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.

 

Retrieving Lost Things

Christianity is currently experiencing the most convulsive, unsettled period of change since the birth of the Church more than two millennia ago.

No generation of Christians, from the first disciples of Jesus until now has witnessed the vast and accelerated alteration of the structure of the church that the current generation is now undergoing.

Surely, we comprise that generation “upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Cor. 10:11).

The voice of the Spirit of God has been heard clearly by innumerable saints whose ears are open and whose eyes are searching for the unmistakable activity of the Lord of the Church. It is He who declares,

The Current Structure of the Church will not accommodate what I am about to do.

If we are willing to face truth without the insulation of emotion or the panacea of nostalgia or the comfort of tradition and with a determination to hear no other voice than the expression of the Spirit of God, we must recognize and accept clear realities, among which is this: Much of what Christians (followers of Jesus Christ and recipients of His forgiveness and mercy and grace) have for all our lives called “church” has little to do with the concept intended when Jesus announced, “I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt. 16:18).

Allow my redundancy here: “The current structure of the church will not accommodate what God is now doing.” The structure of the building, the skeleton of the Body is being challenged with change and as is true in the physical body, it also is true of the spiritual body. When change, required for growth is demanded of us, pain is involved. When a muscle is exercised, that muscle will initially protest and will make itself heard through the vehicle of muscular ache and pain. These “growing pains” occur also in the church, which God describes as a “Body” (Eph. 4:16).

If you are a church member or church attendee, ask yourself these questions:

  • What really is the spiritual condition of my church?
  • How effective are we at winning the lost to Jesus?
  • How are we penetrating our society with the claims of Jesus, with the fruit of converts and disciples?”
  • Are we more caught up in the worship of worship than we are the worship of the Lord?
  • Does the preaching of my church impact my community as Paul’s preaching did, that “came not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power?” (1 Cor. 2:4).

If your church is like the majority of churches around the world, your answers are not encouraging.

Indeed we can point to a convert here and a new disciple there, but these are infrequent and most of what we call “church growth” is actually transfer growth – Christians dissatisfied with the church they have attended moving to greener pastures, a new worship style or a novel preaching form. We call this activity “growth” when in fact it is merely a shuffling of the deck, a relocation of spiritual refugees from one address and building to another.

We can look at finances and building programs and musical performances and evangelistic crusades and interest building programs and by these criteria claim some level of success as churches. But if we are honest, we must admit that our experience is far from the original pattern of the church we’ve read about in the Book of Acts and the church that existed during times of worldwide revival.

Most churches have majored on programs and committee-spawned ideas for growth which have little to do with the blind seeing, the deaf hearing and the lame leaping.

Our musicals, our programs, our carefully crafted sermons have done little if anything to stem the growing tide of evil all around us.

Because of our ineffectiveness, we have built a theology to accommodate our failure.

We point out that “evil must increase in the end times” in order to explain decreasing interest in the things of God.

We dogmatically state that “darkness will increase until there’s almost no light left in the earth.” to rationalize losing the battle against a rising tide of iniquity.

How do these statements square with biblical mandates that declare, “the whole earth is filled with God’s glory?”

What about the promise that “the glory of the latter house will be greater than the glory of the former?”

And finally, what about Jesus’ own promises that “greater works than these shall you do because I go to the Father” and “I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”

Somehow, somewhere, we have lost something essential in the church. Somehow, we must retrieve those lost things if we are to fulfill the promises of God for our generation. And while we retrieve the essentials, we must leave behind the non-essentials: The things contained in the word “religion.”

Purity, Power, Purpose

Contrary to the pitiful preaching of some, God is not going to send Jesus to rescue a discouraged, desolate and defeated Bride. The church Jesus will return for is a church of purity, power, and of purpose, a church that is transforming the earth, confronting evil, and conquering societies with His grace, mercy and love.

But the big question is “How?” How can we change anything of significance? How can we become truly effective for God? How can we reach billions of lives with the love of Jesus, even as a rising tide of resentment and persecution and hatred for Christians and for Christianity threatens to overwhelm us and to drown our voices and extinguish the flickering flame of faith? I’ll address these issues and others in my next discourse.

