Category Archives: Living by Faith

Living by Faith is not just the calling of a few “full time” Christians who depend on God for their income: it is the substance of things hoped for, and without it one cannot please God. Only by faith do we have access into the grace in which we stand. And “just in case any should boast,” faith is itself a gift from God.

The Mountain Bike

Our bike is not a road bike; it’s a mountain bike. God wants us to go up the mountain to seek His presence, and He wants us to ride on the paths that He shows us. I’ve written elsewhere about not being conformed to the world, so I won’t repeat it all here; but essentially the relevance of the idea of a mountain bike to thoughts on Christian discipleship is that the mountain bike is designed for the narrow way, not the broad road of the world’s thinking.

Long before Coronavirus, prophets of God all over the world were announcing that ‘God is about to do a new thing.’ There is material on it here as well – in particular the guest blog “You have not been this way before.” Now that new thing is upon us. I am sure that this is just a beginning; there will be more changes to come. But we are setting out on a path without a map and without roadsigns: only the Holy Spirit can tell us where to go, so we need to listen to His voice. If we aren’t used to hearing it, now is the time to learn.

As Jesus leads his off-road church further up the mountain track and away from the road there will be a separation between those who are following Him and those who are staying on the road that they have always known. It will be gradual, and for a while those on the road will say ; “It’s OK, they’ll see sense and come back down soon,” while those on the mountain will say: “Surely they will pay attention to what the Lord is saying soon, and come up here with us!” And some on the track will go back to the road, because they long for the smooth ride, while some on the road will turn off up the mountain to seek the presence of the Lord.

As the track goes higher the going will get harder yet more exhilarating, and a time will come when the distance between the two is too great and the crossing over will stop. The riders on the road will have become wedded to the world and its ways, while the Bride of Christ will be up the mountain, waiting for the Lord to return.

The LORD God is my strength;
He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills.
(Hab 3:19; Psalm 18:33)

Next: Two wheels.

The Bike Ride: Pictures of discipleship

The Lord has shown me a picture of a bicycle on a number of occasions; the last one being three days ago. I’ve been thinking about the relevance of the idea of riding a bicycle to our walk as disciples, and the more I have considered it the more aspects I have seen. I am going to try and draw the threads together here over a few posts, because I believe that the Holy Spirit will quicken specific aspects of them  to different individuals. As you read it ask Him to speak to you.

Keep Moving

You can’t sit still on a bicycle: if you do you will fall off. We are encouraged to “press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14). Our faith is dynamic, not static. The Holy Spirit moves, and He wants us to move with Him. Now more than ever God is uprooting and tearing down old strongholds and old ways in the world and in the Church, because He is clearing the ground to build His Kingdom. Ephesians 5:16 encourages us to “redeem the time, because the days are evil.” We don’t achieve this by being static, but by engaging with God’s purpose for us, like the chain engages with the cogs to move the cycle forward as we put our weight on the pedal.  There are times when we doubt this purpose, and so we stop moving. The next thing we know, the faith that was so solid yesterday feels like quicksand today. But the doubt that floored us did not actually arise because the truth of what we believe is in any way questionable, but because the evil one chose that moment to send a fiery dart into our heart. We need to remember and believe the words that God has spoken to us in the past, because the gifts and calling of God are without repentance (Romans 11:29). If we just get on our bikes and start cycling again in these “quicksand moments,” despite the cloud that has descended, we will find that the path becomes solid again and the way clear once more. The shield of faith will extinguish the fiery dart.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Cor 15:58)

We are seated

Even though we are moving, we are seated – in Heavenly places with Christ Jesus. Because we are seated, we are at rest – even though we are moving. Jesus tells us that if we take His yoke upon us, we will find rest for our souls. If we have lost our rest and our peace has left us, the chances are that we have left our seats as well. All authority proceeds from His throne, and we are partakers of that authority. He has given us His name, and He has given us His peace. If we can just remember that we are seated with Him in heavenly places (Eph 2:6), anxiety, impatience, stress and many other negative states of mind have nowhere to settle.

(He) raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, (Eph 2:6)

Stay focussed

On a bicycle one has to stay focussed and concentrate on the task of staying on the road. If we have a lot of interests and responsibilities it is easy to get distracted, and the next thing we know we are, spiritually, lying on the ground along with our bicycle, and no longer wanting to cycle. But this doesn’t mean that we shirk our responsibilities or (as long as they are healthy ones!) give up our interests: God has put us where we are, and in addition He is the creator and sustainer of all things, therefore there is not a moment when we cannot find Him, and nothing in which we cannot serve and worship Him. The secret to staying on our bikes is in Proverbs 3 vs 6: to actually seek and acknowledge Him in everything we do. If we share everything with Him, as the friend that we are cycling with,  He will direct our paths, according to the rest of Proverbs 3:6. And if God is directing our paths we are not going to fall off our bikes.

