What is the Church?

Matthew 16:18 : “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

  The passage has been a subject of religious controversy throughout the ages.  In this post I will not touch the usual subject which has been disputed.  Rather, I will try to define what the “church” really is.  This is the subject of another unspoken controversy!

Two millenniums have passed since the promised Spirit descended upon a small group of men and women in the upper room. These few individuals went forward in God’s Power and favour and proceeded “to turn the world upside down”. They conducted no military strategies, political campaigns or intellectual revolutions.  Instead they were a closely knit community of ordinary people.  Their leaders, mostly “unlearned and ignorant men”, carried the distinction that they had “been with Jesus”.  Yet the movement spread with unstoppable tenacity, often in the face of violent persecution. It fills the world today, yet to the observer it exists in a multitude of fragmented, unassociated divisions.  What has happened?

  First let us look at the Greek word, Ekklēsia, for which almost all English translations use the word, “church”.  It means “called out assembly or congregation”.  The Luther German Bible uses the word “Gemeinde” which means a community of fellowship. The English word is more one of ambiguity which can conjure a variety of images in the hearer’s mind.  One may think of a building used for worship, an institution involving specific religious rituals, a denomination, etc.  However, none of these portrays the original thought of the Greek.  Therefore it is important to remember when Scripture uses the word “church” it refers to a specific community.

  A basic but comprehensive description of this community is found in Matt.18:20: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

 

  What does the Name of Jesus signify?  First, it is not about a system of beliefs, a tradition or a religion.  Rather, it is about a Person – the Son of God Whose shed blood alone can  reconcile alienated mankind to their Creator. The “Ekklēsia” is the community of people who through Jesus have been restored into fellowship with the Heavenly Father.  In addition to their position in Him, God Himself has promised His Presence when His people gather. 

  The foretold manifestation of His Presence was first experienced at Pentecost in the upper room.  There was no question regarding its reality.  It followed the believers to the streets where God’s Spirit enabled them to declare the wonderful works of God in the varied languages of the hearers.  The result was that thousands were brought to a living faith in Christ.  The Spirit fell upon those as well who now believed. An atmosphere of love, joy and mutual caring prevailed in their new community.  Acts, 4:33: “And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.”

  When deacons were chosen to look after the widows and needy, individuals were sought out who exhibited the same Divine Presence – “men filled with the Holy Ghost and wisdom”.  A most dramatic display of the power of the indwelling Spirit of God was shown through one of these men, the martyr, Stephen.

  Thus continued the story of the early church.  Their theme was Jesus Christ Who suffered, died and rose again so that all who believed in Him could have their sins forgiven and be reconciled to God.  God manifested Himself among them with miracles and by giving them boldness to proclaim the Good News to the world.  This was the Ekklēsia – a mighty force of men and women, who as Jesus had said were knit together by love.  Their message was one of love and reconciliation.  Try as they might no army or weapons could stop the progress because it was empowered by God Himself.

  So how can we explain the fragmentation and chaos which often characterized the church in the following ages?  Too quickly in history the two foundational pillars of its structure were pushed aside (the work of Jesus and the Presence of God) . The personal, regenerating work in the life of each member through Christ was overshadowed by the performance of rituals such as baptism and communion. These rituals were right because Christ Himself  instituted them.  Yet they were never meant to replace what they represented.  The Presence of God through the Holy Spirit in the assembly was taken for granted whether or not it was a reality. Decisions were made by hierarchies of leaders rather than by the direction of the Spirit in response to the prayers of the brotherhood.  The result was another religion and institution directed by man rather than by God. II Timothy, 3:5: “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.”

  However, Jesus said that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church.  In the environment of all this falling away, God preserved pockets of believers who recognized Christ as being central to their faith.  The power of His salvation transformed their lives and manifested the reality of God.  Sometimes these people stayed within the organized churches but spread their influence to others. Upon occasion they were forced to leave the existing institutions and begin their own community of faith. Many times God called intercessors who saw the dead state of the church and proceeded to cry out to Him until He responded by sending a powerful awakening to existing churches. Often in history, severe persecution of believers separated those who had a living faith from such who only gave mental assent to a religion. The result was always the same – Jesus Christ and His salvation became central and God’s Hand was visibly with them. So is the essence of His Church, the community of faith.

  The conclusion is this: the community of Christ is made up of those who have been born into it through repentance and faith in the work of Jesus and are filled and led by His Spirit.  Exactly where they find themselves is where the Spirit leads them which may vary according to circumstances. Many times in my life I have met total strangers who were true believers. We soon felt a close kinship in Christ. Regardless of denomination, we were part of the Ekklēsia.

  Usually, when persecution arises the barriers between followers of Jesus diminish. Under these circumstances, Christians encourage one another in the faith, rediscovering what truly matters.  Likewise, revival and spiritual awakenings cross the lines which men have made and make believers aware again that Jesus and His redemption are the reality upon which their faith stands.  The religious chaos in which we currently find ourselves may be the beginning of God drawing those who truly know Him back to Himself and in unity with one another.

  I am by no means referring to modern ecumenism.  Ecumenism appears to be an attempt to draw the religious institutions of men into a strange theological stew of a common denominator.  Long on hyperbole and religious tradition and short on the reality of Christ and His Word, it bears no semblance to the unity of the Spirit.

  The unity of the Spirit occurs when those who have found real faith in Christ are collectively led by His Spirit to build up His kingdom together.  Love for one another is the automatic outcome of His Presence. The Word of God becomes alive and central when God’s anointing rests upon such who teach and proclaim it.  When the encumbrances of men are laid aside and Christ descends upon His people, He will draw men and women to Himself. May we seek out those who truly belong to Him and together form His community, the Ekklēsia!

 

 

 

My Encounter With the “Epidemic”

Some years ago I was pondering over the epidemic of sexual abuse which was afflicting our churches.  In my mind this was the kind of thing which should “never be named among us”.  While I firmly believed there was a solution, I felt that I needed the help and co-operation of men in position of leadership to find and implement a plan of action.  My dilemma was this: I knew of no leader who had either the will or spiritual understanding to tackle the matter with me.

  Finally, I considered approaching a certain prominent elder on the subject.  However, I first decided to confer with a friend who had alluded to some disappointment in the same individual’s past administrative dealings.  When I spoke to the acquaintance he informed me that the man had a questionable history in his interaction with adolescent girls.  Although the information was highly troubling, I had to refrain from pursuing it further because nobody was ready to come forward to confirm the negative report.  It became a matter of urgent private prayer.  

