saying that the gates of hell (power of hell and sin) will not prevail against His ekklesia (His spiritual body of believers, comprised of living stones that He is bringing together- that which He is building AND that which is founded upon Himself as the rock. Despite what some say about Peter being the foundation, Peter himself refutes that here (1 Peter 2:4-8) and even if that were true, that would only make Peter the foundation of an earthly religion and not the foundation of a heavenly kingdom. Jesus Himself said His kingdom is not of this world.

The scriptures show plainly that God’s people are to follow Jesus, not anything that might act as a substitute. We were never called to follow a church, some religious list of doctrines, some list of laws or any man regardless of how humble or holy. Jesus said and says plainly, FOLLOW ME. If you make that your priority, if you desire Him more than all, you just might be used in the very place and in the very manner He has called you. You can affect the people around you, you can alter the local landscape for His name’s sake- but only as you follow Him and His ways as well.

Things are not what they appear friends. Trust Jesus to show you His truth and become the light this world so desperately needs to see and embrace.

All things will eventually be summed up in Christ, why wait another day to fulfill your part.

-the end

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The men God is making/Surveying the local landscape/part 4

A man after God’s own heart. Paul certainly knew something about him as he spoke of David at Antioch;

“After He (God) had removed him (Saul as king), He raised up David to be their king, concerning whom He also testified and said, ‘I HAVE FOUND DAVID the son of Jesse, A MAN AFTER MY HEART, who will do all My will.’ [Acts 13:22]

It’s easy to imagine ourselves serving God with our whole heart- to be completely and sacrificially willing to perform His entire will. Even if we were to find such a willing soul, it’s likely that this person wouldn’t really understand what that would actually entail. Can I offer some hints as to what this likely would include?

  • A willingness to follow Jesus regardless of what anyone else and everyone else might do or is doing.
  • A basic understanding of what Jesus is building and a willingness to begin where He begins.
  • A continual focus upon the big picture and a willingness to forego what might hinder or sidetrack us with it.
  • A willingness to not take matters into our own hands- to wait upon the Spirit’s leading in all things.
  • A mutual submission to other saints who are also traversing along this narrow path.

A WILLINGNESS TO FOLLOW JESUS REGARDLESS

“For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.” [Galatians 1:10]

Pleasing men for their benefit and pleasing God for His glory are two opposing things. Men may benefit from us obeying God (they often do) though we can never please men at the expense of God’s truth or His calling for us.

Do you remember when Paul was pleasing men? Here’s a clue:

“If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee, as to zeal, a persecutor of the ekklesia; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless” [Philippians 3:4-6]

The above is a description of Saul of Tarsus before he became the apostle Paul. Notice the credentials, notice his religious upbringing, notice his zeal- all for the wrong things! How do we know this? Look what he spoke after he came to know Christ:

“But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted loss for the sake of Christ. More than that , I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ” [Philippians 3:7, 8]

Notice what is contrasted here. The things which were gain to him personally (the list of credentials above) with the value of personally knowing Jesus Christ. In other words, the knowledge of and value of knowing Jesus personally trumped entirely everything he worked so hard for in his former religion. Also notice these little words which have great significance- “so that.” In other words, the former had to be relinquished in order for the latter to be realized. There was no such thing as knowing Christ through religion or self effort- those things were a hindrance to knowing Christ personally.

“For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or way of deceit; but just as we have been entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God whom examines our hearts. For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed- God it witness…..” [1 Thessalonians 2:3, 4]

Paul makes clear here that his appeal to these people at Thessonalica with the gospel was not tainted with error, it was not for some selfish purpose such as money, it was not brought or used by them in order to deceive them in any way. Notice this key phrase within this text: “entrusted with the gospel”  It is evident that the reason God trusted Paul with the responsibility of preaching the gospel is because he was trustworthy- he used the message of the gospel for its two fold purpose:

  • To proclaim the gospel message of faith and repentance
  • To bring God glory through the fruit of those who were saved as a result of the gospel being preached to them

To summarize this section: In order to follow Jesus in the manner He prescribes and commands, we cannot follow a religion, place an undue emphasis upon education nor can our motive for following Jesus be self centered in any fashion. We must be willing to follow Jesus for Jesus’ sake, leaving any and all other allegiances aside. That includes not just our brand of religion, but also family and friends if they hinder us from abandoning the above.

