Saturday, July 4, 2015

Poisoned by bitterness

“A clear and innocent conscience fears nothing.”  Queen Elizabeth I

When people balk at praying with boldness, I usually find out that it’s because something inside of them is holding them back. Being bold with God feels wrong when you know that you aren’t right with Him. I’m always so proud of the people who finally come clean and deal with those inner barriers, and who learn to use their faith in power. I suspect this is why a lot of Christians would rather timidly pray their “wish list” and hope for the best when it comes to answers. Praying with determination and conviction feels awkward with a nagging conscience.  

In order for a person to “exercise” bold faith with a guilty conscience he has to deny the presence of his sin. But living in denial is piling sin upon sin, and it doesn’t take long before that hidden evil catches up with him. This is why pastors and leaders who are caught in adultery or addictions or fraud create such damage to the Church. They pretend to be spiritual leaders, stand in the pulpit and preach the word of God when they know their lives are defiled, exert great effort to hourly and daily deceive their churches and families, and in the end sin exponentially more just for the sake of appearances. They are men with no fear of God, and devoid of the Holy Spirit.

But other inner sins that most people struggle with are even easier to hide. Grudges and bitterness are just as paralyzing to faith as robbing a bank. The problem is that they are so much easier to justify, ignore, or explain away. And the same piling of sin upon sin happens when we refuse to deal with them. Sometimes our bitterness even extends to God. We can be resentful that He didn’t answer a prayer that we had hoped for, that He removed someone from our lives that we loved, or that He just seems so far away. We want Him close, but are angry with Him at the same time, putting us in a no-win state of mind. The devil snares us like a fly on a spiderweb—the harder we pull, the more entangled we get. It reminds me of Paul urging us, “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (Hebrews 12:1).

Think of how you feel before God: when you pray, when it’s time for church, or during your daily grind. Do you feel entangled, stuck or unmotivated? Do you feel like your prayers are bouncing off the ceiling and falling back down at your feet? It could be something small that’s keeping you from being totally free: bitterness, unforgiveness, a grudge, resentment, a negative attitude towards God. Any and all of these can be washed away if you are honest and earnestly seek His inner healing. Then you can run the race set before you in boldness, strength and victory. You can finally experience peace, and be able to face battles from any direction because your conscience is clean and nothing can condemn you any more. You can have the assurance that your prayers are effective, that the spiritual world is changing and moving because of your faith, and that answers to prayer will materialize in front of you.  It’s a win-win situation, what God has always wanted for you. 

For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.  (Acts 8:23 HCSB)

Friday, July 3, 2015

Lie to me

Ever heard the story in 2 Kings 13 about a man of God who had bravely prophesied to King Jeroboam using miraculous signs? God commanded him not to go back the way he came, and not to eat or drink anything until he had arrived home. He obediently set off on the road, and all who had seen and heard what God had done through him were talking. 

A local prophet heard news of what had happened, and was intent on finding him. He tracked him down and offered to bring him home for some food and drink. The man of God refused, saying that God had given him orders to eat and drink nothing along the journey. But this “prophet” was very convincing. “I also am a prophet like you, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the Lord, saying, ‘Bring him back with you to your house, that he may eat bread and drink water.’ ” The Bible says that it was a lie. But instead of doing what he knew was God’s command, the man of God caved in to doubts and most likely the hunger and thirst he was feeling. He went home with the guy, ate, and continued on his way. Then a lion killed him and threw his body on the road but wouldn’t eat him or even harm his donkey, because the protection of God was no longer on this man. 

At first glance this seems unfair. How was he supposed to know that God hadn’t changed His mind and given him new orders through this other prophet? How was he supposed to know that the prophet was lying? Obviously he was supposed to know. It’s easy to sense the presence of false spirits when you’ve just been in God’s presence, but it seems like he turned off that sense in favor of a hot meal. He was in a situation that many of us find ourselves, of wanting to believe that God is telling us to take the easy road. It’s as if the man of God wanted to be lied to. He tossed aside God’s command in exchange for a more pleasant choice. If he had just stopped to ask God, wouldn’t He have made it clear? God had just finished performing signs and wonders and speaking through his mouth, of course He would have answered him. But the man of God didn’t take the time to ask, because the prophet gave him an offer he couldn’t refuse.  

How many Christians want to be lied to? How many automatically respond to God’s word by looking for loopholes? We think we can pull the wool over God’s eyes with lame excuses of “but that prophet told me so,” when we clearly know that the word of God tells us something totally different. There are plenty of prophets and teachers around who twist and bend and distort the word of God to make it more palatable, to fill their churches, to make their congregations happier, to get themselves off the hook from having to really live a life of sacrifice like Jesus commands… And there are plenty of church people who lap it all up and want more. But just as that man of God lost his protection, so do all of those who choose lies over truth.  

