This Should Encourage Us Greatly

Of the many things that I am not, a race runner would near the top. Out of total necessity I have, as a Parole Officer, run after absconders and now occasionally chase after city buses. However, more than once people have commented, “Have you ever seen yourself run? It’s so funny.”

Perhaps since I am no runner I can appreciate the difficulty in committing to an obstacle course, marathon, or triathlon. And, perhaps non-starters can imagine the deep despair upon a runner who is somehow disqualified or injured – unable to compete and finish the race. Likened to this, there are several scriptural references to “running the race”, our journey of faith through this world. Many are the Apostle Paul’s admonishments to run, “compete according to the rules” (II Timothy 2:5) to “finish the race” (Acts 20:24) not to “run in vain” (Galatians 2:2) but run for the “crown that lasts forever” (I Corinthians 9:24-25).

By far, the ‘triathlon’ of faith, hope, and love is the most difficult race any of us can run. While those training for a physical race hope to run in the peak of health, we who run this race of faith can only succeed in as far as we die to self.  We may be surprised by temptation and grieved at encounters of disappointment, tragedy, pain and even martyrdom. But the Lord assures us that victory is surely ours, He has run the race ahead of us and will be alongside of us the whole way.

Hebrews 12:1 declares that we are “surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses” and we are admonished to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” so that we may,

“…run with perseverance the race marked out for us”.

A runner must be confident of the race marked out before him, that the course is certainly mapped out,  that he, in no way,  runs blindly on an unmarked, uncharted, haphazard course.   Likewise, we must be secure that our spiritual race is “set”, “marked out”, and designed by a Sovereign God, a Heavenly Father who loves us. We must believe that God loves us as much as He loves Jesus, and with this trust proceed through difficult, at times confusing, and often painful times.   Why difficult, confusing and painful? It is the pathway of the cross.

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We don’t know what lies ahead but God does…He has it marked out to heaven. 

Tomorrow is known by God alone but the devil seeks to discourage us at every turn and harass us at every unknown corner…

“You will never make it!”
“That thing/person/circumstance will plague you the rest of your life!”
“You’ve failed too many times. You’re not even saved!”
“Look at what’s happening! Do you really believe that God loves you?”

Satan will ‘enlarge’ our perceived enemies, distort circumstances, and even misquote scripture to lead you into ‘quick sand’.  The devil’s lies have not changed neither has his treacherous aim to “steal, kill and destroy.” Moreover, the darkness grows thicker in these last days as man is given over to all kinds of debauchery and increasingly ‘Christians’ succumb and fall into apostasy. The path of our race can seem totally encumbered with heaviness, doubt, and fear…and loneliness.

Much anxiety comes from mapping out our own course, figuring out which way to go, even devising a contingency plan “just in case”. I pray we resist fleshly inclinations and set our minds upon…

The ‘cloud of witnesses’: Read and meditate upon the Biblical heroes who, in themselves were of no repute or strong standing but through faith made an eternal mark in God’s Kingdom. Consider the testimonies of many humble missionaries, pastors and martyrs who fulfilled their callings, finished their race, by living a supernatural life through the promises of God.

The living Word of God: We need to study more than ever and learn to meditate upon the truths to allow God’s Word to be pressed in and rooted in our hearts. Once rooted, I pray we call upon those truths to combat the lies of demons, the fears within us, and the seemingly unsurpassable obstacles laid upon our path. We must know this “two edged sword” in order to wield it and gain the victory.

The Holy Spirit: Jesus sends us the Counselor, the Spirit of truth and states that, “you know Him for He lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16&17) The indwelling Holy Spirit of God makes us Christ’s Body in this world, enabling God to work in us and through us as we obey His Word and surrender to His leadership.

Our race is marked out – every runner and contender should find great security in that. God is in full control of the course and every event encountered. Like the cloud of witnesses, we may run into grief and confusion. Like godly men and women from Genesis to present day, we may be slandered, wrongly punished, misunderstood and betrayed. But like our forefathers and brethren before us, we must commit to press on, delving deeper into God’s Word and declaring it inwardly and outwardly. To ‘carry our cross daily’ means to decidedly surrender to the Lord and trust His leadership through the race He has preordained for us…

“The steps of a righteous man are ordered by God.” (Psalm 37:23)

Weren’t the Apostles Heartbroken?

The first brutal execution found in the Gospel is the death of John the Baptist. Matthew, Mark, and Luke describe the circumstances of his death and how his body was laid to rest. Jesus Himself set out to a place of solitude. Later in Acts 6-8 the powerful testimony of Stephen and his convicting oration to religious leaders leads to their subsequent violent uprising against him. After stoning Stephen,

“Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.” Acts 8:2

As the Body of Christ gained ground with leadership newly rooted through Holy Spirit authority, how would the disciples respond to the traumatic murder of Stephen? The Bible does not say ‘their faith was greatly shaken’, or that disciples took any leave to heal. In fact, two verses after burying Stephen, the persecuted believers “preached the word of God wherever they went.”

The disciples’ resilience seems personified in Acts 12, a chapter often cited and preached for Peter’s miraculous deliverance from prison. However verse 2 is rarely expounded upon, rarely found in meditations. “He (King Herod) had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.” Partners before their call to Christ, these brothers became even closer as they were in Christ’s inner circle –  James and John were two of the three who witnessed great supernatural works of the Savior.

No mourning or burial mentioned here. In fact, the focus immediately turns to Peter in prison, “the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” What happened to heartbreak, grief, even confusion after wanton violence? As the purposes of God’s Word go forth to shake the world, the sufferings and eventual deaths of the Apostles seem obscured and veiled. We as believers deeply feel heartache and loss in our lives…didn’t they?

