“To a Mature Man”: Stage 6–Service

Well, brother, we’re half way through the journey to Mature Manhood. We are in the midst of the Kingdom stages, and while this stage on the surface may seem linked to the previous one, there will be some distinctions carried here, which I believe are helpful. I see some believers who are plugged in to a community who have not realized this stage. Most of them, I suspect it is because they lack power. If a believer has not yet received the Holy Spirit, has not followed his leading to depend on God, and has not received a mission from him, this stage cannot take place.

Israel

What happened after Israel inherited the land? They asked for a king, and God gave them one, which they ended up despising, and then He raised up a man who was after his own heart, who shepherded God’s people Israel. In doing so, he was meeting physical and spiritual needs of the people. David and his son Solomon were both active in setting up a kingdom and a temple for the worship of God. They followed God’s heart, and found that He was a God who serves.

Jesus’ Example

In Luke’s Gospel after the separation from the community in chapter 4, Jesus begins his Ministry. The word “ministry” is misleading because only some people seem to be called to “ministry” but the word ministry simply means “service.” Jesus began his work of Service.
Preaching the Kingdom. Look at the first things Jesus did after the people of the synagogue nearly killed him in Luke 4:29. By verse 31-32 Jesus taught with authority the message of the Kingdom. He has given that same authority to his disciples to preach the Kingdom of God. This kind of authority amazed people.
Casting out demons. In the very next verses there was a man with a demon who rose up, in the synagogue no less, (take warning) and tried to disrupt him. The message of the Kingdom of God has the authority and it will stir up spiritual opposition. Jesus cast out demons to meet the spiritual needs by casting out the spiritual forces which had dismayed and oppressed His people.
Healing diseases, by verse 38 Jesus in his full humanity sought to restore the whole human, body and spirit, earth and heaven. He healed the mother in law of Simon, and what did she immediately get up and do?

Jesus’ Followers

What’s more: Jesus got his disciples to help him in chapter 9.

And He called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases, and He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God, and to perform healing.

The three things his disciples were doing, were the same things that Jesus was doing!

A sterilized Christianity will not be able to bear with this statement, but it must be said: Jesus gives power to his followers to do the miraculous to enact spiritual and physical service by the power of the Holy Spirit as an advancement of the Kingdom of God. The Christian who has been with Him will know that this is possible with God, it is difficult to the one of little faith. The Christian who has not learned the power of the Holy Spirit will be of no use to this Kingdom service.

Characteristics of this Stage

Power– The Holy Spirit of God will do the miraculous through this follower, by keeping the believer in a dependent, trusting, and devoted relationship. These are the three chords that make up the rope of faith: Dependence on God, Trust in God, and Devotion to God. These three bind the believer to the one who truly has the power, and who can shine the glory of God in their own clay vessel.

Temptations to Worldliness— The pitfalls of this stage are not so much about personal vice, though these are ever present so long as we are in this flesh, but rather about the direction of virtue. If the evil one can side-track the empowered believer to build worldly kingdoms, or make peace by worldly means, he will have secured a super-worker to construct his Babylonian Empire which ultimately raises it’s fist at God, and upon whom God ultimately lowers His fist.

Accomplishment— the news of such a mighty power in the world awakening people to the reality that God is King, and that His Kingdom is near them will spread as the Power of God accomplishes what man never could. In the Church, it looks like what Paul described in 1 Corinthians 14:25. The unbeliever confronted by the miraculous will fall on his face and worship God, “declaring that God is certainly among you.”

A quick note to those who are cessationists (meaning those who do believe the supernatural workings of God are no longer happening): you cannot deny that there is spiritual power at work in the world today: on both sides. And wherever the power of evil rises, the power of God’s Holy Spirit must be there to meet it. Not everyone has the same gifts, but the gifts of manifestation that are listed in 1 Corinthians 12 are not just for the early church, or apostles. To think that the gifts ceased because all the Canon of Bible was completed is, to me, indistinguishable from a Deist perspective of God’s actions done only in the past, which dehumanizes Christ, the Bible, and the Church. Remember Jesus’ prayer specifically for the church who were still going to believe in John 17:22, “The glory You [Father] gave me [Jesus], I [Jesus] have given them [The Church].” What glory? The revelation of God in power. And if there is no supernatural power, there is no revelation of God’s glory. If there is no revelation of God’s glory, then Jesus’ prayer is meaningless, and the church is just another club.

Application:

1. Boldly advance the Kingdom as the Holy Spirit leads you on your specific mission. Pray and teach and do the work of service for people’s physical and spiritual needs.

2. Do not ignore the importance of signs to believers and unbelievers, but instead practice them in the congregation. 1 Corinthians 14 speaks of tongues and prophecy, two miraculous signs which must be implemented according to God’s guidelines inside the church and out.

3. If you are struggling, because you believe you have a mission from God, and you feel hopelessly weak to enact any sort of supernatual power, I tell you, press into the God. You are weak. He is strong. He is the one with the power, and He will enact the supernatural. Seek Him earnestly, and commune with Him. Paul spent sleepless nights to seek Him. It could be that there are areas of disobedience in which you are not being FAITH-ful to God. If you are not fully dependent on Him, Your faith will break. If you are not fully trusting in Him, your faith will break, and if you are not fully whole-heartedly devoted to Him, your faith will break. But remember the encouragement from Paul to Timothy, “Though we are faithless, he remains faithful.” (2 Timothy 2:13) And also remember, “He uses the weak things to shame the strong.” ~1 Corinthians 1:27

4. Avoid the extra-mission-al things with which the world distracts you, especially those that promise reward. Jesus stayed dependent on God, and trusted God to work out all things, when people asked him to do things, to which he said “No.” (Example: John 6:15) It keeps the believer humble instead of thinking himself to be the Savior of the World. Jesus is. As Paul said to the Corinthians, “What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one.” 1 Corinthians 3:5

As a Christian reaches this stage, and lives out the power of God in his life as the Kingdom of God advances, may he say what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:1– “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ.” And again in 2 Corinthians 4:1-7,

Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.

