Monthly Archives: April 2012

His Unspeakable Gift

When I was a boy I used to think on certain great people I admired… and secretly wished I could be.  It’s been a while, and I can’t remember now who was on my list.  Except for two.  I remember two.  Superman was one.  I used to wish I could be Superman.  To have that superhuman strength, and, wow, to be able to fly…  Wouldn’t that be something!  I knew of course that Superman wasn’t real, and I could not be Superman.  But I liked to imagine being Superman and astonishing all my friends.

The other one I remember was—and I can never forget this one—Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  I knew He was real.  At least I had been taught He was real, and it never entered my mind to doubt it back then (that came later).  I would think on Him and… none of my thoughts about Superman contained the same sense of… of reverence, of awe… that thinking on the Son of God did.

And I would think… the Son of… God?  He is the Son… of God?  And I would be deeply disappointed.  For I knew I could not be Him.  And it didn’t seem fair to me.  Why did He get to be the Son of God and I had to live such an ordinary life?  Why did He get to be the Son of God, and not me?

It wasn’t till many years later that I discovered the most wonderful truth.  If I couldn’t be the Son of God Himself… I could be one with Him.

I was sitting at my kitchen table in Burmis one day; this was after I’d had to quit my job because of my affliction.  By this time I’d come to know the Son of God was real, had known this for many years.  And I was going through the Gospel of John verse by verse, and Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament on the book of John, and at the same time reading George Warnock’s book Crowned With Oil, in which he goes through a portion of the book of John verse by verse (John Chapters 14-17).  It seems this is my lot; I don’t get revelations the way some people do—with the Lord revealing things to them in dreams and visions and other awesome ways that I envy; it seems my lot is to have to plug away at reading the Bible earnestly seeking to open my heart to the Lord.

And so, I was reading these books, along with the Gospel of John… verse by verse.  I wasn’t expecting anything extraordinary; I was just doing over again what I love to do—labouring in the word.

And I came to John Chapter 14.  And I came to verse 15.

If ye love Me, keep My commandments.
And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever;
Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him; but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.

And then I read verse 18.

I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you.

And suddenly… I saw!

This is a passage of Scripture I had read countless times; it had also been ministered to me many times.  But now suddenly… my eyes were opened… and I saw!

I will not leave you comfortless (orphans): I will come to you.

The Paraclete, the Spirit of truth in you and me… it means that the Son of God Himself is here in you and me!

This is utterly astonishing.  The Spirit of truth here in the earth is one with the Son of God in Heaven.

I tell you, this revolutionized my whole thinking.  My Bible, even after many years of reading it, became a brand new book to me.  Light had dawned, and as it shone upon my Bible, I was able to read familiar passages in an entirely new light.

Like Psalm 22, for example.

I will declare Thy Name unto My brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee.

How does the Son of God praise the Father in the midst of the congregation—but by the Holy Spirit in you and me?  The Son of God Himself is in the midst of congregation—because of the Holy Spirit in you and me.

What a wonder.  It is true, brothers and sisters, it’s really true: because of the Holy Spirit in us, we are the very body of Christ (1 Cor. 12.13).  Our Head is in Heaven; we in the earth are one with Him—one body—because of the Holy Spirit.

We are the temple of God because the Holy Spirit dwelleth in us (1 Cor. 3.16).

He that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit (1 Cor. 6.17).

Jesus had been telling His disciples He was about to leave them, He was going away, and it grieved them deeply to hear this.  But He told them this was actually a better plan than if He were to stay.

Nevertheless I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you (better for you, more profitable, to your advantage) that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart I will send Him unto you… (Jn. 16.7).

We are inclined to think this cannot be right.  Surely it would be better for that Man who walked the earth two thousand years ago to be still here with us.  For if we had Jesus still with us He could continue to do the wonders He did back then; we would have His perfect input into every difficult situation we face; we would have His protection; He would resolve all our troubles… He would be able to speak the perfect word of God just as He did back then; He would be able to continue bearing witness to the truth just as faithfully and perfectly as He did back then.

The point is, with the Holy Spirit we still have this!  For in the Holy Spirit, Christ Himself is still with us!

I will not leave you orphans; I am coming to you.

The Holy Spirit is able to manifest as perfect a witness to the truth as the Son of God Himself did.

But there is One Thing more we have in the Paraclete that we would not have if Jesus Himself were still here in the flesh.  Because of this wondrous Advocate not just with us, but now in us, we too share the same relationship with the Father that Jesus the Son of God did… which the disciples back then did not have.  Truly, it was better for them—and for us—that He went away.

