Saturday, March 28, 2015

Terrible as an army with banners

Every true Christian from every nation across the earth has been joined together to form the spiritual body of Christ. That is the true universal church of God’s Kingdom – people sold out for God who live in sincere obedience to Him form this powerful entity called the Church. They may come from various denominations and have various forms of worship, but God’s eyes see each one shine like beams of light in the darkness. He knows His true Church and He strengthens them by His Spirit.

C.S. Lewis’s, head demon character in “The Screwtape Letters,” describes how fearful the true Church is to the kingdom of hell: 

“Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans.”

There’s no doubt about it, none of us realize how terrifyingly powerful the body of Christ is – the body that we all form. What we see when we look at ourselves is a bunch of ordinary people trying to live for God, but still struggling with doubts and fears, still slipping into the routine of an average church-goer, and oblivious to the authority we have over the spiritual powers of hell.  Why is that?  

Maybe one reason is that we don’t see the clear distinctions between evil and good. We aren’t alert to the subtle whisperings of the devil in false believers, or the presence of evil disguised as good. And so we embrace friendships and relationships that water down our faith and neutralize our authority over the devil. We can foolishly think that because our old high school friend was so nice, and our dear cousin is so fun to be with, we value our bond with them more than we do the body of Christ. But there is no bond of higher value on this earth than with those who are bonded to Jesus in spirit and in truth. We may all act and speak and live differently from each other, but we all need each other as we drink from the same Spirit.

Every individual Christian has the power to face down the devil and his demons, but if we all took up our armor and fought as one body with the authority that Jesus granted us, this world would be a different place.  “…and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

For as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body—so also is Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.  (1 Corinthians 12:12-13 HCSB)

Friday, March 27, 2015

Transferred, not tweaked (March 27)

Have you ever taken a vacation where it seemed like the world slowed down, where the beauty of nature and the clean fresh air transformed you into a much better version of yourself? Returning back to the regular grind is a letdown as you try to hang onto the remnants of that glow. That’s a tiny glimpse, a sampling of what God does when we are saved. Jesus rescues us from darkness and transfers us, transports us to another existence, another world where power, joy, peace and wisdom are all around us. Huge problems can come, but we are nowhere close to that darkness anymore. Our weapons of warfare are supernatural and always effective, if used correctly. That’s the new birth.  It doesn't end like a vacation, but as we remain in His Kingdom, it just grows stronger for eternity.  

Now take a look at yourself, your beliefs, your emotional state, your perspective on the problems around you.  Plenty of self-labeled Christians are in the darkness but just tweaked their behavior, vocabulary and weekend activities thinking that’s all it takes to become born of God. They might be tweaked, but they're not transferred. They're not reborn into the Kingdom of “the Son He loves” — experiencing a new life inside while at the same time living in the same sinful world.

One big lie of the devil is that being saved is a bore, a heavy burden — no power, no miracles and no real freedom. Jesus said the way was hard and the road narrow, that there would be sacrifices and submission. We would have to serve a Master and die to ourselves. All of that is true and necessary to enter the Kingdom of God, but the unsurpassing joy of being in the Kingdom is worth every sacrifice. Jesus never promised a burden-free life, but He did promise rest for our souls when we take on His yoke.  

It may not feel like it, but it really is good news to discover that you aren't yet born of God.  That means that the tiresome mediocre Christianity you've been living is not the final product. There’s something far greater that you can look forward to, and you can begin to live in it now if you are willing to go all the way. Rebirth first requires death. Dwelling in the Kingdom of God and serving Him is what we were all created for. 

“For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.”  (Ephesians 2:10 HCSB)

He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves. We have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, in Him. (Colossians 1:13-14 HCSB)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Imagining God’s Mind (March 26)

If you’re like most Christians, you probably are tempted to think that God is too busy and too holy to be bothered by an ordinary person as yourself.  But that isn’t true at all.

God’s thoughts about you are vast, and full of ideas to create something new and amazing with your life. While you may have accepted the drudgery of an ordinary life, God sees huge opportunities for you, opportunities that He can create on the spot. Why not seek out His thoughts? Find out what He’s thinking about you, what He wants from you? Most people don’t really want to know, because His thoughts don’t suit their tastes. They shut out His direct guidance — so obvious in His Word — and start seeking out spiritual gurus or prophets to tell them whatever sounds exciting and comfortable. But the thoughts of God are supernatural and aren’t understood by natural means, they have to be received by faith, no matter how crazy, scary or undoable they may seem at the moment. 