Christianity is indeed currently experiencing the most convulsive, unsettled moment of change since the birth of the Church more than two thousand years ago. And in this moment of unsettled discomfort, God is wooing us, calling softly and thundering when necessary, bidding and urging us to return to Him and to His ways. The responsibility we share is to hear Him, to answer Him and to follow Him.

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a NEW VOICE, a NEW FACE, a NEW HEART

With all my heart and soul I believe this: The citizens of planet Earth are currently living through the most critical and significant hour in human history. Further, the Holy Spirit of God is leading those “who have an ear” into a new dimension of revelation and glory that will catapult the Church of Jesus Christ into her true, God-ordained destiny in the earth.

With the infinite array of information, speculation, myriad “prophetic” voices; voices of doom, voices of encouragement, voices of sheer, emotional fantasy there remains one true, sure and unalterable word. That word proceeds from a heavenly and not an earthly Source. That word is the living, eternal and supreme word of God. It is from this word that all my belief and anticipation emerges.

As Christ’s church moves forward, we must recognize that our enemy is as much the “status quo” as it is Satan. The desire or need or penchant to return to past experiences, or the vestiges of that which God has passed by; any business-as-usual church experience will sound the death-knell to the full desire of the Spirit of God.

As surely as I know Him I am convinced that God is raising up a NEW VOICE, a NEW FACE and a NEW HEART in the earth. In 2008, Great Britain reported less than 2% church attendance. Having spent a good deal of time in England, I can attest to the veracity of that figure. Something is gravely wrong when the land that felt the footsteps of Spurgeon, Whitefield, Wesley, Wigglesworth and other powerfully gifted and anointed men and women of God has deteriorated into the state it currently languishes.

In America, the echoes of Azusa Street have faded into oblivion. The times of Jonathon Edwards and the Great Awakening have become merely historic footnotes in the anthology of the church. Dwight L. Moody, Aimee Semple McPherson, John G. Lake, Billy Sunday, Oral Roberts, Billy Graham all shook the land, but as someone has aptly commented, “America is overwhelmed today with dime-a-dozen imitator preachers.” Those who seek to plumb the depths of God’s Spirit and to tap heaven’s well of wisdom must look beyond former personalities and movements for direction and understanding. What God is doing is BEYOND. What God is doing is BEYOND denominations and conventional fellowships. Where heaven is leading is BEYOND corporations, programs, preaching services, man-made agendas, strategies and designs. God told Daniel to “seal up the prophecy” because it would require a future generation to understand. That future generation has been birthed, but where are the fathers, where are the leaders, where are those with “understanding?”

Ezra chronicled the temperament of the sons of Issachar “who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.” These understood the times, and knew what to do! It’s the knowing of “what to do” that is critical and essential. The same “Issachar spirit” that placed the Tribe in holy writ is being placed within a generation that has awakened to a new day of God’s anointing for the earth, and that “spirit” must be recognized and given freedom to speak, to be heard, to be heeded.

A nucleus of forerunners is rising in this hour. These contemporary “sons of Issachar” have understanding, and are hearing “what the Spirit says to the churches.” It is these who will make a difference for heaven in our time and we all, who would follow Christ and who will be His body must listen intently.

I sat as an observer in a staff meeting in a world-renowned church. The church had grown rapidly, even miraculously when leadership surrendered their positions of power in favor of the power of the Holy Spirit among them. Yet once the church had experienced sudden and God-engendered growth, the leadership had turned to formulae and program and methodology to continue what had begun in the Spirit. The Apostle Paul identified the tendency when he wrote to the Galatian church, “Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3).

I watched the expectant faces of the young leaders who had gathered in that staff meeting as the “orders of the day” were issued. The meeting soon descended into the drone of the minutiae of running a huge enterprise called “mega-church.”

