Now The Good News

First the bad news: we wrote about that last time.  Now the Good News.  That is God’s order, which we see in the way He sets forth the day in Genesis.  First evening, then morning.  First darkness, then light.

The dimensions of the Good News are greater than the universe, so I am acutely conscious of the smallness of this blog entry.  But simply put, the Good News is light shining in the darkness—light that opens the eyes of the spiritually blind.  If it is just words (and oh, we have so much that is just words), people’s eyes will not be opened to see their grave condition.  Make no mistake: the bad news of man’s spiritual state is very bad news; any thought people have that things are not all that bad is a serious deception with serious consequences.  And people cannot be talked out of their blindness; their eyes must be opened so they may see and be convicted, and come to repentance, and turn from darkness to light, from the authority of Satan unto God (Acts 26:18).

Here again is that passage in Ephesians we enlarged on last time, and notice again how Paul sets forth the bad news in the past tense.

And you… who were dead in trespasses and sins
Wherein in time past ye walked according to the age of this world, according to the prince of the authority of the air, the spirit that now worketh in [energizes] the children of the disobedience;
Among whom we all had our conduct in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath even as others” (Eph. 2:1-3).

Why the past tense?  It’s because the people to whom Paul is writing are “saints… the faithful in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 1:1).  They are no longer in Adam, but are now, joy of joys, in Christ.  And so he says that they were dead in trespasses and sins.  Now they are alive with the life of Christ.  Further, in the past they walked according to the age of this world and the spirit that has authority over the children of the disobedience.  They walk this way no longer.  They are no longer within that spirit’s domain.  They are not under his authority now.  They once had their conduct in the lusts of their flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.  Not anymore.  They are no longer children of wrath.

What made this possible?  Paul hastens on to tell us.  He had introduced this passage with the words, “And you…”  Now come the words, “But God…”

But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us
Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace are ye saved);
And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus;
That in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Following the bad news that Paul has first opened our eyes to, this is good news, exceeding good news!  It is mind blowing, in fact, stretching beyond its limits our capacity to comprehend it all.  I read this and other passages, and… am I dreaming?  Can this be true?  Can mortal eyes actually be reading this?  You mean those in Christ are no longer in the domain of sin and death? They are in another kingdom now, where grace and life reign?  Is that not a wonder?  Is that not astonishing good news?  Yes!  And cause for great joy!

Yet those words, “for His great love wherewith He loved us,” were written, I am sure, with tears, and we must go to other scriptures to find out more fully what this love involved.  If those to whom Paul was writing had been quickened together with Christ, and raised up together with Him, and seated together with Him in the heavenlies, it was because through faith in Jesus and baptism into Christ they had become partakers of what God accomplished on the Cross of Calvary, where Christ was baptized into the death that Adam in his disobedience had brought upon himself and all his progeny. Since all those in Adam were dead in sin, Christ died to sin, so that all who are baptized into Him might be dead to sin and live unto God, unto righteousness (Rom. 6:1-11, 2 Pt. 2:24).  He who knew no sin—shoes off, please—was made sin for us, that we might become nothing less than the very righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).

Back to the Ephesian passage: let’s continue to pay attention to some tenses, and the reason we are doing this is because all too often much of this is relegated to the future or to Heaven.  Not so.  Those to whom Paul was writing, those in Christ, were quickened (at a past point in time) together with Christ.  They were raised together with Him.  This is also the past tense.  When did this happen?  It happened when they were baptized into Christ.  (It is baptism in Holy Spirit that accomplishes this, not baptism in water, which is also necessary.  But this is a topic too large; it will have to wait for another time.)  Baptized into Christ they are no longer in Adam now.  They are in Christ; it is His resurrection life they are now partakers of.  Walking with Christ in resurrection life is the present reality of those in Christ (Rom. 6:4).  Further, they are even now seated together with Christ in the heavenlies.  This also took place in their baptism into Christ, since this is where He Himself is seated at the right hand of God.  Then comes the future, and what a future it is.  “…That in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”  It appears that it takes eternal life in the ages to come to explore this great salvation that is in Christ.

And so when Paul now pens everybody’s favourite verse, let us bear in mind what he has in mind—the immense dimensions of the salvation he has just been speaking of:

For, by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.
Not of works lest any man should boast.