O Lord, Thy Kingdom Come! Thy Will be accomplished as it is in Heaven, so also upon the earth!

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“To a Mature Man”: Stage 5–Community

Now, dear brother, He who has been born a human, taught of God, reborn of the Holy Spirit, and proven in his heart to be for God, has come out of the Preparation stages and into the Kingdom stage of the Christian Walk. There will be some overlap in the following 4 stages.

While he still needs to remember his humanity, keep learning, and being filled with the Spirit, and spending time alone with God, the man of God now has all the resources he needs to take his stand among the other believers in the body of Christ.

The First Stage where the action really starts is in the Community. Both Israel and Jesus gives us an example of this.

Israel

Last stage, we examined how Jesus and Israel both had time in the wilderness. Israel came out of the wilderness with a Covenant, and crossed over into the promised land to take possession of it in Joshua. This is the beginning of Israel’s Kingdom stage: inheriting the land. Israel however, did not succeed in the wilderness, or in their inheritance of the land, because they did not fully drive out the people living there. They did not make a clean separation between themselves and all the nations, and so the nations became a snare to them.

Jesus’ Example

Jesus on the other hand, came out of the wilderness, he was filled with the Spirit’s Power, and because he was in-tune with the Holy Spirit, he knew what he was empowered to do. Because he knew the Scriptures, he knew what his mission was. Because he was humble, he committed to do it completely. He taught in the synagogue, and started in his home town, but his home town rejected him.

His mission was this:

THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME,
BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR.
HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES,
AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND,
TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED,
TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.

Notice that after he shares this mission, the people in the synagogue were oooh-ing and ah-ing at him, until he started to tell them that they did not have the faith to align themselves with God’s mission. As a result of this they cast him out of the synagogue.

The World and the Mission

The Mission of the Church will unavoidably divide the church from the world. The Peace Corp, United Nations, etc all have their own ideas of good things to do, but this mission is rather specific. The Holy Spirit anoints his man to do specific things: preach good news to the poor, set captives free, give sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free, and proclaim the time of God’s acceptance. This is the mission Jesus was about, and this is also what the church is to be about.

Now that the believer is empowered, he must join God in his supernatural work along side other believers, but to do so, will also mean a decisive break from the “dis-empowered” community. The one who has the Spirit of God will be operating under a whole different set of objectives, values, and principles. Paul told the Corinthians that the community of Christ must be set apart from the world, “Come out from their midst and be separate. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will welcome you.” (2 Corinthians 6:17) The one who bears the Spirit’s power will also be led by a spirit different from that which motivates even the most humanitarian organizations. The supernatural work must be done, in the community of faith.

One of the major pitfalls is the approval of humankind. Notice that right before Jesus is separated from the community, “And all were speaking well of him, and marveling at the gracious words that fell from his lips.” (Luke 4:22) The approval of man almost limited him to merely, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” There is a reason why a Prophet is not welcome in his own hometown. If the Christian allows himself to be pinioned in places where he is not able to realize the Spirit’s full power, he will be chained to the will of man. The Spirit will not support the works of mere man but he will support the works of God.

Another major pitfall is to so remove oneself into a community of believers who have no contact with the outside world: the abandonment of humankind. Jesus when he was in community still ate with (meaning shared close hang-out time) tax-collectors and people know to be sinners. Jesus remained aligned with his mission which was to be as salt in the world, not as salt in a salt-shaker not in the world.

The Church and the Mission

That being said, the Christian is in a community of empowered believers now, and so the same Spirit in him is the same Spirit in the community of faith. This means that he will, for the most part, not be acting alone. He is a fellow citizen of a kingdom of priests. One grain of salt does nothing, but together all the grains are able to bring the flavor.

This is where the Christian must be: he must plant himself among the body of Christ where the Holy Spirit plants him, so that he may be nourished by the body, and may nourish the body in turn. The Spirit will make clear to the individual, and to the church what each person is to do. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty to live this out.

Application:

  1. One step along this stage, is joining a group of believers to live with them and worship with them. Since God has called us to peace, let us follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in the Body of Christ.

2. Another step is to find out one’s mission. We can examine one pattern given in Acts        13:2-3.

While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.

If a person does not know what God wants them to do, then “minister to the Lord, and fast.” This means spend as much time in fellowship with God and communing with him, depending on him, until you both are ready to work together on whatever He wants to work on. He will show you what to do. You can go to your pastor or your church leaders to fast and minister to the Lord with you. Perhaps they can have jobs for you to do in the body, but in the meantime, continue seeking the Lord for what He wants you to do, and once he has shown it to you, and the church, go and do it.

3. A third part of this stage takes the form of separating from the world’s system of doing things. To be honest, this one is possibly the hardest to apply in this stage. Part of the purpose of Stage 4 is to prepare you for this. Many times joining ourselves with the world–the human systems of culture, government, family and spiritualism– will lead to compromise of our beliefs. Example: I worked at a pharmaceutical company for six years, in which I let them know I don’t work on Sunday. However, there were times when that conviction was not upheld, and I still had to come in to work so as to maintain a fairness to all other employees who didn’t want to work on Sundays. I was spiritually anemic there, because the Holy Spirit requires total obedience, yea holiness itself in the believer in whom he dwells. It did not surprise me when He told me it was time to leave my job.

That being said, the Holy Spirit may be leading you to join with a group of people who are bound up in the cultural sins, and practices of those who do not fear God, as an example of dependence on him. Bottom line: Let the Holy Spirit lead you in your work. He is your bread and butter not your job.

