Spiritual Warfare – What It Is and How To Win It

I was born again (in the classical, biblical, evangelical sense) on May 15, 1971. In the context of world history, May 15 was a dull day. Phil Pfister was born that day. He grew up to become an American strength athlete although I had never heard of him until I Googled “May 15, 1971” today. Oh, and “70, Girls, 70” closed on that Saturday at the Broadhurst Theater in New York City after 35 performances. Never heard of it. Phil was born and “70, Girls, 70” closed, and I died to self and was reborn into the Kingdom of God.

Before I had turned one month old in Jesus, I was introduced by my Christian mentors to something they labeled as “spiritual warfare.”

In those days, we battled unseen, but dangerous demons of every sort. We were taught that these spiritual entities were assigned by the Devil himself to attack our lives, harass our spirits, confuse our minds and wreak general destruction among the church and the world alike.

Much of what we were taught was and is indeed true and real. And much of what we engaged in during those early days of Jesus Life was just so much psychic silliness.

I was first taught that spiritual warfare was akin to gladiator-versus-lion in a Roman Empire coliseum or the raw, bare-fisted combat of a spiritual boxing ring. In the early 1970’s, fasting, anointing, screaming at demons, puking up green devils into sandwich bags (after discovering there was an imp behind every fence post and tree) was not only common among many of us “Jesus people”, it was a daily anticipated function of the Jesus life.

Then Loren Cunningham (think YWAM, or Youth With a Mission) showed me the true secret and power of spiritual warfare – (it may be good here to pause long enough to re-read Matthew 5 and 6).

The thing Loren taught that breaks the devil’s strongholds and disrupts his efforts is primarily found in obeying the commands of Jesus. You know, “If you love Me, keep my commands” and “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.” And His Word is enveloped by, drenched in, lubricated with and marked by, love. Indeed, His own word declares that God is, He does not merely possess or reflect or participate in, but God IS love.

The chief command Jesus gave to us is to LOVE. He taught, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Not, “this is my commandment, that you ‘labor for the Master from the dawn ‘til setting sun’” or that you drag your body across bruising stones in order to prostrate yourself before heaven’s high and holy throne.

Jesus taught that if one would defeat the devil, if we would stymie Satan’s evil agenda, we ought to love as Christ loves us.

Satan can and will argue doctrine with the saints of God (and win!). The devil isn’t stupid as some believers vainly suppose: he knows scripture better than you (and I) do. He has caused the mighty to fall and the powerful to stumble. He has ruined ministries and destroyed the anointed of God. But the one fortress that our enemy cannot penetrate, the wall he cannot surmount is the love of God. And when all the shouting has silenced and when all the methods of warfare have ceased, there remain these three, faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.

Please note: I am not discounting the appropriateness, power and occasion for casting out demons or cleansing homes and yes, even or especially church buildings too, but I am suggesting that before we begin our war with devils we “put on” the royal and impenetrable robe of love.

To love is to become like the Savior who, because of love gave Himself, “that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

To love like God is to love the unlovely, to love the least of humanity, to love the loser and the liar and the robber and the persecutor and the accuser and the hater and to embrace with a life transformed by the love of God the unworthy and the utterly evil and sinister and devious among us.

Hell has a strategy to defeat every confessing Christian, and that strategy is sadly successful in too many lives. But hell has no weapon, no strategy, it has no offensive or defensive ability to conquer the love of God.

If you want to see the devil discouraged and defeated in your life or in your church, love one another as Christ loved (us) and gave Himself for us.

 

Came a Gentle Whisper . . .

Among the means by which our God and Father communicates through us, there exists both the declarative and the contemplative word of the Lord. The Old Covenant prophet Elijah knew it by experience; the “still, small voice” is seldom spectacular and rarely is it the thrilling, supercharged, goose-pimple producing “thus saith the Lord” revelation men so frequently clamor for. On the other hand, the thundering, awe-inspiring, earth-shattering sound may be, but seldom is the true Voice that is above every other voice.

It is not volume, but value that reveals the difference between the counterfeit and the authentic. The brand name ‘Rolex’ doesn’t make the watch genuine, it’s the materials and workmanship inside that validates genuineness.

Indeed, Elijah had perhaps more New Covenant comprehension than did any of his contemporaries. He was no stranger to raising the dead. He called down fire from heaven and entered paradise alive in a whirlwind without tasting death. He was superintendent of the school of the prophets and knew intimately and personally the voice of his God.

And God said to this man, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper’ (1 Kings 19:11,12).

The first instructive words are these, “the LORD was not in…” Oft-times, perhaps more frequently than we want to admit, God is “not in…” our carefully structured plans and programs, our schemes and our suppositions and our limited understandings of the things of God. God may be fully engaged in our worship songs or He may be nowhere in sight when these same songs become more show than worship, more narcissistic expression than humble adoration of the King of all glory.

It is right to want Him, to want to hear His voice, to see His hand extended, to experience Him in full display of divine mercy, grace and goodness, but it is wrong to insist that He move by our schedule; that He descend when we declare, that He comes when we command. He is no wish-fulfilling genie in iridescent garments with whom we have to do. There is a bigger reason, a grander purpose that He has for our lives than we can possibly hope to comprehend in our limited imaginations and narrow thoughts.

The human psyche seeks irrepressibly to rise… above. It is both a natural and an evil desire. It was observed by the pre-incarnate Word who “saw Satan as lightening fall from heaven” after the same declared, “I will…!” Five times he declared. Five times he insisted. Five times he made known to the heavens his insistence that glory should surround him to the want of the King of glory. (See Luke 10 and Isaiah 14).

Unless we should think too highly of our spiritual estate, scripture reveals that it was Lucifer, the son of the Morning, the beatific being who reflected God’s luminescence more magnificently than any other angel who would fall to the lowest and meanest estate and spiritual condition. Lucifer: powerful, intelligent, beautiful, proud, intimately near God’s Person and throne. Yet tragically, perhaps inevitability, he fell.

Hear his ancient declaration, “I will…” “I Will!” Hear it through the centuries and with the expanse of history from the beginning until now: “I WILL!”

So we must exercise great caution and humility when the desire rises from within to shout our will; to invade heaven with our demands. We want to declare and watch our demands take shape and form. We insist that our decree is His decree. But if caution is not exercised, we will appear as the children of Israel testified of the divine origin of their creation when they certified that a golden calf fairly materialized from the flames of man-made fire.

Our every motivation and desire must always be not what we demand, but what He desires. Rather than insisting that our decree become His decree, we ought always to determine that His decree should become our decree.

Scripture gives us divine order: “Delight yourself also in the LORD; and he shall give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). The key here is found in the words, “in the Lord.” Note that it is not “in our understanding, in our desire, in our wish,” but it is “in the Lord” that He gives us the desires of (our) hearts. “Delight in the Lord” brings “the desires of your heart.” This is so because when we truly find our “delight” in Him, His desires become ours. We then find ourselves praying, claiming and declaring in His will and not in ours. Remember the words, “…not my will, but Thine be done” (Luke 22:42).

In our desiring and our declaring, we must consider that above, beyond; of chief priority to the redeemed heart is the desire and yearning of the perfect and matchless God of all creation, our heavenly Father. What does He, what do You desire, my sovereign Lord and my all-consuming King, my gracious Savior and my Lord?

Before we hazard to declare, before we utter what we presume to be God-generated pronouncement, may we hear Him; may we hear the singular Voice of whom it is made revealed, “in these last days has spoken to us by His Son.”

Oh, it is true that ‘wherever two or three of us shall gather in His name, there He is in the midst of us.’ Indeed, our very humble bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. It is Christ in us, the hope of glory. Scripture abounds to indicate and to qualify that when Christ is “in us” we are accompanied and indwelt by the fullness of the triune God.

Yet He chooses often silence over sound and gentle breeze over hurricane wind to speak to us in the depths both created and plumbed by the same Creator and Sustainer who is our God.