We want prayers answered and miracles to happen. We want God’s power to rescue us when evil attacks us and our families. But our only hope is to be in line with the word of God, in close obedience to whatever He calls us to do. We can’t afford to tamper with His commands and principles and expect victory too. We can’t be lured into smooth-talking “prophets” who present salvation with no sacrifice and no denial of our flesh, because that just doesn’t exist. The only way we can discern the truth from the lies is to always be immersed in His word, reading, meditating and proving it’s truth through the way we live. The closer you are to His presence, the more desirable His truth is and the more obvious the lies are as well.

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.  But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.  (2 Timothy 4:3-5 NASB)

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Thick skinned + flint faced

Young William Wilberforce became a member of Parliament and enjoyed the wining and dining life of a politician in the 1880’s. But in 1886, he had a profound encounter with God and wanted more than anything to please and serve Him in his position in government. His conversion and goal to abolish slavery in Britain made him the butt of jokes and angered many of his fellow parliamentarians. The opposition ganged up on him and found ways to block all twelve of his resolutions and rejected another eight bills as well. 

He was a laughingstock and was forced to confront enemies on all sides. But his faith pushed him to do what was right before God above his own reputation. It was a battle of fourteen years before he saw any victory, but that victory changed history and triggered the eventual collapse of the slave trade in France, the US, and many countries, all because of his stubborn faith.  

Following God means having a thick skin, a stubborn will, and a humble heart to just obey in the middle of ridicule and attack. When we're fighting for an answered prayer or a specific cause, we have no idea that the process of our daily fight may be undermining huge demonic principalities that impact much more than our individual lives. Our fight could affect the blessings and freedom of many others.  

Most of the time what blocks us from asserting our faith or taking a stand, is our fear of humiliation and failure. We don't want to even try if we don't have a guarantee that we'll come out unscathed. Well, God never promises smooth sailing when it comes to receiving answered prayer—answers that He wants to give us! He wants us to go through the barrage of attacks and learn that though the intention of the devil is to humiliate us and intimidate us, we will not be humiliated and we will overcome as long as we stand fast in faith. Wilberforce is one of the only names remembered from that period of the English Parliament. He is still being honored today, and is now in heaven reaping the rewards of his faith. 

Jesus is our greatest example of unjust attack and humiliation at the hands of the devil through the Roman soldiers and the Jewish religious court of that time. Just the fact that God the Son had to diminish Himself to be born as a human on this earth was humiliation enough, but He willingly took on the cross because He loved us so much. To all eyes witnessing those horrible last hours of His life, it looked as if He was going through the worst humiliation. But through that searing pain and profound loneliness of being abandoned by His Father, Jesus stubbornly held on to what He knew was the truth. During those hours He showed us who we are to be for Him at all times. Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would “set His face like flint,”  He was unshakeable. What He did impacted more than a few countries, it changed all the world, past present and future, and still impacts us today.  

The Lord God will help Me; therefore I have not been humiliated; therefore I have set My face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.  (Isaiah 50:7 HCSB)

Side note: Watch the movie, “Amazing Grace,” all about William Wilberforce’s fight and faith for more inspiration.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Calmly riding out the storm

Have you noticed in these last few years that it’s really easy to offend people? Just hint at something politically incorrect and you get slammed with accusations. When public figures are constantly being forced to apologize so their careers don’t go down the toilet, it’s refreshing to hear someone stand up and speak out about an important issue and tell the honest truth, even if it offends—especially about the things of God. 

Jesus was love, compassion and understanding, and never went out of His way to stir up trouble. But because His love was so real and so practical, trouble was stirred up anyway. Real love offends, because real love wants you to see what your physical eyes can’t. Real love has real enemies, and that’s where the trouble comes in.

Jesus was on a boat that was being whipped by wind and high waves in the middle of a dangerous squall on the Sea of Galilee. His disciples were panicking for their lives, and He was asleep through it all. When they woke Him in desperation, He asked them why they were so afraid. Honestly, doesn’t that question seem absurd? Uncalled for? Fortunately the disciples were humble enough to embrace that rebuke and learn from it. Jesus had been opening a window into heaven every day that He walked with them. He wanted them to see what their physical eyes couldn’t, so every miracle and every revelation was geared towards training them to live by the Spirit. His question wasn’t meant to offend, it was meant to make them remember all they had learned.

Jesus is still asking us today why we are so fearful. And before we start complaining about God’s insensitivity, remember that He challenges us as a means of forcing our fears to submit to His word, because He loves us. He. Will. Save.

