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Groping for God On Less-Than-Green-Grounds

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“…. and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us…. ” -Acts 17.26-27

There are times in the life of a saint when the Lord will bring him into transition and move him from one place to another, one function to another, or one occupation to another. Often the minds of believers are occupied with searching for the next transition, hoping for another position, looking over the horizon to some idyllic destiny. We hope for a picturesque scenario, where there is no turbulence or trial, no uncertainty or mystery, and where all the pieces of the puzzle seem to fit together effortlessly and without thought.

God, in dealing with His children, will have none of this. He is bent on establishing reality, and His reality is ever and always opposed to our idealistic wish-dreams, particularly those aspirations that are not grounded in a jealousy for His glory. He has “determined” our appointed times and boundaries, which is to say, it is in His calculated purpose for us to live in the specific generation that we live in. It is in His design for us to abide within the physical boundaries wherein He has placed us. If we are willing to follow Him wheresoever He calls us, and we have yet to hear a word of some great transition, we must conclude that He has us where we are for a significant reason. And that reason is supremely this:

“…. that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him…. “

The current press and trial of life, whatever it may be, is most likely a “determined” tool meant for the refinery of the saint, and it has been initiated by the great Potter Himself. Have we been vessels of pliable clay, or are we hardening our hearts towards His dealings? We are too often looking for the greener grass on the other side, when the real purpose of being on this side is that we “would seek God,” “grope for Him and find Him,” exactly as He is.

If you are gripped with anxiety about the future, about entering ministry, or pursuing some higher position of occupation, you are missing the point of your present location and orientation. The real key for transitioning rightly is not in seeking all the options set before you in your own wisdom and rationale, but in seeking God Himself. He will permit the most exquisite and painstaking sufferings in our lives, if they are necessary to bring us to the place where we are quickened to seek and grope for Him.

We may see others advancing in areas where we feel we should be advancing, but the word of the Lord to us is the same as it was to Peter, when he coveted John’s long life in light of his own foreseen martyrdom:

“…. what is that to you? You follow Me!” (Jn. 21.22)

Often the seasons in which He seems most absent are the seasons when He is present and at His greatest work in our souls. His silence is not evidence of His standoffishness, as much as it is a Fatherly kind of waiting upon us, to see if we will respond as His sons in the test that He has permitted. When that press and turmoil is upon our hearts, do we turn inwardly, looking for an answer within our own shoddy logic?  Do we look to flesh and blood, or do we “seek God”, “grope for Him and find Him?”

The promise holds true for us all, “He is not far from each one of us.”

Look not to that idyllic world of your own contrived destiny. Look not to what men say you are entitled to by virtue of any worldly accomplishment. Look not to despair or fear or bewilderment in the face of the weighty trial. Seek God. Grope for Him, right from the ground He has placed you upon in the here and now. That is the central issue. He is the central issue. Your transition, position, and destiny are totally secondary to seeking and beholding the Lord of History. And if He knows how to oversee the whole of history, He is wise enough to lead His sheep through the hills and valleys of our lives.

He is trustworthy, dear saint, and when we seek His face on “less-than-green” grounds, all things work together for our conformity to the image of His Son.

The Realization of His Kind Intention

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“He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” -Eph. 1.5-6

Self-consciousness, paranoia and fear have no abiding authority in the life of a believer. Once we have come to realize that in the Gospel, the “kind intention” of God Himself has been disclosed to the world, we begin to see that His transcendent mercy is vast enough to swallow up every worldly disposition that we have harbored. The Spirit of God intentionally pursues and diminishes every disposition that has kept us from a true knowledge of His nature.

The powers of darkness relish in spreading the disease of self-consciousness in the Church, particularly because it binds men in pride, intimidation and a fear of others. It takes the very love of God being “shed abroad in our hearts” for that power to be broken, for whether we are shy individuals or social butterflies, if we have not been established in the inmost parts by the “kind intention” of God, we will invariably be impaired by self-consciousness in one way or another.

The revelation of His “kind intention” in the Gospel- namely, that God Himself has predestined us for communion with Him- makes us to realize that if we have been born from above, we have access to a mode of being that marks our consciousness with that glorious Pauline phrase: “…. accepted in the Beloved….”

This is not a syrupy, lightweight subject. This is not merely the message for those saints who are smiling all the time, or who seem to have all of their personality traits in tact. This realization is the power of God’s own Personality, pressing into our frame, and driving out every earthbound, would-be wisdom.

The redemption that has come to us through the cross of Jesus Christ is a total deliverance from the spirit of the world. Where once we knew bitterness, we now know a holy love; where once we knew paranoia, we now know Godly confidence; where once we knew the fear of man, we now know the presence of God; where once we knew timidity, we now know a heavenly boldness; where once we knew falsity and performance, we now know trueness; where once we were self-absorbed and arrogant, we now know humility and value; where once we knew anxiety and nervousness, we now know the priestly quietness of acceptance before God. He has not only made us new creations externally, but opened up access to the formation of Himself in all our ways of thinking and living.

