Saturday, March 25, 2017

Christian snobbery and perfect credentials


“Oh, so you’re a part of this church? You know pastor so-and-so? You attended the conference for ministry and evangelism sponsored by that group? You attended that seminary? Then you must be a real Christian.” We don’t like to admit that we carry little mental checklists for who is “good enough” to be considered a real Christian and who isn’t, and it’s usually based on superficial labels and not on faith at all.

In countries where Christianity is well established, the ugly side is religiosity and pride. It manifests in a desire to judge, condemn and ostracize anyone who doesn’t appear to fit the norms of the ruling culture. The Bible has clear requirements to discern what is true salvation, and who belongs to the true Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of course we need to be wise to stand against the lies of cults. But in church social gatherings, few Christians take the time to “test the spirits.” Instead, they’d rather use that list of labels and “who-knows-whos.” If people don’t fit the list, they are usually ignored, gossiped about and socially rejected within the church. Those who do fit the checklist are proudly displayed, given positions of responsibility and spiritual authority in churches. And some of these well-qualified leaders with perfect credentials have also been the cause of infighting, ugly power struggles and church divisions. The checklists are basically meaningless.

But on the other hand, how many people did God choose to represent Him who didn’t match the perfect checklist of their culture or religious climate of their time? God saw the purity of their faith and the motives of their hearts and said, “Yes, these are My children.” Moses, Joseph, Ruth, Gideon, David, John the Baptist, the twelve disciples, even Jesus Himself were outcasts or rejects in some form or other. They were eyed suspiciously, but God didn’t care. In fact, it seems that God often chooses those that don’t have the perfect resume to be used for His glory. He chooses those who are even offensive to the religious powers-that-be.

We need to be careful not to snub anyone who reaches out to us because of a label or rumors we’ve heard. The Holy Spirit gives us discernment as we see others with the eyes of compassion, no matter what has been said about them. Are they from a troubled background and need help to find God? Is their bitterness against God just a mask to hide deeper pain? Is their zeal for a certain religion a sign that they are searching for the truth and haven’t found it yet? Or maybe we’ve totally misinterpreted who they are because we’ve labeled them out of our own ignorance. Maybe God wants to teach us something through them. Neither should we feel offended if religious people snub us. If they slandered Jesus, why should we deserve better treatment? A natural consequence of being a true believer is to be misunderstood by false (or weak) ones, and God expects us to deal with it in grace and forgiveness.

If I am certain of my salvation, why should I be afraid to speak to anyone else? Why would I be intimidated by an atheist, a Satanist, a cult member or a false Christian? If I know the truth, then no one can steal it from me, and perhaps my assurance of faith can even help someone else find salvation. And if they dislike me or pressure me to change? No problem. It’s a positive challenge to show the love of God to them while also speaking the truth boldly, in the faith that the seed I plant would eventually bear fruit. And if you think I’m being deceived by false doctrines, don’t gossip about me to others without knowing the truth, and please don’t run – try to save me! Maybe you’ll discover that your preconceived ideas about my faith were totally wrong.


Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and is already in the world. You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world, and therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them.  We are of God, and whoever knows God listens to us. Whoever is not of God does not listen to us. This is how we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.  1 John 4:1-6, MEV

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Why I do what I do


Their booming voices would raise the roof at the Mponela Bible School in central Malawi. Dad was training men, young and old, to become pastors of that tiny African nation sandwiched between Rhodesia and Mozambique in the 1960s, and they were so full of zeal that they would sing all night long. Dad’s missionary work kept him at the school for weeks at a time, leaving Mom to deal with us four kids in a land where the largest city had only one traffic light. It was tough, but we would never have traded those 12 years for anything.

I was an American, a foreigner, a stranger to that culture and country – but I was completely at home. Sacrifice for the gospel was our daily life. Though my parents felt the pain of it more than my siblings or I, it was clear that sacrificing one’s life for God was not an option. It’s what real Christians do. And in that limitless joy of the young Bible students and in the village churches made of mud and straw, it was easy to see how sacrifice brought new life. Sacrifice resulted in joy. 

Then the tide changed and we were suddenly back in the US. The wealthy churches in Texas that had supported Dad’s missionary work were stranger to me than I had been to the Africans. It wasn’t just culture shock, it was a shock to our spirit. Instead of raw faith, joy and gratitude for God’s amazing love, it was luxury cars, expensive homes, social status, back biting and church politics. The few Christians who were sincere were hard to find. 

