Monday, December 29, 2008

Foundations of the Spirit-Filled Life - A Preview

Have you ever wondered what it takes to do some of the things that the apostles did? Do you want to be closer to God, witness signs and wonders? The book of Acts, chapter 2 gives us all the information we need to know. Here are seven steps to becoming a Christian who walks in the ways of the first century Christians. How we take these steps is as personal and unique as we are, and ultimately up to the depth of relationship we have with the Lord Jesus.

Entering into the process of sanctification we find seven foundational steps for living the spirit-filled life. If we reject anyone of these, we will not be able to live in power and purity, nor sense the assurance of salvation, or effectivly perform whatever ministry God has called us to.

-1 Salvation through faith in Jesus – Acts 2:41(a) “Then those who gladly received his word.”

Getting to this step, for some, can be quite a long process, but Romans 10:9-10 is the bar that we must meet. We need to confess Jesus with our lips and receive Him in our hearts. This is only the first step because there is more to Christianity then just glorious salvation!

-2 Water Baptism - Acts 2:41(b) “were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.”

Although I do not believe that water baptism is a requirement for salvation, I believe that it is an important step in growing as a Christian. Some see it as a step of obedience and others as identifying with the death and resurrection of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I view it as part of the relational "pie." This act/experience is an important facet of knowing and relating to our Savior. We don't have to have dessert with our salvation experience, but it sure does taste good.

-3 Baptism of the Holy Spirit – Acts 2:33 (b) “Received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit.

Step three is important to understanding the fullness of the godhead in us. The Holy Spirit is our comforter, our teacher; One who convicts us of sin and empowers us to do what the Father is doing. The Holy Spirit is a witness to the resurrection of Jesus. Without the activity of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives, our Christian walk is mostly a lot of lip service to the biblical belief system, and belief is not faith. A relationship with the Jesus, through the Holy Spirit; God's voice in our lives, God's power to preform the supernatural through us, and the seal and assurance of our salvation.

-4 Study - Acts 2:42 (a) And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine

Without putting on the mind of Christ, and having a "sword" that separates the soul from the spirit, we are bound to make mistakes and fall into sin. We will have little wisdom in times of trouble, and we may even lead others astray.

-5 Fellowship - Acts 2:42 (b) and fellowship,

We can’t be apart from the body of Christ endlessly. Even Paul while in prison “kept the faith.” Sure there are some that are isolated, but the norm is to be in a body and bear one another’s burdens, while showing kindness and love to the brethren.

-6 Communion - Acts 2:42 (c) in the breaking of bread,

Remembering Jesus is the bases of communion. Breaking bread can take many different forms, but it is the heartfelt remembrance of the work done on the cross that is central to this sacrament.

-7 Prayer - Acts 2:42 (d) and in prayers.

Prayer comes in many different forms. There is praise, intercession, seeking, directive and prophetic prayer. It is more than talking to God, it is deep calling deep; a place to hear His voice for your life and for others.




I am working on a new book which I hope will be available sometime in the early Spring. These previews are rough drafts of stories and biblical insights that I'll be including.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Testimonies - The Cardboard Kind

This morning I received a comment on an old blog. It was regarding this video I found some time ago on YouTube. It's been viewed more than 3 million times, and I think it's worth viewing again.

Revelation 12:11 They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.



LINK TO VIDEO

Friday, December 26, 2008

Gifts - A Great Time to Receive

This blog is not about Christmas, even though it was just yesterday that we enjoyed family, friends, food, more food and gifts! Today's blog is aimed at the believer. It may be beneficial for leaders, but it is for the average Christian wondering what they might do to serve God in a Supernatural way.

For many years, I heave heard that spiritual gifts were contained in three passages of the Bible. 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4:11 and Romans 12. I am going to gracefully disagree with lumping them all together. I believe that each list has a distinct purpose in serving God, and the Body of Christ. For this blog, I am going to focus on just the ones listed here:

1 Corinthians 12:7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines."

One of my pet peeves in the church, is people that say they believe in something ("Oh its in the Bible."), but can't seem to tell you much about what they believe. This type of behavior would be expected from a baby Christian. But I have run across this with pastors and leaders too. Worse, they are trying to convince someone else to believe it!

When it comes to gifting the church, we can't just decide that we'll only recognize one or two of them. Here, Paul lists nine, which are available to every true believer. I am not going to discuss the criteria, but let me simply say that if you never see the fruit of these gifts, then you should check out your theology with God. These gifts should be fairly common in your day-to-day life... along with the fruit of the Spirit outlined in Galatians 5:22.

Because I have never met a minister that could give an example of each of the nine gifts given in this verse, I am going to to do it now.

-1 Message (word) of wisdom - Luke 20:19-26 Here Jesus is potentially trapped between religion and politics. He is asked about paying taxes and giving to the work of God. He said to them, "Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." It goes on to say they were astonished! This same gift, the word of wisdom, astonishes the Pharisees again in the account of the woman taken in adultery, found in John 7. The word of wisdom always provides an astonishing understanding of a situation.

-2 Message (word) of knowledge - John 4:4-42 - Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at the well during the midday. Why? She was an outcast or she would have been drawing water with the other woman early in the morning. Jesus receives a word of knowledge about her saying, "for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband." It is certain this got her attention; to such a degree that she told the men in town. The word of knowledge is knowing of a past event or fact. It is primarily used to get the attention of the listener, giving credibility to additional information. We often see it used to identify someone that a healing is about to follow.

-3 Faith (word of faith) - Mark 10:52 Jesus told him, "Go. Your faith has made you well." At once the man could see again, and he began to follow Jesus down the road. The word of faith is not a word of knowledge or prophesy, but it is similar. This supernatural faith allows a person to believe God for a miracle or healing and receive it. It is not something that is conjured up in the emotions, but real faith that believes that which is not seen. It is the "knowingness" that God will move on your behalf, or someone else's. Most of the examples in the Bible are tied to healing, such as the woman with the issue of blood Luke 8:40-48, or the Centurion. But we cannot limit our faith to only healing.

-4 Gifts of healing - The Bible is filled with many healings too numerous to list. There is an important footnote to healing, and this is that it is plural. My sense is that certain people have gifting for certain types of healing. It could be for physical healing, emotional healing, the breaking of curses or the casting out of demons. Each one has it's place in the Body of Christ. The realm of healing is so diverse that one person is rarely anointed to heal every kind of disease and sickness. It is certainly possible, but my experience is that some seem to be wonderful with physical healing, and others with emotional healing, while others concentrate on kicking the demonic to the street.

-5 Miraculous powers - John 2: 1-11 Jesus turned the water into wine. Pretty spectacular don't you think? And he went on to multiply the loaves and fishes too. It is interesting to note that miracles are not healing. These are supernatural events that take place outside of the human body.

-6 Prophecy - Act 21:7-14 Paul was in Ceasaria and received a prophesy about his incarceration in Jerusalem. Again, there are many instances of prophesy (knowing the future), but I like this one because it is believers acting as Jesus would.

-7 Distinguishing between spirits - Acts 16:18 - Paul was followed around by a demon possessed girl, and after some time, he decided to deal with it directly. It is not prudent to cast out every demon you come across. More importantly, this is distinguishing between spirits. It is knowing when something that looks good is bad, and also seeing God at work in horrifying and terrible situations.