My heart ached until I wanted to just get up and shout to them,

“This is NOT “that!” This activity does not bear the imprint of the Holy Spirit of Acts 2. These neat and impressive programmed services do not have the inscription and the unction of a church that turned the world upside down! Get Up! Get Moving! You can change your nation! Get up! Get full of God! Get His Power and His Resource and His Word and His Wisdom and His Enablement and abandon these man-engendered, man-enabled systems and storm the nations with His love and grace and mercy!

A Vital Question –

I love the men and women God has raised up in past generations. God uniquely placed and used them for their hour. I love and respect the men and women God has raised up in the most recent generation. But I wonder, could it be that God intends to use the former generation (my generation) to provide strength and stability to the church while at the same time an entirely new generation rises up, in union with the former, in a coalition of those who understand the times and who know what to do? Unless one is spiritually blind and deaf it is obvious that a rising generation will possess a completely new and different notion of changing the earth? The church of Jesus will never vanish away so long as the Holy Spirit remains in the earth, but the expression of His church is surely and essentially in the midst of tremendous transition.

Old systems are indisputably vanishing, cleaving away like a disused shell to reveal an inner vitality of the Body of life in God. An old wineskin, unable to contain New Wine is rotting before us, and a New Wineskin, capable of containing New Wine is about to appear.

I believe something significant is contained in the Darlene Zscech song, “Touching Heaven, Changing Earth.” We must place greater concern on “touching heaven” if we are to “change earth.” Where we have spent inordinate sums of money and time and energy with our buildings and carpets and music and lighting and preaching programs, we must place our resources on “touching heaven” because if we can touch heaven, if we can see heaven, if we can hear heaven, if we can understand what the Spirit is saying to us, to our generation, to our hearts, we will witness a changed earth.

The focus has been on doing “things.” Our energies have been consumed with developing programs, producing strategies, and doing things the way they always have been done because, our logic tells us, “if they worked for the church of the 1960’s and 1990’s and 2000’s, these things should work for us.” But to follow a former generation’s example without hearing the current whisper of the Spirit will cause us to miss what God is doing in our midst.

What God is now doing is unlike what He has done in other days. What Heaven is now doing is visibly and essentially different from what He has done. God is leading us, as He led ancient Israel into a place from which we one will testify, “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests, the Levites, bearing it, then you shall set out from your place and go after it. Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure. Do not come near it, that you may know the way by which you must go, for you have not passed this way before” (Joshua 3:3,4).

If somehow we can shift our concerns from the next popular ministry emphasis or what is happening in this geographical location or that arena to an emphasis on heaven, to an emphasis on worshipping the God of glory without concern for worshipping the way somebody is worshipping in America or England or Canada or Australia; if we can focus on hearing God and not hearing what a voice here or a voice there is saying; if we can focus on building deep, real and spiritual relationships with others in the Body of Christ, the resulting transformations in our own lives will have a powerful impact on the earth without the machinery of the systems and programs we have known in the conventional, institutional church.

We’ve got to touch heaven! We’ve got to become more connected with heaven than we are connected to the earth and its dying systems. We’ve got to become more connected with heaven than we are connected with a denomination or a treasured way of “doing ministry”! Until our supreme connection is with heaven, all our best attempts to change our world will fall ridiculously flat.

The emerging church – the true church of Jesus Christ cannot be as churches have been, or we will no longer possess a reason to exist. Let God lead into the deep, into uncharted waters, into latitudes no one has explored. Let God’s Spirit and God’s Wind carry us into a destiny heaven determined before the foundations of the world were laid.

God is building something far more substantive than an organization or a building. He’s building His church. Observing the machinery of a great church is instructive, but let me be clear: It’s not about machinery, systems, models or imitations. It’s about touching heaven and by virtue of God’s indwelling Spirit, touching one another.

Let us refuse to imitate yesterday’s anointing and discover fresh unction for today. When His Spirit indwells His church, His systems and models, His eternally creative beauty and brilliance will cause the earth (to) “be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, As the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14).

He Has, We Shall

No futurist could conceive the things God has prepared for them that love Him. No romanticist could adequately describe the love story of the ages, played out by the divine cast of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. No historian could discover a more expansive and majestic story than the one told by the Word Himself, Who Himself and within Himself and without need of any other entity “fills all in all.”

