Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Blind friends

When someone first surrenders their life to Jesus, they normally experience overwhelming love for Him and an urge to tell everyone about their Lord, about salvation, about this amazing new life that they found. But what often happens, is the people they'd been closest to, the ones they were most certain would embrace their new faith, reject it outright. 

It hurts. It’s a shock, like a bucket of cold water. A lot of new Christians can’t understand how their dearest and most trusted friends and family just don't see what they see. So they talk, argue, debate, pressure and drag these people to church who for some reason are resistant and resentful.

It’s frustrating, but the Bible explains it. There is a god of this world. A false god who masquerades as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), who dulls people’s minds to the amazing glory of Jesus, and blinds them to the life they could have if they surrendered to Him. This god will convince them that they already have God, that they're already saved, that they're just fine, thank-you very much. Of course everyone has free will, and everyone has the ability to reject the influence of this god, and to listen to their loved one’s testimony who is obviously deeply changed by this faith. But that’s where the dividing line among people shows very clearly. This is where you can see the true state of someone’s heart and whether they're just pretending to believe in God or not. 

If your dearest friend who says that they've always loved God is irritated at your faith, don't try to argue them into anything. It’s probably the time to back off and allow God to do what only He can in their heart. If they don't want God, or if they're just putting on an act of spirituality, no amount of convincing is going to change them. Might as well save your breath and just pray for them. It’s hard to believe that a faithful lifelong friend would, or could be false, but now that you serve Jesus as your Lord, your top priority is to defend this precious faith inside of you. You need to see the reality that deceiving spirits work in even the nicest people.  

Telling them your testimony, the testimonies of others, answering their questions and encouraging them to come to church for counseling is important, but once you’ve said all there is to say, it’s time to trust that you've planted a seed that God can use when your loved one is ready — if they are ever ready. That’s the sacrifice many have to make. To let go of a relationship that is no longer healthy for their faith while entrusting those loved ones to God. Lowering yourself to the same spiritual level as they are is not showing them love, even though that’s what they want you to do in order to stay close to them. But fighting on their behalf against the false god that is blinding them is the truest love you can offer. Most likely they'll be offended that you aren't like them anymore, and that false god will convince them of all sorts of negative things about you. Don't be discouraged. Just focus on your fight and love them as God wants. This is a part of our daily sacrifice of the flesh, and the only way God can be given the space He needs to work in their blinded hearts. 

…the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  (2 Corinthians 4:4 HCSB)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A balance of extremes

Be bold, be a fighter and be ruthless with the devil.  It’s a constant theme in these blog posts. It’s so important, because it has changed my walk with God, my prayer life, my mindset and in seeing answers to prayer.  

It’s exciting to live in that kind of relationship with God, but as in all good things, you can become unbalanced.  Following all of God’s word, not just the parts you like, will keep you from becoming unbalanced, but our human nature tends to get stuck in ruts.  Even good ruts.

Once I can get a cold or disillusioned Christian to become excited about faith, it’s usually because they were like I used to be, knowing nothing about spiritual warfare or their authority to fight and overcome.  Once they see how God comes through for them as they are courageous in faith, as they sacrifice their flesh and confront the devil, they’re so on fire that they don’t want to stop.  But as extreme as we need to be in boldness and strength, we also need to be extreme in humility and love.  

We don’t view love as strength, because most of the love that we witness in the world is just confusing emotional mush.  Parents think that loving their kids means giving in to whatever they demand, allowing them to insult and disrespect them, so that they grow into selfish, dysfunctional adults.  Or couples claim they love each other while demanding unrealistic standards, they tear each other down when disappointed, but expect total forgiveness when they betray each other.  Old-fashioned Hollywood love was all soft and sweet emotion.  Modern love is turning into some weird complicated joke.  But only pure and godly love is a weapon that destroys evil.  It even lifts up and strengthens both the giver and the recipient.  We don’t usually think of love as a form of warfare, but what could be more against the tactics of the devil than loving an enemy?  There’s nothing like it.

When we know someone is suffering, the greatest love we can show them is to fight for them.  But that fight has to be rooted in love for our neighbor, and more than anything, love for God.  A Christian who’s all bluster and noise, Bible-thumping and grandstanding, is like that clanging cymbal in 1 Corinthians 13.  He may even stir up real faith in others, but it doesn’t mean that he’s pleasing God.  There are plenty of disgraced faith-healers who are examples of that.  As much as God exhorts us to be bold and courageous, and as hard as it is to get Christians to act out a bold faith, our boldness needs to have a foundation.  

