Friday, April 21, 2017

The Cancer of False Humility

I’m so grateful to have grown in my faith around people who are audacious and gutsy – who say things like “I don’t accept that!” “I determine this!” “That’s tied up!” and “God has to do this!” It’s become second nature for me to really believe and react with these attitudes, and the Holy Spirit confirms those words when I do. God instills this kind of stubborn faith into His children who don’t get tangled up in religiosity because He’s a no-nonsense God. It’s as if His own Spirit confesses those bold truths through our mouths, and those truths return back to Him, having accomplished exactly what He wanted. But speak like that among Christians who aren’t accustomed to that kind of audacity, and I get very strange looks. But then again, God opens doors that unseen demonic forces were trying to keep shut.

I understand them because I was there once. But being audacious shows respect for God, and if I have to offend others by doing so, then what choice do I have?

False humility is one of the biggest cancers of modern Christianity, infecting even the most sincere believer until whatever faith they have is totally impotent. A prayer request could be given for a family member in the hospital, and all that are offered are prayers for mercy and comfort. No demons of infirmity are rebuked, no anger against the attack of the devil, no binding of spirits, no determining of healing, no fire, no zeal, no certainty of God’s word coming true. And when the prayers are over, there’s an attitude of relief that they did their duty. Then the subject switches to daily chit-chat. Spiritual forces are battling for the health of that sick person, forces that we can directly affect by faith, yet bringing up the subject is offensive.

If I told you to call the fire department to save your burning house, would you be offended? If I could show you a real solution to your overwhelming problem, would you reject it because it doesn’t agree with your style of worship? 

The reason why I continue to stubbornly stick to my audacious, rude and pushy form of faith, is that it works. If the way I rebuke demons was a sin, why do problems crumble? Why does it bring me closer to God? Why does God respond so graciously when I tell Him that I don’t accept a problem and that He “has to” answer me? I sense Him cheering me on, telling me, “Keep it up! Don’t give up! This is the kind of faith I need from you! Fight!”

I belong to the church of spiritual revolt that brings about physical changes. But that means being so sure of God, so certain of His promises and His character that we can at times appear arrogant. But the absolute certainty that He is Lord to the point of basing your life on it, is the essence of humility. 

It’s so important to purge ourselves from anything false, anything that would nullify our faith. So important, that my next few posts will be on that topic. What are the differences between true humility, false humility, and outright pride? Are you wallowing in either extreme without knowing it?  Check back tomorrow for the beginning of our series.

Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man viewing his natural face in a mirror. He views himself, and goes his way, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But whoever looks into the perfect law of liberty, and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this man will be blessed in his deeds.  James 1:22-25 MEV

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Loving until death

I recently heard this true tale of a poor peasant girl during the Korean War who was expecting a child during the cold winter months while her husband was away at war. A snowstorm came, triggering early labor pains that wouldn’t subside. She knew that a missionary doctor had a clinic a mile or so away, so she bundled up and started walking towards it. But the blizzard was harsh, and she was forced to stop under a bridge and give birth to her baby boy all alone. A good while later, the same missionary came traveling past that bridge, and heard the sounds of a baby’s cry. He rushed down to see where it was coming from and found the baby in his mother’s arms. The mother had frozen to death. She had removed all of her clothing to keep her baby warm.

The missionary took the baby to his home, and found a way to bury the mother’s body. He raised the child as his own son. Years later, he decided to tell the boy the whole story of his birth. He led him to the grave of his mother and saw the tears flow as he recounted what she had done for him. He watched the little child remove his clothes, lay them over her grave and then lay down on top, as if clinging to her. “Oh my mother!” the boy wept in Korean, “How cold you must have been that day.”

A simple story of love and sacrifice for a beloved child is enough to bring us to tears.  But this beautiful love of a mother is only a small reflection of the enormous love Jesus has shown to us by allowing Himself to be beaten and crucified in our place.  

How alone He must have been when the Father turned His face away – because He had become a curse for us.  

How much agony He must have felt, carrying every curse, every infirmity, every sin of every sort upon His body that day.

