In a sincere quest to find truth, to find God, I emerged some three and a half years later steeped in witchcraft, sorcery and a mottled mysticism that centered around the seer, Edgar Cayce. I had witnessed a supernatural power in the spirit world and became intrigued with it, pursuing it with zeal, thinking this to be the path to an enlightened existence. Looking back, I can see the reality of that dimension of power only to be an elevated source of self-serving manipulation.
I saw God everywhere but could never get any closer to Him than that of an idea. I knew He was real but was getting more and more confused by the different presentations of Him at every turn and frustrated at my own inability to make any inroads into a real world I thought was there. I began to be scared of what I HAD uncovered, however, when I woke up one morning unable to breathe and discovered my own hands were squeezing my throat as the demons of witchcraft and sorcery were slowly taking me over. Terrified, I immediately quit taking any more drugs and distanced myself from the influences I had become attached to. In my youthful brazenness, while hitchhiking on a dirt road in Northern California, I told the Creator of the Universe that I was through trying to get through to Him and if He was a God of Love as He had purported Himself to be, then He could reveal Himself. But, if He wanted me, he had to come to me.
With the very next car to stop and give me a ride, the driver began speaking about Jesus.
It was not through eloquence of speech or any type of deep subject matter on his part that got my attention. In fact, I don’t remember much of anything about that encounter except that every time he spoke the name “Jesus”, I became more and more aware that God was indeed meeting me on my own terms. While I knew this event to be real with my heart, my mind was still unsure about what was happening. Getting his phone number with a promise to contact him later, I asked to be let out of the car.
I was traveling with a hippie girl at the time and at this point, she was even more confused than I was. In no sense would she be considered a believer, but whenever she found herself at a loss, her method of dealing with the situation at hand was to extract a huge bible given to her by her mother from her purse (the kind you see on people‘s mantels in their homes), randomly open it to a page, close her eyes and point to a scripture. The amazing thing about this exercise was that, more often than not, it gave her something to hang onto. This day, she began to read aloud and I will never forget the words that came from her mouth:
“The man that you just passed on the road was Jesus!”
She continued to read, but I was no longer cognizant of her words because I was aware that the atmosphere had grown incredibly electrified. In the middle of the day, without a cloud in the sky, the air had become charged similar to what happens just before lightening strikes (as a boy, I had been playing with a friend in our carport during a rainstorm when lightening visibly encircled us - while not struck, it made an indelible image on my memory). And then God began to speak to me. To this day, I can’t tell you if it was an audible or inaudible voice - I just knew God was speaking. He said:
“Harold, if you want to know what power is all about,
follow me and I’ll show you power.”
Those words have never left me. Needless to say, that day I turned around and put myself under the shadow of the Almighty and began to follow Him. Somewhere in my travels shortly after that encounter, someone put a Bible in my hands and told me that everything I needed to know about God was in that book. I began to devour it. In my innocence, I began to embrace every word. Up to this point, no one had told me NOT to believe what was written there - so, I believed it and set out to live the words of Jesus. Visibly, tangibly, I began to witness firsthand the power of God described in Mark 16:17, 18. I saw the lame walk, the blind see, the dead raised, demons sent packing and, most importantly, lives made whole. The Lord was beginning to fulfill His promise to me in a visible demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit.
I thought I would go back to witness to the hippies that I had come from about this power, but when seeking the Lord on what I should do next He said, “I am going to send you into My Church to be a witness of Me.” And then, curiously, He said, “But don’t join yourself to any of them, for then you will be free to travel and minister among them all.” I had read in I John 2:26 that I did not need any man to teach me, and again in John 14:25 that the Holy Spirit would teach me in all things, bringing to my remembrance all the things The Lord has spoken. All of which I thought was pretty cool - to be taught of God by God.
