Kamis, 31 Desember 2009
Looking At God!
By Malcolm Webber www.leadersource.org
Transformational Thinking: Looking at God #1
The first element of transformational thinking is looking at God. The continuous experience of inward union with Christ is the source and center of all other healthy thinking behaviors.
I want to know Christ… (Phil. 3:10)
This was Paul’s cry, his passionate pursuit. To know the Lord Jesus is the greatest prize, far surpassing everything else in this life (Phil. 3:4-9).
Jesus defined “eternal life” the same way: eternal life is to know God.
Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3)
But, what exactly does it mean to “know” Jesus Christ? What does it mean to “know” God?
In the world, there are many ideas about what it means to “know God.” Here are a few:
* To know God is to serve others.
* To know God is to obey moral rules.
* To know God is to perform religious rituals.
* To know God is to have an accurate understanding about Him.
* To know God is to sense the beauty and grandeur of His creation.
* To know God is to feel the passion and depth of the arts.
* To know God is to experience wonderful emotions of peace and joy.
* To know God is to achieve an inward state of freedom from selfish desires.
According to each of these various approaches, if you do this then you “know God.” To do it means to know God.
According to the New Testament, however, none of these definitions is satisfactory. Biblically, knowing Christ is the gift from God of an inward experience of fellowship with Him, by His Spirit and through His Word, which results in the transformation of every aspect of life.
First, it is His gift. We can know Jesus because, by His death on the cross, He paid the penalty for our sins, reconciling us to God.
… since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand… God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Rom. 5:1-5)
It is the gift of God – and it is always His gift – that we can know Him. We do not earn fellowship with God. He gives Himself to us. Throughout our lives we grow in our union with Christ, but we never earn it – whether by external obedience or inward spiritual exercise.
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb. 10:19-22)
Second, while knowing God is an experience, it is not an emotional, intellectual or physical one (although it will impact these aspects of life). In our hearts, we look at God, we receive His love, we love Him, we know Him.
And we all, with unveiled face [in our hearts, v. 15], beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:18, ESV)
Third, it is by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit reveals to us the Son of God who reveals the Father.
All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you. (John 16:15)
Consequently, through the indwelling Spirit we have the fullness of the Godhead abiding in us!
Fourth, we find inward union with God through His Word. The Word of God reveals Him in truth and power.
We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3)
Finally, knowing God results in transformation of all we are and do (Rom. 6:1-4). This will mean peace with God (Rom. 5:1), obedience (John 14:15; 1 John 3:24), holiness (Rom. 8:3-4; 1 John 2:3-6), vision and fruitfulness (John 15:5), endurance with hope in times of suffering (2 Cor. 4:16-18), and love and servanthood toward others (Gal. 5:13-14).
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor. 5:17)
In our next Letter, we will begin to look at the practical dynamics of this inward union with Christ – how it “works” – particularly as it relates to Christian leadership.
What A Sight
Brad arrived at work on time as always. As he walked in the door, he was greeted by the secretary of the little company he worked for.
Marla was not a raving beauty, but she sure knew how to make herself look good. Today she was wearing an outfit that really made her figure stand out. Her hair was neatly styled to enhance the shape of her face, and the right balance of powder, eye shadow and lipstick made her look really attractive.
Brad was a happily married man, and he was not in the habit of looking at other women. But the sight of Marla and the way that she presented herself, was something that any normal red- blooded man would notice.
He did not lust after her. He just felt something stir inside of him. He tried to imagine Kathy, his wife, dressed and made up like that. She looked really good when she did. Then, pushing aside the natural male response to a beautiful woman, he walked to his office and sat down to work.
Before long, the tasks of the day began to fill his mind. Phone calls, projects, letters, emails to reply to and all of the usual daily activities kept his mind busy. In the middle of his intense activity, he was interrupted by a knock on the door. It was Betty, a co-worker, needing a file that was on his desk.
He looked up to see her leaning over his desk. She had a lovely smile on her face, but that was not what caught Brad's eyes. She was wearing a low cut dress, and as she leaned down to pick up the file, he could not avoid looking right down the front to see a sight that he should not have seen.
"Pull yourself together Brad " he said to himself ", you should not be affected by other women."
But he was affected, and no matter how much he tried to fight it, he found a strong desire rising up inside of him. He and Kathy had not made love for over a week now. It seemed that they were both living in different worlds at times, and they just did not get time for intimacy.
But now a strong desire was beginning to arise in him to be intimate with a woman. Not just any woman though. As lovely as all these other women were, it was Kathy that he loved. He looked forward to going home to be with her.
Brad shut out of his mind all the pictures that the enemy had started to put there. He was not going to give in to the spirit of lust that was attacking him right how. He thought of his lovely wife. He pictured her in his mind, with her hair brushed and arranged, and her makeup done the way he liked it.
He could see her wearing that red dress he had bought her. She looked so good in it. She was so beautiful when she smiled sweetly. He knew what he was going to do when he got home. He was going to take her right away to the bedroom and express all the love that was burning inside of him.
