Category Archives: Love

The Open Heaven In Bethel

Please give yourself more than the usual time to read this one; it’s much longer than a blog post is expected to be. My apologies, I got carried away. Thank you.

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I’ll state right up front that this message has nothing whatever to do with any church that lays claim to the name Bethel, unless, perhaps, it is to help toward the true understanding of that wonderful word.

I recently heard the leader of a certain church proclaim that the reason there is in his church an open heaven—I assume he meant the revelation he preaches—is because he is “a man under authority.” I knew what he had in mind—an organization he is involved in. This organization is headed up by a man who titles himself a bishop and an apostle, under whose authority this leader and others elsewhere have placed themselves.

Will we never learn? Considering that much of this leader’s teaching is with spiritual perception it is a grief of heart to hear him misconstrue why that is so. It is false teaching that for the full and unhindered release of all that God has for us so we can grow to full stature, we must be under a “covering” apostle or “covering” bishop or some other authority figure in a hierarchy. The one-man bishop system has been around for a long time in one form or another; more in vogue these days is a hierarchy with the apostle at the top and the pastor/teacher at the bottom. Beloved of the Lord, no. This teaching is more likely to hinder spiritual growth than foster it, and definitely does not provide the means for an open heaven.

At least not according to the Scriptures, if we dare go by the Scriptures.

Jesus in conversation with Nathanael told him He had seen him under a fig tree even before Philip invited him to “Come and see” for himself this Man they had just met. That astonished Nathanael; someone with that kind of eyesight had to be the Son of God, the King of Israel, and he believed on the spot. But marvel that it was, Jesus knew Nathanael had no idea what was yet in store for him and the other disciples. “Thou [thou is singular] shalt see greater things than these,” He told him.

And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you [you is plural, speaking not just of Nathanael now but of all the disciples] Hereafter ye [plural] shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man (Jn. 1:51).

What a profound passage of Scripture. Jesus was saying that He Himself is the fulfillment of the ladder Jacob saw extending up into heaven from where he lay sleeping on the ground with a rock for his pillow. Jacob saw the angels of God ascending and descending upon the ladder (the stairway, as some suggest) and—hold your breath—the LORD Himself standing at the top of it, and speaking to him. What a powerful vision this was to Jacob, what an eye opener: note the four beholds in the passage. “Behold, a ladder… behold, the angels of God… behold, the LORD…” who spoke to Him and said, “Behold, I am with you…” We won’t just now go into all He said; our focus is on what Jacob said when he woke up:

And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place, and I knew it not. And he was afraid and said, How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven (Gen. 28:16,17).

With these words Jacob took the rock he had used for his bolster and set it up as a pillar and poured oil upon it, and, while he called the name of the place Bethel—house of God—it was the anointed stone itself that he said “shall be God’s house” (Gen. 28:2).

And so in the fullness of time we find the Rock of ages proclaiming that He the Son of man is Himself the true Bethel, He Himself the House of God, and the Gate of heaven. That is the real eye opener, isn’t it.

In my reading a while back I came across a statement concerning Christ, that as the mediator between God and man He is “the ladder of Jacob’s vision conjoining sundered heaven and earth” (E.K. Simpson quoted by F.F. Bruce in The Epistle to the Hebrews). Sundered means broken apart, violently separated. Conjoined means joined together for a mutual purpose. This lines up with what one of the commentators I read pointed out, that Nathanael, after Jesus had told him He had seen him under the fig tree, declared Him to be the Son of God, with Jesus in response calling Himself the Son of man (Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament). For He, the Christ, is at once both Son of God and Son of man.

It is in the Christ, then, that a sundered earth and Heaven—the grievous consequence ages long of Adam’s sin—are again one, and because of the conjoining, those in Christ have an open heaven, and they have it simply because they are in Him, not because they are properly submitted in some man-made authority structure. Each and every member of the body of Christ has the privilege of an open heaven simply because they are in Christ, and share His own open heaven. Heaven is open in Christ.

There are several references in the Bible to heaven being opened, but this that Jesus told His disciples they were to anticipate is unique among them, in that it speaks of heaven opened not to an individual but to a community of people, disciples great and small. “Ye shall see heaven open…” Linked to this is the occasion when Jesus was baptized by John in Jordan. At that time “the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily shape as a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved son; In thee I am well pleased” (Lk. 3:22). It was the anointing of the Spirit that would empower Him as the Christ, the Anointed One, and in due time enable Him to impart His own anointing and open heaven to His disciples. For in due time—after His own Calvary baptism—He would begin His ministry of baptizing in the Holy Spirit.

