Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Wolves, faith, and trophic cascades

Problems are God’s tool to teach us how to fight.  Fighting God’s way requires extreme faith.  Extreme faith brings about extreme blessings.  Extreme blessings don’t just bring us personal joy, they create lasting changes that infect others around us with the same faith.  We human beings are comfort-seeking creatures and will only fight if we feel forced – and even then, we’ve been known to avoid fighting and just tolerate evil.  There’s no way around it, God’s great love and mercy includes permitting negative forces to attack us to spur us on to a fighting spirit.  The sooner we react in faith, the sooner the victories and the more extreme the blessings.  

In nature, scientists call that progression of effects a trophic cascade.  A predator high on the food chain is removed from an ecosystem, and all the other levels of plant and animal life are vastly effected because of it.  In spiritual terms, it works the same way in our fallen and sinful world where the devil is considered the “prince of the powers of the air.” (Ephesians 2:2)  Not only we, but all of nature longs for the day when evil will finally be destroyed, but until then we need to fight.  Not because God is powerless and “needs” us – but because on our own we are powerless and need Him.  In the spiritual ecosystem where we are living now, our survival depends on how much we live by faith, and how much we engage in spiritual warfare.

God’s great tenderness and care at times has to come through the discipline of enemy attacks.  He never abandons us, even though the devil does his best to convince us so.  We are to fight evil, but to respect the fact that these deserts and battlefields for our own good.  Why begrudge God of the very thing we need to wake us up?  

For Christians who waste a lot of time wishing they could live a problem-free life, who harbor resentment towards God as they trudge through a war zone, remember that victory is waiting for you.  It’s all in how you react with a fighting faith.  A faith that stubbornly refuses to believe that God would ever fail you, that stubbornly holds to the truths of His word, and stubbornly insists, day and night, that the demons behind all of your attacks are bound up and defeated in Jesus’ name.  

The first victory in this trophic cascade is the eradication of your victim mentality, and replacing it with a warrior’s vision.  The next victory is God’s sign that your prayers are being received and answered, even before you see the answer completely fulfilled.  Then more and more victories come, spread over the time that you need to persevere.  This cascade begins spiritually, but affects you emotionally, physically, in your marriage, your family, your friends, your community.  Be very careful not to become bitter, to blame God, or to wait passively for the problems to just disappear.  They are His tools to refine you.  

These are the nations the Lord left in order to test Israel, since the Israelites had fought none of these in any of the wars with Canaan. This was to teach the future generations of the Israelites how to fight in battle, especially those who had not fought before.  (Judges 3:1-2 HCSB)

These truths can be seen in His creation.  Even with dangerous predators, God’s sovereign love for His world is evident.  Watch this video below and see how He reveals this truth in nature today.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Your heart has eyes

We know our heart is deceitful, and though we don’t want it to have mastery over us, we can’t forget that the first and foremost command is to “…love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” 

This command was first given to Moses and God’s people at Mt. Sinai in Deuteronomy 6:5, and reinforced again by Jesus thousands of years later in Matthew, Mark and Luke. It’s the heart that’s mentioned first in the list of soul, and might, and mind, and strength. The heart is just that important.

Our heart is central to who we are. It forms the core of our being. Our mind chooses actions, but it’s the split second reactions that reveal what’s really inside of us. Reactions spring from our heart, not our minds. We can rationally choose to acknowledge or reject a belief, but empathy, rage, compassion, revolt, are all given life from our hearts, and it’s that zeal that proves our belief. Loving God with all our heart does start with a rational choice, but that choice needs to take root in the core of our being and come alive and not remain just a mental concept that we agree to. When our deceitful hearts are conquered and mastered by the Spirit of God, we then become new creations.   

The Bible says that our heart has eyes. The core of our being judges everything by those eyes: God, the world, ourselves. It’s much like a video camera that has to be calibrated to perfectly determine the color white. Only then can it process all other colors of the spectrum correctly. Without being adjusted to the correct visual parameters, all of it’s recordings come out distorted. The eyes of our heart do the same for us. If those eyes are calibrated according to the limitations and standards of this world, everything we view – including the Word of God – becomes distorted. We read about miracles, hear testimonies, listen to sermons and walk away frustrated and confused. We may even attempt to practice a form of faith, but unless the eyes of our hearts open, even a little, we can easily give up and decide that it doesn’t work.  