As the day progressed, it seemed that Brad bumped into one beautiful woman after another. Even when he walked past newsstands on the way to his car at the end of the day, it seemed as though the women on the covers of the magazines were calling out to him.
The journey home seemed to last forever. He could not wait to get home to his lovely wife. She would look so lovely, just to please him. She would greet him with a smile on her face. She would welcome him into her loving arms.
These thoughts were still in his mind as he walked into the front door of his home. He nearly tripped over something that had been left lying on the floor of the hallway, and it soon became apparent that not much had been tidied up in the house today.
“Hi Honey, I’m home!” he shouted
There was no response, so he walked though into the living room to see where his wife was. The sound of the television blaring showed that she was probably watching something. Sure enough, this is where he found her. She was sitting watching TV, and when he walked in and tried to say something, he got an immediate “Ssshhhh, I am busy” from her.
It did not take long for him to see that she had made hardly any effort on her appearance. The dull and faded old top she was wearing was still wrinkled and had probably been lying around un-ironed for some time. Her baggy pants made her look much fatter than she really was and was hardly flattering for her figure. Her plain face contained not a trace of makeup, and her straggly un-brushed hair added to the sloppy appearance.
Brad loved his wife. But any visions of making love to a beautiful woman vanished like smoke in the air. The scowl on her face when he tried to say something to her, made her the most unattractive woman he had seen all day. He thought about Marla, who had looked so good all day at work, and Betty, whose body had stirred him. He thought of all the smiling, beautiful women he had met and talked with during the day.
Walking to the bedroom, he threw down his briefcase, kicked off his shoes, and sat down on the comfortable chair in front of his computer. Perhaps there was something of interest in his email box. There certainly was nothing of interest in his home tonight.
What bothered him the most though, was that Kathy did not consider him important enough to at least make herself look a little more attractive for him. She was more interested in other things. He felt hurt and disappointed.
Selasa, 29 Desember 2009
Your Unique Walk
As footprints in the sand are totally different, so is your walk in the spiritual realm. For indeed some footprints are big; some are small. Some are going one way; others are going in the opposite direction. Some are faint; others are firmly indented in the sand.
My child, just as each footprint is not quite the same as the others, even so your ministry and what I have called you to do are unique! You may be similar to others out there. You may think that you are doing it just the same as someone else. But there is one small thing that will separate you and make you different from each other.
For I have called you to walk on your road, and it is special and unique to me. I have chosen you to walk it, because you are the most qualified to do it. And indeed I have put in you the qualities to do this job.
So do not think that you do not fit in. Do not think that you are a failure and are wasting your time. For where I have placed you, there I will show you how to walk it. All you have to do is take the first step forward and I will help you to walk it out in victory and blessing.
Know that you are special to me, and I desire you to be special to others too. So flow out in love to those around you and let them see that special person that I have called you to be! Then you will be blessed as you pour out, and be blessed back in return by those you minister to.
Sabtu, 26 Desember 2009
Get Out of the Stroller
You have been as a young child who has been pushed everywhere in a stroller. But the time must come for the baby to grow up. The time must come for the toddler to walk instead of being carried.
So I have carried you says the Lord, as a mother carries a young child, while that child is too weak to carry itself.
But now the time has come for you to stretch your spiritual legs and stand on your own feet. It is time to step out of the stroller and take the full weight on your own legs.
For I have indeed allowed you a time of rest, because your strength was low, and you needed a time where you would be free of pressure and difficulty. And this time has allowed you to regain your strength.
Now you are strong enough to step out and take a greater load than you have been able to handle until now. You are ready to face greater pressures and engage in higher levels of spiritual warfare.
Do not see this as Me removing My protection and care from you. For I will never leave you nor forsake you. Rather see it as an opportunity to grow and reach out beyond where you have walked up until now.
And as you begin to step out using what I have taught you, your strength will grow rapidly. Just as an athlete trains by increasing the stress applied to the body, so you will grow by facing greater challenges.
But know that I have not taken away My covering from you. And when the going becomes too difficult, you can return any time to the safety of My protection. As a child becomes weary and cries to return to the stroller, so you too can come to Me at any time and I will lift you up and give you a time of rest.
So welcome the opportunities that will arise now, and use them wisely. And soon you will come to a place where you can accomplish far more for My Kingdom and realize far more of your own personal goals and dreams says the Lord.
Minggu, 20 Desember 2009
Things You Should Notice
Do you find that you often get too busy to notice?
- Did you notice that today your wife was wearing something new?
- Did you notice that your husband was trying to be more considerate?
- Did you notice that your wife was trying to get a message across to you without just coming out and saying it? Did you not notice the hints she was dropping?
- Did you notice that your husband was not himself, and was carrying a care deep inside?
You can get so busy with your life and your work that you often are too wrapped up in yourself. When this happens, you tend to neglect the most important person in your life.
If your spouse is like most other spouses this is what will happen. She will start to feel that you do not love her. He will feel that he is not very important to you.