  Several years later someone had a dream about the man in question to which I was given an interpretation. It appeared to be a warning regarding him.  Immediately I began to prayerfully conduct an investigation and was soon made aware that there was a valid reason for concern.  A counsellor and a pastor were among those who were able to provide me with valuable information. I informed a trustworthy member of the community in which he was employed as a teacher and left the matter in their hands.

Over a year passed without hearing further word. Things changed overnight when one of his former students brought forth allegations of inappropriate past behaviour.  While the mentioned incidents were quite ambiguous in nature,  a response of utter panic ensued. Logic and rational thought fled and a frenzied culture of denial occupied the stage. 

 I attempted to submit my knowledge about the situation to the church elders but found myself facing a wall of intense anger. Consequently I became the object of a twisted narrative in an effort to discredit and silence my concerns.  No reasoning on my part made a dent on the mob-like response opposing me.  I was forcibly excluded from any investigation of the matter and severely pressured to abandon what I believed was the ethical reaction to what had presented itself to us.  Thankfully both my family and I received distinct direction from God as to how to navigate through the circumstances as well as confirmation that we had done the right thing. One strong impression we all received was that we needed to immediately remove ourselves from the situation without further becoming entangled in it. I had a strong conviction that God was snatching us from the culture for our protection. I had spoken up as I felt was my responsibility but my words were soundly rejected. I believed that God was about to take the case into His own hands but we had to be out of the way for Him to perform His work.

 Because my story had been so badly distorted I wrote a documentation of what had really taken place to keep the events clear in my own mind. Afterwards, I recorded the conclusion to which I arrived regarding my experience.

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            The Conclusion                                                     

 

Nothing could have given me a better overview of the sexual abuse problem in churches than finding myself in the position where I stood.  It is not a problem of individuals doing bad things.  It is a religious culture gone awry.  We are not concerned about sanctifying God’s Holy Name.  We are protecting the reputation of an institution. We are exalting leaders to an “untouchable” position where they cannot be held accountable for their misdeeds. Family members and friends of prominent people within the culture are likewise protected from being held accountable for their actions. Those who are punished are the victims who come forward or those who speak on their behalf.

  Education on the subject of abuse has had little positive effect. I have witnessed how the cultural mindset takes over regardless of how “educated” people are when the issue hits “close home”. The root of the matter evades our understanding, whether by choice or by the subliminal influence of our religious environment. Suddenly rational thought and even ethical values take flight and a twisted image-protecting panic overrules.

  What is the root of the matter? Our recent experience brought some of this to light.

  We are created spiritual beings, born to have communion with our Creator. Christ came to restore this vital part of our being after it was destroyed by sin.  It is not restored by default – rather only as we receive His offered redemption by repentance and faith. From there it does not automatically develop on its own – we need to continue to do our part in nurturing the relationship through prayer and communion with Him. This is a personal experience which needs to take precedence over all other things.  A church culture has the potential to help it to develop but it can never replace or override it. 

  Through His Spirit, God teaches us, opens the Scripture to our understanding and guides us daily in His way. The unity of the Spirit is when God collectively guides His children to be of one mind. When a crisis arises he will lead His people plainly if in faith they seek His counsel. I, along with others, have also discovered that He warns His children of danger when the natural senses cannot perceive what lies hidden.  This marked the lives of the saints of the Bible and holds true today.

  My experience with church life is that such camaraderie with God has largely been replaced by religious culture.  It is so far removed from church “norms” that the person who actually lives by it is viewed with suspicion as one who is a threat to “doctrinal correctness”, or more accurately stated, traditional expectations. Yet without God’s indwelling Presence we are no match for deceiving spirits which can blind our eyes and skew our understanding. Over and over in cases of abuse, a bizarre pattern of bumbling – re-victimizing victims, vilifying those who seek truth and justice, protecting abusers etc. is seen.  God’s kingdom cannot go forward in the wisdom of men who are not men of prayer and know nothing of being explicitly directed by Him.  In the past I have been repeatedly “corrected” by one man for promoting the idea that God responds when men pray.

  One of the most famous Biblical men of prayer, Joshua, made two recorded blunders when he went forward without first “inquiring of the Lord” – once at Ai in which a number of innocent young men were killed as a result, and again in the story of the Gibeonites.  Today, my fellow churchmen appear to believe that such direction by God is no longer meant for today. “Following the Bible” seems to be a phrase often used in taking an isolated passage to promote an agenda. In my mind, following the Bible is also seeking and receiving specific direction from God in current circumstances just as did the faithful ones of past ages.

 All our “educating” or “policy making” will do little until we scrap our loyalty to an institution in favour of honouring the Name and Reputation of God.   Our concern for the helpless and innocent will override our desire to “protect” the reputations of those whom we highly esteem when our hearts are aligned with His Heart.  However, this will never happen by reformation – rather, only by repentance. Repentance will never take place until we realize how far we have strayed from a living faith.  I fear that only an act of judgment will accomplish this.

  Ezekiel 9:1 – “He cried also in mine ears with a loud voice, saying, Cause them that have charge over the city to draw near, even every man with his destroying weapon in his hand. And, behold, six men came from the way of the higher gate, which lieth toward the north, and every man a slaughter weapon in his hand; and one man among them was clothed with linen, with a writer’s inkhorn by his side: and they went in, and stood beside the brasen altar and the glory of the God of Israel was gone up from the cherub, whereupon he was, to the threshold of the house. And he called to the man clothed with linen, which had the writer’s inkhorn by his side; and the LORD said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.  And to the others he said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity.  Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which were before the house.”

  I know that God has brought me to this place for a reason.  Regardless of the cost, I need to speak up now against “the abominations that be done in Jerusalem”.  I want the “mark of God” to be upon me at the time that He doles out justice upon those who have offended His precious “little ones”!  

  When His Name is no longer sanctified in the church – when the “salt has lost its savor – God uses men of the world to bring judgment.  He will then raise up a people, a church, which properly represents Him to society. “Hallowed be Thy Name!”

Repentance

Repentance and redemption are two inseparable elements.  Repentance is the constant message of the Old Covenant prophets. John the Baptist repeats the call.  Jesus confirms the same.  By default, the sons and daughters of Adam are in rebellion against God and only a complete turn-about of the mind and heart can bring reconciliation.  It is a subject vital to our salvation that demands our attention.

   It is initiated by the Spirit of God working in our hearts.  Romans 2:4 – “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?”  John 6:44 – “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” 

  However, it is only experienced as we realize our depraved, helpless condition and believe in Jesus Christ.  Acts, 16:31 – “And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.”

  The spirit of repentance is to continue after conversion.  Revelation 2:5 – “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.”  When the Spirit of God points out sin in our lives, again our hearts need to grieve and be turned around in agreement with God.

