Sunday, January 22, 2017

Christians looking for loopholes

Christians who look for loopholes in the Bible to allow them to keep sinning have a reasoning that usually goes: “Romans 6 says I’m dead to sin, which means that sin doesn’t stick to me anymore.  So even if I fall in the weakness of my flesh now and then, all I have to do is brush myself off and keep on going because I’ve been baptized into Jesus’ death, and clothed in His righteousness – I’m all good!” They’d never openly say that sinning is a good thing. They say that holiness, self-discipline and self-sacrifice are good, but they think they can get by without them. They’re already washed in the blood, they have “good hearts,” (as if we can judge our own hearts) and they’ve prayed the sinners’ prayer – that’s their criteria for salvation.  

So we find “good Christians” with “good hearts” hanging out in bars, cheating on their spouses, letting profanities slip every now and then, unable to kick a cigarette habit, or a weed habit, or a gambling habit, a porn habit or whatever. They’re the nicest, friendliest, churchgoing people who sing worship songs with gusto, who have settled for a life on par with their unbelieving neighbors with no fear that they may not even be saved at all. That’s the scary part. They rely so heavily on this safety net of God’s grace and mercy, that they stifle their consciences – the inner voice of the Holy Spirit convicting them of sin.  

Demonic activity usually hovers around them. Marriages are full of strife and some collapse completely. Their teenagers have contempt for their parents’ faith, some becoming rebellious and some developing serious emotional problems. These Christians get mired in gossip and grudges, even within their own churches, and can’t see their own fault in all the drama. They see the mess of their lives, shrug their shoulders and blame others. Since everyone’s saved and everyone’s a sinner clothed in righteousness, they figure that’s life. It’s as good as it gets.

Imagine a kind shepherd, trying to guide his flock uphill to pure water, when his lazy sheep ignore his voice and prefer to drink from an open sewer. That’s a picture of Christians who settle for mediocre. James says that the Holy Spirit “yearns jealously” for us. He grieves over sheep who disregard Him and think they know better. God calls out to us every day through His word, through nature, through our circumstances, proclaiming that there is so much more for us! So much joy, abundance and peace. But the path to find it looks dull and painful. “Pick up your cross daily and follow me,” and “work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” are the words of our Good Shepherd calling us uphill to where the pure water is.  

Tolerating sin has terrible consequences, but the root of it all is a refusal to have a real relationship with God. It’s treating faith as a formula, a scheme to get what we want for the least amount of effort. That’s no relationship – that’s a business deal. God yearns for children, a relationship, a family, and dying to sin is what allows us to join His family. When we love our spouse or children, we naturally seek out ways to strengthen our bonds, to express our love and appreciation. Putting effort into a loving relationship is work, but it’s also great fun with great rewards and worth every bit of effort. Every happily married couple knows that. Why don’t Christians find joy in the effort to build bonds of love with God? Why do they prefer looking for loopholes for sin, to get salvation at a bargain? They want to live in a way that hurts Him, and say that they love Him in the same breath.

Stop and think about the motives for your prayers, why you think God should let you into heaven, and why sin is still so easily entangling you. Maybe it’s because you’ve never sought a true relationship with Him. You may not even see God as a real person, but as a mystical being who thinks your “good heart” is just fine. Sorry to say, you don’t yet have salvation because Jesus is not yet your Lord. Make sure to change that today.

But when people keep on sinning, it shows that they belong to the devil, who has been sinning since the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil. Those who have been born into God’s family do not make a practice of sinning, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they are children of God. So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the devil. Anyone who does not live righteously and does not love other believers does not belong to God. (1 John 3:8-10 NLT)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

God and the devil… 2 equal but opposite forces?

One big mistake Christians can make, is to imagine God and the devil in a struggle for power, two equal and opposite forces battling with all their might against each other. There is nothing further from the truth! The devil is a mere pest compared to the power of our God, who the Bible says is, “far above all principalities, and power, and might, and dominion.” Yes, there is a spiritual battle that is going on, but it’s not an equal battle at all.