TO BEGIN BUILDING WITH JESUS IN THE PLACE AND MANNER HE IS BUILDING

Jesus is building His One Ekklesia through local geographical groups of living stones that He brings together.

“And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” [1 Peter 2:4, 5]

This is where all true spiritual building must begin- by acknowledging what Jesus is building and aligning my life with what He is building. I should be asking myself, “How can I help build what Jesus is building?”

The only way I can help Jesus build a spiritual kingdom is to use spiritual resources. Those resources are found in and through the power of the Holy Spirit. All of those resources have been given……the all spiritual blessings of Ephesians 1 for example. The proof of this past tense blessing is also found here:

“For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority….” [Colossians 2:9, 10]    and here:

“Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” [2 Peter 1:2, 3] 

Notice these verses relate to what Christians have been given already- via the Holy Spirit. We are called to learn to discover, appropriate and rely upon these spiritual resources for our building projects. (Not just establishing the “two and threes” of local communities, but the building we do in the lives of our brothers and sisters).  Note also the phrase above in 2 Peter “the true knowledge of Him.” Sounds kind of similar to Paul’s emphasis upon knowing Jesus in the book of Philippians does it not?

There is another question we could ask as well, “How might we hinder the work that Jesus is building among us?” This is an equally important question as the one above. The answer to this is not difficult to discover. We hinder the work in Jesus’ spiritual kingdom and our spiritual lives by building in the natural- by using natural resources to build earthly creations. It doesn’t matter whether that natural ability is our physical strength or whether we use that strength to help build a physical edifice called a church. NO RESOURCES that derive from us are acceptable for what Jesus is building, nor do physical structures, institutions or devotion to them help in what Jesus is building. Natural strength can circumvent God’s strength through our weakness just as attention to physical entities circumvents devotion to Jesus Himself. ANYTHING that doesn’t stem from (originate in and through the Holy Spirit) MUST be abandoned if we are to build spiritually with Jesus. EVERY other manner of building and process of building opposes Jesus and actually competes with what He is building.

To summarize this section: Whatever resources I am using to build must be spiritual in nature and derive directly from Jesus Himself and the Holy Spirit. Whatever does not (such as physical churches, college institutions and especially our own wisdom, ingenuity and imagination) must be rejected from the outset. Only after abandoning all of the natural, can a child of God start to be properly equipped to build in the spiritual realm.

A CONTINUAL FOCUS UPON THE BIG PICTURE

“Therefore, I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air;

but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I myself have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” [1 Corinthians 9:26, 27]

I purposefully left a space between these two verses because there are two very distinct points to address. It’s obvious in the first where Paul talks of running (a continuous intent movement of sorts) and yet with a precise goal in mind. When we think of boxing we think of one who is continually moving about but only taking aggressive action toward his opponent when the time is right. It’s about looking for opportunity when those opportunities present themselves. We might use an equation such as this:

GOAL = READINESS + FOCUS (on the goal) + OPPORTUNITY

Sure, we could have turned the equation around, but then we would lose sight of the goal! In life in general and in Christian service the goal must always be before us. Obviously in a race the goal is to win. But what is the goal in relation to our calling as Christians? The answer to this is found in the same passage of scripture:

“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more” [1 Corinthians 9:19]   In scripture, winning is synonymous with winning souls for Jesus. This is further shown here in 2 Corinthians 11:2:

“For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed (to give or pledge one in union/marriage) you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin”  The primary reason to seek lost souls and convert them is FOR CHRIST. [2 Corinthians 5:20] CONVERSION IS UNTO HIM. This is very important! We’ll return to this shortly.