One of the most dramatic portrayals of true repentance found in the Bible is the story of the prodigal. After “living it up” and wasting his inheritance, he fully realized that nobody was to blame for his sad state but himself.  He remembered the good character of his father and his care even for the hired servants of the household.  Realizing that he had forfeited his rights as a son by his sin, he sought the mercy of his father by asking to be a hired servant.  There was no sense of entitlement but rather a realization that mercy was his only hope.

  After numbering his troops, David is an example of one who takes full responsibility for his sin in repentance.  2 Samuel 24:17 – “And David spake unto the LORD when he saw the angel that smote the people, and said, Lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly: but these sheep, what have they done? let thine hand, I pray thee, be against me, and against my father’s house.”

  True repentance also recognizes there are earthly consequences even for forgiven sin.  Moses submitted to God’s verdict that he could not enter the Promised Land.

  The notorious Manasseh is an example of the change of mind and behavior that accompanies repentance.  Once a murderous idolater, the testimony of his humbled heart is recorded in 2 Chronicles 33:15 – “And he took away the strange gods, and the idol out of the house of the LORD, and all the altars that he had built in the mount of the house of the LORD, and in Jerusalem, and cast them out of the city.  And he repaired the altar of the LORD, and sacrificed thereon peace offerings and thank offerings, and commanded Judah to serve the LORD God of Israel.”

  The Scripture has examples as well of cosmetic, false repentances.  Balaam used to leave me puzzled as to why he was portrayed as the epitome of evil.  On first glance he appeared as a man in touch with God who realized that he could not go beyond the word of the Lord.  Later I discovered that the Bible has repeated references about him that disclose his true heart.  So intent was he in receiving a promised financial reward from Balak for cursing the Israelites that when God prevented him from doing this he schemed to cause them to fall into God’s  disfavour by seducing them to sin with Moabitish women. Earlier, when he met the angel who was about to kill him but spare his donkey  he seemed repentant:  Numbers 22:33 – “And the ass saw me, and turned from me these three times: unless she had turned from me, surely now also I had slain thee, and saved her alive. And Balaam said unto the angel of the LORD, I have sinned; for I knew not that thou stoodest in the way against me: now therefore, if it displease thee, I will get me back again.”  His later conduct shows that he was only sorry that his sin got him into trouble but his heart had not changed.

  Another Biblical character who initially left me puzzled was King Saul.  I wondered why what seemed like such a minor infraction had such dire consequences.  Again, a closer examination of the account clarifies what was really in the man’s heart.  Even after having received an initial anointing of the Spirit to enable him to perform the responsibilities of a king, he seemed fearful and out of touch with God.  Then by taking it upon himself to offer the sacrifice which only a priest was to do, he showed an inflated view of his position as king.  This was confirmed after his battle with the Amalekites when he willfully disobeyed God’s command and then proceeded to build a monument to himself.  He failed to take responsibility for his sin when Samuel confronted him, shifting blame on others and attempting to pull the wool over Samuel’s eyes regarding his disobedience.  This hardening of his heart to the Spirit of God had dire consequences, causing the Spirit to leave him and opening the way for an evil spirit to enter.  Later in his life it became apparent that he never accepted the consequences of his sin.  God had taken away from him the right of having his descendants occupy the royal throne.  In rebellion against God he tried to kill David who was chosen to be his successor.  True repentance would have at least allowed the remainder of his life to be honourable.

  The time to repent is when the Spirit of God calls.  Hebrews 3:15 – “While it is said, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.”  When the heart is hardened and the Spirit ceases to call, it is no longer possible to turn around.  May we avail ourselves of this gracious provision to enter the place of God’s favour!

Faith That Pleases God

  Faith is an inevitable part of the human experience. We exercise it regardless if we realize it or not.  Whether or not it is well placed is another matter.

  An unbeliever has faith in the supposition that he is accountable to no authority above himself and only needs to suffer in this life for wrong decisions.  Many today have faith in the beliefs of Darwin and his followers. Myriads of religions pay homage to supposed deities worshiped by their ancestors.  Many professing Christians trust that religious rituals, affiliation with a church or following certain prescribed customs will win them Divine favour. 

  My grandfather, who was born in the nineteenth century and died before my birth, apparently did not believe in the existence of germs.  However, his lack of faith did nothing to eliminate the reality of the multitude of invisible microbes that shared his environment.  Truth is reality.  Faith is only good if it is based on reality.  Misplaced belief can be deadly.

  So what monopoly do Christians have on the truth?  How can they claim that their Scripture is the Word of God – superior to all the other writings of world religions?  What assurance do they have that their faith is properly placed?  What proves that their God is the true God while other gods are impostors?  These questions are real ones which circumstances can force any of us to face. In such times the venue of our faith is proven,

  If the way to discover truth were to study all religions and philosophies and decide with our minds which one is right, no one would ever find it.  The futility of such an exercise could well cause us to embrace the popular belief that all religions lead to the same destiny. 

   The Bible tells us that true faith does not originate in ourselves, but rather is born on God’s initiative.  John 6:44 – “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.”  Romans 2:4 – “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?”  The recognition of truth begins with Divine intervention.  It is not the result of our own independent searching and reasoning.  “Ye shall be like gods and know good from evil” is still believed by man but remains a lie from the serpent. 

  There is a serious misconception in the minds of Christians about what makes up the essence of faith.  Faith is presented as giving mental assent to biblical teaching and doctrine.  It supposedly grows, according to this view, as we become more and more biblically fluent.  “We know what we believe because the Bible says so” is the catch phrase of such a mode of thought.  The view presents a dangerous half-truth.

  Knowledge of the Bible is of crucial importance.  Jesus said in Matthew 22:29 -” Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.”  However, the Bible reveals that faith not only begins in a relationship but continues in the same.  As we have before observed, faith begins when the Spirit of God communes with our spirit and points us to Christ.  From this starting point it grows and becomes established in our consciousness as we experience the involvement of Christ in our lives.  This does not only occur by reading about Him in the Bible.  As we pray receiving direct answers to our requests, as we seek His counsel in the day to day decisions of life and get explicit direction from Him,  as He prompts us to deal with carnality in our lifestyle and we respond in obedience, as we find freedom from sinful past habits through His power, as He directs us as to how to serve in His kingdom, as He empowers us to do His work in ways we could never accomplish in our own strength, and as we receive and exercise the supernatural gifts of the Spirit for the building up of His people – these and many more not only confirm His reality but also develop an eternal friendship which surpasses every other bond.  This is true faith!  Faith, lacking intimacy with the One in Whom it is placed, is sterile and powerless!

