Apostolic Conversion - Art Katz


Pretext or Reality?

This is the verbatim transcript of a message given in 1993 to an American congregation of a spiritually impressive kind. That is to say, that it had all the appearances of a committed body, serious in the Lord, and whose lively worship seemed to testify of its abounding health. Nevertheless, after two nights of meetings, I felt, as the speaker, an increasing sense of despair that not much had been transacted and that if the Lord did not radically intervene there would be little point in continuing.

This message was given on the third night, having spent the day in fasting and earnest intercessory prayer. With hardly a single exception, the entire congregation went down on their faces at its conclusion in a depth of groaning and intensive seeking of the Lord.

The word is like an arrow to the heart of the need of the church world-wide especially in its seeming ?success? and how much more in its static predictability. May it affect you as a reader as it did those who heard and received it as the Lord?s word.

Tonight I believe that the Lord?s heart is on the subject of conversion. I?m very fond of saying, ?Many saved, few converted,? and I?ve come to a realisation after two nights, that to continue along the lines that we have been speaking would be vain unless there has in fact been a radical crossing to the other side. I can?t think of a greater cruelty or delusion than to speak about apostolic things when we are spiritually incapacitated or incapable of walking them out, especially when something foundational to our relationship with God has not yet been effected. The apostolic things that pertain to His glory can only find fulfilment in a people who are utterly abandoned to God. If we embrace only the vocabulary of apostalicity, we engage the cruellest of all deceptions. Let?s talk about anything else, and use any other kind of language, but let?s not embrace this language unless we have an intent to fulfil it. Somehow we need to pause in the course of what is being unfolded in these days and raise the question of the authenticity of our own conversion. Can you understand that it is possible somehow to be saved and even born again of the Spirit - even be filled with the Spirit - and yet not be converted in the sense of an utterness toward God that apostolic reality requires?

Seeing that we are focusing on Paul, I want to read an account of his conversion from Acts, Chapter 9. It is remarkable to note that in the book of Acts there are three expressions or recordings of that conversion. Perhaps it is not an exaggeration to suggest that the apostolic life that followed was altogether proportionate to the kind of commencement or beginning that it had from the first. Or to put it in another way, maybe we can?t exceed or go beyond what is the point of our beginning. Some of us may need a day of new beginnings or a beginning that has never in fact been made; which if it is in fact not made, would condemn us to being fixed at a certain level of Christian response beneath what the Lord himself intensely intends and desires.

I?m going to ask that we stand and ask the Lord?s blessing before we read the Scriptures. I don?t know where that thought came from, but somewhere in the course of the day I just had a sense of us standing to pray and I just want to invite you to call on the Lord even now. No lengthy prayer from one saint, but just a brief inviting of God to pull out the stops, to ask Him for something of an extraordinary kind. I?m always believing the Lord for something like that, an impetus like that in your spirit, so just sound out from where you are standing and then I?ll conclude in prayer and then we?ll get into the word for tonight.

So then, first reading from Acts 9?

?And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me? And he said, Who are thou Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus who thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord what would thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. And Saul rose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink. And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananaias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananaias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord. And the Lord said unto him, arise, and go to the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth. And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananaias coming in, and putting his hand on him that he might receive his sight. Then Ananaias answered, Lord I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem. And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name. But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name?s sake.? [Acts 9:1-16]

Thank you precious God, for the light that shone upon an enemy and deeply converted him, my God, from the murderer to the chief apostle of the Church. What a work, my God, that comes down from heaven in the moment that you appoint, even in all our opposition. We pray that tonight?s speaking, my God, might be for us who have not yet fallen to the earth and who are still proceeding from our seeing, and not yet from yours - that we might be brought down in order that we may be brought up, and that we might learn what great things we must suffer for your name?s sake, whom you will bring before Gentiles and kings - and especially in these last days, before the house of Israel. Come and speak to us out of this text, my God. We thank you and praise you for the privilege of a word about it that might be for us the event of it, in Jesus? holy Name, Amen.

So, as I?ve already said, the inception of the apostolic life greatly determines its end. Many of us are malfunctioning, not walking in fullness, because of inadequate beginnings. I can go off on a long dissertation about the inadequacy of our contemporary gospel, of it being more of a kind of formula for salvation than it is an induction into the most holy faith, and how the pagans in Thessalonica who heard an apostolic proclamation of that gospel were saved ?from their idols to serve the living God, and to wait for His son who comes from heaven and who will save them in the day of His wrath.? (1 Thess. 1:9). Evidently, they heard a much fuller and more powerful presentation of the gospel than most of us, and therefore, right from the instant of their conversion, a quality of things was released that made that church distinctive. Indeed, they reflect their beginning and we reflect ours.