This is our fight. To see that there is a spiritual world more real than the physical one we see and touch. He is Lord over both worlds, and the decisions we make based on what we know is true in the spiritual world, will have a direct and immediate effect on the physical. That effect may not be seen immediately, as with the fig tree that Jesus cursed, but it’s still happening. Jesus actually expected His disciples to calmly ride out the storm in the knowledge that it could never harm them because He was in their boat.  

God is actually expecting you to calmly trust in Him, even to the point of praising Him for answers to prayer that you haven’t even seen a hint of yet. He wants you to visualize your life and your loved ones’ lives as safe in His hands and untouchable to the devil, and then stand on that truth as if you could see it right in front of you. This is not wishful thinking, but a battle against the spirit of fear. If it seems absurd, it’s because you aren’t in the practice of doing this. None of us are as good at it as we should be, but it’s worth embracing the challenge.

Why are you fearful, you of little faith? (Matthew 8:26 HCSB)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

How dare you judge me!

When Jesus talks about good and bad fruit, He’s saying that belonging to God is something visible—obvious. Jesus never says that we’ll be perfect and sinless, but there has to be a distinct difference between a true child of God and one who isn’t. He provides a list in Galatians 5 of what the fruit of the Spirit is, and expands on that list in 2 Peter 1. That’s great news, because we’ve not been left in the dark, to wonder if we’re really born of His Spirit or not. We have criteria now, and a wonderful expectation of what we can look forward to while we’re seeking the new birth. We won’t just be slightly cleaned up versions of our old selves, we’ll be totally different trees!

It’s great news for whoever wants to really be born of God—not so great news for the ones who like pretending. Why anyone would want to pretend they’re born of God when they could have the real thing is illogical, but that’s our sinful nature for you. We’re driven by pride, emotion, embarrassment, love of comfort… but not logic. On top of that, popular teachings encourage a false sense of security that all Christians are just fine. One prevalent teaching is that God doesn’t really have anything against sexual immorality if we just keep repenting. Another one is that God isn’t too bothered by people’s addictions if they really love Jesus and accept Him as their savior in their hearts. We’re all sinners anyway, right? How dare you judge me! And so it goes…

But Jesus does ask us to make judgments. He says, look at your fruit! Do you have any at all? Is it withered, sour and moldy? Are you trying to decorate yourself with plastic fruit from the Dollar Store? Is your fruit just like your neighbor’s who doesn’t even believe in God? Does it line up with His description of what to expect once His Spirit has taken control? We have checklists to determine if a plane is ready for takeoff, checklists for job requirements, for passing grades in school, for recipes… but when it comes to eternal life, popular Christianity wants no checklist other than a prayer to accept Jesus.   

God’s good news is that salvation comes with power! It is difficult to let go of an immoral relationship, or for an addict to get free, just as it’s tough to break out of any sin, big or small. But that’s what the new birth is for! Die to sin, live for Jesus, and you are given authority to destroy the works of the devil by a power that is not your own. As long as someone sincerely hates his old life and is ready to die to it, God is ready to teach him how to cast out the demons of whatever sin has bound him, and that phase of his life will be over. He’ll have his daily fight of denying himself and carrying his cross, like all of us do. But the power of the Holy Spirit will make it a joyful and victorious fight.  

Imagine, no more merry-go-round of sinning and repenting for the same old stuff. No more defeat, and no more pretending that you’re just fine when God seems so far away. The supernatural fruit will be obvious, and you’ll be full of life with His Spirit living and moving in you. Then you’ll be able to judge for yourself and know without a doubt, that you are an abundantly different tree.

A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So you’ll recognize them by their fruit.  (Matthew 7:18-20 HCSB)

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The devil’s biggest scam

We have a lot of myths in our heads. One of them is that the power of God and the power of evil are equal and opposite forces. The battle is so vicious that though God will win in the end, it’ll just be by a hair. This is a downright lie. Yes they are opposite, but there is nothing equal about them.

Another myth is that things of the devil are so evil and so scary that we should never speak of them for fear of invoking some sort of demonic curse. If someone has a pentagram on the bumper of their car, don’t even walk by their house. Watch a video on the paranormal, and then stay up all night afraid of every noise or shadow. Sure God is big and good and all that, but the devil… that’s serious stuff.

Without realizing it, professing Christians give respect to the devil, and yet have so little regard for the name of Jesus. Our Lord Jesus, whose name every knee has to bow before and every tongue confess.  

Ask yourself honestly how you’d react if you blundered into a satanic ritual and a curse was pronounced over you—would you be shaken by it? Would you run to church to pray extra hard to get rid of it? Or feel paranoid at every small sign that something weird might be happening to you? Would that horrible sight haunt you? But what were your reactions the last time you walked into the house of God and witnessed a meeting dedicated to God’s honor—were you shaken by it? When the pastor pronounced a blessing on you, did you feel a sense of awe and wonder that a supernatural thing had just happened? Did that blessing “haunt” you throughout your day? Did you wake up in the middle of the night remembering that the God of the universe had blessed you and that the most powerful name above all names had been invoked on your behalf? Were you expectantly looking for signs that God was really working according to what was said?