-8 Speaking in different kinds of tongues (languages) - Some say that the day of Pentecost was this. I will respectfully disagree. I believe that was a miracle simply because the speakers did not need interpretation. In the book of Acts some were baptized in the spirit and began to speak in tongues and other prophesied. This gift is really a prophecy in another language, which during a service should rightfully be interpreted.

-9 Interpretation of tongues (languages) - these last gift actually does not have Biblical example. We do know this gifts exists, because it is, A) part of the list, and B) there are instructions for using it in 1 Corinthians chapter 14.

There are many teachings on these gifts, and how you use and receive them. Here is where I stand. I think they are available to every true believer that desires them. And most often they seem to operate through those that have experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit. You can debate how one is baptized in the Holy Spirit for the rest of eternity, but I would rather see you ask God for wisdom, and start desiring these gifts, both of which are commanded in the Bible.

I do not think all believers use all 9 gifts on a regular basis. Remember, we are a body, and God is smart enough not to give every mission to the same man or woman. He has designed it so that we rely on each other.

There are two schools of thought, one is that these gifts are a one time "grace-let" sent from God through you; a vessel, to use in your personal ministry. I also subscribe to the fact that a certain person has been imparted one of more of these gifts, and will operate in a few or them on a very regular basis.

I believe that it is rare for a believer to have all nine gifts. Again, I have heard this, but not seen the fruit of it. The Bible does say that we can all prophesy, so that in addition to one or more of the others is more probably the norm.

I have written on this subject before in much broader terms, you can read that HERE.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

'Twas the Night Before Christmas

As I sit here in my little office, I can see a few feet of snow out the window. My teenagers are on their way to celebrate Jesus' birthday. My shopping is done, and I ran a few errands for my wife too. I have all the ingredients for my hor d'ourves. The Christmas cards just arrived thanks to Fed-Ex. We'll be calling them New Year's cards. I am thinking about what church will be like tonight - it's a new place. I am looking forward to a Merry Christmas.

Every year I take some time off at Christmas because I really enjoy the season. I hear the excitement in my kids voices about the gifts they hope to receive. My youngest wanted to sit on Santa's lap-- "You know Dad," she said, "the real Santa is the one where you work." In doing a little shopping, I heard parents just as excited to give their children a gift... so much so, as I walk the aisles of department stores and ride mall escalators, I often hear "This will be an early Christmas gift." It is an exciting season!

I remember my early Christmases. I still have a letter that I wrote Santa in first grade, the wooden angels glued carefully in the corners. There were the Christmas pageants where most of the kids forgot their lines. I looked forward to receiving a few matchbox cars-- the coveted Ford Anglia #6 -- that was the best Christmas. My mother did such a great job of stuffing the stockings with fruit, nuts, candy and small gifts. Beneath the tree were often dozens of packages with long awaited treasures - well except for the clothes - in my mind they didn't count! Mom even had a secret wrapping paper for Santa's gifts.

As a teen I looked forward to getting record albums from artists Steve Miller and Yes, accompanied by a note from my brother which read "Do not play this junk when I am home!" I remember going with a friend to Hartford to see the lights in the city. Another one I drove around visiting my friends in the midst of a snow storm.

Jesus was a long way off.

Some time after I got saved, I started to see church as a wonderful time to learn about how my Lord was born. I loved midnight mass, especially when there was snow. Even today I have candles, wreaths and a creche.

I meditated on some Christmas services that were meant to get us thinking about the "true" meaning of Christmas. The one where we were to offer ourselves as a gift to Jesus. There was another where we gave gifts to the poor, the homeless and children who's parents were in Iraq or prison. Each year we are encouraged to think about what we have, not what we are getting.

Some years I have railed against the anti-Merry Christmas movement, put out posters with pictures of Santa and Jesus with the slogan "Who's birthday is it anyways?" This year, I was just too busy to do a whole lot until today. I decided to say "Merry Christmas" to the folks that I know at work, at church, and in the stores. I even reeled off a few prayers for the pick-up truck driver that rolled over in front of me on the Interstate on the way to the company Christmas party.

Honestly, Jesus seems far off this year. Possibly its because the older kids are away at college and my folks are gone. Maybe it's because my wife is working again today. Maybe it is because some of our traditional family outings were canceled. We did make the Nutcracker and the Fatima spaghetti dinner followed by a walk on the lighted grounds. Or maybe what I really need to do is watch Home Alone and believe in love, peace, family, and miracles.

Some days I wonder what other Christians are thinking and doing this season? I know that some churches are looking to attract local visitors for their services tonight. They are hoping to reach out, to preach the gospel. Others are going to feed the poor in a soup kitchen. Me, I just started to think about it today.

As I am sitting here later in the day, I remember going a performance The Annual Boar's Head & Yule Log Festival in Ft. Wayne. With 200 actors, and a full orchestra, it was an amazing performance. I remember it ended with the the hymn, "Oh Come Let Us Adore Him." Now I remember why I love Christmas time.

But I wonder, how far off is Jesus?

Merry Christmas

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Real Faith - Following the Voice of God

What is it that you need to know about faith to experience it every day? Where is the power of God that moves mountains and shatters the cedars of Lebanon? If Christianity is the only way to Heaven, then what is the power to make it so? According to Jesus, the power of the resurrection has broken the power of death and all we need to do, is receive it. The truth is that there is only one way, a narrow road-- like putting the camel though the eye of a needle. But faith is so much more then receiving a free gift from God, or spouting a sinners payer, that is just the first step. Real faith is the power to experience the kingdom of God here on earth! Why? Jesus said it is at hand! The problem is that everyone has an opinion about it...

Do you hear a lot about politics, faith and religion? I do. Possibly it is just the folks that I am in contact with lately, but I am bit tired of hearing about who is on the right and who is on the left-- who crossed the aisle - who's conservative and who is liberal -- what group opposes Rick Warren or Barrack Obama. Blah, blah, blah!

My pet peeve is hearing people that talk about religion; like Bill O'Rielly and Wolf Blitzer, and call it faith. Religion is simply doing the same thing over and over according to a philosophy. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results; with or without a philosophy. True religion is faith in that which is unseen, yet exists anyway, that is the power or agent for doing God's will. Unfortunately, too much of religion could care less about the unseen (while deciding what God's will is logically). They are either certain that they'll never see God in action, call it a mystery so they don't have to engage it, or only believe in themselves and their own understanding/education. What makes faith different from religion? Read on!

I have been meditating on how faith really works. Are we really touched by God in such a way that we are changed, that life is better, deeper, and has more purpose? It is still a mystery to me how His spirit mingles with ours to produce something that is partly natural and supernatural at the same time. As faith is exercised, or used-----you see -- it is difficult to describe when faith is in us and His spirit is at work. That is one reason we need the Bible. It is used to separate the feelings which can't be trusted, from the spirit which can be trusted.

Paul said in Romans 4, that Abraham's righteousness was credited to him as faith. This simply means that when we obey God, we are credited with having faith. That is why obedience is better than sacrifice. When we exercise our faith by directly following God, then we are "faithful." It all sounds so easy-- just work hard and obey as many rules as we can and this is called faith, right? NO! This is being legalistic (The rules are good, but when the heart is wrong, that is bad.) What pleases God is not our following of the rules, but when we follow the correct one, at that correct time... as we are prompted by Him. Sure some rules don't need divine intervention, or Holy Spirit prompting. Here is one, "you shall not murder." That seems pretty clear. But even that single commandment is debated in abortion circles daily-- by some Christians no less.

