The cry of the redeemed
"For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before God on your account, as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we might see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith?"
"Now may our God and Father Himself direct our way to you; and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints."
"Finally, then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you have received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excell still more"
Inside of every human heart resides certain desires that have been placed therein by Almighty God Himself. The desire to be loved, to be accepted and even to be deemed worthwhile are desires all human beings share. In and of themselves these desires are not wrong nor sinful- they become sinful when men fail to understand the proper manner in which these needs of men are met and go about attempting to meet them in their own ways. They fail or refuse to accept the manner in which God Himself has promised to meet these particular needs.
Many if not most of us as Christians understand a basic principle that is found throughout our lives as Christians. That principle is the act of having to religuish some particular thing in order that we can have it back again. For example, before an individual is called by God, they may have attempted to fulfill one or more of the needs above by acting in a sinful manner- by living out what God deems to be sin in practice. After Christ, this same individual starts to be convicted about their sin(s), and recognizes that in order to remain faithful before God they must reject and abandon these pearticular sinful practices. It is not proper for one who names the name of Christ to live in adultery or sexual immorality. They must repent of these things and only as they abandon these practices and allow their minds to be conformed into God's proper standards can they discover how God intends to meet their needs. It is the very act of rejecting sin that opens the door for God's provision.
The search for significance- in this world
Do I really even need to describe the results of individual men and women attempting to make themselves feel significant in this world, attempting to find their place among mankind? Isn't it obvious?
It doesn't really matter if we're looking for our examples in government, a business pusuit or in a televised game in the National Football League. Their is a constant among them all- a never ending reverberation that echoes through them all.
All of mankind is preoccupied with an obsession with themselves, with a never ceasing, ever increasing desire to exalt themselves at the expense of those around them. Whether in the real world or sometimes imaginary world of fantasy (something reality shows are quick to promote and men to embrace), we not only want to be better than one another, we want to be more loved, more powerful and more significant than those around us. The result of this continual competitive pursuit has no bounds as men go to more and more extremes to not only get into the spotlight but to stay there. God forbid anyone attempt to knock them off their own personal throne within their own sphere of choice and influence.
Regardless of how silly, extreme, selfish or evil these pusuits become, the general populous eats them up for they themselves are wanton of these very same things. If they could, most men would immediately exchange places with those they consider their favorite movie stars, athletes and heroes in general without hardly thinking about the consequences or what compromises it took to arrive there. Our whole mental state identifies with what is warped and entirely backward.
The search for significance- in religion
For the majority of those claiming to be Christians, most have failed to understand and practice a proper loving relationship with those around them. As we have noted before, this is partially due to the spirit of independence which is so predominant in some cultures, especialy America. It is also due to the various religious institutions scattered all over this country and found in many if not most American cities.
I had a conversation with a young man last night, partially about these very institutions above. At one point he asked a question along these lines, "Do you think God established any of these (religious) organizations?" My answer with no hesitation was absolutely not. None of them, nada. How could I be so sure that God had not sanctioned these nor called anyone to establish them?
Today's paradigm of the practice of Christianity revolves around church and churches. If you asked anyone you knew to be a christian about how or where they fellowshipped the word church would be prominent in their conversation. Everyone knows that a christian's life revolves around church, right?
Above I made this statement, "Most men would immediately exchange places with those they consider their favorite movie stars, athletes and heroes in general without hardly thinking about the consequences or what compromises it took to arrive there" I think it goes without saying that we could just as easily add religious professional to this list. There's certainly no shortage of people who seem to think this is actually an occupation to pursue among the people of God is there?
Where's the fruit?
Jesus made it plain that individual men and women would be known by their various fruits- the things in which their life beliefs and practices produced among others. Jesus said in Matthew 7:
"Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. A good tree cannot cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit."
Also in the book of James we find:
"Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be so arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing."
"But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy."
"And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace."
Wisdom from where?
"By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; and by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches" [Proverbs 24:3, 4]
"Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written, THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEE AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND WHICH HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM." For to us God revealed them….."
We see above that specific fruits are borne out of the source of one's wisdom. There is a wisdom which man so often rests upon and even Christians attempt to utilize in God's service that is actually earthly (deriving from this earth), natural (stems from man's carnal nature and intellect) and demonic (is literally fueled by the demonic).
