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The signs of life are principally manifested by motion, action: There must be change, movement. Just so, to stay alive spiritually, we must have movement. In our lives with the Lord, there are only two directions we can move; there is no standing still. We are either moving forward or backward. When we stop making progress, we're backsliding.
It reminds me of the story about the little boy who fell out of bed. When his mother asked him why it happened, he said, "I guess I went to sleep too near where I got in." That is what is wrong with some Christians. They have gone to sleep spiritually too close to where they "got in." And that's why many of them eventually have problems of a nature that lead to falling out, falling away from the Lord.
Every Christian, every church, every fellowship, every movement of God has to have constant change, revitalization, movement, and action in order to stay alive. And believe me, there is plenty to keep us alive and moving until the Lord comes! Some people think that because Christianity has spread throughout the world, that there is nothing more to do.
It is said that Alexander the Great died weeping that there were no more worlds to conquer. The irony was that he had hardly begun to take over the world! He wasn't even aware that more than half of the world was out there! He had only conquered a little bit of the world-from Greece to India. But because he had conquered the entire world that was known to him, or at least the parts he considered valuable, he believed there was no more to conquer.
Well, he hadn't conquered Rome, the rising world power that was soon to take over his whole empire. It seems that he made a slight mistake. Rome was viewed as a bunch of barbarians at the time of Alexander, so why bother with them? But Rome finally triumphed over him-or at least what was left of his empire-and established an empire that went much further than his ever went, subduing France, England, Spain, and other countries that Alexander had probably never heard of. Legend has it that Alexander died somewhere in Persia, drunk and weeping because there were no more worlds to conquer-but he hadn't even heard of most of the world!
The reason some Christians stop making progress is simply because they have lost their vision. And when they lose the vision they lose faith. And when they lose faith they no longer have any initiative to do anything. Backsliding is the reverse of going forward, or pioneering. When you stop pioneering you start backsliding. So when people stop making progress and going forward because they no longer have any faith to take the initiative, to do something different, it's because they have lost the vision, and "where there is no vision, the people perish" (Proverbs 29:18 KJV).They backslide and sink into spiritual oblivion.
When people stop making progress, it shows that they have lost the initiative. Any army that ceases to attack loses the initiative. Attacking initiative is what wins a war. The minute an army stops attacking and settles down, it will be defeated, because either the enemy will then launch a counterattack, or the army's very immobility and lack of vision and initiative will cause it to lose faith in its cause and give up without a fight!
This is one of the Devil's favorite tactics with Christians. He can never win outright, because Jesus has already defeated him by dying on the cross. So the only way the Devil can get the victory is to persuade us to give up, by telling us that we have a hopeless cause. "It's no use," he says, "so you might as well surrender and leave the field to me."
The only way we Christians can ever be conquered is if we give up, stop attacking, and stop having the faith to take the initiative to do something for the Lord-win converts, train workers, develop new ministries and methods of outreach, and reach new fields. If that happens, we will be doomed to defeat. We will have already lost.
People with this attitude are already beaten, because they have lost the battle of the spirit. They have given up and fainted in their minds (Hebrews 12:3 KJV), and their bodies will soon faint too; they'll stop and backslide. They will stop pioneering because they will have lost the initiative, the spirit, and courage to fight for what they believe because they have lost faith, and they have lost faith because they have lost the vision!
What makes a pioneer? First of all, they have a vision, a goal. Because they have a vision, they have faith. Then that faith gives them courage to take the initiative, and they pioneer and make progress. So when people stop progressing, that shows they have lost all these things. Why have they lost faith and courage? Because they have lost the vision.
How do people lose the vision? Somewhere there's been a break in the contact with the source of power. It's like turning off a TV: Push the button that cuts off the power, and the picture disappears. So why do people lose their faith and drive to do something for the Lord; why do they backslide? Because they have lost touch with God-direct personal contact, intimate contact with God, that direct personal hotline to God.
The trouble with some Christians is that they've gone as far as they want to go. They're stuck in a rut and are often not really interested in reaching the souls near them, much less the rest of the world. They think they have arrived, and don't care to take on the responsibility of winning others to the Lord and helping them grow spiritually. They're satisfied with what they've got, so they stop. But there's no such thing as stopping! Anyone who doesn't have the vision, faith, and courage to take the initiative to win new souls and train new workers needs to watch out, because there is no such thing as standing still!
If any Christian workers or missionaries have lost the "pioneering spirit," if they're not going forward to establish the kingdom of God on earth, if they're content short of that goal, if they're satisfied with what they already have and are not interested in progressing until they see righteousness covering the earth "as the waters cover the seas" (Isaiah 11:9; Habakkuk 2:14), then they're backsliding.
