Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Fear of Man

“Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (John 12:42-43)

About three years ago, I had unfriended someone on my Facebook page because, at the time, I had felt that their posts were a little rough around the edges, so to speak, and I wanted to maintain a proper “ministerial” profile. The problem however, was that I knew God was working in and through this person, though their ministry style seemed a little unorthodox and unconventional to me at the time. I knew, deep down in my heart, that to unfriend them would be wrong, but I did it anyway in order to stay in good with the “brothers.” I didn’t fully realize my motives at that point, for I had deceived myself into thinking what I was doing was right.
Several weeks later, I began to notice that something was not “right.” My anointing was not operating like I was used to, and I couldn’t write as fluently, preach or teach, and all around basically felt as though God had left me. This went on for a period of time, and then I sought the Lord in prayer and fasting. He answered me, and told me what the problem was. I contacted this person and made it right, and they have since turned out to be a great blessing in my life, helping me learn to have a different perspective on some things and to get rid of certain preconceived religious thinking.

When Saul of Tarsus was on a murderous rampage and headed to Damascus, Jesus appeared to him in such a way that Saul understood precisely who He was and what He wanted (Acts 9:4). After knocking him off of his horse, He made an amazing statement… “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Jesus wasn’t asking him “Why do you persecute my people?” He asked, “Why do you persecute ME?” He took it personally. What Saul was doing to God’s people, he was doing directly to Jesus.
Jesus also revealed this principle in dealing with sheep and goats at the end of the age. To the goats He said, “I was a hungered and you gave me no drink... In prison and you visited me not…” And so forth, but then He told them, “When you did it not unto the least of these, you did it not unto me…” (Matthew 25:41-45). Many are trying to please those whom through which they can get advantage, those in prominent positions, while those who seem insignificant are cast aside. Jesus was in their midst but they recognized Him not, and many who did recognize Him were ashamed of Him, as they are today.

Back in Jesus’ day, many of the chief rulers in the synagogues believed in Him, but yet they wouldn’t confess Him because of the Pharisees. They were afraid that they were going to get booted out of the church. Their heart was telling them one thing, and the fear of man another. The same thing is happening today. We can have knowledge of what God is doing in a person’s life, but reject them and cast them aside because we are afraid of what church leaders or other congregation members may think.
People may think, “Well, God understands…” No, He doesn’t understand. The fear of man brings a snare, whether it’s fear of persecution, or simply wanting someone’s approval, it still brings a snare (Proverbs 29:25). A snare, by nature, is something that entraps and ensnares, and results in destruction and bondage.

Pontius Pilate knew that there was more to Jesus than what the Pharisees were leading him to believe, and he feared. In fact, his wife even had a dream, warning him to have nothing to do with Jesus (Matthew 27:19), and then Pilate sought all the more to release Him. However, the people shouted, “If you let this man go you are not Caesar’s friend” (John 19:12-13). When Pilate heard these words, he turned Jesus over to be crucified. Pilate had the authority to let Jesus go, but he valued Caesar’s approval more than he did God’s. He was more afraid of Caesar than He was of God. Pilate thought that by symbolically washing his hands of the matter that he could absolve himself of the responsibility. He thought that he could have the approval of men and at the same time, appease God with a religious act. There is no more mention of Pilate in the Bible after this, but tradition reports that he later died a horrible, tragic, and painful death.
The people who were standing on Jesus’ left hand at the end of the age were surprised that they had missed Him (Matthew 25:44). They thought that they knew Jesus, and maybe they had served in church, done many good deeds, and obeyed their leaders, but they didn’t recognize Jesus. They didn’t recognize him working in their midst. Many believe that having gifts of the Spirit manifest in their churches is recognizing Jesus, but this is not the totality of it (Matthew 7:21). These are gifts. Recognizing Jesus is having His heart, and recognizing His workings in His people. It’s what you value. Do you value what Jesus values? Is it the lost soul, or is it the favor of the religious, political order? Is it the brokenhearted and the captive, or the next promotion or preaching engagement? Do you have time for the evangelist or prophet that flies in on the private jet, but yet you simply endure the single mother who comes in with all her “baggage?” What do you value? What is your passion and pursuit?

Proverbs 17:23 says, “A wicked man takes a gift out of the bosom to pervert the ways of judgment. Of course a financial gift (bribe) blinds even a wise man (Exodus 23:8), but a gift can be anything. It doesn’t have to be money (depending on what’s in the heart). Many times it’s the praise and acceptance of men. Balak approached Balaam and offered him riches and honor, but God told him not to go with him. When Balak’s servants returned with a better offer, Balaam went back to God and asked Him Again! Can you imagine? Balaam was blinded (as if God’s going to change His mind for more money and favor). God then allowed Balaam to pursue the idolatry that He was determined to pursue, and He told Him… “GO!”

