Grace, tribulation and glory

The hallway of tribulation takes us from the grace room to the glory room.

Dana Congdon

Readings: John 1: 14-18, Romans 5: 1-5.

A prophetic vision of the past few years

How wonderful is the grace of God. His saving grace extends to all the earth. Those who have a prophetic sense of history, realize that some forty years ago, in the mid nineteen-sixties, it was as if the enemy came out of the bottomless pit and attacked this earth. When that happened, we know that there were some tremendously evil things that came about. Not only was Israel attacked with a view to destroying it, but the church was attacked in many places.

From our brothers Stephen Kaung and Christian Chen, we know that at that time came the cultural revolution in China; millions of Christians were persecuted and martyred. There was erosion in the cultures that once were godly in the world. Family values and lives began to breakdown and tremendous numbers of divorces began to take place. In the United States, the hippies rose up with their ‘free love’ and promoted a whole new understanding of sexuality throughout the world. There were tremendous rebellions against political entities and also evil empires that rose up in those days.

However, we’re not here to discuss the evils that have come about since the nineteen-sixties, because we know that God reacted to that evil assault. The bible says that when the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord raises up a standard. There was a reaction from God. We heard about it in this new thing called the Charismatic movement. Also in the United States, there was something called the Jesus movement where millions of young people were saved. In China, as well as Chile and the United States, God poured forth His grace as a reaction to the evil that was going forth across this earth. Because the bible says that, “where sin abounds, grace abounds much more”.

Last week, I was telling the ‘aguas vivas’ conference, that those Christians who love the Lord and study missions have come up with some amazing figures to show what has happened in the last thirty-five years. All the missions from around the world brought their reports and the numbers were collated. They discovered that there was a specific period of time, that is completely out of sync with the rest of the graph of Christian growth and mission.

In the thirty years from 1970 to 2000, (they still haven’t been able to collate the information since 2000), they found some amazing statistics. The major denominations continued to grow at their usual rate just as they had in 1950, 1940, 1930 etc. When the missionaries came back to their headquarters to report what was happening in their lands. It seems that in the last 30 years, over 500,000,000 people have been born again. They wondered how this could happen and when they looked at the statistics of their denominations, there was no unusual growth.

Then missionaries began to report about ‘unofficial’ churches; churches meeting in homes, churches who don’t have official pastors who are formally trained, churches that don’t meet in formal buildings.

In China, in the house-church, there have been 71,000,000 Christians in the last thirty years. The blood of the Christians that were martyred in the 1970s in the cultural revolution, has become the seed for the many people that were gathered into the kingdom. So the professors of missions had to come up with a new category: they called these people, ‘Great commission Christians’ because they didn’t know how to categorize them.

They’re like Evangelicals but they also believe in healings, they’re like charismatics but they don’t emphasise the gifts of the Holy Spirit so much, they’re like the Pentecostal Holiness movement, but not exactly. So who are these people? They couldn’t give a precise definition; it was a new category and this is where God’s kingdom is growing according to the statistics. Praise God!

There’s a hidden work going on all around the world. By God’s grace, He’s bringing many into the kingdom. He says, “send out into the highways and hedges, that my house may be full!” Indeed, these are the last days; there’s a harvest going on.

God is moving in Russia

I’m going to give you a brief example. Over the last five years, I’ve had the great privilege to go to Russia. You know that the iron curtain was lifted in 1991 and for the last two years I have been visiting two churches in Siberia. Two brothers went there from the Ukraine, one was 23 and the other was 21. They went there in 1991 and when I visited in 2001, each of these churches in those two cities had around 6000 members.

God has opened the door of the kingdom, and those brothers are servants in the kingdom; they’re like those ‘Great commission Christians’. God is moving so fast that they don’t have time to build a building. This is what happens: one sister comes to a meeting and gets saved. She lives in a village ten miles away so she tells the brothers that she has been saved but she lives alone in the village. So they say that they’ll send another sister out to her to have a bible study with her and they send a 24 year old sister who’s been saved for 6 months. So she goes out to this village, just to read the bible. Now the people there live in small, single room, log cabins and when the other villagers hear that somebody is coming to read the bible, fifty people squeeze into this log cabin.

