The Baptist Beacon
ONWARD OUTWARD UPWARD
By Elder Paul Cofer
It is the intention of the writer to convey to and share with the reader a burden or "vision" that was bestowed by the Lord concerning the direction, purpose and attitude of the people of God for the cause of Christ and His Kingdom. May there be a spark initiated in this article that will flame into a fervent zeal to do the Lord's work in the church and out in the world. This article is not intended to be a means of criticism of the Lord's people, nor is it intended to be a platform for some "self" serving agenda of this writer. But as recently one writer and orator was quoted as having a dream for America's society, I have a vision for the people of God. I hope that each and every Born_Again Believer will be very prayerful and attentive to the voice of God, the leadership of His Holy Spirit and the principles and instructions of the Word of God. May God grant to us, before His Son's inevitable Coming, another Awakening and Revival that would sweep our land, our churches, and our generation.
Amidst despair and discouragement, on December 25, 1994, this writer received renewed strength, hope and vision from the Lord to press onward, to go outward, and to look upward. During the following months, there was such a Spirit Anointed manifestation of what the Lord desired and was willing to do for and through His people that it was unmistakable evidence that what He had revealed to me was real. Nearly each Sunday, at the church where I was pastoring, saw lost people saved by the Grace of God. Not only were there people saved at church, but there were conversions that occurred during other days of the week and in other places. In fact, one of those conversions was the writer's youngest son who was saved at school while bowing and praying at his desk. True prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit cannot be kept out of the public classroom. In fact there is nothing that can hinder God's work in saving souls that are seeking Him for salvation. Indifference, skepticism, suspicion are stumbling blocks to the faith of God's people in receiving blessings like this and many are missing out on God's best for them because of unbelief and doubt. My prayers during this time seemed to put me really in touch with the Lord as to His power and will for what He wanted me to preach. His word opened up to me in a deeper, more meaningful way and with each blessing and movement of the Lord, He confirmed to me over and over "...This is what I want to do for all of my people every where!"
Exodus 36:34 "..Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward in all their journeys."
In many ways there is a lot of similarity between the children of Israel and the Lord's people today. Both were redeemed from bondage through the shed blood of a Lamb and the death of a King's son. One group was baptized unto Moses and the latter baptized into Christ and on and on the comparisons can be made. One very close similarity is the fact that both groups were elect and chosen of God to be instruments of His purpose and will. As God had a definite plan to bless and use His Chosen to establish a kingdom in Canaan, He has a definite plan for His "Spiritual Israel" to conquer the hearts of all mankind with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to see the advancement of His Kingdom. Through Moses, Aaron and later Joshua, the Lord ever encouraged and directed His people, Israel, to go forward and onward. Canaan would never have become the kingdom of Israel, the glorious Kingdom of God by remaining in Egypt of by wandering in the wilderness of Sinai. Neither could they have done the will of God while standing on the banks of the Jordan debating on whether to go over or not. Nor would they have been successful in the Lord contemplating such things as "yes, we should go over but let's not get too much in a hurry or over do it" or "I don't know about this Moses if he really knows what he is doing" or even such things as "Don't you think that Joshua is too young and over zealous!" There were times, no doubt, when the Lord had to get their attention and re_establish to them what their priorities in His work were to be. They had to be reassured as to their mission, purpose and calling in Him was and to go onward. Now we can look at their experiences, actions and even their shortcomings and mistakes for lessons and examples on how we are to go onward. The Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 10:11 tells us "..all these things happened unto them for ensamples (examples) and they are written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the world are come." One thing is clear, God intended for them to go forward in His purpose and will. And His intention for us is the same and that is to go onward.
There were obstacles and pitfalls that Moses and the children of Israel encountered as they journeyed out of Egypt. Some were external circumstances, others were internal circumstances such as doubt and unbelief. Even at the very brink of crossing the Red Sea, one of the first things the children of Israel wanted to do was to go back into Egypt and die or to return into servitude under the Egyptians (Exodus 14:10_12). Instead of going onward and forward with the Lord as their defender and provider, they wanted to go backward and die! Now remember they (Israel) are examples to us and for us to avoid pitfalls and mistakes. This needs to be emphasized! If any group goes backward instead of going forward it will become fewer and fewer in number to the point of extinction. And for us as the Lord's people, we cannot and should not go backward and die, but we should go forward and onward in the Lord's work.
