Saturday, March 26, 2016

Fight the drone

“Be anxious for nothing…” reads Philippians 4:6, a verse that most people consider to be very nice and virtually impossible.  A news story just popped up about a major politician in Washington who has stated that he’s “giving up anxiety for Lent,” and got a huge backlash for insensitively implying that anxiety can be given up by choice.  Thank goodness the politically correct police are here to protect the feelings of anyone who would be offended by a command of the Bible!

Like it or not, Jesus’ command indicates that being anxious is a choice.  If it’s not dealt with, it grows into a monster over time.  What makes it a monster is when we embrace the notion of being a victim, that our fears are beyond control. For anyone with a shaky faith, embracing that notion seems so logical, as if it’s the only option.  What’s worse, the notion becomes a security blanket, which is why many are offended by the good news that they can get free from anxiety by faith.  There’s something about feeling victimized that creates a warped sense of comfort, of entitlement to pity, which is a red flag for the presence of a demonic spirit.  Whenever something destructive feels so good, there is always an evil spiritual force behind it.

In my experience, most ordinary people live in a mild state of anxiety every waking hour.  They can have happy moments, enjoy family gatherings, work productively and love their kids while underlying fears eat away at them.  It’s like living by a highway, while the dull drone of traffic and exhaust fumes continually pollute you with stressful sounds and smells.  You block it all out, until the day you drive to the countryside and realize how peaceful the world can really be.  

Many Christians are living with that constant drone of anxiety and fear as the undercurrent of their lives, just trying to block it out.  Because their prayer requests haven’t yet materialized, they imagine that God is saying no, and expects them to just tolerate anxiety, to fret and worry and endure by blocking out their fears and shoving them into the background.  Sorry, that’s not faith.

Never, in any place in the Bible, does God teach us to tolerate stress or worry.  Never.  Be alert and repent from evil, yes – but when it comes to fears, God’s favorite line is, “Do not fear!” or “Fear not!” or “Do not be afraid!”  He expects us to take the initiative to reject fear and anxiety.  He sees a fighting power within even the weakest of us, but the fight is won by using His Spirit so we don’t have to do it all on our own.  If God commands us to reject fear and anxiety, the logical next step is to view them as spiritual enemies that we have authority to defeat.  But those who embrace anxiety as a security blanket will never be able to both fight and love that enemy.  

Think about it.  Those pills you may be stashing in your medicine cabinet are not your friends.  The urge to get a drink after work to unwind is just a form of feeding your anxiety like a pet.  The cutting words you spew at your spouse or children are totally unjustified, no matter what they did.  The emotions driving your poor choices are enemies that want to drag you further from God and further from your healing.  Don’t use the excuse that it’s too hard to fight.  God promises to give you His strength, and that strength comes from choosing to believe His promises despite your feelings.  It comes from rebuking demonic emotions and recognizing that those anxieties are not just your own logic speaking, but a spiritual force who is lying to you.  Find a pastor today who can to teach you to fight effectively.  Don’t take offense at the good news he has for you, and don’t tolerate evil dictating your life any longer.     

Let go of anger, and forsake wrath; do not fret—it surely leads to evil deeds.  For evildoers will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the earth.   Psalm 37:8-9, MEV

Saturday, March 12, 2016

And (permanent) justice for all

One of the many social outreaches of our church in Sao Paulo is the prison ministry, headed up by a friend of mine who travels every day to various correctional facilities all over the state with his team of pastors and evangelists, praying for inmates, providing basic needs such as blankets, food and clothing, and teaching them that they can be free internally, and even change their way of life externally as well.  In fact all the social outreach groups in our church are full of day-to-day spiritual heroes: the Angels of the Night who feed and clothe the homeless in some of the roughest areas of the city every night of the week, the addiction outreach, the church’s home for the mentally disabled, the hospital visitation ministry, the outreach to abused women, and more.  We can’t call ourselves true followers of Jesus if we don’t care for those who are suffering on a physical level, even if they’ll never thank or repay us.  It’s part of the gospel, and part of serving Him.

But even if we do all of that, “you will always have the poor with you,” as Jesus said. Real injustice goes far deeper than just human rights violations and poverty.  The roots of any type of evil are spiritual, and unless those roots are pulled up by spiritual means, they’ll remain as stubborn as ever, growing and destroying more lives.   