Cheryl was a nurse and had been infected with a sickness by one of her patients. She decided to participate in special healing services, to believe in an impossible cure. She’d been raised agnostic and knew nothing of the Bible or God and was hungry to learn in order to get healed. She joined in everything we did in church, always with the goal of getting her answer, as if God were waiting for a perfect combination of good deeds to release a miracle. She wanted her blessing but wasn’t developing a real relationship with God. She didn’t view Him as a real person who loved her deeply, who wanted to rescue her from not just the sickness, but from all the trauma of her past and make her new. She said she believed, but her reactions showed otherwise. The eyes of her heart were calibrated to her abusive childhood: that her worth was measured only in the good that she could produce in school and on her job.  

As much as we prayed, and as faithful as Cheryl was in coming to church, her complete answer wasn’t happening. She felt fine, had no pain or outward symptoms but all her tests ran positive for that sickness. She began to doubt whether God really did answer prayers. Instead of drawing closer to God, she decided that He was rejecting her – a pattern she was used to in relationships. After two years of trying God, she gave up. Within months, her sickness rapidly developed and she was in the hospital. To make a long story short, Cheryl finally did get her healing, but it had to begin within her heart, to confront the lies she had been listening to her whole life and to recalibrate her perspective of who God really is. She became hungry to know Him just to know Him. To obey Him because she loved Him with a passion. To believe beyond hope because she knew that He is trustworthy and doesn’t break promises. To trust Him with her emotional pain so she could be healed both inwardly and outwardly. She credits that painful time as the instrument God used to open the eyes of her heart.

What are the eyes of your heart seeing? Are they distorted? Calibrated to the wrong settings? God has so much for your heart to see if you let Him enlighten you. If you’ve chosen to believe that He is the way the truth and the life, then allow His Spirit to permeate your heart, to see the beauty and reality of the supernatural world and to base everything you do and think, on that truth. Once the eyes of your heart are opened, you’ll never want to see the world in any other way. 

 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might. (Ephesians 1:18-19 NASB) 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A chink in your shell

Everyone was born with a shell of ignorance that blocks our view of how great and powerful and amazing our God is. Theologians call it our sinful nature. Outside that shell is the blazing light of God, brighter than the sun, but as long as we live for ourselves, our shell remains intact and all we see is the gloom of our little world. Unfortunately, most people love that gloom and embrace it.

I love the challenge of opening people’s eyes about the reality of God. I’ve spent hours upon hours in one-on-one counseling sessions over decades with more people than I can count. But if you add them all up, only a minority truly grasped what God wanted them to learn and broke out of that shell. All those sessions blessed me because I was forced to teach about God more thoroughly to defend God and His word against argumentative people. Whether or not they took hold of what God was showing them, I came out of it spiritually richer. But even so, it’s unbelievably sad to witness people grasp the logic, agree with the reasoning, confess the truth, yet still refuse to obey what God’s word said. Jesus felt that way when He watched the rich young ruler walk away in defeat after He’d called him to follow Him.

“Obedience is the opener of eyes,” is a very true saying of Scottish author George McDonald. It’s one thing to learn about God, to analyze the Bible and all it’s teachings, to research and study all the commentaries and historians – it’s another thing entirely to actually do what the Bible says. Obeying God awakens supernatural faith, something that no amount of head knowledge can create. Once we get to the point of admitting that we’re out of line with God, a tiny chink in our shell opens up letting in a thin ray of light to shine on our mess. But arguing a person to the point that they acknowledge the mess they’re in and how much they need a Savior is great, but that alone is not going to save them. That only happens when they act on that truth in obedience.

Mike’s objections about God came to an end, not because he’d figured out the answers to all his many questions. It was because he had decided to just do what the Bible said about prayer and humility on his job and with his kids. He basically did it to test if what God said was really true. His thoughts were so riddled with cynicism and doubt. Yet, God saw his simple attempt to obey, and came through for Mike supernaturally. He was dumbfounded. His paltry little faith created a change he could see with his own eyes. Now was the time to make a decision: take this strange new path of humility and obedience, or hold onto the shell of cynicism and fear of where the new path might lead? The inner struggle was painful, but Mike chose obedience, even though he didn’t feel like it or understand it very well. But now, years down the road, he understands the whys and hows, because his eyes were opened and God revealed everything so clearly and simply. He dared to obey against his feelings, and now life makes sense.

Maybe you want God to shed some light on a difficult situation, but because you’re so obsessed with the problem, you’ve made excuses for why you just can’t do all God requires of you right now. You think that waiting for the situation to improve will allow you freedom to obey later, but you have it all backwards. God’s revelation will come to you within the process of your daily obedience – not after. You’re essentially closing yourself up in a shell in the darkness, when God wants to illumine everything you need to see. Obey first. Follow, even if you only know one tiny step to take, because after that step another will be revealed, and another, and more until His light breaks through completely.  

