Thursday, May 28, 2015

Being a warrior: our greatest joy

Compare the way that the Apostle Paul describes Christian life and the way that 99.9% of Christians really live, and there’s a huge gap. Paul loved the fight. Christians today… not so much. He was so consumed with fighting for the gospel and the Kingdom of God, that even in prison he transformed lives. He still does today, thousands of years after his death. He couldn't wait to be taken into heaven where life would take on a totally different dimension. If that meant letting his body be killed by Roman soldiers, that was fine by him. He would even debate in his mind, “What would be better, to stay on earth, or go to heaven?” He felt pulled in both directions, because all that mattered in this world was defending and honoring the Kingdom that he served.  

Who do you know that talks about how great it is to fight for God? Who do you know that can identify a demonic attack and then rushes against it in faith because he knows he has authority to do so? Who do you know that consistently sees answers to prayers, even though they may have to persevere under much opposition for some time? Do you live like that?  

This is God’s standard – put His armor on and fight. Fight against temptations, and fight for God to be visible in this world through your faith and answered prayer. As people see God at work in us, they can get a glimpse of heaven. We can bring them into His Kingdom to be saved for eternity – and then they begin the same process of fighting, overcoming, strengthening their faith and saving more and more souls.  

Jesus never gives us an option to just be good. There are many good atheists and good religious people of all beliefs. But there is only one name that every knee will bow before, and that is the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Your goodness can't make Satan relinquish his hold on your life or your family. Your goodness won't get you into heaven at all.  

A day is coming, sooner than any of us realize, when we'll be standing before Him to account for our lives. If we have an ounce of sense, we'll do anything to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into My Father’s rest.” Being a warrior for His Kingdom should be our greatest joy, it’s not an extra church activity tacked on to the busyness of jobs and families. It’s a way of life that permeates everything we do. Paul calls it a “good fight,” yet people read that and feel sorry for Paul as if he were miserable and worn out. He was more alive than probably anyone else we have ever known. The fight God calls us to is good, because as it defeats evil around us, it generates new life inside of us.       

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.  (2 Timothy 4:7-8 NASB)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

It’s the end of the world as we know it

A large number of people love to read only the comforting verses in the Bible, and avoid the tough passages that show the wrath and justice of God. I knew one woman who refused to pray to the Father, but said that the Son was okay with her because He was the loving one – she obviously had no idea what she was talking about since Jesus says that He and the Father are one. Some even say that the Old Testament God was cruel while the God of the New Testament is all about mercy and forgiveness. Just read through Revelation and see how the New Testament God metes out justice in more graphic detail than any Old Testament book can describe.

Watch the news reports of all the brutal slayings and beheadings, and people going berserk in shootings and riots and crimes of all sorts. The destruction of nature, the destruction of morals, the destruction of economies and our trust in world leaders seems unstoppable. But we shouldn’t be surprised, Jesus told us all about these things 2000 years ago. For those who are of this world, it’s terrifying news. But for those belong to Him, it enlivens our faith. We know it’s the birth pangs of something wonderful about to happen. God calls us to rise up and strengthen our resolve to do His bidding, because He is preparing to return and that’s when real life begins!

There are big demons that God wants us to fight in these last days, principalities bent on taking as many souls to hell with them as possible. But that shouldn’t be a problem for us since we’re the overcomers – we’re still the giants in this battle as long as we belong to Christ. In fact, it should be an honor to fight for Him. We have weapons powerful enough to slice apart spirit and soul, and His purpose for our lives is to use them for His Kingdom, right now. Our lives’ purpose is not about jobs or houses or family issues. It’s about His war and battling in faith, in our prayers and choices to obey every single day. He already promised that our homes and finances and families are going to be taken care of if we seek His Kingdom first, so all anxiety about those things needs to be switched off. Let’s get busy with our call of duty to battle the attacks of the devil in our personal lives, in our neighborhoods, churches, and countries. You have authority to take down demonic powers over your problems. As all Christians around the world obey His call and do battle in our individual lives, we become a united army and our faith can move massive mountains.  

