Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Blind friends

When someone first surrenders their life to Jesus, they normally experience overwhelming love for Him and an urge to tell everyone about their Lord, about salvation, about this amazing new life that they found. But what often happens, is the people they'd been closest to, the ones they were most certain would embrace their new faith, reject it outright. 

It hurts. It’s a shock, like a bucket of cold water. A lot of new Christians can’t understand how their dearest and most trusted friends and family just don't see what they see. So they talk, argue, debate, pressure and drag these people to church who for some reason are resistant and resentful.

It’s frustrating, but the Bible explains it. There is a god of this world. A false god who masquerades as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), who dulls people’s minds to the amazing glory of Jesus, and blinds them to the life they could have if they surrendered to Him. This god will convince them that they already have God, that they're already saved, that they're just fine, thank-you very much. Of course everyone has free will, and everyone has the ability to reject the influence of this god, and to listen to their loved one’s testimony who is obviously deeply changed by this faith. But that’s where the dividing line among people shows very clearly. This is where you can see the true state of someone’s heart and whether they're just pretending to believe in God or not. 

If your dearest friend who says that they've always loved God is irritated at your faith, don't try to argue them into anything. It’s probably the time to back off and allow God to do what only He can in their heart. If they don't want God, or if they're just putting on an act of spirituality, no amount of convincing is going to change them. Might as well save your breath and just pray for them. It’s hard to believe that a faithful lifelong friend would, or could be false, but now that you serve Jesus as your Lord, your top priority is to defend this precious faith inside of you. You need to see the reality that deceiving spirits work in even the nicest people.  

Telling them your testimony, the testimonies of others, answering their questions and encouraging them to come to church for counseling is important, but once you’ve said all there is to say, it’s time to trust that you've planted a seed that God can use when your loved one is ready — if they are ever ready. That’s the sacrifice many have to make. To let go of a relationship that is no longer healthy for their faith while entrusting those loved ones to God. Lowering yourself to the same spiritual level as they are is not showing them love, even though that’s what they want you to do in order to stay close to them. But fighting on their behalf against the false god that is blinding them is the truest love you can offer. Most likely they'll be offended that you aren't like them anymore, and that false god will convince them of all sorts of negative things about you. Don't be discouraged. Just focus on your fight and love them as God wants. This is a part of our daily sacrifice of the flesh, and the only way God can be given the space He needs to work in their blinded hearts. 

…the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  (2 Corinthians 4:4 HCSB)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A balance of extremes

Be bold, be a fighter and be ruthless with the devil.  It’s a constant theme in these blog posts. It’s so important, because it has changed my walk with God, my prayer life, my mindset and in seeing answers to prayer.  

It’s exciting to live in that kind of relationship with God, but as in all good things, you can become unbalanced.  Following all of God’s word, not just the parts you like, will keep you from becoming unbalanced, but our human nature tends to get stuck in ruts.  Even good ruts.

Once I can get a cold or disillusioned Christian to become excited about faith, it’s usually because they were like I used to be, knowing nothing about spiritual warfare or their authority to fight and overcome.  Once they see how God comes through for them as they are courageous in faith, as they sacrifice their flesh and confront the devil, they’re so on fire that they don’t want to stop.  But as extreme as we need to be in boldness and strength, we also need to be extreme in humility and love.  

We don’t view love as strength, because most of the love that we witness in the world is just confusing emotional mush.  Parents think that loving their kids means giving in to whatever they demand, allowing them to insult and disrespect them, so that they grow into selfish, dysfunctional adults.  Or couples claim they love each other while demanding unrealistic standards, they tear each other down when disappointed, but expect total forgiveness when they betray each other.  Old-fashioned Hollywood love was all soft and sweet emotion.  Modern love is turning into some weird complicated joke.  But only pure and godly love is a weapon that destroys evil.  It even lifts up and strengthens both the giver and the recipient.  We don’t usually think of love as a form of warfare, but what could be more against the tactics of the devil than loving an enemy?  There’s nothing like it.

When we know someone is suffering, the greatest love we can show them is to fight for them.  But that fight has to be rooted in love for our neighbor, and more than anything, love for God.  A Christian who’s all bluster and noise, Bible-thumping and grandstanding, is like that clanging cymbal in 1 Corinthians 13.  He may even stir up real faith in others, but it doesn’t mean that he’s pleasing God.  There are plenty of disgraced faith-healers who are examples of that.  As much as God exhorts us to be bold and courageous, and as hard as it is to get Christians to act out a bold faith, our boldness needs to have a foundation.  

Weapons of warfare take on many forms, just like Paul and Silas’ joy, Jesus’ peace, and David’s confrontation with Goliath.  They all require courage, and they all have to be rooted in a humble love for God that obeys to any extreme.  Seek God’s wisdom to know how to use all of His weapons, but make sure that your motive is always out of love for Him and for His Kingdom, and never for your own glory or benefit.  

Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love.  (I Corinthians 16:13-14 NKJV)

Monday, August 24, 2015

God’s chain of events

Our brains create a fascinating chain of events when faced with a problem.  Mentally choose to perceive a problem in a positive light, and you'll trigger a neurological response that releases a feel-good hormone into your system, which then opens up all the creativity and learning centers of your brain, which helps you to quickly find a good solution to that problem while enjoying the whole process as it happens.  

Conversely, you can choose to perceive a problem negatively, triggering stress hormones which close up your creativity and learning centers, slowing down your reasoning skills, while heightening your aggression and self-preservation responses.  So who of us naturally defaults to the negative response?  Pretty much everyone.  Who even knows that we have a choice?

The revelation that faith is based on a mental choice, was a huge game-changer for me.  God speaks a lot about the heart in the Bible, and I, like most Christians, mistakenly assumed that it meant I had to “feel” God all the time, otherwise I wasn't a good Christian.  When faced with the need to pray about an urgent situation, I'd often end my prayer in discouragement because no surge of spiritual elation had overcome me even though I was doing my best to believe.  God really had heard my prayer, but I’d nullify the little faith I had with my defeated attitude.  If my prayer wasn't answered, I was sure that it was because I hadn't felt faith while I prayed, meaning I was a sub-par believer, killing any motivation to pray again.  

God is not anti-feelings — He just doesn't want us to wait for feelings as a sign of faith.  What He wants is for us to use our heads and create faith by choosing to believe.  That is raw and unadulterated faith.  Feelings follow later, and sometimes only much later.  They really don't determine anything when it comes to raw faith.  They're immaterial.  But raw faith is the raw material for miracles.  

Faith that reasons is what Abraham, Gideon and others used when they stepped away from their emotions, took stock of what was happening and basically said, “Wait a minute.  If God promised this specific thing, and I'm obeying what He requires, then He is bound by His own word to answer me just like He promised.”  That was the reasoning that pleased God then, and still pleases God today.  

Their mental choice to hold onto God’s promise created faith, not some sort of euphoria.  And that mental choice of faith kept them in a mode of openness and willingness to learn and be led by God.  They had eyes to see opportunities because God gave them a peace that undergirded their daily lives as they went through the process of persevering in prayer.  The emotion of peace was God-given, the joy of being grateful every day for His provision and guidance was also a gift from Him.  

When we choose to see every problem with God’s eyes, our minds become renewed and all the toxic, negative imaginations of the devil are swept out.  God’s natural, biological changes wired into our brains kick in, but more than that, heavenly forces are set in motion to actually alter and rearrange physical problems and turn them into victories.

God didn't create you to live in a constant state of stress and anxiety.  Renew your mind by choosing the right chain of events to happen. Miracles will happen both in you and around you.  Choose intelligent faith. 

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.  (Romans 12:2 MEV) 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

When trust becomes a no-brainer

I mentioned Paul and Silas in a previous post – they were the ones who’d been beaten and chained in a prison dungeon just because they set a young girl free from a tormenting demon.  And instead of reacting with fear and depression (not that they weren’t tempted to) they chose to sing praises to God.  Their singing was like a punch in the face for the devil who wanted to defile them with self-pity or anger.  Their choice to praise God instead was so radical that God’s power shook the foundations of that prison and caused all the doors to swing open and all chains to fall off the prisoners.  Even the head jailor and his whole family were saved that day.

It’s a beautiful story, but who among us would choose joyful singing with a bleeding back, the threat of more torture and probable death?  Maybe you’d like to imagine that you’d be as courageous in your faith as Paul and Silas.  So what if we scale this back to ordinary problems?  Who among us regularly chooses to sing joyful songs of praise when they’re treated badly on their job?  How about when we get stuck in traffic, or lose a cellphone, or just feel like no one understands us?  How quick do complaints and indignation rise up inside of us when we don’t get our way?  How often do we even blame God for our inconveniences?

It’s all in our perspective.  Paul and Silas and so many other heroes of faith knew how deeply they were loved, and how costly the price of their salvation was.  Paul said, “If God is for us, who is against us? He did not even spare His own Son but offered Him up for us all; how will He not also with Him grant us everything?”  His line of reasoning was that no matter what problem was thrown against them, they were already conquerors, so why bother with petty complaining?  God just came in the flesh and died and rose again and then gave them His authority to crush Satan – they could never repay Him for such a priceless gift!  If God had already done that, of course He was going to grant them everything!

Their perspective came from spiritual reasoning, and when we do that, absolute trust in God becomes a no-brainer.  It’s like being sure that you’ll have enough oxygen to breathe ten minutes from now – who even worries about that?

