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Esteeming The Presence

posted Aug 10, 2008, 8:01 PM by Web Master   [ updated Aug 13, 2008, 7:19 PM ]

By Art Katz

 

I have for a long time been secretly irked in my inner man with the growing preoccupation of many of God’s saints to desire the ‘presence’ of God.  It is implied that this is the summum bonum of the faith, the high water mark of true spirituality.  In this supposedly ‘exalted’ realm lies the key to revelation, anointing and all that could be coveted for successful ministry.  My own disposition, however, is to receive His presence as surprise and not something sought for in itselflest this become the final hiding place of self now safely ensconced in ‘ultimate’ spirituality itself!

 

How much then, do I appreciate Oswald Chamber’s remark that “The abiding consciousness of the life is to be God, not [my] thinking about Him.”  In this state, one looks at “everything in relation to God, because the abiding consciousness of God pushes itself to the front all the time” – whether felt or not!  This characterized the apostle Paul and Jesus Himself even when ultimately tested at the Cross.  The cry, “My God, my God, why has Thou forsaken Me?” is not the statement of the momentary lapse of the Father, but the supreme moment of the Son’s sonship in an obedience that did not falter whether present or absent.  It might well prove to be our own.

 

The kind of abiding consciousness of God is the province, I suspect, only of those whose whole life, purpose and reason for being is the Lord’s.  Those who are yet independent entities with their own designs, however ‘spiritual’ and ‘consecrated’ will prefer a ‘presence’ to augment that spirituality and confirm them in their ‘dedication.’  Can it be that many of the spurious revivals of our time have given opportunity to the enemy to duplicate in the soul realm of the naïve and unsuspecting coveted experiences the result of which have neither fostered maturity nor been enduring?  Better, I think, to have one’s secret life hid with God in Christ with that “pious mind that views all things in God and God in all things.”  The one who is anxious to obtain the ‘presence’ risks haunting doubts about himself should he fail and forfeits the very peace where “the abiding companionship of God” waits to be enjoyed.

Enlargement Through Conflict

posted Aug 8, 2008, 7:18 AM by Web Master   [ updated Aug 13, 2008, 7:19 PM ]

by T. Austin-Sparks

"Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil days, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness, and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints, and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds; that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak." (Eph. 6:10-20).

I think it is well known to you that the Letter to the Ephesians in the New Testament corresponds to the Book of Joshua in the Old. As to the Book of Joshua, the Lord told His people, before ever they went into the land, that He had given the land to them; that every place that the sole of their foot should rest upon was already theirs by gift; that already the land was their possession, and the enemies were subdued. In Him it was already a concluded matter. Yet when they actually came into the land, they found that they had to fight for every inch of it. There was no contradiction really in that, because they were fighting in something that the Lord had already done. We have often put it this way - they were fighting in a victory rather than for a victory. It was a case of faith's possessing rather than of faith's receiving. Now there, of course, it was the matter of the inheritance and the enlargement of their possessions; and they did not come to possess any part, to extend and spread themselves out over the land, except by meeting a challenge all the way along and overcoming that challenge.

That is exactly the position here with the Church in the heavenlies. The heavenlies in "Ephesians" corresponds to the land in the Book of Joshua - that is, the heavenlies in Christ Jesus. It is the Lord in all the fullness of His ascended life and position, and that fullness is for the Church. It is to be His fullness, but the possession by the Church of any measure of Christ, the possession of any fragment of spiritual fullness and enlargement, comes along the line of spiritual conflict. The Lord left the enemy in the land; even when He said that He had given it to His people and would subdue their enemies under them, He did not go ahead and drive the enemy out. He left them to do that. Although in the Cross the enemy is defeated and everything is secured to the Church, the Lord has left the enemy in order that the Church may come, not to a mechanical or theoretical position of fullness, but to an actual, spiritual position. The enemy therefore is the Lord's instrument of bringing the Church to its place along the line of conflict.

The inheritance, of course, has its two sides in this letter. The Lord has an inheritance in the saints; that is, the Lord's people are His inheritance. There is the other side, where the inheritance of the saints is the Lord Himself; and these two in realization - the Lord getting what He has set His heart upon having, and our coming into that to which the Lord has called us - is a matter of spiritual enlargement day by day by means of spiritual conflict.