Weapons of warfare take on many forms, just like Paul and Silas’ joy, Jesus’ peace, and David’s confrontation with Goliath.  They all require courage, and they all have to be rooted in a humble love for God that obeys to any extreme.  Seek God’s wisdom to know how to use all of His weapons, but make sure that your motive is always out of love for Him and for His Kingdom, and never for your own glory or benefit.  

Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love.  (I Corinthians 16:13-14 NKJV)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

God’s chain of events

Our brains create a fascinating chain of events when faced with a problem.  Mentally choose to perceive a problem in a positive light, and you'll trigger a neurological response that releases a feel-good hormone into your system, which then opens up all the creativity and learning centers of your brain, which helps you to quickly find a good solution to that problem while enjoying the whole process as it happens.  

Conversely, you can choose to perceive a problem negatively, triggering stress hormones which close up your creativity and learning centers, slowing down your reasoning skills, while heightening your aggression and self-preservation responses.  So who of us naturally defaults to the negative response?  Pretty much everyone.  Who even knows that we have a choice?

The revelation that faith is based on a mental choice, was a huge game-changer for me.  God speaks a lot about the heart in the Bible, and I, like most Christians, mistakenly assumed that it meant I had to “feel” God all the time, otherwise I wasn't a good Christian.  When faced with the need to pray about an urgent situation, I'd often end my prayer in discouragement because no surge of spiritual elation had overcome me even though I was doing my best to believe.  God really had heard my prayer, but I’d nullify the little faith I had with my defeated attitude.  If my prayer wasn't answered, I was sure that it was because I hadn't felt faith while I prayed, meaning I was a sub-par believer, killing any motivation to pray again.  

God is not anti-feelings — He just doesn't want us to wait for feelings as a sign of faith.  What He wants is for us to use our heads and create faith by choosing to believe.  That is raw and unadulterated faith.  Feelings follow later, and sometimes only much later.  They really don't determine anything when it comes to raw faith.  They're immaterial.  But raw faith is the raw material for miracles.  

Faith that reasons is what Abraham, Gideon and others used when they stepped away from their emotions, took stock of what was happening and basically said, “Wait a minute.  If God promised this specific thing, and I'm obeying what He requires, then He is bound by His own word to answer me just like He promised.”  That was the reasoning that pleased God then, and still pleases God today.  

Their mental choice to hold onto God’s promise created faith, not some sort of euphoria.  And that mental choice of faith kept them in a mode of openness and willingness to learn and be led by God.  They had eyes to see opportunities because God gave them a peace that undergirded their daily lives as they went through the process of persevering in prayer.  The emotion of peace was God-given, the joy of being grateful every day for His provision and guidance was also a gift from Him.  

When we choose to see every problem with God’s eyes, our minds become renewed and all the toxic, negative imaginations of the devil are swept out.  God’s natural, biological changes wired into our brains kick in, but more than that, heavenly forces are set in motion to actually alter and rearrange physical problems and turn them into victories.

God didn't create you to live in a constant state of stress and anxiety.  Renew your mind by choosing the right chain of events to happen. Miracles will happen both in you and around you.  Choose intelligent faith. 

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.  (Romans 12:2 MEV) 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

When trust becomes a no-brainer

I mentioned Paul and Silas in a previous post – they were the ones who’d been beaten and chained in a prison dungeon just because they set a young girl free from a tormenting demon.  And instead of reacting with fear and depression (not that they weren’t tempted to) they chose to sing praises to God.  Their singing was like a punch in the face for the devil who wanted to defile them with self-pity or anger.  Their choice to praise God instead was so radical that God’s power shook the foundations of that prison and caused all the doors to swing open and all chains to fall off the prisoners.  Even the head jailor and his whole family were saved that day.

It’s a beautiful story, but who among us would choose joyful singing with a bleeding back, the threat of more torture and probable death?  Maybe you’d like to imagine that you’d be as courageous in your faith as Paul and Silas.  So what if we scale this back to ordinary problems?  Who among us regularly chooses to sing joyful songs of praise when they’re treated badly on their job?  How about when we get stuck in traffic, or lose a cellphone, or just feel like no one understands us?  How quick do complaints and indignation rise up inside of us when we don’t get our way?  How often do we even blame God for our inconveniences?

It’s all in our perspective.  Paul and Silas and so many other heroes of faith knew how deeply they were loved, and how costly the price of their salvation was.  Paul said, “If God is for us, who is against us? He did not even spare His own Son but offered Him up for us all; how will He not also with Him grant us everything?”  His line of reasoning was that no matter what problem was thrown against them, they were already conquerors, so why bother with petty complaining?  God just came in the flesh and died and rose again and then gave them His authority to crush Satan – they could never repay Him for such a priceless gift!  If God had already done that, of course He was going to grant them everything!

