Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Getting Attuned - Nuts and Bolts of Warfare, Part 18

God speaks to us constantly, if we’d only listen.  He speaks through His word, through our times in prayer, through circumstances and trials, through the encouragement of friends and even through nature itself.  Unfortunately it’s rare for most Christians to acknowledge that God has spoken at all, taking everything that happens as mere coincidence.  

How many great sermons have you heard, and then forgot them by the time you left the church parking lot?  We’re quick to accuse God of abandoning us, of never listening, of being distant and silent, but we’re the ones not listening. We dismiss His voice so often, we become deaf and numb to Him.  

To be effective in spiritual warfare, we have to be quick to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  None of us are listening as we should.  Our ears are so used to the over-the-top drama of the devil manipulating our emotions, that we miss the still small voice of God in our spirits.  Our normal mode is going with the flow of bad moods and negative assumptions, self-pity and self-indulgence, and we justify it all very convincingly.  But much like the wind and the earthquake and the fire in Elijah’s time (see 1 Kings 19 for the story) God doesn’t speak through any of that.  

When God speaks, it’s usually just a thought.  No drama, no soundtrack, no light from heaven, just a simple thought.  And what’s our typical response? “Yeah, but I’m too busy for that…” or, “That would never work…”  The devil wins when we treat God like an annoyance that interferes with our important routine.  And we do it all the time.  Every one of us has disrespected God’s voice today without even realizing it.  

But what if we all started attuning our ears to God’s voice and actually act on it every day?  Major things would change.  God knows how the devil is plotting and planning to defeat and harm you, and will give you the promptings to start fighting in prayer right now.  Start praying about the situations you are going through or upcoming events that any number of problems could derail.  Stop with the generic, “Lord, bless my meeting, help me do well on that test,” kind of prayers.  It’s time to be specific and to zero in on what the devil might try to do against you and launch a preemptive strike.  Begin rebuking the demons that are being sent ahead of you to throw a wrench in the works before you even get there, rebuke how they want to work in the minds and attitudes of the people who you’ll be dealing with, rebuke the subtle fears and dread that is building up inside of you. Rebuke them with authority, with holy anger.  As you get into the “zone” of faith and warfare, the Holy Spirit will begin praying through you, giving power and direction to your prayers.  Instead of being weak and hesitant, you’ll have the courage to walk into any situation with the peace and conviction of God’s presence with you. 

The more often you enter into that zone of faith, the more you’ll sense the Holy Spirit leading and confirming your faith.  You’ll sense His proddings more often throughout you day, and if you respond quickly to Him, your spiritual ears become more attuned to Him, and you’ll become more obedient to do what’s right.  Problems that looked like mountains will crumble, and ordinary events will become extraordinary because you chose to exalt God as Lord over those situations.  1 John 3 says that Jesus was revealed to the world so that he could destroy, or undo, the works of the devil.  Today He needs us to be His instruments of warfare, but if we don’t listen to Him, we won’t act.  Imagine what the world would be like if each one of us lived in that zone of faith?  We would block so much evil and open doors for so many miracles.  It starts with you and me today.

Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses, for we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27 MEV)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Devil’s Parameters – Nuts and Bolts of Warfare, Part 17

“Why did Jesus do what the legion of demons asked after He cast them out of the Geresene demoniac?” The question implies that Jesus can be pushed around by the whims of the devil. 

It also implies that Jesus indirectly chose to kill a herd of pigs, destroying someone else’s property. When the legion of demons saw Jesus from a distance they were terrified, and begged Jesus not to torment them yet, so they asked to be sent into a herd of swine nearby. Jesus gave the okay, the demons rushed into 2000 pigs, who then ran off a cliff into the Sea of Galilee and all drowned. “Well, that wasn’t very nice of Jesus!” said one woman after I had preached on the passage. Let’s take a look at how demons work and how God deals with them:

