Who Will You Follow?
Today we face what some call the greatest crisis in the history of the Seventh-day Adventist church. A majority of church representatives have voted in a radical sea change of organization that denies the clear instructions of Jesus on how His disciples are to relate to each other in love and equality. Now each person faces a decision as to how they will react to this collective choice to follow the methods of the world instead of the ways of Christ.
We have two choices awaiting our decision as to what path we will follow from here. The familiar path, now well tended and turned into a superhighway, is the path of law and order in the name of God Almighty where everyone is expected to bow to conformity to authority. It is the way of the world that nearly everyone presumes is also the way of God. Defenders of this course point to Old Testament models of order and insist that this is God's design and must be followed or be in rebellion. But is this the only option? Is law and order maintained through force and fear synonymous with godliness and obedience? Or did Jesus bring to light a radical new way of living that overturns centuries of tradition?
Thus says Yahweh, Don't let the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, don't let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he has understanding, and knows me, that I am Yahweh who exercises loving kindness, justice, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, says Yahweh. (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
We find in Hebrews that throughout the thousands of years when Satan claimed to represent this world in the heavenly assembly of the Sons of God (Job 1:6; 2:1), attempts by God to communicate His ways of organization came through to us like messages that sometimes seemed clear but other times seemed like garbled messages about what God is like. That is why Jesus came as God's only true representative, to challenge Satan's views of God and to displace Satan as our representative so He could set the record straight as to how we can be restored back to having access to the Tree of Life.
God, having in the past spoken to the fathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, has at the end of these days spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds. His Son is the radiance of his glory, the very image of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself made purification for our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Hebrews 1:1-3)
It took years for the followers of Jesus to even begin to comprehend the radical difference between God's methods of organizing and regulating His family and the world's system relied on by religion. But once the light of the true gospel of Jesus took hold of human hearts, the flame of true love became so intense as to be unstoppable. At the same time however, this new way of living threatened the very existence of the power structures religious authorities relied on for control and advantage.
We find in Acts 4 a compelling story that reveals this sharp contrast between religion modeled after the ways of the world even while claiming to be the voice of God on earth, with a radical new way of living and thinking that in a short time turned the whole world upside down until it was neutralized by religion once again. I would like to take some time to see what might be vital insights from this story that could bring life and joy and peace back into hearts that may be ready to give up in discouragement.
"But so that this spreads no further among the people, let's threaten them, that from now on they don't speak to anyone in this name." They called them, and charged them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, judge for yourselves, for we can't help telling the things which we saw and heard." When they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people; for everyone glorified God for that which was done. For the man on whom this miracle of healing was performed was more than forty years old. Being let go, they came to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. (Acts 4:17-23)
Peter and John were ordered by the highest religious authority of God on earth to no longer preach in the name of Jesus. Why? This very same body, this same church hierarchy had already used threats and finally execution to silence the voice of God by crucifying His Son. Yet the very power they had attempted to defeat was now reemerging through even more people infected with the same Spirit that had motivated the One they had just eliminated. Yet the only weapon they had to fight with was fear.
Fear is the real enemy, not authoritarian religious leaders. Never confuse people with the real enemy.
It is not flesh and blood but the originator and propagator of fear itself that is the real enemy. And the battlefield is not in halls of power but inside our heart where fear and love contend for supremacy.
For though we walk in the flesh, we don't wage war according to the flesh; for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the throwing down of strongholds, throwing down imaginations and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ; (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world's rulers of the darkness of this age, and against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:11-12)
Since then the children have shared in flesh and blood, he also himself in like manner partook of the same, that through death he might bring to nothing him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might deliver all of them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (Hebrews 2:14-15)
After Peter and John returned from their face-off with the Sanhedrin and explained the voted decision of the highest religious authority on earth to their fellow believers, they all spontaneously joined together in praise and prayer. I believe it is vital in our current time of crisis to not overlook the essence of their actions and their prayer if we want to experience something similar today as what they experienced. What is needed is for us to gain the same perspective they had and to take hold of the same gospel they knew if we are to access the same power they received in answer to their request.
