Monday, September 26, 2016

Shifting your brain out of negativity mode

A new trend among the rich and famous, is taking time for moments of gratitude. The science behind it is that gratitude is a powerful psychological motivator for good. When people in high stress jobs are struggling to cope, just stopping to reevaluate how very blessed they are despite those stresses, creates a mental shift that allows them to relax and focus more clearly on making positive choices in their jobs and personal life. Sounds easy, and it really is, if you think of it. The sad thing is that we Christians, who’ve had this teaching in the word of God for millennia, often treat this principle as just an old trite saying. Now atheist CEO’s of big companies practice this religiously without any acknowledgement of God. What’s up with that?

Religion teaches that every problem has been sent by God merely to be accepted and endured. But when the God of the Bible allows a problem to come our way, He expects us to take hold of it with our faith, to wrestle against the root cause of it and overcome. It may take time, but He never expects us to be complacent or tolerant of evil. “I have learned to be content with whatever I have,” is by and large misinterpreted to mean, “I’m a good Christian when I suffer in silence. When God wants the problem to go away, He’ll remove it.” God wants our problems gone more that we do, He’s just waiting on us to shift out of despair and into courageous faith mode, to join the fight! 

The Greek word that Paul used for “content” does not mean complacent, or tolerant, or hopeless. It actually means self-sufficient, or independent. That may sound even more confusing, because how can you be self-sufficient when you have no job and are about to be evicted from your home? How can you be independent when you feel desperate and alone? Are you supposed to be grateful by just saying, “Well at least I’m not a starving refugee,” and then not ask God for anything since so many are worse off than you?

The answer comes two verses later: For I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. This means that God’s fullness makes us self-sufficient. He is all around us every moment of the day, and His fullness can give us the clarity of mind to see doors of opportunity that we would never notice without Him. This means that we already have tools, gifts, weapons, fruit of the Spirit, authority in Christ and the promises of the word of God. If we shift our mind from fear and desperation to being grateful for the abundance of power He makes available to us, His Spirit gives us the physical and emotional strength to accomplish tasks that we never thought we could do. The fullness of His Spirit can give us that boost of faith to believe in the impossible, to act on that faith, and see stubborn problems fall at our feet in a miraculous way. When we know we already have all we need in Him, we naturally become more stubborn than our problems, and more motivated to stamp them out. We’re not self-sufficient in our own strength, but in His.  

I’ve told this story before, but it’s worth repeating. One day I was with Bishop Macedo in our lower Manhattan church (back when it was the first of our churches in the US) and he had just gotten some bad news in a call from Brazil. He put down the phone, rubbed his hands together, laughed, came over and slapped me on the back with a big smile saying, “David!  The devil’s angry!” I was confused because I’d never seen anyone respond to bad news like that! But I learned that he was turning the problem on its head—he wasn’t panicking, he was fully depending on the authority of the promises of God, and on the fact that every demonic force had to bow before the name of the Lord Jesus. That strength gave him the holy contentment to be at peace, even joyful in the face of bad news, and in the weeks to come, the problem was resolved on its own.  

I’m sure you have a list of both major and minor problems. Stop where you are and start praising God for the power that He’s already given you. Be grateful that these problems can’t crush you, but that God is about to give you His vision, His clarity and show you doors and opportunities that you may never have noticed.  Start doing those small things that your conscience has been nagging you about, and have the courage to take the big steps that the Spirit of God is urging you to do. Shift your brain out of negativity mode, because with Him, you’re stronger than you think. 

Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.  I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.  Philippians 4:11-13, NLT

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Stop crying and celebrate!

After 70 years of exile in Babylon and Persia the people of God returned to their own land which had been reduced to rubble. They got to work rebuilding, determined to become a nation that honored God once more. When they gathered to hear Ezra the priest read the Scriptures aloud, they bowed their faces to the ground, knowing that what was about to happen was an awesome and holy thing. They stood from dawn till noon, listening to all that had been written, and as the weight of those laws and commandments became clear to them, they wept. They realized how they had offended God, had forgotten Him, had personally sinned against Him, and that the past seventy years of exile were the consequence of their forefathers rejecting Him as well. They were far from God, and knew it. 

