Saturday, October 22, 2016

Flipping the world on its head

We are interpreters and don’t even realize it. Say that you bump into a friend you haven’t seen for a while. He shakes your hand and says, “Great to see you! I haven’t heard from you in ages!” Your brain could easily interpret his greeting to mean, “I’ve really missed you!” or just as easily, “Oh it’s you, you rotten friend, thanks for ignoring me for years...” Your interpretation will dictate your reactions and behavior, and create your own “truth” that you live by. You can potentially build a stronger friendship or destroy one, or even worse, foster grudges and resentment that stay with you for years.

But interpreting the world God’s way can turn all of that on its head. One quality of being born of God is being very aware of the fact that we live on a spiritual plane, which can affect and change the physical world. A total stranger could send all the wrong messages of hostility, rejection or contempt, and even though our fleshly instinct wants to judge them as jerks, God’s Spirit creates a new interpretation. First of all, we interpret ourselves as strong and in no need of approval by anyone else to be happy. Secondly we see beneath the surface to discern someone who’s hurting, insecure, or being attacked demonically and in need of help. We know that reacting in the Spirit could change their spirit for the better, so we go out of our way to be kind without expecting anything in return, or by silently praying against the demons that are tormenting that person’s mind at that moment. We impact their lives for the better. We may not see any specific change in the person, but the Spirit of God in us sees it. We can walk away from the experience stronger, more blessed, and untouched by the negativity that our old reactions would have created.

God’s constant message to us is that every problem has a solution, that there’s always something good we can do. We can interpret bad news, or even ordinary events, spiritually. And then our reacting can change the course of how things play out in the future. Our interpretations may seem crazy to others, but if they spring from the Spirit of God, they’re always right. Look at how Jesus interpreted situations that baffled His followers: 

He slept through a storm that could have killed everyone on board.
He told His disciples to feed thousands of people with a few fish and bread.
He told mourners to stop crying because a dead girl was just sleeping.
He touched lepers.
He criticized religious leaders.
He ate with prostitutes and thieves.
He destroyed property and ran people and animals out of the Temple.
He cursed trees.
He talked to storms.
He forced demons to obey Him.
He healed everyone who asked Him.
He didn’t back down before His own death on the cross.

God wants us to start interpreting the world His way. But this comes from a radical faith in Him, His promises and His character. It feels unnatural at first, because it’s implicit that every time we live by the Spirit, we kill our flesh. But the more we practice it, the less we want to go back to the old way of interpreting. 

What problem is bugging you the most? What’s making you feel stuck? Ask God to show you how He wants you to interpret that situation, and then start acting on it. That interpretation could demand that you act in a way that makes you look crazy, that makes you feel vulnerable or foolish or even weak. Great! That means you’re being forced to act by faith, and faith is what moves mountains.

Then He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rise out of the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming,’ and so it is. And when a south wind blows, you say, ‘There will be heat,’ and it happens. You hypocrites! You can discern (interpret) the face of the sky and of the earth. But why do you not know how to discern (interpret) this time?  Luke 12:54-56, MEV

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Curses that just won’t go away

George came from a long line of broken relationships, domestic violence, abandoned children and runaways from abusive homes. George was so amazed to find God, to receive salvation, die to all the sins of his past and find a new life. For over 10 years, he’s been serving God voluntarily as a prayer counselor at church as often as he can fit into his schedule. He’s a great guy, good-hearted, humble and very lonely. No attempts to find the right woman to marry have worked. He prays, fasts, and tries his best, but lately he’s become weary of disappointment. “I know there’s been a generational curse on my family for years, but I’m filled with the Spirit now – why’s this curse still affecting me?” he asked.

Christians of all church backgrounds are still carrying around the curses of generations before them. Some, because they aren’t truly saved, Christian in name only.  But others like George are sincere, and are still blocked by the same evil that has destroyed their families for decades. Why? It’s not because it’s God’s will, or that the power of the cross is too weak, or that they are unworthy to be freed from the curse. It’s because they haven’t yet learned to live in the freedom that Jesus purchased for them on the cross. Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by being made a curse for us—as it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’” 

The law of the prince of this world, is that once he owns a family (which is how demons think), he has the right to continue tormenting that entire family line, even inhabiting unborn babies in their mother’s wombs. But Jesus became a curse so we can be free from curses, and free from the devil’s laws and rules. Galatians 5 also says, “For freedom Christ freed us. Stand fast therefore and do not be entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”  That’s not only talking about sin, but about all the bondage of the devil. Submit to Jesus as Lord, and you’ll be saved, but to find total freedom from the curses of your past, you need to make specific choices in faith to “untangle” yourself from their hold. Jesus’ death broke the power of all evil. Sickness, sin, and curses. Most Christians focus on forgiveness of sins—the most important, because there’s no salvation without it—but few are even aware that acting in faith is part of breaking generational curses as well.

