Monthly Archives: October 2012

What World Do You Walk In?

Habakkuk the prophet spoke of a time when he could find nothing but desolation all around him.  The fig tree had not blossomed, nor seemed likely to blossom.  There was no fruit in the vine.  The labour of the olive had failed.  The fields had yielded no food.  The flock was cut off from the fold, and there was no herd in the stalls (Hab. 3.17).

This was a spiritual scene Habakkuk was prophesying about—signs of a frightening spiritual crop failure, and therefore severe famine at the door.  Yet what was Habakkuk’s reaction?

Yet will I rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The LORD God is my strength, and He will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and He will make me to walk upon my high places (Hab. 3.19).

Joy?  Rejoicing?  How can it be possible to be in the midst of such grievous circumstance and yet tap into a source of joy?

Let me tell you of one high place higher than all others—the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who is seated at the right hand of God in heavenly places “far above all principality and power and might and dominion and every name that is named not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Eph. 1.21).

And we are called to walk in Him there.

As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him, rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving (Col. 1.7).

Fellow Christian with the hinds’ feet of the Holy Spirit, though we live in an evil world of trouble and great darkness, it is our heritage to be living and walking in the high places of an entirely different world.  In Christ we have the opportunity—and the provision by the Holy Spirit—to walk no longer dependent on this world for our peace and wellbeing and happiness and security.  Those who walk in this world, when evil circumstance—trouble or affliction—comes upon them, their peace and wellbeing evaporates like the morning cloud in the heat of the sun.

I know this happens to you and me too at times.  But it need not.  There is another realm in which we can walk.  Those who have received Christ Jesus the Lord, we can walk in Him.  Regardless of present evil circumstance or affliction, JESUS CHRIST IS LORD, and so, rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith, we can be living and walking in One who is seated upon the Throne of God in a kingdom and dominion that transcends and rules over all.

Let us consider this earnestly, and meditate upon it, and sow to it.  It is quite the thing that there are people on this troubled planet who are actually rooted and living in a different world.  They are not subject to the vagaries and transience of earthly things. There may be some deeply galling circumstance in our life, or deep affliction, something from which, like a prison, there seems no escape.  But right there we can be living in another realm.

Consider the apostle Paul when he was a prisoner (Phil. 1.13)… and not quite sure how things would go for him (2.23).  How long would he be in this prison?  Perhaps he might even be executed?  And yet he is filled to overflowing with joy.  Read his letter to the Philippians remembering he is in prison while he writes this.  Yet he is filled with joy, so much so that his joy just spills over to those he is writing to.  You have to read the whole letter in one sweep to get the feel of it, but here are two or three verses.

…Christ is preached, and therein do I rejoice, yea, and will rejoice (Phil. 1.18).

Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all.
For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me (Phil. 2.17,18).

Paul expects it could well be that his days here on earth are over, but he is filled with joy, and seeks to infect his friends and brethren with the same joy.  Like Habakkuk, he is rejoicing in the midst of the worst possible circumstances.

Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord (Phil. 3.1).

These are Habakkuk’s words, aren’t they.  And it appears Paul is about to sign off.  “Finally, my brethren…”  But the joy continues to well up, and now something else comes on his heart,  and it is not till he has given us one of the most precious chapters in the whole of the Bible (Philippians Ch. 3) that he picks up his benediction again:

Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say, rejoice (Ch. 4.4).

How can he be so full of joy considering his circumstances?  It’s simply because he is rooted in a heavenly Ground that transcends his present evil circumstance.  He knows that the Gospel of Christ in him is a power that rules over all; whatever comes it is not possible for him to be disappointed.

…According to my earnest expectation and my hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death.
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Ch. 1.20).

We find this same confidence in Paul’s second letter to Timothy written when he is again in prison.  This time he is chained like a common criminal—and this time he knows for certain his end is at hand.  (He was executed under the Roman emperor Nero, likely in 67 AD just after writing this letter.)

And note what we glean from this letter; it’s enough to sink anyone in despair.  All in the province of Asia where Paul has laboured so earnestly have now deserted him (2 Tim. 1.15).  That in itself is enough to take the heart out of anyone—to see their life’s work disintegrate before their very eyes.  The flock, it seems, has been cut off from the fold; Paul’s labour of the olive has failed… or so it seemed.  And it appears it’s a rare thing that anyone comes to visit lonely Paul in prison; he makes special mention of a certain Onesiphorus who came from Ephesus and searched hard to find him and came often and refreshed him, “and was not ashamed of my chain” (2 Tim. 1.16).

