Thursday, May 5, 2016

Dreams, passion and your inner drive

An article in a top business magazine reveals how interviewers look for certain personality traits when hiring employees, that personality can outweigh an impressive resume.  Skills and education are great, but if a person doesn’t have what it takes to get the job done well in the real world, they’re not much use to a company that wants results.  Who you are – or at least who you project you are – is crucial to how companies hire their staff.  Interviewers may not know it, but they’re tapping into a God-given instinct to see beyond the superficial and look for real substance.  God looks beyond the superficial as well, only He does it far better than any of us.  

You can find story after story online of rags-to-riches successes, men and women who had nothing and created world-renown companies through a passion for their dreams.  Many had little to no faith in God, but they wanted what they wanted so badly that they pursued that dream no matter how impossible it seemed.  Some were homeless and lived out of their cars, others were forced to work three jobs doing manual labor, others had come from abusive homes and the foster care system, but all of them latched onto their dreams until they came true.  Their inner drive made them able.

Take that to a higher, more powerful level, to the level of faith in God.  He is telling you every day: “You can!  Not because you are able, but because I will make you able!”  When we assume that our skills and abilities are the only tools God can use to bless us, we limit Him.  If we were raised in a home without the resources for a great education, or without the love and support we needed as kids, if the absence of those resources caused us to struggle and make poor life choices, it’s normal to believe that we are now saddled with a rotten past.  But that’s what being Born of God is all about – getting rid of that “saddle” and becoming fresh and new again.  God wants us to know that it doesn’t matter any more, because He’s not looking at our resume, He’s looking for our passion for Him.  That’s all.

Take a look at these statements and see if they accurately reflect who you are: “I trust God so much, that I’m willing to do whatever He asks, even if it feels like He might not come through.  I may look like I’m failing to everyone else, but since everything I do is to please Him - how could He allow me to fail?  He’s been so merciful and has given me more than I deserve, so how could I ever complain about my life?  I can’t wait to spend time with Him every day, I love training my ears to hear Him speak, and I love the challenge of obeying Him even in scary moments.  I can’t see the details of how my prayers will be answered, but the dreams He gave me are as real as if I held them in my hand. He is so real, and no one can convince me otherwise.”

That’s a life that reflects loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength as the 10 Commandments requires.  It’s a faith of passion and conviction that causes His eyes to be drawn to us as He searches to and fro to strengthen those who are totally devoted to Him (2 Chronicles 16:9).  That’s the kind of faith that God has pleasure in, that He loves to honor with answered prayers and miraculous changes.  

Don’t worry any longer about your disadvantages, about your flaws or lost opportunities.  God doesn’t care one bit about any of those, but He does care about the passion and trust you have in Him right now.  If you fear Him, you passionately desire more of Him, and you passionately fear losing His presence to the point that you will do whatever He asks of you.  If you’ve been basing your faith on earning His approval by being “good”… stop!  Know now that He is merciful.  Place all your hope on Him, trust in the dreams He has given you, and see where that kind of faith will take you.

He delights not in the strength of the horse, nor does He take pleasure in the legs of a man, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His mercy. Psalm 147:10-11, MEV

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Quality over quantity

How oblivious are we to the fact that choices we make on our journey towards heaven greatly impact our eternity there?  Of course we are to remain faithful until the end, never trade our salvation for the things of this world and never be lured away by sin – hopefully these are well-established truths for every Christian.  But our reward isn’t just escaping hell.  God intends to reward us richly based on the choices we make in this short life on earth right now.

He’s looking for quality – a quality of faith that can withstand fire and storms, a quality of love for Him that doesn’t worry about the approval of others, but pushes on to build up His Kingdom, His church, His people despite criticism or misunderstandings.  This world can’t even see that level of quality, and religious traditionalists are blind to it even more.  God saw the qualities of a king in a shepherd boy, David.  Jesus saw the qualities of raw faith in a Roman centurion who recognized His authority.  Gideon, the weakest of his tribe and clan was hand picked by the Angel of the Lord because of his spirit of revolt, which was the quality God needed to say, “Go in this your strength!”  No one would have chosen them by worldly standards, but there was eternal value in each of them that God gladly used.

The standards of the Kingdom of God are far above us.  When others are praising the greatness of philanthropists and poets and movers and shakers of this world, God is looking to see whether anything of eternal value exists in their lives.  If they have no faith in Him, all the good they do will be burned up in the end along with the praise and accolades of the world, and their future will be torment.  Not because God chose it, but because they did.  