How much agony He continues to feel today, though He died to set us free 2000 years ago, the world continues to ignore, reject, mock and revile His perfect sacrifice.  

He paid the highest price for the most glorious and undeserved reward for us to become His own children – if only we would surrender our will to Him, DIE to our old sin and LIVE in that new life. But not all who call Him Lord honor His sacrifice with the response it deserves.

This is the time of Easter and Passover when we ought to be on our knees in gratitude for all He has done. But are we really? Or are we just caught up in the busyness of another holiday? Another special church event? Will we congratulate ourselves for a good Easter because we accomplished all our holiday duties?  

If we haven’t been moved to the core of our being to sacrifice our entire lives because of what Jesus has done for us, we haven’t even come close to honoring Him as Lord on this day. The maternal instinct of that young mother was to give her life for her baby. God’s holy paternal instinct was to allow His Son to be brutally killed in exchange for our own lives, so we could become His children. The instinct of a true child of God is to live in gratitude to Him through every action, attitude, thought, desire and decision. But unlike that young mother, Jesus will continuously bless, care for, speak to and guide us for eternity. Don’t let another Easter go by without choosing to honor Him forever, from today forward.

But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.  “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.  “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:20-24, MEV

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Using “Faith” to Manipulate God

If you know the story of how Satan tempted Jesus three times in the wilderness, you’ll remember one of His responses: “you shall not tempt the Lord your God…” It’s easy to think that we would never fall for a trick like that. But what exactly was it that the devil wanted Jesus to do?

1. To treat the promises of God like a childish game. The devil took God’s holy promise of protection (found in Psalm 91) and reduced it to a dare, a mere game.  
2. To doubt His identity as if He had to prove to the devil that He was really God’s Son: “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written…”
3. To manipulate God into rushing to His aid, just because “it is written.”

Most would agree that point number one is a terrible temptation that would work only on immature or false believers. But what about point two? How many times do Christians want to “prove” how spiritual they are? This temptation works on the insecure, the people-pleasers. Being admired by others means more than seeking the quiet contentment of knowing that God is pleased with them. They’ll go out of their way to perform some sort of public good deed, which they then have to pretend was spontaneous and from the heart. But God sees their game, and the praise of others is all the reward they get. Unfortunately, this affects everyone no matter how long they’ve been saved, how much they know the Bible, or what their title in church is. To our shame, all of us can remember times when we’ve fallen for this stupidity.

But point 3 is the most dangerous of all. It can appear like real faith, but is degrading and disrespectful to God. A person with a secret sin can say, “God has to bless me, I’m going to make a sacrifice and go on a fast in the faith that I’ll get this new job! I’ll pray every night at midnight, I’ll go to church as often as I can, I’ll read my Bible every morning and God will be faithful to His word to bless me, because I’m using me faith and His word can’t lie!” He looks so on fire for God. But he has no intention of killing his old life. He still loves his secret sin. He may suspend that sin for a while and even ask God to forgive him, but he never hates it enough to repent in true sincerity. As he fasts, prays and reads his Bible while ignoring the condition of his soul, he treats God with the worst form of contempt: “You are the All Powerful God.  I believe you keep your Word. I will continue to serve my flesh, and I demand that you serve me.” Satan’s thoughts exactly.

Tempting God, or putting Him to the test, is trying to manipulate God to perform for you. You may look committed, but it’s all for show. Christians like this will go so far as to cry out in boldness, “Oh Lord, I don’t accept these attacks of the devil!” and turn around to please the devil the same day. Any repentance is just a religious rite to alleviate guilt, and then they’ll scour the Bible to justify why God has to bless them, like expert lawyers compiling arguments to trick their opponent into handing over what they want at minimal cost. “I have rights before God!” Sure you do…

If you think God wants business partners that haggle with Him, go right ahead and tempt (test) Him. But what God truly wants is relationships. He wants bonds of trust and understanding and obedience based on love. He wants to envelope us with His goodness and power – but sin has to be hated and killed. It’s so simple. We can’t demand His word to come true if we won’t follow it! Psalm 34 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Why would anyone manipulate a good God who already wants to bless us? How in the world do we think we can “trick” God into blessing us? And more than anything, how dare we treat the God of all Creation as our slave? If you’ve been doing this and haven’t realized it, untangle yourself from the devil’s trap and run to Him in repentance now.  

