Monday, December 19, 2016

Does Hanukkah have anything to do with us?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Are you a Blabbermouth or a Listener?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 9, 2016

Are you seeing post-traumatic growth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Responding to the critics of sacrifice

One of the biggest criticisms of our church is its teaching about sacrifice – particularly at the time of the Israel Challenge which occurs twice a year. These are the most common phrases I hear:
  1. Giving offerings or tithes is fine, but teaching that God expects us to sacrifice our possessions today is abusing church members and using the Bible for financial gain.
  2. It’s irresponsible to pressure Christians into giving large amounts of money, especially those who can barely pay their own bills.
  3. The constant teaching of sacrifice during the weeks before the Israel Challenge is nothing more than brainwashing.
  4. If a church is so desperate for money, it should fundraise for whatever project it needs to pay for, and not exploit the Bible to make people feel guilty if they don’t give.
  5. Churches should be known for giving to the poor, not taking from them.
  6. Teaching about financial sacrifices in exchange for answered prayer is teaching greed, and treats God like an ATM.
Let’s talk about each one:
  1. Teaching that God expects us to sacrifice our possessions today is abusing church members and using the Bible for financial gain. – In Acts 4 the early church members sold what they had – land, possessions – and laid it at the apostles feet for the sake of spreading the Gospel. No one lacked anything because as they gave, God provided for them all. It sounds radical, but there is nothing unbiblical about sacrificial giving. It’s everywhere from the widow of Zarephath in the Old Testament to the widow with the two copper coins in the New Testament, to Jesus’ command for the rich young ruler to sell all he had to follow Him, to Jesus’ own sacrifice on the cross that had been foreshadowed by Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac thousands of years earlier. Sacrifice permeates the Bible.
  2. It’s irresponsible to pressure Christians into giving large amounts of money. – Challenging people to live by faith is the core of the Gospel. If someone gives out of their flesh, out of guilt, just for show or obligation, then faith isn’t operating and they have basically thrown away their opportunity to be blessed. But we have documentation of tens of thousands who once were poor, sick and hopeless, and can now testify to God’s power to lift them out of poverty, sickness and hopelessness to a life of abundance and stability because they had the courage to sacrifice not just money, but their lives in dedication to Him. These people didn’t lose a thing, they gained exponentially!
  3. The teaching of sacrifice during the weeks before the Israel Challenge is brainwashing. – Sacrifice is simple to understand, but difficult for hearers to accept. There’s a demonic resistance that no one escapes, no matter how spiritual they are. As many times as God has challenged me to sacrifice something I highly valued, the devil was always there, doing his best to attack me emotionally and give me excuses not to go through with it. The reason is that sacrifice, when done in faith, is a form of intense spiritual warfare. Repetitive teaching can be boring, I’ll admit, if a pastor is not well trained or is not allowing the Spirit to speak through him. But the concept of sacrifice is so powerful that it needs to be developed and explained so that the hearers can make a rational and informed choice on their own.
  4. If a church is desperate for money, it should fundraise for whatever project it needs to pay for. – The Israel Challenge is not the church’s desperate grasp for money. It’s a time when deep spiritual truths are set forth with the full knowledge that they could easily be misunderstood, and the church could be accused of all these statements above. Just like Peter said before the High Court of Israel, “We must obey God rather than man.”
  5. Churches should be known for giving to the poor, not taking from them. – You’ve heard the old saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Teaching people to trust in God through sacrifice, is basically thrusting them into a mode of faith that only the persecuted church of the past understood. People discover that they don’t need charity or other people’s help to overcome their problems, they can experience the supernatural power of God themselves through sacrifice. Our church has many social outreach programs that help the homeless, prisoners, the abused and illiterate – but nothing turns around lives like the power of sacrifice.
  6. Teaching about financial sacrifices in exchange for answered prayer is teaching greed, and treats God like an ATM. – Jesus taught, “Give and it shall be given unto you,” and “as you give, you shall receive.” Sacrifices and offerings brought into the old Temple were meant to be done with specific reasons behind them, and at times God asked for specific sacrifices before He granted specific victories. Yes, we should give just for the joy of giving, and anything that is not given freely in love is not a true sacrifice. Yet God treats us as children who need incentives to do what is right, much like we teach our own children good lessons through rewards. Jesus even promises rewards in heaven according to how we’ve lived on earth. Sacrificing and making requests for our lives to be transformed is a perfectly Biblical concept and teaches us to humbly look to God as our Father.  

Moreover, brothers, we want you to experience the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia, how in a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty overflowed toward the riches of their generous giving. For I bear record that according to their means, and beyond their means, they freely gave, begging us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of ministering to the saints.  2 Corinthians 8:1-4 MEV

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Beautiful Holy Dread – part 2

In the last post I talked about the demonic, oppressive dread that makes us a slave to our feelings. But I also mentioned that another kind of dread exists — a good dread, a holy dread. That might sound “dreadful” to you, but bear with me. It’s something amazing and healthy for our daily relationship with Him.

Job said, “…let not the dread of You make me afraid.” There was something distinctly good about this dread that Job was talking about that makes it different from fear. What is this good dread? It starts with understanding the immensity of who God is, and the power He holds in His hands. The universe can’t contain Him, because He made it and He’s beyond its scope. Time doesn’t limit Him because a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day. He always was, is, and will be for eternity and can even heal wounds of the past and alter the course of our future with ease. The kingdom of darkness wages war against God’s Kingdom, but even hell itself has to bow before Him. “Do not fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)

This idea of teaching about a holy dread is not popular in most churches. We’d rather talk about God’s love, comfort, care, meekness and humility, about His generosity and forgiveness. Christians like to paint mental pictures of Him as a gentle passive being. Just look at the hundreds of lovely quotes about God on Facebook with soft wistful images of flowers or children running through fields. All of those aspects of God are true, but without balancing them with His dreadful and terrible power, we weaken the greatness of His goodness.  

