The Church: God's Fortress to Overcome Hell!
Fighting for the Walls--But No Nit-Picking
Tuesday Night, June 24, 1997
I know over the years some different thoughts have gone “round and round” about the nature of the church and how we should relate to the world. After a period of time, it’s like the telephone game where you send a message around the circle. Remember that? Someone whispers in someone’s ear and the message goes around and around the circle. Then all of a sudden we’re not quite sure what was said in the first place or what we’re doing anymore! It’s easy to lose track after so much time. So I think it’s incredibly important to get your feet dug in very deep about what we’re going to talk about. There is very good reason to lay a foundation about what a church is and what our existence is together. Plug into this and comprehend it with your heart and mind, because it will lay direction for the rest of your life. It will spare you a ton of imaginations, and hurt feelings, and a lot of confusion. It will spare you countless mistakes of reacting or overreacting or underreacting. If you can comprehend the basis of some of these things, it will spare you much grief and you’ll become a deeper person for it. The way you function or the way you’ve seen others in the Church function will make so much more sense to you. Or perhaps this discussion will cause you to see a need to change because you’ve been functioning from a shallow perspective.
A Fallen World...
First of all, we live in a fallen world. So of course, we have concerns or thoughts about going to this place or that, or patronizing this place or that. And we should! Haven’t you at different times felt some level of confusion in your heart and mind about the kinds of places you should or shouldn’t go? Or if you should go at all to certain places? Or you observe what others are doing and you wonder, “Should I do this?” “Should I not do this?” “Should I be careful?” “Should I be paranoid?” Has anyone ever experienced that? I have! It’s been a journey for what seems like forever trying to figure out exactly what it is that God wants from me! How do I function, how do I act? How should I perceive the world around me and how should I respond to it? It’s a perpetual concern and something we’ll need to fine-tune the rest of our lives, because there are no automatic answers. Unfortunately, our western, industrialized mindset wants to make pat answers out of everything... “This is what you always do,” and “This is what you never do.” “There you have it, now we can live life in peace.” Well, it’s just not like that!
So...Point number one: We live in a fallen world. We’re living in a world that’s totally infested with the enemy and his footprints, his stench and his henchmen. It’s filled to the brim with it. Because that’s true, it will affect how we think and how we act and how we respond to the world around us. You can choose to overreact to what I’m saying and blow your reason for being here. OR you can underreact and destroy your own life and the lives around you. That’s how important all of this is. You can destroy others and yourself if you don’t take this seriously in the right way. It’s just essential that we have a proper understanding so we don’t overreact or underreact to the point that we live in a fallen world.
If you go back to Adam and Eve, you realize they once had a utopia called the Garden of Eden, and everything in there was good and pleasant, right? No, not quite everything...there was a serpent in there. There was potential for temptation and obviously, for evil—even in utopia. There was some level of mixture because satan was in utopia, wasn’t he? Even when you look all the way back to the Garden of Eden you have a problem in front of you! How careful do you need to be? How incredibly sensitive must you be to which tree you eat from and who you talk to? You can talk to the animals like Dr. Doolittle did, all you want...but don’t talk to that animal. Right? “Be careful who you talk to” goes all the way back to the beginning of time, doesn’t it? Adam and Eve didn’t pay careful attention, so they were thrown out of the garden, and because of that, we’re in a seriously cursed situation.
And with as terrible as that is, the second point I want to make is that something even bigger and more obvious is at stake right now. Satan was thrown down, and we are in a WAR for real. And it is really, really dumb to ignore this—either because of arrogance or because of ignorance. If you say to yourself, “Hey, it’s just not a big deal, I can handle it,” then you are arrogant. Because it is a BIG deal. It’s a very serious, serious deal!! This world that we live in and the deceptive things that even masquerade as supernaturally good—“angels of light”—that’s a serious deal. It’s a supernatural world that we live in. And if you don’t understand that—that your battle is not with your bad habits but with “and principalities and powers and spiritual forces in heavenly realms”—if you don’t understand that, you are either very foolish or very arrogant. You are either naïve—you don’t understand it, and no one has told you before, and you’ve never seen the Word of God clearly; or you are arrogant enough to think you are bigger than all of that, which is a very, very dangerous posture. “It doesn’t affect me. It’s not a big deal.” That’s a very dangerous posture.
“Then I witnessed in heaven an event of great significance. I saw a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant, and she cried out in the pain of labor as she awaited her delivery.
Suddenly, I witnessed in heaven another significant event. I saw a large, red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, with seven crowns on his heads. His tail dragged down one-third of the stars, which he threw to the earth. He stood before the woman as she was about to give birth to her child, ready to devour the baby as soon as it was born” (Revelation 12:1-4).
This is not a fairytale. It’s not some fictional account! You’ve seen so many science fiction and Star Wars episodes that this kind of language sounds like fiction to you. It is not fiction. This is REALITY!! The words are somewhat figurative, but the reality of a dragon “seeking to devour” is absolutely, totally, 100% real!! If a dragon showed up in your front yard breathing fire when you wake up tomorrow morning and you could see it with your naked eyes, I don’t think you would carelessly wander out your front door thinking, “Oh, I’d better not be paranoid.” You would take it seriously, wouldn’t you? Stop and think for a minute with me. If this huge dragon was in your front yard, breathing smoke and fire...it’s clawing and killing and tearing up your yard and eating trees and eating the dog that wanders by...if that was in your front yard, would you let your children go out and play and tell them not to be paranoid??!! I don’t think so! I sure wouldn’t and I don’t think you would either. This is real, and that’s the point I’m trying to make. This is NOT an imaginary dragon. This is very real.
“She gave birth to a boy who was to rule all nations with an iron rod. Hallelujah. And the child was snatched away from the dragon and was caught up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the wilderness, where God had prepared a place to give her care...Then there was a war in heaven. Michael and the angels under his command fought the dragon and his angels. The dragon lost the battle and was forced out of heaven. This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or satan, the one deceiving the whole world [deceiving the whole world!]—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels” (Revelation 12:5-9).
The nature of deception is not that you are overcome by power; it is that you are overcome with the sense that “I am right.” It goes like this...“I’m still right, and now I’m still right and now I’m STILL right.” But in God’s sight, you are very wrong! That’s the nature of deception—“I still feel right.” Satan doesn’t overcome you with a big obvious power play and just blast you into smithereens. That isn’t how he works. He overcomes the whole world with deception. He makes you think, “it’s all right,” when from God’s perspective it’s totally, TOTALLY wrong. That’s the nature of how the beast and the dragon do their business.
“Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens, ‘It has happened at last—The salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ! For the accuser has been thrown down to earth—the one who accused our brothers and sisters before our God day and night. And they have defeated him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of their testimony. And they were not afraid to die. Rejoice, O heavens! And you who live in the heavens, rejoice! But terror will come on the earth and the sea. For the devil has come down to you in great anger, and he knows that he has little time.’
And when the dragon realized he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the child. But she was given two wings like those of a great eagle. This allowed her to fly to a place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be cared for and protected from the dragon for a time, times, and half a time.
Then the dragon tried to drown the woman with a flood of water that flowed from his mouth. But the earth helped her by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that gushed out from the mouth of the dragon. Then the dragon became angry at the woman, and he declared war against the rest of her children—all who keep God’s commandments and confess they belong to Jesus” (Revelation 12:10-17).
The devil is warring against anybody who confesses they belong to Jesus and keeps God’s commandments. He has declared open war. He wants to kill and destroy anyone who wants to keep the commandments of God and declares or claims to belong to Jesus. It’s a supernatural battle. We are not of this world, so let’s not be afraid to act like it.