Don’t be afraid when Satan raises his ugly head. You are safe – but those who are lost are in grave danger. Rescue whoever you can, show the power of God as widely as possible, and be aware every moment that we are on the front lines, armed with His indestructible weapons. And as the good and loving King that He is, in the midst of battle He gives us supernatural peace, joy, comfort and strength as a shining testament of His Kingdom in an evil world. Read the rest of Luke 21 and make sure that you are on the winning side.

But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.  (Luke 21:28 NASB)

Sunday, May 24, 2015

How perfection happens

Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  (Matthew 5:48 NASB)

I remember taking a New Testament class in college when this verse came up. A group of guys were angry that Jesus would command something so impossible to fulfill. None of us is perfect — how cruel of Jesus to insist on something we could never do. I don't remember how my very boring professor explained it, but here are two really uplifting things about this verse that not everyone who reads the Bible gets:

  1. “You are to be perfect” is both a command to be obeyed, and a promise that God will fulfill. Jesus had just finished teaching on the motives of the heart. The religious Jews were used to outward rituals and picking at the flaws of other’s behavior. But Jesus taught that it’s not enough to physically abstain from adultery, if our inner thoughts and desires aren’t pure, we’re still adulterers. We have no right to be proud that we’ve never killed anyone if we assassinate others with insults, calling them fools and idiots. In God’s eyes, we can commit murder, adultery, and all sorts of evil through the feelings we nurture in our hearts. Jesus was showing us how to please God at every human level, which is what purity and perfection is all about. He is saying, “If you live this way, you will be made perfect, just like your heavenly Father.” It’s a statement in the future tense saying that both outward and inward obedience is how God can make us just like Him.   
  2. Perfection in Greek, also means, “complete.” When we live in faith with all our hearts, mind and strength, we become complete and perfect. Perfection is our standard and nothing less, even as we struggle to reach it very imperfectly. But Christians who settle for a semi-blessed life with a semi-obedient heart, dishonor God and turn their backs on the completion that He wants to create in them. We can’t be complacent and tolerate anything that is less than perfect in our union with Him. Being perfect means being Christ-like in our behavior, our desires, our love, our vision, our authority and our hatred for evil. As we strive for this, God makes perfection happen.

So for those who love to pull out that old phrase, “I’m not perfect, you know…” It’s time to banish that from your vocabulary. God wants to perfect you despite your imperfections. He’s not looking at the rules and regulations of the Pharisees, but the obedience of your heart and soul. What desires do you nurture inside yourself? What yearnings are on fire in your heart every day? What words do you want to greet Him with every morning? How eagerly to you want to hear Him speak? And what hidden sins of anger or grudges or immorality still smolder inside of you? Jesus commands us to clean house, be perfectly sincere in our obedience, and He will perfect us supernaturally. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Don't wait for a surge of love to come over you

I've preached a lot on Jeremiah 17 that talks about the wickedness and deceitfulness of our hearts. We constantly teach on intelligent faith – believing in God’s word regardless of our emotions, which means forcing ourselves to go against our stubborn feelings to truly find God. As a general rule, emotions and the heart get pretty rough treatment in our church, and for a good reason! So why then would God’s first and greatest command to His people begin with love and the heart? Deuteronomy 6:5 says, “Love the Lord with all your heart, all your mind and all your strength.” Matthew, Mark and Luke all record Jesus stating that this is the greatest command of all. 

That command shows just how important the heart is – it’s the wellspring of life. But loving Him with all our heart doesn't happen by waiting for a surge of love to come over us first. It happens by choosing to throw ourselves heart and soul into loving an unseen God, because we believe that He is worthy of our love. We choose to act deeply in love with Him even before we know much about Him, because we trust Him. We make choices that may seem trivial to others, but carry deep meaning for us and for Him, just like two people in love who constantly think of each other and can't wait to please the other just for the joy of making their loved one happy.  