You may have seen pictures of soldiers in wartime armed with the deadliest weapons, caring for children and aiding vulnerable people. Those are powerful images of a more beautiful and intense generosity. When someone appears strong or invincible but chooses to show kindness just because he wants to, it takes on a deeper meaning. It moves us to gratitude, to appreciate the undeserved grace of those actions. That’s why we need to have this holy fear, this holy dread — to see how intense and deep His love is for us.  

God doesn’t need to forgive us, but He does. He doesn’t need to show kindness, generosity, understanding, patience, mercy… He needs absolutely nothing from us because He is all, and everything exists because of Him. But He chooses to anyway, and if we had even a tiny grasp of how truly awesome that is, we would be on our faces in gratitude for our salvation every day. He has every right to cast us into hell, but He chose to make a way for us through the unfair death of His own Son. The God of the Universe took our place! Holy dread needs to fill our minds and hearts because what He has done is unthinkable.  

So, the next time you want to complain about life and reduce God to the level of a weak friend who has disappointed you because He didn’t give you what you wanted the way you wanted it when you wanted it — remember who you’re speaking to. Dwell on His immensity, His dreadful and beautiful power. The greater you exalt Him in your mind and heart, the more you will feel His great love and kindness.

Then the earth shook and quaked; the foundations of the hills also moved; they reeled because His anger burned. Smoke went up out of His nostrils, and fire from His mouth devoured; coals were kindled by it. He bent the heavens and came down, and darkness was under His feet. He rode on a cherub, and flew; He flew swiftly on the wings of the wind.  He made darkness His secret place; His pavilion was surrounding Him, dark waters and thick clouds of the skies. At the brightness before Him His thick clouds passed by, hailstones and coals of fire.  The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High gave His voice, hailstones and coals of fire. He sent out His arrows and scattered them, and He shot out lightning and distressed them. Then the channels of waters appeared, and the foundations of the world were discovered at Your rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of Your nostrils.  Psalm 18:7-15 MEV 

Friday, November 18, 2016

The powerful emotion of dread Pt. 1

Dread pops up in the simplest of things. A young man has a project due at work. He knows he can do a good job, but dreads dealing with his boorish overseeing manager. He sets to work haunted by the notion of being laughed at behind his back. He doubts himself and is angry at the unfairness of it all. He pushes himself to just get it done, but the fear of failure and ridicule dull his mind so that he can’t even think. He decides to boost his spirits with a drink or two, some entertainment, time out with friends, or anything to calm his nerves to tackle the project. But days pass and he can barely look at his to-do list, feeling more convinced he’s a loser. He mentally cuts himself down as an irresponsible, lazy idiot who’s lost his chance for a promotion if he’s lucky to even keep the job. The day of his presentation is approaching but instead of pushing through to get it done, he’s paralyzed by dread. 

Doubt, worry, fear: three emotional states that the Bible constantly commands us not to feel, all condense into the intolerable emotion of dread. Dread of an uncertain future, dread of fulfilling a difficult task, dread of pain, unhappiness, alienation, failure, conflict, ridicule, rejection, loss, death. Jesus says that, “The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy…” (John 10:10) so it follows that the feeling of dread is a conviction that the devil’s plans will come true. Dread is a form of negative faith that drives us further from God and closer to Satan. We may think we’re just reacting logically to an unpleasant situation, but we’re actually entering into a demonic spiritual state. Surrendering to dread is surrendering to the devil.

After 40 years of wandering in the desert because they rebelled against God and hadn’t entered the Promised Land as God had commanded them, Moses reminded the Israelites of the day they’d stood on the border of their land — still inhabited by strong cities and giant men — and of the words that God had spoken. Different Bible versions use “be terrified” or “fear,” but the King James Version hits the nail on the head saying, “Then I said unto you, dread not, neither be afraid of them.” (Deuteronomy 1:29) Dread not, even though they’re huge, even though their cities are fortified and you’re just a bunch of wandering, homeless ex-slaves. Dread not because I, the Lord, will fight for you. Case closed.

If we’re commanded not to dread, it’s because we can choose to reject it. But a feeling so domineering as dread has to be replaced by a conviction even more domineering. Dread has to be argued down by raw faith. God challenged His people to determine that none of the imposing fortresses or warriors of the Promised Land would be vanquished by their own strength. God would do it. It was His job. They only had to be determined, and obey. They couldn’t just ignore fear, doubt or worry, they had to throw it down and stomp on it. Dread is a demonic spirit of intimidation and the only way to destroy it is to do exactly what it doesn’t want you to do.

And then there’s the curious description that God has for Himself throughout the Old Testament. Malachi 4:5 (KJV) says, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” God calls Himself dreadful, says that we should dread Him, that the heathen dread Him, that our enemies will dread us. When it comes to God, dread is a positive spiritual force. The intense dread of the devil’s threats has to be transformed into an intense fear and awe for God. And godly dread is nothing like demonic dread. It doesn’t create weakness or defeat, but joy, love, strength, and an invincible holy bond between us and our Creator.   

Giving into the dread of the devil’s threats is bowing in submission to him. But holy dread as a response to God’s promises is a form of worship and surrender to His power. So how do we develop this holy dread for God? Check back tomorrow for the second half of this topic.  

You should not say, “It is a conspiracy,” concerning all that this people calls a conspiracy, neither fear their threats nor be afraid of them.  Sanctify the Lord of Hosts Himself, and let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread.  Isaiah 8:12-13, MEV

Sunday, November 13, 2016

How to completely confuse the devil

I was asked this week about tips on how to remind yourself to tie up demonic forces every day. I answered that it has to become an integral part of our lives, even mixed into our worship, our devotions, the asking of requests, our thanksgiving—everything. If confronting the devil is seen as a to-do item on a prayer list, it’ll only happen during specified times in church services, or only when extremely stressful situations remind us of the need. If that’s the case, there’s not much of a difference between our faith and Christians who don’t even believe in spiritual warfare, and the fruit of our lives will be the same. I know a lot of our own church members who live in this mediocre state. 

