Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, 1/18/04
"In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so are we in this world" (I John 4:17, RSV).
How often have I thrilled to the Apostle John's words in this verse, and how I have longed to see evidence that "as he is so are we in this world." As you can see, the apostle uses the present tense here. It is not some promise projected out into the future, waiting for the Lord to return as many believe, but a statement of who we are here and now! Last week's essay entitled, "Conditional love strikes again" (See Link at End), was about a brother who found himself in the difficult position many of us know so well, of having to leave a fellowship he loves because they told him he may not speak of the revelation God gave him that He is going to save everyone. A good many of you poured out support, empathy, and understanding, writing to say you've been there, done that. Today's title came from a man who wrote, "It is comforting to hear other 'Wilderness wandering' stories from other believers (John Gavazzoni's was particularly powerful). Makes one feel a little less alone. (Yeah, yeah, I know. He is always with us, but sometimes 'God-with-skin-on' feels really good, ya know?)."
When I read his kind and empathetic response, I knew that this would be the title this week. God with skin on is a powerful way to express the New Creation which Jesus gave His life to purchase for us. Paul's statement that Christ in us is the hope of glory, is the scriptural evidence that God-with-skin-on is WHO we are in this love starved world.
When I was first baptized in the Spirit, I imagined that this would play out according to John's thrilling quotation of Jesus' prophecy: "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father" (John 14:12, RSV). In my spiritual fantasies, I would approach the casket at a funeral, lay hands on the dearly departed, and say, "Arise! Take up your bed and walk!" And glory to God, he would! Truth to tell, we still never attend a funeral but what Lenny or I will say to each other, "Maybe this is the one where He will pour out His power." Sometimes, I can see that to bring the dead to life would be to prolong the struggle here on earth, but other times, I think, "Why not, Lord? I'll be overjoyed TO DO THE WORKS YOU DID, and let someone else do the greater ones." Likewise, every week at Medicalodge, I see people who really need the Great Physician's healing touch, in broken bodies, troubled minds, weary spirits, and my confession, since it's good for the soul, is that I weary of words without power to back them up.
One of the residents had what Lenny calls "the ultimate healing" this week. He departed this life and went to be with his beloved wife who passed a couple of months ago. They were inseparable, holding hands still after over sixty years of marriage. I knew he wouldn't last long after she left, for she was his hope, his connection with the Lord. Apparently, he had given up on God when their only child was killed in her youth, but his wife was full of the Spirit. When I spoke of the Holy Spirit, her sweet old face would light up and her hand would go up in the air instantly in praise to the One she knew so well. I rejoice that her husband is perfectly healed and knows God as He was known. For him, "the perfect" never came in this life, but he was ushered into the presence of God this week, and I smile to think of him basking in the eternal light of glory, partaking of unconditional love, holding his beloved wife and only child in his arms and praising the Savior who made it all possible. He was in the service Sunday morning, and even took communion, which was a nice surprise. We sang his wife's favorite hymn, "How great thou art." He seemed mentally out of it, but responded warmly to us, nevertheless. I heard from one of the Medicalodge Staff that he entered into glory early Monday morning.
His sister grieved that he never found peace in this life, but God's timing and plans are not our own. Our Father knew us and our calling before the foundation of the world, and He calmly and purposefully works all things after the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11). His plans for us were spoken in eternity and are NEVER limited by time, death, or any other malady that befalls the human race. On this we can rely. When Solomon was dedicating the magnificent temple he built for God, he said, "The LORD our God be with us, as he was with our fathers; may he not leave us or forsake us" (I Kings 8:57, RSV). Interestingly, it was phrased in the conditional mode, MAY he not leave or forsake us, because they lived under law, where the Lord's presence and help was conditional upon their obedience to the Covenant God made with Israel through Moses.
Under the New Covenant, purchased with the blood of Christ, the Hebrew writer states as a fact, not a condition: "for he has said, "I will never fail you nor forsake you" (Heb. 13:5). This is another proof that we must ascertain under which covenant a scripture is given in order to reap the benefit from it. The letter kills but the Spirit gives life, and for those who depend upon their own minds for the interpretation, scripture often brings death, not life.
I'm still enjoying Jack Mile's Pulitzer Prize winning book, "God, a Biography." When commenting about the book of Job, he makes the point, overlooked by many, that the writer makes no reference to Noah, the Patriarchs, Israel, or the Law. That's because scholars believe it to be an ancient text whose actual origin is lost in the swirling mists of antiquity. Nevertheless, though Job did not have the Law as a reference point, clearly, he lived with the belief that God is just, rewarding the workers of righteousness and punishing the wicked. This is why he was so befuddled and upset at what had happened to him. Consider what God said of him when pointing him out to Satan: "Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?" (Job 1:8, RSV). The King James Version renders that "a perfect and upright man." And yet, God unleashed Satan upon him over and over again. Perhaps worse than Satan, as the brother who wrote last week has discovered, were his "church friends" who visited him in his suffering and told him to amend his theology, and repent of his sins, lest something worse come upon him.
To his credit, Job would not be bullied by his self righteous friends, but maintained his innocence to the end, UNTIL he met God face to face. After the ordeal was finally over, and Job had seen God up close and personal, he said, "I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:5,6, RSV). Why did he despise himself, and of what did he repent? I believe he repented of the proud notion that he could please God by his own works. He finally understood that all his own righteousness was but filthy rags (Isa. 64:6). He is a metaphor for so many of the elect today, who are enduring fierce physical, emotional, financial and spiritual trials. In my discussion with Lenny about this today, I observed that the church world still operates under law to such a degree that there is an almost unconscious identification with Deut. 28, the most vivid chapter to me in what it means to live by Law. When you are righteous, God blesses you; when you are wicked, you are punished. Lenny said, "I am suffering horribly but I know I am not being punished for sin, and I know that through it, I see God." And he does, which is a powerful testimony to me of the Spirit's transcendence over flesh. He unwaveringly believes that the end of his suffering will be nothing less than Resurrection Life, on this side of Jordan! Lord, haste the day!