“And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” -Eph. 1.22-23

When we surrender our self-reliance to the fire of God, He torches that which was binding and unheavenly, and deposits in its place an inward awareness of His “kind intention” toward us. Dear saint, you’ve been accepted by the King of creation, and “all things” are in subjection to Him. Do not be bound by self-consciousness, fear, or the desire to please men. Glorify the Lamb of God, for His shed blood has torn the veil of separation on your behalf!

Deviating from the Thread of the Knowledge of God

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“We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” -1 Jn. 4.6

“….even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!” -Gal. 1.8-9

There is a thread of the knowledge of God which runs through the Scriptures, and which we need desperately to cling to in these last days. It is the accumulated revelation of God, beginning in Genesis, running right through the Patriarchs, Judges, and Prophets of the Hebrew Bible.

It continues on in the New Testament record, finding it’s revelatory climax in Jesus Himself.

The foundational apostles, having a firm grasp on that thread, found themselves in a continuum with the knowledge of God set forth by their progenitors. What the prophet of old saw in part, the apostle viewed in fuller measure, but that fuller measure never ground against the revelation of God given before. Isaiah and Ezekiel’s visions were not trumped by Paul’s, but rather summed up in Christ. “I have not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it.” The apostle’s teaching did not replace the revelation of God given in the Hebrew Bible (after all, Paul charged the Gentiles to read the prophets!), it brought type and shadow to manifested definition through the Gospel of Jesus.

In obedience to the Gospel call, the apostles poured out their lives to convey and deliver that precious knowledge of Christ to the Gentiles. On the shoulders of that great Hebraic history and sacrifice, the Church finds its foundation, and out of the sap which comes from Israel’s tree, we “live, move, and have our being.”

When the Gnostic heresy was affecting the community to which John wrote, he was gripped with concern and addressed the Church along these lines:

These men do not have a hold on the holy thread which has been given through Christ; namely, the intimate knowledge of the God of Israel, which was delivered to us by the full-orbed demonstration of His wisdom on the Cross. They deny His flesh-and-blood witness, and thereby prove that they are false. They didn’t come from the apostolic fellowship, they have a hold on some faulty version of faith, and are operating in a spirit of error.

When the Judaizers were infiltrating the congregations in Galatia, Paul was equally concerned, though the impostors were of a different order than the Gnostics. In essence, he charged the Church thusly:

The Gospel that we delivered to you was not the concoction of men. It was given to me by way of holy revelation, through a vital encounter with the God of Israel. Before my confrontation with the Messiah on the road to Damascus, I thought I had a hold on the thread of the Lord’s doctrine, but I was on a windy path of religiosity that had impressive forms, but no viable union with Him in truth. The Messiah Jesus appeared to me, transformed my heart and view, and introduced me to the true thread of the knowledge of my father Abraham’s God. Now, why would you make room in your hearts for those who would proclaim a so-called Gospel that is totally out of touch with the foundational word that you received from me? It may have manners of formality and superstructures that seem spiritual, but its foundations are faulty. They have not been laid by foundational servants who are in that holy continuum, but by men with agendas. Flee from these “different gospels”!

We look upon the congregations in Galatia and wonder how they fell prey to the Judaizers. We look upon the ones to whom John wrote, baffled that any of them would even consider the strange ideas and ruminations of Gnosticism. But it behooves us in these days, with a shortage of foundational servants in the Church, to raise very serious and applicable questions.

Do we have a firm grasp on the “thread” of the knowledge of God, as He has set Himself forth in the Scriptures?

Are “different Gospels”, that the apostles of old would hardly recognize, taking center stage in our congregations?

Do we find ourselves in a continuum with the prophets and apostles of the Scriptures, or is our “revelation” of Jesus and the Gospel a caricature of the true and foundational revelation once and for all given?

Certainly, we all “see in part” and “prophesy in part”, but my own heart is alarmed these days, as I’m hearing “different gospels” promulgated, even in evangelical and charismatic congregations. “Gospels” that seem to have a hold on some other thread of knowledge- one that grinds against the revelation of God given through the Scriptures.

I’m hearing statements like this:

“There’s no need to preach repentance in the church. I refuse to preach repentance to people who are already repenting.”

“God is not the author of any suffering or any natural disasters. In fact, because all of His judgment was fulfilled at the cross, He does not act in that way any more. That was Old Testament.”

“The Gospels were actually written to support Paul’s epistles.”

“Maybe you’ve been spending too much time in Jeremiah. Maybe you’ve even spent too much time in the Gospels. Jesus was not a grace preacher. He was a preacher of the Law. You need to get out of the red letters for a while and get into Paul.”

The man who made the latter statement declared, “I may be a little too Pauline for you all…”, to which I responded, “Actually, he is not being Pauline at all!”

Dear saints, I am not into “watchdog ministry” or looking under every rock and behind every bush for the slightest spasm of doctrinal error. I am not one to find pleasure in naming names or exposing faults in others to my own elevation. But my heart is breaking over the kinds of things I’m hearing these days, and I’m told by itinerant preacher friends that they are running into this all over the nation.