Real faith requires hearing from God. John 10, "I am the Good Shepherd. I know each of my sheep by their names, and they know me by the sound of my voice." The operative word here is voice. We don't hear words on a page, we hear the voice of the one that knows us. In some cases people think that hearing God is simply following a Bible verse. If you didn't read it in print, then you could not have heard God. Although everything that we do is measured by the Word, it is ludicrous to think that God only does what is written within the pages of the Bible. John 21:25 "And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen." Do you suppose there were some other teachings or manifestations of His power and healing, that we might experience today -- ones that are the same as Jesus did in the unwritten "things," which were not recorded? I do! That is the exact place where faith actually comes in. It is when we need something from God that is relevant to our life and/or ministry. Sure we need faith for spitting in dirt and making mud to heal eyes, but we also need faith for other types of miracles, wisdom and healing that were not recorded; which, are still God!

The Bible is filled with wonderful paradoxes woven together with a scarlet thread; the blood of Jesus. How do we know when to pray without ceasing, or praise without ceasing? The Bible says to do both. If you approach this from an intellectual faith, you can't reconcile the scriptures. One must preempt the other. We can only do one at a time-- and then we'd have to stop to make an order at Starbucks drive-through! Certain scriptures, do preempt others. Here is another example. "Be you therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matt 5:28) "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). If we are prefect, then we do not need to sin, and if we sin at all, then we cannot be perfect. Logically we cannot reconcile these two scriptures with our own minds. We know that we should not bear false witness, yet the midwives lied to the pharoh about the births. Exodus 1:15-16 You see my point. One must be God, and the other (for the moment, is not). The Word is not contradictory, but it clearly presents a perfect God, and His intentions for mankind. We must be led by the Spirit, just as Jesus was when the devil himself, confronted Him in the desert with twisted scriptures.

We need to have a way to decide which scripture applies to us, right now, and for what purpose. That is where real faith comes in, and legalism needs to be tossed out the window. How is it that Jesus called the Pharisees white washed tombs when they were obeying the letter of the law? They didn't have faith, and did not apply the scriptures that they "knew," to their heart. They were just being religious. Blindly obeying the scriptures may produce some desired results. Biblical principals never fail no matter who uses them. That is why a secular organization can feed the poor, and be blessed. Real faith, on the other hand, listens for God to illuminate a scripture for a purpose or reason. The Greek word for this is rehma. It is a supernatural insight into a verse or scripture, pertaining to what God wants to do in you, or through, you right now!

James tell us that we are to count our trials as joy. This is the purpose of real faith is to produce joy in joyless situations and get the work of the Kingdom accomplished here on earth. When we have real faith, joy is the sign, or fruit of it.

These are just some foundational truths regarding faith. Hopefully you have heard all this before. The point of this blog is to create faith, to believe for that which is not seen and create a path to increased faith. What is important is that we need to hear God, the fruit of this real faith. If we are hearing God, our faith will be great because we have come to hear his voice, and we receive His instructions for our life. Real faith that is cloaked in a real relationship with the Master.

So, how do we hear God if we haven't heard it ever before, or possibly not for a long time? Certainly, it is a complex answer without a religious formula. The way I see it, the Christian always has two problems. The first, is not hearing God's voice, and the second is hearing God's voice.

I am going to assume that if you have read this far, you are interested in hearing God's voice. Let's examine how God speaks to the sheep in the Bible:

-1 This scriptures - The infallible guide to Christianity. There is no other authoritative text.
-2 His people - As God assembles his saints locally and regionally, they have a voice. Hopefully it is Him.
- 3 Your circumstances - Because God knew you before your were born, He will continually try to set up circumstances that bring you closer to Him.
- 4 The internal audible voice (sense or feeling - direct revelation) - often during prayer or during times of direct ministry.
Revelatory utterances from on High: for the edification of the church and sometimes individuals
- 5 Tongues and interpretations, words of wisdom, knowledge and faith (internal revelation).
- 6 Spiritual Song, both vocal an instrumental (internal revelation) - a form of prophecy
- 7 Dreams and interpretations (internal revelation) - a form of prophecy
- 8 Prophets (internal/external revelation)
- 9 Angels (direct revelation) - Generally reserved for significant information to be brought to earth.
- 10 His audible voice (direct revelation) - Generally reserved for significant information to be brought to earth.

We could have a long debate over how common each of these ways that God speaks, occur in a church or individuals life. To learn more about where I stand on this issue of Spiritual Gifts, CLICK HERE. I have listed them from most likely to least likely to occur. I just find that direct revelation is less common then the other types of spiritual gifts that work through a believer. No, I don't exactly know why. But I am sure it has to do with faith. The average spirit-filled believer should be able to experience the first seven or eight on a somewhat regular basis. And, I might add, this is only a guide.

In order to expand your ability to hear His voice, you'll need to cut down on some of the distractions and practice being in His presence. Sometimes we need to create an environment. This is a little bit subjective, but I assure you watching Spike TV is not going to be one of those times. I suggest worship music that is meaningful to you. Sometimes, instrumental music can be even better for creating an environment in which to hear God. There are lots of intimate vocal an instrumental CDs for praying, soaking, intersession and harp and bowl style worship.

You may brood, pray or meditate, but focusing on God is of course the key. I personally like to ask God to forgive me of my sins, pray in the spirit for a few minutes and see what happens. I often pace around when I am in the mode. But that is a personal style. I have friends that live on their knees during these times, and others that walk at that beach, sit in a favorite chair or don sack cloth and ashes etc.

You just can't get all religious about how God will work, or what starts the flow. If you have that down, you can go off and start another denomination. I find that desiring God, loving others and personal needs tend to prime the pumps of Heaven. I have also found that there is an element of purity to all this-- keeping a short list with God is very helpful. None of this can be mechanical, remember it is about a relationship, not about the rigorous repetition.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Demonic Part IV - The Joy of Ministry

If you have been following these last few blogs, you can see that God is at work against the powers of darkness, while He makes it possible for us to participate. As a Christian I never would have picked many of the circumstances that I have been in where God has used me. I would have preferred some much neater, and less stressful situations. Something like Sunday school teacher, nursery worker or vacuuming the sanctuary. But that is just not me. I am looking for the types of meetings where God is at work, it is not always entirely predictable, and there is some sort of anointing -- a song, a word or a prophesy. I have a lot of other things that I would rather do with my time then sit and listen to what I can hear on the radio. I am looking for a relationship with my Lord.

As the last part of my series on the the demonic and the wiles of the devil. Some times the life of a minister can become routine; even a part-time one. I admit that I was kind of board of teaching home groups, messing around with a worship team that didn't want to rehearse and trying to find some new people to prophesy over. I was looking for deep and could only find shallowness.

