A prophetic teaching from David Orton, Australia

"Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offence" Rom 9:33

The school of the Spirit is pre-eminently a "school for scandal".

Whenever God visits the earth he does it contrary to our patterns and
expectations. He does not fit our preconceived notions of who we think
he is and of how he should do it.

Even though he is the God that never changes, he is always original. This is
reflected in 6 billion individual and unique people who currently inhabit the earth ­
all belonging to the same race, but not one identical to another. Every creative
act of God, and therefore every visitation and operation of his Spirit, while
characterised by some similarities will always be unique.

And so, everything God does is always the same ­ and yet, always different.

So, how do we respond to this?

Domesticating God

We are not at ease with a God who can act unilaterally, who can be totally
independent, and therefore totally unpredictable.

Consequently, we turn to his unchangeableness. There is something in our
allen nature that misinterprets the fact that God never changes ­ we
unconsciously figure he is predictable, and is therefore controllable.
And without our realising it God is domesticated ­ he becomes safe.
In fact, he is made in our own image ­ becoming so safe he exists only
to indulge our happiness. He is harnessed (at least in our minds) to bless
our endeavours and guarantee our effectiveness ­ a mere means
to an end.

The 'Scandalon'

Now, when we become so entrenched in the predictability of our notion of God
that when he does something outside of it we are shocked ­ in fact, offended ­
we are "scandalised". This is why Jesus is called "the rock of offence"
(see also 1 Pet 2:8; 1 Cor 1:23; Gal 5:11). The NT Greek word here for
'offence' is 'skandalon' from which we derive our English word 'scandal'.
It is significant that it originally referred to "the part of a trap to which
the bait is attached, hence, the trap or snare itself".

And so, whenever God comes, if our image of who he is is incomplete or
defective, we will be offended, and ensnared. Now, please understand this
is more than being offended by unusual manifestations of the Spirit
during times of refreshing and revival. It includes this, but is so much more.
And it is more than nominally holding a correct doctrine of God's nature
and attributes (as foundational as that is).

Our Image of God

It has to do with the image of God imprinted within us. This either comes
through the programming of the old man (the flesh, our environment,
our temperament and personality, formative experiences, religious
culture etc), or through the renewing of the mind ­ through the word
and the Spirit thoroughly and progressively renovating every corner
of our being.

So every day of every week of every year God is coming to us through
a very unique and personal set of circumstances. These are designed to
do one thing: to conform us to the image of God. As Paul explained, "it is
God who is at work within you, both to will and do of his good pleasure
so that you may become" (Phil 2:13, 15).

God is working in our lives to bring down every reasoning raised up
against the knowledge of him (see 2 Cor 10:3-5). Every circumstance
comes with God-designed challenges to our preconceived notions of
who we thought he was and how we thought he worked.

And as we are shocked and offended by these different and new things, by his workings, we are faced with two possibilities: we either indulge the old programming (the old imprint of who we thought God was) and are scandalised, entrapped by the offence, and withheld from moving on in God; or, through repentance and brokenness we move on and up ­ out to the prophetic edge, growing in our knowledge of who he really is.

Let's have a look at how this works in practice.

Peter ­ Scandalised by Christ's Death

Jesus had just predicted his suffering and death. Shocked, Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him saying, "Neverthis will never happen to you!" Jesus' response is deeply instructive: "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" (Mtt 16:23).

Wow! This is the guy who a few moments earlier received that awesome revelation that this Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God! (v. 16). Now Jesus is calling him, "Satan"! How easily we swing from moving in the things of the Spirit one moment and to moving in the flesh the next. And we unwittingly become Satan's tool, potentially obstructing the eternal purpose of God.

Jesus didn't mince words ­ he said to him, "You are a stumbling block (scandalon) to me". Frighteningly, Peter, scandalised by this "rock of offence" (scandalon), has become one himself. When we are scandalised by the workings of God we not only hinder the will of God in our own lives but also become a stumbling block to others. We obstruct the purpose of God. Fitting the description of the Pharisees we neither enter ourselves, nor allow others to enter the kingdom who are seeking to do so (see Mtt 23:13-14).

Now, how did Peter come to this point? Through having "in mind the things of men, rather than the things of God". In other words he was viewing Christ and his death through natural thinking ­ through a human grid, the old programming and imprint of who he thought God was. Jesus' death just didn't make sense. He was the Messiah, the promised saviour and deliverer ­ he couldn't die ­ coming from a Jewish perspective Jesus was yet to loose them from the Roman yoke and bring in the promised kingdom. How was this to be if he was taken out? But as Jesus explained to Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest ... But now my kingdom is from another place" (Jn 18:36).

Through the conditioning of Peter's birth and upbringing (as with all the disciples) he had certain notions of what the Messiah would be like and of what his task was.