Knowing the goal, we must be ready to act and action takes preparation. Preparation involves discipline, one must be spiritually equipped to battle the enemy and all the opposing forces that will attempt to hinder them. Discipline can involve:

  • Being spiritually fit daily (John 15)
  • Ability to speak and defend the truth (2 Timothy 2:15) (Titus 1:7-9)
  • The ability to properly instruct others in the Lord (Ephesians 6:4)
  • The reception of rebuke/correction from God through brothers (Hebrews 12:3-11)
  • Physical health (1 Corinthians 6:13)

Paul disciplined himself in order that he might not be disqualified- unable to continue to compete for souls as the result of having an undisciplined lifestyle.

Now returning to 2 Corinthians 11, we discover why this disciplined life is paramount:

“But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully” [2 Corinthians 11:3, 4]

The big picture concludes when the history of mankind upon this earth ends (the fullness of times) when all things in heaven and earth will be summed up in Christ. (Ephesians 1:9, 10) Contrary to what some might see here as universalism, note the context prior in the same chapter being entirely about God’s dealings with His elect. I’d like to show how all of us as Christians are called to the simplicity and devotion above, and how our modern age resists both of these and attempts to suppress them (actually Him, Christ) despite what they claim.

“On earth as it is in heaven” These are not some pretty sounding words we’ve memorized and quote on occasion. They are the very words Jesus has commanded us to pray and relate to the spiritual kingdom He is in the process building. It is only in this manner that we can truly honor and please Him and for “His will to be done” both through us and among us.

-continued

The men God is making/Surveying the local landscape/part 3

“He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us….” [Acts 17:26, 27]

Like it or not, our God has a way of placing us in the places and positions He desires for us. As the verse above makes evident, this includes more than just the duration and boundaries of nations, but even extends unto us as individual people (each one of us).

In a former post called, “The sin and consequence of independence,” we discussed how human beings generally act within the  framework of what is in “their own best interest.” This usually includes things like where we work, live and what we spend our time doing. But think about this for a moment, “Does any of this even sound Christian?” How can those who claim to be Christians, those who should understand their calling to sacrifice and self-renunciation encourage their sons and daughters to follow a path that is best for themselves?

We all want what is best for our children. But the question still remains, “Who is left to decide exactly what that is?” Obviously, young people grow up, leave their parent’s home and set out on a life of their own. But as Christians, shouldn’t God ultimately be the one who directs their lives, shows them what is and is not permissible and how and where they should serve Him?”

The sad reality is this: Most people in this generation have absolutely no idea of what God’s true intentions are for them as well as their family members. They are quick to jump on the latest trends of men and society (especially local trends) and do their best to fit in with what appears normal. Because of their desire for human interaction, both the parents and subsequently the children (following suit and popular precedents) join up with various organizations, clubs or sports activities as a means to fill the void of being alone- or worse,  just to have fun. As harmless as this may appear, it supersedes what God really desires and the manner in which He desires to fulfill those same needs.

A fractured life

Most people have the misconception that their lives are divided into various sub sections like work, their social lives, political preferences, various noble causes, recreation and worship among others. They devote various amounts of time to each as they choose and prefer. These usually center around the place we have chosen to live and those closest to us we call our friends. The more commitments we have, the busier we become and the less time we can devote to each aspect of our lives. Due to this, we erect “schedules” to keep everything in order and make it easier to accomplish all those things we desire to do. Rarely does anyone ever question whether any of this pleases God at all. We just assume that as long as we are giving Him some regular time that this is adequate or sufficient or all he requires.

If we as Christians read our Bible at all, there are obviously things we soon realize we are commanded by God to believe and to practice. Some of these are encompassed in the many “one anothers” found throughout the Bible. Here’s a few:

  • (Romans 12:10) Give preference to one another
  • (Romans 13:8) Owe nothing to anyone, but love one another
  • (Romans 14:19) Build up one another
  • (Romans 15:14) Admonish one another
  • (1 Corinthians 11:33) Wait for one another, when coming together to eat
  • (Galatians 5:16) Serve one another
  • (Ephesians 5:19) Speaking to one another
  • (Philippians 2:3) Regard one another as more important than ourselves
  • (Colossians 3;13) Bearing with one another
  • (1 Thessalonians 4:18) Comfort one another
  • (Hebrews 3:13) Encourage one another day after day
  • (James 5:16) Confess sins to one another)
  • (James 5:16) Pray for one another
  • = (1 John 4:7) Let us love one another

Lets’s try to summarize what God wants from me here: God wants me to live in such a way that I place others interests above my own and to do that daily and debt free. Huh? Who does that? Is that even possible?