As I began to read His book, the Bible, He gave me eyes to see the church - His Church - a dynamic, living presence. It spoke of something not seen with the naked eye (I Corinthians 2&3) because it is only seen in the spirit. It told me that the Church is not contained in a building or organization because we ourselves are the temple of the Living God (I Corinthians 3:16), and that whenever two or more gather together in His Name, there is Church (Matthew 18:20). It showed me that the Kingdom of God is within, not defined by a religious institution (Luke 17:20,21); and that the Church is the Body of Christ with Jesus as its head (Ephesians 5:22,23). It assured me that because I was part of His Body, His divine power has already given me all that I needed to know about life and godliness through my knowledge of Him (II Peter 1:3). It showed me that acquiring eternal life comes through knowing Jesus, not a walk down somebody’s formulistic aisle of utterances (John 17:3). In short, what I saw in the pages of the Bible was not what I saw across the landscape of what was called Christianity. Now, I didn’t write the book - I just read it. As I began to point out these discrepancies to those I was around, I was dismissed as being unknowledgeable and inexperienced. Those to whom I was associated with began to take it upon themselves to re-educate me and to disciple me in the traditions they had been brought up with. Slowly, over the years, the power that had overwhelmed me in the beginning began to wane and the closeness of the Lord that had sustained me began to be replaced by what should or shouldn’t be done or said based upon somebody else’s interpretation of scripture. I was unaware of Jesus’ admonition that the tradition of men brings to none effect the power of God (Mark 7:13).
The first dawning of this message began when my new wife (also new to the Lord) wanted to do “church” and asked me to take her to the local “happening” religious institution in town. As we settled into the crowded balcony with a full view of the resplendent sanctuary, she leaned over and asked me what spiritual significance was represented by the pulpit and its reference in scripture. I said, “Well, actually, - none”. In the same regard, she asked me about the pews and why they were arranged the way they were; to which I tentatively answered, “none”. She proceeded to go around the entire building and all of the proceedings unfolding below us one by one asking, essentially, where was the Lord in all this? When I was unable to advance a scriptural purpose for any of them, in her naivety she asked, “Well, then, why do we do them?” At the time, I didn’t have an answer but it began my quest to find out why.
There is an accounting in Genesis 11:1-9 that describes the actions of some men:
“And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city, and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men had built. And the LORD said, Behold, the people are as one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.”
I do not believe these were evil men, as have been depicted in certain quarters, because a research of some of their names indicate they were mighty men of God. They were just like many today who wanted to do something for God and felt they needed to protect what they had - they didn’t want to be “scattered”. How many times have we heard these words from well-meaning pastors who feel it their duty to “protect the flock.”?
It is pretty evident from the Lord’s response to the actions of those men that He did not look upon these proceedings with high regard.
I submit to you that the spirit prompting the actions of the men described in this passage from Genesis has not gone away. It can be seen in every neighborhood where there are spires reaching to the heavens on the top of every religious institution built there and a plaque out in front that boasts a name other than the name of Jesus. I also submit to you that God looks upon what man has accomplished in this venue today no differently than he did in the account in Genesis. I can not find religious institutionalism endorsed anywhere in the scriptures or the life of Jesus and do not believe that God has sanctioned any of it. Indeed, Jesus spoke to the religious leaders of his day as “vipers”, shutting up the kingdom of heaven from those that are wanting to enter as well as themselves (Matthew 23).
It must be understood that I am referring here to the inherent consequence of structural theology - not, necessarily, individuals caught up in the structure who are merely replicating what they have been taught. That structure, by its very nature, causes the responsibility of the individual believer to “dig their own well” into the things of the spirit, to be transferred to the person or persons in charge of the institution. Paying someone to delve into the scriptures on behalf of others and report on their findings is not what God intended - ever. What he did intend was for each believer to become a high priest in his own right, equal with Jesus who is the firstborn among many “brethren” (Romans 8:29); and as a high priest, to press into the inner chambers of the heart of God to find out who He is.
What I do find in the scripture is a description of how the Church operated after Pentecost (Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-35, Romans 16:5), and again when the church gathered at Mary’s house to pray when Peter was imprisoned (Acts 12:12). Now, this event happened after Pentecost, when 5,000 became believers in a single day and a few days later when 3,000 more were added. Do you really believe that all 8,000 men, plus their families were in Mary’s house that day? I think not because the church is wherever two or more are gathered.
As the Lord began to bring others across my path who shared a fervor for Jesus, disillusionment began to set in as, time after time, I saw that, after a while of preaching the truth, a man would began to develop a following and then felt he had to try to organize it; not fully comprehending that it was in the organizing itself that chased away the Holy Spirit.
"Six days later, three of them saw that glory: Jesus took Peter and the brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain. His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. Sunlight poured from his face. His clothes were filled with light. Then they realized that Moses and Elijah were also there in deep conversation with him.
Peter broke in, "Master, this is a great moment! What would you think if I built three memorials here on the mountain--one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah?"
