By: Martin Cisneros
It says in 1Corinthians 4 that though you might have 10,000 instructors in Christ, yet you don't have very many fathers. There's maybe another 15 or 18 passages about spiritual fathers in the faith, with Paul's writings claiming about half of them. Someone was asking me about whom she should regard as her spiritual mother. And the person that I was speaking with brought up about 3 or 4 names of various female ministers of the Gospel that had had a profound effect on her spiritual life up until this point. And I felt like some of the things that I shared with her should be pondered by a wider audience.
On the one hand, a spiritual father or a spiritual mother might be someone that from the beginning has taken the responsibility upon their shoulders of fasting and praying to bring you to Christ, and then from that point to bring you into spiritual maturity. They may be conscious of having that and other responsibilities where you're concerned or not. How many of you know that if a natural man goes out and arbitrarily gets a girl pregnant that that natural, carnal man still has a multitude of responsibilities for that child unless other arrangements are specifically made? So, simply leading someone to Christ carries with it a weight of responsibilities, unless that person, that new babe in Christ, is quickly attached to some other ministry for their spiritual upkeep.
Most of the time, you're not necessarily readily going to perceive that relationship with or to another ministry at the very beginning. It'll often be a relationship that grows with or to another ministry over a number of years. It'll wind up being that minister, ministry, or [very] small number of ministers that have consistently nurtured your spiritual development and whose core message or core messages have rang the truest with the deepest part of your heart. As the years unfold, and again, as the years unfold, it'll wind up being where you consistently turn for growth, for getting into the Presence of the Lord during moments of weakness or when you're just needing that encouraging Word from the Lord. Can a person have multiple spiritual parents? Yes, of course.
In merely natural terms, since the natural realm often carries full lessons about the spiritual existence: People who are married often claim the parents of their spouse as their own parents from then on. And then there are special relationships that have often formed with a nanny or some other care taker when one was growing up, be it another relative or a friend of the family with whom one has been entrusted over the years and to whom one has often fled to in moments of distress and/or personal need.
Can a Christian's life be missing that special relationship with and to a ministry and still be a whole and a wholesome relationship with the Lord? Yes, of course. But often, there will be that special person that either tutored one from their new birth onward or that has taken a person on to a new level of spiritual growth. Jesus did warn against coveting spiritual titles, but since Paul and St. John directly acknowledged their place in the spiritual lives of certain believers, and since it's not as directly stated in Peter's writings but certainly implied as well, we may be safe to say that Jesus' comments were never understood during the first century to exclude ideas of spiritual lineage or fatherly/motherly relationships in the faith. And certainly, the Bible from cover to cover acknowledges the validity of the oriental idea of spiritual fathers and spiritual sons, as in the case of Moses with Joshua, Elijah with Elisha and in other places and times. Were there no specific passages on the subject, it would certainly be implied with Ephesians chapters 2, 3, and 4 and the idea elsewhere of the Church as a family. (i.e. built upon the foundation of Apostles and Prophets WITH Christ Jesus as the cornerstone; fitly framed together by what each joint in the Body supplies, etc.)
It's not a relationship to be specifically sought, as if one could go out and find a spiritual daddy or mommy at random. Can there be a certain amount of ignorance on the part of the minister or ministry in question that they're being regarded as such? Of course. Half a dozen quality ministries come to mind that are often on television that though perhaps not directly forming an emotional bond with people are still providing many people with spiritual sustenance, leading them into the Presence of God, and through the power of the Holy Spirit sharing very timely Words with many many people. As we each press on to grow up in Christ and to be and say all that He's called of each of us to believe and to say, you may more readily grasp the tender awareness of becoming a spiritual father or a spiritual mother long before you'd ever grasp who has specifically brought you from where you were to where you needed to be. Can a spiritual father be someone long deceased, but through whom one has found a repeated sense of new birth, sanctification, power, and further and further entrance into the perfect will of Christ through their writings? Of course. Many in my audience may have that sense from St. Paul, from Origen, from Andrew Murray, from Andrew Jukes, from Elhanan Winchester and perhaps from countless others too numerous to name specifically right now. And certainly, there's nothing to hinder a paternal instinct on their part in heaven or from asking the Lord about the ongoing impact of their legacy of writings and disciples. There's no specific passage to forbid the idea of any of the saints actively seeking the Lord in your behalf, though there's quite a bit in the Scriptures about not seeking their intervention and direct personal input lest you accidentally open the door to demons in your life. What goes on in another world, to a certain degree is exclusively their concern.