Right away, Ezra, Nehemiah, and the Levites called out to the people to stop weeping, because it was a holy day. It was a day to celebrate, not to mourn. Their tears were supposed to turn to joy. They were commanded to go out and celebrate, eat delicious food and drink sweet drinks and be joyful, because God was restoring their relationship with Him! So the people wiped their tears, obeyed what they were told, had a great party in honor of God’s forgiveness and mercy, in honor of their renewed relationship with Him and looked forward to a blessed future. It’s funny that we usually picture repentance as something that involves a long time of grief and slowly working our way back to being worthy of someone’s good graces. But that’s not how God’s holiness works. Sometimes holiness requires tears and sorrow, and sometimes it requires celebration!  

How do we know when God requires either of those reactions? Obviously there has to be repentance – deep sorrow for what we’ve done and actively turning away from that sin, determined never to repeat it again. But the Bible says that weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30). Holy sorrow isn’t meant to be a constant state of feeling unworthy and ashamed. Its purpose is served the moment our repentance is sincere. Then God has no more need for our sorrow. It’s the devil who eagerly shames us with accusations, and if we confuse the devil’s condemnation for God’s will, we will be stuck in a trap of religiosity. Only religious spirits use manipulation to make us feel guilty and afraid of God for days and weeks and months. God wants real repentance (not the fake kind that never intends to change), but then He immediately embraces us with joy so we can return to a loving relationship with Him. 

Take a good look at the emotions that motivate what you do. Have you been dragging yourself to church out of guilt, or out of joy to be in His house? Do you dread reading the Bible because it seems to come true for everyone else and not you? Do you feel even worse after you pray because you have an nagging sense that God is refusing to listen to you? Do you repent and repent, begging God for forgiveness and mercy with no sense of peace? If you do, the good news is that you’ve been listening to lies, and can now be free of a burden you were never meant to bear! Don’t allow anyone – not even a pastor – tell you that you have to live in shame when you are genuinely repentant. God lifts up the humble, and brings low the proud. As soon as you have asked for forgiveness, whether the sin is large or small, God wants you to celebrate, even if you feel like you don’t deserve it! Have a wonderful meal with your family, sing for joy and look forward to the future He’s prepared for you as you humbly live in obedience to Him. Treat the day as holy with the joy of His Spirit.

Then Nehemiah the magistrate, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were teaching the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Stop mourning and weeping.” (This was because all the people wept when they heard the words of the Law.) Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat, drink the sweet drink, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Hush! Because today is holy you should stop being so sorrowful.”  Then all the people went to eat, to drink, to send portions, and to enjoy a great celebration because they had understood the words declared to them.  Nehemiah 8:9-12, MEV

Monday, September 12, 2016

Couch potatoes in the Kingdom?

Why don’t people normally associate being a child of God with the word “power?” That’s usually the last word people think of to describe a typical Christian. Sure we’ve marveled at the power of God in a sunset, the stars, the ocean, the birth of our children… but everyone has seen those things whether they believe in God or not. I’m talking about a power that Christians are supposed to personally experience, because they belong to Him. Jesus told His disciples to wait until they received power from on high, which came ten days later, in the form of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. They had walked with Him for years, but only after they received that power were they courageously using their faith to do the impossible, just as Jesus had done. They were still imperfect, but you could most definitely describe their lives with the word “power!” The Bible is clear that the same power is meant for all of God’s people, not to make us superhuman, but to make us more like Him in character.  

The simple answer as to why this is happening to so few, is that so few focus on God, the real God. Not the religious image formed by people or groups who are uncomfortable with the God of the Bible, but the God who is right there, front and center, on every page of scripture. If we stopped every time we felt panic or fear and just used our logic, we’d step out in the courage of faith and see the power of God manifest through us so much more. But logic, courage and real faith so rarely go together these days.    

The Bible clearly states that: God loves us with a passion stronger than the love we have for our own children; the same power that formed the universe and raised Jesus from the dead is available to us now; God hates the devil and his attacks on His children; and God wants to be seen through us as we step out in faith. Based on those facts, He’s ready to rescue us from the problem we’re presently facing, and through it, to bring us closer to Him. But how do we act in faith, because Gideon and Joshua and David used swords, but that definitely doesn’t apply to us today. At least not literally. But we do have risks to take and swords to swing in dealing with our daily struggles.  