I discovered George was convinced he didn’t deserve a happy marriage. He wasn’t even aware of how negative he was, but his actions and choices proved it. He was always nervous and doubtful about his worth, and about approaching a woman who interested him, and his attitudes would sabotage his attempts. When she’d eventually turn him down, he’d become resentful and carry a grudge, making him even more unattractive to the opposite sex.  Holding on to guilt and unworthiness was his default setting, and he accepted it as unchangeable. He didn’t understand that he had to act on the fact that Jesus had broken his curse, and it wasn’t going to happen automatically just because he was a Christian. Without knowing it, George’s passivity was permitting a generational curse of loneliness to needlessly continue.  

Once we identified what was going on, we began to fight against the negative thoughts that he was entertaining. He recognized how insecurities had been blocking him on his job, his family relationships, his health, and even how he served as a prayer counselor. He’s finally taking hold of that freedom that Jesus died for by rebuking those attitudes and doing the exact opposite of his passive default setting, even if it makes him feel awkward and uncomfortable.

Yes, Jesus carried our curses, but we have to live in the faith that they are broken. Only we can change our habits and mindsets to prove to God, to the devil, and to ourselves that those generational curses are broken forever. Faith is to be grabbed ahold of and put to use in every aspect of our lives.

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would give you, according to the riches of His glory, power to be strengthened by His Spirit in the inner man,  and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  Ephesians 3:14-19 MEV

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Pure, innocent trust

Be absolutely sure of what you don’t yet see, act and live as if it’s already yours, and it will become reality. That’s a paraphrase of the defining verse on faith in Hebrews 11. It has nothing to do with selfish wishes or magic, but merely a practical faith based strictly on His promises and commandments. Jesus is so clear and straightforward about His guarantee of answered prayer, it’s almost too good to be true. We’ll even try to argue it away, “Jesus didn’t REALLY mean that, did He?” 

“I will do whatever you ask in My name, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.”  John 14:13-14

 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks, it will be opened.  Matthew 7:7-8

“Jesus answered them, ‘Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also, if you say to this mountain, “Be removed, and be thrown into the sea,” it will be done. And whatever you ask in prayer, if you believe, you will receive.’”  Matthew 21:21-22

“If you remain in Me, and My words remain in you, you will ask whatever you desire, and it shall be done for you.”  John 15:7

It’s like a dream come true, to have “anything” or “whatever you desire” given to “everyone who asks.” It’s so amazing, it seems to awaken the child inside of us. And that’s exactly what God wants, because that’s how He sees us—as His children.  He wants us to expect wonderful things with that same innocent faith that our own kids display. The joy we see in our child’s eyes when he or she fully trusts in our simple promises is priceless. It gives us even more joy when we fulfill that promise and see their excitement and gratitude. Our bond with them grows even deeper with each experience. That sensation is a tiny glimpse of the immense joy that God has when we go through the same process of pure and innocent trust in Him. God loves to bless us, not just for the blessing, but for the deepened bond of trust we develop each time we step out in faith. Faith unites us to Him. It’s impossible to please Him without it.

Faith that saves us for eternity, is just as childlike as the faith we need for specific miracles. Our problem is that we consider ourselves too sophisticated. We’re too jaded and calloused by the world to really trust like a child. But if we say that He’s our Lord, then more should be happening than simply enduring the frustration of evil overcoming good. If Jesus’ words are true, then the daily experiences of His presence correcting, guiding, answering our prayers and empowering us to fight the devil, will be evident. If not, we need to examine ourselves and ask why, because it’s not God’s fault. Maybe we’re going through all the right motions of faith, but the inner, childlike purity and innocence is missing. We have to tear down our lofty ideas of being “realists” that explain away why we don’t see His promises come true. We know nothing compared to His wisdom, and He isn’t impressed with our years of experience, our ministries, or our status in the hierarchy of our community. He is definitely not impressed with religiosity, or an appearance of holiness that covers hidden sins.