Now this is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in Him.  If we say, “We have fellowship with Him,” yet we walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth.  But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7 HCSB)

But whoever keeps His word, truly in him the love of God is perfected. This is how we know we are in Him: The one who says he remains in Him should walk just as He walked.  (1 John 2:5-6 HCSB)

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Fellowship that can’t be faked

I’ve belonged to various organizations that have the word “fellowship” as a part of their name.  Reformed Baptist Fellowship, Trinity Christian Fellowship, Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship… The concept of fellowship is a high priority in most Christian circles, and I usually saw it attempted through polite behavior. Everyone was expected to be friendly, to invite each other into our homes for dinner, to welcome newcomers with smiles and handshakes, to have church community activities like children’s plays, dinners, holiday events and baseball games, and to create a feeling of belonging and brotherly love.  

Honestly, I really enjoyed a lot of those social events growing up – the good food, sing-alongs, and fun with friends – but as I got older I began to see cracks in the fa├žade of church fellowship. I saw how often those smiles and handshakes were false and awkward. Politeness made it easy to pretend that real Christian love existed, when it really didn’t. When people showed up who were different or unpleasant, people who didn’t fit into that particular church’s social sphere, the smiles were brief and cold. When cases of abuse, broken marriages, addictions or unbelief cropped up, they were sent for quiet counseling with the pastor, who often had no idea how to help those people other than to offer a routine prayer and send them home. People who were really suffering were told they were welcome to come back to church, but they were expected to just smile and never bring up their unpleasant problems in public. I remember scenes like that from my childhood in the 60s, and sadly, it’s still happening right now.

So what is real fellowship? It’s an emotional and spiritual bond among people who share a similar goal. The intense bonding among soldiers in wartime doesn’t happen because they decided to love each other and smile all the time. It came about through their shared goal – and their shared sufferings and sacrifices to reach that goal. They became deeply united as each one proved through his actions that he would fight and defend his fellow soldier, as they fought to defend the country they loved.  

The same could be said about a family. It’s not all about going out to dinner, watching movies or taking vacations in exotic places. Families do all that while harboring resentment and even hatred for each other. But a family that shares the highest goal – to serve Jesus and honor Him with their lives – will fight as one against any demons trying to attack them, and attacking the Kingdom of God on this earth. They suffer together, sacrifice together and fight in faith together with the joy of knowing that they are on the winning side as long as they remain in obedience and faith. I have seen my own family grow by leaps and bounds this past year as each of us prayed harder, sacrificed and challenged ourselves to discipline our faith even more. The goals that God has set before each of us – my wife and our two sons – have become clearer as we have drawn nearer to Him, and each has borne much fruit. That’s a kind of fellowship that no vacation could create.

If you long for true fellowship, start striving in faith against our common enemy, and allow others to strive for and with you. The Bible calls it the “fellowship of His sufferings.” Fight and sacrifice for the same cause, and you’ll automatically be drawn closer to God and to each other in a bond of fellowship. Through your example, your family could easily join you. Instead of hearing you complain about their behavior, they’ll see you taking up their cause and battling hell for their sake. And through that, they could very well be drawn to a deeper love for you, for God and into a real fellowship of faith.  

… Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith. My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death (Philippians 3:8-10 HCSB)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Refined by Fire – Nuts and Bolts of Warfare, Part 20

I’ve described 19 nuts and bolts of spiritual warfare up until now, and it’s definitely not an exhaustive list, but I think they cover most of the basics.  But many readers won’t practice them, even though they know they’re under attack.  They’re holding onto some emotional security blanket, terrified of sacrificing it.  

A woman who recently contacted me was desperately concerned about her rebellious son, involved in dangerous activities.  I encouraged her to come for prayer and counseling, but she declined.  She didn’t want to be around for any prayers to cast out demons – she preferred that I do it on my own, at a distance.  I suspect that she was afraid that something would be discovered hiding inside of her.  She likes the kind of Christianity where everyone just hugs, cries and commiserates.  If God provides weapons to see real solutions, why are we afraid to use them?  Her son could be transformed if she learned how to engage in effective warfare, and she could be set free as well.  So few Christians even believe in casting out demons, yet those who do are often too scared to really fight. 

Nowhere in the Bible does it allude to a time when spiritual warfare will no longer be needed, that demons will slowly fade away and that just being a “good Christian” will be all you need to please God in this life.  The Bible promises that things will get worse – that our fight will become more brutal.  That false teachers will rise up within the church, that Satan will cunningly deceive believers. (2 Peter 2) But take a look at the state of the Christian church today around the world.  Honestly, how many are fighting?  How many even want to fight?  And who do you think has made this happen?