  This truth is reflected over and over in the stories of the Bible.  Deborah and Barak likely both knew of the past dealings of God with the Israelites.  Both of them had equal access to the law of God given to Moses.  Yet the faith of one put the other to shame.  What made the difference? 

  Deborah intimately knew the God Who had worked in the past and given the Law.  Her spirit was in communion with Him and she knew when He spoke to her.  Her confidence was not blind presumption but rather a direct awareness of His will in the present circumstance.  God and Deborah worked together as a team.

  Barak in contrast had the head knowledge but lacked the intimacy.  The result left him fearful and hesitant.  Judges 4:9 – “And she said, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the LORD shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh.” 

  Barak was not devoid of faith – his name is mentioned in Hebrews 11 along with the other heroes of the past.  However, his deficient trust was disappointing enough to God that God created a historic drama as a rebuke.  The story of the battle in which he played a leading part, inspired a Hebrew musical “production” written and directed by the gifted Deborah.  It names Barak in a favourable light but pays special attention to Jael, the woman who took from him the glory of killing the enemy captain, Sisera.  Barak may have felt mixed emotions as he listened to the celebratory performance!

Barak is the epitome of the church today.  We know God’s historic works; we may be familiar with His Word – at least to a degree – but our experience of walking with Him is so minimal that it leaves us weak and vulnerable.

  Joshua is a prime example of how this experience is gained and how it results in a life of confidence and victory.  There is no doubt by his life that he made himself familiar with the Law and lived by its decrees.  He witnessed God’s works.  Yet this knowledge alone did not satisfy his heart.  He committed Himself to get to know God personally like his mentor, Moses, knew God.  Exodus 33:11 – “And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle.”

  While others were content to enjoy the freedom from the bondage of Egypt and go about their business, Joshua’s passion was to remain in the Presence of the Deliverer.  That is what set him apart from his peers.  When the time of crisis came after the spies had seen the menacing giants of Canaan, he along with Caleb, boldly announced his confidence in the God Whose Presence he had sought.  Being part of a tiny minority amidst the cries of the multitude did not shake his trust.  As Paul in Second Timothy 1:12, Joshua rested in the One in Whom he believed. “For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.”

  So continue the Bible narratives.  Those who exercised a strong, working faith not only knew history and the law – their secure belief rested in the integrity of the God with Whom they had grown familiar.  The heroes of Hebrews 11 were marked not by their knowledge of doctrine but rather by their unshaken trust in a faithful God which drove them to an unquestioning following of the Same.

  Hebrews 11:6 well sums up how to develop a faith that pleases God, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”  This speaks of our initial response to the wooing of the Spirit as well as the continued urgency of passionately pursuing His intimacy.  God will take delight in completing the work of love which He has begun in our hearts. 

  As our trust in God matures, resulting in obedience, the Bible will take on new meaning and its doctrine will be fleshed out in daily life.  John 7:17 – “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”

I write this with the prayer that we will find a faith that will withstand the challenges of a godless society and shine as gold when it passes through the fires of persecution.  What we believe needs to be molded by the Spirit of the One Whom we have learned to know!  Experiencing His continued Presence and faithfulness day after day will create in us an unshakable confidence in both God and His Word.

 

Where Shall We Go?

A sister shared a dream with my wife several years ago, looking for someone to speak into it.  Mary Ann showed it to me and I received an interpretation.  It very well addresses this blog post.

“I was in a car. Driving. Only the car went backwards. On and on at high speeds. It was frustrating and a bit frightening. 

  Then I was in a house. The father of my childhood friend was there too and talked with me. He said there’s something he thinks I need to know. I knew it was in connection with the wild ride.

He said there’s something in the Mennonite faith and practice. Ten points that throw a net over anyone trying to escape. And as he said that I was pummelled by evil spirits. Then my alarm rang.”

  This is what came to my mind when I meditated on her dream: The occupant of the car driving backward at high speeds represents the people who realize that something is seriously wrong with the Mennonite church in which they grew up.  Possibly propelled by severe trauma they experienced within the church, they back away from “Mennonite” in a panicked frenzy.  However, this is where grave danger lies.  Backing up is often necessary to get turned around.  However, it is not a safe mode in which to travel.  The car needs to be driven forwards so that one gets a full view of what is ahead.  In that mode the driver must turn towards God and go where He directs.  The way now travelled is new and God alone can lead in the right route.

  The second part of the dream is related to the first in that the high speed “backing up” represents an intense reaction to the past rather than a focused pursuit of God.  This is where the evil spirits come with their counterfeits (nets) to snare those who are leaving the church.  The “points” of Mennonite faith and practice are where we have erred from the Biblical gospel.  Here are some examples:

– We have been satisfied with a theological knowledge of the Holy Spirit without the experiencing of His Presence and power.  Satan can produce a multitude of false substitutes for manifestations of the Spirit which include signs and wonders.  When people have been accustomed to seeing absolutely no visible presence of the Holy Spirit this metaphysical display can be impressive.

– When God’s Presence is absent, church services can be woefully dead and dry.  Again, religious hype, wild music, frantic expression etc. can be used as attempts to replace the joy of true worship of God.

– We may have had “plainness” and hyper-modesty pounded into us.  At the same time, moral rot was hidden beneath modest attire.  Our reaction can easily be immodesty and garish display.  This does not honour God.

– It is not unusual for Scripture to be taken out of context and wrongfully used as a hammer on those who dare to think for themselves.  I have met too many people who have been unable to read the Bible after such experiences without getting a painful flashback.  This is a tragedy that will require some healing to take place. 

  I could go on but the idea is that Satan sends his deceiving demons to take advantage of the pain and reaction caused by past traumas to lead into error those leaving the church.

Until a problem is correctly identified it cannot be solved.  At the time of this writing I realize there is a poor electrical connection that prevents me from starting my skid-loader.  I have spent considerable time attempting to locate it but am currently still searching.  Once I have found the broken circuit I will go about executing a plan to repair it.  Trying random things to start my machine without a thorough knowledge of the circuitry and why it is not functioning could be damaging.  Finding out the problem and not progressing to a solution would be foolish.

  This is how it is with the church.  On my post, “Elephants in the Room”, I cited how the issues that the church is currently facing are being brushed aside and ignored.  As one who is attempting to address these matters I am accused of being bitter with the institution.  As long as a problem is not recognized and accurately identified there can be no solution.  So what path is there to take for those desiring to see God’s Kingdom move forward?

  This is the question rightly being asked by young people today which I will try to address.  The Scriptures hold an example to help us find our way.

  Some of the seven churches Christ addressed in the book of Revelations had serious internal problems.  The faithful believers within were told to hold fast to their faith; people were called to repentance – yet there was never a suggestion to “find a new church”. 