So here is the project I would like to give you for today. It is a very simple one, and will cost you little time and effort. But the results will be worth far more than what it cost you.
1. Try to be aware of what is happening inside your partner. Look carefully at them and see what you can discover.
2. In counseling we call this ‘halo data.’ It is the things that someone says without really saying anything. Some people have called this body language. They say that you can tell what is in a person’s mind from the way they move their body. But as a believer you have more than that. You have the revelation of the Holy Spirit.
3. Say something to show your partner that you have noticed them. If she is wearing a nice dress; if her hair is looking good; if her makeup is done well; anything at all that you can notice. This might be something small, but just saying it can have a wonderful effect on the person.
4. Do not try to point out the negative things. This will make the person feel unhappy and condemned. Rather find something that will make you say, “I really like that.”
If you get into the habit of doing this all the time, you will be amazed what a difference it will make in your relationship. And it is not only women who need this, but the men also. We all have a need for acceptance and recognition at times. And who better to help meet this need than the person who is closest to you?
What if your partner asks your opinion and you have to give an honest answer? What if you wife asks, “What do you think of this dress?” and you think it is really horrible. Do you just tell her the truth.
Yes, you must always tell the truth. You cannot lie. But the Scripture shows us how we should tell the truth.
Ephesians 4:15 But speaking the truth in [agape] love, may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, [namely] Christ: (GMR)
There is a way to tell the truth that will bring pain, and there is a way to tell the truth that will encourage and motivate.
If you are mentoring someone, you might have to tell the truth in order to chisel away the stone and expose their inner hearts. But your spouse is not your disciple. He or she is your partner. So when you tell the truth or address a fault, you must realize that you are actually also speaking to yourself.
Your husband or wife are part of you in the Lord. So when you try to fix something, realize that if you hurt your partner, you are also hurting yourself. And realize also that if your partner fails, you have also failed. Because God sees you as one person in Him.
So to end this now, what should you be doing?
A. You should be looking all the time for good things that you can praise.
B. You should be looking for your own failures, and not those of your partner.
C. You should be telling your partner the lovely little things that you have noticed.
We will speak more about all of these things in the days and weeks that lie ahead. But today, why not start noticing your spouse like never before?
I know you are going to experience a wonderful blessing when you do this.
Selasa, 15 Desember 2009
Two Walking As One
I remember how fascinated I was many years ago, when I saw a movie which had morphing in it. (For those who do not know it, morphing is when one picture is gradually changed until it becomes another picture. Like turning a man into a woman, or a man into the face of an animal). I thought it was so clever that they could take a character and change them into someone completely different, and make it look as though it was happening in front of your eyes.
Marriage is similar to a morph - but there is a difference here. You are not changing one thing into another. You are morphing two things together to make a completely different picture! You are taking a husband and a wife as two separate people, and you are blending them into one complete, new person.
This is what you should be aiming for, whether you have been married for only a short while, or for many years. The two of you should become so one that you begin to say the same things or think the same things at the same time.
You might be thinking, “Oh boy, how is that possible? We’re completely different!”
Don’t worry, it is very possible! I’ll show you shortly how you can begin to make this happen. It is actually very easy! There is just one way that it will always succeed, and that is for both of you to work at it. So I want to encourage you to both do this, and you will begin to see the oneness starting to happen.
It Can Take Time
There is just one little problem. To change and become one doesn’t happen instantly or overnight. It sometimes takes time for it to happen. There are sometimes little things that stand in the way of you becoming fully one, and the Lord will often have to chip away at these problems bit by bit. It is kind of like the effect that the sea has on sharp rocks. As the water keeps on crashing over the rocks, they begin to bump against each other, and little by little the sharp edges begin to break off.
This is what will begin to happen to you as you both look to the Lord to make you one. He will begin by breaking off the sharp edges or the little things that stand in the way of making you one. Then He will blend you together so that you become like one person – thinking, feeling and acting the same. So don’t be discouraged if it looks like things are actually getting worse rather than better. Keep working at it and desiring to become that one person, and the Lord will make it happen. That is His part and the spiritual side. You can play a part in the natural too.
It Starts with Observation
You can speeden up the process! It starts by being aware of your spouse. Start by being observant. Watch your husband or wife closely and see how they react to certain things, what they like or dislike, what upsets them or makes them happy. You should be like a private investigator who has to pick up important data that other people often miss. Listen carefully to your spouse as they talk, and after a while you will begin to know what they would say and how they would say it.
It amazes me to see some marriages where the husband and wife have no idea what is going on in each other’s lives! They are simply like two people living in the same house, but they are so busy with their own lives they know nothing about their spouse and what they are like. They are two people each on their own agendas who happen to like each other - hopefully. Aside from that, there is no unity and no knowledge of the other person. How are you ever going to become one if you don’t know your husband or wife well?
When Les and I first got married, this was my greatest area of failure. I was so unobservant! I think I was kind of like what Jesus said to His disciples in Mark 8:18:
Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember?