It is by the Spirit baptism that believers are baptized into Christ; it is thus that they become part of Bethel; it is thus that Bethel becomes the habitation not only of God, but of His beloved family, all of whom are made partakers of the anointing and open heaven of His beloved Son. That open heaven is theirs individually, but Bethel is both an individual and a corporate reality, and the “expanse” of the open heaven in the corporate reality is far, far greater than in the individual. (Oh that we give ourselves to functioning thus!)

Just what is an open heaven?

So then, yes, Christ is the gate of Heaven, and in Him that gate is open. In vain do men strive to enter Heaven any other way. Jacob said, the gate of heaven, not a gate of heaven. Heaven is closed to all outside Christ. But Jesus was not talking about the great hereafter when He said, “Hereafter ye shall see heaven open…” In fact Young’s Literal Translation has, “Henceforth ye shall see…” So Jesus was talking about the open heaven, the access and the “seeing” that was His own present reality, and which would become the heritage of all those baptized into Him after He had accomplished the Cross. In fact many translators opt for opened here: “ye shall see heaven opened.” It’s the Greek perfect tense, which more accurately would be standing open. Not just a one-time experience, but a continual state, the result of something that had happened in the past.

“…Ye shall see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” Now, what is this all about—the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man? I don’t know what this is all about, and if you have more light on it please share with me. But the role of angels in Scripture is always relative to God’s purposes in man. Is that then what we are seeing here? Angels portraying God’s purposes in man? Further to that, the word angel both in the Old Testament and the New means messenger, and can refer not only to heavenly beings but to humans. Perhaps that also is the sense here. Putting both of those ideas together, the angels ascending and descending upon the Son of man reveals that those once shut out now have in Christ unhindered access to the heavenlies of God, and are carrying out His bidding.

More specifically, more wondrously, this access is to God Himself. The Father. It is an open heaven that Paul has in mind when he writes to the saints in Ephesus and elsewhere that “through Him we both [Jew and Gentile] have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (Eph. 2:18). And again, “…Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access in confidence through our faith in Him” (Eph. 3:11,12 ASV). That is Paul’s way of speaking of an open heaven. It means an ever-open door of access to the Father unto whom we may come with boldness and access in confidence, not because we are the bold personality type, but simply because of our faith in Christ. More on this in a bit.

And so, access to the Father. That’s what an open heaven means. Just as the Son had an open heaven and knew that the Father heard Him always, those in Him enjoy that same open heaven, the assurance of audience with Him unto whom they pray. Does the word audience sound too formal? Let’s call it the fellowship of prayer—the assurance that the Father always hears their voice, and they hear His voice.

And see His face. Just as the Son saw always the face of His Father, even so those in Him have that same open heaven; they too see Father’s face, enjoy His favour, and open-armed welcome into His very Presence. That is the significance of seeing His face. This we gather from the story of how King David allowed Absalom to return from exile but forbade him to see his face. That is, he was still not in favour with the king; he was shut out from the king’s court and presence (2 Sam. 14:24). Absalom managed to get himself reinstated, but what was he after? I don’t think it was loving fellowship with his father the king. Seeing a king’s face, being in his court and presence, means position, authority, power, prestige, all of which are deadly dangerous when they become ends in themselves. Yet this is what Absalom was after, this is what motivated him—His own glory—and he would stop at nothing to get it.

Let’s read of those whose motive is right—the glory of God. Unto these the King can safely grant His own authority and power in whatever He bids them do:

…And His servants [bondslaves] shall serve Him. And they shall see His face (Rev. 22:3,4).

That is an open heaven—seeing the face of God. The word serve here is always used of priestly service. Not only are they bondslaves “bought with a Price,” who therefore have no right to themselves anymore, they are priests who have access to the very throne of God. They are “on the in with” God, they are privileged to see His face, being those of His “inner circle” round about the throne by His loving invitation and enabling grace. They have precious fellowship with one another, these priests, but they are not focused on one another. Like the cherubim of glory who, while facing one another their faces are “toward the mercy seat” (Ex. 25:20), even so the fellowship these share with one another is fellowship with God in the pursuit of a mutual purpose, the glory of God in Christ.

God’s “inner circle,” then, those who see His face, are priests. But we must forsake what springs to mind when we encounter the word priest, which has long since been redefined and bears no resemblance to the full biblical revelation. May I suggest the following definition to your thinking? A priest is one who walks in love—love for God and for others—and has lost sight of himself or herself in the process. Such a one cherishes on behalf of others a blessed a relationship with God, a holiness by reason of which they see His face.