All I can say is that it’s time for the Church to wake up.  Christians of all denominations are living in a bubble, resistant to spiritual signs all around us that the Kingdom of God needs warriors today.  The tepid, lukewarm, self-centered form of Christianity that exists is remarkably similar to Jesus’ description of the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3:16-17, “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spit you out of My mouth.  For you say, ‘I am rich, and have stored up goods, and have need of nothing,’ yet do not realize that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.”  

God doesn’t spit out His own children.  A lukewarm Christian is a false one.  It’s a believer with all the trappings of a Christian who thinks he’s just fine without really getting serious about his spiritual life and the daily spiritual battle he needs to fight.  Why would anyone do that?  Why go to all the trouble to build a reputation of being saved, without really being saved?  It’s complete spiritual blindness.  Blind to the power of Jesus’ sacrifice, ungrateful for the incredible opportunity to escape hell, too lazy to live in submission to God’s will in order that His power could flow through them and manifest His glory on the earth.  That’s the lukewarm Christian who stubbornly refuses to die to his flesh.

Everything about serving God the way the Bible explains, is extreme.  Unless you sacrifice all, you cannot be His disciple.  There is no way you can effectively engage in spiritual warfare, to rescue yourself and your loved ones from the attacks of Satan, if you are living a lukewarm life.  Unlike lots of popular belief systems that can be added to your lifestyle as mood enhancers, being a Christian is an all-or-nothing commitment.  There’s a war going on for your soul, for your family, neighborhood and nation, and the only people who have been given the weapons to defeat this enemy, are those who have a radical faith – a blazing hot faith.  

So here is your 20th nut and bolt for what it’s worth: Live like eternity is all that matters.  Stop holding onto the security of your church tradition, of the comfort of sympathetic friends, of the reputation you’ve carefully built of what a great Christian you are.  In 100 years, you may be in the most painful anguish you’ll ever know, wishing you had sacrificed it all and gone all the way with God.  It’ll be too late to change your mind then – it’s not too late now.  The rest of Jesus’ words in Revelation is your key:

I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments, that you may be dressed, that the shame of your nakedness may not appear, and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. Those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline. Therefore be zealous and repent. Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with him, and he with Me.  To him who overcomes will I grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.  (Revelation 3:18-21 MEV)

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Run for the Hills? - Nuts and Bolts of Warfare, Part 19

Pastors are talking about the “culture wars” going on where Christians are being treated more and more like lunatics and fascists in our modern society.  It was only a few years ago that it was natural and expected for Christians to consider same-sex relationships as something that God does not approve of.  Now, just holding that opinion is branded as evil, intolerant, backwards and hateful, in schools, in politics, and even in churches. Talking about certain topics is dangerous ground these days if your words are even slightly interpreted as bigoted.  On the other hand though, blatant vulgarities can be blasted from pop music stations and on supposedly “family” TV shows, and it’s all defended as a right to free speech.  Meanwhile around the world, radical terrorists proudly kill and maim in the name of hatred for all things Judeo-Christian.  This is not just a culture war we’re in – it’s just plain spiritual warfare, and it’s been around for millennia.

A pastor was speaking in a recent conference in Illinois about what Christians should do.  This culture war is ramping up at such a rapid pace, that soon any real believer in the gospel will be labeled a criminal for standing up for his faith.  As I listened to his speech online, I couldn’t believe what I heard as he suggested that Christians should start to build their own communities, to separate themselves from the world and stockpile food and supplies as this war against true Christianity gets worse.  He said, “We’ve lost the culture war, the other side has won.  We need to just take care of the few who still believe in God and protect ourselves from the evil that is growing worse and worse.”  

I disagree.  This is the time to ramp up our spiritual war even more.  Who are the ones given the authority to rebuke and cast out evil, to bind up principalities and confront Satan?  God needs a strong Church that isn’t intimidated by the advances of the devil, and wise to the fact that evil will increase the closer we get to the time of Jesus’ return.  God Himself promised that things will get worse – but it’s good news!  He never abandons those who are His, in spirit and in truth.  We will always be safe, but we have to be willing to stand on our faith even in scary times.  This is not the time for tucking our tails and running for the hills to hide in caves, as the Israelites had done in Gideon’s day.  This is the time to be even bolder, wiser, and more determined to see the power of God at work not only in us to transform us, but through us to make an impact on this world that is growing steadily worse. 

