The Joy of Persecution

I saw joy’s fire burning white
In a heart of flesh hidden from sight
Cruel thorns slashed gashes gaping wide
And there spilled out a glorious light

What mystery is brought to bear
When crushed plants’ perfume fills the air
The sweet aroma soft and fair
Arousing those fellow-crushed to care

I heard a spirit blowing past
Being split upon the metal cast
To rend the air with full-lunged blast
That screamed the music breathed at last.

What other ways, has He made known
The joy of new life, despite death grown?
To the humble of heart, proof He has shown
That the joy of the cross can be my own.

“For the joy that was set before him…”~Hebrews 12:2a

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Trust in God’s Economy: Part 1–The Word

One of the most special subjects, tender to my heart, is God’s decision to trust us. I realized the other day that God’s ability to trust me with anything has been the cornerstone to the formation of my conscience. There was a time when I was a little boy, I lied to my parents about cleaning my room, and I had promised God that I would tell them before I went to bed. I had gone to bed, but could not bear the simple thought of breaking a promise to God: not because I was scared God would do something to me, but just because it was fundamentally wrong. I said, “I made a promise to God, and I am NOT going to break that promise.”

But some people say, God trusting us? God shouldn’t trust us, we’re totally treacherous.” Yes, but if you read the Old Testament, God tested how much he could trust his blessing to his people, and use them by various ways to show that they were fully devoted to him: Abraham being the prototype. For example, why else would God have asked Abraham to make the sacrifice that He himself would one day make? (Genesis 22)

Plus, consider that every time God speaks to an individual, or gives a person a commandment, it is an act of trust: prove your worth to me, and my worth to you by your ability to follow this simple task. If a person obeys God’s voice, then they are proven to be trustworthy. And the Word of God will always do more than just test a man’s actions; “The Word of the Lord is living and active sharper than any two edged sword piercing to the division of soul and spirit and joints and marrow, and it discerns the thoughts of the mind and the intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

Ultimately God’s Word reveals something about a person whenever it comes. If a person hears his word and obeys it, he is worthy of trust with more of His Word. But if he hears his word and does not do it, he has proven himself to be fruitless, defective, and useless to the Master.

This is plain to see in Parables of Jesus, but it still seems to deal on the level of “professional trustworthiness” if you will: Can Jesus trust me with greater tasks in his business? This of course, is a true Dimension to God’s trustworthiness. After all “He who is faithful with little, will be faithful with much.” But there’s another very, very sweet and for me a tearful realization that there is something more special kind of trust to have with God.

For the devious are an abomination to the Lord; But He is intimate with the upright.~Proverbs 3:23

Intimacy: a closeness of sharing one’s very self: this is a privilege for the upright. Trust in God’s economy is for those who walk without “deviation” who are whole-hearted, trustworthy, simply devoted–in a word– faithful. This trust in God’s economy is a currency often neglected in the Church. This is not just “I know God.” or “I have a relationship with Jesus.” kind of intimacy. This is a privilege of getting to “see God.” that is a blessing for the pure in heart (Matthew 5:8). Not all self-proclaimed Christians can claim this privilege. It takes a degree of sacrifice that nominal Christianity cannot afford. It takes, to use a Biblical type, Abram’s leaving his home and his family at the call of God, it takes Abram’s separation from Lot, it takes a denial of worldly reward, it takes a disowning of one’s own failed creations, it takes the total surrender of every preciously irreplaceable gift of God– it is the desire to know Him no matter how hard, or how good the cost. This progression brings about the reward of which the Prophet wrote in Jeremiah:

Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord.” ~Jeremiah 9:23-24

Such a special gift of intimacy with God, of which one may humbly boast, comes by showing one’s trustworthiness, not just in obedience, but also in devoted affectionate love to the One who is truly worthy of it. Indeed, the warning is there for those who choose not to pursue this:

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “that I will punish all who are circumcised and yet uncircumcised—Egypt and Judah, and Edom and the sons of Ammon, and Moab and all those inhabiting the desert who clip the hair on their temples; for all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart.” ~Jeremiah 9:25-26

My encouragement: pursue intimacy with God at any cost. No matter what you have done, if your heart within you is moved to pursue this closeness with God, it is His drawing you, and He will by no means cast you out.

My Spiritual Journey

This, in Christian terms, is my “testimony” I’ve translated it into more common speech, which I hope will be of help to people who are seeking a place to start.

My personhood is where I’ll start. My family was a father and a mother and two older sisters, with extended family still largely intact. At home, I was scheduled, given quiet time to be on my own, and given limited time in front of a screen. I had fairly consistent parents who disciplined not just actions I did, but also called me out on attitudes I held.When I reflect on my childhood, I felt safe, loved, and full of respect for my parents. They took me to church, where my discipline as a child proved useful in making me very well liked in the Homeschool Co-op and Baptist Bible Belt communities I found myself a part.

The selfishness was in me from the beginning. I can retrace places in my heart where I acted out of selfishness and was punished, and my pride caused me to make un-punishable error after self-destructive decision. I wouldn’t check my work, I would find ways to twist things to my own advantage, I would use the good behavior and things I did right to make me more prestigious in the eyes of people so that I would be praised. Silly boy. My Mother I’ve long understood has been much more caring than I, and my Dad knew what it was to be led by something greater than him.

