“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.
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“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 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.

Burnout

In the famous The Tortoise and the Hare story, children are taught that slow and steady wins the race. I wish ministers were taught that fast and steady brings the burnout.

One sign that God’s servants are hooked up to a finite power source such as coffee, food, screen time, entertainment, hobbies, relationships, or the praise of men is burnout.

The Almighty power of God will never burnout, and its power outlet is found on the side of the wooden beams of Jesus’ own cross.

If you’re not carrying His cross, you are powerless. If you are not deriving your every sustainence from the Word of God, you have only pseudo-power. E. M. Bounds was right, prayer is where the power is, but that’s just because prayer brings a person into contact with the Almighty power of God. Only the humble will actually be strengthened by it though.

God is a Father, Lord, Friend, Priest, and the One who has borne everything you have carried; He knows. The guilt from burnout needs to be kept in the presence of God. It is mere pride which drives a man away from God out of guilt. Humble guilt runs to God, not from Him. If you can’t hear Him, then for His goodness sake run to Him. Leave every net behind!

If the shell that the body of Christ is wearing now–the exoskeleton of denominational Christianity which is only affordable in a pluralistic, materialistic, and person-centered culture like America–is tiring out the very soldiers who live to sustain it to the point where they are morally, spiritually, and societally compromised, then we either need better leaders or a better exoskeleton. I’ve got a feeling that God wants both.

The Mountain

A young mountain grew taller and taller. The rocks grew stronger and stronger. The mountain took its shape, and started oozing with lava out the sides. One part of the rock split from the pressure, and the weakness of the stone. Another part of the rock split with a burst of flame and lava, and so another rock sculpture was being formed. The wind and rain beat against the rocks, and lightning struck from stormy clouds, and some rocks broke from the mountain. Some rocks refused to bend and be consumed, and they were covered over by the new waves of the same lava which formed the whole mountain. The shape of the mountain now was becoming a monstrous mass of various peaks and crags, but no single mountainous shape.

Then, all of a sudden, up the original central shaft, a burst of fire exploded from the top of the mountain. It spewed such a mighty and rapturous noise of New Earth, that the sidelong peaks crumbled and fell inwards toward the center, and the lava from the top filled in the crags and shapes with its blessing, until at last, it stood: a mountain reaching the heavens, filling the whole earth.

Prayer, Bible-reading, and Fasting: A Practical Guide to Spiritual Discipline

My dear sister in Christ,

– – We all are fighting many battles. We each have many victories and many defeats of which we can boast. To aid you in your plight, I have some thoughts on Spiritual Disciplines that I hope may be useful to a practical person such as yourself. May you find the blessing of a loving brother reflecting the love of the Big brother too both of us: Jesus Christ.

– – It may not seem like it, but Jesus can really identify with everything that we go through. On the surface, it looks totally different: Jesus was not a wife and mother of two adorable yet sinful children. The reason he can is because all three temptations to which Eve and Adam fell, are the same three temptations with which Israel was tried in the wilderness for 40 years. and by which Jesus was tempted by the devil for 40 days. The three roots of all the sin in our lives can be boiled down to these:

  1. Cravings–Selfish desires to satisfy the lust of our flesh.
  2. Mistrust– Not fully believing that God is good, or His word is trustworthy
  3. Rebellion– gaining power for ourselves, independent of God, submitting to anything but Him.

Adam and Eve both fell to these three temptations in Eden, Israel fell to these in the Wilderness, but Jesus in the Wilderness did not. This stage of Jesus life comes after Jesus’ Baptism, and he enters by the holy Spirit’s leading into the desert and he beats Satan’s temptations and leaves with the Holy Spirit’s power, which he cultivated in three practical ways: Fasting, Prayer, and the Word of God. These three practices have a specific objective to teach a particular State of being, which can counteract the State of sin into which we are born. These three practices have the potential by the Spirit’s aid to strengthen the Christian for any struggle he or she faces: whether tangible or intangible, visible or invisible, emotional or rational, external or internal.

Preliminary caution: Nothing can be done except by the leading of the Holy Spirit. Make sure He’s even on board with you, or you are going nowhere like a boat with sail raised and no wind.