Above are some of the fruits of both types of wisdom. Note the spiritual fruits in purple that derive from the spirit of God. Then note the carnal fruits of our selfish nature fueled by satan himself in red. Take special note of the words bitter jealousy, selfish ambition and hypocrisy.
The fruit of man's institutions
For the sake of brevity, I'm going to avoid making a distinction between those who are generally seeking to pursue God's will through these institutions and those who are not. I'd like to focus primarily upon the institutions themselves and why they are obviously not only a derivitive of man's wisdom but are also in every way contrary to God's true intentions. I intend to answer my friend's earlier question, "Do you think God established any of these religious organizations or churches?"
The pillar and foundation of the truth
"I am writing to you, hoping to come to you before long; but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the ekklesia of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth" [1 Timothy 3:14, 15]
Maybe more than any other reason I will share subsequent to this one, it is imperative that every Christian firmly grasp this truth in their heart and mind…..the ekklesia is the pillar and support of the truth. What is this ekklesia? It is none other than the totality of a group of believers in a particular locale who are sharing Jesus' life one with another- who are expressing Jesus Christ among them in their midst. Their is a proper working out of that expression- the administration thereof, although that will have to wait until another time to discuss.
All throughout the scriptures and New Testament history we see for hundreds of years the manner in which the gospel was presented and the place where that expression was lived out daily- through the local ekklesia that resided in a particular geographical region. It was through these local expressions of (two or three or more) where Jesus was in the midst that became the foundation of the truth of Jesus and Him crucified being lived out among the common people. It was not one particular place or manner among many others in which this was to be expressed- it was the singular manner in which it was to be expressed! There was to be no other, no competitor that would attempt to usurp the place and purpose of God's local ekklesia- THE pillar and foundation of the truth!
The following lists some of the problems that result from a failure to keep local ekklesias as the pillar and foundation of the truth- to recognize that all ministry service must derive from a local ekklesia and not some external competitive entity.
- The door to creating new competing sectarian institutions is opened. Instead of all ministry stemming from and being overseen from a local ekklesia, individuals or groups of people are under the impression that their "sincere desire" is adequate when starting "their own" ministries.
- The thing they create becomes "the ministry" despite that being impossible. True ministry is simply a service one renders to another individual or group of people. "It" cannot be a ministry.
- Whoever creates the "ministry" appoints themselves the leader of it for it was "their" idea and/or calling. This entirely circumvents the process and qualifications God has put in place to keep the young and immature out of leadership until qualified. The only proper functioning of biblical elders is within the framework of a local ekklesia.
- This leader often goes ahead and makes their ministry a formal entity by incorporating (joining their ministry to the state) and therefore having to abide by the state and federal regulations that govern these entities. Upon making that decision, the state considers their religious organization (regardless of what type or stripe) a formal business.
- What follows is almost always a bank account, a business bank account mandated by the IRS for a 5013c non-profit. This action further entrenches this institution with the state.
- Needless to say, in order to be able to have any religious organization of any kind in America you must not only incorporate, you must choose a name through which you will practice your business- the name by which you will conduct your business.
- Choosing any name to conduct one's religious business is entirely contrary to the never-named local ekklesias Jesus says He will build. Biblically, all ministry is done in Jesus' name, that is if He's doing it. If you're doing it, well, then I guess it doesn't matter.
- Sooner than later, men and woman have to be recruited or selected to run various aspects of the "ministry" they have created. Invariably this will lead to a religious hierarchy of sorts within the ministry (business) in complete opposition to Jesus' condemnation of such a hierachy among His people.
- Needless to say a business entity is not synonomous with a family. All the members are by no means equal, nor do the participants that run a business characterize those of a family. Everybody knows and the law states that these two things (the officers and the business itself are two separate entities). The officers rule over the direction and daily operations of the business. They are the "heads" of it, and decide what will and will not be done in the name of the business. Contrary to reality, their are no such things as religious "offices" or "officers" in the bible nor are those with such offices deemed to be "over" others in the faith.
- All fundraising is done in the "name" of the business or institution. Once again it is not done in Jesus' name alone but in "their name"- the name they have created to describe who? Themselves and what they have made.
