What I Have Learned By Doing Spiritual Warfare — Part Two

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     Yesterday, I shared some of the first things I have learned as God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are teaching me how to conduct effective spiritual warfare that transforms lives.  I would remind you of what I wrote yesterday — that the primary way They are able to communicate with hurting people is through our imaginations… Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered (Proverbs 28:26). And as you will see in the following instances, Jesus is able to heal [rescue and deliver us] in inspired and inventive ways.
    I will also tell you that I instinctively know that this will be a life-long journey. The Enemy has had thousands of years to perfect his tactics, and I am new — yet enthusiastic — to help set the devil’s captives free. And I know I can be successful because I am blessed to partner with Jesus and the Holy Spirit (and my faithful husband), who do the heavy lifting.  I just have to be obedient and willing to assist them.
     And I would be remiss if I did not thank those who have come alongside me and my husband and shared their experiences and their expertise. They were way out in front of us, but the Lord arranged for a connection to be made, and we have greatly benefitted from the hands-on teaching of Dr. Charles Kraft, and Barbara Bucklin and Luke 4:18 Ministries.  Additionally, what I believe Satan has meant for harm (namely the internet; and I’m only half joking), God has used for good; and we have had the benefit of the many videos and website teachings of spiritual warfare by Steve Harmon, Russ Dizdar, David Hogan, Heidi Baker, Dan Duval, and others.  We stand on all these shoulders and hope to be as encouraging to others who follow in our footsteps, as we have followed in Jesus’s.
     So now, I would like to continue with the things I have learned concerning those times when a person is struggling to get healed…

     4)  When a person gets stuck in their captivity.  Sometimes a session can seem to stop dead in its tracks. A person will get shut down, as if being mired in quicksand, or trapped in a dimension that immobilizes them. They are unable to engage with their spirit, and seem “stuck”; incapable of picturing those damaged parts of themselves or unwilling to feel the pain of that young child whose spirit was so hurt.
     At this point, it is often helpful to get more descriptive in helping them engage with their younger victim in the spirit. Take the focus off the event, and center their attention on more precise details:  How old are you?  If you can picture the place, where exactly are you in that room?  Describe any pictures you see on the wall. What color dress are you wearing?  Focusing on the details will often enable the person to view the event with less fear and allow that part of themselves to move into the safe place with their older, protective self.
     5)  Taking responsibility for yourself.  Oftentimes, victims who need spiritual healing feel abandoned or neglected by adults, who should have been protecting them.  They can be angry at those adults, as well, and usually with good reason.  But we try to turn the tables on the Enemy who uses these emotions to keep the person in bondage to those spirits of abandonment, neglect, and anger. If a part of you is still hanging on to those emotions, even if you are unaware (and you most likely are!) it can cripple the adult part of the person who can’t understand why they are still depressed about the event, long after they have forgiven the offender.
     What they don’t understand is that the adult may have forgiven, but that child who was offended didn’t have the chance to forgive, and those emotions are trapped inside their spirit, and fair game for the devil to exploit.  He assigns one of his “spiritual forces of wickedness” as Ephesians 6:10 calls them — or their more common name, demons — to tyrannize those emotions, resulting in an adult who suffers from spiritual oppression, without ever understanding why.
     So, we have learned that it seems to help to tell the adult, you are now the one responsible for your younger self.  Yes, others let you down, leaving you feeling powerless in that situation.  But now you can take responsibility for that child version of yourself and feel empowered to take him or her out of that situation and into Jesus’s Light.
     6) You may need to go through regions of captivity to be set free.  If you hit a particularly difficult area to set free, we have found that sometimes the Enemy has sunk to new lows to keep that person in captivity to their past. We have actually had people complete a session and declare that they felt all kinds of chains of oppression coming off them.  They met Jesus in their pain, allowed Him to receive those hurt parts of themselves, healing their deep spiritual wounds and making them whole again.
     They have expressed that we look different than when they first sat down; we look “clean and bright”.  They weren’t even aware of the dirty veil that Satan had imposed on their worldly vision. They have left, refreshed and rejoicing in their newfound peace and sense of freedom.  Yet, some have returned saying, “There’s still something being hidden from me.  I now know what freedom feels like and I am not willing to let the Enemy keep any part of me in bondage. Can you help me find what it is that is keeping me from being completely free”?
     While most people do not have to return for this reason, it is not hard to realize that the Enemy will try to keep a fragment under his control, and he thinks if he keeps it buried deep enough, it will not be discovered.  People who are in harmony with their spirit are not so easily fooled. One woman, (I will call her Carrie), felt such an unsettling in her spirit and decided to go after that fragment to retrieve it from the clutches of the Enemy. (NOTE:  This is going to seem as if it was written by a science fiction writer, but I assure you that it was very revealing to Carrie).
     In a subsequent session, the Holy Spirit showed Carrie that there was a part of herself who was so mad about how she had allowed herself to be treated by her spouse, that she didn’t trust Carrie not to repeat the pattern of abuse. So she had allowed herself to be imprisoned by the Enemy in what looked like a deep underground cell, preferring to remain in that bondage, rather than suffering the possibility that Carrie could not retain her freedom. It was eye-opening to Carrie to realize how her spirit had suffered while she had rationalized and accepted the abuse as normal. This just shows that sometimes the wounded part is buried so deep that you have to work hard to find it, pull it out and away from the prison the Enemy has hidden it in, and take it to that secure place inside of you, where it can be introduced to Jesus and feel safe enough to become part of the healed spirit.
     7)  The Enemy will try to stop your progress.  It should go without saying that Satan doesn’t want you set free.  And he will do whatever it takes to stop you from growing and maturing in your faith and letting Jesus heal you. He will try to convince you that your freedom is only fleeting; that Jesus’s healing “didn’t take”.  He will whisper the lies in your ear and mind that worked to put you in chains the first time.  He will try to convince you that what the Holy Spirit has whispered to your heart, and the things that Jesus has shown you in your spirit are not true; they are just figments of your imagination. He will taunt you that you are not strong enough to keep your freedom, and he will send his demons to attack you to prove it.  That is the way he operates.  But you know that He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world, and you can resist and overcome the schemes of the devil!  You have seen Jesus work miracles in your spirit, and you know He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  He is your Victory! 
     8) Finally, I have learned that even Jesus needed times of rest and restoration.  I will tell you that once God laid upon our hearts the great need for willing workers to help Jesus heal the spiritually wounded and set the captives free, our world has changed.  We have to live in this world, and that means making a living and taking care of our physical needs.  But the demand (and our desire) to help hurting people is so great and taking precedent in our lives; but it can also be overwhelming at times.
     I am learning that we must be wise in getting enough rest, and it is important to restore our own spirits so that we can assist in the work Jesus wants to do in this hurting world. In Mark, Chapter 4, Jesus urged His disciples to get in the boat to cross to the other side. He saw the crowds and knew the amount of work that would be required of him — there were people to be healed, demons to be cast out, and lessons to be taught. Yet He laid down to sleep, knowing He would need to be rested to accomplish what needed to be done.  And there are other instances of Him removing Himself from the crowds to pray alone.  Those must have been times of asking for increased strength and stamina to do His Father’s work. I have to remind my husband and myself that we, too, need to occasionally be restored if we wish to be capable and competent partners with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. In short, to be our best, we must be withdraw and rest.
     So, that is a summary of the most important things we have learned since the Lord has called us to take part in this ministry called spiritual warfare.  When I step back, I realize what a tremendous amount of information and confidence He has given us, and all in a very short time.  And I am extremely encouraged when I realize He is doing the same thing in others around me.  Although as little as two years ago, I would have been skeptical about this remarkable calling, I can tell you that the changed lives I have witnessed has convinced me, not only of the necessity of spiritual warfare, but the urgency of it. I can now recognize a spiritually wounded person in all the unhappy, angry, anxious, fearful people that I come into contact with — both Believers and nonbelievers. For my husband and myself, and for the growing number of spiritual warriors, it is our mission and our determination to foil the plans of the Enemy to take one more captive. I invite you to submit yourself to the Holy Spirit, allow Jesus to heal your spiritual wounds, and join us in God’s spiritual army.

Isaiah 42:16   “And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.”
   

What I Have Learned By Doing Spiritual Warfare — Part One

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     I know that Spiritual Warfare is a relatively new concept within the Modern Church (although the Early Church was well acquainted with it).  And I know that there are many Pastors who will say they don’t believe in it; or at least do not want to consider it as part of shepherding their flock.  Furthermore, while I believe that Jesus desires us all to engage in spiritual warfare, [in order to take territory from the Enemy and establish His Kingdom on earth], I do not necessarily think that everyone is equipped to do it.  It takes someone with precise and clear knowledge of their Bible to understand that though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:3-4).

      It is important to believe that you have been given the Authority to wage spiritual warfare, and then to believe that the Power of Heaven [through your faith in Jesus] is solidly behind you. You must wage this spiritual war for the right reasons — to perpetuate the works of Jesus: healing, deliverance, and salvation, thereby establishing His Kingdom.  And I will tell you, it’s a definite learning experience. As we boldly trust Jesus and the Holy Spirit to guide us, we are progressing and learning new tactics.  That results in God expanding our territory, and giving us harder assignments. But if you know that you have the Power of Jesus in you, who can defeat you?  It truly is a matter of trust and confidence in Him.
     That being said, I thought you might find it interesting if I shared some of the finer points of spiritual warfare that have characterized the experiences of my husband and myself. While they represent a common thread in the lives of people, I assure you that each person’s spirit perceives them to be unique to their life and circumstances.  And I’m pretty sure that some of what I’m about to share will sound too fantastic to be true, but it is my honest testimony of the Truths Jesus has shown me.
     Furthermore, it is imperative that you understand that the primary way in which Jesus and the Holy Spirit are able to communicate with a wounded and hurting person is through their imagination… Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered (Proverbs 28:26).  Here, Strong’s Concordance defines “wisdom” as the Hebrew word CHOKMAH, meaning experience, shrewdness, special abilities. The Concordance further states that “the prerequisite [for wisdom] is a desire to follow and imitate God as He has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, without self-reliance [and especially not in a spirit of pride]”.  All this to point out that we are spirits in physical bodies, and our spirits can supernaturally connect with our Savior through our minds and imaginations.
     And there will likely be those who say they see nothing of this sort in the Bible. But didn’t the Pharisees accuse Jesus of consorting with Beelzebub when He healed the blind and dumb man?  And unfortunately, as I pointed out in this post, our English Bibles only have one word for all the miraculous works that the Father did through His Son.  That word is healed and it connotes far more than physical healing.  Just in the single verse of Luke 7:21, Scripture tells us, In that hour He healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind He bestowed sight. That verse speaks volumes. If we were honest with ourselves, we would admit that there there are supernatural inferences in the Bible that we may never understand.  But I fear that this has resulted in man limiting all that Jesus can do when interacting (communicating) with our spirits. He has certainly showed me that nothing is outside His creative ability when it comes to setting a captive free!
     So, for now, I hope that at least you will consider that the word “healed” leaves us with a limited understanding of all that Jesus did.  In fact, Strong’s Concordance has shown me that the word “healed”, in this instance, is the Greek word Sózó, meaning to save, heal, preserve, rescue, deliver, [set free].  And when you look up the words “Blind” and “Sight” for this particular verse, the Concordance reveals this: Jesus is referring to people who were [metaphorically] “enveloped in the smoke of pride and self-conceit; lifted up with pride” (blind). But Jesus bestowed sight, which is defined as “intense, earnest perception”.  And what were they perceiving?  The Source of the Power by which Jesus healed them!
     It is time that the 21st Century Body of Christ perceives the Truth of the Word!  And just as in Luke 7:21, Jesus is raising up a spiritual army of men and women who are being “healed”; people who are throwing off their Doubt and Unbelief and Pride — the root sins that keep us from allowing Jesus to heal our physical and spiritual wounds, and to receive and use His Power within us. So, in Part One, I’d like to show you the most common responses we’ve seen to this uncommon ministry.  I want to share how the Holy Spirit has guided us in helping Jesus to set these captives free…
     1)  Why didn’t Jesus stop it?  This is perhaps the Number One question, and the biggest hurdle to overcome for anyone who has been oppressed by the Enemy.  And it doesn’t matter what the “it” is.  Whether it is child molestation, a parent abandoning them, bullying, infidelity, physical and/or emotional abuse, or any number of methods Satan uses to entrap us — it all spells P-A-I-N.
      Even if individuals can see in the spirit, and imagine Jesus being with them through the pain, they cannot understand why He allowed it to happen.  The fact that He never left them nor forsook them in their pain is not enough for some people to heal.  They cannot forgive Him for not stopping the act, whatever it might be.
     To be honest, I had difficulty in explaining it to both the person’s [and my own] satisfaction.  Explaining that Free Will is a principle instituted by God [and given to us all], and that He cannot violate His principles — in other words, pick and choose whose free will He is going to void; yours or your perpetrator — does not ease the pain, nor adequately explain to them why they had to suffer. Their pain is personal and they don’t understand why they had to suffer because of someone else’s free will decision.
     Like I said, that has been a hard concept to swallow, and hard for me to defend … UNTIL, in a recent session, the Holy Spirit gave me supernatural understanding into why seeing Jesus with them is so important.  When I point out that God didn’t even stop His own Son’s crucifixion, and that even Jesus questioned why His Father had forsaken Him, every victim suddenly realizes that Jesus chose to be there with them in their pain.  He is uniquely qualified to know how they feel.  He, too, understands what it is like to wonder why the painful event wasn’t stopped. Although He couldn’t stop it, He was there with them, to share in their burden.  And they begin to understand that God loves them so much, He allowed His Son to suffer (even though it was within His power to stop the crucifixion) in order that Jesus could identify with our suffering, meet us in our pain, and help us to begin to heal. I have literally seen the shadow of demonic torment be lifted from a person’s countenance with this revelation.
     2)  People are often angry with God.  That is only natural, and to be expected at first.  When you are an innocent victim of another person’s evil free will, it is understandable to want to blame someone. And if you are a Christian, it can shatter your impression of a loving, caring God.
     But to a Believer, this can also cause confusion and doubt.  We know God loves us.  To some, it seems blasphemous to be angry at our Creator.  To others, it completely changes how they view God, and their anger gets compartmentalized, because it is the only way they can move on and remain a faith-filled Christian. But whenever anger surfaces in someone, I have never sensed that the Holy Spirit judges or condemns.  It is understood that Anger is a spirit introduced by the Enemy and the power of Jesus is greater than any power of a demonic spirit.  It then becomes important to get the inner person, the victim, to be set free from the bondage the devil has imposed on them.
     3)  A victim is unwilling to see or look for Jesus in the event.  It has been extremely illuminating to see the different responses to seeing Jesus in hurtful circumstances. Some see Him right away and rush into His arms; one might see Him, but angrily refuse His open arms, wanting nothing to do with Him; still others are indifferent to Him, almost mocking the thought that He could comfort them.
     We know that Jesus is the One who heals, not my husband or myself, and the victim certainly has not been able to heal themselves, or they wouldn’t be suffering the oppression in the first place.  We have discovered that Jesus is the key to healing, and if a victim is reluctant to accept His comfort, or unresponsive to His presence, then the Holy Spirit has given us an alternate route to take.
     My husband is particularly good at listening to the Holy Spirit for cues, and this is what he has been shown… If a victim can’t let themselves see Jesus, or wants nothing to do with Him, we can ask them to picture a place that is peaceful and safe.  They may choose a beach or a mountain cabin.  It doesn’t matter where it is, as long as it has meaning to them. And you can see their body visibly relax as they picture that place.
     We have then been able to ask them to close their eyes, search their spirit and see if there are any younger versions of themselves that are struggling.  It is amazing!  Everyone has been able to identify at least one or more versions of themselves that are floundering, or not at peace — and it is usually a vision of themselves at an age that a painful event in their life occurred.
     We can ask them to just envision absorbing that younger self into their spirit, assuring them that they are protected, and taking them to that safe place.  We can ask them to do that for each version of a younger self that feels “out of the loop” with the adult self.  Once they are all comfortable in the safe place, the person is no longer fragmented by feelings of anger or fear or self-rejection.  Sometimes that’s enough to heal the confused spirit, or if necessary, it is a good time to re-introduce Jesus to the whole person, who is now able to accept His loving embrace and spiritual healing.
     I’m sure we have all expressed at one time or another … “I just don’t feel like myself”.  I would submit to you that the Enemy is exploiting some part of your soul, and keeping you in a state of division within yourself.  If he can get some part of you working against your spirit, who abides in Jesus, then he can lay waste to your peace, and your divided “household will fall”.
     By the way, if you have a theological difference, or can’t embrace this concept, then feel free to comment, and let’s talk about it. We need to have an open discussion on the subject and begin to have an honest conversation, because in the next post, I will be going even deeper.
     In Part Two of What I Have Learned By Doing Spiritual Warfare, I will explain the lengths to which the Enemy has gone to keep people in bondage, and how the Holy Spirit has guided us into more complex ways to help set the captives free. And I’m sure that they are not any more sensational than the works of Jesus in His day.  I simply hope you will be able to see how precious each life and spirit are to God, the Father, and to His Son.

2 Corinthians 3:17     “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is freedom.”

Ephesians 2:1-10

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 And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest…

4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, 5 even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you are saved!— 6 and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.

The Miracles of St. Paul at Ephesus, by Jean Restout, 1693
     I don’t know whether you have had the opportunity to read the comments posted on my blog titled, God’s Power, Paul’s Thorn, and Our Authority to Overcome, but two readers posted very different comments, which seemed to be somewhat in disagreement.  One quoted the late Missionary and Evangelist, T. L. Osborn: “You should never ask God to do what he has said He’s already done, and you should never ask God to do what he has told you to do.” The reader then went on to proclaim that this statement is rooted in the principle that God has given us the means to deal with satan’s plans and does not need to handle what has already been dealt with.  The second reader was more concise in his comment, saying simply, “I have always taken it to mean that the gift of Grace trumps everything!” I know that the first comment will make many Christians uncomfortable because it doesn’t fit with their Church’s doctrine. The second comment probably falls more in line with the Church’s traditional theology.  What if both of them are right?
     There is no doubt that God’s Grace has saved us from His justified wrath and delivered us from spiritual death unto Life. And God, through His Grace and Mercy, is able to deliver us out of any situation He desires.  And if He doesn’t, then the Grace that saves us from hell is surely enough.  But I can’t help thinking about what God has already done for us, and what He expects us to do  as a consequence of His Grace in our lives.  And I believe Ephesians 2:1-10 does a pretty good job of identifying this cause and effect concept, and supports both reader’s articulate comments.
     What’s interesting is that verses 1-9 are filled with all the work God has done on our behalf [exhibiting His Grace], and verse 10 makes it very clear that it has all been done with the anticipation that we will do the good works He expects.  First of all, this passage describes the state we find ourselves in … separated from Him because we walk in the ways of the world; we are spiritually dead, finding ourselves under the influence of the Prince of the power of the air (Satan).  Furthermore, this prince is a spirit which this translation (New English Translation) says “energizes the sons of disobedience”.  
     Now, I want to propose that many of us within the Body of Christ probably understand sons of disobedience to mean unbelievers, or lost souls.  But I submit that verse 2 also includes those unbelieving Christians who fight against the purposes of God.  That is, Believers who are battling a spirit of unbelief, and [in their unbelief] are disobedient to the commands of God.
     And what is God’s response to us, “the children of [His] wrath”?  HIS GRACE, WHICH EMPHASIZES HIS WORKS FOR US! And what has He done for us? HE LOVED US!  Love is central to His attributes, and it is not merely an abstract principle.  His love caused Him to act toward us with mercy, and to seek and save all who are lost.  
     In loving us, HE MADE US ALIVE.  We are dead to the old self and are made new creations.  Then God RAISED US UP.  Just as God physically resurrected Jesus, He spiritually resurrects us to a new life.  And it is all because of His Grace and Mercy. Our salvation – our rescue – from spiritual death is God’s work done for the undeserving. And HE SEATED US WITH HIM (CHRIST) IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS. Note that realms is plural.  Although Scripture does not explicitly proclaim which heavenly realm, by including the plural form of the word, might we not interpret it to mean both the second heavenly realm [where Satan and his spirits wage war], as well as the third heavenly realm [where God sits on His throne, with Jesus at His right hand]?
     Verse 7 tells us we are seated with Christ in these heavenly places to demonstrate God’s immeasurable Grace towards us, in that we can partake in His ultimate Victory. In the meantime, victories will be won in the spiritual realm as Believers are equipped with Jesus’s authority and power to minister to others and to defeat the Enemy — works, not done by ourselves so that we might boast — but works that we were created to do in order to display His Kingdom and His Power and His Glory. These are works that He designed us to do as a demonstration of His Presence in us; we are to be active in the good works that He predestined from the moment He created man.
     That’s what verse 10 is all about — it EMPHASIZES OUR WORKS FOR GOD’S KINGDOM!  Jesus, Himself, said, Whoever believes in Me will also do the works that I do.  And we believe in Him because of God’s Grace towards us. They go hand in hand.  His Grace offers us Faith in Jesus; and Faith in Jesus is supposed to result in being “created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them”.  God expects us to do good works, and He has told us what He desires to be done… to heal, to cast out demons, to take care of widows and orphans, to love one another, and to love Him.  As a wise friend showed me, “He doesn’t expect us to pray to Him in order to love one another.  He has already told us to do it, and has shown us what that looks like through the servant life of His Son.  He just wants us to do it“! And we are able to do it because of His Grace, which trumps all our fleshly desires and nature.
     So, my final thought is that both readers are correct.  They expressed the Nature of God … His infinite, all-encompassing, incalculable Nature.  And when He exhibits His Grace and we come to faith, He is glorified by His own actions.  When we do the good works He has prepared for us to do and bear fruit by our faith, then WE glorify Him.  May the Holy Spirit bear witness to all who glorify Him!

The Power of The Word

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     I recently found myself with a few moments of quiet time, contemplating about what God is doing in my life.  So this post will be a little lighter in content than the last ones, but it’s message is what has led me to this blog and the weightier opinions I’ve shared.  For one, I am amazed at the people He is bringing into my life.  Among them are new people, with whom I have no prior history — friends of friends, or family members of friends who have heard of our ministry, and are tired of fighting their demons and willing to give our unorthodox calling a try.  My husband and I are always grateful for the opportunity to speak Jesus into someone’s life who isn’t really familiar with Him.  We are willing to plant the Seed and let the Holy Spirit water it.
     And lately, I have been marveling at the renewal and restoration of old friendships; people that I know God has put in my life for a reason.  These are people who encourage me with their persistent obedience to God.  They are people who, like me, are not perfect, but they have a heart for serving God and are trying to walk that narrow path that leads to God’s Kingdom.

     But it hasn’t always been that way — in their lives, or mine. There was a profession of faith, alright, but my mind was not centered on God; my heart followed its own desires; and there was no evidence of consistent fruit in my daily walk.  It’s easy to say I believe in Jesus as my Savior.  It’s hard to live my life as if I do.  First, you have to want to live a righteous life.  That’s been a journey … as it has been for these old friends.  But we’re all making progress.  And how did we come to that decision and start down our individual paths?  It really began with a simple step — we opened our Bibles.
     I know that sounds corny and simplistic, but it really is the impetus that changes minds, hearts, and spirits. When I challenged myself to read the Bible (the first time) it was basically to familiarize myself with the order of it; with how the events in the Old Testament led to the circumstances in the New Testament. I loved the historical aspects of the Book and was able to see how [and where] concepts I had heard in Church sermons fit into the grand scheme of things.
     When I began to read it the second time, it was then that I was really seeking to know about God and how He wanted to relate to me. I saw Him as a more personal and intimate God, while seeing just how detached I was from Him.  My life, as a so-called Christian, looked no different from an agnostic’s, an atheist’s, or someone who worshipped Buddha, Allah, or Mother Earth. And I realized that my spirit wasn’t happy with the things of this world. I wanted more of Him!
     It was when my husband felt the same longing for more spiritual substance in his life — and he began immersing himself in the Word — that the Bible truly began speaking to us. It’s hard to explain, and again it will sound like a cliché, but God really does begin revealing Himself to you when you spend time with Him in His Word.  And the by-product of that relationship is this:  You want to be a better “you”; you want to live a life that is pleasing to Him; you want to change the parts of you that aren’t Christ-like; and you want to change how you relate to this world, and the impact you will make on it.
     It is this third time through the Bible that is truly revolutionary.  It is as if a veil has been lifted.  Both my husband and myself are seeing God like never before! The Word is alive with new meaning, and we are receiving new impressions on our hearts of just who we are in Christ — and it is so much more than we’ve ever been told or imagined!  It has changed how we see ourselves in this world, and it has made us bold in our faith.  And the greatest blessings come when we see the same transformation in our Christian friends; both old and new.

     We are reconnecting with old friends in Idaho and realizing that God is doing the same amazing work in both families — creating a hunger to be closer to Him, to walk more humbly with Him, and to be fearless in declaring His power in us to do great things for His Kingdom here on earth. We are finding that when we saturate ourselves with the Word, we are able to press into Him and the distractions of our daily lives don’t divert us from following in Jesus’s footsteps. And we’ve discovered that distance is no barrier to walking this narrow path together.
     And God is blessing us with new relationships among Christians who aren’t afraid to step outside of the “Church box”; these new friends actually believe what the Bible says about how we are to exercise the Authority given to us by Christ [as His disciples], and aren’t afraid to do the works He has commissioned us to do, using the Power He has given us.  It strengthens our faith to share this boldness with other followers of Christ; not fearing failure, but continuing in the maturing [of our faith].  We are trusting Jesus and the Father; and we are confident of this, that He who began a good work in us will continue to perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.  All we have to do is believe what the Word tells us and try.  We won’t always succeed, but it is God who has called us to heal, cast out demons, and share the message of His Kingdom.  And what He has begun in us will be refined and purified each time we act out our faith.  And with each step of the way, we are taking back territory from the Enemy!
     But as much as the Word unites us with fellow Christians, it is exciting to introduce the Word to new friends; even those who are not yet saved.  It is amazing how the Bible can speak into someone’s life if we will just spend the time studying with someone one-on-one.  It has truly been inspiring [for me] to watch my husband study the Book of Matthew with unchurched people and to hear how they respond.  At least three nights out of the week, he is on the phone introducing these people to Jesus; and they actually experience an encounter with a man who is at the same time, God.  They learn how He wants us to live, and how the Sermon on the Mount and the Parables really speak volumes to them about how He can be real in their lives. Sometimes these people are left weeping at the realization of the time they’ve lost, but they are well aware that Jesus is ready to receive them now and transform the rest of their lives.  They may have lost time with Him here on earth, but they can spend eternity with Him in Heaven.

     And that’s the beauty and the glory and the majesty and the power of the Bible.  It has the supernatural ability to speak to each individual and thoroughly transform lives.  Each time we immerse ourselves in the Word, we get another glimpse of the One who created us; another chance to see ourselves as He sees us, and to serve Him out of an abundance of gratitude.  Let His Word be a lamp to your feet [as you proceed forth, doing all that He commands], and a light to your path [as it guides you in the footsteps of Jesus].

Isaiah 55:11    “So shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it”.

God’s Power, Paul’s Thorn & Our Authority To Overcome

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     Since my focus over the past few posts has been on Divine Healing, I cannot leave the subject without considering the one question that is always at the forefront … How are we to think about Paul’s “Thorn”?  This question came up in our Home Church meeting on Healing, and continues to be a source of debate between my faithful friends.  What do we understand the thorn to be, and why wasn’t Paul healed of it, are at the center of our discussion.
     First, we need to take a look at the Scripture which has drawn our attention:

2 Corinthians 12:7-10
7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 
8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 
9 But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 
10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

     Right off the bat, I will tell you that it is difficult to discern with any certainty, what Paul’s thorn is — although it is clearly sent by Satan to harass him.  Some have seen it mainly as spiritual harassment. Others have thought it was persecution. Many have suggested it was a physical or mental ailment. Some have said this was Paul’s struggle with lustful and sinful thoughts.  Early Christians, such as Tertullian, thought it was an earache or headache.  I’ve also heard everything from malaria to a nagging wife.  You can see how easy [and distracting] it is to focus on this mystery.
     And there are those who will point to what they call the “First Mention Principle”, which says in order to try to understand the Bible systematically, theologians and philosophers have developed the study of hermeneutics, which deals with the general ways for interpreting Scripture and other written texts.  But it is important to consider that the First Mention Principle is just one of the many hermeneutical techniques that exist in order to interpret the Bible.
     If you want to consider this technique, then you would look at Numbers 33:55, which is the first mention of the word “thorn” in the Bible, and it reads:  But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land before you, then those whom you allow to remain will be irritants in your eyes and thorns in your side, and will cause you trouble in the land where you will be living.  Here, “thorns” refers to the “inhabitants of the land”.  Or you can take a look at Joshua 23:13, which reads,  know for certain that the Lord our God will no longer drive out these nations from before you. They will trap and ensnare you; they will be a whip that tears your sides and thorns that blind your eyes until you disappear from this good land the Lord your God gave you.  Again, “thorns” refers to “the nations” or people.
     But I have to be honest — it doesn’t really matter to me what the thorn is. And I think it is rational to surmise that God made the thorn intentionally vague; it was an instrument by which Satan could harass Paul, and God wants us all to be able to put ourselves in Paul’s shoes.  We are all going to face harassment by the Enemy at some point in our lives — especially if we are doing Kingdom work, as Paul was.
     So, I have been trying to figure out the overall view that God wants us to take away from this passage.  In doing so, I have come across another stumbling block that Christians have when trying to understand Paul’s position towards Satan’s harassment or oppression.  Depending on which version of the Bible you are reading, verse 9 reads either, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, or it reads, I will boast all the more gladly of my infirmities.  This adds to the confusion over what “the thorn” is, and while it is another fly in the ointment, so to speak, if you like to deep dive into the Bible, it is interesting to see where it takes you.
     I will say that most of the versions I have read (ESV, Amplified, New American Standard, New English Translation, for example) use the word weakness.  But the King James, New King James, and Geneva Bible all use infirmities.  But it is interesting that there is a notation in my King James Bible that says “infirmities” means “weakness”.  And when you go to Strong’s Concordance, you can trace the origin of the word “infirmity” from meaning “lacking strength, weakness, infirmity”(769); back to “strengthless” (772), and all the way back to its roots of “to strengthen or confirm in spiritual knowledge and power” (4599) and “to make to stand” (2476).  Can you see where the confusion comes in?  But I also see where these meanings can also help form our understanding of the passage, as you will see in the ensuing paragraphs.
     But maybe we’re missing the forest for the trees.  Maybe we don’t really need to worry about what Paul’s thorn is, or whether what he is boasting of is a weakness or an infirmity. Maybe the true essence of this passage lies in what God tells Paul in verse 9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”  
     I have really been trying to understand what God is telling us all in this oft-quoted Scripture. And I’m pretty sure that how each Christian interprets this verse will depend on their view of God.  I want you to read that last sentence again … how you view God will determine what 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 means to you.  If you believe that God is in control of everything, then you are probably going to think that God has decided (for whatever reason) to allow Paul to continue to suffer with his thorn.  And verse 9 will mean [to you], that God is saying whenever He doesn’t take away your suffering, then His Grace (lovingkindness and mercy) will be enough to get you through.  You might read the rest of that passage to indicate that Paul is accepting his suffering as a testament to his faith in Christ; that he is content to show that by suffering (being weak), yet still holding on to his faith and enduring, he is a picture of Christ strengthening the faithful through diversity.
     There is no doubt about it… Paul is desperate to have this thorn (burden) taken from him.  Three times he pleaded and prayed to God to take it from him.  God obviously did not stop Satan’s harassment, so what might His purpose have been?  Once again, if you believe God controls everything, you might understand verse 9 to mean that God would strengthen Paul to bear the burden of Satan’s attack; that God would strengthen Paul under it, and God would show His strength through Paul’s apparent weakness. And this is certainly a valid interpretation, based on this particular passage.
     But let me give you an alternative view. What if your view of God is that He is not in control of everything?  What if you look at this passage in the context of the Authority and Power given to us by God?  What if God is saying that each us has a choice [through our free will].  We can accept the attacks (thorns) of Satan and endure them for the sake of our testimony that it has strengthened our faith that Christ has the power to uphold us during our suffering … in that case His Grace will be sufficient and enough to get us through those events.
     OR, might we have another choice? I present to you [for your consideration] the Greek translation of 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 … And He said to me, and His declaration still stands, My grace is enough for you, for power is moment by moment, coming to its full energy and complete operation in the sphere of weakness.  Therefore, most gladly will I rather boast in my weaknesses in order that the power of the Christ [like the Shekinah Glory in the Holy of Holies of the Tent of Meeting] may take up its residence in me [working within me and giving me help].  Therefore I am well content in weaknesses, in insults, in necessities, in persecutions, and in circumstances under which I am subject to extreme pressure on behalf of Christ. for when I am weak, then I am filled with ability and power.
     In full disclosure, my view of God has changed and grown exponentially through the ministry He has called me and husband to do on behalf of His Kingdom.  But I am not saying that my view of this passage is the correct one.  I am merely sharing what my spirit is telling me is a possible interpretation.  Since I definitely believe that we have been given Authority by Christ to use His Power [that comes from God] to heal the afflicted, that authority and power also extends to healing ourselves.  This is where my view of God comes into play.
     What if God is saying this: Paul, you have been given free will to deal with this thorn yourself.  You don’t need to keep asking me to remove it for you.  You can endure it for your testimony of the power of Christ to strengthen you through your ordeal.  In that case My grace and mercy will be enough for you.  But, you don’t really need to keep asking me to heal you [you’ve asked three times, and there’s a reason I haven’t responded] … I want you to know that you have been given the Authority and Power to command your own healing. I have given you the very power that I showed in the Holy of Holies! And that power is available to you moment by moment, having taken up residence in you, and you can call on it whenever you need it.  So, Paul, when you’re feeling harassed, insulted, persecuted or oppressed by the forces of the Enemy — when you’re feeling weak, stop and realize you are filled with ability and power.
     Can you see the difference in the more modern translations of this passage and the translation from the original Greek language?  I am not saying that any of them are the right interpretation or the wrong interpretation.  And we must ALL be careful not to fit Scripture to our theology [and personal view of God].  Instead, we should endeavor to fit our theology [and view of God] to Scripture. But when it is not clear — when we do not know exactly what the thorn is, and God does not make it clear why He did not heal Paul — we are left with these mysteries and opportunities for the Enemy to corrupt our understanding — and it is hard to come to a definitive understanding.
     I am not trying to convince you either way, but I think it is important that we take note of all the interpretations and pray for revelation from God — seek the mind and counsel of God to strip away our man-made doctrines, our traditions, and our sacred cows so that we might know His Truth in this matter.
     In the end, perhaps this old adage will sum up your conclusion:  A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.  But, at the very least, I hope this discussion will encourage you to do a deep study of the Word.  I think it is no accident that God made this passage somewhat vague and difficult to understand.  Those with a heart willing to be transformed by the supernatural power of God, will hunger to seek more of Him.  We can agree to disagree, and we can debate in love.  In the end, we are seeking Him, and His Kingdom will be blessed.

Ephesians 3:20-21   “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the Glory in His Church, in Yeshua, and throughout all the generations to come”.

     

HEALING: Understanding The Full Blessing of Jesus

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     I cannot tell you how blessed I am by our Home Church!  We are a diverse group of Christians who come together, trying to overcome the limitations of our particular denominational doctrines in order to emerge into the Light of God’s genuine Truth.  It hasn’t always been easy, and at times one or another of us has had our theology shaken to the core.  As for my husband and myself, we are unafraid of our Bibles, and are willing to believe what the Good Book plainly tells us — throwing off the conventional teachings of the Church (where needed); especially when it does not correlate to God’s inspired Word. Therefore, we are unafraid (and encourage others) to bring forth topics that reveal a bigger picture of the God we serve.

     And so, on this last Sabbath, two men of our faithful group reported to us after attending a Divine Healing Technician Training conference.  I, for one, was eager to hear how Mike and Chris related their experiences [from a Biblical perspective], since spiritual healing plays such an important part in the ministry that God has brought to my husband and myself.  The emphasis on their training was physical healing, but as I hope to show you, this is an important part of the whole healing package that Jesus desires for us.  

     To say that these two men were on fire to follow the example Jesus modeled for us, is to do their enthusiasm an injustice.  And I am unable to relate the full content of their presentation in this short blog post, so I will try to give you the highlights.  But they showed us in Scripture after Scripture that Jesus came to provide a pattern for holy living for Christians, and to reveal what God’s Kingdom on earth should look like.  He healed the sick and infirm; cast out demons (another form of healing); and preached the Gospel, or Good News, about the Kingdom.  And He asked us to follow in His footsteps.  

     The Apostles did that, and so did the early disciples of The Way, even after our Lord’s death and resurrection.  So why aren’t we continuing His example?  Why aren’t we walking in His footsteps?  Well, as Mike and Chris informed us, there are three major reasons that modern Christians don’t emulate our Lord’s actions in healing:  1)  Unbelief;  2)  the Traditions of Men; and 3) Sacred Cows.
     Unbelief  is not new to our current generation.  As I related last week, Jesus reprimanded the disciples who were unable to heal the epileptic boy in Matthew 17:  it was because of their unbelief. Their faith was immature and they did not believe that they had either sufficient authority or enough power to cast out the demon causing the boy’s infirmity.  And so they failed.  But today, Christians often don’t believe they have ANY authority or power to heal, and so they never even try.  Is that what Jesus taught us in His Word?  Not at all!  He said, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you. 
     We just have to believe what the Bible tells us and be willing to step out in faith and do what Jesus did!  Will we be successful each and every time? Probably not.  But is that an excuse not to keep trying?  Is that the measure of a maturing and developing faith?  I don’t want to stand in front of Jesus one day, and tell Him I diligently searched His Word, and saw and understood His example of healing, yet decided it didn’t apply to me, or worse yet, quit trying when I didn’t get satisfactory results.  How can I deny my Bible when it tells me to not just be a hearer of the Word, but a doer of it? 
     The Traditions of Men and Sacred Cows are similar in that they are a belief/doctrine or long-established religious perception that are held down through generations, regardless of whether they align with Biblical Truth or not.  “It is just God’s Will” is such a tradition.  Where in the Bible does it say that it is God’s will for a follower of Jesus Christ to be sick, ill, infirmed, or oppressed by demons?  And if, like most Christians, you want to point to Job, then I would like you to look at Job’s predicament as part of the “big picture” in God’s plan.  Christ had not yet come when Satan accused Job. Job’s problems are not our problems!  We are covered by the Blood of Jesus and by His stripes we are healed! 
     As Mike and Chris made clear, The Word is our final authority… not our Church doctrines nor our traditions nor our sacred cows.  God’s Word is settled in Heaven, and it should be settled here on earth.  Healing is established in Heaven — there are no tears, mourning, crying or pain — and therefore if Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven, then Healing is to be established here on earth.  And Jesus came to model that for us as a man.  He did not heal as God, but “emptied” Himself in order to become a Servant to His fellow man; receiving His power from God to heal, as did the Apostles and Disciples.  That same power to heal is available to us — if we will just believe and do it!  And in doing so, we are partnering with God and following in the footsteps of Jesus to destroy the works of the devil.  It was for this reason that God sent His Only Son to us.
     Jesus had compassion on His fellow man, and He came to heal those who are sick; both physically and spiritually.  He makes it clear to us in Luke 5:31-32, Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.

     You see, He began by healing the physical sickness of all men, but He knew that their souls and spirits needed healing, too.  And that ultimate healing comes through repentance; which brings salvation and deliverance, which are manifestations of Jesus’s full blessing.  Healing is a sign of the full power of God to deliver and rescue men.  

     As a side note, the full capacity of God’s healing is evident in the various Hebrew and Greek words that reveal God’s compassion and mercy for His creation:  
Rapha (Hebrew): cure; cause to heal; [be a] physician; repair thoroughly; make whole — Genesis, 20:17 (Literally); Isaiah 19:22 (Figuratively).  
Iaomai (Greek): heal, generally of the physical, sometimes of spiritual or disease; Supernatural healing and bringing attention to the Lord Himself as the Great Physician (used 26 times in the Bible) —  Matthew 8:8, 13; James 5:16.
Therapeuó (Greek): properly heal, reversing a physical condition to restore a person having an illness (disease, infirmity); to relieve of disease; heal, cure, restore in health (used 43 times in the Bible) — Mark 6:5; Matthew 17:18.
Nathan (Hebrew): to deliver; to give — 1 Kings 22:6
Aphesis (Greek):  deliverance, pardon, complete forgiveness; to be released from bondage or imprisonment; forgiveness or pardon of sins — Mark 1:4
Sózó (Greek):  To save, heal, preserve, rescue, deliver — Acts 2:21; John 3:17; John 12:47
     As you can see, God’s healing is seen in the concepts of Healing, Salvation, and Deliverance.  Only the word sózó incorporates all three, and only Jesus can do all three.  Have been those who seek to exploit this ministry?  Absolutely — just as Simon the Sorcerer attempted to profit from the layin on of hands in Acts, Chapter 8.  But, as Jesus’s willing partners, we can follow His righteous example and help people be physically healed.  That’s why it is important that we acknowledge the Truth in the Word; that we are to lay hands on people and heal their physical infirmities to show them the power of Jesus in us!  By doing so, we can convey that He can also heal their deep inner wounds and their spirits; that He offers them a rescue from the bondage of sin and can deliver them into Everlasting Life!
     At the end of our Home Church, Mike and Chris put their faith into action, and asked if anyone needed healing.  In my spirit, I could see Jesus smiling as these two faithful men kneeled beside their fellow Christians and prayed for supernatural healing.  Their faithfulness to fulfill the commission given to all of us by our Lord was not only inspirational, but an incentive to make my faith one of action, not just abstract belief.  I have no doubt that there will be those among us who will put their faith into action and grow into this Biblical healing ministry.  I thank God that the Church is awakening to our call to mature into the likeness of Christ — let there be no more suffering and let all those on earth come to know the full power of Our Savior to heal us body, soul, and spirit!
Psalm 103:2-4    “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy…”

Luke 10:19 … Does “All” Mean All?

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Listen carefully: I have given you authority [that you now possess] to tread on serpents and scorpions, and [the ability to exercise authority] over all the power of the enemy (Satan); and nothing will [in any way] harm you.

     I know that I have referenced this verse many times during my discussion on spiritual warfare.  It is a foundational concept that we modern Christians don’t really understand, and frankly, don’t know how to incorporate into our walk with Christ. 
     I have discussed our Power and Authority through Christ in several blogs.  And you can refer to my thoughts on this subject by clicking here here and here, among others. But today, I want to explore what the Bible says about the power of Satan, and if Jesus really meant that He was giving us [His] authority over ALL the power of the Enemy.  In effect, I’m asking this question … does ALL really mean ALL (the complete, total, and entirety of the devil’s power), and what does that power consist of?
     First, we must understand who our adversary is, and again, Christians cannot entirely agree on how much he [can] control our lives.  But this we do know:  He is not equal to God.  God is All-powerful, Omnipresent, and Omniscient.  Satan is none of these.  He cannot be present everywhere at once, nor can he know everything, and know it all at once.  And most importantly, he does not have the same degree of power that God has.  BUT we must acknowledge that he does have power — Jesus states as much in this verse!  But when it comes to this power, how is it conducted against us?  And that’s where I believe the difference of opinion among Christians leaves some of us vulnerable to that power.
     It is essential that we come to know our own theology; that we develop a clear Biblical understanding of the nature of God and His cosmic principles, and be able to apply it to our lives in relationship with Him.  There are those Christians who will say that the devil has no power without God’s permission — that he cannot tempt you, cause you physical harm, cannot force you to do anything you don’t want to, cannot touch you in any way, does not know the future.  In other words, anything bad that happens to you is because God allowed it.  And, in essence, what they are saying is that all power and authority belong to God, and Satan has no authority over the Believer.  And they can site Scripture after Scripture to back up their position.  
     I would agree that all power and authority ultimately belongs to God, but this particular theological position discounts all the Scripture that acknowledges how our free will plays into the power equation.  You see, when discussing the Enemy’s power, we cannot dismiss that he has access to this realm because man’s free will in the Garden, which resulted in rebellion against God’s authority, has given Satan the titles of  “prince,” “god,” and “ruler” of this world — all of which denote some degree of power.  And he has not abdicated those positions, nor the power that comes with them.
     Yes, while it is important to recognize that his power is evident on this earth and in the spiritual realm [where his demons reside and should not be underestimated], we know in our spirits that Jesus Christ crushed Satan’s power with His death on the Cross.  Yes,  “The prince of this world now stands condemned” and Jesus will one day destroy Satan’s power completely and purify His creation.  But note: that is one day in the future!  Until then, Satan’s power is real and he continues to oppress and attack us.
     But this should not frighten us nor discourage us! Jesus showed us [through his healing miracles of both sicknesses and demonic attacks] that the power of the Father was stronger than any power of the ruler of this world.  And do you think that just because Jesus is absent from this earth, that the Enemy has abandoned the field of battle?  Furthermore, do you think that Jesus would leave us without the ability to fight back; that He would expect us to suffer until the day and the hour that the Father instructs Him to return to judge Evil and destroy it forever?  That simply does not fit the Nature of the God I serve!
     The only area in which Satan’s power is completely broken is over Death.  Until the Cross, Satan held the Power of Death and the Fear of Death.  But Jesus’s Death destroyed that particular power of the devil, and in this arena, the Victory is complete. 
     But we cannot lose sight that God still grants Satan some authority in this world, which means that his power is not yet completely broken … We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one (1 John 5:18). He is still able to afflict our flesh, our emotions, our minds, and influence/tempt our free will.  I never get tired of quoting Dr. Charles Kraft, who says, “Our churches are filled with wonderfully saved people … who are afflicted by the devil and need healing; both physical and spiritual”.  And I can attest to that through the increasing numbers who have found their way to my and my husband’s doorstep!  It amazes me that they are not even aware that their physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering is in anyway connected to the power of the devil to attack them.
     So, back to my original question … when Jesus says He has given us authority over ALL the power of the Enemy, do you believe Him?  Or are you too willing to believe Satan’s lies that what you are suffering is the will of God; to humble you and bring you closer to Him?  Is that the picture of God that you have — that He would desire you to suffer infirmities; or the emotional and spiritual pain of all manners of abuse; or leave you in a state of continual self-hatred for things you’ve done [or were done to you]?  Because that’s NOT what Jesus says here, in Luke 10:19!!!  He very clearly tells us that He has given us the authority to overcome every (ALL) power of the Enemy — the same authority [to use the Divine Power] that God gave Him to defeat evil — whether they be spirits of Infirmity, Demonic attacks, Physical/Sexual/Emotional Abuse, Self-denial, Unforgiveness, Fear, Anger, Shame, Rejection, Lust, Pride, Rebellion, Unbelief, the Occult … and the list goes on and on. 
     Jesus came to be our example; we are made in His image, and we are told that it is our mission to become more like Him as we grow to maturity in our faith.  When are we going to believe that we can be like Him, and when are we going to begin acting like Him? 
     I can tell you that as the Holy Spirit begins to show you these Truths, there is a freedom and the burden to live in this world becomes lighter.  Jesus really meant it when He said His yoke was easier and His burden lighter.  I see Him like this … He came to train us up, like an older, stronger, more experienced Brother who would bear the burden of teaching us spiritual warfare and guide us through learning by His example. 
     Now it’s up to us to not only believe Him, but follow in His footsteps … We have His God-given Authority to deal with Satan’s power [and any attack by the Enemy].  We must step out in Faith, knowing that the Power that is in us is greater than the devil’s power, and nothing can harm us!
     