To consider that the pure, holy and singular God of creation would invite mere man into the royal courts of His presence, let alone invite His creation to approach His glorious throne begs the wildest, most colorful imagination among us. And such imagination falls hopelessly short of comprehending or of conveying the depth of love, the degree of grace involved in the invitation to stand, to rest, to walk by His side.
He has called us to His throne but more; He has called us to rule with His own Son. He makes us to be His children, “and if children, then heirs – heirs with God and joint-heirs with Christ,” for Scripture articulates the promise, “If we endure, We shall also reign with Him.”
Excerpted from “Royal Priesthood, The Pathway to Kingdom Authority,” Greg Austin, Don Atkin, Steve Crosby.

 

The Universal Quest for Relevance, Part II

It May Be the Devil, or it May Be the Lord

There are words that society uses to indicate weakness, defeat, setback and a host of negative terms and conditions. From our earliest conscious moments we are taught the concepts of winning and losing. Submission, surrender, yielding, obedience to another, these are taught as negative responses to life and so we tend to develop a certain stubborn resistance to anyone or anything claiming superiority or dominance over us. In the late 1960’s, rebellion, resistance, rejecting the social order of a previous generation characterized a rising tide of “anti” attitudes and developing life-styles among young people in Western culture. The enemy of a growing, defiant segment of society became a vague image known as “the establishment.” Paul Anka echoed the attitude of self-centeredness and self-fulfillment when he wrote the song that Frank Sinatra would make famous called “My Way.” Anka and Sinatra and Presley and all those who sang the song with great conviction and with deep emotion were wrong. Consider these words of the final verse of the song,

For what is a man, what has he got? If not himself, then he has naught. To say the things he truly feels; And not the words of one who kneels. The record shows I took the blows – And did it my way!

Yes, it was my way.

Holy Scripture indicates a day and an hour in the which “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Anka’s “My Way” asks, “…what is a man, what has he got? If not himself, then he has naught.” No, what a man has, what anyone has that will stand the test of eternity is full and complete submission, total surrender to the Lordship of Jesus. Submission, surrender, yielding, obedience to Christ; those words and the attitudes we were taught to abhor as children are the very words and attitudes that will enable us to gain eternal life. The Bible record is replete with stories of people who rejected the rule of God over their lives and suffered eternal grief as the result. One man, Saul of Tarsus sought to live a perfect and God honoring life without surrendering his heart and soul to Jesus. His quest for self-righteousness brought him into the dirt of a pathway where he found himself blinded and terrified at the voice of the One who would he later would confess with great gladness was his Master. Saul, turned Paul at his conversion would wear the label “bond-servant” with great affection and joy. Paul learned the glory of surrender and the honor of subordination and wrote throughout the New Testament to underscore the absolute necessity of a life-submission that would bring to mankind a freedom broader and deeper than any human association could provide. Continuing with the disclosure that song lyrics can provide, think about those written by Bob Dylan in his song, “Gotta Serve Somebody.”

You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side You may be working in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir.

You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed You’re gonna have to serve somebody, Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

And since it is true, we will serve somebody, whether that “somebody” is a person, a thing, an addiction or an attitude, we all, regardless of every effort to the contrary will find ourselves serving “somebody.” And we cannot serve more than one master. Jesus said in attempting to serve both God and earthly treasure and affluence we will love the one and hate the other. Here is how He said it: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Notice that Jesus did not say that money is evil or that we ought to live as paupers but that serving money and its apparent power is the antithesis to serving God (because the apparent power of money becomes a substitute for total reliance on God for our lives and our livelihoods). In spite of all the philosophical dancing and rationalizing and justifying that so many of us have become adept at performing, we all, willingly or unwillingly, consciously or unwittingly will serve “somebody.” And there is room only for one master in our lives. And the choices of master distill to these: It’s God or mammon, God or money; we will bow either to the supremacy of God or the muscle of money. Oh yes, we can serve the masters of alcohol or drugs or relationships or sports or a plethora of false and man-made gods, but these all are condensed to that term Jesus used: “Mammon,” “money” and the perceived power that money can purchase. Billy Graham once opined that he had never seen a U-Haul trailer attached to a funeral coach. When we leave this world and this life, our money and all its supposed power ceases to be a factor in either our destination or our eternal condition. Money leaves the playing board upon death. God continues to be God. And serving God is not an onerous thing, because “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, (physical, temporal satisfactions) but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. When God is our Master, we have peace and joy. When He is in control of our lives, we are not tossed about by the storms and the tempests of life. When we have submitted to Him, He is our Protector, our Provider, our Peace and the place of rest and comfort for our souls. When God is in charge, I can be assured that though I may not know the way forward, and though the future may be a cloudy and imprecise thing I know that I can face any future, and overcome any obstacle because,