I believe that, from their call out of worldly living into the life of Christ, the Apostles and disciples walked under supernatural leadership of the Holy Spirit. Endowed with the Great Commission, they had to rise above and work past every fiery trial and grief. They did so, perhaps in these ways…

1. Their walk with the Son of God established disciplines of prayer, faith, and perseverance. The critical inner breaking through Christ’s crucifixion perhaps changed any fleshly ambitions toward God’s Kingdom while the resurrection may have deeply changed their innate fearful finality of death.

2. Their expectations of life in this world were increasingly and totally adjusted – forever. Accomplishments, possessions, and other rooted attachments – including familial relationships – no longer gripped their heart. They “loved not their lives even unto death”. Their expectation to suffer prepared their hearts for calamity.

3. Their hearts were singularly devoted to the person of Christ. The Lord’s ordained mission upon their lives rooted them with a fixed focus on propelling the Gospel truth from Jerusalem to the outer parts of the world. Their sights were solely focused on eternity. With honesty they could declare, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

Were they heartbroken?  The Apostles lived through personal tragedies, torture, and betrayals.  Yes, heartbroken and grieved but with ‘eyes fixed upon Jesus’.   And, we’re called to live like them.

Our lives increasingly transform in Christ as we turn from the world and fleshly living and renew our thinking through the Bible.  Victory over sin and worldly ambition is evidenced by testimonies of ‘profound transformations’ to the quiet rebirth of those who repent and believe. However, continual walk and growth in the Holy Spirit avails us to deeper strengths. Like the early disciples, godly missionaries like Elizabeth Elliott and Gladys Staines exemplified persevering faith as they continued serving God after their loved ones were brutally killed by those they went to serve. (Dr. Graham Staines and his wife were missionaries to lepers in India. He and his two young sons were burned alive in their car by radicals.)

the staines car

“It is Jesus who is the source of every consolation and support.  God gives us the strength to be able to carry our cross and to live in His will.  Our life and our work here on earth has to go on according to His holy will.”  Gladys Staines  (Asia News 1/20/09)

Many of us believers still grapple with the snare of worldly entanglements. Others, having fully seen the futility of this world, are battling for victory over fleshly inner sin. However, an intimate circle of believers in this world must arise, a remnant who have been inwardly broken and determined to forge ahead.  A remnant determined to honor God. .

I am not yet in that spiritual ‘inner circle’ of selflessness and resiliency. But I want to grow in that direction to become a viable vessel of God, able to fulfill His call and the ‘good works prepared’ for me. If believers, especially in ‘free countries’ begin to accept suffering in our walk with the Lord, our expectation to suffer will change our priorities, values and thinking.

In these end days, our victory depends on God as the source of counsel, healing and wisdom. To survive fiery trials and serve our King, and to keep us from falling, we must learn how to pray and study His word so that He may lead us through every heartache step by step. Only through the power of God’s word and the Holy Spirit can our minds be healed and renewed. Our short days on this earth must matter for His eternal Kingdom. Through Christ in us is this possible….

“Lord, lead us. Teach us to open our grief and confusion to You and trust you completely.  Speak to our hearts as You heal us and walk us through calamity, teaching us through Your word.   Show us how to be vessels for your Holy Spirit in this world. Build our character through suffering and a testimony through our trials so we will have it as a treasure more precious than gold to honor you. Thank you Lord.  In Jesus name, Amen.”

What Should We Do When God Disappoints?

God “disappoints”, someone, somewhere every day. Amidst crushing crisis, upon the cliffs of death and darkness, we fan the embers of faith to believe God will show up and rescue us from the very thing we dread. We pray, plead and willingly beg but our tears only water grass at the gravesite. What will we do when God is silent, when He closes the door, when our dreams are swept away…is God pushing the broom?

Those who don’t know the Lord test Him in their place of despair, “If you are God, show yourself to me and others here in this hospital room and we will believe!” Although the Lord rebuked the devil, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” He doesn’t condemn us in our desperation. But neither our desperation, nor nights of anguish and millions of tears can assure that God will miraculously move. Prayer cannot change the will of God, but can supernaturally open to us the revelation of what His will is and align us with His presence and sovereignty.

Prayer doesn’t make God answer, it aligns us with the answer He already has.

If you have never entered into a living faith, never truly repented and surrendered to the Lord, but rise up in your ‘911’ and call upon Him, what will you do when you are disappointed? Most people will walk further away from any semblance of faith when the ‘God option’ fails in their time of need. What will YOU do? Or, brother and sister in the Lord, what happens when we are walking right before God and He leads us onto a path of brokenness, pain and deep disappointment, what will we do when our prayers seem answered with worse calamity?

The juncture of devastating disappointment is a critical one and yet can be the most life giving crossroad of our faith. This is painfully true. Crushing disappointment is not a time to test God, it is the time He tests us. How can we survive this? How can our faith thrive through this?

Do not judge God by your circumstances, do not give up in prayer, call upon Him to enter into your despair and compel yourself to do this:

Abandon every “if-then” condition set upon God.

Make a commitment, even with a speck of faith, to prayerfully read the Bible every day. “The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” emotional pain separates us from worldly clamor and avails to us a door for the Lord to minister and speak.  Commit to that daily appointment with the Lord, He already awaits.

Did we seek God only to receive miracle or do we truly desire supernatural life?

Faith is the engine that moves and aligns us to God, positioning us to hear from Him, leading us into His presence. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the Word of God.” Meditate upon the Psalms, enter into the disappointments, the deep losses, the grief of God’s people and begin to believe that their found healing and victory is also for you.

out of pit and sold as slave

Betrayals and disappointments tested and built Joseph’s faith,  preparing him to trust and serve  Sovereign God (Genesis 37-50)

 

Press on past the voice of the enemy, Satan, as onslaughts come to fuel grief and doubts, “What good did praying bring?” “What kind of God is this anyway who lets your loved one suffer and die?” “What was God doing while your husband cheated? While your home, your plans, your dreams, crumbled to the ground?” Your faith is the target of the devil’s biggest lies: “God was doing nothing all this time! He doesn’t love you! His word is not true!”  Resolve to reject every lie and accusation against the Lord, especially those hidden within your own heart.