And if someone does have faith in God and is headed towards heaven, God searches for anything of eternal value in them beyond their salvation.  They may be extremely active in their churches, coming home exhausted from evangelizing, scrubbing the church toilets and organizing for the next big meeting, but if their hearts are set on gaining the approval of their pastors and being seen as important in the eyes of others, God sees all their hard work as piles of stubble and hay.  If they turn their backs on others who don’t fit into their mold of the “perfect Christian” and spread rumors or gossip, they nullify the good that they do, because they are laying foundations that are worthless.  Churchiness is of no value to God.  Faith and faithfulness regardless of what others think, or do, is.

Every man or woman of God who was used in the Bible was a surprise, a misfit and even a shock to people around them.  The risks they took to please God were priceless diamonds to Him, but usually offensive to others.  Only after they were tested by fire, did those risks prove their eternal value.  Moses, Esther and Mordecai, Daniel, Elijah and Elisha, Mary the sister of Martha, Matthew, Peter, Simon the Zealot, Paul, and the list goes on.  If our hearts are set on impressing others, we will have little to nothing of eternal value to show for our lives once we make it to heaven – if we make it to heaven.

In these few decades of life on this earth, we are given the choice to build lasting and permanent foundations, which will often mean doing things that no one will ever thank us for or acknowledge.  That’s where our faith is truly tested – we say that we love Jesus more than anything, but do we love Him enough to live a quality of life that only He might see?  Do we give up when we don’t gain immediate recognition for our good deeds?  Or even worse, do we not even bother to strive for a quality faith because we assume that we’re saved anyway?  A heart with that kind of attitude is so far from God, and may not even be saved at all.

Like Matthew 6:1 says, “Be sure that you not do your charitable deeds before men to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” Let’s decide to live every day laying down the most precious and lasting treasures that will honor God today and last forever.  

For no one can lay another foundation than that which was laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or stubble, each one’s work will be revealed. For the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If anyone’s work which he has built on the foundation endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss. But he himself will be saved, still going through the fire.  1 Corinthians 3:11-15, MEV

Friday, April 15, 2016

A brotherhood of man

In 1971 John Lennon, wishfully invited the world to imagine a utopia where there was no heaven, no hell, no countries, no causes to die for, no religion, where all humanity could share the world in brotherhood and peace.  His famous song was an instant hit and became the anthem for the anti-Vietnam hippie generation.  The philosophy of one world united in harmony sounds so lofty and appealing, but is unbiblical on its face.  The book of Daniel prophesies about the end times when the “great king” or antichrist arises, he will “destroy many in a time of peace,” that he will “destroy wonderfully and will prosper.”  International peace will mark his reign on earth, yet under that fa├žade of peace, he will destroy wonderfully.  

“…and shall destroy the mighty men and the holy people. By his cunning, he shall cause deceit to succeed under his hand, and he shall magnify himself in his heart.”  Daniel 8:24-25 MEV

We have to be careful not to fall into the popular notion that global peace needs to be sought after at all costs.  There’s a growing chasm in our culture that is separating those who are born of God from those who agree with the world.  There can be no harmony between darkness and light.  We are promised wars and a falling away of believers from the word of God.  We are promised persecution and sharper divisions between true and false Christians.  Weak Christians will be deceived by the attractive offerings of the peaceful and prosperous world of the antichrist, and will even turn against those who are strong in the faith.  There will be a time when they will be saying, as 1 Thessalonians 5 puts it, “‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape.” 

Jesus is the true Prince of Peace, but to experience that peace, each of us needs to do battle against our flesh, against evil, against the opinions of the world.  It means keeping our eyes wide open to detect the lies, to reject them, and to speak out against them.  It may look aggressive, but it’s this battle that guarantees our peace.  When we have real faith, nothing can cause us to lose our joy – not even the threat of persecution or the loss of approval by our families or friends.  Whoever knows us will either be so drawn to our spirit of peace and victory, or be utterly repulsed by it.  This distinguishes who a true believer is and who isn’t.  Anyone who is comfortable with the world’s philosophies and makes the world feel comfortable with them, is out of step with God and risks being destroyed in the times to come.  