We are sheep: vulnerable, not too bright, and totally dependent on our Shepherd. We are children: needing love, care and discipline from our Father. Stop assuming that you’re doing everything perfectly, and stop thinking of yourself as a “realist” as you quench the Spirit who wants to bless you. Answered prayers, miracles, deliverance, healing—they are promised to those who are truly His. True children, true sheep, truly vulnerable, truly humble. The more mature a Christian grows, the more he knows that he is small, utterly dependent, and utterly loved.  

Thursday, October 6, 2016

4 ingredients to answered prayer

This is a post from October 12, 2014 that I thought was worth repeating. We had just arrived in Brazil two weeks beforehand, and God had impressed on me part of a verse that reads, “dwell in the land and live securely.” When we’re in sync with God, no matter where we are, we’re secure. Fear and alarm is all over the news these days, which reminds us of Jesus’ warnings of the end times, when faith will grow cold and the spirit of the antichrist will be on the rise. But those belong to Him are always safe in the palm of His hand. His promises are for all times, in all situations as long as we are obedient.

Trust in the Lord and do what is good; dwell in the land and live securely. Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires. Psalm 37:3-4, HCSB

The commands of God in these 2 verses are: trust, do good, dwell, and delight. The promises? Live securely, and receive your heart’s desires. It’s so simple, but we have a way of complicating the simplicity and beauty of what God asks. As we’ve seen after going through many of the promises of the Bible, every promise comes with a condition or command. If we humble ourselves and consistently obey His commands, the promises will come flooding in. Unfortunately, we have selfish and sinful natures that doubt and rebel and so we end up postponing our miracles from happening, or even cancel them out.  

The dictionary definitions of each command:
TRUST: a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something
DO GOOD: to do what is desired or approved of, showing kindness, having or displaying moral virtue
DWELL: live in or at a specified place
DELIGHT: take great pleasure in

Rewording verses 3 and 4 according to these definitions, we can say that God wants us to have a firm belief in His reliability, truth and strength, to be virtuous and kind and do what He desires. He wants us to live in the place where He has specified, because He will guarantee our safety and peace. We need to take great pleasure in Him, enjoy being in His presence, enjoy obeying His commands and enjoy spending as much time with Him as possible. Then and only then, will He grant us the desires of our hearts.  

So ask yourself, do I really have a firm belief in God’s reliability, or do I waste time worrying that He won’t come through for me? Am I virtuous and kind, and do I do what He wants? Am I dwelling (living, working, associating with people) as God has specified? If so, I have no reason to feel anxious because my safety is guaranteed.   

Do I take great pleasure in Him, all the time, and on a consistent basis? Do my prayers, my battles against demons, my church attendance and my reading of the Bible happen in fits and spurts according to my schedule, moods and impending problems? Or is delighting in God something that I do eagerly and can’t spend a day without?

The world offers tons of ways to chase after security and our heart’s desires with no guarantee of actually finding them—they usually include a good amount of money and the right connections. What God promises is iron clad, and requires the currency of faith, trust and obedience. Anyone can have security, and anyone can find their heart’s desires, no matter how privileged or poor they might be. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Shifting your brain out of negativity mode

A new trend among the rich and famous, is taking time for moments of gratitude. The science behind it is that gratitude is a powerful psychological motivator for good. When people in high stress jobs are struggling to cope, just stopping to reevaluate how very blessed they are despite those stresses, creates a mental shift that allows them to relax and focus more clearly on making positive choices in their jobs and personal life. Sounds easy, and it really is, if you think of it. The sad thing is that we Christians, who’ve had this teaching in the word of God for millennia, often treat this principle as just an old trite saying. Now atheist CEO’s of big companies practice this religiously without any acknowledgement of God. What’s up with that?

Religion teaches that every problem has been sent by God merely to be accepted and endured. But when the God of the Bible allows a problem to come our way, He expects us to take hold of it with our faith, to wrestle against the root cause of it and overcome. It may take time, but He never expects us to be complacent or tolerant of evil. “I have learned to be content with whatever I have,” is by and large misinterpreted to mean, “I’m a good Christian when I suffer in silence. When God wants the problem to go away, He’ll remove it.” God wants our problems gone more that we do, He’s just waiting on us to shift out of despair and into courageous faith mode, to join the fight! 

The Greek word that Paul used for “content” does not mean complacent, or tolerant, or hopeless. It actually means self-sufficient, or independent. That may sound even more confusing, because how can you be self-sufficient when you have no job and are about to be evicted from your home? How can you be independent when you feel desperate and alone? Are you supposed to be grateful by just saying, “Well at least I’m not a starving refugee,” and then not ask God for anything since so many are worse off than you?