The third thing you need to know is in John 17 where Jesus said, “I want them to be in the world but not of the world. They are mine, they belong to me. They were separated by my Father for me. I claimed them, and did not lose any that were given to me. I separated them to Myself, and I’ve saved all of the ones that the Father gave to me except for the one that was destined to destruction.”
Jesus and Paul said very clearly in a number of places, that we are to be IN the world but not OF the world. We are in the world, but we are separate from the world. A distinct separation stands between us and the world... but you are still in the world. I’m not talking about being in a commune out in the woods somewhere gathering up ammunition. There is nothing weird about this except that the world will say you are weird if you have any separation from them at all! There is a difference, a distinction, and a clear defining line between the people of God and the world that they live in. But they haven’t pulled out of the world altogether. They are in the world, but they are clearly not of the world. Get that picture in your mind, because from a practical standpoint a lot of people think, “Well, I have to live like the world lives and do what they do, and think like they think...I have to blend in at work, or else I’m not being ‘in the world but not of it.’” But the truth is, Jesus never said we were supposed to be like them, and in fact the commands are clear: “Come out from among them and be separate, otherwise I won’t be your God and you won’t be my people” (2Cor. 6). It’s just that clear, and that serious. If you love the world, you are an enemy of God (Jas. 4, 1Jn. 2).
When that distinctive line breaks down, we begin to merge into the world and are not a separate entity anymore, the way we need to be. When we have a breakdown about what is important to us, and how we live and think, we begin to merge into the world. And then we’re not only in the world, but we are also of the world. We become enemies of God because we become lovers of the world. We conform to the patterns of the world and we no longer know the good, perfect and pleasing will of God. We “lose it” and we’re gone. Our minds are no longer renewed and we lose it into the world when there is no more dividing line and no clear distinction.
We Live in Hostile Territory
In Luke 19, Jesus said, “A man of noble birth [speaking of Himself] went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’ But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We do not want this man to be our king.’”
Jesus said the same thing in many different ways. Like in Matthew 21, “There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.
“The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.
“But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.’”
They beat and killed all the servants, and then the owner said, “Well then, I’ll send my son. They will surely honor him.” But they killed him, too! They said, “If we can just kill the heir, then all of this will be ours.” They want ownership, and they hate the fact that they can’t have ownership. They don’t want a king. “We will not have this man to be king over us.” When Jesus went off to a far country, the world that he left behind said, “We don’t want a king. We hate the idea that someone else is going to tell us what to do, and someone else is going to own our property. We want to kill the heir, we want to kill the prophets, and we want to kill everyone who obeys the commandments of God and claims to know Jesus (sound familiar?). We want all of them out of here, because they challenge our ownership. We want to inherit the whole thing. We want it all for ourselves.” And Jesus and Jesus’ people defy the principle that the rebels live by, that Jesus taught about. Jesus’ people will have a king to rule over them! And that is what becomes the dividing line
You must understand: We are at WAR!!! We are in HOSTILE territory!!!!! When you walk into Wal-Mart or wherever you happen to go, you need to understand that there is a war going on!!! And by and large, the majority of people in the world are in the delegation that says, “We don’t want a king.” Of course they need to be invited to have a king...there’s no question about that. They surely deserve an invitation to the banquet. But that’s not what I am talking about right now. I am not talking about not issuing invitations to everything that walks! We should do that for sure. But what I am saying is that your perception should be that clearly the broad road to destruction is just what Jesus said it would be: BROAD... Most people will choose that road. “Few will be those that find the road to eternal life.” Why? Because people won’t want Him to be their Lord. They won’t want to “do the will of the Father,” and they won’t want to put His words into practice (Matt. 7). That’s what is at stake: Some people don’t want a king, and some people do. And Jesus said that the odds are that most people won’t want it.
So...do understand that this is not a neutral battle. A very real dragon called satan wants to devour everyone who obeys the commands of God. There is a massive war going on!! It’s not just a bunch of pretty people wandering around and some people are nice and some aren’t...some people have a whole bunch of close friends and some don’t have any. It’s not like that. An ABSOLUTE, TOTAL, ALL OUT WAR is taking place right now, and that’s why this planet exists. You need to SEE that. Like the time when Elisha’s servant came to him and said, “There’s a great army surrounding us.” And Elisha said, “God, open his eyes. Let him see that those that are with us are more than those that are against us. Open his eyes.” And then the servant could see the supernatural world... not just the natural world. I want you to understand both sides of that principle. A supernatural war is raging, and if you don’t see it, you’re not going to respond properly. You are going to be naïve about the nature of it.
Cyanide and Acid—Kaboom!!
Suppose you’re a chemist in a laboratory and some cyanide powder and a beaker of acid are sitting on the counter. Someone walks by and bumps the beaker with their elbow and this puddle of acid starts flowing across the counter toward the cyanide powder. Do you see what’s happening?? If you are a chemist, you SEE what’s happening! You know how dangerous that is!! If you are not a chemist, you don’t know the danger and you won’t respond the way you should. Perhaps you don’t know that cyanide and acid is how they kill people in a gas chamber! They drop cyanide pellets into acid and it creates toxic fumes and death—it’s a deadly gas chamber. If you are a chemist you respect that and you can see what’s happening. You see the cyanide, you see the acid, and you say, “UH-OH!! We have a major problem on our hands! Let’s get outta here!!!!” There’s no time for you to stop and think about it. “Let’s GO! NOW!” You’re sure not going to sit there and debate in your mind about what needs to happen. You would gather every man, woman, child and hamster and pull them out of there as quick as you can because this is fatal. It’s final; it’s over with. No debating, no procrastination. It’s a settled fact that if those two things mix, everything around will be dead.
Okay. That’s your reaction if you know the danger. What if you don’t know the danger... what are you going to do? You would say, “Well, let’s not overreact. Let’s stay orderly here. Single file out the door, everyone. Nobody panic. Let’s not be paranoid here...we’re not really sure it’s a problem. Of course it could be a problem, but we don’t know it’s a problem. So let’s just stay orderly about it and not panic.” If you don’t see it for what it is, you’ll not be in any big hurry to do anything about it.
What I’m trying to do in part (and this discussion right now is a product of a number of different very genuine conversations and events) is to make sure you understand that the world we live in is acid and cyanide running together. If you’re not aware of that, you won’t respond properly to it. You’ll say, “What’s the big deal?” No!! We are AT WAR—unless Jesus lied, unless the book of Revelation is just a pack of fiction, unless all of Jesus’ emphatic teachings and warnings about all these things are just a bunch of fairytale fantasies. We are living in a world that has acid and cyanide about to meet! We have a big problem on our hands, and we’d better respond properly.
I saw heaven standing open and there was before me a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but He himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and mighty men, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great.”
Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army (Revelation 19:11-19).
This describes the world we live in. All that is happening right now and all that will happen right up until the last day of this planet is described here. It’s a description of the finality of the ages. The words almost make it seem a bit too fictitious to believe, because of sci-fi writers like Stephen Spielberg. But the fact is, it’s TRUE and we have to be chemists. We need to see what is really going on and respond with the fervency of heart that’s appropriate to the dilemma that we’re in. You have to start there and have a passion in your heart about it. If you don’t start there, you’re either 1) foolishly ignorant of the Word of God. You don’t believe the Word of God and you’ve never understood or read the Word of God. Or, 2) you’re arrogant, because you think you’re “bigger than all that” and it’s just not a factor for you. Remember, however... that the dragon deceives the nations. The dragon convinces us that “everything is okay.” He doesn’t overcome us by “chewing our head off.” He overcomes us by lying to us, just like he did in the garden... “Well it’s not really a big deal. God’s trying to cheat you. God didn’t really mean that. There’s a lot of room in here for interpretations...” saith the evil one. So we respond without the deep gravity and seriousness that is proper—given the condition that the world is in. I just want to make sure that we all have a fighting chance to see it right.