I saw things happen to Les and I heard things that he spoke to me, but as fast as what it happened I forgot them, and got side-tracked with other things. It’s as though they didn’t penetrate, because I was too wrapped up in my own world to be aware or become involved with what was happening to him.
It is easy to become like this and I understand how it can happen, but I want to give you a challenge today: You can change! You can become more involved in your spouse’s world. You can become a part of them and what they do, think and desire, and bring about a huge downpour of blessing at the same time. The change must start with you, and then it will flow down to your spouse.
The next thing to do is communicate and share everything! We’ve dealt with this in quite a few studies already, but I want to remind you again and again until it becomes so easy that you will never have a problem with it! If you can get the communication part right then every little problem, blockage or barrier can be removed by the Lord, because nothing will stand in the way! Nothing will be hidden or vague, and you will not have small misunderstandings with your spouse that can cause such big problems.
As Les has shared, you should daily both talk and share everything that is on your heart: things that you desire, your dreams and visions, problems that you are experiencing, even if they seem small. If your spouse is talking – listen! You should be like a sponge that just soaks up every little drop of what they are saying. Then try and remember or be aware of everything that they have said. How else will you know what is happening in your spouse if you don’t take an interest? How else will you be able to meet his or her needs if you don’t do this?
Keys to Becoming One
Now you can join your heart to your husband or wife and stand with them. As you know all the things that your spouse has shared, you can stand on the promise of the Word that says, “Where two or more agree on anything, it shall be done by my Father in heaven.” You will often need that power of agreement with your spouse. You can also begin to flow in faith, hope and love with them. Here is a quick summary of how you can do this:
Faith: Whatever your spouse is desiring or praying about – join him or her in it. Pray for the same things. Agree with them and join your faith with theirs. You can pray together or separately – it doesn’t matter. The important thing is to be praying in the same direction. Then just trust the Lord to bring the answers in His way and His timing.
Hope: You need to expect the answer and not settle for anything less! See the Lord giving your spouse that answer. Imagine it and keep that picture in your mind continually, and it will happen at the right time. Then you can both rejoice and get excited about the answer.
Love: Continue to love your spouse unconditionally, whether they love you back or not. They may be under pressure or going through a hard time, and they may ignore you or snap at you. I know that this is hard to accept if it happens, but it won’t last. Your love will work on your spouse like a sharp sword or a powerful laser beam, and the Lord will bring about the changes that are needed.
So now, what do you have here? You have two people who are both walking along the road as one. They are walking in the same direction, thinking in the same way and desiring the same things. As you are standing with your spouse, remember that he or she is standing with you too in your desires and plans. United in this way, nothing can stand against you and Satan cannot separate you! You will also become a mighty tool that the Lord can use for His Kingdom!
Minggu, 13 Desember 2009
Never, Never, Never Give Up!
By Wendy Griffith
And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.—Galatians 6:9 (King James Version)
As much as we look forward to the holidays, it can also be one of the toughest times of the year. For me, I often look back at the year and ask, Did I accomplish my goals for this year? Did the things I was believing God for happen this year? If they didn't, it's tempting to let disappointment and despair come in. But, the good news is: God has an answer! Don't give up! Don't lose hope! Don't lose your confidence! The thing you're believing God for could be closer than you think.
God has an appointed time, and He says in Galatians 6:9 (AMP): "And let us not lose heart and grow weary and faint in acting nobly and doing right, for in due time and at the appointed season we shall reap, if we do not loosen and relax our courage..."
The NIV Bible says it like this: "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we WILL reap a harvest if we do not give up."
My friends, that is a promise you can take to the bank. God has an appointed time to bless you. You may think it's long overdue, but God says, "If you don't give up and throw in the towel...I promise...I am going to bless you."
God is Not a Slacker
In 2 Peter 3:9 the Lord says, "I am not slack in the promises I have made toward you, as some men count slackness," but He is "longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."
I love the definition of slack: moving slowly; sluggish; lacking in activity, not busy, loose, not tense or taut, lacking in diligence or due care or concern; negligent as in a slack worker or a slacker.
Friends, God is not a slacker. Especially when it comes to those things that He has promised you. You may be one more hour, one more prayer, one more step of obedience away from your promise. God is faithful! Resist the temptation to doubt, resist the temptation to think the Lord has forgotten you—because deep down inside, you know you are closer than it may look or feel.
Then (Jesus) spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart.—Luke 18:1
I want to remind you about a woman in the Bible who knew how to pray and refused to give up until she got her promise. Her name is Hannah, and she was married to a man named Elkanah and He had another wife named Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.
In 1 Samuel, Chapter One, it says Hannah was a woman of sorrowful spirit. In fact, it goes on to say she was at the point of grief and bitterness of soul. The other wife had tormented her constantly because of her barrenness, and she just couldn't take it anymore. Maybe you can relate. Maybe you feel you are just hanging on by a thread. Well, hang on brother or sister! This story and your story have a happy ending.