The answer comes two verses later: For I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. This means that God’s fullness makes us self-sufficient. He is all around us every moment of the day, and His fullness can give us the clarity of mind to see doors of opportunity that we would never notice without Him. This means that we already have tools, gifts, weapons, fruit of the Spirit, authority in Christ and the promises of the word of God. If we shift our mind from fear and desperation to being grateful for the abundance of power He makes available to us, His Spirit gives us the physical and emotional strength to accomplish tasks that we never thought we could do. The fullness of His Spirit can give us that boost of faith to believe in the impossible, to act on that faith, and see stubborn problems fall at our feet in a miraculous way. When we know we already have all we need in Him, we naturally become more stubborn than our problems, and more motivated to stamp them out. We’re not self-sufficient in our own strength, but in His.  

I’ve told this story before, but it’s worth repeating. One day I was with Bishop Macedo in our lower Manhattan church (back when it was the first of our churches in the US) and he had just gotten some bad news in a call from Brazil. He put down the phone, rubbed his hands together, laughed, came over and slapped me on the back with a big smile saying, “David!  The devil’s angry!” I was confused because I’d never seen anyone respond to bad news like that! But I learned that he was turning the problem on its head—he wasn’t panicking, he was fully depending on the authority of the promises of God, and on the fact that every demonic force had to bow before the name of the Lord Jesus. That strength gave him the holy contentment to be at peace, even joyful in the face of bad news, and in the weeks to come, the problem was resolved on its own.  

I’m sure you have a list of both major and minor problems. Stop where you are and start praising God for the power that He’s already given you. Be grateful that these problems can’t crush you, but that God is about to give you His vision, His clarity and show you doors and opportunities that you may never have noticed.  Start doing those small things that your conscience has been nagging you about, and have the courage to take the big steps that the Spirit of God is urging you to do. Shift your brain out of negativity mode, because with Him, you’re stronger than you think. 

Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.  I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.  Philippians 4:11-13, NLT

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Stop crying and celebrate!

After 70 years of exile in Babylon and Persia the people of God returned to their own land which had been reduced to rubble. They got to work rebuilding, determined to become a nation that honored God once more. When they gathered to hear Ezra the priest read the Scriptures aloud, they bowed their faces to the ground, knowing that what was about to happen was an awesome and holy thing. They stood from dawn till noon, listening to all that had been written, and as the weight of those laws and commandments became clear to them, they wept. They realized how they had offended God, had forgotten Him, had personally sinned against Him, and that the past seventy years of exile were the consequence of their forefathers rejecting Him as well. They were far from God, and knew it. 

Right away, Ezra, Nehemiah, and the Levites called out to the people to stop weeping, because it was a holy day. It was a day to celebrate, not to mourn. Their tears were supposed to turn to joy. They were commanded to go out and celebrate, eat delicious food and drink sweet drinks and be joyful, because God was restoring their relationship with Him! So the people wiped their tears, obeyed what they were told, had a great party in honor of God’s forgiveness and mercy, in honor of their renewed relationship with Him and looked forward to a blessed future. It’s funny that we usually picture repentance as something that involves a long time of grief and slowly working our way back to being worthy of someone’s good graces. But that’s not how God’s holiness works. Sometimes holiness requires tears and sorrow, and sometimes it requires celebration!  

How do we know when God requires either of those reactions? Obviously there has to be repentance – deep sorrow for what we’ve done and actively turning away from that sin, determined never to repeat it again. But the Bible says that weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30). Holy sorrow isn’t meant to be a constant state of feeling unworthy and ashamed. Its purpose is served the moment our repentance is sincere. Then God has no more need for our sorrow. It’s the devil who eagerly shames us with accusations, and if we confuse the devil’s condemnation for God’s will, we will be stuck in a trap of religiosity. Only religious spirits use manipulation to make us feel guilty and afraid of God for days and weeks and months. God wants real repentance (not the fake kind that never intends to change), but then He immediately embraces us with joy so we can return to a loving relationship with Him. 