Judas was blinded by the love of money, and just like Pilate, he deceived himself into believing that he could have it both ways. He thought that he could betray Jesus, and that Jesus would just walk through the crowd of soldiers (or otherwise get away). Judas would be left holding the loot, and still have Jesus for another day (kind of like Clint Eastwood in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”). But when it didn’t turn out that way, he came to his senses but it was too late (Matthew 27:3-5). Satan knows what will make us stumble, and he will target his attacks accordingly. For example, Jesus told Peter, “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times…” Peter adamantly denied, “No way Lord, it’s not going to happen!” But Peter had something on the inside of Him. Jesus knew it, and the devil knew it. It was pride, and self-confidence. Peter had good intentions, but his confidence was in his own strength and ability, and not in the Lord’s. When he came under pressure, he fell. With a love for man’s acceptance or approval in the heart, a person will transgress for as much as a simple compliment (Proverbs 28:21). This is the reason why many young women date and marry wrong guys. The guy knows what to say, and because there’s a craving in the heart for a man’s approval, she’ll throw away her honor and, many times, her whole life, just for a period of perceived acceptance. When we have this in our heart, though it may not be willful, it becomes a form of idolatry, and a snare.
Several years ago, while working for a different company, I delivered a load that I couldn’t do legally in order to appease my boss. I had been “stretching” my log hours, and the Holy Spirit had been convicting me for it. I was doing it because I thought that it was necessary in order to keep my job and my boss happy. After I told him that I couldn’t do it, my boss said, “Find a way!” My inward thought was that “God will understand…” I knew that it was wrong, yet I did it anyway.

God did NOT “understand,” and after I got to Dallas, and thought that my boss would be happy, he was not. He was angry at me for something else. Then I went through two months of hell. Over the next week and a half I received THREE overweight tickets at scales. To put this in perspective, I have only received one overweight ticket in addition to these in over six years of driving over the road. I received three over that two-week period and the fines were substantial. The Lord told me “This is your ticket for cheating on your logs!” He was merciful, because in the end, I only had to pay one of them. Even though I had done something illegal, what deeply offended God was the fact that I had chosen to honor man’s word above His. It became personal.
A month or so after all of this, the opportunity arose again. My boss again asked me to run an illegal load. This time I said no way, and absolutely refused to do it. They made me park my truck at a truck stop, and sent another driver to pick up the trailer, who would run the load. I thought that would be the end of my job, but when I got back to the shop, they were all real happy, treated me like a king, and gave me the best load that I had been given in a long time! I was shocked and perplexed. The Lord said to me, “Favor comes only from me.” God set me free, and this is how He did it. He asked me this question, Who are you going to be more afraid of… ME or them?” (Luke 12:5)

We cannot live to please men and God. We must make a choice. Saul made a choice that day on the road to Damascus, and though he sure didn’t like being blind for several days, in the end, he definitely knew who Jesus was. He would no longer be called Saul, but rather the Apostle Paul, one of the greatest men who would ever walk the earth.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Real Godfather

"For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth." (Deuteronomy 14:2)
If you are a believer in Jesus, then God has chosen you out of all people of the earth to be set apart for Himself, special and highly favored. A royal priesthood, a peculiar people (II Peter 2:9). 

The children of Israel were far from perfect, yet in God's eyes they were the very object of His affection. He would destroy anyone who would threaten or harm them, even if they were "in the wrong," and bless those who would give them even so much as a cup of cold water (Genesis 12:3, Matthew 10:42).

God's system of fairness operates differently than ours. We judge based on circumstances and a natural perspective on equity and justice. However, God's judgment is based on covenant. I recently watched a documentary about a notorious Mafia family. The father was a feared and ruthless enforcer for one of the five Italian crime families, and his daughter was picked up every morning by a driver who took her to school (the driver was not associated with the mob at all, and knew nothing about the family). It was discovered that the driver had attempted to coerce the young, middle-school aged girl into performing a sexual act with him, and the next morning, several men met him by the car, pulled him out, took him to a secluded place and shot him dead. End of story. No trial, no opportunity for explanation. Why? Because he had touched something precious that belonged to them. The apple of their eye (Zechariah 2:8). 

Now, I understand that these were wicked men, and that their actions outside of the law are inexcusable, however, they take care of their own. In a similar manner, our Heavenly Father is jealous over those who belong to Him. Of course God's justice is according to truth against those who would trouble us, but nevertheless, His judgments are fearful, holy, righteous, and true. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God (Matthew 18:6-7, Hebrews 10:31).

"Well that's not love, brother... How can you compare God with the Mafia?" 

But it is love, a very special, jealous kind of love. God is jealous over His people, but we must seek the protection of our Father in order to partake of it rather than attempting to avenge ourselves. King Saul relentlessly sought after David's life, but David deferred judgment to the Lord, even when he had opportunity to take matters into his own hands (I Samuel 24:3-7, 26:7-11). 

David understood covenant relationship, and He knew that God would honor His promises. He knew that he was better off committing his cause to the Lord rather than attempting to take care of matters himself (I Peter 2:23). God commands us to forgive, "turn the other cheek," love our enemies, and do good to those who persecute us, and for this reason it is commonly assumed that we are required to be "doormats," and to be trampled upon at the whim of every wicked man and device. But nothing could be further from the truth. When we forgive, and return blessing for evil, we defer our cause to our Heavenly Father. We give place unto wrath, if wrath is justified (Romans 12:19-20). 

Of course, this requires faith on our part, trust, and suffering in the flesh (denying the fleshly impulse to handle situations ourselves), and holding grudges. We are to trust our Heavenly Father unequivocally, seeking His glory in all things. Much of the time mercy prevails, and God brings victory in unusual, wonderful, and glorious ways. However, our victory is always assured when we walk in God's ways and obey His commands.

