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Zoe vs. Psyche
Life is about choices. We tend to assume that our fundamental options are about good and evil, right and wrong; but the first choice facing human beings was quite different, it was between the fruit of two trees. One tree was called the Knowledge of Good and Evil and its fruit gave the ability for humankind to live by its own understanding:
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Genesis 3:1-6)
The benefits of the fruit of the other tree were not so obvious, as it was simply called the Tree of Life. God revealed that eternal life was available from the Tree of Life after they had taken the fruit from the other tree. He barred them from accessing it and sent them out into the world to live by the knowledge they had gained.
Generations later, God gave a nation a codified version of what their ancestors had taken in the Garden. This is what we call the Mosaic Law or the Old Covenant. God wanted at least part of humanity to have an accurate knowledge of good and evil. For the next 1200 years, God encouraged that nation to live by what they had received on Mt. Sinai, and we can read what happened from Exodus to Malachi.
The fundamental choice is a stark one. We can either live our lives according to our understanding, principles, rules,.. basically depending on our own resources for every decision in life. Or we can live by the life of God, being dependent on him for everything, especially our guidance.
This choice appears repeatedly in the New Testament, even before Jesus had made a way back to the Tree of Life by his death on the Cross. One of the clearest examples of this is in Matthew 16; the extreme contrast between Jesus’ reactions to two statements from Peter, just verses apart, show us how much he wants us to choose life. Here are the two conversations:
Jesus asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ. From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:15-23)
In the whole of the Bible, there is no greater contrast in the space of a few verses than these two declarations by Jesus. How can he give Peter such a great commendation followed so shortly by such a great condemnation? The difference is not between good and evil, but between living by revelation and living by human logic, even though it may be motivated by compassion. This is the contrast between life and the knowledge of good and evil, between the New Covenant and the Old Covenant.
Jesus desperately wants us to live as he did, in communion with his Father in heaven (v17):
“…For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” (John 12:49)
For churches, this is far more important than most of the things that they concentrate on: doctrinal soundness, maintaining their tradition, preserving their public image, honouring past members,… this list goes on and on; but all these are things of men. We may be able to come up with good reasons for all of them, but Jesus always has something far better for us, if only we would listen to him.
Paul repeatedly calls the church the Body of Christ, with Jesus as its Head. The analogy is precise; if the members of a human body are not responding instantly to the commands sent to them from the head through the nervous system, then there is something seriously wrong with the body.
Many churches in the western world claim that they seek to be led by Christ, but in reality they sit on the fence. They may try to hear what he is saying to them, but their decision making process is similar to a secular organisation, involving the usual mixture of hope, inertia, fear, dogma, experience, marketing and looking at what other organisations are doing – again things of men. I believe also that Jesus waits until we have room for what he wants us to do; this means that we have to give up on programmes in order to hear our marching orders – he needs to know we are serious about following him.
As we have already seen in (Isaiah 55), God’s word will always fulfil his purpose for it. God can see into our hearts, therefore he knows before he says a word whether we are willing to carry it out. I believe this is a major cause of why many people complain of not hearing God, he knows that his word to them will be unfruitful. So they hear nothing.
Nicky Gumbel tells a story on the Alpha Course about an au pair girl working with an English family. Apparently, she rushed upstairs to the children in her care to find them behaving as children do. She blurted out what she had heard their parents saying in similar circumstances, but it came out rather differently, “What are you doing here on earth?”. This is a very good question, to us as individuals, to local churches and to the world-wide church. Our consumer-oriented culture encourages us all to think that the only possible reason for joining an organisation is to have my needs fulfilled, and I can legitimately judge it on this basis.
Let’s consider the possibility that God’s purposes for the universe, the human race, the church and me are not centred on the fulfilment of my needs and desires. I know God loves me and I know that I can trust him absolutely, therefore I should be confident that he will always do the best for me – I do not need to do things to get my needs met! Churches so readily adopt the mindset of the world, and consider their purpose is to meet the needs and desires of their members and potential members.
The alternative is all over the New Testament, for example:
…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-22)
Jesus is the one who started everything off, he marks the course out for us, he is our goal at the end of the race, but he is also the one who runs with us and in us, giving us everything we need, including step by step guidance. Churches need to get their eyes off the world and each other, in the hope of finding a formula that will bring growth, and just look to Jesus.
It is striking that Jesus was killed by being hung on a tree, in fact the Cross is called the tree in the New Testament (Acts 5:30, Acts 10:39, Acts 13:29, Galatians 3:13, 1 Peter 2:24). We know that his death is the way we receive eternal life. Although the Bible never states this explicitly, it seems clear that the Cross is the Tree of Life, and Jesus is the fruit hanging on it. Most Protestant churches do not have crucifixes in them because we want to say that Jesus is alive, he is no longer on the Cross; but perhaps the image of a man hanging on a cross should take our minds to the Tree of Life and realise that this is the source of life, we can now go and take its fruit. More on this when we look at communion (Chapter 9).
One big question in listening to Jesus is., “How do I know it’s him?” Discernment is one of the most important manifestations of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:7-10), but the starting point is our willingness to be obedient to the revealed word of God.
“If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” (John 7:17)
My experience is that Jesus sometimes leads us through a series of steps that involves giving up things that we have clung onto, like a child holding onto a security blanket. Sometimes, it is only when we have demonstrated our willingness to do God’s will by not doing something that he has not asked us to do, will we hear what he does want us to do (sorry this it a bit convoluted, but I’m sure you know what I mean).