The Need For Strength Of Spirit

What does this amount to? In a word, it is a matter of strength of spirit. Our spiritual measure is a matter of how strong we are spiritually. Therefore this section begins with, "Finally, be strong in the Lord (or, from henceforth be made powerful in the Lord) and in the strength of His might"; that is your measure, and spiritual strength is decided in spiritual conflict. If we go down easily under opposition and pressure, soon give up and fade out because things begin to get difficult, that determines just our measure of spiritual strength, our measure of Christ. From one standpoint, you have to measure Christ by His contact with the enemy. Go back to His life on the earth, and see how far the enemy was able to gain advantage, to bring Him down, and you discover that he was not able at all, at any point, in any circumstances. The Lord proved His spiritual measure against the whole force of spiritual opposition. Satan and all his kingdom is matched against the one Man - and the one Man overcomes, casts out the prince of this world, subdues his kingdom and takes his authority. The measure of Christ is seen as over against the enemy; and our spiritual measure is determined in this combat with the enemy. Simply, then, our spiritual measure is a matter of spiritual strength.

That is seen here in these two ways. As the rest of the passage shows, there are many forms in which the enemy comes to break in, to get vantage ground. We cannot here pursue all the things represented by the armour, but each of these parts of the whole armour mentioned points to some form of enemy assault. The helmet suggests a blow at the head, that is, a spiritual assault upon the mind. How far is the mind impregnable to assaults? We know the terrific assaults of the enemy upon our minds, to capture them, to dominate our thinking, our reasoning. Another time he will make a terrific assault upon our hearts - our feelings, emotions, affections, desires. The breastplate suggests this form of spiritual attack. Another time the very vitals, the loins, are assailed, as suggested by the girdle of truth. The enemy will, as we say, 'hit us below the belt' if he can. There is a suggestion here of a form of spiritual assault at a place where we shall be thoroughly wounded if we are not careful, if we have not provision made. So you go through the whole armour in each part, and you find every part signifies some form of spiritual conflict, the point at which the conflict is being concentrated at a given time. Today it will be at one point, tomorrow at another. Am I able to meet the enemy in strength? Can I spiritually meet him in the mind? Can I spiritually meet him in the heart, where all the feelings are centred? That determines what my spiritual measure is. So, to begin with, it is strength in that sense, which is our need.

The Need For Intelligence

But then it is also a matter of intelligence. The two things which mark spiritual degree are strength and intelligence. You find that all the way through the New Testament. It is a matter of understanding as well as of being strong. There is a sense in which we may be strong, but not accomplish very much by our strength because it is not accompanied by intelligence. On the other hand, we may have a sort of intelligence and know all about things, and yet not stand up to them. These two factors must go together. So the word here is "the wiles of the devil." It is not only his fierce onslaught in strength that has to be reckoned with, but also his wiliness. He knows where to attack at a given time, and just when it is the best time to make a particular kind of assault; and very often he works up a situation that is very suitable to his purpose. He will get us moving very much in our minds, thinking, scheming, reasoning, and then he will make a terrific blow to bring us down through our minds. Sometimes he is moving altogether in the realm of our feelings, stirring these up, bringing about situations that touch our hearts very deeply. At that moment it is the emotional life that is the danger point, and then he makes a terrific onslaught upon that. He is very wily, very intelligent, very knowing.

To counter that, we need to have spiritual intelligence to see his intention and to be alive to his tactics. Spiritual intelligence is a matter of spiritual measure. How often someone has gone down under an assault of the enemy, completely knocked out; and someone else comes along and says, 'Did you not see so-and-so - how the enemy has been working up to this, and getting you in the end in a position for which he has been manoeuvering?' They reply, 'If only I had seen that, I should not have given way!' If we have intelligence to meet the wiles, we have spiritual measure. The need is not only of being strong in the sense of digging our heels in and clenching our fists, but of having intelligent strength, A very strong man can be, after all, thoroughly overcome by a little cleverness; beaten, not because of counter-strength, but by a wile.

