Sunday, July 17, 2016

Be a bully for God

She’d been a faithful churchgoer and sang in her choir, but her pastor only offered sympathy and encouraged her to wait on God. I listened to her story, and she admitted that many of the cases in “Possessed Believers” reflected her life. She agreed that she needed deliverance, and she wanted to learn how to fight. When our counseling session was over, I gave her some specific things to start doing, and prayed strongly against every spirit that had been working in her. But she was resistant. Something in her didn’t want to fight, just to cry and praise God and behave in the churchy kind of way that I’ve seen all my life. She was sweet and friendly, but her heart was stubbornly closed, even though her mouth told me how much she believed and how much she appreciated my prayer. She left saying she felt better, but I knew that she was clutching onto those demons, refusing to let them go. Interestingly enough, she never came back for any more counsel or prayer.

I could clearly see the demonic attacks, from her childhood all the way through her multiple marriages and her troubled relationships with her kids. The only way was for her to become a real warrior in faith, and that would mean being willing to learn how to view her problems spiritually, and react to them spiritually, based on the Word of God. Just learning a few tips, getting a prayer or two and waltzing out the door was not going to change a woman like her who’d been oppressed for years. She’d have to change her old churchy habits, because it was those very habits that allowed demonic forces to dominate her family for generations. Demons love religiosity as much as flies love rotting garbage.

This is the big frustration in working with people who are already Christians and need deliverance. They don’t realize that the most dangerous demons are the ones that make them content not to fight, that feel so comfortable, so sweet and sociable. They’re the demons that insert the thoughts, “Now wait a minute, that kind of prayer doesn’t seem very Christian – all that yelling and demanding demons to leave. We’re nice Christians – we don’t practice craziness.”  Religious demons will cause their victim to laugh sweetly when I determine a miracle in faith, they’ll smile at me as if I’m na├»ve and idealistic, but behind the smile and laughter is the darkness of hell. I can confront a demon of addiction or witchcraft and hear it scream in hatred, but confront a demon of religiosity and it’s all gentle contempt and patronizing smiles – unless the victim of those demons is humble and ready to let go. Then their mask is removed and they behave just like any ordinary demon; easy to take dominion over and cast out.

As I always say – the proof of faith is not being patient, loving and kind. Demons know how to imitate virtues to keep people in confusion. Real faith terrifies the devil, no matter what his disguise is. So what does that mean for those of us who want to use real faith? It means that if our deliverance prayers are just repetitious phrases we heard pastors use when rebuking the devil, we’re no better off than a religious church lady. “Get out devil!”  “I don’t accept you in my life!”  “You’re tied up!” are all meaningless when we aren’t conscious of who we’re actually speaking to, and of the One who’s Name gives us that authority. We have to get into warfare mode, to become spiritual terrorists to forcefully take back what the devil has stolen from us. That doesn’t happen automatically, and it definitely doesn’t happen by just repeating the right words. Being in warfare mode means looking right through the devil’s disguises and attacking him ruthlessly by faith, pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone and fueling the fires of hatred against evil with every prayer we utter, and every sacrifice we make.  

Some of you just made a huge sacrifice to God last Sunday in church. What you did was a weapon of warfare – or was it a passive religious act to “buy” a blessing? Keep this passage in mind and remember you are facing principalities behind the problem you want destroyed. You have weapons that are powerful and effective. Become a bully. God’s waiting for more bullies to join His side. 

“I pursued my enemies and overtook them; I did not return until they were destroyed. I wounded them, and they were not able to rise; they are fallen under my feet.  For You clothed me with strength for the battle; You subdued under me those who rose up against me.  You gave me the necks of my enemies, and I destroyed those who hate me.  They cried for help, but there was none to save them; even to the Lord, but He did not answer them.  Then I beat them small as the dust before the wind; I cast them out as the dirt in the streets.”  Psalm 18:37-42 MEV

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The burn we can’t ignore

Three years with Jesus was transformative for the disciples. They’d walked and talked with God in the flesh, and had learned more than just teachings, but how to become imitators of Him. How many of us have wished we could talk to Jesus face to face, to ask Him our deepest questions and hear Him answer us clearly? Most of us imagine that we’d never doubt Him again if we could see Him just once.

When Jesus had risen again, the book of Luke says that the women told the disciples about the angel at the tomb announcing that Jesus had risen, and Mary Magdalene actually spoke to Jesus who she mistook for a gardener. But the disciples weren’t quite sure what to believe, or how His body had disappeared. That day, two of them were walking towards a village called Emmaus, and another traveller joined them as they trudged along. He heard them trying to make sense of what had happened to their Lord who’d been crucified, and asked what they were talking about. Neither of them recognized that Jesus Himself was walking by their side. They were surprised at His question, and even jokingly asked if He was some foreigner who hadn’t heard the big news!

