Monday, August 29, 2016

If God is good, why am I suffering?

A song came out in 1995 with the lyrics, “God is good, all the time, He put this song of praise in this heart of mine…” After hearing it for the fifth time, I was already tired of the song. Not because the words aren’t true, but because the message seemed unbalanced. It’s a happy-go-lucky worship song where you’re encouraged to clap and dance and smile. It felt more like a song to sing when you wanted to forget your problems, instead of giving you the focus to destroy your problems. When we state that God is good, we’re not talking about a fairytale. God is goodness in it’s purest form, and goodness repels, fights, and destroys evil.  

I was visiting with some old family friends a few years back, and heard the sad story of the death of a loved one. It was a painful time for that family, and though they loved God, they had no concept of how to identify the attacks of the devil and how to fight back. They had begged God for healing, but that was as far as their faith could take them. They were in anguish, inwardly questioning why God had allowed their loved one to suffer so intensely. I had felt that pain many times in my life before I’d learned about spiritual warfare and the authority over the devil that God has given us. I felt for them as they told their story, wiped the tears from their eyes, shook their heads and tried to smile saying, “Well, God is good!”

It’s heartbreaking to see Christians barely holding onto their faith by a thread because problems have battered and bruised them so badly. But it’s even more heartbreaking to know that they could have experienced so much more of God’s goodness if they’d understood how to use the tools and weapons that are available to us all. But how do you tell a grieving person once their loved one is gone, that they didn’t do enough? That it didn’t have to end that way? It’s practically impossible. But what’s worse, is that for the rest of their lives, their image of God is a being that is distant and uncompassionate. Because they’ve chosen to believe that God is good, they feel forced to conclude that enduring the horrors of death, destruction and loss, even as they beg for His mercy, is part of God’s goodness.

Yes, sometimes God’s time to take a life isn’t always when we expect, and yes, we can go through difficulties that God allows for our good, and yes, God’s people have been persecuted for their faith through prison and torture – yet as it was with Stephen, Paul, Silas, Peter and the rest, God’s glory prevailed through it all. But if we don’t know how to identify an attack of the devil, we’ll never fight it. And if we don’t understand the goodness of God, we’ll accept demonic attacks as if they were the will of God. And that is the travesty of most Christians’ lives.

Jesus didn’t leave us as orphans: He sent us the power of the Holy Spirit, the right to pray in His name and the authority to trample on “snakes and scorpions”… meaning all evil. Jesus never refused blessings to anyone who sought them with faith. He never told anyone to go back home because it was God’s good will that they suffer a long and painful death. Whenever He saw the presence of the devil’s work, He was ready to reverse it and bring glory to God, as long as there was faith among the people. Interestingly, the Bible says that He was unable to do many miracles in His hometown of Nazareth, because of the lack of faith there. Every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of Heavenly lights, says James 1. What is God’s will? That His goodness prevails in this world, that evil be destroyed, and that we stop ignoring His commands to pick up our weapons of warfare and fight.

Start identifying today what the devil has been craftily stealing from you over time. Do you live in a constant state of anxiety and frustration? Are you just tolerating a sickness that you assume God has doomed you to suffer for life? Are you blaming the stress of your family or career on other people without seeing how the devil is trying to manipulate both them and you behind the scenes? Are you just complaining without picking up your weapons, going head-to-head with the devil and determining that God’s goodness has to prevail? If Jesus says that He has come to bring life to the full, let’s honor Him by fighting any spiritual force that wants to steal it from us. Then we’ll see with our own eyes that God is good – all the time!

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any of you who is a father, will you give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will you give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will you offer him a scorpion?  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?   Luke 11:9-13, MEV

Friday, August 26, 2016

So you really think you know God?

I’ve been going through a short list of God’s qualities that I posted recently, called Developing a Healthy Image of God, and if you haven’t read the previous ones, I’d encourage you to do so, because each one builds upon the other. Today is about how personal God is. When He gave Moses the 10 Commandments, it wasn’t supposed to simply be a set of laws, they were guidelines to help His people learn how to relate to Him and to each other. That was how they would learn to love Him and stay close to Him, and experience His love in return. But humanity is weak and they just couldn’t remain faithful to God, even with those simple laws. God instituted more and more laws, but no matter how much He guided them, they failed miserably.  

In the Holy of Holies, God’s glory rested on top of the Ark of the Covenant, on what was called the Mercy Seat, between the wings of the two mighty golden cherubim on the lid. He appeared as pure, unapproachable light. God’s presence was unbearable to look at or come near to. His holiness would kill sinners like us. Only sacrificial blood could cleanse us. So after thousands of years, God did the unthinkable by offering Jesus’ blood in our place. Now, we who belong to Christ are permitted to actually have that same unapproachable light living inside of us! If we die to our flesh and surrender our lives to Him, He turns our dirty, sinful, defiled lives into the Holy of Holies, where His wisdom, power and all the fruit of His Spirit can flourish and manifest. If that isn’t personal, I don’t know what is.