But Dad and Mom were determined to never let the fire of faith die. They accepted the call to spread the gospel among immigrants in New York City, teaching English with the Living Bible as a textbook. Dad led a church in a rundown corner of the Bowery District in the lower eastside of Manhattan in the 70s, holding services where drunks, beggars and conmen considered churches as soft spots for handouts. Once, after a long day of helping other people, Dad was given a black eye from a beggar who refused to take no for an answer. But Mom and Dad stayed, they served, they cared for the lost, they changed lives, and I watched and admired their every move.

I wanted to serve too, but becoming a traditional pastor, majoring in Bible and Psychology to be ordained in a church as dry and unspiritual as the American churches I’d known, was something I just couldn’t bear. I dropped out of a Christian college in Texas to seek another path. Where were the Christians with the same quality of faith that I saw in Mom and Dad? Why did no one value the joy that comes from sacrifice? 

The answer came years later in such an upside-down manner, that only God could have orchestrated it. With my newly earned degree of Doctor of Chiropractic, all set to open my practice in New Jersey, I was called to give it up and go into the ministry. I did. I left it all to serve in a church that was completely unknown in the United States, but had impacted the lives of hundreds of thousands in Brazil and South America. I learned Portuguese, I submitted to the church leadership of a totally different culture. I learned spiritual warfare, to confront witchcraft, to heal the sick, to cast out demons, to preach a radical faith, and to fight against the forces of hell to save souls. I witnessed the healing of my wife’s blindness, the raising of my infant son from the dead, and the transformation of thousands of lives that no one could deny were from God. Not only had I found sincere Christians, I had found the First Century church active and alive, and the God of the Bible revealing Himself in my everyday life the more I surrendered to Him. 

This has been my life since 1987, in both North and South America, in Africa, Europe and Asia, planting churches, preaching, teaching, counseling, healing and learning more each day about the joy that comes from sacrifice. Funny thing is that it was Dad and Mom who led the way for me as they gave up 30 years of ministry in their old denomination to serve in this new church. Again, they were my examples as they left behind the comfort of their home and family to go back to Africa decades later. Mom was buried on the mission field in Bloemfontein, South Africa in 1995, and today, well into his 80s, Dad reaches out to prisoners and ex-cons in his home state – giving demons black eyes instead. I have seen firsthand that yes, sacrificing for the gospel is what Christians do, and from it springs miracles, healing, deliverance, salvation and pure joy. There’s no other option.

“For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”  Matthew 16:25  

Sunday, February 19, 2017

All the Information You Need


As we’ve been preparing for our move to Korea, we’ve been praying for open minds to absorb all we can. I’ve always been amazed at how children are able to pick up new languages so easily, while adults struggle and strain to say just a few phrases. As Jesus says, the Kingdom of Heaven is given to those who are like little children with open minds and open hearts, humble and eager to learn what they’re taught.  

I recently watched a lecture on learning new languages, and a line that the speaker said really stood out: Be tolerant of ambiguity. 

He was referring to language learners who are picky about every detail of why a word is used, how exactly the grammar works and why there’s no perfect translation for that word. Those people learn the slowest, and often just give up in frustration, believing that either they aren’t smart enough, or the language is too tough. But the flexible ones who don’t demand explanations for everything, who just keep listening, learning, observing, imitating and believing that sooner or later they’ll get it – they’re the ones who learn on a deeper, more instinctive level. They’re not afraid to feel a bit lost and confused because they are certain that eventually it will all make sense. They’re the ones who don’t mind fumbling and bumbling along and sounding funny, because they know it’s all part of the process, and they even laugh at themselves as well, which actually helps them learn from their mistakes. Do you see the spiritual corollary here?

Jesus’ only words to Jairus were, “don’t be afraid, just believe,” when the devastating news of his little daughter’s death came to him. “Leave your father’s household and go to a country that I will show you,” God simply told Abram out of the blue. “Why are you crying out to me, Moses? Stretch out your hand over the water,” God said as Moses and several million Hebrews were trapped between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army. If God had been speaking to closed-minded men, they would have been full of questions, exasperating questions. “What? How can you say that? Don’t you see what’s going on? Listen God, I need some explanations here...”  

But whoever has a living and active faith focuses on what they do know, and don’t waste time on what they don’t know. If God calls you to sacrifice a job, a friend, a hobby, a habit, a fear – He will provide all you need to make it happen, and then reward you beyond your dreams. Exactly how, when, and where He’ll provide is not always our business to know. Sometimes we only find out these details right before they happen or even as they’re happening! If that means we have to bumble along, laugh at ourselves, wait and do our best with the little that we know, then that’s what He expects of us , and that’s what pleases Him.  Remember, great trials of faith don’t always come in heroic life-or-death moments. They often come in those awkward ambiguous phases. But like children, that’s when we learn the most.   

