Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, in Neosho, MO, on 12/12/04
"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father" (John 1:14).
These ancient words come to life this time of year with countless Christmas plays, manger scene reenactments, cards sent, carols sung, and bible readings of Luke, chapter two. Perhaps it's true what some pastors say, that they'd best have a good Christmas service, because they only see some of their flock then and at Easter, but for the most part, most Christians do understand what a significant event the birth of Christ really is. I use present tense here because His birth is recreated each time someone turns to Him. To me, the manger is a metaphor for the unredeemed human heart: an unsanitary place, lowly, not visited by the rich and famous, but still a necessary part of living. Each time Christ is born again into that unwashed location, God plants the seed of a new creation, bringing the person back into relationship with the Father. It's a crucial time of nurturing and nourishing for the new Christian, and for those who care for him. Jesus warned, "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea" (Mk. 9:42). I do not believe His remarks are limited to children in the flesh, but refer also to children in the Spirit.
As some of you recall, Lenny was sent here to Neosho, MO, to be a light and blessing to the adult men of a local Baptist Church. After about 6 years of being with them, the Lord told him not return to the class until he "returned in power." Like the shepherds of old, we have wondered what this word might mean for us. We recently returned to Neosho from a glorious 3 months in California with our daughter and her family as well as other beloved friends. While we were still in California, the Holy Spirit began to pour out on Lenny a deeper message for these men than He had given before. Lenny walks outside and talks to the Lord, because walking helps to relieve the pain and stiffness of his aching arthritic joints, and it has become a special time with God as well. Recently, he came in radiant from the presence of the Lord. As is usual with him, he had difficulty putting into words what he had heard, seen, felt, tasted, and experienced. Very meaningful to me is his recollection of the Lord saying, "I am the Word, and I came in the flesh to translate the spiritual to the flesh."
Long ago and far away, I was a language major in college, where I received a new appreciation of how difficult it really is to translate one language into another. I am amused by various computer programs which purport to do that mechanically, because if it were that easy, no one would need to study another language, he could just buy a computer to do it for him. I read John 1:14, in 6 different translations, and while the meaning was mostly the same, the words were often different. Here are two examples: 1) "And the Word became flesh, and did tabernacle among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of an only begotten of a father, full of grace and truth" (Young). 2) "And, the Word, became, flesh, and pitched his tent among us, and we gazed upon his glory, a glory, as an Only-begotten from his Father. Full of favour and truth" (Rothchild).
Christ came to translate the divine to flesh! Because I am a verbal, word person, Lenny struggles to put into words what he gets in Spirit for me, but he always ends up saying, "I'm just an idiot savaant." For those unfamiliar with the term "idiot savaant" refers to those who are severely mentally challenged. Some can't add two plus two, can't care for themselves, but in one aspect of their life, they are brilliant. One man is blind and can barely speak, but after only one hearing, can play and sing any piece of music, from Beethoven to the Beetles. Another man cannot do the simplest tasks, but sculpts animals so beautifully, they are sold to pay for his care. We first heard about these people on "60 Minutes," and since then, Lenny says that when it comes to the Spirit, he is an idiot savaant.
A mystic who sees God in everything and everyone, Lenny is an unlikely, but effective messenger to these Baptist men, who were so steeped in doctrine and law that they confused knowing ABOUT God with KNOWING God. What a difference there is between those two concepts. Like the ancient Jews, who memorized the bible from the time they were children, some Christians cannot find Christ because they are so tied up in the written word. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with reading the bible, or memorizing scripture, but what I am saying is that it alone won't bring you into intimate fellowship with God. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. I've had occasion to dialogue with sincere, seeking Christians, who were so eager to find and follow God that they memorized huge passages of scripture, thinking it would transform what they saw as their fatal flaws. Because the letter kills, these life giving words, when applied like a salve to a wound on the outside, caused the person to be in more bondage than they were before. They look at the letter which admonishes, "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48), and go down for the count. They KNOW their flesh is not perfect and conclude, "What's the use in trying?"
The Law puts you in bondage precisely because you cannot keep it on your own strength. Religion, like business, rewards those who can achieve the goal. I think it was Vince Lombardi who said, "Winning is not the main thing. It's the ONLY thing." When you lay scripture on people like a coat of paint on an old, falling down barn, you may get a quick glimpse of beauty, but it is short lived because it only affects the outside. The rotting support beams soon give way and the structure topples over, new paint and all. Human babies must be nurtured and nourished, carefully protected from harm, and consistently pointed in the right direction. Spiritual babies are no different. Until we have fathers and mothers in the faith who will take the hand of a newly born again person and mentor him or her, we will continue to have churches full of old babes in Christ.
When you hear a pastor give the salvation message, or the "Sin is awful. Don't do it," message week after week, month after month, year after year, to older people, you know that you are in a nursery, no matter how many gray heads of hair you see. In the natural, continuing to give a baby pabulum and milk from a bottle until he is old, could never achieve a healthy body. To develop properly, children need vegetables and meat. Spiritual babies need the Holy Spirit to lead and guide them into all truth, and to reveal the Christ within to them.