You search the Scriptures, because you think in them you have eternal life. These are they who bear witness of Me. Yet you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. “I do not receive honor from men. But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in My Father’s name, but you do not receive Me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?  John 5:39-44, MEV

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The fastest road to joy

Did you know that children don’t have to be threatened with punishment every day if they have a healthy and loving relationship with their parents? Discipline and punishment is important at appropriate times, but that alone can’t be the driving force that keeps a family together. Smart parents discover quickly that their little ones have an innate joy in pleasing Mom and Dad, which can be nurtured to the point that disciplinary measures rarely need to be harsh, if ever. By the time these kids are teens, an environment of serving their siblings and their parents can become so ingrained and pleasant, that it affects the way they treat everyone around them. Maybe you’ve never seen a family that functioned that way – believe me, it happens when God’s principles of serving one another are practiced daily, and of course it has to begin with the parents.

People balk at the thought of serving, as if it’s a form of oppression or injustice, but serving is a natural response to love. It’s probably because we’ve never seen anything outside of worldly, emotional giving. Godly service knows when to give and when not to give, what to give and what not to give. An example of emotional giving is when you feel so guilty to be driving a car while a homeless man is on crutches, that you empty your wallet every time you see him, and the next guy on the road, and the next… Giving out of guilt is not faith, and Romans 14 says that whatever is not from faith is sin. Spiritual serving listens to God, gives wisely without complaining, and trusts fully that God is pleased.

Interestingly, the same people who give and give out of guilt, can also throw a fit when asked to serve their spouse or be submissive to someone in their church. Guys, if you can’t find joy in loving your wife like Christ loved the church, or ladies, if you hate the verse in Ephesians that tells you to submit to your husbands, you will never know what a real relationship with God is like. It begins with the closest people you know, and it has nothing to do with demeaning yourself or being oppressed. It’s discovering and pursuing the joy of servanthood. 

I stand in the cold wintery winds, handing out flyers to passersby, many turn their face away from me and treat me like a pest. I invite people to come for prayer knowing that they look at me with suspicion – who is this American? What does he want with us? What kind of religion is he peddling? But I’m filled with joy because I’m planting seeds of faith, and God promises that I will reap what I plant. I’m even happier knowing that God is happy with me, that He knows how much I want to share Him with others, and that He is preparing the right people to come my way. And He does answer me, but the point is that I find pleasure in making Him happy, even more than just getting answers to prayer. The answers will come, but the happiness I give Him in being obedient is something only I can do. 

My relationship with God is built on this pleasure. And knowing that my faith makes Him happy makes me so confident that I become unshakeable. This joy also can manifest in a holy anger, a holy revolt against the devil’s attacks to block others from knowing Him. This seems crazy to the world, but I can be filled with both deep happiness and a holy rage all at the same time. It’s just a reflection of God’s character, and it should become second nature to all of us who are His. 

All this is to say: run after the joy of serving. If you give begrudgingly or to impress people, if you serve your spouse or children with hidden resentment that snaps when they don’t respond the way you hope, you’re missing the point. Serve God like a child who finds joy in pleasing his parents, and that alone. Serve with the confidence that He is pleased even if everything seems to be going against you. An innate joy that comes from serving Him was built into us from Creation – that’s what we were made for. Live in that joy and be fulfilled. 

Remember the former days, after you were enlightened, in which you endured a great struggle of afflictions. In part you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and afflictions. And in part you became companions of those who were so abused. For you had compassion on me in my chains and joyfully endured the confiscation of your property, knowing that you have in heaven a better and an enduring possession for yourselves. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which will be greatly rewarded. Hebrews 10:32-35, MEV

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