Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 3/30/08.
"Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes" (Isa. 54:2).
Isaiah was speaking metaphorically of the return of Israel from Babylonian Exile. When I saw the prophet's advice to "Enlarge the place of your tent," it struck me that it is also a metaphor for what's happening to so many of us. God's "winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Lk. 1:17). Many have reported to us that they smell the smoke and feel the heat from God's "blow torch" with which He is purifying the sons of Levi, which we are in Spirit (Mal. 3:3; I Pet. 2:9; Rev. 5:10).
All this sounds grand and glorious, and it really is, but at the same time, the process is not without pain and distress, heartache and even anger. As we are brought out of the world's system of doing things, so often mimicked by the church organizations as well, it's not easy to get untangled from the doctrines of men which we once believed fervently. Without God's help, it's a "Mission Impossible," but when we see that it is a "God job" from start to finish, we can rest in His promises and prophecies. Israel was not the one who had to enlarge the borders of her tent, as Isa. 26:15, makes clear: "You have enlarged the nation, O Lord; you have enlarged the nation. You have gained glory for yourself; you have extended all the borders of the land." We are Spiritual Israel, a part of what Paul refers to as "Jerusalem, our mother from above" (Gal. 4:26), and God Himself is in the process of enlarging the borders of our tents, freeing us from our small, petty doctrines and flawed theologies, and bringing us out of captivity into the glorious freedom of Christ Jesus our Lord, who came to proclaim the really Good News: "to preach good news to the poor... to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" (Lk. 4:18-19).
Human nature being what it is, we sometimes have to be dragged kicking and screaming out of our preconceived ideas and notions into the Light. I resonate to Harry Fox's explanation of why the children of Israel were afraid to go into Canaan. It wasn't the giants which frightened them really, he said, but the "milk and honey." These were slaves who had only been accustomed to the lash and deprivation for 430 long years. They couldn't handle "milk and honey," and we often can't either. To me, the "milk and honey" of the glory land which is our home in Christ, is the absolute sovereignty of God, His complete control over everything. Having spent myself in endless kinds of self effort to improve Jan, I now see that He IS what I've been striving for my whole life. Since I am IN Him and He is IN me, the striving was only to wear me down, forcing me to stop long enough to see that I was trying to be what I already am in Christ.
John declared, "And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace" (Jn. 1:16). Paul asked, "What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?" (I Cor. 4:7). Everything we have and everything we need to live an overcoming life comes from God: salvation, sanctification, justification, gifts of the Spirit, FAITH, and healing, all are gifts from God in Christ. How did so many become so misled about what constitutes righteousness and obedience? We have confused Christ's free gift of Himself with the doctrines of men, and because of that, Paul declared we now need the Spirit to take us by the hand and lead us to the promised land: "Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God" (I Cor. 2:12).
After the writing last week, "The Royal Priesthood" (Link at End), we heard from yet another brother who has struggled long and diligently to get healing and financial provision for himself and his wife. He's hurting and I completely understand that pain of knowing God can provide, but not being able to bring it to pass.
He began with a paragraph from last week's writing having to do with my friend Ruth's death, and my statement that God had said, "Ruth is my business." That set his hair on fire, and he threw what my grandmother called "a hissy fit" about what he thought was my excuse for why we didn't get Ruth healed.
"Since you encourage everyone to be open with feelings ... Well, "Ruth is my Business" just ain't good enough. I don't see any such thing said to Jesus when someone whom he prayed for didn't get healed. Wait a minute; it seems to be recorded that EVERYONE, multitudes, came to him and he healed EVERYONE of them. I don't recall the Father saying: 'That dead young man is My business so that's why he didn't rise from the dead when you called him forth.'
"Yet, in our day, there's always some pat answer as to why God didn't heal someone. You know, answers like: 'There must be some hidden, unforgiven sin.' Or, 'you don't have enough faith.' Or, 'it's not God's timing.' Or, 'Ruth is my business.' Jesus said: 'You will do the things I do and greater things will you do.' I don't recall Jesus, Paul, or anyone saying that God will answer your prayers, heal the sick, etc., EXCEPT those who are 'MY Business.'
"Pardon me, I'm just expressing hurt feelings over so many EXCUSES for why God doesn't do what it's said he will do. In this case, heal. Countless thousands of people have been through what your friend, poor Ruth have been. And someone always comes up with some answer that justifies our caring, loving God for NOT healing His beloved ones. Something is definitely wrong about all this. I protest! EVERYONE is either God's business, or no one is God's business.
"Can you give us poor siblings some excuses why God heals anyone? How about some excuses for why God/Jesus healed MULTITUDES? I'd like plenty of excuses for God healing EACH & EVERYONE, EACH & EVERY TIME (all kinds of healing). Or is there not such a God like this?" End Quote.
I commend him for having the courage to tell it like he feels it. He was just warming up with me, because the person he needs to have his fit with is God, for only the Spirit can answer his hurting heart. Because I know a tiny bit of his story, I realize that the frustration he expressed has built up over the years of suffering and toiling and trying to keep up hope while seeing nothing in return. I can't help but wonder if his real frustration is that the charismatic formulas for getting healing and financial provision just don't work after a while. Sooner or later, all self effort, even the most righteous sounding and appearing kinds of it, fails. Why? Because God is the GIVER of all gifts. There is NOTHING we can do to earn them, to bring them about. When we KNOW He can heal, as an example, but seemingly withholds His hand, that smarts, big time!
Once when I was fuming to Harry Fox about something I'd been praying for and couldn't get any answer about, he said, "Honey child, just because God doesn't do it by Tuesday, midnight, doesn't mean He won't do it." That has stuck with me for almost four decades now, because the old axiom is true, "the wheels of justice (and God) grind slowly, but exceedingly fine."
