Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, Mo, 01/09/2005
"Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist" (II John 1:7).
The old year has gasped its last and the new year is upon us. It's a time where people reflect about what has gone before and often make resolutions about what they intend to do to make their lives better. Or as one woman said in a TV ad, "I joined a church (the name doesn't matter here), and they gave me a bible so I can become a better person." That is the essence of religion in a nut shell: man's attempts to improve his flesh so he can be pleasing to God.
Most of my readers know that Lenny and I are passionately in pursuit of "Life in the Spirit," as the benchmark of spiritual growth, yet no matter where we are, I sense a deep longing in many with whom we dialogue for more of God, for a deeper understanding of Who He is in us and what that means for our lives. I want to share part of an e-mail with you, for this brother has captured the angst that so many are feeling. He wrote, "I am vaguely lonesome, or perhaps hungry, for what, I don't fully know. But you and Lenny will understand. I read inspired words of others, and I'm glad for the illumination they are gifted with. But somehow words no longer satisfy, even scripture words. I guess I'm just hungry for Reality. I don't want to just talk about it. I want that unity with Him in full measure, that which has been promised in each successive breakthrough but still remains too much a future rather than a "now" experience. We see unprecedented worldwide needs, and we must sit by helplessly in our weakness. He gives us trickles of grace, even seeming miracles, to keep us from being too discouraged. But we need much more than a trickle. We need tsunami-sized floods of grace and love. How can we be satisfied with anything less? My faith would be strengthened by a cloud the size of a man's hand if it signaled the promised torrent. Are we on the same page, my friends?" End Quote.
He's put his finger on something that has been troubling me in terms of this ministry, and that is the futility of words. Who can explain God or what He is doing in our lives? No one but the Holy Spirit, and, as the Apostle John said so well, "If you have an unction of the Holy Ghost, you have no need of any man to teach you" (I John 2:27, KJV). And yet, most religious organizations are built on just that, men teaching other men and women how to be, how to act, what to do and what not to do. During our real estate career in California, a couple came to us to find them a rental for the time they were serving as missionaries to that area. Missionaries? I thought, there's a church on every corner, so why do they think we need missionaries here in Thousand Oaks? The answer was they belonged to a sect which I vaguely recall was some type of shepherding movement. According to their doctrine, individual church members had to report to a "shepherd," who then gave them permission to live their lives. It was very regimented. The wives had to ask permission of their husbands to do even the most menial tasks, and the husbands, in turn, had to ask the shepherd if it were permitted. Trying not to mix business with religion, I mostly kept my mouth shut until the husband came over to our house and suggested we join his church and be part of his flock. Unable to keep quiet any longer, I looked him straight in the face and said, "Only Jesus Christ qualifies to be my shepherd. No man need apply." Shocked at my boldness, he got up and left without a word.
The Lord brought that scene back to me this week, probably in preparation for this writing which has been bubbling around in me for a long time. Fixin' the flesh is the quintessential definition of all religions, Christian or otherwise. Whipping the carnal nature into shape is the goal, and all manner of rewards and punishments are put forth to accomplish that end. Isn't it interesting that you can train a dog to obey you, but no one can train a human being to consistently be good, to obey? God played a little trick on us, it seems to me. Parents don't spare the rod in an attempt to keep the child unspoiled, but manage to create only a replica of themselves. Sunday School teachers, preachers, elders and deacons, lecture, cajole, threaten and plead with us to be good, to obey the rules, and the reward, they say, will be great, but it does no good.
Why? The bottom line is that God calls us higher than the flesh. Paul wrote, "I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable" (I Cor. 15:50). The goal is NOT to get well behaved human beings into church membership, but rather to bring manifested sons of God out from the kingdom into the world and the creation, which is groaning for our arrival. Seeing people try to live by rules and regulations led Paul to ask, "If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch" (referring to things which all perish as they are used), according to human precepts and doctrines? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting rigor of devotion and self-abasement and severity to the body, but they are of no value in checking the indulgence of the flesh" (Col. 2:20-23). That's about as clear a statement as you can find, but why doesn't it seem to sink in?
Religion seduces the practitioner into believing he can become "more spiritual" by buffeting the body, but it is an exercise in futility, an attempt to become what we already are. I am descended from the Smiths on my mother's side. For the most part, the Smiths I know are God fearing, hard working, good cooks and share many of the same neurotic tendencies. I can see those qualities in myself, not because I work at it, but because I was born into it. Likewise, we are spiritual beings because we are like our Father. We were born again, "not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God" (I Pet. 1:23). We do not need to TRY to be more spiritual. We were born again that way.
God is in the process of maturing us, often using suffering and other privations to accomplish His purpose. When we live by law, we have a veil over our faces, meaning we can't see out and no one can see in either. When we turn to the Lord, the veil is removed, with the result that, "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (II Cor. 3:18). The question becomes then, "What shall we do until the process is complete?" Shall we write or speak or do nothing and say nothing? Sometimes I think that if anyone depends on my pitiful words, they are settling for pennies when they could have millions of dollars in riches by going directly to the Lord. Yet, I realize that low self esteem is rampant among the faithful and many do not feel worthy to go to the Lord, or as one man said to Lenny, "I talk to God all the time, but He doesn't talk to me."