  1. Fasting. Jesus ate nothing for 40 days, and Satan said, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.” In the Greek it is clear that he was not trying to get Jesus to doubt that he was God’s son. On the contrary, he was saying that since he was the son of God he had the power to gratify his own desires. However, Jesus humbly responds with the lesson that Moses told the people of Israel that God was trying to teach them in the wilderness for 40 years: “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” The key thing Jesus held to in his temptation here was radical DEPENDENCE on God. It is the only way we can beat this particular root cause of sin in our lives: we depend on God for everything. Jesus learned this lesson of Dependence on God through Fasting.
    – – Practical ways to do this. Fasting means 1. denying ourselves something precious to us in which we find great happiness and joy, and depend on for our very livelihood for a period of time, and 2. replacing that very thing with reading God’s word, talking with God, listening for God in silence, doing things for others and serving God, focusing all your energies mental and physical on trying to know God intimately, doing nothing until you hear God’s voice tell you to, etc. Example: Instead of eating a meal, spending time reading scripture. Instead of watching TV, praying, instead of listening to music, practicing silent waiting on the Lord to Speak. Any period of time that practically works for you: an hour, a day, a week, a month, as the Holy Spirit leads you.
    Again, the goal of this practice is to depend on God for everything, your sustenance, your sanity, your spiritual well-being. Not only will the fruit of the Spirit self-control be added unto you, but also the fruit of patience, and peace.
  2. The Word of God. In addition to Scripture memory, which we both have had and has served us well, there is an even greater importance on appreciating the whole Story of the Bible. G.K. Chesterton helped C.S. Lewis recognize the Bible as the True story meant to capture the imagination as well as the mind’s search for truth when he said this, “Christianity met the mythological search for romance by being a story, and met the philosophical search for truth by being a true story.”~Everlasting Man The Gospel story from Genesis to Revelation serves one purpose: to reveal God’s righteousness from faith to faith. (Romans 1:16) The Bible does not assume that we just assume God is righteous, it shows us how especially in the Old Testament leading to the Gospels. This way the Word of God reveals God shows us one thing “God is trustworthy.” When Jesus was tempted to jump off the pinnacle of the temple, Satan told him, “Son of God, God said he’d take care of you, so go ahead and jump.” Jesus’ response “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” Indicates there was an implicit temptation of mistrust in Satan’s suggestion. Jesus however responds by saying in essence, “God has shown Himself to be trustworthy more times than I need. I will not test Him.” He learned this from reading the Hebrew Old Testament, and seeing the story of the Bible unfold to where he was. Through all he read, he learned radical TRUST in his father.
    Practical ways to do this: Reading God’s Word as a true story will give your imagination opportunities to wonder at God again, to take into your heart the same truths you wish for your own children to embrace. The Bible isn’t a collection of laws, but a story with laws in them, and that story reveals two main things: God is good, and we are rebellious. One resource I highly recommend is the Bible Project. They have Youtube videos explaining the Bible themes, Books of the Bible, Hebrew words, and more all in engaging, animated videos which kids from 4th Grade and up can appreciate. I recommend their Video series on the Torah (The first 5 books) and their “read through the Bible” series on each book of the Bible, and also reading the books of the Bible trying to trace the story line from Genesis to Revelation.
    Again, the goal here is to teach you the same radical TRUST Jesus had in His father by seeing how God has dealt with the world up to this point.
  3. Prayer. This is the big one, and I am glad to hear how you have already incorporated this one into your life so much! When Satan tempted Jesus with all the kingdoms of the world, if he would simply fall down and worship Satan, there was only one way Jesus could say no to that temptation. DEVOTION: a love for God that would rather have Him than anything else. Fasting, and reading God’s Word foster this too, but there is something about the intimacy and communion of prayer, rivaling marital copulation in love shared. Prayer is where we meet with God, know God, love God, and are met, known, and loved. E. M. Bounds wrote a book, “Power through Prayer” explaining these principles that prayer is where a Christian derives his power. The secret to this is two fold: on the one hand, we are made in God’s image, and the more time we spend with the one whose image we bear, the more our broken image is remolded and reshaped into His likeness. (Example: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story the Great Stone Face.) But on the other hand, God is love, and this love can only be shared and expressed in a close intimate encounter and continual DEVOTION to the beautiful God whose beauty melts the heart of stone with His pure love.
    Practical ways to do this: “Pray without ceasing.” I like to apply this by making God a part of every conversation: not talking about Him, but talking with everyone as if God is standing right next to you. Talking with Him about everything. It takes practice, but it becomes super easy the more intimate and excited you get when you recognize how He is feeling, acting, and thinking toward others around you in any given moment in time. Also, setting aside time to keep Him as the main thing. Everything else in the world will vie for your attention, and every responsibility will chain you up unless you make the choice deliberately that God is the the most important person in your life, and you would rather have Him than ANYTHING. Finally, praying with people so that it becomes not only a personal devotion, but a mutual encouragement to share God’s love.

One final thought: Please do not pursue the practical at the expense of the personal. It may be my personality coming out here, but I believe there is a personal root to everything. I encourage you to follow these practical steps wherever you can, and do not forget that He’s right there personally available for all of it. Expect to fail and learn to depend on God even in your failures.

May God bless you, my sister, and I hope that we both may mutually grow into the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge. God’s peace be with your spirit.

Eternity and Caffiene

The more we feed on corruptible things
The more our bodies are broken down by it.
The more we feed on eternal things
The more our bodies are renewed by it.

I came to understand this, bless the Lord who is merciful and just, after a week where He gave me a specific directive, “No chocolate.” It wasn’t even words. It was merely a feeling deep within my spirit, as He was inviting me to follow his leading in a deeper non-verbal way. I thought of chocolate, and knew I was not to eat it. But what was weird was, I could eat it, and He said it was okay. The first day of school–Monday, I turned down a chocolate cupcake that was apparently “divine” according to all my other friends. The entire day, I ate no chocolate, no coffee, just ordinary food. And to celebrate the blessing of Monday, I ate chocolate. The next day, my hand and my arm were scraped up from a nasty fall, and I had one of the most chaotic chorus teaching days in my career. I ate a bit of chocolate each day for the next four days, and the week ended with a class of discouragement, and lethargy and longing for the weekend, and feeling dismal about my work.

