From Whom Do We Seek Favor? And Whom Do We Fear?

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     We’ve all experienced it. Our faith is under constant attack by the Enemy, our culture, and even our families and fellow Believers. If our hearts are truly seeking the Lord, and those attacks come, we may begin to question whether we are steady in our walk with Him.  The next thing we know, we find ourselves seeking or desiring the favor of man in our faith lives, which can be a distraction from the fear of the Lord. But why is it so important to be cognizant of this fact; and how does it affect our journey and relationship with the Lord? If I could sum it up in one word, it would be validation. But I’d like to unpack my theory for you and share where my own self-examination has taken me.
     When it comes to our faith, and if we are seeking the favor of man, what is that really telling us? Is our identity in Christ enough for us, or do we need the approval of man to feel like our path is straight? Let’s start with Proverbs 29:25 to see if we can get the answers.  And I’d like to give you several translations so we begin with a clear picture:
  

The fear of man brings a snare,
But whoever trusts in and puts his confidence in the Lord will be exalted and safe.
(Amplified)
Fear and intimidation is a trap that holds you back.
    But when you place your confidence in the Lord,
you will be seated in the high place. (Passion)
Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the Lord means safety. (New Living Translation)
   
     Can you see the implications? The fear of man is a snare (a trap) because it holds you back from walking in confidence in your true identity, seated in the high place (the heavenly realms as stated in Ephesians 2:6). When you are seated with Christ, you are united with Him, and there’s no safer or more secure place to be. 
     But what happens to us as we seek to grow our relationship with Christ? The Enemy comes in and lays a trap for us. As we receive wisdom and revelation from the Lord [through the Holy Spirit], we may get opposing views from people, or correction from Leadership. It leaves you with feelings of doubt … did I really hear from the Holy Spirit? And that can be a lonely place to be. We feel separated, not only from our fellow Christians, but maybe even from God, Himself, because now there has been a disruption in that divine communication, and we’ve taken our focus off Him and the favor we’ve received from Him to seek the favor of fellow men. Because, let’s face it everyone wants to be accepted.

     And that’s the real meaning of “favor” — acceptance; the reaction of a perceived superior to an inferior; presence and power. But whose favor do you really want? Whose Presence and Power do you want to walk in? And who do you fear more?  We know what we fear from men — rejection and disapproval. But do we really understand the Fear of the Lord? That it is awe-inspired reverence and worshiping Him? Obedience and submissive wonder?

     When we let man dictate [or influence] our identity, we are going to seek acceptance and approval from this world.  If we’ve been hurt by the Church (and that is a very real problem today), do we find our safety and security with others who have experienced similar hurts — or do we trust and believe that we are seated with Christ in the heavenlies; that our identity is secure in Him? Do we meet to lick our wounds (or as my husband says, “commiserate over our bandaids”)? Do we find comfort and validation in our kinship with fellow victims? Or do we look for our approval from the Lord and walk in our kinship with Him?
     I can tell you that I have been guilty of taking my eyes off the commission Christ has given me [and off Him, as my Commissioner]. It’s so natural to want that gratification of knowing someone values you, and let’s face it — the devil will always provide that someone if it means you will step back from seeking more of the Lord, which results in lost momentum in your relationship with Him! 
     I know that I walk in an unconventional assignment from Jesus. And I have experienced negative feedback from fellow Christians when what I was seeing and hearing from God seemed so darn clear! The natural instinct is to seek a carnal affirmation to make your soul feel better [i.e., your emotions and mind]. But whenever I’ve taken my eyes off Jesus and what He was showing me, I’ve gotten stuck in that moment of hurt. The Word says it perfectly … Fear and intimidation is a trap that holds you back.  My spirit grieved because I was fearing man more than I was fearing God; seeking man’s favor instead of praising God for the favor He has given me in my unique assignment.
     Here’s the thing … we all have unique assignments! God didn’t make us cookie cutter images of each other. He made us each in His own image! So, as you look around you, that should give you a pretty good idea of how BIG and AWESOME our God is, and make you realize that seeing the favor of man can be an exhaustive endeavor!
     BUT, you can receive the favor of God when you fear Him! Stated another way, you can receive His approval when you walk in His Presence and Power by obeying Him in the assignment He has given you!
     I want to ask you the question that Job asks in 4:6 …. Is not your fear of God your confidence?  Shouldn’t we all find our validation from seeking His face and Presence, and obeying His commandments through the use of His Power? Shouldn’t that be enough to feel confident about who we are? If like me, you have battled through the fear of man in order to get to your walk in the fear of the Lord, then you know this promise found in Psalm 40:4, Blessed [fortunate, prosperous, and favored by God] is the man who makes the Lord his trust. When we can trust the Lord’s opinion over man’s, we can walk in confidence; knowing we are fully approved and secure in our identity. We no longer look from side to side for our validation, but only upwards. And I promise you, you will know His acceptance and approval. His validation is true and eternal!
Psalm 37:5-6    Open up before God, keep nothing back; He’ll do whatever needs to be done: He’ll validate your life in the clear light of day and stamp you with approval at high noon.
     