Now that I have started with the setting and the problem, when I was 5, I prayed to ask Jesus to become my Savior, which basically means I knew I had done bad things, and I wanted to go to Heaven one day. But this hasn’t felt like the biggest part of my spiritual journey.

One of the big moments was around 7 or 8 years old: a moment when I made a promise to God, and refused in my heart of hearts to break that promise. I had lied to my parents about cleaning up my room, and lay awake that night unable to get past the promise I had made to God that I would tell them, so I told them. That was a pivotal moment when my heart decided that God, or at least my integrity before Him was the most important thing.

I got baptized around 12 years old, and for some reason it was around this time that I felt an acceleration in my spiritual journey. I started journalling, after the pattern of MYST and Riven, complete with the number system. Dad, who claims to have been led by God for many years (not that he has ever claimed it. He hasn’t really needed to claim anything to me), told me that God uses men who journal, so I journaled. He also told me two things that have greatly shaped my life. He encouraged me to pray two prayers:

  1. Give me a heart completely and utterly devoted to You.
  2. Speak to me in a way I can understand you.

To a reader, it may seem like the deck was stacked pretty heftily in God’s favor as far as shaping who I was going to believe in. Granted, I was steeped in Bible verses from the AWANA program, and my Dad almost always had a Proverb for anything he was doing, but I started pursuing it for my own sake. I dabbled in systematic theology, listened to the Bible on tape, Christian artists. When it came to sealing the deal for the direction of this spiritual journey, I had one main thing I can point to.

As I journaled, I became fascinated with the idea of what true manhood means: what it means to be a real man. I read John Eldredge’s “Wild at Heart” and it really got me excited about the battles to fight, adventures to live, and beauties to rescue. It gave my heart room to fly. I wanted to be mature as a real man so badly, and I knew I would have to leave my childishness behind.

A climax to this initial stage of my spiritual journey where I think I was completely convinced was thanks to Norm Wakefield, of Spirit of Elijah Ministries. His tape series of Equipping Men, had one particular lesson that brought me to my knees.

In his lesson “In Search of Happiness,” Norm explains that a person will try everything he can to be happy, except just Jesus, and Jesus only is the only answer. In a moment I saw my idolatry, and my fleshly pride. I saw my sin utterly, and I confessed to the God who I believed was real how I had been trying everything to make myself happy, instead of looking to Jesus alone to meet all my needs. Basically, I turned over full control of my life to God at that point. From that point forward, I wouldn’t want to do anything, make any decision unless it was what He wanted me to do. In Christian terms, Jesus became, “Lord of my life.”

I believed God wanted me to do vocational ministry in some way, though I’m not entirely sure what kind. My Dad continued to call me out to manhood, especially to being like Jesus. He gave me some books which continued to shape me into College: Refiner’s Fire Volumes I and II, and The Existence and attributes of God Volumes I and II. After those two books, Christianity had taken on a very interesting characteristic. I would compare it to colors: the Christianity that glows amber. It’s Christianity with a smell to it. It reverberates with the heart, mind, and soul in ways that only melted and broken hearts can. This vein of Christian tradition has taught me to prioritize God as a person, rather than prioritizing doctrine, tradition, or expressionism. (Blue, Purple, and Yellow respectively). These are subjective terms, but the point is that through my journalling, my listening for His voice, and the writings of those who had been with God, I had a pretty steady grasp in my heart of the God whom the Bible attested to.

Speaking of His voice, I don’t actually remember the first time I heard Him “speak” to me. This is one of those mystical experiences that many of the ancient Christians attested to, and many of today in various branches of Christianity also experience. I know what it is to hear His voice because, this voice miraculously sounds like the Bible, and he says things that I do not yet know or understand. I’ve recently learned that there is more for God to say to people who are willing to take the time to listen, but it seems so few truly are interested in listening to Him. I’ve found precious few.

From there, College met a lot of trial and error as I tried to walk out this very personal faith on a campus of very doctrinally solidified individuals (PCA Covenant College) My heart’s fire was not dimmed though. However, I had a continual source of personal revelation of God: the Scriptures. This has been the most fundamentally important pieces of my spiritual journey. The more I studied the Bible, the more I got a clear picture of God, humanity, me, and Jesus. This religious text is far more than that to me, because of who I have felt breathing in it page after page, word after word. Like thrusting my heart back into the fires from whence it was forged over and over again until I am shaped more like my maker.

Anyway, as you can tell, I start to get passionately excited about this journey. It has grown sweeter. He keeps showing me how there is so much more to Him even in the Bible for people who truly want to know Him. He is real, and does ever so desire a relationship of close intimacy with those who are honest of heart.

This is probably one of the main points my testimony asserts: God is real, and really interested in intimacy with the honest of heart. I’ve genuinely wanted to know Him, and my spiritual journey has led me to conclude that He is real, and He has matched my desire with the purest responses of genuine love that keeps me changing to be more like Jesus.