The sister opens her bible, and just starts to read, ‘Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ…’ and then someone interrupts her and says ‘What’s an apostle? Who’s Jesus Christ? What’s justification?’ And so, she explains or in some cases she says, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know; I’ve only been saved a few months’. So they read a chapter, and there are many questions and at the end she asks, ‘Who wants to be saved?’ So, five people get saved and within two months, there’s a church of fifty people there.

Then, they send an elder out there – a brother who has been a Christian for more than one year- and he goes and baptizes these people. However, they already have a problem: a sister came to this village and got saved but she’s from the next village! So they send another sister over to the other village and she also begins to read the bible. Then, within six months, there’s a church over there.

So these two places, have a central church in the city, a bit like Temuco, and on Sunday when they have gospel meetings, 3000 people come. But they also have 300 house churches and that was only the last time I counted; there are almost certainly more today.

God is gathering in by His grace. His kingdom is being built by His grace. In Russia, people are so hungry for the gospel. My wife and I went there last Christmas and on Christmas Eve they had a gospel meeting. In Russia many of them ice skate and they have a professional hockey team. We met in their arena and they rolled a carpet over the ice. Then we sat down on the ice, and I was cold! Then the brothers and sisters sang and worshiped God and I got up and all the Russians thought that Santa Claus had come to visit them!

I preached the gospel from Luke chapter two about the birth of Jesus. Then I told the people that God had given them many things like life, intelligence and a place to live, but His greatest gift was His son. He sent Him to this earth to die on the cross for our sins. Those Russians could not resist the good news and over 450 people were saved that night. Everywhere we went, people were getting saved.

Now, the house-churches are going into the deep, remote areas where there is a lot of demonic activity but God is delivering them from their bondage and people are getting saved. This is God’s wonderful grace. Since 1970, most of you also were probably gathered into the Kingdom. There’s a few old people here like me; I was saved in 1964. But praise God that we’ve been gathered together by His grace.

To be in the grace room

Let’s see how the Scripture refers to this in Romans 5 verses 1 & 2, “Therefore having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand”. How wonderful to be standing in the grace of God. Where do you stand? What is your address? Where do you live?

I tell the young people in the United States, when they go to University they have to fill out their forms with where they live, they should put down ‘In Christ’ because that’s where they live. Do you live in Christ? Then you’re standing in the grace room. By faith we enter through the door into this grace room in which we stand. How wonderful this grace room is! It’s like a Brazilian steak house; everything is laid out for us on the barbecue table. He says we have peace with God and so we can take some of that peace. We’ve been justified by faith, and we can enjoy that too. We can delight in the fact that when we pray, He answers our prayers.

I love to go to Russia and visit the brothers, because everything is brand new to them. You say, ‘God is love’ and they say ‘oh, we’ve never heard this before’ and they delight in it. They’re learning new words in their vocabulary: redeemed, the blood of Jesus, reconciled and all of these wonderful ‘grace words’. Now my Russian brothers and sisters are tall and fat from the grace of God. How wonderful it is to be in this grace room. Over the last 30 years 500 million people have pushed their way in to this grace room.

What do we do in the grace room? We taste and we see that the Lord is good. When we gather to break bread from Sunday to Sunday, our minimum understanding should be ‘mmm, the Lord is good!’. Sometimes we have a bad week, and we make mistakes; perhaps we get mad at our wife or something else happens. But it’s ok; we break the bread and we start all over again this morning. I’m saved by grace and my wife is saved by grace and because Jesus first loved us, we can love one another.