Our Oasis... the CHURCH!!
God provides an oasis for His betrothed, His beloved. Oh yes! His Holy Spirit, the Comforter. Wonderful Counselor! What a nightmarish life to not have constant and true Companionship in the Person of the Spirit of Christ Jesus! What a Gift! And yet, did He even stop there, as He seeks to bring us real and constant hope and life and truth and love? No, there’s still MORE! “I will build my CHURCH—and against that, the gates of Hell itself will crumble—in your life, and in the lives of those you love!” Just as the Father sent the Son—the Word became visible, touchable flesh... there is again Treasure in earthen vessels: the very Body of Christ... There is Oasis in His Church!
All the way back in the garden...there was Oasis in the middle of a fallen world. The fallen world did exist, but Adam and Eve were protected in the Garden, as long as they obeyed God’s command of them. When they were thrown out, with the cherubim guarding the entrance, they found themselves living in the fallen, cursed part of the world.
Later on, the ark of Noah became an Oasis for God’s people. God pulled the righteous people of the earth out of the contaminated world and He put them in a safe place. No doubt that some people—even sincere people—were banging on the walls of the ark saying, “Let me in, I repent, I repent!” But the way God saw it...some people had made the choices to live for Him; the rest of the people were living in their own environment and totally engrossed in it. They were eating, drinking, making merry, getting married and were just generally callous—partying and doing what was “right in their own eyes.” God saw this whole thing, and He built an ark to separate His betrothed for Himself from the rest of the decadence and callousness. Was there a nice, sweet little grandmother out there? You bet there was. Did those people love their parents? Some of them probably did. And some of those parents were probably pretty nice people. But if they weren’t responding to God, then they were outside of the Oasis. And a lot of people obviously weren’t responding to God, because only a handful was saved.
As you go on through the Old Testament, you see the camp of the Israelites. That also was a separation of God’s people from the rest of the world. And right on into Jesus’ day...
“While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction...I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world” (Jn. 17). He kept them safe by His Word. They were in the world but not of the world. He kept them safe and He saved everyone that the Father had given Him. The separation was clear with a circle drawn around a certain group of people that He loved and separated for Himself. He loved the whole world, but these were the people who obeyed His commands.
“Upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not overcome it” (Mat. 16:18). “All the powers of hell will not be able to conquer the oasis that I have built for My people.” The fallen world is a dangerous, decadent, seriously depraved place and Jesus said, “I will build an oasis in the middle of it. I will not mix my people with the world. I will build my church and then all of hell will not be able to prevail against my church.”
“In him [Jesus], you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Eph. 2:22). That oasis is a place where God lives. You are being built as a church to be a place where God lives!
“God’s intent was now, through the church, that the manifold wisdom, the many-faceted wisdom, of God would be made known to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 3:10). God’s intent was now, “through the church”...This oasis of life...It’s something that is in the world but separated from it. It’s not like some weird type of commune thing. But it IS still separate from the world as a defined entity, apart from the world’s system. We’re connected to one another and separate from the world. “My intent,” saith the Lord, “is to build a church that will so disable satan and his schemes, that all the manifold wisdom of God would be evident now, through the church.” Not when Jesus returns, but right now His church could embarrass satan. That’s His plan and His intent. His church will embarrass satan. She’ll be in the world but not of the world. A separate entity. “Come out from among them, and be separate, says the Lord” (2Cor. 6:17). In the world, but not of it. We don’t need to be afraid to not be part of the world. We don’t need to fear being different. We don’t need to fear making a different set of decisions than the ones the world makes. That’s not something to be afraid of—that’s something to be proud of!
“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some shepherds and teachers to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ might be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and the full knowledge of the Son of God, and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching, and by the cunning and craftiness of men and their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up together into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Eph. 4:11-16).
Again...God made a very strong statement that He is going to give gifts as He will. He ascended on high, led captives in His train, and He’s giving gifts as a Victory Celebration for having defeated satan on a cross. He’s going to give gifts to His church so we can build each other up inside of the church, together. By “every supporting ligament” we will all learn how to do our work in love. We won’t be “infants tossed to and fro.” What happens if you step outside of God’s provision? What happens if you jump outside of the ark? What happens if you get yourself into a situation where you’re not relating intimately on a daily basis, with people that are listed in Ephesians 4 as relationships and gifts that are essential? What happens? Well...we don’t grow into maturity, we don’t grow into headship, and we don’t grow into unity of the faith. We remain infants, “tossed to and fro by the cunning and craftiness of deceitful men and their scheming.” We don’t learn how to do our work in love. We are not “equipped for works of service.” If we are outside of God’s oasis somewhere else, instead of connected in daily relationship, then the eight or nine things listed in Ephesians 4 don’t happen and it gets very distressful.
“I will build my church that the gates of hell won’t prevail against.” God is saying, “I have a plan, I have an ark, I have an oasis. I have something that will save you. I will build my church that the gates of hell won’t prevail against.” No one is strong enough on their own to not be deceived by the deceitfulness and scheming of false teaching that leaves us as infants, twenty years after we were born in Christ! There is no one that is good enough, or strong enough that can grow into the “unity of the faith” without people in their lives EVERY DAY. No one is that wise or strong or mature or courageous or holy that they don’t need ekklesia—a church that the gates of hell cannot prevail against!! You step outside of that, and you’re subjecting yourself to much, much misery and pain.
If you see that the world is filled with a major war and that God is building a fortress...If you can SEE and understand that God is building a Holy City with walls around it...If you can SEE that inside of those Walls are provision for growth to no longer be infants, no longer be tossed to and fro...If you understand that it’s a place where you no longer need to be destroyed by all the garbage of your own flesh and the world or the dragon that is trying to kill you all the time... If you can see that, you will make good choices.
My desire is to help you solve the dilemma: “Should I go to this certain place? Should I not go there?” “How should I interpret this?” “How should I feel about the world and how to function in it?” I simply want you to understand what is happening in the world so you can make your own decisions about that, if you care. I am trying to educate you as to what the world is all about REALLY... not what it “appears” to be. I want you to know what it really is, and then you will understand what kind of precautions to take in order to live “in the world but not of it.” You’ll know how to live in the Fortress of God, so that your mind, your body and your emotions are not devastated by the garbage of the dragon that is trying to kill you.
“See to it brothers that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God, but encourage one another daily,—warn one another, be called alongside one another daily—as long as it is called Today so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. As just has been said, ‘Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion’”(Hebrews 3:12-15).
How do you hear His voice? “Today if you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” One of the ways, it says two verses earlier, is to warn one another daily so that you won’t be hardened. We have to be committed to the process of daily relationships where we can hear the Word of God and see the Word of God...where we help each other and gift each other...where we protect each other and build each other up—where we can be in the world, but separate from the world... We commit ourselves to that process—it’s a decision we each have to make in our hearts. No one makes that decision for us. You are not here because you live here. You live here because your heart is here. The only thing that will give you the provisions of the church and God’s place for an oasis from the dragon, is if your heart is engaged in the process of seeking that. “I want to be encouraged daily, and I want to encourage daily, because I don’t want to be hardened and deceived by sin. I don’t want to be hardened and not feel it anymore, and I don’t want to be deceived into thinking things are okay when they’re not.” That’s what happens—the dragon deceives; but God builds a Holy Wall around His City and gives us all the provision to be able to do His work in the world while not being of it. But it’s a decision from the heart that we make, to be within His walls.