A believer remains in this stage until the Holy Spirit has specifically shown him what he is to do. Until then, let him do what Paul said to the Thessalonians:

“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you.”~2 Thessalonians 4:11

Summary:

  1. As Jesus took his stand within the community, but still did not join himself to the world to accomplish his mission, so the Christian must do the same.
  2. Seek the Lord for the specific mission He has for you.
  3. Be about the church’s business doing what the Body of Christ is doing.
  4. Be lead by the Holy Spirit to the place he wants you plugged in and salting the earth.

“To a Mature Man”: Stage 4–Wilderness

Brother, remember that guy from seminary we watched about Myth and the Bible? Dr. Ryan Reeves. One day, as I watched one of his Youtube videos about the Crusades, I learned about one of the very serious problems resulting from the Crusades: undisciplined soldiers conquering lands and wreaking havoc on their enemies and their friends. If a soldier doesn’t go through boot camp, then war will turn him into an agent of destruction wherever he goes. This, I believe is the reason why God the Father requires everyone, even Jesus, to go through the wilderness. Here, I hope to shed light on a largely neglected stage about which I have heard precious little taught in churches. It is the neglect of this stage that I believe is behind the absence of God’s power in many churches today. While what I have written is my own insights, I thank Norm Wakefield of “Spirit of Elijah Ministries,” who started me on the journey of recognizing Jesus’ time in the wilderness as parallel to the crucial time Christians have with their Heavenly Father.

The Characteristics of the Wilderness

Testing: Israel was not allowed to pass from the Red Sea and Sinai to the Promised land without traveling through the wilderness. God explained why he did it in Deuteronomy 8:2,

” Remember how for these forty years the Lord, your God, has directed all your journeying in the wilderness, so as to test you by affliction, to know what was in your heart: to keep his commandments, or not.”

Direction: This is a significant time in the Christian’s life, where their intimacy with God grows, in that they learn the voice of their father, and learn how to follow His leading. God lead Israel through the wilderness during the stage and he did so step by step. Wherever the pillar of cloud was, there they people would be. This stage of a Christian’s life is very rich with the specific leading and directing of the Holy Spirit.

Affliction: It is not common knowledge, but it is not really surprising in light of Scripture, that God will afflict his people. It is discipline, not wrath. The Wilderness period of God’s discipline is not fun, though each one who has been trained therein will reflect back on it with tender gratitude. There is no better way to test the sinful enemy-turned-holy-friend than the affliction of the wilderness.

Isolation: As I have talked with people in this stage, and even have experienced it myself, it is apparent that the wilderness is a very lonely place. No one else around you will be able to understand the specific ways God will be testing you as his child. This, however is one of the most special things about this stage: Israel was isolated to God in the wilderness so he could personally instruct them how to live for him as a nation. In this stage, God himself, by His spirit will personally teach the new-believer his character in such a personal way. It is often felt that God never feels so close to a person as in this wilderness stage.

Elasticity: For Israel, this stage was lengthened to 40 years due to failure in the stage. For Jesus it was as short as 40 days, for the Apostles recently filled with the Holy Spirit it was a matter of weeks they were on trial. Once a person has passed the three tests of this stage to God’s satisfaction, he is ready for stage 5.

The Tests of the Wilderness

Jesus’ time led by the Spirit in the wilderness to be tempted provides the chief insights into this stage. I will order them according to Matthew’s account (Matthew 4:1-11). In this section, the Bold is the root of sin being dealt with, the underlining is the Spiritual discipline which Jesus used to gain the key, and the ALL CAPS is the key to the Power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus gained.

  1. Temptation to satisfy the flesh’s cravings. Jesus had the power to turn stone into bread, but had already learned, from his time of fasting, and his time in the Word of God that Man is sustained by God’s Word. The Key that Jesus unlocked here was DEPENDENCE on God.
  2. Temptation to mistrust God. Just as the serpent gave Adam suggestion, to mistrust God, Jesus could have answered him by proving God’s presence at the pinnacle of the temple, but he had already learned from the story of the Word of God that God is trustworthy and is therefore not to be put to the test. The Key Jesus unlocked here was TRUST in God.
  3. Temptation to seize power. Adam and Eve seized the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil to rule apart from God, and here Satan asked Jesus if he wanted all the kingdoms of the world, for the price of worshiping someone other than God. It is by his time of Prayer and the Word of God that Jesus’ heart had been completely reserved to God, and he bid the tempter begone! the Key Jesus laid hold of was his DEVOTION to the God he loved.

When a Christian has faced the temptations of cravings, mistrust, and power, and answered them with Dependence on, Trust in, and Devotion to God, being taught through fasting, God’s Word, and prayer, the result is that once the Devil had finished every temptation, Jesus was ministered to by angels, and returned from the Wilderness in the POWER of the Holy Spirit.

The Christian who is ready to move on to the next stage will also have the power of God confirmed in his life. This power is a three legged stool with the three legs being, TRUST, DEVOTION, and DEPENDENCE. This does not mean that he will do miracles at this time, but the Almighty Spirit of God will have settled in the heart of one to whom God can entrust “greater works than these.” (John 14:12)

Practical Application:

  1. Be led by the Holy Spirit in spiritual discipline to gain the needed attributes he seeks to give you. The only way you’re going to get anything done in this wilderness is if the Holy Spirit is empowering you to do it. And the only way his power is going to be secure in you in a mutual inter-dependent trusting relationship, is for you to fully make it through this stage. Listen to the Holy Spirit.
  2. If you’re ever wondering if it’s indeed the Holy Spirit speaking to you, remember that you will recognize the tone of His voice from Scripture.
  3. The disciplines which will be of most benefit to you are, Fasting, Bible Reading, Prayer, and Praise. Learn how to do each one as Spirit leads you.
  4. Wait on the Lord. Do not seek to go beyond this stage, until He leads you out of the wilderness. It seemed many times that I could have, should have, left the wilderness for all practical points and purposes, but in the end He vindicated my need for time alone with Him.
  5. Get to know Him one-on-one. This is a very special time, when He wants to show you who He is up close, and to help fashion you into the new-human He has re-created you to be.