When you are baptized in the Holy Spirit, you begin to experience this amazing transformation, but it’s only a beginning. It grows stronger and starts to permeates your life more and more, according to how you allow it to grow, how radically you obey His voice, and how much you are willing to sacrifice your flesh. It’s up to you. Many Christians have given up a few bad habits, and are living nice, wholesome lives, and are content with that. But don’t be fooled into thinking that this is all there is to being saved or having the infilling of the Holy Spirit. For those of you who don’t yet have the Holy Spirit, and even you who already do, there is so much more than we can ever imagine. (I’m speaking to myself as well!) Some of us have developed a closer relationship, listen to Him and act on His urging much more than others, but none of us are using the authority and power that we have available to it’s fullest. Imagine what we could be doing on a daily basis, if we gave free reign to the Holy Spirit?  

If your failed attempts at faith have led you to blame God for being uncaring, you have much to learn about what real faith is and what it can do. If your idea of a personal God is treating Him like a magic genie in a bottle who’s supposed to do whatever you want, no matter how you live your life, don’t expect answered prayers. God is loving, close, and personal, and cares about the tiniest details of your life, but He needs us to submit to His ways so His light can shine in us. He is always trying to communicate His love and guidance to you if we would only listen. He is speaking to you right now as you read this, and wants to show you how you can develop this personal relationship, and how you can see His power become real and visible in your life today.

O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I get up; You understand my thought from far off. You search my path and my lying down and are aware of all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O Lord, You know it fully.  Psalm 139:1-4, MEV 

…that the eyes of your understanding may be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope of His calling and what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance among the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power,  which He performed in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principalities, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet and made Him the head over all things for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all things in all ways.  Ephesians 1:18-23, MEV

Monday, August 22, 2016

Warfare from Hawaii to Brazil: God’s justice is universal!

For the past few weeks, we’ve been blessed to get to know and counsel Christian and Cris from Hawaii, who have come to seek deliverance for Cris’ 15-year ordeal of constant demonic attacks. They have gone to every kind of church, deliverance ministry, marriage counseling, seminars and retreats, and have sought help everywhere they could find. Coming to our church for one month in Brazil was their last hope. Though they loved each other, and were trying their best to be faithful Christians, horrible arguments would break out that seemed to have a life of their own. Evil words would be hurled at each other, and they were even considering divorce as their young children suffered under the stress and instability of their home. After starting to read Possessed Believers, they knew they needed a radical faith.

Cris just sent us this message two days ago, after both of them have spent a few weeks of intense counseling and prayer with us. Very controlling evil spirits that hated their marriage and business, and wanted to take possession of their young son, manifested in her during our prayers. Because of Cris’ past of rejection and abandonment, one demon fashioned itself as her “friend” who would “protect” her from ever getting hurt again. Pretending to be her own rational self, this demon would become enraged any time Christian would assert himself as a godly head of their home, or would ridicule and humiliate him if he made even the slightest mistake. It would tell her she was better off alone, and that he didn’t deserve any love or affection because he was a bad husband. Those demons were determined to destroy their family, but because they have been humble to learn, and courageous to fight, God has now turned the tide in this battle. We thank Christian and Cris for allowing us to post her message, as a living example of God’s authority and justice, just as we’ve been talking about in our recent posts.

Hi David and Evelyn!

Last nite I came home, still battling confusion. I was trying to meditate on what you meant when you said that I like that demon that comforts me... Then the same dumb thoughts (my mindset) started telling me the same thing that I had been telling you, “how can I reward evil?” If I do what they tell me to, my husband is going to keep saying he has no fault in anything, and we are in this mess just because of me (that demon of pride was speaking to me).

Then I started to have some revelations: the only reason I’ve been going to marriage counselings – and what I pretty much expected you guys to do – is to tell my husband that he is wrong, he’s being "irresponsible," he’s "not loving me like Christ does" etc... So it’s been very hard for me because all I have been hearing from you guys is God’s word finally coming alive in my life and forcing me to love my husband even when I think he does not deserve it. Why? Because if I really learn this right, and fight against the demons and not him, I will overcome anything in life! I can easily love "unconditionally" anybody who does not live with me, but my husband and kids have been my biggest struggle.

Last nite, you gave me the most powerful vision I needed for this battle!! When you said: I need to hate the devil and not my husband!! That demon has been there with me since the beginning!! It made soooo much sense.  Because every time my wrong mindset tells me: “He doesn't deserve it,” now I know it’s not me that thinks this, but the devil that makes me believe it.