I often see people in the process of deliverance getting tangled up in old religious ideas. They have a false impression of what freedom in Christ is supposed to be like. They yearn for an emotional high, a sense of elation, and imagine that they’ll always be smiling and quoting the Bible and praying in tongues, and that miracles will instantly appear at their fingertips—kind of like a magical Disney character. This false expectation is so common, I have no doubt that it’s demonic—a hyped up illusion that eventually crashes into to disappointment and anger when it doesn’t come true. They completely forget that daily warfare is not an option, but a lifestyle. It’s just one more reason we keep hammering home the message of thinking faith, and not emotionalism.

When real spiritual warfare is going on, the authority of Jesus’ name is being used, and the power of God’s Spirit goes out to fight and destroy demonic forces according to our faith. This has nothing to do with us “manipulating” God or forcing Him to do what we want. It has everything to do with us obeying His commands. His weapons are meant for us to use according to His will, and He promises to accomplish His will through us as partners—weak, unworthy partners, but still partners. If we don’t use His weapons, we’re opting not to obey, as simple as that. But when we do use them, not only do miracles happen, but we grow closer and closer to God. As we fight darkness, His light floods into us. It’s a powerful way of honoring God while knowing that not one miracle that happens is from ourselves, but all are from Him. And in the middle of the battle is when we really get to know Him, we see a glimpse of His face, hear His voice, feel His arms around us and know without a doubt that we are victorious, safe and protected. It’s not an emotional high, it’s a deeper spiritual wisdom.

New Christians who are learning how to fight for their freedom can either grab this concept and go all the way, or they can take a longer, more painful, confusing route. Fighting halfway is miserable and exhausting. Seeking deliverance as an addition to emotional religious habits doesn’t work. Hoping that your pastor will do all the fighting for you so you can go on with your slightly more cleaned up life, won’t bring complete freedom, and it doesn’t do you any good to complain to God that the process is too hard. 

“But when I rebuke the devil, he hits me back even harder! I’m tired of trying and getting attacked over and over!” One truth is important to understand. When you are fully devoted to God, not just in words or emotional wishes, but when the daily choices of what you do, think, and determine show that you are fully devoted to Him, you are hidden in Christ. Satan cannot find you. He can’t drag you down and accuse you anymore. You completely confuse him, and his tactics have no more power. He can be so convinced that he is about to win a huge victory, and at the last minute be left stunned at his defeat. He won’t be able to figure you out because you will be living in such an intense light of God, that he is blinded, and you are hidden.

This week I have seen Satan stunned and defeated and reeling in confusion. It brings me joy, but also a greater fear of how powerful and good our God is. We can’t afford to allow a single day to pass without engaging in God’s war. Don’t do it half-heartedly. Die to everything that is in the way of your total surrender to God, engage in this battle now and let His power hide you in His light.

If you then were raised with Christ, desire those things which are above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God.  Set your affection on things above, not on things on earth.  For you are dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life shall appear, then you also shall appear with Him in glory.   Colossians 3:1-4 MEV 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Infatuated with yes-men?

“I don’t believe in dividers – I support uniters!” Sounds like a noble sentiment, but what does that even mean? Basically, “I only like people who tell me that I’m just fine!” 2 Timothy 4 teaches about that mentality, how the time will come when “people will not endure sound doctrine, but they will gather to themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires, having itching ears, and they will turn their ears away from the truth and turn to myths.”  

Everybody loves an uplifting quote on Facebook or a positive slogan. Here’s a popular one: “The best things come to those who don’t give up.” Logically that would mean an unemployed couch potato should never give up waiting around until a job dropped into his lap, and an abused wife should never leave her cheating husband no matter what. The encouragement of “don’t give up,” only applies if you’re doing the right things. If you’re not, your misery will become a bottomless pit. But who wants to be told they’re not doing the right thing?  

Micaiah was a prophet in Israel under King Ahab. Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah came to visit, and the two kings discussed how they ought to join forces to fight Syria. Jehoshaphat suggested that they ask God what they should do, so Ahab called up his 400 yes-men to prophesy. And as yes-men do, they all predicted victory and success, which King Jehoshaphat could tell was a pack of lies. Jehoshaphat asked if Ahab had any real prophets of God. Ahab’s response said it all: “There is still one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we can inquire of the Lord. But I hate him because he never prophesies good for me, but always evil.” (1 Kings 22)

Micaiah knew he was expected to regurgitate the happy slogans of the other prophets, but when he finally spoke for God, it was ugly and scary – but it was the truth. Sin and disobedience was rife in Israel and evil King Ahab would die if he went to war. Ahab refused to listen, and God’s word came true, just as Micaiah had said.  

The fallacy of today, is that we only want to hear about love and peace, about harmony and unity, about tolerance and acceptance, about sharing and embracing. Just meaningless sound bites. The world around us is infatuated with the “yes-men” of our days who spout off noble words, while anyone who speaks harsh truths is labeled as hateful, and divisive. A day is coming when a pastor who preaches that not all will be saved, that hell is a reality, that demons manifest and possess lives, that the only way to heaven is through salvation in Jesus – will be condemned as divisive and evil. The world is heading in the direction when it will be a crime to speak God’s truths, and that day is coming sooner than we think.  

Don’t be discouraged when you speak up for God and His truth and find that you offend or infuriate people. A real servant of God doesn’t go out of his way to offend, but neither does he shy away from the truth, which offends those who are determined to serve the gods of this world. Happy slogans are worthless without the brutal reality of the spiritual battle we are in. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, yet He bought our peace through the shedding of His blood. We have the promise of eternal life, but it comes at the price of the death to our flesh and daily picking up our cross to follow Him. If you find yourself hated because you are the only one in your group of friends that holds onto God’s truth, consider yourself blessed. Truth may be painful, but it leads to life.  

Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.  But evil people and impostors will flourish. They will deceive others and will themselves be deceived.  But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you.  2 Timothy 3:12-14 MEV

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Keeping of Oaths

In this climate of corruption and lies in politics, business and finance, we’ve become calloused to promises of leaders in our world. They’ve become meaningless as grand speeches unravel with scandalous revelations in the news. There has been such a glut of scandals lately that it’s almost impossible to absorb and process it all—our default setting has now become, “So what next, they’re all a bunch of liars!”

When Joshua and the armies of God were fighting to take possession of the Promised Land, God gave him specific instructions (Exodus 23) not to make any treaty with the people who were living in that land. The entire land was meant for them, and they were to be strong and courageous in His might, to take it for themselves. But after they had overcome much of the territory of the Promised Land, the Gibeonites were afraid of Israel, and decided to be crafty.  They dressed up as poor travellers from a distant country, came to Joshua, and lied about who they were. They showed them their dried out bread and worn out clothes, and convinced Joshua to make a covenant with them, and that they would serve Israel forever. The Bible says that Joshua and his leaders forgot to consult the Lord, and so they were deceived into making a covenant against God’s wishes. 

In a situation like that, many of us would imagine that a covenant made on false pretenses wouldn’t hold. The deal would be off. But even when Joshua and his mighty men realized they’d been fooled, the vow had to stand. The Israelite soldiers were furious and wanted to kill them, but a vow was a vow. Their promise before God was not a thing to be toyed with or scrapped. So the Gibeonites gratefully became their manual laborers instead of having to fight against God’s people, and that arrangement was honored for generations. 

Fast-forward to around 400 years later when God tells King David that Israel has been suffering a three-year famine because bloodthirsty King Saul had killed the Gibeonites before he died. The ancient vow had been broken, giving the devil permission to ravage all of Israel with drought and death. The strange response to this problem was for David to ask the remaining Gibeonites what they wanted done to make the problem right again. They asked for the lives of seven of Saul’s sons, and David agreed. Two of Saul’s sons from a concubine, plus five sons from his former wife Michal (who had mocked David when he had worshipped God) were handed over to the Gibeonites, who hung them all. Saul’s concubine mourned and repented for the sins of Saul and his sons in breaking that vow, and God poured down rain to end the famine. In other words, the evil of that broken vow was alive in the hearts and minds of those sons, and had to be cast out. Ending their lives, ended the curse on Israel. That was how seriously God treated vows, and how seriously we must treat them today.

“So you’re saying that if I break a promise, God’s going to strike me and my children down with death?” I’m saying that what we solemnly declare in faith, before God, has spiritual implications that run far deeper than we realize. Breaking vows gives the devil permission to attack us, even those we might have made hastily or with the wrong motives. Yes, God has made allowances for divorce in the Bible, but it’s a serious and painful process, even when done under God’s covering. But so many other vows are treated casually in this day and age that open doors for demonic attack, and people are oblivious to the cause of their problems and unanswered prayers.  

Ask yourself to see if you have vowed to be a faithful parent, but have failed your children out of selfishness and pride, if you’ve vowed to be faithful in your finances towards God, but have chosen to give only when it’s convenient, if you’ve vowed to abstain from gossip or self-promotion or ungodly behavior, but indulge in it now and then, or if you’ve vowed to obey God no matter what, when or where, but have chosen the comfortable route instead. God doesn’t send lightning bolts to strike us in judgment, but He does permit Satan to sift us when we reject His protection. Nations suffer these consequences, as well as individuals. We can only do so much to hold our leaders accountable these days, but we can make sure we honor our own vows beginning now.

When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it because He has no pleasure in fools. Fulfill what you have vowed. Better it is that you do not make a vow than you make a vow and not fulfill it.  Do not let your mouth cause you to sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was an error. Why should God be angry with your words and destroy the work of your hands?  For when there is an abundance of dreams and futilities, then words increase too. Therefore it is God you should fear.   Ecclesiastes 5:4-7 MEV

Monday, October 31, 2016

Prayer with nuclear capabilities

When you’ve learned all your life that the most spiritual form of prayer is the “If it be Thy will” type, the idea of being bold feels disrespectful. That’s the mindset I grew up with, and it’s the mindset of a large portion of the Christian world. Meanwhile, there’s another large portion of Christians who are naming and claiming blessings, proclaiming prophecies, getting emotionally fired up, but at the same time are being careless about submitting to God’s principles of holiness. One of the hardest things to teach is bold prayer, especially to those who are already saved. And as much as I preach it and try to live it out daily, the devil never stops trying to pull me off balance. Emotional discipline combined with spiritual audacity, are explosive ingredients for a faith with nuclear capabilities. But who really understands this balance? 

It’s been hidden in the Bible for 2000 years, probably because Bible scholars have imagined that the literal translation was too extreme. The Lord’s Prayer—the model prayer that Jesus taught His disciples—was originally written in Greek, in the imperative form, which means it was written as commands. In other words, it sounded nothing like the mumbled religious ritual most of us are familiar with. It was a shocking prayer that called God Father, and treated Him as if He wanted a personal relationship with them. On top of that, they were to speak like ordinary children unashamedly asking, even demanding, that their dad provide what they needed. (Give me my daily bread!) It was not the typical prayer of a holy man, and probably was one more reason the Pharisees were enraged by Jesus.