A favourite verse of mine is 2 Chronicles, 16:9 : “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.” For many years this passage has been a beacon to me.  The “little known” prophet who spoke the words was thrown into prison by King Asa because the message contained words Asa did not want to hear.  As the prophet languished in confinement he may have wondered about the value of his spoken words that had cost him so much.  Unknown to him, those same words would inspire men for millenniums.

  This is what they meant to me.  As a simple farmer and only an ordinary layman, I had the grand opportunity of being a part of the kingdom of the Maker of the universe.  My effectiveness for Him was independent of my status with men.  It all depended on how my heart was related to Him!  With Him I could make a difference!

  History has proven this to be true.  In seemingly “dead” churches God has brought powerful spiritual awakenings through the intercessions of “ordinary” people. In the testimony of Duncan Campbell he tells how two young teenage girls met together twice a week for some time to pray for their parish until the Spirit testified to them that revival was coming.  That day on the way to visit an old seminary colleague, Duncan met one of them weeping by the roadside.  He stopped his motorcycle to speak to the distressed teen. After a few words he realized that he was speaking to an anointed servant of God.  He spent some time hearing her story and praying with her before proceeding on his way to the church to visit the pastor. 

  Upon his arrival he discovered a group of young men gathered at the building discussing how much whisky they would need to furnish a dance they were planning.  Suddenly, before he had an opportunity to speak, the prophesy given to the girls began its fulfillment before his eyes.  Great conviction of sin seized the young men and they fell down in repentance in his presence.  Over the next days the movement of God spread through the parish until even the pastor was soundly converted!  Many similar stories are recorded in history where God responded to the prayers of those whom He had moved to intercede in behalf of a “dead” church.  I know these revivals are real since I have spoken personally with a pastor who was a participant in one such Divine visitation.

  However, God also works in other ways. There is a very traditional ethnical group of Mennonites in which young people are experiencing radical conversions in spite of the church failing to present the gospel to them.  Many of these converts remain in their environment for a while, leading others within the group to salvation.  In this way God can bring His gospel to an otherwise closed people.  A converted young man whom I befriended taught Sunday school there for some time before being asked to leave.

  The Anabaptists found themselves suffering terrible persecution from the state churches as soon as they allowed themselves to be baptized as believers.  For them being faithful to God meant meeting in secret and being hunted as criminals.  Until tradition replaced faith this despised group of Christians grew rapidly.

  Twice in my lifetime I have been pushed out of a church because I have refused to allow myself to be forced to comply with a dishonest agenda.  When this happens, a person can rest assured that God will be faithful to lead from there.

  The conclusion is this.  We must learn to know the God of the Bible Who guides His children!  Some He may lead to remain for a time where they are to “strengthen that which remains”.  Others He may lead elsewhere.  His Church is made up of those who have been born into His kingdom through regeneration and are following Him.  Institutions fail but God does not.  His children are the “apple of His eye” and He will tenderly care for them as they follow His leading.

  It is a tragic reality that, while today “religion” flourishes in the Western world, true faith is scarce.  Matt. 5:13: “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.”  At the same time as I observe the ineffectiveness of the church, I also see the rapidly increasing anti-Christian sentiment in society.  In lieu of these parallel events I feel that this Scripture is close to fulfillment. In such times God gives special strength and wisdom to such as love Him….but woe to those who only know “religion”!  Woe to those who have built their faith on tradition!  Woe to those who thoroughly “know their Bibles” but have never known an intimate friendship with its Author!

  The way to prepare is to pursue God with the whole heart and learn to follow the Shepherd.  He will show you where to go and with whom to associate.  Find others who hunger for Him and let their friendship encourage you.  This may lead you beyond denomination lines.  His “church members” are His children and are not defined by the institutions of men.  When persecution comes, our relationship with Christ is the only thing that matters.

Malachi, 3:16,17: “Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name.  And they shall be mine, saith the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.”

 

 

 

Spiritual Counterfeits

Deuteronomy, 13:1-3 “If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

2 Corinthians, 11:13,14″ For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.”

  Millenniums passed between the writing of these two Scripture passages.  However, the story had not changed then and has not changed today.  Satan counterfeits the work of God to deceive both unbelievers and believers.  A prime biblical example is Simon the scorcerer who masqueraded as “the great power of God”.

The only way to recognize what is false is to thoroughly know what is real.  Conversely, in the spiritual world, we are only safe when we ourselves know the God of truth. Counterfeits of the Holy Spirit and His manifestations are only perceived as we have the Spirit of God within us.  Knowledge of the Bible is important but alone it cannot keep us safe.  Since Satan masquerades as an angel of light he uses Scripture to adorn his lies. 

  Nobody could deceive me to think they are my wife.  Her manner, her voice and her touch are so intimately familiar to me that even if it were possible for someone to perfectly match her appearance I immediately would recognize the facade.  Thus it is with God.  After we have truly walked with Him for a while after being born into His family we will recognize an impostor.  Jesus states it this way in John 10:4,5: “And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.  And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.”

  The Holy Spirit warns Christians of danger.  Throughout my lifetime there have been more occasions than I can remember when I have felt a check in my spirit warning me that something which I encountered was wrong.  When this happens I pray for further direction regarding the prompting.  Invariably the danger is shown clearly to me as I seek Divine counsel.  This gives me a sense of security in the tender care of my Heavenly Father.

  Too often we believe that if we know the Bible and “learn the right doctrines” or even “belong to the right church” we are safe.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It is highly important to be thoroughly familiar with Scripture and to understand Bible doctrine.  However, Satan is a master at using Scripture out of context and subtly perverting doctrine to make a lie look like truth. Throughout history he has led many religious organizations (churches) astray.  Only the Spirit of God can alert us to deception.  That is why the subject of my previous blog, “Knowing God” is so important.

  Spiritual gifts and miracles are never an end in themselves.  They are given so that God’s people can minister to each other’s needs. “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” Ephesians 4:12  Likewise, the miracles recorded in Scripture were a demonstration to mankind of God’s Presence in the universe.  They revealed His infinite power.  They showed His special care for His people.  Sometimes God manifested His rightousness in miracles of judgement. Christ’s miracles were a sign of God’s approval upon Him. ( Acts 2:22 )

In contrast, Simon the sorcerer’s miracles brought attention to himself – an obvious sign of a counterfeit. Spiritual gifts and miracles are never for the glory of a person.  This puts into question many of the supposed “manifestations of the Spirit” and “miracle workers” of modern christendom.