So why does it feel like evil is growing in the world? Why does it seem that there are so many more cases of murders, rapes, kidnappings, and horrific child abuse in the news? Not only that, global tensions and threats of international war are growing as well. But as shocking as headlines may be, the scariest thing on earth is the absence of godly men and women who are teaching the truth about salvation, hell, the power of God, of living in victory, and the reality of our authority over demonic forces that are all around us today. All of these issues are linked together, because they all encompass what Jesus has taught us to practice until the day He returns. Without warriors who pray, warriors who teach and warriors who disciple with a burning hatred against evil and a burning love for God, Satan will always be able to push forward. God has handed His Church the authority to tear down strongholds, but wimpy Christians have done practically nothing with those weapons.

We have to live in constant awareness that what happens in the spiritual realm is reality, affecting everything in our physical world. But if Christians treat prayer as a tiresome religious formality, they aimlessly wander in a haze of passive faith. And who do you think has created this very comfortable haze? Demonic principalities who are wise enough not to confront us head-on with accusations that God doesn’t exist, but who subtly lure us into a state of complacency to patiently wait for things just to “work out on their own” – to feel uncomfortable with aggressive faith, with fighting prayers, with sacrificial living. The more the Church sleeps in this haze, the easier it is for Satan to do his work unhindered.  

We have been given both the authority and the command to pull down strongholds and principalities, and when Christians en masse take that command seriously, the world around us can radically change. We could impact how many murders and rapes and cases of abuse happen. We could stem the tide of wars and violence. But if Christians can’t even tie up the simple stuff of sin and doubt and selfishness in their personal lives, how can they impact a hurting world?  

If we could just see how powerful our prayers were, we’d be calling out to God constantly, as well as tirelessly rebuking demonic forces. It wouldn’t be a burden, a ritual or an act of superstition, because we’d know that we are impacting the world for God’s Kingdom. Our personal lives would change. We’d know that God’s Spirit was gladly working in tandem with our faith – not because we are anyone special, but because God has ordained it this way. He asks us to act in faith in our small human way, so that He can do the rest in “the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” My prayer is that this practice becomes more deeply rooted in me, and becomes a way of life among all of you. If prayer and spiritual warfare has become tiresome for you, stop everything and start fighting against that demonic haze that wants to keep you passive and ineffective. The weapons are at your disposal – pick them up and use them!   

…and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power,  which He performed in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principalities, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.  And He put all things in subjection under His feet and made Him the head over all things for the church,  which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all things in all ways. Ephesians 1:19-23. MEV

Thursday, January 5, 2017

A good dose of healthy, biblical grace

How can you be generous when you can’t even make ends meet? It’s a lot easier to give when you have a rich supply of whatever it is you’re going to give – money, time, love, knowledge, understanding, forgiveness, grace…  When your account is full, you have little to worry about when you need to share with others.  

It makes sense with money, but how about the giving of your soul and spirit? If a couple marries with emotional deficits – chaos on her side of the family, neglect on his – they join two unhealthy souls with unrealistic expectations for each spouse to fill the other’s gaping void. It’s a recipe for disaster. They can love each other immensely, but become cruelly defensive because of unresolved pasts. On the other hand, when each has an emotional bank account rich with goodwill, trust and a stable sense of self-worth, their marriage can weather any storm and grow even stronger.

How can someone who has been emotionally bankrupt by a horrible past alter their damaged self-worth? Does he have to find someone to love and nurture him enough to compensate for years of rejection? How long would that take? The poor giver would have to keep giving and receive nothing back, and in the end become a victim of neglect as well.  

But many Christians with painful pasts feel that they have no choice but to be negative and mistreat the people who love them, because of their emotional deficits. They expect their family to fill the void, to ignore their outbursts, to love them unconditionally, and to endure whatever tantrums they throw because they just can’t stop themselves. But they are looking to the wrong place for a solution. 