Now that I’m married, a lot of things about God that the Bible said have made a lot more sense as I get to experience them in relationship with another human being. The Torah has given me a greater appreciation for the depth of human (my own) depravity and the depth of God’s goodness in response, and the power and importance of the Cross. This is where I find myself currently on my spiritual journey: married, teaching Bible to children, and growing in my faith by following God’s leading, studying the Scriptures, and journaling what I’ve learned. I also do a lot with music, but maybe that’s another story.

I hope this has been helpful to you, dear reader. It’s not a testimony of which I am ashamed. I am nothing, an insignificant proud guy who has learned to lay his life down for the pursuit of God’s pleasure in all my life.

Thanks be to God. He is absolutely amazing!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Venting: The Depth of the Cross

Any “so-called” gospel that doesn’t bring the truth about the cross to bear in people’s lives will end in disappointment and disillusionment. The Gospel is basically call to die each day. Anyone who is not dying each day is not living the Gospel.

The Pastor who says “God has a wonderful plan for your life” yet falls into adultery, is one who has not crucified his old life, but is seeking God’s ‘wonderful plan’ for his old life. Such a man, even if he hasn’t yet fallen, will one day.

The church who says, “God wants you to be healthy and wealthy” is preaching faith without obedience. Jesus learned obedience by the things he suffered, and it is this obedience of faith that was the goal of Paul’s gospel in Romans 1 and 16.

The Gospel isn’t a sales pitch. It is to own your unworthiness, and to follow Christ’s trail which begins and ends each day with the laying down of one’s own life, so that Christ can live in them. This is a way to sum up Christianity: Owning your unworthiness, and trusting in God’s love by living like Jesus beginning and ending each day with laying down your own life so that Jesus can live in them.

The school which does not have a vision to see children grow up to give their lives for Jesus is not teaching the gospel. Upstanding moral human beings minus the cross still mean shallow and broken human beings who are the problem with the world.

The person who acts like he’s all together, not living in light of the cross, is living in a dream that will shatter one day. “He who loves his life will lose it.” Jesus said, “But who ever hates his life will keep it forever.” John 12:25

Any declaration that says, “Jesus suffered on the cross so you wouldn’t have to.” is fallacious and hazardously self-oriented. Jesus suffered on the cross to show people who didn’t know how to do it the right way.

The King and the Seven Realms

Once upon a time there was a powerful King over a vast kingdom, and the Kingdom was beautiful in his eyes. He appointed rulers over the kingdom, but the representatives rebelled and turned the whole kingdom against the King. The Castle was the only place left where the light still shined and where people served the King. All the rest of the lands around were enshrouded in darkness.

But the King loved his people even though they had rebelled. He divided his realm into Five realms which competed with each other, until they could rejoin him. Though this slowed his people’s rebellion down, things kept getting worse and worse.

He selected a man from his people and called him to leave the Five dark realms to be the King’s representative. He wanted the man to show the rest of the realms how they could rejoin the King whom they hated so much. The man wasn’t perfect, but he trusted in his king. The King took this one man and his wife and protected and provided for them until they became a huge family, which became a people. The King set them up in a space that became the sixth realm in the middle of the Five dark realms.

Still, even this family of people which the King had set apart didn’t show the other people how to rejoin the King. They started to take over the other realms claiming they were serving the King. But everyone else despised them. The Sixth realm had become even darker than the other Five realms.

But the King loved the family, and he sent his new-born son, the Prince, to grow up in this family. He hoped that his son would show all six realms a way back to serving the King. But when the Prince was full grown, he looked just like his father, and the whole sixth realm came together against him, and the Five other dark realms came together in agreement that they wanted nothing to do with the Prince or his King, so they had him killed!

Now the tables had turned. All the people were shown for what they truly were: selfish rebels against a good King.  And the Prince who had become one with his people, did not stay dead, but the King  brought him back to the castle where he was brought back to life again! The King was shown to have the power of life over death!

The people from all the realms around, the five and the Sixth, heard the news that the Prince had come back to life. Some would never serve the King again, but others resubmitted to the King’s Rule, and they established little pockets of what was now the Seventh realm: The King’s Kingdom. Light started shining in the dark realms again.

Once all was arranged for the King’s reclamation, the King and his Son went out with a huge army to cast out the rebels who refused to rejoin the King and destroyed their lands. All that was left, he gave to those who had returned again to serve him as their King. He made the Seven realms into One realm again: The King’s Kingdom was fully renewed.

The Prince took for himself a Bride from among the people whom he loved so much and he became the new King. He appointed new rulers: faithful ones who would not betray the King who fought for them, and the new King who gave his life for them. They all lived happily ever after.

Torah Teachings: In the Wilderness

Matthew 23:34– Jesus said, “I am sending you prophets, wisemen, and scribes. . .” The word “scribes” my friend from Seminary helped me understand as “Torah Teachers.” Why in the New Testament would Jesus send someone to teach the Torah to the Pharisees who knew it backwards and forwards? Because the “LAW” as it is called did more than prescribe behavior, but it describes human nature and God’s responses to Save humanity. This is another dimension of the LAW which Jesus fulfills.