Is Technology Threatening Our Spirit?

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     This post explores the boundaries between our hearts, minds, and Spirit; and whether we are in danger of exceeding those boundaries as set forth by our Creator.  I recently read a very disturbing article in The Sun, stating that FACEBOOK founder Mark Zuckerberg is funding the development of technology with the potential to read humans’ minds. Of course, the Billionaire and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are doing it for the “good of mankind”, and they hope to cure, prevent, or manage all diseases in the span of a couple of generations.

     According to The Sun, one of the researchers who will receive funding is Dr. Rikky Muller, CEO and founder of a firm called Cortera. She is purportedly working to develop brain implants that will have the potential to change people’s behavior by altering their “physiological responses” – the term for reactions which take place in response to external stimuli; like allowing paralyzed people to control prosthetic limbs, for instance. These implants would work by monitoring the electrical signals sent within the brain.
     Now, you might be thinking that this doesn’t sound any different than the tremendous number of dynamic technological advances that have marked the last 50 years or so. But the more I am becoming aware of living “in the spirit”, the more concerned I become about the “advancements in technology” that threaten my connection to God. And by now, I’m sure you’re wondering how technology and our spirit can come into conflict.  See if you can follow my train of thought….
     I want to begin by pointing out that this technological research is multi-faceted.  Among the goals stated by these scientists are the ability to interface with the brain for long-term, minimally-invasive neurological recording; monitoring and manipulation of neural circuits; and to develop 3D imaging technology which can probe the “deep structures of the brain” and is “essential for unravelling neural activity”.  Now let’s examine how God made our unique souls and spirits to “interface” with Him (if you will allow me to use that technological term).
     In a fascinating article by Andrew Freed, entitled Understanding the Heart and Spirit Realm Connection, Mr. Freed starts off with a bang:  “The heart is the doorway to the supernatural.  Through our heart we have access to the spirit realm, and through the heart the spirit realm has access to us”.  This is borne out by the many references to “the heart” we find in the Bible.  And the excellent website, Bible Study Tools, offers an extensive discussion of the heart, in which they identify Scripture that supports Mr. Freed’s premise.
     Jesus says that the heart’s secrets are betrayed by the mouth, even as a tree’s fruit discloses its nature ( Matt 12:33-34 ). “A wise man’s heart guides his mouth, ” says Solomon ( Prov 16:23 ). Most importantly, the mouth confesses what the heart trusts ( Rom 10:9 ; Deut 30:14 ).  Furthermore,  the heart’s reasoning, as well as its feeling, depends on its moral condition. Jesus said that “from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts” ( Mark 7:21 ). Because the human heart is deceitful above all things ( Jer 17:9 ) and folly is found up in the heart of a child ( Prov 22:15 ), the Spirit of God must give humans a new heart ( Jer 31:33 ; Ezek 36:26 ) through faith that purifies it (Eph 3:17). If you take the time to look up all those Scriptures, you will get the idea … the heart is essential to our relationship with God, and there is a definite relationship between our heart and mind.  But how does technology link to possible threats to those relationships?
     That’s where Mr. Freed’s article takes an interesting turn.  He writes that decades ago the medical community thought the only communication between the heart and the brain was through nerve endings.  (This is how the brain regulates heart rate).  He says that today we know the heart sends signals to the brain through the unseen realm in the form of electromagnetic waves … your heart communicates like a transceiver and the mind speaks to the heart through nerve endings, while the heart speaks to the mind through wave endings. Are you starting to get the picture?
     You see, the word “Heart” (Lebab/Leb in Hebrew) occurs over one thousand times in the Bible, and the ancient Israelites understood that there was a connection between our heart and our minds (or brain), and more often than not, there was a battle between the two. There are so many verses that point to this Truth:  I, the Lord, search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds (Jeremiah 17:10; Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding [or thoughts from your mind] (Proverbs 3:5); The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience [which comes from the mind] and a sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5).
     So can you discern the danger involved with brain/computer interfaces?  If these technology scientists are interested in interacting with nerve endings to stimulate the brain — and nerve endings are how the mind speaks to the heart (see above in bold) — and if the heart is our connection point to the supernatural, and by inference, to God and the Holy Spirit — then it seems logical to me that technology could interrupt or corrupt our communication with our Creator.
     Technology and their scientists will tell us that they want to change people’s behavior by altering their “physiological responses” to external stimuli and help paralyzed people control prosthetic limbs and walk again, but I honestly fear that Satan could use this research to alter our reactions to the external stimuli of God and the Holy Spirit.
     When you think about it, it is quite cunning of Satan to influence technology in this manner.  While I do not believe that Satan can read our minds, he can influence our thoughts through our hearts.  He certainly did that in Acts, Chapter 5, when his influence on the hearts of Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, resulted in their thoughts to deceive the early Church.  That is why part of our spiritual armor from God is a helmet of salvation.  I believe part of that helmet’s job is to protect our minds from the attempts of the Enemy to corrupt our hearts through our thoughts.  This idea is further expounded upon by the Word: We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). Arguments and opinions come from our mind/brain, while obedience to Christ originates in our hearts.
     So, when the article in The Sun states that Mark Zuckerberg is funding “technology [that] could one day be used to directly record human thoughts and allow artificial intelligence to read our minds”, then the Holy Spirit tells me we are on fragile ground.  Scripture tells us that we are to guard our heart, for from it flows the springs of life.  That tells me that my eternal life depends on the state of my heart.  And I am well aware how my thoughts can derail my relationship with Jesus.  Do I really want technology to advance to the point that they can manipulate my brain and try to corrupt [or possibly eliminate] my spiritual connection to my Lord?  It’s something to think about.

Psalm 26:2   “Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and my mind”.

Prayer and Fasting: Powerful Spiritual Weapons

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     As I have shared recently, both my husband and I are doing long-distance Bible studies with people who are new to seeking God.  By that, I mean people who have no experience of being introduced to Jesus in a Church; people who have sat in Churches for years, but realize they don’t know their Bibles; and even people who thought of themselves as having faith, but now understand they don’t really know this God we serve.  And what a blessing it’s been!  It has enabled me to spend time in familiar passages, and it has sharpened my abilities to explain what the Word says and means.  It’s one thing to be able to recite Scripture; it’s quite another to make the meaning of that Scripture clear to someone else and show them how it affects their lives [both now and eternally].
     And it is an awesome responsibility to present God’s Truth in the Bible, and not just a religious doctrine or my own interpretation.  Of course all that is part of the discussion, but the ultimate goal is to give each person a foundation of who the Most High God is, His plan for the Ages, the importance of  following His commandments, and the relationship He wants with each of us. And I must admit that I learn more about my Savior and His Kingdom with each venture into the Word. Because there are so many concepts and teachings that we, as Christians, accept without really understanding their significance, I wanted to take the time to explore just one of them.
     I have long been fascinated by the story of the epileptic boy whom Jesus heals in Matthew 17.  As you will recall, Jesus is approached in a crowd by the boy’s father who reports that he had taken his ill son to Jesus’s Disciples, but they had been unable to heal him.  Jesus shows His exasperation that the Disciples’ faith was so ineffective, and has the boy brought to Him, upon which He rebuked the demon causing the epilepsy and the boy was healed.  The Disciples later approach Jesus and ask why they were unable to drive the demon out.  Jesus reveals that due to their unbelief, they were powerless against the demon.  And then He reveals an interesting bit of information … But this kind of demon does not go out except by prayer and fasting.  And it is the significance of this verse that I wish to discuss.
     But before we approach the substance of this verse (Matthew 17:21), I have to tell you that there are some versions of the Bible in which it does not appear.  However, a more detailed version of this story is rendered in Mark 9:14-29, in which Jesus declares in verse 29 that prayer and fasting are necessary to throw this kind of demon out. It doesn’t bother me that this particular instruction appears in one place, but not another, because the Bible, in its entirety, is a complete revelation of God, and it is up to me to seek His Truth on a matter.  That being said, what are we to make of this comparison between faith and prayer/fasting?
     If you have any knowledge of religious doctrine, then you are most likely aware how the Church views the subjects of prayer and fasting.  They are often linked together, and as one of my favorite websites, GotQuestions.org points out, “Too often, the focus of fasting is on the lack of food. Instead, the purpose of fasting should be to take your eyes off the things of this world to focus completely on God. Fasting is a way to demonstrate to God, and to ourselves, that we are serious about our relationship with Him. Fasting helps us gain a new perspective and a renewed reliance upon God.”  I would agree with that.  Fasting is a way to deny our flesh in order to concentrate on our spiritual connection to God.  But Jesus seems to take it to a new level, doesn’t He?  He specifically relates prayer and fasting to casting out a demon!  That’s spiritual warfare!
     It is also obvious that there are degrees of evil associated with demons … This kind requires the extra power of prayer and fasting.  This suggests that there are levels or degrees of demons as well as degrees of how we wage spiritual war, doesn’t it?  Some demons might be cast out by our own ability [knowing we have the authority to do it]; some by invoking the Name of Jesus; and some even by praying [even from a minimal amount of faith] — all methods that had been taught to the Disciples by our Lord.  But ones like this one need more than our Authority, our use of the Divine Name, and our weak prayer.  This particular demon needed a higher intensity of power, and Jesus makes it clear that this power comes from seeking a higher degree of relationship with God through the combination of prayer and fasting.

     Scripture tells us that the Disciples had been previously successful in casting out demons without fasting.  They had apparently been successful until they found themselves in a spiritual battle over the epileptic boy.  So what is it about praying while fasting that can give us that greater faith to receive a greater power and defeat a stronger form of evil?  I would submit to you that fasting denies our body the distraction of food, and leaves us in a state of spiritual hunger for a deeper communion with God.  Combine this state with an intense level of passionate prayer, and it will release a commitment of Divine Power to defeat the Enemy.
     I would suspect that there was a learning curve for the Disciples, and this incident highlights their weak and imperfect faith, while presenting Jesus with an opportunity to add to their education.  In other words, they were developing their spiritual battle plans, and out of this defeat, Jesus had shown them a new strategy. Now, we do not know for sure that they had been previously taught this tactic, but Jesus’s exasperation — He called them an unbelieving and perverted generation, and wondered how long He was going to have to put up with them! — seems to indicate they had neglected the spiritual preparation to deal with this kind of demon.
     But let me ask you this question … Are we any different than those Disciples?  Do we even recognize that we are involved in a spiritual battle with demonic entities? (At least they recognized that demons are real)! And have we prepared ourselves spiritually for battle — let alone applied fervent prayer and fasting to our arsenal?
      When are we going to learn that we must educate ourselves and prepare to fight a spiritual battle in the spirit? When we seek to commune with God, spirit to Spirit, in prayer from our heart — and we fast, seeking God out of the hunger in our spirit — it is a powerful combination that produces a spiritual weapon capable of defeating the powers of darkness and taking back territory [from Satan] for the Kingdom of God.

     Can we see that fasting and prayer were powerful weapons throughout the Bible?  Moses fasted and prayed for 40 days and 40 nights on Mt. Sinai.  Hannah fasted and prayed for a son, and God gave her Samuel, one of the most important prophets in the Old Testament.  Nehemiah fasted and prayed when he was preparing to return from the exile to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.  Esther fasted and prayed when the Jewish exiles in Persia were threatened with extermination by Haman.  Daniel fasted and prayed throughout his exile in Babylon, and God gave Him great visions about what was to come upon the world.  John the Baptist and his disciples fasted and prayed; and the Christians at Antioch fasted and prayed when they sent Paul and Barnabas off on their mission trip.  And, perhaps as the perfect model for us, Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days and 40 nights to prepare for the ministry God assigned to Him.
     By now it should be apparent that fasting, accompanied by prayer, is a Biblical, intense God-seeking that releases an intense spiritual power. And each and every one of the examples of prayer and fasting [in the previous paragraph] resulted in spiritual power and territory that was taken back for the Kingdom of God. And that is the assignment He has given us!  We are to Seek first the Kingdom of God … and enter into this spiritual battle using strategies Jesus has given us to conquer the dark forces of evil.  Prayer and fasting sounds so easy, doesn’t it?  Yet we are have lost the sense of their power in this modern world.  And, sadly, the Enemy continues to take territory from us….

Isaiah 58:6    “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, To tear to pieces the ropes of the yoke, To let the oppressed go free and break apart every [enslaving] yoke?”

     
   

Do We Even Know What It Means To Be “The Church”?

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     Yesterday, I expressed my concerns and frustrations regarding the institutionalized “Church”, and how my spirit senses that we are stifling the full image of Jesus and His ministry.  That got me to thinking … What did Jesus expect of the Church?  How did He envision it? And is it what He intended it to be?
     There have been 20 centuries since our Savior walked this earth and the Church came into existence. As we are well into the 21st, I think it’s time we take a good hard look at ourselves and determine if we even resemble what He began, and if we are serving His purpose for the Kingdom of God.
     First of all, you can scour the internet and find all kinds of commentaries and discussions on what the Church should be, and more often than not, it seems that it is from man’s perspective — it is what we have decided the Church should look like from hundreds of years of internal deliberation and analysis.  But is that what really matters — what we have determined? Because, I would venture to say that if you asked ten Christians what Jesus intended The Church to be, you would probably get ten different answers, depending on their denomination and generational biases.  If you had to find the common denominator among those varying opinions, you would probably come up with a checklist describing the Church as something close to the following:  1) a community of prayer based on the Word;  2) we are to worship God;  3) we are to make disciples;  4) we are to be in genuine fellowship with one another; encouraging each other in our walk with Christ; and finally, 5) we are to proclaim the Gospel to the rest of the world.
     All of those are good descriptions; no one could deny their importance.  But do they represent what Jesus conveyed as His charge to those who would follow Him? Consider this … Did you know that there are only two instances that Jesus even mentions the word church in the four Gospels?  The first is in Matthew 16:15-19, where it is my opinion that Jesus describes the spiritual aspect of what “Church” means to Him.  In this passage, Jesus acknowledges Peter’s confession of faith in Him as the Son of the Living God, and tells Peter that on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.  Peter is also told that he will be given the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
     I would like to encourage you to read my post on this passage, as it will clear up what I think is a mistaken image of establishing an “organized” church model, with Peter as the head.  Here is a quick synopsis of what I think Jesus meant (and I hope you will read the entire post to get the full context):  Where this talk took place, and what Jesus said, would have made Peter and his fellow disciples very uneasy.  They knew they were standing on the ground where the Fallen Angels landed on their descent to earth (in Genesis 6:1-4), and it is ground that the Nephilim had inhabited.  In Jewish theology, the spirits of these dead warrior-kings were demons.  Jews believed that this area, with its connection to Fallen Angels and temples dedicated to Zeus and Baal worship, was the entryway to the underworld — the gates of Sheol, which simply means “the place of the dead” or “the place of departed souls/spirits.”  (The New Testament Greek equivalent is Hades, or in English, Hell).  In this case, with its history involving Fallen Angels, this was a place of evil departed spirits, or demons.
     Therefore, Peter clearly understood what Jesus was saying — that when He referred to “the rock” on which He would build His Church, He did not mean either Peter or Himself.  Peter and the other Disciples knew Jesus was talking about the very rock on which they were standing — the foot of Mount Hermon, the demonic headquarters of the Old Testament and the Greek world. So when Jesus declared His plan to start His Church on that very spot — on the top of the gates of hell — He is saying that He would crush both Evil and Death, and bury them!  He is saying that He intends for the power of His Church to be like a huge rock that will smash the rocks upon which the gates of hell rested — and He intends His Church to take the fight to the Enemy!

     I believe that Jesus is expressing His plan that those who would follow Him in faith (that is the Church; and Peter being the first in time, not authority) would be given the “keys to the Kingdom” in other words, the power to help establish Heaven on Earth — which was God’s plan from the beginning in the Garden of Eden.  God wants His realm — His Kingdom — to be the same on Earth as it is in Heaven.  That means no pain, no illnesses, no demonic attacks, no poverty, no fear, etc.  And that is the primary message Jesus came to deliver!  By healing infirmities, casting out demons, and sharing the Gospel of the Kingdom, He is telling the world that He came to help institute Heaven on Earth — and to show us what God’s Kingdom looks like.
     I believe Jesus meant the Church to be those who would share these same goals.  He gathered around him a group of disciples who participated in His spiritual healing power and teaching.  And I believe He fully intended His disciples to carry on His work together, as the Church.  But He makes it clear that He desires that everyone who would follow Him be on the same page as to His goals for the Kingdom.  And that’s where He mentions for the second and last time, the word Church.  
     In Matthew 18:15-20, I believe we get a more accurate picture of how Jesus saw the physical image of what we have come to know as the Church.  He is addressing His disciples on how to handle a community member who has separated himself from the community and refuses to listen. Jesus said, If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church, and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector … Again I say to you, that if two believers on earth agree [that is, are of one mind, in harmony] about anything that they ask [within the will of God], it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in My name [meeting together as My followers], I am there among them.
     Now this is where I am probably going to lose those who are well entrenched in their mega-church buildings, and those who like their image as part of a particular Christian organization or established religion.  First, we need to acknowledge that the word “Church” is not the word Jesus would have used. Secondly, we have no actual way of knowing what word Jesus used, because He would have spoken in Aramaic, and we have no Aramaic translation of the New Testament.  However, when Matthew made his own personal translation of what Jesus said in Aramaic, he felt that the best translation of what Jesus said in Aramaic was the Greek word, ekklesia, which means “a gathering” or “assembly” in English.
     But note how Jesus describes what our English Bibles call “the church” in Matthew 18 — He clearly says that where two or three are gathered in His Name, they are meeting together as His followers, and constitute a gathering, an assembly, a congregation [a fellowship], a church of Believers.  So how did we get to this “written in stone” concept of Church as a hierarchy of institutionalized religion and symbolized by an image of a building full of people?
     Perhaps when His Second Coming didn’t happen as quickly as the disciples anticipated, they set about establishing some sort of an organization to carry on after their lifetimes.  I believe the early communities of disciples and Believers tried to carry on His physical/spiritual healing and His teachings that centered on establishing God’s Heavenly Kingdom here on earth; of binding evil on Earth as it is bound [restricted] in Heaven, and loosing God’s healing on Earth as it is loosed [unleashed] in Heaven. But as the apostles and First Century disciples passed from the scene, the message of establishing the heavenly Kingdom on earth began changing to a message of personal salvation, which was a product of faith in Jesus.  “The Church” made Salvation their primary message, and sadly, I cannot dismiss the selfish implications of this thought — not that Salvation through faith in Jesus isn’t important for our eternal destiny, but the message of Salvation is all about us. The Message of the Kingdom of God is all about Jesus and the Father! Jesus clearly told us that He was sent for the primary purpose of preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God (Luke 4:43).  Furthermore, He admonished us to Seek first, the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33). 
     So have we done that?  Are we, as “The Church” an embodiment of His teachings and commandments? Have we gathered in small communities and assemblies and promoted the idea that we, as His followers, are to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth — as it is in Heaven — by healing the sick; ridding the earth of the influence of Satan and his demons; teaching others what it means to have faith in Jesus and receiving the gift of Salvation and eternal life in return?  Jesus told us, My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?
     Again, I always feel as if I must tell you that I am not indicting the entire Body of Christ or those that choose to worship Him in fellowship in buildings.  I simply want all of us to look deeper at what Christ has chosen to reveal in His Word.  And I want all of us to consider this question, as posed by the website, The Real Truth:  If Jesus walked the earth today, and had to choose from the myriad of Churches in America, would He choose to attend your Church?  Remember, at the end of His earthly ministry, and just before His ascension into Heaven, He gave a command to the soon-to-be apostles: “Go you therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy [Spirit]: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). 

     So, do our churches observe ALL THINGS as commanded by Jesus?  If He walked into any church in America today, what would He hear, or what would He find?  Isn’t it acceptable to think that whatever Christ taught the original apostles, He would expect to find in His Church?  Would He find a Church that taught the foundational principles of His teachings, or one that extolled their own denominational doctrine?  Would He find your church celebrating the Holy Feast Days as commanded by God, or observing man-made holy days called Christmas and Easter, while rationalizing that they commemorate Him? (And then ask yourself this question:  Do you think Christmas and Easter are celebrated in Heaven — or Passover, Feast of Tabernacles, etc.? … On Earth as it is in Heaven, remember?).
     Again, if Jesus entered your church, would He find disciples healing the sick (as Peter did) and casting out demons (as the 70 evangelists did)?  Or would He hear condemnation of those acts as heresy?  Would He hear a message from the pulpit saying, “While we are to try to keep the Ten Commandments, it is not necessary [to keep them] to receive eternal life. Jesus did away with those ‘Old Testament Laws’ and nailed them to the Cross”.  Do you think He might want to stand up and shout, Remember what I told you in Matthew 19:17: If you would enter life, keep the commandments!
     These are just a few of my thoughts about how Jesus would look upon The Church today.  Are we hearing His voice?  And does He know us?  Are we truly following Him in ALL His ways?  Are we producing any fruit?  And if so, is it fruit that He recognizes — or is it the world that commends us?  My spirit just keeps bombarding me with all these thoughts because I sense that the Harvest is near. And as the Church, it is incumbent upon us that we ask ourselves if we have prepared the soil (the world) to receive the seed (His message of the Kingdom); if we have cultivated that soil (broken up the plans of the Enemy to deceive the world) so that our King might reap the harvest He left us in charge of.
     You see, I fear that we have concentrated on watering the plants in our own garden (our church buildings) instead of preparing and cultivating the fields in the outside world.  And while I see fruit being borne within the assembly, the world doesn’t seem to get to share in savoring the sweet taste of Jesus. With His return eminent, I suspect that Jesus is looking forward to a Great Harvest.  The Church was to play a part in bringing that about, both in the spiritual and physical realms.  How have we stood the test of time, and how will He judge us?

And He said to them,  The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest”.
   
   

John 21:25

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And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were recorded one by one [in detail], I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

     I am writing this post today from a place of thoughtful frustration.  I am not writing out of anger or indignation, but rather from disappointment and exasperation.  Let me tell you what I am seeing that has me in such a state … As you know, the Lord has opened the spiritual eyes, minds, and hearts of my husband, myself, and a small [but growing] number of our fellow Christians.  We are receiving new revelations as we read His Word about just how Big He is; how He wants to work with us [through spiritual dimensions] to accomplish His will on earth; and just exactly what that partnership looks like, in terms of His power and authority which He has entrusted to us.
     We are understanding that we truly are made in His image, which means that Jesus [as God Incarnate] came to model what that looks like for us, who are spirits housed in these temporary shells called bodies.  But my frustration comes from the evidence I have seen by which the established Church wants to limit our picture of what Jesus modeled and how it pertains to us.  In other words, when a devoted Christian studies the Word as a Berean would, and tries to bring a new concept to the Fellowship of the Church, they are often ridiculed or silenced because this knowledge is not recognizable to this century’s version of Christianity.
     And for those of you who do not know what a Berean is, they were the inhabitants of a small town called Berea (in what was northern Macedonia, or Greece) where Paul and Silas preached, and the Bereans were known for “having received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things [Paul preached about God] were so” (Acts 17:11).
     It is apparent from the context of this verse that Paul was bringing new meanings or significance to their ideas about God.  And what was their reaction?  I will tell you what it wasn’t: “Wait a minute, we can’t accept this because it’s not what we’ve been taught”.  And it wasn’t, “That doesn’t fit with my theology, so you are wrong”.  And it most certainly was not, “We are just going to discount what you say because it’s beyond my ability to comprehend such a supernatural God”.  No! In essence, what the Bereans had were open hearts to receive a greater image of not only Who their God was, but who they were as people made in His image!
     They took the time to carefully study the Scriptures [that were available to them] to see if Paul and Silas were preaching accurately.  And they spent time in the Word every day, carefully examining Paul’s claims about God to see if they were true.  They didn’t automatically dismiss them out of an arrogance that their knowledge of God was complete and absolute.
     And that is where my frustration lies with the majority of “Church people”.  I am not doubting their love for God or their faith in Him.  But I am disappointed when a faithful Believer is discouraged from sharing a view of God (and/or their relationship with Him) in terms that might be unfamiliar to the Church’s experience.  And I am disappointed that instead of searching Scripture themselves to see if what is being presented expands their image and understanding of God, they are all too willing to stay in their “comfort zone” of 21st Century Christian traditions; keep God limited to their image of Him; and deny that there can be any new revelation of His Power and Glory.
     Take for instance, the verifiable acts of Jesus in the New Testament: His physical healings; His spiritual healings by casting out demons; His ability to see into the spiritual realm, and even travel in the spirit from one place to another.  If you doubt any of what I just said, let me show you where in your Bible we are given these Truths.
     In Luke 8:1-3, we see both physical and spiritual healing:  Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them[a] out of their means.
     In Matthew 16:21-23, Jesus sees in the spirit:  From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”  Now, I’m pretty sure the Modern Church reads these verses and says Jesus was just upset with Peter for not believing what He prophesied.  And, sadly, they will discount all the times that He tells us that He only does what He sees the Father doing; showing us that He has the ability to see into the spiritual dimensions, and there’s a pretty good possibility that He actually saw Satan whispering his lies into Peter’s mind in an attempt to corrupt his thinking.  
     As far as Jesus traveling in the spirit, have you ever noticed how many times Jesus was slipping away and reappearing mysteriously?  After praying all night on the mountain, Jesus appeared to the Disciples a distance away on the Sea, walking on water (Matt. 14:25).  He also vanished from the sight of the men He met on the road to Emmaus, only to miraculously reappear to a different group a short time later (Luke 24:31-36).  
     These are just a few of the miracles and signs Jesus performed and about which the Bible records specifics.  If you would like to see the complete list and their Scriptural addresses, click here.  But I want to make my point very clear … here we have irrefutable examples of Jesus’s power and authority over the Enemy and His ability to work with the Father through spiritual dimensions.  AND, as I have pointed out ad nauseum, He told us that those who believed in Him would do the same things, only greater (John 14:12).  
     Yet, how many of our fellow Christians have read their Bible and connected those dots?  I mean, really read their Bible?  I’m not talking about sitting in the Church building and listening to a Pastor (no matter how learned or scholarly) tell them what their Bible says — but read the Word for themselves “whether those things [preached] were so?  
     Think about it!  We can’t even get Western Christians to think about what it means that He healed sicknesses, healed people oppressed by demons, could see into the spiritual realms, and could interact with Heaven [while still on earth]… and that we, like Him, are made in God’s image to do the same things!!! The Bible tells us He did those things, and He tells us we can do them, too!  But the Western Church is so constrained by their closed hearts and minds that they can’t even see it!
      So, that brings me to the verse that I have selected for today.  Can you see how the Modern Church and modern Christians have limited their perception of Jesus, God, and themselves?!? If they can’t [or won’t] even acknowledge the things clearly written about and proclaimed, then what about all the things Jesus did [and we are capable of doing] that all the books in the world cannot contain?
     Can you see how indifferent, ineffective, and incapable we have become in provoking the world to Godliness?  Jesus came with miracles and signs to shake up the world to listen to His message! But what are we Christians doing?  We are busy within the four walls we call “Church”, reassuring ourselves [and each other] that by coloring inside the lines, we are ensuring safe passage to Heaven.  But that looks nothing like what Jesus called the Apostles (or me!) to do.  
     His message was radical for His day, and it is still radical for the world today! Yet we have become too comfortable in our own image as Western Christians; and sadly, we seem not to recognize the true image of Christ; the image we are to aspire to.  
     I know I can’t expect the Church to just wake up tomorrow and the scales be removed from their eyes; or that their hearts and minds will be opened to the vastness of God and our potential to serve His Kingdom … but for goodness sake, let’s quit silencing those among us who are diligently searching the Word because they want their fellow Christian to see Jesus for ALL He is, and to see ourselves for ALL we can become! 
     As the website BibleHub comments, “Jesus Christ, Himself, is the one perfect manifestation in history of the complete work of the Holy Spirit in man”.  He wants that work to continue in us!  Why are we stifling it? God wants to do the same work in us as He did in Jesus, and it can be accomplished … if we just obey Jesus’ command to Follow Me.  Notice, He doesn’t say, “Follow man’s traditions in the Church”.  He doesn’t say, “Keep to a rigid theology that excludes what I can do in you”.  And He doesn’t say, “There are no new revelations of Me”.  He sent the Holy Spirit to us as our Helper; to reveal what Churches, Sunday Schools, Pastors; and yes, all the books in the world, cannot do … show us Christ in His fullness, and us in His image.  
     So let me finish by saying this … I am not making a blanket indictment of the entire Church.  I am simply pleading to my fellow Believers, who like the Pharisees, show skepticism, contempt, and disdain for anyone who threatens to upset their long-held belief system.  Let’s shake off our normalcy bias, and let us encourage each other and celebrate the hunger [that] those among us have to know Our Savior.  After all, God can still send forth men and women [who like Jesus, the man] can be His messengers to share a divine or supernatural disclosure of Himself.  Let us not limit God or His ability to use us!
     
     
     

Can You Lose Your Deliverance?

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     As we Christians learn to walk out our “authentic” faith, we will have questions as suggested by the title of this blog.  And by the use of the word “authentic”, I will probably have a different meaning than popular theologians who use the word as a slogan or catchphrase in expressing their doctrine.  By authentic, I mean doing the things Jesus did, and following His model for establishing God’s Kingdom on earth.
     I know that I have explained what that looks like before, but because of the confusion among the Body of Christ, I do not think it can be expounded upon too often … When God revealed Himself on earth as the Son of Man and the Son of God, He came as our Savior, Jesus Christ, King of the Jews.  And on a very base level, we can recognize that what the King rules over is His Kingdom.  So while Jesus was on earth, we can say that His Kingdom had arrived (although His orderly rule among men had yet to be established — that is what He wants us to partner in setting up).  Also, Jesus made it very clear that the Kingdom of God is God’s rule in our hearts.
     As a representative of God’s Kingdom on earth, what were some of the acts He conducted when demonstrating what it meant to Seek first, the Kingdom of God? You are aware that I have pointed out the significance of His act of Healing as a signal of the Power of God on earth, and as a condition of the order and rule in His Kingdom.  And it is to the Glory of God that the Bible records that Jesus healed 31 individuals, including the Leper in Galilee; the paralyzed servant of the Roman Centurion; Peter’s mother-in-law in Capernaum; the man with a withered hand at a synagogue in Capernaum; the woman with an issue of blood; two blind men departing from Jericho; the infirmed man at the Pool of Bethesda at Jerusalem… to just name a few.
     But if you diligently search the Scripture, you will also find that not all of Jesus’s healings were defined by sickness or infirmities.  For instance, Matthew 15:22-28 reveals that He healed the Canaanite woman’s daughter who was “grievously vexed with a devil”.  Matthew 12:22 tells us, “Then was brought unto Him one possessed with a devil; blind, and dumb: and He healed him.”  Then there are those mass healings that took place, as in Matthew 4:24:  “So His fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them”.  And the last one (though not the final one) I will mention is in Luke 4:40-41:  “Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to Him, and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them. And demons also came out of many, crying, You are the Son of God! But He rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that He was the Christ”.
     These are just a few of the healings that have been described in the Bible — cases of deliverance from both illnesses and demonic oppression.  But I would be negligent if I did not point out what John, the Apostle said, regarding this subject:  “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written”.  Our Bible very plainly says that Jesus performed these miracles as signs that the Kingdom of God was now being set in motion upon the earth.  Yet, we the Church, are largely ignorant that this is to be our duty as servants of the King — to continue His work!  And while my writing has concentrated on this, as our moral obligation to our King, I want to take a look at another aspect of what He taught in regard to Healing.
     As my husband and I have studied and communed with God and Jesus about our divinely-assigned ministry of deep (spiritual) healing, [and what others term as Deliverance], we are being shown a Truth in Scripture that is important for the Body of Christ to understand if we are going to truly seek to establish the Kingdom of God here on earth.  Yes, we are encouraged by the evidence shown us [in the Bible] that Jesus healed people from their torments and the oppression of the Enemy and his demons.  And we have partnered with Him in helping quite a few people to escape the captivity in which they were bound.  But we have also begun to see that just because a person is set free by Jesus [in the spirit], it does not guarantee that this freedom is permanent.  And although it’s taken me quite a few paragraphs, I’m finally ready to explore the question as presented in the title of today’s post … Can You Lose Your Deliverance?
     I’m going to cut right to the chase… I believe that yes, you can.  And I want to make it perfectly clear … this is not a question of Salvation.  I did not ask, Can You Lose Your Salvation? Nor do I assert that a person’s Deliverance is dependent on their Salvation (although I do believe that if a person experiences Jesus setting them free of bondage and captivity due to their sinful life choices, it can lead to acceptance of Jesus as one’s Savior).
     So here is the Biblical evidence that I believe one can lose their Deliverance (or Healing).  Recall, if you will, the story in the Bible of the man at the Pool of Bethesda as related in John, Chapter 5.  This man had been an invalid for 38 years, and has positioned himself at the edge of the Pool, where it is stated that an angel comes down to occasionally stir the water, upon which the first ones entering are miraculously healed. [And I want to state that I have no problem believing in this miracle; just as I can believe other places in Scripture that record supernatural events, such as the healing of Naaman in the River Jordan (2 Kings 5:10-14); and the healing of those who have the shadow of Peter fall across them (Acts 5:14-16)].

     But along comes Jesus, who notices the man, and asks him an important question:  Do you want to be healed?  I can tell you that in our experience, that is an important question indeed. We have found it quite common that as bad as a person’s current situation might be, at least they are familiar with it. They know it intimately. It’s familiar and doesn’t run the risk of surprising them. They can be more comfortable in their present misery [and bondage] than taking the steps they need to meet Jesus and be set free.  Believe it or not, as miserable as people will admit to being, they can’t always say they want to be healed.
     When Jesus discerns that the man could not be healed on his own, He heals the man, who immediately recovers his strength.  And what does Jesus tell him?  Snatch up your pallet, start walking and keep on walking.  This is the expanded Greek translation of John 5:8.  Note the underlined words which imply that our deliverance (or healing) is not confined to this one moment in time.  We must continue on the path Jesus has set us upon.  This is further clarified just a few verses later, when Jesus happens upon the same man in the synagogue.  This man has been questioned about his healing, as if the very fact of his healing is in question.  After all, the Jews ask, who had the authority to do such a thing?  And the man is hard-pressed to provide a rational answer, not being able to identify the Son of God as his Deliverer.  But Jesus speaks to the man in the synagogue and tells him, Behold, you have become well.  Do not go on sinning any longer, lest something worse happen to you.  Right there, Jesus presents the possibility that this man’s healing and Deliverance is dependent on him.  It is not unconditional — it is not a Get Out of Jail Free card with no expiration date. And the failure to keep his Deliverance runs the risk of a return to a life which is even more oppressed.
     I must tell you that this is a concern as my husband and I minister to people who are in spiritual bondage, and in need of both spiritual and physical healing. [It is not uncommon for physical ailments to be rooted in spiritual issues that need healing].  There is usually much cause for celebration as a person meets Jesus in the spiritual realm and He is able to deliver them from their spiritual bondage and deep soul wounds.  There is elation and a sense of freedom; a sense that they have seen the end of their oppression and misery.  But just like Jesus cautioned the man at the Pool of Bethesda (and the adulteress woman at the well), it is not a one-time, done deal.  We must “Sin no more” and Keep walking in the new direction that Jesus has provided by His healing.  Jesus makes it very clear that He is warning against a return to sinful lifestyle choices, which will only re-open Satan’s legal authority to once again attack and oppress you.
     I know this is a huge concept, but it is one that Christians in the modern world need to understand.  It ties into the concepts I’ve presented on the Court in Heaven, and Our Authority vs. Satan’s. But we desperately need to comprehend that Jesus’s words extended His mercy, but also demanded our holiness.  He is telling us that any return to the sin that subjected us to oppression and captivity will nullify any release or freedom we have gained.  In essence, if we do not fight to keep our Deliverance [and resist the temptations and urges to return to the comfortable state of sin that resulted in our spiritual misery], then Satan will take advantage of that weakness and renew his attacks, and most likely our return to captivity will be even harsher.
     This, in effect, is the principle as expressed in Luke 11:24-26: When an unclean spirit comes out of a man, it passes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ On its return, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and dwell there. And the final plight of that man is worse than the first.”
     If, through Deliverance, or deep healing, a person is rescued from a life of demonic harassment or oppression, but does not make an effort to fill their life with the newfound freedom from Jesus and seek to keep walking in His ways, then they are leaving themselves open to be revisited by the same whispered lies of the Destroyer.  In no time, they will find themselves back under the control of demonic influences and their freedom will vanish.  In short, it is our responsibility to STAY FREE if we don’t want to lose our Deliverance!
     In closing, I guess my final thoughts are these:  Jesus did not come to earth to establish a Kingdom that could be so easily won and lost [because we don’t make the effort to hold on to the freedom and territory that He helps us to receive].  Or you can look at it this way … It cost Jesus everything to come set us [the captives] free.  When He Delivers us from Satan’s clutches, we are being conformed to His image.  Why would we want to exchange our newfound identity to return to the tarnished image that Satan presents us? Why would any of us want to return to those prisons and chains?

Romans 6:17-18   “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness”.
   

Oh, These Perilous Times..

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     I am becoming increasingly aware that our society and culture; our country; and yes, the entire world is in the midst of precarious and uncertain times.  And I find myself asking if these are “the perilous times” of which the Bible talks about.  Certainly, the nature of our political and social consciences couldn’t be more divided.  The demarcation between right and wrong; moral and immoral has been mocked, and relativism rules the day.  Some of the leadership within the Church seem to have lost their way; others are stuck in doctrinal quagmires; and our Youth are abandoning the faith of their ancestors in ever-increasing numbers.  So what does this tell us?
     For me, I am faced with how to become the heart, hands, voice and compassion of Jesus to a progressively secularized world.  I have been honest about the direction God is taking me. He has brought me out of the Church building and given me the task of showing what the Power of a one-on-one relationship with my Savior looks like.  I am listening for His direction and finding that there are just as many self-professed Christians that need to be introduced to that Power, as there are non-Believers.
     And let’s face it… the Church doesn’t have a very good reputation in the world.  It is seen either as too conservative or too liberal; rich in worldly measures and poor in spiritual values; having too much influence in the public square, or no impact on society at all.  If I can give my own evaluation of how God intended the Church to establish His Kingdom on earth, it is this: to share the Gospel Message about the Kingdom; equip and train servant-minded leaders and followers; provide assistance to the poor and the sick; and prepare and educate the next generation to carry on this heavenly commission. Is this the picture we have of the Church today?  Is this the picture we are passing on to the Millennial Generation?  Or is it a portrait of the Laodicean Church which says, ‘I am rich; I have prospered and grown wealthy, and I am in need of nothing?’
     If so, then does this correspond to those perilous times in the last days that Timothy warned about:  For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.’
     In case you don’t see it, these verses point to a future time when there is a great moral degeneration in the world; a time when there is a breakdown in the ethical and social values of societies.  We see that happening with all the uprisings, protests, rioting and toppling of governments. All you have to do is think about ISIS; the persecution of Christians that is on the rise; the decimation of the Syrian people; the racial violence in our own country.  We can see the danger of groups realizing the power they have when they unite, and this is a dangerous situation.  And when you add failing economies to the situation, and how it can have worldwide implications, then “perilous times” comes into sharper focus.

     Perilous times are marked by those who love their pleasures more than they love God — and that includes Christians.  We can see that in how much television, movies, music, sporting events, socializing, partying, Facebook and the internet take up in our lives.  How much time do you think the average Christian spends with God?  I can tell you that when it’s time to stand before Jesus, our Judge, that one hour on Sunday in the church building is not enough!  And when I think about the content of the TV shows and movies that are watched by those who are to be Christ’s representatives on earth… well, I’m pretty sure God considers all the sex, occult, and antichrist images to be an abomination.
     Timothy tells us that perilous times will be identified by covetous and proud people.  I would venture to say that a majority of people today are seeking after worldly riches, rather than eternal heavenly treasure. And it saddens me to see that we are teaching our young girls to be coveted after for their looks and the seductive clothing they wear; and then to be proud of it!  Look At Me is the motto of this generation, and the explosion of social media proves it.  Sadly, our pride keeps us from being humble before God, or turning the other cheek to our fellow neighbor.  And our pride keeps us from helping those in need, in case it might cost us too much. When covetousness and pride become the hallmark of a people, we are living in perilous times.
     Other symptoms of these dangerous times are the disrespect that our youth have for the older generation, the police, or anyone who stands in the way of them getting what they want.  People, in general, are unthankful for the blessings they have received in this world, and take what they have been given for granted.  But, as Christians, we must ask ourselves if we are adequately thankful to God for what He’s done in our lives.  If we have a roof over our heads, food on the table, clothes on our back, and a family that loves each other, do we bother to acknowledge what He has done for us — or do we take credit for it ourselves?  When I hear the testimonies of those who are being persecuted in the Middle East, and have lost everything — homes, family members, even their country — yet still praise the Lord for His presence in their lives, then I am truly humbled and see the ungratefulness in the rest of the world for what it is … a lack of holiness.
     And that leads to another of Timothy’s signs of perilous times — people will be unholy.  We need only to look at the difference in our churches in the last 50 years.  The holy atmosphere of worshipping YHWH has been replaced with venues that look like theaters, concert halls, and social gatherings.  The message has also been perverted. Christians now seem to think that they will be saved IN their sins, rather than Jesus saving them FROM their sins.  Do you ever hear the Ten Commandments preached? Does anyone even understand what it means to live a holy and righteous life unto God — let alone practice such a lifestyle?  Believe me, if we Christians would model what that looks like, we would stand out like a sore thumb — yet that’s what we’ve been called to do and what the world needs to see from us! Instead, it can be said that we Christians are looking more and more like the world.
     It is perilous times when Christians not only do not understand what the Kingdom of God looks like, nor that we are to help men inherit it.  God is clear that there are those who will not share in His inheritance … Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.’  Yet we allow our fellow Christians and their Churches to accept these practices without a thought as to what it will cost them.

     Today, it is quite evident that people have become lovers of themselves and despise those that do good.  We are more interested in our external appearance than the condition of our hearts.  Everything is commercialized and temptation abounds in every area of our lives.  Polls in 2014 said that 71% of Americans identified as “Christian”.  But if they really knew what it meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ, then we would not have people starving, or in need of adequate medical care, or living on the streets.  Satan has done a good job deceiving professing Christians into thinking it is okay to spend the money that God has made them stewards of on THEMSELVES, rather than using it to help the sick, the needy, the poor, and furthering God’s Kingdom.  When Christians are blind to their duties as keepers of the faith, then perilous times are upon us.
     Finally, when Christians are living a life that only has “a form of Godliness”, but no evidence of the Power of God in their life experiences, then times are perilous indeed.  God sent His Son to show us the way to live a life that exhibits the image of God.  We are to show the world the Power and Authority of the One True God among all the lesser gods that are vying for man’s attention.  But Christians and the Church are unaware that this is our mission.  “Power” and “Authority”, as descriptors of our Christian walk, are dismissed in favor of “Grace” and “Love”.  And when the Enemy knows that God’s Power and Authority are missing from His Church, then our Adversary has been given an open door to infiltrate our places of worship, our homes, our communities, and our world with his power to deceive and lead astray.  Without God’s emissaries on earth acting in our full mandate and character, the result is perilous times for all humanity.  And we are all aware that will become known as “The End Times”.
      We are already seeing war, famine, natural disasters, incredible and rapid increases in knowledge. Our air and water being poisoned.  Birds of the air and the Fish of the seas are dying in huge numbers. And these are just a few of the Biblical signs of Christ’s eminent return.  I worry about loved ones who still do not know Jesus, and I worry about the Christians whom Jesus will say He does not know.  So, I recognize that we are living in perilous times, and my spirit is crying out for the Body of Christ to fulfill our assignment.  Yes, times are perilous, to be sure … but as long as we have one minute left, it should be our goal  to show one more person the image of Christ in us.  Our time to do so is NOW!

John 9:4   “We must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work”.
     