  1. Though Satan is the prince of this world, God is still in total control. Because of our sinful nature that began in the Garden of Eden, we (all of humanity) have given permission for the devil to have dominion over us, bringing death, sickness and destruction. God has respected our wishes to live in rebellion against Him, so He hasn’t wiped out the devil or removed him from power… yet. The devil’s presence in the world is because we, as selfish and rebellious creatures, have chosen it.
  2. The devil and his demons will be cast into the Lake of Fire as eternal punishment for the evil they have done to all of God’s creation. That day is yet to come, and until then, Satan is still on the prowl, ready to devour anyone who is unprotected.
  3. Jesus taught that when a demon is cast out, it wanders through “dry places,” looking for another life to inhabit. (Matthew 12:43) That doesn’t mean that demons hang around Arizona or the Sahara Desert – it means that when they have no body to possess, they are thirsty for a life to inhabit. They are dry and desperate for fresh meat.
  4. God hasn’t left us defenseless in an evil world – He gave Jesus to rescue us from the power and dominion of the devil. We deserve hell, but instead, have the privilege to live in the protection of God, beginning the moment we hand over our entire life to Jesus, die to sin, put on God’s armor and fight the good fight. Whoever lives in this faith is safe. Whoever does not, is an open target for demons.
  5. God doesn’t send demons. James 1 says that it is impossible for God to tempt anyone. But He does allow demons a limited amount of space since we chose Satan over God back in the Garden. Whatever demons do to attack or destroy, can only happen within the parameters of what God allows, before the day comes of their final torment. We chose the devil – God mercifully limits him.

So Jesus didn’t torment those demons because they begged Him, it just wasn’t their time yet – and still isn’t. God allows demons limited freedom in this world to attack whatever and whoever is not covered with the protection of true faith. Jesus, the disciples and the man were all protected by the power of faith, and the disembodied demons were desperate for another life to defile. They knew it was within their limitations to enter that herd of pigs, and Jesus knew it too. The fact that the pigs became possessed and killed themselves, shows that somehow, the owner of those pigs was an open target. And if he was unprotected, his livestock and possessions were also unprotected. There was something evil already going on in that household to attract the attention of those demons, and Jesus wasn’t about to hinder them from doing what demons always do. And by the way, Jesus wasn’t destroying someone else’s property – all the earth belongs to God, and if He sees fit for livestock to die, He has all the right to do so.  

These are the parameters that we live in today. The devil is still free to roam and seek out victims to devour, but as long as we have a solid faith in God, have denied our flesh and live in obedience to Jesus’ commands, we have nothing to fear. We have authority, and we are rescued saved – delivered.  Don’t ever take this protection lightly. The only logical way to live is in humble gratitude. We’ve been allowed to escape hell and given rights as honored children of God, when we deserve none of it. Then, we should do all we can to rescue others from demons as well. In the grand scheme of things, nothing else matters.

Look, I give you authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy. And nothing shall by any means hurt you.  (Luke 10:19 MEV)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Subtle contaminants – Nuts and Bolts of Warfare, Part 16

He was wearing the angriest, edgiest t-shirt that beautiful Sunday morning when we were going to have a special day of worship. One of the church members commented wryly on his choice of attire. “Hey, I don’t dress like everyone else, God understands,” he shot back.  

Yes, God understands, and perhaps there could really be a good reason to wear something that sent a message of utter despair and hatred – I can’t think of one, but hypothetically, there could be. No, God doesn’t want us to judge others based on appearance, and yes, He wants us to welcome anyone into His house just the way they are. But here are a few points about this young man:

He’d been seeking counseling for problems with violence and rage for years, and hadn’t yet overcome them, though they’d significantly diminished. He had a hard time believing that God loved Him, and cringed at the sound of any music that wasn’t dark or depressing. He was very emotional and would sink into despair when he felt guilty for the things he had done wrong, and it took a lot of counseling and encouragement to get him to believe that he was loved and forgiven. Demons plagued his mind, convincing him that they protected him, and that if he ever got completely free, he’d become weak and bland, and worse than anything, “uncool.”