In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct  your paths.
(Prov 3:6)

Next time: uphill, downhill.

Do not be conformed to this world

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2)

The other day Anne and I went to Curry’s buy a new vacuum cleaner (If you’re not in the UK, Curry’s is one of the major electrical retailers over here.) Yes, we WENT to Curry’s – we didn’t www it! But when we had made the purchase, the bullying began. “We just need your name and an email address for the invoice, please….”

“No,” said Anne.

The assistant was shocked. This is a normal procedure. People don’t say no.

“Madam, I can’t give you an invoice unless I have your name. It’s for the guarantee…”

“No.” (This is an abbreviated version of quite a few sentences, explaining that Curry’s were not, under any circumstances, going to have out personal details; and that their invoice wasn’t necessary because we can register directly with the manufacturer.)

I won’t spin this out: Curry’s didn’t get our details; we did register for the guarantee as soon as we got home: there was a huge QR code on the inside of the box lid. As we left the shop, Anne said this: “Conform, conform, conform. We’re bullied into conforming with their procedures, just so they can get our personal details on their records. How many other people today have refused to give their details? This week even? This month?”

The episode made me think of Paul’s word to the Romans, and to us: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” The word “conformed” – syschematizo – is only used in one other place in the New Testament, and it’s  by Peter: “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance” (1 Peter 1:13-14) It means to fashion oneself according to another person’s pattern. The word “schema” comes from it. Paul and Peter are both telling us the same thing: we need to free our minds from the schemas of the world and the flesh, so that we can say “No!” to their bullying and “Yes” to the Kingdom of God and to the gentle promptings of the Holy Spirit.

Peter tells us to “gird up the loins” of our minds. The image refers to tucking one’s long robe into a girdle in preparation for action, free of the restrictions of the garment. The key to not “conforming” – whether to the world, or to the flesh – is to act as “obedient children,” free to walk in “the wisdom that is from above.” (James 3:17) I was praying for someone recently and the Holy Spirit spoke to me about the memory card that I had just taken out of my camera. We need to let Him take out our memory cards that are full of all the mental habits that we have accumulated since childhood, and let Him put in a new one where the memory files consist of what He has promised, what He has done, and what He has told us to do. Most digital cameras today have SD cards, but some newer ones have more powerful XQD cards. SD stands for Sin and Death. We are new creations: we need new, powerful XQD cards.  XQD begins with a cross.

So which pattern are we conforming to? I have just been reading the story of Esther. I love the glimpse that account gives us into the sovereignty and providence of God as He acts for those whose lives are submitted to Him. Haman was the chief minister under Xerxes, King of Persia. He hated Mordecai because he would not bow down to him, so Haman vowed to destroy all the Jews in the Kingdom of Persia where they were exiled. It is interesting to note the meanings of the names here. Haman was the son of Hammedatha the Agagite. Agag was the king of the Amalekites, the nation that God had commanded Saul to completely destroy and a biblical type of the demonic. Fittingly, the name means “I will overtop.”  Haman means “magnificent,” and Hammedatha means “double.” Mordecai means “little man.”

Who is the magnificent one who was “the seal of perfection, Full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.” (Ezekeil; 28:12), whose desire was to “overtop” the very throne of God, and who, once cast out of Heaven, set himself up as the double of the true ruler of this world? The prime minister of Persia in the story of Esther stands for none other than the devil himself, whom Jesus called the prince of this world. The little man refused to bow down to him, and ultimately Haman was destroyed, having been made to lead Mordecai round the city in one of the King’s own robes.

We too are “little men.” Our enemy is a bully and a manipulator. He starts to build his thinking into us from the day we are born, teaching us independence rather than interdependence; self-preservation rather than trust in God; retaliation rather than gentleness; greed rather than generosity; pride rather than humility, and many other demonic “doubles” of godly values. We need to learn that we can, and must, say “No!” to his schemas; to “set the Lord before us at all times” (Psalm 16:8) just like obedient children looking to their parents for direction; and to let the Holy Spirit renew our minds by replacing our thinking with His.

In today’s world, especially in the West, this still may seem a little optional; extreme even. But even now the scene is changing, and we may already be heading into a very different world. Under the guise of health protection as virus infections threaten, “track and trace” can be used as a tool for persecution. As identity theft and financial crime proliferate, and as the debt burden of printed money increasingly threatens our fragile financial systems, a new, one-world blockchain digital currency (like bitcoins) would protect the interests of world trade and keep individuals safe from scammers. Excellent, for the world system. But for a persecuted Church it will call for endurance, as it would also mean that the authorities could follow the movements of every penny that is spent or given away, and it would have Christians finally staring down the barrel of the mark of the beast as the new financial system requires their unique bank details to be microchipped under the skin of their hand or their forehead.

