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An Open Letter to Desert Dwellers
October 25, 1990
Dear Relatives in the Lord,
As one whose heritage in the Spirit is similar to yours, I come as both an admonisher and a friend. Strangely, in the space of five days, I have had four encounters with desert people or situations relative to them. These encounters lead me to write you one and all in the hopes that you can better see yourselves for who you are in the Lord, and to prevent your calling from short-circuiting out in the desert.
Desert people have a certain capacity for revelation not entrusted to others. They see truths that others either cannot or will not see. Moreover, they have the fortitude to endeavor to live in accord with the truths they see. That is why they are in the desert. The nature of their revelation is such that it is exercised and expanded against the flaws perceived in bodies of people.
Because it is unreceivable in front-line visible bodies, the revelation must be lived out through isolation. This doesn't make desert dwellers better than others, only different. This access to discipleship-style revelation is their own front-line and defines their calling.
The problem desert dwellers have is not their revelation. Such is their gift. Their problem rather is that they fail to recognize the limited, legal nature of their own revelation. All revelation is law, whether old or new. The difference between desert people and visible people is the age of revelation, not the quality.
Desert people live on the front edge of a certain dimension of understanding best described as "disciple-focused." Visible bodies live on the back end of the same revelation as it has had time to gel historically. Desert dwellers are spearheads while visible bodies are spear shafts. You don't see the spearhead. It's buried in the enemy! You do see the shaft as it protrudes out of the enemy.
Yet it is one spear. Whether new or old, front-line or back-line, it is all just revelation- ie word of God mediated through flesh and blood - ie, law. And there is no life in law. It doesn't matter how much you see, how accurate your vision, or how deep your revelation in context to those around you. There is still no life in it.
All revelation can do is expose what is wrong with the way things are—whether in oneself, or in others. That is what law does. Life however only comes from living relationship entered into beyond the confines of revelational understanding—relationship with God which then translates into relationship with others, others who do not share your dimension of revelation.
The Hypocrisy of Desert Dwellers
Because desert dwellers fail to see the legal nature of the revelation they have as processed through the confines of their own personality, they end up making the same errors they fault others for.
For example, they fault others for living under the law of some older revelation or one-sided revelation they perceive as false, whether a church doctrine or practice. Yet they are subject to a much more subtle law. They fail to see the veil of their own limited capacity for perception. Therefore in hypocrisy they judge others for living by a standard they themselves live by, namely: the attempt to live by humanly-processed revelation.
You see? Your own revelation about the flaws of others, as right as it may be from the Lord, is as flawed as theirs—because it all comes through human personality. Because of this, the only one anyone has the right to judge by his revelation is himself. The moment you step outside the Spirit of the Lord to evaluate anyone based on your revelation, you become a hypocrite and subject to judgment. (This is the meaning of Mt. 7:1-5 and Jms. 4:11-12.)
[NOTE: This is not to deny that God speaks forth words of judgment through human vessels. He does often. But when He does, it's because the vessel has already removed himself from the issue, recognizing God's prerogative to work the righteousness and grace beyond the revelation in the lives of those to whom the judgment is addressed—manifested through meekness and humility in the vessel. Read on.]
Life through Righteousness, Not Rightness
Then where is life to be found if not in the revelation? Life is found by making the transition from legal perception into the grace of relationship with others beyond revelational perception. True life is found through laying down the legal life behind our own revelation to enter relationship with others beyond their conformity to the standards of our revelation. Life is found only through relationship that moves beyond legal perception-based agreement to simple love for the Lord. Life is only found as relationship moves from truth to love, from judgment to mercy, from law to grace as its basis for existence.
Yet desert people have the hardest time making this transition because of the persuasiveness of the rightness of their disciple-focused revelation and their zealous commitment to its outworking. And they are right. But that is all they are. Only right.
But life is not found in being right. Rightness of perception is not righteousness. The righteousness of grace and love is only found by making the break with legally-perceived revelation to enter relationship with others through the love of Christ which transcends revelational perception, differences, and practices. If as a desert person you really believe in "dying to self," then here's a real death for you to prove it on. Allow God to submit you to relationship with others outside the confines of your revelation and those who already agree with you.
By submitting to others beyond what we believe to be right about their doctrines or practices, we pave the way for the Spirit to work His righteousness behind our revelation into their lives, in His way, in His time. God can take what is a law within you and work the righteousness of it in others through your influence—not words or actions, but “Spirit-savor." (II Cor. 2:15).
This is the meaning of Rom. 8:4, "That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." So it is with the law of your revelation. If you truly care about the Lord and all God's people, if you truly care about the church universal, then you will let God work the righteousness of your revelation into their lives by your willingness to submit to relationship with them, even submitting to practices your revelation doesn't allow you to believe in—for their sake.
No. I didn't say you must abandon, deny, or recant your revelation. Only your own attachment to its legality in true self-denial. Yes, there is a time you must separate from others in order to be faithful to what God shows you. But God will not let you stop there. He will complete the cycle of restoration by having you join again with others by a faith and love that transcends the legal rightness of what you see concerning the church.