And for those reluctantly having to acknowledge spiritual fathers as being clearly implied in the New Testament, but who might question the idea of spiritual mothers, my advice to you would be to restudy all that St. Paul taught women and not just particularly favorite passages telling women to "shut up." Women are thoroughly encouraged to cultivate nurturing relationships with others. They're simply advised against being gossips, nags, and back stabbers. Paul even tells Timothy to encourage their becoming and being mothers, though that's often been abused as if the idea being conveyed were to stay at home, stay obedient, and to stay physically pregnant. Paul's attitude towards women was never abusive. The King James Bible really does leave much to be desired as far as it's loose paraphrasing in morally repugnant "convenient" places.
As to any thoughts on Nicolaitans in the book of Revelation: Jesus specifically hates any practice that seeks to keep people in spiritually infant states all of their lives. As an example, it's not morally abominable for me to acknowledge St. Paul, Kenneth Copeland, and Elhanan Winchester as my spiritual parents. What would be thoroughly repugnant would be if any of these three men were trying to exert a coercive control over my life to where growth was never encouraged lest it overthrow my life-long subjugation. Apostles, prophets, and teachers are seldom in this danger. Evangelists and pastors have to frequently strive to avoid this pit fall, however. The evangelist in his/her desire to keep things simple to potential initiates into the Christian faith, if they ever step into a mentoring roll, they can accidentally portray the attitude that one should remain a simpleton all of their lives, lest they put a stumbling block in the way of someone coming to Christ. Spiritual depth is never a danger to leading others to Christ. It's usually the lack of it that prevents any Christian from reproducing the image of Christ in any of their neighbors! Pastors face this danger over the area of looking at passages that basically threaten them with the flames of Hell if they don't faithfully discharge their duties as overseers of the flock of God, so they can get into the cultic "close shepherding" practices that are theologically in error and a growing concern of law enforcement these days with the sad stories of Jim Jones and David Koresh cults. But Pastors don't face this danger, necessarily, more often than any other branch of Christian ministry. But then again, familiarity with people's lives on a weekly basis with the same people coming back over and over again can create a leaning on the arm of the flesh for ministry rather than a careful reliance upon the Holy Spirit and the Holy Bible.
One of the best ways for ministers to avoid this is by avoiding becoming overly and excessively chatty with those that they would minister to. Familiarity breeds contempt and can lead to a reliance upon that familiarity with being moved by what one sees rather than ministering from a perspective of what one SEES as they study, pray, and meditate. Those with an internet outreach are particularly vulnerable because many people want to offer a lot of input into how a website should be structured, what range your content should have, and whether or not you share your personal life with the general public. Those who think that a minister can be a successful minister with no degree of transparency are very naive, selfish, arrogant, and pitiful examples of humanity. I'd rather see a sermon than hear one most of the time. After a while, with any ministry that I would listen to, I don't just want to hear about how God's grace worked in King David's life. I want to know how God's grace has worked in the life of any minister that I would listen to on an ongoing basis! What hindered your prayers? How were you led to handle this or that situation that the New Testament to the unaided eye might seem to say very little directly towards? Why should I listen to a minister that the only time that I ever hear anything about their private lives is when the news media uncovers them in some indiscretion?
Depth, the ability to articulate, the ability to practice what you preach, AND transparency are VITAL, VITAL elements of any successful ministry. And to be deficient in any of these is actually a liability, regardless of whatever one is called to do. Think of Jesse Duplantis, Joel Osteen, and others in what some would brand "mega-ministries." It's not their good looks or that they're so incredibly anointed or profound. It's their humanness that draws the crowds these days. People would rather hear how you applied your sermon to your own relationship with your spouse than to necessarily understand all of the points of your sermon in an abstract way and to try to synethesize and theorize about which points of your message are the most immediate priorities. Even in non-ministry related areas, like studies in leadership, management, personal health, etc., the books that I re-read again and again are the most personally anecdotal. How did you screw up on the road from rags to riches? How did you screw up again and again before this big revelation of the Word finally started producing the promised new and better way? Are you a real person or a wanna-be orator? That's all that people care about these days. Hollywood has played a part in causing all of us to want to see a radical example of this or that, rather than to necessarily want to hear the philosophical discourse on all of the moral underpinnings of the faith. The ministers that realize that one of their biggest struggles is the creative power to keep it real and to keep it transparent, instead of how they're going to meet their budget, are the ones that are going to have it dumped on them in the hundreds of trillions of dollars in the years to come!