Abandoned to His Dream
“This is what the kingdom of God is like: A man scatters seed on the ground night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up. The seed sprouts and grows though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain, first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head” (Mark 4).
When you are inside of God’s Holy City there is an awesome thing that happens. God’s Holy City is one that is functioning as it should: out of relationship and not attendance. It is a City defined by commitment to one another on a daily basis. It is not defined by where you show up or what you believe or who you know. It is defined instead by how much your heart is open to receive and to give on a daily basis. In a City like this, the awesome thing is that the seed grows into full maturity and fruitfulness, and we don’t even know how! That really strikes me as awesome. Because if I plant myself in that environment, and if I stay in that environment, then I don’t even have to “figure out” how to grow. The Word of God is going to come at me in so many different ways that I don’t have to spend my energy “figuring it all out.” Maybe you have lived in situations where most of what you got was on Sunday morning, if that, and there weren’t people in your life who were watching, involved, caring, loving, and praying for you every day. Maybe it was just a collection of people that showed up someplace. You know good and well how difficult it is to grow in a situation like that. It’s difficult to even stick to your own, sincere commitments to live for Jesus. You know how easy it was then to get off track. But, something is very different when you’re living in that City—that Oasis. The seeds sprout and grow, “though you know not how.”
I’m not saying everything is easy when you’re inside His City. It’s still not easy! My flesh and my spirit wage war with one another. Paul didn’t say, “Your flesh and your spirit wage war with one another, unless of course you happen to know the right people.” No, I’m sorry. It’s a battle until the day we die. That’s just the way it is. Until we face Him, and see Him, and become who He is because we have seen Him face to face, the Spirit and the flesh will wage war with one another. And part of that is good. God left the enemies in the Promised Land in order to purge His people and teach them war in the wilderness. He needed to teach them how to be warriors. Part of this is preparation in being overcomers so that we can sit with Him and rule with Him. Part of the pain and struggle is very, very necessary. A cup and a baptism are required in order to be useful to God. No question about that. The seed must fall to the ground and die, otherwise it abides alone.
Do you want to be the loneliest person on the earth? Then just avoid dying. Just avoid it, avoid it, avoid it. Avoid any kind of pain. Avoid any kind of fear and rejection. Avoid any kind of cost at all in your life. Avoid obedience that hurts. Avoid all of that—and guess what? You have a guarantee from the Son of God that you will remain alone. You will be a lonely, empty person your entire life if you won’t let the seed fall to the ground and die. If you won’t give away your life regardless of the consequences, you will be alone. That’s just the way it is. That’s a promise from God.
But the neat thing is... if you will abandon yourself into the process of living life in the Kingdom of God on a daily basis, then you will grow and you won’t even know how. Time will pass and you didn’t have any “Bible studies,” any systematic format for discipleship growth, any “prayer partners,” any “prayer meetings” (per se), or curriculums, or VBS. You didn’t have anything but people who loved you every day of your life. You helped each other live out the Word of God out of your own weaknesses and out of your own love of one another and your love of God. But the seed grew and you don’t even know how. The seed has to fall to the ground and die (that means you are going to suffer various things along the way), but the neat thing is that there is nothing systematic or programmed about it. You will become a different person from the very process of letting the seed be in the soil of God. We “know not how,” but the seed grows.
That’s a beautiful thing to me because I spent a good part of my life trying to “engineer” what Christianity was supposed to be. Making sure the right “sermons” were there, the right “programs” were there, the right “things” were all in place. Maybe you’ve gone through the process of thinking, “I should put all my effort into creating systems to accomplish God’s will. That’s the thing that would be most helpful to God.” Eventually the light dawned on you that Jesus didn’t do things that way! It was nothing like that in the New Testament—so lo and behold, maybe that’s just not God’s way today, either. Maybe it is Isaac and not Ishmael. Maybe it is a child born of the Spirit rather than a child born in the ordinary, logical way. Maybe God’s way is not to borrow western technology and the scientific method, but just to abandon ourselves in love. Perhaps then the seed will grow up to the full head and the multiplying seeds will allow us to fill the earth 30, 60 and 100-fold. But the fun thing is that we don’t even know how that seed grows. There is something simply supernatural about, “I will build my church that the gates of hell won’t prevail against.”
“Happy are those who can live in your house always singing your praises... Happy are those who are strong in the Lord” (Ps. 84:4-5). Who are the “those”? “Those that set their minds on a pilgrimage”—to Jerusalem, to the City of God, to the Oasis that God has planned! We set our heart and our mind on that. (Hebrews 11—“I’m looking for a city whose builder and maker is God, and I’m not going back to the old country. I’m looking for a city. And God will be pleased to be called my God if I am looking for a new Jerusalem—one that is descending from heaven, becoming a habitation of God by the Spirit. If that is what I set my mind on, I will be strong in the Lord.”)
“When they walk through the valley of weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs where pools of blessing collect after the rain” (Ps. 84:6). Guess what? There is still weeping there. But if you are on a pilgrimage to the holy city, your tears become springs of blessing.
We all remember the verse, “I’d rather be a gatekeeper in the house than live a single day with evil people out in the world.” But can you see why he says that? You can if you read the verses before it, right? “Because my pool of tears becomes a pool of blessing in the house of God.” God miraculously turns the water into wine. He turns the water of your tears and the water of your sufferings into the wine of glad singing—if you are in the oasis. If you are not, it doesn’t work that way. It’s vanity. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house. I’ll be the butler or the baker or the candlestick maker. I don’t have to be important; I don’t have to be recognized. I don’t have to have anything. I just want to be where tears turn into the oil of gladness. That’s what I want. That’s where strength comes in the morning.
A supernatural battle is raging that wants no Wall and wants no one to be protected by that Wall. That’s what much of this book of Nehemiah is about and if you dig for yourself, you will see that it is just jam-packed with things to teach us and equip us. Paul said to the Corinthians that all this history of God’s people is not only recorded for our learning “upon whom the fulfillment of the ages has come,”... but he said it actually happened for our learning so that those “upon whom the end of the ages has come” would be equipped to comprehend the Fullness of Time and all the issues that are at stake. These things actually happened in Nehemiah’s time so that we could understand what was at stake.
The Gates: We NEED Them!
As cupbearer for the king at the fortress of Susa, Nehemiah had a place of honor, much like Daniel or Joseph had, in some ways. “In late autumn of the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign, I was at the fortress of Susa. Hanani, one of my brothers, came to visit me with some other men who had just arrived from Judah (the place God had called His treasured possession, the land flowing with milk and honey). I asked them about the Jews who had survived the captivity...” (Nehemiah 1:1-2).
“...Jews who had survived the captivity...” I want to make a distinction here about believers—Christians who have “survived the captivity.” They are people who have truly been purchased by the Blood of Jesus. They have truly given their lives to Jesus and they are just as saved as Paul of Tarsus or even Jesus, Himself (I say that very reverently). You are either saved or you’re not. Paul, because he was “in Christ,” was as saved as the Son of God. Anyone who has been purchased by the Blood of Jesus is just as saved as Paul or Peter or John.