He told them He was leaving them… and coming back to them again (Jn. 14.28).  He told them He was going to the Father, and therefore they would not see Him.  That’s understandable enough.  Why would they see Him not?  Because He was going to the Father.

But then this enigma.  Because He was going to the Father, they would see Him.  Why would they see Him again?  Because He was going to the Father.

He was going to the Father, and would send to them the Promise of the Father—the Paraclete, the Spirit of truth.  And in this One, He Himself would be in them.  And so He said:

Yet a little while, and the world seeth Me no more, but ye see Me: because I live ye shall live also (Jn. 14.19).

And He said:

At that day ye shall know that I am in the Father, and ye in Me, and I in you (Jn. 14.20).

What day?  The day of the coming of the Comforter, the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit… because of whose coming Jesus Christ Himself is with us—even in us!  Oh, the wonder of this!  Whatever is yet to come with regard to the revelation of Jesus Christ, oh, let us not miss out on the fullness of this revelation—that Jesus Christ in Heaven is with us, even in us… because of the Holy Spirit in us!

Jesus Christ the Son of God in Heaven… and the Holy Spirit here in the earth in us… they are one.

…I know what you’re thinking—that because of the Holy Spirit in me, I too am a son of God now.  Yes, and I am growing up into Him in all things, into His very image and likeness.  What a wonder.  My boyhood wish has been realized after all.  To think that a loving God had prepared such wonder for a wondering boy…  it is too much.  I too get to be a son of God.

…But I tell you what is more meaningful… if that’s possible.  It’s the realization that the Holy Spirit in me that makes me a son of God… is one with the Son of God in Heaven. It’s this that leaves me with my mouth open.

Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift!

More On Heaven Quakes

This from Micah.

For behold, the LORD cometh forth out of His place, and will come down, and tread upon the high places of the earth.
And the mountains shall be molten under Him, and the valleys shall be cleft as wax before the fire, and as the waters that are poured down a steep place (Mic. 1.3,4).

And this from the Psalms.

Bow Thy heavens, O LORD, and come down: touch the mountains, and they shall smoke.
Cast forth lightning, and scatter them; shoot out Thine arrows, and destroy them (Ps. 144.6,7).

Do you ever get revelations?  I am sure you do—those moments when the “light bulb” comes on and you see some beautiful facet of the truth of God.  They can be life changing; they can be devastating.

Now, how does God touch a mountain?  With His hand, of course.

It is the most awesome of truths that we are the body of Christ—His feet, His arms, His hands…

Beloved, we the body of Christ appear to be very weak in the earth at this time (at least here in the western world); we are not considered to be much of a threat to the kingdoms of this world, the kingdoms of darkness around us.

This is going to change.  And it’s going to change by a revelation—or to put that better, a response to a revelation.  Obedience to that revelation.

Jesus told Nathanael, “Verily, verily I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see Heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man” (Jn. 1.51).  He was referring to Jacob’s experience at Bethel when he dreamed of the ladder between earth and Heaven, and the angels ascending and descending on it.  Jesus is saying, I Myself am Bethel; I am that ladder, the top of which is in Heaven, and the foot of it in the earth.  It’s the awesome revelation of Christ—His head in Heaven and His body here in the earth.

Notice what Paul said.

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ (1 Cor. 12.12).

Paul didn’t say, “so also is the body of Christ.”  He said, “so also is Christ.”  They are not two separate things:  Christ in Heaven and the body of Christ in the earth.  Christ is a many-membered Man whose Head is in Heaven, and the body in the earth.

Beloved, we are scarcely awake to this reality, and when we are awake to this, it is going to shake Heaven and earth.  Christ the Head in Heaven and the body of Christ in the earth are one Man, one temple—Bethel, the house of God.  Jesus Christ our Advocate in Heaven and the Holy Spirit His Advocate here in the earth—they are One Advocate; they are one.  Jesus told His disciples when He was about to leave them, “I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you” (Jn. 14.18).  He was speaking of the coming of the Comforter, the Spirit of truth.  “I… will come to you.”

And so Jesus promises, “Yet once I shake not the earth only, but Heaven also” (Heb. 12.26).  How shall He accomplish so great shakings?  By speaking.  “Whose Voice then shook the earth…”  This refers back to God speaking at Sinai when the whole mountain shook, and all the earth around.  “But now He hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but Heaven also.”  The Voice of the Son of God in Heaven through the lips of His body in the earth is going to cause great shakings in our world.  I tremble to think of it, and am fearful at the prospect.  But at the same time I cry to Him to do it—shake, Lord, bring the shakings!  For they are necessary shakings, and it will mean the removal of all the kingdoms of man, all that can be shaken, all that is unstable in our fractured troubled world, ultimately leaving “a kingdom that cannot be shaken.”  What a wondrous hope.

