Saturday, February 28, 2009

Rhema - Hearing God Right Now

"You're in God's Army now. Drop your baggage, put on your armor and let's join the battle!" Robert Stearns says emphatically while pointing at what seemed to be directly at my wife. She and I have talked about that moment a number of times over the year. It was an important statement that was full of life in some strange way. "God was talking to me," she said.

The rhema (Greek "expressed energized") word has power and life, unlike the logos (Greek "written") word (Bible) which is meant to instruct us and help us to put on the mind of Christ. Each type of word has value, but the rhema word is the one that speaks directly to our life in a very personal way. Sometimes playing Bible roulette, is never going to give us what a true rhema word can.

It's interesting the both logos and rhema are always translated the same way, word. You can check out the specific verses that use each Greek word HERE. (Amazingly, I went to a Bible study at church last night, after I started this blog topic, and these verses were given, so I decided to use them. There are many more.) However; here are a few important ones from the KJV because the Greek references are coded to those.

John 6:63 It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. (KJV)

Jesus said that the words that He spoke were sprit and life. I guess these could be rendered red in the red letter Bible. But more importantly God wants to have a relationship with us, not for us to have a relationship with a book; regardless of how inspired it is.

Romans 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (KJV)

I don't know about you, but this verse is used as a supporting text in every "read your Bible" sermon I have ever heard. Some "word of faith" folks said the we needed to speak and pray the word over each other, and listen to it read for the purpose of building our faith. All of these things are AWESOME, but, it is much more personal and meaningful to hear the voice of God-- the "expressed and energized word" for us, right now, so we know that we are listening to Him, and following Him.

Ephesians 6:17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (KJV)

I used to attend a church where they would ask us to take out our sword (Bible) out so we could look up a verse for the sermon. However, when you consider the fact that this verse too, is rhema, it changes everything. His Word is Spirit!

Luke 5:5 And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. (KJV)

This verse takes on a very new meaning when we see it using the "expressed and energized word" of God as opposed to something that Peter might have read in the Torah years before.

Here is my point. Rhema means that we hear hear God now; expressed-ly. Can this be an illuminated logos Word? Absolutely! However; do not short change yourself in your ability to hear from God by assuming that He will only speak through the book. Here is a brief list of how God speaks to His sheep, and the ability for rhema is ever present:

-1 The 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.

-11 Sermons and books (biblically based of course)

-12 The beauty of creation

- 13 My blog ;o]

I hope this will get you thinking about how God would speak to you personally. Some of the above maybe outside of your experience, and others very rare, but that does not mean that God will not use that venue if you let Him. Here is another take on this subject HERE.

John 10:3 To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. (KJV)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Stongholds and the Prince of Peace

Over many years I have tried to fix myself with self-help programs, books, tapes, Christian radio, conferences, Christian music and thousands of hours of prayer. One would think that this type of assault on the darkness in my own life, would have produced much better results. There is only one word in the Bible that describes the problem accurately, "stronghold."

A stronghold is exactly what it sounds like, it's something that is very resistant to being overcome. Pop-Christian culture glibly tosses around the word "victory," apparently overcoming a stronghold. However; the true measure of victory is easily assessed by the fruit and character in one's life. Just look around the church, and you'll see that many are conformed to the ways of this world (age). I know, you are thinking that's not me, but shut off the PC, the TV, the Blackberry, the cell phone, the electricity, the heat or A/C and start foraging for food and growing crops. Are you the same person?

Real strongholds are demonically inspired, and if you have read my previous blogs on that, then you know that I don't go looking for it, but on occasion I have run across Satan and his filthy band of demons. When I do, I deal with it by the Spirit as best that I able. So far, I have had good success dealing with the demonic in other people's lives. In my own life, I have also had some success in terms of strongholds, I have overcome addiction to alcohol and drugs, cigarettes and made huge headway with honesty and occasionally humility. :o)

The most important thing that we can do as Christians is hear the word of God, and obey it. As sheep we should be able to hear His voice. So what stands in our way? Strongholds.

Strongholds are not all because of the Devil's direct interaction in our lives. Satan is not omnipresent, so he can't be everywhere at once. His band of demons can't either. I don't know how many demons (fallen angels) there are, but it's not enough to go around. No, his tactics carry out his work in our carnal minds and mortal bodies every day. Putting on the "mind of Christ" through study is one way to avoid the wiles of the Devil. But there is a spiritual element too. These attacks come in the from of deceit and wickedness that is in us, which he plugs into and influences because there is a fallen world out there. (See my 4-part blog series on the demonic for a deeper explanation.)