And if you are saved, then you have “survived the captivity” and you ain’t going back! The dragon is there! Heartache, destruction, despair, and deception wrack the place and you don’t want to be there. And the consequences of living in that place far exceed anything you could ever imagine. “The devil is a roaring lion seeking to devour.” These are very real things to people that see them. To people like Elisha, who see the unseen world, these things are very real. Jesus talked about hell more than everybody put together. Why? Because He could see it! It was not a secondary thought to Him. It was very real to Him and extremely important for everybody He met to understand the seriousness of what was at stake.
Okay, so there are Jews who have “survived the captivity.” They have been purchased—they have come out of captivity. Nehemiah asks them, “How are things going in Jerusalem?” The men say to Nehemiah, “Things are not going well for those who returned to the province of Judah. They are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down and the gates have been burned” (Neh. 1:3).
The people are “saved” and they’re in the Holy City, but the walls are torn down and the gates have been destroyed. The “entrances and exits,” as Ezekiel called them, are all torn down. And without any entrances and exits, the place is just a big free for all. Any kind of person you want to name can come and go any time he pleases with no one saying a word. Quite frankly, that describes most of the religious world today—it’s a major free for all. You could be satan himself, and be an elder in most religious organizations! Because all you have to do is “know your Bible,” and even satan knows his Bible, right? There isn’t enough scrutiny or enough relationship between people or enough discernment in most religious settings to be able to understand even how to respond to things that are very deceptive. This happens everywhere you look, 10,000 times over.
For example, a famous leader in South America talks about the guerrilla terrorists that would sit on his front pew every Sunday morning. They were “members of the congregation,” but really they were spies for the communist, terrorist government! People didn’t even know the difference! Little relationship and discernment to even see the difference between people—that, unfortunately, is mostly how the “church” has been built over the last two thousand years. Unlike Ephesus in Revelation 2, there isn’t any “trying of men.” There’s no discernment or separation between those who have a revelation of Jesus from those who don’t. A “claim” of Christianity is sufficient to “be a member” as long as there is reasonable attendance and financial contribution. For the most part, it’s very difficult to find yourself unwelcome in the religious world.
Now Jesus’ standard is very different, as you know. “If you are lukewarm, I’ll spew you out of My mouth.” If you’re a little hot and a little cold, I’ll spew you out of my mouth. If you don’t take up your cross daily and follow Me, you can’t be a Christian; you can’t be a disciple. “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” —those two words are equivalent terms: “Christian” and “Disciple.” Unless you take up your cross and deny your very self, you can’t be part of Me. The rich young ruler found that out, didn’t he?
My point is, it’s essential that the “entrances and the exits,” as Ezekiel called them, or “the gates” (as we see here with Nehemiah), are where Jesus wants them to be. It’s His Church. He said, “I will build My Church.” He didn’t say, “I will build your Church. He said, “I will build My Church.” He is the one who decides about the entrances and exits.
The Holy Spirit Weeps for Oneness...
“They are in great trouble and disgrace...” Why? Because “The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been burned.” There is no wall for protection and there are no gates for discernment. “When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:3-4).
The name of Nehemiah means “Comforter” in Hebrew... So you can see the correlation in God’s mind that we’re talking about the Holy Spirit’s work here. The Wall is built around the City by the leading of the Holy Spirit, by the leading of Nehemiah. And from God’s viewpoint, when there is no Wall around His people, the Holy Spirit weeps. People can be saved, and be free from captivity in a sense, and they can be trying to live the Christian life, but if there are no walls around the Holy City, the Holy Spirit weeps. That is very important to understand. Even if you look at it in the natural sense alone, here is a man who knows God and he weeps when he hears there are no Walls around God’s people to protect them. If the distinction of God’s Wall around His people is broken down, then His people are prey for the enemy. True followers of Jesus aren’t meant to blend in with the world and “attend” some place, hear good words and then desperately try by themselves for the most part, to put it into practice through the week. It doesn’t matter how sincere the people are, without the walls, they’re out where the lion is waiting to devour and deceive.
If we are not within the walls as ONE—“contending as one man”—because our heart is elsewhere, then we’re in territory where the dragon is waiting, ready to devour. We’re in a place where there is no “unity of the faith” or “full knowledge of the Son of God” or “full measure of the stature of Christ.” It’s not possible! We’ll remain as “infants tossed to and fro” and we’ll be hardened and deceived by sin (Hebrews 3). Outside the Walls, people of the world will make war “with everyone who obeys the commandments of God.” Remember? It is essential that the Wall be built around God’s people, and that there is a sense of protection and unity and oneness. His Wall is something that is defined—and I don’t mean by a roster, attendance and a creed. Rather, “I pray that they will be one, Father, as You and I are one.” Is that oneness or what?! “As you and I are one.” That’s how “one” we are supposed to be with each other!!! “When you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” That’s how ONE we are supposed to be with each other.
“Oneness” isn’t defined by a “common creed,” but rather by hearts that are joined together, totally submissive to the Word of God and leaning on and growing from each other every day. The opposite of that is, “I have no need of you.” If you want to be “baptized in the Spirit,” Paul said that means you are “baptized by one Spirit into one body,” where we say, “I have need of you, I have need of you, I have need of you!” That’s what it means to be baptized in the Spirit, amongst other things. “I have need of you” will be our heart... It has to be, because the context of “baptized in the Spirit” is... “We are ONE body.” “Contending as one man for the faith.” That must be our heart.
That’s where Acts 2 came from! It wasn’t some shallow “cultural experience,” where people shared with each other because there weren’t enough houses to go around. Those people became ONE because they were “baptized by one Spirit into one body” and so “none of them counted their possessions as their own.” It was the natural overflow because they were one! I don’t mean that we’ll be generic robots with all the same gifts, and all the same maturity level. I don’t mean there will be no such thing as leadership—I don’t mean anything like that at all! I just mean that our hearts are in union with one another, and we count our lives and our possessions, our hearts, our minds, our moods—we count those not as our own. We need each other. “I have need of you,” as opposed to “I have NO need of you.” That’s a terrible thing that Paul expressed as being very destructive and “anti-” the Spirit of God.
Nehemiah cried out and said, “O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands...”(Neh. 1:5) Who does He keep that covenant of unfailing love with? He keeps it with those who love Him and obey His commands.
“Listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel”(v. 1:6). He had a PASSION about it because he could see the supernatural realm... “Please listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel.” He could see that these things really, really matter. What would make you fast and pray for several days? What would make you cry passionately?? This man was passionate about this problem that there was no protection for God’s people!! God’s people had come out of captivity, and they were “saved,” but he could see the tremendous danger of not having the Wall built around them, and he was passionate about it. It just wiped him out—it destroyed and devastated him—So he couldn’t help but spring into action about it...
“Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, laws and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses.
“Please remember what you told your servant Moses: ‘If you sin, I will scatter you among the nations. But if you return to me and obey my commands, even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honored’” (v.1:6-9).
Again, you can see God’s Heart and Mind for continuity, for oneness: “If you disobey me, I will scatter you. But if you obey me, I will bring you back from the four corners of the earth—from the north, south, east and west. I will make you ONE if you obey me.” But My curse is to scatter you if you don’t. Remember what happened in Babel? They had a false sort of oneness when they tried to build their tower to reach the heavens. They were arrogant with their worldly mindset—a Nimrod sort of approach to life. A terrible worldliness! God’s plan and His judgment were to scatter them. That’s what happens when you disobey—He scatters you. But if you will repent of sin, He draws you together. Again, you see His plan... “Let them be one, Father, as you and I are one...” You can’t artificially produce that. You can’t “administrate” that. You can’t “be one” by gathering around a program, a building, a speechmaker or a personality. It ain’t going to happen, because true oneness is a supernatural issue.