While he was going on like this, babbling, a light-radiant cloud enveloped them, and sounding from deep in the cloud a voice: "This is my Son, marked by my love, focus of my delight. Listen to him."
When the disciples heard it, they fell flat on their faces, scared to death. But Jesus came over and touched them. "Don't be afraid." When they opened their eyes and looked around all they saw was Jesus, only Jesus."
Matthew 17:1-8 (The Message)
Just as with Peter, whenever we begin to encapsulate the Holy Spirit, He leaves. He will not be confined. While all of our efforts are innocent enough in their initial reasoning (just wanting to do something for God), even on the smallest level, the end result is the same - an empty shell of tradition as a substitute for the power of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 1:17).
The Operation of the Church
God intends for us to be free from the encumbrances of this world (Galatians 5:1). One of those encumbrances is enslavement to something or someone. Most conceptions concerning the church and how it is to operate come from a fundamental bureaucratic pyramid based on a worldly conception that has Jesus at its apex from whence begins the dissemination of knowledge. Directly under Jesus come the appointed apostles and prophets who receive the revelation and then pass it on to the other levels comprised of pastors, evangelists and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). Under them come those with different gifts (I Corinthians 12:7-11 and Romans 12:6-8) and so on until somewhere at the bottom is the saint and his family, waiting like little birds with their mouths open to receive the manna from on high. Of course, those nearest to the top of the pyramid are held in the highest esteem because they are considered the closest to Jesus, but it causes everyone below to want to ascend to the top; thus, the whole system takes on a self-perpetuating, self-sustaining life of its own - exhibiting a form of godliness but having no power in it (II Titus 3). Again, the power we are speaking of is found in Mark 16:17,18. Paul, the apostle, said that when he came to the church, it was not in eloquence or wisdom but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power (I Corinthians 2:4,5).
When an individual tries to pull away from this type of organization, all kinds of negativity is then directed at him because it threatens the very existence of the structure. How severe it becomes depends on the depth of attachment required by the leaders. I can honestly say today, more than 30 years after that initial encounter with Jesus, that the times in my life where I have been hurt the most have been when I have disregarded His admonition and joined myself to somebody’s deal either from feeling out of step with everyone else, or thinking that maybe I had it wrong or just out of a sense of wanting to be involved in something I could see rather than just believe.
All forms of organization must have followers, without which the organization becomes meaningless and dissipates (becomes scattered, if you will). And, of course, this outfit has to have a name so that it can be recognized. The amazing testimony to this structural effect is the fact that since, for centuries, this type of dogma has only ensured the division of the Church rather than being a unifying influence, it has had no deterrent effect on anyone replicating it. It is what happens when tradition is elevated over the power of God.
Consider this: perhaps the way God intends His Church to operate is expressly different from what was described above, even upside down. Perhaps Jesus retains His position as Head of the Church, but directly under Him (or beside Him since He is called the firstborn among many brethren - Romans 8:29) is the saint and his family. Underneath the individual saint are other saints who have different giftings; then come the evangelists, pastors and teachers and at the very bottom of the stack are the apostles and prophets - all being utilized by the Lord to support and nurture the saint‘s relationship to Jesus. When that operation is fulfilled, they move on and leave the saint to grow and prosper in his own giftings.
Ephesians 4 in the amplified version says that when He gave these giftings to the church “His intention was the perfecting and the full equipping of the saints (His consecrated people), that they (the saints) should do the work of ministering toward building up Christ's body (the church)…”
Paul considered himself the least of all yet he was the exhorter of all. (Ephesians 3:7-9). “If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.”
The most effective pastor I ever came across did not have a following, did not have a title and, by his own admission, was not a preacher; yet, he was constantly called on to minister to those in his realm of contact. Combing the cockles out of the sheep’s wool, he would unselfishly respond to phone calls in the middle of the night, sit with the unlovely and unloved, minister to those in need with whatever resources he could muster and hold the hand of the bereaved. He was constantly teaching and uplifting those with whom he came in contact and was only concerned with raising money when it was on someone else’s behalf (he proclaimed the Lord provided his personal needs and He did). His was a full time endeavor that inspired and encouraged those of us who witnessed his giving. He abstained from renown, not caring to take his focus away from the work at hand, was embarrassed at recognition and refused to be ingratiated to anyone. His was truly a work of the ministry and he always had someone at his side that he was discipling in like manner. Once they got it, he sent them on their way, instilled with the principles he had taught and ready to replicate them in another place not tied to him.