Some people by nature are such pathological, habitual liars to their kids, their associates, and their families that they've lost all sense for how transparency is a vital part of integrity, honor, love, and appreciation for others. T. D. Jakes preached a sermon years ago called "Show me your wounds" that just about single-handedly put him on the spiritual map in the eyes of millions, though he'd been in ministry for probably 15 or 20 years already.
Have I digressed from my leading subject in this brief note? No. Personal, moral, emotional, and spiritual transparency are irresistible. It'll enable you to beget the most spiritual kids, create and draw the deepest loyalty, endear you to the most people, and it'll produce spiritual kids worth having that are themselves deeply spiritual, deeply transparent, and that have unquestionable integrity! "Private" individuals create the most suspicion and never leave a legacy worth having and cherishing! It's human nature to want to know the dirt as well as what grew
through it and inspite of it. "Private" individuals just leave the door wide open to needless speculation and fabrication of events, beliefs, and motives. Their kids, whether spiritually speaking or their biological offspring are usually worthless or worth less than worthless, unless they eventually breakthrough all of that emotional crud and realize that it was the vaunted sense of what was proper and private that they found most despicable and unforgiveable in their parents. People will love you forever if you'll show them your scars as well as your trophies. How many people come to the end of their lives and their biggest regret is how little of their real lives that they ever shared? Most death bed regrets don't center around money. Most death bed regrets aren't centered nearly as much around lost opportunities as they are around their lack of intimacy with whomever they regarded as their own public. How many of us rest our heads and our hearts on the bosom of St. Paul because of Acts chapter 20 and 2Timothy chapter 4, sometimes more than because of anything else that he ever said? He said that he put it all - absolutely all of it - on the table!
You're a good spiritual father/mother and/or a good spiritual son/daughter when you can "go there."
I noticed something in Ephesians 5 that Paul THE Jewish Rabbi/Mystic to the Nations refers to the first couple of chapters of Genesis as a GREAT MYSTERY. Not a great mystery in the sense of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christi's Hercule Poirot, or in the sense of not being anything that anyone can ever really know, but more in the sense of - for brevity and clarity - some sort of "esoteric occultism." Something for only those initiated or spiritually prepared by the Holy Spirit for what's being said in that passage.
I've been having questions about what the New Testament would liken to the milk or the meat of the Word since an interesting experience a couple of days ago with confessing "by His stripes I was healed" for a prolonged period of time. As I was confessing that, it seemed like someone stuck an eye dropper in my mouth and squirted my mouth full of almond milk. Then later as I was wondering about spiritual milk/meat and because of that experience, having additional questions about transsubstantiation and other things, I noticed that in Ephesians 5: for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh....this is a GREAT MYSTERY but I speak regarding Christ and the Church. Is the woman the nations and the man born again Israel? Or was he refering to the context with how God describes the prosperity around them? The two main things that people are choking on today are prosperity doctrines and the idea that Christ would ever actually accomplish His mission with bringing all back to the Father. There's little, localized squabbles over healing, the baptism with the Holy Spirit, rapture theology, and a few other things. But mess with people's money or with the Hell that they're 100% SURE that half of their relatives and coworkers ARE GOING TO and well meaning Christians suddenly become radical Muslims with this Jihad that they're just sure that God's called them to, to put down these heresies!!!
Paul never wasted a single page of paper or papyrus or whatever he wrote on. NEVER!!! Every page of Paul's writings is milk for babes and meat for men. The Holy Spirit anticipated through him everything that a Christian would ever need to know or would ever like to know. He made known the whole will of God, according to Colossians chapter 1. He never wasted a page - EVER. And while you're shouting "amen!" how much time have you spent recently in Philemon?