- Over 90% of all monies donated to the "causes" (which are almost always not preaching the biblical gospel) are squandered upon the upkeep of physical buildings and officer salaries.
- All ministry is also done in "their name" and checks are written to "it."
- Those having placed themselves in authority don't hesitate for a moment to take spiritual titles or religious positions unto themselves. This again despite no scriptural evidence that this ever occured anywhere among the people of God. This obviously divides those "under their authority" to a lesser position. Note that it doesn't matter whether those titles are "out front" or merely upon the institutional paperwork. In fact, the latter may be even more deceptive than simply just being honest about who's really in control.
- Due to the personalities of the leaders, secular contacts, various advertising ploys, appeals and specific causes that pull on the heartrings of God's people, these individual's build enormous earthly kingdoms through which they disseminate "their versions of reality and truth" which considering they started out upon a false basis cannot be corrected after the fact. What is of the flesh is flesh.
- The end result of the practices above and many, many more lead to setting up many false standards and sets a precedent that many other "sincere" believers attempt to follow themselves. This multiplies these falsehoods hundreds of thousands of times over and all but buries those simple minded folk who cling to their small local assemblies as God commanded them.
What we need to note now is a very sobering fact that relates to the issues above. This list doesn't even begin to address the many unscriptural practices that happen as a consequence of the actions of those who make the choices above. The is the place these people and "their ministries" begin- not in line with what for ages has been known and revealed by the Spirit through the scriptures but in total contrast to them and the God who authored them.
Falsehoods X 2
Earlier we contrasted some of the things that resulted from a reliance upon man's wisdom and the wisdom which is from above. Let's look more closely at how the wisdom from men works it's way into what is called "Christian."
I remember the days I once attended church. It wasn't as if I never got anything out of those times, sometimes I did, but more often than not I ended up feeling let down after all the excitement was over. One of the things I could never understand was how those who appeared to be in charge held tight reigns upon what they did and didn't allow. I didn't have a problem with authority and I thought that was these men's place. That said, I couldn't understand why despite my very passionate and faithful lifestyle as a believer, these men never really wanted my cooperation in anything, certainly not along the lines in which I was gifted. They would say things like, well Mike, "there are only so many positions" etc, and yet that never gave me any peace of mind. It became clear that the more I spoke up and questioned them the more defensive they became and the more that made me angry and bitter toward them. The result of their rejection of me and my desire to serve in those places was bitter jealousy. I was angry that I couldn't have the same opportunities that they did to exercise my spiritual gifts.
Years and years passed and although nothing really changed in the churches I attended, I started to change. I started thinking about how I could just follow the path they did in order to become the person I wanted to be. I talked to the leaders and they suggested I attempt to go to college and earn a degree. After all, that did seem to be the standard way to get "into the ministry." I tried and for no seemingly significant reason I was denied. I was crushed, I just could not understand how after being so convinced that "full time ministry" was God's will for my life, things just did not work out. This was the beginning of another stage I was soon to embrace in my journey, that of selfish ambition.
Having been rejected in church and in formal schooling I took the next logical step- I'll start my own ministry! At the time,I had been serving God and sharing the gospel daily in the secular program of Alcoholics Anonymous. Many exciting things were happening, I had met some new friends, moved in together and starting living out Isaiah 58 through AA and our apartment. These were some special times but I still thought there could be more.
Having cultivated a writing habit during my years in AA, I started to think about how the roundtables of AA could be used more specifically in helping Christians in their walk with Christ. What if the saints could gather together like this? What if the saints were committed to serve each other like this? What if the saints gathered together like this as the bible prescribes? I finally thought I came face to face with what God wanted for and through me, and to some small degree I had. But selfish ambition still had to die.
The creation of man's environment
"The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men, to see if there is any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one" [Psalms 14:2, 3]
One of the most common excuses we hear in relation to institutions is that they do so much good. Is this really true? How can an institution do good? It is merely an entity and cannot perform works of it's own can it? No it cannot, and yet it can and does have an affect on those who choose to do business with it.