The disciples were afraid of being left by Jesus, but He wasn’t going to leave them in a vacuum. In fact, it was going to be even better that He leave, because the Father would send the Spirit to live inside of them and fill the void. The Spirit would teach them everything they needed, but even more than that, God would make His home inside of them. Jesus’ peace would be their gift, and the only requirement for all of this was obedience (John 14:7).

This is what true grace is. Worthless sinners being filled to overflowing with the God of the Universe, bringing all His love, joy, peace, power, goodness and healing to live and work inside of us, just because we’ve repented and live in obedience. God provides that rich bank account of stability and goodwill that can overflow to others, because we’re connected to the source. So, if we have this wealth of joy offered to us by our loving God, why are we still trying to live out our Christian lives by the force of our own strength? Why are we dry, unhappy and frustrated that we never seem to be “good enough”?

If you have truly repented and make an effort to live in obedience every day, then His abundant grace is available to you. The best way to experience this grace, is to start giving to others, with no fear of being left emotionally bankrupt. You have the eternal source flowing through you, so you will never run out. Instead of demanding that your family love you perfectly, be gracious and flexible with them when they fail. Instead of taking offense at every little comment, give to others because you’re already so greatly loved. Instead of living in a state of guilt, wanting to please everyone, serve others with joy, and with the discernment to serve only as He leads, not as others want or impose. Remember, He’s placed a treasure inside your “earthen vessels.” He wants you to experience the surpassing greatness of His power, and He means for you to enjoy it!

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and He raised us up and seated us together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, so that we should walk in them.  Ephesians 2:4-10 MEV

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Living upside down for God

To receive, you need to give. To be the first, you need to be last. To become the master, you need to serve. To be exalted, you need to be humbled. To be free from injustice, you need to forgive. Submit to authorities, and submit to one another, turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, love your enemies, bless those who persecute you… and the list goes on. 

People will agree it’s a list of lofty and noble attitudes, and virtually impossible to do. Maybe because they’ve known others who ended up as doormats for abusers and manipulators, so they dismiss these noble attitudes as impractical. Jesus was probably just exaggerating and being “poetic” to get a point across, they think. And of course, He wasn’t.

But attempting to live out these attitudes in our own strength, doesn’t work. Turning the other cheek out of weakness or fear, just creates pain and humiliation. Showing compassion to aggressors without the faith to bind up their demons of violence, is just emotionalism and an invitation to get hurt. When fleshly spirituality goes wrong, as it always does, the devil laughs at our defeat to make his point that obeying God is for fools – and too many weak Christians believe him.

But God’s upside down ways are not weakness. They are acts of confidence – a defiance of the devil. They are actions of courage and warfare that work. Every one of them releases supernatural power when done in true faith, which is why they’re so important to live by, and why they are mocked by the world. The world doesn’t mind when we’re just “good people,” but it hates us when we tear down demonic strongholds by living out His principles. 

Why do we always have to live so contrary to the world? Simply because the world has become so contrary to God. News headlines argue that God’s opinions are somehow “evil,” and pastors of leading denominations preach we shouldn’t take His word so seriously. It’s nothing new – even Jesus was called the prince of demons by the religious leaders of His time. That’s just one more upside down way we need to embrace: to see ourselves as “aliens in a foreign land,” and to be completely content with it. 

But once living upside down becomes our way of life, it all makes complete sense. We participate in His power. We begin to reverse the work of the devil, just as Jesus did. He touched lepers, and instead of contagious diseases spreading from them to Him, the life of the Creator flowed from Him into them. As violent persecution bore down on the disciples, the fire of the Holy Spirit just exploded through them with miracles and transformed lives. As hatred tried to stamp out the Early Church, a pure love for their enemies allowed Christians to spread the gospel, even to the soldiers who imprisoned them, and their radical, upside down faith continues to impact us.