Listen Philemon, my dear son in the faith...(can't you just hear Paul now?), Osi's been dramatically healed through my ministry, brought into the faith, baptized with the Holy Spirit, filled with the Word of God, and my ministry team affirms his prophetic and teaching calling!! I've sent Osi back to you, but I've not sent a slave back to you. I've sent a minister of the Anointed One and of His Anointing to your Church, therefore receive him AS you would receive me, and if the offerings received through his ministry don't cover any damages that were caused when Osi left there, then I'll pay you in cash the moment your prayers bust me and my whole ministry team out of this jail!! I pray that as you are reading this that you'll receive Osi as you would me into your church and that you'll let him flow in his gifts, that the communication of your faith would become effective through the prophetic acknowledgement of everything that's in you in Christ Jesus!! Osi was evidentally getting out of jail a week or two (perhaps longer) before Paul and his ministry team were getting out of the slammer, but not before Osi had captured Paul's anointing. I'm not sure if Osi was in jail too, but if jails were as horrid as we've been told they were back then, and if Osi was as discipled and ready for every good work as Paul was indicating, then I don't see how he'd of had that much preparation without having been in the same cell as Paul and his whole ministry team.
Philemon's about as rich as the book of Acts: Paul's ultimate declaration that any man in Christ was a new creation! A fitting cap off of his previous letters in the New Testament, right? But what else would you expect from Paul the aged?
I saw something very disturbing on a cartoon that's a bit of a national favorite for a lot of people. I'm not sure how much of an international audience that it's acquired yet. But they had an episode yesterday that was seriously antisemitic! It's a cartoon called "The Simpsons." It was absolutely hideous! I'll personally mock Talmudism with the best of them, but this episode of the Simpsons was mocking every Biblical idea of Judaism that I could think of. It made a mockery of circumcision, the Torah, bar mitzvahs, Jewish weddings, etc., etc. If the Jews don't go after the makers of that cartoon with the passion that they went after Mel Gibson for his previous drunken indiscretion, then they'll prove the depth of their hypocrisy because someone was sober that authorized the showing of that cartoon! Much lesser parodies of hispanics, native americans, and other nationalities and ethnicities would have caused rioting! This was genuinely so wrong, that if you didn't see the cartoon, I'd not only recommend never watching it again if you ever catch an occaisional episode of it but I'd recommend serious prayers for Israel and all of the Jews amongst us because the mockery was on a level that I've never read about in Pre World War 2 Europe. Mockery was there before Jews got blamed for everything, but this was at an all time high that I've never seen before except perhaps in Roman times.
It seems like an interesting way of starting this chapter, but a lot of mockery comes out of cultural bitterness, either from economics or injustice. None of us in Christian Universalist circles can allow ourselves to become bitter. Bitterness of spirit, if that's how we allow ourselves to frame our world view of our pain, will lead to all kinds of mockery, injustice, and blasphemy. As I read through the book of Philemon, I'm reminded again and again that you can't be bitter and fruitful at the same time. You're going to do one or the other. If you're bitter, then you've already chosen that nothing that you do from now on will count, unless there's still a shred of sanity about you to where you'd want to start the long and painful climb out of bitterness so that what you'll do from now on will matter.
Some people may go on in their bitterness to bare a trace of fruit, but how bitter would Onesimus have been if the Apostle who birthed his spiritual life and ministry had been bitter? Could Onesimus have then gone on to have written the book of Hebrews? Some say that Paul wrote it, some say it was Barnabas or Apollos, while others gladly admit to having no idea who wrote it because though the thematic elements are Pauline, the Greek is much more elevated. But I know of no one else to whom Paul ever gave the endorsement of saying to receive them as if you were receiving Paul himself. He nearly said that of Timothy. At the time that he wrote the Corinthian letters, he knew of no one more capable of reminding them of Paul's ways in the Lord. But they were still called the ways of Paul. Onesimus is the only one that Paul ever went out on a limb for and said to receive him as you would receive St. Paul.
Think of the utter impossibility of who Paul was. This was either his 5th or his 6th imprisonment out of the 7 imprisonments that Clement tells us that Paul had altogether in his life time. This man is like Joseph in the Old Testament book of Genesis. He's been beaten senseless countless times for doing everything right and for simply trying to complete a dream or a vision. Yet he weeps over his brethren with the same affection as Joseph did at the end of the book of Genesis. I've never been perfect, but I've been there with nothing seeming to ever be in my favor when I was genuinely doing everything right. Just in my limited experience and in still being a very young man I've personally wrestled with becoming bitter. What do you do when you've done everything right, have dotted all of your "i"s and crossed all of your "t"s with education, with your character, and with the purity of your motives and still most doors are locked on you? What do you do when all of your relatives hate you and all you've genuinely got is your wife and your cat, and you've nearly lost both of those over a very difficult summer? I'm not talking about anything related to the marriage. Our marriage has always been SECOND TO NO ONE'S! Just circumstances that I won't get into at this point were precarious for a few weeks.