However, as we know, it is the King of Kings who has the last word, not the prince of the world, who ‘has nothing on him.’ (See John 14:30) He has given us His royal robe, and our names are in the Book of Life: we do not have to put them anywhere else, whatever the pressure.

“For you are the fountain of life,
the light by which we see.
Pour out your unfailing love on those who love you;
give justice to those with honest hearts.
Don’t let the proud trample me
or the wicked push me around.
Look! Those who do evil have fallen!
They are thrown down, never to rise again.”
(Ps 36:9-12 New Living Translation)

This is “that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

The Faith of Ezra

“I was ashamed to request of the king an escort of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy on the road, because we had spoken to the king, saying, “The hand of our God is upon all those for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him. So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and He answered our prayer.” (Ezra 8: 22-23)

Ezra and a remnant of the Israelites had been released from captivity by Ataxerxes, the King of Persia, to go and worship the Lord in the temple that had been rebuilt during the reign of Darius. Before they set out on their perilous journey, Ezra had gathered them at the river to fast and pray. However they weren’t going empty-handed: in the care of the priests and Levites was “six hundred and fifty talents of silver, silver articles weighing one hundred talents, one hundred talents of gold, twenty gold basins worth a thousand drachmas, and two vessels of fine polished bronze, precious as gold.” One talent weighed roughly 50kg; about the weight of one adult. So along with the men, women and children were another 100 people in solid gold, and 750 more people in solid silver, plus the other precious objects, presumably transported by donkey or ox-cart, all on a journey of around 2000 kilometres.

Ezra was a priest and a scribe. He knew the word of God. And not only did he know the Word, but he believed it without compromise, trusting God and not the armies of men for protection for all those people in his care, and all the wealth that they were carrying on this long and perilous journey. He believed what he declared, and walked in it. But also he didn’t walk in presumption, but under his leadership they prayed earnestly, they humbled themselves, and they fasted; and “the gracious hand of God was upon them” to deliver them safely to Jerusalem.

For us, as we journey on the road towards Jerusalem – the New One – how much of the word of God do we believe and walk in? At the time of writing we live in a climate of virus-induced fear, exaggerated by the negative words of headline-hunting media, reinforced by the sinister image of the face mask that robs the wearer of his or her smile, and by the deprivation of warm human contact through social distancing measures. As believers we are certain that God is at work through all this, because Romans 8: 28 tells us that “all things work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.” However the fact remains that the virus and its ravages are the work of “the enemy on the road.” Yes, we have to comply with the law and its anti-virus measures, because the Bible tells us that as well. But do we give into the enemy of fear when we put the mask over our smile or imprison ourselves in our “social bubbles,” or do we believe that “God is my protection” and “No plague shall come near my dwelling?”

Our response to the enemy of fear in the context of coronavirus is just one aspect of many ways in which we can be selective in our faith. For example, the Bible is clear in both the old and new testaments that God detests same-sex relationships (For example. Leviticus 18:22, and 20:13; Romans : 24-32, 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10.) Do we ignore that part of the word because it’s uncomfortable and hard to swallow, like a chewy bit of gristle that we leave on the side of the plate? There are no details given, but it isn’t hard to guess what some of the “detestable practices” of the surrounding pagan nations were that the Israelites, and many of their kings, found so attractive and which led to their downfall. A liberal gospel is not the gospel of Salvation. The narrow gate is like the restrictors found now at the top of airport and underground escalators: we can’t take all our baggage through, no matter how much we might want it with us.

Healing, deliverance, the critical importance of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, God’s promises of provision in times of hardship – how often is this food left on the side of the plate? Demons are another bit of gristle. They are a very real part of the unseen realm, but it is so easy leave them to carry on their activities instead of learning how to deal with them effectively.  And what does the Word tell us about division, backbiting and criticism, for example – what we might call the sins of the tongue rather than the sins of the flesh. Do we leave that as well? Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He gave Himself totally for our salvation. He is also the Living Word, and He is alive in us. If we want all that He has to give us, we need all of Him, not just the tasty bits, and we need to give ourselves totally to Him. We need the faith of Ezra in every aspect of our lives.

Ask, and it shall be given.

At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask! What shall I give you?” (1 Kings 3:5)

We all know how Solomon responded to this. Even if you have never read any of the Bible you will have heard of the wisdom of that God gave to Solomon because it is what he asked for, and you will have heard of the great wealth and power that God also gave him because he didn’t ask for them. I sometimes used to wish that God would appear to me like that, and I would think about what my answer would be if He did, and all the amazing things He would give me that I hadn’t asked for. Have you?