The stories of the Torah reveal the character of God and depravity of Humanity like only one other story does: The life and death of Jesus. So often, the life of Jesus is not taken as seriously, and the message of the cross being foolishness to man becomes a mere piece of  thumb-worn religious jewelry on a pale Christian soul. To revitalize the message of the Gospel, one must return to the roots rich with the nourishing dirt of the Torah, in which the tree of Scripture takes root and sprouts to reveal two truths: God is Savior, and we are rebellious.

One story which brought this home is in Numbers chapters 16 and 17 in English Bibles, but just Numbers 16 in the Hebrew Tanak. Israel has just blown their chance to inherit the promised land, because 10 bad apples spread a bad report that discouraged everyone from believing in God, even though 2 spies, and 2 leaders stood with God. The people were finished. God stood ready to destroy them in Numbers 14, but Moses intercedes, and now the people who refused to trust God will die in the wilderness, and their children will possess the land.

This is not satisfactory for the people. Would it be for you? There is a military coup, where the people try to go up anyway, but God is not with them. They get slaughtered. No surprises here that those with military might would seek to secure their own salvation. This has been human nature since the fall.

Then there is a priestly coup. 250 Levites and Korah, Dathan, and Abiram– sounds like quite a force to be reckoned with. They move to dispose of Moses and Aaron because Moses and Aaron are thought to be the reason why the people are dying in the wilderness and not God, but God defends them, and proves that He is in charge by the earth swallowing up the 3 leaders, and the fire of the LORD consuming the 250 Levites where they stood. Again, no surprises here. The priests do not want to die, they don’t want the people to all fall dead in the wilderness. They refuse to accept God’s judgment, and they rise up and try to take control to preserve themselves. God has condemned them in His wrath “They shall not enter my rest.” Instead of humbly submitting, they revolt. “I don’t want to die!” they cry. Is this not a piece of Human nature we see over and over to this day?

Then, immediately after all the offering pans are picked up from the 250 smoldering corpses, another coup, this time the whole congregation of the people of Israel! Every layperson in Israel rises up against Moses and Aaron and says, “You have caused the LORD’s people to die!” Once again the glory of God appears.

It is fallen human nature to not accept God’s judgment. Whether it be military or privilege, this is easier to see and understand, but is it really everybody? The Torah teaches how utterly depraved all humans are to the end and how God’s glory will continue to fill the earth so long as He lives (Numbers 14:20-21).

It is my view that this utter depravity of Human nature can only be dealt with in a believer’s life after he is saved by the filling of the Holy Spirit. This, I believe, is why Jesus had to go into the Wilderness, so that in the crucible any dross of humanity left beneath the skin through the waters of baptism may be purified from the inside out. God will keep refining us in the Wilderness (Which, by the way, happens to be the Hebrew name for the Book of Numbers: “In the Wilderness.”) We must be taught to accept God’s judgment on sin in our lives, and not see it as making us a victim, but as refining impure gold, which has chosen it’s impurity over the love of the Lord since birth.

How does one know that he is ready to leave the wilderness? When he can do what Moses and Aaron did in all three of these circumstances: they fell on their face. The falling on their face is a vulnerable, death-like stance of submission one takes before God and man: unwilling to try to save oneself– thrown fully on the mercy of another. Moses and Aaron and Joshua and Caleb were the only ones who fell on their face in Numbers 14, and even Moses and Aaron did not get to enter into the promised land. The stance of falling on your face means, you accept God’s judgment of you even if it means he damn you to Hell. This is truly what we deserve. And this is true too: If we do not fall face-down before God (Numbers 14:5) in whole-hearted submission to His judgment, then our corpses will fall in the wilderness. (Numbers 14:29)

How does this work in light of Christ’s death for all sin? Does this negate the work of the cross? Should not the believer see Christ’s death on the cross as God’s justice fulfilled even for the punishment of sin in his life? Certainly all the required wrath has been poured out on Jesus instead of those of us who now have peace with Him, but we need our own cross to deal with the persistent presence of sin in our fallen hearts. God has given us a cross to carry behind Jesus on the road to Calvary to deal with this part of our sin problem, and only those indwelt by the Spirit will carry their cross just as Jesus did, not for their own salvation, but for Christ’s salvation to be borne to others through our constant dying to self. Such is the mystery of faith: Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)

I pray that if you find yourself in the wilderness with God, that you treasure this time. He is preparing you as a pure vessel so that His work may be done through you, and He loves you more than I can say.

To a Mature Man: Closing Remarks

To a Mature Man:

The Ten Stages of the Christian Walk

# Stage Do Acquire Avoid
1 Birth Meet a Christian Exposure to Christ False Religion/ False gods
2 Temple Listen to God’s Word Blessing/ Understanding Traditionalism/ Formalism
3 Baptism Repent and Obey Holy Spirit’s filling License to Sin
4 Wilderness Depend/ Trust/ Devote/ follow him Confirmed power of Spirit Compromise
5 Community Testify/ serve/ seek Mission announced Man’s approval
6 Service Meet physical and spiritual needs Power’s achievement Worldly concern
7 Justice Stand against evil man for God Refute and remain

disentangled

Appeasement/ Cowering
8 Persecution Endure; forgive The Cross’ victory Apostasy
9 Resurrection Stand and give thanks To see His face Deception/ Disobedience
10 Ascension Rule Heaven & Earth A good world Pride

Insights:

  • You may notice that the beginning stages of walk with Jesus are quite individual, but the middle stages are communal. This is not by accident, nor intentionally. I think it is discovered design. It is because the life of a Christian is a life in conjunction with other believers. God will need to have his time alone with you, but you will need to be with the body of Christ if He is to use you to the fullest.
  • It may seem superfluous to write about the last two stages, since beyond the grave, we will have fewer cares and concerns. But I see that when they are all laid out, certain patterns and relationships emerge.