Paul was not only able to keep a good front of being all there spiritually, he actually was. You can't replicate what you aren't. Apple seeds don't grow into aloe veras, etc. Think of the impossibility of things from Onesimus' perspective! He had been a slave, either born to slavery or a victim of circumstances, but still a slave nonetheless. He didn't have second class citizenship in the Roman empire. Other races and women would have that. He was a slave and Paul was appealing for his release from the type of servitude that he'd been under the yoke of. He said that this man was his heart. And if there was any question about whether or not a Restorationist Universalism was actually being taught at the time or whether that was a product of the second and third centuries, the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to Philemon should set that controversy at rest. He looks at their doctrine as an analogy of what's happened with Onesimus when he says:
Perhaps for this reason he was separated from you for a while, SO THAT you could have him back for the divine purposes for this age, both in the flesh and in the Lord. That's Philemon verses 15-17.
Paul said to either the church at Laodicea or at Colosse through this letter that if you'd receive Onesimus that it would be the same as receiving him. This would have to tie back into the first chapter of the book of Philippians about the anointings for the bonds, defense, and confirmation of the Gospel that were on St. Paul. Paul at this time, according to some, was either in prison in Ephesus or in Rome. I'm inclined to think Ephesus or Philippi, unless it could ever be proven to my satisfaction that Paul was imprisoned more than once in Rome. I've always heard that it was in Rome where the same fate befell Paul that befell Elijah in the 4 Gospels.
Are you bitter? Or are you in the process of not only becoming better but of creating your successors? If the Lord replicated your level of mastery of the New Testament Scriptures, would the Church at large be the better for it or in a more dreadful state because of it? Through the things that Paul suffered, he learned obedience and received the crown of righteousness from the righteous Judge. Are you fighting a good fight? Have you laid aside all of the weights that would try to slow down your running of the race? Have you kept the faith? All of it? Can Christ pour out your life as a drink offering before the Father? (2Timothy 4) Why do you bother if it's not wholehearted devotion to the Lord when you know He'll baptize you in the ashes of all of it in the end if it's not wholehearted? Aren't you like me to where you've been through enough? I've lost all of my curiosity about everlasting shame and everlasting contempt because I've already borne the heat of them continuously for this age. I have no desire to continue the madness beyond this age! Why not let the rewards make sense in the end for your own life? Don't be halfhearted and bitter about anything!! He didn't give you a spirit of fear. Read the epistle of 1John aloud all of the way through each day through the end of next year. It's the shema of the New Testament.
In closing, remember that it's through the active ongoing acknowledgement of every good thing which is inside of YOU through Christ Jesus that your faith will become the most fruitful and the most beneficial to yourself and to others. At least, that's what Paul, the aged, said in the book of Philemon. Ephesians and Philippians point you back towards the working of His divine power inside of you as being on par with the power used in raising Jesus Christ from the dead. 1John 2 calls this commandment of His a truth in Him and in YOU. Have you stirred up the gift of God on the inside of you today? You can stir the gift or you can stir the fear, but you are a stiring machine that will keep one or the other of them stirred up on the inside of you at all times. And James in his epistle says that bitter and sweet water coming from the same fountain don't produce desireable results. It's time to stop being double-minded about your calling and about whether or not it's a holy calling. Wendy and I love each of you dearly, but genuine humility is in not thinking of yourself less than you ought to think, just as much as it's in not thinking more highly of yourself than you should. There's nearly 10 billion people on the planet. Don't be content just to reach one or two. Be like the aged Caleb and demand of Yeshua that you be given that next mountain because the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead will quicken your mortal body and your mortal mind with that same power! Who cares how many Giants are on that next mountain!?! Some of you have 40 to 80 years of the working of the same power that raised Christ from the dead that's been working in you for all of these decades. How dare you quit now? How dare you?