The fact that we struggle so much to have that certainty shows how far we all are from the kind of solid trust that shakes open prison doors.  But that’s the faith we need to strive for, that we can all have.  In Romans 8 Paul lists death, life, famine, sword, anguish, persecution, nakedness – all those things we’d rather not think about – as ineffective in stopping the overwhelming love of our God.  Absolutely nothing can stop God from loving and providing for you.  Nothing.  That means we can walk straight into an attack of the devil, and be fearless (not that he won’t tempt us with fear) and we can choose to sing joyful songs of praise as an act of defiance to the devil, and as an act of total love and trust in our unstoppable God.  He’s already given us everything, its time to give Him our total trust.

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.  (Romans 8:37 NASB)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Never passive!

The devil only respects force.  Stubborn faith wipes out all of his tactics and throws him into confusion.  Faith isn't true faith if it doesn't obey God’s ways, so that rules out any kind of forcefulness that is selfish or greedy.  

We can’t make the mistake of thinking that being forceful is always a sin.  In God’s eyes, we can be violently forceful and please Him completely.  What can throw us for a loop, is that godly violence doesn't look like strength to the world, we often confuse it for weakness.  

I know that sounds backwards: God likes violent force, but it often looks like weakness.  What?  Remember when Jesus says to walk a second mile when someone forces you to walk with him for one?  That’s a weapon that the world sees as weakness.  Jesus wasn't asking us to become doormats for bullies.  If someone forces you to serve them unfairly, fighting them in anger will just give more power to the devil.  You'll become just as much of a bully as they are.  The power of this weapon is to fight the demon trying to humiliate you through the situation, and not the person.  And that is done by doing the opposite of what the demon wants.  Don't just walk a second mile sulking in defeat like an abused victim, because self-pity just makes the devil laugh.  Instead walk that second mile in defiance of the devil – in a stubborn determination to show kindness and love for an unlovable person – to forgive and to give even more.  It may look like weakness to the world, but to the forces of evil hovering around you, it’s devastatingly powerful and it sets you free from his control.

The devil’s weapons stir up fleshly anger, greed, selfishness and violence, but he also wants to stir up fleshly self-pity, a victim mentality, defeatism, fear and anxiety.  Our problem is that we see the louder more pushy qualities as bad, and the weaker, more passive qualities as natural and acceptable. But when any of them fill our hearts and motivate us to act, the devil is in control and we've lost.  

God’s weapons are based on faith in His character, and they're never passive.  They always require stubborn determination and a pure heart, no matter what they look like.  Sometimes God’s weapons are loud and confrontational, like Elijah on Mt. Carmel, or Moses facing Pharaoh.  Other times they can be peaceful sleep like Jesus in a storm-tossed boat, or joyful singing like Paul and Silas chained in a dungeon.  There was nothing passive about them.  Defiant love, defiant joy, defiant peace, are all hard-core weapons of faith, just as much as loud rebukes.  But one thing is certain, if Christians don't learn what weapons they have, and how to use them, they'll continue to lurch from one defeat to another all their lives.  When God’s Church around the world starts to fight as one against the works of the devil, using all the varied types of weapons that He provides, it will be a glorious sight to see the devil and his demons trembling.  We're commanded to take hold of His Kingdom by force, so let’s do it!

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has forcefully advanced, and the strong take it by force. (Matthew 11:12 MEV)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Act of kindness or creepy ritual?

Some sicknesses are just sicknesses with no specific cause, like the blind and deaf man who the disciples though was being punished by God because of his or his parents’ sins.  Jesus told them that it had nothing to do with sin, but that God was going to show His glory through that man, then He healed him on the spot.  No one was to blame, but Jesus wanted to heal him even so.  

All sickness can be traced back to the fall of man when Adam and Eve sinned and Satan and his demons were given an entryway into all flesh.  Some sickness is just a result of life in this fallen world, but some sicknesses are directly related to a demonic presence inside a person’s life.  It doesn’t mean that the person is evil and should be punished, but that the devil has found a way to attack and cause destruction in one more victim.  This is much more common than most people imagine or even suspect.

It’s always a tricky thing to suggest to someone that they’re being attacked, and maybe even possessed by a demon.  Hollywood has made the subject either a freak show or a joke, the Catholic Church has made a creepy medieval ritual out of it, holy-roller Pentecostals have fanatical scream-fests about it, and contemporary Christians just don’t want to think about it.  But we can’t escape the fact that Jesus dealt with demon possession every day, taught His disciples how to set people free, and treated it as a normal part of ministry that should continue until He returns.  If some sicknesses and problems are directly caused by the presence of demons, wouldn’t it be an act of kindness and mercy to fight those demons on that person’s behalf? 

A mute man was brought to Jesus, and Matthew says that he was demon-possessed.  Jesus drove out the spirits, and the man began to speak again.  It was so amazing that the crowds were buzzing with excitement about this miracle, the likes of which had never been seen in Israel.  Another time, a woman bent over double for eighteen years was found by Jesus in the synagogue, worshipping God in great pain.  He didn’t just heal her – He rebuked the demon and cast it out and she instantly stood upright.  Neither of these people were treated as evil outcasts, they were ordinary people who were just “bound by Satan,” as Jesus called it.  The man was brought by friends or family who cared about him, the woman was seeking God in His house on the Sabbath.  Jesus didn’t reject them because demons were inhabiting their bodies, He loved them, and had compassion on them.  