We must understand that God is a God of love, but He is also a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). He is the defender of Israel, and protector of all who put their trust in Him (Isaiah 54:17). 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Change Can Be Good

“Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended, but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

Many of us are used to God operating in our lives in a specific way, and when we don’t feel Him moving in a way that we’re used to, we can become anxious, confused, or even defiant. Of course, there can be different reasons why we may not be experiencing God’s presence, but one of the reasons is that God is constantly moving. He never remains stagnant, and though God Himself never changes, times, seasons, and administrations of the Spirit do (I Corinthians 12:5).

Many years ago, Martin Luther (a Roman Catholic at the time) got the revelation that the “just shall live by faith” (Hebrews 10:38) at a time when the church was deeply involved in religious tradition and control. Though this was by no means a new revelation, it had been lost to the church and obscured through the traditions of men. God used Martin Luther to help bring the church back to this foundational truth. It was a “movement” that had a season, and once a foundation had been laid, the “movement” ended and the church was expected to build upon this foundation and move forward (Hebrews 6:1-2). Many indeed did move forward, and the Protestant Reformation was birthed. However, others camped there, and relished in the glory of “bygone days,” and instead of moving forward and building upon the foundation of what God had revealed, they established the Lutheran Church as an icon, a relic, and a divisive symbol instead of continuing on a path that was intended to bring freedom and unity. They did the very same thing that they had accused the Catholics of doing, and it brought many back into bondage (I Corinthians 1:11-13). The devil has used this tactic for thousands of years. In fact, this is precisely why God hid the body of Moses after he died, and why Satan so diligently contended for it (Jude 1:9).

When Moses died, God intended the people to move forward (Joshua 1:2). Joshua was to lead the people across Jordan and into their promise, but they couldn’t adequately follow him while holding onto Moses. Moses needed to remain dead, and not be resurrected by the people. This is how our lives work, we must know when something is dead, and be able to recognize the next phase of what God wants us to step into. We must be willing to adapt to change. A religious spirit will always resist change.

When Jesus appeared on the scene, He did and said nothing that was unscriptural according to the Old Testament or the Law of Moses. But because the Pharisees and Sadducees didn’t have an understanding of what God was doing, they missed the time of their visitation. God had been speaking to them for centuries through prophets and kings, but they couldn’t hear because it was not what they were accustomed to.

The people of God understand the wisdom of God, because they are attuned to the Spirit of God. When Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den, the lions became peaceful, but when Samson ran across a lion, he tore it to pieces (Judges 14:6, Daniel 6:22). Daniel could have said, “I know how this is supposed to be done!” “I remember Samson!” “I must tear the lions to pieces!” But if Daniel had attempted to do this, the book of Daniel would most likely have been cut short. Daniel knew his God, and he was able to discern the correct administration of the Spirit for the season that he was in. For example, today many Christians are persecuting the “prosperity message” of the gospel, not realizing that they are opposing a genuine move of God, a move of God that is as blatant in scripture concerning the end-time church as were the prophetic announcements regarding the birth, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus (Isaiah 60:1-5, Haggai 2:7-9). Sure, there have been abuses, but there are abuses with every move of God. Religious tradition and pride blinds people from seeing God’s call for the hour.

Different seasons bring different mandates, and just because God moved in a certain way once, does not mean that He will do it that way again. Jesus addressed this with the Pharisees who were puffed up and gloating in the fact that if they were alive in the days of their fathers, they would not have killed the prophets, which of course was a bunch of… “Hogwash!” They were full of pride, and could not discern what God was doing presently in their midst (Matthew 23-29-33). Many believers relish in the days of Martin Luther, John Knox, John Wesley, John Calvin, and others, but they persecute the apostles and prophets that God sends them today (if they even believe that there are modern day apostles and prophets). Of course no one is perfect, and all of these early reformers had their problems, and some of them were serious. But religion loves dead preachers and hates and persecutes those who are alive. Why? Because dead preachers are of little threat, as they bring no present day anointing or revelation.

God’s working in our lives as individuals also changes. There may have been times in our lives when we did nothing but pray, but then things change. If we are not careful, we will think that we have missed God, and that He is not talking to us, when in fact, He is. If we attempt to pray in a season when we should be working, we will grow weary, frustrated and discouraged. There will be no grace on our lives to do what we are attempting to do, because we’re not supposed to be doing it! A wise man discerns both time and judgment (Ecclesiastes 8:5). He knows the season, and he knows what he is supposed to be doing in that season. “Well, I long for the good ‘ole days!” No, forget about the good ‘ole days! The Apostle Paul declared by the Holy Spirit, “Forget the things which are behind, and reach forth unto those things which are before you…” God has something else for you to do. The devil will try to hold us in the past, whether by reminiscing about pleasant memories, or rehearsing past failures, offences and hurts. Jesus told us that after putting our hand to the plow, looking back, we become unfit for the Kingdom of God (Luke 9:62). Religion always looks back, but God always moves forward.

Understanding time and judgment will cause longevity in our walk with the Lord, for Jesus said “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).There is a rest that God wants us to enter into; a place of rest where we cease from our own works, and take His strength upon us. It is a place of peace, a place of power, and a place of lasting victory. This place of rest can only be found as we adjust and align ourselves to the way that God is directing us in the proper time.