  Another thing to beware of is  formulas.  When power is associated with praying a certain prayer, reciting particular Scriptures etc. we create something resembling witchcraft.  This puts the emphasis on the formula rather than on God Himself.  I do not use formulas when asking a favour of my wife!  I share my request with her and trust her loving heart to respond to me.  Prayer to God is a thing of relationship with One Who loves us!

This is what differentiates between mere religion and true faith.  Rituals are meant to enhance relationship – not replace it!  Even legitimate rituals such as baptism and communion too often take the place of what they represent.  In the modern evangelical world, the “sinners prayer” (which is not found in the Bible) has become a potentially deceptive ritual.  Multitudes are deceived into thinking they are assigned a place in Heaven because they have once recited this prayer.  Yet they have never experienced the repentance and true faith through which they are to be born into the family of God.

  In the past, a Germanic form of witchcraft known as “brauche” or “powwowing” was widely used by Mennonites. Possibly because it included biblical incantations and recitals of the Names of the Trinity along with its rituals, people were deceived to believe it was a legitimate art.  There are still those suffering from demonic bondage in conjunction with the practice.  Some argued that it must be good because “it worked”.  The argument does not hold water.  The false prophet can produce signs and wonders.

  Religious formulas take on many forms.  There are prayer techniques, deliverance formulas, “christian” New Age practices etc.  All of them turn the focus away from a loving Creator who longs to hear the prayers of His dear children.  Instead, it  places the importance on a particular methodology.  With that mindset we would be sure to fail if we did not discover just the right mode to follow.  That is not how God deals with His loved ones!

  When there is no tangible evidence of the reality and power of God in the church, its people are set up for deception.  When the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit are not seen and are regarded as a thing of the past a deep void is left in people’s hearts.  Man was created to have the supernatural Presence of his Maker within his being and in his experience. Consequently, when this reality is not present, people are in danger of reaching for something that has the outward appearance of what their inner being craves but is not of God. Satan rushes in to fill the emptiness with his well-crafted but deadly substitutes. Many times these include supernatural wonders with a religious flavour.

This is what too many younger people are facing today. They see the vast discrepancy between the current church and the New Testament model. They observe the failure of Mennonites to evangelize effectively. The lack of spiritual power in the church is painfully obvious. Elders are content with religion as they have known it and refuse to hear their case. In disillusionment they do not know where to turn and become prime candidates for deception.

May God have mercy on us! My heart bleeds for these dear young people and I long to take them under my wing and tenderly care for their souls, protecting them from the dangers assailing them. My blog is written to reach out to this searching generation and point them to the God of the Bible Who has not changed. May they find Him and safely abide in His Presence! May God greatly use them and show His glory to the world through them! May His kingdom come! May His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven!

March 21, 2021

 

 

Knowing God

Part 5

Do We Know Him?

As a new believer, I became part of the Conservative Mennonite church which had recently been formed. I remember hearing the teaching that the Bible experience of men and women hearing from God was only for the time before the canon of Scripture was complete. Now, we were taught, God exclusively speaks through the Bible.

Interestingly, an exception was made to this. Using Matt. 16:19, which speaks of binding and loosing, we were taught that if the church made a rule, it was as binding as the Bible itself. We were also told that the Holy Spirit only communicated to individuals through the collective voice of the church. The “unity of the Spirit”  was when everybody unquestioningly submitted to these group decisions. A frequent term used was “group conscience”.

The New Testament miracles were portrayed as temporary in the church’s history, given with the purpose of confirming the New Covenant. Such miracles were seldom to be expected to happen today.

   It was an eye-opener for me to hear of miracles taking place among believers in persecuted countries. In addition to this, I read of historic revivals in which God manifested Himself in supernatural ways. 
   However, what God was doing in my life was the greatest motivation for me to question what I had been taught. He began to reveal Himself as a God Who cared personally for me. I discovered that I could expect explicit direction from Him as I sought His will in prayer.  Nothing was too small for Him to give His enabling help to me as I communed with Him.  Soon the division between the secular and the sacred vanished in my mind and I realized that the most mundane things of life were sacred for a child of God.
 

  I also discovered that I had the gift of discerning of spirits. This had nothing to do with natural talent. Rather, I would sense in my spirit when something was “off”. As I prayerfully investigated these cues, God would reveal to me in detail what my spirit was feeling. This gave me a great sense of security in His goodness to protect me from evil.

While some of my fellow believers have heard God speak audibly to them, this has never been my experience. Yet I have received impressions which were almost as distinct as an audible voice. These varied in their purpose. Sometimes they were meant to give me direction, other times to guide me in intercessory prayer, sometimes as correction or rebuke. Twice another brother and I were given a revelation that we were to pray regarding specific situations. All these experiences and many others showed me that God desires to commune with His creatures today just as He did in ancient times. This does not invalidate the importance of following the Bible. It simply shows that being “Biblical” is to both speak to God and to hear from Him as did the Bible saints. It means, too, that instead of leaping into action to “do as the Bible says”, we ought to wait on God to be directed just as to when and how to follow the Biblical direction.  The Spirit and the Word work in harmony.

Along with this aforementioned experience came a consciousness of the enablement of the Holy Spirit to do God’s work.  Most of my life I have written poetry. Yet, I can only write when I feel His touch. Sometimes God reminds me of this.

 

When I started this last series of blog posts, I found my first installment draft to be woefully dry. My dear wife agreed. She laid hands on me and prayed. A window opened in my mind. Out of it flew the whole manuscript I had painstakingly prepared and a new one emerged! We are meant to be co-workers with Christ!

  Prophecy also became something current and real.  Recently our household has gone through some very unexpected and difficult times.  However, over the past five years all of us have had vivid, cryptic dreams with partial interpretations following them.  Now we have realized much of the fulfillment of their prophetic imagery.  This has given us powerful assurance of God’s sovereign Hand in all that is now happening.  We can rest in calm confidence of His continued care and direction through events that were no surprise to Him.

  Some of you who read this may react in alarm and say that I am introducing a new belief.  Read your Bible.  Find out about what God is doing presently in different parts of the world, especially, where there is persecution of believers.  Read in the Martyr’s Mirror about how God communicated to the Anabaptist forefathers.  Communion with God is the ancient way of His children throughout the ages.

  Sadly, the church has become an institution of man from which God has been pushed out.  The Bible is perceived as a manual giving us instructions about how to live and “do church”.  The distinct direction which the Holy Spirit gave collectively and individually to the early Christians is regarded as a thing of the past.  Faith is reduced to an intellectual acceptance of theological facts rather than confidence in the Living God Whose reality has been experienced.  As the church at Laodicea, we are blind to our state of spiritual destitution and believe ourselves to be rich and in need of nothing!  My cries to my people to seek to know the Living God fall on deaf ears!  I am pushed aside as a false prophet.