This is Good News—the salvation that God has freely prepared in Christ for any who are willing to receive Him.  Salvation by grace through faith is the wondrous gift of God in Christ.  (For salvation is not a product we receive apart from Christ Himself.)  And yes, His grace means the forgiveness of sins because of His death.  But much more, grace also means salvation from sin’s power in the life of an entirely new creation Man who is no longer under the reign of death.  They have “passed from death to life” (Jn. 5:24).  They have eternal life—even now (1 Jn. 5:13).  In due time this eternal life will catch up to their bodies (Rom. 8:23), but even while yet in mortal flesh, those in Christ have eternal life, and even now reign in the power of that life (Rom. 5:17).

What Does This Look Like?

 If this is the present reality of those in Christ—being made alive together with Christ, being raised up with Him, being seated with Him in the heavenlies—what does this look like?  What does reigning in life look like while we are yet in mortal flesh?

It looks like love.  Love is the primal characteristic of those who live, those in whom death no longer reigns.

We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren.  He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.  Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him (1 Jn. 3:14,15).

Eternal life, then, reigning life, finds its expression in love.  In its many facets of patience, endurance, faith, forbearance, forgiveness, humility, obedience… love is revealed, reigning where sin and death once reigned, ruling where pride once ruled.  I think you may see where I’m coming from here, and where I’m going.  Remember (from last time) the route that Lucifer mapped out for himself?

I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God,
I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation in the sides of the north:
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will be like the Most High.  (Isa. 14:13,14)

Christ took a different route.  He thought it not rapine—a thing to be taken and held by force—to be equal with God (Phil. 2:5-8).  Rather, He emptied Himself, becoming in the likeness of men.  No, not famous men, not rich men, not high men.  He took on Him the form of a bondslave.  And being found in fashion as a man He humbled Himself even further, and became obedient unto death.  No, not a noble death, not a hero’s death.  The death of a despised criminal.  The lowest of the low.  The death of a cross.

That is a different pathway than the one Lucifer sought to take, and into which he invited Adam to turn and walk with him, to the ruin of the race.  Christ’s pathway was in the opposite direction—His motive was love—to the salvation of a new race.  Being found in fashion as a man, instead of seeking the heights, instead of seeking to ascend into heaven, instead of seeking to sit in a throne above the stars of God, instead of seeking to ascend above the heights of the clouds, Christ descended into the lower parts of the earth—which meant taking upon Himself the apron of a bondslave who washed the feet of others, always the duty of the lowest slave.  “I am among you,” He told His disciples, “as one who serves” (Lk. 22:27).  He called this service love (Jn. 13:1).

But then, His love going deeper, He went even further, and walked in obedience unto death, a death that was in His case unjust.  Yet this route took Him to the destination that Lucifer never arrived to by his own self-seeking route.

Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him… (Phil. 2:9).

His motive was love.  He is there for our sake, not His own, that in the power of His Spirit we may live as He lives, love as He loves—reign as He reigns, in our own cross, and in all circumstances, just as He reigned in His.  This, beloved, is the way of salvation—the way of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the way of the Cross—the way love.  He humbled Himself and become obedient unto death, even the death of a cross.  It was there on the Cross that He died to the root of pride in the heart of man.  His humiliation is our salvation.  Those who are seated together with Him in the heavenlies—it is His throne they are in, it is He who is exalted.  Gone now is any thought of exalting our own throne, gone is the Serpent’s poisonous thought of reigning above the stars; rather, we reign in the humility of Christ, knowing that the kings of God’s kingdom are servants of all, bondslaves who serve others in love, laying down their lives for one another in love.  As their Lord had done, so do they (Jn. 3:16, 1 Jn. 3:16).  This is their greatest honour.

It is the lowliness and love of God in Christ that overcame the pride of the Serpent that man was infected with in the beginning.  Instead of the poison of the Serpent coursing through us—pride, envy, malice, hatred—the love and humility of God now flows in and through those who are in Christ, motivating all they say and do.  That is salvation.

And what is the purpose of all this—this so great salvation?  It is to the intent that God may be glorified in a Man who is His very image and likeness.  God said in the beginning, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” and formed Adam of the dust of the ground.  The Serpent determined to efface that image, and did.  So entered the bad news.  But God foiled the Serpent in his purpose, for, even before the beginning God had the Good News in mind, and in the fullness of time, brought forth out of Adam another Man.  His eternal purpose was not in Adam, but “in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:11).  It is this Man who is the true image of God (2 Cor. 4:4, Heb. 1:3).  But when this Man came on the scene, Satan determined to efface Him as well.  He was foiled again.  This time utterly.  In the wisdom of God, the very cross upon which Satan conspired to have Christ crucified became our salvation.