….there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master [and His Lordship] who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. -2 Pet. 2.1

This applied to Peter’s day, and it will apply in an increasing measure in the days leading up to the Lord’s return. The Lord has never been fond of mixtures, and we are seeing a staggering kind of mixture in our day. It is likely an old mixture, but it is being repackaged and is spreading in an unprecedented manner. It’s a profession of Jesus as Savior, but a denial of Jesus as Lord. A profession of Jesus as “good”, but a denial of Jesus as “the Judge of all the earth.” A profession of Jesus as compassionate, but a denial of Jesus as the One who calls “all men to repent.”

Dear saints, it is not either/or. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” “Behold then the kindness and severity of God…” If we are unwilling to grow in the knowledge of God as He has set Himself forth in the Scriptures, we can be sure that we do not have a hold on the right “thread”.

More than ever, we have come to a time when an “utterness” toward the Lord is the matter of life and death for the Church and for Israel. We’ve got to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints,” lest we find ourselves swimming in the polluted waters of “different gospels,” which will have great appeal to men, while leading them away from the reality of of Christ, though their movements will likely bear the name “Jesus.”

The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity. The oracles they gave you were false and misleading. -Lam. 2.14

We need to be cognizant of the fact that as the final pages of history are turned, there will be demonstrations of power that are from the Lord, and demonstrations of power that are from below. The safeguard against falling prey to “different gospels” is to be found in the secret place with the Lord, to immerse ourselves in the Scriptures, and to walk in humility one with another in a continued pursuit of the true knowledge of God.

The world is evil, the times are waxing late, and the glory of God has departed from the church as the fiery cloud once lifted from the door of the Temple in the sight of Ezekiel the prophet.

The God of Abraham has withdrawn His conscious Presence from us, and another God whom our fathers knew not is making himself at home among us. This God we have made and because we have made him we can understand him; because we have created him he can never surprise us, never overwhelm us, nor astonish us, nor transcend us.

….The God of our fathers wills to be the God of their succeeding race. We have only to prepare Him a habitation in love and faith and humility.

A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, Ch. 8, God’s Infinitude

I do not want to leave you with a note of hopelessness, for He has made Himself overwhelmingly available to us. No person has more copiously poured our their affection or condescended so far to reach you. If we seek Him with all our heart, we “shall find Him,” and when we get a hold of the “thread” there is no greater place of holy delight, “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” All the more grievously does it strike me, that many would wallow in habitual sin and a “different gospel”, when the glories of the Man Christ Jesus have been made available to all who would come.

We must dig deeply into the Scriptures. We must be found in the place of prayer. We have a privileged calling to make a demonstration of His wisdom to the “principalities and powers of the air,” to “move Israel to jealousy,” to take the Gospel of glory to the “uttermost parts of the earth,” and ultimately, to “hasten” the day of our glorious Lord’s return.

Dear saints, I say again, there is nothing more crucial than coming into a knowledge of God as He is, and not as we ourselves have conceived Him to be.

Little children, guard yourselves from idols. -1 Jn. 5.21

The Near Extinction of Honor

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“‘A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect [fear]?’ says the Lord of hosts to you, ‘O priests who despise My name.’ But you say, ‘How have we despised Your name?’” -Mal. 1.6

We need to be leery of any view of the Fatherhood of God that does not lead us into a holy esteem for the Lord. Likewise, our view of His Lordship ought always to be accompanied with a sense of His kindness, lest it become stoic and lifeless. Our view of His Fatherhood must be attended by the quintessential attribute of His nature; namely, His holiness, lest we find that we are engaged headlong in activities performed “in His name,” but altogether devoid of His honor. The prophet commences with an “oracle of the word of the Lord,” declaring, “I have loved you.”

How did Israel requite the Lord for His gracious love? From the love of God the prophet now turns to the ingratitude of His people. God has treated the people of Israel as a son; have they honored Him as Father? They have retained the relationship of servant to Him as Master; have they rendered Him due reverence? The rightful respect due God has been withheld, due mainly to the ungodliness of the priests against whom the charge is directed.

(Charles Feinberg, The Minor Prophets; Moody Press, 1990 ed. pp. 251-252)

It is a rarity for the “rightful respect due God” to have a place in the consideration of modern saints. With the advent of smart phones, instant internet access, and a thousand other forms of entertainment and distraction, the idea of being “still” and knowing that He is God is taking on an archaic character. The everyday bustling believer is being (or has already been) reduced to a brand of humanity that can only respond to, and receive from, that which is quick, easy, and colorful. The priestly distinctives of waiting and honoring and revering the One on the throne have reached the status of taboo, even if we would refuse to admit it.

We have learned to settle for the offering up of blind, lame, and sickly sacrifices, and the robust faith of the apostles and prophets of old is nearly extinct in the Western Christian experience. We need daily to be reminded that:

The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; 
The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. 
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; 
The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether. -Ps. 19.8-9

Many Christians are being raised with an understanding of God that is tragically bereft of the kind of reverential honor that the prophets and the old Levites bore before the people. There is something tinpot and cheap about our hurried ministries and perfunctory thoughts of God. They do not ring with the life-giving note of the fear of the Lord, and unless we acquire that, we can be sure that however busy we might be with work, play, or some ostensible expression of ministry, we will not bear the necessary priestly distinctive: “holiness unto to the Lord.” Our witness will be reduced to humanism and our ministry to mere religion.