Listen. This is my plea. Hear Him. Hear Him clearly. Before rising in the midst of the assembly of the saints of God to declare, first discern. Loud and rumbling thunder may shake hearth and home, but booming sound does not guarantee life-giving rain. There are many “clouds without water, carried to and fro of the winds” (Jude 1:12).

“A great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”

As comes a gentle whisper, may we provide a listening ear.

 

Save

The Limp of Life

In October, 2012 I suffered a devastating fall from a tall ladder onto unforgiving concrete. Despite the best efforts of good surgeons, I live each day with unwanted limitation, imperfection, disability and discomfort.

jacobwrestles300714_02

The falls of life, either literally or figuratively bring limitation to us all. The critical thing is to understand the purpose of collapse and crushing and to know how to respond to them.

On almost a daily basis I find myself wishing that having sustained various injuries and following prayer and surgery, I could be ‘over it.’ But I’m not.

Adding to the mechanical limits caused by the replacement of bone with steel and the “after market” installation of screws and pins is the ongoing experience of a congenital heart disease called Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy or ‘HCM’ as it is typically abbreviated.

Jacob ‘wrestled’ with the Lord and noticeably, conspicuously limped for the remainder of his days. A limp is an indicator of limitation, of frustration, of imperfection and finally, of surrender.

Two years prior to the ladder incident, I underwent a complex surgical procedure to alleviate a condition that should already have killed me. At the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, my heart was removed and detached from my body to enable Dr. Hartzel Schaff to carve out an enlarged muscle that was preventing the heart from doing its job of pumping blood into and out of the organ.

Following my surgery, Dr. Schaff informed me, “I removed the muscle that has blocked blood-flow, but you still have the disease.” I didn’t fully appreciate the gravity and full meaning of those words then, and only with time have I begun to understand and to accept my ‘new normal’ as opposed to my “old normal.”

Through the cross of Jesus, God has removed the influence (our sin nature) that blocked the flow of life, but until we are made fully and divinely perfect, we still have the disease (of being human and error prone)

I often, with or without exercise become almost completely breathless. If that sounds romantic, it’s not. It’s downright frustrating; sometimes scary; always unwelcome when my lungs are screaming for air and my pulmonary system refuses to respond as it was designed.

It’s very much like the feeling of having run a 100 meter dash. You know the feeling: Your body bends at the waist; your hands jut out to grasp your knees. Your chest heaves with the activity of refilling lungs with life-giving air. You’re dizzy, and the atmosphere  begins to blur and to fade. That’s the way I often feel; but without the running. And it’s frustrating. It’s restrictive. It’s uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s actually scary. And it’s an imperfect way to live.

But that’s my life. It’s yours, too: Imperfect. Partial. Limited. Flawed.

Maybe your limitation and frustration isn’t caused by a heart disease that you contracted by being born with flawed DNA. Maybe your limitation and frustration is caused by something else. Maybe your limitation is your fault. Maybe it’s not. As we eventually all discover, and as Alexander Pope observed: “To err is human.”

The apostle Paul was human and imperfect even as he strove for divine perfection. He called his limiter, his frustration a ‘thorn.’[1] He testified, speaking of perfection (resurrection), “Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature …”[2]

And he isn’t the only Good Guy of scripture to have experienced imperfection. Moses lived the bulk of his days anticipating his entrance into a land that flowed with milk and honey. He never got there. He saw, but he did not possess his heart’s desire.[3]

Jacob, of Old Testament fame wrestled – a graphic and apt but somehow unsuitable sounding word to the religious-minded crowd who want squeaky clean, unsoiled, and so largely untested biblical heroes. Jacob ‘wrestled’ with the Lord; a messy, sweaty business and noticeably, conspicuously limped for the remainder of his days. A limp is an indicator of limitation, of frustration, of imperfection.[4

What’s your limp look like? What’s your limitation? Your frustration? We all have one. Or two. Or more. Where did your limp come from? How did it come to be?

David, Samson, Peter, James, and on and on the list goes until it includes you and me and everybody we know – none of us gets through this life without challenge, difficulty, failure. None of us is perfect. None of us can claim that we are without imperfection, limitation; without the limp of life.

Paul’s resume’ doesn’t stop with “Not that I have reached the goal (of resurrection from the dead – consider this not physical death, but dying to himself, to his “old” nature and dying to the world that he might be raised in newness of life), but he writes to the Philippian church, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”[5]

The power of the resurrection cannot be known without our first becoming conformed to death.

We will never know perfection until we have tasted imperfection. We cannot experience full ability until we are intimately familiar with inability.

In Old and New Testament terms, we can’t know the value of Grace until we understand the weight and the price of the Law.[6]

We were all, every one of us born “in sin.” We entered this world with a fully functioning “sin nature.” In our original, seemingly innocent condition, as sweet, little infants, we each arrived with a proclivity for iniquity.

The purpose of our imperfection is to both reveal to us and to lead us to “that which is perfect.” And “perfection” has a name; it’s a person, and his name is Jesus. Paul’s explanatory continues: “I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it (perfection), but one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.”

My imperfection then is engineered by God’s own hand to produce, eventually, perfection. My limitation is designed to encourage and to enable me to press forward. John Wesley explains it as being “stretched out over the things that are before – Pursuing with the whole bent and vigour of my soul, perfect holiness and eternal glory. In Christ Jesus – The author and finisher of every good thing.”[7]

Wesley is careful not to ascribe the effort, the struggle, the process of perfection as the result of our own, valiant and persistent effort. His final, victorious declaration reveals that it is “Christ Jesus (in us) – The author and finisher of every good thing.”

Simply put, we cannot, by any measure of effort or valiant struggle or dogged determination be made perfect. “It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”[8] “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”[9]

No wonder the words of the Apostle ring loud and clearly through the ages until we find them resounding in our own hearts, “the life that I now live I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.”[10]

Perfection is achievable, attainable, reachable, only as we give way so that He can have his way in our lives, through our imperfections, in spite of our inadequacies, despite our limping, wobbling weakened conditions. So long as it is “Christ in you,” there is more than hope for your tomorrow; there is promise, divine promise, from the God who will never leave you, or forsake you and who cannot, in any sense, fail. [11]

The Hebrew writer discloses concerning those faithful saints of history, all these died, and “none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.[12]

And until then? Until the day of perfection? Until then, we see in part, we know in part,[13] we live in partial fulfillment of the promise that surely, one day will be achieved and we shall be presented, without defect or flaw, before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy —“[14]

[1] 2 Corinthians 2:7-10

[2] Philippians 3:12

[3] Deuteronomy 34:1-

[4] Genesis 32:22-32

[5] IBID

[6] Galatians 3:24

[7] Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

[8] Philippians 2:13

[9] 2 Corinthians 4:7

[10] Galatians 2:20

[11] Colossians 1:20

[12] Hebrews 11:39,40

[13] 1 Corinthians 13:9

[14]  Jude 24,25

Why Are We . . . ?

Why are we here? Why are you here? On this earth, living in the nation where you live, with the career and the family and the conditions in which you are found; why are all of us here?the-thinker-by-rodin-1233081

As believers. As followers of Christ. As members – representatives of the kingdom of God, why are we here?

We are here to bring heaven to earth. We are here to reconnect heaven and earth. We are created to become conduits of the atmosphere of heaven, flowing into and transforming the atmosphere of earth. We are here to become the mechanism that will accomplish the appeal that insists, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

We are not here to convince people to attend our churches or to sing our songs or to pray our prayers or to adopt our theologies or to support our charities or to be impressed with our state of the art technological lighting, sound, smoke and effects. We have not come to the kingdom for “such a time” and purpose of popularizing Christianity among a host of world religions.

We are here to bring heaven to earth. We are here to re-join the disconnected. The connection that was broken, the relationship that was injured, the original association between Creator and creation, Father and sons, these were damaged, broken, fragmented, lost.