The next thing that Israel resigned themselves to do in the face of going onward, was a willingness to forfeit their future in serving the Lord God and receiving His inheritance for them. Imagine after 400 years of bondage and servitude in Egypt, praying and crying out to God for deliverance and when deliverance comes, they want to be back into bondage. Yet even today, some of God's people prefer "bondage" to going forward and onward. In Romans 8:15_17, Paul states "we have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry Ababa, Father." We have an inheritance that awaits us as heirs of God, joint heirs of Christ and the prospect of being glorified together with Him, even if it meant suffering with Him. Wanting to go back into the bondage of Egypt was not the only time the people of God tried to stifle their forward progress. Paul wrote to the churches of Galatia (Letter to the Galatians) in an attempt to head them off from reverting back to the bondage of old traditions, ceremonials, and legalism because to do such would have set the cause of Christ back and kept it from going into the world. Sometimes we are afraid to go onward because of a "fear" of being "modern", losing the faith or deception occurring and so we either just sit still or try to cling to traditionalism of "keeping the faith." Listen, If God cannot keep us by His power in our going forward and establish us sound in the faith as we go forward, then we certainly cannot keep ourselves "sound" by reverting back to the bondage of traditionalism, ceremonialism and legalism. In Joshua chapter one, the Lord encouraged Joshua, the heir to Moses' leadership, to be strong, to be of good courage, be thou courageous, thou shalt prosper, be strong, go in and possess that which the Lord your God giveth you to possess it, and on and on the promises to Joshua and His people were made. The promises of God are as limitless as the depths of the power of God Himself. What is the first word of Matthew 28:19? It says "Go"! This is exactly what the Lord's people in this present age and time allotted to come are to do. Who said that we are to do this? Jesus himself said it and He said that we are to go because all power is given unto Him in Heaven and earth. He even promised that He would be with us even unto the end of the world. Did you know that we are assured that people will be saved and that we are to baptize those who are saved? "Where did you get that?" you may ask. Well if people would not be saved according to the promise and assurances of the Lord Jesus Christ, then He would not have said anything about teaching all nations and baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. But some might say, "yes all this is true but it is not like it used to be," or "don't move too quickly or be too progressive" or "we need to wait for the Lord's Spirit and power to move!" do you know that it is not a matter of us waiting on the Holy Spirit? In actuality, He (the Holy Spirit) is already there waiting on us to move forward!
I encourage you to move forward and onward, in faith, and behold the salvation of the Lord. We are now less than four years from the year 2000; this year will be a banner year for celebration in the Middle East in the observance of 3000 years that Jerusalem has been in existence. Biblical prophecies are being fulfilled in world events and a sovereign God still shows mankind that He stretches forth His Hand to deal and work in the events of man's history. The Gospel needs to go forward and onward until the day of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord's people must go forward toward the Dawning of the Day of the Lord and not backward into the previous century. Let us move and go onward.
With the armament of the Truth in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and being moved in our hearts by the love of God, it is of necessity that we as the Lord's people take the Gospel outward into the world in which we live (Luke 14:21_23).
As Israel was to go onward, they also went outward and conquered the nations surrounding them as the Lord commanded them. When they followed the Lord's commandment, the Lord was with them and fought their battles for them and gave them victory after victory. When they refused the Lord or held back or doubted His promises, the Lord refused to be with them. Nation after nation fell before them when Israel would in obedience pursue and subdue these nations. As the Lord's people journey onward in this age, we are to go outward with the Gospel. The teritority is the heart and souls of mankind to be subdued for Christ and occupied by Him. And to these uttermost regions, the Lord directs us in missionary and evangelistic work to areas devoid of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. Those areas range all the way from the most remote third world country to the neighbor next door, from the inner city ghettoes to an acquaintance in the grocery store. And even in spite of what the news media and all other informational services depict as being the cause of the ills of society and the solution, it is evident that all humanity needs the Savior and Salvation.
