August/September 2014 - Vol. 75
The Seven Stones
Solid Foundations for Building and Strengthening Christian Community
by Carlos Mantica
The following article is adapted from a series of talks prepared for the City of God community in Managua, Nicaragua, a member community of the Sword of the Spirit. The talks were given by Carlos Mantica, the senior leader of the community. They explain how The City of God community went through a period of re-establishing their life as a Christian community on a more firm foundation. This was done in response to the Lord's call to them to lay a solid foundation so he could prepare them for times of greater testing and hardship, but also for a time of greater evangelism, mission, and for building Christian communities in other places as well. - ed.
Introduction A time of social and economic upheavel 
It has been our lot to live in a time when everything around us is crumbling. We witnessed how some people whom we thought were built on rock simply collapsed. I remember a friend of mine, who after the 1972 earthquake which devasted Managua, the capitol city of Nicaragua, died of sadness because he had lost serval million in currency. Although he had lost a great part of his fortune, he still had another several million left that would have been enough for him and his children to live as kings for generations to come. There are many others living around us living in anguish and despair even in the midst of their material abundance.

We have watched how some families fell apart – even though they had for several generations been a model of unity. We witnessed divisions around us – parents against children and children against parents, brother against brother. Marriages crumbled – wife against husband, husband against wife – separated by ideologies or causes that were more powerful than their love, more powerful than their children, more powerful than the sacred vows and sanctity of their Christian marriage. 

We have seen many social structures crumble – structures that – whether good or bad – made up the world we grew up in. And then we saw the collaspe of the revolution that had destroyed the previous structures and thought that its [communist led] regime would last forever.

On the global scene we have witnessed the vanishing of one of the greatest ideological empires of all ages. When the last Soviet cosmonaut entered his spaceship and circled the globe, he returned to earth to find that the Soviet Union was no more. Communism had been repudiated and the names of its leaders could no longer be pronounced.

We have also witnessed the virtual collaspe of the world's economic system – the bankruptcy of many Third World countries. For the first time in history, it was the bankruptcy of entire nations.

In the Catholic Church we saw the massive secularization of many priests who abandoned their flocks. And we have seen the abandonment of many lay leaders who were thought to be pillars of the church.

And even in our own personal lives we have seen how things which we have worked hard to build over the years simply crumble down in a single instant.

Our beginnings in building Christian Community 
When we started our community, La Cuidad de Dios (The City of God), a charismatic lay renewal community in Managua, we wanted to build something solid. And for some time we thought we had built a solid Christian community. 

Then one day the Lord gave our community a vision. It was a vision of a wall [a bulwark] which the Lord had called us to build a few years earlier. And the vision of this wall looked impressive. 

But then as the vision unfolded, we saw a torrential rain storm that fell heavily upon the wall. After the wind and rain had washed away the plaster and cement that held the wall together – what was left was a pile of barren bricks stacked on top of one another. Then the bricks themselves began to fall apart, until the wall was reduced to a heap of gravel.

Then the Lord explained to us the meaning of the vision. The wall was made of bricks, and bricks are man-made. Then we realized that the wall was supposed to be made of solid stones - not man-made bricks. He wanted the wall to be made of stones which he had made. God wanted to give us solid stones which he had made in place of man-made bricks. The bricks which we had used to build the wall were held together by cement. We understood clearly that the cement which held us together was the quality of our teaching, the joy of our picnics, the beauty of our common worship at community gatherings, the friendship among the brethren, and even the supernatural protection the Lord had given us in times of danger. All of that was really a beautiful work, but it was insufficient to sustain us in more difficult circumstances. And that was exactly what began to happen. When things got really rough, many people left the community or left the country.

We now understood that if our life together as a Christian community was to survive and grow, then all of our members would have to become living stones made by God through his Spirit. Instead of being held together by cement, these living stones had to be finely chiseled, so that they would fit very well together and stay united. Their union would be the result of the way they were formed by God into the likeness and character of Jesus Christ.

The Three Pillars

When we began the reconstruction of our Christian community, we recognized three key pillars that were an essential part of the foundation. These pillars are 

  • deep convictions [in God's truth and call]
  • firm decisions [to respond and follow God' call]
  • and solid relationships [commitment together to follow the Lord as a people].
First pillar
We needed to hold to our deepest convictions and to internalize those basic truths that are able to sustain our spiritual life both in good and difficult times. These convictions include the fundamental truth that God loves me  personally – even before I became a Christian, and he will continue to love me personally now and in the future – His love is constant and firm despite despite my sins. Another incredible truth is that God the Father has adopted us as his children through his Son, Jesus Christ. We are truly children of the King, even if we often go around in rags. Another incredible truth is that death has no power over us because God promises us everlasting life with him. These and many other truths and promises of God are what sustains us and gives us hope and life. We firmly hold and insist that it must be the Lord Jesus Christ himself who personally calls each one of us and draws us to himself through his overwhelming love and invites us to become part of his people.