Maybe you’ve known for a while that God has been calling you to do something, change something, sacrifice something, reach out to someone, or just simply act in faith. Maybe you’ve been resisting because you want all the details charted out for you in advance. So focus on what you do know – He wants you to do it. You also know that His eyes range back and forth throughout the world to strengthen those who are fully devoted to Him. You can’t use the excuse that it’s too hard, because He’s promised to come to your aid. That’s all the information you need. Those truths outweigh all the uncertainties. So, go ahead, act on it. Tolerate the ambiguities, and watch how much easier blessings come your way as you do.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, yes, who is risen, who is also at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.  Romans 8:31-34 MEV

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

How to Look Directly into the Sun


CS Lewis wrote an essay I like called, “Meditations in a Toolshed.” Here’s a quote:

I was standing today in the dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with the specks of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it.  

Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, 90 odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences.


Knowing God is like standing in that beam of light, totally immersed in the life-giving energy of the sun, where everything is made clear and bright. But many people aren’t inside that light, but only observe it from a distance. For them, God appears as a narrow shaft of dusty light while everything else remains dark and gloomy. It’s the perfect description of many Christians. Maybe at one point they stood in God’s light out of a simple need for Him – a humility to surrender, a sacrifice of their desires, a trust. And what they found was His amazing life-giving power. But now, they’ve stepped aside. God doesn’t force His light on anyone – we’re perfectly free to step back into the gloom if we choose. It’s less effort and requires little trust, but then we become disconnected from that life-source.  

So what do you have to do to stay in that light? Some time ago a man shared with me his struggle with shame and anger at the injustice of being falsely accused by coworkers. He had proof to argue his case, but he would hurt others in the process. He was trying to do the right thing by simply enduring the frustration, but a nagging feeling told him that God didn’t even care. At that moment, he was looking at the beam of light from the outside and feeling very dark inside. 

So I challenged him to go against his natural inclination. To embrace the situation he was in, not to resist it.  “Be logical.  Fact 1: God is just, isn’t He?  So choose to be totally at peace that He is fighting to defend you and stop thinking like a victim.  Fact 2: Give, and it will be given unto you, right? So give your best on your job, give kindness even to those who’ve mistreated you, give shamelessly, freely and with determination, because that will break the power of the devil on your job. Don’t worry about how people will react – just give, and give with a smile!”
  
He was crazy enough to actually do it! The first day was hard, but it got easier as the days went by. He was battling against his flesh, but also destroying the spirits of lies and greed in his workplace. The more he disciplined his emotions to behave in kindness and goodness in the face of injustice, the brighter God’s light shone on him. His was both in God’s light, and shining God’s light. As the sun can give and give and never run out, that’s how he chose to live each day. Before he knew it, evil couldn’t torment him anymore. The situation was still the same, but he was happy, energetic and full of peace. He could focus and work better than anyone in his office. A few weeks later, the entire case against him unraveled and he was trusted with a better position that he hadn’t even asked for.   

Our bodies, souls and spirits were made to look directly into God’s light, just like Adam and Eve. We become unhealthy when we aren’t looking straight into His presence, where the entire world around us is bright and glorious, and beauty and power is evident in every situation. Even unpleasant times become supernaturally illuminated. Even moments of dullness, shame, weariness, anger, grief, pain, loss, frustration and all other negative experiences can have that same light blast it all away. Choose to fearlessly live out God’s character this week, to be bathed in His light, to see everything clearly, and become completely untouchable to the devil. 


For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give favor and glory, for no good thing will He withhold from the one who walks uprightly.  O Lord of Hosts, blessed is the man who trusts in You. Psalm 84:11-12, MEV

Monday, January 30, 2017

Disciples who disappoint


When you’re concerned about a person’s soul and want to see them free and full of the presence of God, your mind’s eye frequently creates a picture of this. You’re able to identify what they’re doing wrong, remember your own experiences and are convinced that you can help them avoid the pitfalls that you had to struggle through. If they’d only listen, they’ll be just fine. But as much as we may try to micromanage someone else’s journey of faith, the fact is, it’s God who saves, and it is they who have to choose the right path.  