In the midst of such a season, a few years ago, I was asked to speak at in CT. My bother and I had received and invitation, and we went together. We did a tag-team for 5 meetings on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. In between meetings I was heading back to take care of my pregnant wife about a 90 miles away. It culminated with a small Sunday evening meeting of about 60 folks. I don't really care about attendance as long as God is at work. It was a light hearted worship time and then I felt led to share some of the stories about my encounters with darkness. (I had never done that before, and until this blog, since.) Nothing like inviting the devil come and get even!
The meeting was a bit light hearted, and I laughed about the fear that I had displayed in some of those rendezvous with Lucifer. As the preaching came to a close, I really didn't know what to do about a ministry time or alter call. The theme of our weekend was more about hearing from God than about spiritual warfare. I simply said, "if you are in a battle, or need to hear from God, then come forward." Folks began to line up. I did notice at first, but there was a man with a beard, and high heels and a skirt on. I remember thinking, this is a challenge, because I can't imagine what he is doing here, how he got here, or even why he is here. I'm sorry, I am more used to drunks coming to meetings, people that are living together and that sort of stuff. I said, "You know Lord, I am the one that needs to hear from you!"
And He answered. "I want yo to pray that the spirit of rejection will be broken off him."

Wow, I could do that. As I approached this guy, he had is eyes closed and as I touched his shoulder he gently raised his hands in front of him, turning them palms up, as if to receive. I began to tear up. I am sorry, I saw this rejection and the damage that it had caused-- possibly from God's perspective. That verse about doing what I see the Father doing raced though my spirit. I saw a man reaching out to God and something about it seemed desperate. I asked God to break the spirit of rejection over his life. His head seemed to snap-- like a crash dummy in slow motion. I think we were both a little surprised. I just kept on praying and watching, and he soaked in the presence of the Lord. One of the church members came over and gave him a hug. I saw a single tear in his eye. He stood at the alter until just about every one in the building was gone. I saw him shake the pastor's hand as he left.

I spoke with the pastor a few months later and he had been coming to services for about six weeks. I don't really know what God was doing in his life, but I do know that even now, when I think about that experience, I am moved by how awesome God is, and how He has defeated the devil.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Demonic Part III - On My Own and a Sleepless Night

My wife and I had been dating for four or five months. Let's just say that our spiritual experiences at the time were different. Mine were more the type of thing that you can read about on this blog. Hers were more like most normal folks. I don't consider my experiences in the main stream of Christianity, but I think they should be. It is also true that those that know me, never ever uses the word "normal" to describe me.

Be Sure to Read The Demonic Parts I and II.

One evening I decided to make the trek to visit my friends from ministry school out in western Massachusetts. Our classmate that had normally hosted these reunions had since moved to the Midwest. Therefore; a friend-of-a-friend agreed to host our little gathering of Jesus lovers. I decided to invite my new girlfriend and see if she would enjoy it. After all, in our few short months together she had already survived my my mother's funeral, my 25th high school reunion where one of my drunken classmates of old, encouraged her to "reconsider," and 9/11/01!

We arrived at this home where I introduced my friends to M-A. We had pizza and chatted a little bit. There were just four of us at first, and then another couple arrived -- they seemed nice enough. Our conversation moved to the living room. Meanwhile, out in the kitchen, the couple debated what the "most important aspect of church is," with the host. I overheard the man say, "prayer is the foundation of the church." At that moment, I felt this somewhat of chill, and a little bit of fear. It most have shown on my face and M-A asked, "What wrong? (Most people would be gracious to have someone with a heart for prayer in their church. But this statement is a lie. The Bible says, that the church is a "house of prayer" and that its foundation is: Ephesians 2:20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner [stone];) This is the same sort of twisted biblical logic Satan threw at Jesus in the desert.

I replied, something like "Oh, not much, maybe we should get started." Inside I am certain that we are about to have a power encounter with darkness. And I am not looking forward to being thrown to the floor or have this guy grabbing a handful of knives from the kitchen or some crazy thing like that.

I put on the worship CD that I had brought with me and turned it up. I asked every one to come in the living room (away from the knives!) and we stood in a circle and began to worship. I was frantically praying that God would somehow intervene. After a song or two, I said, "The Lord is here to heal. I am going to pray for each of you." What I really meant was, "one of you has a demon, and I need to ease into this." I thought I would start with the man that I did know, before moving on to the one that I didn't know (the one with the lying demon).

The first man sunk to his knees as the power of God came on him. And then he just lay on the floor crying out to God. (Thanks for the support!) I asked the second guy (watching very carefully) if I could pray for him. I gently laid my hand on his chest near his heart. I was not able to speak a single word and he was on the floor manifesting some sort of demon. The ladies, the three of them, were against the wall in a corner and just about pushed the house off it's foundation! I was on my own. I quickly put my hand on his chest and said the only prayer that I know under circumstances like these, "Come out in the name of Jesus!"

Not at all knowing what to expect, and thinking that I probably sounded like a sissy to the powers of darkness-- or if I even had faith for such a deliverance, he became peaceful. Remembering my previous experience in Brazil, I asked M-A to get a glass of water for him. After a short while he sat up, asked for a glass of water and began to talk about the weight that was lifted off him. I can only tell you that I doubted my ability to partner with God for something like this. Sure, "1 John 4:4 greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world." Do you believe it? If you really desire to serve God, your faith, in this area too, it will be tested.

The Gargoyles of Norway:

About six years ago I went on a trip to Norway. I was invited to be on the ministry team for a conference in Oslo. Part of the trip was also to encourage a small church there with daily services and training, and to participate in some prayer walking and street evangelism.

We stayed at a small, but quaint little bed and breakfast just outside the city. I had a beautiful single room with a view of the countryside... and the amazing 21 hour days with sunsets and sunrises just hours apart.

After our first full day out on the streets, I was glad to get in bed. I barely sleep on airplanes and I had been up for over 30 hours just days before. I remember lying there in bed, wishing that the window shade could do a better job of darkening the room. My mind was thinking about the days events on the street, the miracles, and the freezer like spiritual climate. It seemed like there was a demonic gargoyle on every government building and the Humanism Society too.

For whatever reason, that night, I began to have these thoughts of worthlessness. I began to recall everything I had ever had done wrong. I was there asking God to forgive me, but the thoughts were intense. I began to wish that I had never been born. Finally, I sat up in my bed an sensed this dark presence in my room. I prayed until I finally fell off to sleep.

The next morning, I awoke to a knock on the door from the team leader and couple of the van drivers from the local church. I invited them into my room and told them the story of my near sleepless night. They began to pray and this wonderful sense of the presence of God came into my room. I can only describe it as peace-- amazing peace.

I didn't have any trouble with that presence for the remainder of the trip.

During our team reunion, a few weeks after the trip, I discovered that each night that same sort of presence visited one of the rooms of my teammates.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Demonic Part II - My Turn to Play

The last night I ministered in Brazil (See The Demonic Part I), wrapping up about 20 days of continuous meetings, pastor's luncheons, TV appearances, personal meetings, encouraging missionaries, and occasional street ministry, I was in the Monté Hebron church in Curitiba. The pastors there had been very instrumental in helping me put together this dizzying itinerary.

Their church had about 200 members, and many of them were there at the meeting. My friend and interpreter preached and ended with an alter call at which nearly 40 people got saved! I was asked to come to the platform and say a few words. The pastor's wife interpreted for me, and I began to minister individually. After about 20 minutes, we ended the meeting with an opportunity for folks to come forward to the alter for the laying on of hands, which is common in Brazil.