And so it turns out that what we said about the Good News following the bad news—yes, that’s true, but God had the Good News in mind even before the bad news.  He could never have endured the bad news of what was going on in his creature man if He had not, before it all, prepared “a Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:18).  This was God’s comfort of hope in the bad news He knew was coming.  The Gospel.  The Glad Tidings.  The Good News.  The Lamb of God.  Our Lord Jesus Christ.

First The Bad News

You know how it is in our cynical world: someone tells you they’ve got good news for you… and bad news.  They give you the good news but you’re already steeled for the letdown.  “What’s the bad news?”  The bad news that follows always eclipses the good news.

It is not so with God.  With Him, the bad news is first.  Then the good news.

Here is the bad news as set forth by the apostle Paul.

And you… who were dead in trespasses and sins
Wherein in time past ye walked according to the age of this world, according to the prince of the authority of the air, the spirit that now worketh in [energizes] the children of the disobedience;
Among whom we all had our conduct in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath even as others” (Eph. 2:3).

This is the grave diagnosis of the human condition.  Let’s look at it a little closer.  “And you,” Paul says.  He is writing to people who were once in Adam, but are now in Christ (Eph. 1:1).  What then was their former state?  What is the state of all those in Adam?  He says they are “dead in trespasses and sins.”  They are “the children of disobedience.”  Actually in the Greek it’s “the  disobedience”—Adam’s disobedience, which opened the door for an alien spirit to begin working in him, and consequently, because he was the head of the race, in all his progeny.  Every person born into the human race is in a state of spiritual death because the Serpent succeeded in exporting his own sin into the world through the disobedience of Adam.  This is what Paul says in Romans 5.  “Wherefore as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed through unto all men, because all sinned…” (Rom. 5:12).  A few verses later Paul talks of death reigning (Rom. 5:14,17).  And so death is not just an event that terminates mortal life.  Death reigns over all those in Adam from the moment they are born to the end of their life.  Even while they go about their lives in this world, they are in a state of death.  They are, as we read here in Ephesians, “dead in trespasses and sins, wherein in times past ye walked…”  All those in Adam are, then, as all those in Christ once were, the walking dead.

That is their state.  And they are under a domain.  “…Wherein in times past ye walked, according to the age of this world…”  Being dead in trespasses and sins, their walk (their way of life) accords with this present age, which is an evil age—“this present evil age” (Gal. 1:4).  This age has a prince over it whose domain is “the air.”  Paul is not really talking about the physical atmosphere of our planet, but the “atmosphere” of this present world system in which people attempt to thrive even while dead in trespasses and sins, building their world even while denying they are in a state of rebellion against God.  It’s all largely the attempt to be independent of Him, free of Him.  It’s the greatest of bondage, they are far from free; they are under the rule and authority of another, they walk “according to the prince of the authority of the air…”  Who is this prince, who has authority over the air?  He is a spirit.  “…The spirit that now worketh in [or, energizes] the children of the disobedience.”  It’s Adam’s disobedience, as we said.  But going deeper, it’s the disobedience of this angelic prince who rebelled against God some time prior to the events of Genesis Chapter One.  We are told very little in our Bible about this rebellion, but we are shown its essence in Isaiah 14 where the prophet is given revelation as to what happened in the heart of a heavenly being once named Lucifer.

For thou hast said in thine heart,
I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God,
I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation in the sides of the north:
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will be like the Most High.

Note the refrain.  “I will.”  The insistence, “my throne.”   It was rebellion against the will of God, and the throne of God.  And back in the Garden of Eden this prince succeeded in bringing Adam into his rebellion.  The day that Adam bit into the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, it was disobedience to God, and he died for it.  Actually it was Adam who was bitten that day by the poisoned-tongued Serpent.  In that moment the venom of the Serpent began to course through his being, and he died.  Now all in Adam have in their systems this Serpent’s poison, this prince’s fundamental principle: not God, but I.  Not God’s throne.  My throne.  Not God’s will.  My will.  I will, I will, I will…  They are the disobedient children of Adam’s disobedience, dead in trespasses and sins.

“…Among whom we all had our conduct in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath even as others” (Eph. 2:3).

That is the bad news.  It is very bad news.  That is why our world is in the state it is in.  All those in Adam have been poisoned with the venom of the Serpent.  They are dead, and dying, because of it.  They are “alienated from the life of God” (Eph. 4:18).  And no man has in himself or in all his worldly resources any serum capable of remedying this condition.