So now I recognize the devil, and when I think Christian does not deserve it, (which is my comfortable 15-year-old wrong mindset) I know it’s not my thought, but the devil’s, because why would Christian not deserve my love and respect for all the years he has put up with my demonic manifestations? He came to Brazil just to support me to get set free, etc... I finally got it!!!!!!

So when I came home, still battling, I started making a list of negatives of Christian, and "why" he didn't deserve my respect... But later when I had no more negatives to write, then I started writing a list of what God’s truth is about these times when he acts negative... 

For example: Christian puts surfing before God and all he wants to do is surf.
Truth: That is not truth, otherwise he would not be here for me, and the only reason he goes surfing all the time is because I sound like a dripping faucet of negativity and nagging, and he hates seeing me depressed. So he needs to escape.... 

God started healing me with his truth. I had a list of 15 negatives, and God gave me 15 truths about the negatives that proved they were not the truth. Then God told me to write all the positives about Christian. There were 30 positives in the list!!!! And that’s just because I haven’t finished the positive list yet!! It was double the amount of negatives. As I was writing all the things about him that I thought were unjust, God gave me 30 things that were right and just. It was an amazing healing process!!!!! 

Then this morning... I woke up, went to the bathroom and I started having demonic manifestations that started with uncontrollable yawning and distorting my mouth, and I was like: Oh my gosh!!! Leave me aloneee! What should I do!!!!!!!???  I thought about calling you, but then I remembered what you told me yesterday: This is your battle Cris! Only you can win this battle!!!

I got this strength from somewhere and closed the bathroom door because I knew I was going to be loud, so I started my first battle all alone with the Lord against the devil. I was soooooooooo mad!! I even thought the demon was talking through me! But it was me!!!! I sounded like you sounded praying last nite: like mad and over with his lies, I was rebuking, screaming at him in my spirit like never before! I never prayed with so much faith and strength, I really sounded like a bishop at Universal Church!!!

I even said, “you better give me back all you stole from me!” I am not sure if that is biblical, but it came out of my mouth. So I felt 3 big demons coming out... When I was done, came out of the bathroom, I found my family all praying and burning the devil for me - I thought they were all sleeping! But I guess even though the exhaust fan was on and I tried to be as quiet as I could, they heard me murmuring.

We are having a great day so far, I think the family is getting it too, we are all fighting together in this! The angels are rejoicing in heaven!!! Thank you for your precious time and dedication to the kingdom of God! God knows how much I desire to do your job for His kingdom too!!!! 

Cris, we’re so proud of you!! I'm so happy that you took control of those demons by your faith! And your family is right there by your side, fighting along with you – what a blessing you have! So many women are all alone in their fight because their husbands and families make fun of their faith and even try to block them. No wonder the devil hates your marriage! I was thinking about Matt. 18:21-35, how none of us deserves God to even look at us, much less save us. It was so unfair for Jesus to die for rotten sinners like us, when He had never done anything wrong! He was God, why should He lower Himself to live like a weak and puny human being, be treated like trash and then be tortured and killed for us? That's totally unfair, but God understands that this kind of mercy and grace is what destroys the devil! So stick with it! The power of submission, kindness and mercy, joined with your hatred for the devil is now your new way of life!!

“Then his master, after he had summoned him, said to him, ‘O you wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, even as I had pity on you?’ His master was angry and delivered him to the jailers until he should pay all his debt. “So also My heavenly Father will do to each of you, if from your heart you do not forgive your brother for his trespasses.”  Matthew 18:32-35, MEV

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Why doesn’t God make all evil disappear?

Why doesn’t God just snap His fingers and make all evil disappear from the world like some divine magician? Why doesn’t He forget about His laws, forgive everyone and let us all into heaven? Because He is just, and like love is an integral part of His character, so is justice. We understand how that is, since we are made in His image we have an instinctual need for justice too. If we are robbed or defrauded, we want restitution, and some sort of punishment to ensure that whoever stole from us will not do it again to anyone else. When we hear of injustice, we can become angry even when we have never met the people being mistreated. This reveals how strong our need for justice is, and it is the same with God, but on a much greater scale. He will not break His own laws, and will never tolerate evil, otherwise He would cease to be God.

Every human being yearns for justice in a deep, primal way. When evil is tolerated, when it is not dealt with, it multiplies and spreads. One painful experience of rejection can turn into grudges, which leads to bitterness, which triggers aggression, which results in broken relationships, which leads to isolation, addictions, self-hatred, denial of the truth, physical stress, disease, guilt, an inability to connect with God, resentment towards God, mental illness, and on and on. One act of evil can spread exponentially and contaminate an entire community or country, and as each person is affected, he or she affects many others and spreads the disease. In fact, one small, seemingly insignificant act of evil infected the entire world. 