This is true of every disciple of every age. We all have our preconceived notions about God and his workings ­ from our churches and religious culture, from our denominational, 'Pentecostal', traditional, or 'renewal' patterns, or even from our own temperament and personal leanings. These are all programmed into us ­ they become second nature to us. Whenever we go about "doing the stuff" they are knee-jerk ­ it's what we do.

And so, unchecked and unbroken we resist or dilute the kingdom. It becomes something "from this world" ­ something that is common sense and safe.

The Church - Scandalised by Extravagant Love

This is the case with the current emphasis of the Spirit on the first and "Great Commandment" ­ loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (see Mk 12:29-31).

Observing some trends in various quarters, I discussed this issue over coffee recently with a good friend who is a respected apostolic implementer in our nation to get his perspective. As we wrestled with it he understandably came from his concern for the "how" (the implementation of practical ministry) and I from the prophetic imperative of the "who" (the concentration of the soul on God).

Without ignoring the first, his focus fell on the second aspect of the Great Commandment, which Jesus said is like the first ­ "to love our neighbour as ourselves". Mine was on the first ­ "to love the Lord". One emphasis looks for the practical outworking in service to others feeling that an over emphasis on the other will be impractical and the other says, no, all we need to do is maintain our focus on God.

Now, how do we resolve this? When human wisdom kicks in we try to make sense of an apparent contradiction. We appeal to 'balance' between the two extremes. However, in light of the biblical revelation of God, we agreed that He is not a God of balance, but of extremes ­ he is totally extreme about us loving him and totally extreme about us loving the world.

Human wisdom is never comfortable with a paradox ­ to live we must die, to be great we must be the servants of all, and in this case, to love our neighbour we must love God. In each case the paradox swings on the hinge of a radical obedience.

But this is where we stumble. The natural man is scandalised by the things of God. Human thinking says, "But if I radically obey the Great Commandment I'll end up 'Holier than thou' ­ I'll be irrelevant and never touch my generation ­ it's impractical". But God says, "No, obey me, and then trust me for the outworking".

Oswald Chambers says it well, "So often we mar God's designed influence through us by our self-conscious effort to beuseful. Jesus says there is only one way to develop spiritually, and that is by concentration on God. 'Do not bother about being of use to others; believe on Me' ­ pay attention to the Source, and out of you will flow rivers of living water. We cannot get at the springs of our natural life by common sense, and Jesus is teaching that growth in spiritual life does not depend on our watching it, but on concentration on our Father in heaven".

The 'Desert Fathers'

I am reminded of the 'Desert Fathers'. During the 3rd century, in response to the spiritual decline of the church, many lay people began to move out into the Egyptian desert to be alone with God. They moved in radical obedience to the 'Great Commandment'. One of these was a man, Simeon Stylites, who, beseeched by crowds and looking for greater seclusion, moved from his cave to the top of a 60' tower. He remained there for the next 36 years of his life! Now my natural mind says, "These guys were cracked, they were crazy!" But let's see what happened. Fleeing to the desert in their singular pursuit of God tens of thousands flocked to either join them or benefit from their counsel. Stylites in particular saw an unusual harvest of souls as he preached to thousands from his tower.

From this was born the entire monastic movement. While admittedly there were significant flaws in this movement God used it to reform the church, preserving spirituality, the Scriptures, and various sacred writings. Through it ministry to the poor, medical care, hospitality, protection of the outcast, biblical scholarship, education, and agricultural advances were all achieved. And eventually the Reformation itself was sparked through an Augustinian monk by the name of Martin Luther.

Now, did they go to the desert calculating, "If I do this and thusthis and that will happen"? Absolutely not! Their singular concentration was on God without a thought to its practicality or effectiveness.
Strategy and impact in the world will only flow from God to the degree we are extravagant toward Him.

Herrnhut ­ "The Lord's Watch"

The same goes for the Moravian movement. In 1727 led by von Zinzendorf in Herrnhut, Saxony they gave themselves to "the Lord's watch" ­ to 24/7 prayer. But by 1739 they were instrumental in the conversion of John and Charles Wesley releasing the wave of the Spirit we now know as the Evangelical Revival across England and Great Britain. Contemporaneous with this was the Great Awakening of North America and the birth of the modern missionary movement of which they were pioneers.

Remember that Martha and Judas were both scandalised by the extravagance of Mary's love. However, they were not so much scandalised by the fact of her love, but by its impracticality, one preoccupied with activity and the other with economy. Surely, these are the two stumbling blocks confronting us in the church today ­ activity over adoration, and economy over exaltation.

Don't fall into the trap. Loving God has and will always defy common sense.
It is time again for extreme obedience ­ to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

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Copyright © David Orton 2003