Some Christians want the coming of Christ to do it all for them. They say, "Why should we do anything? Jesus will do it all." Well, they are going to get a surprise when the Lord comes-a very big surprise! What they've failed to do and have left undone, they're still going to have to do. Maybe that's why there is going to be the thousand-year period known as the Millennium, after Jesus returns (Revelation 20:1-6). There is going to be a job yet to do after the Lord comes. Parts of the world will still need to be evangelized. Of course, those of us who have received Jesus in this life will have supernatural bodies and powers and the authority of Christ's kingdom on earth (Philippians 3:20-21; Revelation 1:5-6; 20:6), which will really facilitate the job-and God knows we'll need it!
Throughout history, God's people have often failed to be the witnesses and soul-winners that He wanted them to be. Jesus gave His life and got His followers started, and as long as they and the other early Christians had the vision and kept in close contact with the Lord, they were sweeping the world. Eventually they even overthrew the Roman Empire with the Good News of the Gospel. But then they got to the point where they thought they had arrived and overthrown the temporal power of Rome, so that now it rested in their hands; the Church ruled Rome. They had arrived and were satisfied. They had power, wealth, and glory. They now ruled all the world that they knew, or all of the world that they felt was important. Then they more or less sat down and stopped really progressing.
Well, the fact was, they hadn't yet really completely reached India or China or Russia or Africa or any of North and South America or the islands of the sea.
The minute people come to the conclusion that they have arrived and are satisfied and have come as far as they want to, watch out! I will never be satisfied until everybody on earth is saved, which will never happen, of course. But I'm looking forward to the day when-and this may be a shocking thought for some people-almost everybody will be saved, and I think that's when God will be satisfied too! But that's a long way off. We have a lot to be thankful for, but we still have a lot to do. We haven't got just a few years left to live and work for the Lord, we have thousands to go!
Some Christians just twiddle their thumbs, waiting for Jesus to come and solve all their problems. They figure that then they'll be able to just sit around in Heaven and play their harps all day. Not so! After Jesus returns, all of us Christians are going to have to work 24 hours a day to establish the kingdom of Christ on earth, and that's going to be a big job!
If people think that when they go on from this life to be with the Lord, that their work is over, they're mistaken. Their job will be far from complete! The dear apostle Paul said he'd "fought a good fight" and finished his course-his earthly course (2 Timothy 4:7-8 KJV). He won that crown, but according to all we read in the Bible, he and the rest of us still have a long way to go. The spirit world is a Heaven of a lot busier than this hell on earth! We will have rest in a sense, but like the angels, we'll fight on!
We're a long way from the end of the road, and anyone who looks forward to death as the end is going to get a big surprise! Death from this life is just graduation from this grade. Some things will get easier. Right now, our fleshly bodies burden us, but in the next life we'll no longer be weighed down with the flesh and problems of this physical life. Yes, we will have graduated from the grade of this earthly life, but when someone graduates from one grade to another, the work in the next grade is usually a little more difficult. We'll have added responsibilities and new duties, but we'll also have new abilities-new powers to respond to those responsibilities. We'll be given the power to do a lot more than we're doing now. And we're going to do it-even more!
In Revelation it says about the saints, those believers who are in Heaven, "Their works do follow them" (Revelation 14:13 KJV). They haven't finished their works. They're still going to be working at them. They simply have passed this grade and have arrived in the next one. You tell that to some people and they'll be downright discouraged! They'll say, "I've done as little as I could here, and I'm looking forward to getting to Heaven and doing even less!"
They'll be surprised to hear God say, "Nothing doing, buddy! Get busy! You've still got a lot of work to do!" The work is not even over in Heaven, or in the Heavenly City after the Millennium. We'll still be serving God, and quite a few things will not be finished yet: total redemption, universal reconciliation, cosmic restitution-all of which Paul wrote about and John recorded in the book of Revelation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19; Philippians 3:21; Colossians 1:20; Revelation 21:24; 22:2). There will still be earthly kings and nations that need healing. Read it!
It's only the beginning, folks! Heaven is not the end-it's only the beginning! God only knows how much more we'll have to do after we've learned how to govern the earth and won all the souls and helped Him resolve all the other problems. Who knows what other worlds we may have to win, what other universes we may yet have to learn how to rule.
My idea of Heaven is not floating around on a cloud strumming a harp, doing nothing! That would be my idea of death. Total inactivity, cessation of movement, total rest, is death. That doesn't seem to be God's idea of Heaven either. His universe is full of movement, and He'll never stop. We'll go right on through the coming of Christ and the Millennium and Heaven. God only knows how far we all have to go-and we'll enjoy every minute of it if we're His faithful servants!