Our great task is not first to perform externals, but to bear the knowledge of God as He is before the people, and that knowledge cannot be obtained but by a people in earnest pursuit of the Living God. If we give slipshod attention to Him, however feverishly engaged in ministry we might be, He will be as a Father without honor. We need to be arrested by the reality that He will have nothing to do with man-centered ministries, humanistic theologies, or garbled definitions of priestliness and sonship.

Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My altar! I am not not pleased with you,” says the Lord of hosts, “nor will I accept an offering from you.” -Mal. 1.10

We need to be acutely aware of the fact that it is possible to function in a distorted kind of faith that caters to our spiritual preferences, but is in no way pleasing to the Lord. It is even possible for this infraction and offense to be committed “on My altar” or under the auspices of Christian ministry.

Leon Morris wrote that Malachi gives attention to “laxity among the priests,” and this may well be the characteristic condition of believers in modern times, whether Evangelical or Charismatic. The laxity is not in activity, but in earnestness after God. The Levites had deviated from the priestly covenant, and in like manner, the Church has largely deviated from “faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”

‘My covenant with him [Levi] was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him as an object of reverence; so he revered Me and stood in awe of My name. True instruction was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity. For the lips of priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.
But as for you, you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by the instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi,’ says the Lord of hosts. So I also have made you despised and abased before all the people, just as your are not keeping My ways but are showing partiality in the instruction. -Mal. 2.5-9

We need to peer long and hard into the Levitic call, especially at its heart, for it is not unlike the call of every saint. In the Gospel, we have been “grafted” into a continuum with the Hebraic Levites of ancient times, for like our Lord, the nature of a priest is the “same yesterday, today, and forever.” We ought to be bearing that priestly honor for the Father, and going from “glory to glory” in that wondrous reality. Have we seen Him as worthy of that kind of life; of living, moving, and having our being in Him; ‘broken bread and poured out wine’ for His sake?

The Life-Giving Work of Affliction

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“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” -Ps. 34.19

It is a “gospel” of naivete which claims that once a man comes to faith in Christ he will never know affliction. To state the Biblical view clearly, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14.22) According to Luke, this was a word of encouragement to the saints.

This Pauline perspective was expressed thusly:

“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” -1 Cor. 12.10

And:

“…as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way by great endurance in afflictions, hardships, calamities…” -2 Cor. 6.4

For Paul, remarkable sufferings did not disqualify him from the blessing of God, but were the commendation of his ministry, that “in every way by great endurance” he was “content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities.” 

On every front the Biblical writers recognized that suffering was integral to the life of faith. It is on the ground of affliction that our faith is tempered, reinforced, and proven. The modern paradigm has digressed into a tooth-and-nail scrap for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and seldom do the saints operate on the basis of apostolic wisdom, which leads us to becoming “broken bread and poured out wine” for the sake of Christ.

We need to rightly interpret our present affliction and God-orchestrated tensions, for so long as we have as our ambition the circumvention of all hardship, we impede the formation of Christ in our own life and character. To circumvent the cross is to obstruct the flow of resurrection life.

Whenever a thing becomes difficult in personal experience, we are in danger of blaming God, but it is we who are in the wrong, not God; there is some perversity somewhere that we will not let go. Immediately we do, everything becomes as clear as daylight.
….The attitude must be one of complete reliance on God. When once we get there, there is nothing easier than living the saintly life; difficulty comes in when we want to usurp the authority of the Holy Spirit for our own ends.

-Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, Dec. 14th selection

We need to recognize that in large part, difficulties are permitted to come upon us “when we want to usurp the authority of the Holy Spirit for our own ends.” Paul himself, in all of his apostolic character and stature, was brought to the view that his “thorn in the flesh” was meant to keep his own soul in check before the Lord, lest he “exalt” himself. Whatever that “thorn” was, he had prayed for a release from it, and finally concluded at the encouragement of the Lord that it was to remain as a life-giving affliction.

We see here the two-fold view of Paul, for he had seen mighty deliverances, and for this reason he pleaded with the Lord for a release. But when the Lord gave word that His grace was “sufficient” to carry Paul through, immediately he interpreted the affliction as a safeguard for his soul. He saw that his own propensity for self-exaltation, which was yet alive in his recesses after years of apostolic labor, needed the release of grace that could only be attained through suffering.

It is good for me that I was afflicted,
   that I might learn your statutes.
The law of your mouth is better to me
   than thousands of gold and silver pieces. -Ps. 119.71-72

The “law” or wisdom of His “mouth” must become “better” to us “than thousands of gold and silver pieces.” For Paul, the wisdom of God prevailed over his own, and so he recognized the goodness of God, even in the land of affliction. Indeed, he was able to discern the kindness of God, not only in the midst of affliction, but through the affliction itself.