It was clear that he showed up to church with that t-shirt on purpose. It was a subliminal message that he was not about to let go of the demons of anger and hostility. He wanted God on one hand, but he wanted the “comfort” of those longstanding demons at the same time. Why would he even come to church at all if that was his attitude, you may wonder? It’s because underneath all that confusion, was a guy who knew deep inside that he needed God. We were the only church he’d found that wasn’t scared of his weird reasoning, or of the demons that were lying to him every day. So he showed up, month after month, humbling himself at times, and resisting at times, taking big leaps of faith and seeing Gods faithfulness, and then falling on his face, needing a lot of tough love to be pulled out of his pit of darkness again. But he always showed up.

What was his biggest obstacle to getting free? He clung to the things that still pleased his demons while still praying to God and reading his Bible every day. He was trying to stop cussing, to control his anger, to rebuke the devil, treat his wife well and work hard on his job. Yet he loved that culture of darkness that made him feel cool and tough – the music, the clothes, the video games. The Bible says, “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things edify.”  (1 Corinthians 10:23) Sure, the Bible says nothing about what t-shirt we can wear, what kind of music we can listen to or if video games are a sin. But God prompts us to see what the devil uses to contaminates us. We can try to rationalize it away (but that’s my favorite band! those pictures are a part of my past!) but God knows, the devil knows, and our spirit knows. There may be items in your home that are perfectly harmless to anyone else, but because of your emotional attachments to them, they don’t edify, and if they don’t edify you, they shouldn’t be a part of your life. They become footholds – open doors for the devil to linger and linger, even though you pray and rebuke him regularly. Emotional attachments are the easiest access for spiritual contaminants. 

If you enjoy your deliverance dragging on for ages, if you have a high tolerance for demons inhabiting you, by all means, keep on showing up to church while clinging to things that are defiled by flesh emotion. But if you want your freedom tomorrow, sacrifice it all, fearlessly, ruthlessly and no turning back. Take a moment to analyze what could still have a hold on you – photos of ex-boyfriends or girlfriends, old music albums, clothing, mementos of your old life, self-help and even Christian books by people who’s lives don’t match up with the word of God – pray and be honest with God, and He’ll be honest with you. Then act your faith and throw off any remnants of the devil’s hold on you. Revolt against the fact that your spiritual life is stuck. In light of the freedom you could have, you don’t need that stuff at all. 

Have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; have mercy on others but with fear, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh. (Jude 1:20-23 MEV)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Who is inside of you? – Nuts and Bolts of Warfare, Part 15

She was a famous prophetess in the city and had shown up to our meeting with her entourage of followers a half an hour early. The crowds of people from churches all over town were impressed, especially when she went into her frenzies of prophecy at our doorway. 

She’d rapidly stomp her feet, twirl around in a circle, and point at someone, spouting out a supposed word from God about their life. “Next year you’re going to get married!” she’d say as people marveled and praised God. Then another frenzy of stomping and twirling, “You’re going to open a new business!” and on she’d go, as the crowds watched. She’d heard the announcement that an American pastor was coming to speak about deliverance, and joined with the many other church leaders and church members who crowded into the place last Saturday in the sweltering heat. I had no notion of who she was, but God had a divine purpose for her to be there.

After I preached and we gave our testimonies, I prayed for those who had hidden wounds, doubts, shame or sins, and who wanted to be honest with God and come clean. As we prayed for healing, hearts began to open and God was moving. Then we began the real cleansing – the strong prayers of deliverance. Demons began to manifest right and left, and among them was the prophetess. Though she’d been proudly displaying her “powers” just an hour beforehand, she also had the humility to open her heart and be sincere, and because of that, the demons within her couldn’t resist our prayers, and God was able to create a change.