There are only a few possible reasons why this statement seems so ridiculous and unreasonable to us:

  • I have never witnessed such a reality among men or families
  • I am focusing upon my own resources as the means to accomplish this
  • I have plans that conflict with God’s desires and commands for me in the Bible
  • All of the above

The truth be told, despite the Scriptures giving an account of the manner the first disciples shared their lives in the very manner as above, today few if any ever suggest such a lifestyle is even possible let alone attempt to live it. They surely don’t present such a lifestyle as a command from God.

The problem

The gospel of Jesus Christ that all Christians are commanded to proclaim is also the gospel they are commanded to live. There simply isn’t the reality of the gospel proclaimed without that gospel having a profound impact upon the manner in which I live my life. In other words, if the gospel hasn’t radically impacted the way I live, its likely I don’t really possess the gospel in the first place.

By default

Human nature without God naturally pursues its own course of action. It’s not interested in what God says or commands and can and does quickly justify all manner of excuses and false positions. One of those false positions is the thought that in some way we own our own lives as Christians- that somehow we have a right to act as we please. What about this verse:

“…and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” [2 Corinthians 5:14, 15]

Frankly said…..If you’re not living in the manner above (for your fellow brothers and sisters) you are not living a Christian life in the manner God requires. Therefore, you have two choices: Continue to disobey what God says or seek to discover the manner in which your life is to be lived for Jesus’ sake…..and the sooner the better.

Regardless of what you may or may not have been taught about God and the gospel, all those proclaiming Christ will be held accountable for the standard that the scriptures plainly express as their faith and practice. It won’t matter what your parents taught you, what experiences you have had or what church you may have attended. You and you alone are ultimately responsible for the manner you live as a professing believer.  It’s far better to discover what that standard is now, then to just assume all is well with what you have been previously told or taught. Here it is said;

“The naïve believe believes everything, but the sensible man considers his steps” [Proverbs 14;15]

“The prudent sees the evil and hides himself, but the naïve go on, and are punished for it” [Proverbs 22:3]

Rest assured. Continuing in the wrong direction has consequences, in most cases serious ones.

How it all began

There are very few ways in which all of the one another’s in the Bible could be lived and expressed among numerous believers. Have you ever thought about what those might be. Can I ask:

  • Could you possibly obey the list above by attending church once or twice a week?
  • Could you obey the list by erecting your own agenda as to the future you want for yourself?
  • Could you live in obedience to these commands by following the pattern and practice of religion you were taught from your youth?

If you’re honest, the answer to the above questions has to be no, and if it is no, than that has far reaching implications for my life.

In the book of Acts and subsequent letters of Paul the apostle it is plain as day how the believers of that time lived one to another. See here: Acts 2:42-47

Why is this so important?

Just like in our youth, God Himself also has an agenda. The difference is this: While we’re busy attempting to build and orchestrate a life unto ourselves in the natural, Jesus is building a kingdom of living stones that comprise His One Spiritual Body. Can you see how these are two distinct and different things.

If we’re entirely honest as professing Christians, most of us simply do not want to live in this fashion. It’s simply too intimate, too uncomfortable, too restrictive. We want to have our own way, our own possessions, our own life- yet that is exactly what God says we cannot have- that is, if we are truly His. If God truly has me, then He has everything I own as well.

Surveying the landscape, almost no one lives or desires to live in this fashion- or so it seems. Despite that, each of us as Christians must adhere to the gospel message and the practice of the gospel that coincides with that message. In reality, they are really one and the same thing are they not? Can you separate the gospel from the practice of it?

As a Christian, God calls me to conform my life to His requirements regardless of my upbringing, desires or natural abilities and talents. None of these things have anything to do with living faithfully. God requires and demands obedience, and this at any cost. It is only when I fully see and become willing to accept what God is doing, that I can be used by Him in participating in what He is building.

