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.


Z said...

I need you to know that I have developed the attention span of a gnat. I blame it on the media and sound bites and how quickly we get everything all coming at us So fast!! Now, I have a blog and blog a LOT and read good blogs...but NOT long blogs. I can't. I get bored unless they REALLY hit me.

I mention that because I found you at Tony C's (love his blog) and clicked on to read more from you (I appreciated what you told him there because I'm considering asking our praise team director if we can put a sign outside our church saying "play guitar or sing? Come participate at 8:30!") Anyway: I read this post, and then read the piece below, scanning as usual because of my gnattish attention span!...then had to go back and read every word, then read the next post, every word, then read carefully the post below that..!

This is NOT my usual manner, TRUST ME. Thanks SO SO much for these fabulous stories about faith and prayer. Last night, I opened a book about women praying ...I got it for Christmas from a friend and hadn't looked at it yet. I think last night was the TIME I was supposed to read IT and TODAY was when I needed to be inspired by your blog...thanks.

We need to start a bigPRAY FOR AMERICA CAMPAIGN. It works. What are we waiting for? For A renewal of faith and for our safety and our economy? Good luck with your cancer/prayer's an excellent one.

Thanks for the inspiring blog! xx God bless..

Anonymous said...

No clue who you are (found it thru another thru another thru another) but this post came at a good time. Thanks for writing it.

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