I'd like to identify four spiritual/emotional states that Satan can easily connect to, and then manipulate us with. These emotional states are developed in our soul by training, ungodly behavior, and of course, direct contact with the demonic. Like an old tree whose bark grows over an old "No Trespassing" sign (see above), these strongholds can consume us to a point of suffocation. However; for most, they never see the twisting of their own soul, and often remain powerless to receive victory from the King.

You may feel free to rationalize as you read on, but I remind you, Jesus is normal, and we may not be.

The destruction of these strongholds takes the intervention of the Prince of Peace. We do not fight against flesh and blood (although, by the amount of Christians on anti-depressants out there, you'd think we did.) These strongholds need to be fought spiritually, and sometimes with good counseling, and they always need grace.

The first stronghold is performance, rooted in pride. As a redeemed Christian, we do not have to perform for God. We simply need to obey Him. There is a big difference between performance and obedience. Obeying a command is simply the act of carrying out that which we are told to do by Him. Performing is deciding that "we" have to do something in order for God or others to give us value. There is nothing that we can do to attain, or add value to what God has given us in Jesus. The work is 100% complete. When we have faith in Jesus, we are redeemed, thus becoming fully vested heirs of the Kingdom. End of story. But do we really believe it? I mean, don't we have to be good and act like a Christian for God to accept us? No!

If you have been around business, and worse, around church, you have heard about the 80/20 rule. 20% of the people do 80% of the work. The top 20% are achievers, and often performance addicts. Some people feel the need to measure up to some standard, and often an unobtainable one. This is never God. Again, we need to obey God, and that is it. Is that hard, yes, but more often in terms of faith then actual "effort." Is living in hardship as mentioned earlier on, easy? No, it is called hardship for a reason, but God's Spirit transcends it. It becomes worthwhile because of the communion that we have with God while going through it.

One might think that this stronghold is very visible, but there are some that are perfectionists, and attempt nothing in which they can not achieve 100%. You can hear them saying, "I'd like to but..." or "I don't think I'd be good at that." (when they are successful in other areas.)

The real test of the performance addict is how much service they can do in secret without anyone but God knowing; no one. No kudos from the pulpit, thank you's in the bulletin, or plaques in the lobby. None.

The second ungodly stronghold is shame. These are the folks that, no matter how many times they ask God for forgiveness, they never feel the burden lifted. How is it that God could cause our sin to be as far as the east is from the west, and we still feel the burden of shame? It seems unlikely.

Confession is good for the soul. I can't tell you how many Christians I have heard say, "it's between me and God, or "it went to the bottom of the baptismal tank." Both are just tragic excuses for hiding shame. Confessing our sins one to another is the best relief there is for shame.

What I found is that most folks don't want anyone to know everything "bad" they've ever done. Many Christians have twisted and tragic emotional pasts. These include the atrocities of rape and sexual and physical abuse, abandonment, alcoholism and drug addiction. Sexual sins such as unfaithfulness, premarital sex, unnatural relations or receiving an abortion as a fearful teenager. The list goes on. Sin is sin. And this type of past is a recipe for shame.

Add to that, anger against those that may have abused us, and our behavior can even seem justified. However; sin is sin. It needs to be confessed and forgiven. My point is, do you feel ashamed of what has happened, and beyond that, what you have done to displease God?

Often our anger at perpetrators of ungodliness, whatever it may have been, can mask this stronghold. I once heard it described as an egomaniac with and inferiority complex. It is very hard to deal with our own sin, when we are angry about someone elses.

God is available to hear our story; our painful and angry pleas. He uses those in the church to be His ear. Find someone to dump it with, and eventually, if you live long enough, you will be healed. In fact He commands it. James 5:16 Confess your sins one to another that you may be healed.

Third in line, is the stronghold which manifests itself as the excessive need for approval. The constant need for approval at work, at home and at church can weigh down those around us. Not unlike the performance addict that needs his efforts to been seen to "feel" good about themselves, the approval addict needs someone to tell them their actions are right and/or justified.

Approval addicts are the folks that often do the right thing for the wrong reason. Many times they are generations into a family unit that has never said, "you are OK because God loves you just the way you are." No, they are constantly hoping to get to the finish line of another and receive a pat on the back. They may even run a race for someone else to be sure to get the "attaboy" at the end. And amazingly, they will often engage with those that will never give the very thing that are hoping for, pushing themselves deeper into a soulish abyss, where God is not present.

Underneath it all is a slow burning rage, as they feel they will never measure up to God's standards. But God's standards are there so that we will relay on Him, not on the approval of others. And by grace, those standards are removed. We are free indeed, to love God, our neighbors, friends and family.