I can’t really share much more than this. There are so many guiding spiritual principles, which I have learned, but I’ve only learned them by going through the wilderness. You need Him to teach you in the way that makes sense to you, for whatever purpose he anoints you for.

Avoid the pitfall: Compromise. The Spirit is making you wholly devoted, dependent and trusting on him, but the Evil one will seek to split you from that wholeness anyway he can. If there is any area of compromise, you will perpetuate problems after you leave the wilderness. Remember the lesson of the soils: He will prove what kind of heart you are. If you fail, and you will, don’t dare run from God, run to Him! He’ll have a purpose for your failures as much as your successes. But don’t dare leave anything undealt with that will cause you to be like Israel when it comes into its promised inheritance and failing to attain the whole.

The golden rule of the wilderness is: stay with Him. The more wholly the man is God’s the more wholly his entire life is God’s.

“To a Mature Man” Stage 3–Baptism

– – As you know, brother, Baptism is a lot more than getting wet. It is being born again. Whether representationally or in actuality, there is a rebirth at baptism. Baptism is one of the richest ordained traditions that goes all the way back to Noah’s day (Gen. 7), through Moses (Ex. 14) and Joshua (Josh. 3) down to John baptizing Jesus. When John objected, Jesus made sure that all righteousness was fulfilled in his being baptized. Baptizing is also at the center point of the great commission of the Son of God. (Matthew 28:18-20) And so the church cannot neglect this stage.

Baptism always presupposes judgment. There is a reason why a person must start a new life with a new birth, because the old life is doomed to the same fate God poured out in his flood upon the perversity and wickedness of His rebellious creatures. It is this old life that must be left behind. Baptism is the safe place of obedience which is for the new believer like an ark to rise above the waters of judgment.

Furthermore, it is a separation from the world. By submitting to God, at baptism, you pass from the cursed slavery of Egypt into the miraculous salvation of God. The Red Sea was the gate that excluded all the servants of worldly powers and drowned them in their own hubris and vengeance. It was only those who moved forward and saw the salvation of the Lord who were saved through the waters. This is why the believer  must disown his inheritance in the world which perishes.

Once obedience and separation have been achieved at baptism, that is when the Holy Spirit comes. For Jesus, he took the form of the dove and from this time on began leading the Proto-Christian. (That sounds a little like calling the human woman named Barbie, upon whom the Barbie doll was based, the proto-Barbie.) The next stage is more about this leading. The Believe cannot move on to the next stage of the Christian life unless he has received the Holy Spirit.

Consider Jesus’ words in John 14:15-17:

If you love Me, you will keep My commandments [and] I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.

Notice the underlining: Obedience, and the need for separation from the world.

Now, at this moment, this actual birthing of the seeded and en-wombed Christian (stage 1 and 2) that a man can say he is a new creature. Or To use the analogy from the end of the last post, he is coming out of childhood into the years of testing in preparation for adulthood. He is born of water and spirit now, and since he has set himself apart from the world, the Heavenly Father will call him His son, and gladly that. Because he has obeyed God fully in submitting obediently to Him, and cast off his earthly identity as a citizen of the world doomed to destruction, the Holy Spirit himself can give breath to the reassembled bones and sinews of the now revived image of God.

Application

1. Repent from your sins, and turn to God.

There can be no sanctification without separation from this perishing world. Casting off not only what you do that is wrong, but also the patterns of life which make this world opposed to God. This is when a person owns his faith and declares it openly: “I am not an old-human anymore. I am a new-human.” It is the beginnings of Christian adulthood.

This does not mean you will never be in the world again, or that you won’t be back in the world before long to do God’s work, but from this moment forward, you are a pilgrim on a journey to a better country. It is passing through the waters of judgment on human evil, and turning to the One who is your Savior who will by your obedience pull you through the waters of judgment.

This may practically take many different forms. Now that you have been baptized, your first loyalty is confirmed to God over family, friends, business, country, etc. Some things will likely need to be moved out of the center of your life, especially yourself. All has been placed under God’s judgment and yourself with it. Like Joshua, you have passed into the promised land, through the waters of the Jordan.

2. Receive the Holy Spirit.

The most essential element to this baptism is the Holy Spirit himself. The person who seeks to enter this stage must be completely assured that they are seeking to receive Him. They, after this, will have presented themselves to a spirit with whom after much long reflection they may not wish to be filled. They must take care to know for sure that they are up for it. If he wishes to be a temple of the same Spirit that filled and empowered Jesus Christ, then, according to A.W. Tozer said a believer must do this:

  1. He must present himself. (This is where the act of Baptism comes in.)
  2. He is to ask to be filled.
  3. He is to receive the Holy Spirit.
  4. He is to believe he is filled.

All this to say, you can’t conjure the Holy Spirit. He comes from God according to the will of the Father, at Jesus’ intercession (John 14:15-17). He is eager to fill those who are set apart and who are obedient to Him.

Once I was teaching kids about the Holy Spirit, and one of the 7th grade students asked, “How can I know that I am filled with the Holy Spirit?” Great question, to which different denominations have a range of answers from bearing spirit-fruit to speaking in tongues. My answer is two fold:

  • Action. The spirit is producing the four participial phrases in Ephesians 5:19-20 speaking to one another in psalms hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks in all things and submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.
  • He’ll let you know.

If Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness, anyone who follows Jesus into the new humanity must do this essential repentance of burying the old man, and being reborn in the new. And as Paul told the Roman Christians, “if any one does not have the spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” (Romans 8:9)

3. Avoid the trap of license to sin.

Every stage has its pitfalls. There is a hazard of someone letting the Holy Spirit of God empower him to do nothing for God in his life. This is what is meant by license to sin. Now that a person is freed from sin, and born anew, it is tempting to let that good feeling of forgiveness be wasted on a servant with a selfish heart. If the Holy Spirit empowers you, and you find yourself living of yourself, by yourself, for yourself, sinning and doing what is less than obedience to God, then you have mocked the Holy Spirit, and grieved him in his heart. When the Spirit of God made man alive during the days of Noah, and man’s heart was purely evil, it grieved God. Still today, if the Holy Spirit come to live in a person who uses his enlightening power as a means to greater sin, will grieve him, quench him, and silence him. We must respond to the question posed by Paul with the same answer given by Paul, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may increase? By no means ever!” (Romans 6:1)

Final thought:

The Christian who is baptized and receives the Holy Spirit and keeps himself holy in his walk, will find that his baptism stage will be short-lived, because he will begin to be lead by the Holy Spirit into another stage, far more difficult, and no less necessary.

“To a Mature Man”: Stage 2–Temple

My dear little brother,

– – Last week, I shared about Jesus in his Humanity being born of man, and having a lot in common with us. Since the day He was born, He has been showing us the real meaning of the Image of God in man: Humility. The next stage is what comes after a person has been exposed to Christ and how he grows in the blessing and knowledge of God’s goodness.

Jesus

The next stage is what we have in Luke’s Gospel at Jesus’ 8th day old and his 12th year old. The significant stage when Jesus was recorded at the Temple has two different parts which are super important for the man or the woman who is coming into their fullness as a Little-Christ.

The First, is Blessing,  (Luke 2:21-40.) A parent has such love for their children, and here it seems to me that God showed favor to the little boy Jesus by sending Simeon and Anna to bless him. This was such a wonderful practice which ties to the Old Testament like in Genesis when Isaac, and Jacob blessed their children and spoke words that would come to shape their direction. (Genesis 27, 49) Notice that it is the blessing that precedes any command. From the beginning we have this pattern,

  • “God blessed them, and told them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ (Genesis 1:28)
  • In the Ten commandments, “I am the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt. You shall have no other gods before me . . . ” (Exodus 20:2-3)
  • The Sermon on the mount opens with blessing and continues with commands. (Matthew 5)
  • Even if you look at the Great Commission, you have a very interesting phrase, “And he blessed them and said, ‘All authority has been given me in Heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples . . .'” (Matthew 28:18)

It appears that God’s pattern is to bless his creation, profess his goodness, then to stress what he wills for the creation to do. If we see this pattern throughout the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament, should we be surprised to see it in Jesus’ life?

The Second thing, is Learning in the temple at 12 years old. In Philippians, Paul said, Jesus ’emptied himself.’ in Philippians 2. He needed to be taught. His understanding and his ‘answers’ amazed the teachers in the temple as he submitted to their teaching. Recently, I saw a Mormon video of Jesus in the temple himself doing the teaching, but the Canon of Scripture the Church worshipfully chose and keeps says, in Luke’s account that he was

. . . sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.~Luke 2:46

That is the pattern of one who humbly receives from those wiser and older than he. It is this stage of Jesus’ life where he was growing super familiar with the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. As Jesus did for his disciples in their “stage 2” when he “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:45) In the later stages, Jesus was only able to do the teaching he did because he had passed through this stage, having received God’s blessing, and having been taught God’s Word. He had been given the full framework for His own person and spread out his understanding to fully grasp his story.

Christian

These days, I have seen a fading in the excitement of seeing mass conversions to Christ, because so few of them seem to be followed up by something evidently genuine. People hear the Gospel, (which is a crucial part of Stage 2) but they do not progress beyond that. It appears that the person who has only reached this stage where they receive God’s blessing and learn God’s teaching, but progresses no further in their walk are merely shown to be soil that is hard, stony, or thorny. The word of God bears no fruit, and their heart is proved worthless.

The importance of this stage, however must be kept at the level with all the others. It is the blessing of God which reminds us how much we owe him in worship, glory, and thanks, for making us and giving us such good gifts. Many churches still are very intentional about blessing their congregations. Also, exposure to and training by Christians keeps on shedding light and nourishment on the soil of the heart filled with the faith of a child– faith which according to Jesus is necessary to be saved. In today’s time, a Christian will likely receive much of this stage in the temple of the church, though in relationship with a small number of believers it is possible. In this stage a Christian has certain things he must be sure he gains, things he must take care to avoid.

Application:

Gain:

  • Blessing– learn how much Good blesses and loves you through the blessings of people in the church. Learn how his love has shaped them, and as one who is in a later stage, take it upon yourself to extend God’s blessing to the world so they can know God’s love and goodness in a personal way.
  • Knowledge of God— Many claim to know Him, but have no idea who He is, or how or why he does things. The Scriptures bear witness to this: “In [the gospel] the Righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.” Romans 1:17. It is this faith by which a Christian can live. If he lacks this knowledge of God, he can by no means be saved.
  • Understanding about yourself. I am hesitant to put this in, because there’s all kinds of hoaky stuff out there about “be the best you.” and “Know thyself” etc. Still, even some popular theologians like John Calvin have recognized that the knowledge of God and the knowledge of self are inseparable. Here, the value on self-understanding is not for the purpose of Maslov’s self-actualization. It is more for the purpose of the prodigal son when he “came to himself.” It’s that moment when you come to the end of all that you are and recognize that you are totally broken and corrupt and in rebellion against God. This is crucially important for the Christian who seeks to enter the next stage.
  • Wisdom of God–Paul wrote to Timothy saying, “from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15) There’s a certain way the world works. It needs to be understood in light of the Story of God’s interactions with fallen humanity. Stories teach us wisdom even more so than they do knowledge.