Don’t think for a second that since we live in a highly sophisticated age of advanced technology that demons no longer work as they did 2000 years ago.  Demons have advanced right along with us, and still create pain and anguish in anyone they can find.  Good-hearted believers aren’t exempt from the devil’s attacks, and only those who are filled with His Spirit are protected from being possessed.  But that doesn’t mean that the devil won’t try, or that we should assume that everyone around us is just fine because they love God.  If you love your neighbor, fight for their freedom in your prayers.  Bring them to a pastor who knows how to do warfare against the evil that is attacking them and then teaches them how to fight for themselves.  And maybe you have some warfare to do in your own life.  Just like the people in Jesus’ day, a huge miracle could be waiting for you too.

As they went out, they brought to Him a mute man possessed with a demon. And when the demon was cast out, the mute man spoke, and the crowds were amazed, saying, “This has never been seen in Israel”  (Matthew 9:32-34 MEV)

Monday, August 17, 2015

Authority and revolution

Everybody who taught about God during Jesus’ time was either a mystic, a sorcerer, or teacher of the law of Moses.  The mystics and sorcerers had demonic supernatural powers to gain wealth and popularity.  The teachers of the law had a stranglehold on common Jews by imposing rules and regulations that they had invented, and had added to what was the scriptures already taught.  

These teachers (Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes), held important positions of power on the Jewish political scene, and could manipulate the common Jew to do what they wanted, by accusing him of being unholy and unworthy of heaven.  They terrorized those who didn’t know the laws of God, by holding them to impossible standards, and extorting money through the buying and selling of livestock to be sacrificed at the temple.  The only difference between the demonic sorcerers and the holier-than-thou Pharisees, was that the sorcerers were open about their greed.  The Pharisees paraded their humility around, praying loudly in the streets, smearing their faces with ashes and looking miserable when they fasted, with an air of pretentious spirituality.  

And then came Jesus.  Like a nuclear bomb, His words rattled the false dignity of the Jewish leaders and infuriated them.  They couldn’t argue with Him, because everything He said and taught was perfectly aligned with their scriptures.  But what He taught was nothing like they had ever known.  It was revolutionary, personal and powerful.  Everyone who heard Jesus’ words felt their souls were eating and drinking for the first time ever.  Jesus didn’t bother with their style of theological debate—it was the Holy Spirit speaking through Him directly to the spirits and souls of His hearers.  They were finding God in a deep and personal way. The humble ones drank it up and wanted more.  The proud, burned with rage.

And what could they do about those miracles?  Who could argue against a flesh and blood fact that a lame man, or a leper, or a blind man, or a dead little girl, was standing right there healthy and strong?  His authority was not only compelling to the mind and the heart, the facts were irrefutable!  

Some Jewish historians of the first century bitterly accuse the disciples of pretending that Jesus was the Messiah and of starting a false religion.  But nowhere among those writings can any accusation be found that Jesus pretended to heal or raise the dead, because those miracles had been witnessed by thousands and no one could deny it.  

So logically speaking, if we are now His body, His church, His followers who are called to not only do His works but even greater works (John 14:12), where is our authority?  Do we even believe that He granted His same authority to us?  Do we know how to use it and amaze others with His power so that He can be glorified?  The established Christian church today is a far cry from the kind of ambassador that God wants us to be for this world, that is rapidly heading towards the end times.  We need to be the connection to Jesus for others, to show His irrefutable power through our faith, to challenge the weak to stand up and believe and to command demons and principalities to be cast out of our homes, families, jobs and lives.  Our words and lives need to be in perfect alignment with His word, and our courage to step out in faith in line with all the examples of the heroes of faith in the Bible.  We could bring about a new revolution of faith in our lifetime.  Who’s ready?  

When the crowds saw it, they were amazed and glorified God who had given such authority to men.  (Matthew 9:8 MEV)

Friday, August 14, 2015

Stepping out on a limb

As little kids in Sunday school hearing all the powerful stories of fire from heaven, seas opening, lepers being healed and the sun standing still, we're filled with expectation to see the impossible.  

Jesus went around healing everybody who asked — He never said no!  Sickness and death were bad, health and life were good, and since God was good, He was on the side of health and life.  It was so clear-cut for us as kids, what happened to us as we grew up? 

What happened is that “real life” teaches us that raw faith that risks it all, is the same thing as being irresponsible and delusional.  God hasn’t changed, but our view of Him has become so jaded and skeptical, that we now just pray the safe prayer of “Let your will be done.”  Not only are we skeptical, but we’re comfortable.  We have the medical field to rely on, or legal counsel, or professional experts — all of which truly is a blessing — but because we hold all of them in such high regard, we’re almost ashamed to believe in anything above and beyond what they say.  Have you ever asked for prayer for a sickness, then treated it as a form of emotional support?  Most people do.  Did you really believe that the armies of heaven were moving in power through that prayer?  Most people don’t.   Even those who want to believe have a hard time shaking their doubts.