As I went down the line, we prayed for about 40 or 50 people. After 20 days and probably 18,000 one-on-one ministry encounters, you would have thought that I had "seen" it all... Before me stood a woman; very dark skinned, tall, a bit rotund, and dressed in a tropical bandanna and flowing blue dress. She said that she wanted to pray for me. I told her that was very kind, but now was not the time. (Something seemed a little odd.) But she was insistent, and so, I told her that if the pastor agreed, she could meet me after the meeting. She seemed a little agitated at that, and said, "I am going to pray for your protection, I see demons all around you they are every where, and you need prayer.

I turned to the pastor's wife and said, "just ask her if I can pray for her first?" She interpreted my request.

A bit unwillingly the woman replied, "if you must."

Again, I spoke to the interpreter and said, "please don't interpret this." Holding my palm towards the woman (I wasn't going to touch her in a million years.), I said in a stern voice. "I rebuke you in the name of Jesus!" I heard a loud "snap," and she dropped to the floor so fast I jumped back so that she did not knock me over.

The pastor's wife turned to me, and in her very Brazilian accent she said, "Oh you must forgive me. I had a dream about someone coming to the meeting to curse you. I didn't know that this is the one."

Determined to be cautious, I looked to the floor for the woman, who was only moments ago, at my feet. She was gone in the time it took for the pastor's wife to say just two sentences. Even more puzzling to us, she was no where to be found in the auditorium. We inquired of the ushers and the pastor after the meeting and they said that they had not see such a woman leaving. Apparently, I was the only one that heard the sound as well; also odd.

Within a month of my return from Brazil, lots of things happened in my life. The devil had focused his sites on my weaknesses, my security and my family. All Hell broke loose at work, at home, and in church. To keep a long and painful story short, I lost everything. The devil plays for keeps, be certain of it.

In the midst of daily attacks, I kept up with friends from ministry school. They were my life line as wave after wave of darkness pursued me. I kept worship music playing 24/7 in my room, at work and in the car.

One night I decided to take a couple of the teens from youth group to a meeting about 2 hours away. It was at the home of one of my former classmates. When we arrived there was a paper sign on the door that read.

Welcome David, Aaron and Eva only. :o)

NO DEMONS ALLOWED!

Gone to get pizza, back in 10 minutes.

CB

We laughed, and let ourselves in.

We had a nice time of fellowship, some pizza and just stood in a circle praising the Lord. There were just 7 or 8 of us. We prayed for each other and drank of the Spirit. A friend, a former missionary to Malaysia, stopped in for a while to minister to us and enjoy the presence of God.

For some reason one of the girls was starting to have trouble. She sat in a chair in the kitchen crying. Folks crying in the presence of God is not surprising, but she seemed really upset. We simply let the worship music play laid hands on her. She fell from the chair to the floor.

One of the guys that came (not someone that I knew well) stood over her, and says "she's got demons." She began quaking and shaking on the floor and was very scared. I remember thinking "Oh man, I am not up for this. I am not qualified or experienced for this."

The gal that hosted the meeting took her to the couch in the den to comfort her. Concerned, I went see what was going on. I sat on the coffee table and started to speak with her and suddenly she sat bolt upright, and came at me, all in one motion. One gal grabbed her legs and I had to hold her down on the couch with my knee. Nearly shouting, CB said, "Come out in the name of Jesus!" "She is a child of God and you have no dominion over her." And as if you were standing on the sidewalk, you could feel the motion of each demon like a car whizzing past, as one after the other came out. And as the last one, of what seemed to be about 10 or 12, came out with the most sickening stench I have ever smelled in my life. It was nauseating. With one last convulsion, this poor girl went limp on the couch sobbing and asking God to forgive her for her sins.

After things calmed down, the most beautiful presence of the Lord came to the room, and we smelled frankincense. We worshipped on into the night before making the trek home. We sure had a lot to talk about.

For a little better understanding, be sure to read your Bible (see below), and The Demonic Part I.

Matthew 8:16 When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed ; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill .

Matthew 8:28 When He came to the other side into the country of the Gadarenes, two men who were demon-possessed met Him as they were coming out of the tombs. They were so extremely violent that no one could pass by that way. 29. And they cried out, saying, "What business do we have with each other, Son of God ? Have You come here to torment us before the time ?" 30. Now there was a herd of many swine feeding at a distance from them. 31. The demons began to entreat Him, saying, "If You are going to cast us out, send us into the herd of swine."

32. And He said to them, "Go !" And they came out and went into the swine, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the waters. 33. The herdsmen ran away, and went to the city and reported everything, including what had happened to the demoniacs. 34. And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus ; and when they saw Him, they implored Him to leave their region.

Mark 1:32 When evening came, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed.

Luke 4:33 In the synagogue there was a man possessed by the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 34."Let us alone ! What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth ? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are-the Holy One of God !" 35. But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be quiet and come out of him!" And when the demon had thrown him down in the midst of the people, he came out of him without doing him any harm.

Acts 19:13
But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, "I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches." 14. Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this.
15. And the evil spirit answered and said to them, "I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" 16. And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Demonic Part I - Curses, Oppression and Possession

The Bible says, "And Samuel turned to go and he [Saul] seized the hem of his robe and it tore. And Samuel said to him, "The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it your fellow who is better than you." 1 Samuel 15:17-28

On the road to his demise, Saul does little to turn from the fate prophesied by Samuel.

Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that has a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and enquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that has a familiar spirit at Endor. 1 Samuel 28:7-197

Saul soon dies, and the kingdom is left to his successor.

Saul knowingly sinned, contacting the witch. Why? Because he was afraid God wouldn't come though. The point, is not his fear, or that prophecy is a vehicle for the will of God. No, it is that his encounter with the witch was sin and directly contributed to his death. And as a side note, he believed in both God's ability to be supernatural as well as in the demonic realms.

First, let me tell you, I am not looking for an encounter with the devil. Nor do I think there is a demon under every rock. I also don't believe that he is responsible for half of what he gets blamed for. Conversely, I also think lots of folks are unaware of his ways, his power and the damage that he can do. Therefore; I conclude, he is responsible for a lot things that many Christians seem to overlook.

I find the average American church goer quite naive about the demonic realms. I know, I was one of them. I wonder, is this why Christians read horoscopes, visit psychics and and mess with other forms of the occult in which they can get messages about the future? Like Saul, maybe they are afraid that God won't come though for them, or that their church thinks that spiritual gifts are of another age, or might even themselves be from the devil.

Here is an analogy. It is a bit like offering a car to a 10-year-old. They don't see the danger, they don't have the knowledge of where they are going, and they are certainly headed for trouble. On the other hand, you really can't be a 40-year-old without a license in most societies. What I am getting at, is this, we need to learn, to understand and to deal with the devil as prescribed in the Bible. We can't avoid him altogether, nor should we seek him out.

The current crop of teaching pretty much describes the battleground of the demonic as our mind. And I agree. This is the very place where most Christians are likely to experience darkness. Paul said that we need to take every thought captive. He also talks about how people' minds are darkened. Negative feelings or thoughts, poor self image, years of sinful behavior and the like, these things cloud our ability to clearly put on the mind of Christ. These are one form of stronghold.

So, what is a balanced biblical view of demons, the demonic, evil, and the powers of darkness? Isn't there more to it then the war in our head? Here is where I stand on the issue. The demonic realms seem to manifest themselves in certain ways, and like many spiritual entities, they vary in levels intensity. Each manifestation is directed at different parts of mankind. Here is a simplified set of definitions.