Example.

  • Humility–Stage 1 and Stage 10 are both largely concerned with Humility and avoiding Pride in exaltation.
    • Truth–Stage 2 and Stage 9 are both concerned with Heeding God’s word and not being deceived by anything less than him.
      • The Cross–Stage 3 and Stage 8 are the initial death to the world at Baptism, and the world’s fulfillment of that death in Persecution.
    • Battle–Stage 4 and stage 7 are the initial testing before God, and then the fulfillment of that testing before man as one stands against the people who are controlled by the Evil one who was faced already in the wilderness.
  • Love–Stage 5 and 6 are the community living together and fully operating in the power of the Holy Spirit as a witness to the world what community and love really look like.

So is the first Chiasmic pattern recognizable in these stages. In it, the emphasis on Humility, the Cross, and Love are emphasized as the beginning middle and End of the Christian life.

  • Another insight, looking back on the stages: you may notice the ordering of the stages from inner-most circle to outermost circle. Once a believer is baptized, he grows in the innermost circle of relating with God, then he grows outward to the next circle of inter-relating with believers, then the next circle out is relating to the world, and then the outer circle of standing against the forces of evil. Our ministry does indeed spread outward from this central locus of being with God, and extends outward to offense against the enemy.
  • This insight lends itself to another: This, for all believers is the order of ministry, and let it never be forgotten, as some tragically have forgotten, and have lost all power, life, and effectiveness, and courage for their ministries.
  1. Stage 4: Our first ministry is to the Lord
  2. Stage 5: Our second ministry is to the Church
  3. Stage 6: Our third ministry is to the World
  4. Stage 7: Our fourth ministry is to the Powers

Dear Brother, no matter where you go, never forget this principle! Minister to Him first, then give first consideration to the Church, then the world, then go against the powers of the enemy. This will render you fruitful in your ministry, and abundantly so.

  • I also hope that it has become obvious through these writings, how important it is for a believer to be set apart from the world to God. The Holy Spirit is what distinguishes a Christian from a non-believer. In stage 3: Baptism there is a clean break, in stage 4: Wilderness there is no compromise, in stage 5: Community there is a casting off man’s approval, in stage 6: Service there is an avoidance of worldly concerns, and in stage 7: Justice there is a disentanglement that must be kept. The reason for the separation at all of these stages is stage 8: Persecution. It is the most profound and most defined manifestation of the Gospel, and few are they who will endure to the end. This is the Cross the Christian must carry, and the world will seek to pull the believer back into its clutches from the day he says he will follow Jesus. And the world needs the cross every generation, in every place for the reminder of God’s love living in his followers.
  • Another word: some who read these stages may say, “This isn’t Christianity. This is SUPER-Christianity.” I would like to reply to such a person that any Christianity that does not measure itself by the standard of Christ isn’t Christianity at all. Therefore, there is no real Christianity without the Holy Spirit. Any Christianity that is assured in itself apart from the measure of Christ and leads others into the same folly is nominal and misguided at best and at worst blasphemous and diabolical.
  • Finally, there may be some who say, “What do I do if I have fallen into one of these pitfalls along the way? What do I do, if I am stuck?” One word: REPENT! Run straight into the arms of God, and out of the world’s (and thereby the devil’s) clutches. Just as Jesus told Peter who was opposing him when he said,

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

No matter what pitfall you are in, this is how we get back on the path with Jesus: by putting off the old life, embracing His new life, and following Him to maturity.

Closing

Ephesians 4:11-13

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

It has been my hope, dear brother, to equip you for the work of service, and to build you up with the body of Christ until we all attain unity of faith. The knowledge of the Son of God in these posts, will, I hope, grow you to a mature man, according to the measure of the fullness of Christ’s stature.

May you rise to the occasion of these posts and press onward to the prize of what awaits in the New Heaven and Earth for all who love His appearing. My heart is opened to you, and I trust that God will raise you up so that you will be able to soar with Him on wings of eagles as you trust in Him.

I look forward to walking with you for as much longer as the Lord will have us together. God’s grace and peace go with you, my friend.

Your older brother

“To a Mature Man”: Stage 10–Ascension

One of my favorite words, dear brother, is accession (more so than ascension)It is defined by Merriam-Webster as, “the act or process by which someone rises to a position of honor or power.” This is the final stage for the Christian as it was also the final stage of Jesus Christ on this Earth. Even in this stage, I propose that there is a pitfall.

Jesus

When Jesus had passed from life to death, and from death to eternity, where else could he go except right to where he belonged: “the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2) Notice, that he himself is not on the throne, but at the right hand. He has not supplanted God, but rather has taken his place at God’s side. This echoes back to the humility of the first stage of Christianity: the humility to submit to God to the end. And the one who is humble takes up his rightful place by God’s side.

