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BEAR THE STAMP OF THE SANCTUARY:
I see the Church today wanting to play it safe. Thatís normal. We want things to be safe and certain. We want Church to be today what it was yesterday, last week, last month, last year. But in times of transition, tension arises.
I think of those times in the progression of revelation as God brought Israel from the times of His presence with Abraham to the "cloud and pillar" days to the days of the Ark of the Covenant to the days of the temple. If you were of the "cloud and pillar" generation, you might have raised more than an eyebrow during the times of transition. And what if you were part of the "religious Iím right" during the days when Jesus, the Anointed One, walked in your midst? Would you have recognized Him and the "new wine" being poured into "new wineskins?" Will you follow to the grave to get to the glory?
In Jesusí day organized religion allied with civil government in a move to "self-protect" and preserve its own life. As our son Stephen noted just today in Scripture, the chief priests and elders, the leaders of Judaism, paid a large amount of money to some soldiers to spread the word that Jesusí body had not resurrected, but had been stolen. (Matthew 28) They wanted the truth stifled with a lie so that their religion could continue unscathed.
But Jesus Christ did die, and death didnít hold Him. He did rise from the dead. And Jesusí resurrection out from among the dead destroyed the "temple" days and the Old Covenant days and ushered in a New Covenant and a new and living way. (Read Hebrews.) Jesus rent the veil, but the religious just patched things up and carried on.
Now, the Church has been comfortable for a long time. It has been maturing, and it believes it has this Church in the light of resurrection "down." The Church feels "fat" and is bordering on something very dangerous, that of letting sacred things become common, things like the sacraments and worship and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the people of God, and God Himself.
The Church is looking for the easy way more than the right way because the Church is comprised of people, and people today want things safe and certain. Our culture becomes more violent daily, so we have been seeking safety from others, withdrawing into a world we hope to control. We either hide our moral deformities or drag them around demanding care. We donít have the integrity to "come clean." We see othersí sins as "logs" and our own as "specks" because we donít want to admit our weakness, our failures, our sorrows, and yes, our disappointment that Church is not the repository of reliability we thought it was, that we thought it should be.
The Spirit of God hasnít altered from His plan and ways in the bringing of salvation. Heís still around bringing many sons to glory, bringing life out of death, and conforming the people of God to the image of Jesus Christ. Heís sticking to the same message of the call of Christ to come and die to sin, be crucified with Christ, be crucified to the world, and be crucified to the passions and desires of the flesh. (Galatians) He still wants believers to live "within the veil" and "without the gate" and to follow Jesus Christ. He still wants His Spirit to bear witness to our spirit that we are the sons of God and to shed His love abroad in our hearts. He hasnít changed any more than Jesus has changed.
Itís just that I see the Church as reaching a comfortable place and wanting to stay there. The Holy Spirit is on the move, but the Church doesnít want the agony, to contend for the prize, to enter the conquest for victory. Pastors know who hear the heart of the Holy Spirit. Heís calling for something today that could cost them their congregation, their jobs, their families, and who knows what if they are "strong and courageous" and "take up their cross" to follow Jesus. They know, many if not most or all of them. Many bear the mark of Christís likenessócrucified through weakness, yet living by the power of God (2 Corinthians 13). Theyíve been broken before. Theyíve been called to die before. But this call goes out to both pastor and people.
And whatís that like, that brokenness? Well, itís a place of grief, a grave, a place where you are stripped of spirit and life, where you ask "who am I anymore?" and float around with no focus. Itís those times when criticism leaves you withered, worthless, and wounded. Itís like a bad dream. Itís when you think "this cannot be real; it canít be happening," but it is. Life seems unjust, devastating, and you feel stunned and want to hide from the truth that youíre in this living death. You thought yourself strong, but now you are weak. You canít live the lie anymore. You can no longer keep up a façade. You cry, confused. You find yourself paralyzed, afraid of making wrong decisions. You wonder if you will fail at being this Christian youíre supposed to be.
Your "self" is being called to slaughter, called to the altar for sacrifice. You are suffering and in a struggle that will re-form, transform, metamorphose, shape you and your life in resurrection. You are on the potterís wheel, being broken, melted down, and transformed into a different shape.