To put that another way, the pure in heart…

…For they shall see God

When we read these words, then, are we thinking the way our Lord was thinking when He said this?

Let’s make sure we understand first that there is a seeing of God in the day of His appearing that is the ultimate reward of a faithful walk of holiness, while at the same time there is a seeing of Him that is our present privilege and provision. I must say that the dividing line between the two is not all that clear to me. Has not God always delighted in those whose faith and love pursues Him into what others say is only for tomorrow?

Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14 NKJV).

Is that for tomorrow? Or for today? Or both.

And what is holiness?

And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all, even as we do toward you,
To the intent He may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints (1 Thes. 3:12,13).

Again, to walk in love is the purest holiness—complete separation from all else, including oneself. That is the essence of the priesthood of God.

This we pursue, then, aware that even as we pursue this there is a seeing of God that is the present portion of those in Christ—in Bethel, the house of God. There is an open heaven in Bethel for those dwelling in Bethel, which is “a spiritual house, an holy priesthood” (1 Pt. 2.5). (Underscore those words: the whole house is a holy priesthood, not just a select few in it.) It is this of which we read as the prophet David opens to us the desire of his heart:

One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in His temple (Ps. 27:4).

“All the days of my life… to behold the beauty of the LORD… to enquire…” That is an open heaven. (I wonder to what extent that has dawned upon us—that the beauty of the Lord is revealed and beheld in His house.)

Seeing God, then, is our portion even now, and I’m convinced that this is the blessedness Christ spoke of in this beatitude:

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Mt. 5:8).

How then is the heart to be made pure? And how is that inner eye and ear of the soul—the conscience—to bear witness to this purity? It certainly bears witness to the sin-defiled heart; the guilty conscience cannot draw nigh God, cannot look upon God. But God has made provision to purify the heart; in fact in Christ has done so. Christ by His sacrifice has put away all sin, all guilt, has purged by His blood the defiled heart of man, something the blood of bulls and goats could never do. In the Old Covenant God had instructed Moses to sanctify Aaron and his sons by elaborate ablutions and offerings so that they could draw near Him, a holy priesthood involved in the holy things of God. If we could distil all that, all that ritual of the law, all that God instructed Moses to do in Leviticus Chapter 8, we would have what was fulfilled by Christ on Calvary and in His resurrection and ascension, and the sending of the Spirit. This is why Peter said that in giving the Gentiles the Holy Spirit, God accomplished what the Law in fact could never do, “purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8,9). That’s the way Peter put it, and I love this passage. “And God, which knoweth the hearts [literally and beautifully, the heart-knowing God] bare them witness…giving them the Holy Spirit… purifying their hearts by faith.” By faith, not by the ritual of the law. It works! Many a happy believer from that day to this has proven it to be so, the conscience bearing witness to this because of the enlightening of the Holy Spirit that it now enjoys, releasing the troubled soul from its burden of guilt. For, what Christ accomplished on the Cross—the offering for sin that purifies the heart—is in the Spirit, and so becomes the blessedness of those who receive the gift of the Spirit and draw nigh (let us learn to think as priests whenever we see those words draw nigh) “with a true heart in full assurance of faith,” as the writer of Hebrews testifies along with Peter:

Let us draw nigh with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water (Heb. 10:22).

The King James Version doesn’t bring out the Greek tense very clearly here; it is the Greek perfect tense again, and would be better translated, “having had and continuing to have…” The thought is clear in the New English Translation (NET). “…Let us draw near with a sincere heart in the assurance that faith brings, because we have had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.” We are not drawing near in order to have our heart sprinkled from an evil conscience but because it has already been sprinkled; without the heart blood-sprinkled and cleansed it is impossible to draw nigh to God.

Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart… (Ps. 24:3,4).

That is saying the same thing the writer of Hebrews is saying. We draw near “with a true heart,” not in order to get a true heart. Are you asking, then, along with me, when did this happen? If I am invited to draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith because my heart has been sprinkled from an evil conscience and my body washed with pure water, when did this happen? May light flood our hearts and faith receive it. The blood of sprinkling was poured out at Calvary, and was preserved, reserved, in the Spirit, and became effectual—let there be full assurance of faith concerning this—the moment I received the Spirit in whom that blood of sprinkling is forever efficacious. (“Our bodies washed with pure water” is, in my view, speaking of baptism. No, not water baptism; by “pure water” he has to be speaking of the Spirit of God.)