Looking back to the beginning, it's quite easy to see how and why man has created their own institutions and claimed those institutions were from God. As we discussed earlier each of us will very naturally drift toward those things which seem to provide for us our basic necessities to be loved, accepted and significant. If these are not provided for through the vehicle through which God has instituted (a local ekklesia) a substitute will be found. And because this substitue involves a religious pusuit it is easy to claim that God Himself led us in this direction. I myself practiced this very same falsehood as I told myself the following lies in relation to the "ministry" I wanted to start:
- If AA can help people this much, how much more will this type of meeting with the real God be that much more effective in helping people.
- A roundtable group of this nature will be so familiar to alcoholics that many people will want to be a part of it.
- I'll write up some specific documents that detail how my program will work similar to the manner in which the founders of AA did etc.
For the next few years I put together what had to amount to at least a hundred pages of verse filled documents and instructions on how the meetings were to function. I was so excited, and once again entirely convinced that this was God's will for my life. The next stage in the process was to build an internet site and start to have discussions with other interested parties. I would start to recruit others to help in this "ministries" implementation and get this thing started!
I think each of us could choose what one of the last things to go in our lives of selfish ambition actually is, but for me, that thing was my own ministry. That was the thing I just couldn't let go of- I wanted so bad to do something for God or so I thought, but in reality it really wasn't- it was all about me and my need for significance. It wasn't as if I wasn't sincere, I was, most Christians are, but their is a divided affection, it's not solely for Jesus, but for our own interests as well.
A lesson learned (It must be from Jesus to be for Jesus)
When a man or woman is brought naked before God with nothing to bring, nothing to offer and nothing to hide, that is the individual God can begin to teach aright. It took ten more years after my initial desire for an internet site before it finally went online. Ten years of me trying, but only 10 days after I finally erased every aspect of Michael's worldly wisdom from my writings. In one sense a crushing defeat, and yet a most glorious victory as well. I finally saw and heard from heaven!
I share this in part as a warning for all who would follow in my errors.
No matter how sincere, a man cannot replace what God has established as a perfect picture and local fixture of His spiritual body. All the promises of God work in relation to what God has established, and only through what He has established.
Form follows function (What Christians can and must do)
In almost every religious institution and every Christian alive, their still is that retention of a backward mentality when it comes to our beliefs and practice. Just as the old adage in relation to a christian is stated, "Does a man take a bath before he takes a shower?" (in relation to his futile attempts to change himself before conversion) is silly, so are the efforts of religious men in institutions just as silly when they attempt to conform individuals to a set of beliefs and or practices before any real relationship is established. This my friends is backwards.
Looking over the life of our Lord Jesus, He had those hand picked twelve that He invested His life in. There were things He told those disciples that He never spoke to anyone else. They were things for their eyes and ears only. It was a very special intimate relationship, one many others would have envied provided they could have escaped that last chapter. You know, the one where Jesus made known to them the cost some of them would pay in glorifying Him.
As His disciples, were are these people. We may not know our end from the beginning, but surely we know His. We see Him walk the road with disciples, we see Him recline with sinners, we hear Him rebuking the religious for their outright greed and hypocrisy. The one thing He never shied away from was relationship. His life was relationship, His life a laid down sacrifice for both sinners and saints.
For those who see, these are the steps in which we must follow. It is not enough to smile along the road, say a kind word or be a little generous on occasion. Anyone can do that. It's not enough to love those who love us, forgive those we think are sincere or occasionally volunteer for some community service. All these things may be noble, but all these things arn't enough. We need the heart of Paul for the redeemed:
"For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who have not personally seen my face, that their hearts may be knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God's mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."
Have you ever considered that despite all the present misunderstandings among those bound to religion, that maybe a few are looking for what you possess- a proper understanding and a true knowledge of Christ? Do you see the responsibility whether present or absent to be exemplifying that life, His life daily through faith and practice? Are we praying regularly that we might have the opportunities to share segments of His life together, despite what that might cost us? Are you aware of how desperately this dying world needs to see such an expression?
For those of us on the outside of institutions, we likely often question why so many of us are scattered throughout with so few being found in similar locales. We pray, we question and we wonder if this is ever meant to change. Wasn't it and isn't the heart of God for His people to be united? Not merely only in spirit but also practically one with another? Why was Paul so consumed with always wanting to visit or live among the saints every chance he had. He had something to offer and they had something as well:
"For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine." [Romans 1:12]
Just curious? How many have this attitude one to another? How many of us would sacrifice our selves, our desires and risk all to be one with another? Have we never even considered this? Have we never really heard the cries of our brother's and sisters, the cry of the redeemed? Is this not the need of our own heart and cry as well. Shame on us if its not.