The Bible was clear, Hannah was deeply grieved. 1 Samuel 1:7 says, "She wept and did not eat." Fortunately, Hannah knew what to do. The Bible says she went to church and she prayed to the Lord and wept in anguish. Then she made a vow and said, "O LORD of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head."
Now, because of her grief, Hannah prayed in her heart, only her lips moved but her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli the priest thought she was drunk and said to her, "'How long will you be drunk? Put your wine away from you!' But Hannah answered and said, 'No, my lord, I am a woman of sorrowful spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor intoxicating drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord. Do not consider your maidservant a wicked woman, for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief I have spoken until now.' Then Eli answered and said, 'Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him.' And she said, 'Let your maidservant find favor in your sight.' So the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad."
The Waiting is Not in Vain
Did Hannah have her baby yet? No! But the Bible says she was no longer sad. She hadn't conceived the baby in the natural yet, but she had conceived the baby in the spirit. She had the word of the Lord, and she knew that baby was on the way.
Here's the lesson: whatever the burden, whatever that thing is that you've been asking the Lord for year after year after year, be like Hannah. Call on the God of the Universe! Call on the One who can take your barrenness away and give you new life! The One who can give you the desires of your heart. Maybe, like Hannah, you're crying out for a baby; or a husband, a wife, a job, a ministry, a loved one to get saved, or for a healing. God remembered Hannah and at the appointed time, He will remember you too!
Hannah wanted a son, but God wanted a prophet to Israel. Her waiting was not in vain. God had to get her to the point of desperation where she was not only crying out to the Lord for a child, but she was willing to give him up for the Lord's service. She wanted a son, but God needed a prophet. God had to get her to the point where she wanted what God wanted. See, God has a purpose in your waiting.
And here we are, three thousand years later, and we're still talking about Hannah's son Samuel. Hannah's determination, her willingness to never give up, to press in and get her promise, is what makes her still a hero today. God remembered Hannah, my friend. Today, I believe God is remembering you, too. He has a set time, an appointed time.
In Psalm 102:13 God says, "You will arise and have compassion on Zion (put your name here): for the time to favor her, yes, the set time, has come."
Selasa, 01 Desember 2009
The Crisis of a Christless Christianity
Posted on 11. Apr, 2009 by Chip Brogden in Articles & Essays
“As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him… beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And you are complete in Him…” (Colossians 2:6,8,9a)
The Christian life is a life that is lived IN CHRIST. That is to say, to walk IN HIM is to live as a Christian. Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship. A Christian is a branch that grows out of the Vine and continually produces abundant fruit for the Husbandman. The Church is the gathering together of all individual branches into one Vineyard (see John 15). In this metaphor we see that Christianity is supposed to be a living phenomenon, an observable reality, not a religious philosophy or set of teachings.
As we first received the Lord Jesus, so we continue to walk in the Lord Jesus. Receiving Christ is the Gate, but walking in Him as we have received Him is the Path. The Gate is an event, while the Path is a process. The Gate is for entering, while the Path is for walking.
Everything God has done, is doing, and will do is aimed at bringing us deeper into Christ, to finish what was begun in us when we first received Him. God is the One Who brings us through the Gate, and God is the One Who leads us along the Path. Everything God has done, is doing, and will do has the same purpose, and that purpose explains everything you have been through, everything you are going through, and everything you will go through.
Jesus is the Alpha from Whom all things in God are initiated, and Jesus is the Omega unto Whom all things of God find their purpose, their meaning, and their reason for being. Everything begins in Christ, and everything ends in Christ. He is the Beginning as well as the End.
Real spiritual growth occurs when we realize that God has only one goal for us, and that is, the full, mature, complete, and experiential knowledge of Jesus Christ. To the extent that we discard “things” and become focused wholly on Christ, to that extent we will make progress.
THE CHALLENGE OF REMAINING CHRIST-CENTERED
Christians should walk in the Lord Jesus as they received Him. We must not allow anything to keep us from growing up in to Him. Spiritual growth in the life of a Christian is determined by the measure of the increase of Christ and the decrease of Self: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). It is not a question of gifts, knowledge, years of experience, or power. If by the end of today there is less of me and more of Jesus then I am growing. Otherwise I am not. Jesus must become greater and greater in my life, and I must become lesser and lesser. This is the Path.
Along this Path towards apprehending Christ as all in all there are many pitfalls, snares, hindrances, and detours. Thus, Paul says we are to be on our guard and let no man spoil us. In this context, the word “spoil” means, “to destroy and strip of one’s possessions; to deprive of something valuable by force.” Every spiritual blessing heaven has to offer is found in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). Each believer has an incredible fullness and completeness in the Person of Jesus Christ. Christ is THE Gift of God, the ultimate Gift, and this Gift is precious, valuable, and of great worth.