Thus your presence becomes a vessel for salvation. But if you stop short by adhering in isolation to the legal rightness of your desert revelation—then you are as much a Jew at heart as any whose "legal rituals" or "false teachings" you may consider yourself "liberated" from.
Demonstrating My Own Submission
The reason I can talk this way is because I am in the midst of experiencing what I am describing. There is no one more solidly grounded in "desert theology" and commitment than I am. My life and writings over 10 years prove it. I was born again with that masculine prophetic desert nature. Now however, having pursued the truth of desert revelation and practice to the limits of my capacity, God has sovereignly moved to submit me to relationship again with those within the camp of visible Christianity.
But this time it is different. It is not the submission of slavery to men for which I originally fled visible church. It is an exquisite submission of grace to the Lord to relationship with others based in a love that the Lord is building, a love having nothing to do with revelational agreement.
No. I have not abandoned my desert know-how and understanding. What has been wrought in me can never be taken away. I still don't believe in church buildings, tax-exempt Christianity, church membership, nor 100 other practices or lines of thought that accompany present visible churches.
Yet despite my revelation and theirs, God is working a supernatural knitting in love that transcends both our legal natures. God is doing it this time. Not me. Not them. Not man. And I am finding great healing in it while they are discovering the blessing of another type of nature they are not used to—one that can communicate desert wisdom patiently, gradually, appropriately, and in season. There have been some rough scrapes. But it is working. And it is in the power of the Spirit of this knitting that I am coming to you now.
If you will note Jesus, you will readily agree that He was the epitome of right revelation—"the express image of God" (Heb. 1:3). If anybody knew by revelation what was wrong with people, with the church, and with Israel, it was Jesus. He saw the core sin and flaws in everyone He met, the deficiencies at the root of the practices of any Body of people.
Yet anybody who had any genuine openness of desire toward God was comfortable with Jesus—whether sinner or pharisee. His revelation of their sin didn't condemn them. The only people His presence condemned were those who stubbornly closed their hearts toward God in the name of "right revelation" (usually pharisees).
Jesus and Relationship Beyond Revelational Agreement
So I ask you? Are you truly like Jesus? (This is the stated goal of desert dwellers.) What is your attitude toward those of whatever stripe whose spirits manifest desire toward God? How does your presence make them feel? Do they feel at ease?
Or do you wear your awareness of the faults of their church beliefs and practices on the front edge of your personality, issuing condemnation just by your presence (you don't have to speak a word for people to feel helplessly condemned around you.)
If this is the case, you have a problem with your relationship to your revelation and you need to straighten it out. You are a slave to revelational legalism and it will turn back upon you to judge you at the end.
Take stock of those with whom you have to do. Are you an exclusivist? Are your relationships with others based purely on revelational agreement? You can't be like Jesus and base your relationships finally upon revelational agreement. (Jesus had nothing in common with anybody revelationally.)
Revelational agreement is important at the beginning of relationship because of our frailty. But it is only a temporary crutch. To be like Jesus, we have to constantly outgrow revelational agreement as the basis for our relating to other Christians. This is the only grace by which God's permanent building of His Church takes place.
Therefore, unless they demonstrate a stubborn, closed heart toward God, it is of God for you to move into an accepting relationship with others beyond your revelation of their spiritual deficiencies. And if you are unwilling to do this, then your bondage to your revelation is greater than whatever bondages they may have.
Closed Christian Communities
This brings me to the matter of closed Christian communities. We have to get it straight that it is possible to have revelation from God and not know God, or at least not know Him intimately and transparently. (Consider Balaam.) Thus it is possible to fellowship around revelation from God, but not have intimate relationship with one another through the knowledge of God.
Yet such fellowship is all that counts. That is why our ability to enter relationship beyond revelation is paramount. It is the proof we know God. While revelation is a tool that leads to true fellowship, possession of it is no guarantee of fellowship.
This truth highlights a weakness that exists in closed Christian communities started by desert people. Desert people criticize visible bodies because they fellowship around some "doctrine" rather than life in Christ. But the truth is that the basis for fellowship in their own closed communities is legal revelation and practice. That is why it is closed.
A closed community is defined only by adherence to revelation. If it were not so, the community would be open, admitting those who do not share in the same revelation or practices. Take away the peculiar revelation and practices and the community would cease to exist. This proves that fellowship in desert circles is just as legal and revelation-based as fellowship in visible bodies.
I write to shake desert people awake from such self-deception. No matter what we believe or practice according to our revelation, it is no guarantee that we know God or that our fellowship with one another is based in that spiritual acquaintance. This is why we must perpetually step out and defy relationship based on common revelation to reach out in openness to others outside our confines.
This alone is the demonstration that we know God and are capable of entertaining true fellowship in Him. (It is precisely for this cause that God has removed me from you now and challenged me into a higher grace and love through the relationship I enter here at [name of church withheld].)
I've gone longer than I intended (I always do.) But I want to show you what incites me to write you this way today. This afternoon I received a long distance call at the [church] from an unknown "desert flake" (for lack of a better word). A week ago, this young man came onto the grounds of the [church]—a perfect stranger—asking to sleep in the building.
