Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on July 4, 2004
"For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love" (Gal. 5:6, NIV).
When I was pondering the topic of this week's lesson, I heard, "The coin of the realm." Since we just came back from a vacation where we visited a number of cities and countries which were part of the Roman Empire, I immediately visualized a coin with the image of Caesar on it. Three of the four gospels give the account of the Pharisees trying to trap Jesus into civil disobedience by asking Him if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not. Always many steps ahead of them, Jesus asked them to show Him a coin and then asked whose likeness was on it. "They said, "Caesar's." Then he said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." (Mt. 22:21; Mk. 12:17; Lk. 20:25). Certainly, the coin of the realm in Roman times as well as now, seems to be money. Today's churches must rely on money, and in many cases, they operate much like a business corporation, using the exact same methods to recruit members and achieve success. The kingdom of God on earth, however, does not function by man's rules. Its coin of the realm is Faith!
It must be quite a shock for some of these brave ministers who are now embracing Reconciliation as the Good News it is, only to find out that a huge percentage of their flock flees from it as heresy. What's a Pastor to do if he has a huge church, with equally huge mortgage payments, utilities, salaries and benevolent works to accomplish when the source of money has dried up? Does he close his doors and find smaller accommodations, or step up the requests for money by any means he can find? I don't have the answer, but it's very plain that the kingdom does not operate the same way the visible church does. Lenny and I long ago came to the place of seeing that if the Lord wants something done, He will supply the funds. If He does not supply them, then He doesn't want us to do it. When we began the Glory Road Internet Ministry, we wanted to put a counter on the site, so we would know how many people visited it, we but couldn't get one that worked with AOL. When I asked the Lord about it, He said, "Write what I give you, publish it on the web, and I'll send the readers." He has done that for years now, and I have come to believe that He wants us to trust in Him, rather than in the numbers of people who may be reading the articles. This was King David's lesson as well (See II Sam. 24).
We state on our website that as we have freely received, we freely give what the Lord has given us as long as funds are available to do so. I have accumulated a long list of folks over the years who have asked to be put on our "snail mail" mailing list, but we have only had the money to mail to a very few. That doesn't distress either of us, for we know that God is our supply and when He's ready for us to do something, a) He will make it clear what we're to do, and b) He will provide the means to do so. Meanwhile, we are doing what He charged us with, publishing on the Internet and ministering at Medicalodge (local nursing home). He has provided whatever we need over and over again.
Since the beginning, He has provided for us in unexpected ways. When the transmission went out on the car, and we needed to drive to Kansas City to keep a Doctor's Appointment for Lenny, our Father provided the exact amount necessary to replace both transmission and muffler so the car would pass inspection. Some eighteen months ago, my printer was dying, and a sister in Christ who had no idea about this need, was led to send us a check for $250.00, for the ministry. I'm still enjoying the printer the money enabled us to buy. Other times, we have received money to replace a modem for the computer (without which we could not be on the Internet), and just when our computer was gasping its last, two supporters of the ministry gave us their iMAC, which tided us over nicely until recently, when my generous sister gave me a brand new Apple PowerBook (laptop computer), which I had wanted for a very long time. It's a marvelous machine and the iMAC is now blessing our grandchildren, who needed a computer for school but didn't have the money to buy one. God Himself is our supply: "And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19).
This is why we tell only Him what we need, for we have learned that He has many resources to meet any situation. We so appreciate those who have included us in their monthly tithes, because some are truly a "widow's mite," all the more precious to us because we realize the sacrifice. Still other folks, led by the Spirit, send us generous checks from the heart, and most of the time, these come in such a timely fashion that we are doubly blessed: first that the Lord heard our request, and secondly, that He put it on someone's heart to give to this ministry. We appreciate the emotional support as much as the money, and the folks who take time to tell us they were blessed, or that they felt led to share something we wrote with a friend who might need to see it. This is the kingdom at work. It's not by might and not by power, but "by my Spirit saith the Lord."
Some churches depend more on guilt and pledge drives than on the Holy Spirit, it seems to me. I had been going to the church here in Neosho where Lenny was sent, in order to be supportive, but about three years ago now, on Easter Sunday, they showed an emotional, gut-wrenching video of the crucifixion (it was a tea party compared to Mel Gibson's movie), and when it was over, they immediately passed the collection plate to the congregation, which had just contemplated the agony their sins had caused Christ. That washed all over me as exploitation and manipulation of our Savior's sacrifice, using it to increase the offering that day. I said, "Lord, if it's all the same to You, I won't be coming back here until You tell me to come." To me, they were prostituting the church's mission.
And yes, I can hear some saying, "But they use the money to do good works." That may be true, but the litmus test is always, "Who ordered the good works? The Holy Spirit? Or a committee." If the Holy Spirit ordered it, He will provide the means to accomplish it without resorting to exploitation and manipulation. Some churches today claim to be following a New Testament pattern of operation, but the New Testament means of raising money is given in Acts 4:34-35: "There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need." These early Christians had experienced a genuine New Birth. The old was passed away and the new had come for most of them.