O taste and see that the Lord is good;
How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!
O fear the Lord, you His saints;
For to those who fear Him there is no want. (Ps. 34.8-9)

The goodness and fear of the Lord, when rightly apprehended, will shepherd us well in the barren grasslands of trial, and lead us to the waters that “make glad the city of God.”

‘Fear of the Lord’ in Psm. 34 means to recognize YHWH in His actuality, particularly in His reality for salvation, and to behave accordingly.
….He who fears YHWH recognizes and acknowledges His reality.
….The righteous experience the reality and the saving activity of YHWH, especially in times of distress.

(Hans Joachim Kraus, PSALMS: A Continental Commentary, Fortress Press)

The “saving activity of YHWH, especially in times of distress,” is the great work of ringing out our propensity for self-exaltation, so that through and through we might be infused with the light of His glorious character and wisdom.

Whether suffering persecution for righteousness’ sake, friction in relationships, or experiencing some other form of affliction, we can be sure that the Lord means to effect His “saving activity” by the very means of that hardship. “Death works in us, so life” does as well, in our own hearts and unto those souls whom the Lord has put us in touch with. This is an apostolic view too infrequently celebrated by the Church, but when we are apprehended by it, we take on a whole new panoramic outlook, and Jesus Christ has the preeminence in our lives.

This is to be supremely desired.

He Is Not Ashamed to Call You Brethren

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“For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren…” -Heb. 2.11

We who have been born from above must luxuriate long in this reality: That Christ is “not ashamed” to call us His “brethren.”

Self-consciousness and a sense of entitlement come with the Adamic territory. We are quite naturally given to what one of my mentors used to call “navel-gazing,” or to put it otherwise, making ourselves the center of all things. We feel it to be quite an innocent and even necessary thing to “take care of number one”, especially when we have yet to encounter the revelation of our depravity, the crisis of the Cross, and the holiness and power of the Atoning work of Jesus Christ.

The “Accuser of the Brethren” Contrasted With the One Who is Unashamed of the Brethren

The Gospel devastates my humanistic naivete and reveals that my heart is itself a “factory of idols” (Calvin). God’s own righteousness and mercy come cascading upon me, and I find myself moved to repentance, believing upon the Son, quickened to newness of life. In Paul’s apostolic vernacular, I become a “new creation.”

Yet and still, there lingers in my mind and heart the propensities that belong to creatures of the fall. If I am not making it my aim to “abide” in the Lord, I will lapse into a train of thought that is unbecoming of one who has been “seated with Christ in heavenly places.”

We need to recognize the need for “renewing” our minds, not merely in a Church service, but in the moment-by-moment matters of life, otherwise our own perceptions will fasten themselves to the “accuser of the brethren,” and our consciousness of the Atonement will be diminished. A casual profession of faith will not free us from the foray of distorted, unheavenly thoughts. It requires a wrestling against demonic pressure; a grappling against all of our carnal perceptions.

We need to pierce through the veil of the world in every context of life, and to look upon the crucified and exalted One. The one who refuses to “contend for the faith,” and who treats the Gospel as a religious preference or a superfluous detail of life, will never learn to live above the accusation of the enemy. It requires an earnestness and a faith that is every bit God-given, but not bestowed upon those who are “complacent in Zion,” unwilling to engage in holy conflict.

We need to be cognizant of the fact that the “accuser of the brethren” has not yet been cast down, and that the “principalities and powers of the air” are still in places of heavenly influence, ever seeking to blur and distort our vision of “Christ, and Him crucified.” If they can coax us into self-absorption, a sense of entitlement, or any posture of heart that issues from “the world, the flesh, and the devil,” they will have triumphed. There is indeed an “accuser of the brethren,” and we need to be able to say with Paul that we are “not ignorant of his devices.” (2 Cor. 2.11)

The Cross of Jesus Christ, which is the flashpoint of God’s self-disclosure in history, is the cure-all for every Adamic ill. Not only does it break “the power of cancelled sin” and “set the prisoner free,” as glorious as that is, but it brings us into vital communion with the One Whom Jesus called the “righteous Father.” This communion has its foundation in the fact that on the basis of the Atonement, “He is not ashamed to call” “those who are sanctified” “His brethren.” Hear Adolph Saphir on this:

As the Lord Jesus Christ Himself says, ‘Thine they were, and Thou gavest them to me;’ and as in the epistles of John, we are taught that we are of God, and the seed of God abideth in us. What a wonderful brotherhood is this, rooted in the mysterious election of eternal love! Christ, the only begotten of the Father, and we who by nature are children of wrath and disobedience, are eternally and indissolubly united with Him. Therefore He is not ashamed to call us brethren. As it is said also in the 22nd Psalm, in which the sufferings of Jesus upon the cross and His exaltation are described: ‘I will declare Thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I sing praise unto Thee.’ Notice how literally that was fulfilled; for it was immediately after His resurrection, and in reference to this Psalm, that Jesus said, ‘Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God.’ The risen Saviour, as the first-born among many brethren, hastens to declare the name Father unto His disciples, and to assure them, that He who sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are both of one.