But many Christians refuse to live upside down for God. They don’t want to surrender control or feel vulnerable. They don’t want to give first, serve first, love their enemies or forgive. They hate the word submission, and will even argue loudly against it as if God was unfair. And by refusing God’s principles, they are refusing God. It’s nonsense to call Jesus Lord, if you won’t obey Him. Don’t you want to see His power flowing through you, undoing evil? Don’t you want the life of the Creator removing death and destruction? Don’t you want to see the Holy Spirit explode through you to transform lives, beginning with you? Living upside down is the only way that makes sense. Maybe you’ve never learned how to live out these principles the right way – maybe today’s the day to make that change.

But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is made desolate. And a house divided against itself falls.  If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons through Beelzebub. Now if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.  But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, no doubt the kingdom of God has come upon you. “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are peacefully kept.  But when a stronger man than he attacks and overpowers him, he seizes all the armor in which the man trusted and divides his spoils. “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.  Luke 11:17-23, MEV

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Does Hanukkah have anything to do with us?

There was a period of time between the events of the Old and New Testaments, that a successor of Alexander the Great decided it was time to annihilate the nation of Israel and the Jewish people. Interesting how century after century, bloodthirsty despots have been filled with the same hatred for God’s people – from the Amalekite terrorist attack on Moses as he led the Hebrews to the Promised Land, to the Philistines led by Goliath, to the Midianites that Gideon’s 300 fought, to the Babylonian invasion, the Roman persecution, the Catholic Inquisition, the Nazi Holocaust, and even today, the many enemies of Israel who openly declare their desire to kill all Jews. This is a visible image of the devil’s hatred for any who are chosen by God. But, back to the story…

History tells us this Greek emperor was Antiochus Epiphanes, who believed himself to be a god incarnate. Not any god, but Zeus himself, or Jupiter according to the Romans, or Mithris according to the Persians, Osiris by the Egyptians, and various other names depending on the culture – different names, same demon. He was the sun god who was said to have been born of a virgin on the 25th of December. In his hatred for the Jews and the God of Israel, Antiochus Epiphanes invaded Jerusalem and took possession of the Temple, where he killed the High Priest, erected a temple to Zeus on the Temple grounds, and sacrificed the blood of pigs on the altar of God to defile God’s House. This was a horrific event. The Jews who had not fought in any wars since the Babylonian exile, gathered their inexperienced men in a revolt against the Greek (Selucid) army, what historians call the Maccabean Revolt.  Though the Bible doesn’t explain this event, it is foretold in the book of Daniel.

But God, as always, is faithful to His promises. The men of Israel, led by Judas Maccabes, a son of the High Priest, fought a three-year battle to take back their land and their Temple. God miraculously gave them victory as they smashed the altar of Zeus, purified the altar of God, and relit the menorah with holy oil to symbolize that God’s presence was still with them, and rededicated the Temple. Ironically, that victory happened on December 25th, the supposed birthday of that false god. 

“But that’s just a Jewish holiday, it has nothing to do with us,” say some Christians. “It’s a commercialized celebration just like Christmas.” Whenever God gives victory to His people, it has everything to do with us. But more than that, ask yourself: why did Jesus celebrate Hanukkah? Bible translators refer to Jesus coming to the Temple for the Feast of Dedication in the winter. But the word “dedication” in Hebrew, is “hanukkah.” That was the day Jesus proclaimed that the Father was in Him, and He was in the Father. He clearly announced that He was God, standing in His own Temple, but the Pharisees were enraged and wanted to stone Him to death for blasphemy.