And last is blame. Adam blamed Eve for getting him into the mess in the garden to make himself appear less culpable for what went wrong. These folks are your average church hoppers. There is always something that causes them to leave, someone else's motives that are wrong. Yes, what is really happening is that instead of looking inward, and receiving grace from God, they look at the faults of others. This of course is not God at all.

And the hyper-spiritual become untrusting of others, and distant enough so that others may never see their faults. Besides they are to busy listing the sins of others and telling you why they need some other sort of church.

When we blame others, we fail to see ourselves as God's creation, an imperfect human being need grace. With the focus on some else, we will never look deeply at ourselves, or make needed changes to overcome this stronghold, which is simply childishness wrapped in an adult body.

These major emotional strongholds are used by the enemy to destroy marriages, small-groups, Christian business, and even churches. If you sit down and think about it, they are certainly no laughing matter. And as the church global, we must address the very lies, identify the tactics of the devil and pray to overcome them. It starts with you.

Jesus came that we would have life, and have it abundantly. Abundant life is not just getting a blessing, but it is defeating the strongholds that keep us from Him.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Story of Salvation - What if the Dog Catches the Car?

Today I have been thinking about living life on purpose. Not a purpose driven life, but doing things that are good for me and others as a new routine.

When I was studying computer science, we hooked some sort of attachment up to the TV cable and watched a printout of the data passing through the TV cable on a PC screen. It was so fast, you could hardly read it. My mind works that way a little bit-- streaming thoughts.

There is a verse where Paul said, "take captive every thought." For me that is like a dog trying to catch speeding cars. Besides, what would he do with it if he did catch one?

But today, miraculously, I did catch one. And It almost got away twice. It is the same one that I have had on and off for several years. Today, on purpose, I am writing about it even though I have a different title for this blog staring me in the face. The reason that I was trying to avoid it, was that two of my last three blogs were on the same topic. How boring is that?

Before I tell another story, let me tell you what happened today. I have been querying some of my Christian friends about setting up a cancer prayer site. I was thinking about a Christian site where folks, any folks suffering from this dreaded disease, can get someone they can count on to pray for them. It's very simple. Someone desperate for healing signs up for prayer, and you, or someone like you gets an email to pray for them.

There are a million good ideas on the Internet. Blogs, eBay, Craig's List, Facebook, MySpace, Google and a ton more. Who knows, right? Today, one of the guys that I have been talking to about this site asked, "Is Monday a good day to drop off a check for the web site?" Honestly, I was thinking this is a load of work, and it's just a good idea. And until about 20 minutes ago, it was still a good idea. But all that changed with a second phone call. My wife has a friend that was diagnosed with cancer a few days ago, and is going into surgery on Tuesday. She told us a little while ago.

All of a sudden, it seems like a great idea. Don't you think?

One last thing, can you pray for my wife's friend? Oh and can you pray for Angie's nephew, he has liver cancer at 27. Could you pray for them everyday for say a week? Thanks.

The Story of God's Great Love-- for my mom!

In 2001, most of the world wasn't thinking about what would happen in the US on 9/11. I was one of them. I was busy helping friends establish home-groups and churches where they lived. I had taken a year off after my divorce, but I was slowly getting things going again.

I was scheduled to be in Cincinnati area to meet with friends. It was an amazing time. I was praying about going out, and received a check in the mail for exactly, to the penny, what I need for the airline ticket—after a tithe.

One morning while I was working, about a month before I was to leave, I got a call from my mother. She had bad news, pancreatic cancer in the last stage. As with my father only a few years before, I began to pray. I began to seek the Lord on how to pray, what to pray for and what I should do.

A few weeks later, I went to Cinci and borrowed my friend’s car in order to make the trek up to Ft. Wayne for a visit my mother. We had a nice time, talked about real issues, and had a simple lunch together in her home. As I hugged her before I left, I knew that she, like my father wasn’t going to make it. Oh, we had some time, but the cancer was going to kill her. No matter how I tried to summon faith for healing (how I wanted her to live and not die), and take captive the thought that I was going to lose her, I just knew it was going to be over.

On the drive back to Ohio, I just cried out, what should I do Lord? Peering out at the horizon; over miles of corn fields, I heard the still small voice say, "Call her everyday." And so I did. Each morning between 8:45 and 9:00 I called, usually on my way to work. I would end every call with, "I love you." and hang up as I walked down the hall to my office. In the beginning it was easy. She was still getting around, she was even working a little, going to concerts, and taking short trips. As time went on, she got sicker and sicker.