…Is not His atonement upon Golgotha most glorious in the sight of God? It is Jesus Who is our representative and spokesman.

(Adolph Saphir, The Epistle to the Hebrews: An Exposition, Vol. 1, pp. 146-7; Chicago, IL, 1902)

Oh, dear saint, is “not His atonement upon Golgotha most glorious in the sight of God?” “Where are your accusers?” What is your petty self-assessment? Are you buckling under the weight of another man’s opinion (or your own heady self-evaluations), as if they coincide with the “testimony of Jesus”? If you are in Christ; if you are walking “in the light”; if you would “rather endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin,” you have been set apart unto Him, and He is not shamefaced with regard to His identification with you.

End now the suffocating cycle of seeking a name among men. End now the comparing of your own life with others. End now the envy and all other inward contentions. Be done with the “sin which so easily entangles” your heart. Lift your soul heavenward, and behold Him! “Bask in His beams,” as McCheyne once charged his people. Consider! The Lord of Glory Himself is not ashamed to call you His brother. Oh, dear saint, let not this truth elude your heart. He calls you His own, and He is enough.

The Apostle’s Interior Life

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“Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…” -Rom. 1.1

We are inclined to read right over the richness of language that Paul uses in the introductions to his epistles. Modern man is unfortunately accustomed to casual greetings; formalities required to structure a letter rightly- verbiage given to make way for fleeting conversations. But Paul did nothing casually. Every thought and prayer was calculated through the wisdom of the cross and centered upon the eternal purpose of God. He was led by the Spirit for the penning out of the choicest statements, “like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Not a syllable was haphazardly given. Every thought was articulated with great care, “seasoned by grace.”

It is to our detriment that we glide indifferently over the surface of any Biblical text, rather than pausing before it with reverent expectation. The Word is “living and active,” and we need to wait upon it prayerfully, lest we miss out on the sustenance it provides.

In this opening verse of Romans Paul is giving to the saints a description of his position and office. It is not something to be relegated to either “title” or “function.” This is cosmic language. He is coming out of the gate as only apostles can, giving description of his consciousness as a “sent one.”

Paul had been fastened to a “heavenly vision”; bound to a living message; chained to the Lion of Judah, and he had no desire to be freed from that glorious imprisonment. This is precisely the reason why apostolic servants are foundational to the faith of the Church. They have been formed at the hand of the Potter and thrust into the nations as ambassadors of His own character and wisdom. But we need to be cognizant of the fact that the apostolic call was not given to make Paul into an aloof figure in an ivory tower. His foundational role was meant to bring all who are “saints by calling” into the same kind of communion and inward abandonment that was his own portion.

“‘Slave of Christ Jesus’ is patterned on the familiar OT phrase ‘slave,’ or ‘servant,’ of Yahweh. The phrase connotes total devotion, suggesting that the servant is completely at the disposal of his or her Lord.” -Douglas Moo (NICOT, Eerdmans)

Seeing through an apostolic lens, Paul envisaged himself as being in chains for the Gospel (Eph. 6.20), for the “hope of Israel” (Acts 28.20), for Jesus Christ Himself (2 Tim. 2.8-9).

To be so “enslaved” was to be “free indeed,” and this produced in Paul a life of communion and intercession which fitted him to serve as one “set apart for the gospel of God.” If we would cling to a lesser kind of abandonment, we may find ourselves engaged in a plethora of ministerial activities, but we will not share in the glory that belongs to the bond-servants of Jesus Christ. We may be taken up with many labors, but we will not enjoy the light of the apostolic faith. There is a “ministry of the interior” that binds us to the altar of God, welds our hearts to a radical jealousy for His glory, and conjoins our souls with His own. We are not bond-servants merely because we suffer externally. We are bond-servants in the Pauline sense when our interior life is like unto Jesus’ own experience as the pattern Son. “I only do what I see My Father doing…”

Secret communion becomes for us a “joy unspeakable,” and intercessory engagement becomes our most cherished labor when we are inwardly abandoned to Jesus Christ. Paul was intimately acquainted with this reality, and if a display of the “manifold wisdom of God” would come through the Church in these last days, so also must we be.

“Am I fulfilling this ministry of the interior? There is no snare, or any danger of infatuation or pride in intercession, it is a hidden ministry that brings forth fruit whereby the Father is glorified. Am I allowing my spiritual life to be frittered away, or am I bringing it all to one centre- the Atonement of my Lord? Is Jesus Christ more and more dominating every interest in my life? If the one central point, the great exerting influence in my life, is the Atonement of the Lord, then every phase of my life will bear fruit for Him.

….What is the greatest factor of power in my life? Is it work, service, sacrifice for others, or trying to work for God? The thing that ought to exert the greatest power in my life is the Atonement of the Lord….Am I abiding? Am I taking time to abide?” -Oswald Chambers (My Utmost for His Highest, June 7th)

We are not to gauge our spirituality through endless cycles of human assessment. The examination of our faith which Paul encourages has only to do with discerning whether or not we are “living, moving, and having our being” on the ground of the Atonement. That is to ask, “What is the character of my interior life?” Am I abiding in His life? Am I weighed down with the cares of this world, or am I living inwardly as a “bond-servant” of Jesus Christ? Am I itching to find approval from men, or is the Lord Himself the one “before Whom I stand”? Am I frivolous and distracted by the synthetic lights of this age, or am I walking tenderly as one pierced by the life which is “the Light of men”?