Christ An Adequate Defence In Every Assault

Paul himself was an outstanding example of strength combined with intelligence. Think of his position when he was writing these very things. "I am an ambassador in chains" (Eph. 6:20). What a contradiction! How absurd! Paul, in that chain, in his imprisonment, had a very great deal of reason to give up, to weaken, to take the hopeless attitude; but in actual fact he was very strong. He might also have despaired of coping with the whole situation which confronted him, not only personally, but in the churches - he could have been completely defeated by the whole complex of the situation. But he is displaying a wonderful wisdom. This armour, as Paul picks it up and transfers it to the spiritual life, indicates a great deal of wisdom on his part. Think it through, piece by piece. For the assault upon the mind - the helmet of salvation. How apt, how suited to the situation it is! The assault upon the heart - what is that? What is it that gets us down more than anything else from the enemy? It is a spirit of accusation, of condemnation, bringing home to our hearts a sense of our own wickedness and unworthiness and unprofitableness, to cause our hearts to sink in despair.

Paul so wisely says, 'The remedy for that is to put on the breastplate of righteousness - but not your own righteousness. Meet the enemy with the righteousness of Another; it is the only way to meet this assault.' Go through each part, and you find it is so wise a provision, so understanding. At every point, Paul is exhibiting this wonderful understanding, and showing his measure: for Paul could have gone down under these things as easily as any other man if he had taken another attitude. He could have argued, 'All these churches have turned against me, all these brethren have forsaken me; here I am in prison, shut up: the Lord must have something against me, there must be something very wrong with me.' If he had taken that on, it would not have been long before he would have been a prisoner in the inner dungeon of the castle of Giant Despair. But he had taken up the helmet of salvation and the breastplate of righteousness and the rest of the armour, and he showed his measure. We cannot stand as equals with him, but he does indicate for us what spiritual enlargement really means; it is being strong and wise in conflict. So spiritual degree resolves itself into a matter of spiritual strength and spiritual understanding in the time of conflict.

Unless You Become Like a Child

posted Aug 7, 2008, 7:59 PM by Web Master   [ updated Aug 13, 2008, 7:19 PM ]

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Osaka, Japan

 

Luke 18:15-17

We grow by providing all sorts of things for the body.  Little children turn into grown adults by acquiring many things from their surroundings. But, the process of human growth, we could say, is at the same time "an acquiring process" and "a diminishing process."  Sometimes a small step accomplished by a child makes us take another look.  That's so because we see something important that we have lost in the process of becoming an adult.  It is certainly a fact that children grow by learning from adults, yet, it is also true I would think that adults are not too big to learn from children.  A great number of important things we have lost surely come back to us by our being taught by children.

Setting some children before him, Jesus would speak to the people. This passage is one of such scenes.  I think perhaps the Lord Jesus did such a thing on a frequent basis.  As he summoned the children the scripture passage which we are given for today contains the following text.

"Let the children come to me.  Do not hinder them.  The kingdom of God is people like this.  I say to you clearly.  Unless you are people who accept the kingdom of God as a child, you will never be able to enter in it," (verses sixteen and seventeen).

The words "to enter the kingdom of God," it goes without saying, means our salvation.  So, the Lord says, "the kingdom of God is people like this," that is, "it is people like children."  Therefore, we understand that what we ought to learn through children are not things which only enrich our life, but what concerns our eternal salvation, which is something very much more important.  So, what in the world did the words the Lord gave mean?

The Disciples Hindered The Children

In order to understand the words the Lord gave, first we have got to understand the scene itself in which these words were spoken.  We know this message of the Lord was spoken of one random event.  It was the event of when the disciples hindered the people from bringing small children to the Lord Jesus.  Please check verse fifteen.  "In order to get the touch of Jesus the people brought even their nursing babies.  The disciples saw this and rebuked them."  Why did the disciples act like this?

The people sought to receive a blessing and brought their suckling babes. This action was not in the least bit out of the ordinary.  For example, there was a traditional practice in Judea of bringing a child who finished his or her first full year to the rabbi and receiving a blessing, and there was a custom on the evening of the day called the Day of Atonement when they brought the child at last to the elders and the rabbis and had them pray for [the child].  So, when the disciples had seen and scolded the actions of the parents it was not because they lacked common sense or because they were rude.  Therefore, we understand the reprimand from these disciples must be explained in the special circumstances in which the Lord Jesus and the disciples are situated.  So, what are the special circumstances in which they are situated?