What is more, Paul tells Timothy that the first time he stood before Nero no one showed up to stand by him and defend him (2 Tim. 4.16).  My.  One would think the Lord Himself had abandoned Paul… until we continue reading.

Nevertheless the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me… and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.
And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom, to whom be glory forever and ever, Amen (2 Tim. 4.18).

And so we see in Paul an unshakable faith and confidence that springs from a source other than this present evil world.  Paul is rooted in another world, a heavenly world—actually in Christ Himself, who never ever forsakes him.  He is being built up in Him, for he is established, grounded, in the faith, abounding therein with thanksgiving.  His letter is filled with words of encouragement for Timothy, whom he knows to be somewhat timid of nature, and vulnerable to fear and anxiety.  Paul reminds him it is for the Gospel that he is suffering these things, and regardless of the present scene, he is confident in the triumph of the Gospel—to be revealed in a certain Day.  And so he rejoices in the Lord, in the God of his salvation.

For which cause I suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him against that Day (2 Tim. 1.12).

Beloved Christian, there is a Day coming.  There is coming a Day.  But this does not mean that the Gospel is not triumphant even now in our present troubles—for the one who with hinds’ feet walks in Christ in the high places of a different world… while we confidently await the Day when that triumph will be openly manifested.

Are You In With God?

The Bible describes the sovereign God as the One who does as He wishes in Heaven and earth (Ps. 135.6).  At the same time He is the God who hears prayer.

O Thou that hearest prayer, unto Thee shall all flesh come (Ps. 65.2).

This is quite something—that the great, the omnipotent, the sovereign God, desires to, is willing to, involve us in His sovereignty.  This ought to inspire us greatly in our praying.  I think it was John Wesley who said God will do nothing but in answer to prayer.  For years I missed the import of that.  This is not just saying we need to pray more, and that if we don’t we’re not going to see God do anything.  It goes deeper than that.  What Wesley meant is that God is the kind of God who wants to include a man in His sovereignty—someone who has an in with Him, and is recognized by others as having an in with Him.  God wants to do things, but He wants us to be part of that doing.

The implication is that certain men and women have pull with Him, as they say.  They are people with connections—connections in Heaven.  Who are these ones?  As we read further in Psalm 65 we discover they are those whom God has chosen to draw nigh to Him.

Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto Thee… (Ps. 65.4).

Simply put, then, they are people who are close to Him.  We think immediately of the apostle John.  Even the other apostles recognized that John had a certain in with the Lord Jesus—a closeness of relationship with Him that they themselves lacked.  During the last supper as they were all reclining around the meal, John was the disciple who “reclined in Jesus’ bosom” (Jn. 13.23).  You can see that in your mind’s eye—John reclining, leaning on his elbow, his head very close to Jesus’ breast as they supped together.

And at some point during the supper Jesus tells them that one of them will betray Him.  They are all aghast.  Who might this traitor be?  Each of them, tender of conscience, is anxious it could be himself.  They want to ask the Lord who it is, but this is something they sometimes struggled with.  They would talk with one another about their concerns and questions, but there was sometimes a certain fear in them about approaching their Lord Himself.  They stood so in awe of Him.  But it was more than that—their own insecurity.  They lacked the security of relationship with Him, the knowledge and assurance of His love that would enable them to draw near to Him and speak to Him face to face.

With John it was different.  John somehow had the assurance of His love.  The verse that tells us he was reclining in Jesus’ bosom goes on to describe John as the “disciple whom Jesus loved.”  You mean He didn’t love them all?  Of course He did.  But somehow there was an open-faced relationship between John and Jesus that enabled John to receive this love, to know and believe this love.  And so during the supper he is reclining in Jesus’ bosom just where he wanted to be—and knowing that’s where Jesus wanted him to be too.

And while the attention of the others is on something else—perhaps they are anxiously conferring with one another about this very matter—Peter beckons to John to ask the Lord who the betrayer is.  And the Lord reveals this to John.

This, I think, captures the essence of our message.  The closeness of our relationship with the Lord puts us in the place where we stand between God and men on behalf of men.  John was the “disciple whom Jesus loved.”  John was secure in this love… and, oh, that we all might have the same open-faced relationship with Him—knowing His love for us, and loving Him in return… and therefore, instead of being among those who, like Peter, are asking someone else, “You ask Him…” we are the one reclining in His bosom, the one others are urging, “You ask Him for me, please.”