Wolves In The Church

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     I’m sure you are familiar with Jesus’s Biblical warning in Matthew 7:15 which says, Beware of the false prophets, [teachers] who come to you dressed as sheep [appearing gentle and innocent], but inwardly are ravenous wolves. Implicit in this warning is that wolves of deceit have snuck into the Church and are ready to devour any true Christian sheep who are gullible enough [or unwise enough] to fall for their wrong teachings.
     And, boy, has the institutional Church used this alarming admonition to squelch any new revelations from God that are outside the established doctrine of any particular denomination. First of all, those who are quick to attack a fellow Christian’s attempt at edifying the Body regarding something God or the Holy Spirit has revealed to them, don’t bother to read Matthew 7:15 in context. Jesus says in the very next verse, You can identify them by the fruit [of their character], that is, by the way they act.  Scripture goes on to say that it’s pretty obvious that you don’t pick sweet grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from a tumbleweed. In other words, if you hear a different interpretation of Scripture, or a different teaching of a Biblical concept, the character of the “bringer” should be taken into account and easily discernible. If their testimony or word is plainly against Scripture, and if they don’t possess a reputation of the fruits of the spirit (joy, love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness and they are not displaying the Lordship of the Spirit in their life), then you can rightly discern they are intent on damaging the Church. But if this fellow Christian is of good character, and his heart displays a visible love of the Lord, and his actions bear good fruit, then perhaps he or she should not be so quickly castigated.
     Yet, I have found far too often that the Church members will react in indignation and self-appointed authority in deciding that any new proposed understanding of Scripture that differs from the orthodox teachings is unacceptable, and it borders on either blasphemy or heresy. And that really saddens me, because this is a picture of the Church that is far different from how it began in the aftermath of Christ’s resurrection and ascension.
     From the moment that the Disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and Peter preaches the first sermon at Pentecost, the idea of “church” meant “a fellowship of believers”. The Bible clearly teaches that these believers were faithful to follow the teachings of these first apostles or “sent ones”. (Re-read yesterday’s post on my view of what makes an apostle}. They regularly met in devoted believers’ homes, with the express purpose of sharing the Lord’s Supper as a sign of their unity. They prayed, studied Scripture, sang songs, and the focus was always on edifying the body of believers who were present. I think it is important to note the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to these “home churches”, as stated in 1 Corinthians 14:26: Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you. Do you see that in the modern Church?
     Can you see how different this is from what the modern Church has evolved into? First of all, I would like to reiterate and re-evaluate Jesus’s statements in Matthew 7 … He isn’t even talking to a group of Christians gathering in a Church building or denomination as we know it today. He is talking to disciples who are following Him around the countryside, and learning from His teachings. Shouldn’t that describe each of us, regardless of which denomination we claim allegiance to? And doesn’t He make it clear that we should look at both the character and the actions of our fellow believer before condemning their teaching/interpretation as deceptive? There are at least 34 verses in the New Testament that speak of the importance of fruit in the life of a believer, yet we seem too eager to judge based on shared theology.
    And, yes, Scripture is sufficient for us … it contains all there is to know about our God, but as I have quoted from Scripture over and over, God conceals the revelation of His word in the hiding place of His glory. But the honor of kings is revealed by how they thoroughly search out the deeper meaning of all that God says (Proverbs 25:2). He reveals Himself through Nature; through our spirits who testify to His existence; through His Son Jesus as presented in the Bible; and finally through His written Word — and through all these ways He gives us knowledge of Himself through our experiences with Him! It is not merely through our denominational doctrines and head knowledge! That is why the Greek translation of the New Testament talks so much about experiential knowledge — knowledge that comes from experience.
     Have we, as the institutional Church, forgotten that God is a rewarder to those who diligently seek Him? Why is it so difficult for our fellow Christians to discern that God could reveal Himself to an individual believer today through the Holy Spirit? Why are we so quick to judge a fellow believer’s testimony, just because it expands on accepted doctrinal beliefs? Why can’t we think God might want us to know more about Him? Do we really think our doctrine is all there is to know about God? And for mercy’s sake, why are we ignoring the character and actions of our fellow believers? Do we no longer believe that the Holy Spirit leads and directs us? Before condemning someone for what they are bringing to the Church Body, can we stop for a moment and spiritually assess the heart of the person, and look to see if they have borne fruit for the Kingdom of God?
     In fact, I often wonder just how Church members assess the fruits of their fellow believers. Is it based on the number of times they have been in the pews on Sunday morning, or the number of the Church activities they are involved in? Do they ever stop to think that perhaps there is fruit they don’t see — that this believer’s fruit comes from being obedient to Jesus’s commands when they invite Him to be present as they lay hands on someone who is in need of healing? What about the fruit that comes from the power of the Holy Spirit to defeat the spirit of unworthiness in a lonely and abandoned young girl, as this believer partners with the Spirit and Jesus to set her free from this torment.  All these experiences are revelations of the Presence of God in a believer’s life and evidence that seeds are being sown and fruit is being produced.