As soon as evil entered through Adam and Eve’s disobedience, it took root in humanity and spread rapidly. Adam and Eve’s sin contaminated them to the point that continuing to live in the Garden of Eden would have meant certain death, because the presence of God was there. God wanted them to live, and so He sent them away, east of Eden, but now they had to live under the curse of the sin that had contaminated them. Though they were sorry for what they had done, evil spread to their sons, and kept spreading throughout the earth. Giving His people laws and commandments, and a system of animal sacrifices to cleanse away the sins of those who followed Him, wasn’t enough. As soon as God’s people would repent and make sacrifices of blood, they would sin again, and again, giving more power to Satan and opening the door for more destruction to enter the world. Sickness, bad relationships, depression, lies, murder, perversion and all kinds of evil were growing and flourishing on earth because of sin.  

Being perfectly just, God could easily have allowed all humanity to face the consequences of their sins, die horrible deaths, and have their souls tormented forever in hell. And it would have been absolutely right and fair for Him to do that. The greatest evil that anyone has ever committed, is not murder, or stealing, or adultery, but the evil of choosing our own will over the will of God, and every single one of us has done that at some point. After all that He has given us, we still turn our backs on Him and live for ourselves, inviting every other evil into our lives. Someone has to pay for that evil to be wiped away. Blood must be paid, and not the blood of animals. The blood of a perfect sacrifice, of someone who had never sinned and who has the power to stand up to the devil and conquer him.  

God the Son endured torture and death in our place in order to crush sin and death forever, giving us the right to live eternally with Him. If you think about it, it’s not at all fair. What did Jesus do to deserve such terrible punishment? Why did He have to suffer when He had never sinned – the one who created the universe, who has always shown us love and kindness? But He did it willingly, of His own accord, and now grants us the right to return to paradise, to an even better life than Adam and Eve had.  

His one small and simple requirement is that we surrender our lives to Him, die to sin, and live in obedience to Him on a daily basis. That’s the least we can do compared to all He has done for us. But so many so-called Christians still can’t even do that. He’s already done all He can to restore us to paradise, but the majority of people still show a lack of respect for His gift of salvation, and prefer to endure that terrible punishment themselves – the punishment that has already been paid. And in the end, they will.

It is a righteous matter with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you,  and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. They shall be punished with eternal destruction, isolated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be marveled at by all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed. Therefore we always pray for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling and with power fulfill all your good desires and works done by faith.  2 Thessalonians 1:8-11, MEV

Sunday, August 14, 2016

True praise: misunderstood and misused

C.S. Lewis, the famous Christian author, once wrote how amazed he was to discover that of all the prayers recorded in the Bible, 75% were prayers of praise. He admitted that it was much easier to make requests of God, ask forgiveness, or even offer thanks, but praise was something he rarely did. After his discovery he made the decision to change his prayers, because if God is truly worthy of praise, we His children should praise Him in every aspect of our lives.  

Psalm 145:3 says, “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and His greatness is unfathomable.” It’s unfathomable – our limited brains are incapable of grasping just how immense God’s greatness is, and just how worthy He is of praise. In Revelation 5, John the apostle saw ten thousand times ten thousand angels shouting and declaring in one voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing!” In Isaiah 6, the seraphim in God’s throne room cover their eyes and feet with their wings shouting out loudly, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty, the earth is filled with His glory!” A great amount of praising and singing and shouting is going on in heaven constantly, every day. But what about us? Do we give Him praise only when things work out the way we like? Or do we praise Him in all things, even before we see the answer to our problems?

A guy with a grudge against God once told me, “God is so full of pride, why should I follow someone who orders people to praise Him?” His small vision imagined God as an ordinary, flawed man who needed to earn the favor of others. God doesn’t have to earn anything, prove anything, or even save us from the consequences of our sin. God created all things, and without Him we are nothing. But something powerful happens to us when we praise Him. God doesn’t require our praise to inflate His ego – first of all, God is incapable of the sin of pride (or any sin for that matter), and second of all, no amount of praise would be enough to repay Him for all He has done. He really, truly is worthy of all praise.

Psalm 22 says that God inhabits the praises of Israel, and that means if we lived in a constant state of praising God, it would cause Him to dwell in us. That’s His promise. Wherever God’s presence is, His light and life are there as well. True praise isn’t singing Christian music 24 hours a day or shouting hallelujah like a religious fanatic. Praise is not done for others to see, or to gratify our flesh (like what happens so frequently in churches today). It’s a personal expression of faith in God that can be seen in the attitudes we choose, what we say and do, and by directing our minds to constantly return to Him for nourishment throughout the day… every day. Choosing to show kindness to someone as a means of honoring God, even when our kindness is unlikely to be returned, is an act of praise. Rejecting the emotional pull of anger or pride and choosing thankfulness to God instead, is an act of praise as well. Determining that His promises will come true to such a degree that we act as if they’ve already been granted, is another act of praise. Praise is much more than a church ritual. It’s a way of living out our faith.