If you're honestly that old, then go out like a mad dog that it takes all of the legions of Hell to kill you. Remember Samson? Die on the battlefield rather than like King David died. Do more in your death to destroy the monotony of this world than you ever did in your previous 114 or so years! When you die, the devil ought to be so scared to death that it's a couple more generations before he realizes that you're gone yet. Maybe you're so old that you can't even see any more. Perhaps you can barely read this chapter. Ask one of these little demons to help you balance your tired old bones on the pillars of the building they've constructed to celebrate their self indulgent, blasphemous lives. As you pray that their sins not be laid to their charge and that their eyes will truly be opened to the prize in Christ, start pressing on the pillars of the filth of this world. Give 'em all a roar that Narnia won't soon forget!
Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother....Epaphras, my fellow prisoner greets you, as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers. Philemon 1, 23, 24
Paul, Timothy, Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke - all JAIL BIRDS!
The book of Acts covers such few details about such few years and such few people that you often get the impression of a single spiritual superman here and there that was doing all of the work of the ministry, when in reality these men often functioned in teams. Were the 7 men just listed still alive today and if they were ministering in the United States, then in addition to being really old they would probably have formed a nonprofit 501(c)(3) parachurch corporation.
I find it significant that not only is this likely Paul's next to last epistle, if not his last epistle, though it appears in our Bibles in the last position of arrangement of Paul's letters in our present Bibles, but that Paul's ministry team was sizeable. It appears to have been as large, if not a lot larger than the strange ideas that many people have nowadays about what a lot of us have thought that individual house churches looked like. Though there are no real details about the arrest, the implication of the words in the book of Philemon is that all of them were in the same jail, if not in the same cell. The more that I read the book of Philemon, the more that that becomes a growing conviction that I can't shake off. Team work is still the name of the game. None among us are more Universalistic than St. Paul was, unless any among us have wandered into unBiblical ideas about all being saved immediately by the time they die or some goofy idea about utter equality in heaven after a lack of equal trust in the Blood of the dear Redeemer in this life and a lack of equal effort among all of us in the faith, expectancy, and love that's been made available to each of us.
Paul said that as star differs from star in glory, so also
is the resurrection of the dead, in 1Corinthians 15.
A total equality of rights is an illusion, even in the strictest sense of democracy because how else would there be any sense of "rank" in any civilization, whether you're talking in terms of the military or teacher/student relationships, or other areas where there's an obvious exception made to total equality? People are living in a dream world if they're trying to hold everyone in equal esteem, when St. Paul said to give honor to whom honor was due in Romans 13. If all ever were being honored equally then it would have been superfluous to have ever brought up the point. And he would have taught honoring all equally if all possessed the same level of nobility. There is a dramatic difference between love and honor. We may show relatively similar honor to most people groups, but only an insane man would never show differential treatment to civil authorities when called upon to give testimony in an important matter where the common good was at stake. Also,
it's not simply a product of the fall to give preferential treatment to family members. Were Christ guilty of teaching the type of universalistic equality that many would suppose Him to have taught, then He would have never said that anyone who couldn't show differential treatment to Him couldn't be His disciple!
We must all distinguish between the type of racial and gender equality that is genuinely appropriate and the type of superiority that some among us, whether they're male or female, will have as a simple matter of fact because of either social positioning for the common, public good, or because of their rank of placement in the Kingdom of God because of a combination of their destiny and their level of self yielding to the Holy Spirit and the Holy Bible. But whatever anyone's rank, whether Private or Admiral in the Kingdom of God, none of the distinctions that any of us may have by a combination of our circumstances, destinies, and level of yielding to the Holy Bible and the Holy Spirit should ever work to keep any of us from working together when the cause is just and the present and future of the Kingdom of God in the earth is at stake. No man need ever remain an inferior in the Kingdom of Christ because Ephesians chapter 4 says that our teamwork in the purposes of Christ is for the common good within the Body of Christ. We can all work to yield ourselves up more fully as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto the Lord, and we may all be morphed by the renewing of our minds so that we can prove the perfect will of God in our lives in proportion to each of our relative callings, giftings, humility, and prayers.