That's my idea of the next life, and I believe it's God's and His Bible's idea as well. We're a long way from the end. In fact, according to the Bible, for us there isn't going to be an end. Eternity has no end!
We've been talking about cessation of progress, when people stop winning and teaching new Christians and taking the Gospel to new people and places. When we stop winning the world, we're beaten! We have failed! We're defeated because we defeated ourselves by giving up!
Some Christians gave up long ago and have no desire to go any further. They're fully satisfied with where they are. They like it like it was. They love the old, dislike the new, resist change, and have solidified. They have lost their love for the Lord and for winning souls, training new workers, and opening new fields. They think that when they give up, they are going to keep what they've got, but God's law of progress is: If you don't keep on getting more, you'll lose what you've got! Jesus said, "For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away" (Matthew 25:29).
The minute you think you have something and sit down to enjoy it, that's when you're apt to lose it. That's why many a great civilization, empire, nation, religious movement, or business has vanished from the face of the earth. They stopped advancing, progressing, and moving. They had all they wanted and thought they had arrived, so they sat down to enjoy it and whoosh! God blew upon it and it came to naught.
When you stop moving, you die. Try it. Go to bed and never get up again. How long do you think you will live if you lie there and never eat or drink or move or get rid of waste matter? You might last a few days. Some people have lasted a couple of weeks. But if you stop drinking, eating, cleansing, and moving, you're soon dead! And that is what is spiritually wrong with some people. They have stopped drinking the Water of Life; they have stopped eating their spiritual food, the Word of God; they have stopped eliminating their daily besetting sins, and therefore they have died on the vine!
There is no in-between! We cannot stop! It's like breathing: We don't dare stop or we're dead. We have to keep doing more every day and progressing. We need to sit down at the end of the day and keep books with our soul. We need to weigh up the accounts and say, "Now what did I do today that I won't have to do tomorrow? What progress, what accomplishment, what more have I done than the usual things I always have to do each day?"
If we come to the point where we're just going through the motions by habit, just coasting along on former momentum, then we'll be just like the little girl who heard her kitten purring in its sleep and exclaimed to her mother, "Oh, Mama, the kitty's gone to sleep and left its engine running!" You will have gone to sleep and left your engine running, and you'll soon run out of gas and coast to a stop.
My grandfather once said to me, "David, do you know how to recognize when you're getting old? It's when you start living in the past." So true! It doesn't matter how things were done in the past, if that's not the way that we ought to do them now. It doesn't matter how we did it yesterday, if we should do it differently today. But some people insist on a rigid pattern of total conformity to the past, living according to the tactics and patterns of the past.
Some of these methods may be up to date, just like some parts of the Bible-but there are other parts that are no longer up to date. For example, much of the Old Testament contains hundreds of complicated rules that God told His people to live by then, but that was before Jesus came and boiled it all down to two simple rules: Love God and love your neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39; Romans 13:8; Galatians 5:14). God means for us to be governed by love, not the complicated, impossible-to-keep rules He gave to a different people at a different time for a different purpose (Galatians 3:24-25).
We Christians today don't even have to be limited by the way the Early Church did things. We are not the Early Church! We're the Latter Church, the latest Church, and the pattern God wants us to live by today is not exactly the pattern they lived by two thousand years ago.
There is a saying, "All things change, but Jesus never." God Himself never changes but He does change some of His tactics and messages and methods, depending on what suits His purpose and the situation. Paul said, "I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (1 Corinthians 9:22). If we as Christians are not going to constantly keep changing our tactics and methods and modes of operation, just like God does, according to what He knows will work and what won't with each new day and new situation and new people, then we're going to become has-beens. If we're not flexible, pliable, able to stretch or shrink or bulge or bend to accommodate the Lord's new wine-whatever new thing He has for us-then we're going to burst and lose even what we've got, and He won't be able to give us any more (Luke 5:37-38).
But as long as we have and love Jesus and lost souls, as long as we seek Him and desire to do His will, as long as we go to His Word daily for fresh vision and inspiration, we have nothing to worry about. He will continually renew us in body, mind, and spirit (Romans 12:1-2), and we'll do more than stay alive. We'll really go places and accomplish a lot for the Lord!
I was raised in the Hegewisch neighborhood on the southeast side of Chicago, Illinois, served in the USAF from 1970 to 1974, and became a full-time missionary for Christ living 40 years in Japan, 3.5 years in Russia, and a few months in other countries such as Finland, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, South Korea, Taiwan and mainland China where I also served the King of Kings, Jesus, as an Ambassador for His Kingdom.
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