Second pillar
The second pillar was firm decisions made in response to God's call. Firm decisions spring out of deep convictions; but we each need to personally choose, and to decide. I have shared on many occasions how deeply impressed I was many years ago when I went with one of my friends to a rally where a famous Protestant pastor was preaching at the stadium of Managua. The first part of the preaching was uneventful for me personally. We listened to the basic message of salvation which was well known to us. But suddenly, something happened that I had never witnessed before. After his sermon, the preacher said something extraordinary which I had never heard before in my whole life. He said, “And now, those who want to make a decision for Christ, please come forward to the front.”

In my eighteen years of school and religious studies no one had ever invited me to make a decision. I then realized that Catholics [especially those baptized as infants] may be the only people in the world who are able to spend their whole lives listening to doctrines, accumulating truths, without ever being called to make a personal decision for Jesus Christ. 

The Gospels describe the multitude who listened to Jesus as “those who believed” in what he said. But James the Apostle rightly reminds us that “even the demons believe – and shudder” (James 2:19). Judas also believed in Christ, but he never really made a decision to follow him no matter what it might cost him. We believe that in every Christian's life there ought to be a point of no return, a place where there is no possible turning back. That is, there must be clear, free, joyous and resolute decision for that truth that has been internalized as a total conviction.

Third pillar
Finally, we build our life as Christians on solid relationships. Not on nice, attractive relationships with people who amuse us, who help us, who understand or comfort us, but on solid relationships. In the world, relationships are based on interest or affinity, on mutual liking, on affections that will rarely resist the onslaught of adversity. Would your current relationships stand slander… bankruptcy… illness?

Will you, or your friends, keep your loyalty to Christ and his people when religious leaders are accused of sexual immorality and other kinds of wrongdoing? Let us foster loyalty and faithfulness in our hearts, because the winds that are blowing are able to destroy the strongest relationships.

We have seen these three pillars as important for sustaining our lives as individuals and as members living a common way of life in Christian community.We thought these three pillars were fantastic, and we embraced them fully as good and necessary for our continued growth. But one day the Lord stopped us and said, “That’s not enough.” And he ordered us to stop the construction. The reason was twofold - we lacked solid foundations and we were building on sand.

The Foundations

The Lord Jesus explained to his disciples that they needed to build their lives on a sure foundation that could sustain them in times of testing and difficulty.

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Every one who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep, and laid the foundation upon rock; and when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But he who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation; against which the stream broke, and immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” (Luke 6:46-49)
The Lord wanted us to build upon the rock, and it was then that he gave us what we now refer to as the "Seven Stones." It wasn't just a good idea that someone had as a way to improve things in our community. Rather, it all happened in a quite spectacular way. One day when we had all gathered together as a community for a common time of prayer, one of the community members stood up and began to speak out a prophetic message from the Lord. It wasn't anything he had prepared or thought about before he began to speak. But what he spoke conviced us that God had a mesage for us which he wanted us to hear through this brother who spoke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. 

We all understood that something special had taken place that night, and what the Lord had told us became from that day on our fundamental program for growth. It became something we all needed to live out before making our full commitment to the community. These would be the stones on which all of our life together as a community, and all of our behavior as disciples of Christ, were to be built.

Foundations come first
The first thing we heard the Lord say to us was that the foundations need to come before the building. These stones needed to be firmly established one upon the other before the rest was built, and once they were laid in place they ought to be covered forever, just as the foundations of a building, once laid, are never unburied again. When you have a house, and a rainfall or a flood comes, you cannot begin to dig in order to find out whether the foundations are in place, because then the water would sweep them away and the house would fall.

So it is these foundations that I will now be referring to. I warn you, these seven stones are hard. Blessed be God for their hardness, because only hardness makes solidity possible, and it is only on solid foundations that you can build something big and lasting.

1. Jesus is Lord

The first stone, on which the rest of the stones are laid, is that Jesus is the Lord. The title “Lord” is Jesus’ title par excellence. The New Testament gives him this title six hundred times. The Greek word is Kyrios, which expresses, as no other word does, the reality of Jesus Christ as the Lord over all. Kyrios means “absolute master or owner” – the one who has full rights and does what he wants with the things that belong to him. We Christians belong to Jesus Christ, and he can do with us as he pleases.

Kyrios means lord over and against a slave: someone who can exercise absolute control and demand total obedience. That is why he says, “No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). If you serve two, none of them is your real master or lord. Calling him Lord means to reckon ourselves as his own possession - slaves who obey and follow the master.

Kyrios was the title given to the Roman emperor, that is, to the highest authority the world knew of. In the case of Jesus, it is the title of him who says to us, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Finally, Kyrios is the name that the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, uses to translate the name of Yahweh. Jesus is, therefore, one with the Father, Lord of heaven and earth, of is over all things visible and invisible.