The Women’s March: The Jezebel Spirit In Action

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     The contrast couldn’t have been more stark — the Pro-Life March in Washington D.C. last week was respectful, loving, and celebrated the life of an unborn child.  On the other hand, the (Million) Women March, just days before, was hostile, hate-filled, and had a decidedly anti-God spirit about it.  And it is that spirit that I wish to examine today.
     First of all, as a woman, I must say that I found very little in common with the vitriolic speeches I saw being performed by “celebrities” at the Women’s March.  And honestly, if this was supposed to be about solidarity among all women, it was a dismal failure from my perspective.  Although founders of the march stated its purpose was not to be an anti-Trump rally, it very clearly became one.  And when pro-life women were not allowed to join the march, then it was quite obvious what this was… an Activist rally of a particular stripe.  If you called yourself an activist for abortion, or an activist for the LGBT community, or an activist for the Black community, or an activist for any cause that was anti-Christian … then you were welcomed with open arms.
     It was obvious to me that aggressive feminism was on parade, with racism and political bias marching in step.  And it was blatantly obvious to me that the Jezebel spirit was all over this confluence of angry women.  And frankly, it is time we have a discussion about the influence of this most powerful combatant in our spiritual war with the dark side.

Jezebel and Ahab worship
at the altar of Baal

     Yes, there is a demonic spirit that bears the name of an actual woman who existed in the Bible. This woman is considered one of the most wicked in Scripture and here are the simple facts of her life:  Jezebel was the daughter of Phoenician king Ethbaal, who also served as a priestess to Baal worshippers. King Ahab, most likely for political reasons, took Jezebel as his wife during either the tenth or ninth century B.C. Phoenicia was a much more worldly and cosmopolitan civilization than Israel, which might explain Jezebel’s rebellion against the conservative lifestyle of her new home.
     Ahab began worshipping Baal upon his marriage with Jezebel, and even built a church to Baal (1 Kings 16:32). In fact, the Bible tells us that Ahab  “sold himself to do evil” (1 Kings 21:25), and he “did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him” (1 Kings 16:30). For her part, Jezebel brought hundreds of Baal prophets to the country. Her defense of her native religion was so fervent that she ordered the extermination of the prophets of Jehovah, the Israelite God. Even the famous prophet Elijah fled once he discovered that Jezebel had a personal vendetta against him.
     Jezebel is also famous for her involvement in the death of Naboth, a righteous man who refused to give up the inheritance of his family land to the King. Ahab was unsuccessful in negotiations for Naboth’s field, so Jezebel stepped in and found conspirators who accused Naboth falsely of a crime that resulted in Naboth being stoned to death. Ahab accepted the wicked acts of Jezebel, and because of Ahab and Jezebel’s shocking murder of Naboth, God condemned them both.
     Ahab would die in battle, while Jezebel continued to hold some influence over the land. When she got word that Jehu was coming to kill her, she applied makeup and dressed herself in fine clothing. (Jehu was the King of Israel, noted for exterminating the house of Ahab at the instruction of Jehovah). Some believe that Jezebel’s adornment was an attempt to seduce Jehu or to die in a dignified manner. In any respect, she was pushed out of the window and her body was eaten by dogs (2 Kings 9:30–37).
     But the world had not seen the end of Jezebel. Because the real life Jezebel was such a willing student of the false and evil god, Baal, her spirit became a very powerful tool for Satan to use throughout the centuries, and we saw her on full display during the Women’s March in Washington D.C.  Let me explain further… As I have written in the past, a careful study of the Bible reveals different kinds of spirits; some of which I would call “purpose spirits” — the purpose of a spirit of anger is to provoke a person to act out in rage; a spirit of murder’s purpose is to get someone to commit murder; and a spirit of lust, a spirit of rejection, or a spirit of pride all have purposes with which they are charged to perform for Satan.  But there are overlords in the demonic kingdom; ranks and hierarchies of demons that we encounter in spiritual warfare: rulers, authorities, principalities, powers, forces, dominions, princes, etc.  They are the smartest and most cunning of Satan’s evil spirits, and Jezebel is one of the highest-ranking in his evil kingdom.
     She is able to attack and influence people in more than one way.  In other words, she has many strategies to gain the power that she craves, and her sphere of influence knows no bounds — marriages, churches, and yes, even whole societies can be transformed by her evil designs.  And I want to show you how the traits of this Jezebel spirit were evident among the hundreds of thousands of women who participated in the Women’s March…
     The Jezebel spirit will try to infect and contaminate a person in the same way that the real-life Jezebel infected King Ahab with her evil intentions.  People will say and do some of the most horrible things, but yet find some way to rationalize it and think they are perfectly justified in doing what they are doing. This spirit will play some of these people like fiddles, like a puppet on a string, with the puppet master being the Jezebel spirit itself.  The personality traits of someone exhibiting the Jezebel spirit are the following:  vileness in speech; lustful and seductive; prideful and narcissistic; judgmental, critical, condescending, and demeaning; combative and confrontational; cannot tolerate constructive criticism; hates anything associated with Christianity or Biblical values of a woman.

Actress Ashley Judd

     I believe the following remarks by those who played prominent roles in the March will demonstrate the personality traits of the Jezebel spirit:  “I am a NASTY woman”; “We are here to be NASTY”; “Our p—–s aren’t for grabbing”.  These are all remarks made by actress Ashley Judd as she cunningly professes to be protesting the mistreatment of women by sexual predators.  But, sadly, I believe that her molestation as a child opened a portal for the Jezebel spirit to come in; the spirit that ultimately convinces that child fragment of Ms. Judd that it’s okay to be angry and strike out in retaliation for the injustice done to her.  But the Jezebel spirit operates with maximum pride. As a result, it will try to infect the host with that same kind of pride.
      And I’m sure you’ve seen Madonna’s rant during at least one news cycle.  Her profanity-laced speech is pure Jezebel.  And Scarlett Johannsen’s speech displayed the narcissistic attitude of the Jezebel spirit:  “Before I can support you, Mr. President, you must support me!”  Each speaker was infused with self-righteous anger and professed to speak for all women.  The Jezebel spirit worked perfectly in that environment… all the speakers knew how to talk the talk, and draw impressionable people into a web of distorted and hate-filled tirades.  They all had charismatic energy that had a powerful effect upon the crowd, whipping them into a frenzy.  And the leaders were all sharp, intelligent, attractive people.  And those are the kinds of people that the Jezebel spirit targets; people who like to be out front; controlling and dominating people — just like Queen Jezebel, herself.
     But here is what we need to see; here is the devastating effect that the Jezebel spirit has had on our country and society … When you combine the power that this spirit has to emit a seductive, charismatic type energy off a person, and then it attaches to a person who is naturally attractive, sharp and intelligent, you have a very deadly combination that this spirit can work with to achieve its ultimate goal. And that goal is to get total control so it can then work to take down and completely destroy either a person, marriage, church, ministry, friendship, company, a government, or a country.
     Just like the Phoenician princess Jezebel, who was a high priestess of Baal, this spirit seeks to infiltrate (like Queen Zezebel did Israel), and once in, it seeks to attack, undermine, and destroy everything in its path, taking absolutely no prisoners. It’s goal is total death and destruction. Plain and simple. Its purpose to to cause major dissension, strife, and chaos.  The Jezebel spirit will go after anyone in a leader position (that’s why there was so much hate displayed against President Trump at the March).  It will have a mocking attitude about the spirit (hence the jokes about Trump’s appearance).
     But the bottom line is this … we have given far too much ground in our society to this evil and hateful spirit.  We see her influence in the worship of abortion, worship of unnatural relations between the sexes, worship of radical feminism, and the ensuing confusion in gender identity.  We have allowed this seductive spirit to lure us into a false sense of pride about women’s issues, and Jezebel has established a stronghold in this toxic environment; a stronghold from which she launches major attacks on the family unit, upon unborn children, and upon the sanctity of marriage.

Jezebel and her prophetesses

     I know that defenders of the Women’s March will declare that is was all about respect and equality; an opportunity to present hope and optimism for women of all ages and ethnicities.  And, in no way am I insinuating that women deserve less.  But to this woman, it felt rife with evil and hate. The women I saw (who say they represent me) appeared demanding and manipulating. And when I see signs that read,  “If Mary (Magdalene) had had an abortion, we wouldn’t be in this mess!”, then I know in my spirit that I am seeing the blasphemous spirit of the priestess of Baal.  She is alive and well in the 21st Century.  And we seeing her in women who reject holiness, and who indulge in self-worship.  And as alarming as this may sound, the goal of the ancient Jezebel is being broadcast by the Jezebel spirit in this Age: that the false god of Baal be worshipped at the same altar as the True God… and the sacred rite of abortion is the sacrifice he desires.
      I want to leave you with a quote by Landon Shott, who ministers with his wife, Heather:  Jesus’s words in the New Testament (Revelation 2:20) were, “Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess.” In the New Testament, Jesus noted the spirit behind the woman Jezebel. Theirs was toleration of the spirit by the ignorance of it. I believe that the spirit behind the woman, Jezebel, is the very same spirit at work in our nation today. This spirit is bringing the same destruction to the political sphere and God’s house, the church, through compromise, self-worship, immorality and a removal of the prophetic voice (prophets). We must be spiritually discerning at what is going on in our nation. We can’t link good causes with evil spirits. We cannot compromise with a Jezebel spirit. We can’t align with it; as Jesus said, “We can’t tolerate it!” We need to expose this spirit, confront it and defeat it through prayer and humility. 

1 Kings 21:25    “But there was none like unto Ahab, who sold himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up.”

   

     

Matthew 7:1

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Judge not, that you be not judged.

     This familiar verse is perhaps one of the most mis-rendered and abused Scriptures in the Bible. The enemies of our faith love to throw this passage up to us as evidence of Christian hypocrisy.  They use it to malign and vilify our faith walk and to prove that our moral standards and beliefs are just a pretense; a false display of moral superiority.  Sadly, their accusations are oftentimes true.
     But today I want to show how the Enemy has used this verse to lie to Unbelievers and hide the true meaning of Jesus’s words.  Satan has convinced the unfaithful that this verse means Jesus was commanding a universal acceptance of any lifestyle or teaching; that no one is to judge another.  As with all of Scripture, there is much more depth to the Word than our human minds are willing to explore.
     In Matthew, Chapter 7, verses 1-20, Jesus expands on this subject of judgment and gives His followers [throughout the Ages] advice on how to live a life that is pleasing to God.  A few verses later (Matthew 7:15-16), He is admonishing us to be on the lookout for false prophets; people who will mislead us by appearing to be someone they are not. In other words, He commands us to know people by the fruit of their life, and some sort of assessment (judgment) is necessary for that.
     Here is the Truth … The Christian is called to unconditionally love. But the Christian is not called to unconditional agreement or endorsement. It is absolutely possible to love people who do things that should not be approved of. So, here is the underlying principle of Matthew 7:1 … Jesus is speaking against being judgmental in terms of judging the motives of the inner (or spiritual) man, which only God can know. However, we can judge the fruit of a man’s spirit, because the fruit, or lack thereof, is visible for all to see. It is certainly reasonable to make a judgment if someone is exhibiting love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control. But if they are not, we can rarely judge the motives of their spirit with any accuracy. Do you see the difference?
     Of course, we cannot ignore Jesus’s admonition that our judgment be completely fair, and that we only judge others by a standard with which we would like to be judged.  Don’t miss this point: Jesus does not prohibit judgment of others — only that it be fair and equivalent. In the very next verse, Jesus says, With the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.  According to the teaching of some rabbis in Jesus’ time, God had two measures that He used to judge people. One was a measure of justice and the other was a measure of mercy. Which measure do you want God to use with you? Then you should use that same measure with others.
     Of course we are all familiar with the verses about removing the plank from our own eye before pointing out the speck in our brother’s eye.  Satan has taught the enemies of our faith to focus on the hypocritical plank in the eye of Christians.  But note that Jesus doesn’t say that it is wrong for us to help our brother with the speck in his eye. He is just saying that it is a good thing to help your brother with his speck — but not before dealing with the plank in your own eye. Not only will you be able to see clearer, but after suffering the pain of your own sin, you will deal with your brother with a measure of mercy.  
     And I just love how our Lord wraps up this whole discussion on judgment:  Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces. Dogs and swine, in this context, are those who are hostile to the gospel and our faith. And it is imperative that we view The Word as holy, sacred, and revered.  As much as we are to have mercy in our judgment of others, and evaluate them only by the fruit of their actions, our love for others must not blind us to their hardened rejection of the gospel, if that be the case… Nor cast your pearls before swine: Our pearls are the precious hope and knowledge of the gospel.  Jesus is telling us to be mindful that the Gospel Message may only confuse unbelievers, who are blinded to the truth by the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4).  But it is our responsibility to be careful about exposing the gospel to the ridicule of such haters.
     So, while our culture and the world doesn’t like the concept of judgment and judging others, it will ultimately be the purview and scope of Jesus when He returns.  We will all stand before the Judgment Seat as Jesus brings to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of each of our hearts. It is time that we ALL get ready for the Judgment that is to come… so it’s time to quit worrying about your neighbor judging you, and be aware that the Son of God is coming to judge the living and the dead. How will HE judge you? 
     
     

God & His Remnant: Unlocking The Prison Doors

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     I was struggling about what to write about today; no clear subject came to my mind or my spirit.  Then I heard the prompting Share what you’re seeing.  My first thought was, “Lord, I’m not sure what you mean.  Are you talking about specifics of what I’m seeing in the spiritual arena; or what I’m seeing in the people coming to us in ministry?”  After being convicted that it was the latter, I had to stop and really think … “What am I seeing? And how could that benefit the readers?”
     You see, our ministry has, for lack of a better word, exploded in the last month or so.  And our activities are diverging to the point that nearly every day is a new experience — God has expanded our duties and our manner of spiritual deliverance and interaction with people.  My husband and I have pretty much quit following an organized format for ministering to individuals and are operating under the full guidance of the Holy Spirit. By now, we have the foundation down for beginning the healing process from spiritual wounds, and getting the captives free.  Now God is showing us that the sphere of healing in which we operate is unique and distinctive to each individual.
     I tell you all this to show you that once you commit to partnering with Jesus to release people from the prisons they are bound up in, all rules are off, and Jesus will begin to show you deeper bondage that they are subjected to, and the supernatural ways you can help release them.  Needless to say, we are experiencing Jesus in more miraculous and extraordinary ways, and seeing His power manifested in methods that we could never have imagined without the help of the Holy Spirit.
     And the really cool thing is that we are seeing His power demonstrated in the lives of both faithful Christians and the decidedly Lost; in the most religious of people and in the most worldly.  And they are coming to us unbidden; without any effort on our part to invite them to be healed by Jesus.  And in some cases, we are being presented with people who aren’t even at the stage where we can begin the healing process.  They don’t even know Jesus and without that knowledge, real spiritual healing cannot take place.  At first, we considered what some who are being called to heal the spiritual wounds of satan’s captives do … they decline to work with anyone who does not have a saving knowledge of Jesus.  After all, it is He who does the healing, not us.  And if one doesn’t recognize His authority, then He can’t do the work in their lives — it’s a two-way street, and necessitates at least some level of relationship with Him.
     But we strongly believe the Word when it says that God doesn’t want anyone to perish, so it is our responsibility as members of His Kingdom on earth to do what we can to introduce each person to Jesus.  We know that He can take our efforts, and if the person is willing, He can begin a relationship where there was none.  We are seeing that in two separate and contrasting situations that God has brought to us.  In the first, we received a phone call from a dear friend who we’ve been praying over for years; a woman I will call Ashley.  Although she didn’t approach us with any obvious spiritual wounds, she sent me a text one day out of the blue … Should you read the Bible chronologically, or front to back (Genesis to Revelation)? In order for you to understand how shocked (and ecstatic) I was to receive this text, you need to know that I have known Ashley since she was in her early 20s, and she is now in her mid-40s.  My husband and I are Godparents to her daughter, and we have prayed countless prayers that we might plant a seed that would cause her and her husband to seek Jesus.  They have always politely declined to accept our offer and in recent years they have become quite successful financially.  The temptations of trips to Europe, second homes in the mountains, and all the trappings that money can buy have lessened any thoughts that they might one day need Jesus.

     But after nearly 20 years, God is showing me that we can never discount Him, and patience is truly a virtue.  We followed up that initial text with a phone call to find out why she was suddenly interested in the Bible, and found out that she has been attending some Bible study classes at the Christian school where her daughter attends (at least our encouragement to go that route with our Goddaughter bore some fruit).  While the primary reason for attending may have been to be included in that social circle, she soon realized how limited her knowledge of the Bible was, and she knew she could come to us.  So now, my husband and I alternate a weekly Bible study with her (by phone since she lives a few hours away) to introduce her to the Jesus of the Bible, with all the expanded knowledge we have been shown.  She is seeing and experiencing Jesus from the Truth of the Word, and He is fascinating to her! There is no external doctrine or manipulation; just the facts of the Bible.  While at this stage she is unaware of any deep spiritual wounds that need to be healed, the Holy Spirit is already convicting her of the manner in which she has lived her life, and we will be there if any of Satan’s lies surface that reveal any spiritual bondage.
     In the second situation, we were asked to speak to a woman I will call Martha, who lives several states away, and who has been gravely wounded by the Church — 25 years of an affair with a married Pastor, who subsequently dumped her and moved away when he was approached with accusations of inappropriate behavior with other women.  Of course, she thought he loved her; she was the only one; etc., etc.  But now she lives in a deep depression, realizing that she gave up her youth and any hopes of a husband or family, only to realize that she is in her mid-50s and alone.  And as Satan will do, he has convinced her that because no one in the Church reached out to help her, that they are all hypocrites; and sadly, she still professes to love the degenerate pastor, and longs for that relationship again.  She reached out to us through a connection from another person we were counseling, and asked us to help her get her life back together.  Not only was she depressed and angry, but she was hearing voices that told her she might be better off if she ended her life.
     After an initial consultation, and some encouragement to fill out a questionnaire regarding specific details about her life, her family, and her faith, we got her to admit that her free will choices had played the majority part in her circumstances.  When she revealed that she had been in Church all her life, but didn’t feel she knew Jesus (and the 25 years she sat in that immoral pastor’s church, it was to pursue her relationship with him, not Jesus), I asked her the pivotal question…. Do you believe that Jesus is real?  She said, “No, not really”.  So while she was hoping that we could somehow magically do some mind tricks to get her to stop thinking about her illicit affair, and to miraculously give her a new life, we had to tell her that we couldn’t proceed with the spiritual healing sessions at that point.  BUT, if she would be willing to let us introduce Jesus to her through a study of Him in the Word, and IF she could honestly seek Him and come to an authentic relationship with Him, He could begin to heal those spiritual wounds, and the counseling sessions could be back on the table.
     How will I know that God hears me? That He’s working on me? Am I too far away from Him? At least those are questions that show she has not dismissed seeking Him.  And these are questions that reveal an honest heart, and honest fears.  And after just two nights, she is able to talk to God, and finds herself sobbing, wondering how He could ever love her.  I explained that this is actually good news!  Her spirit is being touched by the Holy Spirit, and if she will keep on asking, she will get the answers she so sorely needs.  Keep her in your prayers; Jesus wants to heal her, and I want to see her life restored.

     I have to admit, she is one of the most skeptical and willful people I have ever met.  She admitted that all those years she sat in Church she never considered God’s will for her life; she just wanted what she wanted.  Isn’t that the sin we all share in the flesh?  My husband agreed to begin a Bible study with her, and asked her to get quiet and seek God each night for the next week… to ask Him to reveal Himself to her and show her He is real.  This is proving to be very difficult for her.  She is asking questions like,
     So these are just a couple of the different ways that God is bringing people with varying needs to our doorstep– people outside the circle of wounded Believers who are in spiritual bondage.  But, don’t get me wrong — we are still partnering with Jesus to help set His Body free!  And with each situation, we are encountering new spheres of spiritual warfare — Believers who are seeing [in the spirit] warring angels come to their defense; Believers who are approaching the Court of Heaven [with their Authority] to answer charges by Satan and to protect family members; Believers who are reconnecting to the wounded parts of themselves and bringing them into Jesus’s healing Light — each and every person is different, and the means by which Jesus is healing them is unique to each individual.  And, all I can say is that He is blowing our minds!
     When I stop to consider all the people in my small domain (both Followers of Jesus, and those of the world) who are fighting to get out of their spiritual prisons, my spirit cries out for the Church to recognize the need for us all to understand Jesus’s power and authority that is available to us!  As I now see with spiritual eyes, I cannot ignore the pain and fear I see in so many lives.  I am encouraged by those who are now willing to see and hear, as Jesus asked us to do, and who I know will join us in doing God’s work in His Kingdom.  God is starting a spiritual revolution and the Enemy is quite aware of it.  He will not sit idly by, allowing the Body of Christ to get up to speed, without intensifying his efforts to lock more people up in spiritual prisons.  It is my prayer that God will supernaturally download [to every Christian] our ability to fight spiritual oppression!  I pray that each successful deliverance from bondage will be magnified and multiplied! And I pray that the Glory of our Lord in healing the multitudes will be evident to all His creation on earth, thereby nullifying the lies, temptations, and deceit of the Enemy!  I pray all this in the Powerful and Mighty Name of Jesus!

Proverbs 1:5   “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance…”

   
     

Our Qualms and Quandaries Over The Subject Of Healing

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     The nice thing about being part of a Home Church is that we are not hindered, nor inhibited about studying subject matter that makes traditional Churches squeamish or nervous.  We are not afraid to ask questions that arise from our deep dive study of the Word.  We are not limited to long-established doctrines that leave no room for growth in our understanding, and if it is a subject that is presented in the Word, then nothing is outdated or obsolete.  If it’s in the Bible, then it’s there for a reason, and God wants us to know about it and understand its place in His Kingdom.
     So that brings me to the often misunderstood, criticized, exploited, and ignored subject of Healing in the Bible.  I think many in this Church generation tend to look upon Healing from a spiritual perspective, and physical healing is looked upon with suspicion; as the territory of charlatans and con artists.  But that is putting the miracle of Healing in a box, and limiting its full potential.
     That being said, there are many Christians today who are discovering some obvious truths in the Bible about Healing; new understanding that has been buried by the traditions and conventions of established Church doctrine. For instance, a careful and deliberate study of Scripture reveals that a great deal of Christ’s time was dedicated to healing the sick. And the record of those He healed is extensive: the blind, the paralyzed, the lame, the deaf, lepers, those who had fevers, and many with chronic illnesses.

     If our Lord devoted that much of His precious and short time on earth to healing, then there must have been a reason He did it, and a purpose for it, right?  Have you ever noticed, when reading the Gospels, how many of the accounts of Jesus have Him healing someone as His first act upon entering a new town?  Jesus knew that healing the sick — especially someone who had suffered for many years — would call attention to Himself and would give Him a relevant platform from which to share His message of the Kingdom of God.  In other words, He grabbed the audience’s attention, so to speak, with a miraculous physical healing, which would make it easier to transition to the fact that we all need spiritual healing — and both come from our Father in Heaven.  This is a pattern that He used throughout His ministry.  Another example is declaring that He is the Bread of Life, followed by feeding 5,000 people with a few loaves of bread.
     Healing the physical needs of men also allowed Him to proclaim His Authority from God.  Follow this train of thought, if you will… while Jesus did not declare that there was a “cause and effect” between sickness and sin, He invited the newly restored person to be “well” and sin no more. That word [“well”] means not only physical healing, but “to save, rescue and liberate, as well as to heal and preserve.” That description fits our need to be healed from our sin.  But there is only One who has the Authority to forgive sin—and that is God, the Father.  But you will recall that Jesus plainly taught. “All Authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me” (Matthew 28:18).  And it is clear to me that He has transferred that Authority to those who believe in Him and follow His commandments.  He says as much in Luke 10:19:  Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. 
     I believe that Jesus fully expected that authority to be used when He returned to the Father.  He told us in John 16:7 that it is to our advantage that He went away, so He could send The Helper.  And with the presence of the Holy Spirit came the ability to perform greater miracles than when Jesus walked the earth.  That’s why He proclaimed, Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.
     I want to take a minute and point out two aspects of these Scriptures that I know is overlooked.  The first is that when Jesus says, BEHOLD, He is using an imperative verb, which means, Be sure to see this… or … Don’t miss this!  It is an observable fact! And when He says TRULY, TRULY, I SAY TO YOU, He is indicating that this is an important Truth; that the truth Jesus is telling is significant and important to listen to.  So the attempts by the modern world — both secular and in the Church — to dismiss that He gave us authority, or that He didn’t really mean that we would do the things He did (heal the sick, cast out demons, spread the Message of the Kingdom of God) — and do them in even greater numbers — is simply not borne out by the expressions He used.
     It is very clear to me that Jesus intended for His work to continue, not only through the Apostles, for through all Believers after He returned to the Father.  Why can’t we see it as the disciples in the Early Church did? (And by disciples, I mean the body of followers of Jesus; not limited to the 12 Apostles). They were full of the Holy Spirit and they believed that His Authority could flow through them with the help of the Holy Spirit, and people could be physically healed.  And then, just like Jesus, they could take that opportunity to extend a word about healing souls and spirits from sin.
     Put very simply … they believed the Word from the Lord and they were fully obedient. They fully expected to see Him work through them. Not only are we not obedient to His command, but we don’t really trust Him to be able to work through us.

     But I am happy to tell you that this is changing in the Body of Christ! More Christians are awakening to the Authority that has been given to us, and are stepping out in faith to do the works of Jesus.  In the major city of Austin, Texas, The Light House is a monthly Healing Room event where participants ask God to heal them in specific ways. Trained intercessors surround them and join them in prayer. Miracles abound! And the numbers are growing!  Furthermore, just within our small Home Church of 20 plus people, three people have taken the leap in faith to trust in the power of Jesus [working through them] to heal the afflicted.  They have taken the time to study with mentors who Biblically teach them about their authority to heal, as Jesus did. They know it is not them healing, but Jesus. They are simply willing to use the Authority He has given them to be the conduit.
     But we must go further in this discussion, and consider why everyone may not be healed.  There are reasons … faith must be considered, but it cannot be said that if someone is not healed, then their faith is weak.  God is Omniscient and He may have reasons why the power of Jesus does not immediately heal someone.  It may be a time of challenge that ultimately draws you nearer to God; or it may be that God’s perfect healing is to take you Home.  The only response to have when considering the power of Jesus to heal is, “What ever brings You glory, Lord. I know that you do not desire that anyone be sick, so it is not a matter of whether it is Your Will or not. I will trust that whatever the outcome might be, that it is to bring You Glory.  It’s not about me. It’s all about Jesus.”
     Frankly, it excites me to see the Body of Christ coming into their full power and authority from Jesus!  Lord knows that this world could stand to see some “serpents and scorpions tread upon”.  Because we in the Western world have seen nearly every display of technological wonder, there’s not much that impresses us anymore.  But the power of Jesus can surpass anything manufactured by man, and we in the Body are beginning to come into our authority and display the power of heaven on earth.  And extraordinary miracles are being performed… just like Jesus said they would!

Acts 4:30    “While You stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.”
   
   
   
   

What Does It Mean to “Be Submissive”?

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          Please, I hope you will allow me to comment on a difficult and controversial passage in the Bible.  And in full disclosure, I am doing so at the request of someone my husband and I have counseled in our spiritual healing ministry.  This woman is in great need of knowing the Truth of Scripture, as it is being used against her to keep her in bondage.  And I have no doubt that her questions are shared by many women who might be reading this blog.  So let me jump right in…
           I know it may be difficult to think that in this day of radical feminism and advocacy of equal rights for women on political, social, and economic grounds, that there are those who believe that a woman’s place is in complete servitude to a man.  Nowhere can this be more abused than in the covenant of marriage. I am writing this blog on behalf of all women who are struggling to understand their role as “wife” from a Biblical perspective. 
          So, here is the dilemma:  most women honor and respect their husbands, but how do we reconcile the Scripture that is often used by the Church [and well-meaning pastors] to preach that wives should “submit in everything to their husbands, as the Church submits to Christ”.  I’m sure you are all familiar with this chapters in Ephesians that instructs us on the unity in the Body of Christ, including the relationships between Husband and Wife, and Parents and Children.      
            Ephesians 5:22-24 reads as follows:  Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.  This passage is often interpreted that wives should be “submissive” in their relationships with their husbands.  Can you see how this explanation can be wrongly used to keep a woman from her full identity in Christ — especially if it is misapplied by an abusive husband?  Let’s take a deeper look at what the Bible is telling us in this important and defining passage.
           What is often overlooked in the discussion on this particular Scripture are the verses just preceding verse 22.  In Ephesians 5:20-21, the Bible says … giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. When we are filled with the Spirit, it will show by our mutual submission to each other; and the submission will be done in the fear of God, not the fear of man.
           The word “submit” in this context literally means “to be under in rank”. What this indicates is that all of us are under the dominion and authority of Christ.  And, yes, it does indicate that in the covenant of marriage, there must be rank, i.e., the husband is the leader in the marriage, and the wife is his helpmate.  But, there is more to it than that.  In many of the best ancient Greek manuscripts, Ephesians 5:22 doesn’t even have the word submit. It simply reads wives, to your own husbands. 
           When Paul admonishes wives to submit to their husbands, it is in the idea that wives recognize that there is an order of authority; the husband is the leader, and that they are part of a unit, a team. He is making it clear, that as an individual, the wife is not more important than the working of the unit or the team. But, sadly, too often this Scripture is used to subjugate women and suppress their spirits.  
           It is important that all people recognize that Submission does not mean inferiority. As well, submission does not mean silence. Submission means “sub-mission.” There is a mission for the Christian marriage, and that mission is obeying and glorifying God. The wife says, “I’m going to put myself under that mission. That mission is more important than my individual desires. I’m not putting myself below my husband, I’m putting myself below the mission that God has designed for our marriage, for my life.”
           Now, let’s take another look at the Scripture in question … Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord.  Let’s begin with the “to your husbands” portion. This defines the sphere of a wife’s sub-mission. The Bible never commands a general sub-mission of women unto men in society. This order is commanded only in the spheres of the home and in the church. “As to the Lord” … this is the crucial phrase.  There are those within the Church who interpret this to mean that it “favors” the husband.  They will say that As to the Lord means that a wife should submit to her husband as if he were God himself. The idea is “you submit to God in absolutely everything without question, so you must submit to your husband in the same absolute way.” Wrong!

     Simply put, in no place does the Scripture say that a person should submit to another in that way. There are limits to the submission your employer can expect of you. There are limits to the submission the government can expect of you. There are limits to the submission parents can expect of children. In no place does the Scripture teach an unqualified, without exception, submission — except to God, and God alone. To violate this is to commit the sin of idolatry.

           Here is the truth:  As to the Lord defines the motive of a wife’s submission. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, minister of Westminster Chapel in London expresses it the best I’ve ever seen: “It means: ‘Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands because it is a part of your duty to the Lord, because it is an expression of your submission to the Lord.’ Or, ‘Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands; do it in this way, do it as a part of your submission to the Lord.’ In other words, you are not doing it only for the husband, you are doing it primarily for the Lord Himself . . . You are doing it for Christ’s sake, you are doing it because you know that He exhorts you to do it, because it is well-pleasing in His sight that you should be doing it. It is part of your Christian behaviour, it is a part of your discipleship.”
           BUT, it is very important to take into account if the husband is loving his wife as Christ loves the Church.  This has nothing to do with whether or not the husband is “right” on a particular issue. It has to do with Jesus being right, and the two being right in their understanding of the marriage covenant.  When they submit to each other in marriage, they must have “a team attitude”.  There is a natural order in a marriage, with the husband being head of the family, as Christ is head of the Church. But Scripture also tells us, So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. 
           Paul goes on to say, Husbands, love your wives.  Though wives are to submit to their husbands, it never excuses husbands acting as tyrants over their wives. No husband is entitled to say that he is the head of the wife unless he loves his wife.  The wife is the one who is kept, preserved, guarded, shielded, provided for by the husband. That is the relationship — as Christ nourishes and cherishes the church, so the husband nourishes and cherishes the wife — and the wife should realize that that is her position in this relationship. The initiative and the leadership are ultimately the husband’s, but the action must always be co-ordinated. That is the meaning of this picture — co-ordinated action, but leadership in the head. There is no sense of inferiority suggested by this. The wife is not inferior to her husband; she is different. 
           And finally, we must address the concept as expressed in the last part of verse 24: wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Are there any exceptions to “everything”?  Absolutely!  When the husband asks the wife to sin, she is free from her obligation to submit.  When the husband is physically abusive, and endangers the safety of the wife or children, the wife is free from her obligation to submit. She does not have to submit to his violence. When the husband breaks the marriage bond by adultery, a wife does not have to submit and just accept it. The Bible says she has the right to “come out from under his rank” in such cases. If the husband has been guilty of adultery the wife is no longer bound to give him obedience in everything. She can divorce him, she is allowed to do so by the Scripture.
           I know that this topic and its discussion can be exhaustive, but it is an important one to have, especially if a daughter of the Kingdom finds herself in a marriage that strains her ability to perform her sub-mission before the Lord.  As you can tell, Paul (and the Lord) take the subject of marriage and the subsequent roles of husband and wife seriously.  And so should we. We would do well to caution our children to take the choice of marriage partner seriously.  It is in service to the Lord that we enter into such sacred partnerships.  We owe it to ourselves, our spouses, and our Lord and Master to choose wisely.
      Ephesians 5:32-33     This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.  However, let each of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
           
    

Psalm 33:12

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Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord…

     I have tried to stay away from political commentary and concentrate on what the Holy Spirit reveals to me.  But in the wake of Friday’s inauguration of our 45th President, I was quite moved at the emphasis on our God in the opening prayers.  I will leave the commentary on the President’s inaugural speech to those who are more astute at political analysis than I.  But I do want to give a short and visceral response, prompted by the reaction of my spirit.
     First, let me say that I knew on Thursday afternoon, as the pre-inauguration concert came to an end, and the Marine Band sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” with all the reverence and respect that those words evoke, that perhaps we were going to see this event in terms that transcended politics.  I will honestly tell you that when the last verse was sung. slowly and deliberately … In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me: As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free, While God is marching on … I felt my spirit stir, and I could not hold back the tears — not because I was stirred by the patriotism, but because there was such honor and reverence for our God in picking that song to kick off our nation’s transference of power weekend.
     I will say that post-event, in spite of all the attempts by political wonks and hacks to derail the power of President Trump’s inauguration speech, I was more focused on the opening prayers.  For the first time, in a long time, there did not appear to be an effort towards ecumenicalism, or a global inclusion of false gods.  The Christian-Judeo God was at the center of each prayer; the One True God, and I can’t help but think that Satan, the Enemy of YHWH, was dealt a tremendous blow. For the first time — in a long time — it seemed that there was a declaration that we are a Christian nation!
     Cardinal Timothy Dolan offered the first of six prayers by various faith leaders, praying from King Solomon’s Book of Wisdom:  “Lord God, God of our ancestors … in Your Providence, You have charged us to rule the creatures produced by You; to govern the world in [Your] Holiness and Righteousness, and to render [Your] Judgment with integrity of heart.  Give us wisdom, for we are Your servants … Send Wisdom from Your Glorious Throne in Heaven; dispatch her to us that we might discern what is pleasing to You…”.
     The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez incorporated Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount in his prayer offering, emphasizing God’s desire that His people represent His Kingdom on Earth.  Paula White, whom the press has labeled as President Trumps’s “spiritual advisor” began her prayer with “Dear Heavenly Father, in the Name of Jesus, … we recognize that every perfect gift and purpose comes from You … Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done … Glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit… we pray this in the Name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
     Bishop Wayne Jackson of Detroit prayed that God would give President Trump the wisdom of Solomon, the vision of Joseph, and the meekness of Christ. And then he bestowed the Aaronic blessing upon the President and the nation:  The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His face on you and give you peace.
     Rabbi Marvin Hier invoked the blessings of the Eternal God: “May the days come soon, when Justice will dwell in the wilderness; and Righteousness will abide in the fertile fields; and the work of Righteousness will be peace, quietness, and confidence forever. Amen.”
     The Rev. Franklin Graham quoted from 1 Timothy, Chapter 2:  “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the Truth.  For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all…”.  And then to make sure that we heard the Divine Truth, he repeated one verse: For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.  He continued:  “Now to the King Eternal; the only God; Honor and Glory forever and ever.  In Jesus’s Name. Amen”.
     To be honest with you, I couldn’t quite believe my ears.  Only one God was magnified on Inauguration Day … YHWH, who is the God of Israel, the Most High God, and the One True God!  There was no attempt to make Him equal to the lesser gods of the world; nor to diminish His Authority or place in our history.  I heard the Word expressed in all its infinite Power, and it felt good to my spirit!
     But I want us to be mindful.  Before the Inaugural event even began, the Enemy has infiltrated the media and there were undisguised attempts to cast doubt on the characters of those pastors who spoke Biblical Truth.  I am not going to attempt to defend or deny these men and women.  I am only assessing the faithfulness and trustworthiness of their prayers.  
     No one can say if this turning towards God will last for our generation and into the future, or if it will be fleeting.  But for now — for this moment in time — the magnificence of my God was glorified, and I felt He was pleased.  May we continue to exalt Him, and may His Name be preserved in the government of our nation forever.
ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:  As I consider the Prayer Service that took place the next morning at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., my spirit is somewhat troubled that the Service included prayers on behalf of faiths not recognized by YHWH.  And I fully understand that my comment would be seen as politically incorrect by most secularists, and some Christians. But I am not concerned with how the world looked upon this holy occasion; I am only concerned with how my God regarded it. In light of the fact that the Inauguration praised and magnified Jesus Christ, and the God of Israel, how would YHWH look upon exalting other gods the very next morning?
     I understood that as the Leader of the United States, our President is expected to honor all the peoples of this nation; peoples of different ethnicities and faiths.  But how did YHWH look upon those prayers to false gods?  Then my wise husband reminded me of Revelation 5:10:  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.  
      I know that we are called to rule and reign [in partnership with Jesus] in establishing God’s Kingdom here on earth. But we are also called to be priests.  And what did God establish as the role of a priest? It is to atone for the sins of the nation.  So I can pray to my God, and as His priest, I can ask that the sins of praying to other gods be transferred to me, whereby I will repent of them, and asking for forgiveness, trusting that they will be covered in the blood of Jesus. This Prayer Service could then be cleaned and purged of all unrighteousness. It in no way excuses or approves of the sin; but in fact, shows recognition of the affront to my God, and a willingness to atone for the iniquity. Please, Dear God, forgive us of our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.



The Court of Heaven (Part 2): Do You Know Your Authority In The Court?

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     As we continue yesterday’s discussion on the Court of Heaven, I would like to state some foundational points on this topic:  1) Scripture makes it clear there is a Court in Heaven; 2) Satan goes to the Courtroom to accuse us; 3) Satan looks for any legal loophole (any opening by which he has been given authority to attack our lives). He wants to steal, kill, and destroy and let’s face it, it has been made easier for him because we haven’t known about the Courtroom. 4) We have been invited to take part in the Courtroom, just as the High Priest Joshua was in Zechariah 3:7.  5)  We don’t need to be clean to go to the courtroom. We are made clean when we go there! Joshua was given new garments in the courtroom.  6) We are able to defeat the devil and any of his principalities and powers.  We have real authority in the Court of Heaven!  And that authority is backed by Jesus, Himself, who has given us the power to bind on earth what has been bound in Heaven.  And when the verdict is handed down that the Accuser has no case against us because we are washed in the blood of Jesus, all of heaven backs that verdict including angels and the Ancient of Days Himself! Isn’t that a powerful image?
    And here is a very important and exciting concept to consider… It is written in Proverbs 6:30-31, People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy himself when he is hungry; But when he is found, he must repay seven times [what he stole]; he must give all the property of his house [if necessary, to meet his fine] … God says he must restore what has been stolen SEVENFOLD, even if it bankrupts him.  Now that’s just if he steals because he is in severe lack, and he’s hungry.  What about a thief who steals just because he enjoys stealing from people?  Would God require any less of him?  No.  He still has to repay.  Ah, but the thief we are talking about here is Satan, and he’s a spirit.  How can we make him pay?  We can’t haul him to the Judge and make him pay us back.  OR CAN WE??
      Who says that your spirit can’t appear before the Court in Heaven with a list of what the devil has stolen from you and demand restoration?  The King of Kings, and LORD of Lords, will acknowledge your list and make restoration for you, with life abundant … The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10) .  We need to stop being passive and letting the devil steal from us!  Remember, Satan is a spirit, and it is our spirits that must appear in the spiritual Court of Heaven to make our case. I know some of you may be wondering how that can even be possible.  But, remember … Scripture tells us in Ephesians 2 that by God’s grace, we are saved, and we are raised up with Christ and seated with Him in the Heavenly realms.  We were once far away and now we have been brought near.  The Bible is talking about our spirits!  Made in the image of God, we are spirits in physical bodies. And through the gift of salvation, our spirits are able to commune with Jesus in the heavenly realms and we are not limited by time, distance, or space.
     And here is what we all need to understand… to be seated with Christ is a clear picture of our Authority!  And by faith, we need to see ourselves in that Courtroom, and see the verdict of our innocence in Jesus being announced. It really is a matter of our physical senses catching up to our spirits.  Our spirits are already there… just let your spirit (which is in heaven) speak to you through the images in your mind and show you what appearing in the Court of Heaven looks like.  Ask the Holy Spirit (which resides in your heart) to help your mind receive what your spirit wants to share.
     And I can imagine that it is not much different than how a Courtroom here on earth is conducted.  On earth as it is in Heaven, remember?  You enter the Courtroom, paying respect and honor to the Judge.  You are apprised of the charges against you, and you enter a plea.  Since the Accuser will be bringing charges based on the actions of your flesh, you will confess your human sins, and ask for forgiveness from the Court.  It is at that point that you can rely on Jesus, as your Advocate, to pronounce that you have been cleansed by His blood, and the Blood will be speaking on your behalf.
     Then, just like Job, you prepare your case and present it.  Whether your Accuser brings charges of sickness, poverty, sexual immorality, or any other region of captivity that you need to be set free from, you present your evidence from Scripture … “By Jesus’s stripes I am healed”; “Blessed am I because I am poor, for mine is the Kingdom of God”; “I have confessed my sin (of sexual immorality) and He is faithful and just to forgive me my sins and to cleanse me from all unrighteousness”; “Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free”.  There is not a charge or sin that the Accuser can bring forth that cannot be disputed with Scripture.  Simply build your case and present it to the Judge.
     And don’t expect that this will be your last appearance before the Court.  As you display your Authority in this heavenly Courtroom, the Accuser will become more determined to beat you the next time.  But now you are building a history and a reputation in the Heavenly Courtroom.  The Judge sees that you are using your Authority well in representing yourself and His Kingdom, and will (just like with the High Priest Joshua we referenced yesterday) give you greater authority to conduct His government on earth.
     And here’s the really cool thing!  Your actions in the Court of Heaven can have very real consequences and effect change here on earth.  You can go to the Court of Heaven on behalf of a loved one!  If you see someone’s life spiraling out of control, you can appeal to the Court on their behalf.  You can go to the Court as a witness and for the benefit of another, declaring Scripture in their defense, and seeing the Accuser’s case against them crumble. While Satan brings accusations against us stating that we all deserve punishment, we can present our case before the Judge, countering with the argument that the Blood of Jesus [and repentance] brings “legal” forgiveness or justification.

     Too many times we argue with ourselves and others, trying to prove our innocence, when we can just go straight to the Judge of heaven and earth to plead our case.  We need to realize that the Court of Heaven is heavily stacked in our favor — especially when we know the Authority we have in the Courtroom.  And it is imperative that we understand that the “Accuser of the Brethren” is always there to accuse us before the Judge; accusing us day and night. All we have to do is show up covered in the Blood, having already repented, and present our case. If the Enemy tries to bring up our past, or any past sins in our life that have already been repented of and forgiven, the Judge will overrule him and won’t allow them to be used against us as evidence.
     Here’s a thought for you to consider … Most Christians lose battles in their lives simply because they do not discern that the battles are spiritual, and that they can appear before the Court of Heaven to present their case. The devil is a legalist and tries to find a loophole to win his case. When you don’t show up in Court, he wins by default, and lives to accuse you [on that matter] for another day. But when He hears that gavel pound, and the final verdict of “Not Guilty”, the Accuser is convinced of your Authority in the Court of Heaven.  The powers of darkness know they have no more legal authority to attack you, and all heaven has witnessed it and will back it up.
     And here are a couple of final thoughts I want you to take away from this discussion:  First, when we bring God’s Word as part of our defense and cry out to God in the Courtroom of Heaven, bringing again and again before Him the Truth of what He says in Scripture, victory will come. God cannot deny His Word, and Satan cannot defeat it.  Scripture is our legal evidence in the Court of Heaven, and with Jesus as our Advocate, and our Authority as our credentials, we are assured acquittal every time!
     But here is my final thought and one that has profound implications … Remember in Part 1, when I pointed out that God gave the High Priest Joshua access to His Presence in the Court of Heaven PLUS told him that he would be given greater authority to handle God’s affairs in His earthly Kingdom?  And remember that I wrote that this was a promise for all of us?  Now, apply that concept to what Paul wrote to the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 6: Do you not know that the saints (God’s people) will [one day] judge the world? If the world is to be judged by you, are you not competent to try trivial (insignificant, petty) cases? Do you not know that we [believers] will judge angels? How much more then [as to] matters of this life?
     Did you get that?  One day, we will be administering God’s justice upon the whole world, and as Believers in Heaven, we will judge the fallen angels!  But those who will be entrusted with that awesome responsibility must be spiritually mature, and I believe that means we must begin to start representing ourselves in the Court of Heaven now; to practice trying the “trivial cases in the matters of this life” that the Accuser brings against us today… i.e., those cases where he accuses us of being unlovable, rejected, abandoned, sexually immoral, and any number of lies that he says points to our unworthiness in Jesus’s eyes.  But that requires us to administrate His Kingdom here on earth from our seats of authority in Heaven.  As Job discovered, no one can present our case like we can!  And the only way to get the practice and to mature our skills is to experience it firsthand.  The Heavenly Court is open and in session … Jesus and God are waiting for your first Court appearance!