-to be continued, again

The men God is making/Surveying the local landscape, part 2

“Where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there in their midst” [Matthew 18:20]

Contrary to what appears to be relatively simplistic, there is something very profound about the above verse. It’s not as if God isn’t present with us alone, we know He dwells within His own; nonetheless He places an emphasis upon just the two or the three. In the book of Ecclesiastes we find these similar thoughts:

“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls  when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart” [Ecclesiastes 4:9-12]

The emphasis above is not saying that more is better. That is the spirit of this world speaking. The clue is found in the word above here written “companion” and in others translations often written “fellow.” It is a word which speaks of intimacy and unity of purpose. It is much more than just one person being willing to help another person. Furthermore, three likeminded individuals is that much harder to break apart or disrupt. We see examples of this in the New Testament assemblies where mutual elders are chosen to oversee the various ekklesias. It is not an elder who has this responsibility but a plurality of elders who are chosen by God through the saints for this purpose. Once again we see how unity of purpose and doctrine must precede one’s calling or even gathering together.

In the Scriptures we read where Jesus says, “I will build My ekklesia.” [Matthew 16:18] and in an earlier post that this ekklesia, also known as the spiritual BODY OF CHRIST shares ONE FAITH and ONE EXPRESSION of that faith IN PRACTICE- that which is to be consistently lived before other believers as well as the world at large. Just as the inconsistency of this witness in our day among men is a hindrance to the gospel, so is the consistent witness of it a convincing reality before those who experience it. This does not mean that anyone should attempt to force various truths or convictions upon others as a rite of initiation or means of acceptance, but we must remember and believe that all truth invariably stems FROM GOD and the application of these truths is ultimately FOR HIM. Unity is not necessarily “sameness” (we do not lose our unique individual qualities given us by God) but it does require each of us being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-7) It is only these men (and women of course) who God will eventually use to be the instruments of His choosing to “prepare the way” for His coming again. This preparation takes both a willingness to see (1st) and an actual ability (2nd, and as a result of being willing) to know the direction He is presently leading His people. It is being able to survey one’s surroundings combined with the current climate of the age and arrive at the following conclusions:

  • There are no replacements nor substitutes for what Jesus is building. Devotion and allegiance to Him is exclusively attentive to what He alone is building. This does not include any institutions or worldly enterprises of any kind- all of which will be hijacked by our adversary and ultimately destroyed.
  • As always, Jesus continues to call individuals unto Himself. This calling extends not only unto salvation and subsequent sanctification, but also unto those who are willing to come out from among the systems of men and become the proponents and examples of the better way of the New Covenant of His blood. God is calling and continues to call individual saints in specific locales to be His representatives and ambassadors unto what He alone is capable of building.
  • As wickedness in this age increases, God’s people will continually be called to come together based upon the person and name of Jesus Christ and faith in Him alone. Those who do so will become the objects of ridicule, scorn and persecution in the days and years to come. Those who remain committed to religious institutions will be swept away in this worlds deception and ultimately fall away. They will become those leading the charge of hostility against God’s elect.
  • The trend of our adversary attempting to replicate in part much of what of necessity must change will continue. In other words, Satan will continue to copy many of the beneficial practices of the scriptures, many of which the true saints heartily endorse. We must remember that just because an individual or group of professing believers share some of our common beliefs does not mean they are one with us in spirit. All things and indeed all men must at some point be tested. We are not ignorant of his schemes nor of his ability to even quote scripture to entice the naive and unsuspecting.
  • The means by which true practical unity will be accomplished in God’s people is the degree by which individual saints will choose to personally embrace the cross of Jesus Christ daily. Any so-called unity exempt of a personal cross is but a delusion that will be revealed to the true subjects of God’s love in His time.
  • A three fold corporate calling will remain for the body of Christ:

a) To be about the business of practically uniting all true believers without forcing others to adopt secondary beliefs or make them leave their established fellowships. In other words, a believers take on eschatology doesn’t include or exclude them from fellowship with the saints.

b) To be the body of Christ to all born again believers in love, service and suffering where necessary.

c) To be the example to all those participating in denominational religion what the affect of this unity can accomplish through the grace and power of God which works mightily within us.