Job 7:17_18, 15:14, Psalms 8:4 and Hebrews 2:6 ask the same question, "what is man that God is mindful of him?" All of humanity are descendants of Adam and have inherited the same sinful nature. In addition to this all are not only sinners by birth but also sinners by choice and will reach or come to a point of accountability for their sin. They are accountable not for what Adam did in the fall, but for their own sin and unbelief.
However Jesus Christ's substitutionary death upon the cross, His burial and His resurrection made it possible for anyone who is separated from God (lost spiritually) to be brought into a saving and righteous relationship with God the Father. This is to "whomso ever will" hear His voice, be compelled by the Holy Spirit to come to Him in repentance and faith. Whomsoever is not confined to those near to us alone, but to all mankind whether black, white, yellow, English speaking or non_English speaking. He died for all mankind and the Gospel is to be proclaimed to all. Look into the faces and past language, culture and modes of speech and with the mind of Christ and the loving eyes of God see that they all have a soul that will spend eternity in one of two places!
But the responsibility to take the Gospel into all the world is not to be thrust upon missionaries and evangelists alone to shoulder by themselves. The "Go into all the world" was intended for us on the home front of the local church also. Our "world" may be the job site, neighborhood, school or even family members and relatives. The question arises as such: What purpose is the church in all of this? Some one may say, "we get them (the lost) to attend church and eventually they will be convicted of sin and be saved." Nothing could be more true and needful as the vision of the congregation as members and God's people meet together and the lost in attendance be made partakers of the heavenly gift of Christ through the power of the Gospel. However the church also serves as a place of teaching the word of God and its principles to the saints of God. It should be a place of spiritually strengthening and edifying of God's children to become mature in Christ (Eph. 4:11_13, II Tim. 3:14_17). And from this personal edifying and strengthening, the individual child of God is enabled to go out into the world by the grace of God with their personal testimony, consistent godly lives, knowledge of the word of God, filled and lead of the Holy Spirit, motivated and moved with the same compassion and love of the Lord Jesus Christ for the lost. (I Peter 3:15, I Cor. 14:23_25, Eph. 4:13_15) Every Born_again member has that capability and potential for service for the Lord "out there" in the world and can be a missionary in their own world. Missionary and evangelistic work does not need to end after that a body of believers is organized into a church but quite the contrary, it should be a perpetual continuing mission work. REVIVAL DOES NOT NEED TO END when a "meeting" closes. We must get this ingrained into our way of thinking and service for the Lord, that when the Lord moves through His Holy Spirit, the REVIVAL WILL MOVE FROM THE CHURCH OUT INTO THE COMMUNITY! Every member can be an influence to point the lost to the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.
Paul in II Corinthians 4:3_7, brings forth this aspect further as he writes about our Gospel being hidden to them that are lost. This is not by any means an intentional "veiling" on our part necessarily, but due to the fact that the "god of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not." Ssinners and unbelievers cannot "see" spiritually and providentially their need of the Lord until they are confronted with the reality of sin and its penalty. They need to
understand that they are sinners and need to be saved and that there is salvation in no other name but the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12). However we have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us (II Cor. 4:7). The saved individual, out in the world, can be used of God to reflect the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. To whom is it to be reflected to? It is to be reflected to those who are in darkness and sin. They may not be able at first to see it for themselves, but if they see Christ reflected and dwelling in us by our testimony, life and attitude, then their conclusion will be "...That individual has something about them and in them that I don't have, but I know I need." Then with the Holy Spirit's power, they will become "convinced" that God is in us "of a truth" II Cor. 14:25 "..the secrets of their hearts will be made manifest; and so falling down on his (their) face(s) he (they) will worship God (and seek His face) and report that God is in you of a truth." We are to be winners of souls and fishers of men! (Prov. 11:30, Matt. 4:19). We represent to the world and to the lost masses of struggling humanity the kingdom of heaven in hope of the lost being reconciled back to God through the Lord Jesus Christ (II Cor. 5:18_21). Where is the field of labor for us? It is out there in the world. Who is it (the Gospel) to go to or affect? As many of the human race that the Lord directs across our pathway and into our lives. If we consign ourselves willingly to be available to Him and surrender the day to Him, He will open and present opportunities to us for service toward the lost for Him. Every Child of God can and will be blessed and will be a blessing in His Service in taking the Gospel OUT THERE, that is, OUTWARD! UPWARD Exodus 13:21_22& Hebrews 12:1
How was it possible for more than a million ex_slaves from Egypt to all go in the same direction toward Canaan, or to know when, how and where to worship at the tabernacle door? It is simple, they were commanded to look upward toward the cloud or the Glory of God's presence manifested in the cloud and when the cloud moved... they moved. And when the cloud stopped .... they stopped! When they considered and regarded the very presence of God and followed Him and were willing to be lead of Him, they were able to complete the purpose and will of God even to the occupying of the land of Canaan. But when they looked backward toward Egypt, they stifled themselves and could not advance forward. Or when they took their eyes off of God and began to criticize Moses or Aaron for their leadership, it distracted them from the purpose and plan that God had for them. Even when they became fearful of their circumstances or envious of the Canaanite neighbors, they were hindered. But when they looked upward toward the cloud or the presence of God and they, in reverence and obedience to Him, followed Him unconditionally, they were greatly blessed and witnessed many great things from God.