     The Holy Spirit reveals God to our spirits through our experiences. The Holy Spirit reveals God through Bible passages; and through our thoughts, and ideas that He brings to our minds.  He is fluid and flowing; always ready to reveal an aspect of our God that magnifies Him; that amplifies His glory. John 3:8 says, For the Spirit [wind] blows as it chooses. You can hear its sound, but you don’t know where it came from or where it’s going. So it is within the hearts of those who are Spirit-born!” The Holy Spirit is not bound by Church doctrine!
     So, I ask you, how is it that Christians within the Church think they are qualified to decide how the Spirit is leading or directing a fellow believer [who exemplifies good character; whose actions portray a heart diligently seeking after God, and whose deeds bear fruit for the Kingdom]?  Could it be that the Church barely resembles those early gatherings of Spirit-filled believers who encouraged each other to share and edify the body with what the Holy Spirit was showing them?
     I am in no way negating the warning to be on guard against the wolves who bring false teachings. They are real, and I’m pretty sure the Enemy has been infiltrating them into the Church for hundreds of years. I don’t see those early “home churches” being overly concerned with real estate, building programs, staff salaries, utilities, mortgages, pulpits, pews, sermons, elaborate worship programs, or how much money they had in the bank. When did the focus change from “going out” to “protecting our turf”?
     We all agree that wolves are definitely a danger to innocent sheep. And what I’m about to say may offend some, but I have personally witnessed a pack of wolves within the church driving innocent sheep out of the building where their Good Shepherd is waiting to feed them and lead them to springs of living water. It is not my attention to offend, but rather to give us all pause when meeting with our fellow believers, and before judging them.
     So, yes, we need to be persistent in keeping the wolves at bay and safeguarding the purity of Scripture. Lord knows, they are vicious and ravenous and waiting to destroy the Body of Christ. But let’s not limit our oversight to one man’s [or one denomination’s] conditional and designated understanding. Let us give the Holy Spirit the freedom to reveal to a person’s spirit what God would have them know about Himself. And then let us offer love and kindness and a heart that is willing to receive more of God. It just might bring more joy and peace to your spirit and to the entire Body. And that would be pleasing to God.

1 Corinthians 8:1-3     Knowledge [alone] makes [people self-righteously] arrogant, but love [that unselfishly seeks the best for others] builds up and encourages others to grow [in wisdom]. If anyone imagines that he knows and understands anything [of divine matters, without love], he has not yet known as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God [with awe-filled reverence, obedience and gratitude], he is known by Him [as His very own and is greatly loved].

 

Are You A Sinner or A Saint?

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     This question really makes you stop and think, doesn’t it?  I have to admit that when my husband, Mark, posited it to me, my immediate thought was, “Well, of course, I am a sinner.  There was only one human being who wasn’t, and that is Jesus”.  But then, I hesitated, and thought, “Wait a minute, but how does my Lord see me?  Isn’t that my true identity”?
     If you scour the internet, you will find a wide variety of opinions … some theologians and Bible teachers will call Christians sinners; while others declare we are all saints; and yet others try to walk the line and call us both saint and sinner.  But I wanted to definitively know in my heart what I believed, and the only resource that mattered to me was the Bible.  So, I began my quest to determine who I am … sinner or saint.
     In a sense, all human beings, as a category, are sinners because we are born in sin.  So, it is not difficult to think of ourselves as sinners because we know we are capable of sinning. But when we take a look at the word “saint” in the original Greek (hagios) it is used to designate all believers or people set apart for the Lord and His Kingdom.  It is not used to typify those Christians of exceptional holiness, or those who have gone on to be with the Lord in heaven, but rather any and all who are reborn into a new identity.
     And Scripture backs this up in 2 Thessalonians 1:10, which reads, “… when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day [that is, glorified through the changed lives of those who have accepted Him as Savior and have been set apart for His purpose], and to be marveled at among all who have believed…”.  
     Now, there will always be those Christians who don’t see themselves as this new creation called “saint” and want to cling to their old identity.  They will tell you that if we don’t still see ourselves as sinners, then what value does the Cross have to us?  My answer to that is simple: the Cross is the reason that my identity has changed from sinner to saint; it is the catalyst that transformed me. Did not the Apostle Paul say, “If any man is in Christ he is a new creation. Old things are passed away, behold all things are become new.”
     True, Paul called himself “the foremost of sinners” in 1 Timothy 1:15.  But, as is often the case, we tend to read Scripture out of context. A more careful study shows that he is referring to his former self, i.e., the “old Paul” rather than the new one.  And that may be why he tends to refer to the readers of his letters as “saints” to remind them of who they are, and who they have been called to be.  And that is an important distinction.
     “Saint” is both a description and a calling of the Christian. This is made very clear in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified (set apart, made holy) in Christ Jesus, who are selected and called as saints (God’s people), together with all those who in every place call on and honor the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours…”.
     To be a sinner is to be separated from God, with no relationship.  But Scripture tells us in Ephesians 2,  that “through Him we have a [direct] way of approach in one Spirit to the Father”.  When we are reborn we enter into a new relationship with our Creator, and we are”fellow citizens with the saints (God’s people), and are [members] of God’s household”.  We now identify as a saint!
     But what about the times we hurt others with our sins?  How can we possibly think of ourselves as a saint then?  That is where repentance comes in.  With this act of confession and asking God for forgiveness, we show a new nature that is in relationship with God; a new nature that is growing towards the image of Christ — and which definitely is not the nature of a sinner.
     So, after all this discussion, and back and forth, how do you view yourself?  Are you a saved sinner, or a sinning saint?  I will tell you how I have determined this question for myself… I know I am a Christian who is growing in holiness, while still struggling with sin in my life.  But that is the old nature that is still trying to control me.  I KNOW I am a new creation.  I KNOW I have been called to a special purpose and called to be holy because God is holy.  And I know Jesus is the ultimate picture of saint.  I also know that when we are saved, we are identified with Christ by grace through faith.  And I believe that my faith in Christ radically changes not only my identity and my walk, but how God sees me.  He no longer sees a broken vessel, but a renewed and restored receptacle of His grace and mercy.  How can that be labeled a sinner?  From now on, I will only answer to the name Saint. So, I ask my original question to you … Are you a sinner or a saint?