The point is: God has said the same thing to us. Jesus said “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened… If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him” (Matt 7:7-8, 11)

Luke renders this slightly differently. He says (Luke 11:13)”… how much more will your Father who is in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him”

Paul writes (Romans 8:32) “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”

This is not God appearing to us in a dream in a specific time and place; these are words that are written in Heaven for every child of God for all time, for us to appropriate by faith and make our own. The only question is: what is God exhorting us to ask for? Is it “good things,” “all things,” or “the Holy Spirit?” We need to know what to ask for.

I understand it like this. “Good things” have to be God’s things. Since Jesus said that only God is good (Luke 18:19), this has to mean that Jesus would not call anything “good” that does not come from Heaven, where God dwells. Everything that is good exists in the realm of the Spirit. As James 1:17 tells us: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights.” Whatever we receive from the Father of lights comes to us through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, so when the Bible says that God will “Give the Holy Spirit” to those who come to the Father with requests, I think it simply means something like: “the entire storehouse of Heaven is available through Him; what exactly are you looking for?”

Scripture shows that there is no doubt that Jesus wants us to ask for “good gifts” from the Father:

Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. (Matt 18:19)

And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matt 21:22)

 “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:24)

Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:13)

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7)

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” (John 15:16)

and whatever we ask we receive from him, becausewe keep his commandmentsand do what pleases him.” (1 John 3:22)

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” (1 John 5: 14-15)

There are clearly some conditions; nevertheless that is a lot of encouragement to ask! God is emphatic about it. When we pray in the name of Jesus and our prayers are answered, “the Father is glorified in the Son.” Jesus tells us that it is “The Father’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom.”  (Luke 12:32) Our call as disciples is to carry on the work of the Master and see His kingdom come. We can’t build the Kingdom of God for Jesus: He has to do it Himself, by His Spirit; and He won’t do it unless we ask Him. He appointed us to bear fruit by asking the Father to give us the Kingdom. In the Spirit it is all ours already, as we are seated in heavenly places with Jesus the King. But on Earth we need to pray it into being: every time a prayer is answered we bear lasting fruit, the Father and the Son are glorified, and that is another bit of the Kingdom that has come on Earth as it is in Heaven.

So what are the conditions? Really, they can be summed up in two statements: we have to ask in faith, actually believing that we have received what we have asked for; and we have to be walking in His will. If there is sin or disobedience in our lives the heavens will be brass. If God has told you to do something, do it. You’ll just be walking through cobwebs in your spiritual life until you do. James also gives us a useful clue: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4: 3) If our motivation is worldly or carnal, we are wasting our time. Such things do not come into the domain of “good gifts,” however good we may think they are.

What if we feel that we have fulfilled the conditions, we are praying in the Spirit and not in the flesh, we are seeking God’s kingdom and not the fulfilment of our own desires, and we are still not seeing answers? There may be reasons, often to do with the timing of other situations in the bigger picture, that only God knows about; but there is one common one that we can do something about ourselves, and it’s this: we are giving up too easily, and are not being fervent enough. We have to remember that we are in a battle. There is opposition. Daniel waited 21 days for the answers he was seeking while a battle with the demon prince of Persia was being played out in the spirit realm. Maybe we need to fast. Maybe we’re just not on our knees for long enough. Maybe we should actually try getting onto our knees instead of praying on the sofa. Maybe we just need to ask God what the problem is. But as Smith Wigglesworth put it, the fact is that God wants to answer far more that we want to ask.

When Jesus posed the unsettling question “Will the Son of Man find faith on the earth when He returns?” (Luke 18:8) it is preceded by the story of the unjust judge and the persistent widow. It would seem that faith, in this context, is knowing that God will eventually answer if we just keep banging on the door. The tense of the verbs in the “Ask, seek and knock” verse is the present continuous: ask and keep on asking; seek and keep on seeking; knock and keep on knocking. . When Bible teacher Andrew Wommack held prayer meetings at the start of his ministry they used to keep praying, sometimes through the night and often doing battle with the enemy, until they saw breakthrough; because they believed that God had the “good and perfect gift” for them. It’s the fervent effective prayer of a righteous man that avails much. (James 5:16).

A final point. David just asked for one thing:

One thing I have desired of the LORD,
That will I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD
All the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the LORD,
And to inquire in His temple. (Psalm 27:4)

I think Jesus may have been alluding to this when He said (Luke 10:42) “But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” Jesus made it clear throughout His teachings that if we seek first the Kingdom of God, “all these things” – the things that “the pagans” ask for, from the world and the flesh – will be given to us. If we give to others, God will give to us. Whatever we “forsake” on earth for the Kingdom’s sake will be given back to us, multiplied a hundredfold. (With persecutions!) This is not to say that God doesn’t care about our material needs. He does, and we can remind Him of His promise that “God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. …” (Phil 4:19). In fact we are explicitly taught to ask for our daily bread, and not just to assume it will be on the table. By asking for it, we are recognising that everything we have comes from Him: it’s an acknowledgement of His provision, and as such can even be considered part of our worship.