To us as His people today, the only pursuit in life that is truly worthwhile and rewarding is the kingdom of God and all things pertaining to it. In fact when our allotted time is finished and all that we do is left behind, the only thing that we will take with us into eternity will be what we have done for the Lord and the cause of Christ. During our earthly journeys we are looking toward someone or thing as our inspiration and strength. Also we are looking toward someone or something to occupy our thoughts or absorb our energy and talents. In the case of the Children of Israel they looked to Moses to be a mediator and spokesman for God. Essentially, however, their view was the pillar or cloud of God's presence. In order to know when to move or what direction to go in , all eyes were focused upward to the Lord. On this side of the cross and eternity we have One to look to for direction, purpose, assurance and leadership and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to go onward and forward, but we are to look upward "looking unto Jesus", the author and finisher of our faith. We take our direction from Him and in Him we have the pattern, example and strength for our lives. If our vision is diverted away from Him or focused on circumstances, another gospel, or toward materialism, then we will be stifled in our journey and drift from Him. When we look unto Him, our purpose is renewed again and again and once again we are assured of what the real goal and meaning of life is. When we look unto Jesus all the confusion and controversies that can potentially hinder us will dissipate and with calm assurance we can go forward with a firm understanding of the truth in Christ Jesus. Looking unto Jesus we will once again have our priorities straight and the trivial, menial issues will not occupy our thoughts and minds. Looking unto Jesus our love for Him as well as our faith will grow and become more mature and steadfast. Our love will even abound unto others through the Holy Spirit which is given unto us. Looking unto Jesus will bear spiritual fruit for the benefit of Him and others (Gal. 5:22_26) and our fruit will remain (John 15:16)! Looking unto Jesus we will see the world not in terms of racial, political or sensual in perspective, but we will have a "world view" of the need of the Gospel going to all people. Only through the Gospel of Christ and a life and heart changing experience with Him will any of lost humanity have hope of salvation.
In Philippians 3:7_15, the Apostle Paul wrote of what his ambition in life had become. He counted all things loss for Christ and all things loss for the excellency for the knowledge of Christ Jesus. As a person looks upward unto Jesus Christ, he grows closer to the Lord in his every day life. Goals such as earthly ambition, worldly fame and wealth take a "back seat" to Him. As one grows closer to Him, he or she comes to love Him more. And the more they grow in loving the Lord, the more they will follow Him and obey Him. They will want to know more about Him through His word, the Holy Spirit and sweet communion with Him. It will be found in following Him and looking upward toward Him that He is sufficient for all things. He is our righteousness, wisdom, sanctification and redemption (I Cor. 1:30). Our faith in Him is what justifies us unto God (Rom. 5:1). And in view of all of this, we grow in this grace and closeness to Him, depend upon Him and in turn willingly, lovingly follow Him. Looking upward unto Him.
In conclusion, my prayer is that like the Children of Israel who arose when the pillar or cloud went before them and followed the Lord to do HIS WILL, that our people will "lay aside every weight and the sin that doth so easily beset us and run with patience the race that is set before us." The vision and hope is still there. The Lord desires to bless His people and to love and depend upon Him. Let's arise and follow Him! Don't become encumbered with the strivings of others. Canaan land is just in sight!