I thank my Lord that the majority of those who I fellowship with already know these things. Forgive me if I volunteered you to become a corporate example for others to follow (as some of you may dislike or disagree with this), but I truly believe this is both necessary and invaluable in the days to come. Obviously this example is by no means limited to the few saints I know, but includes many other “two and threes” who meet around the globe who also understand these truths.

I would hope that we each would have opportunity to be part of a local ekklesia where we now reside, in the various locales and communities where we now find ourselves. Although this appears to be a grim reality, I hope and pray that our belief in this will not wane but grow stronger by the day. Our Father has allowed a unique internet ekklesia to be established amongst a few of us, I believe a prelude and preparation for what will eventually materialize locally for each of us. Even if I am mistaken, remember that it honors God much more to believe in what seems improbable and even impossible then to forego faith in its entirety. We are not trusting in a God who cannot alter our reality, but one in whom can alter history or even our lives in an instant- and has.

If we believe these things, we do well to align ourselves with these truths. We do better to forego those things that might hinder our usefulness and completion of the same.

Like our brother Peter, I would like to remind you of the general prayer requests that I believe echo some of the bullet points above. Please take some time to pray over these if you haven’t already.

  1. Jesus will show us as individuals and as an ekklesia how and where to build spiritually with Him.
  2. That Jesus would send laborers out- and that we would be among them.
  3. That we would take seriously the fact that Jesus is building ONE BODY, and for our words and actions to reflect this.
  4. That we each would be faithful with what we have been given and to use all to the glory of God.
  5. That our gospel would never cease to have the cross at its center, both for justification and for sanctification.

And may I add this as well-

That we extend the very same gracious response that I recently read in a post forwarded to you all by our brother Al that was written by Colin. As God’s own, we each have a heart for God’s people, and that includes many of those who are mistaken or even deceived upon some fronts. Yes, we must defend the truths of scripture, but we must also be patient and longsuffering toward others who have not matured to the extent that some of us have or other saints that simply disagree on some fronts. We are in the business of reconciling others to Christ, and that takes time if we are to rightly discern the intentions and motives of others.

The cause of reconciliation deals primarily with restoring harmony in relationship with God. But there is also a reconciliation that takes place between the saints themselves, a bringing back into harmony the relationships we have with one another, those brothers and sisters who share the same cause of Christ. Though only God is capable of accomplishing both, we do have a part in this and I can think of no greater blessing than to have a broken relationship restored that was once in disarray.

It wasn’t long ago that most of us were busy defending ourselves and using our defenses to attack one another. We may have been sincere, maybe even right, but we were still all in the wrong. The very next day we were able to witness a miraculous transformation as each of us in turn repented of our actions and attitudes one to another and what resulted soon afterwards- even a more precious fellowship and communion than before. We do well to remember this as others desire to learn and commune amongst us as fellow saints, as companions in the faith.

To be continued…..

The men God is making/Surveying the local landscape

Although the basis of this study will be the written Word of God, I’d like you to consider some very practical considerations as to the necessity and value of local expressions of people in our daily lives. For example, consider the following scenario.

You and your family have relocated to a new town to which you may or may not be familiar. Maybe it was an employment transfer, a better school system or maybe a sick child needs the attention of a hospital that excels in a particular illness. A hundred things could be driving this decision; nonetheless, certain decisions were made, some by you and possibly some by others which prompted this major change in your life. You have found yourself in at least one sense starting over, and hope to make the best out of a major life change. What will you do as a result?

A Common Misconception

Most people, including Christians, view themselves and their families as if they exist in some isolated bubble in which they enter and exit from day to day. They use terms to describe their reality such as “my job,” “my business,” and “my home.” They talk of things like “my problems,” “my sickness” and “my life” as if their decisions only affected them and no one else. Despite the manner in which they often talk, they nonetheless attempt to “set up shop” in these new locations by affiliating themselves with various forms of human interaction such as the following:

  • A school system or home schooling group that they believe best suits their children’s needs
  • Various support groups that address their particular needs or concerns
  • Health clubs or other health related service groups
  • Involvement in sport related activities/ other hobbies
  • A local religious expression of their faith

Why does the average person do these things?