Job 13:3     “But I desire to speak to the Almighty and to argue my case with God.”

The Court of Heaven (Part 1): Do You Know You Have Access To It?

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     Perhaps the first question I should ask is Did you know the Court of Heaven even exists?  I would venture to guess that a majority of modern Christians would answer “No” to that question.  Yet the Jews returning to Jerusalem from their Babylonian exile knew well the teachings of the prophet Zechariah, among which was this idea of a Heavenly Court.
     And when we examine Scripture, there are many references to legal terms in God’s relationship with men:  judgment, appeals, law, contract, evidence, witnesses, indictment, jurisdiction, debt and debtors, redemption, punishment, condemn, testimony, and verdict.  Starting to get the idea?  And we must always keep in mind the admonition of our Lord: Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven.  The judicial system of the ancient Israelites, as well as our own court system, are modeled upon the Court in Heaven.  Furthermore, the Court is part of the judicial government of the Kingdom of Heaven, and guess what?  We have access to it as part of His Kingdom here on earth!
     First, I want us to understand that there are really two aspects of the Court of Heaven for Believers:  1) Jesus as our legal defender, and 2) our ability to prepare a case for our own defense.  In both instances, we can be present and have access to God in this heavenly Courtroom.
     Let me see if I can paint a picture for you from Scripture… In Zechariah, Chapter 3, the prophet receives a vision from a guiding angel of the High Priest, Joshua, standing before God, and Satan stands to his right, as his accuser.  The High Priest Joshua represents disobedient and sinful Israel, who has been brought to the Court of Heaven to receive what Satan thinks will be justified punishment for their sins.  (Remember: He is known as the Accuser). But that isn’t what happens!  God rebukes Satan and replaces Joshua’s filthy rags with the clean white robes of forgiveness.
     Then it gets even more exciting!  God counsels Joshua, telling him that if he will be faithful and walk in the ways of the Lord, he will be given greater authority to govern His house and have charge of His earthly courts, and most importantly, Joshua will have free access to the Court in Heaven and to God’s presence.  I want you to read that last comment again … God promised Joshua privileged access into the presence of God. This isn’t a surprising promise for a High Priest, but we have the same promise: Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16).
     NOTE:  I am currently seeking revelation from God about whether the Court of Heaven takes place in the Throne Room of God.  At this time, I am seeing Daniel 7:9-10 as confirming this, but I have asked some notable Bible scholars for their opinion, and I will give you their feedback as I receive it.  But for your own discernment and determination, here is the passage in Daniel:  As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; His clothing was white as snow, and the hair of His head like pure wool; His throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before Him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.  I see both the Throne Room and the Court of Judgment pictured in this Scripture, but as to whether they always coincide together, I am not prepared to say.  And perhaps the Court appears in the Throne Room only when God (The Judge) calls the Court into session.  What do you think?  

     But back to the High Priest Joshua … as Christians, we, too, can appear before God’s Throne and the Court of Heaven.  And I really like the way the noted theologian Charles Spurgeon voices his interpretation of this scenario:  “When Satan accuses, Christ pleads (our case). He does not wait till the case has gone against us and then express His regret, but He is always a very present help in time of trouble. He knows the heart of Satan, (being omniscient God), and long before Satan can accuse He puts in the demurrer, the blessed plea on our behalf, and stays the action till He gives an answer which silences forever, [the Accuser’s] every accusation.”  I found it interesting that the definition of the word demurrer is “[in Law], an objection that an opponent’s point is irrelevant or invalid, while granting the factual basis of the point”.  So, the result is that Satan accuses us, and Jesus never denies our sin, but instead acts as our Mediator. His sacrifice on our behalf makes the case against us invalid, and the case is thrown out of the Court of Heaven.  We are innocent by the Blood of the Lamb!
     But I don’t want us to skip over another very important fact … God’s promise wasn’t just that we can go to the Court of Heaven to petition, making a formal request for a Judicial decision, but if we  will follow God’s commandments and live in obedience, then we can oversee the affairs of the Judge  (God), and make the decisions!! That is a realm of authority in the Kingdom Government on earth that is available to all of us! So it’s not just about us being able to appear in Court to plead our case, (it starts there, of course), but we are given the authority to rule and reign and be part of God’s justice system in His earthly Kingdom. In that particular responsibility, there is a significant aspect of our position in the Kingdom of God that I’m afraid most Christians don’t fully understand… We are Kings and priests of our God, and He intends for us to participate as the government of heaven will increasingly invade the earth.
     There are other obvious views of the Court of Heaven in the Bible.  Perhaps the most familiar one is in the story of Job … One day when the angels came to report to God, Satan who was his designated Accuser came along with him. We also see that the Court in Heaven is where Satan got permission to curse Job and strike him with severe sores and other misfortune.  It is important for us to understand, as in this case with Job, God does allow Satan to attack and harass His people, but He always strictly regulates what Satan is allowed to do.  And whether we realize it or not, Satan has been going to the Heavenly Courtroom, (just like he did with Job), to get permission to steal from all of our lives. And because we Christians haven’t known that we can go into Court and say, “NO, I
want to present my case and oppose what the Accuser is saying”, we have experienced defeat after defeat! How often have Believers perished for lack of this knowledge?!?
     And I don’t want to leave this topic without pointing out one of the strongest visions of the Court of Heaven, which takes place in Revelation 12:10:  Then I heard a strong (loud) voice in heaven, saying, Now it has come—the salvation and the power and the kingdom (the dominion, the reign) of our God, and the power (and the authority) of His Christ (the Messiah); for the Accuser of our brethren, he who keeps bringing before our God charges against them day and night, has been cast out.

     But here’s the good news!  We have an Advocate in the Heavenly Courtroom!  This is a legal term describing someone who has received some legal training which allows him or her to represent another in a courtroom; an Advocate is someone who speaks on behalf of someone else.  So we should see a picture of Jesus as our Advocate in 1 John 2:1, “My little children, I write you these things so that you may not violate God’s law and sin. But if anyone should sin, we have an Advocate (One Who will intercede for us) with the Father—[it is] Jesus Christ [the all] righteous [upright and just, Who conforms to the Father’s will in every purpose, thought, and action].”  We know, from this Scripture, that Jesus is legally trained and knows how to represent us in the Court of Heaven!
     But here’s something we must also consider … in the instance of Job, we know that Satan was allowed to appear before the Court of Heaven, and accuse Job before God, The Judge.  But in the first 12 chapters, Job does nothing to defend himself.  He laments the attacks against him, but does nothing to defend himself — until Chapter 13!  Finally, in this chapter he says, NOW I have prepared my case (verse 18).  So, do you think Job might have saved himself and his family a lot of harm and suffering if he had prepared his case earlier?  Would he have been able to block Satan’s attempt to destroy him and his family in the Court?  No one can say for sure, but Job makes it quite evident that now that he’s prepared his case, he knows he will be vindicated!
     Can we perhaps learn a lesson from Job and be prepared to make our own cases in the Court of Heaven against our Accuser? Stay tuned for the next post as I present how the whole Heavenly Court system is rigged on our behalf, and how we can go to the Court on behalf of ourselves and our families, with the knowledge that Jesus stands with us.  It’s time we begin to prepare our own defense against the lies and accusations of our Adversary!

Thank you to the notes of Steven McKie, David Herzog, and Terry Spencer of New Horizon Community Church for their helpful insight on this topic.  They pointed me to Scripture on the Court of Heaven, which contributed to my understanding of this Biblical concept.

Psalm 35:1   “Plead my cause, O Lord, with those who strive with me; Fight against those who fight against me”.
   

   

When The Presence Of God Seems Hidden

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     Yesterday I addressed how it feels when you think God doesn’t see you or hear you.  Today I want to focus on how we think and feel when it seems as if we can’t see or hear God.  I’m talking about the “hiddenness” of God; but not from the aspect of nonbelievers, who will say, if God existed, then God would make His existence more obvious. God is not obvious. Therefore, God does not exist.
     This is not about God deliberately hiding His presence.  It’s about those times in our lives when we, who have been in real relationship with Him, can’t find Him or hear His voice.  It’s about those crises of faith that have us asking why He has seemingly abandoned us, or is at least choosing to not communicate with us.

     If you have been one who has enjoyed an easy and intimate relationship with God — received answers to your prayers, and seen evidence of His presence during times of trouble — then the notable lack of His appearance becomes cause for concern.  And if you have advanced to a level of relationship where your spirit can approach His throne room and ask for heavenly power and a call to action — and then He seems to be absent or silent, it can begin to raise doubts in our spirit. And  if the problem persists, then it can lead to a crisis of faith; or worse, sometimes a collapse of trust in God.
      But if you have experienced an intimate relationship with God in the past, and are now facing a “dry spell” in that partnership, you must not forget that He is the Unchangeable and Ever-Present God. Perhaps He is preparing to do a work in your life and is waiting to see the level of commitment you have to Him.  Maybe He is waiting to see if you are willing to press into Him when the going gets rough and His presence isn’t easily discerned.  And just maybe there are places He wants to take you, but you have to be willing to walk by faith, not by sight.
     That is a time-worn motto of the Church … we walk by faith, not by sight.  But if you are a Christian who has developed a spiritual relationship with God (communing with Him in the spirit and being accustomed to His presence), then the absence of that intimacy might really challenge your faith walk.  But that is the time to “press into God”.
     What do I mean by that?  It means to seek God and to keep on seeking Him, even when you have no clear evidence that He is there.  It means to seek to know Him and His righteousness when your world is falling down around you.  It means surrendering yourself and your life to Him because you have nowhere else (and no one) to turn to. And it means trusting that He is there, waiting on you to take a step towards Him, instead of sitting back and expecting Him to come to you.
     I have a very dear friend who is pressing into new depths in her relationship with God. She has met Jesus in her spirit and He has shown her how much He values her and what is possible when she decides to move towards Him.  She has been through some devastating trials in her life, and has just recently learned to seek Jesus in the spirit and press into Him. While He has healed her emotional and spiritual wounds, and is helping her to deal with changes in her life, He is also showing her that her future depends on her making the next move.  He is not there to orchestrate her every step, but is waiting for her to put her faith into action to receive the future He has planned for her.  She doesn’t know what that might be, but because she has pressed into Him, even when He doesn’t seem to be present, she is excited about stepping out in faith.  The unknown future no longer scares her because she knows He has something spectacular to give her; something He has been preparing for her since He knit her in the womb.  And because she has walked by faith, and not by sight — and because she has pushed through her trials to be in the very presence of God — she is excited to receive her inheritance as the daughter of the King!

     Unfortunately, an experience she had with trying to go through the Church to help her deal with her personal trauma and ordeals was met with a legalistic attitude.  She tried to share what God was showing her and the new depths she was reaching with Him, but they wanted to shove her, and God, into a traditional and Pharisaical box. They wanted her to observe the strict external form of religion without regard to the spirit.  As she sat in dismay, her dejected spirit saw angelic soldiers in full spiritual armor shaking their heads in consternation, and she left the Church in tears.  I can only imagine how that grieved God’s Holy Spirit.
     But she is determined to seek God on her own and press into Him, despite the Church.  And she is enthusiastic about what God has in store for her. Her greatest joy is found in spending time in God’s presence and contending with God’s Spirit for more of Him. She is learning to love the time she spends with Him, and it is preparing her for any future “dry spells” that are sure to come her way. She has stepped outside the comfort zone of conventional religion and has turned a life that looks destroyed [from the outside] into a spiritual relationship worth celebrating!  Jesus was her last resort, and she didn’t let the fact that she couldn’t see Him or hear Him [in the wreckage of her life] stop her from reaching out for Him. She accepted His invitation for healing, let Him validate and strengthen her, and is now ready to trust in the authority and power He has given her to walk out her faith.
     Don’t get caught up in the Enemy’s lie that you need Jesus to hold your hand every minute of every day.  Don’t buy into the deception that you’re incapable of defeating the devil on your own.  You have been given the very power that God gave Jesus.  His presence is in you and you can have the confidence that you will be a Victor, just as He was. So, if you happen to be in a spiritual desert at the moment, and you can’t hear or see God, then wait for Him; pressing into Him and pushing through to a relationship that I promise you will be supernatural and rewarding!

Psalm 2:1-5    “My son, if you will receive My words
and treasure My commandments within you, so that your ear is attentive to [skillful and Godly] wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding [seeking it conscientiously and striving for it eagerly]; yes, if you cry out for insight, and lift up your voice for understanding; if you seek skillful and Godly wisdom as you would silver and search for her as you would hidden treasures; then you will understand the [reverent] fear of the Lord [that is, worshiping Him and regarding Him as truly awesome] and discover the knowledge of God.”
   

A Couple of Thoughts On The Future…

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     It happens one week from today … the nation is waiting breathlessly as our country experiences the peaceful transfer of power.  As I watch the circus that has become our political process, I am not sure that anything in this world will change until Jesus returns.  I sense that half of the country is eagerly expecting a new beginning of honesty, authenticity, and trustworthiness among those who govern us; while the other half is anticipating oppression, repression, and suppression.  T
     Those who lean Left, politically, fear the loss of all they’ve gained in the last 43+ years: their newly acquired right to marry anyone of their choice, regardless of sex; their ability to choose to destroy a fetus; and their newfound freedom to culturally express themselves as any gender on any given day.  Those who lean to the political and religious Right hope to see the demise of all those “freedoms”.
     We, here in America, pride ourselves on our bedrock of Freedom and Human Rights.  As I contemplate our future, both here at home and abroad, I am deeply concerned that we are too far down the path of unrighteousness to effect any dramatic turn in direction.
     Take this for instance: the First Amendment to our Bill of Rights protects the free exercise of religion and the freedom of speech, right? But for far too long, our Churches have restricted themselves from being able to express their opinions on moral, cultural, or political issues.  

“No one can serve two masters …”

      We are all familiar with the 501(c)3 tax status, which exempts churches from paying federal income taxes as a non-profit public charity.  But as I look around at the mega-churches and the healthy bank accounts of even small town churches, I hardly consider churches “non-profit”.  What I see is this … in an attempt to benefit from man’s laws, the Church has become a privileged government entity, receiving monetary “favors” in exchange for operating under and representing private civil law.  In other words, our churches now operate under man’s law instead of the freedom of God’s Law, trading the headship of Christ for the mandates of the State.
     Now, along comes Donald Trump, who as our President-Elect, declares that he will remove or repeal the Johnson Amendment, which limits freedom of speech from the pulpits.  This amendment is a change in the U.S. tax code, made in 1954, which prohibited certain tax-exempt organizations (including churches) from endorsing and opposing political candidates.  In this election cycle, Christian citizens received this as a ray of hope that the pastors in our pulpits could return to speaking God’s whole Truth without fear of government intervention or retaliation.
     But I wonder if it is really the fear of the government that has silenced our pulpits, or the fear of cultural disapproval?  Haven’t we really silenced ourselves in an attempt to appease and pacify the growing cultural objection to our Biblical belief system?  Not only have we kept silent, but we have actually adopted the culture as our guiding model for administering our churches.  Same-sex marriage is not only becoming more acceptable in Christian churches, but abortion as a sin is minimized, and the Bible is increasingly discredited.
     When I consider that more churches will adapt to these kinds of Biblical sin, yet condemn a healing or deliverance ministry as “too controversial” (even though Jesus modeled both for us!), then I know that Satan has infiltrated the Church and the seminaries.  And it saddens me that we, the Body of Christ in our nation’s churches, would look towards the repeal of a piece of legislation as our lifeline, rather than the pure, unadulterated, and solid Word of God.  In reality, all the Johnson Amendment did was to limit pastors from endorsing or opposing political candidates.  But what stopped them from speaking out about political corruption (and preaching what God is really saying in Romans 13); or speaking out about LGBT activism, abortion, cohabitation, unwed mothers — any of which have become celebrated statuses in our culture?
     The truth is that no new administration is going to change our culture overnight, and if we are pinning our hopes on Trump and his gang of “outsiders” to effect any great shift in the direction of our government policies or societal culture, then I’m afraid we are going to find ourselves hugely disappointed. And it is not just our churches that determine whether our Christian principles will be upheld.  Our governmental offices and institutions have the ability to stifle our worldwide Christian outreach as well.

     Take for instance, the nomination of Rex Tillerson as President-Elect Trump’s Secretary of State. Many are excited about his executive management skills and I’ve read more than a couple of inspiring stories about the righteous character of the man.  But I’m also curious to know about the man; especially when I read that, as head of Exxon, Tillerson oversaw large donations to Planned Parenthood.  Are we to anticipate that this organization’s radical abortion agenda will be supported as part of our foreign policy?  Also, Mr. Tillerson served on the Boy Scout national board when that organization extended troop leadership to homosexual males.  As a Christian, those actions give me pause, because as Secretary of State, he will have considerable influence on the global impact of the United States, and I am seriously concerned about what social policies we are exporting to the world.
     For instance, will he continue to uphold the October, 2016 rule for the administration of USAID (The United States Agency for International Development; the government agency which is primarily responsible for administering civilian foreign aid)?  This rule, enacted by President Obama (without Congress) prohibits organizations that contract with USAID from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the administration of aid. In other words, as expressed in an article on Barbwire.com, “authentic Christian principles must be betrayed in order to serve poor, diseased, displaced and suffering people”.  Will Christian-affiliated mission groups be barred from service to the disadvantaged of the world unless they endorse the homosexual agenda?  As Roger Severino, director of the Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, said, “Disaster relief agencies may now be required to open their women’s shower and sleeping facilities to biological males who self-identify as women or be stripped of all funding for alleged ‘gender identity discrimination’ “. Is that the message we want to send to the world? And is that truly representative of Jesus’s form of social justice?
     So, as much as I hate to say it, I’m not so confident that change is in our future … that anything like repealing the Johnson Amendment will affect the culture of our churches.  I fear that our churches have become institutions unto themselves, more concerned about perpetuating their existence than discipling followers of Jesus in how to live a Biblically righteous life.  And I am waiting to see if the attitudes and behaviors of elected government officials will reflect a desire to promote Christian values at home and in the world, or if we will see the continued advancement of our culture’s immorality.
     To tell you the truth, I am more excited and optimistic when I talk to fellow Christians who, single-handedly, are walking out the Great Commission — Believers who are being bold and taking advantage of the opportunities presented to them to engage with their fellow man and share their faith.  I’m talking about people who, in the course of their day, share Jesus with their physical therapist, the waitress at lunch, the grocery store clerk, or the child in their classroom.  These are Believers who are not ruled by the laws of men; who do not let the opinions of the disbelieving culture inhibit them from shining the Light of the Lord into someone’s life.
     I know that will sound like a fantasy dream to some.  But I honestly believe that these simple acts of faith will be honored by God more than all the repealed laws and extraordinary government appointments man can make. Jesus didn’t ask us to build massive church buildings and congregations in His Name, or institute powerful governments to represent Him.  He asked us to make disciples of men, baptize them into the Kingdom of God, and teach each man, woman, and child all that He has commanded us.  We do that one person at a time, compromising nothing in our message, and fearing no one but Him.  THAT is the future that I’m ready to witness!  Let it begin with me!

1 Peter 3:15   “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,”

   

Do You Think God Is In Control of Everything?

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    The answer is either “yes” or “no”.  And depending on your answer, it will likely determine whether you believe you have Power and Authority in the Name of Jesus. And it will definitely shape how you respond to life’s adversities and spiritual attacks.
     Those who respond “yes” will point to the characteristic of His Sovereignty, saying it means God has supreme power, authority, and control over His creation.  They will cite Scripture they believe points to God’s sovereignty over nature and nations. They will quote Bible verses they say validate God’s sovereignty over history and the affairs of men.  And, ultimately, they will say that even if something bad happens… It was God’s WILL!  God can use everything and everyone for His purpose, and therefore that means that He controls things by His will.  So, I knew I had to determine what the concept of God’s sovereignty had to say about whether or not He controls everything.
     But here is an astounding thing that I discovered … I looked up “Sovereignty” in the Dictionary and got this definition:  jurisdiction, rule, supremacy, dominion, power, ascendancy, domination, authority, control, influence.  I thought, “Okay, that is how the secular world defines sovereignty.  How is it defined in Strong’s Concordance?”, which is an index to the Bible that lists words, and allows one to compare how that word is used in different passages, and to see different meanings, depending on the context.  Well, guess what?  I went to my well-worn Concordance… and the word sovereign wasn’t listed! You know how you try to justify something that doesn’t seem possible?
     When the Concordance went from the word, southward to sow, I found myself repeating the alphabet to make sure I wasn’t looking in the wrong place.  Surely this couldn’t be!  But there it was … Neither sovereign nor sovereignty were listed in Strong’s Concordance.  So, what does that say when a well-trusted reference book doesn’t even acknowledge the concept of sovereignty?  This well-respected book provides an independent check against translations, and offers readers of the Bible an opportunity for greater, and more technically accurate understanding of the Scriptural text (from both the Hebrew and Greek perspective) — yet how could I understand text that didn’t exist?
     Now, I’m faced with an even bigger dilemma! One of the primary arguments that God is in control of everything has been the characteristic of His Sovereignty… yet, that word doesn’t seem to be used in the Bible?!?!  How can that be?  This quandary demanded more research, and I was actually amazed to find the following information….  The words sovereign and sovereignty do not appear in the 1611 King James Bible at all!  (MY CAVEAT: I am not advocating a “King James only” interpretation. I merely reference it because it is the oldest among the Bible versions in use today).
      I discovered that sovereign and sovereignty appear sporadically in the ESV and Amplified versions (written in 1971 and 1965, respectively).  Sovereignty appears eight times in the New American Standard version (published in 1971), although it refers to the LORD God, only twice. But the word sovereign appears 297 times (I looked it up on biblegateway.com) in the NIV translation, written in 1973, and nearly all usages refer to the title, “Sovereign LORD”.
      Now I’m curious as to what appears in the King James instead of this word sovereign.  And what I found was that “Sovereign Lord” in the NIV replaced the use of “LORD God” in the King James.  Apparently, the translators of the 20th Century NIV decided to translate the word LORD as Sovereign.  This word, LORD, was translated in the King James Bible from the Hebrew Adonai (meaning Lord, Master) and Jehovah (meaning Lord).  When I compared the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (and written and completed before Christ was born!), with every occurrence of the NIV’s Sovereign LORD, I found the various terms “Master and Lord”, “the Lord thy God”, “O Lord, King of gods”, or simply “Lord”.
     So, let me make my position clear … Every time you read “Sovereign God” in the NIV Bible, it actually should read “Lord God”. The original Hebrew did not mean “sovereign” and that was a translator’s decision.  And while I cannot explain the reasoning behind this recent mis-translation, I can definitely see how assigning the word “Sovereign” has resulted in a faulty doctrine. Let me elaborate…
     Once God was actually called sovereign, then His sovereignty became an established theological characteristic, and is actually listed in Theopedia (a conservative, evangelical, Christian encyclopedia) as an official characteristic of God.  So, man’s ignorance of the Hebrew language, along with religious tradition have actually created a false doctrine of God’s “Sovereignty”, which now translates into His control of everything because of our 21st Century dictionary definition of what “sovereign” means.
     But regardless of whether you are willing to follow the argument I’ve presented on the historical mis-translation or not, I still want you to understand why I feel it is important you recognize that God is NOT in control of everything. Let me start by asking you a simple question … If you think God IS in control of everything… how has the world come to be in such bad shape?  And if you truly believe He is All-Powerful, and has the power to prevent the evil, why do we continue to see such evil being perpetrated by humans? Take, for instance, the recent viral video of that 18-year-old mentally handicapped man who was bound and gagged while four young people tortured him for hours.  They have now been charged with a hate crime, and their racial slurs and physical sadism show their evil hearts.  Do you think it was God’s will that the young man suffered such torment and agony?  If He is in control of everything, then why didn’t He stop that from happening?  And if there is a purpose for His good in that horrible situation, does that fit your impression of God — that He would let such pain and humiliation be inflicted upon one of His creation to serve His own purpose?
     Now, let me present my thoughts … Yes, God has infinite Power and can control anything He wants to.  But He used His free will to create us in His image.  Put in very simple terms, if God has free will, then so do we, because we are made in His image.  But it is quite evident that it is our free will that has caused the world to be in such bad shape.  It is the decisions we make to follow either our flesh or the temptations of the Enemy — instead of following Him — that result in the pain and misery on this earth.  Could He have made us to be creatures that automatically follow Him in every circumstance?  Absolutely!  But how would that have glorified Him? Ultimately, our free will results in a decision either to be loyal to Him, or to follow a path to rebellion. (And there’s another facet to this question of free will — Satan was created by God as Lucifer, and he used his free will to make a decision to rebel.  And he is trying to convince us to the same).
     What we see on earth is man using his free will to disobey God to serve his own selfish desires. So, think about this — If everything was “sovereignly” controlled by God, then there would be no need to pray, no need to give financial offerings, no need to even live right — because whatever happened would be what God wanted regardless of our efforts.  In effect, if God controls everything, why even bother to pray?
     Now, you could say, “But God is all-powerful. He is able to intervene in human affairs, and my prayers can help convince Him”. Yes, our prayers rising to Heaven can, and do, result in God intervening in our lives.  But God has given us His power, too, through the Holy Spirit, and the authority to use it!  Jesus makes that very clear in Luke 10:19 … Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. 

     Yet we doubting and faithless Christians do not believe this word from our Savior!  Oh, we have no problem believing that God exists — but all this other stuff about demons, and spiritual attacks, and supernatural forces of evil; well, that’s outside the box that we’ve put God and ourselves in.  But the ancient Jews, to whom Jesus was talking to in Luke 10:19 knew exactly what He was referencing. “Serpent” referred to a deadly, subtle, malicious enemy; and “Scorpion” symbolized torment and wrath.  Yet, we choose to ignore Jesus’s gift of authority over both, and over ALL the power of the enemy!  These terms and symbols are all dealing with the supernatural, spiritual realm.  Jesus has given us authority and power to resist them, and yet we limit ourselves to praying and asking God to handle it for us.
     Can you consider the possibility that He doesn’t want to be the “medicine cabinet God” that handles everything for us?  Can you see that the next time we encounter an attack by the enemy, we have the choice to continue to just sit back and ask God to take care of it for us — OR we can choose to use the power and authority Jesus has given us over ALL the power of the enemy, and handle it ourselves?  Which glorifies Him the most? — evil forces on the earth continue to torment and attack us over and over because we never stop them; we just wait for God to answer our prayers … OR, we declare to the spiritual realm that we are using our free will and our authority to call upon the mighty Name of Jesus [and are using His power that abides within us] to wage war as part of His Kingdom servants on this earth.
     My spirit gets a very clear picture — God doesn’t want to be in control of everything!  He wants a partner, not a puppet!  He made us in His image and He wants us to act like it!  He sent His Son into this evil world , and transferred His power to Jesus to establish God’s Kingdom on earth.  Then Jesus transferred His power to us, and here we are 2,000 years later, with scarcely an idea that we possess that power, let alone know how to use it.  It is not God’s will that the world be in the shape it is in, nor that we suffer in our lives from all the slings and arrows of the enemy.
     Will there be things outside our control, even if we use the power assigned to us?  The answer is yes. The Prince of this world still has his power, too.  But I don’t think Jesus wanted us to believe that God would control everything.  Jesus, Himself, was God … and He could have called down a legion of angels to stop his crucifixion and controlled the whole outcome.  But He came to our realm to show us the way to fight in the spiritual war that started in Heaven and continues to this day on earth.  He used the Power and Authority given to Him by God to heal the sick, bind and cast out demons, and spread the word that the Kingdom of God (God’s heavenly government) was here to take back territory.  It’s time we use our free will to work with God and take control of our lives!

Romans 14:12   “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.”

   

The Mysteries of The Kingdom of God

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     How many of you have given any thought to the difference between the “Gospel of Jesus” and the “Gospel of the Kingdom”?  I would surmise that many of you are like me; I never gave it much thought, or at the very least, I combined them into one concept, under the heading of “The Good News”.

     I would submit to you that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of eternal life in the Kingdom of God through His work on the cross, while the Gospel of the Kingdom of God is a call to interface with God in His Kingdom … the earthly realm and the Heavenly realm. In more precise terms, the Kingdom of God is the realm in which God is King (with the understanding that He resides in all realms and all dimensions).  We also know that a kingdom is a government.  Every kingdom needs a founding document, and God’s Kingdom is founded on the Bible.
     Here’s another concept to consider: Every kingdom has an expansion agenda for its growth. The agenda is to expand and take territory for the King so that He might gain more influence in the world.
So, from this perspective, God owns Heaven, so to speak, and His goal is to expand His Kingdom in the earth and take territory from Satan. Now, let’s take it a step further … God’s Spiritual Kingdom seeks to invade and expand into our physical realm (“On earth as it is in Heaven”). In this battle to gain new territory for our King, we aren’t trying to hold or maintain ground. We need to war in the Spirit to capture and control new ground. In this way, God’s Kingdom government works by executing His authority over a territory in the same way a 13th Century English King executed his authority over the captured land of other nations.
     God’s Kingdom is made to occupy the territory of your heart, which allows God’s influence to be released from Believers into the world.  But there is a Cosmic Chess Match going on between God and Satan, and it is being fought on the battlefield of men’s hearts.  If God isn’t allowed to occupy the territory of your heart to establish His Kingdom there, Satan will seek to fill this spiritual void, and he can do it through his low level demons of unforgiveness, anger, hate, fear, shame, porn, pharmakeia, occultism (like Freemasonry), and any means necessary.
     As a counter move to Satan, God seeks to program your heart with His belief system.  At this point, it is important to understand the ways in which our hearts can be programmed:
1) REVELATION (Ephesians 1:17): I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.  
2)  REPETITION  OF POSITIVE CONFESSIONS:   The repeated positive confessions break down the barrier between the conscious and the unconscious.  (“Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God”).  That’s why we encourage people after our deliverance sessions to learn affirmative and positive Scriptures to speak out loud when you start hearing Satan whisper his lies in your mind.
3) TRAUMA (Fear/Lies/Repeated Bullying/Torture by demons):  They all create false belief systems that are contrary to God.  (This is called mind control).  It shatters the heart’s belief system into fragments.
     So, you can see that the heart is the battleground where we either let God’s Kingdom be established, or we give Satan permission to occupy us as his territory.  And it is absolutely essential that we understand our heart connects directly to our Spirit!  2 Corinthians 1:21-22 says, And it is God who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. In essence our heart is a portal (a doorway, an opening, a gateway, an entry way) to our Spirit.
     So because there is a direct link from our heart to our spirit (which is the essence of our eternal being; the physical body being temporary), it is important that we guard our heart.  When you understand this concept, then Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me takes on great significance.  And it becomes necessary that we close any portals that might offer an opening to our heart which gives the Enemy the opportunity to take more ground from God’s Kingdom.

     How do we close those portals to our hearts?  First, we need to understand that God, the Father, has cosmic laws that required His Son’s blood in exchange for our eternal life.  Jesus’s blood has real power in spiritual warfare, and is capable of defeating demonic beings.  In fact, the blood of Jesus smashes demons, defeats any of Satan’s hierarchy, and seals portals that aren’t from God.
     On the other hand, Satan wants to guard and protect any heart he has been allowed access to; and will assign a controlling demon to this portal entry point.  Satan will assign a strongman or gatekeepers, who will monitor and try to control our hearts. And they will fight back with extreme motivation to maintain the portal in the person.
     Sometimes the authority for the demon’s residence in our hearts has been personally granted via sin(s) committed through our own free will.  But in many cases the strongman’s legal authority is veiled or deliberately hidden.  Furthermore, legal authority may extend all the way back to different centuries. Generational curses, Freemasonry, dedications, rituals, or any satanic legal issue that gives Satan authority will yield territory from God’s Kingdom.  Through spiritual warfare, the legal authority can be cancelled and the strongman removed.  And once we win that battle, we can seal the portal inside the person with the blood of Jesus.  And that’s a way territory can be reclaimed for God’s Kingdom.
     And if you are willing, we can go a little further into the mysteries of the Kingdom of God.  We need to consider that Spirits are both persons and realms.  We are spirits; Satan’s emissaries are spirits; and the Holy Spirit resides in us when we accept Jesus as our Savior.  But also consider that we, as Believers, are called to live out of the realm called Jesus and we are to submit our realm to Him, so that He might live IN us. This is to say that our bodies and our hearts are the realms in which Jesus and the Holy Spirit reside.  But as Revelation 6:8 shows us, Death and Hell are both physical realms and beings.  The beings of Death and Hades are actual spiritual beings, bodies, or entities AS WELL AS a realm that exists. And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth. Can you see both the [spiritual] person and the [spiritual] realm in this verse?
     I believe it is important for us to understand, at this critical time in history, that as spirit beings, we can engage in battle in the spiritual realm.  Through the power and authority that Jesus has given us, we can protect God’s Kingdom and take back territory.  We need to understand that we are operating in two realms — both heaven and earth! Finding that hard to believe?  Just consider these verses … Ephesians 2:6:  And He raised us up together with Him [when we believed], and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, [because we are] in Christ Jesus.  When we first believed, our spirit is seated with Jesus in Heaven, while our physical body remains here on earth.  Our spirit is able to operate in both realms.  Colossians 1:13:  He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.  Again, this is telling us our spirits are no longer prisoners here on earth, but have access to the Son of God in His Kingdom, which is in the realm of Heaven. Philippians 3:20: But [we are different, because] our citizenship is in heaven. And from there we eagerly await [the coming of] the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Makes it clear that earth is our temporary home.  As Believers, our spirits are residing in our eternal home, the realm of Heaven.
     So Scripture shows us that we occupy two realms right now (Earth & the Third Heaven) – and with Jesus’s Power and Authority, we can engage in the Second Heaven also, where the demons and spiritual forces that oppress us reside.  But here’s the thing I want you to comprehend:  We shouldn’t be afraid of these supernatural aspects God has given to us. To adopt this mindset, requires spiritual maturity in the Church.  Sadly, we haven’t grasped these levels of understanding, and the Church is in danger of being locked into rote rituals and doctrine.
     It is imperative we recognize that we were created and designed and empowered to rule with Him right now … not when we die, not when we become glorified, and not having to wait to be called up as a co-ruler or co-reigner in the Millennial Kingdom.  The Kingdom of God is on earth right now, in our hearts, and we are commissioned to take territory for Him this very day!  And I believe that if we desire to seek a position of authority in the Kingdom, we must come of age spiritually, and begin discipling Believers for the work to be done.
     We are heirs with Christ of the Kingdom of God. And heirs to the King are royalty to God.  Everyone believing in Christ and reading this blog is an heir and considered royalty in the Kingdom.  That is why we are often referred to as “ambassadors for Christ”. We can even consider ourselves “viceroy kings” in His kingdom, which means we are rulers exercising Authority in a colony (the realm of earth) on behalf of a sovereign.
     We have been given appointed spheres of Authority to mete out justice to the dark side under Jesus’s Power and Authority.  It is important that we understand that He directs and grants heavenly resources including messengers, ministering and warring angels, and a full set of spiritual armor.  God has armed us with the Sword of the Spirit (which is the Word of God, which is Jesus) and He wants us to be a point of agreement in the earth so He can act. By doing so, we tear down Satan’s plans and deliver people from his clutches.
     I want to finish by saying that perhaps this sounds like more than you can take into consideration for now.  But I want to give you a word of encouragement.  I believe God is rejoicing to see the work beginning among a remnant of His Body.  It’s a small beginning, but we are maturing and embracing our positions in the Kingdom of God.  May we continue to grow and expand and take territory for the King!

Matthew 6:10    “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
   

Luke 4:43

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 But He said, “I must preach [the good news of] the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because I was sent for this purpose.”

Today’s blog post is Part One of a two-part teaching my husband and I presented to our Home Church on “The Kingdom of God”.  Part One is an overview of why we need to understand and preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.  Tomorrow, I will present Part Two, which takes a look at what Jesus meant by “The mystery of the Kingdom”.     
     I want to present an idea that is clearly explained in the Bible, yet we, as the Body of Christ, don’t recognize it.  As elucidated in Luke 4:43, the purpose of Jesus’s coming was to announce that the Kingdom of God would be established on earth.  Christians today, however, tend to focus on His message of Salvation, and we rarely proclaim what He taught about the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven, which are the same thing. Remember that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you”(Matthew 6:33).  Salvation was not his primary focus … the Kingdom of God was.
     Jesus is teaching His disciples the importance of knowing what He meant by the Kingdom of God, and making sure they knew it was His purpose; why He was sent. And when Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God, He spoke in terms of a real government—a structured, organized entity with the very authority of God behind it. (Certain rulers who heard Christ’s message recognized the political implications and viewed His words as a threat to their own power. This became a factor in Christ’s eventual crucifixion).  
     But God is a God of order.  To Jesus and His disciples, the term “Kingdom of God” meant a government that would be established on earth. They anticipated that its arrival would amount to nothing less than a sweeping, overwhelming change in the world order.
    We also need to recognize that there are two different fulfillments we need to consider when discussing the Kingdom of God:  1) The Bible shows that when the Kingdom comes in the future, the returning Christ will take His place as divine ruler of the earth.  It is a literal Kingdom on earth, with Jesus as the ruler. 2) Since the Kingdom is wherever the King rules, if He is the ruler of your heart, then the spiritual Kingdom of God exists in you HERE AND NOW.  
     It’s interesting, in light of these two fulfillments, to contemplate the chapter of Matthew 13, which consists entirely of parables about the Kingdom of Heaven.  The disciples asked Jesus, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And He answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” Notice that He doesn’t say you have been given the knowledge of Salvation … No! He was teaching them about the significance of the Kingdom of Heaven and why it was important, both in the present and in the future.
     In each of the parables in Matthew 13, Jesus presents an argument that begins with, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…”.  I don’t know about you, but I have read those parables so many times, and I never made the connection that they all pointed to the Kingdom of Heaven.  I looked for a lesson in each one, but did not recognize that He was giving us valuable information that pertained to Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven.  Let me give you a short synopsis on each of the parables and why it was important to Jesus that we get this concept. I recommend that you read these parables in Matthew, Chapter 13, with a new spiritual eye towards The Kingdom of God.
The Parable of the Sower:  Each soil represents one of four responses to the teaching of the kingdom.
The Parable of the Wheat and Tares (Weeds):  There was corruption in the Kingdom, but it will be sorted out at harvest time.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed:  (This was the most fascinating to me!)  This parable accurately describes what the kingdom community became in the decades and centuries after the Christianization of the Roman Empire. In those centuries the Church grew abnormally large in influence and dominion, and was a nest for much corruption.  Close study of birds as symbols in the Old Testament, and especially in the literature of later Judaism, shows that birds regularly symbolize evil and even demons or Satan.
The Parable of the Leaven:  Three measures is far more leaven than is needed to make bread, and represents the addition of corruption and impurity through “paganizing influences” introduced into the Kingdom.
The Parable of the Hidden Treasure: The man is Jesus and this parable speaks of how highly the King values the people of His kingdom.  The treasure that is so wonderful that Jesus would give all to purchase is the individual believer. This powerfully shows how Jesus gave everything to redeem the whole world to preserve a treasure in it, and the treasure is His people.
The Parable of the Pearl of Great Value:  Again, Jesus is the buyer and the individual believer is the pearl that He sees as so valuable that He would happily give all to have it forever.  To the ancient peoples that Jesus was speaking to, a pearl was the loveliest of all possessions; Jesus is telling them that the people of His Kingdom are the most valuable thing to Him.
The Parable of the (Drag)Net: Jesus shows that the world will remain divided right up until the end, and the Church will not reform the world.  The King will return, the angels will assist the King in the work of judgment, and He will establish His Kingdom on earth.
     As I studied further about Jesus’s teachings on the Kingdom of God, I began to understand how the early Church might have been confused about it’s significance, and how that has translated to near ignorance on the part of the modern Church.
     The hope of the early church was that the Lord would return in the clouds to establish a Kingdom of peace and justice.  That is what Jesus preached!  They had yet to learn that the Kingdom was in them! The Disciples believed in the literal return and reign of Christ on earth.  Jesus, Himself, said in Matthew 25:31, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.”  He goes on to say in verse 32, that He will then judge the nations, separating the sheep from the goats. But He also told them in Luke 17:21:  “You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.”  We can see both the future and the present Kingdoms of God presented here.
     So, how have we come to lose the importance of Jesus’s message about the Kingdom of God?  It began to change through the centuries as follows: The Church began to limit the idea of the Kingdom of God to just mean the 1,000 year reign of Christ in the Millennial Kingdom.  While The Kingdom of God and the Millennial Kingdom aren’t the same, they do overlap. Then theologians began arguing if the Millennial Kingdom was literal or allegorical. The early Church fathers Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian believed in a literal Millennial Kingdom. In the 3rd Century, Origen was the first to present the allegorical theory. Then just a few years later, Augustine changed the theory even more.  He “identified the Church with the Kingdom of God and maintained that the millennial age had already come”.  In his highly influential book The City of God, Augustine wrote: “Therefore the Church, even now, is the kingdom of Christ, and the kingdom of heaven” (Book XX, Chapter 9). In essence, Augustine taught that the Church in this present world is the Kingdom of God, and “the thousand years stand for all the years of the Christian era”. 
     We need to remember that the Hebrew prophets showed that the arrival of God’s Kingdom on earth would bring worldwide peace, physical abundance and divine righteousness.  Isaiah 2:4 tells us that He will judge among the nations, and rebuke many people; that people will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; and that nations won’t lift their swords against other nations, and man will learn war no more.
     But history shows us that the “Christian era” or “the Church era” that Augustine equated with God’s Kingdom has been a time of violence, war, starvation and widespread lawlessness.  We certainly can’t say mankind is no longer learning war!  So the Church, in this “Age of Grace,” has obviously not spread Jesus’s Gospel Message about the Kingdom of God! 
     Continuing from the historical perspective, in the 18th Century mankind adopted “the Age of Reason”, and instead of basing all knowledge in Biblical revelation, they tried to build on the foundation of human reason.  Theologians that adopted this concept believed that “Western civilization was establishing Christ’s earthly rule”. And they began to teach that Mankind was “improving” and through our human power and ingenuity we could establish a righteous world. (SIDE NOTE:  We’ve left the “righteousness” part of that world equation behind, and now through our human power and ingenuity, we’re going to “improve” through transhumanism).
     Those theologians also taught that as the Church, we should set good examples of Christian living, which would influence society and culture… we haven’t done a very good job of that if you look at our society today. And even though that idea was preached by the theologians of the day, the Church received no commission to politically reform the society by seeking God’s righteousness, and from the Roman Empire on, we have NOT seen the governments of the world conform to what Jesus said the Kingdom of God was: a structured, organized entity with the very authority of God behind it.  And throughout the centuries, the Church has not preached that as a goal!  Instead, church members heard from their leaders that they should hope and pray for God’s Kingdom to come, while concentrating on the Salvation message.
     That literal Kingdom on earth WILL COME and Jesus WILL be the Divine Ruler of His Kingdom on earth.  In that sense the Kingdom of God is future and we look forward to our inheritance. BUT the Kingdom of God also refers to the King’s realm into which we may now enter to experience the blessings of His reign in our hearts.  REMEMBER:  the parable of the Sower is all about what is sown in our hearts; that’s the personal realm that Jesus concentrated on and wants to be King of.
     So, in this earthly realm, it is perhaps easier to comprehend that the Kingdom of God exists in our hearts.  Our spirits give us hints that He is there, and our souls (our minds, emotions and will) will show us He is real and there is evidence of Him — IF WE SEEK THE KINGDOM OF GOD FIRST.  
     As for the literal establishment of God’s Kingdom at the return of Christ, God’s timetable may differ from man’s. God does not allow man to foresee the chronological details of His plan, but the outcome is certain. God will do what He has promised. 
     Finally, here is the really important concept I hope you will grasp … After the true biblical teaching of the Kingdom of God was removed, the gospel message was changed from the message about the Kingdom to a message primarily about Jesus Christ.  It would become a message that Christianity would triumph over its enemies in the world. And it was a message that faith in Jesus would yield eternal salvation … both true, but these were not the “Good News” that Jesus had come to preach, nor the purpose for which He was sent.  (Re-read the Scripture at the top of this page). In other words, Christianity kept the name of Jesus Christ, but abandoned His message.
Tomorrow I will explore the “secrets” or the “mystery” of the Kingdom of God.  

Validation By A Vision

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     I wrote yesterday’s blog post out of a sincere desire to help several close Christian friends overcome their reticence to letting Jesus set them free.  To be honest, I was beginning to feel as if I was failing them and Jesus because I have been unable to convince them of what my spirit is screaming is His Truth!  I have tried using Scripture to validate what has been revealed to me, but more often than not, these dear Christians are so entrenched in the Church interpretation of the Word, that they look at me with doubtful concern: “I can see that possibility, but it’s not what I’ve been taught my whole life.”  And the conversation usually ends there.
     Even those who have seen family members healed of their spiritual wounds [and are desperately searching for a way out of their own bondage] just can’t bring themselves to step outside the box. Something is holding them back; they are listening to a lie; and I haven’t been able to convince them that Jesus is bigger than we’ve allowed Him to be.