A lived-out truth
All of this has been for us a well-known truth, but not always a lived-out truth. I know for myself that my life is still far from reflecting the full lordship of Jesus Christ in all areas of my life.

But the fact is that, between this absolute reality, independent of our will, that Jesus is the Lord of all that exists, whether we like it or not. The personal reality is that if he is Lord of my life, then my entire life needs to be placed at his service. This is the fundamental way in which we relate to him as our Lord. And this is something I would like to deal with as part of this first stone.

If we are honest, when we review our personal relationship to him we will probably discover that Christ has been for us mainly or only the Savior. That is, he is the Christ who loves me, the Christ who saves me, the Christ who heals me, the Christ who protects me, the Christ who does errands for me.

And this kind of relationship to Jesus the Savior is, ultimately, a relationship in which Christ works for me. Christ is at my service – which is exactly the opposite of Christ as my Lord.

We all know that there are many Christians for whom Christ is only that – their Savior, their good-luck amulet, their helper, their comfort, their private secretary, their family doctor… and the Lord is so good that he allows himself to be used as such.

The devil's temptation
In C. S. Lewis’ book, The Screwtape Letters, there is a tremendous paragraph in which the devil who is training his nephew to become an effective tempter says to him:

We teach them not to notice the different senses of the possessive pronoun – the finely graded differences that run from “my boots” through “my dog,” “my servant,” “my wife,” “my father, “my master,” and “my country,” to “my God.” They can be taught to reduce all these senses to that of “my boots,” the “my” of ownership.
It is the same pronoun, and yet it expresses quite opposite realities. And many of us have fallen into the trap.

I have no doubt that these people love Jesus. They also love their children, and there are even some who love their car. But the truth is that, when we examine their relationship to their Lord, what we find is that Christ is essentially someone they ask for things, someone they use, someone they resort to. He is someone who is there essentially to serve them. Jesus is not their Lord, but only their Savior.

Even though our lives are not entirely at his service, there is something that has changed radically inside ourselves – the way we relate to him. There is a radical change in our attitudes, and maybe this is what he expects of you right now. For example, I am not in the City of God because I like to, or because I always like it, or because our gatherings are very joyous, or for the love I receive from my brethren, or for the growth I experience, but because Jesus is the Lord.

I do not accept his mission or his ways because I think they are always the most effective. To be honest, I often think things could go better some other way. But I do it because Jesus is the Lord.

I am not willing to fight for his cause because I think that I will live to see the victory, but because Jesus is the Lord.

We try to sow, not because we are sure we will see the fruit, or because people will be thankful or full of wonder, but because Jesus is the Lord.

In my prayer life, I do not come close to him because I think I am worthy, or because I feel good next to him, for in fact I often come to him with impurity; but because Jesus is the Lord. And then I praise him with all my strength, because he is worthy, and the power, the glory and the praise are his now and forevermore.

In fact, there is a radical difference in our way of relating to him, when we do it from the perspective that Jesus is the Lord, than the way we used to relate to him when we only regarded him as the Savior.

The full Gospel
But there is also another radical difference, which is the way we now speak his Word. We now preach the full gospel. We no longer go around softening, minimizing or sugar-frosting his message, in order to make it more palatable to people, more digestible to sensitive stomachs. Instead, we proclaim his Word.

We no longer plead with people to accept him. We do not compromise his message with things like, “Look, ma’am, the Lord is going to heal you and will give you a fast-track entrance to heaven. Your husband will become tame, and your children will get out of drugs and idleness. You’re going to feel real great, you’ll get over depression, and everybody will put up with your moods. And if this part of the Gospel is a little heavy for you, we can remove it, or make a better deal. But please, accept Christ!”

Instead of that we proclaim the glory, the power and the love of a King, at whose mere name demons tremble. He is the Lord of history, with all power over kingdoms and empires. He is the creator of heaven and earth, the one who has overcome the world.

It was only from this perspective that I was finally able to understand what fear of God means, which I did not understand before. As many of you probable have, I have often made the Lord sit on the dock, when things did not come out the way I wanted. Many other times I held him accountable because the world was not the way I wished. Many other times I wanted to make deals with him – I would offer him things in exchange for his favors. Or else I would issue an invoice for my good actions, like Job.

And, like Job, one day I felt that he replied to me “out of the whirlwind”:

Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements – surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:1-7)
I was nothing but a tiny worm questioning the sun… until one day I met him as my Lord. And that day I discovered something that has been very important to me, which is simply that Jesus does not owe me anything. I might have worked much or little for him; I may be a good person to some extent; I might or might not have done important things – no matter what, Jesus owes me nothing. He is the Lord, he is my Lord. And this Lord says to us:
Will any one of you, who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep, say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and gird yourself and serve me, till I eat and drink; and afterward you shall eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ (Luke 17:7-10)
The Lord owes me nothing, and being aware of this increases my respect and fear toward my God. I know that my life rests only on his mercy, and that he can dispose at his total right and freedom on any area of my life, because he owes me nothing.