 1 Corinthians 6:11   And such were some of you [before you believed]. But you were washed [by the atoning sacrifice of Christ], you were sanctified [set apart for God, and made holy], you were justified [declared free of guilt] in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the [Holy] Spirit of our God [the source of the believer’s new life and changed behavior]. 
   
   
   

Can You Identify?

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     If you’ve been a long-time reader of this blog, then you understand the journey the Lord has taken me on. You have seen the new seasons and paths to which He has directed me and Mark, and I’ve tried to be as honest as I could about my questions, as well as my convictions.  As you know, we are entering a new season of learning what it means to be a True Disciple of Christ and to be a member of what I will term, “the True Church”.
     What has been perhaps the most surprising part of this journey is just how simple [to understand] Jesus’s commandments to us, yet how difficult they are to carry out because we’ve never been encouraged to do them … Throughout my church experience I heard references to “the Great Commission”, but never once was it elaborated on, beyond the message to “Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor”. And that’s not even what Jesus categorized as His Commission!  Until you read, word for word, His precise explanation [in Mark 16 and Matthew 28], I doubt you will even know what we are called to do.  And I imagine if you have watched the movie I recommended, The Last Reformation, then your world has been rocked.

     I know I have been enthusiastic in urging you to understand His missive … to heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead, baptize in His Name, and spread the Gospel of the Kingdom … but how many of you are thinking, right now, “I could never do that!  That is for people who are far more spiritually experienced and knowledgeable than me? The Lord may have called Mark and Pam to do this work, but I am not equipped to represent Him in this exalted way!”
     Well, I’m here to tell you that I am no different than you!  And guess what?  Neither were the Twelve Apostles!  Jesus called ordinary men to follow Him to show us that it is possible for all of us!  And if you have made the mistake of elevating Peter, John, Matthew, James the son of Zebedee, James the son of Alphaeus, Andrew, Simon, Bartholomew, Thaddeus, Philip, Thomas, and Judas Iscariot as extraordinary, exceptional men at the time they were called to follow Jesus, then I assure you that they only became extraordinary when they were baptized by the Holy Spirit [into the power of God] to carry out the Great Commission.  And if you are having a hard time accepting their “ordinariness”, then I will let Jesus prove it.
     As I am slowly progressing through the Bible [again], I saw something that I had skimmed over the other times I read it, but which now leaped out at me.  Shortly after the Passover meal in which Jesus announces that “one of you shall betray me”, He proceeds to tell the Disciples that He will only be with them a little while longer (John 13:33) …  Little children, I am with you [only] a little longer. You will look for Me and, as I told the Jewish religious leaders, so I tell you now, ‘Where I am going, you are not able to come.’
     So, I want you to notice how He addresses the disciples … the same men who have been with Him for three-and-a-half years; who have watched Him do the miracles; and who have sat at His feet receiving the teachings that He is in the Father, and the Father in Him; who have heard Him say that He only does what the Father tells Him to do, or what He sees the Father doing.  He calls them Little children! 
     I am going to borrow from a sermon I heard Bill Johnson give once … although the Twelve had been with Him for several years and seen His works, they still did not understand!  We don’t read about very many successes they had in imitating Him, and He gets frustrated with them at times, calling them an “unbelieving and perverse generation” (Luke 9:41), and calls out their lack of faith, asking, them, “Why can’t you understand?” (Matthew 7:7-11). So, the whole time they were with Him, they didn’t really get it!
     Here’s what I see in that verse:  By calling them “Little Children”, Jesus is telling us that they are just infants in their faith, Baby Christians, if you will.  They have yet to grow into a spiritually mature believer who is advanced enough to represent the Kingdom of God.  But He offered them His grace, and He knew they would grow through obedience.  Did He decide they were unworthy to carry forth His message and works, and then dismiss them?  No!  He opened their minds to understand Scripture and told them to go to Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them with power, and then they would be able to carry His Gospel of the Kingdom to the ends of the earth.