Then right after teaching His model prayer, Jesus told them a story about a pesky neighbor who kept banging on his friend’s door in the middle of the night (Luke 11). The friend was woken up and irritated, but eventually handed over what he wanted. Jesus shocked them again by saying that this is exactly how we’re supposed to interact with God. Most Bible translations say, “I say to you, though he will not rise and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as much as he needs.” I’m not a professional Greek scholar, but I discovered that the original word used for persistence, is actually the word for shamelessness. Audacity! So because of his shamelessness, he got what he wanted, and we’re supposed to be shameless with God too! 

Jesus was teaching at a time when all religious leaders were obsessed with acting superior, and humiliating those under them. Ordinary men who had a personal relationship with God and spoke to Him with shameless persistence undermined everything they stood for. It’s no surprise that audacious faith still offends religious people today. It’s so important to keep our eyes focused on Jesus and His teaching, and to resist the religious pressure to conform to manmade standards. When our relationship with God is real, personal, obedient, persistent and shamelessly bold, God is pleased. Prayer is meant to be answered. We are meant to love, know and obey Him, and we are supposed to insist, demand and insist again that He fulfill His promises until we see them!  

I’ve been preaching this concept of faith for years, but I’m still working on developing this explosive spiritual balance. It’s a process that should never stop for any Christian. I’ve challenged myself to pray even more shamelessly than before in these last few weeks, and God’s already moved some stubborn mountains. If this is Jesus’ most basic teaching on prayer, anything less is unbelief and doubt. When we think our prayer life is just fine the way it is, we disrespect Him, and waste time holding back our answers to prayers. God will gladly answer, but building a Father and child relationship with us is His primary concern. What better way to be His child than to become shamelessly persistent?

For the sake of Zion I will not keep silent, and for the sake of Jerusalem I will not rest until her righteousness goes forth as brightness and her salvation as a lamp that burns… I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem, who shall never hold their peace day nor night. You who remind the Lord, do not keep silent; give Him no rest until He establishes and makes Jerusalem a glory in the earth.  Isaiah 62:1, 6-7 MEV

Friday, October 28, 2016

Rational faith and seeing through illusions

Here is the final set of email exchanges with Claudia Fernandes from Rio, as she sought counseling for a lifetime of rejection and humiliation. I’m happy to include her final response, which I just received this past week. To read from the beginning, click here for the first post, and here for the second to better understand what Claudia was going through and how far she has come.

>>12 February 2015 07:06<<

Hi Claudia,

The first paragraph of your email reveals an attitude that I want to help you destroy. What is real? Is what we see and feel real? We can’t see God, but He is close to us and is more real than anything we see. We can’t yet see the fulfillment of God’s promises, but they are more real than any of our problems or traumas. The chair you’re sitting in could appear more real than God because you can physically touch it, but it’s not. He is more real. The spiritual world is much more real and rewarding than the physical world.

What I want you to understand is that your thoughts become reality. Faith is deciding that the word of God will become reality, regardless of how you feel or what you see. We’re not lying to ourselves when we do this. We’re not deceiving ourselves. We’re simply deciding that the promises of God will become the new reality of our lives.

The devil is like a Hollywood producer. He creates a scene around us to convince us that our lives are going to be a certain way. Like a Hollywood scene, it isn’t real, but is seems real. We need to open the door for God’s reality to become our reality, and the only way to do this is to believe in His promises with every cell of our brain.

There is much more I could say about this. It’s a big subject. Next time I’ll tell you more…

Is what I’m saying clear?

I corrected your positive phrases (below). I want you to start to repeat these phrases to yourself EVERY day. It may seem silly, but it isn’t. When a child begins to speak for the first time, he only makes noises. He doesn’t know what he’s saying. But with time he develops the ability to speak the language fluently. These phrases may appear silly in the beginning, but they are the truth, and the more you say them and believe in them, the more they will become your new reality.

Remember, being a tither means putting God in first place. This means giving God the first ten percent of your income, but it also means having faith and rebuking doubts.

1. I can do anything. Things will be easier than I think they will be, but on the other hand I’m not afraid of difficult things because the victory is mine!
2. People like me. I am not alone. God is creating family and friends for me.
3. Even when I don’t see anything, God is at work. He is transforming both me and my situation.
4. I don’t only give my tithe, I put God first in everything! Prosperity, which is my revenge on the devil, is on the way!
5. God believes in me even when nobody else does. My faith is opening doors for me that were never open before.

We’ll talk again soon…

>>20 October 2016 16:17<<

Good afternoon Bishop,

I write this to glorify God for your life.

After I learned how negative my mind was, and how this blocked me from receiving the promises of God by faith, my life finally changed. Bishop, it has surpassed all expectations. Today I’m the owner of a house that I bought a little while ago, and have another house that’s in construction in a private housing development. I’m taking possession of all I have a right to.

As soon as I received my college degree I was promoted to manager, and now I am a full analyst in the company. I received 2 promotions in less than a year and my salary practically doubled. My self-confidence has grown, I’m exercising, competing in charity runs where I’ve won medals, and have joined a gym. But… the best of all is that I found peace, security, strength and the faith I never had. After all these blessings I’m convinced that this is only the beginning. Thank you so, so much Bishop. God used you to save my life. In fact, today I can say that I have a life.

>>21 October 2016 12:28<<

Amen. Thanks for letting me know. I can see that the Holy Spirit has transformed your life. That’s so great!
Keep going in the same faith, and help other people with the things you’ve learned.
I remember your story. Praise God that you started to see results, and that you overcame the negative thoughts of the devil.
God bless you!

>>21 October 2016 12:45<<

So true bishop. I had followed Jesus for so long, but my negative mind could not believe the truth of His word. Because of all the destruction I had seen in life, deep down I thought that I had been born to suffer. I couldn’t see any way out, to the point that I just wanted to die. After our conversations I began to reason, to look for answers, and tried to better understand the difference between what is real and what my mind understood as real. And because those who seek, find… BOOM! I was delivered from my totally distorted mind. Today I love life. I look at the world around me and am thankful for every beautiful day, thankful for my life. Today I’m thankful for everything, every single moment.