If everyone who labeled themselves as Christian took a hold of this power of authority over the devil and began to bind up demonic forces in their lives, it would have a ripple effect so powerful that a revival beyond our imagination could erupt.  So many apathetic souls could be woken up to a living faith and saved for eternity through us, even against all the persecution. But sadly, even people who agree to this concept will most likely to do nothing to change their way of life to be that force for God’s Kingdom.  That’s because using the name of the Lord Jesus to cause demons to tremble in submission, requires total submission to Him first.  And that means that we don’t live for ourselves any longer, but go against our love of comfort to fight His battles.  Persecution is part of a real Christian’s job description.  If you just want the blessings without the attacks, have you really died to your flesh?  

Don’t be scared of the rapid changes happening in the world, of the many threats and rumors that you hear.  God already warned us 2000 years ago.  They’re just the birth pangs of the most wonderful event that will ever happen.   It’s wonderful for those who are sold out for God, but terrifying for those who aren’t.  We can hold onto His power no matter what Satan is trying to throw at us, and even if we have to go through loss materially speaking, we know who our Father is, we know our rights to rebuke the devil, and can expect to be well loved, provided for, protected, and our future guaranteed.   

In fact, all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.  Evil people and impostors will become worse, deceiving and being deceived.  But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed. You know those who taught you, and you know that from childhood you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  (2 Timothy 3:13-15 HCSB)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Getting Attuned - Nuts and Bolts of Warfare, Part 18

God speaks to us constantly, if we’d only listen.  He speaks through His word, through our times in prayer, through circumstances and trials, through the encouragement of friends and even through nature itself.  Unfortunately it’s rare for most Christians to acknowledge that God has spoken at all, taking everything that happens as mere coincidence.  

How many great sermons have you heard, and then forgot them by the time you left the church parking lot?  We’re quick to accuse God of abandoning us, of never listening, of being distant and silent, but we’re the ones not listening. We dismiss His voice so often, we become deaf and numb to Him.  

To be effective in spiritual warfare, we have to be quick to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  None of us are listening as we should.  Our ears are so used to the over-the-top drama of the devil manipulating our emotions, that we miss the still small voice of God in our spirits.  Our normal mode is going with the flow of bad moods and negative assumptions, self-pity and self-indulgence, and we justify it all very convincingly.  But much like the wind and the earthquake and the fire in Elijah’s time (see 1 Kings 19 for the story) God doesn’t speak through any of that.  

When God speaks, it’s usually just a thought.  No drama, no soundtrack, no light from heaven, just a simple thought.  And what’s our typical response? “Yeah, but I’m too busy for that…” or, “That would never work…”  The devil wins when we treat God like an annoyance that interferes with our important routine.  And we do it all the time.  Every one of us has disrespected God’s voice today without even realizing it.  

But what if we all started attuning our ears to God’s voice and actually act on it every day?  Major things would change.  God knows how the devil is plotting and planning to defeat and harm you, and will give you the promptings to start fighting in prayer right now.  Start praying about the situations you are going through or upcoming events that any number of problems could derail.  Stop with the generic, “Lord, bless my meeting, help me do well on that test,” kind of prayers.  It’s time to be specific and to zero in on what the devil might try to do against you and launch a preemptive strike.  Begin rebuking the demons that are being sent ahead of you to throw a wrench in the works before you even get there, rebuke how they want to work in the minds and attitudes of the people who you’ll be dealing with, rebuke the subtle fears and dread that is building up inside of you. Rebuke them with authority, with holy anger.  As you get into the “zone” of faith and warfare, the Holy Spirit will begin praying through you, giving power and direction to your prayers.  Instead of being weak and hesitant, you’ll have the courage to walk into any situation with the peace and conviction of God’s presence with you. 

The more often you enter into that zone of faith, the more you’ll sense the Holy Spirit leading and confirming your faith.  You’ll sense His proddings more often throughout you day, and if you respond quickly to Him, your spiritual ears become more attuned to Him, and you’ll become more obedient to do what’s right.  Problems that looked like mountains will crumble, and ordinary events will become extraordinary because you chose to exalt God as Lord over those situations.  1 John 3 says that Jesus was revealed to the world so that he could destroy, or undo, the works of the devil.  Today He needs us to be His instruments of warfare, but if we don’t listen to Him, we won’t act.  Imagine what the world would be like if each one of us lived in that zone of faith?  We would block so much evil and open doors for so many miracles.  It starts with you and me today.

Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses, for we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27 MEV)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Devil’s Parameters – Nuts and Bolts of Warfare, Part 17

“Why did Jesus do what the legion of demons asked after He cast them out of the Geresene demoniac?” The question implies that Jesus can be pushed around by the whims of the devil. 