But praise God that if our beginnings have been faulty and inadequate, if our poverty of beginning has affected our subsequent walk, then there are ways in which God can give us a new beginning.

I see in this a kind of parallel with Israel and the great ?crossing over? that they were required to make with Joshua. There is a Jordan, which means literally, ?a descent into death.? And this crossing leaves behind those who stumbled about in the religious wasteland for forty years where many cadavers had been left behind who did not have the fullness of heart of a Caleb or Joshua (Caleb means ?Whole-hearted?). Only two out of an entire generation had the privilege of being welcomed into the land of promise and participating in the taking of the land. We stand at this kind of crossroad today. It is time to cross over, and this sense of crossing has been heavy on my heart in all the days I have been here and even the days that immediately proceeded my coming to you.

But do you know that not all of the house of Israel crossed, but that a portion of the tribes of Gad, Manasseh and Reuben chose to remain on the other side? They remained because the ground there was lush, and the grasses were high and they were cattle breeders, who obviously recognised something of immediate value. They were unwilling for that risk of a faith in what might be found on the other side. They pleaded with Moses and got what they wanted, and they were allowed to remain on the wrong side of the Jordan and have been subsequently lost to the whole history of Israel. The only melancholy reminder we have of the tribe of Gad, who chose the wrong side, are the Gadarenes of the New Testament time who raised pigs and were unwilling, even at that later time, for a deliverer to come because it proved expensive for their flesh. They much preferred to sustain their herds, rather than welcome Him who casting those same herds into the sea delivers from demon spirits!

What a commentary on the consequences of an unwillingness to cross over, of a languishing on the wrong side. I think that the reason is always the same - because it is conducive to the ?flesh,? because back there we have an assurance to things that pertain to ?herds? (i.e., our immediate self-interest).

So there is now, as then, a real necessity for ?crossing over,? lest our own carcasses be found on the wrong side, or that we degenerate into the melancholy that became true for the tribes of Gad and Manasseh, who refused to go over but remained fixed for their ?cattle?s sake!? We just reviewed what the land of the Gadarenes had become by the time of Jesus, centuries later; they are lost even now to any kind of historical remembrance, let alone value.

Consequently, the conversion of Paul, and our conversion, is critical. It begins with the phrase, ?As he journeyed?? I think there is more hope for an enemy of God journeying in full sincerity, even in his error, than for those who purport to be the friends of God and have long since ceased journeying and are just kind of ?treading water? or occupying some kind of safe place. There is more hope to convert an enemy who is in motion, however grievous his error (and the error is a consequence, even, of an intensity for God, however misconceived), than there is for those of us who are safely ensconced in correct credos and doctrines but are not moving at all!

So, there is something in my spirit that rises up in the words we read, ?But as he journeyed?? You wonder if there would have been a conversion if Saul would have been content to rest on his lees and to be satisfied with the conventional categories of orthodoxy that satisfied most of his contemporaries. ?But as he journeyed, suddenly there came a light from heaven,? and I?m wondering if journeying is a condition of that light for us as well? Is it that when the Lord sees a questing there is more hope of our being arrested by the light of God than if we are merely treading water, satisfied with the spiritual status quo of our lives? But until that light shines, until something comes down to us from above, we are fixed in the place where we are. Everything is from the great, sovereign hand of God. Whose eye ?roves to and fro over the face of the earth, seeking that one whose heart is perfect toward Him.? If that were not so, I would not be speaking to you now. I would not be in the faith but would have been a dead man a long time ago. But even as an atheist, and as an enemy of God, ?pouring out threats and murder? against the Church thirty-seven years ago in the same kind of vehemence and opposition as Saul, I was arrested. (See Art?s ?Odyssey of a Modern Jew,? the testimonial book of his own conversion). Probably for the same kinds of reasons that even in my error, even in my opposition to the Church and the faith, unable to mouth the name of Jesus, except as a blasphemy and a curse, God saw a heart that was desiring truth, that was willing to be on the way, ?journeying.? I think this is a disposition pleasing to God, even after one?s initial encounter with God!