As a child matures, the way that a parent relates to that child changes; there may have been a time
when you felt the presence of the Lord all the time, but now God wants you to step into a new level of maturity and live by faith. God hasn’t left you, but He has declared to every believer, “The just shall live by faith…” The Holy Spirit admonished us to labor to enter into His rest (Hebrews 4:9-10). This seems like a paradox in terms, but it is not. We must labor to keep our mind renewed, and labor to resist the temptation to organize and orchestrate our own lives, independent of God. Much of the time (though we don’t say it consciously) we say, “Well, you just sit right back there Jesus!” “I’m your man!” “I’ve got this thing covered!” “You’re going to be so proud of me!” And then we fall flat on our face. God wants to live His victorious life through us; He doesn’t want us expending fleshly energy attempting to “please” Him (I Corinthians 1:29).

God wants to be involved in every facet of our lives, and He desires that we have perfect peace and victory one hundred percent of the time (Isaiah 26:3, II Corinthians 2:14). He desires to orchestrate our lives in perfect precision through the working of His grace in our lives. He wants us to abide there and to never come out.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"God Gave Me a Promise!"

“Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions…” (Hebrews 11:33)

When we receive a promise from God, we get excited about it… “I received a promise from God! God’s going to…” We hear this so often, and then several years later, the person is frustrated (and sometimes even backslidden), believing that God’s Word and their faith doesn’t work. But did God fail to perform what He had promised?

First of all, I’m not implying that just because a promise doesn’t come to pass in the time and manner that we think it should, that there has been a failure on our part or on Gods. Sometimes things can take many years. No, I’m talking about that thing which you know is gone; the opportunity that was missed, or you’ve found yourself wondering, “How did I get here?”

One of the craftiest deceptions of the devil normally occurs right after we receive a promise from God, either given to us by the Holy Spirit for our lives, or a promise in His written Word. Satan will whisper in our ear, “That’s right, God gave you a promise! He’s going to bring it to pass; someday it’s going to happen!” This sounds “religiously correct,” and the devil will deceive us into thinking that God’s going to just “do it,” and that there’s no need to fight (I Timothy 6:12-14, Jude 1:3), stand unwaveringly on God’s Word, resist the devil, walk in obedience, and diligently apply the principles of faith on a consistent basis.

Many have found themselves asking, “What happened? “Things were going so well and then all of a sudden…” It’s because you failed to fight, and contend earnestly for whatever it was that God had promised you! Jesus told us that the things of the Kingdom are obtained by those possessing a “violent” and aggressive posture of faith, laying hold of God’s Word and promises, declaring and confessing them, and refusing to let go, doubt or waiver (Matthew 11:12, James 1:6-8).

Well God understands how tough it’s been on me, and…”

God does indeed understand, and that’s why He’s warned us of the dangers of allowing the cares and burdens of this world to shipwreck our faith (Mark 4:14-20, I Timothy 1:19, Luke 21:34). Most people have the idea that God can just “do whatever He wants too,” and that He’ll make it all work out alright in the end, simply because He “loves us.” But that is a lie. God does love you, but there are laws by which the Kingdom of God operates, just as there are natural laws, and these laws are unchangeable (Psalms 119:89, Hebrews 6:18).

Many people think that if something happens in their lives, then it must have been “God’s will,” or that God “allowed it.” But nothing could be farther from the truth. If God could simply just “fix” anything that He wanted to, then He wouldn’t have had to send Jesus to the cross. He would have simply made an “executive order” and fixed the sin problem. Jesus wouldn’t have cried out in the Garden of Gethsemane, “If it is possible, let this cup pass...,” (Matthew 26:39) because there would have been an easier way. But there was no other way.

A price had to be paid for our redemption, and it had to be done lawfully (II Timothy 2:5). In the same manner, if God had to align Himself with the integrity of His own Word in sending Jesus, then we must also align ourselves with God’s Word and His commands. We must strive lawfully according to the principles of the Kingdom in order to obtain a promise and walk in victory over the works of the enemy. Where there is ignorance, the devil will take full advantage to steal, kill and destroy (Hosea 4:6, John 10:10).

When I was a young boy, I liked to play Monopoly, but I wouldn’t play unless I could be the banker. If I began to lose, I would change the rules of the game (and of course the “new rules” would always benefit me). My opponent was ignorant of my tactics, and I would always win. We have a word for this, of course, we call this “cheating!” But God doesn’t cheat. His laws are right, and they are just, and they never change (Hebrews 6:18).

The devil is the one who changes the rules in order to benefit him (Daniel 7:25). Actually, he doesn’t really “change” the rules, but rather deceives people into violating God’s already established laws, perverting them and causing them to work against us rather than for us, as God intended. The first example of this was in the Garden of Eden where Satan provoked Eve to violate God’s commandment, bringing sin and death into the human race (Genesis 3:4-5).

Living and operating according to the course of this world, and the curse associated with it is easy. All we have to do is whatever “feels good” at the moment, take the path of “least resistance,” and float effortlessly downstream. However, the end of this path of “ease” is destruction, misery and death.

When God gives a promise, the opposite is true. We must lay down the ways of this world, discipline our flesh, renew our minds to think as God thinks, walk in His ways, and take up the armor and weapons of God. It becomes a battle, and we must fight the good fight of faith (I Timothy 6:12). The moment that you receive your promise, you become a target for the devil and his demonic forces. He will attempt every tactic to see to it that your promise never comes to pass. The sad reality is that most of the time, he is successful (but he doesn’t have to be).