Fully in God's hands
The beautiful part of this is that this does not lead me to anguish, but to peace, because I know I am fully in his hands. I rest fully in his mercy and his love, and I am protected by his omnipotence.

This relationship has totally simplified my life. Now I need no reasons, no arguments, no incentives. In order for me to do something, it is enough to know that he wants me to. I do not need to know, or to figure out, or to decide anything. He has already decided, and he is my Lord. And everything is quite simple this way.

Maybe we need to do some review of our relationship with him if we still practice the type of prayer I call the “vending machine prayer,” because it is like one of those machines where we put a coin on the upper part (in this case it would be a prayer) to see what object we get below. Some of our prayers have in fact a magical intent, because the specific nature of magic consists of wanting to place a supernatural force at our service, through the use of rituals or words that force it to obey us.

I don’t want to embarrass anyone. Up to this date, my life has not been fully subjected to the lordship of Jesus in all its areas. There are still many, many things that need to change. But I do find inside myself a radical change in my relationship to him. I no longer care whether something pleases me, or satisfies me, or fills me with horror. All I am concerned for is his will, which is the only important thing.

This is, then, our first stone, on which the rest of the stones are laid. If the first stone is not well laid in its right place, the others will never be secure.

2. I Am Chosen By Him

On the first stone is laid the second stone, which is not necessarily valid for all Christians, because it is in fact, “I have chosen you,” or “I am chosen by him.”

The Lord was quite clear on this: “Many are called, few are chosen.” He also says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” Probably all of us remember that fellow who came to him and said, “Lord, I will follow you wherever you go.” And the Lord replied to him, in so many words, “Well, and who has called you?”

This has at least two implications: that we have no right to go around recruiting people as if we were drafting people for the army, since not all are called; and that you cannot offer yourself as a volunteer.

There is something here I had never understood. Several years ago, while I was developing a talk similar to this one, the Lord interrupted me several times to give me mentally a scripture passage. I stopped writing and read the text, but would find nothing of interest in it. By the third time I understood clearly. The first paragraph of the passage ended like this: “And from that moment on, many believed in him.” And the next paragraph started like this: “Then the Lord said to his disciples…”

I then understood something that, to a certain extent, changed the lives of many of us: that there is the “company of the believers” to which all men are called to belong, because the Lord wants all men to believe in him and be saved; but there is also the small group of his disciples, those chosen by him.

The mistake of many has been to think that these make up two different categories of Christians – first class and second class Christians. And it is not so. We the disciples are simply people who are at the service of the believers, and even of non-believers, so that they will one day come to know Christ.

This is like a father who has two children. He loves the two of them exactly the same, and makes both of them heirs to his estate. But, just because he wants, he chooses one of them to manage the property, and the son, out love, accepts. He is not any better than his brother. He has simply been chosen by his Father to carry out a work on the benefit of the other brothers and sisters. He is not more or better than them, even though he is supposed to do some things that the others are not supposed to do.

A particular call and mission 
We believe that the Lord has given our community a particular call and mission. Our motto is "a community of disciples on mission." We have heard the Lord call us together as a  [voluntary intentional] community of disciples. We do not believe that the particular call and way of life that the Lord has given to our community is for everyone. That is why we insist that each individual who wants to join our community must have a firm conviction that God is calling him or her to this community and its mission. A person cannot be a member if he or she does not have this firm conviction. 

Several years ago our community received a prophecy in which the Lord told us,

My children, I love you, and because I love you I want to make all of you into men and women who are able to detach from everything that prevents you from carrying out my great plan to extend my kingdom. Those of you who do not feel able to forsake everything, please move away from this plan, because you are an obstacle that prevents me from making this remnant into my people, a banner and a light for those who would seek me in the difficult times that are coming. If you do not stay here, I will not love you any less. You will continue to be loved by me, I will care for you, I will firmly keep my promises, because I am faithful. But do not become an obstacle for your brothers and sisters.
In a different prophecy, addressed to the wider Charismatic Renewal at an international gathering, the Lord said:
My beloved people, listen to my word, and only to my word, so you can serve me the way I’m asking you to. In order to persevere in my service, you must be willing to give up everything. My plan cannot be carried out with a mixture of your desires and my word, with a synthesis between the world’s philosophies and my words. This means that the youth must be willing to waive their right to choose their own lives, and the adults must give over to me the life they have forged over many years. This I demand so that you can listen to my word and serve me. If you are not willing to give up everything, then, as your loving Father, I implore you to withdraw from the people I am gathering. Your brothers and sisters will continue to love you. I will not love you any less. But I am gathering and consolidating a people that is totally committed to my purpose. If you want to stay but find it difficult, your brothers will offer support. If you seek me, I will change your hearts so that you can commit yourselves the way I am asking you to. Those who forsake everything for me will have a more abundant life.
The Lord is choosing and gathering many people around the world to be at his service, especially for evangelism and mission. He says, “O that today you would hearken to his voice! Harden not your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. For forty years I loathed that generation…” (Psalm 95:7-10). I am quoting this Psalm because in fact many of us have seen his work, and we will yet see greater works.

