Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO on 7/21/02
"Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes" (Isa 54:2, NIV).
It is very obvious from the struggles endured by His children today, that God is stretching us, enlarging the borders of our tents, our spiritual and emotional abiding place. He has called us out of religion, removed our trust in good works to save or improve ourselves, and He is teaching us all things by the indwelling Spirit (I John 2:27). On Monday night, I asked Him, "What is the topic for Sunday?" Every time I woke up in the night, my mind was busy with various possibilities, but when I woke up the next morning, the title, "Stretch Marks" came to me and I knew that was it. Next came the scripture, "Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide," and imagine my surprise and delight when I looked it up and saw that verse one of that passage, reads, "Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband," says the LORD" (Isa. 54:1, NIV). This was perfect confirmation of the title, the Lord gave me. (Stretch marks refer to the discoloration of the skin on a woman's belly caused by pregnancy). In Spirit, I believe, God wants us to know that He is the one stretching us, as the manchild (Christ) is formed within us (Gal. 4:19), and this process will leave stretch marks on our lives, visible evidence of His handiwork.
Isaiah 54 is a lovely chapter, full of tender compassion for God's children, who surely must have thought that He had deserted them totally. Listen to the rest of His promise to them: "For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities. "Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood. For your Maker is your husband, the LORD Almighty is his name, the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth" (Isa. 54:3-5, NIV). How sweet this must have sounded to the war torn and weary sons of Jacob, who had suffered one punishment after another for their sins and rebellion against God. Because they had endured so much, God said to them through Isaiah, "Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed," says the LORD, who has compassion on you" (Isa. 54:10, NIV).
Our God IS a refining fire (Heb. 12:29), who is in the business of purifying the Sons of Levi (Mal. 3:1-3), which we all are. The rebellious flesh wants nothing to do with life in the Spirit. The two are opposed to each other in every way, which is why soul and spirit must be divided asunder (Heb. 4:12). When we were young, we thought we could do anything, and often did, but as we aged, we finally understood the limits of flesh, self-will, ego and pride. God hastens this along because "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable" (I Cor. 15:50). No doubt, there is a sign on the Throne Room door which reads, "Check your ego, pride and carnal mind outside." The refiner's fire is not a pleasant process to endure, and it does leave stretch marks, but the end result will be nothing less than the manifestation of the Sons of God.
We get lots of e-mail prayer requests that rend our hearts, as one Saint after the other pours out his or her request for divine help in time of need. Some days, I just cannot read them, because I know that the supplicant is asking for relief, and I know, that often God does NOT give relief, but rather a larger portion of grace to endure to the end. I knew a woman once, who often said, "I know God won't give me more than I can endure, but sometimes I think He thinks I'm stronger than I really am." I would groan with her as she faced one trial after another, but the Holy Spirit has taught me that God does hold our hand through the struggles in our lives, and sometimes, as the old saying goes, there is only one set of footprints in the sand because He is carrying us.
Isaiah was such a wonderful oracle of God, and by the Spirit, he prophesied, "but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint" (Isaiah 40:31, RSV). There is a little chorus made from this verse, and the end of it is, "Help me Lord, O help me Lord, to wait." Waiting is the hardest job God ever gave us. Who likes to wait? Not me, and in fact, as usual, I understand that this writing is for me, because I am in the throes of a frustrating time right now. I know God sent it and that He will help me through it, but it's the waiting part in the middle which wrings me out, as my grandmother used to say.
Our dear friends Marvin and Bettie Cope were here last week for a visit, and Marvin sparked me with a writing he brought for me to publish on his website (coming soon). In it, he observes that God wrote the last part of the book first, quoting Isaiah's declaration: "I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please" (Isa. 46:10, NIV). Marvin has seen by the Spirit that the bible is just one story, the story of the prodigal son who returns home to God, and that God's statement in Genesis 1:26, that He made man in His own image and likeness, is the "end of the book," finalized in Revelation, chapters twenty one and twenty two. By then, the garden has become the City of God, the New Jerusalem, and Isaiah's prophecy has been fulfilled: "Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you" (Isaiah 60:1,2, RSV). His glory will be seen upon you and upon me. What a promise! Jesus said, "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid" (Matt. 5:14, RSV).
This is another reference to the New Jerusalem (Rev. 3:12:21:2), about which, Paul said, "But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother" (Gal. 4:26, RSV). We've talked a lot about freedom these past weeks, and in this passage, the apostle makes another comparison between the flesh and the Spirit: "Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written: "Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labor pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband." Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now" (Gal. 4:25-29, NIV). Notice, that in this passage, he quotes Isaiah's statement about the barren woman (Sarah) bringing forth more children than the one who has a husband (Hagar). Sarah's inability to conceive was considered a curse among people in that culture. Because she was barren, she and Abraham hatched up a plan whereby Abraham would take Hagar as his concubine and with her, he bore a son. Yet, God would have none of that. It is another example of self effort gone awry, and it is still going askew for the physical sons of Isaac, because the descendants of that union between Abraham and Hagar (Ishmael), are today's Arabs, most of whom would be delighted if the sons of Jacob were pushed into the sea and drowned.