And so let us earnestly seek to be responsive to revelations from Heaven, as that Egyptian church we mentioned last time was.  They heard from God; they were obedient; suddenly their whole nation was shaking.

God can and will touch mountains—the kingdoms of this world that have been there it seems forever—and they will go up in smoke.  How shall He touch them?

He shall come down and tread upon the high places of the earth. How shall He do this?

“And the mountains shall be molten under Him…”  Under whom?

Beloved, let us be walking in obedience.  Let us be listening with foot ready to walk in what our Head is hearing and seeing.  Let us seek earnestly to be responsive to our Head in Heaven.  He has given us the provision we need to do this—He has given us His own Holy Spirit, thus making us one with Him, thus making us alive unto Him.

You and I may consider ourselves weak and small and of not much account.  That’s actually the way it should be.  But let us, weak as we are, be in such union with our Head in Heaven that He can stretch out His hand and touch a mountain, and cause it to go up in smoke.

Just high sounding words, these?  Ask those Egyptian Christians if they are just high-sounding words.

A Heaven Quake?

I’m very aware I lack insight as to what is taking place behind the scenes in heavenly places.  That’s where the real action is.  That’s where the things that take place in the earth are initiated.

Last year great shakings took place in the Arab world.  They call it Arab spring.  Unrest that began in Tunisia in 2010 spread to Egypt where in February, 2011 President Hosni Mubarak resigned after 18 days of protests that filled TV screens across the world.  Since then, further shakings have taken place in other parts of the Arab world.

Arab Spring is viewed largely from a political perspective, and certainly it has political ramifications.  But the interesting thing is that God called an Egyptian church to forty days of prayer and fasting just prior to the upheaval in Egypt.  The rest is history, as they say.  Great shakings took place subsequently, and are still taking place.

And in the midst of it all many Moslems are turning to the Lord, as the pastor of the church reveals.  Not only that, Christians previously divided along denominational lines are coming together.  During the upheaval in Egypt, Copts, Catholics, and evangelicals laid aside their differences to fast and pray together, embracing one another in true Christian fellowship and love.  It sounds like it’s ongoing.

I’ve attached a link to a video interview with this pastor.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwPf48ouNMA&feature=youtu.be

The interview moved me, especially the latter part where the Egyptian pastor calls on the church of America to humble herself.

My point is… people across the world were glued to the news watching what was unfolding in Egypt.  But where did these shakings originate?  We need to be awakened as to just what it is that causes the things that take place in our world.  Sometimes things happen that… you just wonder, what was that all about?  Not just on the world scene, but in the smaller circle of our own lives.  I am saying that we don’t know what’s going on in the heavenly realm.  Great forces are in conflict there.  Great purposes are unfolding.  We can suddenly find ourselves in the midst of great upheaval unaware that it was caused by something that took place in the heavenly realm.

Daniel saw in vision the four winds of the heaven striving upon the Great Sea (Dan. 7.2).  Why was the sea so roiled and agitated?  Was it just earthly politics?  No, it was caused by the winds of the heavens.

Take this a step further.  Daniel tells us of a time of prayer and fasting he entered into that had repercussions in the heavenly realm (Dan. Ch. 10).  The Prince of Persia and the Prince of Greece were stirred up; Michael, “one of the chief princes” became involved.

What caused it?

Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for (as a result of) thy words (Dan. 10.12).

This grips me.  We Christians here in the earth– if we are walking seriously with God– we play a vital part in what happens in the heavenly realm.  Maybe we often feel we aren’t making much of an impact on our world.  But that church in Egypt by their response of obedience to a revelation of the will of God, humbling themselves, chastening themselves before their God… suddenly they became keenly aware that they certainly did have a vital part to play in the unfolding purposes of God.  Their whole nation was suddenly in the throes of revolution.  I wonder if that might be in the category of what the Bible calls a heaven quake.

And what caused it?

Let’s lay this to heart ourselves… and humble ourselves as Daniel did, as they in Egypt are doing.  Our walk with God, our sensitivity as to His leadings… our response to Him… our prayer and seeking… our obedience… getting our hearts right with God… in all this we find ourselves walking in harmony with the heavenly hosts behind the veil… and great shakings take place.  Unexpected things break forth.  A step of obedience in the will of God can produce shakings round about us.  Upheaval.  Spiritual attacks.  Conflict.