Where we feel disused, overlooked, passed by, ineffective as evangelists is in the place where we misunderstand: we think we are called to preach a sermon, produce a song, argue or embellish or convince those “without” so that they may desire to be found “within.”

Ours is not a calling or a responsibility to perform spiritual magic tricks that will persuade unbelievers to join the ranks of we believers. No, ours is the calling to represent, to embody, to contain, possess, to carry within our very beings, at the very core of what we are, the character and the image and the glory and the very Person of the Christ who came to enable us to be both reconnected and to reconnect others with heaven.

Why are we here? Why are you here, on this planet, in this time, in this place? We are here, you are here to reveal, to demonstrate, to become and to be and to be seen as the true manifestation of the sons of God in the earth.

“…When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” And as sons, these would become they who would reflect the image and share the DNA and become accurate representations of the Father.

By “being” and not primarily by “doing.”

Salt does nothing. Salt, “is.” Salt possesses an augmenting effect; it enhances a flavor already present. Salt “enlivens.” We are called to be something that does nothing but something that simply “is.” We are salt that enhances a substance that already is present; the substance of the kingdom and therefore of the very nature of God.

“Light” exerts no effort. Light, “is.” Light produces an environment; it creates a canvas upon which content may be seen, perceived, comprehended, understood. Light dissolves darkness; pushes back that which has pushed forward. Light “displaces” darkness, simply by existing.

The Genesis account describes the condition that allows displacement. The phenomenon is found in the action of placing something – or some one into a medium, water, which then causes the water level to rise. When you, when we are inhabited by God’s Spirit as followers of Jesus, we cause a displacement, a movement of the powers that were because of the power that is, which is the kingdom of our God and of His Christ. Where righteousness moves, unrighteousness must, by the law of displacement, retreat.

In that first account, God caused a displacement, ““And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.” God separated the waters above from the waters below. Something, the presence of light and of love and of the Lord of heaven caused the displacement, the movement necessitated by the introduction of some “firm” appliance into the atmosphere that was.

We are alive for the purposes of God, for the purpose of being, of simply being salt and light until the world has seen, has perceived, has comprehended and received the love of God

And so it is that when we, as believers, as “temples of the Holy Spirit” are introduced into the atmosphere of what was, we create, by our presence, what is: The kingdom of God comes to earth, pushes back darkness and evil and fills the newly formed void with “light and righteousness and joy and peace” in the Holy Spirit.

We are here, on this earth, on this turning, spinning, hurtling sphere called planet earth and we are alive for the purposes of God, for the purpose of being…of simply being salt and light until the world has seen, has perceived, has comprehended that the God of all creation loves them, each of them, individually, personally, face-to-face, Father to son until all the world, every human being, “red and yellow and black and white,” of every kindred and of every tribe and of every tongue has seen, and known, and comprehended the eternal everlasting and gracious love of God.

Abandoned To Be Found

What images do these words conjure for you?

Abandoned

         Deserted

                      Discarded

                              Forsaken

                                      Alone

Whatever impressions emerge or pictures are drawn in your mind as you consider these words, it is likely that you have also experienced the feelings, the emotions, yes, the hurt and pain of abandonment or rejection.

Perhaps it was a parent – a mother or a father who abandoned you. Maybe it was a spouse or a child or a brother or a sister who rejected you. Those you believed were your friends, fellow “believers” in Jesus coldly and inexplicably forsook you and you found yourself suddenly and silently alone in your aloneness, shivering in the icy chill of your isolation, waiting in stunned silence for some sense, some understanding of what had happened, some reconciliation between what you thought you knew and believed and what you so painfully experienced.

Rejection and abandonment can come in a thousand costumes and speak with myriad voices. The effect, the result produced is always the same:

Rejection brings injury to the soul and anguish to the mind. Abandonment makes the heart grow weak, but more; desertion destroys self-worth. We learn early in life to discard what we do not need; what we do not want; what is not essential or profitable or useful or even acceptable.

Garbage is disposed of; trash is discarded. We keep only that to which we attach value.

An abandoned soul feels valueless, worthless, insignificant, useless.

A forsaken heart is more than empty and crushed and bruised and injured; it is a playground for devils, a gymnasium for demons.

From the soil of rejection flourish the sour fruits of bitterness, resentment and, dark, brewing rage. Implacable, stone-hearted and pitiless wrath proceed from hearts that have known the frigid winds of torment spawned by the uncaring, the unfeeling and the unaware.

From such renunciation Americans have become familiar with the name “Columbine” and “Red Lake High” in northern Minnesota and other, more recent scenes of torment and terror.

Most rejected and broken hearted people never pick up a gun or seek to lash out at others. There is no need and no desire. The slow, grinding suicide begun by the deadly injection of aloneness and friendlessness is as deadly as any bullet that ever roared in tortured anguish.

We cannot control if and when or by whom we will feel the lethal claws of abandonment.

What we can do, what we wield control over is our response to rejection. Options exist for the heart that was crushed. Brokenness may come, but annihilation is not inevitable. No soul that was crushed was ever beyond repair.

And there is Someone who knows…..feels….. empathizes…..understands….. cares, who is “touched by” our pains and who also possesses the power to heal even the most trampled upon and crushed heart. It was foretold of Him;

“I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice…He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, Nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench.”

Who is this shining Knight; this Rescuer of offended hearts? Who is this Champion of the soul Who comes to right those who were wronged and to heal those who’s destruction seemed certain?

He came forth of misinterpreted illegitimacy and was raised in humble anonymity; He came forth from obscurity and moved about in lonely exile. He left His home country and renounced his nobility, He was self-effacing and pointedly unassuming. He sought nothing for Himself and was content by Himself.

He was “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”

It is He Who “will bring forth justice for truth,” and God will hold His hand; “He will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the prison, those who sit in darkness from the prison house.”

And to the One Who promised, “I will hold Your hand” hear the anguished cry from the central cross on that Crucifixion Day of all Days when Innocence was fixed to the Tree of Final Death: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

“Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him….” because He saw your face and knew your brokenness and He anticipated through forsaking Him, your wholeness.

This Man above men, “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the    likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” So that He might see you, find you, know you, touch you, heal you, a bruised reed, tender, delicate, nearly too far gone to be repaired, but repairable in the Hands of a Master Physician.

And when we – you and I – accept and receive healing and restoration and the comfort of friendship with Him, we then carry within ourselves the knowledge, the ability and the sympathy to carry Him to another abandoned, rejected, forgotten heart, “that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

So, we reach to the “least of these.” We find ourselves among “orphans and widows.” We observe pure religion and undefiled before God because we become what He has always been; a Father to the fatherless; a Lover of the unlovely; a Friend to the friendless. A visitor of prisoners and a provider of a cloak, a meal, a home…a heart that knows, that feels, that sees, that understands.

Our Abandonment was essential for anothers Recovery

We were deserted so that we might learn to Salvage

                     Discarded so we could Recapture

                              Forsaken that we might Comprehend

                                         Alone that we might find the true Companion

What images are conjured in your heart? What scenes play before your mindscreen? Someone has been abandoned, deserted, discarded, forsaken. And who will notice? Who will go? Who will touch them in their brokenness and in their loneliness and who will bring them to the Forsaken One who alone has the antidote for this poison of the soul?

The Heart of the Matter: What God Wants…

It is beyond me, past my feeble ability to comprehend that the God of the Universe, the Creator of all that Exists, Lord of heaven and earth “wants” for anything.

David, King of Israel by a resume’ forged in the hills among sheep and pasture and lions and bears declared “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. . .” The verse has been rightly interpreted, “I shall have no lack.”

The word, “want” is “lack.” My mind grasps, struggles, and concedes as I try to comprehend that the God Who owns far more than the cattle on a thousand hills could possible lack anything.

But He does.

He wants; He needs for His creation to love Him,

and loving Him, to know Him,

and knowing Him, to commune with Him

and in communion with Him, to serve Him, to co-labor with Him.