“And you…”  It was with those two words that Paul began to relay the bad news.

“But God…”  With these two words he begins to proclaim the good news that follows the bad news.  That is God’s order.  First the bad news.  Then the good news.  His good news is the Gospel—the Glad Tidings, the Good News—of Jesus Christ.  It is very good news, unspeakably good news, utterly eclipsing the bad news.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Winnowing Eyes Of The Lord

I continue to have on my heart the Man with the winnowing fan in His hand, which we wrote about last time. John the Baptist prophesied:

I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you in Holy Spirit and fire,
Whose fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire (Mt. 3:11,12).

I like that– His wheat.  The threshing process can be very devastating, and in the midst of it we need to know we are His.  But this aspect of the Spirit baptism—the wind and the fire of the winnowing process—has been almost entirely forgotten in our day. And so there is a often a mixture of flesh and Spirit (sometimes a horrible mixture) among many of those who profess to be baptized in Holy Spirit. But God has not forgotten. He will yet thoroughly winnow His wheat till there is nothing left on the threshing floor but the pure kernels of wheat.

I am reminded of Solomon’s words:

A king that sitteth in the throne of judgment (justice) winnoweth away all evil with his eyes (Pr. 20:8).

That is a fearful prospect—a king with eyes like that. But this king is also our great High Priest, who walks in the midst of the golden lampstands with eyes as a flame of fire (Rev. 1:14).  His all-seeing eyes search out and winnow the very thoughts and intents of our hearts, and the fire consumes all that is evil and impure in His sight. His intent is to conform us fully to His own image and likeness, and thus make us together with Himself the very habitation of God.

This is what God is after, and He will not settle for less, as David discovered when he was inspired to write of the winnowing process as a great heart searching.

Oh LORD, Thou hast searched me and known me.
Thou knowest my downsitting, and my uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.
Thou winnowest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word in my tongue, but lo, O LORD, Thou knowest it altogether” (Ps. 139:1-4).

This is about the all-seeing eyes of God searching David and all his ways, knowing him through and through. Lord, he cried, you know my sitting down and my rising up. You winnow my path—my going out. You winnow my lying down. No matter what I’m doing, or not doing, I can’t escape You. I don’t even have my own private thinking place anymore. You make me aware You even know my thoughts! And every word I speak—You know it altogether. What is it you’re after, Lord? Do You really want that big a piece of me? My sitting down, my rising up, my going out, my coming in, my lying down, my thoughts, my words…

Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid Thine hand upon me.

David was overwhelmed with this knowledge, and the awareness of just how much God wanted to be involved in his life.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.
Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from Thy Presence?

Nowhere.

If I ascend up into Heaven, Thou art there. If I make my bed in Hell, behold, Thou art there.

That’s what David found. In those rapturous times when he felt like he was in Heaven, his God was there. But when he made his bed in Hell—he did that once—he found His loving God was there also, who in great mercy brought him up out of the pit again.

If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
Even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me.
If I say, surely darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.
Yea, the darkness hideth not from Thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to Thee.

All this is far more than a poetic flourish about the omniscience and omnipresence of God. This was something David was experiencing, a conscious awareness of God, and he cried out, “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from Thy Presence?” Were you trying to get rid of God, David? But no… you were becoming aware of the extent to which God wanted relationship with you, a God whose all-seeing eye you could not evade, a God of unrelenting love who would not leave you to yourself no matter where you went or what you did, a God of love who would not let you go, because He wanted you—yes, you—for His very habitation. Nothing less than that.

And so you surrendered to His desire, and consented to this devastating searching.

Search me, O LORD, and know my heart, try me and know my thoughts, and see if there be a wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Let us also, with trembling, give Him our consent. Lord, search me and know me, open your eyes upon me. Know my sitting down and my rising up so that your Presence is with me in all I say and do. Winnow my path so that I walk in You, in the Way everlasting, and not in my own ways. Winnow my lying down, purify my inactivity so that this too is fellowship with You. Know my heart, my thoughts, that I might be moved with what moves You, and think the very thoughts of God. Look upon me, Lord Jesus Christ, my great high priest and king! Oh how deeply I need this searching, this knowing, this winnowing of the all seeing-eye of God. Oh to see the Man with the winnowing fan in His hand, the Man with eyes as a flame of fire! Make me, make us, make your churches, Lord, to be the very habitation of God among men. Come into our midst in this hour and open Your eyes upon us! We invite You to do this, Lord! Look upon us! This is my prayer—that You would not be just above us, as the sister saw, but that You would come right down into our midst, and do that needed winnowing work in our lives and in our churches that can only be accomplished by the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit and fire.  Amen.