All around us the institutions of the world are sweeping up the saints of God like a giant vacuum cleaner with no end in sight. Pick your town, pick your city, state or country. It's an outright epidemic, a plague which knows no bounds, erasing the boundaries which God has set and ushering in its place a famine for the word of the Lord. This is the world, this is the time in which you and I have been sent. Are we prepared to do battle, are we prepared for the onslaught of helll right around the corner?
God's desires a house he can call home
Throughout the scriptures we find both God's desire for a house and man's desire to want to build Him one. This house or place where God would meet with the people included:
"Our fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as He who spoke to Moses directed him to make it according to the pattern which he has seen. And having received it in their turn, our fathers brought it in with Joshua upon dispossessing the nations whom God drove out before our fathers, until the time of David"
"David found favor in God's sight, and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for Him"
"However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says, 'HEAVEN IS MY THRONE, AND EARTH IS THE FOOTSTOOL OF MY FEET; WHAT KIND OF HOUSE WILL YOU BUILD FOR ME? says the Lord, 'OR WHAT PLACE IS THERE FOR MY REPOSE? 'WAS IT NOT MY HAND WHICH MADE ALL THESE THINGS?' [Acts 7:44-50]
In a strikingly similar manner as Steven above, we find Paul the apostle speaking to those at Mar's Hill:
"So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus (the highest court of Athens that met at Mar's Hill) and said, "Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examing the objects of your worship, I also found an alter with this inscription, 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.' Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you."
He then goes on to describe this God and His desire that we might reciprocate that desire:
"The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is he served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, those He is not far from each one of us……" [Acts 17:22-27]
We know by these verses and others that God desires to have fellowship with His creation and that fellowship begins with each individual believing the gospel and repenting from their sins. We also can know the manner in which He desires our fellowship from verses like this below:
Talking with a Samaritan woman (something Jews were not known to do) Jesus says to her in relation to her observations about religion;
"Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshippers.
God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" [John 4:21-24]
A habitation in the Spirit
"For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst" [Matthew 18:20]
God's desire is for a house, not a physical building in which to dwell but a place where He can dwell in the midst of a holy people set apart unto Him. Peter put it like this;
"And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" [1 Peter 2:4, 5]
In times past, God chose to meet among mankind through physical structures although that season has obviously come to an end. It is clear that in these last days-
"God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom He made the world." [Hebrews 1:1]
Despite the fact that both Peter and Paul made clear that God doesn't dwell in houses made with hands, that only deters one in a thousand in their attempts to prove God a liar. Not only do men continue to build these edifices, they claim that God told them to do it and use that for leverage in obtaining monies and influence over the people of God. In short, whether they call themselves clergy or laity, all become servants of the manmade institution of human works.
Why is this unacceptable?
"Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain to build it" [Psalms 127:1]
The issue is not whether a group of people meet in a building, the issue is what type of house is being built and who is building it. As we discussed earlier, we only need to look for the fruit to find where the wisdom in doing our building originates.
Malachi foreshadows today's institutional excuses
The book of Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament. This book, written by the prophet with the same name was called to prophesy about the coming of the one who would precede Jesus' coming to earth, namely John the Baptist. He, John, was called to proclaim a radical departure from the old ways and covenant into the new.
The book itself details a group of priests who despite God's criticism of their ways were supposedly "sincere" ('How have we despised Your name?, 1:6, 7). God's indictment of these priests included not honoring or respecting Him and defiling themselves and the offering they were presenting to Him. (verses 8-14), sinning against their own brothers and the families of God. (vs.10-17) All throughout these "priests" continued to make excuses by saying things like, "Do we not have one Father? Has not one God created us? For what reason? Where is the God of justice? What have we spoken against You? In the midst of this obvious rebellion against the Lord they even had the courage to say, "Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them" although that was the exact opposite of the truth.
The result of their disobeying God's instructions would amount to their blessings being turned into curses (vs. 2) and a reminder that God would continue His covenant with a few godly Levites (God's chosen priesthood at the time, (vs. 4). Note God's plea in verse 10:
"Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My alter!" and His commendation of the few among the Levite priests:
"My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him as an object of reverence; so he revered Me and stood in awe of My name.