This is perhaps the most important stone to cover, once it has been laid into place.

If any one of you has been chosen by him, he will know it beyond doubt, because the Lord speaks clearly to those he marks for himself. What not everyone does is to internalize this call and turn it into a conviction, to bury it deeply in his heart in order not to uncover it anymore. 

The Lord had to do wild things in order to persuade me that he had chosen me. I still remember the day when, on the notebook I used for writing the Lord’s guidance to me, I humbly wrote: “Forgive me, Lord, I will never ask again.”

It is important to cover this stone, once we have discerned with conviction and decided with firmness that we have been chosen by the Lord. Because when the storm comes, that is, when troubles arrive, maybe even persecution, if anyone then wonders whether all that is true or not, then the world, the flesh and the devil will say no, and he will flee as many others have.

Not my will, but your will be done
We have always said that, even though the victory of Jesus was won on the Cross, the decisive battle took place at Gethsemane, because it was there that the Lord buried the stone of having been chosen by his Father for redeeming the world. Even against his will, he accepted the cup the Father was inviting him to drink of. “Not my will, but  your will be done.”

With the decision come peace and strength. That is why he who had first transpired blood in the struggle for deciding now faces the soldiers with an incredible serenity and majesty. A small miracle for Herod would have been enough to skip the Cross. A little human prudence would have been enough to get around Pilate. But Jesus had already asked for the Father’s will, and when he obtained the answer, he buried it in his heart and covered it forever.

I am not referring to actions of cowardice, as Peter’s, to which we all are subject. I am referring to sincere doubt or confusion. When tribulation comes, things cannot be seen clearly. We must see them beforehand.

Preparation is decisive
In times of war, the time of preparation is decisive. Wars are won before they break out. Someone who has not faced these questions beforehand can be sure that, when bullets start hitting, when they ask themselves whether Jesus is their Lord and has chosen them, will no doubt come to the certain conclusion that the chosen one is someone else, and that they belong to the holy group of the company of believers.

And, like them, we will cry out (and please, do not hesitate to do so): “Save me, Lord!” – because he has also been and will continue to be only that: your Savior. He may look at you with sadness, as he did to the rich young man, but not with contempt. Scripture says he looked at him with love. He will do the same with you.

We must get used to the fact that we must bury our convictions if we want them to become foundations for our lives. It is not something you can do in just one moment or one day, and we would not advise so. But sooner or later, every Christian has to make a choice, a decision. He will have do decide whether Christ Jesus is his Lord and has chosen him.

3. Yes, I’m Willing

Then comes the third stone, the one only you can lay. This stone is, "Yes, I’m willing." What the Lord expects of us at this point is not essentially to believe God, to believe that the Lord has chosen us, which was the preceding stone, but to respond positively to God.

We said earlier that every step, every decision, needs to be the result of a conviction and of a perfectly free action. I would repeat that now. We do not intend in any way to ask people to make an immediate response to the Lord's call, but to rather reflect deeply before making such a decision.

But it is necessary to support your life with firm decisions, emerging from deep convictions. It is necessary to be firmly anchored so we will not be swept away by the emotions or by “any wind of doctrine”.

Therefore, it is not acceptable to spend your life without making a decision. It is not honest for a Christian to take refuge in indecision for his or her whole life, and thus continue to think on how much he loves God, even though he does not listen to his voice or hear his call.

If someone, with sincerity, says “I’m not willing,” or simply “This is not for me,” we will not love him or her any less as they move on to something else in their life. We will encourage them to not to move away from righteous living or from faith, nor from the church and the sacraments.

In addition to those who are willing and to those who are not willing to follow this particular call, there is the group of those who simply do not know what the Lord wants for them. These we invite to continue seeking to deepen their understanding and conviction for what God wants for them. And this takes us to the next stone.

4. The Cross

Let us now see what the Lord promises to those who respond, “I am willing,” to those who have the certainty that the Lord has chosen them to be his disciples and are willing to follow him. There is only one thing that is guaranteed in writing – the cross. “If anyone would be my disciple, let him take up his cross and follow me.”

It is true that the Lord promised his apostles that whoever left his father and his mother for his sake would receive a hundredfold here on earth, and glory in heaven; and he added that they should rejoice because their names were written on the book of life.