One morning I called and my step-father said that she was asleep. About an hour later, sick from the chemo, she called me to say that she was sorry that she missed our call that morning. She told Gene to make sure to wake her whenever I called. She never missed one after that.

I visited her four times during those final months. I would usually stay for four or five days. Each morning at 8:45, she would ask everyone to leave the room. "So how are you today, David?" she would say, knowing that I was in her house the whole time. At 9 o'clock, after I kissed her on the forehead and told her that I loved her, she'd have me open the door. I had no idea how important those calls were to her or me until my last visit.

It was a few days after 9/11, and there were no planes, so I drove with my brother and my two daughters to Ft. Wayne from Cape Cod; 17 hours each way. We arrived and mom was in her guestroom, the one with all but one of the stained glass windows I had made for her over the years. One morning, close to the end, my girls and I went into the room. I stood one side of the bed, opposite the door, and the girls stood on the other. I asked her if I could pray for her, and she of course said yes. The girls and I laid hands on her. As we prayed the presence of the Lord grew and grew. Erin said, “Grandma is hot!” Zöe nodded her head in agreement. We kept praying and she began to glow. She was lit up like a lamp as the presence of God came into the room. Erin said, “Grandma is hot, really hot!” She almost shouted.

The Hospice nurse came into the room and fell to the floor near my mother’s feet. She couldn't stand in His presence. My brother and step-father felt the presence at the door and we not able to come in the room. The glory of the Lord was there in a powerful way. My mother’s frail body shone like a lamp. This went on for a few minutes and finally subsided.

After were done praying, my mother called us close to her face. She said to me, “I am ready for glory.” We had a wonderful conversation where she told the girls that she so wished that she could have had more time with them.

We drove back to Massachusetts and two days later she died. She couldn’t take my last phone call. But I told her that loved her and she made a quiet grunting sound. She died the next day.

I spoke to my brother and asked him what her last words were. Tell David, that I love him and thanks for calling everyday.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Love of the Father, for a Father

In the Spring of 1997 I received a call from my step-mother, dad was sick with lung cancer. I decided to take my family and go visit him the following Saturday. A few nights before my trip I was on the phone with one of my close friends, Scott and we were praying. He felt the Lord say that my youngest daughter (at the time) would be the one to minister to my dad.

As we prepared to go see grandpa, Erin, 5-years-old, busied herself rummaging through boxes, in the unfinished second floor of our new home, looking for a suitable gift. We didn't have any wrapping paper, so she used newspaper to carefully wrap her treasure for "Grandpa nice guy". I am certain that she also used an entire roll of scotch-tape and lots of love to finish the job. She made a card and on it scrawled the only words she knew how to spell without help; "love your angel Erin xoxoxo". It was just like the ones she gave me from time to time and seeing it made me smile.

On Saturday we left on the 4-hour journey to Vermont. As soon as I could open the door, Erin jumped from the car clutching her gift for grandpa. She ran past the old dog in the front yard she was usually afraid of, up the front steps, through the living room and kitchen, and out the slider onto the deck where dad was sitting in his wheel chair. "It's for you!" she exclaimed, "open it!" She stood back and watched dad as he struggled with the miles of tape; her impatience becoming ever more evident. She said "you'll need some help" and she began to tear the paper off her gift, a plaque she found in the boxes after we moved to a new home.

When they were finally done, dad commented quietly, "That's very nice honey."

Erin said, "Read it to me Grandpa! I picked it because of the beautiful sunset and the cross with the purple cloth on it."

And so he did, it said "I asked Jesus how much do you love me, and He stretched out his arms and died." There was a strange silence on the back deck that day.

I continued to pray for my father’s salvation and his healing. My older brother, a pastor, was visiting him quite regularly in the hospital as he lived much closer than I did. Despite the continued bad news, and his worsening condition, we all kept praying.

One day I decided to get with a friend of mine from church. He had become a Christian a few years earlier when his wife was miraculously healed of cancer. He and I just sat there in the car at the beach overlooking over Cape Cod Bay, and praying. "Lord save him, he cried out."

"Amen." I added. At that very moment, my pager went off with a text page. "Dad saved at hospital. 4:29 PM" The two of us just wept for joy.

I went to visit dad with my girls February 12, 1998. The three of us laid hands on him and prayed. He had brain cancer now, and he hardly recognize anyone; not even my brother who was there every day for months taking care of him. I simply asked God that he would know our love, but what happened next stunned all of us. He called both my girls by name! He told them how proud he was of them, and how pretty they looked that day.