Clearly, every once in a while bad thoughts still appear, but now I have the strength, authority and confidence to rebuke them immediately. Never more have I felt broken, sad and unhappy. There’s so much happiness inside of me, I can’t contain it. It’s like I’m a completely different person. My feelings changed. My emotions changed. Everything changed.

Be sober and watchful, because your adversary the devil walks around as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him firmly in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. But after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called us to His eternal glory through Christ Jesus, will restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.  1 Peter 5:8-11, MEV

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

My advice to Claudia

This is a continuation from a series of email exchanges with Claudia that began in February of 2015. If you haven’t read yesterday’s post, click here to see how it began. 

>>10 February 2015 19:15<<

Thanks for writing to me Claudia.

One of your problems is that you concentrate on what you’re doing (tithing, offerings, midnight prayers, Israel Challenges) and what you got rid of (anger, grudges, impure thoughts) when you need to concentrate on trusting God.

This is hard, especially when you’ve gone through what you have. But that’s not important. It has to be done. The fact that you have these bad dreams about thieves killing you, and homeless people burning you with red hot coals, shows that your mind is full of negative thoughts. Don’t be intimidated by these dreams. Laugh at them! Determine the opposite as soon as you wake up! Determine that God is much, much greater than all the evil around you. Determine that you are victorious and fight against all the negative thoughts and feelings. This is how real faith reacts… You have faith, but you need to learn how to use it.

You can do all the right things in the church, attend lots of meetings, give your tithe and forgive your enemies, but if you hold on to negative thoughts about the past in your mind, all the good you do is cancelled out.

Claudia, I know you can conquer this. You are a woman of faith. You love God. But you’ve given room for negative thoughts and feelings. I know because my wife and I used to be the same way. God wants you to react. He wants you to fight against evil, and trust in His promises like you’ve never done before. He wants to transform all this evil into a great victory!!

I want you to make two columns on a piece of paper. In the first column, make a list of the five most common negative phrases that go through your mind every day. In the second column write the opposite of every phrase next to it, what God would say to you. Then send me both lists and I’ll tell you what to do next…

There’s a lot more I could say about your email, but not now. Little by little I’ll help you to be victorious.

God bless.

>>11 February 2015 22:00<<

Hello Bishop,

I understand your suggestion, but I find it hard to keep affirming a reality that is not yet mine. It seems forced, false, that I’m lying to myself. I don’t know how to explain it, but everything I told you is real, it’s true, it’s what I am actually living. They are not only negative thoughts, they’re my day-to-day reality.

I’m like the young man that was with Elijah in 1 Kings 18:43. God promised rain, and the young man went to look 7 times and saw nothing, and then finally saw a cloud the size of a man’s hand. Only after the man said that he saw the cloud, did Elijah send him to tell Ahab to prepare for rain.  Well I’ve tried to see this cloud 70 times 7 times. For 12 years I’ve been going back and forth, waiting for the answer to promises. I’ve only wanted one sign from God, one small cloud, something that would prove that the promise would start to be fulfilled, like Elijah… Understand? I’m not sure if you understand my logic.

But I’ll obey your advice. You’re a man of God, experienced in the things of God, and you know only too well what I am in need of. Below is the list of thoughts that constantly go through my head concerning my actual life:

1. Nothing is easy for me. Everything is extremely complicated, difficult and slow to happen… when it does happen.
2. I’ve never deserved a family. I’ve always lived in the most cruel and painful loneliness. None of the few relationships I’ve had have lasted. I’ve not even given birth to any children to keep me company.
3. I’ve spent years fighting and trying to remain in the presence of God, in search of a transformed life, and until now, nothing.
4. I’ve been faithful, and yet the fact that I’ve been a tither and an offering giver has never made a difference, I’ve never prospered.
5. All the time and in every social setting I am the least valued and the most humiliated. No one has ever believed in me. No one has ever given me any kind of a chance to show that I am capable.

1. I can do anything. Things will be easy, quick and without complication.
2. I have a family. I’m never alone.
3. My life has been transformed.
4. I am very prosperous.
5. Everyone believes in my potential. I was never humiliated.

I knew what I was asking Claudia to do was a mind bender. How do you start affirming positive things when it feels like a lie? I was proud of her to at least be willing to try even though it made no sense to her. I found though, that though her negative thoughts were very aggressive, she wasn’t able to imagine how to counter them with positive thoughts that were equally aggressive. I had to help widen her vision with that which you’ll see it in the next and final post on Claudia’s transformation. Check in tomorrow for more. 

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds, casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is complete.  2 Corinthians 10:4-6, MEV

Rational faith and Claudia

Claudia Lucia de Souza Fernandes is from Rio de Janeiro, and came across my contact information at the beginning of 2015.  She wrote asking for advice a few times, and I hadn’t heard from her since then, until just this past week, when she surprised me with an amazing testimony of change.  She’s been practicing all the principles I’d taught her on her own, and I want to share her experience for various reasons.  One is that there are many possessed believers in churches all over the world who are in need of help and not condemnation.  Another is that the principles of God work no matter who you are, where you’re from or what kind of past you come from.  And thirdly, those who approach those principles in a rational way by simply practicing them, even when they don’t feel like it, are those who find miraculous blessings.  I am so happy for Claudia because she didn’t depend on me or any other person to do what she needed to get free, but simply did as God led her through our correspondence. Read the first section of our email exchanges, and each day I’ll post more.  See if you can identify with her feelings, her mistakes, and the instructions she receives from me as well:  

>>1 February 2015 22:20<<


I’m 40 years old, and I can honestly say that they’ve been 40 years of shame, humiliation and suffering. I’ve been a Christian for 12 years. 8 years in another denomination and now I’ve been in Universal (SiLC) for 2, but even now I don’t know this God who transforms lives because mine has changed very little, if at all… I’m no longer living in sin, no longer a hypocrite, I’ve sealed up all the gaps, I’m a tither, take part in challenges, but haven’t yet seen any answers. I’ve participated in 3 Israel Challenges, I’m currently in the Fast of Daniel, but because of all that I’ve been suffering I’m beginning to think that my sacrifices are in vain. I attend the meetings on Friday for deliverance, Sunday for the Holy Spirit, and Monday for my finances.