Holy Scripture, originally written without punctuation, renders two understandings of Isaiah 59:19 as scholars vary a tiny comma…

“When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.”

“When the enemy comes in, like a flood the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.”

I pray that the Holy Spirit comes in, like a flood of Living Water, overwhelming the wiles of the enemy and refreshing us with the Word of God.

It is natural to hope upon the miracles of healing, the abundance created by five loaves and two fish, the raising of the dead and sight to the blind, but these are temporal, not eternal ‘measuring points’ of God’s faithfulness. Jesus established His divinity through such miracles but that He did not come to perform miracles. He came to save us from our sins. Far fewer people are crying out for and rejoicing in this miracle although this is the one He came to fulfill, the one that will NEVER disappoint, the one that leads to eternal life. From that unbroken and eternal promise, He calls us to follow Him on a narrow path carrying our cross.

When the dust settles might we ask, are we in right relationship to God through repentance? Are we committed to following Him on a path of self-denial?  Have we invested our heart to a popular ‘easy-believism’ or are we given to the whole counsel of God?

“It needs to be said that a world of confusion results from trying to believe without obeying! A mere passive surrender may be no surrender at all. Any real submission to the will of God must include willingness to take orders from Him from that time on.” A.W. Tozer

Does God heal? Does He miraculously provide and restore? The Lord is well able and does supernaturally intervene into the crisis of man. However, His purpose is higher than prolonging life and fulfilling hopes; it is for an abundant and eternal life led by God. A God led life. May our spiritual eyes open as we consider, from Genesis to Revelation, the disappointments, losses, betrayals and calamities of the saints AND the faithfulness of God to move upon them. The Lord  wastes not one tear nor one moment of suffering for those given to Him.  In His hand ‘He works it all together for good, for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose’.

I pray for those now at critical junctures of faith, may they decide to take all doubts, anger and grief to God and compel themselves to search His Word.

“Then you will know that I am the Lord; those who hope in me will not be disappointed.” Isaiah 49:23

The Miracle We All Need

“During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.” (Matt 14:25)

For most of us landlubbers, the thought of walking on water – as miraculous as it is – may not seem to be the most sought after experience. Surely we would aspire to have ‘healing hands’ to relieve the suffering of ailments and disease. Who wouldn’t want, even once, the miraculous power to multiply food and feed thousands of hungry folks?

In his teaching series, “All That Jesus Taught” Zac Poonen, overseer of Christian Fellowship Church in Bangalore, explores the teaching of Christ through the four Gospels. Beyond what the Lord said, there is great lessons to savor in what He did. Brother Zac aptly demonstrates that “every miracle is a parable” and as such there are unseen depths to discover. In this passage, expounds Brother Zac, Jesus compelled His disciples to get into the boat and sail onward to the other side, evident from the wordage that the disciples were reluctant – they really didn’t want to go. Did they have weather indications? Were they exhausted from the day’s events? In any case, “Jesus made the disciples get into the boat”. At the fourth watch, between 3 and 6am, after a time of sequestered prayer with His Father, Jesus walked out to their boat as they struggled and strained through the storm.

‘Walking on the water’ proclaimed Jesus’ power over the laws of nature. More than that however, it is a powerful pictorial of Christ’s power over man’s sinful nature. While we are powerless over the law of sin which reins over us, Jesus demonstrates that He overcomes the laws of nature and we also, as His followers can overcome. “The law of gravity is like the law of sin” expounds Brother Zac, “it pulls us down in every way, every moment”.

There is much more though. Jesus didn’t just appear at their boat, He walked a considerable distance from the shore, on the water in the dark through the storm.  We must believe that where the Lord sends us – where He assigns us – He also comes to us with enabling power. Moreover,  He has the authority to defy the storm and the darkness, bestowing that authority upon His followers that we may also ‘walk upon the storm’ and see our way through the darkness.

He bids us, “Come”, walk the distance with Me through storms of anxiety and fear – when tribulations, betrayals, and tragedies threaten to overturn and destroy your life. If your life is in His hands, He may well have put you in that ‘boat’ and if so – He will without doubt be there to walk you over every upheaval. (However, if you put yourself in a boat, set yourself assail outside the will of God, you may find yourself rowing alone with increasing futility until you repent and turn around)

Two types of believers are in this boat. While all are ‘terrified’, one moves forward with boldness toward Christ while the others remain in the boat. We are no different. There are times we move boldly toward the Lord and His high call and other times we stay firmly planted in the boat, waiting out the storm. But note: Jesus brought all the disciples safely to the other side.

If we are obedient, allowing Jesus to compel us where we may not want to go, we will see His power and presence revealed in greater measure. Half steppers and carnal Christians miss the supernatural. The appointed storm is Christ’s classroom and He is in full control. His call has not changed, “Come” and “Follow me”. Some of us in that storm rowing and rowing, tossing and turning, already at the fourth watch, have lost sight of Jesus, “It’s too dark… I can’t see my way through this!” “When will this ever end?” 

Our Savior however, never loses sight of us.  

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Sometimes the inner storm is worse than outer weather – bring the Word into your boat and let Christ lead you out…

The supernatural power to walk upon the waters in the storm comes forth through the power of His Word as He speaks it to us. Peter walked with God incarnate, we have His living Word in entirety. While our flesh wants to keep rowing, keep crying, or just give up, the Lord’s simple call is “Come”. It is imperative to hear the Lord’s supernatural call, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow Me.”