Consider Job.  After God revealed Himself to Job He reproved the three men who with their unkind and unjust accusations had given Job such a hard time.  They were in serious trouble with God now.  His wrath was kindled against them.  So He advised them to go to Job and offer up a burnt offering to God.

And my servant Job shall pray for you: for him will I accept (Job 42.8).

This is very intriguing.  Could not these men have prayed to God themselves?  Could not God have transacted this whole thing with these men directly, telling them what He required of them to set things right?  I suppose so, but we see here how much God desires this—a man praying to Him on behalf of other men—even men who have hurt that man.  A man like Job.  A man He has accepted.  A man in close relationship with Him.  Satan had tried to separate Job from God.  Everything he did brought about the exact opposite.  Job came through the great ordeal a man approved of God.  He was now one who was accepted with God—meaning that his prayers would be accepted as well.  Let us remember this in our own trials.  God’s objective in it all is to make of us the kind of person who is near Him, has an in with Him.

Incidentally, by requiring these men to go to Job, God humbled them—something they very much needed.

Now Abraham.  When Abraham went to sojourn in Gerar he fell back again on the old arrangement he had with his wife Sarah.  Sarah was a very beautiful woman.  Abraham’s fear was that someone might eye Sarah and want to take her for a wife—which they couldn’t do legitimately if her husband was alive.  And so whenever they came into unfamiliar territory she was to tell people she was Abraham’s sister, not his wife.

And they come to Gerar.  Apparently even at ninety-two years old Sarah is still a strikingly beautiful woman.  Sure enough, Abimelech king of Gerar eyes her.  And he takes her into his harem, thinking she is the sister of this man who has come to sojourn in his territory.  But then God speaks to Abimelech in a dream.

Behold, thou art but a dead man for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man’s wife (Gen. 20.3).

Abimelech confronts Abraham about this and Abraham tells him the truth, at the same time explaining that he hadn’t really lied either: she is in fact his sister—the daughter of his father but not the daughter of his mother.  However, God has afflicted the whole house of Abimelech for this.  None are able to bear children.  How will the matter be rectified?  It’s interesting to note that while never referring to God by His covenant name Yahweh, Abimelech obviously has some kind of relationship with God.  He is in conversation with Him about this, explaining that he took Sarah into his house in his integrity.  And God tells him that He knew that, and withheld him from sinning against Him.  Nevertheless the whole situation has to be set right by Abimelech restoring Sarah to Abraham.

And then God shows Abimelech how the death sentence upon him, and the affliction that is causing the barrenness of all the women, is to be removed.

Now therefore restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live…

See how high a thing this is with God—that he has nurtured this man Abraham into such relationship with Himself that He is moved by his prayers? Abimelech obviously had a relationship with God to some extent: could not Abimelech have prayed to God himself?  And could not God as a result of his exchange with Abimelech have dealt with the problem sovereignly when he returned Sarah to Abraham?  But once again we see how greatly God desires to include in His sovereignty a man who is in close relationship with Him.

He shall pray for you…

One more illustration.  Simon the sorcerer.  This man was green with envy upon seeing that when the apostles Peter and John laid hands on others they received the Holy Spirit.  He approached them and asked them to sell that ability to him also.  Peter immediately rebuked him.

Thy money perish with thee because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money… Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thy heart may be forgiven thee (Acts 8.20).

However, Simon isn’t all that confident his own prayers are good currency with God.  He responds—and he is speaking to both Peter and John:

Pray ye to the Lord for me that none of the things which ye have spoken come upon me.

Once again there is the recognition here that God can be moved by the prayers of those who are on good terms with Him and in close relationship with Him—those who are near Him.  Eliphaz the Temanite knew God (you know what I mean: God spoke directly to him).  Yet it was not the kind of knowledge Job had.  God told Eliphaz it would be Job’s prayers that saved him from being dealt with according to his folly.  Abimelech also knew God.  But it was Abraham’s prayers that moved God to heal Abimelech’s household.  Simon the sorcerer did not know God.  But he recognized that someone in close relationship with God could influence Him on his behalf.

And so… this is the kind of God that our sovereign God is.  “O Thou that hearest prayer….”  He is the God who hears prayer.  The Hebrew word here actually means answerest.  “O Thou that answerest prayer…”  God hearing prayer means that He answers, and grants the desire of the heart.

But whose prayer does He hear?  Those who are near Him.  Let us draw near Him, then, nearer and nearer.  Let us set our hearts to be such men and women—the kind that others come to asking us to ask God on their behalf—and being assured that He hears us when we ask.