I need a sign. Something from God. Bishop, help me discover what I might be missing to find God’s favor.

>>1 February 2015 23:02<<

Hi Claudia,
Can you tell me more about your life?
What’s going wrong?
What changes do you want to see that you’re not seeing?
What negative thoughts go through your mind?

>>3 February 2015 19:18<<

Bishop, I’ll try to sum up a little of my story.

As far as my family goes, I have none. Both my grandmother and my mother died early. I was all alone because my father didn’t want me and I never got to know his side of the family. Since 17 I’ve had to work hard to provide for myself, I’ve always rented rooms, apart from the times that friends have put me up.

I spent 12 years in the world, all alone. Imagine the suffering. I drank, smoked, was out on the streets at night. I got involved in some relationships, but only a few, because I met a guy and got engaged for 10 years without ever getting married. We separated and then a humiliating phase of my love life began.

I became a Christian in 2003. I got baptized in a Pentecostal church, received all the gifts you could image, served a great deal in the church, was an exemplary role model, was active and courageous, had an unusually strong faith for where I was at the time, and yet, my life never really changed. I was lonely, miserable, lived in a tiny studio apartment in a slum, had anger problems, was depressed—I had no idea that I wasn’t filled with the Holy Spirit because I thought the gifts were a sign of the baptism.

I met the man who is now my ex-husband, who was a pastor in another Pentecostal church. I thought I would finally have a family and be happy, but my greatest dream turned into my greatest nightmare. In our 3rd year of marriage he began cheating on me with various women and I just kept forgiving him. Then I discovered he was using drugs. In the end he began to steal from me, and out of desperation, I determined that either he’d have to admit himself into a Christian rehab or he’d be out on the street, because the landlord of the house I still live in said that if he didn’t leave, he’d kick us both out. And so my husband agreed, went to rehab, and then asked for a divorce, saying, “What happened was the work of the devil and you cooperated with the devil to get me kicked out of the house.” He went back to being a pastor, but is now with another woman, and here I am humiliated.

I decided to attend another church, because everyone there turned their backs on me. In their minds I was the reason my ex-husband had backslidden—I had destroyed his ministry. (Bishop, I want you to know, ever since I’ve become a Christian I’ve never backslidden, never gone back to the world, and have never cheated on my husband.) At that point I felt like I had to go to Universal (SiLC) to stay in the presence of God. I attend on Sundays, Mondays and Fridays.

In these 2 years of seeking, I’ve only manifested a demon once—when I was sick, recently separated, and my grudges and sadness were like a curse. But I learned to forgive, prayed for all who had offended me, and now no longer hold resentment.  I’m not angry and don’t curse—because I used to do that—I don’t have lustful desires, I’m careful about what I think and rebuke all sexual immorality and evil… I’ve always been faithful in my tithes and offerings, and have participated in Israel Challenges… Bishop, I’m fighting, but I’m still miserable, lonely and hopeless. I see so many people receiving miracles and being transformed, while I’m stuck with the same old life as always.

A few days ago I changed the hose on the gas canister for my stove at home, but because I forgot to tighten it properly it was leaking. I was woken up from sleep by my landlord calling my name. I quickly got up and started explaining what must have happened, and he said, “I thought you were trying to kill yourself.” Bishop, for him to say that, he must think I have reason to do such a thing. My life doesn’t glorify God. I say that I serve God, that I follow Jesus, but I’m miserable, ashamed and totally humiliated.

I don’t know why I can’t find the grace of God. I know it can’t be a lack of faith, if it were, I wouldn’t have been able to remain pure-hearted until now. It’s not because I don’t do my part, because I go to school, travel a long way to college, and keep a limit on what I buy so I can pay for it. I pray every night at midnight, pray as soon as I wake up in the mornings, and drink blessed water from the church…

I dream about armed robbers. In all my dreams I get shot. In one of them a robbers say that he kills other people quickly, but that he’s going to kill me slowly to make me suffer. I also dream about homeless people at an intersection with red hot coals that they throw on me as I pass by.

I know I’m in a spiritual battle, and because of that my hair has begun to fall out. There are bald spots all over my head and so I have to tie up my hair. I went to the dermatologist, and she doesn’t know what it is. She says I’ll need to shave my head and asked me to take various exams.

Bishop, I am so tired. My entire life is one of defeat. It seems to be a fight that will never end. I see testimonies that used to give me hope, but now they cause me pain because I feel frustrated at not being able to have a decent life.

If I die today, I don’t have the money for a funeral or anyone to bury me, and if I were to end up in a hospital bed no one would visit me. There would be no family member or friend for the doctor to talk to. Bishop, I can’t even die without suffering more humiliation. This is difficult, Bishop. Very difficult.

...Do you know anyone suffering like Claudia? Would you know how to help someone like her? She seems to be trying her best—has God abandoned her? Check in tomorrow for my response to Claudia.  

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and He raised us up and seated us together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  Ephesians 2:4-7, MEV

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Flipping the world on its head

We are interpreters and don’t even realize it. Say that you bump into a friend you haven’t seen for a while. He shakes your hand and says, “Great to see you! I haven’t heard from you in ages!” Your brain could easily interpret his greeting to mean, “I’ve really missed you!” or just as easily, “Oh it’s you, you rotten friend, thanks for ignoring me for years...” Your interpretation will dictate your reactions and behavior, and create your own “truth” that you live by. You can potentially build a stronger friendship or destroy one, or even worse, foster grudges and resentment that stay with you for years.