 

Whose Fan Is In His Hand

As this year comes to a close let me share what’s on my heart. In a recent gathering we had been praying for a deeper work of the Spirit in the churches in our area, and in our own midst—that God would do whatever He needs to do to bring into being churches that are according to the desire of His own heart, churches that make a serious impact on the world around us, which is growing darker by the day. After prayer there was a time of quietness. Then one of the sisters said that while we had been praying she had seen above us a man with a winnowing fan in his hand, and he was waving it back and forth.

John the Baptist’s prophecy came immediately to mind:

I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you in Holy Spirit and fire,
Whose fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire (Mt.    3:11,12).

This is a picture of the ancient threshing floor into which the stalks of wheat were gathered and then rolled over with a threshing cart or sledge to break up the stalks and break out the kernels from the stalks. Then the thresher tossed the broken stalks into the air with his winnowing fork or fan, and the kernels fell back to the ground and the wind blew the chaff to the outer edge of the threshing floor where it was burned. This process was continued till the threshing floor was completely clean; there was nothing left on the floor but the wheat, which was then gathered into the granary.

We discover in our Bible that threshing floors can be very devastating places—yet very wonderful places. It was in a threshing floor that Uzzah was smitten dead because he put out his hand to steady the ark. But this caused a great heart searching, the result of which was that David discovered God’s way to return the ark to Zion (1 Chr. 13:9-15:2).

It was in a threshing floor that David built an altar of burnt offering after he had seen the angel of the Lord ready to strike Jerusalem. This same threshing floor, because of the altar that David built, became the site of the new temple God had in mind (1 Chr. 21:18-22:1).

God in Isaiah called His people, “My threshing, and the corn of my floor…” (Isa. 21:10). He spoke this in view of the impending judgment of Babylon; that’s the context in this passage. God by His servant Isaiah had just pronounced the fall of Babylon. But what did this mean to God’s own? “Oh My threshing and the corn of my floor…” It might have looked like complete destruction, that threshing floor, but it only meant a purifying of His kernels of wheat. It’s a word that is prophetic of this hour, when, in a vast worldwide threshing floor, God purposes to liberate His own from Babylonian captivity, and release them from all that holds them to the earthly realm.

Daniel saw in vision a great image that was crushed to pieces and “became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors, and the wind carried them away” (Dan. 2:35). What could be more devastating? Powerful kings and their kingdoms just… blown away. But this happened because the great image had been smitten on its feet by a Stone cut out without hands, which then grew into a great mountain and filled the whole earth.

And so, when the inevitable shakings come, in the midst of the devastation—in the midst of winds and fires—God wants us to remember who we are (we are His precious wheat), and who it is that has the winnowing fan in His hand. It is our mighty Lord Jesus Christ, and His purpose in all the devastation is to bring to completion the desire of God’s heart. He is lovingly, faithfully, fulfilling the great purpose of God—that of baptizing a people into Christ, and purifying them from all that is extraneous to the desire of God’s heart.

 

Don’t Give Up On God

Last week I was in as deep a temptation to give up as I have been in my Christian walk of some forty years.  I desperately needed to hear from God about a certain matter.  Would it be this, or that?  I needed to make a decision.  Yet prayer was so difficult.  God was so silent.  It seemed I had no other choice but to give up on God.  I won’t go into detail, but let me tell you how it happened that I did not give up.

I went to a prayer meeting, and it hardly got going before one of the brothers spoke of George Mueller and his continual experience of answered prayer.  George Mueller proved, demonstrated, over and over again that God answers prayer.  Then a sister shared that the Lord had laid on her heart again the same two passages that have been given to us in our prayer gathering over several months.  They both involve prayer that does not take no for an answer.

One is the parable Jesus gave with the express purpose of teaching that “men [the word is gender inclusive] ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Lk. 18:1).  That is, not give up.  It’s the story of the widow who relentlessly pressed an unjust judge to avenge her of her adversary.  Although the judge gave God no place in his life, nor sought favour of man, he finally did for her what she wanted just to be rid of her.  Jesus then comes to His point.

And shall not God avenge His own elect which cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them?  I tell you that He will avenge them speedily.

He then adds this:

Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?

