Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 4/6/03
"My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you" (Gal. 4:19, NIV).
I said to the Lord, "I'm a little tired of Second Hand Religion," but methinks that's the very point He wants me to share, that second hand religion is wearying to the soul. So we press on with this topic, into the sixteenth chapter of John's Gospel, where we read Christ's comments to His disciples as the hour swiftly approaches for His death. "All this I have told you so that you will not go astray. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me" (Vs. 1-3, NIV). I had begun this series on Second Hand Religion before receiving a copy of the Recovery New Testament, with study notes by Witness Lee, but what he says about this passage affirms what I have been getting from the Spirit: "In this Gospel, religion is revealed as the enemy of life. In the Gospels, Judaism opposed and persecuted the Lord Jesus. In the Acts it continued by opposing and persecuting the apostles and the disciples (Acts 4:1-3; 5:17-18,40; 6:11-14; 7:57-59; 26:9-12). .....All organized religions, of whatever kind, persecute those who seek the Lord in life. All those religions consider their persecuting of the Lord's seekers a service offered to God." End Quote.
Clearly, Brother Lee saw the difference between Religion, an organization built by men, and Life in the Spirit, an organism breathed into existence by God, and yet, the first hand testimony of some who followed him for a while, indicate to me that there was quite a gap between what he saw and what actually played out among those who sat under his teaching. The farther you get from the source of life, the more diluted and sterile the message becomes.
Lenny and I had a rich time of fellowship with Harry Fox by phone this week. I was voicing my concerns over the seeming incompatibility between the unconditional Gospel of the kingdom preached by Peter and Paul, and the many conditional restraints spelled out in other places which have bound God's children hand and foot and kept them from knowing Him in His fulness. It has seemed to me for a long time now, that the church today, is conditional, available only to those who profess Christ. Harry confirmed that the conditional will be swallowed up by the unconditional, which I believe, is represented by the kingdom of heaven. The church spoken of by the Apostle Paul in Eph. 3, the vessel through which "the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places" (Eph. 3:10), does not exist today in visible form on planet earth today. And yet, it certainly does exist in Spirit and we, the elect, are members of it. Paul affirms that this church exists "according to the eternal purpose which He has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Vs. 11). Both the church and the kingdom fulfill the eternal purpose of God, but they function differently. The church is the body of Christ, made up of those whom the Father has called, the remnant, the elect (Rom. 12:5; I Cor. 12:12). The kingdom will ultimately encompass everyone who ever lived on earth, with God as its King (Ps. 102:15; 138:4; Rev. 1:5; 12:10), ruling over all nations (Ps. 67:2; 72:11; 113:4; Isa 66.18; Jer. 3:17; Hab. 2:5; Mal 3:12; Rev. 15:4). If these scriptures don't make you jump for joy, you need to check your pulse.
Harry, who is a trained theologian, and well versed in church history, told us that when the church was birthed in the fire and might of the Holy Spirit, it was comparable to the kingdom of God, but after the first century, the church was overtaken by bureaucracy and men's political agendas, so that any resemblance between what was birthed on the Day of Pentecost and what now exists today has faded away. That helped me sort through my own musings about this topic.
The kingdom of God exists everywhere "the Lord our God the Almighty reigns," and that's as inclusive as you can get (Rev. 19:6; Isa. 52:7). The church, however, is made up only of those who profess Christ. Based upon that criteria, then, I conclude that the professing church has had little impact upon the people of Iraq, many of whom are dying in this present war. The visible church has failed to take the gospel into all the world. Why? Because, as a result of men getting their hands on the divine, and in effect, putting God in a box they felt they could control, they have made the good news conditional upon performance.
On the Day of Pentecost, when the believers were baptized with the Holy Spirit and with FIRE, they began to speak in other tongues so that each one present in Jerusalem at the Feast of Pentecost, heard them speak in his or her own language. Some supposed the disciples were drunk, but Peter, empowered by the Spirit said, "No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: "'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on ALL people" (Acts 2:16-17, NIV).
Like white hot magma flowing down the sides of a volcano, Peter's Spirit infused words ignited every heart present, convicting them of sin, as Jesus had told them He would do (John 16:8), with the result that "they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37). This is a fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy, "If I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto me" (John 12:32). In our relationship with Him, God is ALWAYS the initiator of the action, and man merely responds to the God given call. When God promised Abraham that in his seed (Christ) would all nations be blessed (Gal. 3:8, 16), the fulfillment of that promise rested on God, not Abraham, and yet, as a result of having been touched in his heart by the hand of the living God, Abraham took all the men in his household and circumcised them as God had instructed him to do. The birth of Isaac was the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham, but even before it happened, circumcision was Abraham's response by faith in the promise and calling of God (Gen. 17:19-27).
Likewise, when Peter told those present on the Day of Pentecost that God would pour out His Spirit on all flesh, they asked what their response to God's call should be. He answered, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him" (Acts 2:38,39, RSV). Notice that the promise is to "every one whom the Lord our God calls to him," showing again, that the direction of the flow is invariably from God to man, not the other way round. Likewise, Luke tells us how it is that men are saved: "And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47, RSV). Many churches believe that it is baptism which saves us, or repentance, or something else men must do, but in fact, scripture reveals that it is the drawing action of God upon men's hearts which prompts them to ask, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" God alone gets the glory for our salvation (Ps. 25:5; 51:14; Isa. 12:2; 17:10; Rev. 7:10; 12:10; 19:1), for truly, "all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God" (Isa 52:10); "and all flesh shall see the salvation of God" (Luke 3:6).