     Why didn’t He open their minds to understand Scripture at the beginning of the three-and-a-half years?  Wouldn’t the journey have been easier for them all? The Bible doesn’t tell us, but perhaps God knew that if they didn’t walk out that training, they probably would have credited themselves for the work they did do.  Plus, if they had been given to understand all of Scripture at the beginning, there would have been no growth and maturity in their walk. I think we can all agree that with experience and maturity, comes wisdom and the ability to persevere.  Jesus knew they would be tested and would need to remember the lessons He taught them along the way. So He took them on a three-and-a-half year apprenticeship, knowing they needed training and guidance.
     So, I submit to you, that you are no different than those twelve ordinary men who made a decision to follow Jesus. They had moments of doubt and fear. They made mistakes. There were many times they didn’t understand what God was doing in their lives; and I’m sure there were days they wondered if they were doing His will or fulfilling their purpose. They didn’t suddenly and miraculously become Pillars of the Faith.  But they knew Jesus offered something they couldn’t live without. And so they trusted Him in their lives, remaining obedient to their calling.
     I will agree that it is more difficult for us because they could touch Him and hear His voice, and actually watch Him do what He calls us to; and we are separated by a distance of over 2,000 years and a couple of heavens.  But the calling is the same… His is the Way to follow [with all that He did]; He is the Truth that overcomes the Enemy’s lies about who we are; He offers a Life that transcends these earthly bonds; and He is the Light that shatters the darkness that threatens to overcome us.  And He has shown us that He wants to use ordinary men and women — fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes, and adulterers — to reveal the power of God’s goodness over the evil of the prince of this world.  He has shown us that ordinary people can defeat Satan by healing the sick, and casting out his henchmen, the demons, and taking back territory among the souls of men. He has shown us that the Power and the Love of Heaven can invade this earth, and it can come through us!
     All you have to do is be willing to say, “Yes, Lord!” And I will tell you, it is absolutely a journey; and for some it may take longer than the three-and-a-half years it took the Twelve, but just as with them, Jesus will be with you every step of the way — teaching you, correcting you, encouraging you, and bestowing His Power and Authority, that you might become a conqueror, just as He was.
     So, never think that you don’t match the qualifications of those early saints.  Each of us, on acceptance of Him as our Savior, have the opportunity to receive the power and authority from Heaven, and to do the works Jesus and His Apostles did. I will tell you that there was something inside me that responded to the first time I realized what the Great Commission really was. And the first time I listened to the experiences of others who were being obedient to this calling on all of us, I never looked back. The Holy Spirit communed with my spirit and I knew it was right! So, I urge you to trust Him and just be ready to obey. He will answer your willingness with His Love, give you His Authority and Power, and you can walk in the shoes of a Son or Daughter of the Most High God.  Just take that first step of your journey … tell Him your heart longs to walk in His footsteps, and that you want to learn how to be a true Disciple. Then watch your identity change as you enter into one of the most glorious seasons of your life on this earth!
     Jesus, Himself, says, By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.  What better way to love another than to set them free of sickness and demonic oppression, and then share the Gospel of eternal life in the Kingdom of God, baptizing them in Jesus’s Name and setting them free from their sin?  After all, that’s exactly what Jesus did, and taught His first disciple to do, isn’t it? And the Bible tells us that whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked.

2 Peter 3:18    But grow [spiritually mature] in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory (honor, majesty, splendor), both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

A New Look At An Old Story

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     I have often shared with you the astounding new revelations I receive when re-reading familiar Bible passages.  In my ongoing deep dive of the Bible, I have arrived at John, Chapter 6, and the well-known Scripture concerning Jesus walking on water.  I had already read the version of this same story in Matthew, Chapter 14, and in Mark, Chapter 6.  But I was taken aback at the different tone with which John is rendering the facts.
     The preceding verses had just told us about Jesus feeding the 5,000 near the Sea of Galilee. Then in verse 15, the Bible says, Then Jesus, knowing that they were going to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountainside by Himself.  Wait a minute!  I don’t remember anything about the crowds forcing Him to be King in Matthew or Mark!  In fact, Matthew just records that He simply “sent the crowds away”, while Mark says only that He “dismissed the crowds”.  So what is John trying to tell us about this event?
     What I quickly realized was that I needed to kind of boomerang between all three narrations to get the full picture of what happened that day prior to Jesus walking on the water.  When you look at all three versions of the feeding of the 5,000 you can see that Jesus spent the entire day healing the sick (Matthew 14:14) and teaching them many things (Mark 6:34).  The day was nearly done and evening was coming on when the Disciples asked Jesus to send the people away so they could go find something to eat. But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!”  But the Disciples were confused and did not know how to accomplish this task, so Jesus looked up to Heaven, giving thanks to the Father, and proceeded to feed the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish.

     So, how do we come to Jesus withdrawing by Himself out of concern that the crowd was going to force Him to become King?  Think about this for a minute … All day the crowd had been witness to miraculous signs of healing and profound teachings that had come to them as though His words were the voice of God.  Now, they see the crowning miracle of the day with the feeding of the 5,000, and they are convinced they are seeing the Messiah [whom the Prophets had spoken of] come into the world.  Surely, if He can do all they have seen that day, and speaks with such authority, He can rid Judea of the hated Romans and deliver Judah and Jerusalem into the Promised Land the Israelites of old had sought.
     Jesus could feel the hopes of the people rising to a fever pitch. They see Him as a different leader than the Jewish priests and rulers, and they are eager to force Him to become who they believe He is, the Messiah and Deliverer of Judah.  Yet, He appears too modest and does not seem inclined to assume His role as King of the Jews.  Even the Disciples agree with the crowd, hoping that the swelling and popular movement to place Him on the throne would at last entice Him to make His move.
     But Jesus discerns what is happening and understands that to preempt His Father’s plan would result in violence and insurrection, and the spiritual work of the Kingdom on earth would be hindered and obstructed.  He must stop this movement in its tracks!  In Mark, Scripture says that Jesus “immediately insisted that His disciples get into the boat and go ahead [of Him] to the other side to Bethsaida, while He was dismissing the crowd. And after He said goodbye to them, He went to the mountain to pray”.  The fact that He had to insist they go ahead of Him seems to imply there may have been some protest on the part of the Disciples.  Perhaps they didn’t want the crowd’s enthusiasm [for Jesus to take the throne] to go to waste, and were reluctant to let this opportunity slip away.  But Jesus spoke with authority [and foreknowledge of how He must play out His assignment] and commanded them to go to the opposite shore.
     So what was Jesus praying about while up on that mountain by Himself?  The Bible doesn’t tell us, but I don’t think it is wrong to think that He might have prayed for the people to recognize the Divine character of His mission; that they could see beyond the earthly ramifications of a crown and a throne.  And I don’t think it’s wrong to imagine that He prayed for His disciples, that they might endure their dashed hopes as they witnessed His crucifixion, instead of His placement on the throne of David. Perhaps He prayed that they would be able to resist the temptations of the Enemy to dismiss all that He had taught them, and that they would embrace the truth that His Kingdom was not of this world, and it was to be their calling to share [with the world] all that He had taught and commanded them.
     And we can only imagine the thoughts of the Disciples as the wind was literally let out of their sails, as they rowed across the Sea of Galilee.  I find it interesting to examine the writings of Ellen White in her book, The Desire of the Ages, “They had left Jesus with dissatisfied hearts, more impatient with Him than ever before since acknowledging Him as their Lord. They murmured because they had not been permitted to proclaim Him king. They blamed themselves for yielding so readily to His command. They reasoned that if they had been more persistent they might have accomplished their purpose… They knew that Jesus was hated by the Pharisees, and they were eager to see Him exalted as they thought He should be. To be united with a teacher who could work mighty miracles, and yet to be reviled as deceivers, was a trial they could ill endure. Were they always to be accounted followers of a false prophet? Would Christ never assert His authority as king? Why did not He, who possessed such power, reveal Himself in His true character, and make their way less painful? Why had He not saved John the Baptist from a violent death? Thus the disciples reasoned until they brought upon themselves great spiritual darkness. They questioned, Could Jesus be an impostor, as the Pharisees asserted”?
     So as they ruminated while they rowed the three-plus miles across the lake, a storm snuck up on them and they were unprepared for it.  All their impatience with Jesus was gone, and they found themselves in a fight to keep the boat from sinking.  In fact, they entered the boat at evening, but Mark 6:48 says they were straining at the oars during the fourth watch of the night (from 3 am to 6 am) when they saw Jesus walking on the water towards them, so they fought the waves and wind for quite awhile.