True instruction was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity.
For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts."
Who were these priests who refused to be defiled? (not one has done so (done evil) who has a remnant of the Spirit) (vs. 2:15)
"Then those who feared the Lord spoke one to another, and the Lord gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name.
"They will be Mine," says the Lord of hosts, "on the day I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him."
"So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him" [Malachi 3:16-18]
It is interesting to note the time frame of Malachi's prophesy. It begins under the old covenant of law, shifts to the time of Jesus' coming and ultimately ends with the Day of the Lord in destruction (4:1). Who are the people we find in the middle of this second and third season of transition? (Those between Jesus and the end times?) That's right, you and I.
The underlying principles
No one can say with certainty that God is speaking to our day through Malachi's prophesy, nonetheless the parralels with today's religious leaders are far too numerous to overlook. First we find this confident statement among Edom who was forever fighting against God's chosen people:
Though Edom says, "We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins"; thus says the Lord of hosts, "They may build, but I will tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the Lord is indignant forever." [Malachi 1:4]
It is obvious for those having eyes to see that people claiming religious authority as pastors and priests have returned to "building up" that which God says He has and will tear down in religious institutions. The season in which we live is not one where a ruling class of priests oversee and direct God's people but one in which all God's people are priests and thus speak one to another. It is a time where the few called come out from the tombs of man's institutional standards and religion and exemplify and live in the promises of a new covenant.
The time of transition from the old to the new is long past and has been near 2000 years. Men can continue to promote and exemplify that which has passed away or live in the reality of the revelation of the new covenant in Jesus. Each must choose this day, each must decide where their true allegiance lies.
In the beginning God sent forth prophets to proclaim the heart of God Almighty to the few who would listen, those solely devoted to the words of Him and no other. From those days forward, very few have heard His voice and taken seriously the admonition of the Lord. Today, many are arising in the spirit of Elijah who desire to restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers. Is that your cry?
Another cry is sounding forth from many who long to return to a life centered in Jesus. It is a life founded upon His death, His life, His resurrection, in short- His wisdom. Do you hear their cries as well?
The desire of God's heart
"For zeal for Your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me" [Psalms 69:9]
In the beginning God sent forth prophets to proclaim the heart of God Almighty to the few who would listen. One of those prophets was King David, a man after God's own heart who penned the words above. Why was David so consumed with building God a house? Why was David willing to suffer the reproach of men in order to build one?
David saw the physical house as the place where man could find intimacy with God. Where mankind could come together as one family and worship and experience God together. He saw this as the highest expression of his devotion to God- a desire which became an ongoing consuming zeal within him.
David was entirely sincere when he penned these words, but he couldn't see the mystery which was about to be unfolded. He didn't realize how much the physical and earthly would cause the people of God to serve the thing created over the Creator himself. He knew nothing of how the physical structures of mankind would become testaments to their own wisdom, ingenuity and power among the people. He couldn't see how his very desire to build a house would someday be used in an attempt to once again erect a tower of babel that would compete directly with God for the aspirations of men. He didn't know of His Father's ultimate desire to build for Himself a spiritual habitation among and within the hearts of men.
God's prevailing winds
"The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit" [John 3:8]
The one thing all men know about religion is this: religion is predictable. If it were not predictable, men could not manipulate it and position themselves to take advantage of it. Just as in the business world, once you know the rules you only have to play along and appear as if you're on the team. Integrity and truthfulness are not really necessary. Religion can be feigned and we all know it.
Due to the consistent trends within all religions, they each breed bitter jealousy, selfish ambition and hypocrisy. There is always a competitive nature among them, one from another and even among similar sounding christian denominations. They each jockey for position, attempt to show themselves in the brighest light and recruit as many people as they can. Once recruited, each individual servant also jockeys for position in an attempt to be loved, accepted and deemed significant by as many people as they possibly can. It's really no suprise that the members merely follow the example of the religious leaders themselves, and continue to follow their lead in an attempt to climb the religious ladder of recognition and significance. Although most get trampled under foot by the religious masses who are coming and going, every once in a while a man or woman reaches the pinnacle of their particular religious profession. Having arrived at their cherished destination, they need only ride the prevailing winds of doctrine and dogma to retain the status quo of their particular religion and the applause of men.