How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!  How vast is the sum of them!  If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.  When I awake, I am still with You.  (Psalm 139:17-18 NASB)

Without God’s thoughts, we see everything through a dull and cynical lens. We convince ourselves that smiling people are fake, and that people who are too busy to answer our questions are mean, that strong words of conviction are offensive, and loving words of encouragement are debatable. Even answered prayers can bring fleeting moments of gratitude with more reasons to complain following soon after. We confess defeat with our mouths and say, “I knew it!” when bad things happen. When we doubt God’s love for us, we open up all the windows and doors of our soul to negativity of every sort. For your spiritual health it’s crucial to believe in God’s loving care for you at all times, even when you don’t feel it.  Especially when you don’t feel it. 

1 Corinthians 2 says we’re supposed to have the mind of Christ. Imagine having God’s mind – a mind with thousands of creative and life-giving thoughts every day!  Who wouldn’t want that? 

Challenge yourself to dwell on this thought all this week: God in His abundant love is thinking of you right now, all the time.  And His thoughts are supernatural, powerful and life-giving.  He is filled with love for you at this very moment. If you’re stuck in a problem or uncertain of what direction to take, ask Him and tune into God’s way of thinking and He will provide you with the inspiration and ideas that you need. His thoughts for little, insignificant you, are precious, vast, and outnumber the sand. Live in that truth and you’ll start to see answers that you never knew were there.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Straining out gnats + swallowing camels (March 25)

But as for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi,’ because you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.  Do not call anyone on earth your father, because you have one Father, who is in heaven.  And do not be called masters either, because you have one Master, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant.  Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.  (Matthew 23:8-12 HCSB)

Jesus was warning His disciples not to get bigheaded, as spiritual leaders. They didn’t realize it yet, but Jesus knew that they would be the founders of the Early Church. He was emphatic that they saw themselves as servants and not masters. The Pharisees, on the other hand, made Jesus sick. They were proud religious leaders, suspicious of anything that wasn’t exactly their way, even calling Jesus the prince of demons. They felt threatened by Jesus’ radical ideas. Jesus’ teachings were in perfect alignment with all of scripture, but they were so obsessed with holding onto power and position, they couldn’t see God the Son standing right in front of them.  

There are self-labeled Christians so lax and disinterested in obeying God’s Word that they’re no longer saved. But there are others who are just as obsessed and suspicious as the religious leaders of the past, who will divide, accuse and exclude instead of encourage or build up. Jesus was harsh with them as He said in verse 24,  “Blind guides! You strain out a gnat, yet gulp down a camel!”  

Be very careful of religious attitudes of superiority and exclusion. Even if a fellow believer has sinned, they are to be helped back on the right path with love. But Jesus had tough love for those who chose to assume the worst of others and burden them with judgments. Yet even though He was harsh, He welcomed any Pharisee who sincerely sought to know Him.  

As Jesus has so graciously forgiven each of us who don’t deserve even a scrap from His table, we should be tenderhearted towards each other. When we pick at the little comments that others make, the snatches of conversations we may overhear, the behavior we don’t quite understand, we are straining out gnats and swallowing camels. We forget that we also say and do things that others can easily misinterpret. We need grace just as much as our brothers and sisters in faith need it. When we forget about demanding our way, humbling ourselves, serving and believing the best in each other, God’s promise to exalt us becomes reality. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

The remedy for a little faith (March 24)

And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.  But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”  (Matthew 17:20-21 NASB)

“I think I just don’t have enough faith…” many will tell me in defeat when I challenge them to believe in a big God. People often decide that having a big faith is a monumental task that requires an almost monk-like holiness worthy of answered prayers. That’s not what Jesus is saying in this verse as He answered His disciples’ questions as to why they couldn’t cast out a demon from a little boy.  Jesus tells them that some demons only leave due to prayer and fasting. But Jesus wasn’t teaching the practice of religious rites, He was teaching a lifestyle of devotion to God.

A lifestyle of devotion is not earning holiness points with God, but living daily with a determination that God’s glory has to be shown in your life so that others can see and know that He is real and alive. For that to happen, you’d automatically be in constant prayer. You would want to hear from Him, share with Him, ask for direction, act on His guidance and relish moments alone in His presence. 1 Thessalonians 5 tells us to pray without ceasing and to rejoice always. That would be boring and tedious if it were just a religious practice, but when you are in love with your Lord, you can’t stand to be out of His presence because He is real to you. Fasting is normally considered abstaining from food that we offer as a different form of prayer, but abstaining from fleshly desires in general is a fast that we all should be living out daily.  