God needs for man – for you and for me – to serve Him not because we fear hell and somehow by serving God our escape from hell is purchased. Our Creator needs for us to serve Him not because someone with religious power and authority demands that we serve Him. God desires that we follow Him and know Him because we are nothing without Him and because we desperately need Him even when we do not know that we need Him.

God is not Law, or Commandment or Duty or Obligation: God is Love.

He is Giver, Father, Lover of His creation; of all His creation, and the manifestation of God is the Son, Jesus. It was He Who gave us the revelation: “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” 
He chose those words carefully. He did not say “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Ruler of the earth or the Judge of all flesh or the Creator of all life,” but you have seen – “Father.”

In Jesus we look into the very heart of God and find there an unfathomable depth of compassion and love and mercy.

In Jesus we see God’s desire to come close to mankind. In Him we learn that God longs to make His home in our hearts so that He can draw near to the center of our brokenness and be close to our wounds and our fears and myriad struggles in our lives.

In Jesus we make the inconceivable discovery that God is willing to pay an exorbitant price to create intimacy with our fallen, muddied, life-torn souls. The terrible price of the Cross and its agony; a darkness and judgment and curse we can never comprehend was paid so that we might return to our Maker and in returning, find that He had moved to us before we had ever moved to Him.

We have a God with a heart. More than Righteous Judge, more than all-powerful Creator, more than all the adjectives and superlatives and descriptions both revealed and given, our God has a heart!

 We must know that truth; we must immerse ourselves in that reality, we must understand because when trials come, when pain presses us into near-insanity, when a baby dies for no rational purpose, when the cancer grows, when friends forsake us, we see the pain but we don’t see God and we don’t realize the miracle that is in process.

In the noise and in the confusion we don’t sense the restoration. It’s then and it is there we must understand the heart of God. The heart of our Father, God. 

When the pressure of life is applied, we must know that what Jesus did for a woman with an issue of blood; what He did for a lame man and a blind man, and a young, dead girl, He does for people today.

He restores us to a place of acceptance and blessing in the family. He renews our hope and gives us a future. He guarantees a time to come when death will be no more; a time and a place when crying and suffering and every pain will be forever erased.

We look into God’s heart and find there love and life and restoration. We discover passion and possibility. And only when we see God’s heart can we begin to understand what He meant when He revealed that David had a heart after His own heart.

The Key to finding the heart of God is to find the things God cares about and to find ourselves caring about those things. 

Jesus was asked by taunting Scribes “what is the first commandment?” The learned men who asked were not surprised when He answered, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment.” These Scribes knew very well the proper response, but none could have imagined His next words, “And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

The Lord of life put in context in four, brief sentences the heart and the crux of all the Law and in the same moment, revealed for all who would hear, and for all who would see, the very heart of His Father God. And it is “love.” “. . . Love the Lord your God with all your heart. . .”

The heart first; not the soul or the mind or strength, but the heart. The issue, the heart of the matter, is the heart.

It was said of David “he will do all My will,” because he was “a man after God’s own heart,” God’s broken heart. 

He, Jesus is our peace, Who has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity that is the law of commandments contained in ordinances so as to create in Himself one new man from the two; thus making peace and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. Oh, what an incredible, incomparable heart.

This incredible heart. This incomparable heart. The heart of God is pressed into us, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

Hearts of stone are impregnable, impenetrable, they are resistant to wounding by sword or spear or speech. Hearts of stone neither embrace nor notice when injury or despair or loneliness are present. Hearts of flesh are vulnerable, easily pierced, frequently wounded, repeatedly healed.

What heaven desires, what God is asking is for the divine-human exchange to take place, “Old hearts for new,” broken hearts for His broken heart. Hearts of stone replaced with hearts of flesh so that the world that surrounds us, the people who pass by our homes and who fill our streets and who buy their groceries alongside and all about us will know the heart of God through the pulse of our lives, because we, like David, King of Israel have hearts, have fleshy, vulnerable, loving “hearts after God’s own heart.”

The Compass, The Anchor and the Stormy Seas of Life

We have arrived at an hour in the Church when there is much confusion, many questions and a multitude of heretofore unheard   and unexpressed doctrines and spiritual practices being promulgated by so-called “revivalists,” “apostles” and “prophets.” I have italicized these titles, because I am convinced that a fair number who claim such designations are not what or who they claim to be. This in no way is intended to denigrate the legitimate among us, but rather to differentiate between the true and the false.

Without doubt, no generation since the crucifixion of Jesus Christ has been faced with more questionable and previously unheard of teachings than the current generation of believers. This is a time when mature believers who have been grounded in the incorruptible Word of God must stand up and let their voices be heard. In the balance are potentially millions of souls who are naive, gullible or ignorant of the devices being employed to destroy their faith in the Sovereign God.

Sadly and dangerously, we also have come to an hour when anyone who questions currently claimed revelation or “present truth,” regardless of how spurious it might appear, is held in absolute contempt and disregard and is relegated to the ranks of the hyper-heresy hunters, doubters-of-everything good, and the Pharisaical accusers of the brethren or even as outright enemies of the Cross.

Because of the immediate and violent attacks any honest enquirer might be confronted with, many have been effectively silenced because of the scorn and retribution meted out by those who embrace extreme and extremely questionable doctrines.

The writer of this article has no reputation to protect and no empire to preserve, and thus welcomes any and all attacks from those who oppose honest questions from simple believers in Jesus.

I am only one voice, but I am a voice. I will not be intimidated by those who choose to indict my faith and insult my intelligence by hurling their own accusations. So long as God gives me breath, I will speak the truth as it is revealed in His holy, pure and incorruptible Word.

In this article, I have been kind I think, generous and even positive in my assessments of what I have witnessed by those involved in various Charismatic and Pentecostal movements, renewals and outpourings. I have not attacked and will not accuse any person; I refuse to condemn any individual. My observations are about doctrine and practice, and not personal criticism. I remain supportive, as a Brother in Christ to those with whom I disagree. This is about positions and practices and not personalities.

I have not accused any man or woman of being demonically controlled or of being adherents of New Age teachings. I have maintained the position that the Lord of Hosts would eventually reveal either the truth or the error of events in and around various revival movements. I believe that ultimately, a righteous and holy God will deal justly with those who would lead even one of His own elect astray. I continue to refrain from personal attack, even though those affected by this article may feel otherwise.

Finally, this writer is no enemy of renewal and revival; on the contrary, I have been both a student of revival and a participant of a powerful move of the Holy Spirit which began in my own life and church in 1995 and continued unabated until 2003. The effects of that move of the Spirit remain with me today. There are those who will make the claim that since “the voices of the former move of God will always condemn the current revival” I am obviously guilty of the same. I sincerely hope that is not the case.

Whenever I learn of moves of God here or revival there, my initial sense is always of support and not opposition. I caution anyone against attacking any revival before the fruit of that revival may be seen, and some fruit takes longer to appear than other fruit.

After spending many years (now 45) among Pentecostal and Charismatic fellowships, and after having seen the genuine, the precious move of the Spirit of God, the lives transformed, healed and set free, I also have witnessed abuses, excesses, gross error and rampant disregard for the solid Rock of God’s word. I am compelled to speak for the sake of the innocent and the hungry and for the future of revival in a world so desperately in need of a genuine visitation from heaven.

Gregory J. Austin, Th.D.

Approaching a trans-oceanic vessel from water level, an ocean-going ship appears monstrously huge. Its hull was laid with the effort of men and machines and with much sweat and muscle and exertion. Gazing at such a massive craft, one would likely not notice or pay attention to something as mundane and minuscule as a compass, or even an anchor. Yet without these two devices, any journey would be suicidal, for one provides direction while the other assures security. It is the compass that ensures the seaman of his course and of his eventual destination. It is the anchor which grips the sea floor and holds the vessel in place when wind and waves would shatter the ship on rocky shores.

If I have perceived anything regarding some current expressions of “revival” as manifested in various places around the world, neither instrument is prominent, and without both a compass and an anchor, an eventual collision between the ship of this revival and the jagged rocks of reality is inevitable.