Have you considered the fact that the children of Israel were in Egypt for four hundred and thirty years? (Ex. 12:40). Finally, "God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob" (Ex. 2:24). Many of us have waited a long time to see the Lord act in a matter, but most of us have not endured as much as the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews, Chapter 11. The writer begins Chapter 12 with this exhortation: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:1-2, 4).
All that is well and good, but still, it's difficult to wait when we desperately want relief. In his book, Finally Comes the Poet, Walter Brueggemann observes, "The ethical question in the evangelical church is "What shall we do?" (Luke 3:10, 12, 14; Acts 2:37). What shall we do with our lives while the kingdom is coming? What shall we do while we wait?" He suggests that even as ancient Israel did, we might begin by considering what the commandments symbolize. Unlike most preachers today, he looks at the commandments in a whole new way. They are NOT "a heavy-handed coercion, but a gift that makes wholeness possible." By that, he means that the Biblical imperatives (commands) are based upon God's indicatives (statements of what is). He means that God does NOT REQUIRE of us anything that He has not already given us, including FAITH.
What do we have that we did not receive? (I Cor. 4:7). Can ANYONE work up the FAITH to raise the dead, heal the sick, walk on water, feed the 5,000? Only, by participating in the life of Christ which is oneness with the Father, can we do the greater works. While writing last week's lesson, it came to me that the greater works are taking the gospel to the world. Jesus and His disciples limited their ministry to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. 10:6; 15:24), but before He ascended into Heaven, Christ changed the mandate and commanded His disciples, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Matt. 28:19-20). How can we go except He go with us?
How do we keep that commandment except by appropriating the gifts God has given us? What do we have that we did not receive? Which of us advised God when He formed the earth, and created the sun to give light by day and the moon to light up the night? Who showed Him how to set the planets in their orbits, or where to fling the stars, the billions of suns which light up the inky blackness of space? Which of us did He consult when He breathed the breath of life into the first man, His son, Adam? Which of us did He invite to be nailed to the Roman cross to take away the sins of the world? Who of us will He ask permission before bringing this drama in the flesh to a close?
In his chapter entitled, "Restlessness and Greed," Brueggemann discusses the real meaning of, "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy," and "Thou shalt not covet" (Ex. 20:8-11, 17). He explains that, to ancient Israel, they were not meant to be onerous burdens, but gifts designed to set man free from his own labors. About the Sabbath, he observed, "We shall rest because God rested on the seventh day of creation. That is, the rest to which we are summoned is a rest that God initiates and in which God participates... To take such a rest is to participate in God's own rest at the end of God's work of creation. The possibility of Sabbath rest means that the world is not marked by frenzy, precariousness, threat, or restlessness. God's sovereignty is so sure that even God can ease off daily management of creation and the world will not fall apart."
He is certainly NOT suggesting that we should keep the Law today, because the legal ordinances were nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14). It seems to me that he is explaining the truth found in Heb. 4: 9-11: "So then, there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God; for whoever enters God's rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, that no one fall by the same sort of disobedience." Israel could rest only one day of the week, but by entering into God's finished work (Christ), we can LIVE in the rest, which the Sabbath could only symbolize.
While we are striving to rest in the all sufficiency of God, we remember that He "works all things after the counsel of his own will" (Eph. 1:11). All of us who have suffered while waiting for His healing touch, may take comfort in knowing that we have not experienced more than others who went before us. After telling her to enlarge the borders of her tent, Isaiah said to Israel: "For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you, says the Lord your Redeemer" (Isa. 54:7-8).
"Our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29). Far from being the scary scripture I once thought this was, I now see that it is our blessed hope, a gift of God to us, which relieves us of the onerous task of trying clean up our act, which we never seem to be able to do, no matter how hard we try.
Likewise, we are not able to answer the deep cries of the wounded and hurting, like our brother who wrote us. Only God can and will give him the answers his heart longs for. But to answer one of his questions, EVERYONE IS God's business, who in His time, will wipe away every tear and meet every need. What do we do while we're waiting? Meditating on the great and precious promises in scripture helps: "But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint" (Isa. 40:31). Help me Lord, O help me Lord, to wait.
Father, thank You for giving us in Christ all things needed to please You, to serve You, to worship You, and to share You with the hungry and thirsty world. We stand in awe of Your great gifts, Your power, and most of all, Your unconditional love. Enlarge the borders of our tents, and heal us of all our diseases, fears, and deprivations, Father. We wait before You, bowing to Your sovereign will in our lives. We love You; we hope in You; we trust You with our very being, while we await your good pleasure. Amen. Jan Antonsson
To Be Continued.....
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail Address)
Healing, or Stealing God's Glory
Risky Business, Healing, Part II
The Royal Priesthood, Part III
Restoring the Glory Land, Part V
Organizing the Church, Part VI
Victory Through Helplessness,Healing, Part VII
What Does Faith Have to do With It? Healing, Part VIII
The Death of Death, Healing, Part IX
The Death He Died, Healing, Part X
Freed From Sin, Healing Part XI
Money, the Kingdom, and Bifocal Vision, Healing, Part XII
Flesh, Spirit, & the New Man, Healing, Part XIII
The Church, the Gospel, and God's Will, Healing, Part XIV
The End of the Law, Healing, Part XV
The Divine Possibility, Healing, Part XVI
What Shall We do? Healing, Part XVII
The Tyranny of the Vegetable Eaters, Healing, Part XVIII
The Epistle to the Romans by Karl Barth
The Glory Road
This writing was uploaded to the web 03/27/08,
by Jan Antonsson, webmeister,
and last updated 11/19/08.