In ancient Israel, the conflict of war kept God’s people sharp and alert, in prayer and fasting, in humble obedience to Him.  Their victories came through the discipline of living a separate and holy life.  The only way for the devil to destroy God’s people, was through a false sense of peace and security.  Making pacts with idolaters and tolerating immorality seemed like good tactical choices, until those spirits defiled them and ravaged their land.  When spiritual boundaries are torn down, God’s people suffer.  Holiness means being set apart, safe within God’s borders.
Don’t fall for popular philosophies of the crooked world we live in. Satan disguises himself as an angel of light through smooth words and lofty sounding ideals.  Be innocent as doves, but crafty as serpents.  Romans 12 and Hebrews 12 tell us that as far as it’s up to us, be peaceful and loving, but never to the point of compromising our faith or tolerating evil.  The days are already here when speaking the truth stirs up hatred and violence.  And that is why it’s so crucial now to get rooted in God’s peace that passes understanding, the peace of true faith, of fearless warfare, and of joyful obedience and victory in all things.  

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s foes will be those of his own household.’” Matthew 10:34-35 MEV

The Forgotten Commandment

If you take obedience to God’s word seriously, it should be a given that the Ten Commandments are the foundation of your life.  Many Christians can’t even name all ten offhand, but most believe that their lives are safely in line with those basic principles.  Only blatantly rebellious Christians will involve themselves in adultery, murder, theft and lying – at least the obvious acts that we associate with those sins.  

We often forget Jesus’ words that if we even just think lustful thoughts about someone, we have committed the sin of adultery.  Even if we lash out in anger or entertain hateful feelings towards someone, we have committed murder.  Who among us has never, even for a moment, fallen into entertaining such hidden sins?  Not even the holiest of the holy in our church community is innocent of breaking God’s commands, because all of us have sinful natures and need God’s mercy and forgiveness – even after being saved.  The more we love God, the more we will run from sin, and not only outward sins, but the sins of our hearts.  It’s a daily battle.  As vigilant as we may be, the human ego is so easy for the devil to manipulate. 

Which brings me to the one rarely thought of command.  Thou shalt not covet.  The full verse in Exodus 20:17, talks about not coveting your neighbor’s house, wife, male or female servant, oxen, donkey or anything else.  The word covet is so rarely used these days, it’s the forgotten command, the one no one seems to care much about.  But our world is full to overflowing with coveting, and we don’t even realize how often we embrace that sin.

The power of advertising and marketing is its reliance on humanity’s abundance supply of covetousness.  We see a product that we don’t really need, but we want to look like the beautiful happy people in that ad, so we waste our money to buy it anyway.  We covet the status that eating in a certain restaurant gives us, or the lifestyle we can pretend we have when we wear those clothes.  We’re embarrassed to drive that perfectly functional car with the funny appearance because we covet the cool factor that the pricier version has to offer, and dig ourselves into debt because of it.  We’ll buy our children expensive trinkets to satisfy the covetousness they learned from us.  Coveting can be done out of jealousy, rivalry and envy, the need to impress, or just out of pure selfishness.  But do we realize that coveting is listed right next to adultery, murder and theft?  It’s a sin of the heart, where we nurture demonic emotions and destroy our relationship with God.  Why are we not fighting against it?  Why is this evil so tolerated?  

If we hated it as much as murder, we would be alert to its presence and be radical about destroying any traces of it in our hearts.  Being grateful every day for the blessings that God has given us is a start.  There are many in this world who would be so happy to have the little that you’ve been blessed with, but coveting creates contempt for God’s provision and a greed for more.  Make a habit of sincerely praising God for others who receive blessings that you don’t yet have – be truly happy for them to kill any root of bitterness or covetousness in you.  All that matters  is how you invest in your eternity.  Everything will turn to dust and disappear, but in one hundred, two hundred, ten thousand years from now, you will still exist – either with God or without Him, depending on how you invest your life right now.  Take your eyes off of temporary treasures and status symbols, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.  Hunger and thirst for God’s ways above all.  It’s not worth showing contempt for the blessings God so lovingly provides for you and losing your salvation in the end.  Love Him in pureness of heart, because in that, there is no room for sin.     

You lust and do not have, so you kill. You desire to have and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have, because you do not ask.  You ask, and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your passions. You adulterers and adulteresses, do you not know that the friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.   James 4:2-4 MEV

Friday, March 25, 2016

Fight the drone

“Be anxious for nothing…” reads Philippians 4:6, a verse that most people consider to be very nice and virtually impossible.  A news story just popped up about a major politician in Washington who has stated that he’s “giving up anxiety for Lent,” and got a huge backlash for insensitively implying that anxiety can be given up by choice.  Thank goodness the politically correct police are here to protect the feelings of anyone who would be offended by a command of the Bible!

