Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 7/27/03.
"For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36, RSV).
I want to begin where we left off last week, with the glorious concept that God is both the transmitter (giver) and the receiver of everything, in Christ. Out of Himself, God created all things, which then go through Him on their journey back to Him. We give all praise and honor to our Father who is the "one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and IN all" (Eph, 4:6, RSV). This cycle of giving and receiving is the unbroken circle. My thanks to Bettie Cope who first introduced me to the idea that without a receiver, no transmitter can function, and to John Gavazzoni, who wrapped it up in one sentence, "So God and man met in Christ, the gift was given and received."
In last week's lesson, we looked at this statement by Paul as the basis for our hope of what God has done, is doing, and will do in our flesh: "Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven" (I Cor. 15:49, RSV). This speaks to the fact that even as we had nothing to do with bearing the image of the man of dust, likewise, we have nothing to do with bearing the image of the man of heaven. Both men are God's gifts to us (Rom. 11:32). I said, "The man of heaven has a glorified body on earth (the church), and we shall each have nothing less than that." As I wrote that, the Lord drew aside the veil and I saw the church, the real one, not the one on Main St., USA, but the ecclesia, and I got excited about church for the first time in 50 years!
I've taken quite a journey in my life regarding my conflicted relationship with and understanding of the church. I started my Christian life believing that being a member of the church put me in good standing with God, and if I did everything they instructed me to do, I would eventually make my way to heaven. Later on, when the first blush was off the rose, and I suffered the pain and rejection from church members who did not understand the new light God was giving me, I felt hurt and anger that this institution which purported to be God's house and Christ's body could treat me so shabbily. How dare they set themselves up as the be all and the end all of correct doctrine, when they clearly didn't comprehend Christ's most basic teaching, which is love? I'm so thankful that God provided me with patient and loving Christian friends who allowed me to say what I felt without being shunned, scolded, or stoned. I more or less got tossed out of the Fundamentalist camp when I told them the Holy Spirit was alive and well and in action in our lives today. I left the Charismatic assembly I was attending before they could throw me out, the next step, no doubt, because they declared that anyone who stayed with them must sign a statement of belief which included hell fire and everlasting punishment. God had delivered me from this toxic, blasphemous doctrine and I ran from those who said I must confess belief in it in order to belong.
I went totally away from organized religion, and the church world, for many years. During that time, God provided me with a new best friend, Lenny, and supportive friends with whom to fellowship, a safe place to explore my walk through the kingdom of heaven. I never backed away from God, for as Peter said, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68), but I despaired of ever finding a church group that would love me the way I am.
Time rocked along and God brought us here to Missouri, where He sent Lenny to the Baptist men's class and me to Medicalodge (mostly Baptist, it appears). You know this part of the story. We do what God tells us to do, go where He leads us, and say what He gives us to say, depending totally on Him for direction. It has been a painful and glorious experience of giving Him my fears of rejection and reprisal, and seeing the desert bloom like a rose in me and in our ministry.
Over the years, as He pulled back the veil, it came into focus that what I had experienced was not really the church in action, but merely religion. I understood then, that He has predestined, called, justified and glorified His sons, all over the planet. Harry Fox told me 30 years ago now that "The elect are everywhere, in the pews and out of the pews," and the Lord showed me the truth of that statement. God has His chosen ones in place, unseen by the world, and sometimes by fellow church members, if they attend a church at all. Mainly, He has tucked them away, hidden them from view so that He can work in their lives, feed them, discipline them, and groom them for the task ahead.
When I realized the truth about giving and receiving, that God IS the Giver and He IS the Receiver as well, I saw by the Spirit that His circle is unbroken. In the body of Christ, the switch for His power and grace is always "ON," as Lenny would put it, but not in every member at the same time. I thought about the healing I had in Dec., 2000, when God said, "I am your flu shot," and realized that when I heard His voice, the power switch was "on" in me. Other times, it appears to be "off," which always gets me jumping up and down to find out why. And yes, of course, I know that these things have primarily to do with His will and His timing for the person, but God never rebukes me for asking "Why?"
I know that His arm is not shortened, nor His power abated. He still heals the sick, raises the dead, restores sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, and sets the captives free. And yes, that's a biggy right there, setting the captives free, but He reveals His power in places other than our back yard. When you consider that God's elect Sons are all over the planet, some in primitive areas, third world countries where they don't get media attention (not that the media is ever very attentive to the workings of God), you understand the vast size of the body of Christ. It has to be big. It holds the fulness of God! When anyone spoke of "their church," my mind would go into melt down, because I knew that the church they attend is not the church Paul described. What they usually mean is that they went to a building, and had a meeting with some other nice people who believe the same way they do, and they all heard a preacher tell them what they already believed.
One of our friends wrote last week to rejoice that she is finally seeing the Lord's hand in the little things in her life. She concluded that previously, she never thought she would see the Lord unless she was around her "churchy friends," but what she discovered when she was with them is that they mostly lament about how awful Satan is, how bad their own sins are, and what they can do to improve themselves. That is NOT the church in action. It is religion at work.