When Paul was in prison and close to the end of his life, he remembered a few of his disciples that had abandoned and even betrayed him. Though the power of the Holy Spirit was at work in Paul, and there was plenty of miraculous evidence of God’s presence guiding him, he was unable to keep these men on the path to salvation. He had to accept the fact that they had made their choice to serve the world, and he had to keep on going.  

But there was one young man who Paul did ask for in that passage of 2 Timothy, John Mark (or just Mark). John Mark’s story begins in the book of Acts when Paul reacts in anger because young Mark had given up and gone home on their first missionary journey. Later, when Mark decided he wanted to join Paul and Barnabas again, Paul had some sharp words for him and refused. Paul felt that he was a failed disciple, but God had other plans. Even though angry words caused Barnabas, Paul’s faithful friend during terrible persecution, to side with Mark and split off from Paul, Mark was not a lost cause. Over the years, Mark matured and turned into one of the founders of the early church. This is the same Mark who wrote our second Gospel in the New Testament. And at the end of his life, Paul writes to Timothy asking, “Get Mark, and bring him with you, for he is profitable to me for the ministry.”

We never know the future of the people we’re reaching out to. There are too many unknown factors. Will they persevere? Will they listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit? Will they allow God to work freely in them? And yet, none of that is our responsibility. We can only help to lead them to God to the best of our ability, and then trust that whoever responds to His call will be kept on the right path. Paul may have thought that Mark was a lost cause, but he wasn’t. Paul may have thought that other companions, who eventually turned against the gospel, would stick by him for life – but he was wrong. (At least as far as we know, maybe they repented in the end too!)

Our zeal for evangelism and disciple-making should never fade, especially with disappointments or detours. Perhaps you’ve given all you had to save a soul who seemed so promising, but they gave up on God. Don’t be discouraged, because it isn’t you who saves anyone – it’s God. Just as each of us have had to go through our own struggles and bumps in the road to get to where we are now, God sees the big picture. It may take a few years of “kicking against the goads” before they start to trust in Him again, depending on their state of humility. But as long as we pray for them in faith, He’ll make sure that every pain and every dark moment will be divinely used to call them back to Him. Whether or not they respond, will be their choice. But one thing we know, the more people we reach out to, the more we’ll be able to bring into the Kingdom of God with us, so don’t give up!

At my first defense no one stood with me, but everyone forsook me. May it not be charged against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear. And I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. The Lord will deliver me from every evil work and will preserve me for His heavenly kingdom, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.  2 Timothy 4:16-18, MEV

Monday, January 23, 2017

Christians looking for loopholes


Christians who look for loopholes in the Bible to allow them to keep sinning have a reasoning that usually goes: “Romans 6 says I’m dead to sin, which means that sin doesn’t stick to me anymore.  So even if I fall in the weakness of my flesh now and then, all I have to do is brush myself off and keep on going because I’ve been baptized into Jesus’ death, and clothed in His righteousness – I’m all good!” They’d never openly say that sinning is a good thing. They say that holiness, self-discipline and self-sacrifice are good, but they think they can get by without them. They’re already washed in the blood, they have “good hearts,” (as if we can judge our own hearts) and they’ve prayed the sinners’ prayer – that’s their criteria for salvation.  

So we find “good Christians” with “good hearts” hanging out in bars, cheating on their spouses, letting profanities slip every now and then, unable to kick a cigarette habit, or a weed habit, or a gambling habit, a porn habit or whatever. They’re the nicest, friendliest, churchgoing people who sing worship songs with gusto, who have settled for a life on par with their unbelieving neighbors with no fear that they may not even be saved at all. That’s the scary part. They rely so heavily on this safety net of God’s grace and mercy, that they stifle their consciences – the inner voice of the Holy Spirit convicting them of sin.  

Demonic activity usually hovers around them. Marriages are full of strife and some collapse completely. Their teenagers have contempt for their parents’ faith, some becoming rebellious and some developing serious emotional problems. These Christians get mired in gossip and grudges, even within their own churches, and can’t see their own fault in all the drama. They see the mess of their lives, shrug their shoulders and blame others. Since everyone’s saved and everyone’s a sinner clothed in righteousness, they figure that’s life. It’s as good as it gets.

Imagine a kind shepherd, trying to guide his flock uphill to pure water, when his lazy sheep ignore his voice and prefer to drink from an open sewer. That’s a picture of Christians who settle for mediocre. James says that the Holy Spirit “yearns jealously” for us. He grieves over sheep who disregard Him and think they know better. God calls out to us every day through His word, through nature, through our circumstances, proclaiming that there is so much more for us! So much joy, abundance and peace. But the path to find it looks dull and painful. “Pick up your cross daily and follow me,” and “work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” are the words of our Good Shepherd calling us uphill to where the pure water is.  