     So, I have, admittedly, been struggling. After expressing myself yesterday, through my writing, as candidly [and as creatively] as I could — hoping that I could find some way;  any way to help them understand a new insight to this powerful and innovative and unique God we serve — I found myself on my knees last night… and unable to pray.
     I honestly didn’t know what to pray; or how to pray for a breakthrough.  I had tried praying for ministering angels to reveal God’s Truth to them, as it had been revealed to me.  I tried praying, in the Name of Jesus, for specific spirits and strongholds to be bound and cast off my friends.  I tried going, in my spirit, to the throne room of God, where I knew [in confidence] that I could ask for mercy and find grace to help in [this] time of need. But all my prayers seemed flat and shallow.  As I climbed into bed, I didn’t feel defeated; but certainly deflated.
     Then, as I often do, when my spirit needs to connect with God, I awoke in the early hours of the morning.  Just past 4 a.m., I lay there wide awake, still struggling with how to get my friends delivered from the spiritual darkness they were experiencing.  But I couldn’t even focus my mind enough to pray coherently.  I was wide awake, staring at the ceiling, and it was as if my mind was trying to find its way through a foggy maze.  I couldn’t form a plan of prayerful attack against the Enemy.  So I just closed my eyes in the dark, and started telling myself, Be still and know that He is God… Be still and know that He is God.  And I tried to picture, in my spirit, the Light of the Glory of God… the Light shining in the darkness.
     I don’t know how to explain it in any other way, but the next thing I was cognizant of was that I was part of something like a mini-movie playing in my head.  I knew on some level that it was a dream, and it was like I was watching it; but it was also like I was one of the actors in this scenario.  The story played out like this:  Set in the early 1930s or so, a man and his family are traveling in their old pickup, when it develops engine trouble.  They limp into this small town, where they are greeted with hospitality by a man who seems to be the leader of the town. This leader also says he’ll be glad to help get the truck repaired, and invites them to stay a few days while he arranges for the truck to be hauled away to the shop.
     Now in this “dream”, I seem to be playing the part of the husband, who gets his wife and two kids settled in, while he strolls about this town, getting a feel for its citizens.  He quickly senses a reserve and restraint about the townspeople; they seem skittish and nervous.  The husband (me) tries to ask a few questions… what do the townspeople do for a living?  Is it a good town to raise a family? One of the men approaches him, looking over his shoulder, as if worried he will be caught doing something forbidden, and reveals that no one is allowed to do anything but what the Leader permits them to do.  No one is free to pursue his or her own interests.  The husband asks, Then why don’t you leave?  The townsman looks aghast and frightened at this suggestion!  Oh, that’s impossible!  The Leader won’t allow it!
     At this point in the “dream”, the scene switches to the Leader returning from taking care of the family’s truck, and now I’m playing the part of the wife.  I ask him what news he has on our truck, and he replies that he has taken care of the repairs and it will cost us $800.  Well, that was a fortune in the Depression of the 1930s, and I inform him that we don’t have that kind of money! And the Leader informs me that we will be unable to leave since he holds this debt over our heads.  I boldly scream at him, My husband will never give in to your demands, while the terrified townspeople look on, unable to believe that I would dare to stand up to the feared Leader.
     At that moment, the husband (me again) appears on the scene, questions us about the uproar, and declares to the Leader that he will not be subject to his dictates.  He gathers his family up, and standing in the town square, declares to all the surrounding townspeople that we are leaving; we will not be bullied or intimidated by this tyrant.  But the townspeople respond with astonishment and consternation… How can you leave? We are all prisoners here, subject to his command! And we don’t have the keys to unlock the gates to the town!
     The husband (me) looks at the panic-stricken townsfolk with pity in his eyes and heart.  Folks, you don’t need keys… there are no locked gates on this town.  You have been free to leave anytime you wanted to.  This deceitful and wicked man only had you convinced you could never leave.  Your freedom has always been there.  All you had to do was walk away from him and his lies.
     Suddenly I was awake from this strange “dream”.  It had been 2 1/2 hours since I had begun telling myself to Be still, and know that He is God.  But I had just “watched” and “participated in” what seemed like a full-length movie, in all its detail, color, and emotion.  It was as clear and visible in my mind as if I had just walked out of a movie theatre. I was baffled as I woke my husband up and told him the strange event I had experienced in my sleep.  It was such a strange little story; like it was perfectly scripted for my personal screening.  But I wondered, why that particular story line… I couldn’t really see any purpose to the plot.  

     Then it hit me!  It was an answer to my struggling attempt at prayer the night before!  God was showing me that I couldn’t make people see the truth of their bondage, anymore than I could (as the husband in my “dream”) make the townspeople see that they didn’t have to live by the dictates of the deceitful Leader.  Satan lies to us and convinces us that we can’t escape our chains, and that we live in an invisible fortress of bondage.  It’s easy to keep us in those chains, too, because he knows that too many of us will never believe that all we have to do is walk away towards the Freedom that Jesus offers.
     I will tell you that I have never had a “dream” like that before!  And I rarely remember every detail and conversation and emotion in sequential order, and in such lucid images.  My husband said, “I think God just gave you a vision”.  At first, I didn’t want to accept that because that isn’t any kind of language (or concept) that we modern and Western Christians embrace with any comfort or agreement.  But I then realized just how similar my experience was to what I have been studying in Acts, Chapter 10.
     Peter, who found himself outside the norm of Jewish tradition and Law, was staying with Simon, the tanner, in Joppa.  For a law-keeping Jew of that time, it was strictly forbidden to associate with anyone who routinely worked with dead animals. And according to Jewish Law, a tanner had to live at least 75 feet outside a village because of his ritual uncleanness.
     But God was laying a groundwork in Peter’s heart for a new concept that He needed him to understand, and Peter is less concerned about Jewish traditions and ceremonial notions than he was before.  Boy, can I relate to that!  This whole ministry that God has laid on me and my husband’s hearts necessitates that we be willing to look outside the Western Church’s traditions and rituals! And it has certainly set us apart from our fellow Christians.
     And what did God do next with Peter?  While he was praying on Simon the tanner’s rooftop, the Bible relates what it calls “Peter’s Vision”.  Scripture actually says he fell “into a trance”.  Now this happens to Peter around noon, hence the description of a trance.  I would submit to you that if it had happened in the night or early morning hours, it would have been described as a dream.
     So, Peter’s dream is every bit as clear and focused and vivid as mine was.  He even partakes in a conversation with God, and the dream comes to a definitive end.  It is not disjointed or disordered; it is articulated with a precise message.  And Scripture says “Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant”.  Like Peter, I searched for meaning and significance.  And, I will tell you that when it is that strong an image in your mind, you know how different it is from other dreams you’ve had.
     I understand that the traditional Church, [and perhaps many of you] will be unable to accept what I have related.  It will be rejected as my own rationalization or justification, and it is just too far outside the realm of “acceptable” Christian experience.  But I know in my heart and spirit, that it was a clarification from God.  It articulated the struggles and frustrations I have been facing, and validated that I am on the right path.  I was shown that I may not be able to change thoughts and theology in a Christian’s mind, but I am to continue declaring what I see as God’s Truth.  It is then up to each Christian to decide if they are too afraid to challenge the invisible chains imposed by the Prince of this world — or if they will take that life-affirming step and walk through the gates toward Freedom.  All I know is that I have been given encouragement and motivation to continue my walk with My Lord, and it was beyond extraordinary — it was supernatural!

Ephesians 3:20-21   “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

We Can’t Get You Out Of Jail; But We’ll Bring You Some Food

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     I want to give credit where credit is due… the title of this blog comes from a podcast by Steve Harmon, a fearless messenger from God on the healing power of Jesus.  But it really pertains to my subject today, so I hope he doesn’t mind if I borrow it.
     I’ve been contemplating the annual self-imposed reflection that so many people adopt this time of year in an attempt to better their lives.  It’s almost always focused on eating better, exercising more, and improving the outer man.  But what if more people’s New Year’s resolutions were centered on the health and condition of their spirits, rather than their physical bodies?  But how many are even in touch with, or conscious of their spirits?  We must come to terms that we are spirits living in physical bodies, and make the health of our spirits of primary importance.
     As Christians, we seek guidance from God on how to live a righteous life; one pleasing to God, and one free of the bondage to sin.  But I am concerned that we do not know that it is through our spirit that God enlightens us and leads us into His Light.  After all, Scripture tells us, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Romans 8:14).  And Proverbs 20:27 says, The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all his innermost parts. 
      It has become increasingly clear to my husband and myself that we Christians cannot renew ourselves, nor deliver ourselves, no matter how hard we try.  Too many of us suffer in our souls and flesh because our spirits do not truly know Jesus.  Our physical man is no match for the schemes and plans of the Enemy to separate us from the healing balm of Christ that our spirits so desperately long for.
     Just as we find our resolve weakening when it comes to keeping those New Year’s resolutions, our physical man will never be strong enough to endure the attacks of the devil.  Our flesh is weak; and the health of our mind and emotions are in direct relation to the state of our heart.  The heart is where the Holy Spirit abides in us and interfaces with our spirit.
     But if we rely on our physical efforts and think the Enemy will honor our professions of faith and our outward show of righteousness, then we are fooling ourselves.  In keeping with our New Year’s analogy, it would be like joining a gym, looking the part by wearing Nikes and Adidas, and talking about how many times we intend to go work out.  But all that doesn’t get us healthy and fit.  And we won’t be spiritually in shape, either, if we only act the part.

     So we find Christians entrapped in lives that are less than what they expected; some battle insecurity and doubt, while others experience serious bouts of fear and bitterness.  They involve themselves in activities that they hope will relieve their misery … seeking the help of God through Bible studies, community with other Christians, and asking fervently for prayer on their behalf.  There is nothing wrong with any of these avenues; all will benefit the souls of Christians — in other words, our minds will tell us we we are doing all we can; we will feel supported by our fellow Believers; and we hope that our prayers will be heard by our Father in Heaven.
     But God gave us spiritual armor, not physical armor, because that is where the battle is waged.  What we do in this world is easily defeated by the Enemy who has the advantage because he uses spiritual weapons, with which we have no defense in this world.  When our minds, and our emotions, and our free will are only being exercised in this world, we have left ourselves totally vulnerable in the spirit world.  That can leave our physical bodies and our minds open to attack.
     And that’s where the afore-mentioned activities are like bringing food to the jail, but not securing release for the prisoner.  Studying the Word is good — but faith and knowledge without action won’t stop the devil in the spiritual realm.  Community with Believers will give us emotional support in our daily lives — but it is only when our spirits partner with the Holy Spirit that Heaven’s Power is released against satan’s spiritual forces of darkness.  And we can pray for each other that God will end the misery — but God really wants us to reveal who we are to the spirits who are attacking us. We aren’t simply humans who are relying on a rescue from our God; we have the spiritual power of our God residing in us, and He has given us the right to use it as His children, made in His image.
     I know that Jesus tells us we will suffer for His Name, but He never told us it was necessary to suffer for our past sins or the sins perpetrated against us.  When we allow the cosmic powers of darkness to discourage us and lie to us, or the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places to keep us from the freedom Jesus offers us, then there’s not enough food (Bible studies, community, or prayers on our behalf) that will make our prison sentence (spiritual bondage) bearable.

     If I could say one thing to all my fellow Christians who are suffering, it is this … Rip off those bandaids you’ve been applying to your spiritual wounds.  There’s a key in the door of that jail cell you’ve been locked up in for so long, and the key has been on the inside all along.  You only have to reach for it, turn the key, and open that cell door wide.  Let Jesus lead you out of that darkness and let Him expose your wounds to His healing Light.  He wants to show you that you do not have to be a victim; that’s a lie designed to keep you from recognizing who you are … a child of God with access to the hosts of Heaven. Jesus has given you permission to ask for anything in His Name … and that includes the armies of heavenly angels to war on your behalf.  There is nothing you can’t defeat, in the Name of Jesus.  So, leave that jail cell and come into the Light… and feast on the abundance of God’s strength, power, and mercy.  Let Him deliver you, and taste the freedom that is yours when you commune with Him … spirit to Spirit.

1 Corinthians 6:17   “But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him.”

 
   

Israel & The U.S.: Will We Be Blessed or Cursed?

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     If you have any knowledge of the Bible and how God feels about His inheritance, Israel, then you were as astonished as I was to hear out-going Secretary of State, John Kerry support the UN resolution against Israel: “If the choice is one-state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic, it cannot be both and it won’t ever live in peace.”  How arrogant!  Who are we to counsel another sovereign nation on their faith and their form of government?  Oh, yeah, I forgot … we seem to have done that quite a bit in the last few decades.  But when it comes to Israel, we are playing with fire; and I mean heavenly fire!
     There is a very real and stark reality that this modern world does not comprehend, and it goes back all the way to the Tower of Babel.  Remember that in Genesis, Chapter 11, God was displeased that the peoples of the earth had come together to build a city and a tower, “with its top in the heavens”.  The Bible then tells us, So the Lord dispersed them from there [Babel/Babylon] over the face of all the earth.  But that’s not the end of the story!  Deuteronomy 32 gives us a fuller picture:  Remember the days of old …. When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when He divided mankind, He fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God (elohim, lesser gods).  But the Lord’s portion (share) is His people, Jacob (Israel) His allotted heritage.
     Here’s the picture we need to see:  God was so angry with His creation, mankind, at the building of the Tower of Babel, that He, in essence, divided them into nations to be ruled by lesser gods.  But He kept a portion for Himself.  That allotment He called Israel — before the nation of Israel even existed! This is long before He calls Abraham out of the world, and before He establishes Jacob and his offspring as a nation unto themselves.  It has alway been His plan that there would be a nation Israel that He called His own!
     At this point, I want to make it clear that I do not think that the modern state of Israel completely fulfills the description of the people that YHWH plans to restore at the end of this Age.  But they are the Diaspora returned to their original homeland; God’s Holy Land that He has determined will be restored to the remnant of Judah.  There are many Believing Jews living in Israel right now, and I do believe Jerusalem is the eternal capital of His chosen people.  I believe the Bible when it says there will be a restoration of Israel and physical and spiritual salvation of God’s people. One can learn a lot of how God feels about this nation and this people if only one would read His Word!
     So, that is why I was dumbfounded when I heard Secretary Kerry say Israel cannot be both Jewish and democratic.  That’s how God established them in the Bible, and that’s why they can still be both today.  There is a fascinating book, written by Robert Kimball Shinkoskey, titled Democracy and the Ten Commandments: The Politics of Limited Government in the Bible.  The author does a great job of explaining how God guided Moses to set up a democratic government within the twelve tribes of Israel… “It is telling that God’s first commandment to Moses, ‘Go and gather the elders of Israel together’, later inspired the first commandment given to the entire nation at Sinai (You shall have no other gods before Me).  The priority and content of the first constitutional article was to define and empower a legislative body to rule in Israel.  The God of Israel was the originator and protector of this national legislature.

     Shinkoskey goes on to expound that God essentially receded into the background to let the people begin the work of civic policy-making.  The encouragement of God to Moses to “Go and gather” the elders of Israel essentially meant, “Go and make sure the voices of the people in every tribe, clan, and family are heard”.  They would do that by organizing themselves into governing bodies in the tribes and deciding policy for themselves.  The tribes came together from a tremendous variety of religious and political views, and they found a way to govern themselves as a nation.  In effect, they were a democratic confederation — a society that used locally elected representatives to make the laws for a people, who then agreed to live by them.  And they continued in their covenant faith with YHWH. The ultimate fate of the Biblical nation of Israel was that they would remain democratic AND Jewish.
     Now, I understand that modern secularist politicians probably don’t care what the Bible has to say about ancient Israel or any implications that may pertain to the current state of Israel.  But they do that at their own peril — and ours!  God has made it clear throughout history that those who bless His inheritance, Israel, will be blessed, and those who come against her will be cursed.
      Being at the center of regional conflict is nothing new for Israel.  Throughout her history, the nation of Israel has been the target of its neighbors’ hatred for God’s chosen people.  This has been Israel’s fate from the ancient Canaanite kings, to the Syrian/Egyptian/Greek wars, to Roman occupation, to the Jewish–Roman wars of 66–136 AD, during which the Romans expelled most of the Jews from the area and replaced the nation of Israel with the Roman province of Palestine, beginning the Jewish Diaspora. And along with all of Israel’s previous enemies, the Roman Empire was doomed to fail!  And for nearly 1850 years, the Jewish people were separated from their God-designated homeland.
     Was God’s Hand involved with the re-establishment of a homeland for the world’s Jews in 1948?  The fact that they are back in the land that God established for His people gives us pause to consider how we treat this nation.  Have they, as a nation, confessed “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”?  Only a minority in the modern state of Israel have made that declaration and see Jesus as their Messiah.  So, in that sense, they are still rebellious in their denial of Christ.
     But the world should not forget that YHWH made this declaration in Ezekiel 28:25-26: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: The people of Israel will again live in their own land, the land I gave my servant Jacob. For I will gather them from the distant lands where I have scattered them. I will reveal to the nations of the world my holiness among my people. They will live safely in Israel and build their homes and plant their vineyards. And when I punish the neighboring nations that treated them with contempt, they will know that I am the Lord their God.” 
     So, as soon as I heard the discouraging words coming out of John Kerry’s mouth, I said the following prayer:  Please, God, do not judge those of us who love Israel because of the words of our leaders!  Do not hold us accountable for their actions! We recognize that Your Word says You will gather Israel and once again do a work in them that will bring them into their fulness.  We recognize that means the full number of Jews who will see Salvation in Jesus; that they will operate in their full power as a Godly nation; that they will operate in their full character as a righteous people; and that they will enter into their full purpose of world leadership.
     We acknowledge that hasn’t happened yet, and that it will occur in your timing, and only after Israel has repented for her sins and rebellion against You.  But, Father, until that glorious day, we stand by Your chosen people, Israel, as we pledge to fulfill our purpose, which is to witness to all the nations.  Lord, forgive our transgressions as a nation, and turn the hearts of our leaders back to Israel. We pledge our loyalty and allegiance to You and Your people.  And we look forward to the day You return to Jerusalem to dwell among men as you did before sin entered this world.  I ask for Your blessing, Father, for this nation of Believers and for those in Israel, who know the risen Christ. Amen.

Psalm 122:6     Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! May they be secure who love you!

Zechariah 12:8

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In that day the Lord will defend the people of Jerusalem, and the one who is impaired among them in that day [of persecution] will become [strong and noble] like David; and the house of David will be like God, like the Angel of the Lord [who is] before them. 

     Regarding our nation’s recent statements on the U.N. resolution condemning Israeli settlements, I will have more to say on that tomorrow.  But today, I will let the Bible make its own statement(s).
     From the beginning of her history, the nation of Israel has been beset by surrounding nations, who have declared themselves her enemies.  Nothing has changed in 3,000 years.  Whether it be via the Canaanites, or the modern-day Palestinians, the nations of the world have aligned themselves against the people of God.  But what the world has never understood is the truth as expressed in Zechariah 12:8 — that God can [and will] supernaturally protect and defend Israel against attack — especially His eternal city, Jerusalem.
     As evidenced by today’s battle over the capital city, the Arab peoples surrounding Jerusalem have a passion for possessing the city that, upon historical and religious analysis, does not appear to be justified.  Muslims claim Jerusalem as their third-holiest city, but Jerusalem is not mentioned once in the Koran. In fact, Jerusalem’s importance to Muslims comes from the belief that in the Dome of the Rock shrine there is a rock where two significant things happened: 1) where Abraham intended to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, and 2) where Mohammed allegedly ascended into heaven. Though this tradition is firmly rooted in the Muslim mind, it is of recent origin. It was invented by Yasser Arafat’s uncle – Haj Amin el-Husseini, who was the past Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. He promoted this myth in the 1920’s and 1930’s to arouse Arab passions against the growing Jewish presence in Jerusalem.
     The Dome of the Rock was built not because of the Koran, but because the Muslim ruler, Abdal-Malik, wanted to gain revenue from pilgrims and worshippers, and because he wanted to prevent the rebuilding of a Jewish Temple.  The Temple in Jerusalem has always been recognized as the dwelling place of YHWH, and followers of foreign gods have done everything they could to prevent God’s Presence from being established in Jerusalem.
     In the recent decades of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Israel was willing to concede almost everything to the Palestinians in an amazing willingness to make peace. The only thing Israel would not concede was sovereignty over Jerusalem. The recent problems between Jews and the Arab world may have centered around Israeli settlements, but at the heart of it has alway been this one sticking point: Jerusalem.
      The one thing that cannot be argued is that the Jewish claim to the city is entirely Scriptural. As the late Christian apologist, Dave Hunt, wrote in The Berean Call, “The very fact that Jerusalem is mentioned more than 800 times in the Bible makes it worthy of special attention. This unique city is the only one upon which God has bestowed His distinctive blessing and protection, and the only city for whose peace we are commanded to pray. God says He has chosen Jerusalem as the place where He has put His name forever. The new heavens and new earth will contain ‘the city of my God…new Jerusalem’. That there will be a ‘heavenly Jerusalem’, but no ‘heavenly’ New York, Paris, London, Damascus, Cairo, etc. speaks volumes.”
     What is even more astonishing is that in Zechariah 12:4, just a few verses prior to the one I have chosen, God tells us, And in that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who lift it will be severely injured. And all the nations of the earth will come and be gathered against it. 
     We see that being fulfilled in the U.N. resolution this past week.  Who could have imagined when the Old Testament was written that all the nations of the world would be involved in deciding the fate of Israel? And this involvement of all nations in dividing Israel has occurred exactly as prophesied and is still in the process of being implemented. 
     But the nations of the world would do well to contemplate what YHWH says in verse 8… The feeblest among the people of Jerusalem will be like King David; men of war, bold and brave, skillful and strong. The Angel of the Lord will go before them, just as He did in the Exodus and their establishment in the Land.  He will guard His eternal city in supernatural power.  And like God, the city and the people will maintain their supremacy in the world.  
    This Scripture gives us, the Faithful, the hope and knowledge that men and their councils will never destroy Israel’s place in the world, as guaranteed by the Lord.  And as a last thought… perhaps the nations of the world should pay heed to the next verse in Zechariah.  Verse 9 says, And in that day I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.  The United Nations and the leaders of the world would do well to listen to the voice of God.
     
   
      

It’s Time to Deal In Truth!

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     God is beginning to reveal something to my spirit that is both disheartening and encouraging.  Let me see if I can share this insight, and if it makes sense to you.
     I have made it abundantly clear that I see through different spiritual eyes than I did even three years ago. My heart and my spirit know that it is Jesus’s deepest desire that all those who come to Him will be set free from their spiritual bondage.  Of course, He doesn’t want to lose even one person, and His invitation to faith and salvation is available for every human being.  But we all know that not everyone will accept that summons to eternal life, and many will vehemently reject Him.
     But my comments today are directed specifically to those who have answered His call and profess faith in Him as their Savior.  Of course, we must understand that faith comes in degrees as we journey through our salvation process; not everyone is equal in living out their faith, although Jesus will accept each one of us on an equal basis — all are welcome in His Kingdom. But we each must work out our salvation with fear and trembling; that’s where the concept of rewards and inheritance comes into play, and that is a discussion for another day.

     Today, I want to address the disparity in how we Christians receive the news that He came to set the captives free, and what I see Jesus doing in regards to that declaration.  First, let me say that I have found that those who are not entrenched in the “Church experience” seem to be more willing to accept and believe that Jesus really can set them free from their slavery to satan.  Since the Lord revealed to my husband and me that He wanted to use us to help people get free from their oppression and bondage, He has brought a variety of people to our doorstep.  And this is what we have observed:
1)  The people who are most desperate to have their “soul wounds” healed are the most receptive to allowing Jesus to heal these wounds and set them free from the lies satan has been whispering.
2)  They have reached the end of their rope, and there is nowhere else to turn.  They either do not trust the Church, or they do not believe that it can help them.  They are willing to meet with Jesus, up close and personal, in a manner that the Church is not even willing to consider, and it is because He is their last hope.
3)  As you can surmise, these are people who are generally dissatisfied with the Church, although many of them come from Church backgrounds.  So they are not affiliated with any Church, although they believe in Jesus. So, in essence, at this stage of their healing process, the Church does not come between them and Jesus and their deliverance from captivity.
     Now this is the part that might seem surprising, but so far, it has proven to be quite consistent …
4)  Christians who are faithful Church-attendees are just as likely to be desperate in their bondage, but are the most reluctant to let Jesus in.  I am not a psychologist, so I cannot verify my conclusions, but it seems pretty clear that they have a hard time breaking out of the box that their Church doctrine and experience have put them in.  I don’t want you to misunderstand me … they proclaim a real faith and belief in Jesus, just the same as their counterparts; often more passionately.  But it has been our experience that the comfort and identity they have as “Church-going Christians” can sometimes get in the way of really believing Jesus’s message of setting the captives free.
     Somehow, it seems easier for them to live with their oppression when surrounded by others that share a similar “Sunday experience” and membership in the Church club.  Sadly, I have seen too many wonderful, God-fearing Christians come to me with stories of oppression that they keep hidden from their Church fellowship.  Is it because what Jesus offers [in healing those wounds] is outside the mainstream of accepted Church practices?  Is it because their identity is all wrapped up in how the Church sees them, and they can’t let the mask slip?  Or is it, because deep down they don’t really believe that Jesus can do what He says He came to do? … to set at liberty those who are oppressed.  (Luke 4:18)
     My husband recently listened to a podcast by a former warlock, John Ramirez; a man who was steeped in the occult, and who vowed allegiance to the dark forces of the devil.  As a Satanist, he said that the first thing he would do to enslave a church would be to declare the spirits of Fear, Doubt, and Unbelief be manifested against it.  He said that the first one to engage in the spiritual battle over a church was the one who would likely win, and since churches are usually devoid of Christians knowledgeable in, or strong enough, to take that first step and wage the spiritual war, he said that churches were an easy victory for him.  This is a man who sees the “big picture” and has fought on both sides of the battlefield.  Thanks to his conversion and the saving power of Jesus, he now instructs Christians on how to let Jesus help them defeat the Enemy.

       I tend to believe his fantastic story because that’s exactly what I have seen in dealing with my Christian brethren who are spiritually tied to their churches.  If the spirit of Fear has not enslaved them, then Doubt and Unbelief will shut them down because they do not believe that they can go to Jesus and let Him heal their deep wounds.  And in reality, they are often not living their own life-Truths. I sometimes think they feel as if their wounds are too shameful or embarrassing to admit; that their fellow Church members would doubt that someone like them was worthy to be in their midst.  Or at the very least, they do not fit their own description of what a Saved person looks like. If only they believed what the Bible tells us in John, Chapter 8.
    In verse 28 of that chapter, Jesus says, I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And He who sent Me is with Me. He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him. Then Scripture tells us, As he was saying these things, many believed in him.  But, as theologian Leon Morris writes, “This section of the [Biblical] discourse is addressed to those who believe, and yet do not believe. Clearly they were inclined to think that what Jesus said was true. But they were not prepared to yield Him the far-reaching allegiance that real trust in Him implies. This is a most dangerous spiritual state.” That is so true! Remaining under the oppression caused by fear, or refusal to yield to His deliverance, only keeps the Christian from taking that life-saving step.  And Satan wins!
     And I believe that is where many Christians are today.  Jesus made it abundantly clear when He said, “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  Yet, I’m afraid that Christians find it difficult to live their own truth, let alone Jesus’s truth that He can set us free.  Satan has been able to infiltrate the Church (in ways like the former warlock, Mr. Ramirez, described) and sow Fear, Doubt, and Unbelief, and thereby keep Christians sitting in the pews in restricted power and authority.  They are either slaves to the hidden sins they are committing, or are in bondage due to the hidden sins committed against them.  Either way, they are slaves to the lies that the Enemy uses to convince them they are unclean and living under false identities.
     Somehow, I think they feel that if they face their truths, it will be more difficult to live as a Christian; that they are more comfortable in hanging on to the wounds while believing that Jesus has forgiven them, rather than taking the leap to a reality that they can finally be free of all the fear and anxiety and anger and bitterness and unforgiveness that clings to those memories of sin.
     I will tell you that those who are willing to surrender their fears and their pride, because they are tired of living under the burden of oppression, are truly new creations when they are set free. Jesus is able to show them how He sees them; they are not bound by their own perceptions of how they appear to Him.  That is not to say that the Enemy gives up and leaves the battlefield.  He knows the areas in their lives that are vulnerable, and the lies they have believed in the past.  But with each new attack that they repel through the Father’s power and authority that Jesus gives them, they become stronger, and the devil soon learns that he has a formidable foe.

     So, while I am saddened, and often frustrated, at my fellow Christian’s inability to believe their own Bible, I am determined to be an instrument of my Lord’s mission to set the captives free.  In fact, I am beginning to see more and more instances of God ripping off the bandaids of fear, doubt, and unbelief, and confronting Believers with the truth of their lives.  I am discerning that time is running short, and Jesus wants people to be set free so that they can be powerful participants in His Kingdom.  It’s time that all Christians quit hiding behind whatever barricade or mask the Enemy offers in order to keep them oppressed and in bondage.  Whether it be alcohol, drugs, promiscuity, or the Church, it is time that we live (abide) in the Truth and the Light Jesus offers us.
    And it gives me great encouragement to hear from those who have received freedom!  Some have completely changed their family dynamics, and others are planning on helping friends and family get set free in the Name and Power of Jesus.  So, I am happy to see that Christians are being confronted with their need to live in Truth, and their need to surrender to Jesus’s healing Spirit.  While some come willingly, I believe that God is forcing the issue with others.  All of us are slaves to sin in one form or another.  But it is essential that we realize we cannot liberate ourselves. We cannot convert ourselves, nor can we be converted by any fellow-sinner.  The Liberator from our bondage must come from outside the ranks of enslaved humanity.  The only One who can do that is waiting for our agreement with Him.  He is determined to set as many people free as He can before our time runs out.  Don’t waste another minute living in bondage!

John 8:34-36    “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  

Hanukkah: Celebrating The Light Of The World

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     I must tell you that I am glad to be past the celebration of Christmas.  Ever since the Lord revealed to me that this holiday is not about worshipping Him, it has increasingly hurt my spirit to witness, not only the commercialization of the claimed birth of Christ, but all the pagan symbology associated with it.  I have written enough about this subject (here and here), that I do not need to repeat it.  Rather, today, I wish to share with you another form of inspiration that feeds my spirit when it comes to the Incarnation of our Lord.
     At sundown on Saturday, December 24th, the celebration of the Jewish holiday Chanukah began, and will culminate at sundown, on Sunday, January 1st.  (I prefer the traditional spelling of the holiday, although the spelling as “Hanukkah” has become accepted as mainstream in our culture, due to the simplicity of its translation to English).  In the Jewish faith, the eight days of this celebration represent the miracles of God in the centuries since their faith was founded… beginning with the miraculous birth of Isaac, through their deliverance out of Egypt, through the continuity of the Jewish people throughout numerous defeats by world empires and subsequent captivities (including the Holocaust of the 20th Century); all the way to the miracle of the rebirth of the State of Israel, including their eternal capital, Jerusalem.
     Although the ultimate miracle of scales being lifted [so that they recognize Jesus as their Messiah] has not been completely fulfilled yet, there are tens of thousands of the Jewish faith who have received this miracle in a personal way. And the celebration of Hanukkah holds both an historic and future significance for them.  And since, as Christians, we are grafted into the Jewish faith, the celebration of Hanukkah has great meaning for us, as we look to the Light of the World.

     But, let’s take a look back at the history of this inspirational holiday and see how it speaks to us today.  In Exodus, Chapter 25, God gave Moses instructions for building the accessories and furniture for the Tabernacle.  Among them were the Ark of the Covenant, a table for the bread of the Presence [of God], and the Golden Lampstand.  This lampstand was to be built out of pure gold and included seven bowls in which only pure, fresh olive oil of the highest quality would be used to sanctify the priests, the tabernacle, and all of its furnishings and sacred vessels.  This lampstand, or Menorah, was a seven-branched candelabra beaten out of a solid piece of gold.  Later, it stood in the southern part of the Temple and was lit every day by the High Priest. In fact, Exodus 27:21 tells us, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening to morning before the Lord. It shall be a statute forever to be observed throughout their generations by the people of Israel.
     You see, olive oil can be a picture of the Holy Spirit, the One who sanctifies us, fills us, readies us to see Christ, and brings us light, joy, and spiritual health. And, as David Guzik tells us in his commentary, “God never wanted the lamps to lose their fire. Only a continual supply of oil and trimming of the wicks could keep them burning. We can only continue to be on fire for God if we are continually supplied with the oil of the Holy Spirit, and are ‘trimmed’ by God to bear more light”.
     That is a symbolic understanding of the Menorah and its significance.  But there is a real life story of God’s miracle in keeping His Light burning… It occurs during that time period when the Roman Empire is ascending and flexing its muscles against the fading Greek Empire. The small nation of Israel finds itself caught in the middle of the battle for power among the Syrians, the Greeks, the Egyptians, and the Romans.  The Jews, in Israel, eventually find themselves under the rule of the Greek leader Antiochus Epiphanies, who came to power with flattering offers of peace.
     At the time, the High Priest was Onias lll, and he was considered the prince of the covenant.  His brother Jason, was corrupt, and wanted to bring Greek culture to Israel.  So Antiochus had Onias murdered and replaced him with Jason, as High Priest. This High Priest (Jason) is soon replaced by another priest (Menelaus) who offers to pay Antiochus huge bribe money to hold this prestigious office.  Jason has heard false rumors that Antiochus has been killed in battle and leads a small army against Jerusalem to get his office back.  This, of course, angers Antiochus and he unleashes his hatred of the Jews in a fury, killing many Jews, selling many of them into slavery, and plundering the treasures of the Temple.
     In the meantime, Menelaus is forcing a false worship system on the Jews and making them accept the Greek culture and worship the Greek idols. Antiochus sends his general Apollonius to occupy Jerusalem and they sacrifice pigs on the Temple altar. The Jews were made to take part in drunken orgies in honor of the god of wine, Bacchus. Jews are forbidden on penalty of death from practicing any form of Judaism including circumcision or observing the Sabbath.
     Furthermore, Antiochus had ordered the Jewish Scriptures to be destroyed, and he and his soldiers brought prostitutes into the Temple and there had sex with them in order to defile the Temple. The final outrage for the pious Jews of the land came when Antiochus sacked the Temple and erected an altar there to the pagan god Zeus. Then, on December 25, 168 BC, Antiochus offered a pig to Zeus on the altar of God. (This is a picture of the “abomination of desolation” that Daniel mentions, and which Jesus references as coming again, right before His return).
     The apostate Jews listened to the flatteries of Antiochus and left the worship of YHWH.  But God always has a remnant that remain faithful to Him despite persecution.  That was the Maccabee family.  Mattathias Maccabee is angered when he witnesses a priest about to take part in these blasphemies in the Temple and kills him on the altar.

     This is the Maccabean Revolt that we read about in the Book of Maccabees. The Jewish Encyclopedia gives the following account which began the Maccebean revolt in 166 B.C. that threw off Syrian/Greek rule:  “Mattathias was already old when the religious persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes broke out. The king’s soldiers under Apelles, who is mentioned by Josephus but not in the Book of Maccabees, came to Modin, a small city in Judea. They set up an altar to the heathen god, and ordered Mattathias, as the most influential citizen, whose example would be followed, to sacrifice in accordance with the king’s command. But Mattathias said: “Though all the nations that are under the king’s dominion obey him, . . . yet will I, and my sons, and my brethren, walk in the covenant of our fathers” (I Macc. ii. 19-20). And when a certain Jew was about to obey the command, Mattathias, who was filled with holy wrath, killed the offender and destroyed the altar, while his sons cut down the king’s officer. Thereupon Mattathias called out: “Whoever is zealous for the Law, and maintaineth the covenant, let him follow me.” His countrymen, abandoning all their possessions, followed him and hid in the mountains and desert places. Others, who had hidden themselves before, joined them. . . . From his hiding-place he scoured the neighboring districts of Judea, drove out small bands of the king’s troops, punished the renegade Jews, destroyed the heathen temples and altars, and brought children, who through fear had not been circumcised, into the covenant of Abraham.”
     When Daniel says, in Chapter 11, verse 32, but the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits, it is a direct refererence to the Maccabees.  REMEMBER:  This time period occurs in the Silent Years between Malachi and Matthew.  These events took place in the period after the Old Testament was completed with the writings in Malachi. It was a hard time for the faithful Jews and a period of extreme persecution. It was a time of mixed loyalties among the Jews. Some believed God, and were faithful even unto death. Others rejected Him, believing the lies of Antiochus.  IT WILL BE THE SAME IN THE END TIMES, AT THE TIME OF THE GREAT TRIBULATION.
     At this time in history (just as it will be at the end of history), Antiochus was determined to exterminate the Jewish people. He sent Lysias, the commander-in-chief of the Seleucid army, along with 60,000 infantrymen and 5000 cavalry, to utterly destroy the Jews. This powerful army finally encountered Judas Maccabee, who had a force of only 3000 poorly equipped rebels, in the town of Emmaus, which was just over 7 miles from Jerusalem. Judas managed to gather together another 7000 rebels, but was still terribly outnumbered. He prayed to God for strength and deliverance (1 Maccabees 4:30-33), and God answered! They won a huge victory over the Seleucid army!
     Judas then determined to enter Jerusalem and liberate the city, and also to purify the Temple and rededicate it to God. When they entered the holy city, the extent of the destruction which they beheld caused them to be overwhelmed by grief (1 Maccabees 4:36-40). Their grief, however, soon turned to determination and action. They set about the task of driving the enemy out of the city, and also of cleaning up the Temple. On December 25, 165 BC (exactly three years after Antiochus had defiled the altar of God by offering a pig upon it), the Temple of God was rededicated to God with rejoicing and sacrifices. The celebration continued for eight days. This is the famous “Feast of Lights” (Hanukkah) which is still celebrated by the Jews to this day.
    In fact, there are two miracles associated with this religious holiday.  The first is that the small band of Jewish rebels were able to defeat the massive and superior Syrian-Greek army.  The second miracle is that during the rededication of the Temple, and upon the priests’ return to light the menorah, they discovered there was only one vial of oil, which should have lasted no more than a day.  But YHWH miraculously replenished the oil so that it sufficed for eight days.

      A year later, the holiday of Hanukkah was established and celebrated for eight days; a celebration of the weak, threatened with annihilation, yet overcoming the mighty, with God’s intervention. Clearly, the holiday of Hanukkah celebrates those miracles that occurred over 2000 years ago.  But it is a reminder today [to those who have faith in Jesus Christ] of the miracle that established Him as the Light of the World.  It is a time to remember that He is our unparalleled hope, and to look for spiritual renewal and rededication to our faith.  It is a time to be thankful that His Light shines into the darkness of this world, and that the darkness is receding and will eventually be totally defeated.
     It is a time to recognize the miracle of the State of Israel existing in its homeland, with its eternal capital Jerusalem.  We need to see that Israel continues as a nation that is bringing light unto the world in a neighborhood of darkness and turmoil. As a Christian, I see the original story of Hanukkah being played out in today’s headlines.  And I believe that Hanukkah has great significance to my faith.  Yes, it is a celebration of, and for, the Jewish people.  But in the “Festival of Lights”, I believe I can see God’s presence and faithfulness as the Light of the World.
     Just let your spirit rejoice in this Hanukkah prayer:  We kindle these lights because of the wondrous deliverance You performed for our ancestors. During these eight days of Hanukkah, these lights are sacred; we are not to use them but only to behold them, so that their glow may rouse us to give thanks for Your wondrous acts of deliverance.
     The miracles that occurred 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem give my spirit courage and comfort in this dark world.  I am grafted into that covenant between God and Israel, and Hanukkah is recognition of the miracle [of deliverance from sin] that God has given all of us in our lives.  Let us never forget that the Light came to shine on each of us, and from each of us.  Happy Hanukkah!

Ephesians 5:8      For once you were darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light [live as those who are native-born to the Light].

The Holiday Blues: A Heavenly Assessment

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     How many times have you heard people describe some degree of depression after the holidays? If you scour the internet, you will find all kinds of reasons that people suffer “the blues” during and after the holidays: feeling isolated and without close connections to family or friends; grieving over the loss of loved ones; unrealistic expectations and comparing your life with others; lack of self-care; the feeling that something has ended. All these can contribute to a sense of despair and hopelessness.
    I can understand these feelings of melancholy if you are a secularist or have no faith in God. But if we are Christians, then we need to embrace the Truths about who we are in Christ — the Truths that Satan would like to keep hidden so he can keep us living in defeat and bondage. So, if you are a Believer and yet find yourself feeling despondent or dejected today, let me remind you of a few things:

1.  You are created in the image of God.  I don’t think there are very many of us who can even comprehend what that means.  We are created just a little lower than God, Himself, and there is no other created creature that occupies that distinguished position.  There is something about us that is like God and that makes us exceptional and extraordinary.
2.  God planned us before He made the world. Before the very foundations of the world were formed, God knew that He wanted to create you. And He made you to be an eternal being, living in His image. Your existence has been planned before the beginning of this earth, and whether you were planned by your earthly parents or not, you were planned by God and you are here because He wanted you here. God has orchestrated your life, your family and your story to be perfectly individual. Rejoice in that knowledge!
3.  As His special creation, we get to create others in His image. That is a privilege that not even angels can claim, nor any other creature in heaven or earth.  And, if by some chance, you have not been granted the opportunity to create another human being, then know that God has another plan for you. All of us have worth in His eyes, and none are born without significance to His Kingdom.
4.  Only we humans have been redeemed.  God didn’t lift a finger to try and reclaim His relationship with any of the fallen angels.  There is no other created being for whom God has sacrificed Himself to save from His wrath.  We are indeed valuable to Him!
5.  Only we have been entrusted with the Holy Spirit.  The very breath of God has been given to us who believe in Jesus, the Messiah. That should tell us how much our Father in Heaven wishes to be connected to us. To have God abiding in you should fill you with the immensity of His love for you, and His desire to share the same Authority and Power [with you] that He gave to Jesus. There is no reason to ever feel that life is defeating you! The very power of heaven is a part of you!
6.  Only we have been adopted into God’s family.  We are joint heirs with Jesus.  We can say that our Daddy is the King! And as the children of God, we are princes and princesses in His Kingdom.  What’s more, the spirit realm sees us this way; they see that we hold a special position and they are jealous.
7.  When God wanted to incarnate Himself, He chose to become like us.  As Creator of the Universe, He could have become like anything else He created.  But He didn’t come to earth as some imposing or formidable animal, or even as a majestic angel.  He came as a man, and never once resorted to His Deity.  And when He left this earth, He left as the man, Jesus, who now sits on the right hand of God in the heavenly realm.  He identifies with you and understands your experiences and emotions; your triumphs and your obstacles.
8.  He never returned to simply being God. This very moment, the man, Jesus, is interceding on your behalf before the throne of God, as your personal advocate.  He referred to Himself, while on earth, as the Son of Man, so He relates to you and understands you. If you want to know how special you are to Him, then contemplate this… He worked out the entire plan of salvation as a human, with the Power and Authority He received from God, our Father, and then He gave that same power and authority to us! Nothing can defeat us — unless we let it!
     If you call yourself a Christian, then these are very identifiable and defining characteristics of who you are. As you contemplate each one, ask the Holy Spirit to show you how these Truths elevate you above the cares of this world. Any feelings of depression or sadness are unjustifiable when we recognize who we are!  Don’t let Satan or his demons convince you that any of these Truths don’t apply to you. These holidays are simply man-made festivals designed to make us look to each other, or the world, for our value. They have nothing to do with God, or His Glory, or our true identity.  In His eyes, we are so much more than the perception the world mirrors back at us. Look to your Father in Heaven; your intercessor, Jesus Christ; and your Counselor and Guide, the Holy Spirit, for your true identity, and savor the sweet satisfaction in your spirit. Then let go of everything else!

I want to thank and give credit to Dr. Charles Kraft for his wise insight in his sermon “Do You Know Who You Are?”

1 John 5:4   “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”

Luke 2:14

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“Glory to God in the highest [heaven],
    and on earth, peace among those 
with whom He is well-pleased!”
     These are the words of the heavenly host who praised God on the occasion of Jesus’s birth.  As millions of Christians around the globe celebrate His birth today, I want to concentrate on the “bigger picture” that so many Believers do not see.  
     Our Western culture is focused on the innocent baby born in the manger, and the message of “peace and good will toward men”, which is an alternative interpretation of the last half of this verse. But I would like us to see that the appearance of God incarnate upon the earth is about more than the “peace and mercy” message put forth by those who choose to believe Christmas is a God ordained holiday.  I don’t mean to offend anyone — the birth of our Savior as a gentle baby is truly a glorious phenomenon, but I do not believe it should be seen through the narrow lens of that single event.  It is part of God’s bigger plan, and this verse points us towards the crowning point and completion of His glorious mission.
     I believe that it is important for us to discern that in order for the Jesus of Christmas —  the baby born in a manger to a virgin mother; the birth that the angels on high celebrated and praised God for; the Christ child who is seen as the hope of the world for peace on earth — in order for the Jesus of Luke, Chapter 2 to fulfill those promises and the hope of mankind, He must become the Jesus of Armageddon. 
     Yes, an image of a sinless, blameless child takes the eyes of our spirit off our own sinfulness and the ugliness in the world for just a moment, and allows us to delight in warm, fuzzy feelings.  But that image of our Lord is not a complete picture. That child came, ultimately, to grow up and confront Evil and Injustice, and to drive Sin off the face of the earth. 
     I know that is not the picture that has been painted for us throughout our lifetimes.  But it is the bigger Truth of who our Savior is and why He was born in the first place.  We have lost sight of what Scripture is actually telling us in this chapter.  The previous verse in Luke reveals that “suddenly with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying Glory to God in the highest…”.  What we have perhaps forgotten, or at least need to realize, is that in the earliest Greek translations of the Bible, “heavenly host” refers to the army of heaven.  “Host” is a military term connected with fighting and waging war. Not exactly the sentiment we attach to our celebration of Christmas, is it?
     But it is not too difficult for me to digest that God’s heavenly army would be praising Him for setting His plan of redemption for mankind into motion. There is a battle in heaven for the souls and spirits of mankind, God’s creation in His own image. And there will be a final battle on earth in which Jesus (God as man) will destroy His enemies and inaugurate His Millennial Kingdom on earth. And the birth of this baby is just the first step in accomplishing this plan, and worthy of the host of heaven proclaiming God’s glory.
     You see, the angels singing the praise of God, here in Luke 2:14, know that this precious baby will grow up to be King of both Heaven and Earth! They are praising God because this baby will become a man who fulfills the plan for our salvation. He will grow up to be the advocate, the intercessor, the “one mediator between man and God, the man Christ Jesus.” They are singing God’s praises because this event is not the end of the story… the baby will grow up so that He could die, offering a perfect, sinless life in sacrifice for our sins… He will grow up to be raised from the dead, conquering death and instilling a living hope of eternal life in all who come to Him; in other words, “those with whom He is well-pleased”.
     Don’t get me wrong! I rejoice in the birth of our Lord.  It shows God’s great love for us, that He sent Himself to redeem us.  But I do not believe we are to worship His immaculate birth as a festive holiday; as if the peace and joy we celebrate has already come. His birth does not accomplish that idyllic vision. True joy and peace will not become reality until Jesus returns at the end of the Tribulation, bringing with Him a heavenly host or “armies” from heaven to fight the final battle and rid the earth of the vestiges of Evil. 
     I realize this is a more sobering picture of how you may see the Christmas holiday. But I am not trying to destroy your spirit of hope. Just recognize that Satan can deceive us by tempting us to idolize what God has not ordained. Just look at how the Bible treats Christ’s birth, giving us scant details in only Matthew 1-2, and Luke 1-2.  Yet the return of Christ to vanquish Evil from the earth is an overriding thread of hope throughout both Old and New Testaments. Enjoy the birth of our Savior today, but don’t get so caught up in the false narrative of peace and joy that you can’t see the big picture and what the purpose of this baby really is!  
     