I love the way the Lord encountered Saul, who fell to the earth and heard a voice saying to him, ?Saul. Saul, why persecuteth thou Me?? I think that if we are examining the anatomy of conversion, of what it is that must be radically turned, it is this fatal error, if it is allowed final expression, will ultimately result in the persecution of God and the Church. And what is this error? It is this - putting our ?thou? before God?s ?Me.? ?Why persecuteth thou Me?? Why do you celebrate, and put your self-interest, however religious and sanctified you think it is, before Me? Here is where I have to trust the Holy Ghost to take that simple thing that lies too deep for words, and reveal the crux of the matter. We are not converted until His ?Me? is before our ?thou.? That is the fatal mishap, we go through an entire lifetime with our ?thou? preceding His ?Me,? even religiously. Something needs to be wrenched about, radically altered and corrected; the one thing must be before the other - His ?Me? before our ?thou.? If that does not take place, be assured that in one form or the other, we are persecuting God; we are opposing God even while we purport to be labouring and serving in His interest! Isn?t that exactly the picture of Saul? Note that here is not some calculated atheist, indifferent to God, but here was a man zealous for God. The error that led to the persecution of God?s own people, and God Himself in His people, was committed by a religious man in error whose ?thou?, however well meaning, was yet before God?s ?Me.?

How does it stand with you tonight? If that basic and fatal error is possible for a man of religious zeal, who, with every right intention, sought to serve God and to seek out opportunities to round up heretics and bring them back to Jerusalem, how much more then are we capable of exactly the same fatal error? Why we put our ?thou? before His ?Me? is the nub of the matter, so long as we have made ourselves central and prior to Him. That, I think, is essentially characteristic of the Church today, even in its best ?charismatic? form. It is still our ?thou?, it is still, ?How are we affected?? That stubborn, spiritually egocentric attitude, however unconscious and expressed, can only be dislodged by profound conversion. For this in fact is what conversion is.

We can be saved; we can be filled with the Spirit; and yet, this central thing can remain unattended until a light shines down upon us from heaven and brings us down to the earth. Have we not, even in these two nights, integrated His word into the existing categories by which we affirm ourselves, misappropriating the very thing intended by God to unseat and even to devastate us?

I?ll say it again. How many of us, in the hearing of the word on these very nights, have taken that word in through the prism of our own subjectivity and fitted it into the existing construct of our life, our categories, and found a way in which the Word would be amenable to our view of ourselves, of our spirituality, of our call? In a word, what are we doing, even unconsciously, is elevating ourselves above the Word, and ourselves determining how it is to be fitted comfortably into the categories that we approve. Instead of allowing the Word to devastate and demolish our categories, we stand or sit above it as arbiters, carefully moulding it so that it can neatly be taken in and even acknowledged and celebrated as the Word of God, applauding the speaker for having brought it, thinking we have done God?s service!

Can you see why we need to be converted? This egocentrism is unspeakably deep, and ironically, deepest in the religious and spiritual realm. What greater affront to God, what greater expression of putting our ?thou? before His ?Me? than the way in which we even hear and conditionally receive the Word? It is an entirely unconscious process, and we have been doing it for years, thereby missing the value and intent of the God who gave it!

I have to say that last night after the service I left depressed. I felt dejected. My spirit had sunk, I was slumping. I felt a tremendous exhaustion, a tiredness not only of body, but of soul. The word was good - the word was precious in God?s intention, but somehow by the time it had been transmuted to the hearer, the way in which the hearer had received it and even responded or did not respond was already showing that our ?thou? was before His ?Me?. That is why the Lord is saying tonight, ?Halt - I?ll go no further! I?m not going to share the holy things of the apostolic faith with a people who are going to take it, internalise it, and so construe it as to fit into their existing mindsets. By so doing, they somehow find a way to exalt what the word is intending to devastate.?

In effect, we set ourselves above His Word, determining to what degree we allow it credence and acceptance. We determine to what degree we intend practically to internalise and implement it.

Do you realise that this is almost continually going on? Ours is a holy God. He?s pouring His heart out to us and there we are, consciously or unconsciously calculating to what degree we are going to realistically receive such a word with the intent of doing it!

I think in this one thing I have described the essential malaise of the Church, why It is so stale, why It is not going from faith to faith and from glory to glory, why its services are replete with ?sermons? rather than the word of God, which by its very nature demands response and change and is the purpose for which the Word is given. We are not hearing with the intent of doing. We are hearing with the intent of approving the Word as biblical and enjoying it.

Can you see that we bring a whole kind of mindset that stymies the very preciousness of the Word and intent of God?

FOR IF WE WILL NOT BE CHANGED BY THE WORD, BY WHAT ELSE SHALL WE BE CHANGED? But are we receiving it in an open and naked way and letting it have its full work? Are we willing to say, ?Lord, let be unto me according to Thy word?? I don?t know what the consequences will be - it may mean the eradication of my home and lifestyle, of my whole mode of being, or the loss of that for which I have laboured so long that is not intrinsically wrong in itself. But until we come to the place where our heart says continually, in the hearing of the Word, ?Let it be unto me,? we no longer hear the Word as God?s; it can no longer perform the work of God. It becomes merely a ?sermon? that we approve or dismiss.