…All that.  And more.  The rule of the kingdom of God!  What took place in Egypt and is still taking place is far more than political change.  It’s only a step toward the manifestation of the kingdom of God that ultimately is to cover the whole earth as the waters cover the sea.

Look And Live (Part 2)

Last time I published an excerpt from The Better Covenant, by Ron Bailey.  A few of my own thoughts now.

The famous John 3:16 quote must be read in context, as Ron Bailey emphasizes.  Christ has just drawn attention to Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness, adding that “even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:14,15).

That is the context of John 3:16.  “For God so loved the world…”  That is, it is thus, in this manner (referring back to the previous two verses), that God loved the world.  Just as He gave the people in the wilderness the serpent on the pole, “He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

The people in the wilderness bitten by the fiery serpents were dying, and they knew it.  Looking upon the brazen serpent on the pole was a matter of life and death.  It wasn’t optional; there was no other remedy.

How desperately we need the kind of Gospel that in its going forth causes men to know the sting of death is at work in them.  They have been bitten by a Serpent; the sting of his venom—sin—is coursing through their system.  Eve, deceived by the Serpent, bit into the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; Adam subsequently bit into it as well—an act of deliberate disobedience—and ever since, all born in Adam have been “bitten” by the Serpent; they are infected with his own nature; the poison of sin and disobedience courses through our systems.  We are dying; others we love are dying.

But there is a remedy.

The same Gospel that reveals the desperate state of all men also reveals there is a remedy—and no other remedy—looking upon, believing on, the Crucified One.  To look upon the serpent on the pole is the antidote for the poisonous sting.  We may not comprehend why this works any more than the people back there in the wilderness understood why looking at the brazen serpent on the pole suddenly caused the poison in their systems to stop its deadly working.  But it is God’s directive; to believe is enough.  In due course He will give the understanding—that when the Lord Jesus Christ was lifted up on the cross of Calvary He judged, condemned, the Serpent, and bore in Himself the judgment of the man bitten by that Serpent, and thus became his salvation.  Those bitten ought to have died; He died instead.

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness even so must the Son of man be lifted up…”  It’s hard for us to comprehend, and we don’t try to press beyond the boundaries of reverence and holiness.  Christ likens Himself lifted up, crucified, to the serpent of brass on the pole. We find that likeness revolting; it doesn’t seem right; it’s horrible imagery—our beautiful Lord Jesus Christ being likened to a serpent.  But it just shows you how far the love of God was prepared to go to save the creature He had ordained for His own image and likeness—and who had become contaminated with the serpent’s nature.  If it’s imagery that we find repugnant, should we feel any less revulsion for sin?

In fact Paul tells us the Lord Jesus Christ became sin for us, He who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).

Rotherham in his Emphasized Bible points out that in Hebrew the words for sin offering (he prefers sin bearer) and sin are the same (chattath); the words for guilt offering and guilt are also the same (asham)—“the victim being called by the name of the offence which it bears and for which it dies.”  Here is the scenario.  Someone brings his sin offering to the priest and puts his hands on the head of that offering, thus identifying himself with the sin offering, and transferring his sin to the sin bearer.  The priest then leads it away to be slaughtered and sacrificed to God.  “The ancient usage was intensely dramatic,” says Rotherham. “It led the offerer, as he viewed his substitute, to exclaim, ‘There goes—there dies—my sin.’”

Just as the Hebrew text uses chattah for both sin and sin offering, the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) uses hamartias for both.  The apostle Paul was very familiar with the Septuagint as well as the Hebrew text, so it is not surprising to see the same usage in his writings, which were originally in Greek.  For, we read in Romans that God sent His Son “in the likeness of sinful (hamartias) flesh, and for sin (hamartias, that is, for a sin offering), condemned sin (hamartias) in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3).  Jesus Christ fulfilled that old-covenant type, becoming the sin offering who became our sin… and died.  We too may well say—that is, we who look on Him—“There goes—there dies—my sin.  Good-bye forever.”

This is the significance of believing in Him—on looking upon the serpent on the pole.  This is what believing implies.  Believing is not just mental assent to certain points of doctrine; it is looking upon Him and seeing Him, once for all, as the one and only remedy for a Serpent’s bite that means we are dying, are perishing.

Now, think of that ancient scenario in the wilderness as Ron Bailey described the Harold Copping print in his old Bible.  The poisonous snakes are making their way through the camp of Israel biting everyone in their path.  Some are dying; some are already dead.  Everybody is in panic mode; all they can think about is the deadly snakes.  They are not just listening to a nice sermon about accepting Jesus; they know they are dead if they don’t get help.  How we need this kind of evangelism, this kind of preaching—the sharp sword of the Spirit that pierces all defence and confronts people with their true state!  They have been bitten by a Serpent and they are dying!