Paul assures us that we Sons of God are also children of the promise, and we are persecuted by the flesh in the same way that Isaac's descendants are persecuted by Ishmael's. By faith, we are all sons of Abraham (Rom. 4:16; Gal. 3:7), heirs to the promise that in his seed (Christ) should all nations be blessed (Gen. 26:4; 28:14; Acts 3:25; Gal. 3:16). The promise is fulfilled by faith alone, with nothing depending on our actions. Like Isaac, we were birthed into the kingdom as a result of God's promise to Abraham (Gal 3:8), and we had nothing whatsoever to do with it. That this truth constipates the Evangelical branch of the body of Christ always amazes me. They are determined to hang onto their own efforts, declaring that THEY made a decision for Christ. What Jesus said about that was, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you" (John 15:16, RSV). His declaration makes it plain that everything began with God, who spoke the worlds into being, and who created us in His image and likeness by the power of the life-giving Spirit. Paul asks a compelling question about this, "Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?" (Galatians 3:5, RSV). There are still those who consider it our job to drum up the faith to accomplish whatever it is that needs to be done, but again, Paul makes it clear that faith ".... is not your own doing, it is the GIFT of God" (Eph. 2:8, RSV).
The imagery Isaiah used and Paul quoted about the barren woman giving birth is similar to that of planting a seed. In each case, the seed is planted either in the womb or in the earth, and by God's creation miracle, it is then formed into whatever image the seed contains. Paul said that Christ is the seed (Gal. 3:16), which is planted in us at the New Birth (Gal. 2:20). We are then regenerated according to the DNA, the specifications laid down by God in that seed. If you plant a seed of corn, you will not get a watermelon plant. If you plant wheat, you will not produce tomatoes. Likewise, when Christ is planted in us by the Unction of the Holy Spirit, the end result is Christ IN US, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27).
Our lives are the growing season, it seems to me. In the parable of the sower, Jesus talked about the sower who sowed his seed. Some fell on the path; some on rocky places; some fell among thorns; and others fell on good soil and produced a good crop (Matt. 13:16-17) This is a perfect description of our lives. Zealous preachers have lectured us endlessly about what kind of soil we need to be, but I see this differently. At various times of our lives, our "soil" has been thorny, rocky, or receptive to the word of God, which is Christ (John 1:14). It is the Son of Man who sows the seed (Matt 13:37), and the seed is the word of God, which is Christ (Luke 8:11). How much plainer could it be that this is a "God job" from start to finish? Jesus spoke to the people in parables, but He told the disciples, "... blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it" (Matt. 13:16-17, NIV).
God is opening the eyes and ears of people all over the planet in this hour to hear what the Spirit is saying to us. When the seed, is planted in our hearts "God gives the increase" (I Cor. 3:6-7). The care and harvest of the seed is up to God, as this parable illustrates: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the householder came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?' He said to them, 'An enemy has done this.' The servants said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them?' But he said, 'No; lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn'" (Matt. 13:24-30, NIV). I have heard preachers use this parable to scare people down front at the Altar call, but let him who has ears hear what the Spirit is saying.
A parable is not a literal fact, such as Jefferson City is the capital of Missouri. It is a metaphor, a story given to lead one to truth, and Jesus said plainly, that not everyone would understand it. Certainly, reading it with the religious mind and trying to make it literal is not the way to understand it. What I see here is that this parable, far from being scary, is very good news indeed. WE are the field in which both wheat and tares or weeds are sown. At the harvest, God will send his angels, his messengers to gather up the weeds and burn them in the fire. This is a word picture of our lives. The wrong turns, the bad decisions, the religious self efforts, all from the tree of the knowledge of good AND evil, will be burned up. The refining fire will consume our works, bad AND good and we may suffer loss, but we ourselves will be saved as by fire (I Cor. 3:13-15). God has taken care of absolutely everything to do with our salvation, our purification, our justification and our holiness. The Seed, which He planted in our hearts, will produce Christ, who is being formed within us even now. When God has finished watering, fertilizing, pruning, trimming, and weeding, the finished product will be nothing less than a Son of the Most High. Though it doesn't feel like that when it is happening, and the process does leave stretch marks, this is the end of the story which began in the Garden. He created us in His image and likeness; weeds or tares were planted by the enemy, under God's direction (Eph. 1:11), and at the harvest, God will remove all the damage the cankerworm and locust have done (Joel 2:25). Then, the sons of Levi will be gleaming in splendor, and magnificent purity. Are you feeling abandoned by God? If so, He is saying to you, "For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you," says the LORD your Redeemer" (Isa. 54:7-8).
Paul compared himself to a mother giving birth, as he groaned, "My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you!" (Gal. 4:19, RSV). Like the Virgin Mary, we were impregnated by the Spirit of the living God, the same power which moved over the face of the deep and said, "Let there be light" (Gen. 1:3). Light is being formed in our deep and when God is through with us, we will arise and shine and the kings of the earth will come to the brightness of our rising (Isa 60:1,3). Lord, open our hearts to the light within us which is YOU. Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 7/19/02
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/29/08.