365

365

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Many people see church as a swap meet


When she came to us for counsel, I knew to keep a box of tissues ready because the tears were going to flow. Her psychiatrist told her that even though the years of emotional and violent abuse were over, her lack of self-worth would never be restored until she received all the love and affection that she had missed as a child. She was in desperate search of that affection, but no one could give her all she wanted or needed. “But doesn't Jesus say that perfect love casts out all fear?” she'd ask, believing she had to find that perfect someone with “perfect love,” to make her depression magically disappear.

It’s true that perfect love casts out all fear, but what is perfect love? Is it being coddled, pampered and agreed with all the time, having every whim fulfilled?  

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends, is what John 15:13 describes as perfect love. God laying down His life for us entailed spending time teaching, healing and exemplifying how we are now to live, and then giving His life in a brutal sacrifice for us all so that we could be free, healed and saved for eternity. But millions, if not billions of people around the world still live in fear and depression–does that mean His love isn't good enough?

The answer is that we need to start living out that love ourselves. Freedom from fear comes when we sacrifice our wills, our whims, our defense mechanisms and our controlling attitudes just because we love Him and are so thankful for what He’s done for us. Many people see church as a swap meet—they'll exchange some prayers and good behavior for a couple of blessings and a clean conscience. They degrade the God of perfect love to the level of a voodoo spirit that demands a few sacrificial items, a few incantations and a nice sum of money to grant the wish of the seeker. The God who laid down His life for us isn't looking to barter His blessings, He wants a relationship based on our own sacrificial love and devotion to Him.  

When nothing on this earth holds our affections more than God, when we really are willing to do anything and go anywhere because He asks, even when it doesn't seem to make sense, then His perfect love starts to flow through our veins. We're not just passive recipients of His love, we're immersed in it. That’s when fear has no more hold on us, and neither does death, sin, curses or any evil.  

Living in God’s perfect love means being vulnerable and tearing down our walls of comfort and protection, daring to believe that He is our protection now. Do you want to destroy your fears? Go against them and bare yourself before God. When it’s all said and done, those walls never protected you anyway, why not surrender control to God and live in His perfect love that drives out all fear. 

There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment.  So the one who fears has not reached perfection in love.  We love because He first loved us.  (1 John 4:18 HCSB)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A vantage point no one else has


“People who shield their kids from reality are overprotective and make them weak.” Some parents allow their children to see, hear and feel everything the world has to offer and convince themselves that they are giving them an education, preparing them for life. I have met many kids who grew up in homes like this who are now adults and suffer a wide range of emotional and social problems. Exposure to evil didn’t make them wiser, it chewed them up and spat them out.  

We can’t keep our kids in a bubble. But making them wise about God and the things of God equips them to handle evil when they do see it. They need to remain as innocent as possible to evil and as wise as possible to God and His Kingdom. This way they are immune to the effects of evil and learn how to reject it, while benefitting from the peace and life of God’s presence.  

We adults are no different. We need that innocence too, even if we already messed up years of our lives. We can't entertain ourselves with activities that go against the Spirit of God and then pretend that we're pleasing Him. Music, websites and movies that subtly or directly denigrate God and His principles may have funny jokes and cool special effects, but it contaminates our communion with Him. It’s foolish to be impressed with filth while a wealth of real joy is waiting for us — a joy that begins with obedience. 

Being wise about what is good opens our eyes to see the world, our problems and ourselves. It gives us a vantage point that no one else has. God appears more desirable than anything, while the evil of this world is seen for what it is – pathetic, rotten and dead.  Even evil dressed up in its finest looks ridiculous to those who are wise about what is good. The goodness of God is unmistakable to the wise, and goes unnoticed by the rest of the world. Good church people can blindly walk right by God’s Spirit working inside of someone. They'll judge them by their outward appearance without even recognizing the power of God at work in them. They try hard to pretend they're wise, but it’s all appearance.

Wise people love to crush evil under their feet, and they love peace. It seems like a contradiction, how can peace coexist with violence? That’s a question for those who don't have spiritual eyes. God is a God of war, and a God of peace. Being wise toward God and innocent toward evil makes us strong and undefiled. 