Until my earthbound perspectives are leveled by the Cross, I cannot live as His bond-servant. But if I abide in the One Who bears the scars of that great Atoning work, I share in the very life of the age which is to come. If I am “crucified with Christ,” it is His own resurrection life that works “in me.” Am I conscious of that reality, or is my interior life congested and blurred by the “form of this world”? We need to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”

The nations do not need a greater volume of sentimental religionists. The world is not perishing for want of novel methodologies. A million warm bodies with missiological opinions may fail entirely to set forth a true witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But a company of weak souls, gripped with a vision of the worth of Christ, living cruciformly, abiding in His Life- these will be His bond-servants, “set apart for the Gospel of God.” They shall fulfill “the ministry of the interior,” and by His “great grace,” a witness will be given, “even to the remotest part of the earth.”

“…God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son…” (v. 9)

Setting aside my public persona and what others might think of me religiously speaking, what is the true character and content of my interior life? Is it a messy, narcissistic conglomeration, or a clear, well-grounded abiding in the Life of the Lamb that was slain? By the grace of God, Paul’s interior life was the latter, and such is the Lord’s desire for the whole of His house.

Wisely Entering the Sanctuary of God

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When I thought how to understand this,
    it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God… || Psalm 73.16-17a

In Psalm 73 the psalmist recounts how he had broken his brain over an inward conflict regarding the reason things seem to go so smoothly for others (in this case the wealthy), while his life seems to be marked by trial and heartache.

Whenever we get entangled in the cycle of examining things we cannot understand, our souls are subjected to all kinds of confusion and grief. This is especially true when we fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others. It is a “wearisome task,” most often centered around things we cannot rectify on the basis of our own wisdom or within the sphere of our own authority to change them.

This “wearisome” cycle will continue for us, as it did for the psalmist, “until” we enter “the sanctuary of God.” That is to say, clarity and wisdom can only be found when we learn to turn to the Lord, and to find our refuge in the shadow of His providence and grace, the place where He dwells.

For the New Covenant child of God, this “sanctuary” is most often found to be in one of two places.

  1. The secret place-

    This is the place where we go to meet with Him— to give ourselves to prayer, worship, and a humble, hungry and hopeful reading of the Scriptures. If we neglect this place, we can be sure that “wearisome” musings will be our portion, for in that neglect we rob ourselves of the reward which the Father gives only in this place- the reward of knowing Him, hearing Him, seeing Him, and obtaining the grace to treasure and obey Him.

2. The place of fellowship with the saints-

This is the place wherein we meet Him in the faces of our brothers and sisters. Here we “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” and are subsequently helped to think better about our plight— not in the “wearisome” cycle of self-absorbed reflection, but in the grace of fellowship, by which we’re pointed God-ward through the felt presence our brothers and sisters— reminded of truth, encouraged in faith, provoked to love and good deeds. Neglecting this place leaves us to ourselves, robs us of the warmth of familial reality and identity, and leaves us thinking myopically, as if the world revolves around us and all its maladies are to be experienced alone. The psalmist knew something of this congregational grace in the ancient tabernacle where he gathered with his brethren, and we may know it all the sweeter in New Covenant fellowship.

Both of these places— the secret place and life within the Gospel-congregation— lift us out of the wearisome morass of the self-life. Both of these places constitute for us “the sanctuary of God.”

In the the sanctuary of God we find true guidance and rest, even while the world— even much of the professing Christian world— goes on running amuck around us.

….You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will receive me to glory. || v. 24

In the secret place, and in real fellowship with the people of God, we find “counsel” and Gospel-hope. We are grounded upon the truth that He is with us in the present trial, that He is conforming us to the image of the Son, and that He will finish that good work when, at the end of the age, He receives us “to glory.” The secret-place-sanctuary, coupled with the congregational-sanctuary, is meant to lead us to the place wherein we cherish, love, and worship God supremely. Here we find solid ground beneath our feet again, when Christ is perceived afresh as our foundation for walking, and our fountain for drinking.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. || vv. 25-26

Having experienced the “until,” that point where we transition from our own soulish wanderings to the place of faith through prayer, the Scriptures, and Christian fellowship, the Lord Himself becomes our “portion.” Not possessions, not release from trial, not food, not hobbies, not entertainment, not even some idealized role in ministry. God Himself is seen again as “the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” 

…for me it is good to be near God;
    I have made the Lord God my refuge,
    that I may tell of all your works. || v. 28

Being made aware of His nearness again, we venture out into the harvest fields as those who have God Himself as our refuge, and we are equipped to go out to those who are perishing, bringing the “goodness”, trustworthiness, and truth of God to men. It is upon this foundation alone that we are equipped to “do the work of an evangelist”; to “tell of all” His “works.” 