There is a trend among young Christians who feel that the Church as a whole has failed to bring about the justice that Jesus taught.  Their solution is to radically change their way of life to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, build shelters and homes, schools and clinics for the underprivileged.  In their minds, they are being Jesus to the world, and many give up their comfortable lives as well-educated professionals for this radical life-style.  That’s very noble, and caring for the physical needs of those who are suffering is a great necessity, but interestingly, many of these young people who are so adamant about social justice, are ambivalent about God’s justice for their personal lives.  Death to sin, living in holiness and righteousness are minor points for many who are caught up in this trend.  They want to be heroes for the world while pridefully refusing to obey the commands of Jesus.  How can a filthy life rid the world of the filth of injustice?  Can Satan drive out Satan? 

Satan is the one who steals, kills and destroys.  Of course he uses political corruption and incompetent social structures, but what sense does it make to rebuild a structure when a spiritual force keeps finding ways to knock it down again?  God wants us to make permanent changes, and that only comes through spiritual warfare.  And spiritual warfare begins with our own personal lives on a smaller scale.  When we are made pure through rejecting sin and living for Jesus, true justice comes to life within ourselves.  We are seen as pure and righteous in God’s eyes, which then gives us authority to rebuke and bind up demonic principalities.  We can develop the spiritual eyes to see the roots of injustice in a homeless person, an addict, a refugee or a prisoner, and then we can fight on a level far greater than just food and shelter. 

So then, you may ask, why aren’t more good, and moral Christians impacting the world?  It’s because of another extreme of believers who want to be “holy and righteous” just for their own benefit, who won’t fight for the freedom of others, who won’t get in the trenches to set captives free or sacrifice their comfort to involve themselves with “undesirables.”  And just as much as do-gooders without holiness fail, these types of Christians also fail by refusing to get their hands dirty and serve as soldiers in warfare.  Jesus commanded us to be holy, even as He is holy, to not even think evil thoughts, much less commit evil deeds, and He also commanded us to care for the suffering, the poor, the prisoners and the sick, to cast out demons and to raise the dead, to preach the gospel and to be obedient to the Holy Spirit’s guidance.  

“If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word. My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.  The one who doesn’t love Me will not keep My words. The word that you hear is not Mine but is from the Father who sent Me.” (John 14:23-24 HCSB)  

Sunday, March 6, 2016

When it’s good to be weird

Growing up as a pastor’s kid, there were a lot of church words I didn’t understand, and mentioning them would instantly cause my brain to zone out and daydream.  They were those boring, stuffy words like, righteousness, justification, holiness and godliness.  I knew they were good, but I figured that they were complicated issues that only people who studied theology cared about.  I preferred to hear the exciting stories of miracles and wars in the Bible… if I wasn’t daydreaming.

Only much later did God reveal to me how mind-blowing these ideas really were.  That those powerful concepts were interwoven in every story of miracles and conquests.  If the idea of being holy conjures up images of chanting monks in a cold dark monastery, that’s exactly the boring picture the devil loves to project, so feel free to delete that image from your mind once and for all.  Being righteous, holy and godly, makes us more alive, more joyful, and more in sync with the Creator of the universe, who also is the Savior of the world.

The word “holy,” means “set aside.”  Set aside from the world’s corrupt logic, from the world’s lusts, from the world’s obsession with greed and selfishness.  Being set aside means rising above the things of the world to a supernatural level, seeing the impossible before it happens and being linked to an invisible Kingdom.  It means being so set aside, that we become weird to the world.  We don’t fit into their way of thinking.  When they get angry and depressed, we are joyful and peaceful.  They indulge their flesh, while we deny ourselves and gladly sacrifice so we can please God and hear His voice.  When they pray out of religiosity, nothing happens.  When we pray, we join our spirit to a terrifying King with power far greater than a million nuclear bombs, yet feel at home like children with their loving Father.  We become weird, unearthly, scary, and far too happy and confident for the standards of this world.  Our lives make sense, but the world tries to ignore us, and we really don’t care what they think.  All we want is to bring them out of their ignorance to know Him too.  That’s being holy.  That’s being righteous. 

God is offering such a victorious life, but we’ll never find it if we don’t choose to be set aside first.  For those who cling to the comforts and approval of this world, who worry about impressing religious folks, thinking they can fool God by straddling the line of holiness and worldliness – they’re all lumped together as unbelievers.  It’s those who strive to be weird, who are disgusted by sin, who simultaneously live in self-denial and joy that get the privilege of bypassing hell.  Be obedient, be holy, be righteous, be weird – and live! 

Therefore, with your minds ready for action, be serious and set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  As obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires of your former ignorance.  But as the One who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, Be holy, because I am holy.  (1 Peter 1:13-16 HCSB)