Paul said about Israel that they "pursued a law of righteousness," but did not attain it. "Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works" (Rom. 9:31-33). They stumbled over the "stumbling stone" whom He identifies as the Christ (the same stone or rock upon whom Christ told Peter He would build his church). About those Jews then, and some Christians today, Paul said, "I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. Christ is the end of the law, so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes" (Rom. 10:2-4, NIV). This is "the bible belt," after all, and so I'm not surprised, but always saddened to find folks who are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, i.e., trying to cram their lives into an impossible contortion of faith because that's what they believe the bible teaches. If it were possible to live by Law, Christ would NOT have had to die.
God is in charge of everything. So, why does He leave some people in darkness? Why doesn't the Light of the World shine equally brightly on all? Since beginning this ministry, we have met many people who grew up in different denominations, but with the same grim message, "IF you are perfect, you MIGHT get to heaven." Paul lays the responsibility for everything on God's desk: "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day" (Rom. 11:8). He's talking here about the Jews, whom God blinded for a time so that the Gentiles could come into the kingdom. The outcome for the Jews and others walking in religious error is never in doubt, "For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?" (Vs. 15).
Lenny's statement "It's God's fault," echoes Paul's meaning that God bears the responsibility for all things (Isa 45:7; Eph. 1:11). However, it grieves me to see people fail to live overcoming lives, fail to get healed, and fail to "be perfect," precisely because God has not shown them that He alone is the overcomer, the healer, and He IS the perfect who indwells us. For instance, the Apostle James said that any who are sick should call for the elders to anoint them with oil, and they would be healed, because "The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects" (James 5:14-16). Does this mean, then, that it is sin to go to the doctor? By no means. If it did, Luke would be a habitual sinner, for he himself was a physician (Col. 4:14). Errors like this come from listening to men rather than to the Spirit. The result is an unrealistic doctrine bound on people today much like the impossible rules the Pharisees laid on people in Jesus' day. Without a translator from God into flesh, the people flounder in dogma.
God, who knows the end from the beginning, has brought about these sad situations for His own purposes, and I do not judge nor condemn anyone who is following the leading he is getting, but I ache inside for them to be set free from rules, regulations, the "do this and don't do that or else" mentality. How many people are frustrated, thrust into doubt and despair because what they were told to do by men does not work in their lives? I challenged one friend about this and asked him if what he was professing was true, why it wasn't bearing fruit in his life. He answered sadly, "I guess I just don't have the faith." This truly makes me want to run screaming into the night. If anything depends on YOU, your faith, your positive confessions, your works, then WHO sits on the throne in your life? I can't make it much plainer than that. Depending on your own efforts to succeed, is like jumping out of a plane without a parachute. You'll get where you're going all right, but not without big time anxiety and pain.
I'm not sure if it is just ignorance, zeal without knowledge, or if it is insufferable arrogance which makes some Christians think they can reach the goal by themselves. The spirit of the Pharisee was voiced by the man who said, "Thank God I'm not like that sinner over there" (Luke 18:11).
Perhaps this is why Paul had to suffer so much physical agony in his ministry. It was indeed a thorn in his flesh that his natural gift of excellence, which he had exercised all his life could not work in his new LIFE in the Spirit. Was it his weak faith which could not heal Epaphroditus's grave illness? No, it was God's will to show him that HE alone is sovereign. Epaphroditus was finally healed, but not because of Paul's faith: "But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow" (Phil. 2:27). Likewise, those who say that it is sin to take medicine should read Paul's advice to Timothy: "No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments" (I Tim. 5:23). Churches who lay difficult rules on their flocks need the Spirit to interpret the passages for them, and to heed Paul's warning about trying to live by man's rules: "Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence" (Col. 2:23).
Translating the divine to flesh is IMPOSSIBLE with our carnal, human minds, which is why the Apostle John wrote that if you have the anointing of the Holy Spirit, you have no need of MAN to teach you (I John 2:27). Notice that the opposite of being taught by men is ABIDING in HIM. No human can teach you how to abide in Him. Only God Himself can do that. Religion lays rules on the flesh which seem to imitate godliness, but which produce nothing but despair, frustration, guilt and shame. It's the new coat of paint on the old barn. No matter how many coats you put on it, it's still rotten on the inside.
It may take awhile for it to appear what manner of new creation we are, just as it takes years to find out whether the sleeping infant has musical talent, or is tone deaf. Whatever God does, cannot be rushed, or nagged, or lectured into fulfillment. God does NOT operate by man's time, as most of us know well by now, nor is He impressed by external trappings of holiness. When He created man, He said, "It is VERY good." That was a prophecy which you can take to the bank. It is up to Christ to keep us from falling and to perfect us and present us faultless before the throne (Jude 24), and the sooner He gives us light to see that, the sooner we can enter into rest from our own labors, even as He rested from His, for His works were finished from the foundation of the world (Heb. 4:3). Meditating on that, reduces the self, ego, and pride to nothing.
Father, show us the New Creation within that we may rejoice in Your goodness and in Your unconditional love for Your creation. We thank You and bless You that You shine forth in our darkness as the Light of the World. The Prince of Peace has come: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men (flesh) on whom His favor rests" (Luke 2:14). Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 64850 (Snail Mail)
The Glory Road
We're always happy to hear from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 12/10/04
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/19/08.