It all comes down to how we view God’s character.  The devil has worked hard to create a mysterious image of God that is supposedly so good and so profound that He will stand back and doom us to suffering for our own benefit.  He’ll passively watch us beg and plead and cry for mercy and give us only crumbs, because somehow it makes us better people.  We feel worse, abandoned by God and afraid that we are being punished, but we have to accept the saying that “God works in mysterious ways…”  I’ve fallen for that one many times without realizing that I was looking at a twisted, false image of the true God.

Jesus said that if we look at Him, we’ll see the Father.  They are One — that means the down to earth, loving, compassionate, powerful and holy Jesus that was bent on undoing all the work of the devil in the lives of those who He encountered, is exactly who our Father in heaven is like.  He is willing — more than willing to heal, destroy curses, restore families, raise the dead and send fire from heaven to wipe out oppressive spirits.  Our job is to be aware of the false images that we fall for, and to quickly align our minds and hearts to believe in the God of the Bible, not of religious imaginations.  And then take the risk to step out on a limb and believe.

God understands if you struggle with doubts, just don’t give up that fight.  Be ready to take the risk and believe in the impossible.  He invites you to take up His light burden, which is denying your flesh and living by faith, and He promises that you will find rest for your soul.  The heavy weight of slavery to depression, sickness, fears and anything else can be lifted once you see Him for who He is, and learn to fight for your freedom by faith.  Is He willing?  Without a doubt.

And then a leper came and worshipped Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”  Jesus reached out His hand and touched him, saying, “I will. Be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.  (Matthew 8:2-3 MEV)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Greedy faith?

I was asked many years ago when I had just given my life to Jesus, if I would still love and worship God even if He never did anything for me. It was a strange question, because of course He has already done so much, and will continue to do more than any of us deserve. 

But the question was meant to make me think about the motives of my faith, and if I truly love and fear God no matter what I get out of it, just because He deserves my loyalty. If I only go to church, pray, do good deeds and even use faith to accomplish great miracles for the sake of my own benefit, I’m disrespecting God. If so, my faith is only a way to barter for blessings. There’s no relationship, no bond, no real love. It’s a greedy faith.

A sad story appeared on the news recently, a mother who was arrested for locking her three-year-old daughter out of the house. They found the little girl tired and dehydrated, knocking on the door, and crying to be let back in. She had been treated so harshly, and yet she still longed for her mother’s love. God will never, ever mistreat us, but we are the ones who mistreat Him. God wants us to be His children, loyal, loving, trusting, entwined and enmeshed in Him. Our own little ones love us to a fault, and even when we mess up they still love us and believe the best in us. A good parent feels that sense of awe to have the unconditional love of their child, because we all know we aren’t as perfect as they see us in their innocent eyes.

But God is so good, perfect in every way, loving and constantly sacrificing for us. If our faith springs from a bond of love with Him, we will have the Holy Spirit bubbling up from inside and all His fruit will be evident in us. We’ll want to demonstrate love, joy, peace, goodness, gentleness, patience, kindness, faith and self-control because it’s what He wants! We’ll have a natural hatred for evil because that’s what He hates. We’ll be ready to fight to defend Him because that bond won’t allow us to even think of abandoning Him. And even if there is the chance that He won’t come through for us (but He will, because He promises) we will still be faithful to Him—because it’s the right thing to do. 

 Christians who are still in that bartering phase with God, trying to earn brownie points with their goodness, fasting and prayers for big answers only when times get tough, and then coasting along when the crises are over, are not yet fully children of God. God’s love is always there for them, but their bond with Him is conditional. They keep God at arm’s length. How do you know if you really love and trust Him? You are willing to take risks for Him, whether He blesses you or not. You simply obey because He is worthy of your love. Period. 

Strangely, it is when we reach that point of total surrender to Him that the authority of His name really takes root in us. Anger against evil and all the work of the devil blazes up higher, and the effectiveness of our warfare rises to another level. When we’re ready to serve to the death, we find new life—that’s what the new birth is all about! Weapons of warfare require total allegiance to our Lord. Shadrach Meshach and Abednego knew that and changed the heart of a king and his whole kingdom. Imagine what we could do today if all Christians took on that same kind of faith!   

“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods, nor worship the golden image which you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18 - MEV)

Monday, August 10, 2015

On the job protection

Our first visit to Rio was a ten-day trip to get to know the church from where it all began. One Sunday we arrived at the new Leme church way too early for the morning service, so I decided to step out and buy some film for my camera. I had no idea how dangerous it was for a “gringo” to wander the streets and that Rio was rife with violent street gangs of little kids who looked cute and sweet but could easily slit your throat or rob you of everything you have. 