Like it or not, Jesus’ command indicates that being anxious is a choice.  If it’s not dealt with, it grows into a monster over time.  What makes it a monster is when we embrace the notion of being a victim, that our fears are beyond control. For anyone with a shaky faith, embracing that notion seems so logical, as if it’s the only option.  What’s worse, the notion becomes a security blanket, which is why many are offended by the good news that they can get free from anxiety by faith.  There’s something about feeling victimized that creates a warped sense of comfort, of entitlement to pity, which is a red flag for the presence of a demonic spirit.  Whenever something destructive feels so good, there is always an evil spiritual force behind it.

In my experience, most ordinary people live in a mild state of anxiety every waking hour.  They can have happy moments, enjoy family gatherings, work productively and love their kids while underlying fears eat away at them.  It’s like living by a highway, while the dull drone of traffic and exhaust fumes continually pollute you with stressful sounds and smells.  You block it all out, until the day you drive to the countryside and realize how peaceful the world can really be.  

Many Christians are living with that constant drone of anxiety and fear as the undercurrent of their lives, just trying to block it out.  Because their prayer requests haven’t yet materialized, they imagine that God is saying no, and expects them to just tolerate anxiety, to fret and worry and endure by blocking out their fears and shoving them into the background.  Sorry, that’s not faith.

Never, in any place in the Bible, does God teach us to tolerate stress or worry.  Never.  Be alert and repent from evil, yes – but when it comes to fears, God’s favorite line is, “Do not fear!” or “Fear not!” or “Do not be afraid!”  He expects us to take the initiative to reject fear and anxiety.  He sees a fighting power within even the weakest of us, but the fight is won by using His Spirit so we don’t have to do it all on our own.  If God commands us to reject fear and anxiety, the logical next step is to view them as spiritual enemies that we have authority to defeat.  But those who embrace anxiety as a security blanket will never be able to both fight and love that enemy.  

Think about it.  Those pills you may be stashing in your medicine cabinet are not your friends.  The urge to get a drink after work to unwind is just a form of feeding your anxiety like a pet.  The cutting words you spew at your spouse or children are totally unjustified, no matter what they did.  The emotions driving your poor choices are enemies that want to drag you further from God and further from your healing.  Don’t use the excuse that it’s too hard to fight.  God promises to give you His strength, and that strength comes from choosing to believe His promises despite your feelings.  It comes from rebuking demonic emotions and recognizing that those anxieties are not just your own logic speaking, but a spiritual force who is lying to you.  Find a pastor today who can to teach you to fight effectively.  Don’t take offense at the good news he has for you, and don’t tolerate evil dictating your life any longer.     

Let go of anger, and forsake wrath; do not fret—it surely leads to evil deeds.  For evildoers will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the earth.   Psalm 37:8-9, MEV

Saturday, March 12, 2016

And (permanent) justice for all

One of the many social outreaches of our church in Sao Paulo is the prison ministry, headed up by a friend of mine who travels every day to various correctional facilities all over the state with his team of pastors and evangelists, praying for inmates, providing basic needs such as blankets, food and clothing, and teaching them that they can be free internally, and even change their way of life externally as well.  In fact all the social outreach groups in our church are full of day-to-day spiritual heroes: the Angels of the Night who feed and clothe the homeless in some of the roughest areas of the city every night of the week, the addiction outreach, the church’s home for the mentally disabled, the hospital visitation ministry, the outreach to abused women, and more.  We can’t call ourselves true followers of Jesus if we don’t care for those who are suffering on a physical level, even if they’ll never thank or repay us.  It’s part of the gospel, and part of serving Him.

But even if we do all of that, “you will always have the poor with you,” as Jesus said. Real injustice goes far deeper than just human rights violations and poverty.  The roots of any type of evil are spiritual, and unless those roots are pulled up by spiritual means, they’ll remain as stubborn as ever, growing and destroying more lives.   