     They were terrified, and so they could not discern that He had never taken His eyes off of them.  He knew they were to bring His Light to the world, and was not about to let their stubborn hearts or unholy ambition [regarding Him] swamp that boat.  And when He acts like He is going to pass them by, they cry out for His help, and He identifies Himself [as the I AM] and bids them not to be afraid.  Note that only Matthew records the episode of Peter walking on the water. Only Peter has the courage to question Jesus if it is really Him, and says, “If it is really You, command me to come to you on the water”. Jesus says, “Come”, and keeping his eyes fixed on Jesus, Peter walks upon the surface of the water! But when he took his eyes off Jesus, and starting looking at the effects of the wind and the waves, he begins to sink, and cries out “Save me”!
     But Jesus immediately reaches out His hand and catches Peter from sinking beneath the waves.  And what does He say to Peter? “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” I believe that question is at the heart of so many unfulfilled Christian lives. So now I ask you, how often have you reacted the same as the Disciples? How many times have you predetermined who you wanted Jesus to be, or how you wanted Him to take action in your life — and then been disappointed when it didn’t turn out how you hoped it would?  And how often, when confronted with a frightening episode in your life, you begin [like Peter] with staying focused on Jesus and His promises, and then the effects of the storm in your life draws your attention away from Him, you take your eyes off Him, and the next thing you know, you are drowning in fear and doubt?  And, finally, how often do you dismiss the supernatural in a life that is in relationship with Jesus — or are you even willing to accept His healing or His supernatural provision?
     We can learn a lot from this familiar episode in the life of the Disciples and Jesus.  When we keep our focus on Jesus and are willing to receive the Truth of what He did in John 6 on that mountainside near the Sea of Galillee — His healing, His teachings and His supernatural provision — then He can do the same great things through us.  When you step out in faith (like Peter did upon the water), you will be able to do things you could never do on your own, and your life will be a living testimony of what the Kingdom life is like on earth.  That’s how Jesus intends us to live! Are you willing to trust Him?

Hebrews 10:23   Let us seize and hold tightly the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is reliable and trustworthy and faithful [to His word]; 
     

The Importance Of Discernment: Who Do We Believe?