The compass and the anchor of which I speak is the singular instrument of the Bible, the divinely written, inerrant, perfect, complete and holy Word of God: A book possessed by virtually every modern believer in Jesus Christ, but one which either is untouched by or largely unfamiliar to far too many Christians.

Biblical Knowledge has been Trumped by Spiritual Experience.

We live in an era of general biblical ignorance, where the value and emphasis of experiential Christianity trumps the old, “boring”disciplines of learning and applying the scriptures to one’s life. The Bible itself warns, when people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is happy (Proverbs 29:18 NLT). We want this verse to refer to divine guidance as experiential revelation, but the context of the verse leaves no room for misunderstanding, “. . . whoever obeys the law is happy.” The “Law” refers to The Book, The Word of God. Jesus explained that “you shall know the truth (His Word), and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). If freedom is what we as childrem of God desire, God’s word will take us there.

Experience Finds its Source in the Word of God, not the Reverse

Many have quoted the well used line, “A man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument.” That is a patently false, misleading and dangerous statement: If someone has an experience that flies full in the face of the revealed word of God, are we to accept that experience over and above the clear teaching of Scripture? If however a person reports an experience which is upheld by the Word of God, the very reliability of God’s word trumps any other experience, because all spiritual experience must flow from the word of God, and not the other way around.

Merely because someone physically shakes is not an indication that the Holy Spirit is the primary causa of that physical experience. Falling to the floor or being “slain in the Spirit” in itself offers no certain evidence that God is involved in the falling. Speaking with other tongues, or glossolalia, while impressive to the ear is not in itself necessarily expressive of the Spirit’s activity.

Physical responses, often called “manifestations” may be the result of the activity of the Holy Spirit, but they are not certain indicators of God’s presence. I’ve watched Satanists shake and Hindus fall to the floor in trance-like states. I am not persuaded that God is present just because someone shouts unintelligible syllables into a microphone. I’ve heard men shout “hula, hula, hula,” “boola, boola, boola,” and “yoi, yoi, yoi,” among other unintelligible phrases. I’ve never felt particularly spiritually encouraged or especially blessed in the hearing of these utterances. I am, however impressed when the blind see, the deaf hear and the lame walk.

Indeed if the Spirit’s work in an individual is to place him into a state of ecstasy wherein he can merely mumble incoherently, please tell me how that person will effectively be a witness for Jesus in the marketplace of men. Will a non-believer suddenly cast off his unbelief and embrace Christ if I chant, “hula, boola, moola” to him?

Heart and Character, Not Trances and Dances

The acid test of all spiritual encounters is this: What happens to the character of the person experiencing that manifestation? If I have been genuinely touched by God, should I not expect to be benefited in my heart and in my character? As has been said, “When a man is truly born again, even his dog ought to know it.” Any person touched by heaven will reflect something of heaven to those around him or her. That’s Bible: You can trust your life – your eternal life on that Book, and only on that Book.

I realize in making such a statement that there are believers, followers of Jesus who do not hold to a time-worn and time-tested reliance upon the Word of God as the singular infallible, divinely inspired, inexhaustible rule of faith and conduct. I recognize that in some Christian circles today, such language is considered out of date, pathetically cerebral, without anointing or unction, but, dear reader, those very terms – anointing and unction came to us not by a revival-spawned revelation but by anointed men of God, moved upon by the Holy Spirit.

The biblical phrase “inspired by God” in 2 Timothy 3:16 is translated from a single Greek word qeopneustos. The first word is qeos. It is the word for God. The second word is pnew which means “to breathe” or “to blow” and is also the verbal form of the Greek word pneuma, meaning “spirit.”

The resulting understanding from Second Timothy is that “all Scripture is God-breathed.” The very breath and Spirit of God is infused into the words of Scripture. This is why we refer to the Bible as the Word of God. If reliance upon the Word of God, the very God-breathed words of God is somehow unspiritual or out of date, what then may we rest our souls upon and in what may we place our trust for our eternal future?

In support of the veracity and genuineness of what many Charismatics and Pentecostals call renewal or revival, various devices outside the Bible have been utilized which, under scrutiny fail to bear the weight of authenticity. Following is a non-inclusive listing of the most objectionable teachings and or practices I have witnessed by the proponents some of these movements and the extreme prophetic, “mystical” movement.

1. Use of Well-Known Personalities to legitimize and justify an experience, renewal or revival. The appearance of and endorsement by known apostles within the Charismatic church is not an assurance of biblical accuracy or of ministry appropriateness.

It was no less a recognizable name than the Apostle Paul who declared, “though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).

I care not one whit if Smith Wigglesworth or John Wesley themselves are trooped across the stage in support of any so-called move of God; if their testimony is not consistent with the eternal word of God, their presence means absolutely nothing to me beyond the astonishment of seeing the dead raised to life.

With reference to well-known and beloved ministry personalities, I will doggedly hold to Paul’s counsel in Galatians 1:8, cited above. I may love and honor such persons, but they are not equal with or superior to the Holy Scriptures, the Word of God.

It is biblically and spiritually appropriate that we recognize and honor any man or woman whom God has used mightily, we are never encouraged by Scripture to place our trust or our hope in any human vessel. The world has never seen any faultless, complete or sinless figure outside of the Person of Jesus Christ Himself. To place final trust in any man or group of men is to invite spiritual disaster. God’s Word and not God’s creation must be our ultimate and final authority. This is especially and critically true with regard to those who claim prophetic gifting, calling and office. Vast numbers of hungry believers have been devastated because of foolish, presumptuous and even down-right silly so-called prophetic direction.

2. Relating with Contemporary Society by adopting the language and the behavior of the culture outside of Christ. Simulating the use of illegal drugs, and using the language of the illegal drug culture is not a legitimate way of reaching the “lost.”No exceptions and no apologies. Terminologies such as “Godka,” “Toking the Ghost,” “Jehovajauna” and “Holy Ghost Bartender,” among many others do great dishonor to the character and nature of a holy God. To reduce the Holy Creator of the Universe to a joint of marijuana or a bottle of alcohol is a crime I am convinced no true, sensitive follower of Jesus could ever allow him or herself to commit.

“Toking the baby Jesus” as was demonstrated in one online video is blasphemous. Strong language, I know, but the images I have viewed of such behavior also are strongly objectionable and trivialize the Holiness and the Purity of our God and of His Holy Spirit.

Further, consider one specific meeting where the leader advocated and demonstrated the procedure for locating and injecting a vein with heroin. The “leader” then mumbled, “that’ll hit you in about half an hour.” Imagine someone in that meeting who had recently (even not recently) been delivered from mainlining heroin or from any other illicit drug: How will that person respond to such a suggestion?

3. Use of New Age or Misinterpreted Terminologies and Practices will never be conducive to a true, Spirit-engendered practical theology and faith. I have listened to one “revivalist” use terminologies such as coming into the state of the “ecstasy” of God wherein he describes the spiritual states of “Mystical Union,” “Absorption Ecstasy” and “Concentration Ecstasy” as conditions that thirsty Christians should seek to experience. These terms are mentioned in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE) where, on page 996 under the heading of “Prophet” (dealing specifically and exclusively with the question of how “holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” in 2 Peter 1:21) and hails to the unio mystica discussed by J. Lindblom in the aforementioned text.

From the ISBE, I quote regarding the unio mystica, or mystical union, “The ecstasy of the true prophets did not usually display itself in peculiar behavior, for their ecstasy was basically a private experience of the conscious reality of God’s presence. The prophets’ profound spiritual experiences should not, therefore, be confused with mystical experience, nor with the frenzied and irrational behavior of heathen prophets.” Please note that final sentence: “The prophets’ profound spiritual experiences should not . . . be confused with mystical experience, nor with the frenzied and irrational behavior of heathen prophets. “Hula, boola schmoola?”