What helps in our understanding here is the fact that they were approaching Jerusalem.  Shortly after this passage the text says in chapter nineteen and verse eleven the following [words]:  "When the people heard this, Jesus went on to speak one of the parables.  He was nearing Jerusalem and because of that the people were thinking the kingdom of God was about to be revealed."

Luke, who wrote this gospel, cuts out some considerable pages in his depiction of the trip in which the Lord Jesus and the disciples head for Jerusalem.  Furthermore, what the text refers to in the passage which we read today is the event of the time when they drew closer and closer to Jerusalem.  In other words, their trip is going towards a climax of which they are clearly aware.  Their traveling was a trip of preaching in which they were proclaiming the kingdom of God.  Furthermore, the disciples did not just merely proclaim the kingdom of God, they had certainly seen within the Lord with whom they were walking the power of God at work.  Wherever the Lord walked, sickness was healed and evil spirits were driven out.  We can easily imagine the kinds of expectations the disciples, who had seen first hand these kinds of miracles from God, were embracing in regards to their arrival at Jerusalem.  It was a climax during their work of proclamation.  So far the power of God revealed through the Lord Jesus was revealed in perfect form.  Beyond any doubt it was happening.  The forces of this world that oppose God were being turned over and the rule of God was being revealed.  That's how they must have been thinking and feeling. So it says, "The people were thinking the kingdom of God was about to be revealed."

The events at that time were ushering in a momentous situation.  The people participating in the work of God were the important ones there.  The person who was useful for God was significant.  The Lord Jesus did not have free time to deal with babies.  Since the disciples must have thought like that, at this momentous time they got mad at the unreasonable group impudently bringing their nursing babies [to him].  Similarly, there was the reprimanded man.  There was the begging of the blind man appearing in verses thirty-five and so on.  His was the same situation as the babes. Although he was seeking the Lord Jesus, he was scolded.  Why was that? It was because even though he might have been seeking the Lord, they were thinking that the Lord was not seeking for him.  This man, they thought, was only aggravating the Lord and on top of that he was only annoying God.

A contrastive event was recorded along with this.  It's in verses eighteen forward.  There a rich member of the court came on the scene.  This person was able to meet the Lord Jesus without encountering any hindrances.  Not only was he very wealthy and not only did he have worldly power, but he was an extremely pious person.  That is, he kept the law of God since his youngest days.  Then, when Jesus said, "How difficult it is for a person with property to enter into the kingdom of God?," the people were surprised and said, "Then, who will be saved?"  In their mentality, we understand clearly that, they had feelings that this rich ruler himself deserved the kingdom of God.

 

I suppose this is probably something that not only the people surrounding Jesus were thinking but also the people of any time period would think.  Of course, we will not be the exceptions to that either.  We think without realizing it people who achieve before God are valued by God.  We think God is looking for a person to be useful to him and such a person deserves the kingdom of God.  We end up thinking what humans honor God honors and what humans take lightly God also takes lightly.  We not only drop this kind of judgment call on other persons; we also do the same thing to ourselves. So, we make the claim with all our might how useful we are by lining up our achievements before God and before the public, and we show off a self pride.  We act like we are so deserving a person of the kingdom of God.  Or possibly, in reverse, it might be that we humble ourselves about our not having achievements and we become servile and lowly thinking about our not having power.  Whether being proud or servile, it is the front and back view of the same idea.  Thus, what the disciples of the Lord were thinking was frequently what we think about.

 

The Person Who Welcomes The Kingdom Of God As A Child

 

As the situation comes to light like this, what the Lord meant also comes to light.  The Lord was trying to overturn from the roots the thoughts of such disciples as this.  "Let the children come to me.  Do not hinder them.  The kingdom of God is people like this.  I say to you clearly. Unless you are people who accept the kingdom of God as a child, you will never be able to enter in it."