The king said to Nehemiah, “Why are you so sad? You aren’t sick, are you? You look like a man with deep troubles” (v. 2:2). What was the big deal? Nehemiah himself was doing just fine. But his “deep troubles” that had affected his countenance and his eating and everything else was due to the fact that he cared desperately that God’s people have a Wall around them. He cared deeply that there be no separation between God’s people and no lack of protection or lack of oneness. This was a passionate issue with him, and he had “deep troubles” because of it.
Raging, Supernatural Battle
So Nehemiah goes back to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall, where he is immediately met with opposition. “When Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem the Arab heard of our plan, they scoffed contemptuously. ‘What are you doing, rebelling against the king like this?’”(v. 2:19). (Chew on this one: since the Arabic language is the mother language of the Ishmaelites, that makes Geshem an Ishmaelite, doesn’t it. And remember that Ishmael was the product of God’s man and man’s plan. He was birthed by marrying God’s promise with the world’s way in order to accomplish the promise. And it created opposition to God’s work.) So you can see that these three men and a multitude of others are stirring up trouble as time goes on. What is their problem? Why do they even care? Because there is a supernatural opposition raging that wants no Wall and wants no one to be protected by that Wall. Why would those men even care about it in the first place? Because this is beyond the scope of “natural world” stuff! There is a SUPERnatural war, and an envy, strife and immediate attack on this desire to build the Wall. No one cared and it wasn’t a big deal until the wall started going up. The Wall was going up, the gates were being set in place and God’s people were now becoming impervious to attack. Until then, it just wasn’t a big deal. But as soon as those things started to happen, all of a sudden satan is up in arms. “Sanballat” means “secret enemy.” Satanic efforts will attack the building of the Wall around God’s people—there’s an attack when a clear distinction is made between God’s people and the world. It’s an attack on the oneness God intends for us. “I will build My church that the gates of hell won’t prevail against.” Satan wants to tear that down, and pluck people out. He doesn’t want it to exist in the first place, and so he uses any means he can, to come against it.
You see ten or twelve different means through the book of Nehemiah that the secret enemy uses to try to destroy the Walls that are being built. He tries to discourage them...“You’ll never be able to do it. Ha! It’s never been done before. It might work with ten of you, but it won’t work with thirty! And forget about it if there are one or two hundred of you.” “Yeah, we were like that too when we were young. You will succumb to the whole thing like we did—your teens will sow their wild oats just like everyone else. That’s just the way life is.” All this garbage talk goes on! All these lies that are so completely unfounded in the Word of God, yet they are so much a part of everyone’s experience. WHY is that so? Because there are no Walls. People are totally subject to the enemy’s lies and attacks. Mark it down that as soon as you try to build those walls and be part of what God wants to build, you will encounter much, much difficulty. The secret enemy will come and sow his seeds.
Another example in Nehemiah is the way the enemy made “contacts” inside of the Holy City. He contacts and secretly whispers to people inside of the Walls. How can this be?? Why do the people listen? Because they are related to the enemy—they have “family ties.” So they swear allegiance to an enemy because “family” is more important to them than God’s Work! They have a father-in-law...check it out (Neh. 6)! There were reasons why those contacts happened, and it stunk.
Or the enemy comes at you with, “Well, you are just trying to be somebody. You just want to be a king. You are rebelling against the king. If you don’t come and talk to me about all this, then I will “rat” on you and prove to everyone that what you’re doing is ambitious. You’re just doing it for yourself.” What was Nehemiah’s response to that? He said, “You are lying! You’re making this stuff up in your head, so go jump in a lake. I’m not listening, and I’m not responding to it. I’ve got work to do” (Neh. 6). They had invited him outside the walls to the plain of Ono, and he knew that they wanted to do him harm. The secret enemy wanted him to go out there for a “good, meaningful conversation” and told him it would be in his best interest to do it. But really, he meant to destroy Nehemiah by taking him outside of the Holy City.
Are you starting to see WHY these subjects about how we function together, practically, in the world, come up?
“I Have Need of You!!”
Case in point: suppose someone says, “I have parents in Boise, Idaho that I haven’t seen for a while. I think I’ll go out to Boise and spend two or three weeks with my pagan parents. I’ll just take a little vacation and maybe do some sightseeing.” Well....when you live outside of God’s Walls, “sightseeing” sounds like a great idea because you don’t have anything better going on in your heart. You have no scenery in your heart—no mountains and rainbows on the inside—so you have to go find them elsewhere. So visiting some “great place” and seeing some “cool things” gives you a temporary high. But all along, God meant for you to have that “high” in your heart! “Vacationing” and those sorts of external events “draw you in” when there is little going on inside of you. “I think I’ll spend three weeks with my family in Boise, Idaho at a family reunion. I know it’s a big beer bash, but I don’t plan on getting involved in that part. I just want to see my family and goo-goo over my nieces and nephews. Blah, blah, blah...” That kind of reasoning makes sense if the “church world” as we know it has no Walls and everyone does what is “right in their own eyes.” The lives are disconnected and independent from each other. That’s what makes it “normal” in a “church” environment, that if someone gets an offer of a 20% pay raise to transfer to another city, they snatch it right up! They’re gone, because they can easily “place membership” somewhere else...“membership” where they were, never meant anything anyway. It’s not their LIFE! Their lives are not intertwined in such a way where they’re desperately connected, having need of one another on a daily basis. It’s not a big deal to go place “membership” someplace else. A 20% pay hike is all it takes for 90% of the people in the religious world to move away because they didn’t have anything where they were, anyway.
When the believers in Corinth didn’t eat with a certain guy, it almost killed him, Paul said. In most situations today, if you don’t eat with a guy, it doesn’t matter to him because they never eat with him anyway! It’s a big charade—it doesn’t mean anything. But when it’s really the church and God’s Walls are there, all of a sudden some amazing things start to happen. Does anyone care if I want to take a three-week vacation to Boise, Idaho and do some sightseeing? Yes, I suspect someone would ask me about that. Is it a problem to me that they ask me about it? No! It’s irresponsible if they don’t! Because what if my heart is in love with the world? What if I am seeing things wrongly? I’d be hurting my relationship with God and showing that I obviously don’t have much of a relationship with God’s people. I’ve proven that I “have no need of them” because I can just disappear for three weeks and it’s not a big deal to me. It’s not a matter of someone just telling me that I can’t go to Boise, Idaho. Of course I can—I can do anything I want. But people care for me and question my reasoning behind it, because the heart is deceitful above all things! They’d better be called alongside me daily...otherwise, I’m going to be hardened and deceived by sin. I need the Walls. “I have need of you,” and vice versa. That’s just the way God planned it. “I will build my church that the gates of hell won’t prevail against.” “God’s intent is now, through the church, to make known the manifold wisdom of God to the principalities and powers.” Foundationally, this “manifold wisdom of God” shows itself in very practical ways.
Now if anyone ever tells you that you can’t go—that you’re not allowed to go—to Boise, Idaho, tell them they are way out of line, because they don’t have the right to say that! But if they don’t care that you’re going to Boise, Idaho for three weeks by yourself, they are just as out of line, and maybe more so! Don’t have a foolish, naïve, legalistic idea that—“Oh, I just have to check with so-and-so before I do anything.” That’s nonsense, that’s ridiculous. It has never been Jesus’ intent that anyone has to “ask permission” to do thus and such. Or you have to get a quorum to make a decision about whether to buy a blue doormat or a red one, or what kind of car to have. That’s all total ridiculousness.