You who would be freed from the suffocating cycle of self-consciousness and bewilderment; you who would be grounded upon the Rock of your salvation; you who would see your plight as God sees it, rather than as the world sees it; you who would be near to God and have Him as your portion; you who would bear witness to the Person and work of Jesus Christ, enter “the sanctuary of God.” Meet with Him in the secret place, and meet Him in and alongside His people. There is no other way.

“Here is wisdom.”

Gospel-Grounded Encouragement in the Church

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“For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up….” || 1 Thess. 5.9-11

There is a remarkable “Therefore” in this text. It communicates to us the truth that all true fellowship within the context of the Church must be grounded upon “Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” that is, it must be based upon Gospel faith and hope. There is no other foundation for church or ministry, and in truth, one which seeks to build on any other foundation will be building in vain. However much he might be able to accomplish noble things of one kind or another, he will not be building the church nor carrying out the Great Commission. Let us look into this.

That “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us” is the great hallmark of the Church’s foundation. This is the Gospel, that we who were “dead” in sin have been justified by the Atoning work of the Mediator, through His death, burial, and resurrection. The wrath which is already upon the world, the wrath which is coming, that wrath which we ourselves deserved— it has all been lifted from us, and placed upon the shoulders of the Lamb of God, “who loved us.”

Therefore, our justification, sanctification, and glorification have been purchased by Him, for the glory of the Father and the good of those whom He has chosen. This establishes the promised reality, that we have been destined in Christ to “obtain salvation.” This is the glorious word of the Gospel. In Christ we have been saved from the wrath to come, saved from the stranglehold of Satan, saved from our iniquity and the deadness it constitutes. In Christ also we are being saved from ourselves and from the affects of the Fall, as He does the good work of conforming us to the image of His Son. And one day, we shall be saved utterly from the very presence of sin, from the Adamic residue which remains in us so long as we abide in these perishing tents of flesh.

Paul says, “Therefore encourage one another…”

We are “members” of that justified, yet being sanctified, and yet to be glorified family. See one another in that way, the apostle would say, and encourage one another because of it.

The capstone to the Gospel promise is that “whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him.” That is to say, whether we are alive in this age, “absent from the Body” and “present with the Lord,” or enjoying the fulfillment of the promise in new bodies at the end of the age, we now “live with Him” because of the fact that He has not destined us for wrath, but rather for salvation.

The goal of justification is not merely that we should be clean in His sight, and have the God-established right to stand before Him in His Son, though that alone is glorious beyond description and compare. The goal is that we “might live with Him,” which is to say, that we might “know Him in the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings,” and one day, “look full in His wonderful face” with “everlasting joy upon our heads.”

Put another way, the goal in Christ of our not being “destined for wrath” is that we would become the servants, friends, and children of God. We may live with the One who is faithful and true. We may have real knowledge of Him, real communion with Him, and real life with Him, from the moment of our new birth, all the way into eternity future. This is an ineffably wonderful truth, and it ought to change the way that we see and treat one another.

Paul says, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up…”

In light of this Gospel and all of its glorious implications, upon the one true foundation of Jesus Himself, the apostle charges us to engage in a vital kind of life together, by which we are literally and existentially to be encouraged and built up in Him. It is no mere hobby, no conveniently compartmentalized religion. It is a reality to be experienced and enjoyed increasingly, “all the more as we see the Day approaching.”

This means that the saints in our local assembly cannot grow up into Christ without us, and we cannot grow up into Christ without them. We need the life, wisdom, accountability, encouragement, and familial consistency which can only be provided in the life of the local church, when all the parts supply what they ought to supply.

Think not that you are dispensable- that the Church doesn’t need you. Think not that other saints are dispensable- that you don’t need them. Rather, “encourage one another and build one another up…” 

Simply put, our faith must be encouraged and built up by the saints with whom we’re in fellowship, and their faith must be encouraged and built up by us. Is your life resting firmly upon the one foundation of the Gospel? If so, how are you being encouraged along by your brothers and sisters? And to what degree are you encouraging and building them up yourself? This is at the heart of what it means to be the “church, which is His Body.”

Think upon these things, and pray for the grace and wisdom to obey the Scriptures by responding accordingly. This may require a fresh return to the ancient foundation of the faith, and it is likely to restructure your schedule, your priorities, and your affections. And it will be worth it in every regard.

“A tree which stands by itself, is most exposed and liable to the strongest blasts.” || George Whitefield

On the other hand:

Everyone then who hears these words of Mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. || Matthew 7.24-25

Bible (A poem)

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Towering alone above all that is penned,

Steadfast, pristine, immutable, bright;

Cleaving in double the soul it too mends,

First severed clean, then balm for the plight.

________________________

Shattering otherwise impenetrable stone,

Patterning otherwise indistinct sound;

Fattening otherwise marrowless bone,

Plowed, seeded, watered otherwise fallowed ground.

________________________

Out from its well-spring a tide of hope issues,

Felt from its churning, a fastening gale;

Crafting from nothing heart-pulse, structure, tissue,

Once distant Word, descended  … exhaled.