It had happened to plenty of unsuspecting tourists and locals, but I just na├»vely wandered out on my own. As I walked along, one little boy of about 9 began to speak to me, pointing to my shoe. I spoke no Portuguese at the time, and looked down to what looked like a big blob of toothpaste on the toe. He spoke enthusiastically as if he wanted to help me, and pointed towards an alleyway. He’s a little boy, I'm an adult—no problem, I thought. I followed him into a dead end lined with dozens and dozens of other ragged boys around his age, all shouting and gesturing when they saw him lead me in. As they crowded around me and partially cleaned off the goo, I got a queasy feeling that they might be up to no good. I had some cash in my pocket but couldn't remember the exchange rate or what anything was worth, so I whipped out a bill, handed it to the boy and a riot of shouting and arguing went up among them. I just turned and walked straight back to the church as fast as I could. 

When I retell this story to my friends from Rio, they can’t believe I’d been so gullible, or that I actually got out of there alive, or with my camera and wallet! As I heard the gory stories of what others had gone through, I knew that God had sent an angel to surround me with protection and rush me out of there unscathed. Just like Jesus had walked straight through an angry crowd wanting to throw Him off a cliff, I was able to disappear in safety.  

As I look back on the many mistakes I've made, the times when I didn't have a clue what to say or what to do, God always graciously led me if I was willing. The biggest mistakes I've made weren’t just because I was inexperienced, but because I wasn't listening and depending on His guidance. But even then, God always showed me how to get back on track, how to recoup my losses and still be blessed.  

We can’t hang back in fear when God calls us to move forward, just because we're scared of making mistakes or feel inadequate for the job. Of course we're going to make mistakes, but in our desire to please Him, He makes us adequate. He has no problem teaching us as we go. If we stumble, He'll protect us. You're in the middle of a fight against demonic forces that want to destroy you and your dreams, to convince you that God doesn't care, or to lead you down dead end roads. You may feel overwhelmed and incapable of handling the struggle you're in. God doesn't expect you to have everything figured out, just to listen and obey Him and put the little faith you have into practice. He'll lead you safely through as long as you let Him.

The Lord guards the inexperienced; I was helpless, and He saved me.  (Psalm 116:6 HCSB)

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Shocking Attitudes of Jesus: Demanding the unrealistic

The man Jesus had referred to as the greatest among the prophets had just been beheaded by King Herod. John the Baptist had been born a cousin to Jesus, but more than that, John was the man that God sent to proclaim the way for the Messiah to the world. 

This horrible death was not going to be like Jairus’ daughter or like Lazarus whom Jesus raised back to life. This was the will of the Father that John should sacrifice his life for the Kingdom of God. According to Matthew’s account, it was in the shadow of this painful event that Jesus and the disciples decided to withdraw from the crowded towns, and sail off to a remote area. But the crowds just wouldn't leave Jesus alone—there was power in Him that they couldn't get enough of. As hard as it was, they tracked Him down. At least 5000 men were among them and no telling how many women and children were there as well.

Jesus wanted to be alone to seek strength from God during a difficult time, so you can imagine what the disciples must have thought to see thousands of people rushing towards them. “Oh no, here they come again! Why can't they leave us alone!” could easily have been their sentiments. But instead of focusing on His own grief, Jesus looked at the crowds and loved them. He healed and taught them all day long. It was getting dark, and the disciples were ready to wind things down for the day, so they suggested that Jesus send them off as they'd be getting hungry and there was no place with food nearby.  

But Jesus said that the crowds didn't have to go anywhere, and shocked His disciples by commanding them to do something completely unrealistic: “You feed them.” What would you have done if you were expecting a day off, had been stalked and invaded by thousands of poor and sick clamoring for help, were ready for a break at the end of the day, were told that the crowds were staying, and then you were told to feed them all?

Jesus had quickly switched from receiving strength from God alone mode, to selfless giving mode. The disciples had a harder time of it, and to our shame, we probably would too. They were watching diseased and broken bodies being healed all day, and knew His power, but John records that they balked at Jesus’ unrealistic request. “Two hundred denarii worth of bread wouldn't be enough for each of them to have a little!” said Philip in exasperation. 

But Andrew brought a little boy’s lunch of two fish and five rounds of pita bread to show that this was the best they had. And that was all Jesus needed—the best that they had. We all know the story of how He broke that little lunch up piece by piece and fed over 5000 until everyone was full and had twelve baskets of fish and bread leftover, one basket for every doubting and frustrated disciple.  

Jesus continues to ask the unrealistic, and we continue to balk just as foolishly as the disciples did. When will we learn that all He asks is that we give our best, even when it seems ridiculous? Miracles come about when we simply obey and risk total failure for His sake and His honor. Jesus shocked, infuriated, insulted, and even stirred up violent hatred against Him. He did it to spark true and lasting faith in those whose hearts were open. Do you sometimes feel frustrated at the counsel of your pastor? Are you insulted when you're asked to give when you barely have anything for yourself? Do you balk at God’s commands?  Switch modes to humbly trust, obey and know that your faith allows God to grant the miracles you need.  