How then can we be spoiled? According to Paul we are spoiled “through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments (elements) of the world, and not after Christ.” It matters not if the philosophy is good, right, morally excellent, and praiseworthy. It matters not how well intentioned, meaningful, or helpful the tradition is. It matters not how necessary we think the worldly element to be, or how important it is to society in general. If none of these things are “after Christ”, that is, if they are not of Him, through Him, and unto Him, then they are worthless insofar as God’s Purpose is concerned and must be discarded.
This is what Paul alludes to in Philippians 3. Paul represents the very best that religion, philosophy, and tradition has to offer – education, gravity, intelligence, doctrine, zeal, community service, and so on. “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (v. 7,8). To be able to sweep aside all religious upbringing, moral philosophy, and tradition with one wave of the hand and consider it refuse is to know Jesus experientially as Enough. This is what it means to be decreased. God’s Purpose for all believers is to be reduced to Christ, and everything is working to bring us to this final conclusion: “not I, but Christ” (Galatians 2:20ff).
The apostolic letters that make up a significant portion of our New Testament, more than anything else, seek to redirect the saints back onto Christ and away from a myriad of things seeking to rob them of their time, energy, attention, focus, and spiritual devotion. Many things competed with Christ and tried to spoil these new believers. These distractions were abundant in the early Church. They became entangled in many things. The whole controversy of Jews and Gentiles; to be circumcised, or not to be circumcised; to marry, or to remain single; to keep the Sabbath, or not to keep the Sabbath; which foods to eat, and which foods not to eat; whether one should follow Peter, or Paul, or Apollos; to speak in tongues, or not to speak in tongues; how men should behave, and how women should behave; what about this, and what about that. On and on it went, and on and on it still goes today.
I have said many times that we do not need more of the Lord, since we are already complete in Christ – we just need less of everything else. There are many things that spoil, hinder, distract, and lead us away from the simplicity of an abiding relationship with Jesus. Many of them are spiritual and religious. The spirit of Antichrist is not necessarily seen in something that is obviously satanic or demonic. Instead, the spirit of Antichrist is revealed in anything that seeks to spoil us by taking our eyes off of Christ – it is anti-Christ, against Christ, antithetical to the great Purpose of God.
How easy it is for us to become distracted into something less than Christ! Are you centered on Christ? Is Jesus your obsession? Is He your focus? Or have you set your sights on something beneath Him? This speaks right to the heart of the crisis we find ourselves in today.
The crisis of Christless Christianity begins with the way we go about reaching the Lost. Jesus said if He is lifted up then He will draw all men to Himself (John 12:32). Instead, we lift up religion and draw all men into an institution. Sinners today are presented with a Gospel that is decidedly in their favor. It is marketed and packaged the same way a salesman makes a sales pitch: it must answer the all important, universal question: “What’s in it for me?” And the answer is salvation, the assurance of a home in heaven, deliverance, solutions to problems, peace, blessings from God, and so forth.
The death of Christianity will not be the result of everyone rejecting the Gospel, but the result of everyone accepting a watered-down version of it.
All too often the object of salvation, its very purpose, is overlooked. Why should a sinner repent? Not for what he or she can get out of it, but for what the Lord Jesus gets out of it. Do we reach out to the world based on their own self-serving need, or based on the Lord’s Need? The harvest is for the Lord, not for the workers, and not for the ones who are harvested. The sheep are for the Shepherd.
A sinner ought to repent because the Kingdom of God is at hand. They should be shown that God is gathering together in one “all things in Christ” (Ephesians 1:10ff), that this is God’s Purpose for all men, and that yielding to Him now is the only reasonable, logical, and life-saving alternative they have. But an easy Gospel begets easy disciples. If our message is easy then many will respond under the impression that they are doing God a big favor by “getting saved”. Thus, God becomes their debtor, and they expect Him to repay them many times over, not merely with a future promise of life in heaven, but with good things for them in their present life on earth. Is it any wonder that the Church is spiritually weak and immature, with “disciples” such as this?
Christless evangelism does not give anyone salvation, it only gives them the false assurance of salvation. The Church is supposed to make disciples for Christ, not record decisions for Christ. A decision does not necessarily make a disciple. Christ must be the object and the focus of all outreach.
CHRISTLESS APOSTLES AND PROPHETS
What is “the ministry”? According to the Scriptures, there is but one ministry, and that is the ministry of directing everyone to Christ as all in all. Now how this ministry functions in each one of us is different according to how God has placed us. There are many operations and many functions, many gifts and many manifestations, but there is only one goal and that goal is Christ.
For example, the purpose of the apostolic ministry is not church planting, or setting churches in order, or taking missionary journeys. The purpose is Christ. Now, they may DO those things. We are not suggesting that Paul did not do all these things; we are simply saying that Paul’s purpose was Christ, and towards that end he labored accordingly. Without God’s End in clear view, all these things become mere activities, religious carryings-on, but there is nothing ultimate about it, nothing that ties it all together or justifies it in terms of furthering God’s Purpose. I have my little work, you have your little work, but there is no harmony, no communion, no relatedness between any of several million projects, ministries, and outreaches. Each one struggles to achieve their own ends, and there is little if any agreement on what exactly that “end” is supposed to be.