The report of your obedience has reached everyone. Therefore I rejoice over you. But I want you to be wise about what is good, yet innocent about what is evil.  The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.  (Romans 16:19-20 HCSB)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Chosen to take command of your household


Households are not just residences where groups of people live who happen to be related to each other. They're spiritual units where parents and children are bound together with ties of both love and responsibility. In this day and age where kids are often treated like friends or even acquaintances of their parents instead of children, these bonds have been ignored and weakened. Kids are encouraged to argue and challenge the authority of their elders, and adults often back off, thinking that they have to respect the right of their kids to disagree. That’s not how God created the family to function and that’s not how children can grow and flourish into healthy adults. In fact, if we don’t take control of our households in a godly way, God is not able to fulfill His promises to us. 

Just as God blessed you with parents and children, they have also been blessed with you as a member of their household. As a marriage mirrors the relationship between Jesus and His people, a family mirrors our relationship with both God and our fellow believers. How you treat the members of your family directly relates to how you treat God. If you are a lax and undisciplined parent, you're teaching your children to be lax and undisciplined towards God, potentially blocking them from a real relationship with Him. You're being casual and lazy with the precious treasure of souls that God has entrusted you with. And of course, if you are harsh, controlling and manipulative, you exasperate your kids so that they end up hardened and resentful.  

It’s worth all the effort to learn how to bless your home. If you have no children, bless those you are related to, even if it’s just through small acts of kindness, phone calls and prayers. But for those who are parents and children living under the same roof, remember that God is carefully watching that you keep the atmosphere of your household one of righteousness and justice. Certain words and attitudes should be strictly banned, while others encouraged and praised every day. You may have grown up being taught to be a “good person” and think that’s enough for your kids. But be aware that spiritual powers are at work when you keep your home pure, and other powers are at work when it’s defiled by fleshly things. Abraham had such a respect for keeping his household pure that he even sent away his servant and the mother of his son Ishmael when she created strife and jealousy. He valued the blessings of God so much, that he was ready to show that degree of tough love. 

Do you want what God has spoken to you through His promises to come true? Look carefully to the spiritual state of your household so that there will be no obstacle for His blessings to flow. 

For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.  (Genesis 18:19 NASB)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

An even greater Temple


“Dude, I totally respect your beliefs, I’m just not into organized religion.” said the laid back Californian when I tried to strike up a conversation about God along Hollywood Boulevard. That was several years ago, but I keep hearing that same line over and over until now.

What sounds like reasonable points of view are usually just excuses people give to avoid the deeper issues of the soul. Evil attacks them, but they’re afraid to confront it or even admit they need deliverance. Deliverance only takes hold when there’s repentance, and repentance means submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The line against “organized religion” is persuasive – I’m against religiosity too. But what most people really mean by it, is that they don’t want a God who has spoken through His infallible word about eternal truths that can’t be escaped. They’d rather make up their own convenient and changeable “truths” and call themselves enlightened and open-minded. 

If it wasn’t so sad it would be funny, that limited beings like us assume we can create our own gods. We can barely figure out our own lives much less invent a deity that keeps the entire universe in perfect balance. Everything around us proves that He is a God of order, who has a perfect plan to defeat evil and create perfect communion between He and us. That communion, or oneness, is directly linked to the building of His Church. Not a physical building, but each of us who are truly His.

Most Christians know the story of the veil in the holy of holies that was ripped in two when Jesus was crucified, and the Holy Spirit baptizing us means that now our bodies are to become the holy of holies, the true temple of His presence from now on. But something even more beautiful is to be made of His Church, the interlinking and joining of forces and faith of all of His people. We become His temple, His home. We are to be fitted together as living stones, living building blocks that individually carry the flame of His Spirit, but together form a greater temple. That means we need each other, none being better than another, and none created to “go it alone.” Just like Romans 12 teaches about the Body of Christ, Ephesians 2 teaches us about being building blocks of His temple. It’s organized, but it’s not religion.  