The secret of true unity is not through compliance to intimidation by majority votes by religious authorities claiming to represent God on earth. Those believers faced the same thing as do we. Their unity was a result of individually embracing the love Jesus revealed from the Father, and the revelation that God is humble, gentle, unconditionally loving and forgiving no matter how ugly or hateful anyone is to Him. Their unity resulted from each person giving the Spirit of Jesus permission to replicate inside them the same disposition they had seen in Jesus while He was being tortured, mocked, abused, humiliated and discredited by those in power exercising their duly appointed authority.
It was in this context that those early believers turned to God when they were threatened by the highest religious body seeking to censer and silence them from freely sharing the true gospel about the goodness God. I believe it is vital that we get into the minds of these believers to learn where their focus was while they prayed. Take a closer look at their prayer to discover key insights that we be able to use to experience similar results.
When they heard it, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, "O Lord, you are God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who by the mouth of your servant, David, said, 'Why do the nations rage, and the peoples plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth take a stand, and the rulers take council together, against the Lord, and against his Christ.'
"For truly, in this city against your holy servant, Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever your hand and your council foreordained to happen. Now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of your holy Servant Jesus." (Acts 4:24-30)
Notice particularly what they did not ask for. They did not ask for protection from their enemies. They did not pray for God to overturn the decision of the ruling council of church authority. They did not ask for supernatural power to resist and defeat their enemies by superior force like is so easy to want. Remember, while the ring of power is extremely seductive, it proves to be ever so deadly in the end.
Then he answered and spoke to me, saying, "This is the word of Yahweh... 'Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says Yahweh of Armies." (Zechariah 4:6)
We are facing a similar crisis today. The highest ruling religious authority of our modern day church just adopted a resolution in the name of God that is foreign to the teachings and methods of Christ. It has done so proudly claiming that this decision was inspired and endorsed by the Holy Spirit and thus reflects the will of God on earth. Yet in this resolution are found seeds of persecution that has defamed the reputation of God throughout history in the guise of claiming to protect His assets. It formalizes into policy the system of hierarchy that Jesus explicitly forbid His true followers to use.
These early disciples found themselves in a situation of non-compliance and needed to discern what was important and what was a dangerous diversion. They saw clearly that fear itself, not the threatening edicts of religious authorities, was the real threat. With this truth clearly in mind, they were able to unitedly come boldly to the throne of grace with great earnestness to seek that which they needed most to defeat the real enemy. With passion they petitioned the court of heaven in the name of their newly inaugurated representative Jesus for boldness - boldness to be vulnerable by loving their enemies and praying for those who persecuted them. They realized that if they were to remain on the path that Jesus had laid out before them, they would need to have the same Spirit that empowered Him to forgive and love His enemies unconditionally while being humiliated, shamed and tortured.
When they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were gathered together. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness. The multitude of those who believed were of one heart and soul. Not one of them claimed that anything of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. With great power, the apostles gave their testimony of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Great grace was on them all. (Acts 4:31-33)
The Nature of True Power
We generally realize we need power. Yet we live in a world where the very idea of power has been so corrupted that it is easy to be confused about the nature of the kind of power that comes from God. This is where it is so important to clarify in our thinking what true power looks like and what it is not.
God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah. His glory covered the heavens, and his praise filled the earth. His splendor is like the sunrise. Rays shine from his hand, where his power is hidden. (Habakkuk 3:3-4)
Where is the place of hiding where we may access the true power that God uses to overcome evil? His power is found in the scars of the new covenant. The blood of Jesus has provided the most compelling evidence in all history that force, intimidation, shaming and punishment are ineffective at suppressing God's power of humility and love even in the face of unbridled evil.
Repay no one evil for evil. Respect what is honorable in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as it is up to you, be at peace with all men. Don't seek revenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to God's wrath. For it is written, "Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord." Therefore "If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing so, you will heap coals of fire on his head." Don't be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)
The secret of true power is not in returning evil for evil but in loving those who contradict and persecute us, especially in the name of God. Such people don't know God like Jesus, and the only way they may ever come to see saving truth is by someone demonstrating again what God is like while being persecuted like Jesus was. We need to know God's kind of vengeance so we may eliminate God's enemies by turning them into friends instead of retaliating against them like we think vengeance means.
Only as we abide in Christ, the unthreatening Lamb of God, and fill our imagination with the real good news that God is love and light, and in Him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5) – only from this position of advantage can we join our testimony to the testimony of true and faithful Witness of the Lamb who is the hero of the book of Revelation.