So He gave this parable specifically to encourage people to “not faint,” to not give up on God, but keep pressing Him with our prayers and believing He will yet answer in a day when God is silent and faith is severely challenged, tested, because of it.

The other parable is the story of a man with two friends—one in great need, the other with great provision.  The friend in great need has come to the man hungry in the middle of the night but the man has nothing to set before him.  So he goes to the friend with great provision and, standing outside the door, calls out and wakes him up and asks for what he needs—three loaves.  But calling to him from within, this friend puts him off, he is rebuffed—go away, we’re all in bed here, I can’t give you what you need.  But the man keeps after him till finally he gets what he wants.

Jesus then brings out that it is this importunity, not their friendship, that got the man the provision he needed.

And I say unto you, though he will not rise and give him because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth”       (Lk. 11:8).

Importunity—it means to ask or demand urgently, repeatedly, persistently, relentlessly, tenaciously.

Just prior to this parable the Lord has given his disciples what has been called the Lord’s prayer in response to their request that He teach them to pray.  Then with this parable He continues to teach them to pray—to be importunate in prayer.  Then after the parable He says this:

And I say unto you, ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you.  For everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

Ask just once?  Seek for a while?  Knock once or twice?  That’s not what the man with two friends did.  He kept on asking, seeking, knocking, till he was given his heart’s desire.  And that, actually, is the force of the Greek tense here—present continuous.

Keep on asking, and it shall be given you; keep on seeking, and ye shall find, keep on knocking, and it shall be opened unto you.  For everyone that keeps on asking receives, and he that keeps on seeking finds, and to him that keeps on knocking it shall be opened.

We need to know and believe that our God greatly desires to answer us and give us our longed-for requests, though it seem He is a reluctant God.  Not so.  We must never take unanswered prayer as God’s answer to prayer.  We must be persistent.  Importunate.  We may not understand why just yet, but this, it seems, is something very important to Him.

At the outset I called it a temptation that I was about ready to call it quits.  I chose that word specifically, because another of the brothers in our little prayer gathering brought out how the disciples slept through the greatest opportunity they’d ever had—that of praying with Jesus in Gethsemane in His hour of temptation to evade the cross.

What, could ye not watch with me one hour?  Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation… (Mt. 26:40).

It was when the brother brought this out that I suddenly recognized what I had been going through.  It wasn’t just my own thoughts, it was a temptation.  I have an Adversary who would love nothing more than to see me pack it in, and persistently advises me to do so.  I am so thankful that with the help of brothers and sisters I was able to disappoint him.  I was able to recognize the temptation for what it was, and not enter into it.  If the Lord Himself had been sitting in the prayer gathering in that living room He could not have spoken to me more clearly than He did through the brothers and sisters who were there.  I heard my Father Himself speaking to me.  Don’t give up.  I hear your prayers.  I’m going to answer them.

 

They Fought From Heaven

Not too long ago we shared a post about the recurring phrase in the heavenlies in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.  Paul taught that:

1) those in Christ have been blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ,

2) those in Christ are partakers of the same exceeding great power that God wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenlies far above all principality and authority,

3) those in Christ have been quickened (made alive) together with Him, and have been raised up together with Him, and are enthroned together with Him in the heavenlies far above all principality and authority,

4) it is by these (the church) that now the manifold wisdom of God is to be displayed to principalities and authorities in the heavenlies,

5) those in Christ, armed with spiritual armour, wrestle in the heavenlies against the wicked principalities and authorities that are the rulers of the darkness of this present age.

This realm of the heavenlies is the spiritual heritage of those in Christ. How did they get into this heavenly heritage?  We answered this question in the post just previous  to the one we mentioned above.  They were baptized into it.

It is by baptism into Christ (not by water baptism but by Spirit baptism), that we are enthroned together in the heavenly realm with Him who is the Captain of the hosts of the Lord.

The crossing of the river Jordan by Israel under the leadership of Joshua was prophetic of this baptism. Back then they were baptized into their earthly heritage and found themselves engaged in warfare against the inhabitants of that land.  Now, both Jews and Gentiles who are baptized into Christ by the Spirit baptism are called to a warfare against spiritual forces in a heavenly heritage.

The Bible called the inheritance of the Israelites the Rest (Dt. 12.9).  It was a land for which they did not have to labour.  There were cities built which they did not build, houses filled with good things which they did not fill, wells dug which they did not dig, olive yards and vineyards which they did not plant, and they ate the fruit of them.  (See Dt. 6.10,11, Josh. 24.13.)  It was a prepared place; they did not have to labour for this land.