4. Uncorroborated Testimonies of Healings and Raisings from the Dead. Nothing will kill the reputation of revival quicker and more decisively than making claims of miracle healings and raisings from the dead which cannot be substantiated by outside medical sources. Expecting believers and non-believers alike to simply “swallow” these claims without evidence is not only arrogant, but stupid. If a person were raised from the dead at a hospital, do you actually believe that no nurse, no physician, no friend or family member at that hospital would be aware of such a miracle, and be willing to talk about it?

Over the years, secular journalists who have heard reports of conspicuous miracles – the dead being raised, cancers dying, diseases disappearing, have sought to receive from the related ministries medical corroboration of such phenomena. Time after time, generalized testimonies and incomplete information, coupled with evangelistic gobbldy-gook has not only substituted for simple, direct medical evidence, but has also given the Church a black eye in the view of the unbelieving public. Verifiable testimonies and medical documents go a long way in substantiating claims made and establishing the veracity of any claimed move of God. Yet the media packet held no proof beyond names, locations and contact information which had been blacked out.

If God – not a contemporary evangelist or the Apostle Paul or Greg Austin – if God is raising the dead, we should expect to see evidence of these miracles. We should be able to see these people on camera, listen to interviews with them, and hear the astonished physicians’ statements of the veracity of these claims. These would surely honor God, but refusing to provide anything specific beyond claims that “we have X number of people raised from the dead and counting,” is both dishonest and dishonoring to God.

5. The Centrality of Angels and Apostles to the neglect of the true centrality of the Person of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit does not desire to be noticed, but He always points our hearts to Jesus. The Holy Spirit has come to us to guide us into all truth: Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” The Holy Spirit magnifies Jesus. Never do we find the Holy Spirit exalting angels. Indeed, Paul asks the Corinthian church rhetorically, “do you not know that we will judge angels?” (1 Cor. 6:3).

Much emphasis today has been placed upon the title or office of Apostle. I have watched with some concern at what I believe is an unhealthy and unholy veneration of those called “Apostles.” As I read through the New Testament, I see the apostles as servants; men and women with hearts of humility and grace, who desired that the work of God and the Kingdom of God should be advanced far more than their own work and their own were benefited or that their own names should be known or remembered. The Bible speaks of apostles as “foundational” gifts to the church. These are they who establish and maintain the flow of spiritual ministry based upon the revealed word of God. Nowhere in scripture is there any indication that apostles should be worshiped, or their words taken as the inspired word of God. Apostles champion God’s word; they do not seek veneration from any man.

During His temptation, Jesus told the devil, “’You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve'” (Lk 4:8). To a Samaritan woman who desired to understand true worship, Jesus said, “worship the Father” in John 4.

When a messenger from heaven appeared to John in Revelation 19, John says, “. . . I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”

When certain Greek seekers came to Philip, their request was straightforward: They said, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” The point in all these scriptures is that there is only One Who is worthy of our worship and our adoration. I thank God for those true apostles who quietly and decisively carry out their calling and their office, but a true apostle would be the first to warn us “don’t worship me.”

In all that I have said, I am not suggesting that no miracles have taken place in any revival or renewal atmosphere. I have listened to more than one testimony from individuals I personally know who have testified to receiving healing or miracles as they sought God during such meetings. But here is the key: They were seeking God. A principal upon which we may rely is this: God will not deny Himself, and if an honest seeker reaches out to God in faith, regardless of what personality may be present on a platform, God will honor such faith. One of the greatest dangers to any leader is to believe that when miracles are taking place in his meetings, he is somehow responsible for those healings.

The Word of God is the only reliable compass for negotiating the spiritual realms of life. The Word of God is the singular anchor that will hold us when the storms of life arise.

Any reliance upon any other device for direction, doctrine or practice than God’s inspired and immutable word; any use of so-called revelation that takes one beyond the boundaries of the revealed word will lead surely and ultimately to disaster.

Forgive my repetition, but it bears reiterating: “though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).

There is no legitimate “progressive revelation” that will carry us beyond the parameters of “the faith which was once for all delivered.”

Jude writes (Jude 3) “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” Please observe, “the faith which was once for all delivered . . .” “Once for all.” There is no progressive revelation that will carry us beyond the parameters of “the faith which was once for all delivered.” The principles of the Word of God have been established for all time and eternity. The thrice repeated declaration of Jesus should settle our hearts on this matter: “heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall never pass away” (Mt. 24:35; Mk 13:31; Lk. 21:33).

God’s word is all inclusive; that is, whatever man needs to know or may know about the secrets of the Kingdom of God or the world to come has already been provided within the covers of our Bibles. If we waver on this crucial issue, we lose the whole structure upon which our faith is built.

May we grow in our understanding of the increasing depths of God’s word? Absolutely! Is God’s word so deep and so rich with spiritual truth and meaning that we may not, in a dozen lifetimes understand all its secrets? Without doubt. But once again, all the truth which may be known concerning faith and Christian practice is contained within God’s word.

There exist mysteries which finite man cannot know. There are unknown realms man cannot approach because we are creatures of time and space and not of eternity – yet. It was John, the Apostle who declared, “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 Jn 3:2).

Please notice, “it has not yet been revealed what we shall be.” There are unknowns, ambiguities, secrets unrevealed, undisclosed until the Day of Christ.

The natural instinct of man is a desire to teneo ultra, “know beyond.” When the serpent approached Eve in the Garden, her vulnerability was the thirst to “know beyond” what God had revealed. The entry point for the venom of sin was the desire to teneo ultra, to “know beyond.” The serpent played upon her desire for knowledge beyond what God had provided. While every tree God had placed in the garden was available to her and to Adam, one tree was forbidden of God to be touched. But the curiosity, the desire to “know beyond” what God had revealed drew Eve inexorably into sin like the mesmerized Ulysses of Homer’s Odyssey is drawn to the seductive song of the Sirens, who lured men to their death on the rocks around their island. Interestingly, Homer depicts the Sirens song promising “wisdom and knowledge of past and future.” And so Eve attempted to satisfy her desire for “wisdom and knowledge,” and in the process committed an act that would require the sacrificial death of God’s own Son to remedy.

New Age practitioners, cultists of every ilk, and myriad false religionists and magicians play upon the same, instinctual need to “know beyond” in order to ply their trades and fill their coffers. When a Syracuse, New York banker named David Hannum (not P.T. Barnum) proclaimed, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” he was merely affirming the truth that man wants to know and is willing to commit intellectual suicide or pay exorbitant material and perhaps eternal, spiritual fees in order to know even what cannot be known.

Many claims have been made by various revivalists of visitations to the “third heaven.” Support for those claims comes from Paul’s statements in Second Corinthians 12 of his own (singular, so far as we can read) translation into the third heaven. He writes, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago–whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows–such a one was caught up to the third heaven.”

Follow Paul’s discourse regarding that incident in Second Corinthians, chapter twelve. Does he speak of revelations that surpass contemporary knowledge of the things of God? Does he reveal deep revelations of angelic encounters or of prophetic knowledge beyond what other apostles were aware of? Paul’s own words are notably absent of any such claims. In fact, he divulges no deep secrets to his readers. He speaks of “inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” He makes no claims of super-revelation, he is decidedly not lifted up in pride and arrogance. He is silent about what he saw and heard while in Paradise, but instead tells us that he is careful not to boast of the experience, and even goes on to describe his personal caution.

He says, “I refrain, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me. And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.”

A Final Proverb

In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus and his men have landed on the island of the Lotus-Eaters, and Odysseus sends out a scouting party of three men who ate the lotus with the natives. This caused them to fall asleep and cease to be concerned about going home, with only a desire to eat the lotus.

Odysseus went after the scouting party, and dragged them back to the ship against their will. He set sail, with the drugged soldiers tied to the rudder benches to prevent them from swimming back to the island. Unrealized by the stupefied sailors, Odysseus not only is saving their lives, but he is returning them to the true desires of their hearts; to their homes.