It’s a command that doesn't have to begin with feelings at all, but starts with the rational decision of our mind (which is second on the list in Deuteronomy 6:5), and with all our strength of will (which comes third). It’s a command that pushes our hearts to do what they were created for in the Garden of Eden, but got sidelined. And miraculously, in the rational process of acting out that love, feelings of the heart suddenly become awakened – not fleshly emotions, but heavenly ones that are deep and sweet and strong, and taste of eternity. They motivate us and guide us and cause us to hate what He hates and love what He loves, and understand spiritual truths. Faith makes sense, and the path before us becomes clear and straightforward. It’s as if His heart melds with ours and changes our very nature.

As parents we know that palpable sweet love we feel for our children. We would die for them and sacrifice to see them well and safe. That bond is almost impossible to break. Time, age, distance, even painful mistakes in the relationship can’t eradicate it. The love of parent and child is a gift of God that allows us a tiny taste of what His love for us is like. Once you throw yourself into His arms in total surrender, you begin a bond with Him that has to be worked on in obedience, but the serving and the sacrificing loses the sensation of being a burden and become a joy. When that bond is healthy, you're the child who eagerly runs into his parent’s arms in both good and bad times, and sometimes for no particular reason at all. Obey His command based on rational faith, and then find yourself in love with Him, seeing through His eyes and desiring His desires. It’s so simple. Are you ready to go that far?

Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life. (Proverbs 4:12 NASB)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Zombie Christians and unanswered prayer

So many people want the blessing and healing of God, but want to cling to evil. Just little stuff, is what they rationalize – stuff that God can handle because He knows we’re all just human and living too holy a life would bore us to death – so they imagine. They allow profanity to slip through their mouths, but they tell themselves that they’re working on it, just like their minor addictions, their negative thoughts, their love of worldly things and on and on. They like to be radical in their music, their opinions on society, their health, their sense of style… but radical in being holy?  

When God describes those who belong to Him, He refers to them as alive in the Spirit. Those who aren’t His, are dead. Two radical opposites, but how many Christians today are living like zombies? They’re dead with an appearance of life. They can have faith for a few blessings here and there, agree to certain Bible principles and even practice them now and then. But are they new creatures? Are they really alive and unrecognizable to those who used to know them? Is there a stark contrast, or do they just blend into the fabric of worldly life with just a few Christianized habits and accessories? They are zombie Christians who are spiritually stuck.  

There are people who have power over fear, over struggles and disappointments, there is an assurance that can see beyond what others think is failure, and by their faith new life can sprout and flourish in a desert. It’s these people with the presence of the Holy Spirit living inside of them who have a direct line to the ears of God. They are heard even though they’re not perfect or Bible scholars or position holders in church. They are just those who sincerely and humbly die to themselves and obey, and because of that, they are really, truly, extremely made alive.

Does God hear everyone’s prayers? No. I know that goes against the DIY Christianity that’s popular today, but the Bible says otherwise. God longs to hear our prayers, but only if they’re real. Only if they come from a humble and submissive heart, not from a manipulative, selfish, rebellious one. Trying to barter with God for a special deal on His blessings does not reach the ears of God. Demanding blessings without a willingness to honor Him as Lord is basically praying to the walls. If you find that your prayers are going unanswered, know that it’s not what God wants. He just cannot hear prayers that are nullified with sinful desires and a stubborn resistance to Him. It could all change right now in an instant if you want to be heard and see the miracles you need. Be willing to do whatever He asks of you, whatever you have known for a long time that He wants you to change or sacrifice. That way you can finally live.

We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He listens to him. (John 9:31 HCSB)

…and My people who are called by My name humble themselves, pray and seek My face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.  (2 Chronicles 7:14 HCSB)

Friday, May 15, 2015

For anyone, anywhere

When I look at the non-stop stream of testimonies that play on the radio and internet here in Sāo Paulo, in church services and on church blog posts, it never ceases to amaze me how God can really rescue anyone from anywhere who has done anything in their past. The pastors who were once drug addicts are so far removed from the old person that they once were. I’m often surprised at the horror stories that they have to tell, which makes the story of their salvation and transformation that much more powerful. The church assistants who joyfully serve in the daily meetings are giving back to the God who rescued them from suicide, depression, witchcraft, prostitution – you name it. These are the people that we probably would have avoided like the plague had we known them in their former state. They were so far from God, but thankfully someone reached out to them and helped them find the path to deliverance and salvation to be where they are today.