Where Jesus walks is not ordinary ground. It is not a smooth way but hard and narrow. The weather conditions may be terrifying. Those in Christ ALL get to the other side, some stumbling out of the boat clutching oars, others walking behind the Lord with victorious testimony drawing others. While I may prefer to “stay in the boat” with covers pulled up over my head, I pray for the boldness to step out and trust in God’s promises…

“Lord, I pray for all of us who need clear direction and light – help us to see a way out after we’ve rowed and rowed, tossed and turned. Lead us into Your powerful, living Word and open our hearts to the truth. Push back the harassment of anxious and fearful thoughts – bits of truth entangled with threats and lies. I pray for boldness in these last days, raise us above the crossfire and breathe your peace upon us. As we open Your Word, give us patience to seek You and hear from You. Lead us to that higher ground where we may walk on the water, supernaturally above all fear, anxiety, wounds and loss. Order our steps… lead us through to the other side. In Jesus name, Amen.”

Crushed By Sin – Revived By God

“…each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away…”

James 1:14

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Looks good!  But he soon he’ll be dragged away, scaled and fried.

Believers are living in perilous times – not because Kim Jong-un has nuclear weaponry nor due to the threat of ISIS or economic downfall.  On the contrary, those of us who have provisions and comfort, security and opportunity are in greatest danger, the greatest danger of leaning on our own strength, our own understanding, our own righteousness.  Who worries about being the ‘virgin without oil’, shut out forever from the Lord’s Kingdom?  (Matt. 25)  Who worries about ‘burying their talent’, after all, they haven’t lost it – or have they lost it forever?

The complacent Christian, the lukewarm, lives in the most perilous place.  Like a car in neutral, the complacent will roll down the easy path without strain or suffering, guided by laws of nature not the Holy Spirit.  As love for God and the fear of God begin to wane, ‘self’ takes the driver seat and increasingly, alluring roads seem to open up.  Many live disconnected from the Headship of Christ and even unknowingly may head into a great apostasy.   Having lost spiritual discernment, many ‘change sides’ – from the Kingdom of God into the kingdom of darkness. The greatest persecution toward believers one day may not come from pagans but from carnal ‘Christians’ who are and invested in the world culture.

“At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other….Because of the increase of wickedness the love of mos twill grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”  (Matt 24:10-12, emphasis added)

The Lord cares greatly about His Body as these end days funnel rapidly toward His Judgment.  Many Christians are “dragged away and enticed” – individuals, families, even entire churches are rolling on neutral – guided solely by natural inclination.  The Lord Himself makes an appeal, for many a ‘last call’, to turn back to true faith, a life dependent and surrendered to Him.  This is a crucial spiritual battle!  Satan has a vested eternal interest in drawing Christians into complacency and sin, comforting and rewarding many along the way to their destination as a trophy in hell. 

The Lord, however, does not comfort or enable us in our sin.  He will call and call, warn and warn.  Some rebellious may die in their sin.  However, many others are on a precipice of repentance and, out of love and for the sake of His Kingdom, He will crush them in their sin.

The Word of God declares, “The wages of sin is death” but God, in His love and providence, will for many put that paycheck on hold with a refining fire of His own design.  As “a consuming fire”, those resistant to the Holy Spirit will find themselves in a furnace of chastisement.  Hebrews 12 speaks of the Lord’s discipline for those He loves, “He rebukes…He scourges everyone He accepts as a son”.  For those who refuse to receive conviction, He may begin to painfully ‘take away’from our life – employment, health, freedom, peace, family life.   If we remain stubborn and yet He calls, He may open to us the spiritual realm, exposing the demonic roots of that which you craved, pornography, drugs, adultery, greedy gain, and all forms of witchcraft.  Spiritual torment finds no relief from psychiatrists, doctors, or prescriptions but serves as the fire that drives a rebellious Christian into the Word of God and prayer.  Once exposed for its darkness and evil, there is no more allurement, no more enticement, no pleasure found in that which dragged us away.

Being crushed in sin is the most painful course to redemption and restoration.  Your spiritual eye will finally open to the ruin caused by reckless and selfish actions.  There is always consequence and cost to sin: damage to yourself, perhaps to your marriage, your family and your standing in the community.  Worst of all, if you are a Christian,  you bring dishonor to the Lord’s name.   But there is still good news.

You are crushed and not abandoned because God has not disowned you.  He is not finished with you.  You may have let the powers of darkness reign for a time in your life but the Lord intervened and drew a sovereign line, “this far and no farther!”  You may painfully reap what you sow but unlike the devil who steals, kills, and destroys, the Lord crushes to recreate and restore with great purpose, using our failures and brokenness for His glory.

Wherever we find ourselves, let us resolve to never give up.  No matter how much is lost to sin, even years of time, we can rejoice that time cannot limit our sovereign God.  An eighty year old man surrendered to God is valuable, with more power than a Sumo wrestler.  The Lord can surely foil the devil’s plan and open new doors to those who repent and surrender.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I’m  doing a new thing!”  (Isaiah 43:18)

Let us pray….

“Lord, I pray that you expose any crooked way in us, even this moment.  Let not the Holy Spirit warn or convict even twice.  I pray for those who are suffering now in a fiery furnace of chastisement – let them see Your love therein and Your hand alone on the thermostat with divine purpose.  Encourage them as ‘no one threshes the wheat forever’ and speak to their hearts with assurance that they will come out with Your strength and calling.  Do a new thing in us Lord!  Use us and let our lives count for Your Kingdom.  In Jesus name, Amen.”

 

 

 

 

 

Victory Over Witchcraft

“But woe to the earth and the sea because the devil has gone down to you!  He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.” Revelation 12:12

Every manifestation of demonic power such as Wicca, Santeria, Obeah, Voodoo, Hoodoo or Macumba is subject to the authority of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Many believers assume that they are immune to the supernatural powers invoked by participants in various forms of sorcery. Witchcraft, however, can cause damage in our lives through two separate avenues:

1.  We may open the door to demonic presence through sin. While the Holy Spirit will warn believers again and again, the Christian who neglects these warnings and proceeds into sinful behavior such as adultery, deception, idolatry, greed and other offenses against God will find strategic doors open to demonic influence. How many men or women have fallen to adultery with someone involved with witchcraft?