It also implies that Jesus indirectly chose to kill a herd of pigs, destroying someone else’s property. When the legion of demons saw Jesus from a distance they were terrified, and begged Jesus not to torment them yet, so they asked to be sent into a herd of swine nearby. Jesus gave the okay, the demons rushed into 2000 pigs, who then ran off a cliff into the Sea of Galilee and all drowned. “Well, that wasn’t very nice of Jesus!” said one woman after I had preached on the passage. Let’s take a look at how demons work and how God deals with them:

  1. Though Satan is the prince of this world, God is still in total control. Because of our sinful nature that began in the Garden of Eden, we (all of humanity) have given permission for the devil to have dominion over us, bringing death, sickness and destruction. God has respected our wishes to live in rebellion against Him, so He hasn’t wiped out the devil or removed him from power… yet. The devil’s presence in the world is because we, as selfish and rebellious creatures, have chosen it.
  2. The devil and his demons will be cast into the Lake of Fire as eternal punishment for the evil they have done to all of God’s creation. That day is yet to come, and until then, Satan is still on the prowl, ready to devour anyone who is unprotected.
  3. Jesus taught that when a demon is cast out, it wanders through “dry places,” looking for another life to inhabit. (Matthew 12:43) That doesn’t mean that demons hang around Arizona or the Sahara Desert – it means that when they have no body to possess, they are thirsty for a life to inhabit. They are dry and desperate for fresh meat.
  4. God hasn’t left us defenseless in an evil world – He gave Jesus to rescue us from the power and dominion of the devil. We deserve hell, but instead, have the privilege to live in the protection of God, beginning the moment we hand over our entire life to Jesus, die to sin, put on God’s armor and fight the good fight. Whoever lives in this faith is safe. Whoever does not, is an open target for demons.
  5. God doesn’t send demons. James 1 says that it is impossible for God to tempt anyone. But He does allow demons a limited amount of space since we chose Satan over God back in the Garden. Whatever demons do to attack or destroy, can only happen within the parameters of what God allows, before the day comes of their final torment. We chose the devil – God mercifully limits him.

So Jesus didn’t torment those demons because they begged Him, it just wasn’t their time yet – and still isn’t. God allows demons limited freedom in this world to attack whatever and whoever is not covered with the protection of true faith. Jesus, the disciples and the man were all protected by the power of faith, and the disembodied demons were desperate for another life to defile. They knew it was within their limitations to enter that herd of pigs, and Jesus knew it too. The fact that the pigs became possessed and killed themselves, shows that somehow, the owner of those pigs was an open target. And if he was unprotected, his livestock and possessions were also unprotected. There was something evil already going on in that household to attract the attention of those demons, and Jesus wasn’t about to hinder them from doing what demons always do. And by the way, Jesus wasn’t destroying someone else’s property – all the earth belongs to God, and if He sees fit for livestock to die, He has all the right to do so.  

These are the parameters that we live in today. The devil is still free to roam and seek out victims to devour, but as long as we have a solid faith in God, have denied our flesh and live in obedience to Jesus’ commands, we have nothing to fear. We have authority, and we are rescued saved – delivered.  Don’t ever take this protection lightly. The only logical way to live is in humble gratitude. We’ve been allowed to escape hell and given rights as honored children of God, when we deserve none of it. Then, we should do all we can to rescue others from demons as well. In the grand scheme of things, nothing else matters.

Look, I give you authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy. And nothing shall by any means hurt you.  (Luke 10:19 MEV)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Subtle contaminants – Nuts and Bolts of Warfare, Part 16

He was wearing the angriest, edgiest t-shirt that beautiful Sunday morning when we were going to have a special day of worship. One of the church members commented wryly on his choice of attire. “Hey, I don’t dress like everyone else, God understands,” he shot back.  

Yes, God understands, and perhaps there could really be a good reason to wear something that sent a message of utter despair and hatred – I can’t think of one, but hypothetically, there could be. No, God doesn’t want us to judge others based on appearance, and yes, He wants us to welcome anyone into His house just the way they are. But here are a few points about this young man:

He’d been seeking counseling for problems with violence and rage for years, and hadn’t yet overcome them, though they’d significantly diminished. He had a hard time believing that God loved Him, and cringed at the sound of any music that wasn’t dark or depressing. He was very emotional and would sink into despair when he felt guilty for the things he had done wrong, and it took a lot of counseling and encouragement to get him to believe that he was loved and forgiven. Demons plagued his mind, convincing him that they protected him, and that if he ever got completely free, he’d become weak and bland, and worse than anything, “uncool.”