The apostle communicates the ultimate Purpose of God, lays the foundation, and then keeps the End before the builders at all times. But many of today’s apostles seem to be presenting themselves as church planting or church growth experts. Is this what the apostolic ministry is becoming? Church growth is not God’s goal. Church planting is not His purpose either. These are merely things: they are not Christ. You can plant churches and grow churches and completely miss Jesus in all of it.
What about the prophetic ministry? The purpose of all prophetic speaking is Christ. “It is the truth concerning JESUS that inspires all prophecy” (Revelation 19:10b, Knox). Those inspired to speak or proclaim something by the Holy Spirit should be helping to direct our attention onto Christ and away from everything that distracts us. The prophetic voice should rise up like a trumpet and bring clarity and direction out of confusion and misunderstanding. It is not just truth stated in an inspirational way, it is the truth concerning JESUS spoken by those who know Him and can lead others to Him. But of all things, the prophetic ministry today does more to distract us from Jesus than to tell us the truth concerning Jesus. In fact, it is difficult to find Jesus at all in most of what is touted today as “prophetic”.
The prophetic word is given to point us to Jesus. Everything the Holy Spirit would speak, reveal, teach, and show us is towards this same end, which is CHRIST. We do not need to mull over every dream, vision, word, or prophecy, trying to exegete its hidden meaning, struggling to extract some spiritual significance where none exists. If what we see and hear does not point us to Jesus then it is not prophetic and should be discarded. This simple test will keep us from distraction.
Apostles must point people to Christ. Prophets must point people to Christ. Evangelists must point people to Christ. Pastors and teachers must point people to Christ. Otherwise they are not fulfilling the purpose for which God placed them in the Church to begin with. Apostolic ministry is not an end unto itself, but is a means to an end. Prophetic ministry is not an end unto itself, but is a means to an end. Evangelistic ministry is not an end unto itself, but is a means to an end. Pastoral and teaching ministries are not ends unto themselves, but are a means to an end. What is the end? What is the purpose? What does it all lead to? It leads to “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13b). The fullness of Christ, the full-knowledge of Him – this is God’s Goal and His Ultimate Intention.
We know by now that the actual church building has nothing to do with God’s Eternal Purpose. The church service is a thing created by us and for us – God’s Need is seldom, if ever, considered. If we recognize that the service, ministry, meeting, gathering, or building is not the end, but only a means to an End (which is Christ), then we do well. But when we attach spiritual, emotional, or even superstitious significance to a mere thing, or place, or day, or tradition, or way of doing things, then we will be spoiled through “traditions of men”, and will not walk after Christ Himself.
Even something as good as fellowship with other believers becomes such a distraction from Christ that He cannot trust us with relationships. We hunger and thirst for “like-minded believers”, which is sometimes a code word for “anyone who thinks and believes the same as I do and will always agree with me no matter what!” The end result is we seldom find what we are looking for in other people.
Christians go here and there looking for “fellowship”. They participate in meetings, conferences, seminars, groups, and online discussion lists and email exchanges. To be sure these can be useful tools for bringing Christians together – but not if they are looking for fellowship as a “thing”, instead of the fruit of a Christ-centered life.
If fellowship with others is my focus then I am bypassing the Head and trying to have fellowship on some ground other than Christ. The Bible clearly teaches that “what we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that you may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ…if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…” (I John 1:3,7a).
Fellowship is ordained by God as a means through which the Life of Jesus may be shared: “From Whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, making increase of the body towards the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:16). In other words, we are joined together to experience the Life of the Lord together. This is what makes us of one mind and one accord. Like-mindedness only occurs when we agree to “let this mind be in [us] that was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). Life is not in a meeting, or in a gathering, or in a way of doing things – Life is Christ, and Christ is Life. He is the Purpose.
So true fellowship is grounded in Jesus first of all. Fellowship with others on THAT basis is neither forced, nor orchestrated; it is effortless, spontaneous, and full of life. Fellowship naturally occurs because we have all seen and heard the same thing from the Lord – we are walking in the same Path towards Christ as all in all. We are in one accord not because we all look, think, and act just the same, but because we all, in spite of our differences, have God’s End in mind.
If we look to one another for fellowship apart from what we have seen and heard of the Lord then we are limiting ourselves to relationships with people with whom we naturally get along with. If we see fellowship as the reason for our existence as Christians then, ironically, we will never be satisfied. We cannot know one another according to the flesh and find contentment. We cannot properly discern the Body until we establish communion with its Head. Life is given and received as we stand with one another in relationship to Christ.
What is the “deeper Christian life”? It is nothing more and nothing less than Christ Himself. To be deep is to be simple, focused, and devoted to the One Thing that is needed (see Luke 10:41,42). But even here, some believers seek the deeper Christian life as a thing, a teaching, a certain way of acting spiritual. The “deeper life” becomes the goal instead of Christ as Life. They become profoundly mystical and spiritual, but it is death because they do not touch Christ, they touch spirituality. There is no life in spirituality, or mysticism, or religiosity; there is only Life in Christ. Anything less becomes a distraction.