1) Principalities - These are spiritual realms that are over a country, a land, a state, a town, a region and even a dwelling. They are what Paul called the "powers of the air." These realms preside primarily because they have been given permission by ungodly people, governments, devil worshipping groups, lackluster churches or a combination of these.

Having spent some time abroad in Europe, South America, the Caribbean, and just about every region of the United States, I sensed that principalities can be very different from region to region.

I think of these powers' ability to oppress us can be described something like this. If you have ever stepped on gum, you know that it forms gooey strands connecting you to the ground. Principalities are like that, they try to hold us back, influencing certain behaviors in their region. These behaviors could be pride or arrogance, and even a similar sickness or sin amongst the peoples of the affected region. Breaking the strands of influence that connect us to a principality is done through prayer and humility. Paul talks about be buffeted by the devil as well as being held back from visiting certain areas. These are principalities.

2) Oppression - The pressure that is exerted against a group, or person by the devil and his band of demons. This is very much the type of demonic activity Job experienced. It came in the form of loss, destruction and sickness. It affected his life, his body and his emotions. Oppression can be in the form of sickness, adversity, invisible barriers, addiction, relational difficulties, familiar spirits, generational curses and persecution. Some of these are the result of our sin, our proximity to sin, and relentless acts of demonic activity against the church.

3) Possession - This is when a demon, or demons, actually dwell in a human being (or living animal). Their effects can be significant to the body and the mind/emotions. This can be the cause of addictions, mental illness, aberrant sexual behavior, violence, all types of sickness and and a host of bizarre and grotesque manifestations.

4) Satanic encounters - This is where Satan himself, manifests his presence of his followers and occasionally Christian believers. Because Satan is not omnipresent, he can't be everywhere at once. Therefore; these types of "visitations" are, let's say much rarer then cases of possession.

Satan's power is used to fuel the occult, Ouija boards, horoscopes, tarot cards, witchcraft (both black and white) and the like. Although any involvement in these types of practices can cause actual possession, it is more often the power of oppression though some sort of a curse. The tongue has the power to bless and to curse. And physical objects can also embody a curse. Check out Jonah's fig tree.

Curses can come from any number of sources, but they usually involve negativity and fear. The father screaming obscenities at his family is an example. One can curse their own life by speaking negative words about things they fear. What our parents did (or didn't do) can be passed on as curse to generation after generation. This would include things like alcoholism, divorce or sexual promiscuity. All types of sinful behavior can easily curse those around us. This is the biblical principal that makes the saying, "hurt people, hurt people," true.

Demonic oppression can come from foolish prayers said outside of the will of God, and out from under some sort of protective spiritual covering. This is one place where being part of a body of believers can supply protection for the assaults from demonic strongholds in your cities and states. Let me simply say, that if you pray against the strongholds of Satan and his demons, be sure that he will respond. Amazingly, I have heard people screaming at the devil in prayer and then wonder why their lives have nearly been destroyed. He will come to rob, kill and destroy. you can be certain of that. I suggest that you don't engage in this type of battle without proper prayer support and a direct mandate from the Lord Himself. It is far better to go and love your neighbor, or feed the poor then to spend time engaging the forces of darkness on your own.

Demonic possession was a touchy subject for me. First, it is scary stuff. Real demonic activity can be frightening, and be sure the devil will use that fear against you. In my early days as a Christian (c. 1980), there was a guy in our church that regularly engaged witches and warlocks in prayer and witnessing. He brought them to church for an evening meeting (that I was not at) and they began to manifest some very odd behavior as people in the room began to pray. Just hearing the stories was more than I was ready for. I remember thinking that I didn't sign up for this type of stuff and really avoided it.

After reading Josh McDowell's books on the occult, witchcraft and non-Christian religions I began to study finding many biblical references to demons and things of that nature. For about a year I studied and put together a one hour presentation that I was showing to youth groups within my denomination. I was on a mission to expose the schemes of the devil. Let me simply say that no one messes with the devil without paying a price. I was no exception. That year of exposing the devil cost me many things in my personal life. And like Job, I gave up everything but my faith.

Some years later I saw the error of my ways -- that of being a lone ranger -- and taking on the devil myself, without a mandate or prayer covering. During that time, for research, I stupidly had books on astrology and witchcraft in my home. I remember a woman from the church came to visit during that time, and she blurted out, "it sure is black in here." as she walked in the door. "What on earth are you doing?" I should have know then that I was in trouble.

One Sunday morning in 1994, I decided to go to a new church about 45 minutes from my home. I choose this particular church because it was part of a "new" domination that I had reading about. After the service I met a couple of guys, and we just began to talk. They asked if they could pray for me. "Sure," I replied. So they started-- nothing special, but suddenly they asked God to break curses that had been spoken over me. All I can say is that I actually felt what seemed to be a cable around my neck, come off. These guys now had my full attention. Suddenly, another one broke and I was freed of years of oppression. I had lived with this particular oppression for so long, I didn't even know I had it. I can't exactly describe the feeling, but I was certain that something had for sure happened. I can give you all the verses to debate, but as sure as I know the moment that I got saved, I am sure these curses were broken. I cried all the way home praising the Lord. I was astonished!

A few years after that experience, on my first trip to Brazil, I wasn't even thinking of my first power encounters with darkness in the early 80's. I had read Scott Peck's book about evil-- well mental illness described as evil. My view was that demonic activity was rare, and that most folks need to get a job, go to church, and spend less money, thus relieving the devil of the power and destruction he wrought over their lives. (Read more about that HERE). I remember the personal loss I had suffered preparing for the trip, but I really didn't see what was going on-- once I was through customs, that was all behind me.

In Londrina, I was ministering on average of about three times a day. One morning, after a night of preaching and laying hands on thousands; until the wee hours of the morning, there was a knock at the pastor's door. It was woman with an epileptic child about 6-years-old. He weighed in at about 50 pounds; just a child. Let me set the scene. There were the four folks on my team, the pastor and his wife, his two children, their housekeeper, and two woman from his congregation. We were in the living room with the child, his mother, and the child's babysitter and her infant. I believe there were fifteen people in all. Three members of my team and the pastor began to pray for the little boy while his mother watched. It was in Portuguese and I don't really know exactly what was being said. I stood with the other three woman and we just prayed in the spirit-- all very nice and religiously tidy. Then the boy began to manifest a demon. The housekeeper quickly chose a new vantage point down that hall. The little boy became very violent taking all the adults, three men and two woman to the floor. (Frightening -- well for me and the housekeeper. No one else seemed to mind all that hullabaloo.) I just kept praying and watching, finally the boy slumped to the floor; empty and nearly lifeless. They prayed for God to fill the void. The boy quietly asked for a glass of agua (water), and seemed very calm; almost glowing.

Things calmed down and the child's mother asked me to pray for everyone. I prayed for the child again, his mother, and the ladies from the church. When I got to the babysitter the power of God was very strong. She started to waver a little, and one of my team mates grabbed the baby from her arms just before she hit the quarry tile. About five minutes later, she too began to manifest a demon. I heard the voice of it speak with a very deep and gravely tone. My team members rebuked it in the name of Jesus and she just lay emptied on the floor. They got her a chair and she sat and began to weep. They led her to the Lord, and she was filled with the Spirit before our eyes. She confessed that she had been involved in Santa Ria, and had also used it to try to cure the boy.