Someone sent us a piece called, "Church as we know it is over," by Don Nori. I was struck by his boldness in stating what so many have seen. He wrote,
"The charismatics, the Pentecostals and the revivalists are all crowding at the river Jordan. The Holy Spirit is urging, calling, leading them to cross, but few have the faith to cross because few have the faith to risk what they have built. Maybe that is the problem...we have built it and it is OURS. We must protect what is ours at all costs, even at the cost of moving on with the Lord. It is always so easy to camp along the river rather than risk the dangers of fording the rapids, even when you have the voice of the Lord drawing you on.
"So we invent, discover and imagine all kinds of histrionics to keep everyone satisfied where they are... on the wrong side of the river. We go around the things He has shown us again and again. We devise newer and more complicated ways of saying and doing the things we have known for years. Oh, we will occasionally look longingly across the river, wondering if there really is more over there, but the safety is always here. Few will admit that we have lost the faith, the daring and the adventure of our earlier days. Although denominationalism is anathema to us, we gather around the same things and build the same walls and defend our position with the same conviction and piety as all those who have gone before us." End Quote.
While I recognize the hurt feelings and the disappointment behind his words, I have come to a new place for me, thanks to Harry Robert Fox and God's grace. My own hurt and disappointment with organized religion has been with me for decades, and I'm so thankful for those "church men" with whom I can say how I feel and discuss it without being lectured or judged. Harry knows me like the brother he is, and he pointed out to me that even as we individually are not perfect, but are counted as perfect because we are in Christ, in the same way, the church herself is perfect, because Christ is the head and He is doing in her and in each of us that which cannot be seen with our natural eyes. When we look to the flesh or the visible church, we miss what God is doing: "Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more" (II Cor. 5:16). Looking at the flesh, ours or someone else's brings only frustration, and the urge to fix it up.
In my own relationships, I am learning ever so slowly, to look through the troublesome flesh and into what God is doing in the person in Spirit. Some people are harder to do that with than others, to be sure, but it is possible by grace, because, Paul says, "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (Vs. 17). The Apostle continues by showing HOW all things have become new: "All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation" (Vs. 18-19). Paul's assertion that God is NOT counting the world's sins against them helps us understand how all things can become new. This is the bedrock of God's reconciliation of all, and a truth that I have never heard taught in church. If God does not count the world's sins against them, how can we? How can the church? Moreover, if the world's sins are not held against them, isn't the same true of those who profess Christ? Of course it is. Why then, do people still proclaim themselves to be sinners, unworthy, or as one man said to us recently, someone that God has to work hard to love. Not only that, but if God does not hold my sins against me, why would I allow anyone else to beat me up with them? And it gets better than that. If I won't allow anyone else to berate me for my sins, why would I do it to myself?
My prayer is that God will reveal His truth about you, so that you stop trash talking yourself; stop beating yourself up for your real and imagined failures; quit thinking that you're in charge of improving your flesh. You are not! I am not. Only God is in charge of our growth, our perfection, our manifestation as sons. Besides, our flesh does not need fixing. It died on the cross with Christ and came out of the tomb with Him, a new creation! In Him, we were chosen before the foundation 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" (Eph. 1:4). Our problems with the flesh were nailed to the cross!
Sometimes more troubling than those who constantly put themselves down are those who claim to have already arrived at all God has in mind for us to be and do. I'm always amazed at such affirmations because clearly, no one has arrived there YET. One way some justify this claim is to say the flesh doesn't count. Only spirit counts. In addition to the fact that this is a revision of the old heresy of Gnosticism, it makes null and void the glorious truth John proclaims: "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). If Jesus did not come in the flesh, we're all damned to imprisonment in our bodies, with no help for the ills thereof and no hope of rescue.
If Christ's body did not come forth from the tomb, what hope have we to ever leave the grave? He said when He appeared in their midst: "See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have" (Lk. 24:39). We are not merely spirits rattling around in a body like so many peanuts in the shell. If that were true, why didn't we just stay with God before the foundation of the world? Why did we suffer the bloody mess of being birthed into flesh along with the slings and arrows of this physical existence? If the flesh is not important, why did most of Jesus' miracles have to do with the healing of and/or the resurrection the flesh? Why did Paul say, "May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ"? (I Thess. 5:23). God does not need us to make up excuses for Him!
Whatever God is doing includes our flesh. Even though Paul said flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nevertheless, he also asserts, "For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory" (I Cor. 15:53-54). Death has many forms, but we have been and are being delivered from all its manifestations and translated from glory unto glory. The world will not need CNN or Fox News to tell them when this marvelous event occurs. On that glorious day, Isaiah's prophecy will come to pass: "And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken" (Isa. 40:5).
Father, open our eyes to see You as You are in us. The creation groans and we wait for the final manifestation as Your sons. Until then, make us instruments of Your peace, living water for a thirsty world. Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
"Translating God to the Flesh"
The Glory Road
We're always happy to hear from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 01/06/05
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/11/08.