If Satan is full of fury and with very little time and he is powerful, deceptive, and cunning, won’t he utilize every opportunity and every emissary to entice, trap, engross and destroy? He is not complacent but works “day and night” assessing each saint of God to determine weakness, open wounds, or vulnerable areas for temptation. The Apostle Paul was “aware of Satan’s schemes” but many Christians are not. Alluring participants of witchcraft strategically destroy marriages, homes, and church leadership. To turn from the Lord, to neglect His warnings, and partake in sin opens dark doors that only Christ can shut. True repentance brings restoration but there may be damage and suffering. There is always consequence to sin. Painfully, God can also use enemies to chastise us.

2.   Secondly, the Lord Himself may allow demonic influence to impinge upon our lives. However traumatic and confusing at the time, it is the Lord who is in full control. It is the Lord who measures out the fire and with great purpose. Biblical accounts include the satanic assaults upon Job, the messenger of Satan tormenting Paul and the harassment of Satan upon Jesus in the wilderness. The Word of God is replete with spiritual battles, wars and schemes as dark powers undergird, incite, and target attacks against the people of God. Jesus did not insulate Himself from Satan’s schemes but walked in perfect power to overcome them. At times He allows the devil to touch our lives so we may walk as He did – not in the natural, depending on and engaged with the world – but in the supernatural, depending on God. Demonic attacks should launch us to the Savior’s side, draw us deep into His Word and compel us to trust in His overcoming power. It is God’s will that we spiritually mature through the battle and endure refinement through fire to prepare us as useful vessels for His kingdom.

Many Christians are alive to the world but asleep to the Kingdom of God. Lukewarm and thus useless, God often uses pain to quicken and awaken them, to stand strong against powers and rulers of darkness,

“Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” (Ephesians 6:10)

Ephesians 6:10-18 has sadly become almost cliché. This is not a spiritual mantra, it is powerful war cry against the “Amalekites” the “Philistines” against the wiles of demonic powers that come to ruin us today. Against such the Lord does not give us incantations, spells, or rituals…He gives us His authority!

Satan himself does not need spells, incantations or rituals to inflict personal harm, mental anguish, injury, confusion, fear and anxiety. However, luring and engaging people into witchcraft provides emissaries to broaden and personalize his assaults. The power comes wrapped in pure hatred, knowing that those who partake in his evil will share in his eternal condemnation. Foolishly, man believes he is using powers when in fact the powers are using him.

Every battle and cunning scheme we could possibly face is personified in the Word of God. Our measure of victory lies in this one strategy: total alignment and dependence upon God Almighty. As soldiers train before combat, we too must ground ourselves in God’s Word, “living and active, sharper than any two edged sword” to be armed and shielded when the enemy attacks. Our power, our foothold in the trenches, depends upon the authority we weld and grasp through God’s Word. We must recognize the voice of the Lord and discern His will in the battle.

“Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you will honor Me.” (Psalm 50:15)

Overcoming strength comes as we determine to shut in with Him and His Word without restraint…search and study the scriptures prayerfully until, like Living Water, they speak into our heart…listen to the Lord’s direction…commit as He leads to ‘late night’ even ‘all night’ prayer. Fast. Pray for partners to join in. Avail ourselves to powerful messages by godly pastors who know victory through fiery trials….determine to praise and worship Him before the victory is revealed.

Christ died to set us free. He ‘disarmed the powers of darkness and made a public spectacle of them’. Brothers and sisters, we are loved by God. God is for us. But anyone who “practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, casts spells, anyone who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead” is detestable to the Lord. (Deuteronomy 18:10-11). Pity the one positioned against Christ’s Body, of whom God declares, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay”.

We are in those “terrible times” described in II Timothy 3, the ‘last days’ before Christ’s return as Judge. Ruthless and heartless, treacherous and brutal, men will seek outlets of power in their rebellion to God. They find that source through witchcraft in its many forms, mainstreamed through culture, religion, and entertainment. It appeals to man’s most deadly lust – the prideful lust for power and control.

We are not immune to demonic assaults but we must resolve to trust our Lord as Defender and Commander over the battle. As we surrender to Jesus Christ, He girds us in His living Word and reveals more of Himself and His power, enabling us as His witnesses in this dark world.

“Then you will know that I am the Lord; those who hope in Me will not be disappointed.” (Isaiah 48:23)

 

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“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  Jesus Christ

 

(Do not be alone in your struggle. Reach out to believers even join in prayer meetings online such as http://www.tscnyc.org Tuesday nights, 7pm, EST. Submit prayer requests online or through text message.)

Break Out of False Guilt

True Guilt: a God given vital catalyst for change, a turning point for freedom when “godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret”. True guilt is purposeful conviction for a yielded heart. The conscience that seeks deliverance or the believer that seeks restoration finds forgiveness in a loving Savior.
False guilt greatly differs from true guilt. It is a snare for the believer, without purpose nor possibility of freedom through repentance. False guilt charges a believer with undue responsibility for a situation or condition upon himself or others. When ‘strong suggestions’ find the weak link of our conscience, seeds of false guilt can grow into a harassing stronghold. The devil furnishes a miry quagmire. No one has a greater vested interest in disabling you and no one works harder to do it,

“…the accuser of our brethren, who accuses them before our God day and night…”

While the Holy Spirit applies the Word of God to bring conviction leading to repentance, false guilt often intertwines Biblical principles into situations for condemnation, leading to confusion. Jesus said, “Love your enemies” however we do so under His guidance, with His wisdom and His preparation of heart.  “Love your enemies” but don’t open your door to the devil. The devil can quote scripture far better than us and with crafty motives, often to accuse and harass, finding the weak link of your mind and heart….