How wonderful is the grace of God! It’s bigger than this room; I haven’t even begun to talk to you about all the hors d’oeuvres that are laid out on the table before us. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a Brazilian steak house but they have very tasty meat and they keep bringing more of it. Now my wife loves meat but they also have huge salad tables in those restaurants. We don’t have this in the US. They have palm-hearts and other kinds of strange vegetables and my wife tries every one of them. I say to her, ‘No, don’t do that; when the meat comes you’ll be full up. That’s why they give you so much salad!’. (As you can see, I wait for the meat).

So, we are all together in this grace room. Who is happy to be in the grace room? Amen! Now then, who is worthy to be in the grace room? Everyone of us is on ‘spiritual welfare benefit’. Even though we are poor, we are now eating from the king’s table. It seems that we could eat and eat in that grace room and we must never forget to preach the grace of God to those who are lost.

In these last days, people are so hungry; it’s no longer necessary to argue with people about being saved. You just go to somebody who’s broken and say ‘here, taste and see that the Lord is good’. Many people are being saved by grace.

From the grace room to the glory room

However, this scripture from Romans 5 tells us that something happens; one day we’re eating food in the grace room which we’ve come into through the door of faith and while we’re rejoicing in the grace of God I look up through the window of hope and see another room , which is the glory room. We live in the grace room but we’re heading towards the glory room. We enjoy all the benefits of God’s grace today but one day you look through the window and you see Jesus in glory. You see the Lover of your soul in all His beauty and you desire to go out to Him. The hope of glory grows stronger in our hearts.

So in verse two: “Not only do we stand by grace but we rejoice in hope of the glory of God”. How much food must He give you before you look at the Son? All of these blessings, as wonderful as they are, cannot compare with knowing Him. Have you looked through that window?

For many people, being a Christian is simply about gaining blessings. It’s true that we have many blessings as Christians but just like when Jesus walked on the earth and fed the multitude; many ate the bread but only a few looked through the window and saw the bread that had come down from heaven; Jesus. Behind all of this grace, we need to see the ‘I am’.

We see Jesus and we desire Him. We begin to live the Christian life not for what He does but for who He is. Then Jesus says ‘Come to me’ because he wants to transform us from grace to glory. John says that when we look at Jesus, we receive of His fullness, grace upon grace”. This is the look of grace. But then we take a second look at Jesus and we see His glory and He begins to transform us from grace to glory. How does He do this? How does He take us from the grace room to the glory room?

In this passage, Paul reveals the way: there is a way from the grace room to the glory room and it’s through the hallway of tribulation. We have received of His grace and grace makes us thankful and joyful. But grace doesn´t change us; if we are to be changed into His glory, then the work of the cross must begin to work in our lives. And so we begin to go to Jesus through the hallway of tribulation.

Have you experienced this? There are these 500 million people who have been gathered into God’s kingdom, but you and I know that this is only the beginning of God’s work. He has to bring them from the kingdom into His city. What does that mean? They have to be gathered in not only to the kingdom but right underneath the throne where He rules.

Jesus says to those new Christians in the kingdom, “if anyone would come after Me, let Him deny Himself, take up his cross and follow Me”. We begin to experience the cross at work as He brings us under His throne as our Lord and Master.

But we know that when that happens, the work isn’t over. He not only wants to bring us into the city, He wants to bring us into the house. In order to bring us into the house of God, there is a further work of the cross. The Lord has to eliminate from us the things in our flesh, and in our natural life, that stand in the way of us living by the life of God in His house.

His house is such a precious thing. He cannot allow thieves in His house, He can’t allow ambition in His house; he cannot allow anger in His house. The final work of the House of God, is to bring us to the place of love. This is the beginning place, by grace and it’s the final place in the house. God desires a house of first love. When He has such a house, then our Lord will descend and receive us to Himself. He’s waiting for the bride to be made ready; He’s waiting for the house to be built. For this reason we shouldn’t be surprised if we find ourselves going through the hall of tribulation.