It was clear that he showed up to church with that t-shirt on purpose. It was a subliminal message that he was not about to let go of the demons of anger and hostility. He wanted God on one hand, but he wanted the “comfort” of those longstanding demons at the same time. Why would he even come to church at all if that was his attitude, you may wonder? It’s because underneath all that confusion, was a guy who knew deep inside that he needed God. We were the only church he’d found that wasn’t scared of his weird reasoning, or of the demons that were lying to him every day. So he showed up, month after month, humbling himself at times, and resisting at times, taking big leaps of faith and seeing Gods faithfulness, and then falling on his face, needing a lot of tough love to be pulled out of his pit of darkness again. But he always showed up.

What was his biggest obstacle to getting free? He clung to the things that still pleased his demons while still praying to God and reading his Bible every day. He was trying to stop cussing, to control his anger, to rebuke the devil, treat his wife well and work hard on his job. Yet he loved that culture of darkness that made him feel cool and tough – the music, the clothes, the video games. The Bible says, “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things edify.”  (1 Corinthians 10:23) Sure, the Bible says nothing about what t-shirt we can wear, what kind of music we can listen to or if video games are a sin. But God prompts us to see what the devil uses to contaminates us. We can try to rationalize it away (but that’s my favorite band! those pictures are a part of my past!) but God knows, the devil knows, and our spirit knows. There may be items in your home that are perfectly harmless to anyone else, but because of your emotional attachments to them, they don’t edify, and if they don’t edify you, they shouldn’t be a part of your life. They become footholds – open doors for the devil to linger and linger, even though you pray and rebuke him regularly. Emotional attachments are the easiest access for spiritual contaminants. 

If you enjoy your deliverance dragging on for ages, if you have a high tolerance for demons inhabiting you, by all means, keep on showing up to church while clinging to things that are defiled by flesh emotion. But if you want your freedom tomorrow, sacrifice it all, fearlessly, ruthlessly and no turning back. Take a moment to analyze what could still have a hold on you – photos of ex-boyfriends or girlfriends, old music albums, clothing, mementos of your old life, self-help and even Christian books by people who’s lives don’t match up with the word of God – pray and be honest with God, and He’ll be honest with you. Then act your faith and throw off any remnants of the devil’s hold on you. Revolt against the fact that your spiritual life is stuck. In light of the freedom you could have, you don’t need that stuff at all. 

Have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; have mercy on others but with fear, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh. (Jude 1:20-23 MEV)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Who is inside of you? – Nuts and Bolts of Warfare, Part 15

She was a famous prophetess in the city and had shown up to our meeting with her entourage of followers a half an hour early. The crowds of people from churches all over town were impressed, especially when she went into her frenzies of prophecy at our doorway. 

She’d rapidly stomp her feet, twirl around in a circle, and point at someone, spouting out a supposed word from God about their life. “Next year you’re going to get married!” she’d say as people marveled and praised God. Then another frenzy of stomping and twirling, “You’re going to open a new business!” and on she’d go, as the crowds watched. She’d heard the announcement that an American pastor was coming to speak about deliverance, and joined with the many other church leaders and church members who crowded into the place last Saturday in the sweltering heat. I had no notion of who she was, but God had a divine purpose for her to be there.

After I preached and we gave our testimonies, I prayed for those who had hidden wounds, doubts, shame or sins, and who wanted to be honest with God and come clean. As we prayed for healing, hearts began to open and God was moving. Then we began the real cleansing – the strong prayers of deliverance. Demons began to manifest right and left, and among them was the prophetess. Though she’d been proudly displaying her “powers” just an hour beforehand, she also had the humility to open her heart and be sincere, and because of that, the demons within her couldn’t resist our prayers, and God was able to create a change.

The chief demon screamed in anger, and confessed that it was the one giving her the power of prophecy — not God. It called itself the spirit of deception. It spoke about how it was the god of so many religious people in the room that night, and how their faith was powerless. But it hated the few who were there with a real and living faith. It boasted about working through the husband’s mistress who’d done witchcraft against the prophetess to give her cancer. The cancer was demonically sent and fuelled, and would take her life. Her adoring fans were shocked and frightened as they watched. 

“Can you touch me, demon? Can you destroy me?” I asked as a teaching tool for everyone watching. When the demon hissed no, I asked why. “Because the One inside of you is stronger than me!” it said with hatred. The demon had just brought home the whole point of my message that night, in fact the whole point of why we need salvation.

The security that I have in God has nothing to do with my goodness or luck or superior spirituality – it’s all because I’m protected by the Lord I serve. No one is more powerful than our Lord Jesus, and with my life surrendered in obedience to Him, demons can’t destroy me. The best they can try for is to tempt me to doubt so that I open up a chink in my armor. Whoever works out their salvation daily with “fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), is covered with His protection. We’re safe in our Father’s arms, from attacks here on this earth, and from eternal banishment from Him in the life to come, which is hell. 