“Supervisor X has done you a lot of harm, he is malicious and vindictive. While he hasn’t changed, you have fought the spiritual battle and forgiven him. He has slandered you now and you have the opportunity to press charges and/or transfer to another area. “If I’m a Christian should I stay under Mr. X and show him love, “love your enemies”? Is it not unloving to file a complaint and transfer? The daily anxiety of working with him is crushing me…..but I must love my enemies…” Substitute ‘supervisor X’ with toxic relatives.

You and husband Bill have a heated argument. Bill leaves home in a huff, drives off in his car and is met with an accident, fracturing his neck. Now hospitalized and in great pain, you realize that it is YOUR fault…if only you had ‘submitted to your husband’ there would be no argument, there would have been no accident…..your fault….why didn’t you just submit to him, even though he was wrong? “Wives submit to your husbands….submit to your husbands in everything” if he loses his job due to this injury, it’s YOUR fault….

You and your wife take an extra day off for a spontaneous weekend away….when you arrive you get a phone call that your mother had a heart attack…you try to re-route back, is it too late? Did you REALLY pray before making these getaway plans? James 4:13-15…we shouldn’t even go to the next town without consulting the Lord. “I should have known, Mom didn’t look so good last time I saw her…I should have prayed before making these plans, my ‘life is not my own’….if she dies before I get there it’s MY fault, I’m not there at her moment of need….can’t even say good-bye….”

 

multiple-fingers-pointing-blame-at-man (1)

“I should have…I shouldn’t have…It’s my fault…I should have known…”

Enough!
The devil knows how to tailor a fitting temptation and trap. If he cannot lure us into destructive sin, he devises schemes to impede our walk, rob our joy, and oppress our testimony to others.  He will contort the truth and embellish culpability to ensnare us with false guilt. The focus on ‘self’ always diminishes the the trustworthiness and sovereignty of God.

Dan Vander Lugt aptly states, “False guilt cannot be neutralized by confession.” The devil’s accusations are “often vague, indefinite, and persistent…They throb like a spiritual migraine”. Pointedly he adds, “Satan delights in our anxiety and fear.”

Lord, I pray, let us untangle the tethers of false guilt and move forward into emotional freedom!

The only answer to onslaughts of darkness is exposing them to the light. Like destructive mold, the devil’s wiles grow best with time in sequestered darkness.  Unfettered, reserved time of prayer brings the battle into the Lord’s presence for victory…

1.  Speak the ‘accusations’ out loud to the Lord, even present your ‘evidence’ of guilt. Let the Holy Spirit unravel the poorly connected dots that hold the case against you. Wait upon the Lord with the assurance that: He wants to set you free from any entanglement. Refresh yourself with the fundamentals of ‘sin’, such as the Ten Commandments. Say aloud, “I am guilty of….” What? And the evidence for this sin is, what?
2,  Pray aloud about that issue for which you ‘are responsible’, that calamity, that tragedy, that broken relationship. “Lord, it’s my fault this happened, and this is the evidence why…” Wait upon the Lord, let Him speak into the miry details as you present them to Him. Let the Truth take the flame out of fiery accusations.
3.  Spend time in the unchanging, living Word of God. Refresh yourself with God’s conviction of sin for His followers, chosen ones such as David, King Saul, and even all Israel – the Lord addressed their sins specifically, seeking repentance. God never casts a vague dark cloud of innuendos and condemnation. We must increasingly grow in our knowledge of God’s character and ways to better discern what is spoken in our hearts and the source.
4.  Unfold and expose your dark thoughts and accusations to a strong believer. Let them reflect the truth of God’s word in counsel. Wise counsel from a godly vessel can set you free with few words, “You have nothing to be guilty about!”

Jesus paid a high price for our freedom from sin and condemnation. “It is for freedom that Christ set us free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5:1) The devil works hard to rob us of this freedom by tempting us with sin, harassing us with old sins, and concocting emotional webs of false guilt. But, in the courtroom of accusations and condemnations, we have a mighty and all-knowing Counselor.  The Holy Spirit is with us in every battle and every argument that besets us.  His victories bring us closer to the Lord, making us useful vessels for service.

Lord, let this be our testimony….

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“We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped.  Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”  Psalm 124

(photo: Micea Cotina/Rex Features)

 

When Christian Leaders Fall, Fail, and Betray – Crushed in God’s Service

“God has arranged the parts in the Body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be.”  (I Corinthians 12:18)

The Lord establishes an unchanging truth through the Scriptures: God appoints and anoints the authority over us as we serveWe are accountable to the godly leadership appointed over us while they who have “ been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Leadership will make an account for every soul in their domain.

Every believer – and every leader – has potential to fall, to take their eyes off the Lord, to walk outside the narrow road and pursue plans conceived in the flesh.  Often these plans appear ‘good’, even prosperous but, unassigned by God, they make the path a slippery slope….

We fall when we miss the warning signs...we can learn from the pain or continue to fail.

We fall when we miss the warning signs…we can learn from the pain or continue to fail.

At the risk of simplifying great truths, falling creates a pivotal point – to either proceed toward failure or to rise up and call out to the Lord.  The Bible assures us that God can “keep us from falling” and surely keep us from failing.  As His ambassadors in this world, He has a vested interest in strengthening us in service and restoring us when we fall, “The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down”.

Scriptures testify of the great faith, courage and passion in God’s chosen leaders.  However, the Lord does not whitewash their disobedience and downfalls.  Some fell due to unbelief such as Abraham with Hagar, yet rose up to God’s call.  Some failed, even to their own demise, as they neglected ongoing warnings of God such as Sampson with Delilah.  Sadly, some fell while having known – even transcribed the Word of God.   Among the many beloved Psalms of David he wrote in 101, “I will walk in my house with blameless heart.”  Anointed king over God’s people, he abandoned his honor during a night of lust that led to failure and worse, a deep betrayal of both man and God.   From looking, to lusting, to sinning and scheming, nobody treads the waters of compromise and sin. Without repentance, sin takes you deeper than you ever thought you would go.