The working of our faith is like steering a ship. The Apostle Paul, who had much experience on the sea and had endured shipwreck on more than one occasion, used this illustration to describe the end result of a person who refuses to stand and fight, gets distracted, or grows weary and gives up (I Timothy 1:19). Failure to fight and contend for our promise can result in shipwreck.

If we understand anything about shipwrecks, we should understand that there are different kinds of shipwrecks. In other words, shipwrecks of varying degrees. Not all shipwrecks are fatal to the ship, and a ship can run aground and still be salvaged. Sometimes they may need a little work (Luke 13:8), but after this, they are seaworthy again. Shipwrecks can occur when our faith is either neglected or misapplied.

There are different things that can cause faith to be neglected. For example, unbelief or distractions of various kinds; offense, lusts of other things, or an incorrect focus on money (rather than God as our source of all good things).

Faith can be misapplied by having a wrong “focal point.” In other words, we are fixated on the “anthill” that has become a problem in our backyard, rather than speaking to mountains. We must apply our faith to what God has said, not to what seems comfortable. God knows what we are capable of, and has a plan to bring us to victory if we will obey Him. We may think that we cannot do what God has asked of us to do, but that’s not true. We usually think this way because we are relying on our own strength and resources, rather than God’s. Sometimes we allow other people to put us in a box. We listen to what they say about us and about our future rather than what God has said, or we seek their approval rather than God’s approval (Joshua 14:8). This can be disastrous, and shipwreck our lives for good if we don’t recognize it and repent.

God desires that we receive every good thing that He has for us and that every purpose and promise that He has ordered for our lives is realized and fulfilled (Jeremiah 29:11). But we must fight, and we must do it by faith. The things of the Kingdom of God are not possessed by the faint-hearted, or by cowards (Revelation 21:8). It takes a strong man or woman to fight and win the battles of this age, and to overcome, but our strength is of the Lord (Ephesians 6:10).

Monday, December 17, 2012

Immeasurable Grace

“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness…” (II Corinthians 12:9)

The Apostle Paul had to learn a valuable lesson. Most people read this verse and believe that Jesus was saying “no” to Paul, when he had asked Him to remove the “thorn” (the demonic spirit that was harassing him). Of course God was not going to come along and simply “remove” the devil in Paul’s life, any more than He would do that for any mature believer today. Every believer must resist the devil for themselves. God’s not going to exempt anyone from having to do this (the devil has a legal right to be in the earth for the time being). God has deputized us, armed us, and left us here to “occupy” until he comes (Luke 19:13). We have the privilege and responsibility of resisting the devil and casting him out. Jesus demonstrated this and taught us how to do it, and was simply telling Paul to do what he was supposed to be doing anyway. There was sufficient grace available for Paul to overcome, and to do all that God had called him to do, and that very same grace is available to you and me today.

When I was in college, having to work full time and also tend to needs of the family, write ministry letters, pray, preach and study the Word, things could get quite “hectic.” It was difficult to even comprehend how I was going to get that ten-page report done for class within the seven-day time frame that I was given. I would sit down and attempt to write and nothing inspiring would come forth. It was horrible at times, but through it all the Holy Spirit was teaching me how to access the grace of God and bring it into my life in a greater measure.

God wants to orchestrate our lives perfectly, so that everything “works” according to His pre-determined, divine order (Ephesians 2:10). When things are done according to God’s order, our lives can be arranged in such a way that can be fulfilling, joyous, and bear lasting fruit; the only stipulation is that it must be done by the Spirit, through faith, and not by the arm of the flesh (II Chronicles 32:8, Jeremiah 17:5).

Sometimes God tells us to do something, and we get under pressure concerning what He has told us to do. The devil will whisper, “You’d better do something now, or nothing’s going to get done!” but God doesn’t expect us to “do” the works through our own natural efforts (Hebrews 4:10). Jesus told us that His yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30, Ephesians 6:10). The reason why we struggle much of the time is because we have not taken His yoke upon ourselves, but rather we carry our own yoke, and the devil comes along and adds more baggage to it.

When I was in school and had an important paper to do, I would sit down to study and write, and then get frustrated. I would say, “Lord, I have to do this!” “It’s due Monday, and I have ten pages to write!” But then He would tell me that it was Friday night, and that I should relax and watch a movie, and spend time with the family, or do something else (God wants to be involved in even the simplest aspects of our lives). This was hard for me to do, but I learned to enter into His rest and enjoy the season that I was in.

We can learn to enjoy whatever season that we are in, even if it’s something that we don’t particularly like at the time. I would “cast the care” of the school project over on the Lord, and sit down and watch the movie; usually God would speak to me throughout the movie, and I would enjoy it, and then sometime over the weekend there would come strength and inspiration from the Holy Spirit for the project that I needed to do. I knew when it was the right time to sit down and write, and when I did, I would accomplish in two or three hours what would normally have taken a week. I had accessed the grace of God, and when I put my hand diligently to the project at the proper time, it all just came together (Romans 5:2).

Jesus commanded us to go into all of the world and preach the gospel (Mark 16:15). His command is for every believer, but most of the time we visit extremes. We either don’t do anything at all, or we come up with all kinds of “ideas” and programs that bear no lasting fruit. God isn’t looking for us to do wonderful works for Him, but rather He is looking for our willingness and availability. If we are willing, and we make ourselves available to Him, then He will open the doors and strengthen us; He will give us wisdom and boldness to do it. He doesn’t expect us to do what he asks us to do in our own strength (Acts 1:8).