The Beauty or The Beast – Who is Worthy of Our Trust?
In Revelation we find unmasked the contrast between the methods and tactics of the enemy in sharp relief to the methods and disposition of God's hero, the Lamb. The symbols used to represent these two opposing representations of God must not be ignored. The fierce dragon-like beasts along with the images reflecting them rely on intimidating characteristics and represent the attitudes and methods of the world that relies on fear, intimidation, force and threats to achieve unity through compliance to hierarchal systems of top-down power and control. This is in direct contradiction to the clear instructions of Jesus that His disciples are never to indulge in such behavior or attitudes. Yet the temptation to exert dominating power over others in the name of God is so seductive that it is impossible to escape unless the Spirit of the Lamb is given full authority in the heart of each person who wants to follow Jesus the Lamb wherever He goes.
What qualifies the Lamb to receive such honor and be trusted with all power and praise? Let the explanation come directly from Revelation where we can tap into the secret of His power.
They sang a new song, saying, "You are worthy to take the book, and to open its seals: for you were killed, and bought us for God with your blood, out of every tribe, language, people, and nation, and made us kings and priests to our God, and we will reign on earth." I saw, and I heard something like a voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousands of ten thousands, and thousands of thousands; saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who has been killed to receive the power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and blessing!" I heard every created thing which is in heaven, on the earth, under the earth, on the sea, and everything in them, saying, "To him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb be the blessing, the honor, the glory, and the dominion, forever and ever! Amen!" The four living creatures said, "Amen!" The elders fell down and worshiped. (Revelation 5:9-14)
What does worthy mean here? It means that Jesus, the Lamb of God, demonstrate complete trustworthiness to represent and reflect God's heart of humility, compassion, kindness, forgiveness and unconditional love under the worst possible circumstances that could be brought about by His enemies tempting Him to react like we would normally react. The Lamb proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is not like He has been accused of being but is totally trustworthy to never abuse power, to never exploit any weakness or take advantage of anyone or force their will. In the end the Lamb and the God of the Lamb will be fully vindicated as never being complicit in any of the evil, suffering or exploitation that has been perpetrated in their name by deluded, power-hungry beings.
In fact this is what you were called to do, because Christ suffered for you and gave you an example, so you should follow in his footsteps. Christ never committed any sin. He never spoke deceitfully. Although he was abused, he never tried to get even, when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but left everything to the one who judges fairly.
He was carrying our sins when his body was put on the pole, so that once the sins were gone, we could live righteously. For, 'by his wounds you were healed.'
Christ carried our sins in his body on the cross. He did this so that we would stop living for sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you were healed.
You were like sheep that went the wrong way. But now you have come back to the Shepherd and Protector of your lives. (1 Peter 2:21-25 FBV, GW, CEV, NET, 2001, ERV)
When the darkness intensifies we are tempted to curse the darkness. Yet the very nature of temptation is to reflect back a similar spirit to what is brought against us. This is always the great danger. Yet the tempter will insist that if we don't return force with greater force, threats with stronger threats, it will be impossible to ever stop evil. But if we do this we play directly into the hand of Satan, for to pick up his weapons to use against him is the same as carrying his flag to march in sync with the enemies of Jesus while insisting we are fighting for God. Using methods of coercion only strengthens the enemy's cause and takes us deeper into self-deception just like those we resist.
You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you, don't resist him who is evil; but whoever strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:38-39)
We must not battle over external rights, privileges or turf. Our battle always revolves about the condition of our spirit and what methods we choose to overcome evil. So long as the enemy can seduce us to imagine that other people are the problem, we will be siding with him by using his methods while insisting we are furthering God's cause. Yet this is the same spirit those have who exercise forceful authority in the name of God that creates dissonance in the body of Christ.
Jesus answered, "My Kingdom is not of this world. If my Kingdom were of this world, then my servants would fight, that I wouldn't be delivered to the Jews. But now my Kingdom is not from here." (John 18:36)
Why does Jesus say not to resist an evil person? That seems so ineffective! Why won't God let us defend Him forcefully? That's how Peter felt in the garden and how too often we feel when things appear to be doomed. What is wrong with fighting back when all else has failed?