Paul and Silas knew the power of praise when they were shackled in the prison dungeon in Philippi. Instead of being filled with fear or anxiousness, they chose to consider their persecution as an honor to endure for their Lord, and in that filthy cell with hands and feet in chains and their backs bleeding, they sang songs of praise to God with all their hearts. God was inhabiting their praise, and in the middle of the night, their chains fell off, the doors swung open and a great fear fell upon their jailor. That night the jailor and his family were saved, and the church in Philippi was strengthened. Praising God is not repetitive songs or religious words or jumping up and down in an emotional state of excitement. It’s a time of bonding with Him and enjoying His presence as He dwells in us and sets us on fire for His glory.

…it happened, when the trumpet players and singers made one sound to praise and give thanks to the Lord, and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and all the instruments of music and praised the Lord saying, “For He is good and His mercy endures forever,” that the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud. And the priests were not able to stand in order to serve because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God.   2 Chronicles 5:13-14, MEV

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The blazing light of holiness

The first time I ever saw a demon cast out in Rio de Janeiro in 1987, I was filled with awe at the sight of God’s holiness manifesting right before my eyes. I knew that the only way a demon would be forced to reveal himself would be because the burning light of God was filling the place through the prayers of His servants. Demons were screaming in pain, obeying commands, revealing their secrets, and were publicly humiliated and broken before the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ. They couldn’t bear to be in the presence of faith. I had heard people talk about holiness growing up in church, but seeing the effects of holiness with my own eyes left no doubt that our God truly is awesome and fearful above all other gods or powers in this world.  

The holiness of God is described in the Bible as a consuming fire, something terrible and wonderful and healing and destructive all at the same time. Men would fall on their faces in terror when His holiness would be revealed, and even then, they were only seeing a small glimpse of it. The Bible says that no one can see God and live. Not because God is cruel and doesn’t want to reveal Himself, but because our own sinfulness makes us incapable of seeing Him without being burned up. It didn’t used to be that way. God used to talk to Adam and Eve face to face as they’d walk through paradise in the cool of the evening, and if we were not so contaminated with our selfish desires and sinful nature, we’d be able to have that amazing communion too. Someday, we’ll be able to stand in that unapproachable light and not be destroyed, but not yet.

When Peter reminds us of God’s words in Leviticus, “Be holy, even as I am holy,” he wasn’t just telling us to live boring lives where we never have any fun, as the world wants us to believe. Being holy actually allows us to live in that awesome power of God as well. When we set ourselves apart from this world, God graciously covers us with His holiness. We are granted authority, and demons must bow before us, not because we deserve special treatment, but because we’ve been clothed in His righteousness. (Ephesians 4:24) That means when the devil looks at us, we terrify him because he can see God’s covering all around us.  

God’s holiness is shown in His wrath, causing seas to rise, the earth to quake, striking down evil and punishing the wicked, and it also creates life and light. The only healthy response we can have to His holiness, is fear. Christians who feel uncomfortable with the idea of fear, try to explain it as mere respect. But if John fell as if dead when he saw God in the book of Revelation, if the disciples fell on their faces in terror when Jesus was transfigured in front of them, fear in it’s fullest meaning is appropriate. Jesus told the disciples not to fear those who can kill you, but to fear the One who can throw both body and soul into hell. 

The casual manner in which Christians treat God is proof of how warped their image of God has become. Using the excuse of “nobody’s perfect” when we just can’t shake off a sinful habit, thinking that we can just pray for repentance over and over again as we indulge in that same sin over and over again, is an abuse of His forgiveness and a total disrespect for His character. The disrespect of Christians who energetically participate in praise and worship in their church, singing out of fleshly emotion with no intention of living in obedience, causes God’s wrath to burn. And for those who have no fear of God, not only are they opening doors for the devil’s attacks, their future is eternal separation from Him.  

Our greatest fear should be the fear of losing Him. Without His protection, we would all be cast into hell, and rightly so. But His holiness includes mercy and compassion. He loves us so intensely that He chose to die in our place so that we can be clothed in Him and escape the punishment we deserve. Holiness is scary, but it also clothes us if we choose to obey Him. It’s a burning fire that can either consume or empower. To fear His holiness naturally spurs us on to live in the blazing light of His holiness so He can protect, heal, empower and transform us.