The Lord begins to deal with you and your life. For myself, I lived in that room of grace for more than ten years. We served in the church, we preached the gospel and we tried to help our brothers and sisters. But one day, I saw the Lord and I saw Him as the church. I found that I had to go by way of the cross to become part of this church.

The Lord has to deal with all of us. Many of us live by our own self-strength; by the strength of our mind or the strength of our personality. But the Lord takes us through this winding hallway of tribulation and breaks us of our natural strength. Many of the things that we trusted in, we find that He takes them out of our hands because He wants us to learn to trust in Him.

The hallway of tribulation can be a difficult time. But what happens when we go through that hallway? Do we become discouraged? It may be difficult, but when we go through the hallway we meet our Lord Jesus and we learn of Him in the fellowship of His sufferings. What does Paul say happens as we go through the hallway? When we go through those difficult times, God is doing his work. Look at what He says in verse 3: “We also exult in our tribulations because we know that tribulation brings about perseverance”.

Nobody when they first get saved has very much perseverance. We love the Lord but we’re very impatient. We pray for something and we want it immediately. So the Lord begins to teach us perseverance. Then, from perseverance, we learn character. Although the hallway is difficult, it produces the character of Christ in us. This is why the work of the cross is so important. But while we’re going through the hallway, what does He do? He gives us hope. Why does that hope not disappoint us? Because the love of God is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

We knew the love of God when we got saved but when you go through the hallway, that’s when we’re captured by His love. When we break down, He picks us up. When we’re unfaithful, He remains faithful, when we confess our failures, He calls us His children.  Paul knew what it was to go through those hallways of tribulation, but Paul also met the Lord Jesus and was captured by Him there. Paul knew that He made many mistakes but he says, ‘because of His mercy, I faint not’.

The Lord is taking you though a hallway, in order to produce something precious. If we are to go from grace to glory, then we must go through this hallway; there are no short-cuts. It is in the hallway that God does His divine, spiritual subtraction.

Many of you know Christian Chen, that he is a mathematician. Actually, John the Baptist was the first; he is our spiritual maths teacher. He said, ‘we must decrease and He must increase’. Well that means subtraction for you and me and that whatever is subtracted from our life, is filled with Christ. In this way, we become filled with the life of Christ, even in the hallway of tribulation.

Tribulations in our assemblies

These tribulations are not only known among us individually but even our assemblies go through times of tribulation. Once I heard brother Christian tell the story of the assembly where we meet. We meet in an assembly of about 300 people who gather on Sunday to break bread. But our brother Christian gave us some perspective one Sunday when he was sharing.

This is what really happened: many years ago, our brother Stephen Kaung came to New York and he joined together with some brothers and sisters and the Lord raised up a testimony. This was back in the sixties and it was a wonderful testimony in New York. But the enemy came in and spoiled the testimony; some wolves came in in sheep’s clothing and snatched away the testimony. When this happened, there were some brothers and sisters who left and came over here and began to break bread together. They were very few; maybe 8 or 10 brothers and sisters. New York City is a very difficult area but those few brothers stood together for years before God, breaking the bread and calling on His name. Although their number never grew beyond about 25 people, they remained faithful and in God’s fullness of time, He opened the door and now we are blessed together as we can join up with 300 others to break the bread. But those original brothers and sisters are still there. They laid down their lives and now we experience blessing today.

There’s many ways that tribulation can come to the assembly. I’ve seen the enemy’s tactics when he comes in to ruin the testimony. There was one assembly on the East coast that used to meet together, that was a precious testimony. It could only have been the enemy who brought division in among the brothers and there was a lot of suffering in that assembly; people who loved one another were suddenly being torn apart. There were brothers who were accused of things wrongfully and they just remained silent, bearing the blame and the criticism. They saw the assembly get smaller by half and it was a time of great tribulation. All that they could do was remain in the hallway of tribulation and then the Lord heard their voice. Suddenly the door opened and new people began to come in. Some of those who were previously just brothers without any spiritual responsibility were raised up and took on that responsibility.