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     I know for a fact that we are not the first Christians who have faced a multitude of different teachings about Jesus, and have struggled with whose teachings to follow.  All we have to do is look at the Early Church and we can see the problems that arose — problems not unlike those we face today.
     In Scripture, we can see an explosion of faith after the experience at Pentecost in the Book of Acts.  Important Christian doctrines were established, such as the Incarnation of the Son of God (fully Deity and fully man); His death, burial, and resurrection; man’s fallen nature and his need of a Savior; and Salvation is by God’s grace through our faith in Jesus, just to name a few of the foundational doctrines.  We see the Gospel Message [of the Kingdom] taken to distant lands, as the Apostles carried out their commission from Jesus to heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead, and preach that Kingdom Message.
     But we can see that things must have become distorted as the decades and centuries passed, because the Church today doesn’t teach that full Gospel; it has been reduced to the “Gospel of Salvation” alone.  A fleeting glance at history shows us some of the problems that began arising in the Church, especially after the deaths of the Apostles and the martyrdom of Paul.
     It isn’t hard to imagine the early Christians meeting together for worship, and someone stepping forward to give their oral testimony of how they had heard an Apostle or other eyewitness tell of hearing the Lord say this or that. Or how they had seen the Lord heal the sick and give sight to the blind. Persecution of the new Christian faith soon thinned out these credible eyewitnesses, so that it wasn’t long before very few persons remained who could give firsthand testimony regarding the teaching and activities of the Lord.
     Fortunately for us, the Synoptic Gospels were soon written, verifying those oral testimonies and preserving them for posterity.  But before we ascertain that the First Century Church was all sunshine and roses, we can see in Paul’s writings and the epistle of James that differences of opinion and various disturbances among groups of Believers were beginning to cause dissension.  Once that first generation of actual eyewitnesses and the second and third generation of those who had known the eyewitnesses were gone, the Church became subject to teachers and theologians who applied their own personal subjectivity to the Bible, and Christians had to decide whose teachings were the most credible and true to the original teachings of Jesus.
     Nothing has changed in all these centuries.  Today we are presented with a wide range of teachings — all purported to be in alignment with Scripture.  And as in the past centuries, we are presented with various “movements” that may or may not be in strict agreement with the Bible.  Let’s face it, the modern Christian has to be serious in their discernment.  And it is not uncommon to agree with parts of a particular ministry, while having difficulty with other parts of its theology because it doesn’t exactly align with Scripture.
     There is such a huge number of teachers, Bible scholars, authors, ministers, and internet personalities for us to choose from, that it can be difficult to know how reliable their teachings are.  We are rightfully concerned about being deceived; and any teacher or movement whose foundation is anti-Biblical should be dismissed. But at the same time, I have found that I can oftentimes get a nugget of Truth [from Biblical teachings] that I can apply to my theology, and then discard other parts of the message until I can study them further to see if I agree. As my husband often reminds me, “We can eat the meat and spit out the bones”.
     I can understand the hesitancy to accept any part of a teaching that may have questionable doctrine.  But we must remember that even in the early Church there arose various opinions about what constituted “faith” because people misunderstood the teachings of Paul.  For Paul, the word faith meant complete reliance upon Jesus Christ for salvation, and we know that this is correct teaching. But some converts were using the word faith to mean nothing more than they were members of Christian groups, and so on.  So James, the brother of Jesus, and a leader of the Jerusalem Church, wrote his epistle to point out that Paul was speaking of “saving faith”.  He wrote to clarify that faith required “doing”, not just hearing.  These differing opinions did not mean that groups within the early Church discounted each other. Rather, it called for further study and clarification.
     Also, during this first Century there was a difference in how some of the Jewish Christians regarded the concept of “works”.  For some it was the observance of the strict Jewish ceremonial law; while to others, it referenced charitable acts, or the fruits of Christian living.  As you can see, there were differences of opinion that resulted in different theologies, although these disparate groups all proclaimed obedience to Jesus’s teachings and Christianity.

    So, how should we look upon the variety of teachings that are available to us today?  Do we submit them to a stringent test, and require that they be 100% in accordance to Scripture?  Or is it OK to extract the Biblical truth from a teaching, while discarding those ideas that we are skeptical about?  I think we can agree that it is impossible today to find any teacher that meets the standard of Jesus.
     I can only answer for myself, and tell you how I apply discernment.  I try to follow Jesus’s example in Mark, Chapter 9, when the Disciples came to Him and said, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to stop him because he was not following us.”  And what was Jesus’s reply?  “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in My name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. For the one who is not against us is for us”.  Jesus understood that not everyone would be part of the intimate group of His followers.  But if they did the works that He did, and credited Him [instead of themselves], then they were doing the work of the Father and advancing the Kingdom.  In effect, they were part of God’s team and not Satan’s — for them, and not against them.
     And that’s what I try to do.  I truly believe that God’s character and knowledge are so great that He cannot download it all into one man or woman — we are simply unable to contain the vastness of Him.  But He can impart a piece of revelation to each of us — this man might understand repentance at a really high Kingdom level; while this woman might receive God’s wisdom regarding seeing in the spirit; and this person has had God’s heart revealed in the area of Deliverance in partnership with the Holy Spirit.  See what I’m saying?
      I don’t think it is possible to receive all God wants us to know about Him from one person.  Yes, He has revealed Himself in the Bible, and it is up to us to seek Him through His written Word.  But I also believe that He has no problem with us sharing what we have come to know through a heart seeking Truth.  And just as Jesus said of those who were doing mighty works in His Name, we can discern whether today’s teachers/scholars/authors/ministers are producing fruit for the Kingdom, and if they are, then it’s safe to say they are for us, and not against us.  It is not necessary to discard the sum total of their teachings.  Use your God-given discernment, along with confirming Scripture and prayer. Then keep what has worth, and toss the rest. If you are seeking genuine Truth, the Holy Spirit within you will guide you and counsel you; He will not lead you astray.  Above all else, God isn’t interested in limiting what we can know about Him, and I want all the Truth about Him I can get!

Proverbs 2:3-5    “Yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God”.

Why Is It Wrong To Seek More Of Our God?

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     I am becoming increasingly aware of Satan’s scheme to divide and separate us from fellow Christians.  As I hinted at in an earlier post, it is far too easy to cast aspersions on other Believers, and throw around the label of “false teacher”.  It seems that if you can get 5 or 6 people to agree with you against the theology of another Christian, then you are warranted in calling their interpretation of Scripture “false”.

     But today I want to narrow my scope of discussion as to why so many in the Body of Christ find fault with a Christian who desires to seek more knowledge, understanding, and wisdom about God.  In fact, if anyone in the Body attempts to go beyond the accepted level of understanding in the group, then the level of fear increases also — the fear that any new interpretation or revelation from Scripture might lead the entire group into deception.  So more often than not, the discussion is shut down and the seeker is cautioned to “play it safe” by not bringing up any controversial ideas or — heaven forbid — a bigger picture of God and His Nature.  Satan wins as the group’s level of knowledge and understanding is kept at the lowest common denominator.