     

‘ O Holy Night ‘

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     As we approach Christmas Eve, and the celebration by millions of Christians around the world, my spirit is less interested in fighting the battle of whether it is pagan or not.  Instead, my heart and my spirit hungers to bring reverence and awe to the birth of God as man. Just that thought is astounding and breathtaking!
     And if you are like me, the song O Holy Night never fails to bring tears to my eyes, as my heart swells with the love shown to us by our God. “Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices! O night Divine, O night when Christ was born!” Those lyrics stir my soul; my mind and my emotions rise to that holy occasion.  But did you know those aren’t the original lyrics?  They are the result of an English translation of an 1847 poem called Cantique de Noel, by a French wine merchant, named Placide Capeau. Mr. Capeau asked his Jewish friend and composer, Adolphe Adam, to set the lyrics to music.  The emphasis of the original song stressed the Incarnation as God’s means to redeem men from sin, and as such, they are moving and inspiring:

Midnight, Christians, it is the solemn hour,

When God as man descended unto us
To erase the stain of original sin
And to end the wrath of His Father.
The entire world thrills with hope
On this night that gives it a Saviour.
People kneel down, wait for your deliverance.
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer!

May the ardent light of our Faith
Guide us all to the cradle of the infant,
As in ancient times a brilliant star
Guided the Oriental kings there.
The King of Kings was born in a humble manger;
O mighty ones of today, proud of your greatness,
It is to your pride that God preaches.
Bow your heads before the Redeemer!
Bow your heads before the Redeemer!

The Redeemer has broken every bond:
The Earth is free, and Heaven is open.
He sees a brother where there was only a slave,
Love unites those that iron had chained.
Who will tell Him of our gratitude,
For all of us He is born, He suffers and dies.
People stand up! Sing of your deliverance,
Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer!

     Unfortunately, Monsieur Capeau wasn’t a regular churchgoer; and in fact, he was an outspoken socialist with anti-clerical viewpoints. Subsequently, his much loved song was banned in France for two decades. But in America, the song gained momentum through a translation made by the Unitarian minister and abolitionist, John Sullivan Dwight. To see how much the song changed from the original, here is the more familiar song, as translated by Dwight, and whose lyrics stressed the universal longing for peace and justice which God’s Kingdom inaugurated:

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining;

It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night, O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here came the wise men from Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our Friend!
He knows our need; to our weakness is no stranger.
Behold your King; before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King; before Him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His Name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy Name!
Christ is the Lord! O praise His name forever
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim! 

     I am grateful to both authors for their majestic and glorious words which praise the birth of our Redeemer and the King of Kings!  But that’s not the end of this story … Even though the Catholic Church in France forbid the song from their liturgy, the French people would not let the song die and continued to embrace it–even if they had to sing it outside the official approval of the church.
     Legend has it that the French Catholic Church finally received the song back into its worship services after an encounter between French and German troops during the Franco-Prussian War.  During a lull in the fighting, a French soldier began singing “Cantique de Noel.”  The Germans were so moved that they responded by singing one of Luther’s hymns.  The “songfest” encouraged the soldiers to honor a truce for 24 hours on Christmas.
     I can’t verify this story, but the following one is true. This song is connected to nothing less than modern technology — the invention of the radio, in fact.  On Christmas Eve, 1906, Reginald Fessenden (a former colleague of Thomas Edison) was experimenting with a microphone and the telegraph.  Fessenden began reading the story of the birth of Jesus from Luke, Chapter 2.  Around the world, wireless operators on ships and at newspaper desks began to hear a man’s voice come out of their machines.  It was the first radio broadcast of a man’s voice. . . .and it was the Gospel of Christ.  But it doesn’t end there.
     Fessenden then picked up a violin and began to play a tune.  You guessed it. . . . . “O Holy Night.”  The song written by a wine merchant, set to music by a Jewish composer, banned by church leaders, kept alive by the French, adopted by American abolitionists, sung by troops in the trenches, and at last broadcast to the whole world by invisible radio waves. The first song ever played over the radio:  “O Holy Night.”   Fall on your knees.  O hear the angel voices.  O night divine.  The night when Christ was born.  O night divine. 
     May we all retain the awe and wonder of that holy night, and remember that the Christ child came to pay the price for our sins, and to set us free from our chains of bondage. Born in a humble manger, He came to deliver us all! Praise Him!

John 1:14   “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”



We Need More Godly Men

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     This is going to be a very personal post.  Thirty years ago today, I married the man God had planned for me.  I had just about given up that there could be such a man, having learned from my mistakes in other relationships that I would not settle for less than I deserved.  I will admit that I didn’t truly know my Lord at that time in my life. I mean, I knew He was real, and I had internalized all the basic Church knowledge of Him; but I didn’t know Him as my Savior.  But He was knocking on the door of my heart, and I was on the verge of answering His call on my life.
     Nearly simultaneously, my future husband entered my life.  A genuine friendship would be established before any thoughts of romance or marriage surfaced.  By that time, I was seeking God, and I instinctively knew that this young man was going to be a good and Godly man.  His faith was rock solid, and we both wanted a deeper and committed relationship with God. We may have been taking baby steps, but we were on our way!

     We had a lovely, small wedding, in a friend’s home before their fireplace. We both knew we wanted to be married in the eyes of God, but since we didn’t belong to a church, we weren’t sure how to make that happen.  After several disappointing phone calls to various churches whose pastors refused to marry us because we weren’t regular members of any church, I remembered a new church being pastored by a young minister I had liked in college.  That church would receive us and we soon became members, following the traditional path of Believers — church every Sunday, joining a Sunday School class, and emerging ourselves in the social life of the congregation.
     But that’s when God got ahold of us and began to show us that “traditional” and “conventional” was not the path He had planned for us.  And that’s when He began transforming my husband from an exemplary man into a Godly man.  Let me try to explain what that looked like…
     I can remember deciding that the one real way to get to know who my God is, was to read His Word.  I began a diligent study of the Bible and wondered why, when my husband grew up in the Church more than I did, that he didn’t have a hunger to read and study the Bible, too.  I asked him that question once, and although he couldn’t really give me an answer, it wasn’t long before I noticed him beginning his own study, and in a manner that told me he was sincere. Although initially following our own individual paths, we soon began pursuing our Lord diligently, conscientiously, and together. And that’s when my husband began his journey as a Godly man.
     He took the lead and assumed his Biblical role as head of our home. He began challenging his own belief system, and where it was incompatible with the Bible, he wasn’t afraid to dig in to try and discover God’s will in the matter, rather than man’s interpretation.  He was not passive in questioning church doctrine, nor was he too prideful or stubborn. Through “iron sharpening iron”, he was open to changing his opinion; all he wanted was God’s Truth.
     And, of course, a Godly man is not afraid to speak out. It is my husband’s sincere belief that to be silent in covering up sin, is a sin in itself. And when the Holy Spirit began convicting us that our beloved church of 20 years was compromising in their duties as God’s instrument on earth, he was courageous in speaking up and demanding accountability. He was beginning to live out his fear of God, rather than fearing his reputation among men.
     As anyone who has stood up to centuries of Church Doctrine knows, it can be a lonely position. But my husband has stood strong in defense of God’s Word and has not backed down when attacked, criticized, challenged, or ostracized. A Godly man knows that his path may be a solitary one; yet he is willing to undergo abuse for the sake of the Truth — even from fellow Believers.
     But perhaps one of the things I admire and respect most about this man who has shared my life for 30 years is that he has made it his goal to live a truly righteous and humble life. He has battled those things in his spirit and soul that he knows separates him from his God. He is diligent in his confession and repentance of those sins, and views his service to others for the Kingdom of God as his priority in life.  The business of earning a living, and meeting the obligations of his life here on earth will be taken care of by the God whom He seeks first. I must admit that he often shames me how easily he puts his trust and confidence in God.

     These are the main characteristics of a Godly man, but a life lived fully in service to our God manifests itself in all areas of our existence.  A Godly man is aware of what he lets into his mind; he is careful to avoid stimuli that lead to sin.  Instead he seeks to discipline his mind, in an earnest desire to possess the mind of Christ.  A Godly man knows that you can never have a Christian mind without reading the Scriptures regularly, because you cannot be influenced by that which you do not know.
     Relationships in a Godly man’s life are lived according to Biblical instruction; as a husband, he loves his wife as God loves His church; as a father, he does not provoke his children to anger, but brings them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
     A Godly man has integrity; nearly a lost concept in today’s world of selfish manipulation and compromise.  But a man’s character, conscience, and deep intimacy with God are hallmarks of a man who has the courage to keep his word and stand up for his convictions.
     A Godly man recognizes that the vocation he has chosen is an opportunity to glorify his God. I am proud to say that my husband’s creativeness and talent speak volumes of the discipline and honor he bestows on each painting he creates.  He has always said that it is his job to get up each morning and paint the best he can, and the Lord will take care of providing everything else.
     I know there are some who will say that a Godly man is a man who enjoys good standing in a Church; a man who gives of his time, talent and treasure for the Lord. But I don’t see where the Bible instructs a man to be in a church building every Sunday as part of his commission for Christ. My husband lives by the Scripture that says where two or more are gathered, the Lord is there — and he never forsakes the assembling together with other Christians to study, worship, and build relationship with his Savior. Every day is an opportunity to meet with the Lord, every open door is an opportunity to fellowship with Believers and nonbelievers alike; all for the sake of telling others of the glorious salvation through Christ!
     Those are the characteristics of a Godly man … and I’m more than blessed to see them in the person of the man I married 30 years ago today. He has given me his love, support, and encouragement.  He has made me laugh when I wanted to express anger; and his pure and humble love of my Lord and Savior has made me cry.  His honesty has given me the precious gift of trusting him; his strength has made me feel secure; and his compassion for others has allowed me to see his pure heart.   We have grown a lot in the last 30 years — from two individuals who barely knew the Lord to a couple who has grown, as one, into a new creation. I know we are not unique or better than the millions of other couples the Lord has brought together unto His service. I just know how incredibly blessed we are, and I do not take it for granted. But I am excited to begin the 31st year together with this incredible man who has taught me the meaning of unselfish devotion and never-ending love.  Happy Anniversary, to the best husband God could have given me! And thank you, Father God, for the blessing of this divine union of spirits and flesh!

Song of Songs 5:16    This is my beloved. This is my friend…
   

The Politics of Fear … And How To Overcome It

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     I know that today will be an important day for the future of our nation.  Today is the day that each state’s electors will cast their votes in the Electoral College that will legally elect the next President of the United States. In our modern history, the casting of electoral votes has been a purely ceremonial event in which the results from voting on Election Day have been rubber-stamped. Not this year!
     The political and spiritual forces have aligned to try to prohibit the legitimization of the Trump Presidency. I am not here to make a case in favor of, or against, Mr. Trump. Whether or not you are happy about his election, it should concern us that our rule of law and political foundation are being threatened.  As is so often noted, “there are consequences in elections; there is a winner and a loser”.  But during this election cycle, electors are being lobbied — and sometimes, intimidated — to “go rogue” and defy the voters’ preferences in their home states, and to vote “their conscience”.  And perhaps, surprisingly, the primary stimulus to make that happen has been FEAR.  Everything from women losing their rights, to deportation of immigrants, to selling out to Russia and the Communists, is being used to encourage electors to defect. But this should not surprise us. Fear is one of the primary spiritual weapons that the Enemy uses to control the destiny of mankind.
     We only have to look back at the Biblical story of Joshua and Caleb, who were part of the contingent of 12 spies sent into the Promised Land to determine if it could be conquered. But ten of the spies came back and reported that they were defeated before they ever began. They were filled with fear and let that fear completely vanquish them.  But it was Caleb who said, “But my brothers who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; yet I wholly followed the Lord my God”. 

     That is what we’re seeing today. Those who are unhappy with the direction in which our nation is moving (whether you believe God has a hand in it, or not) are instilling their fears in the general population. But, you see, Caleb was free from fear, and he used his trust in God to try to help the people of Israel overcome their fears. And those of us who are like Caleb, and surrender to the will of God, have something to say to people who are afraid.  Our surrender to God is the only answer to the problem of fear.
    I know it will be difficult to minister and serve others who do not have the same faith we do in YHWH. And it is a disservice to all people to pretend that there will be no difficulties; we cannot and should not persuade others to escape reality.  BUT, we can listen to their fears, remain calm, report the facts, and look for ways to encourage them.  After all, Caleb did not pretend that the giants did not exist. But he was different from most of the men who returned from the Promised Land spreading their fear. He tried to report the good things, too.
     I know this may sound too simplistic or optimistic. There are haters who will never be convinced that any good can exist after January 20, 2017.  But the entire nation would be well-served to remember Caleb’s words. He said, “We are well able”. This does not mean that he had confidence only in himself. Nor did he put undue emphasis on the military strength of Israel, either. No. He was emphasizing where their power really came from. It came from firm confidence in God’s power.
     Sadly, I think that those who have jumped on the “fear bandwagon” after this election, believe only in the power of men.  And if their man, or woman, isn’t declared the winner, then the spirit of defeat joins forces with the spirits of fear, anger, and bitterness to keep them from seeing any possibility of success. But, We are well able! We are able to overcome our differences and work together for the good of the country.  We have incredible resources to help the next generation(s) reach new heights of prosperity. But we must teach them a robust work ethic and the fearlessness to take advantage of the opportunities put before them.  We must also give them a sound and solid moral foundation by which to live their lives; fundamentals by which they will lives that are pleasing to God, as they seek to serve others.  All this is available to every American — regardless of whether your candidate is declared the victor today or not.
     Fear dealt a severe blow to the progress of the Israelites over 3500 years ago. Their growth and progress was stunted, and fear was to blame. Nothing has changed over the centuries. We must not allow fear to take root in our land and diminish the blessings and potential for our future generations. Stay the course … trust in the Lord … and know in your spirit that our giants can be defeated!

Numbers 13:30    But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.”

Psalm 46:10

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Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!

     Taken by itself, this verse is appropriate for this Season as we honor our God, who lowered Himself to become a human baby, born in a humble stable in a small village, southwest of Jerusalem.  It doesn’t really matter what time of year God was born; only that we acknowledge He lived, and would be revered among the nations and in the whole earth.
     But this verse is just part of the entire Psalm 46, and consequently, it has so much more to say when we look at the overall context.  Psalm 46, itself, speaks to the power and security of God in a chaotic, war-ravaged world.  Scholars think that probably it was written upon the occasion of King David’s victories over the neighboring nations, and expresses the emotions of the Israelites in the midst and aftermath of the chaos of war. And I can’t help but think about the city of Aleppo as I read the Psalm and concentrate on verse 10. Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, is in the grip of the country’s civil war. Syrian and Russian forces are engaged in an all-out blitz to retake the eastern rebel-held districts of Aleppo because its recapture is vital to President Bashar al-Assad’s aim of re-establishing full control over the country. 
     Meanwhile, the citizens of this ancient city are caught in the cross-fire, and the violence of war has left Aleppo looking like an apocalyptic wasteland. The Christians of Aleppo are living Psalm 46 in real time:  God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble … Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come and see what the LORD has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. 
     The Psalm offers encouragement to hope and trust in the Lord; to take comfort in God when things look very bleak and threatening. As the slaughter of civilians in Aleppo increases at the hands of Syrian government militia, I can only hope that the words of verse 10 would be burned on the hearts of those Christians who have suffered from this devastating civil war.  
     Be still. This is a call for those involved in the war to stop fighting, to be still. The word still is a translation of the Hebrew word rapa, meaning “to slacken, let down, or cease.” It connotes two people fighting until someone separates them and makes them drop their weapons. It is only after the fighting has stopped that the warriors can acknowledge their trust in God. Christians often interpret the command to “be still” as “to be quiet in God’s presence.” While quietness is certainly helpful, the phrase means to stop frantic activity, to let down, and to be still. For God’s people being “still” would involve looking to the Lord for their help; for God’s enemies, being “still” would mean ceasing to fight a battle they cannot win.
     Know that I am God.  “Know” in this instance means “to properly ascertain by seeing” and “to acknowledge, be aware.” The act of acknowledging God influences our “stillness” by making us aware that He is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (present everywhere), omnipotent (all-powerful), holy, sovereign, faithful, infinite, and good. Acknowledging God implies that we can trust Him and surrender to His plan because we understand who He is.  
     I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. It was tempting for the nation of Israel to align with foreign powers, and God reminds them that ultimately He is exalted! God wins, and He will bring peace. During Isaiah’s time, Judah looked for help from the Egyptians, even though God warned against it. Judah did not need Egyptian might; they needed reliance on the Lord: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).
     Can you not see the same scenario playing out with Syria and Russia?  Aligning with foreign powers to promote or advance (exalt) your authority, is never a way to safeguard that power.  Ultimately, it will be God who will be exalted; He will determine the winners and losers in war. He is GOD, the One who is infinitely above all.  Let them wage war no more, for it is all in vain.  He that sits in Heaven, on His throne, will have His way and will do His own will.  He will glorify His own Name, and when the powers of this world deal proudly in war, He will still be above them, and make no mistake about it! It will be His interests in the world and His Kingdom here on earth that reigns.  
     Ultimately, the Psalm, and verse 10 specifically, wants us to understand that when we are still and surrendered to God, we will find peace, even when our world is in chaos and war.  The mountains may melt away and kingdoms may fall, but God will still be there… exalted above everything in Heaven and Earth.  He is our refuge and our fortress. We will be sheltered and at peace within, even when there is war and fighting all around us. He will quiet our minds and hearts, and eliminate our fears.  He is the Lord of hosts, the God of Jacob; and He has been, is, and will be with us—we can take comfort in that, and boldly ask, If God be for us, who can be against us?
     May the people of Aleppo take heart!  May they be still, and know God!  And even if they don’t survive the decimation, may they know that YHWH will be exalted among all the nations and in the earth!

The History of Christmas

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     I don’t want to be a Scrooge this Christmas season, but I must tell you that it is encouraging to me that our society and culture are beginning to deal in Truth.  With each passing year, we are accepting that the origins of our Christmas celebrations have less to do with Christ, and more with ancient rituals and even pagan practices. While most Christians, like me, have no problem with honoring our Lord’s birth this time of year, there are a growing number of Believers who recognize that Christmas, as we know it, evolved out of the Roman tradition of Saturnalia, a festival honoring their god of agriculture, Saturn, on the winter solstice.

A 1783 painting, titled “Saturnalia” by Antoine Callet

     The date of Saturnalia, — December 25th — was celebrated as “the birthday of the unconquered sun” and was also a convenient way for Emperor Constantine to combine his pagan beliefs with his newly self-professed Christian faith.  It was also a way for him to exclude the influence of the believing Jews from the new Christian faith, by declaring the day as a Christ Mass. Though we now celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus Christ, we don’t know the exact date, or even the year of his birth. And during Saturnalia, children would often be given gifts of wax dolls – an act with a rather macabre history itself; the dolls were used to represent human sacrifices that Rome had given to Saturn in the past as payment for good harvests. Boughs of certain trees and other plant matter were also common gifts during Saturnalia, and were used to represent bounty and good harvests. So, while I like the idea that gift-giving at Christmas time is associated with the gifts of myrrh, frankincense, and gold that were presented to the Christ child by the three Magi, the reality is that the pagan beliefs were the original impetus for gifts.
     Legend has it that stocking stuffing is rooted in the charitable donations of Saint Nicholas, the forerunner to our Santa Claus.  Nicholas believed that childhood should be savored and enjoyed – but in a time where boys and girls younger than 10 had to work to support their families, this wasn’t always possible. So he decided to ease their burden, and gave what he could in homemade food, clothes, and furniture. The bishop even gave out oranges, which would have been very rare and expensive in Lycia, where he lived. The problem became where to leave these gifts so that the children would find them. According to legends, he then saw girls’ stockings hanging above a fireplace, and ol’ Saint Nick (to paraphrase) thought “Why not?”.  From then on, children would hang stockings up hoping that Saint Nicholas would visit them that night.
     But there is another legend that pre-dates the good bishop.  The practice can be traced back to Scandinavian countries that still held their Pagan beliefs. Children would leave their shoes full of carrots, straw, or other similar foods for Odin’s mythic horse, Sleipnir. When Sleipnir ate the food, Odin would leave candy or other treats in their place.
     Then there is the issue of wreaths and Christmas trees. Although many Christians might say these items are separate from belief in Christ, God still has something to say about our festivals.  Jeremiah 10:3-4 says, For the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. They adorn it with silver and gold…  In fact, Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church.  Early Church fathers, Irenaeus and Tertullian, omit it from their lists of feasts, with Tertullian writing, “The pagan Romans clad their door posts with green and branching laurels.  In the Saturnalia, presents come and go. There are gifts and banquets … yet Christians should have no acquaintance with the festivals of the pagans.”  And then there is God, Himself, who says in Amos, Chapter 5, I hate, I despise your feast days…
     And we can’t ignore that the evergreen was also known to have represented the same values to a variety of cultures, including the Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews. The worship of trees was also very common in European druidism and paganism. In Christian tradition, trees were often put up in December to serve the dual purpose of warding off the devil and allowing a perch for whatever birds still remained. Evergreen trees decorated with apples and wafers were also used in Christmas Eve plays during the Middle Ages to represent the tree from which Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Now, I know that no one will admit that we are worshipping our Christmas trees, here in the 21st Century.  But, if we were honest with ourselves, they have become idols.  True, we do not bow down physically before the Christmas tree, but when you consider that they have become a matter of the heart, and how much emphasis we put on them as a symbol of the time we say we are worshipping Jesus... well, sounds like idolatry to me.
     Then there is the tradition of mistletoe, which has an interesting story.  The Greeks believed that Aeneas, the famous ancestor of the Romans, carried a sprig of mistletoe in the form of the legendary golden bough. In Eddic tradition, mistletoe was the only thing able to kill the god Baldur, since it had not sworn an oath to leave him alone. Amongst other pre-Christian cultures, mistletoe was believed to carry the male essence, and by extension, romance, fertility, and vitality. The history of its popularity as a kissing agent is unknown.
     These are just some of our most endearing Christmas traditions, and I know that there are many of my fellow Christians who do not feel the same as I do about the holiday.  They will tell me, “Fine, I recognize that some of the origins of our modern Christmas celebration come from pagan rituals. But that’s not what it means to me, and God knows my heart.  He knows that Jesus is the reason I celebrate Christmas”. While I respect their decision, it’s not that easy for me.  Because the worship of false gods and idolatry were intertwined with these rituals and festivals, my spirit has a tough time sharing a celebration of my Savior’s birth with any other idol or deity.
     The final factor for me is not what the celebration of the Christmas holiday means to me, but what does it mean to my Father in Heaven?  And I want to interject this thought … Although there is no instruction in the Bible to celebrate the birth of Christ, I don’t think He condemns us for wanting to honor our Lord and Savior. But, I don’t think it pleases Him that we can so easily dismiss the connections between the Christmas holiday and its pagan roots.

      How is it any different than the justification the Israelites gave for worshipping the Golden Calf? Read Exodus 32:1-6, and see if there isn’t a valid comparison.  Didn’t the Israelites set something up for their pleasure, and declared that it was from God? Weren’t they worshipping a representation of a pagan deity, and had the arrogance to say “it shall be a feast to the LORD”?  Didn’t they celebrate, claiming they were thinking about God as they brought gifts, drank and made merry? Personally, this is what I think we do with the holiday of Christmas.  And I understand how difficult it is to separate our hearts (our flesh) from what pleases God.  Nobody enjoyed the emotions and sentimentality of the Christmas season than me!  And if I say, BUT GOD KNOWS MY HEART and my heart is focused on Jesus… aren’t we then making it about US, and what we want, NOT what God has asked us to do.  Are we offending Him by celebrating our own man-made feast, rather than His appointed Feasts?
     I know this is a tough subject, and I do not wish it to cause division in the Body of Christ.  It is a decision that must be made by each individual — how you choose to honor the birth of Christ is something you need to be certain about in your spirit.  But you should be honest and uncompromising; don’t let the Enemy convince you with sentimental memories and nostalgia. Don’t let him combine man’s pagan rituals with the holiness of the Christ child, and persuade you they are one and the same.  And one secular website even proposed this idea: “Christmas is the one time of year where everyone (or nearly so) is friendly, generous and gets along with each other, [so] does it matter the inspiration?”  (To read an article from this perspective, click here). In other words, why doesn’t all mankind just ignore whether the inspiration for Christmas comes from the birth of the Christ child or from an assortment of rituals honoring a variety of false and pagan gods, and just all enjoy the merriment and good cheer?  That might be fine for the non-believer or agnostic, but if you are a Christian you must ask yourself this question … Would God agree?  

Matthew 15:8-9    This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.


Christian Witchcraft and the Modern Church

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     I know … the title to this post seems like an oxymoron, right?  How can Witchcraft and the Church even be used in the same sentence?  The Bible is very clear on its prohibition of any kind of witchcraft, yet you might be surprised to find that there are plenty of people who identify themselves as both Witches and Christians.
     Deuteronomy 18:10-12 says it plainly and explicitly:  There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. 
     One thing needs to be perfectly understood by everyone, whether Christian or not:  There are only two sources of spiritual power: God and Satan. True, Satan has only the power that God allows him to have, but it is considerable. To seek spirituality, knowledge, or power apart from God is idolatry, which is closely related to witchcraft. And Witchcraft is Satan’s realm, and he excels in counterfeiting what God does. When Moses performed miracles before Pharaoh, the magicians did the same things through demonic power.

     So how does someone who considers themselves a “Christian Witch” convince themselves that it is OK with God?  How can they bring holy spirituality and demonic spirituality into harmony?  I contend that it all goes back to the roots of Satan’s first temptation to Eve: “You can be like God”. And the Enemy accomplishes his goal through a process called syncretism, which pulls religious ideas from a number of sources to create something unique or individual. This is the foundation for Christian Witchcraft.  A Christian Witch will take what they like from various traditions, beliefs, and rituals of both Christianity and witchcraft…and leave the rest behind.  In doing so the Christian Witch creates something totally individual for their own spiritual expression.
      So what exactly does a Christian Witch believe? Let Kristine McGuire, who wrote an article titled I Was A Christian Witch tell you:  “Like all esoteric or mystical paths, Christian witchcraft is highly individualized. However, there are some common denominators which can be found among Christian Witch’s, Christian Wiccans, and Christo-Pagans. Most…though certainly not all…Christian Witch’s either have a very liberal understanding of the Bible or follow Gnostic Christian teachings.  Many come from a Catholic upbringing. New Age philosophy can also enter strongly into a Christian Witch’s belief structure.  Some will take the religion of Wicca or a form of Paganism and superimpose a Christian understanding of deity on the rituals while others take a more traditional Christian approach, adding magick and ritual into their belief structure. Many will continue to be regular attenders and active participants of their local church. In all circumstances, Christian Witchcraft, Christian Wicca, and Christo-Paganism are nature based… As a Christian Witch, I was a Christian who practiced traditional witchcraft.  Christianity was my belief…witchcraft was my path”.
     I don’t know about you, but there was an awful lot of terminology included in Kristine’s explanation. So, what do we need to know about all these terms?  Let’s just start with Paganism, which is an umbrella term referring to a number of earth or nature-based faiths.  Wiccan theology is a little harder to pin down.  Most early Wiccan groups adhered to the dual worship of a Horned God of fertility and a Mother Goddess, with practitioners typically believing that these had been the ancient deities worshipped by the hunter-gatherers of the Old Stone Age, whose veneration had been passed down in secret right to the present. Then, in the 1950s, Gerald Gardner brought Wicca to the public, and many contemporary Pagans embraced the practice. Gerald Gardner was also a Freemason, and involved in Spiritualism.  Although Wicca itself was founded by Gardner, he based it upon the old stone-age traditions. However, a lot of Witches and Pagans were perfectly happy to continue practicing their own spiritual path without converting to Wicca.
     There are also a number of people who consider themselves Witches, but who are not necessarily Wiccan or even Pagan. Typically, these are people who use the term “eclectic Witch”. In many cases, Witchcraft is seen as a skill set in addition to, or instead of, a religious system. A Witch may practice magic in a manner completely separate from their spirituality; in other words, one does not have to interact with the Divine to be a Witch. Or, as in the case of Kristine McGuire, she felt she could practice being a witch and still practice her Christianity, and she didn’t see any problem with that.
     Consider this quote from another Christian Witch:  “There can be many different ways of going about Christian Witchcraft. From believing in the gnostic side of things, to just using it as your pantheon while still being somewhat polytheistic (Christo Paganism). Each Christian Witch will do things differently from another. But that’s what I found beautiful about witchcraft, that it really depended on the person using it. It depended on the person’s control and contact with their own energies as well as how open they were when it came to any deity they may use in their ritual”.
     At this point, we need to understand that the “gnostic side of things” includes the Gnostic doctrine, which teaches that the world was created and ruled by a lesser divinity, the demiurge (underworld), and that Christ was an emissary of the remote supreme divine being, and the mysterious knowledge (gnosis) of him enabled the redemption of the human spirit. In simpler terms, Gnostics shunned the material world, and embraced the spiritual world.  It is a knowledge superior to, and independent of, faith.
     The Christian Witch continues:  “[When] I began this path, I split God into male and female. As time grew I found that God will always be a Father figure to me. Jesus would always be Jesus, and the Holy Spirit would come to me in different forms. When I need a female figure it comes to me as a female, when I need a more masculine figure it comes to me as male. The Holy Spirit began as female and through time has shifted into a male form. I see it as genderless. It is The Holy Spirit and does what it wants. What I Believe in is : The Holy Trinity. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
     I began to blend my faith with that of witchcraft. I celebrate both Christian Holidays as well as the Wheel of the year. I use the wheel of the year to help keep me connected to the world around me — the solstices and the equinoxes, the days where nature needs to be respected. My first spell was a prayer burning ritual. I began to see that what I was doing was worshiping God, but with the use of witchcraft.”
     Can you see that at the heart of Christian Witchcraft is the worship of self?  That they want the best of both worlds — Christianity and the world of mysticism?  I know there will be those who will have a hard time believing that Witchcraft could infiltrate the Church. But when you look at how far the Church has come in compromising God’s core value system, why is it such a big stretch to see why Christian Witches think they have permission to add to their faith?
     Take the advice of Kristine McGuire, the former Christian Witch, who has repented of her sins and seen her relationship with Christ restored:  “The Church needs to acknowledge there are spiritually hungry people in the Christian community who are being tempted to incorporate magickal practices into their faith walk. We must do all we can to encourage Biblical literacy among Christians.  Too many people profess Christ but have no clue what the BIble says about Him or anything else for that matter. People now seem to base their Christian walk on what they hear in the pulpit, see on tv, or read on the internet, without ever checking to be sure it’s actually from the Bible, accurate, and in context. We must acknowledge the Bible as the true, revealed Word of God.  There is no doubt Scripture condemns all practices involved in witchcraft: sorcery, spell casting, divination, enchantments, spiritism, idolatry, etc … in the strongest terms, but many people are either missing or ignoring it”.

“White” Magic

     But we cannot ignore the allure that witchcraft and the occult hold in our society. It is hard not to notice the rapidly growing fascination in America with zombies, vampires, death, the occult, and the supernatural.  As David Fiorazo wrote in his article, Are Christians Welcoming Witchcraft, “In many entertainment products from Charmed to Harry Potter to Sabrina the Teenage Witch, the heroes are typically good people – you know, the ones using witchcraft and the occult – while the average person is portrayed as ordinary, weak, or even bad, partly because they do not have any magic powers. Therefore, the occult, the satanic, and anything related to it are looked at as beneficial and desirable, which is a complete twisting of the concept of good and evil… Public schools do not allow Christianity to be taught or promoted. However, they accept the religions of atheism, Humanism, evolution, environmental extremism (earth worship), Buddhism, Islam, and of course the religion of Wicca – the practice of witchcraft. Kids have sat through readings of the Harry Potter books, watched the movies during class instruction times, and have even discussed the details of casting spells”.
     And need I tell you that there are actually Christian Witches who will defend their demonic practices by trying to distinguish their “White Magic” from the dark side’s “Black Magic”.  The problem?  It is all an abomination before the Lord! I know I don’t need to tell you that; nor do I need to explain that Witchcraft, in all its forms, has been performed since the beginning of mankind.  The first instance of witchcraft that I could find in the Bible was Genesis 44:5, which reads, Is it not from this that my lord drinks, and by this that he practices divination? You have done evil in doing this. This pertains to a practice in the household of Joseph, called scrying. It was an ancient occultic method of divination in which a cup or other vessel is filled with water and gazed into. This technique of foretelling the future was used by Nostradamus and is still used today.
     But I guess the final point I want to make is this: the idea of Man or Woman is central to the core beliefs of Witchcraft.  Any theological position is tolerated, and in this case, it works nicely with the New Age Movement, which embraces a theology of “feel-goodism,” “universal tolerance,” and “moral relativism.” Together, they blend with Spiritualism to offer a compromise between the revealed religions, materialistic philosophies, and the ability to form a personal and spiritual expression of your own.
      The bottom line is this:  The Church needs to wake up to the reality that Witchcraft has creeped into our religious institutions, and it has invaded our Church buildings. Just google “Christian Witchcraft websites” and I think you will be astounded at the encouragement given to take this path. I found one comment that implied that Christian Witches haven’t turned their backs on their faith; they have simply opened their spirits to something more. Sadly, it is that “something more” that will lead to their eternal destruction.

1 Samuel 15:23   “For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry”.

Gladly Set Apart

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     It has been interesting, from a social perspective, to see how those Americans who backed the losing political candidate for President have responded.  Mind you, this post is not meant to disparage political views or positions. We live in a country where everyone has an equal vote and no matter who you voted for, you have a right to your opinions. And let’s face it, over the last 16 years in our political history, not everyone has been happy.  In fact, after each election, there has been approximately one-half of the country who have not been happy with the results.

     I am writing this post because of what I have observed among friends whom I like and respect; people who are successful in business, and caring and generous people.  But their dissatisfaction with our new President-Elect has turned them into people that I hardly recognize.  They are angry, and seem to be willing to color anyone who doesn’t agree with them with a broad brush of negative attributes.  These are the same people who accepted you and your differences in a spirit of harmony and mutual respect — as long as they perceived their social and political persuasions carried the dominant position.  
     That wouldn’t bother me so much — knowing that political dominance is never permanent, and the pendulum always swings back the other way — except that the hostility and ire has now transitioned into a vocal criticism of my Christian beliefs.
     A recent conversation started off innocently enough… comparing favorite Christmas movies of our youth. (Mine, by the way is It’s A Wonderful Life — you can’t beat it for a good old-fashioned dose of sentimentality and a message of the importance of every man’s life).  The conversation then evolved into the whole phenomenon of “ugly Christmas sweaters”.  And one of our friends commented that one of the tackiest sweaters he had seen was a picture of Jesus, with “Birthday Boy” written underneath.
     I agreed with the tastelessness of such a display and then opened the proverbial can of worms by remarking that our Lord’s birthday is not even on December 25th. You could feel the tension in the room amp up. Thus began a discussion that went something like this…
     “Well, you know that no one knows when he was born, right?”
     I replied, “I agree, there is no exact historical document that states when His birthday is, but when the Bible says at His Birth, “there were shepherds staying out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night”, it can be proven that this would not have happened in late December, because it is winter then, and the fields would be full of snow.  The shepherds would have brought their flocks in from the fields.  It is more likely that Jesus was born in the fall, perhaps September or early October, when the shepherds remained in the fields with the flocks”.
     This seemed to agitate our friends even more.  “You can’t really go by what the Bible says; it is just a book of allegorical stories.  These are the same stories that have been told by other ancient peoples since the beginning of time.  The Bible has no supremacy in these stories”.
     By this time, I can sense that this conversation is growing more heated and I understood one thing clearly.  People who have rejected the truth of Jesus and the Bible will not be convinced by someone like me; someone who they clearly think is delusional and intellectually inferior.  They need concrete academic and scientific proof, and belief based on the absence of data, or without evidence — in other words, FAITH — is something they cannot logically conceive. But I wanted to make my position very clear…. “It comes down to if you believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, or not.  I happen to believe it is.”  And with that, my husband wisely steered the conversation to safer subjects.
     But, as often happens, I think of things I wish I had said long after the encounter.  I should have pointed out that perhaps the reason so many of the ancient texts, such as the Sumerian, Annunaki, and Ugaritic texts, mimic the stories in the Bible, is perhaps because YHWH, the Most High God, tried to  reveal Himself to those peoples, but they rejected Him.  And it wasn’t until Abraham answered His call, that a people were worthy to be set apart as His chosen. A good argument, but I know that those who refuse to hear His voice will not be swayed by any explanation I present.  Only the Holy Spirit can work in their hearts and turn them from their stubborn ways.
     But it saddens me. As I said, I really like these people, and I have known they were unbelievers since our friendship began.  Our expressions of faith were always well-received and never an impediment. But I’m afraid the dynamics have changed with this new political season, and those of us with Faith are now inextricably tied to their dissatisfaction with the political climate. That’s OK.  If it sets me apart from those who put their faith in men and politics, then I’m happy with that designation.  And if it gives me more opportunity to be a vocal defender of my faith, then so be it.  I’m thrilled to talk about my God and His Word!
     In the end, this shouldn’t surprise me — or you, if you are experiencing the same kind of reaction. Our Lord told us we would be hated because of His Name. And, as His followers, we must endure and stand for Him, being promised our reward of salvation for all of eternity.  I can handle being sneered at and despised; I won’t be discouraged nor deviate from my path. I just wish my friends could share my peace and my joy. And I would love for them to come along on this exhilarating journey!

Romans 13:11   “Do this, knowing that this is a critical time. It is already the hour for you to awaken from your sleep [of spiritual complacency]; for our salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed [in Christ]”.

2 Corinthians 5:17

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Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. 
The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

     The Apostle Paul wrote several letters to the Church at Corinth.  He was deeply concerned that the Believers in Corinth were abandoning their faith.  In addition, a group of men had come to Corinth who presented themselves as apostles. They were false teachers who were challenging, among other things, Paul’s personal integrity and his authority as an apostle.  
     Among other topics in this second letter to the Corinthians, Paul emphasizes that we must “regard no one according to the flesh”.  In other words, that what our lives are in this world should be secondary to our reconciliation with God in the spirit, so that we no longer live for ourselves, but for Jesus; who for our sake, died and was raised to sit at the right hand of God, the Father.
     So, Paul points out that if we are reconciled to God (reunited with Him in spirit), then we are also in Christ, and a new creation. Our old lives have passed away, and we now have a new purpose and mission.  No one was better qualified to testify about becoming a new creation than Paul, who was formerly Saul, of Tarsus. In his former life he had ravaged and persecuted the Church, making it his zealous mission to imprison both men and women, followers of “The Way”, and to ultimately destroy the new faith in Jesus as Savior and Messiah.  
     But on that road to Damascus, God got a hold of Saul, and in a bold and dramatic event revealed that Saul had not been persecuting men in his zeal to find favor with YHWH, but had actually been persecuting Jesus, the Son of God. We all know the story … Saul spent three days in Damascus, blind both physically and spiritually, while God revealed exactly who he had seen on that road.  During those three days, Saul died to himself, and was raised to a new life to become one of the most influential messengers of God. 
     I want to make sure we see that in this particular Scripture, Paul makes it clear that the promise of a new life is available to anyone!  It doesn’t matter what class, what race, what nationality, what language, or what level of intelligence. Anyone can be a new creation in Jesus Christ!
     But this promise is contingent on one thing… we must be in Christ.  This is not a promise for those who are in themselves, or in the religion of men, or in someone or something else. This is for those in Christ; for those who are grafted in to Him, joined to Him by faith in Him as their Savior. 
     And we must understand that Jesus Christ changes those who come to Him by faith, and who are in Him. The saved are not “just forgiven.” They are changed into a new creation [reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit], with new responsibilities. The old things have passed away; those things that were our previous moral and spiritual condition. We must never return to them.
     It is incumbent upon us to recognize that living as a new creation is not something God does for us, but works in us, using our will and our choices. So, we must both receive the gift of being a new creation, and be challenged to live the life of a new creation. But it is God’s work in us that we must submit to. This reminds us that at its root, Christianity is all about what God has done for us, not what we can or should do for God. Paul is careful [in today’s verse] to give the credit to God, not to us.
    I love this quote by the great theologian Charles Spurgeon: “Beloved, if you have no more religion than you have worked out in yourself, and no more grace than you have found in your nature, you have none at all. A supernatural work of the Holy Ghost must be wrought in every one of us, if we would see the face of God with acceptance.” If we truly become a new creation, it is expressly due to what God has done in us; we can claim no part in it.
     Behold, the new has come.  We are not only mended, but we are made new; becoming a willing partner in establishing the Kingdom of God on earth. You see, God loves working with His creation.  He enjoys partnering with us, and through us, to see His perfect will be done.  But He can’t achieve His plan while we are in our flesh.  We must be in Christ and a new creation, regenerated in a spirit of obedience, and willing to glorify Him with our lives. Thank You, Lord, for the work You have done in me, and the work You will continue to do as I grow in this relationship towards You! 
     
      

A Spiritual Perspective On Gods and War

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      Our national commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor was a fascinating look into history and how Americans viewed the events of the day.  During my research I found an interesting article relating how Navy Admiral Chester William Nimitz, the commander of the Pacific Fleet during World War II, regarded that horrific attack from a particularly Christian position. Then I began thinking about wars in general and how they might be observed from the spiritual dimension, and the intriguing possibilities that the Bible presents when we take a closer look at a pivotal event in the Old Testament.  My mind was racing, and I’m not sure I can connect all the dots, but let’s see where my thoughts take us…

     Let me begin at the beginning.  In the gift shop at Pearl Harbor, one can purchase a small book by Admiral Chester Nimitz, titled “Reflections on Pearl Harbor”.  In the book, Admiral Nimitz relates that he received a phone call while attending a concert in Washington D.C. on Sunday, December 7, 1941. It was President Franklin Roosevelt telling him he was now Commander of the Pacific fleet.  Admiral Nimitz flew to Hawaii to assume command of the Pacific Fleet and landed at Pearl Harbor on Christmas Eve, 1941. There was such a spirit of despair, dejection and defeat–you would have thought the Japanese had already won the war.
     On Christmas Day, the Admiral toured the scene of wreckage and carnage; sunken battleships and navy vessels were everywhere.  The tour boat returned to the dock, and a young helmsman asked what the Admiral thought of all the destruction.  Admiral Nimitz replied, “The Japanese made three of the biggest mistakes an attack force could ever make — or God was taking care of America. Which do you think it was?”
     If you are a history buff like I am, I wanted to know what the Admiral saw as mistakes.  Here they are.  Mistake #1: The Japanese attacked on Sunday morning. Nine out of every ten crewmen of those ships were ashore on leave. If those same ships had been lured to sea and been sunk–we would have lost 38,000 men instead of 3,800. Mistake #2: When the Japanese saw all those battleships lined in a row, they got so carried away sinking those battleships, they never once bombed the dry docks opposite those ships. If they had destroyed the dry docks, we would have had to tow every one of those ships to America to be repaired. The ships were in shallow water and could be raised. One tug could pull them over to the dry docks, where they could be repaired and at sea by the time they could be towed to America. And there were already crews ashore anxious to man those ships.  Mistake #3: Every drop of fuel in the Pacific theater of war was in top-of-the-ground storage tanks five miles away. One attack plane could have strafed those tanks and destroyed the fuel supply.
     And that’s why Admiral Nimitz made the statement that the Japanese either made three of the biggest mistakes an attack force could make — or God was taking care of America. So that got me to thinking … do we really believe God has a vested interest in taking care of, or protecting, nations?  And if He does, is it all nations, or are there specific ones He protects, and others He rejects?  We know that Romans 13 tells us that there is no authority in a nation, except from God; and that which exists has been placed there by Him.  But that is specifically about human government of a nation.  Is there a spiritual component, and what part do other gods play in the history of nations?
     Now, that last comment might throw you for a loop.  As a Christian, why would I even consider the existence or the importance of other “little g” gods?  First of all, because they do exist!  God spends a large portion of the Old Testament warning the Israelites, His chosen people, against following other (false) gods.  But where did these other gods come from; and how does that play into Israel being “chosen” by God to be His people; and finally how does that fit into my thoughts about a spiritual perspective on war?  Hang on, I’m going to take you on a wild ride!
     I am a huge fan of Dr. Michael Heiser, an American Biblical scholar, who earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible and Ancient Semitic Languages. He has opened up the Bible to me, by providing the Hebrew context of our English language Bibles, and offering interpretations that English-only commentaries are lacking. By providing the meanings of words and concepts from a uniquely Hebrew position, the Bible expands and increases in scope; broadening our understanding to deeper levels.
     Such is the understanding of the word Elohim. Most Christians understand that it is the most common word in the Bible for YHWH, The Creator.  But did you know that in Hebrew, the word Elohim can have both singular and plural applications. Think, in English, something like:  Look at that deer (singular); or look at those deer (plural). Well, in Psalm 82, we get a clear example of Hebrew grammar in verse 1:  God (Elohim) stands in the divine assembly; He administers judgment in the midst of the gods (elohim). It cannot be denied; it is as plain as day, or as Dr. Heiser says:  The God of the Old Testament was part of an assembly — a pantheon — of other gods.  
     But where did these others gods come from?  I’m going to give you a very short explanation, knowing that this topic could take days to explore (and I hope you do).  But put very simply, God, as Creator, is responsible for creating these other gods, who in the ancient Semitic world, were known as sons of God (Hebrew: beney elohim), divine beings with higher-level responsibilities or jurisdictions. Obviously, God would have hoped that they would play by His rules and exert their responsibilities in a holy or righteous manner.