The chief demon screamed in anger, and confessed that it was the one giving her the power of prophecy — not God. It called itself the spirit of deception. It spoke about how it was the god of so many religious people in the room that night, and how their faith was powerless. But it hated the few who were there with a real and living faith. It boasted about working through the husband’s mistress who’d done witchcraft against the prophetess to give her cancer. The cancer was demonically sent and fuelled, and would take her life. Her adoring fans were shocked and frightened as they watched. 

“Can you touch me, demon? Can you destroy me?” I asked as a teaching tool for everyone watching. When the demon hissed no, I asked why. “Because the One inside of you is stronger than me!” it said with hatred. The demon had just brought home the whole point of my message that night, in fact the whole point of why we need salvation.

The security that I have in God has nothing to do with my goodness or luck or superior spirituality – it’s all because I’m protected by the Lord I serve. No one is more powerful than our Lord Jesus, and with my life surrendered in obedience to Him, demons can’t destroy me. The best they can try for is to tempt me to doubt so that I open up a chink in my armor. Whoever works out their salvation daily with “fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), is covered with His protection. We’re safe in our Father’s arms, from attacks here on this earth, and from eternal banishment from Him in the life to come, which is hell. 

The next time you drag your feet when it’s time to worship in God’s house, or to serve someone for God’s sake, think again. The next time you groan when you know you ought to read your Bible and pray, realize who you’re rejecting. You don’t have to obey – but you do have the great privilege of treating Him as your Lord. None of us can afford to distance ourselves from Him, not even for a day.  

We have no idea how many tragedies we are spared as we go about our daily lives, just because we serve the Lord of all lords. Take time today to make sure your life is right with Him and actively rebuke all that the devil wants to throw at you in the days ahead. Pray for this prophetess when you remember her. She’s humbly agreed to counseling by our pastor to find deliverance, healing and true salvation. The devil recognized who was inside of me and who was inside the unbelieving Christians there. Do you know who is inside of you?  

Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists invoked the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “We command you to come out in the name of Jesus whom Paul preaches.” There were seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva doing this. The evil spirit answered, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?” Then the man in whom the evil spirit was jumped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled from that house naked and wounded. (Acts 19:13-16 MEV)

Friday, November 13, 2015

Getting Busy with Now – Nuts and Bolts of Warfare, Part 14

In Philippians 3, Paul says: “…but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” 

We know that dwelling on the past is wrong. But it feels so good because it creates a world that revolves around us – our needs, our losses, and our pain. It’s a subtle form of idolatry, and the devil holds many Christians captive to that mindset. So how do we kill this false god? As Paul says, by “reaching forward” – getting busy with doing exactly what God wants of us right now. Paul compares it to an athlete zeroed in on his goal. The more we strive and push ahead with obedience, the more spiritually clear minded we become, and the more our memories and failures fall away. They don’t matter any more when we’re in the thick of a supernatural battle where we see God’s hand at work every day. We see the beauty in faith, and experience peace in the midst of warfare. This isn’t just for super-Christians, this has to be the way of life for every Christian.  

The joy of serving God doesn’t come over us in a cloud of glorious emotions that we float on for the rest of our lives – that’s the devil’s fairy-tale version of being a Christian. The more you hope for that kind of mystical happiness, the more depressed you become when it doesn’t happen. Joy and the renewing of our spirits is very real, but not emotion based. They’re faith based. Faith begins with cold, rational choices that end up bearing fruit that revives and energizes us.  

Example: Bill showed up at church newly divorced and feeling like a heel. He’d contributed to the disintegration of his marriage through his anger, drinking and dishonesty. It cut him to the core to see his wife take their young children, knowing that her new husband was the man they would know better than him. He repented and surrendered his life to God, and began the process of obeying even in the toughest times. He stopped the pornography, quit drinking, and chose to forgive his ex. But what began as sincere repentance became emotional self-mutilation, as if he carried an invisible whip to beat himself day and night. He was sorry, but he couldn’t get over what he had done.   

