By David Stahl

As Karen and I were driving from Sneads Ferry, NC to Mentone Alabama (about 10 hours one way by car) to spend some time with our son Daniel and his wonderful family (Sarah, Abigail, John, and Hannah), Jeff (our son-in-law) and Connie (our daughter), and with Dan’s Pastor Jack, his charming wife Debbie, and their son Jason. What a wonderful time we all had up in the Alabama mountains where we all stayed in a huge three level cabin, hiking many miles on trails in the national and State parks, splashing in the streams, waterfalls, and lakes, fishing, just a wonderful quiet time with family.  God has given us rest to enjoy. It was much needed after my long trip to Ethiopia and the death (that is okay she is in Heaven and I will see her again) of my mother shortly after I returned.  God was so gracious to allow me to be home when she passed even though I was not in her presence when she entered the presence of the LORD. As we drive my attention often is peaked by the many churches along the road I see.  Karen always tells me I need to knock off the skylarking when I am driving, but I seem to have a hard time being obedient when it comes to looking at God’s handiwork (nature) and man’s handiwork (buildings some call churches). Now I did not say, “God’s handiwork, the “church” because “churches” are not God’s handiwork (or workmanship) we and nature are God’s handiwork not a building. We are the house (the church) and unless we allow God to build us we will never ever become the instrument God is looking for to represent Him in the earth.  Solomon said, “Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.”  (Psalms 127:1)  Now Solomon should know because for a time he did NOT allow God to build him. For a time Solomon was building idols (that turned the heart of Israel from God) in high places for his many wives and concubines. Sadly Solomon then was looking for a new life and a new beginning with his new religions. Let us not follow that example.  In Matthew Jesus said, “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  (Matthew 16:18)  We are the bricks in the wall of the Body of Christ Jesus said He will build. Paul also knew this truth when he said, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”  (Ephesians 2:8-10) We are the workmanship of God not the fancy buildings or all of the good works we do in ministry, oh no it is our lives that God takes and molds, fashions, and shapes.  When we submit our lives into the “good works” of God’s dealings and judgments that He brings our way we then are built on the revelation Christ spoke to Peter, “upon this rock” not a stone or building, but on the main message, built on the revelation of who Christ is.              

But as we traveled on I began to notice many of the “church” buildings had names like:  New Covenant, New Beginning, New Life (there is a ton of church buildings named New Life) and maybe it was just the area we were traveling in that liked the name, but the “New” was always accented (like big letters or underlined) and preceded the focus of the congregation’s target what will be new.  The message was if you come to our “church” you will have a new:  covenant, beginning, life, etc. Funny though I never saw any “churches” named “New Creatures” (it probably does not ring right to the ear of most people) which is the thought of the verse these “churches” give their names and to the focus they are projecting, but Paul said, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”  (2 Corinthians 5:17)  Now Paul did not say we would have:  a new life, a new covenant, or a new beginning oh no, Paul said we will be “a new creature.”  Now there is a big difference between having a new life and becoming a new creature.  Having a new life means the problems and situations in our old life has been done away with and everything now is sunshine, lollops, birds are singing, babies are smiling, and ships are at sea, but becoming a new creature now that can take time and can be a very painful process in our lives.  Who wants to tell someone if you come to our “church” God may be able (if we allow Him) to make us “a new creature” where “old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” Now I really like the word “behold” here. In the middle of Paul’s thought he stops and says take a good look; “behold” you take a good look at this new creature! Do you want to become it? We become “a new creature” not because our external situation and circumstances have changed, but because our internal (thoughts and intents of the heart) attitudes, desires, motions, and motivations have changed.  God does not need (and does not want to) to change our surroundings that is what man wants, but God is after changing our heart so that the bad surroundings, situations, and circumstances in our lives only drive us to Him and the more we go towards God the less we will be worried about our bad surroundings, situations, and circumstances.  As we travel the world I have had the good pleasure to meet people who live in grass houses, sleep on dirt floors, and do not even have a pot to pee in, but have a smile on their face and a joy that three BMWs cannot give and a richness in God that humbles and drives me to my knees. Yes “old things are passed away” not by God bonking us on the head with His magic wand, but by us submitting to His work in our lives. Once God begins to work in us (oh yes it will be painful) we will cry and kick, even scream like a big baby who wants their own way, but when our tears stop and our selfish cries for self-preservation ends we then will be able to get a glimpse of some of the work God is trying to do in our lives.  Isaiah said, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”  (Isaiah 53:7)  If we go our way then we can never go God’s way and my friend God’s way is narrow, limiting, and restricting not much room to do what we want to do.  I am afraid in America you will not get many takers for this message.  Most want the new life and a new beginning without any work in their lives, without any change in their behavior or character, well my friend God does not work that way. This is why there are not really a lot of Christians in America that are “new creatures” only old creatures hoping for a new life.           