Through those times of tribulation, we learn humility. The enemy has such a strong foot that he could just stamp us down and destroy us in a moment. But, by God’s covering, He keeps us together. However, whenever pride rises up, or when men become too strong, when people begin to have disputes on lesser matters, whenever first love has gone, the Lord allows the enemy to come in and take us through tribulation. We are gathered together by the mercy of God. There is a precious work that God is doing throughout the whole world, but we must remain close to the Lord. Even when times look large and everything is blessed, we could be only a few moments away from tribulation.

We have to take the words of our Lord in Revelation to the seven churches seriously, because there are so many ways that we can be distracted. What is our first love? Our first love isn’t a kind of love. First love is a person. Do we love Jesus more than anything else?

Even if you’re going through troubles; is Jesus enough? The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Is Jesus enough? If we worship Him in times of prosperity, should we not also worship Him in difficult times? Many times the Lord blesses us again and again but when we go through tribulation we begin to murmur about our Lord. We shouldn’t, because even in the tribulation we meet our Lord.

What is the great lesson that we learn through the hall of tribulation? Despite the winding of this hallway, and the dead ends that we come to, or even in the tragedies we experience, what do we learn? If you are there, then you know that we learn His glory. He brings us from glory to glory. Are you being brought from glory to glory? Have you moved from grace towards glory? Have you seen a vision of the beauty of the Lord that has made you say ‘yes Lord; I’ll go wherever you want me to go?’. Don’t be surprised if you then go through some tribulation.

Sometimes we look around and we see some Christians who always seem to have it easy. Almost everybody has somebody else who they want to be like and we say ‘oh that brother, yes he has lots of money, he has a healthy family, he has a nice wife and has no problems’. But the Lord says ‘never mind about your friend; I will deal with everybody just as I want to. You, follow me’.

There are two things that we need in the hallway: number one, we must respect every brother and sister going through the hallway of tribulation. God is dealing with them because He loves them. This is no time for you to pour on your judgement and criticism. Be merciful towards your brothers. If you know somebody who’s going through a difficult time, be merciful, pray, help them, snatch them from the enemy. We need to be merciful and respect our brothers and sisters.

The second thing is: you need to be tough on yourself. Are you going through the hallway? Are you going through tribulation? There’s no excuse; God’s grace is sufficient, you can overcome. You can lay hold of His life. You don’t sit around saying ‘oh poor me’ and have a ‘pity party’ where you invite everyone to come and feel sorry for you. No. What did Paul say? He said ‘our light affliction cannot compare with the glory’. So we cannot have our eyes on the things around us but let us look at the unseen things that are before us. I do hope that you’re tough on yourself. Take your own foot, kick yourself and say ‘be faithful to God’!

To sum up, be merciful to others, because you don’t know what they’re going through. But be tough on yourself, because you know that you deserve anything that you might be going through. So, lay hold of God’s grace and very soon you’ll find yourself in the glory room. There with our Lord. No more sins, no more imperfection, no more tears, no more sorrow, no more death but life and our Lord. What a glory room!

Just like He gave us hors d’oeuvres in the grace room, He sometimes gives us tastes of glory. Have you ever had a taste of glory? It’s even better than Chilean salmon. When you taste even just a little bit of glory, you say ‘I want more of that’! Then God gives you extra grace to keep on walking along the hallway.

Never forget this: no matter how twisty the hallway of tribulation is, just around the next corner the Lord is waiting for you. Be faithful. Enjoy the grace room. We’ve been together today, enjoying the grace room. We love the word of God, don’t we? By God’s grace He speaks to us. But God’s spirit leads us from grace to glory through the hallway of tribulation. So, rejoice in His grace and rejoice in the tribulation and one day we will rejoice in His glory. May the Lord lead us there soon. Praise the Lord!

Synthesis of a message shared in Temuco, October 2006.

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