Peter understood this brokenness because he lived it. Okay, great confession of faith (Matthew 16). Great swelling words, too, when he thought he was above the prophetic Word of God Himself. Everyone else might run when the Shepherd is struck, but not me. Iíll be loyal. I have faith to follow the Lamb wherever He goes. Oh, really? When the words are tested, Peter sees and lives failure, as a believerÖas a discipleÖas an apostleÖas one of the three on the Mount of Transfiguration.
Peter had to learn the meaning of communion. "This is My Body, broken for you. Take, eat." Communion is entering into common union with Jesus Christ. Itís not some ritual at Church once and awhile. Thereís a spiritual reality symbolized in the remembrance of Christ crucified, in the bread and the wine.
Jesus experienced brokenness: in relationships, in promises not being kept, in expectations. He was betrayed by a friend, Judas. Peter and the disciples never kept those great swelling words of loyalty. The disciples couldnít even watch and pray with Him one hour. Yes, Jesus knew how it would come down. But He entered into our infirmities, our moral depravity, our pain, our griefs, our sorrows. He was wounded, naked, an apparent failure, shamed, rejected, stripped, bruised, mocked, marred, broken. Not His bones, His heart.
Jesus offered Himself. Thatís what a sacrifice is, you know, an offering up unto God. Jesus had the courage to offer who He truly is to His Father. When all hell broke loose, He didnít curse God and die. He entrusted Himself to His Father and gave His Spirit into His Fatherís handsÖand died. His Blood was shed for the remission of our sins. He died without the gate that we might live within the veil. He entered the agony to contend for the prize of sitting at the right hand of the Majesty on High in all power and glory, all dominion, forever victorious.
Because we are flesh and blood, He partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless the one who had the rule over death, that is, the devil. (Hebrews 2.14) Jesus did all this knowing full well that at the core of our being, our passion is not to celebrate God, to know God, or to glorify God. It is to celebrate, know, and glorify ourselves. We are out to preserve and enhance ourselves. Yes, we want bread, but we want the Church picnic, not the bread and wine of common union.
Jesus wants the Church to be His Body, His Bride. Jesus wants you, not just your time or your money or this work or that. He wants you, and He calls you to enter into the agony of the cross, to contend for the prize of the sons of God in glory. He wants you to have the courage to offer who you truly are to God and to enjoy what God has to give you. He wants common union, vital spiritual union, a broken body and blood kind of union.
This is more than some cordial relationship of "Hi, how are You today, Jesus?" This is more than "Letís just get along here, God." This is more than "I want You to console me in my sin and misery" or "I just want Your counsel and stamp of approval and acceptance. Thatís all."
No, Jesus wants you. And He wants all that separates you from Him, all that stands in the way of His love freely flowing to you, to go to that Cross and die. Heís in this thing for life. Jesus died that you might have life, and when He died, you died in Him. (Colossians 3.1-3; Romans 6-8) Partake through faith.
As I see it, the Church right now, you and I, are being called to contend for the prize, to agonize, to hunger for the face of the Father. With the surety of salvation, we are being asked to sacrifice that which we love the most (ourselves) on the altar, offering up ourselves and suffering as Jesus did. We are to lay down our lives for the brethren, the Body (1 John 3.11-16). In the struggle between good and evil, between light and dark, between the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of Christ, we are to struggle until there is surrender to Christ. We are to terminate our hostility toward God and humanity. We are to put to death those things that separateósin, self, the things of satanóand die to self. Then, as we are buried with Christ, we will find ourselves in silence. In the silence of the grave will come the stirrings of life, surprise, resurrection. Bear the stamp of the sanctuary. Contend for the glory. Hunger for the face of the Father. This is the call to the Church today.
In Christ is the death of self. In Christ is resurrection out from among the dead. In Christ our hunger for the face of the Father finds satisfaction as we enter into the glory that is God. In Christ, we abide in a crucified Christ, "always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our bodyÖSo then death works in us, but life in you." (2 Corinthians 4.10, 12) In Christ is the hope of glory.
If we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him. (Romans 6.8)
Note: We are starting a prayerchain for urgent prayer requests via the web. If you would be able to participate, please send an email to [email protected]. You can email prayer requests to me at [email protected] as well.
Mary J. Craig
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