(An excerpt from my writing The Golden Altar Of Incense)

God’s Answer For The Famine Of The Word

We have been talking about the famine of hearing of the words of the Lord—words that the Lord Himself speaks, and therefore are living words that sustain us and give us the strength we need for our daily walk in this world.

That’s what bread is for—to strengthen man’s heart (Ps. 104.15).  And we need this daily.  It’s simply impossible to go through the day and meet its demands without the strength of the bread of life.  I know, as long as things are going okay and we are prospering nicely, it seems we can get along without this living Bread.  But the hour is at hand when many people—even many Christians—will suddenly see that their spiritual plates are empty, in fact have been empty for a long time.

Jesus Christ is Himself the bread of life.

I am the bread of life: he that cometh to Me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on my shall never thirst (Jn. 6.25).

Jesus is not speaking here of a one-time thing—when I came to Him and was converted.  He is speaking of a continual coming to Him, and in doing so, discovering an unfailing supply for my daily need whatever that need is.  His promise is that “as are thy days so shall thy strength be” (Dt. 33.25).  In other words, there cannot be a day that proves too much to handle when we come to Him for the bread we need for this day.  This is the experience of many Christians who take their need for the living Bread seriously and come to Him expectantly day by day.

But let’s look at this in larger terms than the twenty-four hour day.  For we are now entering upon a very difficult day, and it is going to require great spiritual strength to get through it.

What provision does God have for this day now dawning?  Apart from a major spiritual revolution we face grievous spiritual famine in our western lands in spite of all the Bibles and Bible studies and Internet resources and weekly sermons by our favourite pastor.  All this, good as it is, was never meant to be the answer for the needs of the world around us.  What is God’s answer then?  Yes I know, Christ Himself.

For the bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven and giveth life unto the world (Jn. 6.33).

I am the living bread which came down from Heaven: if any man eat of this bread he shall live forever: and the bread which I shall give is my flesh which I shall give for the life of the world (Jn. 6.51).

His flesh?  This caused a strife among those listening.  “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”

Even His own disciples found this hard to comprehend.  They couldn’t imagine themselves eating His flesh.  Jesus answered their perplexity with another perplexity.

Doth this offend you?  What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where He was before?  It is the Spirit that quickeneth (that giveth life): the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are Spirit, and they are life (Jn. 6.62,63).

In other words, it wasn’t eating His physical body that Jesus had in mind.  “It is the Spirit that quickeneth.”  He would ascend into Heaven and by the Holy Spirit speak living words from Heaven, words which to partake of would be one and the same as eating His flesh and drinking His blood.

But there is something else here—a very important implication in Jesus’ statement that “it is the Spirit that quickeneth.”  In sending the Holy Spirit, Christ means you and I, ordinary Christians in the body of Christ, to become His very flesh, the bread that He gives for the life of the world.

For we being many are one bread (or, loaf) and one body; for we are all partakers of that One Bread (1 Cor. 10.12).

Partaking of this One Bread causes us ourselves to become vitally a part of that One Bread.  For, as the saying goes, you are what you eat.

And how is this accomplished—that we become this one loaf and one body?

For by one Spirit are ye all baptized into one body… (1 Cor. 12.13).

This is the implication of His words, “It is the Spirit that quickeneth…”  He is talking of the sending of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, by which, wonder of wonders, we are made one with Him who is in Heaven– are made one Loaf with Him, one Body.

Fellow Christian, we must be earnestly seeking this kind of intermingling and interaction with the Spirit of Christ—something that produces an entirely different kind of church, one in which every single member is a vital participant in the Bread of Life, and there is a very real sense of all having become One Loaf with Christ Himself.

And those in leadership must seek earnestly to give the Spirit of the Lord His liberty and lordship so He can bring this One Loaf into being– His answer for the spiritual hunger of the world.

We have many good pastors and teachers these days who can deliver a good word.  We are thankful for them.  We have many great ministries who through modern media feed multitudes of Christians all the world over with powerful messages. We are thankful for these as well, for they certainly meet a need.

But this will not meet the need of the day at hand.  God has something greater in mind.  In fact even now—can we not recognize this?—we are in a state of famine.  Is not this abundantly clear when we look at the needs of our world around us, first on the local level and then out further?  With all our present provision we are still in a state of famine.

And we will be in a state of famine until this One Loaf begins to appear.

It is this Loaf—the body of Christ—that the Lord has in mind for the day at hand, and is even now preparing.  It is this Loaf that He breaks in His hands to feed every need of the hungry.

This is the Bread that Christ gives for the life of the world.

This is the Loaf that finally brings to an end the famine of the words of the Lord.