When you think about it, this was the life that Jesus led. He did not try to build any monuments to Himself but was always available to those around Him. Philippians 2:6-8 says that Jesus became of no reputation, taking on the form of a servant and, while he was equal with God, did not consider that equality a thing to be grasped or manipulated (Amplified)
As an aside, let us be clear that what is being advanced here is not an endorsement of what I will call a "Lone Ranger" mentality, where one is above or apart from the inspection of other believers. The scripture is repeatly encouraging us to submit to one another in humility and in the fear of the Lord. What is being advanced is that we can accomplish that submission without a subjugation of our inheritance as "joint-heirs of Christ." We are to honor those who work among us and we can do so without usurping our rightful place as brothers alongside of Jesus - He being the first among many brethren.
It is interesting that Jesus’ last recorded parable, was of goats and sheep:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
> (Matthew 25:31-48)
Isn’t it curious that the response from the sheep was the same as that of the goats (…when did you come?) and that how they behaved toward Him is all that is required to enter the kingdom of heaven and eternal life?
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many mighty works?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
God said that He will reveal His secrets to His SERVANTS, the prophets. There are many today who call themselves prophets, just as there were in the Old Testament, but to be a true prophet of God, one must first become a servant. (Amos 3:7)
So Where Is The Power?
The problem with presenting the Church as has been described above to those who occupy a place of authority within the body, is that it threatens the very foundation of what they have come to believe as the way to operate. When confronted with what should be a revelation concerning their ministry, many choose to embrace the "status-quo" of what they have been taught and what they have built. It is easier to remove the messenger than it is to re-build the structure. Many see the possibility of a life of reduced prestige as a threat to them personally.
I eventually found myself in a place where I tired of the rebuffs and complacency of those unwilling to even consider that God might have something different in mind regarding His Church. One day, after watching a group of men (with whom I had been walking with for a number of years and had become very close to) just abandon everything they had come to believe of God to subjugate themselves and their families into a cult ministry that had blown through town, I said, "Lord, if this is your Body, You can have them. I want nothing more to do with them." I then proceeded to disengage myself from The Body in my vacinity by choosing to have the least amount of contact with any kind of fellowship as I possibly could - all the while not fully comprehending that by cutting myself off from His Body, of which He was and is the Head, I was cutting myself off from Him.
This went on for a number of years until, in His Mercy, the Lord brought me around "full-circle" into an awareness of what I had actually done. Upon seeing this I said, "OK, then, Lord, show me your Body the way YOU see them - because, obviously, you see them differently than I do." It was here that Jesus began to show me what His Power was all about.
I Samuel 8 describes an exchange between the children of Israel and the Lord after He had brought them into the Promised Land and, one by one, defeated the armies that would come against them. They began to observe these kings leading the enemy armies that would sit on the hilltop with all their regalia fluttering in the wind. So, the people said to the prophet, "We want a king." When Samuel took this demand to the Lord, God made it very clear THIS WAS NOT HIS PLAN FOR THEM. He wanted to be their King. When the prophet presented this answer to the people, they said they wanted a king they could see - one like they had seen of the nations they had been doing battle with. When Samuel went back to the Lord with what they said, God relented and said, "OK. If they want a king, I will give them what they want - but they won't like him. He will plunder and loot and pillage through them - but, if that is what they want, I will give them a king." And He did - and the resulting kings did just as He had said they would.
There are a couple of points that need emphasizing here: 1.) God made it abundantly clear that a king was not in the blueprint. It was not something that He had even considered a remote possibility. If ever there was a monkey-wrench thrown into the works to muck it up - this has to be the classic example for all time. 2.) Once He instituted a king over Israel - GOD NEVER RESCENDED THAT EDICT. Today, Jesus sits on the throne of KING DAVID!
Consider the magnitude of what is described here. The God of all creation has determined a path for a chosen people who, in their ignorance, demanded He give them a different path (as if they were wiser than the Supreme). AND HE DID! - - AND HE STILL CAME OUT, IN THE END, WHERE HE WANTED TO BE! He embraced their demand, incorporated it into His plan and still landed on the exact spot He had intended to get to in the beginning. Now, that's power! That is a power that is inconceivable to the natural mind.