With this provision of grace, then, those who are now a heavenly priesthood enter with boldness the Holy of holies. We lift up our eyes to the face of God. We enjoy an open heaven, and fellowship with Him in a mutual purpose.

…I am thinking in closing, and perhaps you are thinking along with me, of the “charge” Paul gave Timothy for the church at Ephesus:

And the end of the charge is love out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned… (1 Tim. 1:5 Young’s Literal Translation).

The perfect provision of God for those whom He calls to draw nigh Him and know His opened heaven in Bethel.

This is not to say that our open heaven will not at times be contested, although hopefully not neglected on our part. When being resisted we must resist the resistance, “steadfast in the faith,” we must war the good warfare of contending faith. To keep from neglect we must do our regular, our daily, spiritual maintenance lest our open heaven become clouded, dimmed; we must have absolutely nothing to do with anything the sensitive conscience detects as defiling; we must guard against temptation; if we have sinned we must go swiftly to our ready Advocate (1 Jn. 2;1,2).

Let nothing rob us, then, of our enjoyment of the open heaven—for the Lord’s own sake, and for others around us in deep need. An open heaven means open access to the throne of grace. Let us therefore come boldly unto that throne, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. As priests in a heavenly priesthood, this is our privilege. And our responsibility. Each of us being members of God’s heavenly priesthood in Bethel, in Christ, may boldly, confidently, ascend to Him who sits upon the throne for His provision on behalf of others in need, and descend again to minister to them that provision, all the riches of His glory and grace in Christ Jesus.

Are You At Wit’s End Corner?

The old poem Wit’s End Corner came up upon my heart in a time of prayer this morning, and I felt such joy in the promise of the God of lovingkindness who loves to meet us just where we are at our wit’s end. This is the theme of Psalm 107. I’ll just quote a fragment of it:

…And they are at their wit’s end (Ps. 107:27).

And then what?

Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and He bringeth them out of their distresses.

What is wit? According to one online dictionary it means astuteness of perception or judgment: acumen. When the King James Bible came out it meant simply knowledge, the ability to know what to do.

Our whole world is just about at that corner.

I myself am there… again. This morning as I came to the second-last verse my eyes overflowed with tears and my heart with His love and promise, and he who had been sorrowful was suddenly rejoicing! My beloved Jesus assured me, reminded me, He has been waiting right there to meet me! I can hardly wait!

That is the lesson to be learned at Wit’s End Corner, the lesson of learning the lovingkindness of the Lord. Here is the last verse of Psalm 107.

Whoso is wise, and will give heed to these things, even they shall understand the lovingkindness of the LORD.

Are you there too, dearly beloved of the Lord?

Are You at Wit’s End Corner?

Are you standing at Wit’s End Corner,
Christian with troubled brow?
Are you thinking of what is before you,
And all you are bearing now;
Does all the world seem against you,
And you in the battle alone?
Remember—at Wit’s End Corner
Is just where God’s power is shown!

Are you standing at Wit’s End Corner,
Blinded with wearying pain,
Feeling you cannot endure it,
You cannot bear the strain;
Bruised through the constant suffering,
Dizzy, and dazed, and numb?
Remember—at Wit’s End Corner,
Is where Jesus loves to come!

Are you standing at Wit’s End Corner?
Your work before you spread,
All lying begun, unfinished,
And pressing on heart and head;
Longing for strength to do it,
Stretching out trembling hands?
Remember—at Wit’s End Corner
The Burden-bearer stands.

Are you standing at Wit’s End Corner
Yearning for those you love,
Longing and praying and watching,
Pleading their cause above,
Trying to lead them to Jesus—
Wondering if you’ve been true?
He whispers at Wit’s End Corner
“I’ll win them as I won you.”

Are you standing at Wit’s End Corner?
Then you’re just in the very spot
To learn the wondrous resources
Of Him Who faileth not!
No doubt to a brighter pathway
Your footsteps will soon be moved.
But only at Wit’s End Corner
Is “the God Who is able” proved!

Antoinette Wilson

The Disciple Jesus Loved

During the last supper when Jesus revealed that one of those present would betray Him, the disciples looked at one another anxiously, wondering who it was, each one worrying that it might even be themselves. Peter therefore beckoned to John to ask Jesus which of them it was.  For John, they all knew, had a special relationship with Jesus.  He was very close to Him, as we read in John’s own account of that night.

 Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved (Jn. 13:23).

That’s the King James Version. My Greek/English Interlinear has, “But there was reclining in the bosom of Jesus one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.”