One of my team mates, the interpreter for us, said to me "Did you hear the voice of the demon?"
I said "yes, " the demon said "She is mine and you can't have her."

He looked surprised, "you understood the Portuguese?"

"No, I heard it in English," I replied.

"Really, I heard him in Portuguese!" He chuckled about the bi-lingual demon.

Having had more than enough excitement for one day I went to the kitchen. There stood the housekeeper. She was very afraid of all that went on. She asked me if I could pray to calm her fear. "Certainly," I said. and as I began to pray, she began to cry. She told the interpreter that she had sinned and needed God in her life. By a word of knowledge, we told her that she was like the woman at the well, married before, but now living with a man. As God ministered to her, she too came to the Lord and began to sing the most beautiful song as His Spirit came upon her.

She left me a note. "Dear pastor, you do not know me and yet from you, God knows me. I am certain of a home in Heaven. Thank you, thank God and may He bless you."

Stay tuned for parts II, III and IV. It gets even more insane.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Lesson in Christian-ese

The doors swings open to the foyer area of your local church. There are posters for upcoming events, freshly brewing coffee, kids running here and there, and folks donning name tags with bulletins in hand.

"Have you met Rich?," says one greeter to a long time church member.

"Hi, I am John, pleased to meet you, Rich. Do you live nearby?"

"Yes, I have been in town most of my life," Rich says.

"How did you find out about our church today," says that greeter (knowing that the pastor is going to want to know if the new web site is worth the hundreds paid.).

Rich, replies, "I have driven by it a thousand times. I remember when this building was a factory, and then a sandwich shop and deli; since gone out of business."

Hoping that Rich is in good hands with the greeter, John gestures that he needs to get going, "nice to meet you." he says. Extending a quick handshake, as he heads for the door.

The greeter replies to both, "I hope to see you next week. Rich it was nice to meet you."

We have heard, or been a part of, this conversation many times. We've been to a new church, or at least we've been a guest somewhere. I know I have a few hundred times. On some occasions I have been greeted as a visitor, other times a pastor, and other times a Christian alien... and occasionally folks have tried to get me saved before I got to a seat. I don't think that I have ever been declined a bulletin, some Wal*Mart type of greeting or directions to the bathroom.

I find it interesting who is on the "front lines" making sure the new folks know were to go, what to expect, and in some cases, how to act. On the surface, one might think this is an easy job-- just be nice and point people in some direction that seems fitting. I once wrote a short treatise on how to be a church greeter. I gleaned some of it at a Vineyard leadership conference, but as I meditated on "love one another as I have loved you," I began to get what I feel is God's vision for gathering folks.

It started with folks placed strategically in the parking lot near the visitor only parking signs, at all the doors, near the restrooms, in kids church and in the sanctuary. (You might think that is a little excessive, having religious watchdogs placed about the building, but I don't.) My teaching ended with the mandate (fruit) of the greeter ministry to end up making sure the new comer had a friend by the time they left that day. I realize you can't force friendship, but you sure can make yourself available to serve while other doors of relationship open up for the mark, as we used to call them.

I firmly believe that serving others is not doing what we are good at when we have time. It is dropping everything to make someone feel loved now! Imagine how many church-hoppers might have stayed where they were, had some one pursued them, and persevered with them? By the way, that is the pastoral ministry... you may remember that verse, "leave the ninety-nine for the one?" Just imagine how much ministry would have happened if someone felt it was their responsibility that a new person became connected to a church body long term? Not just to make someone feel welcome, but to seek God for a way to the heart of the visitor. Now that is love is action.

Loving relationship needs to be the focus of Christianity. Everything else a church does should support relationship. Here is how I know. When Jesus was on the cross, there were few to be found as he suffered a painful and humiliating death as the King of the Jews. What do you think would have happened if the throngs that came for the miracles, healing, and free fish and bread meal were there. History would have been different. But don't you think that is a little bit how it is these days too? My point is this, real love never fails, and it is committed, sacrificial and nurturing... and it rolls up it's sleeves to do the work of the ministry of reconciliation while looking beyond the natural.

Here is a little test:

When was the last time you dropped everything for someone in the church that you didn't know?

When was the last time you had someone on your heart, that wasn't in your circle of friends, and made contact with them?

When was the last time some one took you along for the ride just to get to know you better?

You see where I am going. Ask yourself this, if some person in church had done that for me, how would my view of the church be different?

Let me replay that opening dialogue again; this time making it more realistic in terms of Biblical love.

"Have you met Rich?," says that greeter to a long time church member. "Hi, I am John, pleased to meet you, Rich. Most folks don't show up here by accident, is there anything we can specifically do to try and meet your needs? Anything we can pray for?"

"Well, actually I just haven't connected with God-- or people since my divorce a few years ago. " Rich says. Let me translate that: What I really need is a friend, and a way to restore my battered faith in God and the church. CAN YOU HELP ME PLEASE?!?!

"It might not be a feast, but why don't you come and have dinner with us tonight. My wife and I had planned to catch a movie, but we can go any time." says that greeter. If that seems too formal for you, how about a cup of coffee?

I often wonder why some churches grow, and others fail after a period of time. I also wonder why we don't effectively reach the lost. You know, if you do the math-- if every Christian would simply bring two nonbelievers to faith, and those two people did the same, the world would be saved in something like 14 years! That is two neighbors or coworkers, or folks we meet in the rest room at church. Did you know that people are out there searching for God, and the plan is that they might find Him through you (us)? And if we long-time Christians could actually teach someone else to get their two, we'd be off to a good start!

Certainly good leadership and vision are key to manging this type of effort. However; I feel it is more important for us to just reach out, go the extra mile and be a little bit more concerned about our rewards in Heaven, then we'd be on our way to revival! We are called to preach the Good news, that is not the Christmas or Easter story, but the power of God to save us, heal us, and mobilize us for Kingdom purposes. Preaching must have power, or we become like every other religion, a quaint philosophy that influences our worldview.

I remember about eight years ago, I was doing a young adults group and the power of God had been amazing week after week-- I mean just over the top amazing! Our little meeting of misfits, kids that felt rejected and unwanted by the church, came at first for fellowship. They wanted to date, listen to music and lived like a lot of teens and young adults. We had the pot smokers, a couple of kids that had out of wedlock children, one gal that was bi-sexual and the run of the mill party types. All had been to church, and all had tried to get a hold of Jesus. All had sat in their seats during the Sunday sermon since they were toddlers, stood for Sunday worship, and went up for prayer after. They really tried to engage, but they just couldn't.

With little to do at that time in my life, a couple from the church offered me their home for meetings. I had meet their son, a few months earlier in front of the church while he was smoking a cigarette. I just started to talk to him one Sunday, and the power of God showed up. He let me pray for him, and God delivered him from cigarettes right there on the spot. We sort of became friends and I used to visit him at his home every once in a while. He was having a sexual relationship with another gal. We used to talk about that--what he thought, what God thought... one day the two of them were there and I just asked if I could pray for them as a couple. I didn't really say much, the power came and God convicted her first, and then him. They were both there crying on floor. Not too long after, they decided to get married and they are still today.