There were con artists then as well as now. Ananias and his wife Sapphira conspired together to impress the apostles. They sold a piece of property, but secretly held back part of it for themselves, giving the rest to the apostles, as though they had given the whole sum. Confronting the husband about lying to the Holy Spirit, Peter asked: "Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God." When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened" (Vs. 4-5 of Acts 5:1-9). Three hours later, his wife showed up and told them the same lie. Peter told her what had happened to her husband and said she would be next. She also fell dead and the young men carried her out and buried her alongside her husband. I've often thought that if He operated that way today against those who cheat and steal in the name of the Lord, church membership would shrink even more than it has over the years.
Being in many of the same places where the apostles ministered gave me a new perspective on their lives and their calling from the Lord. Clearly, the coin of the realm of the kingdom of God is faith, completed by love. Paul was a man of great faith, not because of works for which he could boast (Eph. 2:8-9), but because as he put it in Gal. 2:21, it was the faith OF Christ, which operated in him. When we depend on our own faith, though some have been given a large measure, we're still building our house on sinking sand, as Peter's abortive attempt to walk on water proves. Let the waves get high enough and the wind fierce enough and we will sink if we do not have our hand in the hand of the Man from Galilee. That is a beautiful metaphor, but actually, what Paul says is that Christ, our only hope of glory, lives IN us, and we live in Christ.
This apostle was GIVEN the faith to obey the Lord Jesus, even though he well knew what it would cost him; he endured beatings, unjust imprisonment, persecution on land and sea by the Jews; hunger, cold, heartache and abandonment by his followers, riots and sleepless nights (2 Cor. 6:4-5). Through the power of the Christ, he healed the sick, raised the dead, imparted the Holy Spirit by laying on of hands, bore witness to the risen Christ before kings and emperors, before Jew and Greek alike. His confession of faith to the Corinthians was, "through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you" (2 Cor. 6:8-11). These passages remind me of something J Preston Eby wrote to the effect that salvation is free, but the kingdom will cost you everything you have. So true.
Paul was God's man of the hour for the church age, which followed the age of the Law and the Prophets. Jesus was full of grace and glory, and yet He was ministering to those still in the Law (before the cross). Jesus was a mystic, who spoke from the heart of God, but He didn't explain himself, and so many have turned what He said into Law. God raised up Paul, an apostle out of season, to delineate the gospel to the world. I was amused that Peter Jennings, in his special about Paul, said something to the effect that there must be something to his preaching, for his gospel turned the known world upside down. Indeed it did, for God sent this man to the Gentiles, to tell the world the rest of the story which began so long ago, in the Garden of Eden, somewhere in what is now Iraq.
Paul came to deliver the keys of the kingdom to open the door that man might enter into intimate fellowship with the Father once again. He was given revelation that the other apostles apparently did not have, and Peter said about him that he was "hard to understand" (2 Pet. 3:16). Paul's gospel is only difficult to understand if you are trying to figure it out with your natural mind, as many Christians seem to do. For those whom the Holy Spirit has opened their eyes and unstopped their ears, it is a joy to behold, an exposition of the sovereignty of God and His plan of salvation laid down before the foundation of the world. The mystery hidden from ages past is laid open for the world to see now. Those still trying to live by law will never get it, for Paul declares the grace of God to all men. Paul preached a God centered, rather than a works centered gospel.
I want to share something the Lord opened up to me this week. The Apostle Peter compares water baptism to the ark Noah built (1 Pet. 3:20-21). Some people use this verse to prove that baptism is what saves us, even as the ark saved Noah and his family. What I saw is that baptism and the ark were for the righteous. Ungodly sinners need not apply. One might suppose that obeying God qualified them as being righteous, or perhaps it is just God's reckoning them as righteous, but whatever it is, it is limited in its application. All but 8 souls perished in the great flood, but the good news here is that Peter says that "Christ also died for sins once for ALL, the righteous (only Christ is truly righteous), for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit" (I Pet. 3:18). In the very next verse, he says that Christ "went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah..." (Vs. 19). IF it is true that baptism saves us (Vs. 21), then it is equally true that only a limited number of people who have ever lived will have been baptized, and thus not many will belong to the church and be saved. I don't think this is what Peter meant for it would clearly mean that this great salvation would be only for the select: God sent His beloved son to save just a few, in other words. In fact, the Apostle John wrote, "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 Jn. 2:2).
It comes to me that only the baptized, the righteous (imputed because of obedience) will be members of the church, which has certainly been the case since the first century. It is only now, when the truth of God's reconciliation of all is beginning to be shouted from the house tops and declared from the pulpits of the land, that we see the Good News taught by Jesus and proclaimed by Paul: "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (Jn. 12:32), Christ said. Paul declared, "For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:21-22). The kingdom is bigger, wider, deeper, fuller, and more encompassing than the church, and all men will enter there, eventually. Jesus told the Pharisees (the righteous) that the prostitutes and tax-collectors (the sinners) will enter before them, but ALL will enter nonetheless.
Father, grant us to see You on the throne of Your kingdom, ruling and reigning in the affairs of men. Thank you for the Faith of Christ which is our inheritance, by which we live and move and have our being in You. Make us messengers of Your peace, grace, and unconditional love. 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 7/1/04
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/19//08.