God has created us as social beings, we were never intended to live an isolated life without the interaction of other human beings. Despite this, this world system is opposed to God and attempts to sell us on the fact that we must make it on our own- we must prove our worth to others and society as a whole. They tell us it is our efforts that make us worthwhile and valuable. Even many of our own parents have told us “to go out and make it in the world,” whatever that means.

Intuitively we know something is wrong but it isn’t easy recognizing this. On one hand we’ve been taught that “we can do it ourselves” and on the other we know how ridiculous this really is. We all know that despite what people might claim, “no one knows it all” and we are far more dependent upon one another that we care to admit. Some eventually do, while others would rather die that admit that they need the help of others…and do.

It is often said that a crisis of sorts often gives us a new perspective on life and for many people this really is true. Most people, when faced with the reality of their sheer inability to help themselves have no choice but to cry out to others for help. I learned this first hand as a drunken homeless man who had absolutely no control over his own life which was spinning out of control. There was a very specific time in my life where I was forced to “ask for help.”

Surveying the landscape

Either through a crises or a major life change, the reality of these changes forces us to survey our environment and discover how and where we believe we belong. There is an inward longing to be part of something that is greater than our individual abilities or even dreams. For some, volunteering in some special cause or donating money to less fortunate people helps fill the vacuum. For others a local church helps calm the storm that reminds us how much we need to be loved and to love others in return.

Despite this inner awareness, we are so prone to deny it or act as if we do. Even sitting here in this busy restaurant during lunch where no tables are open, even the two couples I invited to sit with me were very hesitant. It was if they would rather be inconvenienced than have to share a portion of their lunch with a complete stranger. They saw no value in the occasion, either because they had nothing to share or bear or because they couldn’t see beyond what they knew was familiar. That’s the reality of the cold world we so often choose to live in. We choose to live within what we deem to be comfortable and that includes those with whom we consider to be friends. We can’t even begin to recognize just how far from living “love your neighbor as yourself” we’ve really become.

The religious landscape

For years as Christians we’ve been taught to peruse the religious landscape and choose one we believe is in our best interest. The average church today attempts to “sell” you on their finer points and programs, usually promoted by a self appointed degreed authorative leader who claims to be “helping us” in our spiritual life. One in a thousand dare question this authority and even whether God has ever sanctioned them or their apparent help. Is pointing others to a religion or the practice and promotion thereof actually helping anyone? Is this what God Almighty requires or what Jesus died for? Might this not just be another one of those common misconceptions we accept because they make us feel welcome and needed and cater to an inward longing for self righteousness?

The tyranny of the familiar

Sadly and to our own shame, most Christians have simply chosen to play “follow the leader” or “follow the church” than discover what the God they claim really commands and desires for them. It’s become all too easy to “just go along” verses taking a stand for what God really says and being willing to live with the consequences. Underneath it all is a seedbed of fear that might take away the very social standing and environments we’ve chosen to create. We say we want to serve God and at the same time prove our unwillingness to do so by our refusal to die to what we ourselves have erected. Little do we realize how those very “familiar” relationships aren’t what they seem and how incapable of standing in the fires and tests that are sure to come. Regardless of how confident we say we are in our “supports,” time and trials will prove them to be what they actually are.

There’s only one place to run

There’s only one place to run, and in His arms will we be directed aright and among those whom He alone is preparing. God knows full well that you don’t want to be alone. He knows better than you do what you actually need, and just how far our “view” of things really is from His reality. He’s breaking us, beyond what we can bear into an entire reliance upon Him. Are you up for that? Are you willing to see the landscape that He alone is constructing? Are you willing to forego your own thoughts, dreams and even friends if he leads you so?

A heart after His heart

A man once lived that was called, “A man after God’s own heart.” Don’t think that God will accept less of you…….”How can you participate in what He is building if you still can’t see the landscape as it actually is? David had this heart because he knew in whom he believed…..he regularly interacted with the One in whom he placed his trust. It was not a blind faith in what he hoped would be true, but an overriding confidence in what God promised that drove him…..and so it must be with us.

To be continued in Part 2