Their perspective came from spiritual reasoning, and when we do that, absolute trust in God becomes a no-brainer.  It’s like being sure that you’ll have enough oxygen to breathe ten minutes from now – who even worries about that?

The fact that we struggle so much to have that certainty shows how far we all are from the kind of solid trust that shakes open prison doors.  But that’s the faith we need to strive for, that we can all have.  In Romans 8 Paul lists death, life, famine, sword, anguish, persecution, nakedness – all those things we’d rather not think about – as ineffective in stopping the overwhelming love of our God.  Absolutely nothing can stop God from loving and providing for you.  Nothing.  That means we can walk straight into an attack of the devil, and be fearless (not that he won’t tempt us with fear) and we can choose to sing joyful songs of praise as an act of defiance to the devil, and as an act of total love and trust in our unstoppable God.  He’s already given us everything, its time to give Him our total trust.

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.  (Romans 8:37 NASB)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Never passive!

The devil only respects force.  Stubborn faith wipes out all of his tactics and throws him into confusion.  Faith isn't true faith if it doesn't obey God’s ways, so that rules out any kind of forcefulness that is selfish or greedy.  

We can’t make the mistake of thinking that being forceful is always a sin.  In God’s eyes, we can be violently forceful and please Him completely.  What can throw us for a loop, is that godly violence doesn't look like strength to the world, we often confuse it for weakness.  

I know that sounds backwards: God likes violent force, but it often looks like weakness.  What?  Remember when Jesus says to walk a second mile when someone forces you to walk with him for one?  That’s a weapon that the world sees as weakness.  Jesus wasn't asking us to become doormats for bullies.  If someone forces you to serve them unfairly, fighting them in anger will just give more power to the devil.  You'll become just as much of a bully as they are.  The power of this weapon is to fight the demon trying to humiliate you through the situation, and not the person.  And that is done by doing the opposite of what the demon wants.  Don't just walk a second mile sulking in defeat like an abused victim, because self-pity just makes the devil laugh.  Instead walk that second mile in defiance of the devil – in a stubborn determination to show kindness and love for an unlovable person – to forgive and to give even more.  It may look like weakness to the world, but to the forces of evil hovering around you, it’s devastatingly powerful and it sets you free from his control.

The devil’s weapons stir up fleshly anger, greed, selfishness and violence, but he also wants to stir up fleshly self-pity, a victim mentality, defeatism, fear and anxiety.  Our problem is that we see the louder more pushy qualities as bad, and the weaker, more passive qualities as natural and acceptable. But when any of them fill our hearts and motivate us to act, the devil is in control and we've lost.  

God’s weapons are based on faith in His character, and they're never passive.  They always require stubborn determination and a pure heart, no matter what they look like.  Sometimes God’s weapons are loud and confrontational, like Elijah on Mt. Carmel, or Moses facing Pharaoh.  Other times they can be peaceful sleep like Jesus in a storm-tossed boat, or joyful singing like Paul and Silas chained in a dungeon.  There was nothing passive about them.  Defiant love, defiant joy, defiant peace, are all hard-core weapons of faith, just as much as loud rebukes.  But one thing is certain, if Christians don't learn what weapons they have, and how to use them, they'll continue to lurch from one defeat to another all their lives.  When God’s Church around the world starts to fight as one against the works of the devil, using all the varied types of weapons that He provides, it will be a glorious sight to see the devil and his demons trembling.  We're commanded to take hold of His Kingdom by force, so let’s do it!

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has forcefully advanced, and the strong take it by force. (Matthew 11:12 MEV)

Monday, August 17, 2015

Act of kindness or creepy ritual?

Some sicknesses are just sicknesses with no specific cause, like the blind and deaf man who the disciples though was being punished by God because of his or his parents’ sins.  Jesus told them that it had nothing to do with sin, but that God was going to show His glory through that man, then He healed him on the spot.  No one was to blame, but Jesus wanted to heal him even so.  

All sickness can be traced back to the fall of man when Adam and Eve sinned and Satan and his demons were given an entryway into all flesh.  Some sickness is just a result of life in this fallen world, but some sicknesses are directly related to a demonic presence inside a person’s life.  It doesn’t mean that the person is evil and should be punished, but that the devil has found a way to attack and cause destruction in one more victim.  This is much more common than most people imagine or even suspect.

It’s always a tricky thing to suggest to someone that they’re being attacked, and maybe even possessed by a demon.  Hollywood has made the subject either a freak show or a joke, the Catholic Church has made a creepy medieval ritual out of it, holy-roller Pentecostals have fanatical scream-fests about it, and contemporary Christians just don’t want to think about it.  But we can’t escape the fact that Jesus dealt with demon possession every day, taught His disciples how to set people free, and treated it as a normal part of ministry that should continue until He returns.  If some sicknesses and problems are directly caused by the presence of demons, wouldn’t it be an act of kindness and mercy to fight those demons on that person’s behalf? 