I came to the Lord in the midst of the Charismatic movement. The emphasis was on Spirit-filled living, restoring spiritual gifts, the power of God, and so forth. We find no fault with walking in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. But what is the purpose of all this fullness? Why tongues, and prophetic words, and other spiritual gifts? Why the manifest power of God? All of these things are given us by the Lord to draw us deeper into Himself; to repeat, they are means to an End, but they are not the end, for the End, the Purpose, and the Reason for all things is Christ.
“When He, the Spirit of Truth is come, He will guide you into all Truth [Christ]: for He shall not speak of Himself… He will glorify Me, for He will receive from Me, and will reveal it to you” (John 16:13,14ff). All the gifts, all the power, all the counsel, everything pertaining to the Holy Spirit has the goal of bringing us into a more complete knowing of Jesus Christ. Everything must be in harmony with this.
But just see how the experience of being “filled” or “baptized” or “anointed” or “slain in the Spirit” has replaced Christ! What is the result? Excess, error, and a falling away into the flesh. Today we see only a shadow of what we once saw. How many “Full-Gospel” believers are still living off of the glory that they saw twenty-five years ago! They are still looking for an experience, but if God gives it to them, it is a step backwards. They have not grown one bit; they are simply coasting on the energy of what God was doing twenty or thirty years ago.
It is time for us to leave elementary school and go on to maturity. “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man I put away childish things” (I Corinthians 13:11). The Lord has a high calling for us, and we are called to “go on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1ff). The spiritual life begins in Christ, is sustained by Christ, and leads us to Christ. We may begin by having some profound spiritual experiences, but maturity is certainly not achieved through them.
Out of the Charismatic movement came an intense interest in spiritual warfare. Here is yet another potential distraction from Christ. What is spiritual warfare? It should be the process of demonstrating the preeminence of Christ over all things. It should be bringing all things into conformity to God’s Ultimate Intention and showing that Christ is the Head of all principality and power. It should be learning how to defeat the dragon by the blood of the Lamb, the word of our testimony, and the denial of Self (cf. Revelation 12:11).
Instead, spiritual warfare has become a weird end unto itself, and Jesus is scarcely seen. The revelation of Christ is seldom found; instead, we are often told to seek the revelation of satan and all his workings. Saints are kept occupied day and night fighting the devil (sometimes only in their imagination), or traveling all over the world to “confront” territorial spirits (which only proves they are warring after the flesh, for there is no distance in the spirit realm), intruding into things they have no business getting into. The backlash is swift and the damage is severe. Why? They have grasped spiritual warfare as a “thing” apart from Christ.
True, we cannot afford to be ignorant of satan’s devices (II Corinthians 2:11b), but neither can we afford to make darkness the focus of our lives. Our focus is not the devil, what the devil is doing, or what the devil is planning to do. Our focus is Christ, and to the extent that we walk in the Light, to that extent the Darkness will be exposed by the Light and will flee.
Victory is not the result of everything we know about spiritual warfare: Victory is a Man. All the formulas, methods, teachings, manuals, and books in the world will not sufficiently prepare us for demonstrating the preeminence of Christ over all things if we do not, in fact, have an abiding relationship with the One Whom we are proclaiming.
What is the focus? Spiritual warfare, or Christ Himself? The first is a thing, the second is a Person. Spiritual warfare, properly carried out, is harmonious with God’s Purpose because it exalts Christ (not the devil) and demonstrates that all things are submitted to Him. But without this foundation we are inviting disaster.
RESTORING CHRIST TO CHRISTIANITY
We are trying to get to the heart of things, down to the very root of these matters. The bottom line is there are many things that are ABOUT Jesus, but are NOT Jesus. Then there is Jesus Himself. When the things about Christ become more important than Christ Himself then we need to revisit who we are and what we are doing.
We live in the Laodicean age that is characterized by insipid lukewarmness and blindness to the truth of our own spiritual condition (cf. Revelation 3:1-19). The picture presented to us is one of Christ standing on the outside of things, knocking at the door, and waiting for someone to open the door to Him (cf. Revelation 3:20). Since this is written to the saints it cannot be construed as an invitation to sinners to “invite Jesus into their heart”; instead, it is the Lord calling upon the church to make Him the center again. The issue was, and still is fellowship, communion, and abiding – maintaining its relationship to the Head.
God’s solution for a lukewarm, tasteless, colorless, odorless church is a fresh revelation of Jesus Christ. He will bring us back to our foundation. He will align us with His Purpose. He will adjust us back to Himself. God will purge, refine, chasten, and conform us to the image of His Son. But we must respond to His invitation and open the door.
O Christian, come back to Christ! Simplify your life, eliminate the “many things”, count them as dung, and cling to the One Thing! Be reduced to Christ!
The Lord says, “To him that overcomes will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne” (Revelation 3:21).