Part of Job's problem and the church world's problem as well is the concept that God is "an other" from us, as Lenny has expressed it for years. Those of us who grew up in Fundamentalism, saw God as quite a cranky old thing who was far off from us. Having given us a set of rules to live by, His job was to monitor us to see if we were obeying Him or not. We were never told that He loved us, because by definition, we wouldn't find that out until we died. If we ended up in heaven, we'd know love, otherwise, forget it. The maddening thing for those of us cursed with perfectionism was that no one agreed on what the rules were/are, let alone how to keep them. We were never told that God is worthy of trust, and thus, I grew up not knowing I could trust Him to protect me from harm, to help and guide me through life. Lack of trust is the mother lode of fear and worry. The God of my youth was the one I read about in the Old Testament: ".... I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me" (Ex. 20:5, RSV). Because our parents didn't want us to go to hell, they parented us much like this fire breathing god, with the end result that we feared God, but we didn't love Him. Oh sure, we said we did, because if we didn't, we knew we'd be bound for hell, but we really didn't, precisely because we had never FELT His love for us (I John 4:19). We tried hard to be good, to do right, to avoid evil, but loving Him was almost impossible to achieve.
Many Christians are still in this place, though some really appreciate Him for saving them from their terrible sins. Still, the fear never quite totally goes away. Love for God is in inverse proportion to the fear of Him. I told Lenny this morning that I believe this is why our brother who wrote last week has to leave the fellowship he loves, and it is why Harry Fox has commented that God's reconciliation of all can never be the basis for a church. By definition, today's church is based on structure and organization. Hopefully, there is vitality of the Spirit there to fuel the engine, but often times, there is only structure. How do you maintain it? FEAR is the most effective way to get and keep the flock in line. So if you tell a church group that God is going to save everyone, the leadership will probably stone you because you've just removed all incentive to attend, to give, and certainly, to teach a class or whatever else it takes to keep the organization running.
One Sunday morning, in a Sunday School class taught by John Gavazzoni in Ventura, CA, someone asked John if he believed everyone was going to heaven, and if so, why did he believe that. John gave one of his well grounded lessons based upon scripture, and when he was finished, a bald headed guy in the front row said hotly, "Well, if I believed that, I'd be on the beach this morning." I thought then that if he was only there paying his fire insurance, he might as well be on the beach, for all the eternal good he was accomplishing.
Another example of that mindset is a man Lenny met in our real estate pursuits who came over to see us one night. Lenny had told him that God will eventually save everyone, because Jesus paid the price for all. The man was irate, indignant, and belligerent. Before storming out, he ranted, "If I believed that, I'd seduce with every woman I meet." Thankfully for the women around there, his belief in hell kept his pants zipped, but his abstinence from sexual excess is doing him no eternal good. Hopefully, you know me well enough to know that I am NOT saying, "Let us sin that grace may abound," but rather, I am commenting on the futility of trying to know God or to love God by mere avoidance of sin. You can't get there from here if the fuel driving your spiritual engine is FEAR!
Likewise, if you still see God as "an other" from you, you can never love Him unconditionally because you have not seen Him as He is. Once you do, you understand why "No one born of God commits sin" (I John 3:9). Love keeps you from sin! Lenny had a vision once long ago that speaks to this. He saw a vat of boiling, red hot metal in a huge cauldron. The Lord asked, "Can you see yourself in there?" When Lenny said he could not, he heard, "You are so finely integrated into me you cannot find yourself." Jesus declared, "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30, RSV). Bearing in mind that Christ and the Father are one, listen to Jesus' poignant words spoken not long before He left the disciples: "all mine are thine, and thine are mine, and I am glorified IN them" (John 17:10, RSV). The truth of our being "in Christ," occurs 89 times in the New Testament. Later on in John 17, He continues His dialogue with His Father, "I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (John 17:23, NIV). Paul declared that there is "one God and Father of us ALL, who is above ALL and through ALL and in ALL" (Eph. 4:6, RSV). We are God with skin on to the creation, the light of the world, bringing Christ to the lost in this life. Light doesn't do anything. It just is, and its very presence swallows up darkness.
The incarnation of Christ was not limited to a historical moment. It is an ongoing, glorious reality for each of us who know Him. Those who do not know him now, are of all men, most miserable. They are in hell on earth today, for that is what hell is, separation from God. In Christ, God was on the cross, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them (II Cor. 5:18-19). The church has taken that promise to the world and put it into a gold covered box, tied it up with silver cords of conditions, and rules, making it dependent upon man's obedience. They have limited the promise to Christians, whereas Paul actually said, God was in Christ, reconciling THE WORLD to Himself (Vs. 19).
Christians who obey the Lord out of fear continue to live in fear, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: "For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me" (Job 3:25, RSV). When those who obey only out of fear hear that God will save everyone, they go ballistic because they have lost their protection, their Shibboleth against punishment (Judges 12:6). Job sacrificed for his children lest they had sinned, and when they were all killed, he was devastated. He had not seen God, but only heard about Him from his religious friends. Religion based on fear is idol worship, as far from the living God as Baal worship was in ancient Israel, and equally as destructive to life in the Spirit.
Father, open our eyes that we may see You clearly, open our ears that we may hear You distinctly, and open our hearts that Your love and power may flow out from us to the dying world who do not know You. May our light so shine in the world that kings come to the brightness of our rising, and Your glory covers the earth as the waters cover the sea. Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
"Conditional Love Strikes Again"
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 1/14/04
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/16/08.