Avoid:

  • False Teaching– Jesus reserved his “Woes” for those who taught God’s word incorrectly. People who twist the Scriptures having neither, the spirit nor the letter correctly settled in the heart create great problems in the life of God’s people. Matthew 23. Measure up everything to the Scriptural revelation of Jesus Christ. If it doesn’t ring true with him ask more questions.
  • Traditionalism— There are those who have sought to make the church accessible to the three bad kinds of soils previously mentioned: the shallow, the hard-hearted, and the worldly. Avoid these things as you grow in Knowledge, Wisdom, and Understanding.
    • For the hard-hearted, they can still hear about Jesus, but they won’t be required to actually believe it. Maybe to fit in they will be required to do only superficial demonstrations of devotion like raising their hands, giving money, and attending regularly, nothing really all-involving.
    • For the stony-hearted, they can come to church, but there won’t be any really challenging doctrine that requires them to take deeper looks at themselves. They will have plenty of good man-teaching that will teach them have to grow maybe some AstroTurf lawn grass but no fruit.
    • For the thorny-hearted, they can come to church, and hear God’s word and even do some worthwhile things, but they won’t be required to clear out all the other stuff that’s important to them. They can come to church one day a week and six days of the week keep a garden of worldly thorns like entertainment, work, family, and possessions.

Summary: The Second Stage of a believer’s life is where the truth and blessing of God pour into a person. A person who is seeking to grow “To a mature man” needs to gain the blessing, knowledge, wisdom and understanding of this stage while avoiding False teaching or Tradition. Until a believer has biblical faith, he is not ready for stage 3.

Final thought: This stage could be compared with childhood, and for the Christian, I believe he can take comfort in this: that he is fulfilling this part of his Savior’s word, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” ~Mt 18:3.

“To a Mature Man” Stage 1–Birth

Jesus

Okay. Jesus, Son of Man, Son of God. The account of His birth ties him to His heritage. Matthew traces it back to Abraham, the Faithful Father of the Promise, the Father of the nation of Israel. Matthew 1, the genealogy which in brief relays the story of the Old Testament. In Jesus’ line there is a lot of mixed-baggage. Here are a few examples:

  • Abraham–Faith, but a cowardly liar
  • Jacob– a God-grappling deceiver
  • Judah with Tamar– self-sacrificing, but ignoble
  • Rahab–God-fearing prostitute
  • David–After-God’s-heart wife-stealer
  • Solomon– Wise man with too many ladies
  • Rehoboam– Just a jerk
  • Jeroboam– Weakling
  • Hezekiah–God fearing naive king
  • Manasseh–baby-killer
  • Josiah– Rediscovered God, but too late for everyone else.

And more. Those are the main ones that stick out to me. Mary’s genealogy in Luke 3 has many of the same names.

At the end of this list is Joseph who has a dream that his virginal bride-to-be is actually going to give birth to a baby named, “Jesus.”

“For He will save His people from their sins.”

Jesus’ name was given before birth, which to me indicates that he was not disconnected from his heritage. On the contrary, he was going to fix the mess that everyone else had made. This baby was born to make good all that was made bad before him.

His birth, though he was of royal blood, was in an animal feeding trough. Humble I believe could be the best way to describe it.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus was driven to Egypt out of the land of Israel, a people who once lost all their new-born kids to the king of Egypt, by the King of Israel who killed new-born kids of Israel. Tragically ironic. Whereas the current King of Israel wished to seize and to slay, this humble king was content to sleep and to lay.

“Out of Egypt I called My son!” Matthew reminds us of the story of how Moses had to stand for God against the King, as God brought His nation out of the womb of Egypt with tremendous birth-pangs. They came out with the spoils of Egypt, decked in all the jewels and gold of the welcome to the world as a new nation with One God.

Christian

You, my dear brother, were born once. I often find that not many Christians (Believers in Jesus Christ) recognize things they have in common with Jesus. Part of the purpose of this series is to help recognize some of these things. After all, according to Romans 8:29, Paul said,

“God foreknew and planned out that Christians would be conformed to the image of his Son [Jesus] so that [Jesus] might be the first born among many brothers.” [and sisters]

If my father read this,  I would tell him, I am not laying any claim on divinity for us humans, as it is true of Christ. We are of the earth, and we are creatures: we cannot be divine in Jesus’ way. Even the on the other side of resurrection, the end of humanity isn’t divinity according to Revelation 22. What I am saying is that the humanity of Christ is human enough for us to relate with him and identify with him as his brothers and sisters. In fact, in some ways He’s more wholly human than we are brokenly. For instance:

  • While you and I have an earthly father and mother, Jesus did have an earthly mother.
  • “Whatsoever is born of flesh is flesh.” John 3:6 “Jesus Christ is come in flesh.” 1 John 4:2
  • He had a real physical body that breathed, bled, lived, died, felt pain, felt weakness, wanted things.
  • He had siblings growing up.
  • He had a community of people around him who knew, cared about, and at first spoke well of him.
  • He had friends.

There is plenty of room in the image God: Jesus, for human you, also made in God’s image, to fit. He’s Humanity 2.0! 😀

“To tell you all of this again is no hard thing for me, and it is a safe guard for you.”

Church

And I want you to be aware that this view of Jesus as Human is not welcome in some churches. Gnosticism is, as my professor Dr. Ryan Reeves at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary said in his video, “Gnosticism and the Early Church,” a trend that affects the doctrines and practices of the church from even before Christ until today. It involves: three fundamentals:

  1. The tangible world isn’t real.
  2. The tangible world is hated or deprecated in value
  3.  One needs an elitist knowledge of how things *really* are in order to be saved.

It manifests in churches that do not value the material world around them, and have beliefs that God isn’t out to redeem the physical world, but rather to deliver our immaterial “souls” from this evil material world, and we need to know the truth that sets us free from our physical bondage to things like possessions, the temple of the Holy Spirit. “It’s an old garment anyway.” they say. “One day I’ll be free of my physical body and get to live forever with Jesus in a spirit-only world!”