To me these “churches” projected the message that they represented.  Their focus and projection is all about starting over, a second chance after messing up you get a do over, but believe it or not that was not the message Jesus taught when He was on earth, His main message was not about a second a chance, but an opportunity to be able (or choice) to tap into the power of God Almighty.  Later in Ephesians Paul says, “That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;” (Ephesians 3:16) WOW! Again Jesus message is not about changing situations and circumstances in our lives, but about changing our thinking and heart condition so that we will be able to endure life’s many problems, situations, and circumstances.  Matthew, Mark and Luke all agree on this.  In Mark we read, “Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15And saying,  The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.”  (Mark 1:14-15)  For us the kingdom of God is always at hand all we have to do to enter the kingdom of God is just reach out and grab it in your heart by believing Jesus died for our sins and repenting (turning away, turning our back on) of our sin. Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God is at hand NOT you can get a do over if you blow it.  And please know  the kingdom of God is not Heaven, a place, an address, something to eat, drink, or wear, but is a heart condition, an understanding of what God wants for our lives, a way we are to treat our brothers and sister, even our enemies.  Many Christians equate the kingdom of God to some earthly kingdom with lands to rule over, armies in which to conquer the enemy, and authority to judge the nations, well the only authority we have is what God gives us (we can earn it or take it) and the only land we will ever rule over (for now) is when we allow God to be seated as king over our heart, and remember the highest rank in God’s army is a private. Paul again helps us with this point in Romans, “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”  (Romans 14:16)  The kingdom of God is the righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit that we have allowed God to work and build in our lives.  Please notice “righteousness” first (orders matters in the Bible) before “peace” and “joy.” God is a righteous God and wants His children to be righteous.  No “righteousness” then none of God’s “peace” and “joy.”

As we drove on and the more I thought on these “churches” the LORD spoke to me and said, “They have chosen the wrong message. They have focused on another message and missed the main message” which only opened up more thoughts like; I wonder why they shifted from the main message of Jesus to another messages?  How could they (we) do this? Now, yes we do get a second chance, but that is not Jesus’ best, not even His intention for our lives. Jesus does not want nor does He expect us to mess up again and again because He has made a way (by us coming into the kingdom of God) where we can prevent this continual roller coaster ride of failure and victory.  It is not God’s intention for us to keep making mistakes again and again so we can keep asking forgiveness from Him and our brothers and sisters. I do not know about you my friend, but I do not do things in my life with the intention or hope of making a mistake, if so then we will always be repeating everything we do.  Example:  oh I hope I mess this cake up when I make it.  No we say I hope I make this cake right the first time, but if I do not then I can make another one.  But even in making the second cake there is a cost we will bear for our mistake.  This is why God does not want us to keep making mistakes.  Oh no my friend we do things with the intention of doing things right the first time. Now if we make a mistake thank God for His grace, His longsuffering, and the grace and longsuffering of our brothers and sisters too. Yes forgiveness for our sin and our coming short of His glory is a part of the salvation package (the beginning of becoming a new creature), but believe it or not it is not the main message. Did you know if you focus not on the main message you will settle for other messages which may work to a certain degree, but in the end God’s plans and purposes will not be accomplished in our lives.         

Man seems to always go after something new: a new teaching, a new song, a new doctrine, something new. We are conditioned so by the world.  Do not look at your old truck too long or you will begin to remember the new truck adds. Jesus did not come preaching the kingdom of God so that we can have new things, get a do over, or so we all can run off to heaven, but He came so that we can help others come into the kingdom of God.  Jesus came to give us life, His life.  In John Jesus tells us why He came, “The thief (not the devil here, but Strong’s #2812, an embezzler, pilferer, the name is transferred to false teachers, who do not care to instruct men), cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”  (John 10:10)  Jesus did not come to give us a new beginning, new life, or anything new oh no Jesus came to give us of His life so that we might be able (our choice) to stand and withstand life, deal with our love for the world and our self, and all that comes our way.  Now that is more than just getting a do over.