This snippet of history that few Christians even know about, explains a few points of why our church doesn’t put much stock in honoring December 25th as the birthday of Jesus (the Bible seems to indicate that Jesus was born during lambing season which is in the spring).  And these points are why I plan to celebrate Hanukkah this year with my family: 

  1. The daily mindset of a Christian has to be one of revolt, keeping our “holy of holies” pure and renewed. Ruthlessness against the devil is non-negotiable.
  2. Our daily desire is to keep the light of God shining inside of us, the Holy Spirit who protects and guides us.
  3. Our awareness that an “abomination of desolation” is coming soon, according to Jesus’ warnings – a demonic image will be erected on the Temple Mount when Jesus’ return is imminent. This is the time for radical faith.
  4. As the spirit of the antichrist is so clearly on the rise today, why celebrate the birthdate of his representative who defiled God’s Temple? Why celebrate a pagan holiday that was later “Christianized?”
  5. If Jesus celebrated the rededication of God’s Temple, why not celebrate a rededication of our temples to Him as well?

The Jewish calendar marks the week of Hanukkah for 2016, as beginning on December 24th, and ending New Years Day. My family and I plan to be extra thankful to God, make special prayers of revolt against anything the devil is trying to defile in the lives of those we minister to, and trust that His light is shining bright in us day and night. No better follow-up to the Israel Challenge than that!

The Feast of the Dedication was at Jerusalem, and it was winter.  Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s Porch. Then the Jews surrounded Him, saying, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you did not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name bear witness of Me.  But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you.  My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  I give them eternal life. They shall never perish, nor shall anyone snatch them from My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them from My Father’s hand. My Father and I are one.”  (John 10:22-30 MEV)

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Are you a Blabbermouth or a Listener?

Have you ever noticed that some people can’t wait for you to finish a sentence before they barge in to add their own comments? They’re sure that they already know what you want to say, and have no patience to hear the rest since what they have to add is so much more interesting! There have been so many times when the person who interrupted me totally misunderstood my train of thought – sometimes even assuming that I was saying the opposite of what I really meant. They’re frustrating, and require a lot of patience to keep trying until they finally hear me out. Usually their restless minds change the subject, and my idea gets completely lost. I make a mental note to not get involved in conversation with them again if at all possible.

But then there are others who really care about what you have to say, and follow you as you explain your thoughts. They ask questions based on what you said, and you can tell that they’re reasoning through your words. Even if what you say sounds unconventional or even crazy, they’ll try to understand where you’re coming from, instead of dismissing you outright. They’re willing to consider that they may be learning something valuable and new, and that kind of consideration is the greatest form of respect. Conversations like these are a pleasure, and cause you to walk away feeling encouraged to treat others with that same level of respect. Rational, careful listening is always present in any healthy relationship of any sort.

Generally speaking, however, 21st century Christians are bad at listening to God. So many pray repetitive prayers, shout, cry and raise their hands as they feel obliged to do, and walk away from their time with God just as empty and uncertain as when they began. Of course, it would be easier if we could see God in front of us and hear His audible voice, but that’s not possible right now. We have to believe, listen to and trust in a God that’s invisible. But our restless selves get distracted, frustrated and bored when we don’t hear His immediate responses. When we treat God this way we become that same irritating blabbermouth who doesn’t know how to listen. And what’s worse, we can easily assume He’s saying the opposite of what He really means!

God speaks through His word, and through our meditation of His word. He speaks when we know what He would do if He were in our place. He speaks when the Holy Spirit inside of us confirms that those tough words, or those scary challenges, or those mundane and unglamorous promptings are really Him telling us to go, do and be what He says. Even nature speaks about Him, His character, His Spirit. He’s trying to communicate with us all the time, but so few have developed the discipline to listen more, and interrupt less.