Some of you have ministry on your hearts that haven't yet started taking steps towards either establishing a Church, a website, or a traveling/speaking itinerary. Pray for the world, for the Body of Christ, for those that you would minister to, for those that through a combination of circumstances that you can't personally minister to, and for those that you should be working with. Some of you instead of thinking of how you'd like for your religious organization to be structured or for your website to be structured should instead be asking the Lord about who you ought to be working with for the furtherance of the Gospel. Suppose you're that one missing piece that a certain team is needing before things can really take off in whatever modern St. Paul Evangelistic Association that might be just around the corner. Or what if a team is still in the very beginnings of formation, that if you worked by yourself towards the same goals that someone else is already at stage 3 of their 12 step program for getting started, then it might take you twice as long for whatever reason to get started, when you could have simply jumped on the bandwagon of whatever else the Lord was doing in your area?
For those of you just getting started with the fuller plan of Christ for your life, IDEALLY: think of being a part of an "A-Team" rather than about being a "Lone Ranger." Ever seen the old TV sitcom from the 1980s called the "A-Team"? Essentially it was 4 guys that were each radically different, but they had a synergy and a symbiotic relationship that was so enviable that one would almost fear that it couldn't be duplicated in the "real world." Basically, there was a guy named John Smith whose nickname was Hannibal and he just seemed to have this really massive "S & M" personality to where he thrived the harder and harder and harder that things got on his military background, militia type of team. He almost seemed to receive a personal sense of satisfaction from being outnumbered a million to one or for there to be some other scenario that made death loom big on the horizon. Basically a toned down General Patton type of personality without 99% of the profanity and with a brilliance for strategy. Then you had a playboy type named Templeton Peck who was the group's con-man that could get them through whatever doors that they needed to get through to accomplish their mission. Then you had Murdock who was a total loon, but still strangely "all there" when they needed him the most. Then who could forget about B. A.? I mean, this character was played by Mr. T. He was kinda the group's muscle as well as who they'd turn to for computer savvy or to do a good wire tap or whatever else they needed. They each had a gift for getting on B. A.'s nerves, but somehow there was a love and camaraderie among them that kept him from killing any of them on their worse days of getting on his nerves.
They were each horrendously and radically different, bound together by a common past, common enemies, and a common purpose. There are lots of plot lines about the program that it's not appropriate to comment on here, because that's not a part of my purpose in bringing the program up. My point is that if unregenerate men with a common purpose, differing gifts, and a good sense of what needed to be done in each circumstance that they faced - if these guys could be one in purpose and work together with a synergy and a symbiosis that's unparalleled, then why don't any of us function that way? It's not that we can't come into that kind of unity, but that we haven't. Unity is birthed in prayer and purpose. Find out the place where you belong, if you're still struggling with that, whether it's a church or a parachurch organization, or start one, and then give it all that you've got in your prayers, resources, and good ol' hard work!
Once the Lord alerted me to the neglected book of Philemon this last summer, I started reading it again and again over the last several weeks. I've probably read the thing more than a thousand times. If I haven't, then I'll easily cross that thousandth reading by the end of this month, because the Lord has made it a high priority in my life to really dig into that tiny epistle. I was reading primarily the New American Standard (Updated edition) Bible. But I've recently gone to biblegateway.com and have read it from several other translations. There is not a significant point of departure in any of the translations from how I'm interpreting it. Either the epistle is "that clear," or "that neglected" because of the traditions of men about what it says.
Paul wasn't sending Onesimus back to his life of slavery, although I've recently read John MacArthur's and John Calvin's comments on Philemon. I haven't been able to get my hands on comments by William Barclay yet on the epistle. John MacArthur seemed to glamourize Roman slavery. If it really was that much of a departure from my general knowledge of American slavery of the past, then it might explain why Paul did seem to say so little about it. Paul was sending Onesimus to that Church and imploring them to milk his anointing for everything that they could get out of him, and then he was requesting that Onesimus be sent back to Paul and to Paul's ministry team. He told them to receive Onesimus the way they'd receive Paul, the aged Apostle. He said that he was thoroughly and unquestionably confident in their obedience to him in this matter. This epistle from Paul to Philemon was actually Onesimus' letter of ordination to the ministry. It is a testament to Paul's sense of "team work" as being crucial to the ongoing spread and empowerment of the message and of the Body of believers that bare this message. There are 7 ministers mentioned in the book of Philemon, including Paul, that made up St. Paul's ministry team. I've not been able to shake off the feeling during my last 30 to 50 readings of Philemon that Paul was following Christ to the point of wanting to start his own inner circle of 12 disciples. Was Onesimus supposed to be the 7th member of Paul's team of ministers? Did Paul ever acheive that goal, if that was a goal of his? Perhaps Titus was also a member of Paul's team, since Titus was left in Crete with the specific mission of not only "church growth," but of cultivating local leadership for that assembly of believers.