You can see them in your mind’s eye; that’s the way they dined back then: reclining on couches around a low table likely in the shape of a U. This enabled the servants to come into the centre of the U to set on the table the dishes of food for the guests.  John, leaning on his left arm, was reclining so that his head was close to Jesus’ bosom.  With some distance between the disciples around the table, and with the servants coming and going, and everyone talking, John was able to quietly ask Jesus who the betrayer was, and Jesus was able to answer him without others being aware of what He was saying.

I won’t go into that. What I want to focus on is this.  A while ago I was reading John’s opening words in His account of the Gospel, and I came to this:

 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him (Jn. 1:18 NKJV).

There were those same words, “in the bosom of…” I stopped reading.  In my mind’s eye, I saw Jesus reclining in the bosom of the Father just the way John reclined in the bosom of Jesus at that supper.

It is a beautiful image to me, a precious image: the Son of God reclining in the bosom of the Father.  And I think that when John wrote these words he could well have had in his own mind’s eye that supper, and himself reclining in Jesus’ bosom.  If he knew that he was the disciple Jesus loved, he also knew that Jesus was the Son the Father loved.

It was, in a sense, an exclusive love.

 This is My beloved Son in whom is all my delight…”

The Father loved no one else the way He loved His Son. But it was never God’s intention that this exclusive love be forever confined there.  It was exclusive, but it was not confined.

For, Jesus said during that same supper, speaking to them all, “As the Father hath loved Me so [that is, even so] have I loved you: continue ye in My love” (Jn. 15:9).

We know He was speaking to them all. But if that is so, what was there about John?  Why did John call himself the disciple whom Jesus loved? Was this too a special love, something exclusive, for John alone?

Not according to the verse we just quoted. As the Father loves the Son, the Son loves all His disciples.

I think that John called himself this—the disciple whom Jesus loved—simply because there was a certain trusting childlikeness about John, a certain open facedness, that enabled him to receive Jesus’ love, whereas the others (much like you and I?) had questions and doubts about themselves, and therefore doubts as to Jesus’ love for them.

I do pray that you and I become more sure of the love of Jesus for us, and, like John, take the risk of reclining our head in His bosom. We will surely make a wonderful discovery.

One more thing. We find John writing many years later:

We have known and believed the love that God hath to us (1 Jn. 4:16).

How did John know that? It was because John had seen this love before his very eyes in the Son of God.  The love he saw in this Man… somehow he began to realize, to know, that it was the love of God, that it was God the Father dwelling in this Man, and revealing His love.  John saw it, and believed, and came boldly to Him—I don’t mean brazenly, I mean boldly, openly, trustingly—and reclined his head in His bosom.

Who’s bosom? Since the Son of God Himself reclines in the bosom of the Father, it was the Father’s love that John was reclining in when he reclined in Jesus’ bosom.

For that is the nature of the Son of God. The Father dwelt in Him; He was the revelation of God the Father—the Father’s love.  Paul called Jesus, “the Son of His love” (Col. 1:13).  The Son of God’s love.  It is the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:39).

And what was the result of John reclining his head in Jesus’ bosom, and knowing, believing, that God loved him?  It is that John himself was filled to overflowing with that same love.  It is a continual stream through all his writings.  “Beloved, let us love one another…”  John knew he was beloved, knew he was loved, knew he was the disciple Jesus loved.  Therefore, he loved.

That is God’s intention in loving us.  God intends that same love—the love of God that dwelt in Jesus—to dwell in you and I. Jesus prayed as much during that same supper.

I have declared (made known) unto them Thy Name, and will declare it (make it known), that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them (Jn. 17:26).

You mean the very love of God dwelling in you and me as He dwelt in Jesus?  The love of God?  And people seeing that love before their very eyes?  When this happens, beloved (I don’t use that word tritely), we might well discover others around us taking the risk of reclining their head in our bosom.

 

Run Like That!

Posted on

I wrote the following piece a couple of years ago but felt just today an impulse to now set it forth.

 

I’m not a movie watcher, but I recently watched part of a movie about the legendary racehorse Secretariat.  A friend recommended it as a good clean movie children could enjoy.  So, child that I am, I decided to check it out.  I couldn’t find the whole movie on the Internet, but was able to watch the final portion about Secretariat winning the famous U.S. Triple Crown in which he outstripped the other horses by a country mile.  He was so far out in front that it looked like he was the only horse on the track.  The further he went the faster he went; he just swallowed the ground before him like the war horse of Job.

That was in 1973, a time when something very wonderful was happening in my own life—O Happy Day—and, with only one thing on my mind, I remember being vaguely puzzled about why, for some reason, everyone was talking about a horse.