And what is he doing there? He is interceding for us. (Romans 8:34)

Christian

At the end of the Bible, in the last chapter of Revelation, we have one concluding sentence for the end of the revelation of the New Heaven and Earth, “And they [God’s servants] will reign forever and ever.” And where will they reign? The New Heavens and Earth. Humanity will take its place which God intended from the beginning, the rulers of God’s good creation, walking in fellowship with Him, and serving Him, and representing Him on earth. No more curse, no more pain, no more death. This is the full grown humanity 2.0 in Jesus Christ that has fully come to its zenith with no setting.

And what is the Christian doing: Simply put, he is doing the will of the Father. In the beginning the human mandate was, “be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.” Genesis 1:28. This sounds like the New Heave and Earth will need this too.

Pitfall

There will be no curse, but there is one sin left that could possibly contaminate even this good world. The last sin here is brought up the first sin: pride. Thanks to the Opposer’s pride we see how a good world can be ruined, and there are many spiritual powers who will have witnessed the full extent of the evil one’s works, and they will also recognize the Glory of Yahweh. (Ephesians 3:10-11) So, when you too come to the end of all things and the new beginning, settle in your heart that you will have no cause for rebellion in your heart.

Application

  1. Worship God with a whole heart. Serve Him faithfully, with no treachery of spirit against Him.
  2. Bear fruit for God as His image on earth. Fill the earth with His glory.
  3. Take heed lest sin begin in you also, and let the fear of the Lord keep you ever from doing evil.

Final thought:

God has destined humanity to rule, so long as they image Him well. He has a lake of fire for all who will not serve Him or thank Him for His goodness. His image will be restored, and all whom the Lamb does not record will be cast into the Lake of Fire.

“Praise the Lord! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God. His judgments are just!” Revelation 19:1-2a.

“To a Mature Man”: Stage 8–Persecution

My dear brother,

Jesus as the Example

Jesus, born human, temple-taught, baptized in Holy Spirit, empowered by the Spirit, on a mission, advancing the kingdom, and calling man to return to God’s Justice– this man was betrayed by his friend, abandoned by his followers, beaten, mocked, accused of evil, struck with rods, whipped near to death, un-protected by the justice of man, driven, stripped naked, nailed to a cross, and hung there in agony upon agony for hours, until he gave up his spirit and died. All of this and more is what I mean by persecution. When he did however, he showed how to respond to our persecutors: Trust in God, and Forgive your persecutors.

Assurance

– – Paul told Timothy, his true child in the faith, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” He could say this with assurance because of what Jesus told his disciples in John 15:18-21:

“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.“But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.”

We know that this is the road on which all Christians are heading. It is why we are carrying a cross on our back, so that our persecutors won’t need to find a cross to do away with us.

According to the unsealed scroll of the Lamb in Revelation, beautifully demonstrated in the Bible Project’s first Read Scripture video on Revelation, the persecution of Christians, and the vindication of them by God is the one thing that brings the nations to repentance. God’s judgment alone does not bring about repentance, but further hardens people’s hearts in rebellion against God. It is when people see the saints imitating the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross that they see the character of God and are either damned or redeemed. This is the message of the cross that is so offensive to the world, and so saving to those of us who know Him.

Jesus knew humanity better than anyone else, and he knew the Scriptures give insight into humanity better than anything else, and because of this, he knew persecution was inevitable. And so, he called the believer to be equipped for it. “If anyone seeks to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” So often you have heard people talk about denying themselves and picking up their cross, but really few Christians in our circles do. This means a lot more than going through a hard time.

Some Problematic Ideologies

I have heard some believers say this to me, and some might even be saying it in their heads now as they read: “I knew it! The only way the church can be woken up is to be persecuted. We need some persecution in order for there to be a revival.” This is wrongly ordered. The Church does NOT need to be persecuted to be awakened. The church needs to be awakened in order to be persecuted. How’s that for a motivation for Revival Church meetings? Do you want another Pentecost now?

Many other Christians have come to faith being told that Jesus went to the cross so that they don’t have to. A gross misinformation. I hope you were not brought to Christ with that non-sense bargain. Jesus went to the cross to show how much God loved you, and show you how much to love your neighbor. If you’re not ready to give your life (either by living or by dying) for your friend, can you rightly say that Christ is living in you? “And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to him.” ~Romans 8

Many Christians cannot bear the thought of this stage, because they have not passed the other stages. They are already fallen into pitfalls content to merely pursue spirituality, or stay babes in tradition, or use their regeneration as license to sin, or compromise with the Evil One, or seek the approval of men, or do all for a worldly end, or appease the evil rulers who wish to shut them up. But for those who will do none of these things, persecution is the only way that the world can shut up the truth– by killing the messenger.

And finally there are those who may mistake this exhortation for a call to seek out persecution. Nope. Jesus in Matthew 10 instructs his disciples,

“Whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes.”

Jesus avoided people who were trying to kill him until his time had come, but when it came, he showed us how we are to behave in this stage.