I've been lately horrified to realize that the Churches that Paul ministered to are all presently in Muslim lands. How many of you will agree with me in prayer for the seeds of the anointing that Paul planted, that have been quietly dormant over there for God only knows how many centuries, that they would germinate afresh and that the wind and fire of the Holy Spirit and the Word would hit those old areas like a tsunami?
Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all. (Galatians 4:1 NKJV)
Bishop Eddie Long really startled me, this last Sunday, with the first couple of verses of Galatians chapter 4. Those two verses would be emmensely valuable for everyone on this email list to go to and spend some very serious time saying those two verses over and over again for 15 to 30 or 45 minutes until the Holy Spirit breaks in on your thought life and starts to really talk to you about those two verses about yourself, those around you, your local church, and the church universal.
The Scriptures say that we've been organized together under Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers until we're no longer tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, but so that we'd each be equiped for the work of the ministry with the full knowledge of the Lord's will in every area of your life, spirit, soul, body, financially, and socially, and how that relates to the meeting of everyone else's needs, spiritually, soulishly, bodily, financially, and socially. A lot of people like to act as if the home church movement were the ideal place for believers, but in all of the literature about it, I never hear anything about Christ as our example and how it was his custom to be in the Temple on every sabbath. And I never hear anything adequate about how that's an act of submission under Apostolic, Prophetic,
Evangelistic, Pastoral, and Teaching ministries. We can all be pastoral, prophetic, and apt to teach, but there's a difference between being diligent about our anointings and our compassionate and knowledgeable hearts and heads, and genuinely being with a genuine Prophet or Teacher in the Body of Christ that you know when you look into their eyes that they've been with the Master. Their prayers and teachings can make the hair stand up on the back of your neck!
I've been to many many home churches and while the fellowship has been exceptional, I've yet to hear any indepth teaching or to feel much of an evangelistic, prophetic, or teaching anointing that was beyond surface level encouragements.
Obviously, if you've found all of the above in your home church, then you'd be a fool to leave it over my few observations about many of them in general. I'm not opposed to gathering together in homes. Like I said, I've been to many many home churches. I've even taught in a few. But I've wondered at times if too many of them were in homes simply so they'd be closer to the refrigerator and the grill! I'd love to start a house church, personally. I don't believe it's opposed to the will of God in and of itself. I've just never found enough believers willing to meet together on a consistent enough of a basis for it to really work out. People are busy these days and often they hide behind their schedules and exaggerate about how long they'll be busy, in order to get out of driving across town to get together for this and that. When gasoline prices were sneaking up on minimum wages in this country, I almost understood that for a while, until I'd think about city buses and other areas of local convenience that would ease travel burdens from the financial perspective. But, c'est la vie! I may adopt the same attitude as the Lord did about the 5 foolish virgins where certain people are concerned when they come calling on me. But that's neither here nor there, so back to what I intended to share on....
I've gotten to spend such quality time with the Lord over the last 4 months, that it's genuinely amazing. I've grown more in 4 months, spiritually, than I had in the previous 16 years during which time I had grown with a meteoric pace! I'm an entirely different person than I even was back in June/July of 2006. I just want to leave you with a thought or two about the interesting way that John closes 1John. He says to guard yourself against idols. Idols are anything that would cause the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life to flair up.
In a New Testament context, idolatry is going to be slightly different than it would have been under the Old Testament. A New Testament idol, because you are the Temple of the Holy Spirit, can simply be to associate yourself with a symbol that's not the highest ideal for you to associate with. It'll be anything that'll distract you from the Lordship of Jesus Christ and from keeping His commandment of love. You are the Temple and you've been given the full armour of God so that you can defend your mind, will, and emotions against idolatry. What is taking up your time, trying to take attention away from the Lord Who bought you, or trying to keep your life from being as adorned as it should be with the beauty of the Lord? Have you associated your life with too much of the cultural mythology? Are there cultural icons that are taking up too much of your attention, your household, your body, or in some other way that as I'm drawing attention to it with the help of the Holy Spirit that you're starting to get a little uncomfortable about? GUARD YOURSELVES AGAINST THOSE KINDS OF THINGS!!