I know the answers most Christians would give if they were honest, and I’m not proud to say that I used to be just like them. This is a great scam of the devil, making himself out to be awesome and impressive, and God boring and ordinary. Just look at what’s popular on TV and movies—whatever is dark, twisted and perverse is always cooler and funnier. It’s become the subconscious default mindset of Christians in general. We know that the Bible teaches the opposite, but our reactions (or lack thereof) prove what we really believe.

So… what if we changed our default settings? What if we treated any curse or evil sent against us, from the distant past until now, as small and eradicated by our faith in Jesus? What if we act as if those hurtful words we grew up hearing were worthless lies? And then, what if we regarded every word of faith given to us as a priceless treasure? What if we consistently put into practice what we are taught from God’s word—even if we don’t understand it perfectly—with the eager expectation of a supernatural happening? What if we decide that we’re done with honoring and fearing the devil and dedicate more time to honoring and fearing God?  

What would happen is that we’d see God’s greatness begin to manifest more and more in our personal lives. We would find shortcuts through our problems because Satan’s scary smoke-and-mirrors games wouldn’t impress us any more. We’d be more joyful and be exercising our muscles of faith in the unseen, which in turn would please God more than we’d ever know. We can never forget that our God is huge, and our enemy is defeated and powerless against those who truly live by faith. It’s the truly living by faith part that we need to put into high gear.

“No weapon forged to be used against you will succeed; you will refute everyone who tries to accuse you. This is what the Lord will do for his servants – I will vindicate them,” says the Lord.  (Isaiah 54:17 HCSB)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

This is not supposed to be happening

When a good, law-abiding man is sent to jail for a crime he never committed, that punishment is unbearably cruel. When a faithful worker who has developed his skills is placed under an egotistical, inexperienced boss with outrageous demands, he loses all motivation for his job. When a mother who has dedicated her life to nurturing a happy family discovers that her child will die of a painful disease, it’s as if her heart has been ripped out of her body. Some things are just not supposed to happen… 

When a nation is promised absolute protection from harm, a life of abundance, and inner peace and joy, and then finds itself broken, humiliated and forced into exile as slaves, that’s just not supposed to happen. Either the giver of the promise has broken His word, or the nation has broken its agreement.  

That happened to God’s people. They’d been the most stunning example of God’s power on earth. Kings and queens of other nations would send tribute to the kings of Israel and were in awe of the amazing God who led them with love and wisdom, who dwelt among them in His temple, and blessed them with mercy and kindness.  But Israel didn't value what they had. They took God’s blessings for granted and decided to cut corners with His commandments. Prophet after prophet tried to warn them. Losses, famines and signs from God were ignored until total destruction had to come upon them. Not because God hated them, but because it was the only way to humble them and turn their hearts back to Him.

That process is happening to us, to Christians around the world today. We have the promises of God, we've been given His armor, given the authority of His name and access to the counsel of His Spirit who will dwell in us as He once did in His temple—but who is actually using all of these heavenly gifts? Who values them or even seeks out the knowledge they need to use them? And even if they do have head-knowledge, who has the practical knowledge to use God’s gifts, the knowledge that comes from daily battle with the devil? Most churchgoers don't even bother thinking about such things. They're too busy with their church traditions and functions They assume that these are the concerns of select super-Christians, not themselves. Their ignorance of the things of God is of their own choosing, and the suffering that the devil will bring upon them is also of their own choosing.

It’s wrong for a child of God to be enslaved by the devil and dragged into a life of misery. And yet, how many pastors and youth leaders have confessed to pornography or drug addiction? How many Christians have hidden sins but are too ashamed to come clean and change? And even worse, how many Christians have no concept of spiritual warfare to battle against the demonic forces that are tearing down the integrity and faith of entire churches? Satan is doing his best to drag the Body of Christ into another exile, and it will be of our own choosing unless we change. Daily battle against sin, negative thoughts, and demonic attacks on family and loved ones are all a part of God’s requirement to serve Him. The battle is a joyful one because He always gives us victory when we use His weapons, but it requires the sacrifice of our flesh. The knowledge in His word is only understood when we practice it. If things that are not supposed to be happening, are happening in your life—if circumstances are enslaving you—perhaps it’s time to realign yourself with God and get back into the fight before it’s too late.

Therefore My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge her dignitaries are starving, and her masses are parched with thirst.  (Isaiah 5:13 HCSB)