What if your problem was unfair treatment on your job? Your boss is too busy to talk, your coworkers are backstabbers, and you deserve a promotion, but it seems like you’ll be passed over one more time. The first sword to swing is the sword of prayer, tying up the demonic forces manipulating thoughts and emotions in your office or job site, and even trying to manipulate you to give in to fear and apathy. You have authority over them, and can bind them up, so begin doing that night and day, every day. Next, pray for the presence of God, for His holy presence to fill your workplace, and to fill you with God’s thoughts and desires. Get rid of any fleshliness, grudges or resentment towards the people on your job because your enemy is spiritual, and you can’t fight evil with evil. Then fill your mind with thoughts of God, meditate on His promises, fill your mind with faith instead of doubt and despair – who He is, His goodness, His power, what He did in the past for others, the fruit of the Spirit – as you do this you will notice that He will fill you with the courage to take action. Just like Queen Esther walked into the presence of the king who could have had her killed on the spot, have the faith to boldly walk into your scary situation knowing that you are clothed with God’s protection. 

God’s power manifests only after we act, but the first, crucial actions start in our inner self: cleaning our hearts, spiritual warfare, learning to trust in God, obedience and being willing to make any sacrifice that He asks of us. Too many Christians are couch potatoes when it comes to God’s power. They’d rather read about it, talk about it and even preach about it, but don’t make the effort to live it. Others want to jump straight to the miracle without taking the necessary inner steps to see God move, and when their prayers don’t get answered, they switch right back to couch-potato mode and conclude that miracles are only for the chosen few and not for them.  

This week, today, or even within the next hour, you may need to refocus on the God of the Bible and on the power that He is making available to you. Take the necessary steps to let it happen, right now.
 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, yes, who is risen, who is also at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.   Romans 8:31-37 - MEV

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

God’s furious, passionate love

The 7th point on our list from last month’s post, Developing a Healthy Image of God, is one of the most clich├ęd and misunderstood: God is love. The truth of those three words is so powerful that it transforms lives. Unfortunately, most common interpretations are false. Here are a few examples: 

  • God loves me for who I am, so I don’t need to change a thing.
  • God loves the whole world, so all religions lead to Him.
  • God is love, so all humanity should embrace each other as friends no matter what any of us has done.
  • Love covers a multitude of sins, so the more we love each other, the more the sins of the world will disappear.
  • God is love, so if a sexual relationship I’m in involves love, it must be from God.
  • God’s love is so big that it overcomes all evil, which means He forgives everyone, which means no one will be sent to hell – not even Satan.

God’s love is inseparable from all His other qualities – His holiness, His goodness, His hatred of evil, His justice. You can’t love your child and then welcome his schoolyard bully into your home to continue attacking him. Love requires boundaries and limits, and at times requires a furious battle to defend the ones you love. God is passionate about rescuing us from enemies who only want to steal, kill and destroy, and that means fighting entities that live inside of us who convince us that they are us, and we are them.  

God passionately loves the real us, the real person He created the moment we were conceived. God hates the abuse of the devil that deceives us into believing that He isn’t really there or that He doesn’t care. He hates the evil that screams in pain every time we hear the truth, and tries to convince us through powerful emotions that obeying God will only hurt us. Imagine the child you love with all your heart rejecting you, as if you were a monster who only wanted to destroy him. Instead of living in the safety of a loving home, your little child follows a voice in his head to sleep on the streets, eating out of garbage cans, and constantly running from you whenever you come near. It would break your heart to live that nightmare. You would give your life to rescue your child from that evil inside of him. And that’s exactly what the love of God has done for us, on a massive, eternal scale. 