  No wonder the church is floundering and young people are becoming disillusioned!  We are no longer drawing life from the Vine!  We are trying to operate within the realm of our own understanding.  Instead of seeing redemption as a restoration of  fellowship with God, it is viewed as simply having our sins forgiven and living by the rules of the Bible (or more accurately the rules and expectations of the church).  We are allowing the norms and expectations of “religion” to rob us of the greatest treasure man can possess – to communicate with his Creator!  We have robbed Christ of the reward of His suffering – to place the tabernacle of God within the hearts of men through the indwelling Spirit!  We live in spiritual poverty when unlimited wealth is available! 

  We were not made to be blind adherents to a religious organization.  We are meant to be the dear sons and daughters of God.  When that is the case, we will have true unity among ourselves because the same Spirit indwells us.

  We have replaced Christ with “the church”.  Yet “the church” severed from its Head no longer is the church, but rather a social club, a dead institution of rituals and traditions which have lost their meaning or worse yet, an oppressive cult which prevents people from experiencing a relationship with God.

  Generations have come and gone in the Anabaptist community with only a few small pockets of true spiritual awakening in its history.  Even those awakenings normally experienced strong opposition from the established churches.  What we have come to expect as the “norm” in church life is a far cry from what the kingdom of God was meant to be.  “Norm” for us is a continuation of the tradition with which we have been familiar.  We fail to realize that we have fallen and need to discover what it is to experience the Presence of the Spirit in our lives and churches.

  For many years my prayer and dream was to see a spiritual revival within the Mennonite church.  With great sadness I have come to realize that this will likely not happen.  In lieu of the chaos, confusion, scandals, etc. which are afflicting our churches and our inability to handle them, I suspect that the old structure must crumble in order for God to build something new after His design. This may well mean persecution.  The dead branches must be thrown into the fire and the plant pruned so that the branch may produce fruit.

  May God soon raise up a church that brings Him the glory due to His Name!  May He be sanctified in the hearts and lives of His people!  May the truth of the Gospel be presented in the power of the Spirit!  To God be the honour, the power and the glory forever!

    Feb. 18 2021

Knowing God

Part 4

The Promise and its Fulfillment

Revelation, 3:17  “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.”

  This is the purpose of my blog.  In a vision I saw the church as dead people who were walking around – yet in spite of their movement, their faces were absolutely lifeless. God has so much in store for His children – yet we are satisfied with a miserly spiritual existence. Do we only know God with a theological acceptance of the intellect?  Is He a Living Reality within us Who impassions our soul? As you continue to read this blog, may God open your eyes to see His desire for your affection and fellowship!

Joel, 2:28 “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.”

Jeremiah, 31:33 “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

  The Old Testament prophets were given a revelation that in the future God would pour out His Spirit upon man in a way yet unknown.  As John the Baptist began his ministry he carried this word further.  Matthew, 3:11 “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:”

To the Jews, fire was symbolic of God’s Presence.  Moses heard God speak from the bush that burned but was not consumed.  The pillar of fire went before the Israelites on their journey.  At times the fire of God came down and burned up the sacrifice on the altar.  A baptism of fire would mean the Divine Presence descending upon an individual. 

  Jesus spoke of the Helper being sent from the Father when He would leave them.  The Helper, the Holy Ghost, would teach them all things.  After the resurrection, they were told to wait in Jerusalem until the Promise would come and they would be endued with “power from on high”.

As we know, the fulfillment came on Pentecost. The fire of God came down – but manifested itself as never before. The promised baptism was seen as cloven tongues of fire appearing to rest upon the head of each believer. A transformed group of men and women exited the house. The Presence was shown by boldness and eloquence to proclaim the gospel, the ability to communicate in other languages and the power to perform miracles. The Spirit worked in the hearts of the hearers and the number of believers multiplied. Joy and mutual love marked those who joined them.

The Book of Acts is a fast-moving narrative portraying the events in the years of the early church. Every story is charged with the visible manifestation of God’s Presence both in the church and in the lives of individuals. Just so as the church was begun in prayer, so it continued in prayer. The Holy Spirit directed them in a very distinct way both in taking care of issues that arose and in furthering the gospel. Sin within the group of believers was quickly dealt with under the Spirit’s guidance as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira as well as that of Simon the sorcerer. The resulting fear prevented the insincere from joining them.

The Spirit created unity among them. Both the church collectively, and men and women individually, received distinct direction from God as to how to carry on the work. The epistles speak of supernatural gifts of the Spirit being given to individuals within the church to build up the believers. The requirements given for those chosen as the first deacons were this: to be filled with faith and with the Spirit.

Nobody could have imagined these dramatic fulfillments of Old Testament prophecy. The words of those in Thessalonica who persecuted them described well what was happening: “These that have turned the world upside down have come hither also.” When God comes to dwell in the hearts of His people, the world changes.

The ways in which God chose to give His Spirit to believers were varied. The Spirit fell upon some of them when they believed. Several were baptized in the Name of Jesus so that they might receive the Spirit. These had previously only received the baptism of John. Still others were given the Gift when the apostles laid hands on them. A number of those present at Pentecost experienced a second outpouring when they prayed in response to being persecuted. Men endlessly argue about how believers receive the Spirit. We must remember that God is sovereign and He decides as to how He relates to His children. He will not be confined to our “theological boxes”!

There was no question about the Spirit’s reality in the lives of the early believers. Those who received Him frequently spoke in tongues, burst forth in joy and worship or prophesied. To the Gentile believers in Galatia Paul writes in his stern corrective letter: “Gal. 3: 3-5 “This only would I learn of you, received ye the Spirit by works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain. He that ministers to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” Obviously, if the Galatians worked miracles, they displayed similar manifestations as did the first ones who believed. Paul writes: Rom. 8:9 “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” Having the Spirit was synonymous to being a believer.

Was this wonderful experience of God indwelling His children and showing His Presence in so powerful a way only for a limited historical time? Next we will take a look at the church as we have known it today.

David Jantzi Feb. 6 2021

Knowing God

Part 3

Relationship Manifested Through Jesus

A good friend once made the comment to me that prophecy is not meant to be a detailed map of the future. Rather, it is a glimpse, into tomorrow, given to remind us that all things are a part of God’s sovereign agenda. The full meaning is realized upon its fulfillment. Often it is recognized only by those who are led by the Spirit of Him Who gave the prophecy.

Thus it was with the New Covenant. The prophets were given glimpses of things to come. 1 Pet. 1:13 mentions that even the angels desired to look into these hidden things but they were not revealed to them. They were given for the benefit of the New Testament saints who alone received a full understanding of their interpretation. The Mosaic Law and the ordinances pertaining to the tabernacle were cryptic foreshadows of the future.