How could the very ones who loved Him so much, who most longed for Him to still be alive, not even see Him standing there in front of their own faces? They walked with Him until evening and invited Him to stop at an inn for supper, and only after He broke the bread and blessed it just like He had done at the Last Supper did they recognize Him. They realized it was Jesus, and then He disappeared.

God gives us a clue about how this could happen in Jeremiah 17:6. It says cursed is anyone who trusts only in men, in their own strength, and not in God – “For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when good comes, but will inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited.”

Whoever tries to figure out life by their own strength, who disregards God’s promises because the results they want aren’t happening, will be unable to see when good comes. It could be staring them in the face, and they will see nothing. The disciples had Jesus’ promises, centuries of prophecies in scripture, and the eyewitness testimonies of the women that Jesus had risen. But they still wouldn’t trust. Instead, they spent that glorious first Resurrection Day in fear and confusion. As they walked along the road to Emmaus, Jesus reminded them of all the promises and prophecies, but they were skeptical.

When Jesus left, those disciples asked each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn inside of us when we heard Him talk?” They had known all along! The Spirit of God had been confirming that He was right there for hours as they walked, but they’d ignored His prompting. They were living through the most earth-shattering experience of the history of the world, and they didn’t even know it. No wonder Jesus’ answer to their sarcastic question on the road was, “O fools! And slow of heart to believe what the prophets have spoken!”

So if they, who had seen Him in the flesh could be so obtuse – what about us? How often has Jesus been right there in front of us when we were afraid and accusing Him of abandoning us? Loving God and trying to follow Him don’t always mean we trust Him fully. At times we can allow fear and confusion to stifle the Holy Spirit, attempting to fix our problems by our own strength. But if we quiet the anxious noise in our head, we can hear Him clearly, be empowered with peace and strength, make the right choices, and the Spirit of God will burn inside of us each time we hear Him talk. That’s a burn we all could use!

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord.  For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreads out its roots by the river and shall not fear when heat comes, but its leaf shall be green, and it shall not be anxious in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.  Jeremiah 17:7-8, MEV

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Beware the emotional zone

John the Baptist was not your ordinary Jewish boy. He lived in the wilderness eating locusts and wild honey, wearing clothing made of camel's hair and preaching repentance as his way of life. He’d been born into a respectable home; his father was a Levite and priest in the Temple, and his mother Elizabeth was from the lineage of the high priests, the elite line of Aaron. His birth had been a miracle, announced by the angel Gabriel to his father by the altar of incense in the Temple. But instead of growing up to be a respectable priest – or high priest, as some would have expected – he became a wild looking, bug eating, desert preacher. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit was upon him, even while in the womb of his mother. So that conviction of God to proclaim the coming of the Messiah was something he just couldn’t shake. It was his calling.

When John saw Jesus as he was baptizing people in the Jordan River, John knew right away that this was the Messiah, and he humbly confessed that he wasn’t worthy even to untie Jesus’ sandals, much less baptize Him. He saw the Holy Spirit descending as a dove and heard the voice of the Father speak from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” as he lifted Jesus up out of the water. What more could anyone want as confirmation that what they hoped for was true? God was validating all he had preached and done up until that time. Now, all that was left was for Jesus the Messiah to take His throne and reign, just as the prophecies of long ago had said. That glorious hope was right in front of him!

But time passed, and the Messiah didn’t overthrow Rome or create a Jewish revolution, and the evil in Judea was just as evil as ever. And after boldly criticizing the false King of the Jews, Herod had John arrested, and thrown into prison. No rescue party was sent to set him free. No miraculous wonders occurred, and as he sat in jail, John the Baptist’s fire and zeal began to waver. He’d given so much, sacrificed a life of comfort to preach this message that had burned inside of him. And when he thought he’d found the Messiah, nothing seemed to be happening. If Jesus was the Messiah, why wasn’t He striking their enemies in wrath? Why wasn’t He breaking down the walls of Herod’s palace?  

As he waited in prison, John sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus if He really was the one they’d been waiting for, or if they should look for another. That’s pretty shocking for a man who had seen and heard the Father, Son and Holy Spirit all in one place at the Jordan River. But it shows how changing circumstances and unmet expectations can shake our faith. Even the faith of a radical prophet, who had seen God in the flesh.   