But interpreting the world God’s way can turn all of that on its head. One quality of being born of God is being very aware of the fact that we live on a spiritual plane, which can affect and change the physical world. A total stranger could send all the wrong messages of hostility, rejection or contempt, and even though our fleshly instinct wants to judge them as jerks, God’s Spirit creates a new interpretation. First of all, we interpret ourselves as strong and in no need of approval by anyone else to be happy. Secondly we see beneath the surface to discern someone who’s hurting, insecure, or being attacked demonically and in need of help. We know that reacting in the Spirit could change their spirit for the better, so we go out of our way to be kind without expecting anything in return, or by silently praying against the demons that are tormenting that person’s mind at that moment. We impact their lives for the better. We may not see any specific change in the person, but the Spirit of God in us sees it. We can walk away from the experience stronger, more blessed, and untouched by the negativity that our old reactions would have created.

God’s constant message to us is that every problem has a solution, that there’s always something good we can do. We can interpret bad news, or even ordinary events, spiritually. And then our reacting can change the course of how things play out in the future. Our interpretations may seem crazy to others, but if they spring from the Spirit of God, they’re always right. Look at how Jesus interpreted situations that baffled His followers: 

He slept through a storm that could have killed everyone on board.
He told His disciples to feed thousands of people with a few fish and bread.
He told mourners to stop crying because a dead girl was just sleeping.
He touched lepers.
He criticized religious leaders.
He ate with prostitutes and thieves.
He destroyed property and ran people and animals out of the Temple.
He cursed trees.
He talked to storms.
He forced demons to obey Him.
He healed everyone who asked Him.
He didn’t back down before His own death on the cross.

God wants us to start interpreting the world His way. But this comes from a radical faith in Him, His promises and His character. It feels unnatural at first, because it’s implicit that every time we live by the Spirit, we kill our flesh. But the more we practice it, the less we want to go back to the old way of interpreting. 

What problem is bugging you the most? What’s making you feel stuck? Ask God to show you how He wants you to interpret that situation, and then start acting on it. That interpretation could demand that you act in a way that makes you look crazy, that makes you feel vulnerable or foolish or even weak. Great! That means you’re being forced to act by faith, and faith is what moves mountains.

Then He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rise out of the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming,’ and so it is. And when a south wind blows, you say, ‘There will be heat,’ and it happens. You hypocrites! You can discern (interpret) the face of the sky and of the earth. But why do you not know how to discern (interpret) this time?  Luke 12:54-56, MEV

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Curses that just won’t go away

George came from a long line of broken relationships, domestic violence, abandoned children and runaways from abusive homes. George was so amazed to find God, to receive salvation, die to all the sins of his past and find a new life. For over 10 years, he’s been serving God voluntarily as a prayer counselor at church as often as he can fit into his schedule. He’s a great guy, good-hearted, humble and very lonely. No attempts to find the right woman to marry have worked. He prays, fasts, and tries his best, but lately he’s become weary of disappointment. “I know there’s been a generational curse on my family for years, but I’m filled with the Spirit now – why’s this curse still affecting me?” he asked.

Christians of all church backgrounds are still carrying around the curses of generations before them. Some, because they aren’t truly saved, Christian in name only.  But others like George are sincere, and are still blocked by the same evil that has destroyed their families for decades. Why? It’s not because it’s God’s will, or that the power of the cross is too weak, or that they are unworthy to be freed from the curse. It’s because they haven’t yet learned to live in the freedom that Jesus purchased for them on the cross. Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by being made a curse for us—as it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’” 

The law of the prince of this world, is that once he owns a family (which is how demons think), he has the right to continue tormenting that entire family line, even inhabiting unborn babies in their mother’s wombs. But Jesus became a curse so we can be free from curses, and free from the devil’s laws and rules. Galatians 5 also says, “For freedom Christ freed us. Stand fast therefore and do not be entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”  That’s not only talking about sin, but about all the bondage of the devil. Submit to Jesus as Lord, and you’ll be saved, but to find total freedom from the curses of your past, you need to make specific choices in faith to “untangle” yourself from their hold. Jesus’ death broke the power of all evil. Sickness, sin, and curses. Most Christians focus on forgiveness of sins—the most important, because there’s no salvation without it—but few are even aware that acting in faith is part of breaking generational curses as well.

I discovered George was convinced he didn’t deserve a happy marriage. He wasn’t even aware of how negative he was, but his actions and choices proved it. He was always nervous and doubtful about his worth, and about approaching a woman who interested him, and his attitudes would sabotage his attempts. When she’d eventually turn him down, he’d become resentful and carry a grudge, making him even more unattractive to the opposite sex.  Holding on to guilt and unworthiness was his default setting, and he accepted it as unchangeable. He didn’t understand that he had to act on the fact that Jesus had broken his curse, and it wasn’t going to happen automatically just because he was a Christian. Without knowing it, George’s passivity was permitting a generational curse of loneliness to needlessly continue.  

Once we identified what was going on, we began to fight against the negative thoughts that he was entertaining. He recognized how insecurities had been blocking him on his job, his family relationships, his health, and even how he served as a prayer counselor. He’s finally taking hold of that freedom that Jesus died for by rebuking those attitudes and doing the exact opposite of his passive default setting, even if it makes him feel awkward and uncomfortable.

Yes, Jesus carried our curses, but we have to live in the faith that they are broken. Only we can change our habits and mindsets to prove to God, to the devil, and to ourselves that those generational curses are broken forever. Faith is to be grabbed ahold of and put to use in every aspect of our lives.

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would give you, according to the riches of His glory, power to be strengthened by His Spirit in the inner man,  and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  Ephesians 3:14-19 MEV