God had something new in store for His people which began when Jesus was born. While many were aware of the prophecies, none could have imagined the form of their fulfillment. God coming down to dwell with His creatures, becoming a man born as a baby, was beyond human imagining. As the happenings of Christ’s life began to unfold, God spoke to both men and women. He enabled them to understand that this was Messianic prophecy becoming reality.

The incarnation is indisputable proof of God’s desire to relate personally with mankind. However, Jesus taking upon Himself the limitations of a man and then giving us an example of a perfect life shows us more of the same truth. His life was one of uninterrupted communion with the Father. His disciples recognized the fact that His times of prayer were a crucial part of His ministry. It is worthy of our notice that they did not ask Him, “teach us to preach” or “teach us to cast out demons and heal diseases”. Rather they asked, “teach us to pray”. They appeared to realize that the time spent with the Father was the source of His wisdom and power. How tragically we fail to learn this crucial lesson from His life!

John 5:19, 20 “Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel.”

These words suggest that the time spent in the Presence of the Father was when He received instructions for His work. It is no coincidence that He spent a night in prayer before undertaking the task of choosing the twelve. If the Incarnate Son did nothing independently, how can we do God’s work without both seeking and receiving His counsel? There must be active two-way communication with God. It was the way taken by the ancient men of God; it was the way taken by Jesus and it is the only way for the saints of today to effectively serve Him. While most will give assent to this truth, I have only met a handful of believers who actually live this way! May I be one of them!

Another crucial fact of Christ’s ministry was the descent of the Spirit upon Him at His baptism. John the Baptist describes Jesus as “having the Spirit beyond measure”. Because He was sinless, unlike us who need to be “born of the Spirit”, the Spirit would have always indwelt Christ. The visible manifestation of the Holy Ghost descending upon Him as He began His ministry may have been meant to be an example to us. It showed the absolute need for God’s anointing in order to do the work of the Kingdom. Also, even a sinless man without God’s indwelling Presence could not fulfill the Divine calling. This portrays just how closely God desires to fellowship with His creatures, created in His image.

Over and over in Old Testament history we read about the “Spirit of the Lord” coming upon individuals who were called to a special work. Even King Saul was given this anointing when he first became king. He is described as having been “given another heart”. Sadly, this priceless gift was taken from him when he yielded to pride and rebellion.

It appears that such an outpouring was primarily reserved for those with unique responsibilities. Conversely, in the New Covenant, the Spirit is given to every believer. This is what we will address in the next blog.

Knowing God

Part 2

Relationship in the Lives of Old Testament Saints

Mankind’s story of relationship starts in Genesis 1, when God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”. Unlike the beasts, whose brains were preprogrammed to independently perform all the tasks necessary for their survival, humans were not given this faculty. Instead, they were given the godlike ability to feel emotion, make choices, reason and express themselves in complex ways. God could communicate with this creature who could, in turn, choose how to respond to Him.

How soon our first parents abused this special privilege! Instantly, upon their disobedience, their relationship with God was breached. Early in history it became apparent that man was unable to properly fulfill his divinely given responsibility to be the custodian of the earth when his heart was out of tune with His Maker. Rom. 8:22 tells us that the whole creation groans and travails in pain. The earth became “corrupt before God and filled with violence”. Gen 6:11

Had it all ended here, there would have been no purpose for the world to continue. However, the Scriptures tell us that redemption was planned in the Mind of God before the foundation of the world. This Plan was the Sin-bearer, Jesus Christ. Through Him the relationship could be restored! Mankind could again fulfill the purpose of his creation and be in fellowship with his Maker!

The heroes of the Bible are the saints who were the “redeemed of the Lord”. The essence of redemption is to be received back into the family of God and fulfil His purposes on earth and in Heaven.

In the antediluvian world, Genesis chapter 4 mentions the men who built cities, raised livestock, became musicians and developed metal-working technology. However, the really “great” men who merited mention in the New Testament Scripture were Abel and Enoch. Abel, the simple herdsman whose acceptable sacrifice was offered with a righteous heart, pleased God. His fame was reached in the brief years of his life preceding his violent death but only recognized posthumously. Enoch lived a much shorter life than most of his contemporaries. But what marked his well-lived days was the fact that he “walked with God”. He was one of the rare people who realized that to live life to the fullest was not to attain the admiration of men for his accomplishments. Rather, his ambition was to intimately know his God and fulfill His purposes. Jude refers to him as a prophet. So dear was this man to the heart of God that he was spared the trauma of death and ushered into His Presence.

So the Bible narrative continues. Abraham was the friend of God. God shared with him His plans and trusted him to play a great role in His agenda for the nations.

Moses spoke to God face to face. His comaraderie with the Lord of the earth was such that he took it upon himself to stand before God to quell His wrath when He was about to destroy His people. God honoured the pleas and arguments of this bold intercessor.

So intense was the longing of the young man, Joshua, to know the One Who delivered the Israelites from the Egyptians, that when Moses left the tabernacle Joshua stayed in the tent to be in the Presence of God. Consequently, he stood as a spiritual giant among his fellows when the multitude stumbled in unbelief.

King David was “the man after God’s own heart” who left behind an ageless legacy of songs which expressed his love, confidence and devotion towards his Creator.

Many of the prophets were bereft of the legitimate joys and pleasures of life. Their portion was to hear directly from God and convey His message to the people. They were willing to bear the reproach, rejection and persecution associated with their calling, knowing that He was worthy Who commissioned them to the task.

The conclusion of all this is that there was not a man of the Old Covenant who did exploits for God who did not intimately know Him. Not only did these saints speak to God in prayer – He also chose to communicate with them.

Bible students too often see the Old Testament as a book of history, laws, poetry and prophecy. Yet, in its message they fail to see the vivid portrayal of a God Who longs for the hearts of the beings which He made for Himself. The history is the drama of this Divine love story. The laws are a reflection of One Who desires to see His creatures live in goodness and harmony. The poetic books are the, tender dialogues of people who are revelling in the joys of belonging to Him. They also contain the words of those who are pouring out their anguished hearts to One Who cares. Much of the prophets’ writings portray the intense emotions of a Divine Lover Who has been betrayed and spurned by His betrothed. Sometimes they are words of judgement; sometimes pleading words to woo her back to Himself. While doctrine is an important part of Scripture, the Bible truly is a book of relationship.

Too many who claim to be “biblical” only have a cold, legalistic understanding of the term. I am attempting to open our eyes to the Heart and Soul of God and His Word. My next post will take us forward to the New Covenant.