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphim. Each one had six wings. With two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  One cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” The posts of the door moved at the voice of him who cried, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am undone because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips. For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.”  Isaiah 6:1-5, MEV


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Developing a healthy image of God

Seeing God in the proper way makes our prayers more effective, causes our relationship with Him to be more real and personal, greatly diminishes our fleshly tendencies to wander away from faith, and preempts demons and their attacks. I’ve compiled a list of what I see as the most important components of who God is based on what the Bible reveals about Him. It’s not a perfect list, but it’s definitely a starting point to developing a healthy image of God.

  1. He’s holy. He is set apart from the ordinary and common, and deserves total and utmost respect. Respecting a holy God means having holy fear: fear of losing His favor and of being banished for eternity because of our sin.  
  2. He deserves all praise and worship… because He’s perfect and holy, not because we’ve received something from Him. Even if God never sent Jesus to die for us, even if we had no hope of salvation or answered prayer on this earth, He would still be worthy of all praise and honor because He is supreme and perfect. The fact that He has been so gracious to grant us the opportunity to be saved through Jesus’ sacrifice only makes Him even more worthy of praise.
  3. He is just. He hates evil and will punish it. He even obeys His own laws. He will not, and cannot allow people who are defiled by sin to enter His Kingdom. If He tolerated evil, He would no longer be God, no longer be holy and no longer be perfect. The sacrifice of Jesus would be worthless, He would cease to exist as God, and Satan would win. Because He is just, Jesus was sent to earth to die in our place for the sins, sicknesses and evils of the world - past, present and future. Jesus took the punishment that each and every one of us deserves. As long as we serve Him daily as our Lord and Savior we no longer need to worry about being punished. 
  4. He’s personal. He is a Father, a Counselor, a Comforter, a Shepherd, a Light and a Path. He wants a relationship with us, and not a list of dos and don’ts that we check off to prove how good we are. Just like the people who you love the most, He wants to listen to you, speak to you, carry you through tough times, inspire you to greater things, laugh with you, refresh you – and also correct you when you are entering into the dangerous territory of the devil’s realm. He is both our Master, and our Friend.
  5. He is goodness in it’s purest form. When we view Him with the warped lens of past relationships that failed and hurt us deeply, we block what little faith we may have. Religious traditions distort God’s justice and holiness, convincing us that we have no right to ask for blessings, much less insist on receiving them. Because He is good, and because He’s a Father, it’s only logical that He is eager to bless His children with all things that are good and perfect. Our job is to act on that fact, and to expect Him to protect and provide the best for us by faith.
  6. For Him to act, our faith has to act. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11). Faith isn’t simply believing we’ll go to heaven when we die – it involves proving that we believe through actions. Living by faith means a going out on a limb, with no worldly guarantee that we won’t fall. Obedience and sacrifice are risky, but He can only work supernaturally in our lives when risks of obedience are taken. This means that all people – no matter their background, culture, nation, or economic status – are instantly placed on an even playing field. Anyone can see miracles and move mountains with an active, pure faith.
  7. He is love. Today, the word “love” is usually misinterpreted to mean embracing everything, even sin and evil. Like in point number 3, God would cease to be God if He did that, so we can conclude that pure love is intolerant of certain things. Perfect love “…does not rejoice in evil” (1 Corinthians 13), but goes so far as to punish it. As a loving Father, He defends us from evil if we act as His children. Of course we have the choice to give in to evil, reject His protection, and suffer the pain of our own choices. But even when we’ve drifted far from Him, and blame Him for our own mistakes, He still loves us and is reaching out to draw us back to Himself.

What aspects of God’s character are hard for you to believe? How has your image of God been distorted by religion? We’ll be looking at these points every day to see what His word has to say about each one.  

May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in His works. He looks on the earth, and it trembles; He touches the mountains, and they smoke. I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. May my meditation be sweet to Him, for I will be glad in the Lord. Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless the Lord, O my soul! Praise the Lord!   Psalm 104:31-35, MEV

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The power we forget to use

Reading the news these days is frustrating, no matter what political opinion you hold. We expect democracies to represent the will of their people, but it seems like corruption is running wild. It makes you want to shout at your TV when you hear journalists distort stories to promote their favorite side, when politicians act as if they’re innocent as doves, and when you know that instead of fighting for the good of people who voted for them, they’re ignoring them. And then there’s all the violence and terrorist atrocities, the racism, the attack on Christian values, world financial leaders who manipulate trillions of dollars behind closed doors, while ordinary citizens are barely able to pay their bills.  

People are angry at the unbelievable injustice and venting on social media, but what good does that do? Politics and the world economy are so complex, it’s a giant tangled mess, and a lot of politicians want it to stay that way for their own benefit. There’s a saying in Brazil when people don’t know what more to do.  They sigh, shrug their shoulders, and say, “Only Jesus…” But Jesus is saying, “It’s up to you!” 