Actually I watched a documentary on Secretariat before I found the movie segment.  The thoroughbred began to build a reputation for astonishing speed very early, winning a major competition as a two-year-old.  Interest outside the usual racing circles grew like a grass fire.  Capturing the public sentiment in a single sentence one newspaper said something like, “We are not sure this horse is even human.”

It was while watching the documentary that I had an experience that caught me off guard.  I’ll share it with you, but please keep this to yourself—you know how it is; a man in our society is not supposed to have emotions.

Very early in the documentary, as I watched Secretariat run, I began to feel a… you know that feeling in your chest that, when it comes out, it’s only going to be able to come out one way.  Not once or twice I was surprised to find myself involuntarily sucking in my breath.  Then when Secretariat began to pull so far ahead of the other horses that it seemed his feet were on fire… I… I started to weep.

Why?  I couldn’t understand why I was weeping.  I was a little embarrassed with myself.  You’re weeping over a horse race?  How spiritual is that?  But I discovered as I watched the documentary further that this was the reaction of many that day.  They wept as they watched this horse run.  Young people leaning over the rails cried as he flew by.  Adults in the grandstand at first were speechless for what they had just seen.  When it set in they began to weep.

Why did they weep?  Perhaps they knew not; it was a very emotional experience.

One man’s reaction was, “God made this horse.”

Others made similar comments.  “It was like the Lord was holding the reins,” reflected Pat Lynch of the New York Racing Association, who was there that day.  “Secretariat was one of His creatures, and maybe He whispered to him, ‘Go!’  And that horse really went.  It was really almost a supernatural experience.  It really was.”

That, I think, is what was filling my own heart with something that only tears could let out—though at the moment I could not put my finger on why.  This was something God had done.  This was a horse from Heaven.  It was God who had made this horse.  And… see what God can do, family of man?  I cried to see what God can do.  Such power, such strength, such excellence… unmatchable victory.  Secretariat set records that stand to this day.  His times have never been matched—are likely never to be matched, I venture to say.  This was a magnificent and beautiful horse with a powerhouse straight from Heaven, with his burnished red coat a horse of fire, like the ones that surrounded Elisha of old.

“It was more than life allows,” one man said.

That, I think, is why people wept.  And why I wept.  The tears welled up to see such beauty and strength, the sudden reminder that YES… there is Something beyond the prison cell of ordinary life.  Here we are in the confines of a life lived without note… and suddenly we see Something out the window of our cell… and the heart is filled with a yearning that can only come out through the eyes.

But then, and just as suddenly, something else overwhelmed me.  A cry.  Oh for this same spirit to apprehend you and me!  Oh, the lethargy, the lassitude, the languor… the low level to which we are bound, the ease with which we accept being nominal, and learn to live with defeat.  As in the days of Samuel and Saul we live our lives in fearful timidity with the garrison of the Philistines in our midst.  We are used to it now.  Defeat.  It’s a way of life to us now.

Where is the spirit of Secretariat?  Oh, how we need this spirit!

I am reminded of David’s words as he sees the morning sun arising out of the night.

…Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.

Where is that spirit, fellow Christian?  I know it’s been a very long and very dark night, but David in prophetic vision sees the sun just pawing the sky to get at this race!  Like Secretariat pawing the ground, the muscles of his shoulders rippling like thunder.  Like the warhorse of Job.  Is he timid, afraid?

He mocks at fear, and is afraid of nothing: neither turns he back from the sword.
The quiver rattles against him, the glittering spear and the shield.
With fierceness and rage he swallows the ground; he cannot stand still at the sound of the trumpet.
When the trumpet sounds, he says ‘Aha!’ He smells the battle from afar, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting (Job 39.19-25, KJV and ESV).

Now, why is this written in our Bible?  No offence to the horse lovers out there, but is God really interested in horses?  Saith he this not altogether for our sakes?

Yes, for our sakes, who have a conquest to conquer, a race to run!  This I know is why I cried.  Christian… we have a contest to win, a race to run!  Let all smallness and weakness and fear be banished from us.  Let us run this race that is set before us like Secretariat!  See him rejoicing to run his race?  Let us run like that, as Paul the apostle urged, that we may obtain the Prize!  “Know ye not,” said Paul, “that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize?” (1 Cor. 9.24).  Well, he continues, run like that.  Run like the winner runs.

 So run (run like that), that ye may obtain (the prize).

This hour is calling for endurance like that.  Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of God.  Let us lay aside every weight, then, every hindrance, every distraction, the sins that so easily beset us, and run this race!  The cloud of witnesses in the heavenly bleachers is cheering and urging us on!