Jesus’ response to John, is the same one that He has for all of us: Look at the evidence. Remember what I’ve already shown you. Don’t be distressed about how things aren’t falling into place the way you’d like right now. I am faithful to My promises. Keep believing. Victory is yours.  

When we use our faith, ramp up our determination that our miracle is a sure thing and the vision God gave us is coming true, we can easily step over the line of faith into an emotional zone, and God knows it. The devil knows it too, and tries his best to take advantage of our weakness. Right after a long hard fight, our expectations are easily shaken to the point that we’re even tempted to give up. It’s funny that Jesus referred to John as Elijah, because even Elijah had those moments of powerful highs in faith, and depressing lows of doubt. Those of us who are just trying our best to live by faith can get caught up in those peaks and valleys too. But the voice that tempts us to give up is never the voice of God. Hold on to what God has already shown you. Don’t allow unmet expectations to cause you to throw away your faith and settle for a mediocre life. John was a part of the biggest revolution the world had ever known, and he didn’t even realize it.  

Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see:  The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. Blessed is he who does not fall away because of Me.”  …Truly I say to you, among those who are born of women, there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist. But he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.  From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has forcefully advanced, and the strong take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John.  And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah, who is to come.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear.  -  Matthew 11:4-6 + 11-15, MEV

Friday, July 1, 2016

When feeling offended is good for us

A single Christian woman wrote an article on how she was offended by weddings. She especially disliked the new trend among Christian brides who give roses to all their single friends, and offer to pray that they find the right mate. She wrote that she feels publicly humiliated by it… even though she really does want to find the right man. In her mind, her friends’ special day of celebration is supposed to be orchestrated around her insecurities. How dare they pray for her!

This is the generation of being offended and tiptoeing around micro-aggressions for fear of offending anyone else. The word of God has never been so politically incorrect in modern history as it is today, which proves that we need to cling to it even more. If we find ourselves getting upset and offended by God’s ways, it means the mindset of the world has woven itself into our own subconscious. Being offended by God means that we desperately need to rewire our thoughts without a moment to lose.  

A true child of God is thick skinned towards criticism, much less towards the inadvertent insensitivity of others. We can’t waste our time second-guessing why someone acted the way they did, looked at us the way they did, or chose to use that particular word or phrase. That’s the stuff of soap operas, not for people who live above this world by faith. We can’t be shocked that the light within us offends others. A child of God carries the smell of death (2 Corinthians 2:16) that causes others to attack, reject and label us as evil. If we are building up our faith daily to stand firm on that level of persecution, we won’t waste time making petty complaints when our feelings get hurt.  

When well-meaning people speak or act in a way that causes us to cringe, we get over it, forgive, and behave graciously. How many times have you made others cringe and wish they’d graciously forgiven all your well-intentioned blunders? From Genesis to Exodus, God in His perfection, says a lot that makes us cringe, and there’s no blundering there! He says it because we need it. He sacrificed His own Son for us, and daily has the patience to teach and guide us if we’re willing to listen, but if we’re not careful we end up treating Him with disrespect.  Even the holiest of Christians fails God daily, and like a good Father, He needs His children to understand discipline for their own sake.  

Last year I wrote a series of posts called The Shocking Attitudes of Jesus, citing many examples of this very thing. Jesus was harsh with one woman, implying she was a dog, not worthy of the children’s bread. In today’s world, even Christians would post angry rants against soundbites like that on Twitter and Facebook, rants that would easily go viral. Many of today’s pastors would even demand an apology for such inflammatory words, write editorials in Christian magazines and do all they could to appear as the leaders in tolerance and sensitivity. But Jesus spoke the exact words she needed to hear. God used her as an example of thinking faith, humbly reasoning through His shocking words in order for her daughter to be instantly healed.
Who among us today has the kind of inner strength and spiritual intelligence to see blessings in God’s rebuke? What have you been hearing from God that you wish you didn’t have to hear? What in God’s Word gets your hackles up? Perhaps healing and freedom would be happening much sooner if we were more like that woman. Perhaps the offensive words that God is speaking, the ones that make us cringe, are the very words we need to act upon right now, to see our miracle.  

He who reproves a scorner gets shame for himself, and he who rebukes a wicked man gets hurt. Do not reprove a scorner, lest he hate you; rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser; teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.  -  Proverbs 9:7-9, MEV

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The hidden potential of the ordinary

Our family’s been enjoying some pretty delicious bread baking experiments lately, researching how to make the best and most nutritious types. In the days of the Bible, bread wasn’t like the bland unhealthy stuff we find at the supermarket, but was so wholesome and full of nutrients, bread alone could sustain a human life for a long time. After all, Jesus called Himself the Bread of Life.