The next time you drag your feet when it’s time to worship in God’s house, or to serve someone for God’s sake, think again. The next time you groan when you know you ought to read your Bible and pray, realize who you’re rejecting. You don’t have to obey – but you do have the great privilege of treating Him as your Lord. None of us can afford to distance ourselves from Him, not even for a day.  

We have no idea how many tragedies we are spared as we go about our daily lives, just because we serve the Lord of all lords. Take time today to make sure your life is right with Him and actively rebuke all that the devil wants to throw at you in the days ahead. Pray for this prophetess when you remember her. She’s humbly agreed to counseling by our pastor to find deliverance, healing and true salvation. The devil recognized who was inside of me and who was inside the unbelieving Christians there. Do you know who is inside of you?  

Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists invoked the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “We command you to come out in the name of Jesus whom Paul preaches.” There were seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva doing this. The evil spirit answered, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?” Then the man in whom the evil spirit was jumped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled from that house naked and wounded. (Acts 19:13-16 MEV)

Friday, November 13, 2015

Getting Busy with Now – Nuts and Bolts of Warfare, Part 14

In Philippians 3, Paul says: “…but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” 

We know that dwelling on the past is wrong. But it feels so good because it creates a world that revolves around us – our needs, our losses, and our pain. It’s a subtle form of idolatry, and the devil holds many Christians captive to that mindset. So how do we kill this false god? As Paul says, by “reaching forward” – getting busy with doing exactly what God wants of us right now. Paul compares it to an athlete zeroed in on his goal. The more we strive and push ahead with obedience, the more spiritually clear minded we become, and the more our memories and failures fall away. They don’t matter any more when we’re in the thick of a supernatural battle where we see God’s hand at work every day. We see the beauty in faith, and experience peace in the midst of warfare. This isn’t just for super-Christians, this has to be the way of life for every Christian.  

The joy of serving God doesn’t come over us in a cloud of glorious emotions that we float on for the rest of our lives – that’s the devil’s fairy-tale version of being a Christian. The more you hope for that kind of mystical happiness, the more depressed you become when it doesn’t happen. Joy and the renewing of our spirits is very real, but not emotion based. They’re faith based. Faith begins with cold, rational choices that end up bearing fruit that revives and energizes us.  

Example: Bill showed up at church newly divorced and feeling like a heel. He’d contributed to the disintegration of his marriage through his anger, drinking and dishonesty. It cut him to the core to see his wife take their young children, knowing that her new husband was the man they would know better than him. He repented and surrendered his life to God, and began the process of obeying even in the toughest times. He stopped the pornography, quit drinking, and chose to forgive his ex. But what began as sincere repentance became emotional self-mutilation, as if he carried an invisible whip to beat himself day and night. He was sorry, but he couldn’t get over what he had done.   

“But how can I forgive myself? I’ve ruined my life and I’ve scarred my children forever,” he’d tell me. Because of his guilt, he allowed his ex-wife to manipulate him into less time with his kids. He couldn’t bear to discipline them anymore and they lost respect for him, making visitation weekends miserable. This wasn’t God’s idea of repentance – it was the devil’s plan to continue tearing Bill apart even though he’d quit his old sins.  

Bill only got free when he began to zero in on his goal. Priority number one had to be his relationship to God, otherwise he’d be useless to anyone else. He began to ignore the temptation to wallow in guilt, and to act in faith despite his emotions. He prayed harder and stronger at home, in the car, during lunch break – all the time. He rebuked demonic thoughts, and prayed the power of God over his kids, commanding the devil to leave their hearts and minds. Then he sought God for ideas on how he could serve Him more, and discovered that some of the guys at work needed encouragement, and God gave him just the words they needed. They started praying together, and he brought some to church. In time, Bill was overflowing with the joy of serving God, of hearing His guidance and seeing many answers to prayer.   

Bill pushed forward actively without waiting for the past to fade away. He replaced it with the goals of the present, with what God wanted from him now – and then did it with all his might. Our faith has to push forward, even when we don’t understand all the whys and whats of our past, the goals God sets before us give us freedom and healing when we pursue them with all we’ve got. Ask God what He wants from you right now, and zero in on that alone. Soon your past will be a beautiful part of your testimony to glorify God, the very best revenge on the devil.  

Therefore, since we are encompassed with such a great cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.  Let us look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and your hearts give up.  (Hebrews 12:1-3 MEV)