Therefore, when Jesus looked up and noticed a huge crowd coming toward Him, He asked Philip, “Where will we buy bread so these people can eat?”  He asked this to test him, for He Himself knew what He was going to do. (John 6:5-6 HCSB)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The shocking attitudes of Jesus: Making a spectacle of Himself

Our pastors have come under fire for casting out demons in a public format, in front of congregations of thousands, broadcast on TV stations and social media. The motive has always been to show that God is alive, powerful and ready to transform anyone no matter how dark and broken their lives are. Miracles of healing and deliverance are real, but no matter how undeniable the proof is, there are always critics. If being accused of sensationalism is the result, it’s worth it. The thousands of lives who have been touched by these public displays of faith (I can include myself as well) far outweighs any criticism or persecution. And it’s par for the course, because our Lord Jesus was criticized and persecuted even more.

Jesus’ good friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived in Bethany. Lazarus had been deathly sick, and just like with Jairus’ daughter, it seemed as if Jesus had gotten there too late. So late that Lazarus’ dead body had already been in the tomb for four days. It was an emotionally charged time with distraught sisters, somber Jews and influential members of the community attending the funeral of the head of this respected family. Jesus chose this time of all times to make a spectacle of Himself. With an audience of friends and enemies watching every move, Jesus commanded the stone over the tomb to be rolled away and shouted for Lazarus to come out. The tense moments of waiting, of confusion, of unbelief… and then a walking mummy stumbles into the daylight. It was a miracle of staggering proportions. The intense joy of Mary and Martha and their loved ones was only matched by the violent hatred in the hearts of the Pharisees. It was so spectacular that many of the doubting Jews were won over right then, and believed that Jesus truly was the Messiah.    

And just as it happens to many with the faith to perform miracles of healing and deliverance today, Jesus’ beautiful expression of His love and power was trashed by His critics. They wanted to kill Him and kill Lazarus because He was getting too popular. His miracles were too flashy, too sensationalistic, and they would all lose their positions and jobs because of Him. Jesus knew He would have to go to the cross and knew that His enemies would use this as an excuse to plot His death, but it was worth it to instill new faith in those who believed. It was worth it to give back a lost brother to his family.  

Flashy, sensationalistic pastors get spoofed on TV or movies which is no surprise, as plenty of pastors’ lives and ministries are tragically, just for show. No one likes pretentious religiosity, but real demonstrations of God’s power and real messages of faith are often trashed by critics as if they were false, as if they were done just to show off. Jesus and His spectacular miracles were no show, but done to reveal God’s glory. Real pastors today can and should be following in His footsteps for His glory and not their own, showing God’s power to the world as a city on a hill, as Jesus commands. Christians shouldn’t be afraid to stand up and make a spectacle of themselves for the sake of the gospel if it means winning more souls for His Kingdom. If Jesus opened eyes through miracles despite the backlash, why should we be any different?

Then Jesus, angry in Himself again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.  “Remove the stone,” Jesus said.  Martha, the dead man’s sister, told Him, “Lord, he’s already decaying. It’s been four days.” Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”  (John 11:38-40 HCSB)

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Shocking Attitudes of Jesus, Part 3

Jairus had traveled far in the hope that Jesus would come to his house and heal his sick little daughter. Jesus was delayed by another healing and on their way home, Jairus was given the devastating news that his daughter had died. Instead of apologizing for the delay, Jesus just told Jairus not to be afraid and only believe, and kept on walking. He found Jairus’ house full of wailing mourners and heartlessly threw them out, telling them to stop crying for a sleeping child! Not only did He come off as rude, He appeared ridiculous. The shock of His faith against their sentimentalism created a hostile reaction, and they laughed at Him. Jesus wasn’t phased one bit, and without understanding the what or why of Jesus’ actions, Jairus just humbly obeyed. It didn’t take long before the mocking of the mourners turned into amazement when the little girl rose from her bed just like she had been sleeping. If Jesus needed to appear rude for the sake of faith, it was well worth it.

Jesus had a totally different view of death than we do, which was evident when a man eager to learn from Jesus was invited to follow Him. The guy wavered, wanting to go with Jesus, yet feeling that sentimental obligation to stay for the sake of his father. “Let me bury my father first,” was his response, which Jesus shot back the very callous order, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.” How cold! He broke all the bereavement guidelines for counselors—no sympathy, no hug, no understanding arrangement to meet him later at a town further down the road once the funeral was over. Jesus knew that making that choice then and there was crucial to the man’s salvation. We don’t know what happened to him, but his story is an example of a man who was more attached to this world than to God.