On the other hand, I would want people to care WHY I want a red convertible instead of some other more functional vehicle. It’s perfectly fine for me to own a red convertible. But is it perfectly fine for me to love attention? No—obviously not. So if you care about me, you won’t let me destroy my life by refusing to ask... “Why did you just buy yourself a red convertible?” That doesn’t mean you badger people with nonsensical questions. You simply love people enough to watch and pray and care. Why is that? Because that is what the Church is! That’s what the Wall IS! It is relationships that are intimately tied with one another where we need each other. We acknowledge that we need each other and we are all carriers and bearers of the Word of God. We are bearers of the Person of Jesus to one another and together corporately. We need that kind of relationship. But let’s not be childish or ridiculous about it and turn it into a bunch of externals and badgering. Let’s also not be naïve enough to think it doesn’t matter. Or hardened enough to not care about other people’s well-being.
You ARE Your Brother’s Keeper!
Let’s try to understand that there is a major war going on outside the walls and if I’m casually walking out where the dragon is, someone better grab me by my collar and say, “Are you sure you want to do that? It’s your choice, but can I give you a little insight into what happened to me the last time I did that? Are you sure that’s what you want? Because here are the probable consequences if you do this “thing” like it looks like you’re doing it. Here are the probable consequences.” When satan sinks his teeth in, it’s like a fish hook. It goes in pretty easily, but the barb on the other end doesn’t let it come back out very easily! That’s what satan’s teeth are like...they go in pretty easily and you bleed a little bit, but in order to get that fish hook back out, you bleed A LOT. It just shreds you to take that hook out once it’s gone in.
If we love each other and it’s really the Church of Jesus, we won’t let businessmen amongst us just lead their lives any ‘ol way they please. We’re not going to ignore it if they perhaps lie to people in their sales jobs or if there’s a chance a brother is being a manipulative and domineering manager over people and abusing the authority that he has been given. Will we let him be worldly and drunk on the power, the overhead projector charts, the latest management techniques and all this nonsense psychology in the Dale Carnegie world of management? We’re not going to let someone destroy his life like that! We will want to talk about it! We will be perceptive enough to know that the pressures and temptations are there and we know how easily the fish hook goes in. We want to spare him of being shredded and bloodied to smithereens by having to jerk that thing out later on...if you can get the hook out at all.
Suppose there’s a mother who is raising three or four little children. Is she going to be tempted to be lazy in her home, or despairing or short of temper? Might she be tempted to be too protective of her little children and “own them” for her own ego trip? Or tempted to put all her energy into housework rather than putting it into the Work of God in addition to her housework? Sure, of course she will have temptations and difficulties to overcome in her life. If you refuse to get involved, and refuse to help bear the load of the difficulties... if you refuse to help her avoid the snares of that particular stage of life in raising small children, then you don’t love her very much. You’re willing to let the fish hook of bitterness, resentment, laziness, worldliness or idolatry of family go in. If you’re willing to let that hook go in and let them be bloodied to death getting it out...or let them be “dragged away and enticed” as James put it, and destroyed and led to death by it...you just don’t love them very much.
The Nature of the Church is to be involved in details, because that’s where the fish hook is. It’s not about badgering or looking over your shoulder at people all the time and being nosy and a busybody—Paul speaks very clearly against being a busybody. Those will be temptations if you care, but you need to turn away from them. I know it’s hard, but you have to be big enough people. I’m learning it myself only now, to be a big enough person to care desperately, but also to not be over-anxious about anything. Don’t tell me to not care! But watch out for me, because I might be over-anxious and care too much and end up doing stupid things. It won’t be because I’m malicious, but it will be because I care so much and I’m stupid—and the combination of those things doesn’t work out very well sometimes. : ) Please care desperately, because that’s what the Church is. That’s what it’s all about! And the attacks are plenty. A whole bunch of them show up in the book of Nehemiah.
You can see Nehemiah’s approach inside of the Walls. What happened when people inside were intermarrying with people on the outside? They were getting mixed up with and giving part of themselves over to worldly relationships, marriage and otherwise. What did Nehemiah do about that? He hit them! He pulled out their hair! He was violent about it! Do you want to make a case about... “That’s not very Christian”? You could try, but I’ll tell you what: God wrote that stuff, and there is something Right about Phinehas putting a spear through an Israelite who was in sin. God stopped the plague and credited it to Phinehas’ righteousness for having done what he did. There is something about a violence towards sin that is credited as righteousness before God—and that stops the plague. Remember...the result of obedience is that God calls us from the four corners of the earth and compacts us together. For disobedience He scatters us. There is something about a passionate desire for obedience that God is very happy about and very pleased with. Nehemiah is an example of that, inside of the Walls, where he had serious concern about how people lived their lives.
What happened when something unholy was invited into the House of God because of an unholy friendship? “Eliashib the priest, who had been appointed as supervisor of the storerooms of the Temple of our God and who was also a relative of Tobiah, had converted a large storage room and placed it at Tobiah’s disposal...” (Neh. 13:4-5). Nehemiah was out of town, and all of a sudden the holiness of God’s people was being violated in a big way! This unholy situation and person were invited into their midst and camped out right there in the Temple, very conveniently—because of friendships, relationships, and “family ties.” What was God’s response to that situation? Nehemiah had him thrown out of the place! He was very upset and took Tobiah’s stuff and just threw it out. He demanded that the chambers be purified. There was fury there—he wanted nothing to do with it.
What happened with the men who were breaking the Sabbath? (Neh. 13:15-22). Businessmen were carrying on their merchandising without a thought about it. They weren’t aware of God’s ways and weren’t plugging into what was right. They weren’t “detail-oriented” in their obedience. What happened to those men who were violating and merchandising on the Sabbath Day? In Jesus’ case there was a whip and overturned tables. What did Nehemiah do? Pretty similar, right? He yelled at them and told them to stop, and posted guards to make sure they never did it again. There was a lot of wrath! (Neh. 13)
And what did Nehemiah say each time? “Oh God, hear my prayer! See my righteous attempts to serve you and please you!” He’s crying out to God with a totally clear conscience about what is happening inside the Walls of the Holy City. The Walls are up, but attention still needs to be given to what happens inside of the Walls.
Won’t we also care deeply about what’s happening inside the walls? Yes, of course we will! We will give attention to the kinds of choices we make and the kinds of places we go...like traveling to a beach-and-bathing suit scene or some other questionable situation. Won’t we at least be engaged in prayer and dialogue with each other and try to work these things out? “Hey, I care about you. I care that you may be planting crummy seeds in your heart. Satan is a deceiver. Don’t you know that a little leaven leavens the whole batch? That’s true for the church, and it’s also true for the inside of your head!” If a person makes compromises and little choices that are destructive, it will lead to an avalanche of deception and hardening.” Paul talked about consciences being “seared as with a hot iron.” Our nerve endings get deadened and sin doesn’t matter to us anymore. We don’t feel the prick of it anymore. PLEASE... Let’s not let each other go! “See to it brothers that none of you have a sinful, unbelieving heart.” “See to it brothers...”—that’s a command! “Make sure, brothers and sisters, that not one of you has a seared conscience... that you’re not hardened and deceived by sin. Make sure not one of you falls into that sort of situation.” Those are COMMANDS.