“You despised Me” God declared, and exacted longsuffering consequences upon King David.  (II Samuel 12) The Lord’s response to betrayal by His appointed leaders is sharp and fearsome.

Christian leaders are valued trophies for hell.  The devil works with great stealth as leaders are calculated targets with wide collateral destruction.  Unlike sudden attacks of persecution, foundational faults in faith and character allow compromise and contamination to seep in.   Godly fear, that bastion of protection, is slowly dismantled.  As Pastor David Wilkerson once preached,

Treachery starts with simple acts of disobedience.”

Once a Christian scorns the sure warnings and convictions of the Holy Spirit, he loses discernment, is increasingly given over to sin and, in the end, is capable of anything outside of God’s will.   Long before the fruits of sin and compromise are ripe, “Ichabod” is fearfully decreed.

What about the misled and broken sheep who are betrayed?  Leaders damage many layers of servants and innocent brethren.   It is a betrayal and loss unlike anything in the world as devoted brethren turn from the world to serve the Lord.  Like a betrayed spouse, evidence of infidelity often goes undetected, disbelieved, and rationalized.  Spiritual manipulation is a complicated stronghold that gives birth to confusion, grief, and anger.  The deep wounds of betrayal and loss often bring the servant of God to a spiritual wilderness, creating a profound crossroad of faith.

As with Elijah in the desert, the Lord awaits to minister

As with Elijah in the desert, the Lord awaits to minister

When Christian leaders fall, fail and betray, the ‘work of God’ begins to fold like a slow train crash.  The rush for ‘damage control’ is futile when the Lord exposes sin and withdraws Himself from the work.  But the devil must not triumph over us as plunder – the Lord awaits us in the wilderness with healing, spiritual refreshment, revival and redirection.   

When leadership severs from the Headship of Christ, may the Lord strengthen us to…

  • Move away from the train crash, move far from God’s chastising rod, lest we fall under similar demise
  • Come together with the Body of Christ for times of fellowship and encouragement; wounded sheep who stand alone are easy prey for any wolf.
  • Devote time alone with the Lord, determine to hear from Him. Believe that He is sovereign over all and awaits to share with us the ‘fellowship of His sufferings’.

We can be truly called to a ministry which later implodes from compromise, disobedience, and betrayal.  Our time, our love, and our resources are not wasted or unnoticed by the King.  He will water every seed we have planted and Himself raise up the intended harvest.  The crushing disappointment and loss from the downfall of leadership whom we served and loved is a painful furnace from which we must cry to Jesus….

“Look upon my suffering and deliver me, for I have not forgotten your law.  Defend my cause and redeem me; renew my life according to your promise.”   (Psalm 119:153-154)

Let us be “confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  

(Philippians 1:6)

9/11: SHAKEN AND STIRRED TOWARD HEAVEN

God's Call: To Rebuild or Reset?

God’s Call: To Rebuild or Reset?

“…set your hearts on things above on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”  (Colossians 3:1-2)

A crazy thought passed through my mind one evening years ago while on a beautiful Caribbean cruise with my whole family.  It was a moment in time with no hardship, no illness, no worries….marriages and families flowing together like the waves upon the sea.  I brushed away thoughts of heaven and thought, ‘how could it be better than this?’

“But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground…the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf.” (Acts 27)

The surprise of tragedy, betrayal and loss serve to shake and crush such crazy thoughts. Grief and anguish can depress and embitter or divinely redirect our hearts and thinking heavenward, and with great gain.  Yet, enemy attacks, storms and shipwrecks are tools in the hand of Sovereign God, changing the course of men – as they reset their hearts, their minds and their final destination.

Why is it important – utterly crucial – to long for heaven?

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  (Matthew 6:21)

Love for, even friendship with, this world does not dilute our relationship with the Lord – it plants seeds of contempt toward Him.  “Friendship with the world is hatred toward God.” (James 4:4)  Loosening our grip on the things of this world…even our health, beauty, and possessions, often prepares us for a greater measure of the Lord Himself.

While a comfortable and benign temperature in the physical realm, lukewarm is a deadly state for those chosen by the Lord (Rev 3:16).  To spare us this ‘sickening’ condition, the Lord often stokes the embers in our life, creating a fire in which He will appear.  When He burns away the dross of worldliness and our grip upon the temporal, our eyes can better focus on heavenly realms.  Beloved Apostle John was a vessel of honor for God’s glory,

“I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.  On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit….” (Rev 1:9)

Separated from the world in a barren place of loneliness and suffering, John was given astounding revelations of Jesus Christ, the last days and the coming Kingdom of God.  We  marvel at theses scriptures yet lose sight of the man used by God to deliver them – frail and elderly, at least 90 years old, stripped away from every worldly comfort.  Crushed in a place of great deprivation and suffering, heaven was magnified before him.  John’s longing for his Savior’s return became a singular focus personified in the ending verses of Holy Scripture, “Come, Lord Jesus”.

Is this yearning within you and meToday, the Lord’s return seems very inconvenient, even disruptive to our plans; we would rather He return after a pending project, after an upcoming wedding, or following the big vacation.  However pious and upright, most Christians do not want the Lord to really interfere with their lives. For the sake of our eternal life and His honor, ‘fiery trials’ often set our agendas and lukewarm lives aflame.  Death, anguish, betrayal and loss rout out futile confidence in the things and people of this world.