That is true. But it is also true that we have one thing guaranteed in writing, which is the cross. We would be very happy to be able to tell you something different. We would like to sugar-frost the gospel for you to swallow it with pleasure. We would like to promise you a lot of different things, as many others do, while leaving the cross outside the picture. And there is nothing wrong in promising things, because the Lord also made unbelievable promises. But the fact is that he also promised the cross. If any man would be his disciple, let him take up his cross.

Of course there are other ways to soften the gospel, such as saying that your cross is to bear with your mother-in-law, or put up with your wife’s nagging. But in fact that’s just the commandment of love, which commands you to love them as God does, who puts up with you.

The cross is quite a different thing. And those who were listening to Christ understood it clearly. For every Jew of Jesus’ time, the cross only meant one thing – death.

Dying to self
Being a disciple involves dying to your own self. For some this can be physical, actual death through martyrdom; but for all it will always mean dying to ourselves. It means you will never be the same again. Like Paul, it means to die so that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” It means that you will no longer be able to do anything except what he desires. No being is more defenseless, more useless than a dead person.

This means depending on him and receiving everything from him. It means to be carried around like a corpse in its coffin. Jesus tells this clearly to Peter:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.” (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:18-19)
The cross means being tied and nailed to Christ unto death. It means to share the same fate of Jesus:
A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you… But all this they will do to you on my account… (John 15:20-21)
It means being exhibited and humiliated as he was; being lifted up as the scorn of the crowd. This goes from the small humiliation of being ridiculed for his sake, crucifying our human areas, to the open mockery of the old buddy who mocks at you because you have ceased to be a buffoon, or the millionaire friend who, with his laughter and his money, keeps telling you, “Come down from that cross, don’t be a fool.” 

However, the quintessence of the cross is not suffering itself. The quintessence of the cross lies in doing the will of the Father. The cross was nothing but the concrete will of the Father for his Son. Jesus’ merit did not consist of suffering, but of being willing to give up life itself in obedience to the Father.

The Lord was so polite with me that he wanted to make this quite clear to me from the very beginning. That memorable evening in the town of Diriamba, Nicaragua, when we were baptized in the Spirit, the Lord decided that, when hands were laid on me, my arms would begin to levitate. I knew well it was not I who was lifting them up. It was a gentle force that raised them, and at a given moment that same force threw my arms back with violence, until I was left in a very uncomfortable position – that of a crucified man.

Since I am so daring, I told the Lord: “If what you mean is that the cross awaits me, I accept it.” Then the Lord taught me a lesson which I am sharing with you today: I felt a force that impelled me to kneel down. It was so strong that I was forced to bow my knees. But I resisted for social reasons. I did not dare to fall on my knees out of respect for my brothers. I was pushed down for a second time, and once again I refused.

At that point the prayer was over, and then I realized what had happened. The cross the Lord was offering me was to do his will, and I had failed just a few seconds after I had said that I was willing to die for his sake. I was terribly ashamed and full of sorrow. Thank God, a while later, when the mass [Catholic liturgy] was celebrated, the text of the first reading was that paragraph of St. Paul’s where it says, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” Since then, I have known that it is only through his own power that I will be able to carry his cross and do his will.

At this time I would like to be able to share with you a lot of terrible sufferings for Christ’s sake. But actually, what we have received from him is nothing but joy. In fact, even in the difficult things he has asked, and which were really hard for our “old man,” became easier and more joyous to the extent that we would die to ourselves so that he would live. That’s what all things are like when they are done out of love. And it is because of that, not for masochism, that, thirty years later, we continue and will continue to do whatever he desires, full of joy and peace.

One thing is true, and it is that this stone can only be placed in its position if the three preceding ones are already well buried. If Jesus is the Lord and I have been chosen by him, and if I have accepted and said Yes to his will, then I can see no problem. And this takes us to the fifth stone.

5. The Mission

The fifth stone is connected to the question: “For what purpose?” What has the Lord called me for, what has he chosen me for?

In the world, this is the first thing we ask when someone calls us. “First tell me what for, and then I’ll tell you if I accept.” The Lord, however, has a very serious defect, a very disgusting one, and it is that he always says, “First say yes, and then I’ll tell you what for.” From the very beginning, he wants to make very clear that he is the Lord – he is the one who makes the decisions and gives orders.

This is because, ultimately, if he calls you to be his disciple, he is calling you to do whatever he wishes. “Matthew, come.” And Matthew, immediately, “rose and followed him.” There are no questions. No questions.

“Teacher, where do you live?,” John asked. “Come and see,” replied the Lord. You shouldn’t go around asking silly questions. This is his style. But one thing is certain, and it is that the Lord does not just call us because he wishes, which is nice in itself, but he calls us with a purpose, because he has a mission for us to carry out.