The nature of “being in the world but not of it” has practical ramifications. But don’t interpret that as a license to impose “laws” on what kind of things we can and cannot do, or where we can and cannot go. Our passionate desire to help each other grow in Christ isn’t directed toward the practical decisions per se, but towards the issues of the heart that lead to those decisions. WHY do we do what we do? For instance, a temptation would be to tell a person they “shouldn’t go to XYZ store because after all there is immodest clothing on the rack...” If you get deep into being detail-oriented about actual decision itself, you’ll miss the real issues. The real issues have to do with making sure our hearts and minds are purified, and that our motives are right. The whole deal is to be “built up in love together.” “Let our hearts be in submission to one another.” “Let every matter be established by the testimony of two or three.” Sift and work through things together. But don’t be detail-oriented about specifics, like...“No one around here is allowed to have a red convertible.” That is nonsense! Maybe a red convertible is exactly what God wants for Sally, for a very specific reason, and it’s not really for you to say! But you would at least care why she wanted that convertible.
I would trust that Sally would be asking people beforehand if they thought it was a great idea or not to buy the red convertible. And I’d hope she wasn’t just “asking permission”—that would be childish, absurd and very shallow. For the most part, Sally should ask because she cares. Her heart wants to be inside of the Walls of the Holy City. She wants to be in a place where God’s Kingdom flourishes and God’s enemies are kept at bay. Inside of the church, the gates of hell cannot prevail. She knows her own heart, and she knows that unless she’s admonished daily she will be hardened and deceived. She doesn’t trust her motives and isn’t so foolish to believe, “Well, I know what God wants on my own. I hear God—I see Him face to face every day!” NO, we have need of each other! She wants to talk with someone and say, “Here is what I’d really like to do. I think my motives are pure and I know where the temptations would be, but I don’t think they are a problem. I think the reason I want to buy a red convertible is pure, even though it seems a little crazy! But if you don’t think it’s the right thing for me, I want to hear about it. I want to know, because I want to factor in the things I’m blind to.”
If I’m not willing to factor in the things I’m blind to, then I’m a fool, because I will be putting my heart out where the dragon is. I want my heart to be in a place where I can hear and listen and respond to the people of God. I want the Word of God to be living and active in His people, and living and active in my life through His people. The Kingdom of God is neither here nor there, it’s within His people. I want to make sure I’m drawing on that in a real way—drawing on the gifts in Ephesians 4 and the relationships in Hebrews 3. I want to make sure my heart is right smack in the middle of the Church that the gates of hell cannot prevail against. The dragon can’t get me, because I’m living and growing inside the midst of His people. My tears of weeping—floods as they may be—will turn into pools of joy that water the gardens behind me. “Death is at work in me so that life can be at work in you.” Supernatural Life flows from my tears and my pain, in the wake of my willingness to submit to God and to brothers and sisters in the middle of my pain. Supernatural Life is created from that...lush gardens follow me wherever I go. If I’m within the Walls of God and I’m weeping, my tears turn into Rivers of Living Water rather than pools of despair out in the world. “I will build my church the gates of hell won’t prevail against.” That has practical ramifications. It does not have legal ramifications as to whether or not a sister can buy a red convertible. It has practical ramifications where she wants to see things that she might not have seen otherwise. No one wants to tell her whether or not to buy it. What they want her to do is to see the issues of the heart related to it and help refine her thinking and expose the huge consequences if she makes the wrong decision...
...Like, what happens if she drives up to a stoplight in a red convertible and there’s a carload of guys next to her? What will happen? There are consequences to our decisions that set us up for terrible, terrible, terrible things to happen. The car full of guys pulls up and she ignores them—this time. Next time she enjoys it...a little more, anyway. Then the next time, she has the top down—on purpose. The heart is soooo deceitful. It feeds on that garbage and it grows and grows, more and more. Maybe God has a reason for the red convertible, but she sure better be aware of the potential consequences of owning it. All by herself, she might not have seen the terrible pitfalls. But when matters are “established by the testimony” of multiple witnesses—“wisdom in the multitude of counselors,”—all of a sudden the gates of hell can’t prevail against her. She grows and “she knows not how.” She becomes a woman of God that the gates of hell cannot touch because relationships, gifts, wisdom, care and love are swirling around her. She has planted her heart smack in the middle of it. She doesn’t despair of people talking to her about the pitfalls and the weaknesses. She welcomes it! She desires the wisdom and insight. She desires the food and wants the gifts and relationships. She doesn’t want to be hardened and deceived! She doesn’t want to be outside the Walls where the dragon and the roaring lion are. That’s where there is deception, cunning and craftiness of deceitful men and where she’ll always be an infant till the day she dies. Maybe I can be “saved” but my whole life is burnt up because I’ve built with wood, hay and stubble outside the Walls of His House.
Life and Death to an EXTREME!!
These are issues of the heart, and I want to make sure you understand first and foremost, that life and death are at stake. The dragon is real, and the war is REAL. Jesus of Nazareth and His white horse Faithful and True—that is real! That is exceptionally, incredibly real. Heaven and hell are real. It is not a joke, it is not funny, and it is NOT trivial. It’s not something we can arrogantly pooh-pooh. It is life and death to an EXTREME. I want you to be the chemist that can see the cyanide and the acid flowing toward each other and you know what that means. Like the sons of Issachar—you know the meaning of these things and you know what Israel should do. You have to see it. If you don’t see it, you are dead. If you take the orderly approach...you blend in with what is “socially acceptable”...you don’t rock any boats... you’re careful not to offend anyone...you do what is “right in your own eyes”...you will DIE. At the bare minimum, you will be decrepit, weak, nasty and pitiful your whole life.
I hope you are getting the picture of the extreme life and death importance of submitting yourself, from the heart, to a Life of practical living in the Body of Christ, on a daily basis. It is ohhhhh, so dangerous—life and death critically dangerous—to not join your heart to His Life in His people on a daily basis as Jesus and the Hebrews writer said. I just wanted to paint that picture one more time that yes, there are temptations, pain, failing, and various difficulties inside of the City with Walls whose foundation is laid by God Himself and by the Blood of Christ. There are problems inside of the City whose “Builder and Maker is God.” Growth needs to happen...personalities and relationships need to be refined. There will be failure...and then loving arms to wrap one another and lift each other up again. Those things will happen. We’re not talking about a Garden of Eden. Satan even showed up there too, remember? We’re not talking about having a perfect environment.
We’re talking about loyalty of commitment, love and submission one to another, and a recognition of our own hearts, and living inside of the City as a way of life, on a daily basis, from the heart. That’s the only thing that the gates of hell cannot and will not prevail against. When you are inside the walls, there will be weeping, but the pools of your tears will water the garden of those that follow behind you, and it’s worth it.
One Last Thought...
This may be really obvious, but I want to clarify it for any readers who may be wondering...this is a Call that’s based on the Promises of God to His People all around the world. We need to apply the Word of God to our own personal lives and existence, individually, and also corporately. The fact is...God is strongly desirous of raising a City set on a hill throughout the world. People we know, people we don’t know, 7,000, or 700,000 that haven’t bowed a knee to Baal. Absolutely, not in the wildest stretch of imagination is there any feeling among us that we don’t personally have a million miles to go!
So, have a passion to a) apply it to your own personal life, and b) recognize that God is calling His People by His Spirit all over the world to the common ground of Life in Christ in a real, corporate sense, not just individually. The Holy Spirit is crying for the Wall to be built around His people around the world! It doesn’t have anything specifically to do with us. We want to be obedient as best that we can, but there are many other people who want that too. We’ve found out about many from other countries because we’ve had some correspondence or visits with them. But there is unquestionably a multitude of people that we don’t know! This is the Work of God and isn’t specifically related to us in any way other than: we just want to be a part of it too. : ) If He is merciful to weak people like us, perhaps we will be blessed enough, fortunate enough, and obedient enough to be a part of that! God does want to do that and He will have a Bride that has made herself ready. Amen? Let it be so! Come, Lord Jesus!