For those who think that just staying home and watching your favorite preacher on TV is as good as coming to church, or golfing with your buddies to “commune with God,” you’re never going fulfill your purpose on this earth or experience the real power of faith. We’re called to be filled with His Spirit, and then be built together as one, just like the Father, Son and Spirit are one. Even with the people you don’t quite know how to get along with, or don’t speak the same language with. If each of us is busy doing what God urges us to do daily, to fight the devil and to live by faith, and then spreading that great news of victory to every one else, we’ll automatically be bound together as a family, as a beautiful temple of living stones. His glory will come and fill us in a way never before seen in history.   

…having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.  (Ephesians 2:20-22 NASB)

Monday, April 13, 2015

The fiercest of loves


If the first thing that pops into your mind when you think of fiery undying love is an epic Hollywood romance, think again. Love by the world’s standards is not as strong as death. Not even close. What people call love is usually just an emotional obsession, the kind of thing that causes couples to throw away common sense and blindly pursue their urges. Unwanted pregnancies, abusive relationships and broken marriages usually start off with this blazing flame of emotion that they thought was love. Even suicide pacts are labeled as acts of “love,” and sadly, death was definitely stronger than their obsessions. 

But one thing is certain, when God refers to love—even fiery passionate love—He’s talking about something greater, higher, more powerful, and eternal. That’s the love that He is — as the Bible says, God is love.  

Jesus, who was God in the form of a man, willingly died in the most accursed and repugnant way. There was no guilt or sin in Him, and though He had the power and the right to fight back and stop his execution with a single word, He didn’t. He so loved us, that He counted it joy to die in our place. That’s the supernatural love that the Song of Solomon means when it says that love is as strong as death. In fact, Jesus’ love was stronger than death. That pure blazing love that God has for us is what propelled Jesus out of the grave. Like two opposing magnetic forces, the purity of Jesus’ love made it impossible for hell and death to hold Him in the tomb. His fiery love for us broke the chains of Satan. He broke the power of sin, death, sickness, pain and evil. Now we have access to heaven, as long as we die to ourselves and live for Him.  

The love that burns demons, crushes the head of Satan and carries us into God’s pure presence, is the love that we are commanded to live in and display every day. The command to love your enemies, to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile, isn’t the wimpy, doormat kind of love that the world sees. It’s the chance to submerge ourselves in the supernatural power that death and hell cannot swallow up. The daily sacrifice of our flesh—simply because we love Him and are eternally grateful for His mercy—clothes us in that fiery power. Demons cringe and run when our commitment to God is unrelenting. The floods and storms of the devil’s attacks can’t quench it. Supernatural love is a fearsome weapon against evil, and a healing strength for those who belong to God.

God wants to be a seal over our hearts. Our small sacrifice of picking up our cross and following Him mirrors His own sacrificial love—the fiercest of loves that repels the powers of the devil.    

Set me as a seal on your heart, as a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death; ardent love is as unrelenting as Sheol. Love’s flames are fiery flames—the fiercest of all. Mighty waters cannot extinguish love; rivers cannot sweep it away. If a man were to give all his wealth for love, it would be utterly scorned. (Song of Solomon 8:6-7 HCSB)


Thursday, April 9, 2015

What has never entered the human mind


In their small town, she and her husband had the biggest house and the most prominent name. She had been coming to the church regularly, but he thought that church was a crutch for the ignorant. One day she told her pastor that her husband had finally agreed to show up for a service. She fussed and nagged and told her pastor exactly how the meeting should be run, what songs not to sing and how the assistants should be prepared to welcome her highly esteemed husband. The pastor calmly reassured her not to worry, that when he comes, it'll all work out for the glory of God.  

Weeks passed, and finally the reluctant husband showed up with his excited wife on his arm. It just so happened that the pastor had been called away on urgent business, and that evening’s service would be held by his trainee – a boy of 19. The young assistant pastor loved God and had tremendous faith, but spoke poorly and couldn't read or write very well. He had never led a service on his own, and was shaking in his boots in front of the crowd of 500, with the town VIP in the front row. He remembered his pastor telling him to stick to the basics of the Gospel, to the passages of Jesus in the New Testament. After singing the one song the woman had asked the pastor not to sing, the young man opened his Bible to the first chapter of the New Testament. 