The real enemy is never the person exploiting us but the spirit of resistance itself. It is a deadly poison. It is flesh thinking, not Spirit-led Lamb logic. The Lamb leads us into bold vulnerability to demonstrate the truth about love. Following the Lamb requires willingness to lay down our lives instead of defending our rights aggressively. It means being willing to trust God even when we lose, and even persistently loving our enemies while they are whipping us. It is allowing the Spirit of the Lamb to vindicate God's reputation by replicating the disposition of the Lamb again and again in His true followers until everyone has enough evidence to decide which team they will join permanently.
Those early followers in Acts had witnessed the true Lamb of God in action and understood better than we do the nature of the real battle. They realized that their freedoms were never going to achieved by convincing the Sanhedrin to grant permission for them to spread the good news, for it was already seriously undermining the power base of those with vested interests in the status quo. Yet they would not allow intimidation or threats by the highest religious body to shut them down. What they focused on was the real temptation facing them, the demon of fear attempting to reestablish itself in their psyche and steal away their joy, peace and freedom they had so recently received through embracing the gospel demonstrated so vividly for them by the Lamb of God.
The Real Power of The Blood
It is vital that we understand the truth about the real gospel in the cross of Jesus or we can never be synchronized to live in harmony with each other or respond to persecution like Jesus. To do so we must grasp the far bigger context of what is really going on and get past the narrowness of our own agenda, for we cannot work within religious systems as they are set up to win over a majority who wield power according to the flesh. Jesus is our only safe example, and He never demanded His lawful rights or tried to lord it over others. Rather He came to let us treat Him shamefully like a disposable slave to expose the truth that God is not afraid of suffering, humiliation or even death.
The cross from this perspective becomes the ultimate revelation that it is impossible to intimidate God enough to get Him to retaliate or rely on His power to defend or protect Himself from abuse, slander or anything else we might do to hurt Him. The cross is the ultimate demonstration of the vulnerability of God, of irrepressible love and forgiveness that defies our whole system of debts, credits, earning, deserving, rewards, punishments and commerce. Jesus was God come in the flesh with God inside of Him, always proving that no one can hurt God enough to get Him to change His mind about how He feels towards us. That is the secret of His real power. That is why true power is hidden in the rays coming from His hands.
The enemy can only rely on the power of fear to counteract the power of such love. Yet fear only has traction so long as we believe lies about the nature of love or how God relates to sinners. So long as we believe that God operates like we do, relying on methods of force, intimidation and threats of punishment to maintain law and order and assert control over others, Satan maintains a stronghold inside of us through which we are manipulated by fear to conform to the demands of external authorities. Fear is the connecting link through which the world's system of control attaches itself to our soul. When this link of fear is dissolved by the truth about love as revealed in Jesus, Satan no longer is able to manipulate us. I will no more speak much with you, for the prince of the world comes, and he has nothing in me. (John 14:30)
Can you see it now? Fear is our greatest enemy, not people who seek to manipulate or threaten us. Such are deceived by the flesh just as we have been so much of our lives, and they are in desperate need of rescue from lies of Satan as much as we. They are not our enemies but are running on empty, living in darkness about the power of love, even while believing they honor God and defend His reputation (John 16:2) just like Saul of Tarsus. They are sincerely acting out their dark views of God by seeking to honor and defend His reputation by suppressing what they see as insubordination within the church. The real danger is that if we rely on the same spirit they exhibit to resist their threats, we confirm their false views of God and give them our authority by allowing their fears to control us.
Jesus is our only safe example to follow. Peter finally saw the real issue when he later reflected back about what he personally witnessed. It had finally gotten through to him and converted his heart. At first he imagined he was a fierce supporter and defender of Jesus. But circumstances and fear exposed his heart to be completely wrong about what it means to be a follower of Christ. He learned that all who follow Jesus must be willing to accept His disposition of humility and self-sacrificial love for others. This includes respecting the freedom of each one to make their own choices and leave the work of conviction up to God instead of using force and intimidation to manipulate and control others.
When the early disciples were threatened with similar treatment that had been used on Jesus in efforts by religious authorities to intimidate them into compliance, what was the response of those being threatened? Did they react defensively or aggressively to defend their rights and freedoms, insisting that the ruling authorities were out of compliance with God's will?