The Lord has not chosen us simply in order for us to be “nice people” or for us to go to heaven some day, or to do the good things the world suggests us. He has called us rather to carry out some area of his own mission, and that is why this mission is almost always one aspect or one area of the universal mission of the Church, which, ultimately, is nothing less than the expansion of the Kingdom of God here on earth.

Throughout history, the Lord has raised in his Church movements, associations or simply groups of people to whom he has entrusted a particular mission. To each of them he gives a concrete aim, and with it certain charisms and a spirituality, or a mystique that makes it different from the rest, and which we must respect, as all of them come from God and have enriched the Church in extraordinary ways. Many others have helped to revitalize or renew the Church itself.

That is why it is so important for us to be able to discern God’s purpose for us, as individuals and as a group of people. We will never carry out his will unless we know it or are faithful to it. Even more terrible is for us to want to use the things of God for our own glory or benefit, or to further our own causes. This would mean to use God as our instrument, when he has called us in order for us to be his instruments. We thus come across many Christians with no vocation, which is absurd, or with organizations that work only to engross themselves, which is ridiculous.

Our association of Christian communities has a particular mission to carry out. The Lord has called us from among the nations in order to be a people for him, completely consecrated to his service, and in many ways different from all others, that would become a bulwark for his Church and for the world, a sign standing in the midst of the nations.

Our community has found its raison d’être in the mission it is supposed to carry out. We exist in order to carry out that mission, and we know it. This means that if we do not struggle to carry it out, it would only be reasonable to dissolve the community instead of wasting our time, no matter how beautiful its life may seem to us. And if I say this, it is because I think this is true for all things in the Church and for the Church itself. We exist for a purpose, and if we do not strive to carry it out, then we have no reason to exist.

But this also means something even more important, namely, that if the Lord chose us for something, what we are carrying out is his work, not ours, and that is why he is the one who is most invested in it. He is the most committed one. It is he who has to invest everything to make it a reality.

This then leads us to the following stone.

6. His Covenant

I believe that if someone has a sense of mission, but lacks a sense of covenant, he will be an easy prey to discouragement or despair.

The Lord has made a covenant with his people. The bottom line of this covenant is, “If you are entirely mine, I will be all for you, and you will receive all things from me.” That is what I call a transaction between nothingness and the infinite, between man’s powerlessness and God’s omnipotence.

In its core, this is nothing but the continuation of his first covenant:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:4)
In the chapters that follow in Deuteronomy, the Lord spells out for his people all that they can expect from him in exchange for this full obedience. And what they can expect is absolutely everything, as our Lord reminds us in the Sermon on the Mount, when he recalls the lilies of the field and the birds of the air which God clothes and feeds.

And this is the first commandment of God’s law. Contrary to the Jewish people, we are so stupid that we settle for just an awareness of the commandment, while forgetting that through that commandment God was establishing a covenant with his people.

In Scripture, God compares us to three kinds of people, apparently opposed to each other: a son, a soldier, and a slave. These persons have nothing in common, but one thing: that the son need not worry how to buy the books for school, or the slave what he will eat this evening, or the soldier how he will buy his weapon. The three of them receive everything from their father, their master, their chief… and these three things is what our God and Lord is for us. And in exchange for that, they only owe one thing – obedience.

From early on, the Lord wanted to instill very deeply on us this sense of covenant. He judged this so important that he often would not grant us anything unless we appealed to his covenant with us. Together with that, he never waited to respond when, with a view to his mission, we claimed his total support and divine intervention for us to move forward. We could spend several hours witnessing to his faithfulness to the covenant.

When the war came, he told us quite clearly that we ought to trust in his covenant to such an extent, that we could forget completely about our personal safety so we could be free to go and serve others. The physical, psychological and spiritual protection we then received was just incredible.

This is another stone we need to bury deeply and cover with ground. If, when the time comes for us to act in his mission, we do not have beforehand the total certainty that the Lord of faithfulness will be with us, we will hesitate and will then be rendered ineffective.

7. His Power

It is from his covenant that we derive the last stone: his power.

This stone is laid on top of the others and is a consequence of them. It emerges from the lordship of Christ, to whom all power has been given in heaven and on earth. This power has been promised to his disciples: “[You] will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will [you] do” (John 14:12). “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20). This power is necessary in order to carry his cross, to carry out his mission, which is so far above our strength. And it is a consequence of his covenant, in which the very omnipotence of the Omnipotent God is committed with his people.

Let me repeat – our mission is far beyond our strength, and without God’s power we have no chance to accomplish it. The Lord has already said it, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). 

Here it would be fit to clarify what power I am referring to. The first thing that must be clear is that we are not referring to a power that is of us, but in us, and able to act through us. Of course, I am referring to the power of his Spirit in us, which is the very dynamis of God.