On another occasion his brother was there and he and I had a similar encounter. God was after him to stop drinking and smoking pot. But I didn't say anything about that. I just called him from time to time on his cell phone-- just to ask how he was doing. He later confessed that every time I called, every time, he was about to open a beer or light a joint. Today he is serving God full-time with his new wife. I was honored to be at their wedding.

For the meeting format, I just asked the kids to be nice to each other, spend a few minutes in prayer before starting, listen to a few worship tunes and a short (5-8 minute) teaching, then we'd have pizza and listen to Christian rock and talk. The kids started to bring their friends to experience the power of God. Most of these new kids had never been to church in their lives. It was really different for them. We went from a weekly meeting to five or six a week. I was amazed at how excited they were about Jesus. Some of their parents came to the meetings and God healed a few of them too. One woman had migraines so bad that she was bedridden a few times a week and in the ER nearly once a month. This went on for many years she told me. God healed her. She went nearly a year without a single headache the last I heard.

In our meetings, I let the kids teach, prophesy, pray for the sick and minster to each other. Of course I kept a close eye them, but they did it. It was exciting to see some one delivered from some sinful behavior, and then want to serve God. They used to pray that God would break the power of the sins listed in Galatians 5:21, and then pray that God would increase the fruit of the spirit in 5:22. Wow!

That is how these meetings grew for nearly two years. (I turned it over the local church, but that is another story.)

At one meeting in particular, the host couple had a teenage foster child staying for the weekend. The kids in the group, about 20 of them started to file in, giving hugs and chatting it up. They kind of ignored her (she seemed happy about that), but I was pretty certain that something was up and I was anxious to start the meeting. So, I began by putting on a CD very loud, and some of the kids came into worship in the den where we held the meetings. After just two songs, I turned if off. I then asked the kids to go around and share how they knew God was real. I kept an eye on the new girl as they took turns talking about how they met God, felt God, and experienced God. It was five or six kids into the discussion when I looked across the circle and saw she was crying. I could see her listening intently as tears slid down her cheeks. As one of the kids finished a tearful testimony about being abused, I asked her if she wanted to know Jesus too? Of course she blurted out "YES!" She started sobbing so hard we couldn't even get her to say a simple sinners prayer. (How religious of me to confirm the obvious!) The kids prayed for her by laying on of hands, and she suddenly was out in the Spirit for about 30 minutes. She finally came around (speaking in tongues! (I always think this is awesome when the one doing it has never heard anyone else do it!)) and we made sure that she had a Bible and did our best to let her know what this was all about. Due to privacy laws, I have never seen her since.

Today I simply challenge you to ask God for two souls this next calendar year. To help you be friend to a few folks that would otherwise never really experience Jesus. Work up a heartfelt testimony of what God has really done. Then hang out by the restroom and wait for the right moment.

---- A friend sent me thie video, and I think it captures the point of this blog perfectly. -----
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7_dZTrjw9I&eurl

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Lost Art of Significance

My family and I have been in a bit of a transition lately-- well the last two years. In the process of moving to a new town, starting a new job, attending a new church, trying to meet new neighbors, sitting in stop-and-go traffic, avoiding bigger malls, missing the ocean and hoping to hear His voice, I have noticed something important about life-- my life anyway-- and possibly yours. The word that best describes the missing puzzle piece is significance, and what that means in daily life.

In the search for significance and meaning in this world, I have been taught that it comes from Jesus. God loves ME, and therefore; I am significant. That is good news. But just as one contemplates their eternal home, there is a bit of a disconnect because we are not there yet. As precious as the thought of Heaven is, we still have to live out our days on earth; amidst evil, all while our earthly body deteriorates.

What is it that makes life worth life living anyway? The well trained Christian says, "Jesus," or "salvation." What is it that makes you and me get out of bed, or wish we could stay in a few more hours? The life that surrounds us is the answer. For most humans, we are responding to basic needs, or avoiding uncomfortable situations. Whether we think of life in spiritual terms or earthly terms, there is a motivation of lack of it, that we tap into as we head out into another day.

Yesterday I was thinking about some of the amazing things that I have seen God do -- supernatural "doings." I am contemplating a book-- sort of my own gospel of miracles and happenings that involve Jesus-- yes, and me. (You can read some of them on this blog.) Being used by God is one way to find significance in the Kingdom. It is an interesting balance of Heaven and earth as we go through our day-to-day routine as children of the Most High-- thoughts aimed at eternal bliss-- as soon as we get out this traffic jam! And then suddenly, God is at work through prayer, through circumstances, through the brethren; displaying His glory and power. These moments where Heaven touches earth are very exciting, and occasionally unnerving. It is awe inspiring to watch people healed, or saved at an alter. The supernatural ministry of the Holy Spirit should be the reality of every Christian.

Beyond all the anointing and power, we still live in a fleshly body unable to handle much of God's glory, yet at times, completely desiring it. Moses with his head in the cleft of the rock, the priests not at all able to stand before the altar and John caught up in the spirit on the Lord's day; amazingly wonderful moments described in detail within the pages of the Bible.

Thinking about those passages, and moments we may have had that were similar -- remembering those types of experiences are refreshing. If we could just touch God like that now, right now, how would our life change?

Back here in reality, we are broken people searching for significance-- searching for the real and living Jesus. We have been taught many things, but why do we still fail? Why can't we confess our sins one to another? If we are honest, we know that it can't just be "me and Jesus" until we are caught up with Him at the last trumpet. We are meant to be part of the body of Christ. In life and in church we will encounter God's people (His creation), you know the imperfect ones, the broken, the sick and the lame. Yet, that is God's design for us here on earth, to live in a place where the Kingdom is at hand-amidst the fallen.

Paul often talks about the body of Christ as the vehicle of the church to do the will of God here on earth. He pontificates in epistle after epistle about how we individuals in the body should complement each other for the work of God, think on godly themes and love and sacrifice for one another.

With all that is written, taught and understood by Christians, true significance comes in being loved by God, and being made whole in the process of sanctification. As we the church, limp with addictions to drugs, booze, pornography, sex, power, position, approval and shame, how is it that we will ever feel significant?

Think about it, what in your life were you deprived of that made you feel ashamed, "less then" and insignificant? Why is it that we don't understand the need to be "fathered"? Who is it in your life that never said, "I am proud of you?"

Even church leadership can be off at times. I call it the "church cop" syndrome (sin police). You never hear from "us" until you've done something wrong and now we've pulled you over. Sure, we encouraged you to exercise your gifts, and like BTK, you showed up weekly, and even served us, but you made a mistake and now we are going to come down on you; shut you off, kick you out, discipline you... My first question is this, "how come you weren't walking with this person in the first place?" My second one is this, "how come you never got to really know this person, know their story, know their thoughts, their family, and their desires?"

I can only tell you what I have experienced. Men and woman that are accountable to others, and given the opportunity to grow by another, in particular leaders, they are the ones that feel significant, feel secure and feel loved. I have another question, why don't our programs and sermons aim for this? Sure, there are times when we are meant to stand on our own and Jesus is the only One that can save us. And I am well aware that when we let others "go for it" we open the door to personal pride and elitism. Let me challenge you, there are many more times when the body needs to reach out (you personally), stop being too busy and make a phone call, give a hug, write a check, show someone else how to do it and listen to the story of another fellow sinner saved by grace. This interaction in the name of Jesus could be all it takes to change the world around us. That is the art of giving the gift of significance.
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