In the famous passage in Ephesians 6, Paul explains that our fight is against principalities, powers, rulers of darkness and spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places. They are part of the hierarchy of demons that oversee entire nations and groups of people, working to destroy the effectiveness of the true Church of Jesus Christ in every area of the world. They are the ones that torture and persecute Christians who are forced to worship in underground churches in China, North Korea and various Muslim countries where Christianity is outlawed. Principalities work in other countries to manipulate the mindset of people to idolize wealth and prosperity without giving any thought to God. Or they make church leaders weak and powerless so that even if a country provides freedom of worship, Christianity is reduced to a useless social club. Whatever can be done to diminish the name of Jesus, these principalities will do their utmost to make it happen.  

If our battle is not against flesh and blood, no amount of anger at your politicians will do any good – but engaging in warfare against the principalities over your neighborhood, city and nation, will. They are the forces working through every corrupt and immoral government. I’ve heard Christians say that only those with a special calling can pray against principalities because confronting powerful spirits is dangerous for a simple Christian. What a bunch of hogwash! God is clearly calling all of His followers to put on the armor and go into battle against all levels of demonic powers. The only people who need to fear being harmed in this battle are false, half-hearted Christians. Whoever is living to please their flesh, is choosing to reject the protection of God and need to cast out the demonic influence in their own lives before attacking the principalities around them. But the moment someone is sincere in faith, dies to their flesh and chooses to live for Jesus, He instantly grants them the right to use His name and authority to trample the powers of darkness. But who among us are really doing that?

There is no way I could ever affect any changes on my own, so I simply do what the Bible commands me to do. I pray for my own country, and for my adopted country of Brazil every day, binding up the principalities that want to destroy lives and block the gospel from being spread. I pray to bind up the demons that manipulate churches and church leaders to make faith in Jesus a joke among unbelievers. I pray against the demons that inflate the egos and selfish desires of world leaders, the demons that work day and night to propagate more drugs and human trafficking and abuse and violence and all other perversions. We are the Body of Christ and are called to fight for Him through our testimony, in the way we live our lives, but also in the way we fight in faith through prayer on a daily basis to rescue the suffering.  No one else in this world has the authority we have, but most of us forget to use it.

I challenge each of you to take up this fight more aggressively than you’ve been doing. When you hear news that angers you, fight! When you know that a big decision is about to be made in your country, fight! When you feel like hell itself is rising up, use the authority you’ve been given, stand firm and rebuke those principalities in the Name above all names. If every true Christian took up their armor and engaged in battle daily, our world would change radically! 

Is this difficult for you to practice or understand?  Stay tuned for the next post when we’ll explore more of this concept.     

Finally, my brothers, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For our fight is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  Ephesians 6:10-13, MEV

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Making the devil respect you

In the denomination I grew up in, I was taught that demons only tempted us to sin and nothing more. Resisting the devil just meant using my willpower to be good. It was only when I was called to be a pastor that I learned how the devil does so much more than just tempt, but that he very literally steals, kills and destroys, and that God commands every member of His Church to use spiritual weapons to disarm the devil’s attacks. It was amazing, like a whole new world opened up to me, but it still took me many more years to understand how that kind of fight needed to be a normal daily practice. Just knowing the facts isn’t enough. I had to develop spiritual eyes and force the devil to respect my faith.

Demonic attacks come on various levels. Of course, there are temptations to sin. But behind those temptations to do what is wrong are the devil’s subtler emotional suggestions to avoid doing what is right - to forget about God’s power and to react to problems in our own strength. It’s the subtle suggestions to avoid taking spiritual action, because we’re tired or intimidated, or just not in the mood. We think it’s just our own thoughts or desires, and the last thing we imagine is that we’re being demonically attacked, so we don’t fight back and unwittingly give him room to steal and destroy just a little more. The vast majority of Christians are already stuck right there.

Then there are the attacks that come from outside of us – accidents, terrible family news, a bad diagnosis, failures, rejection and loss of jobs or property or relationships. Fear and anger instantly strike our hearts because the pain of injustice makes us want to react. So as soon as the outward demonic attacks happen, we try to defend ourselves by blaming others, wanting revenge, blaming God, sinking into depression, wallowing in self-pity and on and on. And the devil’s right there, craftily layering on another attack, but this time from within. He’s not content to just hit us with a problem, he also manipulates our egos to rebel against God just when we need Him the most. We give him permission to prolong the problem and increase the pain, and the devil happily keeps layering on more and more attacks. He has no respect for wimpy faith.