“But how can I forgive myself? I’ve ruined my life and I’ve scarred my children forever,” he’d tell me. Because of his guilt, he allowed his ex-wife to manipulate him into less time with his kids. He couldn’t bear to discipline them anymore and they lost respect for him, making visitation weekends miserable. This wasn’t God’s idea of repentance – it was the devil’s plan to continue tearing Bill apart even though he’d quit his old sins.  

Bill only got free when he began to zero in on his goal. Priority number one had to be his relationship to God, otherwise he’d be useless to anyone else. He began to ignore the temptation to wallow in guilt, and to act in faith despite his emotions. He prayed harder and stronger at home, in the car, during lunch break – all the time. He rebuked demonic thoughts, and prayed the power of God over his kids, commanding the devil to leave their hearts and minds. Then he sought God for ideas on how he could serve Him more, and discovered that some of the guys at work needed encouragement, and God gave him just the words they needed. They started praying together, and he brought some to church. In time, Bill was overflowing with the joy of serving God, of hearing His guidance and seeing many answers to prayer.   

Bill pushed forward actively without waiting for the past to fade away. He replaced it with the goals of the present, with what God wanted from him now – and then did it with all his might. Our faith has to push forward, even when we don’t understand all the whys and whats of our past, the goals God sets before us give us freedom and healing when we pursue them with all we’ve got. Ask God what He wants from you right now, and zero in on that alone. Soon your past will be a beautiful part of your testimony to glorify God, the very best revenge on the devil.  

Therefore, since we are encompassed with such a great cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.  Let us look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and your hearts give up.  (Hebrews 12:1-3 MEV)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Call to Store up Wealth – Nuts and Bolts of Warfare, Part 13

Jesus describes the devil as the one who comes to steal, kill and destroy, and one huge area where he works is finances. We need food and shelter, provisions for our children, bills to be paid and debts to be repaid. We can’t avoid the need for material goods as long as we’re on this earth. To believe that it’s a sin to pray for money is a misinterpretation of God’s Word and His will for us. 

But it is a sin to have our hearts wrapped up in our talents and abilities, our careers and our bank accounts rather than in Him. And because it’s a sin, the devil does one of two things. He facilitates easy access to money, knowing that you will immerse yourself in greed and place all your trust in it, or he can continuously chip away at what you have so that you’re just barely surviving and living in a constant state of anxiety.  

Greedy Christians are not true Christians because Jesus isn’t their Lord. Jesus is merely an accessory to the lifestyle they crave. Comfort is their real lord. Funny how most greedy believers aren’t even rich. They just fiercely hold onto the few comforts they have as if they would shrivel up and die if they had to part with them. They want what they want because they want it, and that’s their god. The Bible says that people who store up these kinds of treasures will loose it all to moths, rust and thieves. Moths represent the ravages of nature, rust represents time, and thieves represent human injustice — all three are tools of Satan, the head thief, who Jesus says comes to steal, kill and destroy. There’s no getting around it, wealth on this earth turns to poison when we refuse to loosen our grasp on it.

The other group that the devil attacks through finances easily feels that God is distant and uncaring, that poverty is His will and a test of their faith. It’s true that God can allow scarcity to come upon His people from time to time, but He will always provide and show abundant care to those who are faithful to Him. The danger is in losing heart and blaming God — in feeling guilty to pray for financial help on one hand and then angry at God for not providing on the other. This passive-aggressive cycle is a faith killer.  

Once a Christian has become bitter towards God, there’s no vision to rise up and confront the devil and command him to leave. It even makes it harder to act out in faith and give what God is asking them to sacrifice. Why would God want them to sacrifice when they’re so poor? …they ask. Many Christians find themselves in these spots because they had once been in the first group of greedy believers who refused to let go of their precious possessions, opening a door for the thief of thieves to rob them blind.  