I kissed him on the forehead as we readied to leave. "I love you son," he said. He hadn't told me that in 40 years. I kissed him again and we got in the car for the long drive home. From the interstate I could see his road winding up the hill to his mountain home, and as I passed it, I knew I would never see him again. He died the next day. February 13th, 1998

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Reap What We Sow - The Principal of Allowing God to Reward Us

I don't know about you, but some days I don't pray very specifically, or with much faith. The truth is I don't pray every day... well not like a formal thing where I get all religious about it. I am average when it comes to faith. Honestly, I am hoping for an easy commute, that's why I leave my house a little before 7 AM each work day. I am hoping that I don't get sick. I am hoping to manage my finances in such a way that I don't spend more than I make. Which, incidentally, is a lot easier without kids, especially kids in college. But this blog is much more about what we receive from God, than it is about what we ask Him for.

A few years back I planned a trip to southern Brazil. I was traveling solo for a short 10 day preaching tour. I enjoy other cultures, and I have historically stayed with pastors in the region instead of a hotel. I also enjoy giving, so I pack some small gifts that are indigenous to my region here in the US. I remember getting ready and packing my suitcase. I added in some music CDs that I had done the graphics on, some whale watch t-shirts because they have those nearby and a bottle of cologne that I like, which is sold only in the US. I tossed in my Portuguese/English Bible, a couple of suits and a handful of ties and dress shirts and headed for Logan Airport.

As always, my trips are a little off-the-cuff with some surprises and "sudden-lies" from the Holy Spirit... and some attacks from the devil. I arrived at the Curitiba Airport and one of my host pastors met me there. He brought a young man, Alex, to interpret for our trip to his house. On the way he also informed that my regular interpreter would not be able to help at all. What!?! That means that I am on my own to preach in Londrina for 6 days. After 24 hours of flying and airports, I didn't really have time to think about what that meant in terms of getting around, and preaching.

I preached and served communion to the little church in Curitiba. I met a wonderful man, full of the Holy Spirit. He was basically the equivalent of a state policeman. He didn't speak any English, but he welcomed me into his home, showed me his birds, his guns and photos of his family over the years. It was actually kind of fun, me looking up just about everything in my bilingual dictionary, and him laughing at my mispronunciations. The next night I went to another church and preached again with the interpreter, Alex. He asked me for a Bible in English, but I was reluctant to give mine up as much I would have loved to.

As I left, I gave each of them a CD.

The next morning three of my friends and I drove the 6 hours to Londrina. No one in the car spoke English, so we passed around the Portuguese/English dictionary and parallel Bible for most of the trip. I thought I would impress everyone and learn how to ask for chicken at the roadside cafe. In line I asked in my best accent for galenia (the dictionary word for chicken). Everyone began to laugh, and my pastor friend quickly corrected my order.

"Frongo." he said, shaking his head. The woman at the register look very relieved.

Apparently the word that I used, and which is in all the Portuguese phrase books, was slang for "chic" = hooker. Oh well.

I arrived in Londrina having learned quite a bit on my "language immersion" ride. It was good to see Pastor Erinaldo and his family again. His family graciously opened their home to me again.

I gave him a bottle of cologne and t-shirts for his wife and kids.

Pastor Erinaldo knew enough English for the two of us to get by. I wasn't scheduled to preach that night, but I was the next. He asked me what I was going to be preaching on, and honestly, I didn't have a clue. I knew that he couldn't interpret the sermon that I had printed notes for. I was thinking that a good interpreter takes just as long to repeat in Portuguese what I say in English. Therefore; a 40 minute sermon will take well over an hour. This would be torture for sure.

He and I agreed to keep it simple, and I went to my room an prayed... well actually, I fell off to sleep and had a dream. In the dream I heard the Lord say, "you reap what you sow, if you plant corn, you will reap corn. If you plant beans you will reap beans , and if you plant love, you will reap love."

When I awoke, I looked up this verse: Galatians 6:7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. 9 And let us not grow weary while doing good... NKJV

I recalled a sermon that I once heard an Argentinian pastor preach a few years before. He had preached a similar message about reaping and sowing. I also remember that I disagreed with him. I didn't believe that reaping and sowing was always returned in the same "currency" that you sowed in. In a spiritual sense, sowing corn seeds did not, in my mind, mean that I would specifically reap corn.

For many years I had given offerings and seen God meet my needs. My cars run with out fuel, and some of them lasted much longer than they should have. There were all kinds of ways that God returned my cash investments in the Kingdom, however; almost exclusively not with cash.

I sat down at dinner and discussed my dream and sermon topic with Pastor Erinaldo. He said that he did not agree that God would return something that we sowed with the exact same "currency" either. But then he reminded me of dreams and words that I had given on my previous trip just two years before. They were very accurate and he thought that we should continue to pray about this fresh revelation for both of us. I was discouraged because I wasn't getting anything else from God. And be sure, preaching something that you are not convinced of is very dangerous. We were both puzzled, but we had a sermon to get ready for.