But there must come a moment when we are no longer crying out because of the serpents that have bitten us.  There is no profit in continually pointing to this person or that—my father’s temperament or my great-grandfather’s addiction, or something my co-worker said the other day or the sin that dwelleth in me… or whatever.  That gets me nowhere.  And further, there is no use continually dwelling on the poison that’s at work in my system as a result of the bite.  Forever labouring under sin and guilt is futile.  We must look away from all that!  God has provided a remedy!  And it works!

We must look to the Serpent upon the pole.

And we must lead others to look to the Serpent upon the pole.  We must take them to Calvary where their sin (offering) died.

There’s often an emphasis on our need to see Jesus.  It’s important; it’s true—we need so deeply to see Him.  But what about our need to see Him as that Serpent lifted up on the pole?  The gospel the Galatian churches received was so graphic that they saw Christ crucified before their very eyes (Gal. 3:1).  Only the Holy Spirit can present this kind of gospel.  Only ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit can reveal before the eyes of sinners the Saviour lifted up on the pole.

Only ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit can open blind eyes to see that He who died for their sins also rose from the dead that we might live.

I recall George Warnock telling a story of a woman blind in one eye who suddenly one day saw the Lord on the cross, and He was blind in one eye.  Instantly she was healed.  How we need to see Him… as our sin—your sin, my sin—judged and sentenced and condemned… and dead.  What, do you suppose, would be the fruit of such seeing?

Spurgeon as a young man saw this lifted-up One.  He was on his way to church when suddenly a rainstorm came up.  He rushed into a little church nearby for shelter.  The service was in progress, and Spurgeon sat down at the back to listen.  The minister was preaching from Isaiah, “Look unto Me and be saved all ye ends of the earth, for I am God and none else” (Isa. 45:22).  Suddenly the preacher looked steadfastly at the young man who had just come in and said to him (and it was a living word), “Young man, look… and live.” Spurgeon would tell the story often, and say, “I looked, and I lived.”

How deeply we need this kind of Gospel—the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.  Not the wishy-washy Gospel so common in our day, a gospel in word only, and often contaminated with gimmicks with no power to save.  But the Gospel that, because it is infused with the power of the grace of Christ… men see Him lifted up on their behalf!

Look… And Live

The following is an excerpt from The Better Covenant, by Ron Bailey (available on Amazon).  I found this very moving and wanted to share it with A Mending Feast readers.

Here’s the passage (which will take up this complete blog entry):

For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (Jn. 3.16 NKJV).

This is probably the best loved text in the Bible but even the best texts can become dangerous if detached from their context.  For example, this single verse speaks of “believing,” but the kind of believing that it has in mind can only be discovered by reading the preceding verses. “Believing” here does not mean agreeing with facts as is usually the case in contemporary counselling patterns.  The kind of believing that John has in mind is the kind experienced by people in a unique situation.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (Jn. 3.14,15 NKJV).

In other words, the kind of believing John has in mind is the kind found in Numbers 21.

The nation of Israel had sinned and the consequence of their sin was a plague of fiery venomous snakes.   The context is so important that I will give the whole section here.

And Jehovah sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.   And the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, because we have spoken against Jehovah, and against thee; pray unto Jehovah that he take away the serpents from us.  And Moses prayed for the people.  And Jehovah said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a standard: and it shall come to pass that every one that is bitten, when he seeth it, shall live.  And Moses made a serpent of brass, and set in upon the standard.  And it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he looked unto the serpent of brass, he lived (Num. 21.6-9 ASV).

These people are not just sick or inconvenienced, they are dying and they know it.  They also know why they are dying.  “We have sinned.”  Conviction of sin is a work of God’s Spirit.  They had not been persuaded of the facts of the case by an evangelist; they knew it.  In fact, they took the initiative, they came to Moses.  This is much more like New Testament evangelism where the appeal comes from the congregation rather than the preacher.   They are desperate in their plea; this sounds much more like those old “after meetings” too.

They are also narrowed down to a single solution.  “Pray unto Jehovah that he take away the serpents from us.”  They know that there are not various options but only one possible solution: God must intervene.  This is also much more like those old “after meetings.”  They are seeking a salvation that only God can provide.  If God does not move on  their behalf they are dead men.  Currently their focus is on the snakes: “Take away the serpents from us.”  That must change.