I know men and women of God who have served Him for years, who even preach the gospel to others, who still don’t know how to recognize what the devil is doing in their personal lives. We need to develop totally new habits, and it starts with seeing those subtle layers of attacks, from the inward temptations to doubt or follow our flesh, to the outward problems that block us from moving forward in our lives. And then we have to act in a way that causes the devil to tremble with fear and bow to our authority.

Jesus would face an outward problem of a blind man, a dead child, a woman disfigured by a demon in the synagogue, by reacting immediately. If he didn’t have a boat, He’d walk on the water. If He was asked to pay a tax, He pulled a coin out of a fish’s mouth. If He needed to feed 5000 men, he took a little boy’s lunch and fed them with it. He confronted and rebuked and cast out the problem and the demons behind it with total confidence in His authority, and the demons obeyed, taking the problems with them as they left. In their hatred, they respected His authority – the same authority He has given us as well. Jesus also fought His own inward battle against the devil by many early morning prayers alone with God on mountaintops, daily aligning His thoughts and desires with the Father. We have to follow His example and react with confidence and force, and a hunger to be in God’s presence. But how many Christians really live this way?  Are you living this way? 

Satanic forces are at work in high levels, in governments and world leaders, but this shouldn’t scare us – we have the authority of the King of all kings to bind them up and thwart their plans. 

Next post I’ll share with you how God wants to use His church to impact this world, even as evil seems to be growing stronger.   

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. 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 10:3-6, MEV

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Casual Satanism?

“But I wasn’t like those other criminals, I was ‘good people’…” said Oscar the former drug and illegal weapons dealer from South Central LA as he recounted his testimony for our TV show. He was a little surprised when I laughed and said, “What?  You were ‘good people’?  Oscar, you were a gang-banger! You sold drugs and guns, you were arrested in the middle of a shoot-out… What are you talking about?” He stopped his explanation for a minute and realized that in the minds of others he was a dangerous criminal, but in his mind, he saw himself as a simple guy trying to make a living who had never killed anyone… yet.   

It’s funny and sad how the devil can get us to minimize how evil he is, how strong God is, and how innocent we are. He’d like us to be thoroughly impressed with his power to destroy us, or thoroughly convinced that the evil inside us isn’t all that bad, because other people are worse than us. Satan would like people to not even believe he exists, but if they do, he’d like them to be confused about just how present he is in their lives, whether or not they should fight him, how they should fight him, or if they should just stop thinking about him. He’ll use whatever method it takes to best manipulate our reasoning. Here’s another example:

“You need to throw away all these items of witchcraft that you’ve been dabbling in. None of this is protecting you, in fact you’ve been opening doors for demons to enter your life. You know, witchcraft is a form of Satan worship,” was how I finally wrapped up a long, detailed counseling session with a woman who’d been heavily involved in tarot cards, psychics and spiritism. “Now you’re going too far pastor! I’ve never been involved in Satanism! This is white magic, don’t you know the difference?” 

That’s a question I’d like to ask the world in general today – don’t you know the difference? Satan worship is all around us, in so many forms. Evil disguises itself as rationalism, intellectualism, tolerance, world peace, and even Christian doctrine. The Bible says that “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14), and the more we tolerate evil, the easier it is for it to infiltrate our personal lives, our communities and families and take over more and more control in this world. Aren’t you amazed at the level of perversion society tolerates today compared to just ten, twenty years ago? How did that happen?  

Satanism at its core, is simply the denial of Jesus Christ as God, as King and Lord over all things. That’s all he needs to be honored. So if we rely on reasoning that doesn’t actively treat Jesus as King and Lord, we’re submitting to the subtle sway of demons. We welcome Satan when we entertain fears that God won’t come through for us, that sickness, mental illness or threats of ruin are too strong for our faith to handle. When we live by a logic that’s based on fear, selfishness, or simply a desire to live the way we want because we like it, we are virtually bowing to Satan – even as we go to church and listen to Christian music.  

Satan’s way of life has always been mainstream, and now, he’s upping his game to make it fun to casually talk about Satanism. News reports today reveal the opening of Satanic afterschool centers for ordinary kids all over the United States this year. Nothing obviously evil like ritual sacrifices – just simple teaching to disprove the need for God, based on “science” and rationalism. Casual Satanism in our own backyards.

For centuries, Christians have not wanted to fight, have laughed at the idea of demons, and have been content to discuss the fine points of theology while being patient, loving and kind. And now the devil wants our children to welcome him with open arms. I might sound like a broken record, but it’s time for all out spiritual warfare. We have no other choice but to attack. The prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective. 

(Stay tuned for more on how we need to react in tomorrow’s post.)

But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent. You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed.   2 Corinthians 11:3-4, NLT