 

Many people when they hear the phrase "like a child" associate it with their "purity."  It is because they think they had a pure heart during childhood and then they became sullied according to the gradual process of becoming an adult.  But, is that really so?  I have seen a little kid picking on a new born baby.  She was jealous of her mother taking care of the baby and would pinch her younger brother in a way not noticeable by her parents.  Who on earth showed them how to be jealous of a person and to take up hurting someone?  Was it the parent?  No, it wasn't the parent. Since that's the case, isn't it that we can only say the things in their hearts had appeared there since the beginning?  Surprisingly, we see in a child more than an adult, human egoism appearing all too plainly.  Both adults and children are sinners alike.  Therefore, the special characteristic of a child is not necessarily "purity" as many people think.  The Lord was not saying that the kingdom of God was a kingdom of child-like pure persons.

 

So what was he saying then?  The special characteristic of small children was, in fact, their powerlessness.  They existed there as persons without any achievements to necessarily be proud of.  Based on the point of emphasis he has there, Luke was intentionally using the word "nursing babies."  They are individuals with nothing to offer.  Based on the fact nursing babies are powerless, they are completely passive recipients.  They know instinctively they cannot go on living without their parents. Therefore, they seek their parents as innocent beggars and entrust themselves to their parents' hands.  He or she is happy in just the love of their parents and they find rest and peace within in their love. Consequently, "the person who accepts the kingdom of God as a child" is about the person who can admit his or her own powerlessness and be submissive to God.  "The person who accepts the kingdom of God as a child" is one who earnestly seeks God the Father and entrusts himself or herself to God's hands.  "The person who accepts the kingdom of God as a child" is the person who is happy with God's love and discovers rest and peace in what is in Him. The Lord said the kingdom of God is a kingdom of such a type of person.

 

If we see it like this, we will notice it is no accident at all that this episode was placed after the story of the parable given by Jesus.  Please look at verses nine and on.  There the Lord told the following parable about persons conceited over their being righteous beings and who looked down on others.

 

"Two persons went up to the temple to pray.  One was a Pharisee and the other one was a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood up and prayed like this in his heart.  'O God, I am not like other persons who rob, are unrighteous, and commit adultery, and I thank you that I am not like this tax collector either.  I fast twice each week and present one tenth of all my income.'  However, the tax collector stood up far away and without even lifting his eyes to heaven he spoke while beating his chest.  'O God, please have mercy on me a sinner.'  I say this, the one who went home justified was this person and not that Pharisee.  Whoever is a person who exalts himself will be made low, and the one who humbles himself will be elevated," (verses nine through fourteen).

 

The disciples, who were listening to this, must have thought, "He spoke this about the men of the Pharisees and they have no connection with him. They were probably thinking they were not conceited like that.  But, right after this they were doing the same thing after all as the Pharisees. According to the same thought pattern as the Pharisee men who believed they themselves were accepted by God, they were rejecting the children.  The disciples were not the same as the man who prayed, "O God, please show mercy to me a sinner."

 

The same thing could be said with us who have thus been reading the scriptures.  We are acting just like the Pharisee in this parable without noticing it.  Consequently, the Lord is turning our wrong thinking pattern over from its foundation.  "Clearly I say to you.  Unless you accept the kingdom of God as a child, you can never enter into it."  As it says in the previous parable, the one who goes home justified is not the one living proudly of his or her actions, but it will be the person who prays, "O God, please show mercy to me a sinner."

 

When you give it some thought, this matter is clearly shown in both the sacraments (namely, baptism and communion) which are given to the church. In the Japanese language we express participating in the sacraments as "receiving baptism" and "receiving communion."  In these a person is a completely passive recipient.  As far as salvation is concerned, a person is a completely passive recipient and the fact that he or she can only entrust himself or herself to the word of God's grace is made plain in the sacraments.  Living by receiving baptism and taking communion is surely and truly none other than living by accepting the kingdom of God as a child.  We should not forget this.

 

"Clearly I say to you.  Unless you accept the kingdom of God as a child, you cannot ever enter into it."  What we should learn from the imagery of the child is a major thing beyond measure.  It is not something just dealing with the enrichment of our every day life, but it is the important circumstances dealing with our salvation.  We must learn from the imagery of the suckling child and recover what we lost.                                                                               

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