And then there was that time when He publicly disrespected His own mother. Mary and His brothers had come to see Jesus as He was preaching in Galilee, and when the disciples interrupted Him, expecting Him to be the “good son” and stop His work to see them, Jesus refused. “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” He asked, and then stretched out His hands to the crowd and said that they were right there, the ones who did the will of His Father. Did that mean Jesus didn’t love His family? No, that meant that Jesus understood what His real family was and is today.

Jesus always saw the bigger picture, and He calls us to see it too. Family is not more important than Him, and death is not bigger than Him either. We’re all headed for eternity in His Kingdom or eternity in darkness and agony. Why worry about inconsequential things like funerals when we can invest in eternity with Him? As for Jairus, why be afraid of lost time when the God who created time is by your side? Why worry about family obligations when souls are at stake? When we see the bigger picture, death, time and family take on a much smaller importance in the whole scheme of things. Heartless, callous and disrespectful to those with hardened hearts, but to the humble He taught that the worldly things we elevate to such importance need to be viewed as small and inconsequential. If we follow Him, we’ll be mocked like He was, but then again, we’ll see the shock of faith against the hostility of this world creating miracles to bolster our faith even more.  

Everyone was crying and mourning for her. But He said, “Stop crying, for she is not dead but asleep.” They started laughing at Him, because they knew she was dead. So He took her by the hand and called out, “Child, get up!” Her spirit returned, and she got up at once. Then He gave orders that she be given something to eat.  (Luke 8:52-55 HCSB)

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The shocking attitudes of Jesus, part 2

For years I had a simplistic idea of how a true Christian should behave. I thought that being patient, loving and kind would please God, protect me from the devil, and enable me to be saved. Only in my late twenties did I realize that what God is really looking for are people with faith, a real faith that moves mountains and has the courage to confront problems. 

I learned that real faith demands much more than patience, love and kindness, and began to realize how different Jesus was from me, and from the large majority of Christians today. His thoughts and actions were shocking and radical, and I realized that if I wanted to be a true man of God and to see His power in my life, I would have to copy this new concept of how a Christian should behave.

One day a Canaanite woman called out to Jesus as He walked along with His disciples, asking Him to heal her daughter who was demon possessed and close to death. Jesus reacted to her harshly. At first He ignored her cries, and only after His disciples offered to send her away, He stopped and told her that He could not help her because she was a Gentile. When she persisted, he compared her to a dog. Normally we would consider this very unchristian behavior. Yet in the case of the Canaanite woman, Jesus’ harsh responses created the right kind of environment to provoke her to stand up for what she believed in and manifest an unstoppable faith. She rose to the occasion and did just that. In the end she went home with the miracle she'd been asking for.

Another time Jesus was watching offering givers in the Temple, and noticed a widow who gave the last two copper coins she had. Instead of stopping her out of pity and arranging with the Levites to give back her money, or ensuring that she'd get a hot meal that night, Jesus turned to His disciples and commended her for her actions. Normally we’d label this behavior as fiscally irresponsible. How could He stand by and allow that poor woman to give all she had? He should have told her it was unnecessary. Richer people had given that day, and the Temple didn't need her two small coins. She should have kept the coins to buy a morsel to eat. The Bible doesn't tell us what happened to that woman, but if Jesus praised her, then God took care of her. Those two coins couldn't change her life, but giving her all to God and even going hungry for a short time as a result, had the power to move God’s hands and permanently solve her problem.

And then another day when Jesus and the twelve were on a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, He insensitively showed no empathy for His friends. A violent storm developed and the boat was about to sink and drown them all. All the while, Jesus was asleep in the stern of the boat, unconcerned about the danger His friends were in. The disciples woke Him up, asking why He didn't care that they were about to die, and He dared to ask them back why they had so little faith. How could He expect them to be calm in the middle of a storm like that? Did He really expect them to have enough faith to command the storm to stop? But at that moment, like many moments in our lives, empathy wasn't going to keep them alive or solve their problem. Jesus let them to go through the storm, and rebuked them for their lack of faith because He wanted to teach them that all along they had had the faith to overcome that storm.

Genuine faith in God and rebuking the devil manifests in many different ways. In these three examples Jesus appeared harsh, fiscally irresponsible, and devoid of empathy, attitudes that we normally don’t associate with a good Christian. But in all three cases Jesus’ attitude was exactly what was needed. We need to throw away the idea that every good Christian has to appear patient, loving and kind at all times. Yes, we need those three qualities, but ninety-five percent of the time those three attitudes acting alone simply don't cut it. Faith demands forcefulness and toughness. True faith is not always comfortable, nor is it always obvious to others that our attitudes are godly, but true faith always bring results and moves God’s hand.

Jesus said to her, “Let the children first be filled. For it is not fitting to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She answered, “Yes, Lord. Yet the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then He said to her, “For this answer, go your way. The demon has gone out of your daughter.” When she had come to her house, she found the demon had gone out, and her daughter lying on the bed.  (Mark 7:27-30  MEV)