We can’t write off anyone as a hopeless case. God can reach anyone, and no one is worthless to Him. The only thing is that not everyone wants to be reached. Something has to be awakened in them by God’s Spirit to make them hunger for a change. When we reach out to the lost and they reject us or treat us with contempt, we can’t take it personally, feeling hurt and afraid to ever reach out to anyone again. Obviously there’s a spirit in or around them resisting the light of God, and sometimes just showing our sincerity and care chips away at their defenses and reveals a power that they want for themselves. Seeds of faith we plant may take even years to actually sprout and take root when their hearts are right.

But by the same token, we can’t force a person to find God by imposing our will on them. Constantly preaching at them against their will is not an act of faith, but an act of our flesh. There are a lot of people who refuse to go to church just because of frustrating experiences with pushy Christians. Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will draw people to Himself. Our job is to be ready to speak to them and show who He is through our lives, but the hunger for Him is something God will instill in them whenever they are ready.  

It’s natural when we have a big love for God to get excited about the new life He has, and we would want to tell the whole world and bring as many into His Kingdom as possible. If a Christian has never had that burning desire to rescue others, maybe he should ask himself if he really knows God. If you’ve been drowning and then are pulled onto a lifeboat, would you ignore the rest of the people who were still drowning in the sea around you? Those who are truly saved, want to save! God is calling the most unexpected people into His Kingdom and He wants to use each of us to throw out the lifeline to others. We don’t know who will take hold of it and who won’t, but we can know that He is doing the calling, and those who have ears to hear Him will come. This is a promise to us, to our children and even to those who are far off.

“Repent,” Peter said to them, “and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”  (Acts 2:38-39 HCSB)

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Terrifying, exhilarating joy

When the people of God finally heard the scriptures read out loud to them, they wept and were grieved. It had been seventy years of exile in Babylon and then Persia before they had been allowed to return to the devastated land of Judea to start all over again from scratch. The word of God hadn’t been read to them for decades, and so much of His word had been ignored and disrespected for years leading up to their captivity. To hear God speak to them once again was so overwhelming that they could only respond with tears of remorse and shame.  

It was understandable, but that was not what God wanted from them. It wasn’t time to mourn over the past, it was the time to grab ahold of the present and have faith for all the blessings and battles that were yet to come. Ezra, Nehemiah and the Levite priests told the people to stop crying, because that day was supposed to be holy. Lamenting their mistakes didn’t honor God, and pity kept their focus on themselves and not on God. Emotionalism is not the correct response to a time of holiness - joyful determination in faith is.  

The word “holy” usually creates a very negative reaction in most people. It gives off a sense of stuffiness and proud superiority. We get mental images of dull people in drab clothing and sour faces talking in preachy monotone voices, and the last thing we want is to be like them. I’m sure the devil has had a lot to do with that false impression of holiness, because it’s nothing like what we see in the Bible. Holiness was recognizing the power, love and protection of a mighty God – a God you can’t impress and a God you dare not mess around with.  For those who were humble, holiness was terrifying and exhilaratingly joyful all at once. For those who were proud, holiness was just plain terrifying because it revealed all the depravity of their soul.  

There was a man in King David’s time who casually touched the ark of the covenant with his hands to steady it, and his prideful disrespect coming in contact with God’s holiness killed him on the spot. To treat holy things as common is playing with fire. Self-pity and self-centeredness on a day of holiness is disrespectful to God too. The only correct response to a day of holiness was to celebrate with both joy and respect, with awe, humility and amazement that our Creator and Savior would grant us such abundant love and mercy, and then to embrace it with all we’ve got.  

Human nature is happy with parties or shopping sprees, and most people get more excited about those shallow experiences than time spent with the God who gave them life. Honoring His holiness means determining that God’s love and power is flooding over us in the middle of problems. It’s a supernatural power that’s not dependent on physical circumstances. Joy is chosen by faith. It triggers miracles to happen. It’s a crazy joy that celebrates victory before any victory is in sight. It pulls the power of heaven down to earth. Holiness means joy, and that joy is your strength.

Then he said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”  (Nehemiah 8:10 NASB)