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)