A mute man was brought to Jesus, and Matthew says that he was demon-possessed.  Jesus drove out the spirits, and the man began to speak again.  It was so amazing that the crowds were buzzing with excitement about this miracle, the likes of which had never been seen in Israel.  Another time, a woman bent over double for eighteen years was found by Jesus in the synagogue, worshipping God in great pain.  He didn’t just heal her – He rebuked the demon and cast it out and she instantly stood upright.  Neither of these people were treated as evil outcasts, they were ordinary people who were just “bound by Satan,” as Jesus called it.  The man was brought by friends or family who cared about him, the woman was seeking God in His house on the Sabbath.  Jesus didn’t reject them because demons were inhabiting their bodies, He loved them, and had compassion on them.  

Don’t think for a second that since we live in a highly sophisticated age of advanced technology that demons no longer work as they did 2000 years ago.  Demons have advanced right along with us, and still create pain and anguish in anyone they can find.  Good-hearted believers aren’t exempt from the devil’s attacks, and only those who are filled with His Spirit are protected from being possessed.  But that doesn’t mean that the devil won’t try, or that we should assume that everyone around us is just fine because they love God.  If you love your neighbor, fight for their freedom in your prayers.  Bring them to a pastor who knows how to do warfare against the evil that is attacking them and then teaches them how to fight for themselves.  And maybe you have some warfare to do in your own life.  Just like the people in Jesus’ day, a huge miracle could be waiting for you too.

As they went out, they brought to Him a mute man possessed with a demon. And when the demon was cast out, the mute man spoke, and the crowds were amazed, saying, “This has never been seen in Israel”  (Matthew 9:32-34 MEV)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Authority and revolution

Everybody who taught about God during Jesus’ time was either a mystic, a sorcerer, or teacher of the law of Moses.  The mystics and sorcerers had demonic supernatural powers to gain wealth and popularity.  The teachers of the law had a stranglehold on common Jews by imposing rules and regulations that they had invented, and had added to what was the scriptures already taught.  

These teachers (Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes), held important positions of power on the Jewish political scene, and could manipulate the common Jew to do what they wanted, by accusing him of being unholy and unworthy of heaven.  They terrorized those who didn’t know the laws of God, by holding them to impossible standards, and extorting money through the buying and selling of livestock to be sacrificed at the temple.  The only difference between the demonic sorcerers and the holier-than-thou Pharisees, was that the sorcerers were open about their greed.  The Pharisees paraded their humility around, praying loudly in the streets, smearing their faces with ashes and looking miserable when they fasted, with an air of pretentious spirituality.  

And then came Jesus.  Like a nuclear bomb, His words rattled the false dignity of the Jewish leaders and infuriated them.  They couldn’t argue with Him, because everything He said and taught was perfectly aligned with their scriptures.  But what He taught was nothing like they had ever known.  It was revolutionary, personal and powerful.  Everyone who heard Jesus’ words felt their souls were eating and drinking for the first time ever.  Jesus didn’t bother with their style of theological debate—it was the Holy Spirit speaking through Him directly to the spirits and souls of His hearers.  They were finding God in a deep and personal way. The humble ones drank it up and wanted more.  The proud, burned with rage.

And what could they do about those miracles?  Who could argue against a flesh and blood fact that a lame man, or a leper, or a blind man, or a dead little girl, was standing right there healthy and strong?  His authority was not only compelling to the mind and the heart, the facts were irrefutable!  

Some Jewish historians of the first century bitterly accuse the disciples of pretending that Jesus was the Messiah and of starting a false religion.  But nowhere among those writings can any accusation be found that Jesus pretended to heal or raise the dead, because those miracles had been witnessed by thousands and no one could deny it.  

So logically speaking, if we are now His body, His church, His followers who are called to not only do His works but even greater works (John 14:12), where is our authority?  Do we even believe that He granted His same authority to us?  Do we know how to use it and amaze others with His power so that He can be glorified?  The established Christian church today is a far cry from the kind of ambassador that God wants us to be for this world, that is rapidly heading towards the end times.  We need to be the connection to Jesus for others, to show His irrefutable power through our faith, to challenge the weak to stand up and believe and to command demons and principalities to be cast out of our homes, families, jobs and lives.  Our words and lives need to be in perfect alignment with His word, and our courage to step out in faith in line with all the examples of the heroes of faith in the Bible.  We could bring about a new revolution of faith in our lifetime.  Who’s ready?  

When the crowds saw it, they were amazed and glorified God who had given such authority to men.  (Matthew 9:8 MEV)