One last thing.  When Secretariat died they performed an autopsy on him.  You know what they discovered?  He had a heart almost three times the size of an average horse. So there it was—the powerhouse that motivated him.  His heart!

…Oh, for that heart, Lord Jesus Christ!  Deliver us from smallness of heart!

 I will run the way of Thy commandments when Thou shalt enlarge my heart (Ps. 119:32).

 

 

Thank God For… You

Have you ever been frightened by the sudden awareness that you were in the presence of something very holy?  This happened to me recently while reading one of the letters of the apostle Paul.  A certain fear came unexpectedly upon me; I suddenly became aware of the deep love for the saints that dwelt in this man.

Paul, it seems, was always thinking about the saints of the Lord that he knew in various places.  Like a parent whose children are scattered far and wide, they were always on his mind… and continually in his prayers.

For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers… (Rom. 1.9).

Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers… (Eph. 1.15,16).

…Praying always for you… (Col. 1.3).

I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day… (2 Tim. 1.3).

I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers… (Phm. 4).

We (Paul and Silvanus and Timothy) give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers… (1 Thes. 1.2).

I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you making request with joy… (Phil. 1.4).

If you will take your New Testament and (when you have time) read the last two passages I quoted—Philippians Chapter 1 verses 3-11, and the first three chapters of 1 Thessalonians—I  think you will come away from your reading the same way I have, awed by the depths of the love you have touched in this man.  His prayers to God on the behalf of the saints were the consequence of the love in his heart for them.  He loved the saints.  He loved them deeply.  And so he couldn’t help it, he had to be on his knees for them.

One thing more—did you notice this in the verses quoted above?  Paul is always thanking God for the saints.  Why would he be thanking God for them?  It was because of their faith (Rom. 1.8, Col. 1.3) and their growing love for God and for one another (1 Thes. 1.2, 2 Thes. 1.3), that is to say, for their fellowship in the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1.3).  How it comforted Paul’s heart in this dark and wicked world to know that some here and there had turned from darkness to walk in light.  Paul was in fellowship with these ones.

It’s a word that has lost much of its strength these days—fellowship.  It means, simply, sharing together, or commonness; but what Paul and these other saints shared and held in common was an uncommon cause, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  They were vastly outnumbered in this cause, were persecuted and despised and hated in this cause.  So when they came together it was something very precious, and tender.  They were brothers and sisters who loved one another and were ready to die for one another.  And so they were greatly thankful for one another.

This got me thinking.  It hadn’t really occurred to me.  Am I thankful for my brothers and sisters?  Yes, I pray for them, but how often do I get on my knees and thank God for them?  I mean, really thank God for them!  They are my comrades in battle.  They are my fellow pilgrims on a dangerous journey.  They are an oasis of green in the waste and howling wilderness of this world.  They love the Lord Jesus with all their hearts, and they want to do His will.  Many there are who love darkness rather than light, but these have turned from darkness to light, and with the help of the Lord’s grace they are determined to be faithful.  At the cost of their lives if need be.  This caused great thankfulness to well up in Paul.  He thanked God for these ones.  And prayed continually for them.  It is far from an easy walk; it is fraught with peril in this present evil age.  And so Paul found these saints continually on his heart, and continually in his prayers.

Do we want to be like Paul?  It will mean coming into a love that, in its continual preoccupation with others, loses sight of itself.  But let’s not stop at the desire to be like Paul.  There’s another reason why Paul prayed so continually for the saints.  Paul was like Jesus.  And Jesus is preoccupied with the saints.  Jesus at the right hand of God is continually praying for the saints.

He ever liveth to make intercession for us (Heb. 7.25).

It is Christ that died, yea rather that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us (Rom. 8.34).

And so if Christ at the right hand of God is continually praying for the saints, this is what Paul found himself doing also.  He prayed continually for the saints because the Holy Spirit of the ascended Christ dwelt in Him—and so the same love that burned in Christ burned in him also, continually firing his prayers with the fire of the Spirit.

Are we short of this, brothers and sisters?  Does the same love that dwelt in Paul dwell in you and me?  Oh how we need this more and more in the body of Christ in this difficult hour—the love of Christ.  We could not help but pray for one another, then.  I mean, fervently.  It’s the only way we would find release from the burden of love in us.

Release, I say… yet like a fire, this love grows when you feed it.  If just now it’s not much of a fire, let’s feed it then!  It will grow.  And grow.  And grow…

Let there arise in our hearts a new appreciation—Paul’s appreciation, the Lord’s own appreciation—for our fellow saints.  We need one another.  Let us be praying for one another.