Try to eat a cup of whole grain flour, and you’ll barely be able to swallow it, much less get any nutrition from it. But add it to some water, and allow the natural yeast in the air to begin fermenting it, and something miraculous happens. It releases an abundance of proteins, B vitamins, zinc, magnesium, selenium and more. What seemed like a worthless pile of powder turns into a life-giving substance only when it begins to ferment—to rot! Then that life-giving dough can be baked and eaten. That flour wasn’t worthless—nutrients were hidden there all along. It just had to go through a rotting process to become transformed so all that goodness could be released. What does this have to do with us?  

How much is hidden within us? How much potential for growth and change and miracles is lying dormant inside of us? If you notice the way God performed miracles in both the Old and New Testaments, He always used ordinary things, and at least one of His servants to partner with in that miracle. Jacob and his faith in God used striped sticks in a water trough to strengthen his herds, Moses used his rod, Joshua marched in a circle, blew trumpets and shouted to tear down Jericho, Gideon used torches, clay pots and more trumpets to throw his enemies into confusion, Jesus used mud on a blind man’s eyes and took a little boy’s lunch to feed 5000 hungry men. God wants us to see that what we already have is enough for Him to do an amazing miracle. Our little dream, our little family, our little computer on it’s last leg, our little bank account, our little prayer group is enough for Him to unleash a hidden greatness for His honor and glory, but something has to die and rot for that to happen, and that something is usually our selfishness.

There’s a passage in Proverbs usually considered a warning against adultery. But it’s actually a warning against unfaithfulness to any kind of commitment. It warns us to drink only from our own cisterns, or wells, not to long for the water of others. Where God has placed us, is where He plans to make us grow, where He wants to unleash the inner greatness that we don’t yet see. But if we turn away from our “cistern,” we’ll never experience that joy. Am I saying that we should never give up on a job or business, or even a bad relationship? What I see the Bible saying, is that if we first serve Him faithfully and selflessly where we are, He’ll lead us out of our struggles and misery and into unthinkable blessings. That might mean leaving people and things behind, but only when He is doing the leading and not our impulsive flesh.

Start with what you have, even if it seems paltry, and tasteless, and destined for nowhere. Where God has placed you is where He wants to test your faithfulness. Are you honoring Him by being careful with your motives and desires where you are? Are you serving Him with joy in your marriage, even though your spouse isn’t serving back? Is your workplace being blessed by the best you have to give, as if you were working for Him and not for the ungrateful boss and coworkers around you?  

We live in a selfish culture of immediate gratification that teaches us to give up on things when we don’t immediately see what we want—even commitments. Everything is disposable. But not faith, not obedience, and not the fruit of the Holy Spirit, which includes patience, humbleness and faithfulness. What is it inside of you that is full of hidden potential to bear amazing fruit? What selfish attitudes inside of you need to die and rot so this transformation can happen? Be faithful in both behavior, and attitudes. Believe, and allow God to transform what you may have disregarded as paltry and tasteless, into the very blessings you need.

Drink waters out of your own cistern, and running waters out of your own well. - Proverbs 5:15 MEV
Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.  He who loves his life will lose it. And he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me. Where I am, there will My servant be also. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.  - John 12:24-26 MEV

Friday, June 24, 2016

Humble and strong

Years ago I knew a young evangelist who would tirelessly hand out flyers and speak to passersby in a plaza close to church throughout the week. He had the appearance of a humble Christian, and he worked harder than a lot of young men I knew for the sake of the gospel. But one day a fellow evangelist noticed that he only gave flyers to people who looked underprivileged (which was a great thing), but refused to pay any attention to those who looked like they came from a higher pay grade. When he was asked why, he responded with contempt that “those rich people are all proud, I don’t waste my time on them.” But when his fellow evangelist was friendly to everyone who was willing to have a conversation, whether they were well-off or poor, this young man became angry, and sulked all the way back to the church. His seeming humility was just for show. His religiosity caused him to reject others who he deemed unworthy of compassion.

Being humble means knowing your place before God, and doing exactly what He wants of you no matter how you feel or what you want. That implies that you don’t do anything that conflicts with God’s ways, even if others pressure you. It also means being humble will at times make you seem very proud, rebellious, anti-social, fanatical, and downright crazy. Moses was seen as all of those, and so was our Lord Jesus. All of the disciples walked that same path of criticism, so who do we think we are to preserve our reputation when we claim to follow God? Being humble is risky, and requires raw faith and courage.

“Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all the men on the face of the earth,” says Numbers 12:3. The picture most of us have of humbleness, is someone so meek that they become passive. Just doormats for others to walk all over. Moses was nothing like that. Sure, there were times when he was quiet to hear God speak, or patiently waited for the right time to act even though it seemed like God was taking too long. When the Israelites were so stubborn that God’s anger was about to wipe them out, it was Moses’ compassionate cry to God for mercy that saved them all. Humility fights, believes, obeys and stands firm. True humility is strength – not passivity.

If God asked you to face the most powerful and ruthless leader of the world, march into his royal palace and demand that he hand over all of his slaves knowing that he could slice off your head at any moment, would you do it? That boldness doesn’t match the world’s definition of humility, but that’s what God saw in Moses. Perhaps all that God is asking you to do today is to finally break off that unhealthy relationship with someone you’ve been emotionally dependent on for years. Maybe it’s finally having that talk with your pastor about the hidden sin that you’ve been struggling with in shame, or to finally show kindness to those people you’ve always had contempt for. Unlike Moses, there are no death threats or armies involved, just the fear of letting go of your security blanket. Will you do it?

If you won’t, then know this: you are not humble. You still believe that your own way is superior to God’s. You may even have very spiritual sounding reasons for resisting Him, and look like a dedicated Christian. But His word warns, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)  The last thing you want is to have God’s hand turned against you, and there’s only one way to be given His grace. By being humble.

“Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”  He has told you, O man, what is good— and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?  Micah 6:7-8 MEV

Sunday, June 19, 2016

While it’s still light

I recently was asked about the man born blind, and Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question of who’s sin was to blame for his blindness – the man himself, or his parents?  Jesus answered, neither of them, “…but it happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. I must do the works of Him who sent Me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work.  While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:3-5)

So that raises a lot of questions. How could neither he nor his parents ever have sinned? Did God purposefully make the man suffer years of blindness so He could perform a miracle just to impress people? What’s this “night” that Jesus says is coming when no one can work?  Does that mean that after Jesus ascended into heaven that no more miracles could happen and we’re all now plunged back into darkness? So much for such a small passage!  

The whole reason the disciples asked Jesus this question is that the Jewish culture of the day saw a spiritual reason behind every illness. Barren women were cursed, and the blind or lame must have committed some sin to deserve the wrath of God. If someone committed suicide, it meant a curse lay upon the entire family for generations so that no one would do business with them or step foot inside their house. So when they came across this man, the disciples wanted to understand how to view this sad situation.  

Jesus replied that neither he nor his parents sinned, not to mean that they were perfect, just that his blindness wasn’t a punishment for any specific sin. He was blind because the entire world is under a curse, because all of humanity has chosen to rebel and live in sin. Because all human beings are sinners, Satan has had freedom to infiltrate the world with sickness, disease, evil desires, corruption and death. The sins of the world open doors for evil to harm others – even innocent children. That man born blind never had a chance to choose to sin before the illness had destroyed his sight. Satan is ruthless.

Did God make the man blind just to put on a show years later? That’s not what Jesus meant at all. God never toys with us. He was (and is) teaching that no matter what affliction comes over us, God has already provided a way to overcome it, be healed from it, and use it for His glory. Any attack of the devil, whether it comes through our own fault or not, has God’s label on it as a miraculous turnaround if we submit to Him, resist the devil and believe. It’s just the submitting, resisting and believing  part that we don’t always do.

There is a night coming when those who belong to Jesus will be removed and taken up into heaven, and the antichrist will set up his rule on the earth for a time. Jesus constantly urges us to see our days as short, and the time of His return as soon. We have much to do for His Kingdom while there is still time, because once that horrible day comes when many will be left behind, darkness will be the law of the land. Meanwhile, Jesus wants us to follow in His footsteps as long as there is still light. Let’s learn to know God intimately, and bring others to know Him too. Let’s show His power through the authority He gave us to bind up demons and principalities, and to heal the sick and perform miracles in His name. There are many suffering people who need this faith, who need someone to stand up with courage to show God’s power to them just as Jesus taught us. This is not just for pastors or evangelists, it’s a command for every Christian to obey. We are commissioned to do that until He returns, no matter what our jobs or vocations are. That is our highest goal. Praise God that we have the opportunity to be in the light while it lasts, let’s do our utmost before it’s gone!

 Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me. Or else believe Me on account of the works themselves.  Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes in Me will do the works that I do also. And he will do greater works than these, because I am going to My Father. I will do whatever you ask in My name, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.  John 14:11-14, MEV