To put all this together, I suggest the following:

1) Like David, we hunger above all for God’s presence. Apart from anything else, this is the only place where real faith is stirred.

2) We recognise that God is our provider, we trust Him to supply our needs and we remind Him of His promises over our lives. I put this before the next point because it means what we can take our personal “stuff” to the cross and leave it there, while we get on with the business of number 3 below.

3) We get on our knees, physically or metaphorically, and realise that God is saying the same to us as He said to Solomon all those years ago.

So what are we asking for? Is it a good and perfect gift that will increase the Kingdom of God on the earth? Do we really believe it is there for us? Are we in a right place with God, or does something need dealing with so that we ourselves are walking in His Kingdom ways? Is our priority, above all else, to know the presence of God? If the answer to all of these is yes, then we keep asking until it “comes down from the Father of lights.” And if it’s taking its time, that may simply be because we are in a battle, and we need to “endure to the end.”

God is saying to us all, “Ask! What shall I give you?” And we aren’t dreaming.

The Narrow Door

A few weeks ago I published a word from a friend of ours called “You have not been this way before.” On the same day I felt the Lord showed me a little pathway that I have driven past hundreds of times, but have missed every time – until I slowed down to walking along the same road.

We often miss God’s direction and His word because we are in too much of a hurry, and instead we are pulled along by the flow of the world or the demands of our flesh. Jake had a vision of the abundance of God’s Kingdom and His provision for those who seek Him, where the entrance was just a nondescript building between two much more palatial ones. God doesn’t want us to miss what He has for us in the Spirit, but we have to take our eyes off the world’s standards, and open them to His if we are going to enter into all that He has for us.

“I had a picture of  a small door to what appeared to  be a narrow corridor type building with a  church type front between huge beautiful buildings looking great on the outside and very appealing to the eye. But as one entered it was was the most amazingly spacious and beautiful palace anyone has ever seen. The rooms and courtyard were vast and too many to ever count or explore in eternity. The vibrant colours were breathtaking; far more beautiful than an eternity on earth could reveal. Although it was so vast and so astoundly decorated, with amazing colours, gold , silver and all the most valuable jewelss and precious metals and materials it felt so welcoming and homely. The dining hall was huge;  full of more food more than the entire plant could consume in a  several hundred generations, and it never seemed  to be depleted : the more that was eaten, the more  it was instantly, in a blink of an eye, replenished. It was full of such joy, music and happiness.   I could see beautiful angels playing music, with living creatures similar to those in Revelation. The whole place was full of joy. The atmosphere in the dining hall was far more exciting than all the best sports events that have ever taken place. It spilt out all around the building, and could even be heard outside the front of the  building entrance, where people were standing outside listening in.

I felt that  this was like Heaven on Earth. This small narrow door in the corridor building is the entrance to the kingdom of God, and the inside is what God has prepared for us for us once we are saved. It is what living a spirit filled life as a disciple is like: endless adventures with a huge table that I believed to be the table that he has set out for us in the presence of our enemies. “

Jacob Dominy.

The mantle of Elisha

“Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it, and he cried out, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!” So he saw him no more. And he took hold of his own clothes and tore them into two pieces. He also took up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood by the bank of the Jordan. Then he took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, and said, “Where is the LORD God of Elijah?” And when he also had struck the water, it was divided this way and that; and Elisha crossed over. Now when the sons of the prophets who were from Jericho saw him, they said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” And they came to meet him, and bowed to the ground before him. Then they said to him, “Look now, there are fifty strong men with your servants. Please let them go and search for your master, lest perhaps the Spirit of the LORD has taken him up and cast him upon some mountain or into some valley.” And he said, “You shall not send anyone.”” (2 Kings 2: 11-16)

Elisha was possibly the most complete type of Christ in the Old Testament. His name is a clue: it means “God is salvation.” Among other things, he broke a curse (Jericho 2 Kings 2),
He raised the dead (2 Kings 4: 19-37),
He spoke with authority and healed at a distance (Naaman, 2 Kings 5),
He taught love for enemies – (the Syrian raiders 2 Kings 6 22-2),
He multiplied food (The jars of oil , and also bread, both in 2 Kings 4),
Even His death brought new life (A dead man was raised to life when he touched Elisha’s bones (2 Kings 13:21).