We need this power, and the Lord has sent it to us, for several different things:

1. First of all, we need it in order to live according to his law. If the only thing Christ came to do was to bring a better law than the preceding one, then we are at a worse place now than before. Because, if we could not fulfill the former law – which, by the way, nobody has abolished – much less will we be able to live according to his Beatitudes.

But, thank God, the Lord did not come for that purpose, but in order to write his law in our hearts, according to his New Covenant, and to give us the power for us to fulfill it through the Spirit of God that has been poured out on our hearts.

2. We need his power in order to be like him, to think, to feel, to want and to love like the only-begotten Son of God. And this is the work and the fruit of the Spirit who, from one degree of glory to another, shapes us according to Christ in order to give us his own character.

3. It is also the power of prayer, which is the way to involve God’s omnipotence in the lives of men and even in the destiny of the peoples and in the events of history. It is to verify that God did not make the world as one would manufacture a clock and wind it, and then let it run until the end of the story. Christ is, instead, the Lord of history, and the leaf of a tree will not move or a hair from our head will not fall without his consent.

4. It is also his power or authority over the devil. It is an authority the Lord gave his disciples, because he came to undo the work of Satan. We are to carry on his work, and we have seen our authority confirmed a thousand times in delivering people from the devil’s claws.

5. It is an openness to all the gifts of the Spirit, the gifts that the Lord is now pouring out on his people, in an unprecedented outpouring in the history of his Church: power to heal the sick, word of knowledge, tongues, prophecy, wisdom, discernment, miracles, etc. These are gifts the Lord is giving because he knows we will need them, because the Lord does not send anything without a reason, and because spiritual weapons are needed for a war that we know is spiritual, since our warfare is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers in high places.

6. And finally, power includes our openness to “do the same works as he did, and even greater,” according to his promise – the openness, say, to raise the dead, while we learn to move mountains.

We do not make these things into absolutes, we just use them. In our community we do not talk much about charisms. We just exercise them, and week after week there are testimonies of the signs and wonders that the Lord does in us or through us. These are the signs of the Kingdom, the visible proof that the Kingdom of God is in our midst, because the King is also within us and among us.

We do not make charisms into absolutes, but we have a total openness to his power. We even say that, to receive God’s power, you should not just show the Lord a thimble (because then that’s all the Lord is going to fill with his power), but a large gourd that he will fill with his power. We would even like to come to him with the tank trucks used for carrying gasoline, to get a real big amount of power from him.

Now there’s something I want you to meditate on. A thimble, a gourd or a tank truck are all equally full. At every step we feel equally full of God. It is not, therefore, for our own well-being or benefit. But there is no doubt that, with a tank truck, the Lord can give more to the other people than with a thimble, no matter how full of his power it is. Let us not minimize the work of God. Let us allow him to act, simply being open to let him do whatever he wishes with us and, through us, with all people.

In the 25 years that have elapsed since being baptized in the Spirit, we have been witnesses, and often actors, of the many signs that go together with the ministry of preaching. The deaf hear, the blind see, the dead come back to life, and the poor hear the good news. This was the sign Jesus gave to John the Baptist that the Kingdom of God had come. And it is also the sign we give today to all Christians when we preach the Good News to them.

I can’t think of even one sign of power that we have not witnessed in Nicaragua. Surely the Lord must be foreseeing something quite great and terrible, if he deems it so important to pour out so much power in the midst of a people that, despite the signs, continues to be hard-headed and slow-hearted.

Brothers and sisters, these are the seven stones on which the Lord wanted to build our life. I had told you they were hard, but that something great and solid could be built on top of them. Our three pillars continue to be based on them: deep convictions, firm decisions, solid relationships.

The only thing left to put in place is a vital element, that which engineers call “seismic beam,” which serves to tie the foundations and the pillars together. And this beam is the life of union with God through prayer.

In fact, in prayer the lordship of Christ becomes experiential, as we allow him to take the reins of our lives. His call becomes audible. The decision to follow him becomes joyous. The mission and call are gradually revealed to us, and we are then guided and led by him. The covenant is confirmed with facts, and we are gradually filled with his power as we are, once and again, filled with his Spirit.

It is a pity that this is just a talk. For us it was, and continues to be, our major program for life and growth. Many will think that this is too demanding on God’s part. For us it was something he gave us as a great gift. That is why we are aware that we have been built on a rock.

If our lives, our families, or our community threaten to crumble down at some point, then let us listen again to the voice of the Lord, who continues to repeat: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46).

Praise the Lord!

See related articles by Chale Mantica > What is the Kingdom of God?

This article is adapted from the book, From Egghood to Birdhood (hatch or rot as a Christian), (c) copyright 2001 Carlos Mantica. Used with permission.

Carlos Mantica is a founder of The City of God community (La Cuidad de Dios) in Managua, Nicaragua, and a founding leader of the Sword of the Spirit. He served as president of the Sword of the Spirit between 1991 and 1995. 

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