Moses does as they ask and God commands him to make a fiery snake of brass and to erect it on a standard/pole.  There is to be only one brass snake and it must be “lifted up” on a standard so that it was in sight of everyone who had been bitten.  What a vivid picture this represents.  I have a beautiful colour print by Harold Copping in an old Bible.  I can’t look at it without weeping but let me see if I can describe it to you.

The tents of Israel spread out into the hazy distance.  The scene is chaotic, people rushing out of their tents, some running, some standing.  As in any panic it is difficult to make out quite what is happening.  Or it would be if it were not for a tent in the foreground that is much closer and has its own tragedy unfolding.  In the doorway of the tent there is a young man face down in the sand; a snake is wriggling over his arm and on its way to the next victim.  There is an old man in the doorway with white hair and beard, his attention is not on any of the chaos around him but is fixed on the horizon where a man holds a wooden stake with a single crosspiece; it has a brass snake coiled around it.

There are others in the doorway of the tent; a man and his wife are frantically trying to rouse a young man who looks to be the brother of the snake’s earlier victim.  The mother is cradling her teenage son in her arms, his eyes are closed; her face is pale with grief.  The father is fear crazed; his eyes show white as he tries desperately to rouse his young son from his coma.  His face strains to see any signs of life in his son, and his left hand points backwards to the horizon where the brass snake coils around the stake.  There are no words, but I know what he is saying:  “Look and live… look and live.”

Young’s Literal Translation does well to catch the sense of the verbs.  “And Moses maketh a serpent of brass, and setteth it on the ensign, and it hath been, if the serpent hath bitten any man, and he hath looked expectingly unto the serpent of brass—he hath lived” (Num. 21.9 YLT).  A paraphrase might say, “Any man looking away from everything else and putting his whole trust in the snake on the pole lived.”  This is not just a wonderful story, this is a definition of believing as used by John in John 3.16.  God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that any man, looking away from everything else and putting his trust in a Man upon a cross should not perish but have everlasting life.  This is John’s desperate cry to all who have been bitten, and that is the whole race: “Look and live… look and live.”

It is delivered to men and women who know that we have sinned and that there is no other remedy unless God takes away the snakes.  I said earlier that men’s focus must not remain upon their own condition or even its cause: not the bite and not the poison eating its way through their lives, but upon the one “lifted up.”

That’s the passage from The Better Covenant by Ron Bailey.  Isn’t that rich?  I’ll just leave it there.  Next time, hopefully, I’ll give a few of my own thoughts on it.

Faith Works By Love

Last time we pointed out that faith is dependent on hearing the word of God.  I cannot muster faith for an idea of my own that I want to bring into being.  “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

At the same time, it’s possible for God to speak and faith is not created.  Perhaps there is disobedience in a life, or someone is entrenched in unbelief; the heart is hard.  God is speaking and trying to get through, but I simply refuse to hear.

But if a heart can be hardened in unbelief it’s also possible to cultivate the soil of the heart so that faith can thrive.  Yes, I know, God deals to each one “a measure of faith” and we must always be careful not to try to function beyond that measure (Rom. 12.3).  But this does not mean we are forever limited to the measure we now have.  Faith can grow.

And, like certain plants, it seems to grow better in company.  Paul spoke of “the unity of the faith” (Eph. 4.13)—that is, the mutual inspiration of faith among the members of the body of Christ that grows and increases till ultimately it enables the expression of “a perfect Man.”  He commended the Thessalonian saints because the atmosphere of unity and love in their midst created healthy habitat for faith to grow (2 Thes. 1.3).  He encouraged the Philippians to continue to “stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the Gospel” (Phil. 1.27).  He  also wrote Timothy that those who desire to serve their brethren “purchase to themselves a good ‘step upward,’ and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 3.13).

What do all of these passages of Scripture have in common?  They all reveal the kind of habitat faith thrives in.  Love.  “…Faith which worketh by love” (Gal. 5.6).  It’s the assembly that is nurturing love in their midst that discovers, lo and behold, plants of faith thriving.  It’s those who are of one mind and are standing fast in one spirit who are better provisioned to strive for the faith of the Gospel.  It’s the assembly that is edifying one another in love that is coming together unto the unity of the faith, where all the measures of faith are working together in a powerful manifestation of the Son of God.

And—let’s look at this one more fully—it is the one who earnestly desires to serve his brethren that taps into a great boldness of faith.

For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 3.13).