I know Whom I have believed, And am persuaded that He is able To keep that which I’ve committed Unto Him against that day.

To believe on Him is to submit to Him, to entrust our eternal souls to His care and to His wisdom and to His way. To submit to Him is to confess that He, Jesus is Lord of our lives. To make Him Lord and Master is to find ourselves and in finding ourselves, to know peace and joy and comfort and the fulfillment of the desires of our hearts. As Mr. Dylan sang, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody,” and I hope that it’s the Lord.

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The Universal Quest for Relevance

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I do not know if ever I have met a man or a woman who did not at some place and for some purpose desire to be relevant; to be of some value to someone. Even the several disheveled, aimless and mentally detached men and women I have met in more than six decades of life have at some time and in some place and manner wanted to know that their lives meant something to someone.”

Simply stated, all of us enter this world with the embryo of desire for relevancy

What is it that makes a man truly a man or a woman, essentially a woman? Biology indicates gender, but gender does not inevitably denote “maleness” or “femaleness.” These qualities are much more than physical attributes or timbre of voice.

When we speak of “manhood” and “womanhood” we nearly always have more in mind than physical appearance. Masculinity and femininity do not derive from the blue or pink colors or from our attraction to toy trucks or Barbie dolls or a wardrobe of blue jeans or dresses. The qualities of maturity appear as a person develops, as he or she grows, matures, changes, and learns.

The Strong Submit; The Weak Resist

A key to becoming a mature, fully developed man or woman lies in the seeming contradiction of submission. A mistaken philosophy of life teaches that a man or a woman should never submit to any external force; that maturity and strength are manifested in resistance to submission. Those who would forge their own unique destinies, those who would move through life giving no quarter to anyone and requesting none by any are held up by society as the strong men or women of a culture.

Up is Down and Down is Up

Jesus Christ brought to earth a Kingdom not of this world. He said, “ . . . he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The greatest of men ever to appear on earth’s ageless stage appeared as a servant of all. The inescapable reality of human maturity and purpose is found in this:

“Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.” Jesus not only said it, but He did it; He modeled His teaching by laying down His life in the most painful and horrific manner our minds might imagine. He who was and remains the greatest among us served us, making Himself “of no reputation,” humbling Himself.

He, the King of all kings, the Lord of all lords and the very maker of the universe humbled Himself, laid down His rights, His position, His crown, His life and suffered humiliation, mockery, horrendous physical abuse and watched His very life flow from overburdened veins and from pierced flesh until all that remained were the words, “It is finished.” Jesus, the Master of all that exists, submitted to death, became its Prisoner, was held in death’s spiteful grip – God Himself submitted so that we could reign; Heaven’s great Architect drew the very blueprint of our redemption through the strongest act of history – through submission, obedience and full surrender He became Master of all.

There is something intrinsic within the heart of man that struggles with the idea that someone or something may hold mastery over us.

Jesus appeared among us as a servant of all, while at the same time teaching us that in order to find true freedom, true liberty of the soul He must be Master over us. In His mastery and in our submission to His rule He promised that His yoke, His burden would be easy to receive and would be light to carry. His Mastery is not burdensome, yet the stubborn heart and the unsubmitted soul resist surrender at virtually all cost.