As you would face persecution I would encourage you to read and reread 1 Peter, and Matthew 10 gives all the instructions needed, especially vs 16-32, but there are more applications fruitful to consider in light of other passages.

Application and Pitfall

  1. Arm yourself with this purpose: to suffer for Christ. Keep yourself ready at any moment to be given up as an offering to God, by denying yourself and daily laying everything down. Peter exhorts the church in 1 Peter 4:1-2 to do the same. “Since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.”~1 Peter 4:1-2.
  2. Don’t die til Golgotha. Jesus had a specific place and time to give his life. So, I tell you, don’t lay it down sooner than the place God has for you. Jesus eluded people’s grasp when they tried to seize him. (John 10:39)
  3. Entrust yourself to God. Peter wrote of Jesus that “while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously. “1 Peter 2:23. Dear Christian brother, this will be your ultimate test of faith. Trust Him. He is good, and there is more going on than you can see.
  4. Avoid the pitfall of Apostasy. Do not deny Christ when your life is on the line. Remember what Jesus said, “The one who endures to the end will be saved.” Matthew 10:22. Do not think you have suffered enough. Jesus suffered to the end. Don’t give up. There is more of his love to show that the persecutors need to see. When you have no more love, remember that it is God’s love that is your reservoir. He will give you what you need.
  5. Forgive your persecutors. Jesus didn’t just tell us to forgive others, he showed us at the darkest moment of his life what it means to forgive others. On the Cross, he cried out, “Father forgive them. They known not what they do.” Stephen when he was stoned, said, “Lord do not count this sin against them.” This is supernatural love.
  6. Testify. If you have a chance to share the gospel with your persecutors before you give your life, let the Holy Spirit bring the words that they need to hear.
  7. Rejoice! In Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, there are recorded the brightest flashes of holy joy on the faces of those who paid the ultimate price as Jesus did. Do not be afraid. You are entering into the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ! Rejoice! The world will see Heaven’s reflection on your face, just like Stephen’s!

Final Thought: There are countless brothers and sisters being persecuted right now. These brothers and sisters make up the body of Christ. With real blood they are suffering real pain. And when people forget how much God loves them, the persecuted and the martyrs remind us: Jesus’s body still bleeds for the world.

“To a Mature Man”: Stage 7– Justice

Dear brother,

– – Recently, I saw someone post on facebook that they didn’t believe the Church should be a platform for social justice. I can agree with this on one point as was discussed in the previous post: the Christian must avoid using God’s power to fight battles that are not God’s Kingdom battles. On another point, I disagree. The church should be the example of real justice under the One True Judge of all humanity. This idea of justice being the next stage beyond Spirit-empowered Service, has much that needs to be said about it:

  • The Biblical concept of Justice
  • The Activeness of Injustice
  • Jesus’ example
  • The Church’s Pattern
  • Application

BIBLICAL JUSTICE

It is rather unfortunate in many modern congregations at which I have attended, in popular musicals, and even popular music on the Radio, that Justice is derogated while Mercy is praised. It seems that Justice has come to mean, “rigid adherence to rules at the expense of people’s true benefit.” I am appalled at the misunderstanding, and find it rooted in a misapprehension of the Biblical meaning of Justice.

In the Bible Justice, as the Bible Project explains in their video on Justice, is “Retributive and Restorative.” That means that the purpose of Justice is to restore people’s dignity and right standing before God and man. This idea of Justice continues into the New Testament as a people of God are constantly identifying with the poor, weak, and oppressed and treating them as people made in God’s image. This idea has been lost in many Christian circles, but as anyone who has been wronged will tell you, it is vital to the Church’s mission.

Because of what happened in the Garden, we now have two forms of Justice: God’s Justice, and Man’s Justice. These two are split because of sin, and that split is the cause of all the conflicts we see in the world today. To stand for Justice means to stand for the Kingdom of God systemically and diametrically and fundamentally contrary to the system of sinful man’s justice. It is calling humanity to submit to God’s justice and do that justice to their fellow man.

It was this Justice which Israel was neglecting when they got away from the Torah after David and Solomon’s reign. They entered into greater, and greater injustice though the prophet cried out to them, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Preserve justice and do righteousness, For My salvation is about to come And My righteousness to be revealed.” Isaiah 56:1

THE ACTIVENESS OF INJUSTICE

And Man’s justice is riddled with injustice in the world today. This isn’t simply because of a lack of good, but it is due to evil people using their power for themselves, to build their own kingdoms on the back of those who lose much in the process. This is a justice taken out of God’s hands and placed into the hands of sinful men.

The reason why this stage comes later than Service, is because Service is an advance of God’s kingdom in smaller ways, which accomplishes a pillaging of the Kingdom of Darkness. A domination of the Kingdom of Darkness will require a more thorough dealing with the roots of the problems and binding the strong men that caused people to be spiritually and physically bound in the first place.

This justice can only be achieved by taking a stand directly against the ones who are causing the injustice. God’s justice vs. man’s justice.

JESUS’ EXAMPLE

Jesus faced the ones who had usurped their power and authority to leave people physically and spiritually impoverished: The religious leaders. Just read the woes against them in Matthew 23.