I have been reading The Refiner’s Fire with my wife at night, and as we read last night, T. Austin-Sparks wrote:

“Dependency on the Lord is a governing and an abiding law of true spiritual power.”

Examples of this in practice involve feasting upon eternity at the cost of the material. Fasting serves this purpose. Silence, waiting, giving, sacrifice, all of these things exercise the heart to lay hold of what really matters, to avoid the snare of the empty corruptible resources of this world.

In common terms, have we not even seen that foods that are natural are full of nutrients, but the more they are processed by the devices of men, they are stripped of their nourishment? The life is the same way. If you feast on God, you will not only be satisfied, but even your hungry times will be hopeful. If you feast on the devices of man, you ingest the woeful product of man’s corruptibility, which more often than not works for a temporal and fleeting end, rather than a spiritual and eternal one.

Even now, on this day of rest, as I write this work, my body reels for more caffeine, but my heart is growing strong in its absence. Not because chocolate is any evil thing. It is merely temporal, but God has bound up eternity in the heart of humanity. This is why it is so true that, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” It is the breath and thought and person of God which sustains our souls for life.

The reason I feel I must publish this, is I see more and more the T-shirts with the cute slogan which helps us laugh at our Christianity translated through American Culture. “I can do all things with Christ . . . and Coffee.” I would laugh, but the matter is too grievous. I do not judge the practice of eating or drinking. I do not have that right. What I do judge is the proud display of Jesus + something else, as the basis for our life. To lean on anything at all beyond just Jesus, is the very spirit of idolatry which breathes corruption into our daily lives.

Do you not know the flesh wars against the spirit,
And that the spirit wars against the flesh?
What provision do you make for the flesh that you may fulfill it’s desires?
Do you caffeinate your body so it can function in a society based on too much work, noise, and business?
Isn’t the church called to more than that?
One of the hindrances to power in the church today, is that we do not know how to be utterly dependent on God.
We are afraid of what from ourselves or our possessions that would cost us.

Christ + Coffee is a house divided against itself. It cannot stand.

Do not be so simple as to think I’m really talking about Coffee as being an inherent evil. If you think so, I think you are looking for fault in what I say in order to preserve your own affection or dependence. And yet, why is it that the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians, “Do not be drunk with wine, which is dissipation, but be filled by the spirit.” I think we could have a modern translation of that, “Don’t live on coffee, which is dissipation, but be filled by the spirit!” “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.” If you are not feeling liberty in your life, I would suggest you are walking in something less than God’s spirit.

I have written this for myself. I sit here in a quiet place, waiting on the Lord. I step out on faith that the energy I do not have is supplied by God for what I need. And if I look to Coffee, it will let me down. If I look to chocolate, it will let me down. Time is too short, to live a dis-empowered spiritual life, because you have substituted holy joy for entertainment, and spiritual power for caffeinated power. Both will be tried by fire, and there will not be enough coffee to put out that fire. It is an all consuming fire. All that remains is what is of eternity. When your life is burned up before the presence of a Holy God who judges the living and the dead, how much will be burned up because it was based on coffee, and how much of it will survive the trial because it was based on nothing but Christ Himself?

Jesus’ Rule and Human Destiny

Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale shared last week that one of the fundamental questions to be answered by any worldview is “What is my purpose?” The Bible answers this question by saying that God made human beings to rule and fill the earth. (Genesis 1:28) Their rule was submitted to His rule, but He gave the earth to Adam’s children to rule (Psalm 115:16).

The fundamental loss of this purpose, which happened when Adam sinned, is he disobeyed God to usurp God’s rule over him in order to be his own ruler like God. I find it fascinating how resonant stories of deep meaning in our lives have picked up on this motif of a second in command usurping and supplanting his master by seizing power for himself. For example, STAR WARS has made this as one of the cardinal principles of the Dark side of the Sith. The apprentice always kills the master. Disobedient to authority, eventually leading to deposition of authority. In Antman, the apprentice eventually overthrows and undoes his mentor. This way of usurping authority in rebellion is the classic evil of Satan’s sin against God.

A beautiful contrast of this is seen in the humility of King David. He refused twice to lay hold of the crown for himself: to strike down the current King Saul. In this way, he showed himself to be a man after God’s own heart, and it was his line that was blessed and established for the Messiah to come through.

Go back further, and another example: Joseph. When he was 2nd in command of Potiphar’s house, and though he was tempted day after day by his bride, he said, “My master has entrusted everything to me in this house, save you. How can I do this great wickedness and sin against my God.” (Genesis 39.)

Human kind was made to rule, but the way of rule is not to escape authority, or to crush it, but to submit to it. To stay close enough to the Moses, that He chooses you to be his Joshua.

God desires such to serve Him, and you will never serve a better master than He.