     These elohim will come into play in the familiar story of the The Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. We know that humankind came together (under the tutelage of the elohim who had been given jurisdiction over them) to build a city and a tower that would reach to heaven.  It was a confederation of nations (and elohim), come together to usurp the power and dominion of Elohim (God). We know that God confused their languages and scattered them from Babel over the face of the whole earth. But it is Deuteronomy 32:8-9 that reveals God’s ultimate actions:  Remember the days of old …. When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when He divided mankind, He fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God.  But the Lord’s portion is His people, Jacob (Israel) His allotted heritage. 
     It is very clear from this passage that YHWH’s dispersal of the nations at Babel resulted in his disinheriting those nations as His people.  In effect, He decided that the people of the world’s nations (at that time) were no longer going to be in relationship to Him.  He would begin anew, and enter into covenant relationship with a new people that did not even exist yet (Israel).  This idea is astounding and monumental in understanding much of what the Old Testament tells us.
     NOTE:  Several versions of the Bible erroneously translate verse 8 to say, according to the number of the sons of Israel. That is a wrong translation, because Israel didn’t exist yet. In fact, Abraham had not even been called yet!
     So, what does this have to do with our discussion?  As odd as it might sound, Scripture is telling us that after the Tower of Babel, God decided to keep the peoples who would become the nation of Israel for Himself, while the rest of the nations were placed under the authority of members of YHWH’s Divine Council, the elohim of the divine assembly mentioned in Psalm 82:1.  In other words, the other nations were assigned to lesser elohim as a judgment from the Most High for their actions at Babel.
     I’m now going to take a huge leap to modern times and try to connect the dots. When we understand that from that moment in history until now, the nations of the world have been under the jurisdiction of lesser elohim, we can see the history of the world’s wars from a different and spiritual persecutive. These lesser elohim were in rebellion against God at Babel, and nothing has changed.  They inspired the nations under their jurisdiction to battle against other nations, in a never-ending quest to reach that designation of Most High.  That’s why history has seen nations conquering other nations, and borders being defined and re-defined.
     And when you consider that during the last world war, you had both the Germans and the Japanese vying to be the Master race, it’s not hard to imagine the lesser elohim in the spiritual realm working their plans, trying to convince the leaders of these wartime giants that they had a divine calling.  In fact, Emperor Hirohito of Japan believed he and the Imperial Family were divine descendants of the sun goddess Amaterasu.

      Although there are some modern scholars who are doing their best to deny that Adolph Hitler had any connection to the occult or evil organizations, one need only look at his “Final Solution” for extermination of the Jews to see a correlation between the disinheriting of the lesser elohim and their nations, and their hate for the nation God would claim as His own.  There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Hitler was interested in the occult, magic, and the paganism of his Germanic roots.  He is said to have marked extensive passages in a 1923 book, titled Magic: History, Theory, and Practice, including one that reads, “He who does not have the demonic seed within himself will never give birth to a magical world”.
     One can also look to the emergence of ISIS and their hatred of Israel to see the influence of their lesser elohim, Allah, and his influence against the Most High; Elohim, the Creator. Hopefully, you can see how war and gods are inherently intertwined. The Old Testament is full of stories God warning the Israelites (His allotted portion of the world’s people) against being influenced by the other nations and their false gods (lesser elohim). That same pattern has occurred throughout history and we have seen ample proof of this model of rebellion during the wars of the last century.
     But back to Admiral Nimitz’s hypothesis. If the people who would become Israel was the only nation that God kept for Himself, do you think it is possible that He will take care of us? That’s where we have to once again go to the Bible for the answer. In the Old Testament, God says in Genesis 12 that He will make a great nation of Israel, and “I will bless those who bless you (Israel), and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”. So the nations that stand by Israel; support and honor her will be blessed by God.  And in Joel 3, God makes it abundantly clear how he will deal with nations who dishonor His inheritance:  “I will gather all nations and will bring them down into the Valley of Jehoshaphat, and there will I deal with and execute judgment upon them for their treatment of My people and of My heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations and because they have divided My land.”
     So, all nations are not Elohim’s chosen; nations will receive blessings or curses depending on how they treated Israel. And we are grafted in as His inheritance, His children, if we have faith in His Son, who came to deliver Israel from her rebellion. And until the day His Son returns, the lesser elohim will continue in their own rebellion, still trying to execute the plan they initiated at Babel. But their judgment is sure, and it will be swift. Peace will not reign on this earth until the Prince of Peace comes in final judgment of all who oppose, disobey, and challenge the Authority of the Most High.  When Jesus says. “there will be wars and rumors of wars”, He is prophesying a truth of the human existence. But I praise God that we know one day it will end. And what a glorious day that will be!

Psalm 89:5-7    Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Lord, your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones! For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord? Who among the sons of God is like the Lord, a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him?

   

75 Years Later: Pearl Harbor And The Men Who Went To War

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     Please indulge me as I try to capture the spirit of our nation 75 years ago, when the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor.  My father was of “that” generation; the exceptional period of existence that is described in our present age as “The Greatest.”  December 7, 1941 changed the course of his life, as it did so many like him. 
     It had always been my intention to write a fitting tribute to my father, who was such a complex, and at times, difficult man to understand.  Born in 1925, he was a mid-West farm boy who, at the inexperienced age of 17, answered his nation’s call after the horror of Pearl Harbor.  He served valiantly as a tail-gunner in the U.S. Navy’s Pacific fleet of PV-1 Ventura’s, and along with his older brother, came home to resume their lives in a changed America.
     Like most men who go to war, both talked little of their wartime experiences.  When he died in 2007, at the age of 82, I grieved over the lost opportunity to know how that fateful day of December 7, 1941 had changed him. I gave the eulogy at his funeral, and I could share the one aspect of him that I knew well:  his patriotism and love of country. We requested a Naval Honor Guard at his graveside service, and it was a moment I will always treasure.  His service to our Nation had not been forgotten, and the Navy’s own paid him proper respect. 
     But I was sad that I was left with only a few WWII mementos of my Dad: a photograph of him looking young and innocent in his Navy dress blues; a collage of his flight crew in front of their plane; and his poplin flight suit and fur-lined leather flying cap.  I proudly keep them alongside the folded flag presented at his funeral. But I couldn’t ask questions of these inanimate objects and they revealed no insightful answers.
     I felt my chances were slipping away of ever capturing what that era was like…. until one Sunday in the fall of 2009.  Sitting amongst the fifteen or twenty members of my small Sunday School class in Austin, Texas were four of the most interesting and captivating ladies I have ever met.  All in their mid-eighties, they had lived the WWII experience, and they were my path to the past.  This is their story.    

     Nearly eight years ago, four of the most precious women I’ve ever met — all in their 80’s — sat around my kitchen table and told me their impressions of what it was like on that infamous day 75 years ago, when the news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor swept the nation.
     I recorded their stories and wrote a 28-page biography, chronicling their impressions and memories.  Here is the opening paragraph of that biography: They sit grouped together, a quartet set apart by age, wisdom, and their status as widows.  But they are so much more.  They share a common history, yet each has a unique story of  her own to share.  They all grew up in the innocent years before Pearl Harbor.  They experienced the Depression, the war years, and the expansive growth that was a result of that hard-won victory.  Their lives are a lasting legacy of the enduring American Spirit, and they embody the different facets that, as a nation, we have inherited from all who came before us.
    But I want you to hear their voices; and re-live those days when faith and war were so intricately bound.  Hear the innocence and the resolve that were hallmarks of that generation.  Read these excerpts from their stories and ask yourselves if this current generation is as strong and resilient and determined to overcome the hardships we may face. And listen for the evidence that God was ever present…
     Mary Ann Holcomb was born in 1926 in the small town of Nursery, Texas, so named because a nursery for fruit trees was started there in 1882, along the tracks of the San Antonio and Mexican Gulf Railway.  The small Texas town was located on the coastal plains of the Southeast portion of the state.  Her dad had been a farmer, like his folks before him, and also worked in the insurance business until the Depression hit.

Mary Ann and Bill Holcomb on their honeymoon

     Times were hard for the family, which included Mary Ann’s two sisters, who were more than 10 years older.  At the height of the Depression, her dad decided he wanted a divorce, so he could leave to try to find work.  He took Mary Ann, who was nine, and her mother to Austin, where they were able to rent a little room.  Mother and daughter were desperate for a while.
     “I remember wearing a piece of linoleum in the bottom of my shoe.   Whenever I’d get a hole, it would go flap, flap, flap.  I wore lots of patches on my clothes.”
     Before long her mother was fortunate enough to get a job at the State Library in the Capitol Building.  Her two sisters were receiving training as nurses, so their room and board was provided while they attended nursing school. Circumstances were tougher for her father.
“My dad left Texas and traveled across the country in search of work.  He told me stories of standing in soup lines to get something to eat.  He’d barter for food.  He would go to a grocery store and get a quart of milk for five cents, and then go to a bar, with the milk wrapped in a brown paper bag. In those days, the bars would provide hard-boiled eggs and peanuts if you were seated at the bar drinking.  So he’d take his paper-wrapped milk and pretend to be drinking a bottle of liquor.  That’s how he ate a lot of his meals.”
     Mary Ann’s existence improved as her mother worked and saved to rent a little house.  By the time she was fourteen, her mother remarried and they moved to the new Austin suburb of Hyde Park. The ensuing years were filled with the joys of childhood; bicycle riding, swimming, and learning to dance.  Her innocent childhood was shattered on that December 7th morning in 1941.
     “Pearl Harbor happened on a Sunday morning.  I remember that I was reading the comics and they announced it on the radio.  We were all stunned!  I was fifteen at the time, and everyone wanted to do their part to help fight the war, but there was really nothing constructive I could do to help the war effort.  I was too young to go to work.”
     But as the war ground on, and Mary Ann’s friends from school began going off to war, some she knew well were killed, and the seriousness of the War became evident. She would eventually marry Bill Holcomb, a high school classmate, after the war.  Mary Ann recalled that Bill experienced hand-to-hand combat while serving in the Philippines and suffered from nightmares his whole life; and he continued to sleep with a Ka-Bar knife under his pillow until the day he died.
     Jeanne McNabb has the most engaging smile and her eyes sparkle as she tells her story.  It is classic “American”.  She was born in 1926 near the small town of Bertram, 40 miles north of Austin, Texas. She grew up in the country, feeling isolated and as though she didn’t have the advantages of town kids, who could get together and play.  Little did she know that at the age of eight, she would meet her future husband.   He happened to visit his uncle who lived across from her family’s farm.  He would tell her years later that he remembered her as a skinny little girl who looked like “one of those fence posts.”

Jeanne and Clint McNabb, 1945, while
Clint was home on furlough

“Growing up, we didn’t even realize there was a Depression.  Living in the country, we had plenty of food, and parents just didn’t talk about it in front of their kids.” But Jeanne remembers Pearl Harbor with complete clarity.  She was on her first date when she heard the news.
     “We were in this guy’s Model A Ford and it was broadcast on his radio.  We were with another couple, having a great time laughing and talking, and didn’t realize until the next day just how serious it was.”  It would soon affect her personally.  In high school, she became reacquainted with Clint McNabb, the young boy she had befriended when she was eight years old. And it was only three months before Jeanne became both a Child Bride and a War Bride.  At the age of 17½, she and Clint were married one month before he went into the service.
    “He knew he was going to be drafted, so he enlisted before his number was drawn, so he could be in the branch of the military he really wanted.” Clint settled on the Army Air Corps and completed his basic training at Kessler Field in Biloxi, Mississippi.  He then served a short stint on the East Coast before spending the rest of the war in Gander, Newfoundland, as part of a Combat Search and Rescue crew who went out to try and find downed pilots when their planes were shot down.
     “He only came home one time during his four years of service, and he didn’t talk about what he’d seen or experienced.  He did get frozen feet from the cold winters in Newfoundland, and would eventually get a ten percent medical disability as a result.”
     Jeanne served her country as a secretary/typist in the Intelligence Office at Bergstrom Air Base.  “The mission of the Intelligence Office was to detect saboteurs or anyone that might be trying to harm the United States. The Special Agents would intercept letters, read them, and if there was nothing damaging in the contents, the letters would be resealed and passed on. I would type reports on an old manual typewriter, and have to type 10 or 12 copies of a report with carbon.  It was tedious!  And boy, was it hot in that barracks-type building! We never did uncover any kind of sinister plot, but it was an interesting job.”
     Wynette Harris has a personal history that is anything but boring.  Her parents were secretly married when her mother was only 15, and her daddy began a life as a professional gambler. But after the birth of her sister, other parents wouldn’t let their children play with her because her father was a gambler.  He just couldn’t take it, so he began going to night school to learn a trade.

“Blue” and Wynette
Templeton, 1945

     Eventually her father became a civic leader in town and was the president of the Trade and Labor Council for many years.  He was also a Deputy Constable and the Police Chief presented him with a pearl-handled, chrome plated .45-caliber pistol, which Wynette’s son now proudly owns. Her pride in her father is quite evident:  “He is proof that you can raise yourself up and change for the better!”
     Her future husband, Elmer “Blue” Templeton, was like many young men in those Depression-era years; he quit school at the age of 15 to apprentice with a trade.  His brother-in-law was a Master Plumber, and by the time Blue was 19, he was the youngest journeyman plumber in the state of Texas.  He traveled the country, in search of ever-higher wages, and when the opportunity came to help rebuild Pearl Harbor, he jumped at the chance.
     By summer’s end in 1943, he had enlisted with the Seabees, who were the Construction Battalion of the US Navy.  Primarily recruited from the civilian construction trades, they were responsible for building airstrips, bridges, roads and housing. Wynette recalls, “We were engaged the night before he sailed out of Seattle on New Year’s Eve, headed for New Hebrides (a group of Pacific islands west of Fiji).  Two battleships escorted the troop ship he was on.  On the way to their destination, they encountered a typhoon.  Both of their battleship escorts sunk, and their own ship lacked only two degrees from having waves swamp the smokestacks.  They were without power for two days, and subject to attack by Japanese submarines at any moment.  Help eventually arrived and the ship was hauled to Bora Bora for repairs, before continuing on to the New Hebrides islands, where he served for the next sixteen months.
     When Blue came home in November of 1945, he was discharged at Camp Wallace near Galveston, and the two planned a whirlwind wedding ceremony.  “My girlfriend went with me to pick him up.  It took three days to get your blood test results, so three days after he landed in Galveston, we were married on November 30, 1945!”
     Jeannie Paxton is a born storyteller. She is proud of her birthplace, Cowpens, South Carolina, which was the site of one of the turning points of the Revolutionary War.  Brigadier General Daniel Morgan and his ragtag colonial militia routed a much larger British contingent under Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton.  That same stubborn American spirit would be ignited once again in her generation.
     Jeannie was one of 13 children, and all the members of her family worked in the Southern Textile mills. “My mother had a hard life.  She had 13 children and I was the youngest.  She lost three or four children to the diphtheria epidemic, and all within three months time. But we grew up in a happy household.  We didn’t have a lot, but we always had food.  Everyone that lived on that mill road was allowed to have cattle, and we raised ours in a pasture back behind our house.  We also had a garden every year, and a couple of peach trees.”

Joe and Jeannie Paxton, 1946

Faith was an important part of the family’s life and Jeannie describes her mother as “the most Christ-like person” she has ever known.  Her mother’s influence led her to a Bible study group, being taught by two women in Cowpens.  They invited several young girls to study the Book of Revelation with them. “I was 14 or 15, and we’d heard the rumblings on the radio of what was happening in Europe, and these ladies were convinced Hitler was the Anti-Christ.  We’d study every week, and I would tremble, I was so afraid!  But I read in the Bible that ‘Blessed are you if you read this Book’.  So it eased my mind some.  But these ladies were convinced that Germany was the Gog or Magog of the Bible.  Then when Pearl Harbor happened, it became the Japanese we were fighting, not the Europeans.  So how did that work into the Book of Revelation?  It was a very frightening and confusing time for me, as a teenager.”
     She would meet her future husband, after the war, when he was finishing up his 4-year commitment to the Army at Fort Blanding in Florida.  He accompanied her brother-in-law home on leave to South Carolina, and after one weekend, he announced, “I’m going to marry you.”  Jeannie and Joe would exchange letters over the next few months, and although she would only see him three or four more times before marrying him, she felt she knew his character.  “Joe would never come to the house without wanting to say hello to my mother.  He was just that way.  My mother was such a good judge of character and liked him from the first moment she saw him”. Joe came home on two week’s leave in July of 1946 and they were married.
     All these precious ladies agreed with Jeannie Paxton when she said,  “I think we all wrote almost everyday to our husbands or boyfriends.  And my husband would ask me to write things that made me blush!  Our letters were so sentimental and personal.” In today’s world of explicit and open displays of public affection, I found this era’s discreet expressions of passion and love to be both refreshing and romantic.  There were often long periods of time where the lovers were stationed abroad and the mail was the only connection they had to each other.  Today our military are oftentimes able to connect to their families and loved ones through instant email, texting and video link-ups.  But during WWII, families often went weeks without any idea of the location or status of their loved one.
     And all the ladies echoed this same sentiment:  “The nation prayed a lot.  We prayed openly in our churches for our military, and we would conduct all-night prayer vigils.  We prayed in school the first thing each morning, along with standing and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.  It was common for Bible verses to be read over the loud speakers at the beginning of each day.”
     Jeannie Paxton’s cousin was a living example of the power of prayer during the War. “My cousin Albert lied about his age, and went into the military before WWII at the age of 13.  He served in Africa, and later went up through Europe and ended up fighting at the Battle of the Bulge.”
     The Battle of the Bulge was fought in the Ardennes Mountains region of Belgium during the brutal winter months of December 1944 through January 1945.  Estimates of American casualties range as high as 89,000, with 19,000 killed and as many as 26,000 captured and missing.   It was the single largest and costliest battle for the American military during WWII.
     “I’ll never forget the day he came home.  It was near Christmas of 1945 and my brother went to the bus station in Spartanburg to pick him up.  My mother had made a huge breakfast for him: biscuits, red-eye gravy, ham and sausage.  He sat down at the table and just cried.
     He said to my mother, ‘Aunt Patsy, I know you were praying for me when I was at the Battle of the Bulge, and I want to thank you.  I was in a foxhole and people were dying all around me.  Everyone in that foxhole, but me, was killed.  I know that Jesus held that foxhole.’
     Jeannie continues, “The amazing thing was that we later figured out that the very night he survived, my mother had a sense that Albert was in the middle of a fierce battle.  She stayed up all that night, praying for him, and he knew that was the reason he was alive.”
     Another common memory was how much the nation sacrificed for each other and the war effort.  Jeannie Paxton made sure I understood the way it was. “They didn’t ask us to sacrifice.  They didn’t have to!  We were willing to do it.  It was ‘What can I give up? What can I do?’ “ She laments that “Now it’s “What’s in it for me?’“
     Jeanne McNabb chimes in and shares a poignant memory.  “My dad, bless his heart, gave up his grandfather’s Civil War guns during a metal drive.”  Such was the sacrifice those citizens were willing to make. Everyone in the country was behind the war effort.  Movie stars used their popularity to sell war bonds, and several high profile stars even put their careers on hold to serve their country. My, how times have changed!
    But sacrifice was the byword of the nation.  Rationing became commonplace among American homes. Among the items rationed were coffee, sugar, gasoline, oil, kerosene, nylon and silk. All the women remembered giving up their nylon stockings, and they laughed, remembering how they would draw an imagined seam on the back of their legs to resemble the phantom stockings.   Wynette gave up sugar on her cereal and in iced tea, and doesn’t use it to this day.  Jeannie remembers that her in-laws mixed their small allotment of coffee with some kind of leaves.  Imagine asking Starbucks junkies to consider making that sacrifice!
     But the biggest sacrifice came in the number of American lives lost.  It is estimated that, over the course of the War, nearly 416,000 American military personnel died on the beaches of Normandy, in the fields of Europe, and among the islands of the Pacific.
     America paid a high price for securing the freedom of millions of Europeans and Asians from the diabolical plans of Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito. But with the end of the War, these returning soldiers and my four ladies set their lives in motion, taking the steps that would lead them to me.  And as each of the women reminisces about the young men they married, it is quite evident that their respect and love grew with the increasing years.
     Jeanne McNabb, who married at the beginning of the War, settled down in Central Texas.  Her husband Clint came home in 1946, and attended the University of Texas on the GI Bill.  While in college, he became a member of Alpha Chi Omega, a service organization, and followed up on his pre-war involvement with the Boy Scouts.  It was a life-long commitment, and an activity he so enjoyed.  His professional career included various sales jobs, and a major position with Retail Credit Company (now Equifax), which took his family to Corpus Christi, TX, Atlanta, GA, and back to Dallas, TX. In the early 1970’s, terrorism was becoming a threat to the nation, so Clint once again went to his country’s aid and served as a Sky Marshal.
     In his later years, Clint’s pride and joy was his garden, which included peach, pear, and plum trees, berries, and four raised vegetable gardens.   He was very successful, and the neighborhood benefited from his green thumb!  “He was a conservationist before it was popular.” Another of his loves was working with the youth of Irving, TX.  He was active in the baseball and football programs of his community.  Jeanne said she spent many hours sitting in the bleachers!  And then after 45 wonderful years of marriage, Clint passed away in 1989.
     But as with all of these men, Clint’s greatest legacy was his family.  Jeanne tells me how proud she is of their only child, Clinton Edward McNabb, now a Captain with Continental Airlines.  She also takes great pride in her two grand-daughters (both Texas A&M graduates) and her three great-grandchildren.
     Mary Ann Holcomb married her husband Bill, the high school soda jerk from the drugstore, in 1949.  Bill also went to college on the GI Bill, and they both were in school at the same time.  But she didn’t finish “because I was so in love and just wanted to be married.”.  He studied Business Administration at the University of Texas, and began working for the Texas Highway Department at a monthly salary of $300.  She remembers those lean, early years of their marriage and saving $500 for a vacation to California in 1951 or 52.
     Meanwhile, Bill’s career at the Highway Department lasted for 32 years.  He was the Assistant Director of the Purchasing Division for the entire state of Texas, and his duties included submitting the annual budget for the Department, as well as being in charge of Right-Of-Way purchases.
     When asked to describe her husband, Mary Ann’s first word was, “Wow!”  She is clearly moved.  “He was one of those tall, strong, quiet, and low-key types.”  She likens him to the actor Jimmy Stewart in both temperament and appearance.  “But he would light up the room when he walked in; people gravitated towards him.  He was affectionate, tender hearted and very romantic.  I guess you can tell how crazy I was about him!  My heart never failed to skip a beat when I heard his car in the driveway.  Honestly, to me, he was the most perfect, loving husband anyone could have.”  She was devastated when Bill died in 1981 at the age of 54 years from cancer. Their marriage lasted for 32 years and their only daughter, Judy, has provided Mary Ann with three wonderful grandchildren.
     In 1945, after the War, Wynette and Blue Templeton were married “in my home in Port Arthur, Texas; the only house I had ever lived in.”  After a honeymoon in Mexico City, they settled in Odessa, Texas where he worked for a plumbing company.  By 1948, Blue had become a Master Plumber, and joined with his boss to form Heath and Templeton Plumbing Shop in Midland, Texas.  In 1953, the family, which now included their three children, moved to a farm in La Pryor, Texas.
     The plumbing business had eroded and the state was undergoing a seven-year drought.   The family suffered through five or six hard years, trying to make a go of the farm.  So when the heavy construction business began emerging, Blue was quick to take advantage of his opportunities, and was able to support his family.  The business consisted primarily of installing pipelines for gas companies and installing underground irrigation pipe for area farmers.  By 1970, they owned two farms, a heavy equipment business and a retail business in Del Rio, Texas.
     Wynette had this to say about her husband:  “He was a man to be admired.  With little education and a lot of guts and determination, he made a success of his life.  He was very much an extrovert, and made friends easily—and had many.  He loved his family and his family loved him.”  Blue Templeton died October 25, 2001 in Canyon Lake, Texas.  He is buried in Coleman, Texas, where many of his ancestors lie.  He and Wynette had three children:  Dennis, Janis and Ann, and were blessed with two grandchildren.
     Jeannie and Joe Paxton were married after the war in 1946.  While attending college in South Carolina on the GI Bill, Joe taught at a trade school, helping men get their GED’s and then pointing them in the direction of jobs in the trades, such as brick-laying and plumbing.  He went on to get his degree in Chemical Engineering, and was employed by Dow Chemical, building chemical plants across the country.
     In 1951 the family moved to Texas.  “Joe was a very smart guy, and had a strong and determined personality.  You either liked him or you didn’t.  Of course, I thought he was so special!”  Jeannie adds that while engineering was his profession, Joe was a farmer at heart.  “And he loved to go fishing!”  And when Joe needed to escape the pressures of his professional world, he would turn to his love of architecture and designed homes and buildings to foster his creative side.
He and Jeannie had five children, four daughters and a son.  The love of Jeannie’s life was tragically taken from her, when Joe died in 1974, at the young age of 48.  The long life they had planned together was shortened way too early, when Joe was stricken by a heart attack.  Jeannie knows he would have been proud of their nine grandchildren.

     So these are the stories of four ordinary, yet remarkable, and unabashedly all-American young men, and the amazing women who loved them.   While their lives won’t be commemorated in any historical journals of the day, they led their lives in extraordinary and honorable ways. With thoughts only of responsibility and duty, they answered their Nation’s call, and earned the right to be called “The Greatest”.  And that title applies to those who fought, and those who waited at home.  
     I’d like to think that my dad would have recognized my motives for writing this memoir; to honor all those, who like him and his brother, Clint, Bill, Blue and Joe, stepped up to the plate, and in true American fashion, selflessly put their country first.  They sacrificed their youth and got the job done, then came home to get on with the business of living; loving their wives, raising children, and working diligently to provide a future for their families.  
     And I have to confess that I have another motive for writing this memoir.  I fear that only two generations past the lifetimes of these remarkable men, there is an attempt to alter the “heart and soul” of the American character.  The hopes and dreams of these men to provide a better world in which their children could work hard and flourish, has degenerated into an “entitlement” society.  They were proud to be called Americans and honored the heritage of those who came before them. 
     They also honored and feared their God, and the nation came together to pray for the safety of these men and for deliverance from the evils of war.  We would do well to mimic the simple lives of these amazing and faithful people.  Thank you for letting me share their story on the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Micah 6:8    “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”



 

   

     
   

   
   

     

Facing Darkness: A Story For The Ages

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Like my review on the new movie, Hacksaw Ridge, I feel compelled to point you to another inspiring true story… this one more recent.  And again, it is being portrayed on film, and is worthy of our attention; especially considering the largely perverted and exploitative entertainment industry. I will continue to praise and encourage the efforts of film-makers who accurately, and appropriately, promote our faith.    

      Even though Americans are now focused on the upcoming holidays, the news around the world reminds us that we are still in a physical and spiritual battle.  Fires rage in Israel; the Middle East is still in turmoil; mass graves are uncovered in Mexico; earthquakes in Japan and Central America remind us that the earth “trembles”; and our nation remains divided, as tens of thousands take to the street in protest. But even in the midst of these disheartening headlines, there is a story that will lift you up and inspire you.  While it is another story ripped from the headlines, it speaks to all of mankind through history.

     I’m sure none of you have forgotten the fear that struck the world in late summer of 2014 when the Ebola virus broke out in West Africa.  And I’m sure you still recall the image of Dr. Kent Brantley — the first person infected with the deadly virus on U.S. soil — being walked into Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, after being flown from Africa in a desperate move to save his life.
     His story, and that of his wife Amber, is a moving tribute to their faith in God while in the heart of darkness.  And now, there is a gripping documentary, titled Facing Darkness, from Franklin Graham and Samaritan’s Purse.  The film has not only won the Accolade Global Film Competition’s Award of Excellence, but has also received the Best Feature Documentary Premiere Award at the 2016 Heartland Film Festival.  The film festival celebrated its 25th anniversary this year and featured more than 130 independent films out of 250 entrants. It is not affiliated with Christian nor conservative organizations, and is an independent nonprofit arts organization, with a mission to “inspire filmmakers and audiences through the transformative power of film.” Heartland selects films that “inspire and uplift, educate and inform, or have the ability to shift audience’s perspectives on the world.”
     And with its powerful message of faith, we can only hope that Facing Darkness will have such an impact upon the world audience.  In a statement to the press, the festival’s director of programming and marketing said the film was “a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of conviction and hope in the face of despair.”  Isn’t that the real story of the human race?  Aren’t we all in a battle to find hope in a world that is doomed to judgment and destruction unless we surrender to the power that is faith in Jesus? And isn’t our mission here on earth to serve others in the likeness of our Savior; even to the point of death, if that’s where it leads?
     That is the story of Dr. Kent Brantley and hygienist, Nancy Writebol, both missionaries working for Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization that provides aid to people in physical need as a key part of Christian missionary work.  The organization is run by Dr. Franklin Graham, who serves as President and CEO.
     The film was shot in Liberia and the U.S. where the events took place. The story highlights the lives of heroes who risked their own health and life in an effort to stop one of the deadliest epidemics this century. Ebola infected more than 28,000 people in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, and 11,000 lives succumbed to the disease. Think how easy it would have been for Dr. Brantley, and the others who worked with him, to simply ask to be evacuated, leaving the problem of Ebola to the people and authorities in Africa.  But that’s not who they were. They put others before themselves, in a true example of Christian concern for the sufferings of others.  “Samaritan’s Purse workers were holding the last line of defense in a crisis the world was largely ignoring,” said Graham. “Hundreds were dying and it was only growing worse. When the disease struck Kent and Nancy, we knew we had to get them home for treatment. It was their only chance, yet it was something no one had ever done.”

     But the film is about more than the advances in science and medicine that made their eventual cure possible.  It is about facing the fear and the darkness of despair and the absence of hope.  “Faith is not something that makes you safe,” Dr. Brantly is quoted as saying when describing his decision to stay in the country and fight the disease. “You had to face death in the eye and decide, ‘Who am I going to be today?'” And when you think about it, that is a decision we each have to make — every minute of every day. But do we make that decision consciously and deliberately, or do we go about our day only responding to those things that affect us? Are we aware of who or what image we are displaying to the world? Do we act like Christ lives in us, or do we react from our own fleshly desires?  Those may sound like pointless and existential questions, but isn’t that precisely what God asks of us?
     Dr. Kent Brantley took those questions seriously.  And his testimony is a reminder to us, that if we proclaim to be a Christian, we have a responsibility to the One who saved us: “Even when I was facing death, I remained full of faith. I did not want to be faithful to God all the way up to serving in Liberia for ten months, only to give up at the end because I was sick… We have to choose compassion over fear. We cannot let fear be the motivating force for the decisions we make in life, for the way we treat other people,” he said. “There are a lot of big things going on in our world right now and in our country. I think this story can help us navigate those other experiences as well, as we wrestle with the challenge of choosing compassion over fear, and treating other people out of a sense of respect and love, and not out of a sense of fear and self-preservation”. Sounds a lot like how Christ lived His life, doesn’t it?
     To further emphasize this point, Franklin Graham says, “I think when there’s a crisis, God wants us to be there. He doesn’t want us to run away. God put us there [in Liberia] for a reason, and He expected us to do something about it.” This is the same story of Jesus’s three years as God in the flesh. The existence of God’s chosen people, the Jews, had come to a crisis. And God wanted to be there, in the flesh, to convict them and to cause a change in how they viewed Him. God chose to do something about the state of those He had chosen, and ultimately, all whom He has created. So He came in the flesh, as His Son, Jesus; fully man.  And as that man, He did not run away.  He did not ask to be “evacuated”, even though, like Dr. Brantley, He could have asked to be rescued from His impending death. Instead, He stayed and served.

     There are other similarities between Kent Brantley’s story and our commission to serve as Jesus did.  Brantly’s decision to stay was particularly heroic, especially considering the fact that escalating native opposition added to his perils. “Complicating the situation – after years of civil war – the people of Liberia deeply distrusted any authority and went so far as to blame the aid workers for spreading the disease,” the documentary’s release explained. “Hospitals and people were attacked. Yet the Samaritan’s Purse team continued to serve.” In His day, Jesus’s message was controversial, too, and eventually, those He came to serve began to blame Him for the increasing pressure from their own Jewish officials and the Roman authorities.  Yet He continued to offer hope and to attend to those He came to serve.
     So this inspirational story brings me to this conclusion:  What is the crisis in your life — whether large or small — the crossroads where you get to choose how you are going to act towards another person? Do you automatically weigh how your decision will affect you — or do you selflessly consider only how you can make another person’s life better? Dr. Brantley faced true darkness … despair in the face of an agonizing death.  Like our Savior, He was willing to sacrifice himself, in the desire to show compassion to another human being, while offering the possibility to save a life.  While Kent Brantley only offered life in this world, Jesus offers it for eternity.  And all He asks is that we love our God with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourself … whether that neighbor is next door, or a world away. And no matter how big or small our neighbor’s crisis may be… that we simply answer the call and choose compassion over fear in service to others. In doing so, we will be facing our own darkness, and triumphing in the spirit of Christ!

Facing Darkness will be released on March 30, 2017 in select theaters around the country.  You can watch the trailer here.  Thanks to The Christian Post and One News Now websites for their reporting on this inspirational story.  

Isaiah 41:10   ‘Do not fear [anything], for I am with you; Do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, be assured I will help you; I will certainly take hold of you with My righteous right hand [a hand of justice, of power, of victory, of salvation].’


   

   

“I Have Run The Race and Won My Crown”

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2 Timothy 4:7-8:   I have fought the good and worthy and noble fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith [firmly guarding the gospel against error].  In the future there is reserved for me the [victor’s] crown of righteousness [for being right with God and doing right], which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that [great] day—and not to me only, but also to all those who have loved and longed for and welcomed His appearing.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27:   Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.  But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

     If you have been following this blog for very long, then you know that I love history, and especially Biblical history.  You will also know that our Home Church group is studying the Book of Acts.  We have arrived at Chapter 9 in our study and worship of God and the Bible, and although this chapter features the important event of Saul’s conversion, I found myself curious about where one of the seemingly minor verses led me.
     In Acts 9:30, Scripture tells us that the Brothers in Christ sent Saul off to Tarsus after his preaching in Jerusalem won him some enemies among the Greek Jews (Hellenists) who then tried to assassinate him.  Initially, I wondered how far from Jerusalem Tarsus might be.  When I discovered that it was 356 miles, and then remembered that this was Paul’s home town, I wondered if this was some form of encouragement from the Brothers for Paul to soften his approach in his preaching by removing him from situations that could harm the growing Church.  
     You see, we don’t really hear from Paul again for 14, nearly 15 years.  He informs us [in Galatians, Chapter 1] that immediately after his conversion, he went to Arabia for an undisclosed time and then went back to Damascus.  He then tells us that three years later, he went to Jerusalem and stayed with Peter for 15 days.  In Galatians, Chapter 2, he informs us that he taught and preached in the regions of Cilicia (where his hometown of Tarsus was located) and Syria, before returning to Jerusalem fourteen years later.
     So what was he doing during those 14 years, and what does it have to do with the verses I chose today?  We are all familiar with these verses which bring to mind athletic competitions, running races, and winning prizes.  But I was fascinated to find that during these particular 14 years that Paul was absent from Jerusalem, the Olympics were held in Antioch in the year 44 A.D.
     This sporting event affected all of the Roman Empire. It gathered representatives from far-off cities, created new trade links and promoted the cultural life of the time.  It is very possible that the commercial “world exhibitions” connected with the Olympics also tied Paul’s family business of tent-making to the Antioch exhibition. At the same time he may have followed the Olympic competitors’ sports performances.
     It certainly appears so, from the references in 2 Timothy and 1 Corinthians.  It is apparent that Paul is comparing an athlete’s race to that of a Christian’s; with both earning the prize of  the victor’s crown at the successful completion of the race.  I know that some people have a problem with the idea of Christians and  “rewards”, falsely assuming that this promotes a doctrine of “works for salvation”.  But there are five heavenly crowns specifically mentioned in the New Testament that will be awarded to believers.  Jesus, Himself, in His message to the Church in Philadelphia, says, “I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown”.
     And Paul knew there was a crown of righteousness waiting for him in heaven, and he was ready to receive it. He was certain of it.  He plainly states it in 2 Timothy 4.  Some people may wonder if we will walk around heaven with crowns on, and everyone will notice who has the bigger and better crowns. But in Revelation 4:10, the elders surrounding the throne of God take their crowns and cast them before Jesus – giving any trophy or reward they have received right back to Him. I have a suspicion that we will do the same; acknowledging that His work on the Cross made it possible for us to receive the crown in the first place.
     But I want to point out that there is another reference to an actual sporting event in the verses in 1 Corinthians 9.  Every other year in the city of Corinth, they organized the famous Isthmus Games outside the city. They were second in prestige only to the Olympics. At them the sportsman had to swear that he had trained for the games for ten months and was ready to compete according to the rules.
     So, you can see in these verses that Paul is careful to stress “self-control” and the possibility of being “disqualified” — terminology that refers to his spirit mastering his flesh, and the possible loss of his reward [not salvation]. In the terminology of sports, “disqualified” signifies a person who has been rejected by the judges of the games, as not having deserved the prize. So Paul is concerned that he might be rejected by the great Judge; and to prevent this, he ran, he contended, he denied himself, and brought his body into subjection to his spirit, and had his spirit governed by the Spirit of God.  All this points to the fact, that as a Christian, we must take our entrance into the eternal Kingdom of God seriously; not everyone will complete the race; and how we run the race truly matters.
     In the end, both 2 Timothy 4 and 1 Corinthians 9 point to the imperishable crown that we will receive at the judgment seat of Christ, where believers are rewarded based on how faithfully they served Christ.  How well did I perform the Great Commission?  How victorious was I over sin?  Did I obey the Lord when He prompted me to act on His part, or did I only consider my own desires?  This is the Bema Seat Judgment, reserved for Believers.  And it is a promise for all of us – but only if we will set our focus on heaven and on Jesus, who both walked the earth and now reigns in heaven, who is waiting to receive us .. ready to congratulate us on participating in a race well-run.  
         



Ruling The Tribes of Israel: Democracy or Representative Republic?

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     In this season of political malcontents, we are seeing a deliberate attempt to disqualify our Presidential election results.  We hear complaints that the voice of the multitudes should be the deciding factor, since Hillary Clinton won the popular vote.  “We are a Democracy, and democratic rules should apply”, they scream. Others are shouting, “No, we are a representative republic!”  Which is it?
     Here’s what everyone needs to understand:  Terminology is very important. A common definition of “republic” is, to quote the American Heritage Dictionary, “A political order in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who are entitled to vote for officers and representatives responsible to them” — we are that. A common definition of “democracy” is, “Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives” — we are that, too.
     The United States is not a direct democracy, in the sense of a country in which laws (and other government decisions) are made predominantly by majority vote. But we are a representative democracy, which is a form of democracy. But we are also a constitutional democracy, in which courts restrain, in some measure, the democratic will. And the United States is therefore also a constitutional republic. Indeed, the United States might be labeled a constitutional federal representative democracy.
     Our problem in understanding our form of government is inherently a problem in education.  I’m afraid our schools do not teach the truth about the founding of our form of government, and they certainly do not teach the Biblical foundation upon which our government was structured.  That’s right! We can look to the Bible to see how God structured governing rules for the Tribes of Israel. And then we can decide if that was the model our Founding Fathers had in mind.
    The republican form of government, as we know it, is representative (not democratic) so that a selected group of leaders make national decisions. Those leaders may be selected by popular consent, but decisions about specific laws are not voted on by everyone. Thus, in a republic, it is not a single king or ruler who decides policy, nor is it a vote of every man, rather it is the vote of representatives of the people who make decisions for the nation.

     And we can see that model in God’s revealed plan for human government through the Hebrew republic founded under Moses and Joshua in the Old Testament. For instance, when Joshua presided over the division of Israel (described in Joshua 18:4-5), where seven tribes had yet to receive their tribal lands, the people were to select three men from each tribe. But Joshua was to “send them”, words which seem to indicate a consecration, a sending, as the men went forth to represent their respective tribes. The governmental work of dividing up the land was not done by Joshua alone, and it was not done by democratic vote. It was accomplished through representatives under the authority of an executive (Joshua) and the election of the people. This is an example of their republic in action.
      There are many other references to the chiefs of the people, or of the princes, and how they interacted on behalf of the people. All of these were a model for American thought during our founding period, helping to keep us from the despotism of a too strong central authority, or from the mob-rule of a democracy.
     Ancient Israel also provided the original example of ‘We the People’ through their covenantal oaths at the outset of their national experiment. Though they were twelve tribes, God treated them as a single nation traveling together in a single cause in a united land.  We the People, is a term used to describe that uniting of individual free states under a Godly, covenantal structure.
     We the People who established the nation or exercised its highest powers. Those pagan nations were never able to maintain an advantageous combination of representative government with an executive head. The citizens forever found themselves caught between the oppressions of violent, lawless monarchs or the tyranny of anarchy.

     I’m pretty sure that when our Founding Fathers were writing the Constitution, they did not have the Roman or Greek Empires in mind.  In those governments it was not
     No, it was the Hebrew republic that defined and gave an example for a righteous civil government. Just read the opening lines of our Constitution:  We the People, of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. Can you see the example that the Hebrew covenant with their God and their fellow tribesmen provided?
     During the founding era of our nation the broadly accepted law commentary was Blackstone’s.  These were Commentaries on the Laws of England, an influential 18th-century treatise on the common law of England by Sir William Blackstone, originally published by the Clarendon Press at Oxford, 1765–1769.  Sir Blackstone assumed everywhere in his commentary that the law of Moses was entirely valid and still the only right basis for any nation. God’s law was assumed as the foundation for common law rulings. It was the law of the people and the law of our land in the early years. As we became more atheistic and godless we traded God’s law, the law of the Hebrew republic, for man-made statute law. Now we are oppressed by an unending myriad of statutes that bind us hand and foot while they wind their way through Washington.
     So, it’s time to stop the rants and tirades, demanding that we need to abide by our “democratic” principles of government.  That is not the basis for our form of government. We must recognize that God’s precepts for government, civil authority, justice, and liberty are the foundation of this nation.  And as I view the ridiculous demands for endless recounts and demolishing the Electoral College, I would remind all that the Hebrew republic was united under a single system of unchanging law. We would do well to look to God’s model for government, trusting it, and remaining in it. Nations come and go, but God’s form of government never changes.  Let us not veer from His path.

Thank you to Don Schanzenbach for his article, “Biblical Plan for Representative Government”.