There is a trend among young Christians who feel that the Church as a whole has failed to bring about the justice that Jesus taught.  Their solution is to radically change their way of life to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, build shelters and homes, schools and clinics for the underprivileged.  In their minds, they are being Jesus to the world, and many give up their comfortable lives as well-educated professionals for this radical life-style.  That’s very noble, and caring for the physical needs of those who are suffering is a great necessity, but interestingly, many of these young people who are so adamant about social justice, are ambivalent about God’s justice for their personal lives.  Death to sin, living in holiness and righteousness are minor points for many who are caught up in this trend.  They want to be heroes for the world while pridefully refusing to obey the commands of Jesus.  How can a filthy life rid the world of the filth of injustice?  Can Satan drive out Satan? 

Satan is the one who steals, kills and destroys.  Of course he uses political corruption and incompetent social structures, but what sense does it make to rebuild a structure when a spiritual force keeps finding ways to knock it down again?  God wants us to make permanent changes, and that only comes through spiritual warfare.  And spiritual warfare begins with our own personal lives on a smaller scale.  When we are made pure through rejecting sin and living for Jesus, true justice comes to life within ourselves.  We are seen as pure and righteous in God’s eyes, which then gives us authority to rebuke and bind up demonic principalities.  We can develop the spiritual eyes to see the roots of injustice in a homeless person, an addict, a refugee or a prisoner, and then we can fight on a level far greater than just food and shelter. 

So then, you may ask, why aren’t more good, and moral Christians impacting the world?  It’s because of another extreme of believers who want to be “holy and righteous” just for their own benefit, who won’t fight for the freedom of others, who won’t get in the trenches to set captives free or sacrifice their comfort to involve themselves with “undesirables.”  And just as much as do-gooders without holiness fail, these types of Christians also fail by refusing to get their hands dirty and serve as soldiers in warfare.  Jesus commanded us to be holy, even as He is holy, to not even think evil thoughts, much less commit evil deeds, and He also commanded us to care for the suffering, the poor, the prisoners and the sick, to cast out demons and to raise the dead, to preach the gospel and to be obedient to the Holy Spirit’s guidance.  

“If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word. My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.  The one who doesn’t love Me will not keep My words. The word that you hear is not Mine but is from the Father who sent Me.” (John 14:23-24 HCSB)  

Saturday, March 5, 2016

When it’s good to be weird

Growing up as a pastor’s kid, there were a lot of church words I didn’t understand, and mentioning them would instantly cause my brain to zone out and daydream.  They were those boring, stuffy words like, righteousness, justification, holiness and godliness.  I knew they were good, but I figured that they were complicated issues that only people who studied theology cared about.  I preferred to hear the exciting stories of miracles and wars in the Bible… if I wasn’t daydreaming.

Only much later did God reveal to me how mind-blowing these ideas really were.  That those powerful concepts were interwoven in every story of miracles and conquests.  If the idea of being holy conjures up images of chanting monks in a cold dark monastery, that’s exactly the boring picture the devil loves to project, so feel free to delete that image from your mind once and for all.  Being righteous, holy and godly, makes us more alive, more joyful, and more in sync with the Creator of the universe, who also is the Savior of the world.

The word “holy,” means “set aside.”  Set aside from the world’s corrupt logic, from the world’s lusts, from the world’s obsession with greed and selfishness.  Being set aside means rising above the things of the world to a supernatural level, seeing the impossible before it happens and being linked to an invisible Kingdom.  It means being so set aside, that we become weird to the world.  We don’t fit into their way of thinking.  When they get angry and depressed, we are joyful and peaceful.  They indulge their flesh, while we deny ourselves and gladly sacrifice so we can please God and hear His voice.  When they pray out of religiosity, nothing happens.  When we pray, we join our spirit to a terrifying King with power far greater than a million nuclear bombs, yet feel at home like children with their loving Father.  We become weird, unearthly, scary, and far too happy and confident for the standards of this world.  Our lives make sense, but the world tries to ignore us, and we really don’t care what they think.  All we want is to bring them out of their ignorance to know Him too.  That’s being holy.  That’s being righteous. 

God is offering such a victorious life, but we’ll never find it if we don’t choose to be set aside first.  For those who cling to the comforts and approval of this world, who worry about impressing religious folks, thinking they can fool God by straddling the line of holiness and worldliness – they’re all lumped together as unbelievers.  It’s those who strive to be weird, who are disgusted by sin, who simultaneously live in self-denial and joy that get the privilege of bypassing hell.  Be obedient, be holy, be righteous, be weird – and live! 

Therefore, with your minds ready for action, be serious and set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  As obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires of your former ignorance.  But as the One who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, Be holy, because I am holy.  (1 Peter 1:13-16 HCSB)