Our priorities have to be turned upside down. Our driving force needs to be the joy of storing up eternal wealth by serving each other, by caring about the lost, about going wherever God sends us and doing whatever He asks. Our comfort zone has to be wherever He is and that’s all. Why else did first century Christians sell all they had to help the growing church? They understood that wealth has no value unless it is used to advance the kingdom of God. They had an amazing new life in the Kingdom of God that was worth every sacrifice. What God is looking for are willing hearts that are free of greed, free of anxiety and full of trust that He is our great provider. We’re not supposed to worry and fret over what we do or don’t have. We’re supposed to be busy doing His will, determining that He will supernaturally provide all we need and more as we act out our faith, sacrificing what He acts us to sacrifice, and having big dreams for His glory and the salvation of souls. God has promised to provide when we do this.  

Spiritual warfare against the devouring spirit demands a mindset that resists greed and anxiety over money, and which chooses the heavenly riches of our salvation and the salvation of others above all other wealth. But it also demands a conviction that God wants to do big things through us for His glory, and the willingness to sacrifice whatever He asks us to sacrifice. What is God asking you to give up so that the hold of the devouring spirit can be broken?

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroy and where thieves do not break in nor steal, for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 MEV)

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Secret Weapons – Nuts and Bolts of Warfare, Part 12

Spiritual warfare can take on various shapes and forms. When dealing with a manifesting demon, I know he’ll only respond to the authority I have as a child of God to drive him out with no mercy.

 In my daily prayers, I speak directly to demonic forces that are trying to block me, our church, the work of God in the world, and in any other area that I am concerned about. I bind them up and have no fear about confronting them head-on because I’m not using the authority of my own goodness or spirituality, but the authority of the Lord Jesus, who has graciously given all His children the right to use His name. But in everyone’s daily activities, demons continue to try and pull us down, to dismantle our faith in subtle ways, and that’s when other forms of warfare are important as well.

The way we treat our family, our coworkers, the thoughts we entertain, the humility we have before God to keep seeking His wisdom even in doing simple tasks such as driving or household duties, is all a continuation of our specific prayers and requests. Actions speak in the spiritual world, showing that we’re either full of the joy of the Spirit, or weighed down by worries, full of determination that an answer to prayer is certain, or discouraged because nothing has happened yet, full of love for unlovable people, or resentment and irritation at people who we don’t think are worthy of our attention. The condition of my heart will always show whether I live my faith or not. These simple choices to live in mindfulness of the Lord we serve have a powerful effect on defeating the demons that attack.

It’s a mindfulness that’s focused on the spiritual world and not the physical. When you are gracious and kind to the nasty remarks of a family member, even when your instincts are primed to attack back, it’s because you see that a spirit is working through their words and should be annihilated in a spiritual manner. Annihilating the person who spoke those words hurts both them and you, emboldening the demons that instigated it all. So instead, you do the opposite of what the devil wants by responding in humility and kindness to that person, while inwardly rebuking the demons behind the incident. Humility and kindness become a spiritual weapon of destruction, which is why the devil does all he can in moments like that to make you explode in anger. He hates your weapons, but if you don’t even know how they work, you’ll always default to selfish sinful habits and give the devil more permission to degrade you. Then, you’ll wonder why your deliverance is taking so long…

So the next time you make strong prayers to rebuke the devil, the next time you determine to use bold faith against the evil in your life, be on the alert in the hours and days to come to show extraordinary love and kindness, gentleness, self-control and goodness to others both in and out of church — especially when they don’t deserve it. As you show yourself worthy of the gospel of Christ in your daily lives, your enemies (the devil and his demons) will clearly see the sign of their own destruction and defeat. It will also be proof that you are truly His and no demon can steal that from you. We’ve been called into battle and to suffer attacks for Jesus’ sake, an honor that only brings blessings, and we need to be wise and not locked into only one form of prayer or one form of battle. Living out the fruit of the Spirit may not feel like a weapon of destruction, but trust what God’s word says and watch what happens.

Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, that whether or not I come and see you, I may hear of your activities, that you are standing fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel. Do not be frightened by your adversaries. This is a sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and this from God. For to you it was granted on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me. (Philippians 1:27-30 MEV)