The underlying current of all of God's ministry through men is the working of God the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is anything but predictable, as He works through whomever and however He wishes at any undetermined time and season. As men individually and corporately submit to the leading and prompting of the Spirit within each of them, then the manifestation of Jesus becomes a living reality in their midst as He wills and works however He chooses. Needless to say, the greatest hindrance to the prevailing winds of the Spirit are man's wisdom, choreography and oh yes, religion!
God is wiser than men
"For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, HE IS THE ONE WHO CATCHES THE WISE IN THEIR CRAFTINESS"; and again, "THE LORD KNOWS THE REASONINGS OF THE WISE, THAT THEY ARE USELESS." [1 Corinthians 3:19, 20]
The religious reasonings of men go something like this:
- Even though the word "church" doesn't mean "ekklesia," it really doesn't matter if our lives revolve around church.
- Even though "ekklesia" is not a religious word and "church" is a religious word, they are still more or less synonomous.
- Even though religious titles and spiritual positions do not exist in the bible or in Christianity, it's ok if we use them if we want to.
- Even though only 3% of the members of a particular church are actively involved each day they gather, that doesn't hinder but actually helps their spiritual growth.
- Even though the bible knows nothing of elders who rule over others or hold religious offices through which they make decisions for the other saints, it really doesn't matter.
- Even though we should treat all members of Christ's body equally, it's ok if we divide the body into "clergy" and "laity."
- Even though the bible knows nothing of paid salaries for christians who consider themselves professionals, it doesn't matter if we pay them or ourselves in that manner.
- Even though the bible and biblical christianity express the importance of relationship over religion, it's ok if we promote the opposite.
- Even though the bible and Christianity never use or promote religious positions or spiritual titles among the saints, it's ok if we do anyway.
These errors and a hundred more are synonomous with and breed bitter jealousy, selfish ambition and hypocrisy. That's why God says through Timothy:
"Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth"
The religious practices above breed lies and oppose the truth. Here's why:
"This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy, selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.
That last part kinda sounds like your average church does it not?
God provides for His own, His way
Before the foundation of this world, God had a predetermined plan for all of mankind. It was never a matter of man trying to find his way in the world but simply a matter of determining what God has actually said and align our lives in accordance to that. God would provide everything, we only needed to obey Him.
Long ago God's heart was to establish His Ekklesia. He would use this holy and spiritual priesthood of called out people to be a testimony throughout cities and eventually this world. Everything was set in motion in the 1st century, man only had to align their lives and join in upon what Jesus said He was building. He spelled it all out in this book He called the bible. In it is found the good news, the plan for the redemption of mankind through Jesus Christ and the administration of His plan for the ages to come. It would be Jesus who began this work, would sustain it and bring it to completion. He would accomplish this through the one vehicle He said that He was building- His Ekklesia.
Within Jesus' own Ekklesia is found the fertile environment for every human need to be met. It was through this lifestyle of relational living that the equipping of the saints would take place for the work of service, the body being established unto a mature man. It is here that the sons and daughters of God walk together in unity, speaking the truth in love and being knit together in love through the proper working of each individual part of the body.
One Final Warning
"Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment" [1 Corinthians 1:10]
This is the result of the people of God obeying God in the manner that He prescribes. Was it true for the Corinthians at that time? No, they were still very carnal and self-centered. Nonetheless, this was the command of God and therefore was to be expected to be normal among them. If that is not your personal experience where you fellowship their is only one of two reasons why you are not living as the verse above commands.
1. Either you as an individual or a group of people are refusing to relinguish your own wisdom in an attempt to build something for God. In that pusuit you will never have true unity, nor will you ever live in the magnificent promises of God.
2. Either you as an individual or as a group of people are refusing to deny yourself and take up the cross of Christ- the very cross Jesus says you must embrace to even be a Christian.
Dear brother or sister, if your are crying out for real life, real love and real liberty, maybe you are ready to abandon all for what Jesus is building through His Ekklesia.Their will not be many wise, not many mighty, not many noble, just a bunch of average guys and gals who believe God can make something out of nothing. Come join those who cry in the wilderness. You won't be crying alone.
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