The pastor and/or janitor allowed him to sleep on the grounds, but not in the building. The man also demanded food (I suppose as Elijah once did from a widow—though of different attitude). Then the man climbed onto the roof of the building to seek entrance (probably justified by the way the paralytic was let down through the roof in scripture.) ([The church] is a large complex). The janitor then felt obliged to call police who came, handcuffed the man and put him overnight in jail.
Then, in calling me (for lack of any pastoral staff to talk to), he issued forth judgment against the [church] as a man-centered, money-loving, harlot babylonian church using the arm of the flesh (ie, the police) to deal with a Christian brother suffering and in need, persecuted for his "faith."
Do you see the problem? Here is a classic case of desert discipleship gone bad. The problem was not with the man's revelation. As desert people, we understand the flaws of organized "tax-exempt" Christianity. With another spirit, there are a number of things the man said that could be taken correctly (though not receivable by a body as this.)
But what happened? At some point, the man became a slave to the law of his own desert revelation- so much so that he became demonically oppressed and then compulsed into bizarre behavior. He imposed himself on others as a total stranger with nothing to commend him but his own internal revelation gone warped.
He had no relational connection established with anyone at the [church] for commending himself, nor did he feel obliged to, nor did he care to weigh whether the people or leadership at the [church] have genuine desire toward God. To him, the fact that He had desert revelation from God was all the justification he needed to judge others with a sweeping brush and to act like a brute out of a brute-spirit.
Here is a man who never learned how to enter into relational grace with others out of the legality of desert revelation. He identified himself as part of some fringe group in Maine called "Followers of Jesus"—a group obviously formed in death around their revelation of the evils of "babylonian" Christianity.
Earlier this week I talked with two other people. One, a member here at [the church] but of desert spirit, feeling absolutely torn about going off to join with a well-known closed Christian community in Vermont. What is his motivation? Not the peace of God that comes with relational breakthrough beyond revelation. But rather his bondage to his own desert perspective with its inherent fears—the fear of "missing it," of being outside "God's true work." He hasn't learned to enter into the grace of relationship that receives others beyond their ability to conform to the image of the revelation he has from God.
The same is true of a young lady I spoke with at a Christian college this week in Massachusetts. She has been spiritually raised from a "desert heritage," affiliated with another wilderness movement of believers. Yet this college is anything but hospitable to her revelation. God led her to this comparatively worldly school against her will. She struggles with being able to relate to those of a comparatively immature Christianity.
Based on her desert perspective, she fears compromising her calling. But God is issuing her a higher call in grace. She's actually doing quite well for herself, and my visit encouraged her. But this is another example of the challenge God lays before desert people - to step into the spirituality of relationship beyond the legal spirituality of their revelation.
Then finally there is the friend who was once part of [this church] but now is out on his own with his family pursuing his desert calling in a distant place. His revelation is quite good, in fact excellent. But in his heart it has come between him and those who have been here his best friends and even financial supporters. They have not rejected him, but he has cut himself off from them internally.
In turn, he has allowed the legality of his perspective to isolate himself from various current moves of God's work in certain visible bodies. The flaw in these moves revealed to him by his desert eye makes him unable to receive the obvious good in them, causes him to paint everything with one brush, and leads him to turn away others from the good as well.
I don't know why, but all four of these scenarios came across my path this week. They impel me to write all of you, my desert people—and to warn you against the folly of the spiritual legality that desert people are prone to through their keen access to disciple-focused revelation and understanding. Remember, God's love is not based on knowledge or conformity to law. That includes revelation.
God doesn't love desert people more than others because of their revelation (which is God's gift anyway.) You cannot earn God's favor by trying to obey your revelation. You can only please God by submitting to God's grace beyond your insufficiency exposed by your revelation—a grace demonstrated through love that enters relationship with others beyond the confines of revelation.
God’s Love Beyond Revelation into a New Move
People, the time is short. God is doing something new. Part of that newness is to reconcile his work in desert people with his work in visible people (I have already written you about that.) In a prophetic way, I exhort you to prepare for such new relationship. Become prepared to lose even your desert "life" and identity to marry into something bigger in God.
But I tell you, if you are stuck on the law of any practice of revelational insight, especially if you are participating in a closed body of desert people, you will not be able to move into the new thing at hand from God nor assume the place He prepared you for by training you in the desert to start with.
Imagine, friends. What if Moses had refused to go back to Egypt after his desert years because of the evils he saw there? Where would Israel be? What if Jesus had used His perfect revelational vision of us as the reason to stay away from us instead of to die for us? Where would you and I be?
Do you get the point? There's a time to leave Egypt, and a time to go back so as to save others And I submit to you, now is the time God is calling His desert people back to the bodies on a new plane of relationship, one that will lead them out of themselves as only a desert veteran can. I challenge you therefore to the willingness to enter this higher relational grace. Don’t get stuck!
written from Merrimack, New Hampshire
First Love Ministry
- a ministry of Anglemar Fellowship
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