     I can only speak for myself, but I believe that my hunger to know more about God and my desire to seek more of Him comes from the Holy Spirit.  I do not believe my flesh has any instinct to seek God, nor do I think that the devil would be encouraging me to do so, either.  That being said, I am fully aware that whatever new knowledge or understanding I discern must be compared to Scripture and be stamped with the Holy Spirit’s seal of approval… something that, if you have developed a relationship with Him, you easily recognize. We should never let our pride think the devil won’t try to distort any revelation we might receive from God, but if you know and trust the Lord’s presence in your life, there is no reason to fear being deceived.

     But here is what I would like to ask my fellow Christians to consider: in the Bible there is a difference between knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.  Proverbs 2 gives us a sound Biblical explanation of these three terms … My son, if you will receive my words and treasure my commandments within you, Make your ear attentive to wisdom, Incline your heart to understanding; For if you cry for discernment, Lift your voice for understanding; If YOU SEEK her as silver and search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will discern the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God.
     I would first like to make the comment that [to me] it appears that we are encouraged to seek wisdom and understanding, for there we will discover the knowledge of God.  That word “discover” implies finding something in the course of a search.  We are to seek and search for knowledge and understanding of who our God is, and when we grow that relationship, He will impart His wisdom to us, instructing us in His ways.
     If I may, here’s one way that I think we can discern the differences in all these terms:  
1) KNOWLEDGE is the facts as stated in the Bible; for example, Jesus’s statement, “These signs [attesting miracles] will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:17-18).  Jesus plainly states the facts that describe those who have believed [and will believe] in Him.
2)  UNDERSTANDING is the ability to translate meaning from the facts.  Now consider that after Jesus had risen, He exhorts His Disciples, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” After studying and comparing Scripture, I am able to understand that we, as disciples of Christ, are to observe [and do] all that He commanded we would do as Believers — cast out demons, speak with new tongues, heal the sick, etc. Furthermore, we need not be afraid of the Enemy — even if we drank deadly poison, the power of God can protect us. And ALL Believers can hold on to this promise, because that power will be with us until He returns at the end of the age.
3) WISDOM is knowing what to do next, given an understanding of the facts and circumstances.  Acts 5:16 is a perfect example of the wisdom of the Apostles after Jesus’s ascension.  They were performing those “signs” that Jesus said would accompany those who believed and followed Him: “Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed”. They knew what to do next after receiving Jesus’s commandment and understanding its implications for the Kingdom of God.  And since God doesn’t change (neither His Principles, Nature, or Character), we should be continuing these “signs” as Believers.
     But here is what I have seen and experienced amongst the Body of Christ … there are many in the Church who can recite facts and quote Scripture.  But, it is possible to have knowledge, and lack understanding and wisdom. Someone might have the facts, but not know what they mean, be able to connect the dots, or know what to do next.  And I honestly think there are far too many Christians who don’t trust their relationship with God and are unable to move from Knowledge to Understanding.  They are so afraid of being deceived that they need a Chapter and Verse, word-for-word declaration of God’s concepts and principles, or they unable to discern His Truth.
     I tend to agree with Charles Spurgeon, who once wrote, “Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not [necessarily] to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom”.  Even the Bible says, A scoffer seeks wisdom and finds none, But knowledge is easy to one who has understanding (Proverbs 14:6).  To move from Knowledge to Understanding greatly expands a Christian’s Faith.  Then to discern and trust this Understanding to be the Truth of God, will cause Him to impart His Wisdom. 

     I guess I just find it discouraging when fellow Christians — whether it be pastors, teachers, or a person who sits in a Bible study class — tell me that I am not to seek “hidden knowledge” because the “Canon has been closed” and there is no new knowledge to be found.  I will agree that God has not inspired any men in the 21st Century to write additional Books of the Bible, and we should neither add nor take away from what has been written.  But, nowhere in the Bible do I see God telling me that I am to no longer seek new understanding of Him. Like Paul’s letter to the Colossians, I wish for our hearts to be encouraged, being knit together in love, [so that we can] reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. We are to REACH the “full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery”, which tells me we aren’t there yet. We are to stretch out and extend ourselves toward that wisdom and knowledge, out of a hunger and desire to receive the full measure of Christ.

     Indeed, Paul expresses this same concept in his letter to the Ephesians:  And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
     But what are we to do when the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and the teachers are not equipping us to do the work Jesus commanded us to do?  What are we to do when they discourage our hunger “to attain the knowledge of the Son of God”?  The Scripture says UNTIL … telling me that it is a process that we are to pursue until we reach maturity and grow up IN EVERY WAY into Christ. 
     And, yes, we are not to be “tossed to and fro” by every kind of doctrine, by human deception and misunderstanding, or by deceitful schemes or methods.  But notice that this caution is given to people described as “children” in their understanding.  We are “to grow into mature manhood”… and how do you do that?  By increasing your knowledge and understanding!  By seeking to know more of our God!
     It is my sincere prayer that the Body of Christ will throw off the fear that our Enemy is more powerful to deceive us than our God is faithful to reveal Himself if we seek Him.  Until we begin to move from childhood to maturity in our knowledge and understanding, the Enemy has us right where he wants us …. alienated from a fuller life with God.  With our whole hearts, let us seek Him!
Psalm 53:2    “God has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there is anyone who understands, who seeks after God”.