God’s love is all about rescuing, saving, snatching us out of the hands of destruction. He created us to be children empowered with His own authority and blessed with all good things to live with Him now and forever. He gave Himself up for us all, He died and shed His blood. He has done everything possible to rescue us. But that screaming voice is so convincing. “Don’t sacrifice, don’t obey, don’t follow, don’t listen… God loves you just the way you are, you don’t need to change... God’s love is so big, there’s no such thing as hell… You’re such a good person… As long as you love everyone, you’re fine… A loving God wouldn’t demand obedience…” We hear this demonic voice every day, but it’s up to us to choose. Will we choose our abuser who feasts off of our misery, or our heavenly Father who loves us immensely and wants nothing more than to bring us to safety and eternal joy? Let Him rescue you today. And if you’ve already been rescued, join the fight to rescue others.  

As the Father loved Me, I also loved you. Remain in My love.  If you keep My commandments, you will remain in My love, even as I have kept My Father’s commandments and remain in His love.  I have spoken these things to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment: that you love one another, as I have loved you.  Greater love has no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.  I no longer call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master does. But I have called you friends, for everything that I have heard from My Father have I made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that the Father may give you whatever you ask Him in My name. This I command you: that you love one another.  John 15:9-17, MEV

Friday, September 2, 2016

When we act, He acts

We’re now at point number 6 on our list from the post, Developing a Healthy Image of God.  Have you ever noticed that the last time God performed a miracle without any human involvement, was when He created the universe? Ever since then, He has included us as partners in His work – weak, small, insignificant and seriously flawed partners, but partners nonetheless. Just that alone proves how gracious and loving He is, that He is not a dictator who forces His will upon us, but wants us to know Him and take part in releasing His immense power.  

But for that to happen, our will and our faith has to be linked to Him: Noah had to obey his command to build an ark, Moses had to raise his staff over the Red Sea, Ruth had to seek out the favor of Boaz, Gideon had to chop down his father’s idol and sacrifice his father’s bull, the widow of Zarephath had to offer her last scrap of food, and Elijah had to face down the prophets of Baal. Had they hung back and just waited for God to do everything for them, we would never have known their names. God would have had to use someone else to partner with for His miracles to happen, and their stories would be the ones recorded in the Bible for us today. Every one of the heroes of faith in the Bible had to act, and every one of their acts of faith was scary and risky. The circumstances surrounding their miracles were often matters of life and death, yet always, God came through for them in power. 

Christians who come to God with the mindset of ramping up their faith to get rid of a specific problem so that afterwards they can return to life as usual, have the weakest and most selfish perspective of God. I can recognize that skewed mindset in so many churchgoers I know, because I used to be just like that. Faith for a healing, a miracle or answered prayer, is not meant to stand alone as an isolated effort. Faith is meant to be transforming – a drawing closer in trust so that we can take on more of the character of our huge and loving God. Every request in prayer is supposed to create a deeper bond, a more faithful devotion to Him, and much more than getting a specific answer. But sadly, the quality of faith we usually attempt is cheap and quickly frustrated, like trying to strike a fire using damp matches.   

“Why is this so hard…?”I hear this all the time, knowing that God is probably asking, “Why do you want things more than you want Me?” God knows the quality of our faith, what our motives are, whether we’re hungry for Him, or whether we just want to get our hands on an answered prayer. The devil can sense cheap and selfish prayers too, because he’s the one who tempts us to wallow in our flesh. He plays both sides of the game, getting us to obsess about a miracle just for the miracle’s sake. Even if our request is according to God’s will, our greedy mindset keeps us stuck in a rut and our contaminated faith takes us nowhere. Then the devil happily attacks our image of God and makes us feel sorry for ourselves because we’re fighting so hard. Poor pitiful us!

Faith is action, motivated by a hunger to draw closer to Him. Effective faith develops joy in the process of waiting expectantly for His answer, because even that is an opportunity to learn more and build our trust. The pattern I most often see, is Christians enthusiastically throwing themselves into faith for a while, and then petering out as time passes to the point that they’re convinced God doesn’t care. When your faith can so easily swing from excitement to bitterness, you give God very little to work with. He wants to do much more than you can imagine, and He wants you to build that muscle of trust. He will never demand a level of faith we can’t handle, which means that whatever He asks, we can do because He’ll make us able.

Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete.  And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God.  So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone. Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road. Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.   James 2:21-26, NLT