As we noted last week, God always operates through a remnant, the elect (Rom. 11:7), with the end result that all nations will receive the blessings in Christ, who is Abraham's seed (Gal. 3:16). The kingdom of Israel, was the prototype of the kingdom of heaven, but when men put their hands on it, like the church, it became corrupted. God was to have been their king, but instead, they approached the Lord's prophet Samuel, to appoint for them an earthly king. He expressed his displeasure about it to the Lord, who told him, "Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do" (I Sam. 8:7-9, NIV).
Accordingly, Samuel did as God had said and warned them what it would cost them to have an earthly king who would commandeer their sons to fight his battles, their daughters to bake his bread, and the best of their vineyards to give to his servants, concluding, "And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day. But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; and they said, "No! but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles" (Vs. 18-20). Likewise, the church rejected Christ as its head and appointed a Pope or head Bishop to rule over it, sealing its earthly fate, even as Israel sealed hers by appointing a man as king.
Like the nation of Israel, the extant (visible) church has rejected God's authority and leading, opting instead, for the doctrines of men. When churches are organized and governed like the corporations and businesses of the world, they usually lack vitality, which cannot flourish within their guide lines and structure. One of our readers sent us a pithy comment, "God so loved the world that He did not send a committee." Is structure bad then? By no means, because if all you have is vitality, it soon dissipates without having much lasting impact.
Harry Fox's metaphor of the internal combustion engine beautifully illustrates this. The engine itself is made of metal, all structure, but if it had no gasoline (vitality), it could not move the car even one foot. Churches which have only vitality, or organization alone, never seem to make much of an impact on the community around them. It takes both, vitality within structure, to move mountains and change the face of the world around us.
In the church today, we usually see one or the other, but not both, as man directs the ebb and flow of church life. In the kingdom, however, God sits on the throne, and rules over every one and every thing in His creation. It is in the kingdom of heaven, then, where salvation may be found by the people of Iraq and all those in the Arab world who do not know Christ, and do not want to know Him in this life. There but for the grace of God, go we all. Since I was about 12 years old, and suffered under the teaching that everyone who does not profess Christ will burn in hell, I wondered how it could be that I was born into a God fearing, bible believing family, but according to the church's teachings, other people who never heard of Him, or ever could, would burn in hell? What if I had been born in Africa or Iraq? I worried. Is salvation merely the luck of the draw about where you were born? I wondered. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will amplify the acts of Christian kindness which our military men are bestowing upon the individual Iraqi people they encounter, so they far out weigh the cruelties of war depicted on all the broadcasting networks.
Jesus said to His disciples, that people will think they are doing a service to God when they persecute His followers. This is certainly true among the Muslim fanatics, who believe they are pleasing Allah when they kill the Infidels (all followers of Christ). Our prayer is that the Spirit of Truth, which Jesus promised would come to us (John 16:13), will flood their hearts and minds with light and God's unconditional love. They have been bereft of the glory of God, which makes their hearts bitter, even as the first century Jews' hearts were so bitter and full of resentment and jealousy that they wanted to kill Christ.
About that swiftly approaching time of sorrow, He said, "I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name" (John 16:20-23, NIV).
Paul wrote the Galatians that he was travailing, as in childbirth, until the Christ be formed within them. What I see everywhere in His followers today, are labor pains, hard contractions that indicate the moment of birth is at hand. As we wait for the Christ to be formed within the hearts of all men, we cry out in pain and agony for the kingdom to be manifested in honor, glory, and flesh on planet Earth.
Isaiah wrote about this experience, and by the Spirit, prophesied its glorious ending: "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. "Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities" (Isa. 54:1-3, NIV). The kingdom of heaven is being enlarged; its tent curtains are wide open, and the remnant whom God has called will bring His kingdom peace to the nations and joy to the whole earth. Selah!
Father, open our eyes to see You as You are, high and lifted up, King over Your entire creation! Where ever there is destruction and death, transform us to be instruments of Your creation and peace. May the words of Isaiah, be true of every beleaguered citizen in every tarnished city on earth: "O afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will build you with stones of turquoise, your foundations with sapphires. I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of sparkling jewels, and all your walls of precious stones. All your sons will be taught by the LORD, and great will be your children's peace. In righteousness you will be established: Tyranny will be far from you; you will have nothing to fear. Terror will be far removed; it will not come near you" (Isa. 54:11-14, NIV). In the name above all names, we ask it. Amen. Jan Antonsson To Be continued.
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850
"Second Hand Religion, Part I"
"Second Hand Religion, Part II"
"Statement of Faith, Second Hand Religion, Part III"
"Risen from the dead, Second Hand Religion, Part IV"
"Anointing the Lord, Second Hand Religion, Part V"
"All things under His power, Second Hand Religion, Part VI"
"The Kingdom Option, Second Hand Religion, VII"
"My Father's House, Second Hand Religion, VIII"
"Connected to the Vine, Second Hand Religion, IX"
Chosen by God, Second Hand Religion, X"
"Coming Home, Second Hand Religion, XII"
"A New Beginning, Second Hand Religion, XIII"
"Declaring the end from the beginning, Second Hand Religion, XIV"
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 4/2/03,
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/22/08.