The Bible is full of transitions: Egypt to Promised land, Judges to Kings, Saul to David, Kingdom to Exile, Exile to Restoration, The Law to Grace, Crucifixion to Resurrection, Flesh to Spirit – Jesus brings Life; life is dynamic, and dynamism means change. We go through many and various transitions in our own lives, until we all come to the final one where we move from the dimension of corruption to the dimension of immortality. We pass through some by choice and some by accident, but the changes to our body as life takes its course in us are inexorable. And so it is, I believe, with the Body of Christ.

The church is in transition. The spirit of Elijah now rests on Elisha. Christians the world over have been taking an unprecedented opportunity to spend more time with the Lord, not letting go of His presence, and following Him to a place separated (by the Jordan) from the commerce of the world (Jericho). Now that season is drawing to a close, and the time is coming for us to bring Jesus and His salvation back to Jericho. But we cannot go back over the Jordan unless we pick up the mantle and strike the water, in faith that the God of Elijah will part them for us. And to wear that new mantle, we need to take off our existing clothes and tear them in two. What we have been in the past will not serve us for the future.

What matters now as we stand before Jericho is that we don’t follow the inclination of the “sons of the prophets” and go up into the mountains to look for Elijah. If we look for our old ways and expect to carry on just as we were we will find that the power and authority – the Spirit of Elijah – has gone; we’ll be stuck on the other side of the Jordan and will have no impact on Jericho. I believe that this transition is as inevitable as the physical changes that take place in the human body on its journey through life. Either we move into Jericho wearing the mantle of the God of Salvation and cloaked in His miracle power, or we waste our time in the mountains looking for what is no longer there.

Elijah (“Jehovah is God”) has a strong association with fire: not only the fire of God that consumed the sacrifice on the mountain and demonstrated that Jehovah, not Baal, was God (1 Kings 18:38); but also the fire that fell twice on the captains and cohort of fifty men that Ahaziah sent to arrest him (2 Kings 1:10). Elijah comes before Elisha. The fire of God comes before the salvation of God. Jesus said “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished.” (Matt 17:11-12) As John the Baptist came and prepared the way for the earthly ministry of Jesus, so the fire of God will prepare the way for the Body of Christ to minister again in all the restored fullness of His authority and power.

In the book of Acts it wasn’t just the leading apostles who saw the power of God confirm the preaching of the Word.  “Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.” (Act 11: 19-21) Some of us have felt the fire already, and if we haven’t, we soon will. Because now is time for the whole of the Body of Christ, not just the leaders but also the “men from Cyprus and Cyrene,” to pick up the mantle of Elisha, cross the Jordan, and bring salvation to Jericho.

It is finished

When the Lord Jesus surrendered his life as an atoning sacrifice for the sin of the world, He cried out “It is finished.” He came to do the work that the Father sent Him to complete, and He completed it. Every bit of it. Not a sin, a sickness or a broken heart was left out. He accomplished it all; there are no doubts in any Christian theologian’s mind concerning the completion of the work of calvary.

As I wrote in “The Cup and the Baptism”, (and if you’re reading this I’m sure you know it anyway) John’s gospel records that He commissioned His disciples with the words: “As the Father sent me, I also send you… Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22). The Father sent Jesus to do a complete work, and He accomplished it, by the power of the Holy Spirit by whom He was conceived, who came upon him, and in whom He was immersed or “baptized.”

When we were born again, we were “created in Christ Jesus for works prepared beforehand, that we might walk in them.” (Eph 2:10) We believe that the Word of God is truth, so how does scripture compare the ministry of the Church, sent by the Son, with the ministry of Jesus, sent by the Father?

Jesus was “from above” (John 3:31). The Christian who is born again, “of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5) and as such is a “new creation” (2 Cor 5:15), is also born “from above.”

Jesus was the Son of God.  Romans 8:14 tells us: “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” We are also joint heirs with Christ: remembering again the Cup and the Baptism, Romans 8: 17 goes on to say:  “Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Romans 8:29 tells us that He was “The firstborn of many brethren.”  If we are sons of God, every resource that the Father made available to Jesus is available to us, His co-heirs; and the fulfilment of every promise is Yes and Amen to us, through Him.

Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit. Luke 4:1 tells us “Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.” Because Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit as the only begotten Son of God, I have tended to think that Jesus was equipped for ministry through His unique divine nature, and that He did “the works” of God because He also was God. But that isn’t what the bible actually tells us. Luke says that He returned from the wilderness “in the power of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:14); Acts 10:38 (also written by Luke, of course) tells us “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.” So we must be clear that the anointing of the Holy Spirit that was poured out ON Jesus and that completely filled Him (baptized Him) is distinct from the divine nature that He was born with. All this is to show that the Christian who is baptised in the Holy Spirit and prioritizes being filled with the Spirit (and dead to the flesh) and led by the Spirit on a daily basis has the same anointing as Jesus. The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead lives in us “and gives life to our mortal bodies.” (Romans 8:11)

“All authority in heaven and on earth” had been given to Jesus (Matt 28:18). God has raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in heavenly places. As His co-heirs, we share His authority when we minister in His name. Whatever we bind and loose on Earth has been bound and loosed in Heaven. (Matt 18:18) The Christian has the authority of the name of Jesus.

So the Church consists of sons (Daughters being included in all the rights of “sonship”) of God, who are born from above, filled with and led by the same Spirit that equipped Jesus for the “works of God” that He did, sent into the world to do the same works that He did and greater, with all the authority that is vested in the name that is ours by adoption. The work of Calvary was finished; complete. Jesus went to “prepare a place for us” in His Father’s house (John 14:2). That, too, is complete. We’ve already got a room in Heaven full of everything we need for our work on Earth. Finally, 2 Tim 3 16-17 says this: All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work,” and the writer to the Hebrews prays that “the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead” will “make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. (Hebrews 13:20-21).

Jesus completed the great work of Calvary so that we can be completely full of the Spirit in order to complete “every good work” that is given us to do. Nothing is left out: not at Calvary; not in the baptism of the Holy Spirit that Jesus has passed on to us; and not in our own spiritual growth, because we are “confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in (us) will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phi 1:6). The apostle John gives us the final piece of the jigsaw: “As He was, so are we in this world.” (1 John 4:17)

Today is Pentecost Sunday. Every day can be a Pentecost for us, as we come empty of self and ask the Holy Spirit to come and fill us with God. He is not interested in dusting the surface of our lives with a powdery whiteness that will last for a few hours and fall away: He wants us to know the reality of His life in us so that we really are “able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— (that we) know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that (we) may be filled with all the fullness of God.” This, and nothing less, is the complete fruit of the complete work of Calvary.

This is our inheritance. Within the context of our individual callings, all of the anointing that was on Jesus is there for us to take hold of by faith. The complete package is ours; not just a little taste. Let us be bold enough to step out from under the influence and the unbelief of any teaching that has come to us, from within or outside of our churches, that would diminish this; and let us have the faith to see ourselves as trained-up disciples who can continue with and multiply the work of the Master until He comes back and says, once more, “It is finished.”

the cup and the baptism

Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They said to Him, “We are able.” So He said to them, “You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with;  but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father.” (Matt 20: 22-23)

Whenever I have read these words, spoken to James and John when they asked to sit next to Jesus in Heaven, I have taken the baptism and the cup that Jesus refers to as being the same thing: the suffering that will soon overwhelm all His human senses. We know that this is definitely true of the “cup”, because He asks the Father to take it away if it were at all possible; but Jesus was always economical with His words and I don’t think He is repeating Himself here. Also, He refers to the cup as still being in the future, whereas the baptism is a present reality: it is “the baptism that I am baptized with.”

James was martyred, and tradition has it that John was as well, after his exile on Patmos; so they both drank His cup. In a wider sense we all do when we put our flesh to death with Jesus on the cross. But the only baptism that Jesus was already “baptized with” before He was crucified but which still awaited the disciples at a future time is the baptism in the Holy Spirit. When Jesus promises the Holy Spirit He tells the disciples “you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:17). The Holy Spirit is with them while they are with Jesus, because Jesus is immersed in Him; and He will be in them from Pentecost onward.

So there are definitely two sides to the coin of discipleship: the cup and the baptism. For fruitful discipleship, which Jesus Himself tells us is true discipleship, we need them both: indeed we cannot have one without the other. If we follow the thread of what Jesus taught His disciples at their last meeting together, documented in John 12-16, we see the progression from the seed falling to the ground and dying in order to multiply, through the need to remain submitted to the word of God and to love one another (neither of which are possible if the flesh is not dead), to the provision of the Holy Spirit who will bring the multiplication of God-Life into the submitted heart where Jesus reigns.