Trends like this tend to hurt the church’s witness, because we value more thinking and experiencing than doing or accomplishing tangible results. Furthermore, it’s not in keeping with the overarching meta-story of Scripture. Jesus was just as much human flesh as you and I are, yet without sin. And it was THAT humanness that was the perfect representation of His nature. What’s more, the fact God became a physical tangible human being means that He has tied himself to our physical reality. And just as our bodies will die one day, this world will die one day. As our bodies will be changed, so the earth will be changed. The Spiritual is not at the expense of the tangible.

If however, Jesus was born, and the Church is the body of Christ, then the church is just as much human as it is spiritual, and that’s a good thing.

Pitfalls

In these stages, I plan to share a pitfall for each one, to avoid to ensure your own or someone else’s progress through the stages. At this stage in a Christian’s life, he is being exposed to the person of Jesus Christ, being reminded of true humanity through other Christians. The pitfalls he must avoid are false religion or False gods. Whatever we worship or believe comes to define who we are, and to believe things that are untrue, or fashioned after an ungodly spirit is to cheapen one’s own humanity. This of course presupposes that Jesus Himself is the True Human. If a person comes to believe something about humanity and the spiritual world that isn’t true, it will be a stumbling block and a hindrance toward their growing up into maturity. What a person in this stage needs is Exposure to Christ. To meet a Christian and be struck by their dissimilarity with the rest of the world. This gets a person started on their journey toward Christ. Let him avoid the paths that diverge from the Way after myths, false gods, and false religion.

Application (The part I know you really like)

  1. Take care not to de-human-ize Jesus. It’s really not honoring to him. His humanity was the perfect representation of God as the perfect image of God, and he has reset the Human race on a path to the full actualization of God’s character in the church.
  2. Be human! And base your definition on Jesus: humility. The apostle Luke was intentional to show the disciples of Jesus doing even the miraculous things Jesus did, like raising the dead even! Read Acts! Show kindness to your fellow humanity. Don’t think you’re something special. Be humble.
  3. Render to God what is God’s. Count your very being as a physical image stamped with the likeness of God. And recognize that you were born to represent Him on the earth, even as Jesus was born.
  4. Represent the earth before God. Not only is humankind the representative of God on earth, but the representative of Earth before God. Who better to be a mediator between these two realms of Heaven and Earth than one who smells of both homes.
  5. Avoid the Pitfalls.
  6. Read the Bible as a human. Here’s a logic puzzle:
  • If Jesus is both divine and human.
  • And Jesus is the Word of God,
  • and the Bible is the Word of God,
  • Then Why should the Bible be read only as Divine communication? Should it not be read just as fully as human communication? It was the resurgence of the humanities which helped Erasmus to translate the Greek New Testament, and Martin Luther to get a hold of the Word of God as it was meant. To read the Bible as a human means you read it as an author talking to a listener with pre-understandings and time-less eternal truths living in each of their hearts.

Final point: Every human who seeks to follow after Jesus must start at this point. To be human from birth. In short, a man must be born before he can be born again.

“To a Mature Man”

My dearest little brother,

– – We have been following Jesus together for a number of years now, and this Fall, it seems you will be moving out of my immediate range. While you are gone, I’ll miss your company, and talking with you, and sharing more insights into the mystery of walking with him. I know you’ll have plenty of growing to do where you are going, even as I still have plenty of growing to do here, but as you are going, I wanted to put these following blog posts in a place where you can get to them easily, and possibly share them with others who you get a chance to be a big brother to. It is an expansion on the 10 stages of the Christian life, based upon the 10 stages of Jesus Life, which you know has been my keen interest these last few years. In answer to the question, What does it mean to be a real, full-grown Christian?” I have arranged these reflections in a manner that I hope will be easy to understand, and appreciated for their ability to help you examine your own walk with the Lord. I know we both desire for the Church to be what God wants it to be. Thank you for your willingness to follow along with me as I follow Christ.

As Christ has loved us,
Let us love one another.

With Christ’s love,
Your older brother

Outline

The Stages of Jesus’Life as the Proto-Christian are these. The first four are Preparatory. The Second four are Kingdom. The final two are Post-Victory.

  1. Birth
  2. Temple
  3. Baptism
  4. Wilderness
  5. Community
  6. Service
  7. Justice
  8. Persecution
  9. Resurrection
  10. Ascension

I’ll dedicate one post for each of these stages with one final post to conclude.

P.S. Until all the stages are up, I’ll keep the outline at the front for reference, so you can scroll down for stages as they are available on Wednesdays at 10:00 a.m.

The Cynic and the Gospel

“But there’s no happy endings
Not here and not now
This tale is all sorrows and woes
You dream that justice
And peace win the day,
But that’s not how the story goes” ~Nick Urata — Netflix’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events

My response: What? Yes it is! Haven’t you heard the Gospel?

Cynic: Pipe Dream.

Me: How Love is the Supreme Ethic?

Cynic: Child’s Play.

Me: It wasn’t child’s play for Jesus who died on the Cross to make it so.

Cynic: Too long ago.

Me: *remembers Legend of Bagger Vance, where Matt Damon’s tells his beloved that their love life was “too long ago.” And the girl says, “No it wasn’t. It was just a moment ago.”

*Considers that this is the very reason for the Church today: to bring Christ’s death on the cross into the here and now. This is the message of the Lamb’s unsealed scroll in Revelation: the only thing that will bring repentance is when the impenitent world sees the followers of the lamb imitating the same loving sacrifice of the Lamb, giving their lives for others.

*Looking lovingly at the Cynic and says, “No. No it wasn’t. It was just a moment ago.”

The Two Rebel Kingdoms

There once was a King who ruled a vast Kingdom. In his kingdom a great General led a mighty army. And the Chief treasurer multiplied the wealth for all according to the King’s Rules. All was peaceful and prosperous.