As I thought about this verse, Stephen came to mind.  There had been a murmuring in the early church over the daily distribution to widows.  Certain ones were being neglected.  The apostles didn’t feel it would be right for them to leave the service of the word of God and prayer to attend to this. “It is not meet for us to leave the word of God and wait on tables” (Acts 6.2).  So they selected seven men to do this.  Stephen was one of them.

The Greek word translated wait on comes from the same root as the word deacon.  It could read, if there were such a verb, “It is not right for us to leave the word of God and deacon tables.”  So the seven men were to fulfill a deacon kind of ministry.

The passage in Timothy talks of those who “use the office of a deacon well.”  But the original Greek doesn’t have the same emphasis on ecclesiastical taxonomy—bishop, deacon—common to the King James Version.  In fact the word office is entirely lacking in the original Greek; it should read more like, “they that have deaconed well,” or simply, “served well…”

Stephen was a deacon, then—a server.  We’re not being introduced to an office here; we’re being introduced to an attitude—Stephen’s love for the family of God, and his humility, his earnest desire to serve them.  It’s this I am sure that accounts for what we read about him.  He was “full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (6.5).  He was “full of faith and power” (6.8).  Stephen’s faith was really working.  Why?  It was “faith that worketh by love.”  It wasn’t his own importance Stephen had in mind, or his own benefit.  It was the benefit of others.  God, it seems, is more than willing to lavish faith on those who want it for the sake of others.

Stephen’s servant heart gained him great boldness in the faith, as we find in Chapter Seven.

…And good degree as well—a good “step upward”—even to the throne of Christ.

I am reminded of yet another passage that shows us faith in operation.  Among the gifts of the Spirit Paul mentions “to another, faith by the same Spirit (1 Cor. 12.9).”  A gift of faith?  Yes, it seems so.  And sadly all too often the one who has been granted this gift looks down on his brethren who just don’t seem to have the bold faith he has.  He has failed to recognize that the gift doesn’t belong to him.  It has been given him for the profit of all (1 Cor. 12.7).  It was given to him on behalf of others.

As with all the gifts: they are the heritage of all; the one who has received the gift is just the minister, the server, the deacon, the steward of that gift.  It actually belongs to the others.  “As every man hath received the gift even so minister the same one to another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pt. 4.10).

…Lord, search our hearts.  Oh, how deeply we realize our deep need for faith in this hour… that we need to be earnestly contending for the faith that was once delivered to the saints (Jude 3).  But even as we consider this exhortation we are reminded that just a few verses later, as Jude calls us to build up ourselves on our most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, he urges us to keep ourselves in the love of God…

Amen.

The Birthings Of Faith

One of the difficulties we must overcome in reading the Bible is that over time we become too familiar with it.  We know the outcomes of the stories… and sometimes we assume the Bible characters had the advantage of that same knowledge.  But no, they didn’t.  We need to read our Bible remembering that.  How profitable it would be if we could read it as a book we’ve picked up for the first time, and don’t know the plot or the way things are going to turn out any more than the characters themselves.

In fact, just think what it would be like if you and I were right there right then—but not knowing anything about the outcome of things the way we do now.   Where would that put us?  What an adventure we would be in.  For it would put us in the place of having to discover very definitely what God was saying… and having to walk it out by faith.

How was it that Abraham ended up in the land of Canaan?  It was by responding in faith to a word from God.  He didn’t have it all mapped out for him.  “By faith Abraham when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance obeyed: and he went out not knowing whither he went” (Heb. 11.9).  Think of that.  There’s no suspense for us; we turned the page and found out long ago; we know how things unfolded.  Abraham didn’t.  He didn’t know “the rest of the story” the way we do.

Yes, he had a measure of understanding as to what God was leading him into.  But day by new day, step by new step, he had to search out this will of God.  He had to seek to hear afresh what God was saying to him—and the times and seasons of His will.  Sometimes he missed it.  But his heart was right with God.  And God was faithful to bring him back on track.

All those of old… Enoch, Abraham, Sarah, Noah, Moses, Gideon, David… they were involved in something that… let’s call it the birthings of faith.  The true Christian walk is a walk in the Spirit that causes the will of God in Heaven to be unfolded, or birthed, here in the earth.  This takes faith.  This is what faith involves.  Faith involves hearing from God, and responding in accordance with what we have heard.

This is what the faith chapter in Hebrews is all about.  We are given many examples of people who didn’t have a Bible to read the way we do; it wasn’t all laid out before them; they had to birth by faith the word they were hearing, bring it out into open reality in their lives.

What they brought out into the open we have recorded for us now on the pages of our Bible.  Because of this we can become distanced from the… the immanence, the “present-ness” of their walk of faith, the creative element, the beautiful existential quality of the walk these ones were involved in… who brought into being the hidden will of God.