At breakfast we had to decide what we were going to do at the meeting that night. The pastor shook his head, and asked me to preach the sermon on reaping and sowing. We'd see if God would produce fruit from it. I made it a ten minute message, and we worked hard to teach him the English and me the Portuguese so that it made sense. It took six hours to craft this out-of-the-box message.

That night I preached the message to a small congregation with his help. Not only was it well received, but people began to give each other money, car keys and bus tokens to sow into their lives. More amazing, the pastor did not recognize most of the people in the pews and did not know where they came from. We had no idea how they may have found out about this Monday night meeting. He took a larger offering then he was accustom to on a Sunday service! People were sowing expecting a return.

I preached the same message 8 times in 6 days.

The next day I drove with the my friends the 6 hours back to Curitiba to catch my flight home to the US. Pastor Erinaldo came with us to take care of some official paperwork in the capital city. He would take the bus back to Londrina the next day.

As we all stood in the airport saying our good byes, the policeman gave me a gift. It was a t-shirt that said "Policia Cival" (State Police). One of the woman gave me a bottle of Brazilian cologne called Carpe Diem. And Ps. Erinaldo gave me a CD entitled Aclamé ao Senhor (Shout to the Lord). He had inscribed the cover with a blessing.

The pastor began to weep. He said God has returned to you (David) the cologne which you gave me, and the whale watch t-shirts you gave to my sons and my wife. He began to tell the others of this strange message that I preached. It was then that the policeman told him of the CDs that I gaven him a week earlier.

Everyone began to praise the Lord as we saw how perfectly He returned the exact three items that I had sown.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Time Doesn't Heal Everything

When you look back over the last decade(s), did you ever imagine that you'd be right where you are now? Our lives now; this very minute, are the culmination of our hopes and fears along with a touch of fate.

I know it is starting to sound like a High school graduation speech, but it's true. We headed out toward the horizon of hope with the winds of family and friends at our back. We were free to decide every aspect of our lives, and we focused on the future. Because of our decisions there were those of us that ran into rough waters on the voyage. And for some of us, we may have experienced situations beyond our control calling out "May Day." And there are some of us who left our stern lines tightly knotted around the cleats of past disappointment, regret and anger which tore at the fabric of our soul.

James said, "You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 4:14"

I have been on Facebook for a number of years now. I originally set up an account to keep an eye on my teenagers. As a result, I have grown accustom to the impersonal nature of computer communications. From e-mail to chat and everything in between, we lose so much of the "body language" or "non-verbals" that I have had to relearn communication to some degree-- or at least accept its limitations.

The intrigue of rediscovering old friends and classmates using the Internet is a growing pastime for many. New statistics show the steep rise in Facebook accounts are no longer college-aged kids that it was originally targeting, but those that have attended college at some point in their lives. Personally, I enjoy seeing how things have turned out for my old neighbors, classmates and friends. Hey I still have hair!

The online community is often void of emotion, however; today I had one of those bittersweet moments. I contacted the sister of an old friend when I saw that she was online. She and I would easily recognize each other from growing up in the same little cow town, yet we probably didn't have 100 words together in our entire lifetime. I thought I would find out how my old friend Jay (not his real name) was, get an email address or send a hello message to him through her. It turns out that he died of cancer a few years ago.

He and I were just a couple of typical young men. We grew up together in Cub Scouts, and saw each other in the hallways at school. He and I rode motorcycles on RT 17 at over 100 mph, smoked cigarettes and drank beer-- talked about girls and hit a bar or two along the way. We were on the same bowling team.

I remember one bowling night I returned from a conference where I had a significant spiritual experience. I was atheist when I went, and a believer in God when I came back. I remember telling Jay about. I was almost tearful as I told him the story of my conversion; how God loved me and I finally recognized it! I think it was too much for him. He just held his hands out, palms down, gesturing "enough," and said, "Jesus-- man, if don't want to party any more I understand. That's cool." That was probably my first attempt to share the change of heart that propelled me into eternity.

I am unusually unsettled about his death and here is why. For nearly 30 years I sort of hid out in Christianity since I last saw Jay. And during that time I became the one with the "Answer", the power and the ability to pray against the ravages of cancer. But I didn't-- well not for him. We lost track of each other when I moved to another state.