Then one day, the Manager grew greedy for more money, and he bribed a few select officials in the Kingdom promising them wealth if they would serve him instead of their king. These officials hated taking care of the poor according to the King’s rules, so they agreed, and the Treacherous Treasurer left and established a Monetary Economic culture to the East of the Kingdom, and there was slavery in the land.

That same day, the General grew hungry for military glory and led a coup and there was a war in the kingdom. The General left with a large portion of the King’s armed forces, and set up a military kingdom to the West that Rivaled Sparta.

The King was heartbroken that his subjects left him to follow the his treacherous Treasurer and glory-hungry General. He built a Wall around his kingdom to defend from the Military Kingdom’s soldiers, and the Monetary Kingdom’s slavers. Then he sent diplomats and emissaries to invite the rebellious citizens back to his kingdom to see if any perhaps were merely deceived and could be persuaded to return to the King in his Kingdom, or if they had truly turned against him. But the Military Kingdom butchered the diplomats they were sent, and the Monetary Kingdom took them as slaves.

Finally, the King said, “I will send my son the Prince to them. Surely they will remember what I am like as King, and they will be persuaded to hear him.” The Prince went and called for a truce where he met with the Kings of both these Rival Kingdoms right outside the City walls. When the General and the Treasurer saw the Prince coming, they said to each other, “Let us ransom the King’s son, so that when the King dies without an heir, then we will take the land for ourselves.” They agreed. They saw him coming carrying no weapon, and the Military General scoffed. He wore no purse and the Treasurer sneered. He offered them a  place in his father’s Kingdom, but the Manager took him and beat him as a slave stripping him down to nothing, and then the Military General threw him over to the pit of soldiers who beat him mercilessly. He did not fight back, but he said, “I love you, and I forgive you.” Then he died.

They sent back the dead body to the King on a wooden cart wrapped up. The King wet all the doctors in the Kingdom to work, and set all the people to praying that the Prince might live again. To the joy of the Kingdom, and to the dismay of the enemies, the Prince revived!

Once the Prince was revived, the King delivered his final warning to both kingdoms: if there were any who wished to come to be citizens of his kingdom, they had one more chance before he came and delivered swift justice on his Evil General and Treasurer and any who still sided with them.

Some of the soldiers and wealthy came and repented with great sorrow, and they were welcomed into the Kingdom again. Out of their great joy, they swore fealty to the King, and begged that they might go back to the kingdoms East and West, to see if they could persuade any others to come with them. So they did, they returned and pleaded with the soldiers and the slavers, “Be reconciled to the King!” But these were treated just as shamefully and mercilessly as the Prince was treated.

At last, the judgment day had come! The King took back the Treasurer’s Kingdom first, conquered them, and plundered them. Then the King besieged the Military Kingdom and Prince led the King’s army to a glorious victory, and they exterminated the province. All who did not die were thrown into the King’s Dungeon for life. But those who served the King faithfully were given rule over the newly unified Kingdom, and the Prince was given the Kingdom on his Coronation Day.

Fairy Tale: Trouble, Price, and Ransom

Once upon a time, there was a boy and a girl walking down the King’s Highway leading to their parents’ house.

As they walked along a white fence, they saw a mysterious forest on the other side.

The boy said to the girl, “Hey! Let’s check out the forest!”

The girl said, “But there’s a fence, and we might get lost.”

The boy said, “We won’t get lost. All we gotta do is hop the fence. It’ll be fun!”

“Well, okay.” The girl said and followed her brother into the woods.

They walked inside the forest and encountered some very friendly squirrels and beautiful flowers, when all of a sudden:

boom, Boom, BOom, BOOm, BOOM!

Someone was coming.

They climbed up into a tree thick with leaves through which they couldn’t see who was coming.

On the noise came. BOOM BOOM BOOM!

Then it stopped. All was quiet until they heard.

*Sniff Sniff Sniff*

Suddenly, two large hands, each one the size of the child, reached out and grabbed them through the branches

As the enormous hands yanked them out of the tree by their shirt collars a grizzly enormous face met them. It was a giant.

“You are trespassing. Now, you are my prisoners.”

So the two children were brought back to the Castle and thrown in the dark dungeon.

“You will stay here forever as my slaves.” The giant thundered as the door crashed closed.

The next day the Son of the King who owned the highway saw a pair of small tracks leading off the path into the Giant’s Woods. He tracked them all the way to the tree where the Giant found them, and knew what had happened. He tracked the Giant’s footprints to his castle and said, “Great Giant?!”

The Giant boomed out of his door and said, “Who are you?”

“I am the Son of the King of these lands. You have two children you brought with you to this dungeon. Let them go!”

“I will not release them. They trespassed!”

“What price do you demand for their freedom?”

The giant had always hated the King, and here he had his son within his grasp. He smiled as he said,

“I will only release them if you will come and be my slave forever in this place!”

The Prince thought for a moment and said, “Very well. Let it be as you say.”

The children were dragged roughly out of the dark dungeon into the light of day and thrown out the door. The Prince helped them up and said, “Go! Go!”

The children ran through the woods without looking back, and ran all the way home and told their Mom and Dad what had happened.

Little did they know that the King of the Highway had a huge army, and when his son went missing into the forest, he sent his army to besiege the giant’s castle. They slew the Giant and the Prince was set free.

Now the Prince after he was released went straight to the house of the two children, and asked their parents if he could see them. They said, “Of course, Your Majesty.”

The Children were overjoyed to see their rescuer again, and they ran up to him!

“The Giant who held you prisoner has been slain, and all his lands now belong to me as a gift from my father the King. You may come and visit those woods anytime.”

The Children did visit the woods and castle. As they grew up they helped the Prince clean it up, so it was fit for the Prince to live in some day. When the Prince was crowned King, they each became officials in his royal court, and they all lived happily ever after.

The End