Jesus was plain as day: you can even command a mountain to move – you have the authority!  The two problems that many have when it comes to seeing miracles is that either they are not living in ceaseless prayer and the denying of their flesh (which is the mark of a true Christian – you need to question your salvation if this isn’t happening). And secondly, you need to have such a bold trust in God that you’ll actually command a mountain to move. Funny how many lopsided Christians I know. Either they’re whole-hog “name it and claim it” believers who insist on big miracles, but live fleshly undisciplined lives, or I see good, moral and holy Christians who beg God to remove their problems, but won’t face them down and command them to drown in the sea. Both extremes live in defeat.

Our challenge is not to be the happy medium between the two, but to be both extremes at the same time. Radical Christianity is loving Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and then rising up in faith to fight for His Kingdom. You have the authority and the ability to be this kind of hero. You and I can move our mountains. We only have a littleness of faith when we don’t try. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Championing the defenseless (March 21)

Don't rob a poor man because he is poor, and don't crush the oppressed at the gate, for the Lord will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them.  (Proverbs 22:22-23 HCSB)

The expression “don't kick a man when he’s down” was invented because human nature has a cruel streak that enjoys the oppression of others. We see it in politics and in the corporate world. It’s like wolves that strike the weakest of the herd. It could be vengeance or a lust for power, but attacking someone who is already at a disadvantage is unethical even by worldly standards. In the spiritual world, it’s a very dangerous thing to do.  God promises to fight on the side of the victims. And not only that, He promises to strip away all that their oppressors have taken and give them the bitter taste of their own medicine. God is a God of love, but also of justice.

Deuteronomy 10 says, “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner, giving him food and clothing.” God loves to defend the defenseless, to fight for them — which means that if you're attacking one of God’s children, you now have God against you. And if God’s against you, you have nowhere to hide. It’s better to repent and salvage what you can out of the mess you're in than to watch as all you love, and have, get taken away from you.

For those who find themselves being treated unfairly, accused without even a chance to explain, be encouraged by this promise. Claim this promise and remember that God is above the judge and lawyers on your case, God is above your accusers, above you and above your situation. The worst thing you could do is to attack back out of your flesh, with harsh words, arguments or manipulation. That makes you just as unfair and unpleasing to God as those who had attacked you in the first place. Though it feels as if you’re doing nothing, allow God to work.  Be wise; nullify any anger or resentment with love and forgiveness. That doesn't mean you condone the injustice, in means that you have the wisdom to fight against evil in harmony with the Spirit of God.  

When we pray with a fiery faith against the demons behind our injustice, while also loving the people who are hurting us, just like Jesus taught, we release God’s power to rescue us from that situation. It’s not our business to see to it that those we dislike get their comeuppance – their lives and futures are God’s business. When we stop worrying about what our enemies are up to and focus on loving and pleasing God, we're exercising the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and God’s lovingkindness will come through beyond what we could ever imagine.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The messy business of faith (March 20)

Where there are no oxen, the feeding trough is empty, but an abundant harvest comes through the strength of an ox. (Proverbs 14:4 HCSB)

If you want your stables to be clean and spotless, get rid of your oxen. But if you want a big harvest, then be ready to deal with the mess, the maintenance, the labor, the time and care that owning an ox requires. Big harvests are worth the effort.

Christians can have a very misguided image of the process of receiving blessings. This proverb teaches that it’s as messy and tiresome as bringing in a physical harvest — God made it that way. Sometimes the process requires some serious repenting, repairing damaged relationships, making personal sacrifices, consistently wrestling in prayer, risking reputations and friendships to do what’s right, and battling against demonic thoughts that God’s answer will never come. And sometimes in the middle of our struggle, we realize that we're not getting it right and have to readjust our efforts and refocus our faith.  

Some people don't like the idea of having to fight against demons at all. They want an EZ Tag to zip through problems without much effort, just a few whispered prayers and some good deeds to earn their blessings. Even those of us who do understand that we're in a spiritual battle, still hope for clean, simple victories, but it’s during the fight that we learn the most. Those times when we try, then feel like giving up, but try again anyway, are the moments when we're seeking God more than ever. When we think we're really doing well spiritually and then a problem knocks us down, we realize that we weren't as strong as we'd hoped, but that’s when a new light shines in our spirits and reveals what we need to change to be truly strong. Without stumbling and making messes, we'd never mature, we'd never learn.  

Traditional depictions of Moses, Abraham, Elijah and the disciples in stained glass windows, sculptures and paintings make them appear so holy and otherworldly. But the truth is they were all men, just like us. They wanted their harvest, and they knew they needed the “strength of their oxen.” They needed to plunge themselves into risky and messy situations and be ready to change course whenever God commanded, but allow the power of God to flow through them unhampered.  Had they preferred a nice tidy life, they'd see no harvest.  Thankfully they weren't concerned about themselves but about the business of serving God.