At Holy Trinity Church we used to do a Christingle service religiously every Christmas Eve. We would attract large crowds, sometimes having to turn people away. Yet, despite its popularity, we began to realise that this was not Jesus heart for the celebration of his birthday. So we stopped. It was then that he spoke separately to myself and two other members of the congregation that he wanted us to bless the families of our community. Derek McCormack had a vision of a heap of 25 presents on the church platform, wrapped in gold-coloured paper. So we bought (at a discount) 30 large tins of chocolates, wrapped them according to the vision and heaped them on the platform. We welcomed the families into the building on Christmas Eve as usual, but at the end of the service we did something completely different. I asked each family to stand in a group, separated from the others, and I then directed members of the congregation to go and speak an individual blessing over each family and to give them a present. While they were doing this I realised the point of the presents – from the front of the church I could see exactly which families had received their blessing by the shiny parcel that they were holding. It turned out we had exactly 25 families there – our nervousness of running out had led to over-provision (I gave the extra 5 away at the midnight communion).
On the evening of 19th September 2010 a chain of events started that were to have profound implications for Holy Trinity Church. I had decided to show the previous Sunday evening service from Bethel Church, Redding, California on the big screen in the hall. Bethel offer an Internet facility allowing subscribers to stream video from any of their services and conferences (www.ibethel.tv), and in this Sunday evening service Bill Johnson was speaking about Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). A few of us listened to the talk and then watched the following ministry time, where a young man stood up and gave a very specific word of knowledge. He said that there was someone who had had a serious injury to their right wrist 3½ years ago in the month of March, which had left them with a physical scar. God wanted to heal this person from the effects of the trauma caused by this accident. This applied almost exactly to one of our members sitting there, Maggie McCormack, who showed us a large cross-shaped scar on her wrist and told us how she nearly bled to death when she put her arm through a pane of glass. So we stopped the video stream and prayed for healing from trauma for Maggie. We sent the Media Director, Tim Jenné, at ibethel.tv an email as a testimony and added it to our list of signs and wonders.
The next day I showed the same video to another church member, who was not with us the previous evening. She recognised the young man giving the word of knowledge as Chris Overstreet, the Outreach Pastor at Bethel, and then she added to my amazement by saying that he was coming to Telford (the next town to Shrewsbury) the following week to speak at a conference on Supernatural Evangelism. I contacted the organisers of the conference to book places and to ask if Chris might be free on the next Sunday to come and preach at HTBV. That Sunday was a turning point in the life of the church – Chris spoke and then he and two friends, Steve Rademan and Thomas Harry, prayed individually for almost the whole congregation as they came forward. We had a number of healings that morning (including a long-term problem with migraines) and these have continued ever since – some of the testimonies are in this book. Chris also gave us a word of prophecy, which has sustained us in these following years:
I saw this place filled with people that were passionately on fire for Jesus. I sensed in my heart that the Lord is going to do a move, He wants to move into this area. The Lord Jesus, He wants to take occupation, to take over this area.
I felt the Lord is going to begin to move upon hearts, that there is going to be a new fire come into hearts and a release of a desire to communicate to other people.
In my heart I saw this place filled with worship. I saw the gifts of the Holy Spirit moving amongst people. I saw where the gifts of the Holy Spirit moving through individual lives, like yourself. There was an excitement that was in hearts, a thriving. I saw young people; I saw old people. I just saw this place packed out.
I saw extended meetings; I saw a spirit of revival coming into this place, where the Lord was actually going to fill this place with His glory.
I believe that if you do your history, about 1909-11 something began to take place in this area. God wants to do a visitation, not just a visitation but a habitation in this place, where His presence becomes the theme in this church.
I feel in my heart that there is such a love that you have for the Lord already. I could feel the love of the Father for you. I could feel two hearts colliding together. God’s heart for you, and your heart for Him. Two hearts colliding together which creates fire, which creates momentum. I believe that the Lord is, if you will, going to reproduce fire in your life. He’s going to reproduce the passion that you’re carrying right now.
There’s a reproducing, a reproduction of passion and fire that I’m sensing the Lord wants to do. God is going to do an amazing thing in your life.
It is right to seek confirmation for prophetic words received, especially if they are specific and directional. By demonstrating to us Chris’ gifting through his word of knowledge for Maggie, I believe God confirmed his prophetic message for Holy Trinity Church in advance. It is my experience that God always finds ways of confirming what he has to say to us, and the ways that he does this are as varied as the ways he delivers the actual word. As you will find in the rest of this book, Chris’ words, “not just a visitation but a habitation in this place, where His presence becomes the theme in this church” resonated in us again and again.
I hope these examples of Jesus corroborating his word to us are helpful, we are right to seek confirmation, but we need to allow him to do this in whatever way he chooses. We cannot say to him, “I will believe we have heard from you if so-and-so happens”, we must not force him into a corner.
Also, a Body that is used to listening to its Head will get to recognise his voice, and get better and better at discerning what is truly from him. This was our experience at Holy Trinity Church, after a while, everyone seemed to be able to know the things of God, things that were simply good ideas just fell to the ground.
- Read about the two trees in the Garden of Eden: Genesis 2:8-9, 2:15-17, 3:1-8, 3:22-24; Revelation 2:7, 22:1-2, 22:14-21. Discuss how they represent the two fundamental choices for human beings. How can we steer ourselves and others to the Tree of Life?
- What do you think you might need to give up to better hear where Jesus wants to direct your steps? Think about this as an individual, a family, a church, a community even a nation.
- Just before Jesus ascended to heaven, he told his followers to “stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). He told them that this would happen “not many days hence” (Acts 1:5 AV). It’s clear that waiting for Jesus’ timing is an essential part of the Christian life. Please share examples of waiting for his provision in your life or someone else’s.