If only we might have eyes to see and ears to hear: Jesus is the Master Who enables man to master the base things, the fruitless, the profitless things; those things that would ensnare and quite literally master us. The subtle yet undeniable truth is this: Only in submitting to The Master do we find true freedom from the bondage of the profitless and the peace of true mastery of life’s deceptions and snares.

Relevancy is Found in Relinquishing our Rights

We must learn the hidden truths that stand in stark relief against a desolate and gloomy landscape of mediocrity: It is in surrender that we find victory; in losing, we win. It is when we concede defeat that we discover conquest. In giving up our rights we find new privilege; in yielding we learn to bend but not to break. In dying we find new life.

A Child of the King

No position is so powerful and no place is so secure as recognizing that one is the child of the most benevolent and authoritative King of all that exists, both in this world and in worlds to come. There exists no higher position or greater station than to know that one is a child of the King; and not a king such as has been represented among fickle and capricious men. The King of which I speak is the Faithful God and the Lord of glory. He is the “Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” He is “the bright and morning star” and “He is fairer than ten thousand.” “He is fairer than the children of men: grace is poured into His lips: therefore God has blessed Him forever.”

To surrender to one so majestic, to submit to one so pure, so holy and so just, so loving, so kind, so humble and so great is more than wisdom; surrender to Him is life itself.

A man more brilliant than the catalog of scholars and thinkers of earth’s ages identified himself as “bondservant.” The Apostle Paul defined his very relationship with Jesus as one of servant and Master.

In the ultimate search of the human heart for relevance in this life, the starting point, the genesis must be submission, surrender, yieldedness to the Master, the One who laid down His rights, His position, His power and His life so that you and I might live and move and have our being as bondservants, and as true examples of men and women made free by our willing captivity to the King who truly makes us free.

When I Am Weak . . .

The inevitable, universal process we call “aging” is both hated and unavoidable. But as many have wryly observed, aging beats the alternative. As we age – when a man grows old, his body manifests the effects of maturation. Years and miles and stresses and the calamities that occur in an imperfect world ultimately take their necessary toll on the strongest among us.

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And so the hearing is eventually impaired. We reach for reading glasses, glasses for driving, assistance to give us a semblance of the sight we once took for granted.

As we age, we tire more easily. Stamina is reduced. Breathing becomes labored at the slightest incline. Legs that once carried us cheerfully begin to protest the strain of activity. The strength made available by the muscle of youth retracts and retreats ever so slowly but inevitably.

A man views these as weaknesses and as impairments. Woman sees the deficiencies; she notices the wrinkle, the sag, the line, the fold and the furrow, and she weeps.

And try as we might through the investment of money and of time and of effort, the hearing and the sight and the strength of youth will not return and is finally gone forever.

We are tempted towards sorrow and distress. We wonder when, we wonder where the process of decay will conclude. It all is such a sad and unhappy condition.

But perhaps God in His infinite and perfect wisdom has arranged, and through the introduction of man’s sin into the world, has caused the human DNA to be effected by that sin in such as way that scripture is confirmed when it asserts, “by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for all have sinned.”

Perhaps “effected” should more accurately be rendered “infected.” and that by the disease of sin death becomes the eventual conclusion of the aging process.

But God is more gracious, and so with time the hearing fades that man might better hear the still, small voice of God’s Holy Spirit. The sight dims that we might more clearly see God and God’s purposes.

Physical strength is abated so that we might lean more heavily upon the God Who never fails and whose joy is our strength.

Do not view the passing of years and the perishing of physical abilities as curse or as undesirable: God is preparing you to see, to perceive and to appreciate the King in all His might and majesty, in His greatness and all His glory.

God is detuning your ear from the sounds of a temporal life to the frequency of eternity. God is preparing to fill you with the power of the ages through the fuller dwelling of His Spirit in you.

The corruption of the physical body eventuates in death, but death, to the follower of Christ leads only to life. Deafness concludes in hearing, and blindness in seeing.

The process of deterioration, as is true in all of the mysteries of God is in reality a process of restoration, of renovation, of re-creation. We must decrease that He might in us, increase.