And thanking God for one another.

Love The Brotherhood

We are living in days when the price tag on being a Christian—a true Christian—is becoming increasingly apparent.  That’s already true in many countries where to be a Christian costs you your life, or prison, or severe persecution even at the hands of those you love most.

We haven’t seen much of that here in western lands so far, but the forces of darkness here are becoming increasingly hostile these days.  If you stand for truth and righteousness you are going to pay for it—even here in the so-called free world.

A while ago when reading through 1 Peter I noticed something I hadn’t seen before.  This letter is well known for its emphasis on trial and suffering.  But I noticed that interlaced through the letter there is a call—that we love one another.

And so I think, brothers and sisters, that as we see things growing more difficult we are going to see something else growing—something very beautiful–the fervent love of Christ among the brethren in a world that hates God and His Christ.

It’s because of this hatred that Peter urges us:

Love the brotherhood (1 Pt. 2.17).

And also:

Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful (tenderhearted), courteous (of a friendly mind) (1 Pt. 3.8).

Peter says finally, but apparently the Holy Spirit wasn’t finished yet.  He goes on to talk about suffering for doing what is right, saying that if we are determined to follow Christ in this world and truly cease from sin, we are going to suffer for it.  And then he brings up this matter of love again.

And above all things have fervent love among yourselves: for love shall cover the multitude of sins (1 Pt. 4.8).

I noticed in my Greek Interlinear bible that the article is there; it reads, “have the fervent love among yourselves.”  Peter has a specific love in mind.  I think it can only be the very love of Christ he has in mind, the fervent love of Christ who in His love for us was stretched out on a cross for us.

The Greek word for fervent actually means stretched out, meaning intensely strained, as if on the rack.  And Peter urges us that this same intense fervent love be among us.

In fact at the beginning of his letter he has already called for this.  “See that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently…”  Let’s look at this more closely.

Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently,
Being born again… (1 Pt. 1.22,23).

So, love is the evidence of the new birth.  How is it, then, that even among those who lay claim to the new birth there has been so much… let’s just call it opposite-of-love?  But Peter says it’s a purified soul that shows unfeigned fervent love.  It’s possible to be born again and still carnal.  The born again person must grow and be purified of all carnality.  And so when we are not walking in love, it’s because of the impurities in our heart—selfish ambition, self love, the lusts of other things….

But God has something that is able to deal with all that carnality—the fiery trial that Peter has been talking about all through his letter.  Here’s the much-quoted passage.  And notice the word Peter uses to begin it.

Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you;
But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad with exceeding joy (1 Pt. 4.13,14).

We are loved, brothers and sisters.  Let us love one another, then, with stretched-out love.

All I Saw Was Love

A woman who reads my blog recently sent me the link to the testimony of a Muslim woman who had an encounter with Jesus Christ.  It is one of the most moving testimonies I have ever heard.  Jesus began to reveal Himself to this woman in dreams and visions—something that apparently is happening frequently in the Islamic world.  She went through the inevitable rejection and beatings by her family, and then she was in church one Sunday when a bomb went off.  Many were killed.  Then a second bomb exploded.  This time she herself was hit.  I’ll let you listen to what happened then.

The woman gives as the lodestar of her Christian journey this verse:

They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony, and they loved not their lives so much as to shrink from death (Rev. 12.11 NIV).

I want to listen to this testimony again, for this woman said some very penetrating and challenging things.  But last night after listening to her testimony, I was left with this thought, also from The Revelation.  Christ exhorted the Christians of Philadelphia to hold fast what they had, lest someone else take their crown (Rev. 3.11).  As I thought about that, in my mind’s eye (it was not a vision) I saw as it were a field of discarded crowns.  For, these days there are a lot of crosses lying around on the ground that western Christians have not picked up.  Perhaps they are blind as to what they are really neglecting.  Their crowns.  That’s what that field of crosses is—a field of crowns.  The thing is, there are others out there in Islamic lands and other places who are grabbing up those crowns—those crosses.

And one day there will be none left.

I encourage you to take the time (you’ll need about an hour) to listen to this incredible testimony.  The link is below.

I realize that some will raise an eyebrow when they discover this comes out of Bethel Church in Redding, California, but I promise you that your raised eyebrow will be humbled (as mine was) by listening to this.

At the same time, this is not an endorsement of the other messages on the same link, which I have not yet listened to.

http://podcasts.ibethel.org/en/podcasts/all-i-saw-was-love

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