Paul expressed his greatest desire like this: “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Phil 3:10). The baptism and the cup. The cup and the baptism. These are the great truths of discipleship. Luke 6:40 tells us this: “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.” At the end of the disciples’ training John gives us his account of the disciples’ commissioning: “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you. And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20: 21-22) The mighty rushing wind that came from heaven not long later came first from within Jesus, from the “baptism that He was baptized with.” Jesus sends us as He was sent, with the cup and the baptism. We can become as dead to self as He was, we can be as filled with the Spirit as He was, and that is why we can do the works that He did. This is what the Word of God tells us. Satan will do everything he can to diminish and dilute this truth. He works tirelessly to convince us that we are only insignificant shadows of the great apostles who walked with Jesus two thousand years ago. But the Word of God tells us that our discipleship can be as fruitful as that of Peter, James and John, because we have the same Spirit and the same Word, and we are following the same master. So are we dead to self, and is there no room for anything in our lives except what the Holy Spirit brings us? We know these things: blessed are we if we do them.

abiding in the vine

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.” (John 15: 7-8)

The first condition of fruitfulness as that we, as seeds, have to die to self – really, not just theoretically – in order for the abundant life of Christ in us to multiply to fruitfulness. The second condition is spelled out for us here. Fruitfulness – the manifestation of Jesus’s abundant life in us – is a direct result of us remaining ‘in the Vine,’ because when we stay in the vine, the life of the Vine flows through us and produces the fruit of – guess what – the vine. Jesus’s words “are Spirit and they are life” (John 6: 63). His words are none other than the life that flows through the vine. So when the word of God is central to our lives, the life of the Vine is flowing through us and we are “abiding” in the vine. That’s straightforward enough.

Now here comes the trickier bit. What this doesn’t mean is how much of the Bible we know. The life of the Vine doesn’t flow through our Bible scholarship. If flows through how much we do of what we know. Fortunately, while God does indeed give the Spirit without limit, He doesn’t give us lessons without limit. Jesus is the best of all teachers, and never tries to teach us more than we are capable of learning. And if we have learning difficulties (!) He will keep working with us until we are able to move on. Even if it takes 60 years…

What I believe is this: each of us has a different level of familiarity with the Bible – the Logos, the entirety of the revealed Word of God. And we may have very little difficulty in walking in many of the truths it contains. But for each of us, the Holy Spirit takes specific “rhema” words out of that logos and speaks them into our lives. To me He might be saying: “Bob, right now you really need to know what it means to die to your carnal nature.” To you He will be saying what you need to know right now. I think it’s these rhema words that we have to pay particular attention to (without disregarding the rest), because it is primarily through these that He leads us along the paths of discipleship. Just to make sure that we don’t miss the point, He tells us in verse ten “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”

It really isn’t complicated. The life of Christ in us flows through His Word, and His word remains in us when we act on what we know He has said. This – not the songs we sing – is how we show Him our love. If we disregard what we know He has said to us we are not loving Him and we are exiting the vine. We can’t expect His abundant Life to bring its multiplication if we are outside the Vine, so we need to get back in again as quickly as possible. Fortunately the Door is always open.

If we exit the Vine by disregarding His Word to us, we remain it by acknowledging Him in all things. He is the Sovereign Lord. All things were made by Him and are His. How many times have we heard Proverbs 3:6: “In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths?” The word translated as “acknowledge” is the word yada, which means to know, including to know intimately. We need to know Him in everything. Paul puts it like this: “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men,  knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” (Col 3: 23-24)

But those shelves that I’ve just put up in the garden shed – surely it doesn’t matter to the Lord if I’ve just thrown them up quickly, so I could get the job done and move on to something I enjoy more than DIY (like writing this, for example)? Yes it matters. All is all; whatever is whatever. Just as dead is dead. And here’s the thing: now that I have learnt this, I will be jumping out of the Vine if I disregard it. Jesus wants us to be faithful in the little things, so that He can trust us with the big “Abundant Life” stuff. Because if we do stay in the Vine, we can ask for anything that the Life flowing through it can bring, and it will be given to us.

There’s a further dimension to this. The more we acknowledge His sovereignty in all things, the more we will be led to praise Him. The more we praise Him, the higher He is lifted in our lives, and the more we desire to be drawn into His presence. The more time we spend in His presence, the more the Life and Spirit of His word will be imparted to us, the more we will know of the life of the Vine, and the more we will see its fruit manifested in our lives. The New Living Translation renders verse eight like this: “When you produce much fruit, you are My true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.”

We are called to multiplication. It’s what life does: cells multiply. We are called to bear the fruit of Abundant Life, for this is a sign of our discipleship, and it is what brings glory to the God who has made us His own.

A final point. Discipleship is every day, for our whole lives. Every day we “offer our bodies as a living sacrifice.” We learn to die in one thing, then in another. Then another. We remain in the vine as much in putting up shelves as in raising the dead; but we’ll never be raising the dead if our flesh is alive and we aren’t serving the Lord while we’re putting up the shelves. Remaining in the Vine is a double-decker bus journey, not a plane flight. It’s noisy and smelly and there are lots of stops. But the destination board on the front of the bus says “Kingdom of God,” and once we’ve boarded all we have to do is go upstairs and take our seat in Christ. The driver will make sure we reach the destination. What we must do is stay on board.