Jesus walked by the Spirit throughout His entire earthly ministry, and submitted Himself to the will of the Father. When Jesus had heard that Lazarus was sick, instead of rushing to his side, He stayed right where He was for two more days (John 11:6). He was not afraid of what men thought, nor did He yield to their pressure. What was He doing? He was listening to the Holy Spirit. He told His disciples, “Walk while it is yet day, while you have the light” (John 11:9-10, 12:35). He was telling them that it was important to walk while the light is present, at the proper time, and not according to natural reasoning, circumstances or pressure.

The devil will attempt to use all types of pressure in order to disrupt this process and get us out of God’s order, timing and will (Mark 4:14-20). King Saul, who had been fighting with the Philistines, had been instructed to wait for Samuel, but instead, the pressure of the battle and of the people got to Him, and he forced himself to offer the sacrifice himself, before it was time. This action, among other acts of disobedience, cost him the kingdom (I Samuel 13:8-14).

In the wilderness, God had told the children of Israel to gather the amount of manna that they needed for each particular day; if they gathered more, it would rot. God gives sufficient grace in order to deal with the challenges at hand today; He’s not going to join us in worrying about tomorrow, because there will be sufficient grace for tomorrow when tomorrow comes. We get into trouble when we try to solve tomorrow’s problems today (Matthew 6:34).

God has an order by which He wants our lives to function, and entering into His rest (even though it’s a place of perfect peace, contentment, and assured victory) seems to be the area of greatest struggle for many of us. The reason for this is that we, by nature, like to be in control. But in order to enter into God’s rest, we must relinquish control. The Holy Spirit once told me, “Many of my people are out there working for me, but few of them are working with me.” We must allow God to work through us, by getting His plan, and then obeying His promptings and leadings.

The degree in which we’re able to surrender will determine to what degree that we experience true and lasting victory, peace and joy, and will also determine the degree in which we are effective for the Kingdom of God.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Spiritual Weapons and Authority

“Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil…” (Ephesians 6:11)

Satan hates spiritual authority, and next to speaking in other tongues, it is one of the most persecuted doctrines in the Bible. In fact, when Jesus stood up and read the scriptures in the synagogue from a posture of authority, it so infuriated the Pharisees that they immediately set out to kill him (Luke 4:15-30, Mark 1:22). Satan attacks the revelation of God’s power with false doctrine, excesses and extremes.

Many years ago, a woman asked me to pray for her children who were afflicted in their bodies with sickness. When she brought me to them I perceived that they were being afflicted and oppressed by the devil; I took authority over the spirits and commanded them to leave (Mark 16:17). The woman, however, went into a rage, began to scream, and came close to attacking me physically. She was offended because of the way that I prayed; in her eyes, I had suggested that her children were somehow “possessed” by the devil. I was able to calm her down to some degree, but it was quite an experience. This same woman was also adamantly opposed to speaking in tongues (as her denomination didn’t believe in it), but a couple of months later she got filled with the Holy Spirit herself, and when she did, she prayed in tongues all that night, glory to God!

More recently, I visited a church in Missouri where they seemed to love the Lord. There was a man there who had just gotten out of prison, and had apparently known the people at the church before he had gotten into trouble. He had rededicated his life to the Lord in prison, but had been troubled and apprehensive because the devil was already launching some serious attacks against him, and so he had asked for prayer. Several church leaders prayed for him, and then several members of the congregation prayed also, and when they were finished they asked if anyone else wanted to pray. I felt impressed to pray for him, and so I did. I prayed the prayer of faith, declared the Word of God over his situation, and then bound the devil’s influence and activities. The people had been extremely friendly to me, but all of that changed after I prayed. The preacher said to the congregation, “Only God has power!” (A veiled reference to my prayer) They also said several other things in order to discredit and refute what had just taken place. Nobody spoke to me after the service.

Another example (and perhaps one of my favorites, because it has a happy ending), was many years ago. I was attending a church in Iowa (it was my home church at the time), and the pastor was so excited about what God was doing in my life. I had recently been born-again, and Jesus had set me free from a riotous, rebellious and destructive lifestyle; He had also set me free from a serious drug and alcohol habit. The pastor wanted me to lead the morning Bible study for the next two weeks; to share the Word of God and give my testimony (as he would be going out of town). I happily agreed, of course!

The first Sunday the people loved me; they were so thrilled, and I was happy to share with them. But later that day I went with a friend to another church and received the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues. It was life-changing, and I couldn’t wait to share it with my friends back at the church. “They will be so excited for me!” I had thought to myself (I was brand new in the Lord, and doctrinal and denominational sects and divisions were unknown to me at the time).

So the next Sunday I went back and shared in the Bible study… “Guess what God did in my life this week…!” Well, needless to say, it didn’t turn out the way that I had envisioned. The people began arguing with one another, and the atmosphere turned increasingly hostile. One woman picked up the table and slammed it down screaming at me, “It’s of the devil!” It was a fairly large church, and when the pastor returned, he came home to a colossal mess. They had to have a special service the following Sunday in order to “deal with the controversy.”