But they did have to fight for it.

They had to fight for it—but not by their own strategy and strength. They were to diligently obey God, and mind His strategy.  All through the book of Joshua and on into the Judges we find that God always had a strategy by which His people triumphed over their adversaries.  It was often a very foolish strategy, and apparently very weak.  But when His people obeyed His strategy they inevitably triumphed.

Gideon and his little band of three hundred routed a host like a plague of locusts, like the sand of the sea for multitude.

Deborah and Barak with a small contingent from the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali put to flight a great army at Megiddo, where we are told that:

They fought from Heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera (Judges 5.20).

Who fought from Heaven? Barak’s forces, or the stars—the angelic host?  Or both?

Again, who fights the war in Heaven prophesied in The Revelation? Yes I know, Michael and his angels (Rev. 12.7).  But a few verses later we read—and this is certainly not speaking of angels, but of men who are in the pitch of battle in the heavenlies:

And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony, and they loved not their lives unto death (Rev. 12.11).

And so these overcomers, while yet on earth, are fighting in the heavenly realm along with Michael and his angels. And… is not this verse an echo from that prophetic song of Deborah and Barak?

Zebulun and Naphtali were a people who jeoparded their lives unto the death in the high places of the field… They fought from heaven… (Judges 5.18, 20).

Both of these passages, the one in Judges and the one in The Revelation, are prophetic of our day, a day when, like those of old, we are up against overwhelming things, forces that—Lord, open our eyes to see where the problem actually is—it’s in the heavenlies! Forces of darkness hold the heights!  In the heavenly realm!  And from that heavenly vantage point they rule with the power of darkness over the  hearts and minds of men.  And they are stronger than we; we are up against formidable spiritual forces.  And it is futile—I trust we have learned this—it is futile, it is the counsel of certain defeat, it is a foregone disaster, to try to fight these heavenly forces with earthly weapons and carnal strategies.   Surely we know this by now…

…And are assured of this also. War in heaven, fighting from the heavens, will defeat these forces, the rulers of the darkness of this age; it will completely rout them from their heavenly stronghold.   And the sons of light shall rule in their place; where once darkness ruled, light shall reign.  And we will hear that loud voice proclaiming in heaven:

Now is come the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ… (Rev. 12:10)

Wondrous hope for this world in great darkness.  Let us take up our spiritual armour, then, and take up our positions in the heavenlies, and be ready to hear and obey the strategies of Christ our Captain, weak and foolish though they seem to be.

Doing this we are certain to be the ones left standing on the heavenly field, the ones left in possession of our heavenly heritage, when the battle is over.

I Long For Beauty

This will be a bit of a confession. I recently listened to a renowned opera singer performing what I think must be one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written. It was beauty so exquisite that I was in tears.

This is not the first time I’ve had this experience—the beautiful music, and the tears. Apparently it’s a weakness I have. The tears, I mean. They well up out of my soul when I hear beautiful music.

I took violin lessons as a boy and—another confession—was never very good at it. But I loved the music, and always wished I could play the violin the way I knew it could be played. Those who have listened to great violin music played by a master know what I mean. Johann Sebastian Bach’s Chaconne from Partita No.2 in D Minor played by master violinist Jascha Heifetz, for example. Some consider the Chaconne Heifetz’ signature piece. “We call Bach the Bible,” Heifetz once said, adding, “As many years as I’ve played Bach I don’t think I know him. I’m discovering, and rediscovering, new things.”

(I don’t know if Heifetz said that because the Bible is like that—a book in which one continually discovers and rediscovers new things, the result of which is that after many years one finds oneself saying, “I am so glad I know Him,” but then after reading something else, or even that same passage another time, “I don’t think I know Him.”)

Bach, we are told, wrote his music to glorify God. You know that by listening to his Toccata and Fugue in D Minor played on a magnificent organ. There is a majesty, a grandeur, about this piece; I listen, and the chords start reverberating in my heart, and fill my heart with the fear of God. I cannot listened to this without being overcome with worship.

When this most recent experience was over and I was drying my eyes—it was Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Pie Jesu sung (sorry, it is far more than singing, but I can’t think of a better word) by Sissel Kyrkjebo—I realized something about myself that I don’t think I’ve always been able to articulate. Yes, I have always loved beautiful music. But this time I became aware that what’s in my heart is more than that. It’s more akin to an ache, a deep ache for beauty, that apparently over the years has grown in my heart because of all the ugliness in this world. There is a lot of ugliness in the family of man, the result of the grievous disconnect between man and his Creator because of the entrance of sin into the world.