  • They keep people out of God’s Kingdom.
  • They have gotten people’s eyes on things of man rather than things of God.
  • They neglected the weightier provisions of the Law, Justice, Mercy, and Faithfulness.
  • They outwardly looked good while inwardly were greedy and wicked.
  • They claim allegiance to God, but put his servants to death.

They have changed God’s justice for a system of man’s justice. And when Jesus spoke these things, the Pharisees tried their own subtle tactics of power-bending. “Let us try to catch him in something he might say.” We see this episode unfold in Matthew 22.

Just as Jesus was in the wilderness and tested in three ways, so now, once again he is tested in three different areas. Indeed it was the three tests he had already faced and conquered that prepared him for this one.

  1. Political. Should we pay taxes to Ceasar or not? Here Jesus is given the question of whether or not he will submit to the rule of a fallen man, and council others to do the same. Jesus masterfully handled this by reminding the people and the Pharisees that they were to recognize the high authority of Ceasar, and the HIGHEST Authority of God who had stamped his image and name on his people. God’s Justice supreme to man’s justice.
  2. Theological. Misunderstandings about God cause debates. The debate in Luke 20 was about Resurrection and Marriage, and Jesus corrected their thinking in both instances by going back to the character of the One, and how he made what he made. Who is the God and what is His Character? You must submit all theology to the One who truly is God, and include Him in the conversation.
  3. Scriptural. Then the Lawyer asked him what the greatest commandment was, and quite interestingly, he combines the love for God and the love for neighbor, which is the fulfillment of the whole Torah. This is the Justice of God: to Love your neighbor. A far cry from man’s justice. This is the Kingdom of God coming in relationship with each other.

Jesus counselled the people listening to him in this way in Luke 20,

46 “Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets. 47 Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be severely punished.”

THE CHURCH’S PATTERN

And so, we have people who submit to God’s rule and God’s Justice–the Church, and we have those who operate according to Man’s Rule and man’s justice. The church does not deny that there is a rule of humanity under God. It’s that the rule is under God that is so important. In stage 7, a believer must operate according to the rule of God, and oppose, and speak against the rule of man which hinder’s God’s justice from being done.

This will mean not just pillaging the villages of the conquest of man’s injustice by healing, preaching, casting out demons, and serving, but also going to the Capital City of the Authorities who are not submitted to the rule of God. As Jesus opposed the religious leaders’ rebellion against God politically, theologically, and judicially, so Paul the Apostle went the whole way to the highest authority in the land, the Emperor. Paul is an example of one who went all the way to stage 7, by seeking to right the Kingdom of Darkness back under the rule of the King of Light.

The Church also must operate under this same directive, but not without the Spirit’s power. The pitfall to avoid in this stage is Appeasement. This means submitting to the Kingdom of Man in a way that prevents a supernatural spread of the Spirit’s work in the world.

One example of this in the secular arena can be seen in Tom Clancy’s Clear and Present Danger, when Jack Ryan goes all the way to the President of the United States and shows the president how crooked he is. How does the ruler respond? With submission to what is truly right and just? No, but with flattery, threats, and attempts at appeasement. First he says, “You’re not going to tell on me. You’ve got a chip in the big game now, You’re gonna tuck that away for a day when your a– is on the line, and I’m going to cash it in for you.” This tactic does not succeed, and in the second attack he basically says, “You can’t do this to America. America can’t afford another scandal right now. They’ll more readily blame you than they will blame me.” And Jack does not bite. Third, “And the rest of the blame will fall on [your honored friend] Greer.” Personal, Self-interest, National interest . . . it is the way of the powers of the world to threaten, manipulate, obligate, and enslave: all to keep the system of man’s rule in tact, without submitting to God’s rule, justice, and authority. As the President in the story called it, “The Potomac Two-Step.” But the Christian who would seek to grow up to full maturity, and the church who would fully live out their calling, must say, just as the protagonist Jack Ryan said, “Sorry, Mr. President. I don’t dance.”

APPLICATION

  1. Disentangle oneself. If the Christian is to be effective for the Kingdom, he must be humble, taught, filled, proved, commissioned, accomplished, and finally disentangled from the boundaries of the Justice of Man, which even find pigeon-holes for “church.” While many churches enjoy the small territory the government of man gives them, the government continues to perpetuate problems of injustice in society. If, however, God’s people, empowered by the Holy Spirit can function without the support of protection of the government, the government will have no control over it.
  2. Submit to the governing authorities. This may seem contradictory to the first application, but it is necessary to maintain the order God ordains. (Romans 13:1-7) The rulers of man, may be disobedient to their master, but we must obey them, so long as we can through obeying them obey our master in Heaven. Justice is not about doing away with man’s rule, but rather re-establishing man’s rule in submission to God’s rule.
  3. As rulers and authorities come against the Christian, they must avoid the pitfall of appeasement by not heeding their threats. Here indeed, Jesus’ words to his disciples whom he sends out are key. “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” This is the Christian’s call to Stand for Justice.
  4. Call forth the leaders of the rulers of men to submit to God’s rule, but do so in this way. Jesus continued in Matthew 10:18-20.

You will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles[Nations]. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.

Thus shall the people of God do, who earnestly pray that God’s rule come as it is in Heaven so also upon the earth.