The very point of all that is recorded, though, is to inspire you and me with regard to what is before us in our own lives.  We have their testimony because we too are involved in the birthings of faith.  There is very much yet of the will of God to unfold—very great and awesome things, as great if not greater than any recorded in the Bible.

It is just as important for us to hear His Voice and respond in faith as it was for them back then.

I think of Jesus in His day.  He Himself did not have a heavenly instruction manual laying all things out before Him.  He needed to pray and earnestly seek to hear what His Father was saying and doing.  He lived by faith.  He walked by faith.  All that took place in His life was the result of the birthings of faith.  The familiar story of Jesus walking on the water comes to mind.  We read the story and it’s no big deal to us.  We’re so familiar with it.  We think He walked on water because, well… because He was Jesus.  But it was by faith that the Son of man lived and walked.  He couldn’t walk on water any more than you or I can.  But He saw the disciples He loved out there in the storm… afraid.  He was making intercession for them, and the Father put something in His heart.  He responded in faith.  It was by faith that He walked on the water to go to them.

What a wonder.  But it doesn’t end there.  Peter walked on the water as well!  Let’s put ourselves out there in the boat that day.  Could you or I have done that… like Peter?  Peter walked on the water, too.  How?  He heard a single word.  “Come.”

Peter birthed something by faith that night.  He walked on the water by faith.

As we follow Jesus’ footsteps through the Gospels we discover over and over again that He was always looking for a certain “something” that would enable Him to release wondrous things.  We read words such as, “And seeing their faith…” or, “thy faith hath made thee whole,” or, “only believe…”  It was the operation of faith in different ones that birthed into the open the wondrous things He did, things we now read of and think happened just because He had the power to do miracles.  No.  Where there was unbelief He was greatly hampered (Mt. 13.58).  Where there was faith He wrought wondrous things.

We need to know that this same Jesus continues to do great things, and wants to do even greater things now that He is exalted.  But He continues to look for that divine catalyst that releases His power—faith.

Here’s an example from The Acts.  Jesus has already ascended and has sent forth the Holy Spirit.  Paul in Lystra sees a man crippled from birth.  What a pitiful condition.  But the man has something many healthy people entirely lack.  Paul, “perceiving that he had faith to be healed, said with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy feet” (Acts 14.10).  I know where that Voice originated.  “And he leaped and walked.”  Thus the will of God in Heaven was made manifest in the earth.  How did it happen?  By the “mystery of faith.”  Somehow the man had heard from God.  Perhaps it happened the very instant he looked on Paul—a man in whom the Holy Spirit of Jesus dwelt—and connected with Jesus Himself.  Or perhaps it was something God had spoken to him some time ago and he kept alive in his heart… waiting.  However it happened, the man and the time and the place and the faith—and the Lord Jesus Christ—came together, and a wondrous chemical reaction took place.

I think of Abraham again.  As he looked up at the night sky and saw the countless stars God told him, “So shall thy seed be.”  Then we read, “And Abraham believed in the LORD…”  This was no easy matter-of-fact reaction.  I think it took Abraham’s breath away.  I think it took all he had in him to believe so impossible a thing.

But he believed.  And he was right in believing.

It is a wondrous thing, and a great privilege, to be involved in the birthings of faith.  It was by faith that Sarah conceived, the writer of Hebrews tells us, when she was past the age of childbearing.  “By faith Sarah received (or, laid hold of) strength to conceive seed.”  How could she do this?  The point is that no capability within herself could have conceived Isaac.  Sarah had heard from God (Gen. 18.10).  At first she laughed at the impossibility of the prospect.  But it appears that eventually… maybe as she was making supper one evening, something was quickened to her… and she said more or less, “Well, Lord… if that’s what You are saying… I am saying Amen to it.”

And so let us seek to read the inspired word of God as though we ourselves were involved in the unfolding of things back then.  We will get a more realistic idea of how things took place.  But more than that, we will learn how we ourselves are to walk with God, and move in a realm that is not our own works.  It will help us understand the process of faith, and will inspire us to anticipate the same vital birthings in our own lives.

It will inspire us to be more attentive to hear from God.  For, we can’t pull faith out of thin air.  “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”  That is the key, then—the secret of faith.  Hearing from God.  The word of God has a creative element in it that creates faith… if we for our part will receive the word… and then act upon it.

Let us, then—and this more than anything else—covet that hearing of the word and will of God that initiates the response of faith in our lives… and enables us to bring into being things that others someday will read about after the fact.