This past year I have been calling a friend everyday who has been in treatment for bone cancer. Today, Dave is in remission (I prefer to call it cured). Dave is a believer, and regardless of his health, he has the assurance of Heaven. But what about Jay? I don't know where he was with Jesus in the end, we never talked about God again. The stark reality is it's just too late for me to do anything about it now. What I am thinking about is this, what difference could I have made in his life by visiting him or calling him during his sickness? He lived about six months after he received the dreaded news. That is six months I could have been doing something for him, for his family.

Maybe you are thinking, why feel guilty about not being there, you didn't know he was dying. Or this, maybe your paths crossed so long ago, things change, life goes on. The truth is that time marches on, but not always life on earth.

There is one more thing that makes this tough for me. In the late 1990's I wrote an email every day entitled "Time After Time." There was a woman on the list named Sue, and she would occasionally send a reply to a message I had sent out. Simple things such as, "thanks", "I needed that", or "could you pray for my kid's exams?"

One day a prayer request from her showed up in my inbox. Sue said that she was having tests to determine if the lump in her abdomen was cancerous. She asked for me to pray for her, and gladly I did. A week or so later she sent another email that confirmed that she had cancer; stage 4 it read. I remember feeling sad, but you know, I had never met her, and I didn't even know what she looked like. From a few of her replies, I gleaned that she was married, had older children and worked for an aircraft manufacturer. I prayed each day as she waited for a surgery date.

There is another foot note to the story, all of this happened shortly after I buried my dad. He died of lung/brain cancer in February of 1998. I hated cancer.

The next email that arrived from Sue read. "Could you please call and pray for me over the phone? I am scheduled for surgery tomorrow." Wow, I could do that for a sister in Christ. And so I dialed the number the next morning about 8 'clock; 6 o'clock their time. She was leaving at 7 for the hospital.

"Hello," answered a man's voice. It was her husband.

"This is David and I am calling to pray for Sue." I said.

She picked up the other line and said, "hello." I could hear the emotion in her voice.

I said, "Well, you know why I am calling, let's ask God what He wants to do here." I began to pray quietly in the Spirit. Then I prayed directly for her healing. "Amen" I ended in my most religious voice and wished them both blessings and hung up.

On and off all day, I was wondering how the surgery had gone. At about 4 'clock the phone rang in my office (Caller ID, never thought of it in those days). "They took another x-ray and the doctors can't find anything! Nothing!" Sue said.

"You're kidding me? Really?" (There in lies the sum total of my faith.)

"They took x-rays so that the surgeons could see the size of the mass before the surgery and could not find anything!" she said in such and excited voice.

That wasn't the last time I heard from Sue, but that was the last time I heard about her stage 4 cancer.

It is very popular to chide Christians by asking "What would Jesus do?" Amazingly, most of us know. He'd be out there with the lost sheep and the goats meeting their needs with power and love.

More love, more power. Simple. Now let's get out there and make a difference.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What About Faith?- How Religious are You?

I have a friend that grew up as a Catholic. She sent me an email asking if I knew the various differences between Evangelical Christianity and Roman Catholicism. Culturally, the two can be worlds apart, but I think she was a little shocked by the religious divide.

Honestly, every denomination has it's problems... primarily humans like you and me are the root of them. Have you noticed that the body of Christ is so fractured that non-believers think all religions are the same?

God is not god, he is GOD! Honest!

As Christians, it is easy to claim unwavering faith in the knowledge of our little corner of Christianity. We may have been saved in a certain church, or brought up with a liturgical background (Episcopalian, Lutheran etc.). Add to that worldviews, cultures, ethnic backgrounds and we find that traditional Christianity is very, very diverse. (Geeze I almost feel bad using a cultural buzzword, diverse!)

Hundreds of years ago the religious world split Christianity in two; Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. In the end there are differences, but for the most part, they are simply religious differences. Sure, there are those that believe that the bread and wine turn into the actual body and blood of Christ during communion, and those that see the bread and grape juice as a symbol. If this is a "deal breaker" for you, you might want to go and enjoy your debate with someone that cares. If this makes you shudder, then read on, there is a message here for you. I also suppose there are others that are so symbolic that they could use Coke and potato chips for communion. Hopefully you see the gamut of belief/understanding that exist in one small facet of what Jesus commanded us to do.

Before you get out your stones and call me a heretic, you might want to sit down and think about what it really means to be a Christian. Paul said that if we confess Jesus with our mouth and believe in our heart, we are saved. Romans 10:9-10. Isn't that the bottom line? When we add all kinds of other rules, and try to enforce certain man made principals, we become like the Pharisees, well educated, very religious looking and empty inside. That is the problem, when we get all religious, we miss what God is really doing; creating a deep and loving relationship with us.