From our perspective today it is easy to look back and see that the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of God's chosen church of that day was clearly at cross-purposes with God and were fighting God's work in every way. Yet it was not so east fir people in that day, and the early believers were learning how to act like Jesus rather than what had been normal for them previously. They were coming to see that the example given them by Jesus when He faced that same authoritarian body was that resisting evil people is not the only option we have in order to move forward in truth and love. Jesus is the embodiment of truth, yet He passively resisted the demands of a rogue church government while trusting Himself to the only One who is always fair in His dealings and judgments.
Based purely on the example of Jesus who chose to trust the only fair judge instead of the corrupt, self-serving, fear-wielding religious authorities, men and women joined together to banish fear from their hearts and give it no place to take hold by raising their voices unitedly in praise, gratitude and petition to the their heavenly Father and Jesus their new representative at His right hand of power. By turning from the threats of men and giving God the threats, they were bringing every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. In the place of fearful thoughts, they filled their minds with the words of the One who had brought them into His new kingdom of peace and rehearsed the Scriptures that had so recently been energized with fresh light from the One who had inspired them. By making God their context instead of the threats and intimidations of the church, they were able to escape the power of the enemy and neutralize all fear through immersing themselves in the presence of pure love that casts out fear.
What we choose to allow to circulate in our imagination, especially in times of a crisis designed to make us afraid and compliant to dark versions of God and truth, will determine the outcome of how we respond and what direction the story will take. In such times we either give into temptation to react in fear or anger, or we can take the path Jesus laid out before us and resist evil instead of resisting people.
The kingdom of heaven is within us, Jesus said. That means that the battle is not over who controls the external trappings of an earthly organization claiming to represent God's will on earth, but who is allowed to dominate our imagination which in turn determines our emotions and decisions. Our imagination is the most critical part of our spiritual equipment where faith or fear will determine how we think we are to act like ourselves. In times of crisis, what we do with our imagination makes all the difference in how our heart will be strategically positioned for what happens next.
Acts 4 contains an important lesson we may use to overcome the forces of fear arrayed against the followers of the Lamb. The only safe path is to follow the Lamb wherever He goes, especially in how He used His imagination when facing the greatest crisis in the history of the universe. Hebrews reveals to us the secret Jesus used to become the champion of overcomers and how He defeated every attempt to make Him afraid and react like the flesh wants to react.
Therefore let us also, seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
What are the sins which so easily tangle us up? Resentment, desires for revenge or superior power to use against evil people who want to control or abuse us. Bitterness, despair, distrust that God can handle any situation and turn it around for our best good. Doubt that God really cares about us enough to intervene, or doubts about whether He is really fair or not. These and many more are the temptations to doubt God's goodness or the power of love to overcome the power of force and fear.
Jesus was tempted in every way like we are, yet without sin. That means He was tempted to feel revengeful, to return evil for evil, insult for insult or to think that God maybe had abandoned Him. Most of all, Jesus was tempted severely to take things into His own hands when it was clear God was no longer protecting Him from the evil scheming of His enemies, when it was clear that things were going to only get worse until His sufferings would end in His own death. Remember that throughout all this Jesus was conscious that He had full access to infinite power at any time and with merely an assenting thought He could extricate Himself from any situation with the greatest of ease. He was the commander of myriads of powerful angels who were eager and willing to do so if given permission. We never face anywhere near such powerful temptations, which is why we are instructed to consider him who has endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, that you don't grow weary, fainting in your souls. (Hebrews 12:3)
What was the secret power that brought victory to Jesus even while appearing to lose in the face of overwhelming opposition of sinners hell bent on defending religion over the truth of love? We are told here that He focused on the joy that was set before Him, which empowered Him to endure the cross and all the abuse that came with it. He despised the shame that was piled on Him like a suffocating mountain designed to destroy His sense of value and identity as God's beloved Son. He trusted His Father to work everything out for His glory even when circumstances seemed hopeless. This is our example to follow, the example chosen by the early believers that resulted in an earth-shaking infusion of God's Spirit bringing them boldness and fearless courage to testify to everyone that love wins no matter how sinister or abusive evil might become.
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear has punishment. He who fears is not made perfect in love. We love Him, because he first loved us. (1 John 4:18-19)