The power of God and the gifts of the Holy Spirit are a threat to the devil, and in this instance, he was certainly not going to allow it to go any further (if he had any say-so in the matter). Unfortunately, Satan usually has much to say about what goes on in denominational churches, and many of our “Spirit-filled” churches also (he just uses different tactics).

Though it seemed like a fiasco, the Lord was at work in the midst of it all. Approximately seven years later I again encountered the woman that had picked up the table, but this time her demeanor was much different. We were at another local church, a Spirit-filled church in town, and she approached me and asked, “Do you remember me?” I didn’t because she was a heavy woman at the time, and had lost a lot of weight. I replied that I didn’t remember. She said, “I am the woman that picked up the table and yelled at you…” She told me that what I had shared that morning had made her so angry that she searched the scriptures (apparently to discredit the teaching), and discovered that what I was telling her was the truth. She and her husband had gone to this other church and had gotten filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke with tongues, and had been going strong for quite some time! Their lives were changed, and they were so full of excitement for the Lord.

Testimonies such as these abound; you probably have some stories of your own. The reason that Satan is so threatened by spiritual authority is that it takes away his ability to control. A powerless and ignorant Christian is easy to control and manipulate, and of course the devil doesn’t want anyone to receive Jesus Christ and become born-again, but it doesn’t disturb him too much if a new Christian receives salvation, but remains basically ignorant of the power of God and the spiritual weapons and armor that is available to him or her. The real “game-changer,” in the eyes of the devil, happens when that same person receives “power from on high,” the “turbo charging” that comes from heaven (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:8).

Many believers say in their hearts, “Well, I don’t need all that gifts of the Spirit stuff!” “I’m doing just fine without it!” “After all, if God wants something done, He’ll just do it!”

This is a common misconception, but nothing could be farther from the truth. God has given us spiritual armor and weapons for a purpose (Ephesians 6:10-18), not just so we can sing songs about them and then go out the door of the church and get beat up by the devil. “Well, God understands that I’m busy, and I’m tired…” Sure, God understands, but so does the devil, and we’re in a war; we’re soldiers on a battlefield (II Timothy 2:3-4).

Can you picture a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan? “Well the government understands that I’m hungry and tired, so I’m going to just sit down right here and…” So he puts down his armor, his weapons, and sits down to eat, and then goes to sleep. This person, no matter how sincere, will probably become a casualty of war.

Jesus shared certain things with us (such as the parable of the sower) (Mark 4:1-20) in order to teach us that we have a responsibility to keep our hearts free from entanglements that would choke and steal the Word of God; He warned us of the consequences of unfruitfulness that would follow. Satan will whisper, “Don’t worry, God understands; you don’t have to work so hard at this,” “God will cover you anyway by His grace!” “His promises will still come to pass in your life!” But that’s not what God’s Word says.

The devil attends church too, and usually he’s lounging around in the corner, either yawning or laughing his fanny off because there’s so little faith and authority being exercised. Instead, people are running around waving flags, blowing shofars, pretending to “punch” the devil with their fists, or simply praying “humbly” to God, asking Him to do something that is purely our responsibility (like binding and loosing, casting out the devil, or making decrees and commands according to God’s Word (Job 22:28, Matthew 19:18, Mark 11:23). We are ambassadors for the Kingdom of God, and carry the right, privilege, responsibility and authority to conduct business on behalf of our King, King Jesus (II Corinthians 5:20).

Jesus walked and spoke with authority because He knew the heart and will of the Father, and stood as His ambassador in the earth, in His stead. As the Father has sent Jesus, so has Jesus now sent you and I (John 20:21). We hear His voice, keep His commands, and stand as an ambassador in His stead. The secret to walking in spiritual authority is not in have some “great anointing” with lots of goose bumps (and many times an equivalent amount of weirdness), but rather it lies in our submission to the one who sent us (Jesus). The more we humble ourselves under His mighty hand and submit to His Lordship, the greater degree of authority we carry (Luke 7:8), and when we decree a thing, God will back our decree as it was His own (because it is).

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Times and Seasons

“Whoso keepeth the commandment shall feel no evil thing: and a wise man’s heart discerneth both time and judgment.” (Ecclesiastes 8:5)

God has times and seasons for every purpose, and as we learn how to cooperate with Him in these areas, we experience greater victory and peace in our lives.

When the Jews went into captivity in Babylon, God was very specific that there would be a season of time before He released them from their captivity. He instructed them to “settle in” and get comfortable because it would be seventy years before it was all over (Jeremiah 29:4-6, 10). He was explicit in what He wanted them to do in that season and those who obeyed experienced His blessing and favor, even while they were in a state of captivity.

Jesus spoke about times and seasons while He walked the earth, exhorting us to be sensitive to them (Matthew 16:2-3). After His resurrection, His disciples were eager for their land to be freed from Gentile occupation, and asked Him when this would take place, but Jesus redirected their attention to the season that they were in (Acts 1:6-8). Many of us are missing our present season by attempting to walk in a season that doesn’t pertain to us. What season does God have you in today? What has He asked you to do right now?

King David had a dream in his heart to build a house for the Lord. His heart was in the right place, but he didn’t have all the information, and even though David’s heart burned with passion to do this thing for the Lord, it wasn’t the proper time. David’s job was to prepare, and Solomon his son would build the house in the proper season (I Chronicles 17:3, 11-12).