What makes a man or woman a child of God is FAITH! It is not belief, not religion, not philosophy, not being good, not anything but receiving this wonderful, free, and everlasting grace in our heart.
I loved it when a preacher said, "just because I go to McDonalds that doesn't make me a hamburger!" The other analogy was this: "just because you know a lot about the a celebrity-- where they live, what they like, who they are married to, what clothes they wear, where they vacation, that doesn't mean that you know them." Real faith is about knowing Jesus, not about some sort of book knowledge or degree. Thermometers have degrees, and you know where some people put those.

Now that we have established the door for entering into God's grace; called salvation, there are loads of other things that we might want to consider as we become disciples. They are prudent and worthwhile commands, not requirement for entrance into heaven. These include: character, gifting, worship, prayer, fellowship, Bible reading, communion, forgiveness, letting the old man die, loving our neighbors, stopping cheating on our income taxes, ending our addictions, giving, serving, mentoring, and just plain growing up! I was going to copy and paste my concordance, but you get the the idea.

What we focus on is not always what God is focuses on. Once we are through the door, the process of sanctification is different for everyone, and we all don't progress at that same speed, or in the same areas.

The problem with the "Christianity in a box" is that it fails to magnify the personal relationship with the Lord. Which, is different then any other person's relationship with the Master. Even twins have different relationships with friends, classmates and others in their sphere of acquaintances. That simply means that we can't tell someone else what it is like to love Jesus. What we can tell, is if they do love Jesus. This is by the fruit. We can see where their time, their money and their passion goes.

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (NIV)

And let's not be confused about what God's love looks like.

1 Corinthians 13:4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.

As we see what is important to God, we can certainly see that how we worship, where we worship, they type of music we have in service, how we dress, and the church culture we may have grown up in doesn't really matter. It does matter what we have faith in, and here's the facts on that. HERE And yes, God uses our environments to carry out His will, but don't be so certain that the American Dream is always God's will.

So here's a little test to see if you can tell what is religious, and what is not. (T-F):

-1 A church has to have music.

-2 A church needs a building.

-3 A church has to have bylaws.

-4 A church has to have deacons.

-5 A church has to have a priest or pastor.

-6 A church has to have chairs or pews.

-7 A church needs a cross.

-8 A church has to celebrate communion.

-9 A church has to have a sermon during the service.

-10 A church has to have prayer during the service.

-11 A church has to have a respectful dress code.

-12 A church has to have an altar call.

-13 A church has to have prophesy.

-14 A church has to have tongues and interpretations.

-15 A church has to have a mid-week Bible study or service.

Answer key:

1 False

2 False

3 False

4 False

5 False

6 False

7 False

8 False

9 False

10 False

11 False

12 False

13 False

14 False

15 False

"For wherever two or more are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20).

In the end, we simply need to let Jesus come in us, and in our midst. If we do that, He will decide what we must do next. Every service may different, but when He is there it will be God. We are after Him, not after religion.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Fire & Grace - Greatest Hits

As I watch my readership grow, primarily due to Facebook, but also from referrals from blogs that I follow (thanks everyone!), I realized there is a growing responsibility to provide context for my blogs. It is virtually impossible to list every possible scripture that pertains to a specific topic. Sometimes there are not specific scriptures, but Biblical principals as they are embodied in the Biblical canon. IE: The trinity, or relationship.

So, here is what I believe:
-1 The basics of Christianity - The Nicene Creed
-2 The basics of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit
-3 I believe that miracles and healing are a great way for folks to realize that Jesus is real.
-4 Things happen as a result of God's presence, not as a result of religion.
-5 There is a significant misunderstanding of the spiritual gifts, offices and roles of the elect.
-6 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. Matthew 11:12 KJV
-7 That rock n' roll and the love of sushi are in my DNA and cause me to be more spiritual.

Here is my experience in a nutshell. I have been in the church most of my life. I became a believer in 1978 at nearly 20-years-old. Since then I have belonged to Evangelical, Charismatic and Pentecostal congregations in Connecticut and Massachusetts. I have ministered in hundreds of churches from Norway to Brazil and loads here in the states. I went to Bible school, and I have certificates from a number of other places. No one really cares about my education or experience-- it really doesn't count for much. People want to experience God, not just talk about Him.

For those who are new, or want to get a flavor of the topics that I cover, here are my most popular blogs:

- Discipleship
- Who Is Jesus
- Spiritual Gifts
- Friendship
- Relationship
- The Holy Spirit
- Sin
- Global Warming
- Evolution
- Abortion
- The Demonic
- Faith
- Stupidity

Enjoy! I'll look forward to your comments.
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