Yet how is it? Fallen man is capable of beauty. I could name the names of many of the great ones in art, music and literature. Where did this beauty come from? It comes from God. All beauty comes from God. Even though man is in a fallen state, vestiges of the original beauty that God bestowed upon Adam are still there.

We see it in the arts. Much beauty. It is seldom returned to Him, that is, given back to Him, although there are some who have returned His beauty to Him, giving Him glory for it. I am thankful that Bach wrote his music to glorify God.

But all too often, man makes himself famous for that beauty or talent instead of God. He keeps it for himself. He uses the beauty God has given him to glorify himself instead of God.

We know where this comes from as well. We gather from our Bible that a being called Lucifer had originally been created in unmatchable beauty. God’s whole purpose in creating him so beautiful was to the intent that he return glory to God for his beauty, and thus bring praise and glory to God. But the time came when Lucifer the light bearer (for so is the meaning of his name) decided to keep that glory for himself. He wanted to be praised himself.

Thus into our universe entered… ugliness.

The beauty of the Lord

The prophet Isaiah acknowledged that there is beauty in man, but added that it is like the flower of the grass—here today and gone the next. We hear words like “the immortal Shakespeare.” Yes, much of what Shakespeare wrote is beautiful, and has endured long. But it’s the flower of the grass. It’s the flower of the grass, which, though beautiful, is but for a moment. There is coming a day when Shakespeare will no more be remembered.

I have come to realize something about this desire in my heart for beauty. This is not something that just grew of its own accord. This came from God. Will He not, then, satisfy this desire? Yes He will, and beyond my greatest expectations. In this ugly world of ours I am going to see beauty (I already see glimpses of it) beyond anything I am yet capable of comprehending—the beauty of the Lord. The psalmist David prophesied of this when he wrote of his one desire—to dwell in the house of the Lord all his days so he could behold the beauty of the Lord.

Think of that, beloved. Where did David anticipate seeing the beauty of the Lord?

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 [that is, forever];
To behold the beauty of the LORD,
And to enquire in His temple (Ps. 27.4).

The beauty of the LORD… in His temple? And so, what am I pursuing in my earthly life—or even in my Christian walk? Anything less?

Let it all go the way of the grass.

For, our Bible tells us of Zion—that is, the new creation Zion—which is “the perfection of beauty,” and “the joy of the whole earth.”

Out of Zion the perfection of beauty God hath shined… (Ps. 50:2).

Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth is Mount Zion on the sides of the north, the city of the great king (Ps. 48: 2).

Who hath shined out of Zion?

The joy of the whole earth?

Beloved, I do not hear in this hour all the earth shouting for joy because of the beauty of the church, the city of God, the bride of Christ. In fact,

All that pass by clap their hands at thee [in mocking scorn]; they hiss and wag their head at the daughter of Jerusalem, saying,
Is this the city that men have called the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth? (Lamentations 2:15).

There is a lot of ugliness in our world. And, I am grieved to have to say, there is a lot of ugliness in our churches as well. But the scripture cannot be broken. All that God has promised will yet come to pass. And when we see the beauty of the Lord revealed, unveiled, in Zion—in the temple of God, the church of the living God, the Bride of Christ, the City of God, the new Jerusalem, Mount Zion—all the beauty and glory of man from the beginning of the world will disintegrate to dust and be forever blown away.

Some will shout for joy to see this beauty. Some will weep uncontrollably.

I know which of those two groups I am in.

The Church of the redeemed is the crowning work of the great Artist and Architect and Sculptor Himself. “For we are His workmanship—His poema, the Greek says: His masterpiece, His ultimate work of art—created in Christ Jesus…” When it is fully unveiled—and the Artist finally draws back the veil that has hidden his life’s work—the beauty of the Lord in His new creation Temple will so surpass all the glory of man, so far outshine all the beauty that has ever been seen in man, will so completely eclipse it all… that man’s most beautiful music, poetry, art, sculpture, architecture, achievement… will no more be remembered.

None of the former things will be remembered. For this is what the Temple of the Lord is all about—the full unveiling of the new creation beauty of the eternal Lord God Himself.

Where? Where is this beauty to be seen?

Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

Dwells in whom? In creatures who were once ugliness, but have been redeemed and transformed by the God of Calvary’s love into the beauty of the Lord by the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin, the ugliness, of the world.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QgIg-CG3qSg