Worse, most Christians are not aware of what part of the body they are. Whole church organizations are built around a single function of the body. Thus, you have some churches preaching a social gospel and other ones emphasizing the gifts of the Spirit and still others sending missionaries to declare their version of the Good News to people all over the globe. Necessary as these pursuits are, they do not make up the entire function of the body of Christ, any more than the activities of the hand or the foot or the eye make up the totality of our physical body. I saw that all the functions of our physical body are not "on" all the time. The brain and the circulatory and respiratory systems are always "on," but not every cell is active all the time. Likewise, not every cell in Christ's body is "on" every moment in time.
The organized church has failed so many times in so many ways, that there is little resemblance to the glorious ORGANISM Paul described in Ephesians: "His (God's) intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence" (Eph. 3:10-12, NIV). About this church, he said, "and he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all" (Eph. 1:22,23, RSV).
Don't you think that if the fulness of Him who fills all in all were actually present in our church buildings/meetings, you couldn't keep people away? No building would be big enough to hold the crowds which would gather. If the local church cannot make known the manifold wisdom of God to their own members, how then, could they possibly reveal it to "the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms?" Impossible. I will confess to you, dear readers, that for years, looking at "the organization" with my natural eyes, I threw up my hands, and walked (sometimes ran) away in disgust. God has forgiven me, and I forgive myself, for none of us can see more than He allows us to see at any given time.
For a moment last week, the Light was as bright as a super nova; I "saw" the ecclesia, the called out ones, like beacons of light all over the planet. Someone had e-mailed us a satellite picture of earth taken at night, showing the lights shining in the darkness. There would be vast stretches of pitch blackness, interrupted here and there with pin points of light. On the coasts and major cities of the world, there were countless lights shining together, making a dramatic impact on the darkened planet (See link at end to view satellite picture). This is a perfect metaphor for the ecclesia. We are the light of the world, Jesus said, a City set on a hill (Matt. 5:14). Right now, God must open our spiritual eyes to see the church, the called out ones, but the time is coming when the glory of God will be revealed and ALL FLESH will see it together (Isa. 40:5).
Notice Paul's progression of the timing of this: "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will, to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves" (Eph. 1:4-6, NIV). Before time began, before we did anything about which we could boast or be ashamed, He chose us as His Sons. Then in Christ, He gave us "redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding" (Vs 7-8). On top of that, "...He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment, to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ" (Vs. 9-10).
Lenny and I were both up at 4:00 am one morning last week, and as I had been thinking about a verse that I wanted to use, I got the bible out and began to read to him, which he enjoyed since his sight is now so bad that reading is almost impossible for him. When I got to the part about God's will being "put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment," I said, "Glory! I should read the bible more often. This is the answer to those who say it's all done now." He chuckled.
Paul includes this glorious thought: "In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory" (Vs. 10-11). If God works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, then we need not worry about the condition of the extant (visible) church on planet earth today. It is exactly where God planned for it to be, and remembering the passage from last week about Christ presenting the church TO HIMSELF without spot or wrinkle or any such thing (Eph. 5:27), we begin to see the grandeur of God's plan. Had He left even the tiniest thing for us to do to transform ourselves into being the "praise of His glory," we would be without hope in this world. As it is, God is "the One who works out all his purposes according to the design of his own will" (Eph 1:11, Phillips). Our Father has everything under control and just the way it is supposed to be.
We read in Colossians that Christ "is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation" (Col. 1:15, NIV). It always thrills me that Paul includes all creation here, not just people. He goes on to explain that: "For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (Vs 16-17).
And it gets better: "And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross" (Vs. 18-20). You may have noticed in your own personal experience, that wherever your head goes, the rest of your body tags along? The same is true for the church. Wherever the head goes, the body has to follow.
Why is this not true NOW in our experience? It IS true NOW, but our minds need to be transformed for we were enemies in our minds, Paul said (Col. 1:21-22). God has NEVER been separated from US, but WE were alienated or separated from Him in our minds. Thus we need to "... be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Rom. 12:2, RSV). When the mind of Christ is fully functioning in us (I Cor. 2:16; Phil. 2:5), we will clearly see God's unbroken circle of giving and receiving. Jesus said of Himself "All things have been delivered to me by my Father" (Matt. 11:27). The inescapable conclusion then is that since everything the Father has is given to Christ, and He lives in us (Gal. 2:20; Col. 1:27), therefore, everything the Father has is ours IN Christ! Hallelujah!
Father, we thank You that every good and perfect gift comes from You, through You and to You, in Christ. Open the eyes of our understanding that we may see Your plan of the ages, the mystery hidden from the foundation of the world, revealed in Christ. Show us with all Saints the length and breadth and height and width of the love of Christ, that we may be filled with all the fulness of God. Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
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"What have you that you did not receive?"
The Glory Road
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This page was uploaded to the web on 7/25/03
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and last edited on 10/27/08.