It is from this place of being that, on both an individual and corporate basis, we can embrace Romans 8:28 that proclaims "all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to his purpose." We can be assured that He is bringing all the resources of the universe into play to benefit us spiritually. We can have confidence that neither height or depth nor things that are or things that will be will ever separate us from His plans and purposes for our lives. Romans 8:38-39.
I began to see that, just as He had done with that body of people back then, He was in the process of doing again with this current body He calls His Own. I saw, and am still seeing, this enormous compassion that Jesus has for His people...and why He calls them His Body, the Church...and why He sees them as a living, viable, healthy extension of Himself. He doesn't see them for what they are - the waywardness, the distractions, the wrong turns - but He sees them as what they will be. He is fashioning and shaping unto Himself a bride - glorious, unsullied and magnificent in its scope. One through which He will be made manifest in the earth just as He is in heaven. And the gates of hell - and man - will not prevail against it, for it is not dependent on the mind of man to execute it.
The Power Is Within
John 4:48 "Then Jesus said to him, Unless you see signs and miracles happen, you [people] never will believe (trust, have faith) at all."
Luke 17:21 "...the kingdom of God is within."
So, I have found the Power and where it lies. It is embodied in that Man whom God sent as a living example of how each one of us can tap into that same reservoir of power that He had. I have found that the external power made manifest in this world (the signs and wonders) are for the benefit of unbelief - are aimed at the unbeliever to get his attention. To the believer, the power of God is within. The real power - the power to be transformed from glory to glory into the image of Jesus - comes from a unique relationship with the One who makes us whole. To walk as He walked means I must live as He lived..
How are we to do that - practically? In Ephesians 4 we are admonished to "maintain the unity of the Spirit." To maintain means to care for what is already there. For those of us who have embraced the Spirit of the Living God, that means that all that He is resides in us already and our job is simply to make sure that it is properly cared for.
There are some attributes that come with that Spirit that are described in Galatians 5:22,23. They are called the "Fruit of the Spirit" and there are nine of them listed. They are love, joy, peace, longsuffering (patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
For most of us, when we read these words, we immediately associate them with the feelings we have come to know about some of them. We have an idea of what love, joy and peace feel like so the rest of those listed must have some similar association with a feeling. Right? I thought so, until one day the Lord asked me what it was like to feel longsuffering. Have you ever felt longsuffering? Have you ever felt self-control? These attributes are not based in feeling, but are things that are done. It was with this same eye that I began to take another look at how the Fruit of the Spirit is manifested in my life. When I look at love as something that is just done, rather than waiting on the feeling to arrive, it then becomes an act of my will whether to exercise it or not. The same is true of peace - I choose to exercise peace in the midst of chaos. If I were to wait on a "feeling" of peace before acting, it might never come. Thus, all those fruit listed become acts rather than wishes. I don't have to wait around for some supernatural impression or feeling to arrive before I do something because I am already empowered within to do it. I can then choose to be kind in the face of harshness. With each situation I find myself in it can be approached from a standpoint of "how should I do" rather than "what should I do."
They are not called fruit by chance. One day, as I was beholding the beauty of an apple tree, the Lord asked me, "Have you ever seen a fruit tree eat of its own fruit?" I had to say, I had never seen an apple tree reach out and begin to munch on its own apples. That fruit is there for others passing by. That tree grows its fruit for the benefit of others to enjoy
We can start living as He lived - today, with those we find around us in our immediate vicinity - just by extending the Fruit of the Spirit that we already have residing in us, growing in us, to those we find in front of us right now. You know, that apple tree has absolutely no pre-occupation with exporting his apples somewhere else. He just grows them so that those in the space right around where he is planted can enjoy the sweetness of his fruit.
It was with much skepticism I listened as a man proclaimed some 35 years ago that he knew when Jesus would return. As I listened, what he said struck a resounding chord in my spirit that has stayed with me ever since. He said the Lord will return when His Body, the Church, begins to cry out in one voice for His Coming. He said that the Lord's return is not today, because the cry of the Body today is "heal me", "provide for me", "deliver me", "care for me", etc. When the Church begins to lift its eyes from off of itself and sets its gaze on being Jesus to the rest of the world, the Lord will respond to the call of His Bride and will appear in all of His Glory. Because it is through the believer that Jesus is made manifest in and to the world.
God is not waiting on a tabernacle to be built with man's hands. He is waiting on that tabernacle that is already built within each of us to be fulfilled. He is looking for a glorious Church.
Even so Lord - come! (Maranatha!) Click to view the movie "Maranatha"