Take a good look at the emotions that motivate what you do. Have you been dragging yourself to church out of guilt, or out of joy to be in His house? Do you dread reading the Bible because it seems to come true for everyone else and not you? Do you feel even worse after you pray because you have an nagging sense that God is refusing to listen to you? Do you repent and repent, begging God for forgiveness and mercy with no sense of peace? If you do, the good news is that you’ve been listening to lies, and can now be free of a burden you were never meant to bear! Don’t allow anyone – not even a pastor – tell you that you have to live in shame when you are genuinely repentant. God lifts up the humble, and brings low the proud. As soon as you have asked for forgiveness, whether the sin is large or small, God wants you to celebrate, even if you feel like you don’t deserve it! Have a wonderful meal with your family, sing for joy and look forward to the future He’s prepared for you as you humbly live in obedience to Him. Treat the day as holy with the joy of His Spirit.

Then Nehemiah the magistrate, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were teaching the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Stop mourning and weeping.” (This was because all the people wept when they heard the words of the Law.) Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat, drink the sweet drink, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Hush! Because today is holy you should stop being so sorrowful.”  Then all the people went to eat, to drink, to send portions, and to enjoy a great celebration because they had understood the words declared to them.  Nehemiah 8:9-12, MEV

Monday, September 12, 2016

Couch potatoes in the Kingdom?

Why don’t people normally associate being a child of God with the word “power?” That’s usually the last word people think of to describe a typical Christian. Sure we’ve marveled at the power of God in a sunset, the stars, the ocean, the birth of our children… but everyone has seen those things whether they believe in God or not. I’m talking about a power that Christians are supposed to personally experience, because they belong to Him. Jesus told His disciples to wait until they received power from on high, which came ten days later, in the form of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. They had walked with Him for years, but only after they received that power were they courageously using their faith to do the impossible, just as Jesus had done. They were still imperfect, but you could most definitely describe their lives with the word “power!” The Bible is clear that the same power is meant for all of God’s people, not to make us superhuman, but to make us more like Him in character.  

The simple answer as to why this is happening to so few, is that so few focus on God, the real God. Not the religious image formed by people or groups who are uncomfortable with the God of the Bible, but the God who is right there, front and center, on every page of scripture. If we stopped every time we felt panic or fear and just used our logic, we’d step out in the courage of faith and see the power of God manifest through us so much more. But logic, courage and real faith so rarely go together these days.    

The Bible clearly states that: God loves us with a passion stronger than the love we have for our own children; the same power that formed the universe and raised Jesus from the dead is available to us now; God hates the devil and his attacks on His children; and God wants to be seen through us as we step out in faith. Based on those facts, He’s ready to rescue us from the problem we’re presently facing, and through it, to bring us closer to Him. But how do we act in faith, because Gideon and Joshua and David used swords, but that definitely doesn’t apply to us today. At least not literally. But we do have risks to take and swords to swing in dealing with our daily struggles.  

What if your problem was unfair treatment on your job? Your boss is too busy to talk, your coworkers are backstabbers, and you deserve a promotion, but it seems like you’ll be passed over one more time. The first sword to swing is the sword of prayer, tying up the demonic forces manipulating thoughts and emotions in your office or job site, and even trying to manipulate you to give in to fear and apathy. You have authority over them, and can bind them up, so begin doing that night and day, every day. Next, pray for the presence of God, for His holy presence to fill your workplace, and to fill you with God’s thoughts and desires. Get rid of any fleshliness, grudges or resentment towards the people on your job because your enemy is spiritual, and you can’t fight evil with evil. Then fill your mind with thoughts of God, meditate on His promises, fill your mind with faith instead of doubt and despair – who He is, His goodness, His power, what He did in the past for others, the fruit of the Spirit – as you do this you will notice that He will fill you with the courage to take action. Just like Queen Esther walked into the presence of the king who could have had her killed on the spot, have the faith to boldly walk into your scary situation knowing that you are clothed with God’s protection. 

God’s power manifests only after we act, but the first, crucial actions start in our inner self: cleaning our hearts, spiritual warfare, learning to trust in God, obedience and being willing to make any sacrifice that He asks of us. Too many Christians are couch potatoes when it comes to God’s power. They’d rather read about it, talk about it and even preach about it, but don’t make the effort to live it. Others want to jump straight to the miracle without taking the necessary inner steps to see God move, and when their prayers don’t get answered, they switch right back to couch-potato mode and conclude that miracles are only for the chosen few and not for them.  

This week, today, or even within the next hour, you may need to refocus on the God of the Bible and on the power that He is making available to you. Take the necessary steps to let it happen, right now.
 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, yes, who is risen, who is also at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.   Romans 8:31-37 - MEV