In the book of Haggai, the Jews misread the season that they were in. They judged the season through their circumstances because the enemies of God had forbidden them from completing the work that had been started by God’s order (Ezra 1:1-4). For this reason they assumed that it wasn’t time to build (Haggai 1:2). God, however, sent a very different message through the prophet Haggai, telling them that it was indeed time to build, and that it had been since the days of Cyrus (Haggai 1:5-11). The season doesn’t change because circumstances change; in fact, the Jews suffered the consequences for being out of the will of God even though they had been unable to do what God had required (Haggai 1:6). When they got serious, God opened a door (Ezra 5:2, 6:7). Many times, all we have to do is get passionate enough to fight for what God has given us, and then He will help us (Matthew 11:12, James 2:20).

God is looking for a people that will follow and obey Him and not yield to the fear of men, nor seek their approval. He is looking for a people that will not be moved by circumstances, but will cooperate with His timing and judgment. When we live by the Spirit, others may consider us “weird” because God doesn’t
always move according to man’s parameters. We must let go of our “reputation” if we are going to walk with God and please Him (I Corinthians 7:23, Galatians 1:10, Hebrews 11:6).

Jesus walked in obedience to the Father at all times, regardless of the opinions of men, or the religious pressure of His day. When He was told that Lazarus was sick, He stayed right where He was until He heard the Father say, “Go...” He didn’t rush to Lazarus’ side to lay hands on him and heal him (John 11:6), even though He was urged to do so by Lazarus’ sisters. Can you picture this today? “I asked the preacher to come and pray, but he refused!” In fact, by the time Jesus got to Lazarus, Lazarus had died. God had a greater purpose, and Jesus told his disciples (who were too afraid to go anyway) “Are there not twelve hours in the day?” “…If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not…” (John 11:9-10). He was telling them to cooperate with the timing of God, and walk in the light of that season.

When God moves, we must move, when He stands still, we must stand still. In the wilderness, the children of Israel were led by a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day; when the pillar moved, the whole camp moved, and when the pillar stood still, the camp stood still (Nehemiah 9:12).

King David had been King over Israel for a long time; he had fought many battles, and had earned the respect of his men and of the nation. He no doubt, at that point, felt entitled to stay behind and rest while all of his men went out to battle. However, he stood still in a season when he should have moved, and the devil was waiting for him there (II Samuel 11:1-2). Satan’s objective is to get us out of God’s timing and will through lies, deception, manipulation and pressure.

Several years ago, the Lord spoke to me, “Everything that I have for you is on the path that I have called you to walk.” In other words, if we abide on the path that God has laid before us, and obey the leading of the Holy Spirit, we will find everything that we need and desire along the way (John 15:4-5).

The way God moved and dealt with us in the past may be different from where He wants to take us now, and in the future. There are seasons of intense prayer and warfare, and then there are seasons of work, and seasons of rest. There are seasons of fellowship and there are seasons where we are hidden away with God. It’s important to stay on the cutting-edge of what God is doing right now. Being “on fire” for God means that we are content and faithful in whatever season that we are in. It’s not all about the “shout,” but rather in our faithfulness and obedience.

When God is finished with a particular thing, it’s over. Moses was used by God in a powerful and miraculous way, but there came a time when God said to Joshua, “Moses my servant is dead” (Joshua 1:2). The time in the wilderness was over, and the people were to follow Joshua into the promise, though many of them never let go of Moses. There are many today that have never let go of past leaders and moves of God. They want to swing from the chandeliers, roll around on the floor and run around the sanctuary when God wants them to sit down and listen, to learn of Him and “be still and know that He is God” (Psalms 46:10).

Martin Luther was used powerfully by God to restore revelation to the church that the just shall “live by faith.” However, the people, instead of receiving what God wanted to show them and then move forward into greater levels of maturity, they built a “shrine” unto it and called it the Lutheran Church, a thing that God explicitly condemned in scripture (I Corinthians 1:11-13, 3:3-5).

Now I’m not picking on Lutherans, you’ve got Catholics, Baptists, Pentecostals, Pentecostal Holiness, “Word of Faith,” Methodists, Presbyterians, and the list goes on. We label and categorize ourselves, splintering the body of Christ. This is not what God intended for His church, and is also the very reason that He hid the body of Moses from the children of Israel after Moses had died (Deuteronomy 34:5-6, Jude 1:9).

There are times of “doing” and times of “waiting,” and waiting can be just as important as “doing.” When we move when God says “move,” there is a reward, and when we wait when God says “wait,” there is an equal reward for obedience (I Samuel 15:22). The prophet Samuel told King Saul to wait and do nothing until He returned (I Samuel 13:8), but Saul grew impatient and forced himself to move before the proper time (Vs. 11-12). This act, coupled with several other incidences, cost him the Kingdom.

Satan will use any tactic that he can in order to pull God’s people out of the proper timing. We must continue to believe and do what God has told us to do regardless of the influence that comes from other people, our own reasoning and logic, emotional pressure, circumstances, or anything else that would come to abort God’s plan. It takes a strong man or woman of God to stand steadfast and not waiver, but strength is available from the Lord (Ephesians 6:10). God spoke to Joshua and commanded him to be strong and fear not; nor could he turn from the right hand or to the left, but he must abide in the proper timing and judgment of the Lord (Joshua 1:6-7).