A dreadful emptiness often overshadows unbelievers when foundations are suddenly shaken.  For the believer in Christ however, there is a living hope.  We may be knocked down, but not knocked out.  The Holy Spirit revives us to fight once again, each round testifying of God’s faithfulness.  It is the mauled sheep who cling to the Good Shepherd and with Him find healing, restoration, – green pastures, quiet waters, and paths of righteousness promised in Psalm 23.   From the “valley of the shadow of death” comes the renewed focus on eternity as we anticipate “the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23)

Jesus said,

“In My Father’s house are many rooms….I am going there to prepare a place for you”.    (John 14:2)

Whether translated as ‘rooms’, ‘dwelling places’, or ‘mansions’ the Lord promises His followers a prepared place in His Kingdom.   We cling to this belief in death, but does this anticipation order our priorities and reshape our thinking on earth?  Are we ‘storing our treasures in heaven’, towards the things of eternal value?

The Lord may use a fiery furnace to burn off stumbling blocks of sin and compromise, raising our temperature well above lukewarm.  Thrashing waves upon our sailing ship often change our focus and our course.  Yet, whether through daily seeking and renewal through God’s Word or through the pressing and shaking of trials, it is incumbent upon God’s people to divest from this ‘condemned’ world and align ourselves with the purposes of God. God is not calling us to put our hopes in this fallen world any more than we would invest in a foreclosed bank.

In the ‘last days’ let us join Abraham and other heroes of the faith as they set their hearts and minds,

“…looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God…. for a better country – a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.”  (Hebrews 11)

And prepared a city for us.

“Come, Lord Jesus”

CRUSHED FOR GLORY

Two simple words within a New Testament verse, regardless of translation, are perplexing and even oppressive to many, including or especially me:  “pure joy”.

We are so admonished,

“Consider it pure joy my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”  (James 1:2)

According to James, while waiting in a detox unit for your loved one, standing by a grave site, while holding an unsurmountable financial debt, when sitting in the oncology office, when threatened by eviction, persecution, and surprised by deception and betrayal…..Consider it pure joy.

This is a high bar in Christian living which I have yet to reach.   But an open heart before the Lord can receive understanding and discernment.  The Holy Spirit often teaches spiritual truths as they are mirrored through the physical realm of our world.   Enter the Navy SEALs….

navy seals on shore

Grueling training prepares for triumph and victory

Navy Seal Eric Greitens describes,
But “frontline” isn’t just a military term. You have a frontline in your life now. In fact, everyone has a place where they encounter fear, where they struggle, suffer and face hardship. We all have battles to fight. “As Navy SEALs, we understood the word “frontline” to mean the place where we met the enemy. The frontline was where battles were fought and fates decided. The frontline was a place of fear, struggle and suffering. It was also a place where victories were won, where friendships of a lifetime were forged in hardship. It was a place where we lived with a sense of purpose.

And it’s often in those battles that we are most alive: It’s on the frontlines of our lives that we earn wisdom, create joy, forge friendships, discover happiness, find love and do purposeful work. If you want to win any meaningful kind of victory, you’ll have to fight for it.     (“Your Own Front Line: A Navy SEAL’s Guide to Building Resistance”, New York Observer, 3/3/15)

Without Scriptural quotes, Mr. Greitens’ article portrays great Biblical truths.  We are living in the frontlines of history, the end times, where battles have eternal significance.  “…be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus….Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs – he wants to please his Commanding Officer”.  (II Timothy 2:1-4)

We have ‘fears, struggles and suffering’ and Paul forewarns that we will in II Timothy 3…

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.”

The life of a believer, a follower of Jesus Christ, exists within two absolute mandates:  live as sharp as a serpent, yet gentle as a dove…live as obedient and humble sheep, yet fight as strong and militant soldiers.  The great challenge in all this is none of it comes natural.  We must immerse ourselves in the training of the Word, receive our instructions through fellowship with the Lord in prayer, and apply this training to our ‘frontline’.

Many of us are content to live as sheep, led and fed by our Good Shepherd and find it impossible to conceive of ‘pure joy’ in oppressive trials.  I believe the ‘pure joy’ is not in the fire itself but the sights through which we can see the end.

With sights fixed on Jesus, we can see joy beyond the battlefield.

With sights fixed on Jesus, we can see joy beyond the battlefield.

Like the courageous and admirable Navy SEALs, we are called to endure and persevere with great purpose.  Unlike the military though, the Lord seems to choose the weakest and most unlikely to succeed.  The unfailing strategy is this:  the battle is not ours but the Lord’s, we are merely a vessel through whom He gains the victory.

Navy SEALs are uniquely trained, they are the elite of armed forces.  Clothed with valor and fired up, they greatly deserve honor for service and sacrifice.  Commitment to grueling and demanding training yields them glory on the battlefield and, given rare glimpses, the world marvels at their victories.  How much can we glean from this ‘type and  shadow’ of God’s Kingdom?   

We are left on this earth to glorify Jesus Christ.  That is our mission on the frontlines and with it come the certainty of great reward, eternal reward.  This battleground is trod upon for thousands of years, with great victories won by spiritual giants – both the prominently known and honored as well as the obscure who secretly battle in the prayer closet.  Unlike the Navy SEALs, our training manual has not changed, is not updated, and remains a living power in itself.   Unlike any worldly military, our surrendered lives are sovereignly governed through every battle, trial, and grief – each is appointed and measured out with supernatural foresight and design. 

Almighty God does not change, He will be high and lifted up and glorified in this dark world.  As His surrendered and willing soldiers, we may be crushed in grueling training in preparation for this call.  In fact, there is no other way.

Crushed for His glory, there remains the high bar of faith, to “Consider it pure joy”.   A supernatural joy that cannot compare in the physical realm, it can only be birthed in the “renewed mind,” one that is “prepared for action”.  It requires thorough and ongoing study of our manual, the Holy Bible, fellowship with our God and valuable refreshment through fellowship with other believers.

As we battle on the frontlines of these last days,these ‘terrible times’  I pray we separate from worldly distractions and entanglements,  focus our sights on Him, on His glory, and somehow on this side of eternity, consider it pure joy.