Tolerating sin has terrible consequences, but the root of it all is a refusal to have a real relationship with God. It’s treating faith as a formula, a scheme to get what we want for the least amount of effort. That’s no relationship – that’s a business deal. God yearns for children, a relationship, a family, and dying to sin is what allows us to join His family. When we love our spouse or children, we naturally seek out ways to strengthen our bonds, to express our love and appreciation. Putting effort into a loving relationship is work, but it’s also great fun with great rewards and worth every bit of effort. Every happily married couple knows that. Why don’t Christians find joy in the effort to build bonds of love with God? Why do they prefer looking for loopholes for sin, to get salvation at a bargain? They want to live in a way that hurts Him, and say that they love Him in the same breath.

Stop and think about the motives for your prayers, why you think God should let you into heaven, and why sin is still so easily entangling you. Maybe it’s because you’ve never sought a true relationship with Him. You may not even see God as a real person, but as a mystical being who thinks your “good heart” is just fine. Sorry to say, you don’t yet have salvation because Jesus is not yet your Lord. Make sure to change that today.


But when people keep on sinning, it shows that they belong to the devil, who has been sinning since the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil. Those who have been born into God’s family do not make a practice of sinning, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they are children of God. So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the devil. Anyone who does not live righteously and does not love other believers does not belong to God. (1 John 3:8-10 NLT)

Monday, January 16, 2017

God and the devil… 2 equal but opposite forces?


One big mistake Christians can make, is to imagine God and the devil in a struggle for power, two equal and opposite forces battling with all their might against each other. There is nothing further from the truth! The devil is a mere pest compared to the power of our God, who the Bible says is, “far above all principalities, and power, and might, and dominion.” Yes, there is a spiritual battle that is going on, but it’s not an equal battle at all.

So why does it feel like evil is growing in the world? Why does it seem that there are so many more cases of murders, rapes, kidnappings, and horrific child abuse in the news? Not only that, global tensions and threats of international war are growing as well. But as shocking as headlines may be, the scariest thing on earth is the absence of godly men and women who are teaching the truth about salvation, hell, the power of God, of living in victory, and the reality of our authority over demonic forces that are all around us today. All of these issues are linked together, because they all encompass what Jesus has taught us to practice until the day He returns. Without warriors who pray, warriors who teach and warriors who disciple with a burning hatred against evil and a burning love for God, Satan will always be able to push forward. God has handed His Church the authority to tear down strongholds, but wimpy Christians have done practically nothing with those weapons.

We have to live in constant awareness that what happens in the spiritual realm is reality, affecting everything in our physical world. But if Christians treat prayer as a tiresome religious formality, they aimlessly wander in a haze of passive faith. And who do you think has created this very comfortable haze? Demonic principalities who are wise enough not to confront us head-on with accusations that God doesn’t exist, but who subtly lure us into a state of complacency to patiently wait for things just to “work out on their own” – to feel uncomfortable with aggressive faith, with fighting prayers, with sacrificial living. The more the Church sleeps in this haze, the easier it is for Satan to do his work unhindered.  

We have been given both the authority and the command to pull down strongholds and principalities, and when Christians en masse take that command seriously, the world around us can radically change. We could impact how many murders and rapes and cases of abuse happen. We could stem the tide of wars and violence. But if Christians can’t even tie up the simple stuff of sin and doubt and selfishness in their personal lives, how can they impact a hurting world?  

If we could just see how powerful our prayers were, we’d be calling out to God constantly, as well as tirelessly rebuking demonic forces. It wouldn’t be a burden, a ritual or an act of superstition, because we’d know that we are impacting the world for God’s Kingdom. Our personal lives would change. We’d know that God’s Spirit was gladly working in tandem with our faith – not because we are anyone special, but because God has ordained it this way. He asks us to act in faith in our small human way, so that He can do the rest in “the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” My prayer is that this practice becomes more deeply rooted in me, and becomes a way of life among all of you. If prayer and spiritual warfare has become tiresome for you, stop everything and start fighting against that demonic haze that wants to keep you passive and ineffective. The weapons are at your disposal – pick them up and use them!   

…and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power,  which He performed in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principalities, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.  And He put all things in subjection under His feet and made Him the head over all things for the church,  which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all things in all ways. Ephesians 1:19-23. MEV