After a life of pursuing truth and the knowledge of God’s Son, the Apostle Paul bursts forth with the heart-cry, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10).

There are, I fear, those who only desire to “eat the lotus” and not to know the Jesus Whom Paul pursued and was willing to lose everything in order to find.

My heart cries out for these “scouting parties” who have fallen prey to the “lotus” of false spiritual experience and subjective revelation. I want to reveal the truth of God’s word, and with Odysseus, drag them back to the ship of faith in order to save their eternal lives.

The false, temporal substitute of the Lotus – of temporary psychological, emotional, physical manifestation and experience crumbles and falls to the earth in pieces when confronted with the superiority and supremacy of a solid and true faith and experience in the Christ of God’s Word and in the Word of God’s Christ.

I am thankful to God for the Compass of His Word and the Anchor that holds us in the swelling tide. “On Christ, the Solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

Several years ago in Derry, Northern Ireland, I was conversing with Clive Price, a free-lance journalist from England, (Now a resident of Northern Ireland). We were discussing the very topics I have written about here. Speaking about certain extreme practices and unsupportable claims I said, “Clive, I believe God is calling the church to clean up its act, and if we won’t clean up our act, the world will do it for us, and the world won’t be benevolent when it starts cleaning.”

The Good Fight

(For context, the following was written on Tuesday, March 28, 2016).

As the sun rises at the start of a new and untainted day I find myself sitting in the old chair on the front porch, facing the East and a new day’s sun. No cloud obscures that warming orb, and memories come floating up like delicate and tender butterflies, newly freed from their caterpillar imprisonment.

It was only yesterday that we laid to rest a precious Saint, a man of God and a true and dear husband, father and friend. On Monday, the day following Resurrection Sunday we gathered, we stood silently and alone together, encapsulated in our own memories and thoughts on a hillside surrounded by the sublime beauty that is Appalachia in Southwest Virginia.

Like so many before us, we could not have imagined or considered that this day would arrive; not, at least so soon. We are conditioned to believe that death is reserved for the elderly or the very weak: We believe death to be the mysterious domain of the ancient and the feeble and the diminished among us. Death is somehow more palatable when it calls at 95 or 80 or even 75 years of life, or before personality and disposition and ‘person-hood’ develop.

We are not conditioned, we are ill-prepared to accept the departure of the strong and the healthy and the animated among us; we are not ready to say farewell to our spouses or our fathers or our mothers or our dearest and most cherished friends in the midst of their most productive and significant years. Death does not knock at the door, it does not ring a bell of inquiry but is an unwelcome intruder that advances, unbidden and unwanted into our homes and snatches away our friends without reason or permission or respect.

And we despise this inescapable part of life. We know it will come, eventually. Thousands of generations of humans, people, families have taught us the inevitability of death: If we are born, we will die: But not so soon, not this soon.

Our lives are encircled by inviolable boundaries. We may desire to lift ourselves, to rise into the stratosphere, to dance among clouds and to skip from sun ray to mountaintop by the sheer effort of will, but gravitational law forbids such frolic. We may lean towards tomorrow, seek a porthole into the future, we may consult the prophet and peer intently into the slightest crack in time’s forward door, but we soon discover as have all those who have gone before us, there is no gift of reliably forecasting the future.

And so, when our friend weakened and withered and when the moment arrived when we knew that barring a miracle of God he would not recover, we pressed ourselves against every line and verse and paragraph of hope that God’s word might provide us, might enable us to see and to witness and to experience a resurrection from the unavoidable.

But the resurrection we celebrated on Sunday had not been made material on the previous Thursday, the day that will forever mark the conclusion of our friend’s earthly lifespan.

We stood beside him on that Maundy Thursday morning. We waited for a miracle. We ached to witness a wonder. We talked to our Friend, encouraging Him to raise our friend. And He did not.

Something we cannot see, someplace we cannot yet go, Someone we cannot yet behold encompassed and captivated and completed our friend. He had gone beyond; beyond what we know, what we understand, beyond where we may walk. As our friend had encouraged others when their friends departed, so we encourage and are encouraged as our friend departs.

Tears are a gift from heaven. They are provided to facilitate the out-pour without which we would be overwhelmed, inundated, drowned in our sorrows and sunk in our aching. And with our gift torn open, exposed and employed we weep, because we have been given the capacity to pour out, as our heavenly Friend was poured out for us. We cry, in the most inopportune moments and in the least appropriate places. Some memory loosens and breaks away from the walls or our life-flow and enters into the bloodstream of our love and we weep; hot, salty tears flow from a well, made full by love for our friend.

Soul-pain is afforded by a loving Father. It is necessary to validate our love and to authenticate our affection. If our hearts did not ache, if our very frames did not protest the passing of our friends, what evidence would we provide of our love and affection and devotion to those who pass from among us to among “them?”

And with the tears and with the pain there is promise of rejoicing yet to come. A perfect Father promises to wipe away every tear from our eyes. He informs us of a place where “there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Our friend has passed through the “valley of the shadow of death.” In his passing, he feared no evil, because He was with him. The promise made and delivered to countless millions of souls who were carried through The Great Transition before him, has now been made real to our friend. And he has now crossed over, he has entered in; he has found his reward.

Our Great Friend assured us, so our hearts need not be troubled; we believe in God and we believe also in Jesus. In His Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, He would have told us. He has gone to prepare a place for us, and if He has gone to prepare a place for us, He will return and receive us to Himself, that where He is, there we may be also.

Our weeping must endure for a night, but joy surely comes in the morning. A joy that is unspeakable and full of glory awaits those who have suffered the dark hours of weeping and who have agonized in the embrace of the stinging, callous arms of sorrow.

Jesus promised; the one Who cannot lie nor distort nor deceive has pledged and now comforts us, “to him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”

Jeff Williams, our dear friend has fought a good fight, he has finished his course, he has kept the faith. He has overcome the world and has entered into His rest. The gift of eternal life given to a young and zealous man has now been fully received and experienced by a mature, learned and still-zealous man. We will no more hear his gifted voice lift the splendorous melodies of God’s astonishing symphony of grace. His laughter will no longer ring loud and uproarious in our gatherings. Another world holds our friend, captivates him in its glories, and provides to you and me motivation to follow him as he followed his Christ and now worships and triumphs before his King.

Blood Moons and a Rising Son

I didn’t want to do this, didn’t want to go here, to be caught up in speculation, rumor, hidden “truth” and The End of The World discussion. But here I am; a longtime friend wrote me today, asking for my opinion about all things scary. Here’s my response to him; maybe to you, too.

What will it take, what is required to turn a nation, a world to it’s knees and to the living God?

Will terror and destruction and tragedy and death turn a wildly spinning planet to its Creator? Will persistent messages of grace and mercy, of love and forgiveness cause hardened and sinful hearts to repent and to find atonement for their transgressions?

In our recent history, fuel-laden jet aircraft smashing their way through New York’s World Trade Center buildings and into the guarded halls of the Pentagon chased people by the tens of thousands to church.

For days, perhaps even for weeks following the 9-11 attacks, church attendance in America increased. Some thought, and excitedly promised that revival would surely ensue but now, looking back fourteen years, revival was not spawned by ruin.

Nearly three centuries ago Jonathon Edwards delivered his famous “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon. In his closing remarks, Edwards encouraged, “Therefore let everyone that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come!”

That kind of warning and promise will not move a society plugged firmly and fully into a digital electronic world of continual mental and emotional stimulation where the dividing line between reality and fantasy is hopelessly blurred.

Simply stated, we’re not living in the reality that surrounds us. Ours is a society that has succumbed to the siren call of a secular world around us. We are surely “in the world” and we have largely become “of the world” in the daily habits of our lives.

Life in the 21st century has become essentially an amusement park ride in a gaily-painted fantasy world; what we see and hear and feel and experience on nearly every level of existence is illusion and not verity.