Of course we need to open our mouths and speak to God, to pour out our hearts and souls to Him, to ask and keep asking, knock and keep knocking. But when we don’t take the time to quiet our spirits and just listen, we can turn into noisemakers. The greatest thing God desires is a real and personal relationship with each of us. He wants us to know Him as a friend, a Father, our Lord and God. When we show Him the respect of a true friend who listens, considers, and treats all that He says with care and interest, we build a relationship with Him with deep roots that lasts forever. One thing we can count on, is that He will challenge us with ideas that seem crazy, that feel uncomfortable, and that our flesh just won’t want to do. But when we’re quick to listen, we recognize that He’s teaching us something new and of great value. We can be a pleasure for God to communicate with. Our ears can be trained to listen and hear all He has to say. Remember how Adam and Eve walked and spoke freely with God in the Garden? Remember how Moses spoke with God face-to-face as a friend? God hasn’t changed. Let’s start listening to Him today.  

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.  James 1:19-21 NLT

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Are you seeing post-traumatic growth?

“Mad Dog” James Mattis is his name, a retired four-star general who fought in three wars (Iraq, Afghanistan and Iraq a second time), a former Commander of the US Central Command, and newly nominated to become the Secretary of Defense in the new US administration. He is loved and admired because of his honesty, integrity, intelligence and courage under fire, and his devotion to the soldiers he serves with. In a recent interview, General Mattis spoke about the serious problem of soldiers returning from combat who struggle with the horrific effects of war and death (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). I was inspired by what he said:

“I would just say there is one misperception of our veterans, and that is they are somehow damaged goods. I don’t buy it. There is also something called post-traumatic growth. Going to war always causes stress. It’s inevitable, but it doesn’t have to cause damage, a disorder or syndrome. You don’t have to come out of it from a position of illness, you can come out of it from a position of wellness, of growth as a human being. I’ve seen people come out of this better – better husbands, fathers, kinder, more compassionate.” 

That’s exactly what we see in our spiritual battle. When we fight God’s way, we always come through it better and stronger. In fact, spiritual warfare can only go two ways. Either you fight confidently with intelligence and faith, taking the hits to your weak areas by re-strategizing and fighting smarter, or you fight haphazardly with discouragement and disappointment at unanswered prayers.  

People can endure years of haphazard fighting against the devil, but when they don’t learn to fight with intelligence, discouragement will lower their defenses and weaken their attacks. It leads to battle wounds and shellshock, and could potentially lead to totally give up on faith. Just like the general says, going to war always causes stress. It’s inevitable. Living for God is not easy, but how we choose to react makes all the difference. Instead of being wounded, we are purified and refined by God in the process. How? By determining these four non-negotiable points, and holding on to them until the end:

  1. God is our champion. We are guaranteed to win if we fight with Him at our side, even if it takes time and the end result seems so far away. 
  2. God is rooting for us. His love and mercy is so amazing that even when we make a mistake, He doesn’t slap us down or humiliate us, He picks us up the very moment we repent, and He’s eager to put us right back on track. He wants us to win more that we do!
  3. What may feel like annoying, useless battles could actually be important and strategic. God sees the bigger picture and knows where we need to be strengthened, so don’t resist His guidance. If He allows you to go through an unpleasant battle (are there ever pleasant battles?), fighting means discovering what He wants you to do, think and be. The sooner you overcome, the sooner you can move on to better things.
  4. Our final goal: ultimate annihilation of the enemy. Even when the devil keeps coming back at you with new attacks, even when you feel like you deserve a break, even when emotions try to cloud your judgment. This has to be our default setting if we want to obey Jesus’ command to persevere until the end.  

If you’re going through post-traumatic stress because of the many defeats in your spiritual battle, it’s time to re-strategize, to look deeper and discover how you can fight smarter. All the apostles ended their lives fighting the good fight, stronger, more joyful, and more certain that every battle was worth it. And look at how much they continue to impact the world 2000 years later. That’s the power we all need to be fighting in! 

For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, pleasing to all, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God, strengthened with all might according to His glorious power, enduring everything with perseverance and patience joyfully, giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled us to be partakers in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and has transferred us into the kingdom of His dear Son, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.  Colossians 1:9-13 MEV