“Abraham fathered Isaac, Isaac fathered Jacob, Jacob fathered Judah and his brothers, Judah fathered Perez and Zerah by Tamar…” and on he stumbled trying to pronounce each painful line of Jesus’ ancestors in Matthew 1. He was sweating. The woman was horrified. Her husband sat sternly with folded arms. When the Bible reading was finished, the young man had no idea how to preach on what he'd just read. He closed the Bible and asked the people to stand for prayer. He asked the offering, blessed them and sent them home.  

The car ride home was deafeningly silent. Dying of embarrassment, she didn't dare ask what her husband thought. Then he asked, “So who were all those people? Why is that list even in the Bible?” Remembering all she had learned, she began to explain about the line of the kings of Judah, of the prophecies of Jesus’ coming, of the many men and women who had made serious mistakes, and yet were forgiven and honored to be in that line, of the goodness and love of God to send His Son to save the world. And with each answer she gave, new questions cropped up. They had never had a conversation so deep and so sincere. By the time they reached home, he asked for a Bible to read more on his own. The next Sunday, he was in church, and he has never left God since.   

We can push and strive to figure everything out and try to pin God down on how He’s supposed to bless us. But what we imagine with our limited brainpower can never measure up to the amazing blessings that He has prepared for us — not just in heaven, but right now. If your love for Him is proven by daily obedience, you are promised blessings, wisdom and insight that come straight from the infinite mind of God, and will accomplish so much more than what you and I could ever conjure up in our puny human minds. If things aren't going your way right now, trust and know that God is working out something greater as you remain in faith.

But as it is written:  What eye did not see and ear did not hear, and what never entered the human mind—God prepared this for those who love Him.  (2 Corinthians 2:9 HCSB)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The devil’s playground


What would you have done in David’s place? While still a young general, David and his soldiers returned home to Ziklag to find it burned to the ground. All their wives and children had been kidnapped by the Amalekites. Their homes, livestock and all they owned were gone. These tough men of war raised their voices to heaven and wept loudly and bitterly. David and his men wept until they were totally exhausted. Agony and grief is a natural response, and who could blame them? A natural response, but was it the right response? What happened next shows just how dangerous it is to surrender to emotions – even justified emotions.

The warriors who had fought at David’s side all of a sudden took on a different spirit. They began to despise the leader they had loved and obeyed through thick and thin. They grumbled and talked about stoning David to death. A spirit of mindless revenge overtook them. That is the rotten fruit that comes from indulging in pity and emotionalism. Blind self-centeredness. David was wallowing in misery right along with them, but where did that lead them? How were their tears going to bring back their wives and children? They didn't just waste time, they allowed Satan to turn them into animals.  

When David noticed the evil attitude taking over, he quickly did what he should have done in the first place. 1 Samuel 30 says, “he found strength in the Lord his God,” and took back control over the situation with a clear mind and a spirit of faith. You can read the rest of the story of how God helped them to defeat the Amalekites and recover every single loved one and all of their stolen possessions. 

We all get hit with loss or bad news at times, and we feel those perfectly understandable human emotions. But we have the choice to either go with those emotions, letting them rip and roar, or to channel them into the power of faith based on God’s promises. People love to defend their anger and bitterness, believing their suffering is somehow unique and noble. But whoever dives headlong into pity, vengeance, and self-righteousness, crosses over into the devil’s playground, hurting themselves in their pride and making foolish choices like animals. 

But whoever submits those emotions to God like David finally did, can think clearly and find God’s solution. People may want your head on a platter, but as you ignore all the drama and turn to God for your solution, God hears and rescues you, just as He did with David. Your enemies, and even the friends who turn against you, are easily controlled by God’s Spirit when you turn over the reins. Scholars credit Psalm 18 as the one written after the attack on Ziklag. If God heard David, He'll definitely hear you.  

The ropes of death were wrapped around me; the torrents of destruction terrified me.  The ropes of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me.  I called to the Lord in my distress, and I cried to my God for help.  From His temple He heard my voice, and my cry to Him reached His ears. (Psalm 18:4-6 HCSB)