Our pursuit of pleasure has outrun a consideration for our divine purpose and need. We are a temporal-minded and not a spiritual and eternity-minded generation.

And so the gospel has become mundane. The good news has been relegated to “old news.” The message of the Cross elicits more “ho-hum” than it does “hallelujah.”

If we attend a church meeting at all (and the national average of Sunday church attendance for committed Christians is now 1.6 times per month) we arrive at church expecting Hollywood quality lighting, music, seating, graphics, preaching (if you must) and better-than-average coffee.

Transport yourself in your own slick-whiz time machine back in time two thousand years to a hillside in Judea and imagine no sound system at all, no lighting except for the sun and a solitary Voice calling men and women back to the One, true God and to find a salvation and a redemption that neither antiquity or modernity can provide without the Savior, Jesus Christ.

Incrementally, just a little here and a little there, we have permitted ourselves to become spiritually dumbed-down. When it comes to matters of the eternal soul, a pandemic of deadly distraction prevents us from getting to know the One Whose life was cast to the grave for our eternal salvation.

And so, into this miasma of spiritual boredom and soul-slumber, a chilling, almost frantic voice is raised, warning us of blood moons and the Shemitah of all shemitahs, the great “year of release” and the collapse of the Stock Market and even of the U.S. dollar.

Christians across the world have begun to prepare their stockpiles of food and fuel and water filtration systems. If a tetrad (a group of four) of blood-red moons is upon the literal horizon and if the American economy is about to come crashing down, the prophetic shout warns us, then Christians – mostly American Christians – had better get to buying. The cry seems to be “Amazon-Dot-Com, here comes Armageddon!”

I’m not poking fun at those who have been stirred and motivated to store up food and survival equipment. They are “sluggards” who fail to consider the ways of the ant who “Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest” (Prov 6:6-8). The virgins of Matthew 25 were encouraged to ensure their lamps were filled with fuel. Preparatory action is not aberrant behavior. Wisdom is in preparedness.

Planning for rainy days is not irrational; the Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared” is good advice for us all. But in this writer’s view, the troubling aspect of all this clamor and uproar over collapse and calamity and worldwide catastrophe is this: Where is the call to return to the Cross and hence to the Peace of Jesus? Where is the reminder that among His various victorious titles, our Savior is known as “Prince of Peace?” Where is the promise, “fear not” among the messengers of doom? Luke records encouraging words for us all, and all of humanity when he writes, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (12:32).

I want to be as clear as crystal when I say this: The world as we know it may come crashing down on September 11, 2015. I don’t personally anticipate it, but World War III may be just ten, or twelve or a hundred days away. The New York Stock Exchange may implode in less than two weeks. The volcanoes of the Ring of Fire may erupt with sudden and devastating effect before we live through another day. Earthquakes may shake the inhabitants of the planet before October arrives. But the amazing and revelational thing is, that’s the way the world always has been. “No man knows the day or the hour” of the biblical “That day.”

No less than the voice of Jesus declared that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Mt.24:35) and “of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (V36). 

The gospel message has always been and continues to be – “live ready!” Be ready to live and be ready to die. Be ready for peace and be ready for persecution. The soul that is anchored in Jesus need have no fear of the ferocity of the storm, the raging of the waves or the viciousness of the tumult. As the songwriter reminds us, “the anchor holds,”

Though the ship is battered
The anchor holds
Though the sails are torn

I have fallen on my knees
As I faced the raging seas
The anchor holds
In spite of the storm

Surely, storm clouds are forming on the horizon of planet Earth. Spiritual and economic prosperity cannot be sustained when Government and Business and the Media and the Church – when society conspires to live without God, outside of His provision, in defiance of His purposes and plans. We cannot long continue to live as though there were no God and fail to experience the whiplash of our rebellions.

And now a most important footnote to my rambling discourse: Last night I watched a video posted by a Baptist Church that’s located not a mile as the crow flies from where I am writing these words. I pass that church frequently and never fail to notice the huge, white cross rising above treetops and buildings there. At the end of day, as I drive toward home, the sight of that cross announces the nearness and imminence of rest.

The video we watched consisted simply of a lady singing, with members of the church filing across the front of the church bearing cardboard signs of personal testimony. The chorus of the song was this:

If there’s anybody here who’s found Him faithful

Anybody here who knows He’s able Say, Amen.

Anybody here found joy in the midst of sorrow

Peace in the storm, hope for tomorrow

And you’ve seen it time and time again Just say. Amen –

My wife and I listened together and each of us responded – she with Goosebumps and me with tears. As the song concluded we heard shouts of praise as we watched arms waving and the overt gratefulness of a congregation of God’s people for the faithfulness of a Savior Who never fails, Who never falters, Who never forgets – Who asks us and Who promises us, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget you” (Is. 49:15).

“He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.”

If hell breaks loose across our nation or our planet, God is with us. If disaster crashes down around our fragile world, God “upholds all things by the word of His power.” If we are the terminal generation – if we are that people upon whom the ends of the world have come, we have a sure and confident word, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” but “I am with you alway, [even] to the end of the world. Amen” (Mt. 28:20). And we shall surely, if called upon to demonstrate His grace to an astonished world “overcome . . . by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of (our) testimony” (Rev. 12:11).

Blood moons come. Earthquake and volcanic eruption and economic destruction, do your best; God is our hope, His Christ is upon the throne of the universe, and our hope is sure and it is sealed; it is undeniable and it is undefeatable. “On Christ the solid Rock (we) stand; all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

 

How Dare They?

How dare he live as though he were forgiven? As though he never had done any errant thing. How dare she walk as though she were free? Liberated from a verdict of guilt and a penalty of condemnation; freed from the prison clothes of the blameworthy. How dare they lift hands in worship that were lifted in anger, hatred, lifted in sin?

Repent! you shout. Let him bring us evidence of suffering, proof of his pain. Let us judge her heart, evaluate his intentions, determine their rightness, let us cast with pride our ballots of heavenly retribution.

Their standards must be OUR standards! We would not; therefore they must not. We decide, we determine, we establish what is acceptable and what is intolerable.

We know. That is the crux of the matter: We KNOW.

We know what is in their hearts. We know what God knows of them. We know what ought to be done with them:

Banish them! Bind them with the steel of our judgments. Surround them with the tsk of the tongue and the wag of the head. Crush them with the hushed whisper and the subtle snub.

Disapprove them. Disparage them. Disallow them. Disinvite them. Disengage them. Disfellowship them. Deny them, deride them; hold them in disdain.

Sinners! They have stumbled, fallen; they have muddied themselves in the mire of sin. Offenders! They have tripped, proven their humanness; they have demonstrated their weaknesses. They are “less-than.” “Less than” who? Less than us, surely! We would not. Stumble, stagger, we would never fall.

But they, they have been brought to the court of human righteousness and they have been found wanting in our all-seeing eyes!

Or perhaps they have not. Stumbled, as we have believed, fallen as we have observed; perchance we were misinformed, given one side, but certainly not the other side of the story, but let us not let truth obstruct our righteous and holy highway. We are certain, we know, we see what God may not see: We know motive, intention; we know the flaws.

How dare they? When they demonstrate by their attitudes, by their words, by their acts, they do not know God; they do not know His heart; they do not understand His ways, His purpose, His love.

How dare they? Reinterpret, misinterpret His words? God forgives, “so far as the East is from the West so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” He forgives and “will remember their sin no more.” Teachers of the law and the Pharisees were invited to cast stones of death at a woman found guilty of mortal sin, should they be without iniquity. The woman was instructed merely, “Go and sin no more.”

How dare they? Misrepresent those holy words? How dare they? Pervert perfection by dragging lofty righteousness to man’s grimy and unholy estate.

How dare they? How dare they assume a position reserved only for One, for One Holy, for One righteous Judge Who gave His life that we might be tried in the court of heaven’s grace, judged with the beauty of mercy, found innocent because of the pouring out of His own, pure blood?

How dare they? Oh, they dare . . . they dare because they do not believe.