What did it take for Mary to say, ?Let be unto me according to Thy word?? It meant nothing less than receiving a pregnancy that could not be explained, and that to a pious, self-righteous generation totally prepared to stone to death on the doorstep of her father?s house that woman who had an inexplicable pregnancy. To this day, the Talmud, the writing of the rabbis, makes shaded allusion to Mary?s pregnancy as having come from a Roman soldier. How else shall inexplicable pregnancies be understood? And when Mary said, ?Let be unto me according to Thy word,? she meant, ?I am willing to bear the full consequence of receiving this word, even if it shall mean my death in disgrace although I am in fact a virgin in Israel.?

I?ll tell you, when God shall find a heart like that, there is no limit to the extent of the divine work that can then have its inception. When I think of the potential in this room for the works of God in these last days, not only in this community but beyond it, in a world that is rocked and wracked by violence and filth and muck and perversion and corruption of every kind, waiting for those who will come to it, being sent by God, I sense the frustration of God, who cannot even perform it until a people will first receive His Word inthat same virginal disposition of spirit, willing for its full consequence, whatever that consequence might be! ?Let it be unto me according to Thy Word.?

You?ll save yourself much unnecessary aggravation wondering what the outworking of that word will be in its particular application, if you have reconciled within yourself that it will inevitably lead to the place of death. And once you?ve made that reckoning, what difference by what form it comes - stoning at the doorstep of your father?s house, disgrace, rejection of men, hostility, misunderstanding, catcalls, or shrieks or reproach - these kinds of things with moral and physical hazards of all kinds? God is yet waiting, and has never had any other inception for His works than one who will say, ?Let it be unto me according to Thy Word!?

Let us note Saul?s answer when he was confronted by the Jesus who said, ?Saul, you celebrated and elevated your ?thou? before my ?Me?? From it came that one great apostolic statement that underlines the whole of the great career that would follow, ?Lord, what would You have for me to do?? I want to say that every invoking of the word ?Lord? without also following it with the balance of Paul?s statement, is playing with a holy thing, even a taking of the name of the Lord in vain.

I want to ask you dear ones?When was the moment that you transacted with God something of the utterness with which Paul commenced his apostolic walk? That one question subsumes and includes every and all other questions, ?Lord, what would You have for me to do?? No ifs, no ands, no buts. No stipulations, no conditions, no guarantees, no requests - even for illumination, understanding, or explanation. If the Lord is Lord, we have but one posture only, to be down on the earth before Him, with this one cry resonating throughout the balance of our natural lives, ?Lord, what would You have for me to do?? We say it once, but we live forever in the resonance of that question or we do not live apostolically at all. And that is not one of the least of the reasons why we are hearing tonight what we are hearing. I came with a briefcase full of many choice messages, but I?m not at liberty to cite or to employ any one of them, however much I would delight in the promulgation of the precious, holy seed that God has given me. But my every speaking, my every service, like yours, needs again and again to be conducted in the resonance of that one question only, ?Lord, what would You have for me to do??

How many apostolic careers are in abeyance tonight? How many prophets are there in this room? How many evangelists and teachers and pastors? How many women of travail and intercession, how many callings of God hanging and waiting for the one question God yet waits to hear - a word that has never been sounded in His hearing with every stop removed and with all qualifications forsaken? It is the statement of utter, apostolic abandon. And until the Lord hears it, He is not going to tell you what to do.

That there are things to do is beyond question; but they can only be performed in the power given to those to whom they can be entrusted. ?The Spirit is given without measure? to the sons who have no purpose in themselves and no life for themselves, but who live by one question only, which indeed is living! ?Lord, what would You have for me to do?? Anything less is deprivation. Anything less is conditional and inadequate. It is being seized with fears and doubts and vacillations and all those things that cripple and compromise and show us up. There is a release only when we have come finally to that place where with full integrity we say and put before God that thing for which He waits, that thing which He cannot command or compel, but must be utterly and freely and totally given. And no matter what we intone, He?s not Lord until it has been given.

?Lord, what would You have for me to do?? I think that the answer is eternally the same, though the form of the fulfilment of it may vary - ?I will show him how great thing he must suffer for my name?s sake.? No wonder we don?t ask the question.

How wisely we intuit what the necessary answer must be. But I?ll tell you dear saints, if you don?t know it, that for every suffering that comes as the consequences of obedience to the Lord is a glory unspeakable, is reward eternal, is a joy even in the midst of the suffering and pain and distress and misunderstanding of men and the reproach that follows an obedience to a God who would have us do.

We need to ask ourselves, has there ever been a point, in the whole of our Christian life, where each of us has asked God, ?Lord, what would You have for me to do?? - with full intention, not in just giving answer to something that would be spoken in that moment, but living continually in the light of that question ever after?


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