Deuteronomy 16:18-20  “You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

Thoughts on Heroism, Discipleship, and Loyalty To God

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Desmond Doss

     My last post focused on Desmond Doss, an Army Medic and real-life hero of WWII, who vowed to serve both his country and his God, no matter the cost.  As he told a military tribunal who tried to court martial him for his refusal to carry a weapon, “With the world so set on tearing itself apart, it don’t [sic] seem like such a bad thing to me to put a little bit of it back together.”
     As I stated in the prior post, Doss single-handedly saved at least 75 men during one of the most horrific battles of the War, on the island of Okinawa.  At times, it may seem as if those kinds of heroes are vanishing, as we lose the last of the Greatest Generation.  But what Desmond Doss stood for will never be lost as long as there is one man or one woman willing to take a stand for their freedom of conscience… the right to follow our own beliefs in matters of religion and morality.
     As Stephen Greydanus, a writer at the National Catholic Register, expressed, “Desmond Doss is a hero for our own troubled times”.  And as fellow writer Eric Metaxes expounds, it isn’t only in the arena of war where freedom of conscience needs to play a part … “Times in which florists and bakers are being hauled before civil rights commissions, being fined, losing their businesses; times in which pharmacists in Washington State can lose their licenses for refusing to dispense abortion pills; times in which churches in Massachusetts can run afoul of “public accommodation” laws requiring gender neutral bathrooms — we do indeed have a model in Desmond Doss”.
     And Metaxes, as a writer, is very familiar with another hero of that time, Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  In his masterful book, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, Metaxas tells us of the challenges Bonhoeffer faced in reconciling his faith, his moral ethics, and the politics of the day, which were quite diabolical in Nazi Germany. How does a committed Christian deal with the prospect of conflict with the Enemy on the battlefield?  While Doss and Bonhoeffer ultimately made different decisions on how they would be obedient to God, they both followed their consciences according to what they discerned was their instruction in the Bible.
     Doss determined that he would serve his fellow man by putting him first; willing to endanger, and even sacrifice, his own life in order to save another’s.  He would save lives, rather than take them, choosing to live out, Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.  Bonhoeffer, however, was faced with how to stop the demonic actions of Adolph Hitler, the anti-Christ of his times. Like Doss, Dietrich knew the 6th Commandment, Thou shalt not kill.  But he faced the moral dilemma of doing nothing to stop the murder of 6,000,000 Jews.  He finally came to the conclusion that he trusted God to understand his motives in becoming involved in an assassination attempt on Hitler.  To Bonhoeffer, it had come down to God’s admonition to Hate evil, love good, And establish justice in the gate! Both men exercised their freedom of conscience, and they took their accountability to God not only seriously, but solemnly.
     So, are we all capable of being as heroic as Doss or Bonhoeffer?  We may not find ourselves in the midst of a gruesome battlefield, or at the immediate center of a moral and ethical dilemma, but, as Christians, we are all in a battle with our culture, and the increasingly compromising positions of our Churches and governmental officials.  And like Doss and Bonhoeffer, we must decide how we are to act, as we find ourselves inside the collective drama.  We cannot, and must not, separate ourselves from the world.  But it is going to take courage to be and maintain the image of Christ, while all around us, the darkest impulses of the human will try to overwhelm and defeat us.
     If we are true to our faith, we know where our citizenship lies.  In fact, we are already there with Jesus, in spirit.  We just have to conform our mind, emotions, will, and these temporary bodies to the heavenly conviction of our spirit, and then let our actions show who we are.  It is not enough to pray… although we should not abandon sending our petitions heavenward.  We must be totally committed to our Biblical morals and completely loyal to God; acting on our faith, not just believing.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

     And it will cost us.  Discipleship in the Name of Jesus will not be a road easily traveled.  We can look at the lives of all the Apostles and see what it cost them. And in the cases of Doss and Bonhoeffer, we can see how loyalty to their God resulted in very different outcomes — one’s actions led to a hero’s medal; the other to execution by hanging. I know that there will be those who say that Bonhoeffer’s path was wrong and can never be accepted nor forgiven by God.  But my thoughts turn to King David, and his actions in having Uriah killed so that he could lie with Bathsheba.
     As theologian and Hebrew scholar, Michael Heiser, so eloquently writes in his fantastic book, The Unseen Realm, “King David was guilty of the worst of crimes against humanity in the incident with Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite.  He was clearly in violation of the law and deserving of death.  Neverthless, his belief in who Yahweh was among all the gods never wavered.  God was merciful to him, sparing him from death, this his sin had consequences the rest of his life.”  The lesson here, is that personal failure, even the worst kind, as exhibited by Bonhoeffer, will not separate you from God’s mercy. Although Bonhoeffer was not spared from death [as King David was], he never disavowed his loyalty to God, nor doubted YHWH’s loyalty to him.
     In the final minutes of his life, before being led to the gallows, he led a short service for fellow prisoners, praying, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By His great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Then he asked that a message be delivered to Bishop Bell in London; the message reading that “this was the end, but for him also the beginning of life, and that the ultimate victory of their cause – a universal Christian brotherhood rising above all national interest – was certain”.
     The prison doctor, who witnessed the execution recorded this impression: “Through the half-open door in one room of the huts I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God”.
     So, how will we, as modern day Christians, exhibit our loyalty and discipleship to our Lord?  We have seen in the examples of Desmond Doss and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the very picture of heroism — two entirely different men, but both committed to acting out their faith. Neither set out to become a hero, and I wage that neither welcomed the mantle. Each man simply followed his heart; a heart set on being obedient to the will of God. Not a simple thing to do in this world.  But ultimately, I believe that we can all be heroes to someone in need of the image of Christ in their life… a bright light in the midst of the darkest time in their life. And I know in my spirit that God will honor our actions on His behalf. He’s just looking for willing participants.

Isaiah 50:7-8:  “But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near…”
   

Movie Recommendation: Hacksaw Ridge

     I was intrigued by the movie trailer of Mel Gibson’s new movie, Hacksaw Ridge.  As Director, how would he incorporate God into a story of the hell that is War? His movie, Passion of the Christ, had moved me over a decade before, depicting both the tragic human story and the glorious divinity of my Savior, Jesus Christ.  As it turned out, he stayed true to the real-life account of his movie’s hero, and this man’s story is enough to inspire all of us who love the Lord.
     I have to admit that while watching the carnage of the battle to capture the Maeda Escarpment, an imposing rock face the soldiers called Hacksaw Ridge, tears streamed down my face, as I thought, “How much God must be grieved by war; to see the brutality that His creation can heap upon one another.”  But I can say that there were an equal number of tears at the depiction of the man who unfailingly and ceaselessly displayed Christ in the midst of that hell on earth which was Okinawa in World War II.
     Hacksaw Ridge is the story of Desmond Doss, an Army medic who, as a Seventh-Day Adventist, served in WWII as a conscientious objector… and won the Medal of Honor!  That’s right … Doss was awarded the Medal of Honor, which is the United States of America’s highest military honor, awarded for personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty.  And he did it without ever carrying a weapon or firing a shot!  
     Doss was certainly heroic on the battlefield, dodging a barrage of gunfire and explosions, as he crawled on the ground from wounded soldier to wounded soldier. He dragged severely injured men [who had been abandoned as the Americans retreated] to the edge of the ridge, tied a rope around their bodies and lowered them down to other medics below. And then he returned to the battlefield again… and again … and again. He repeatedly ran into the heat of battle to treat a fallen comrade and carry him back to safety; all within a 12-hour period. In his customary modesty, Doss estimated that he saved 50 soldiers.  The Army estimated 100; so the official record settled on 75.  In Doss’s own words, he says: “I was praying the whole time. I just kept praying, ‘Lord, please help me get one more.’ “
     While his performance on the battlefield defied the odds — one veteran of Hacksaw Ridge said, “It’s as if God had his hand on [Doss’] shoulder. It’s the only explanation I can give” — it was how he conducted himself prior to going into battle that inspires me and causes me to take the measure of my own commitment to my faith.  Desmond took the teachings of the Bible seriously and literally. He fervently believed in the 6th Commandment … Thou shalt not kill … and was convinced that he could meet the moral obligation he felt to serve his country [defending not only freedom, but religious liberty] by becoming a medic, and as he put it, “be like Christ: saving life instead of taking life.”

     The movie realistically portrays the physical, emotional, and psychological abuse Desmond faced at the hands of his comrades and military superiors.  At each step of his very real persecution, he never disavowed his faith or his determination to serve his God.  At one poignant moment in the film, as the slaughter of American GI’s surrounds him, he kneels and asks, “God, what would you have me do”?  And at that moment, in the midst of fleeing and retreating soldiers, he hears the cry of the wounded left behind, and he never hesitates.  He charges into the face of hell, willing to die so that another might live.  There is no higher calling for a Christian than to give his life for another, and Desmond Doss fit that profile, perfectly.
     His official biography reads [partially] as follows: “Eventually, the Americans took Hacksaw Ridge. Okinawa was captured inch by bloody inch. Several days later, during an unsuccessful night raid, Desmond was severely wounded. Hiding in a shell hole with two riflemen, a Japanese grenade landed at his feet. The explosion sent him flying. The shrapnel tore into his leg and up to his hip. He treated his own wounds as best he could. While attempting to reach safety, he was hit by a sniper’s bullet that shattered his arm. His brave actions as a combat medic were done. But not before insisting that his litter-bearers take another man first before rescuing him. Wounded, in pain, and losing blood, he still put others ahead of his own safety. He would choose to die so another could live. After all, that’s what he read in his Bible. Such was the character demonstrated by Jesus Christ”.
     As one magazine article characterized him, “Private Desmond Doss walked into the bloodiest battle of World War II’s Pacific theater with nothing to protect himself save for his Bible and his faith in God”.  And I think it was his confidence and trust and unwavering belief in the God of the Bible that so moved me.  He took the assaults on his physical body and his character as a badge of honor; to suffer for Jesus was his due.  He took the words of the Bible in 1 Peter 2:20-21 seriously and personally:  But if when you do what is right and patiently bear [undeserved] suffering, this finds favor with God.  For [as a believer] you have been called for this purpose, since Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you may follow in His footsteps.    
     From the time he was a child and gazed upon a large framed picture of the Ten Commandments in his home, he felt God telling him, “If you love Me, you will not kill”.  He stayed true to that conviction through brutal and sadistic hazing in Boot Camp; through attempts by the Military Command to prove him mentally unstable (due to his faith); and through the courage he displayed as he charged into certain death to save another man … this latter description depicting the simple truth of Jesus Christ.
    While there are some who are criticizing this movie as American war propaganda, it is obvious they do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ.  The movie certainly depicts the ugliness and terror of war; spotlighting the blood and guts and gore that can be inflicted upon the human body.  But at the heart of this movie is one man’s love for, and obedience to, his God.  It is about unfaltering, relentless, and unquestioning faith in the face of human injustice and diabolical brutality.  The simple, sincere way in which Desmond Doss practices that steadfast faith is beautiful to watch on screen.  If you are a Christian, he will make you jealous of such ardent and passionate faith.  Desmond Doss will move you to tears, and make your heart swell with respect and admiration for him and for the film.  To watch a movie that doesn’t shy away from promoting such fierce faith — and to make it authentic and honest as the central storyline, without pandering for the “Faith Dollar at the Box Office” — is both encouraging and heartening.  The young actor, Andrew Garfield, who played Desmond Doss, is outstanding and portrayed Doss’s sacrificial faith with a genuineness that cannot be faked.
     I highly recommend that you see this movie.  It glorifies the life of a true Christian hero.  But more than that, it is a film that displays what the power of Jesus Christ in one man can do to change the lives of so many others.  I have no doubt that Desmond Doss received crowns in heaven, and this film is a crowning accomplishment for Mel Gibson as its Director. I could watch it again and again — it’s that inspiring.

Isaiah 40:31   “But those who wait for the Lord [who expect, look for, and hope in Him] will gain new strength and renew their power; They will lift up their wings [and rise up close to God] like eagles [rising toward the sun]; They will run and not become weary, They will walk and not grow tired”. 

Movie Recommendation: Hacksaw Ridge

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     I was intrigued by the movie trailer of Mel Gibson’s new movie, Hacksaw Ridge.  As Director, how would he incorporate God into a story of the hell that is War? His movie, Passion of the Christ, had moved me over a decade before, depicting both the tragic human story and the glorious divinity of my Savior, Jesus Christ.  As it turned out, he stayed true to the real-life account of his movie’s hero, and this man’s story is enough to inspire all of us who love the Lord.
     I have to admit that while watching the carnage of the battle to capture the Maeda Escarpment, an imposing rock face the soldiers called Hacksaw Ridge, tears streamed down my face, as I thought, “How much God must be grieved by war; to see the brutality that His creation can heap upon one another.”  But I can say that there were an equal number of tears at the depiction of the man who unfailingly and ceaselessly displayed Christ in the midst of that hell on earth which was Okinawa in World War II.
     Hacksaw Ridge is the story of Desmond Doss, an Army medic who, as a Seventh-Day Adventist, served in WWII as a conscientious objector… and won the Medal of Honor!  That’s right … Doss was awarded the Medal of Honor, which is the United States of America’s highest military honor, awarded for personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty.  And he did it without ever carrying a weapon or firing a shot!  
     Doss was certainly heroic on the battlefield, dodging a barrage of gunfire and explosions, as he crawled on the ground from wounded soldier to wounded soldier. He dragged severely injured men [who had been abandoned as the Americans retreated] to the edge of the ridge, tied a rope around their bodies and lowered them down to other medics below. And then he returned to the battlefield again… and again … and again. He repeatedly ran into the heat of battle to treat a fallen comrade and carry him back to safety; all within a 12-hour period. In his customary modesty, Doss estimated that he saved 50 soldiers.  The Army estimated 100; so the official record settled on 75.  In Doss’s own words, he says: “I was praying the whole time. I just kept praying, ‘Lord, please help me get one more.’ “
     While his performance on the battlefield defied the odds — one veteran of Hacksaw Ridge said, “It’s as if God had his hand on [Doss’] shoulder. It’s the only explanation I can give” — it was how he conducted himself prior to going into battle that inspires me and causes me to take the measure of my own commitment to my faith.  Desmond took the teachings of the Bible seriously and literally. He fervently believed in the 6th Commandment … Thou shalt not kill … and was convinced that he could meet the moral obligation he felt to serve his country [defending not only freedom, but religious liberty] by becoming a medic, and as he put it, “be like Christ: saving life instead of taking life.”

     The movie realistically portrays the physical, emotional, and psychological abuse Desmond faced at the hands of his comrades and military superiors.  At each step of his very real persecution, he never disavowed his faith or his determination to serve his God.  At one poignant moment in the film, as the slaughter of American GI’s surrounds him, he kneels and asks, “God, what would you have me do”?  And at that moment, in the midst of fleeing and retreating soldiers, he hears the cry of the wounded left behind, and he never hesitates.  He charges into the face of hell, willing to die so that another might live.  There is no higher calling for a Christian than to give his life for another, and Desmond Doss fit that profile, perfectly.
     His official biography reads [partially] as follows: “Eventually, the Americans took Hacksaw Ridge. Okinawa was captured inch by bloody inch. Several days later, during an unsuccessful night raid, Desmond was severely wounded. Hiding in a shell hole with two riflemen, a Japanese grenade landed at his feet. The explosion sent him flying. The shrapnel tore into his leg and up to his hip. He treated his own wounds as best he could. While attempting to reach safety, he was hit by a sniper’s bullet that shattered his arm. His brave actions as a combat medic were done. But not before insisting that his litter-bearers take another man first before rescuing him. Wounded, in pain, and losing blood, he still put others ahead of his own safety. He would choose to die so another could live. After all, that’s what he read in his Bible. Such was the character demonstrated by Jesus Christ”.
     As one magazine article characterized him, “Private Desmond Doss walked into the bloodiest battle of World War II’s Pacific theater with nothing to protect himself save for his Bible and his faith in God”.  And I think it was his confidence and trust and unwavering belief in the God of the Bible that so moved me.  He took the assaults on his physical body and his character as a badge of honor; to suffer for Jesus was his due.  He took the words of the Bible in 1 Peter 2:20-21 seriously and personally:  But if when you do what is right and patiently bear [undeserved] suffering, this finds favor with God.  For [as a believer] you have been called for this purpose, since Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you may follow in His footsteps.    
     From the time he was a child and gazed upon a large framed picture of the Ten Commandments in his home, he felt God telling him, “If you love Me, you will not kill”.  He stayed true to that conviction through brutal and sadistic hazing in Boot Camp; through attempts by the Military Command to prove him mentally unstable (due to his faith); and through the courage he displayed as he charged into certain death to save another man … this latter description depicting the simple truth of Jesus Christ.
    While there are some who are criticizing this movie as American war propaganda, it is obvious they do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ.  The movie certainly depicts the ugliness and terror of war; spotlighting the blood and guts and gore that can be inflicted upon the human body.  But at the heart of this movie is one man’s love for, and obedience to, his God.  It is about unfaltering, relentless, and unquestioning faith in the face of human injustice and diabolical brutality.  The simple, sincere way in which Desmond Doss practices that steadfast faith is beautiful to watch on screen.  If you are a Christian, he will make you jealous of such ardent and passionate faith.  Desmond Doss will move you to tears, and make your heart swell with respect and admiration for him and for the film.  To watch a movie that doesn’t shy away from promoting such fierce faith — and to make it authentic and honest as the central storyline, without pandering for the “Faith Dollar at the Box Office” — is both encouraging and heartening.  The young actor, Andrew Garfield, who played Desmond Doss, is outstanding and portrayed Doss’s sacrificial faith with a genuineness that cannot be faked.
     I highly recommend that you see this movie.  It glorifies the life of a true Christian hero.  But more than that, it is a film that displays what the power of Jesus Christ in one man can do to change the lives of so many others.  I have no doubt that Desmond Doss received crowns in heaven, and this film is a crowning accomplishment for Mel Gibson as its Director. I could watch it again and again — it’s that inspiring.

Isaiah 40:31   “But those who wait for the Lord [who expect, look for, and hope in Him] will gain new strength and renew their power; They will lift up their wings [and rise up close to God] like eagles [rising toward the sun]; They will run and not become weary, They will walk and not grow tired”. 

Isaiah 12

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And on that day you will say, “I will give thanks to You, O Lord; For though You were angry with me, 
Your anger has turned away, And You comfort me.

“Behold, God, my salvation! I will trust and not be afraid, For the Lord God is my strength and song;
Yes, He has become my salvation.”

Therefore with joy you will draw water from the springs of salvation.

And in that day you will say, “Give thanks to the Lord, call on His name [in prayer]. Make His deeds known among the peoples [of the earth]; Proclaim [to them] that His name is exalted!”

Sing praises to the Lord, for He has done excellent                                                                                      and glorious things; Let this be known throughout                                                                                    the earth.
                                                                             Rejoice and shout for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
                                                                             For great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

     The Amplified version of the Bible calls Isaiah, Chapter 12, “Thanksgiving Expressed”, and I found it so suitable as we end a week of Thanksgiving festivities.  So let’s break it down, and see exactly how the Prophet expressed his thankfulness.
     In the previous chapter, the Prophet Isaiah spoke powerfully of the reign of the Messiah as King over all the earth. Chapter 12 expresses his praise that comes from the heart of one who has surrendered to the Messiah as King, and enjoys the benefits of His reign.
     How many of us can say that we still praise God, even when we sense His anger or disappointment with us?  And how many of you believe that under the New Covenant, God no longer gets angry, but is simply a God of Mercy and Grace?  True, we might feel that all the anger and wrath of God against us was poured out upon His Son on the cross. In this sense, there is no more anger from God towards us, because His anger has been “exhausted.” But I think there is also a sense in which we receive chastening or discipline from the LORD, which certainly feels like His anger.
     While we can acknowledge this anger, and it certainly feels unpleasant, it really shows the fatherly love of God instead of His hatred. So how dear and wonderful is that comfort that comes after the discipline?  Especially when we know the chastening will come to an end?
     I love the passion with which Isaiah expresses, “Behold, God is my salvation”!  He feels this so deeply that he says it twice in the same verse.  To say God is my salvation is also to say, “I am not my salvation. My good works, my good intentions, my good thoughts do not save me. God is my salvation.” 
   “I will trust and not be afraid” … The place of peace and trust and “no fear” comes only from seeing our salvation in God, and not in ourselves. Here, Isaiah is not just experiencing feelings of trust, he is deciding to trust God.  That is an entirely different scenario.
     “The Lord God is my strength and my song” … When the LORD is our strength, it means that He is our resource, He is our refuge. We look to Him for our needs, and are never unsatisfied.  When the LORD is our song, it means that He is our joy, He is our happiness. We find our purpose and life in Him, and He never disappoints.
    “Therefore with joy you will draw water from the springs of salvation” … This means there is something for us to do: You will draw water from the fountain that provides everlasting life. God doesn’t meet our needs as we sit in passive inactivity. We must reach out and draw forth what He has provided. At the same time, it is His water, His well, His rope, and His bucket that we draw with!
     Isaiah then encourages the worshipper to give thanks to the Lord, praise the Name of Jesus, and to make His deeds known; to proclaim Him!  If you have received salvation and drunk from the waters that provide everlasting life, then you won’t be able to stop talking about God’s greatness and the great things He has done.
     In addition, the Prophet exhorts us to sing praises to the Lord, and to rejoice and shout.  First, the LORD was the song of Isaiah, in verse two. Now, he sings this song of the LORD to whoever will listen! It’s as if he is saying, if the LORD has become your song, then sing it!  The invitation to rejoice and shout our praise indicates that our worship of the Lord should never be mechanical.  It should be spirited and excited praise for all He has done in your life!
     Finally, Isaiah reminds us … For great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel. This gives two reasons for great praise. First, because of who God is: the Holy One of Israel. Second, because of where God is: in your midst. Each of these gives everyone reason to praise God and express our thanksgiving!

Thank you to StudyLight.org for providing quality Bible resources for this post on Isaiah, Chapter 12.

     
     
      
     


Thanksgiving Week: My Personal Thoughts

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      It’s the day after Thanksgiving, and I find myself in a reflective mood.  As for most of us, this is a sentimental time of year.  We have fond and emotional memories of celebrating the holiday season with friends and family; childhood memories that stir something in our souls and provide a connection to those we love.
     But as the Lord has drawn me closer to Him, I find myself looking for significance and meaning in those celebrations that point to Him.  I no longer am satisfied with the sentiments that thrill my flesh. I want to celebrate these “holidays” as true “holy days”, and I want to be consciously seeking my Lord as my spirit is renewed.  That doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the bountiful blessings of spending time with my family yesterday, or marvel at the provision the Good Lord has given us.  It’s just that I wanted Thanksgiving to be more than family fun, mouth-watering food, football games, and going to an afternoon movie.
     Since Thanksgiving is a particularly American holiday, I wanted to know more than I’d been taught in school about the origins of that historical event.  Surely, there’s a deeper message in the Thanksgiving story than Squanto, corn and succotash, and the fall harvest.  Turns out there might be…

     Thanksgiving became associated through the centuries with giving thanks to God for the harvests of the land. Thanksgiving has always been a time of people coming together, so thanks has also been offered for that gift of fellowship between us all. Surprisingly, I found that the true nature of Thanksgiving has less to do with the part history/part myth story that developed around the Pilgrim’s and America’s “First Thanksgiving”, than it does with the Biblical Feast of Tabernacles, or as it is also known, The Feast of Ingathering, or Sukkot.
     It is interesting to note that, prior to making their way to the New World, the Pilgrims, themselves the victims of religious persecution, spent several years among Sephardic Jews in Holland.  Perhaps the Biblical perspective of the Feast of Tabernacles was the root for their own expression of thanksgiving after that first harsh winter.  Whether this is true or not, I couldn’t help but think that Jews celebrate Sukkot by recalling God’s providence toward Israel during the forty years of wandering in the desert.  And it commemorates a future time when the harvest of souls will bring about peace and harmony upon the earth.  Simply put, it is a time to feast and a time to pray.
     It was at that moment that I realized that I could do that — that I could enjoy the gathering of my family, and honor the Lord who is protecting us and providing for us each day.  I could be prayerful throughout the day, praising Him as the Holy Spirit brought impressions to my mind, among them … How grateful I am that my extended family is healthy and thriving; that I could pray for the safety of my nephew serving in Iraq, while enjoying the laughter of his wife and two small children who are living here in Texas while he is deployed.
     I can trust the Lord with the safekeeping of three other nephews who are serving their communities as law enforcement officers.  I am thankful that He has given them hearts to love their neighbor, and that I know He hears my prayers concerning their safety each night.  I am also so appreciative that He has restored a connection to more distant family members, who like myself, went their own ways after college.  It is amazing to see how He brought us together after 30 years, through the seemingly random transfer of their son to a college here in Texas.  I am astonished at the spiritual connection that my husband and I have with this young man, and how quickly he integrated into our family and accepted our love.  This is the second Thanksgiving he has spent with us, and that very fact is evidence of what an amazing God we serve.  I will be forever thankful for the renewal and restoration of old family ties, and the creation of new family relationships.

     In fact, I see Him growing all my relationships, and our common love for the Lord is translating into unselfish love for each other. Neighbors are dearer to my heart; our Home Church is growing in relationship and faith; we are seeing friends come to a life-changing faith in Jesus, and being baptized.  This world is fading away and I am seeing glimpses of His Kingdom coming!
     But perhaps the greatest reason for my thankfulness is the journey that God has taken my husband and me on this year.  I have so much gratitude for how He is growing my husband into a spiritual leader who has so much passion to know Jesus and to obey His every command.  He has a heart that bursts with a desire to see others reborn, and his heart grieves when he sees the suffering of those in bondage to satan.  He has been on a transformative and healing journey of his own, and he is making it his mission to see others freed by the Power of Jesus, just as he has been.  No wife could be prouder or made more humble by the evidence of compassion and mercy in her husband, than I.
     Yes, this Thanksgiving was truly a season of gratitude; of adoration and praise to a merciful and gracious God.  And it is my prayer that I will continue to express my indebtedness to the Almighty God of the Universe each and every day.  I know that difficult days are forecast, but I also know that His love endures forever.  That is the thought that I will take captive and nurture in my heart.  I hope your Thanksgiving Week has brought you closer to the God who created you, and it is my prayer that all your days be full of thanksgiving and praise!

Psalm 9:1    “I will give thanks to You, LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all Your wonderful deeds.”

Thanksgiving Week: The Giving Kitchen

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     For some, the Thanksgiving holiday is all about the food.  For others it is all about family; reminiscing about old memories and creating new ones.  But it is also about inspiration and gratitude. But if you watched CBS Sunday Morning last weekend, you saw a story that combines the best of all these aspects.

     Chef Ryan Hidinger was well known in Atlanta, having worked at some of the premier restaurants in the area. In addition, he and his wife, Jen, had gained quite a reputation for their unique supper club, called Staplehouse.  They ran it for several years, in anticipation of opening their own restaurant with the same name.
     Then out of left field, Ryan received a devastating Gallbladder Cancer diagnosis.  Doctors told him it was stage-four and he was given six months to live.  Needless to say, their dream of opening a restaurant suddenly seemed out of reach.  But friends, those within the Atlanta area, and the restaurant industry came together and held a charity gala that raised $275,000.  That money not only paid the Hidinger’s medical bills, but became the seed money for The Giving Kitchen.  
     The Giving Kitchen was formed as a 501(c)(3) to fill the need for a crisis grant program in the restaurant community — as a way to do for others what the community came together to do for Ryan and Jen.  The organization provides emergency assistance grants to cover basic living expenses, care-related travel expenses, and funeral expenses for those who meet defined criteria; to families of chefs, restaurant owners, servers and restaurant staff. The Hidinger’s research showed that there are over 200,000 restaurant workers in the City of Atlanta. At any given time, 1-2% are facing unanticipated crisis. The Giving Kitchen is committed to trying to meet as many of those needs as they can. 

     The idea for the Giving Kitchen originated with the compassion shown the Hidinger’s during Ryan’s illness.  In the business world, it models a unique hybrid structure as a nonprofit with a for-profit subsidiary. The for-profit subsidiary is Ryan and Jen’s original dream, Staplehouse — the casual fine- dining restaurant they opened in a turn-of-the century brick building in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward. After all the bills are paid, the staff is paid, taxes are paid, etc., 100% of Staplehouse’s net profits are channeled back into its nonprofit parent, The Giving Kitchen, as an ongoing stream of support.

     The testimonials on the website are proof that The Giving Kitchen is meeting the needs of those in the restaurant industry.  Bartenders, servers, and families of restaurant workers who are enduring the anxiety of unexpected medical crises and bills become recipients of Funds set up in their names, and supported by restaurant patrons, other restaurant employees, and profits from Staplehouse — all donated in the spirit of assisting others who need a helping hand. 
     This is a unique story and so appropriate for this Thanksgiving season.  The CBS presentation didn’t reveal whether Faith played any part in the Hidinger’s decision to start The Giving Kitchen.  But their motivations are certainly pleasing to God.  For He tells us to share generously with those in need, and to help those in trouble.  He tells us our giving should be motivated by a sincere desire to help others, and that is evident in Ryan and Jen’s story.  Ryan died from Gallbladder Cancer in January of 2014.  Since that time, Jen, along with Ryan’s sister, Kara, and her husband, Ryan Smith (who now serves as Staplehouse chef), have labored with love to keep Ryan Hidinger’s memory and dream alive.
     While Staplehouse has been a project of passion since the beginning, it has become a lasting testament to Ryan and Jen’s desire to not only give back to the community who helped them, but to pay it forward.  As the website bon appétit proclaimed, “Staplehouse is about love, and it is about family. It is inspiring, and it is humbling. Staplehouse is an example of what good a community can do. This is why [we named] Staplehouse as the Best New Restaurant in America”.  And from the reviews I’ve read, they did not receive the award out of sympathy — the service is outstanding, there is a palpable spirit of joy and love, and the restaurant’s food is leading the pack towards the next step in modern Southern cooking. 
     But it is the quote from Ryan Hidinger, himself; written on an exposed wooden beam, that sums up the intrinsic nature of this story … “Anything long-lasting or worthwhile takes time and complete surrender.” That speaks to my experience as a human being and as a Christian.  I think we can say that The Giving Kitchen exemplifies the spirit of Thanksgiving with its story of love and family and giving to others.  And perhaps, most of all, it shows us how to live out Jesus’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves. May it continue to prosper and be blessed.
Luke 6:38   “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
     
     

Thanksgiving Week: Stories of Prayer, Immigration, and Assimilation

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     I’d like to spend this week in a true spirit of giving thanks.  We’ve just finished a hotly contested and divisive election season; the war in Iraq has been revitalized; world powers are readjusting and realigning, and it’s too easy to get caught up in our anxieties and fears about the future.  But this week, let’s concentrate on the stories that bring us together; our common humanity and the lessons we can learn from Biblical history.

     This first story comes to us from Erbil, Iraq. Last Friday, November 18th, more than 20,000 persecuted Christians gathered to pray for Iraq and victory against ISIS. The six-hour prayer event marked the end of 50 days of fasting, and for many Christians, hopefully the start of a new life without ISIS. Think about that! In this country that has been torn apart by war for more than thirteen years, this is a remarkable show of faith in the wake of some of the most horrific and wicked persecution the world has ever seen.
     Those that gathered were specific in what they wanted to accomplish.  They prayed for the presence of God’s Spirit to envelop the meeting and that every person would clearly hear what God wanted to say to them.  They prayed that leaders of the event would preach, worship and pray under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.  They prayed that those who were Unbelievers would be touched by the Holy Spirit during this time, and come to know His Truth, as Son of God and Lord of all. They prayed that this gathering would be a time of encouragement to those who were struggling to stay steadfast in their faith because of the persecution they had suffered; and a time of breakthrough for those struggling to know Jesus for the first time.  Finally, they prayed that God would indeed hear from Heaven, answer the cries of His people, and bring healing, renewed hope for the future and peace to the people of this region. It is an ancient prayer that people of the Bible have prayed since Genesis.
    While Iraqis are hopeful that the defeat of Isis and the liberation of their towns will continue, they still face violence by local militias, regional conflicts between key players like Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, as well as the distrust between the different religious and ethnic groups of the Sunnis, Shias, Kurds, and Arabs.  It is the same old world story, but at the heart of it is the continued power of prayer and the hope of God’s promises.  I am thankful for this current reminder that God is still sought after as the ultimate answer to the world’s chaos.
     This second story has an ancient Biblical connection.  Remember the story in Acts, Chapter 8, when Philip, the Evangelist, encounters the Ethiopian eunuch on his way back from Jerusalem?  Philip overhears the Ethiopian reading the Book of Isaiah; specifically, Chapter 53 [which identifies our Lord as the Suffering Servant], and offers to help the traveling eunuch understand what he is reading. First, we need to understand that it is nearly 1600 miles from modern Ethiopia to Jerusalem!!! This man traveled a long way to gain knowledge, and how did he come to be seeking wisdom about the coming Messiah?
     Well, scholars speculate that Ethiopia was the land where the Queen of Sheba had come from, who saw the glory of Solomon’s kingdom and professed faith in the God of Israel (1 Kings 10:13). It’s possible that pieces of the Jewish faith were passed on through the centuries to men like this servant of the current Queen. And after Philip’s instruction, and his confession of faith and baptism, this Ethiopian eunuch most likely returned to his homeland and helped launch the Christian faith in that ancient land. Here’s an additional interesting note: The Coptic Christians – greatly persecuted today in Egypt – trace their spiritual heritage back to this Ethiopian official.  So, what does all this history have to do with giving thanks this week?

     Daniel Sahalo is some of the fruit that was borne from that divine appointment between Philip and the Ethiopian. He was born in the farming village of Gaina, Ethiopia. In 1984, when Daniel was 4 years old, his family decided to immigrate to Israel, along with a group of other Jews seeking to flee the famine and political unrest in Ethiopia. For eight weeks, Sahalo and the rest of his group traveled barefoot at night under the eclipse of darkness. They contended with many threats, including robbers, hunger, wild animals, and the bitter cold of the desert nights. Sadly, more than 4,000 members of the Ethiopian Jewish community died on the way to Israel, including Sahalo’s 23-year-old sister and 2-year-old niece.
     After waiting nine months at a Red Cross refugee camp near the Sudanese and Egyptian border, the announcement finally came that the group would be flown to Israel. Sahalo would go on to finish high school, enlist in the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) prestigious Paratroopers 101 battalion, and become the only member of his family to earn an academic degree [in International Relations and Latin American Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem].
     But perhaps his most important accomplishment has become his involvement with the Megemeria Jewelry Collection, as their Sales and Marketing Manager.  You see, the experience of Ethiopian Jews in their new homeland of Israel has o theften been a difficult one.  Most Ethiopian Jews were farmers in their native country and now have trouble finding work and integrating into Israeli society. That’s where Yvel comes in; they are a company in Israel that makes and sells fine jewelry.  Founded by Argentinian immigrants to Israel, they started a social business enterprise, called the Megemeria School of Jewelry and the Arts. “Megemeria” means Genesis in Amharic, the native language of Ethiopia.

     The school teaches Ethiopian immigrants to Israel the art and science of jewelry design and manufacturing, along with many other skills, such as math and the Hebrew language. Students study for free, receive a monthly stipend to help with living expenses, and upon graduation from the school, many are hired to work at the Megemeria social business. All jewelry is designed and manufactured entirely by the school’s students and graduates, with all sales revenue reinvested in the project. What a beautiful Biblical picture of how God instructed the Israelites to love the “sojourners” and “aliens” in their land, remembering that they were once sojourners themselves.  It also shows the respect of the new citizens of Israel by learning the native language and becoming productive citizens.  This story of Aliya (the immigration of Jews from the diaspora to the Land of Israel) turned from one of struggle to one of thanksgiving.
     In these two stories, we see the history of humanity.  They encompass the stories of refugees, asylum-seekers, the internally displaced, and those moving to other countries as immigrants. They cover the reality of being human as well as being a Christian or a Jew. They remind us that we are all made in the image of God.  We are all representatives of God on earth, and we all have worth in His eyes; each of us was made by God and Christ died for us.
     In this age of war, global politics, and Elitist domination, it is sometimes hard to imagine that God cares about each individual.  But from the beginning of the human race, nothing has changed. Just as God “saw” Abram in Mesopotamia; Ruth in the land of Moab; Daniel in Babylon; and each of the Disciples in their lonely journeys to Asia Minor, India, North Africa, Persia, and beyond, He “sees” each of us. He hears each prayer, as in Erbil, Iraq; and like the Ethiopian Jews, He desires that each person seeking a better life in a strange land would be welcomed, and charity and compassion be dispensed.  The stories presented here mirror these Biblical principles, and are the perfect way to begin our Thanksgiving week.

Thank you to the Christian Broadcasting Network for reporting on these two inspirational stories.

Psalm 103:13   Just as a father loves his children, So the Lord loves those who fear and worship Him [with awe-filled respect and deepest reverence].

Acts 20:27

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“I did not shrink from declaring to you
 the whole counsel of God.”

     What exactly is the whole counsel of God?  In this passage of Acts, Chapter 20, the Apostle Paul is declaring his role as a Representative of God’s Word.  With a clear conscience, he can say that he has presented the unabridged version, so to speak, of God’s teaching.  He has not dodged the difficult questions; nor has he tried to add or subtract from God’s Word to make it more acceptable to his listeners.  In fact, he has presented God’s Word in order that he might help believers to grasp the whole counsel (purpose and plan) of God, so that they would become better equipped to read their Bibles intelligently and comprehensively.
     But how many of you believe, or have been told, that we are under God’s Grace, not the Law; therefore the New Testament is our primary source of God’s teaching, and that’s the only “counsel of God” we need?  Or, that the Old Testament is a nice bit of history, but it has no real significance to us “New Testament Believers”? As a serious student of the Bible — the whole Bible — I find these opinions unsound and inaccurate.  
     First of all, it is important that we understand the original meaning of the word, “counsel”.  It comes from the Greek word boulomai, and according to Strong’s Concordance, it “expresses strongly the deliberate exercise of the will”.  In other words, Paul is saying that he did not shrink from declaring God’s deliberate exercise of His will throughout history, and he revealed the whole of God’s revelation about His purpose(s) in relationship with His creation, man.
     Keep in mind that the New Testament had not even been written when Paul made this statement, so some may ask, “How can we make it a Law vs. Grace, Old vs. New Testament argument”?  In fact, this is actually what I am saying…. I believe that Paul was given Divine revelation in relating God’s plan that covers the entire spectrum of history: Law, Grace, Judgment and Redemption.  The entire Bible is God’s counsel! There is history of redemption throughout the Old Testament that points to The Redeemer in the New Testament.  Paul related God’s explanation of man’s origin, fall, and rescue [in the Old Testament], which leads to a worldview [in the New Testament] and points out the need for a Savior and Deliverer.  There were commandments of old to be obeyed and accepted wisdom to be pursued, and those would be expanded upon in the life of the Incarnate God.  And those commandments and wise counsel were not to be discarded, but rather they spoke of the transforming power to come; of age-old promises to be trusted and hopes to be anticipated.
     But here’s kind of a synopsis of what I think Paul was saying … God’s counsel cannot be limited to one concept such as Grace or Law.  Remember, the word “counsel” is speaking of God’s deliberate exercise of His will. Can we agree that the “whole counsel of God” centers around the idea of His Sovereignty in all matters?  Can we see that His counsel is bigger than Grace, for example?  After all, Paul certainly experienced the Grace of God, yet he did not limit his teaching to that doctrine.  He did not shy away from explaining how God exercised His deliberate will by punishing the rebelliousness of the ancient Israelites; nor did he neglect to point out God’s Judgment against those who refuse to repent. 
     We are in need of the whole counsel of God … the grace, the law, the discipline, the love, the forgiveness … The fullness of His Character reveals His Sovereignty; and His whole counsel is for the purpose of establishing Christ’s Kingdom on earth.  It may not be a perfect picture… but we need to hear it all!
     
     

Modern Magic and Mocking God

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     It’s time to take a break from all the post-election speculation and obsession, don’t you think?  And, so it was with cautious curiosity that my husband and I tuned into David Blaine’s TV Special, called “Beyond Magic”.  Now, for those of you unfamiliar with David Blaine, he is billed as a Magician, Illusionist, and Endurance Artist. To be honest with you, I wasn’t all that familiar with him, but the commercial for his special was intriguing, as it appeared that he both disgusted and alarmed celebrities and average folks alike with his displays of mysterious and supernatural magic.
    But the real reason I wanted to watch it is because I am becoming more and more aware of the fascination with the Occult in our forms of entertainment.  In fact, it is becoming more popular and more mainstream.  To be sure, one of the finalists on this season’s America’s Got Talent, was a couple from Vienna, Austria, who called themselves “The Clairvoyants”.  The woman partner in the duo dazzled the judges [and America] with her ability to use what she calls her “unique art of intuition” to reveal random thoughts, objects, and personal facts associated with audience members.  And in case you do not know what a clairvoyant medium is, they are able to see spirits, auras, objects and places that are not perceptible to others. But here is what the fascinated audience did not understand … Only God can read the minds of men.  When men [or women] claim supernatural power to read the minds of others, they are involved in a form of witchcraft and divination, which is clearly condemned by God.  

     Back to David Blaine… during the opening animation for the show, it was obvious that whatever power he uses to complete his “magic”, it is derived from the occult.  Images of demons and the Goat god Baphomet were discreetly portrayed in the cartoon-like introduction.  Was he showing those with discernment just exactly who is behind his success?  And the title, “Beyond Magic”… was that a nod to the supernatural spirits who supply him with the methods to pull off his magic and illusions; and do they provide superhuman abilities to achieve such performances as catching a bullet in his mouth?

     Here is what is becoming obvious to me … Satan loves to boast and show off what he can do through those who are willing to accept his offer of spiritual power. In so doing, he overplays his cards and shows people exactly who and what is at the core of the game. And this is nothing new!  From the beginning pages of the Bible, God warns against interacting with mediums or familiar spirits; to avoid all forms of the occult, including divination, necromancy, astrology, hypnotism, fortune-telling, magic, etc., so that you might not become defiled by them.
     The Bible gives us plenty of accounts of practicers of the occult:  from Simon the Magician, Elymas the Sorcerer, the girl at Philippi, and the entire city of Ephesus; all within the Book of Acts!  But perhaps none are so well known as the magicians, the astrologers, and the sorcerers who advised King Nebuchadnezzar in the Book of Daniel.  These men made their living on their supposed ability to contact the gods and gain secrets from the spirit realm. Yet they were no match for the power and might of Daniel’s God who was able to communicate truth to the prophet.

     And that is my fear about the increasing amount of occultism that is being presented as entertainment and amusement and diversion to a society and culture that is struggling and hurting.  Because it is not amusing, and it is nothing to play around with.  I fear that it has captured the attention of our youth, drawing them into a realm they are unequipped to handle.  And more than anything, I see it as mocking God.  Just take a look at this image of magician and illusionist, Criss Angel.  First, there are the angel wings. Somehow, I sense they are imitating a Fallen Angel, rather than an angel of the Lord.  He also wears a necklace displaying his “A”symbol above a necklace of the Cross, clearly belittling the power of Jesus. Then there is the key, which represents those properties which unlock the mystical “wisdom” of the occult. It also represents the unlocking of “latent physic powers,” thereby opening the doors to the world of the supernatural. You can also see the Ace of Spades, which in occultism is the symbol of ancient mysteries and the card that represents transformation. It all adds up to what Satan specializes in—illusion.  And whether Criss Angel is aware he is opening up portals and being used by the Prince of the Air, or truly believes he has unlocked the mysteries of the spirit realm, it doesn’t really matter.  His end will be the same.
     But it was David Blaine’s “frog trick” that spoke the loudest of Occultic influences.  It was as if he was enacting Revelation 16:13 before my very eyes.  In Chapter 16 of the Book of Revelation, we are told that 7 angels have been instructed to “pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath and indignation of God.”  Just before the final bowl of wrath is poured out, we read this passage in verses 13 and 14:  And I saw three loathsome spirits like frogs, leaping from the mouth of the dragon (Satan) and from the mouth of the beast (Antichrist, dictator) and from the mouth of the false prophet; for they are [actually] the spirits of demons, performing [miraculous] signs.
     Not only does the opening animation of “Beyond Magic” depict a frog coming from an open mouth, but Blaine actually references the plague of frogs that came upon Egypt.  But it was the fact that he spits out three frogs from his mouth during the act that convinces me he has acquired powers from the Dark Side.  He is able to perform lying wonders and signs because he has accepted the offer of dark powers from the false god of the air.
     Here is what these magicians and illusionists fail to understand: The powers they have received are a counterfeit substitute for the power of God. Whether or not they acknowledge it, they are occult practitioners who serve gods other than the God of the Bible. What these magicians do not grasp is that the power to do magic only appears to be under their control. They are actually being used by demonic beings with superior intelligence to their own. Real evil spirits are willing to be engaged by these magicians in order to captivate both their soul and the audience. They’ll move an object, give you a revelation, mind read, and more. They will draw you in as needed, and is it all according to what the Bible says in 1 Timothy 4:1: But the [Holy] Spirit explicitly and unmistakably declares that in later times some will turn away from the faith, paying attention instead to deceitful and seductive spirits and doctrines of demons.  That is exactly what this new “Age of Satanism” offers as entertainment to the masses.  It is becoming more blatant and tolerated, and is a sure sign of the increasing power of Satan and his followers.
     In the end, these modern magicians are no different than the wizards that astounded the courts of the ancient kings.  They are “pretenders of the magic arts”, receiving limited powers from the demons of false gods.  Little do they know that they are practicing in the realm of deception and rebellion.  Magic is designed to lead us astray, and the Bible tells us that those who practice magic arts are headed to destruction and disaster.  And the world is mesmerized….

You can watch David Blaine’s “Beyond Magic” by clicking on this link.  

2 Thessalonians 2:9    “The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders,”

The Challenge For Christians In Our Culture

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     How many of you feel that we are not living in a Christian culture?  At the very least, I think we can say that our society and culture continually challenge us to live a Christian life.  If we say, as a Christian, that the Bible is our guidebook or manual for living a life that is pleasing to God, then it is the Source by which we must evaluate our culture.
     First, we must understand that God is not disconnected, or distant from, or even outside our culture … and He doesn’t want us to be either!  After all, He created us, and it is human beings who create the culture.  Furthermore, we are not to shun the culture or fear it when it doesn’t represent our Christian values.  In reality, I believe that God wants us to be responsible for our culture; to be stewards of this world He created and to contribute to it and transform it.

     And when you look at our culture today … the anarchy in the streets; the political and social division; the lack of moral absolutes … it is easy to see that we have some work cut out for us.  While acknowledging that we Christians have not been good stewards of the culture, I am choosing, at this point, to concentrate on how we begin to influence the culture moving forward.  I know I have addressed this before, but it is easy to say that we are to love one another, and show compassion and mercy, and turn the other cheek — all actions that imitate our Lord — but it is sometimes difficult to equate Biblical principles when we hear that the Bible is outdated and it no longer speaks to our generation.  How are we to incorporate the Bible into our responses to the culture?
     To begin with, we would do well to search the Scriptures for answers.  There are good examples for us to follow in the Bible; examples that mirror what we are facing today.  And while there are those who may think that this ancient Book could offer nothing to us modern 21st Century citizens, I want you to consider what Paul had to say about the culture of the city of Corinth, and how Believers were to respond to it.
     Believers in Corinth inhabited a culture which resembles ours in many ways. Like America, it was diverse ethnically, religiously, and philosophically. Like our nation, it set a standard [in the known world] for wealth, literature, and the arts. And it had a notorious reputation for its flagrant display of sexual immorality.  Sounds like a brochure promoting life in America, doesn’t it?
    So, how did Paul first reassure, and then instruct, the Believers in this corrupt city on how they were to live within this un-Christian culture?  He really gave them a pretty ingenious plan to follow, and it is contained in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22:  For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.  To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 
     Note that Paul expresses the Liberty we have as Christians (I am free from all) to relate to all people. He is not suggesting that we be false in our appearance, but rather to put ourselves in the shoes of all that we meet, so that we might understand where they are coming from.
     Liberty is something that all Americans subscribe to, no matter what side of the political aisle they fall on.  But we must make it clear to our culture that we recognize that our Christian life is one lived in the liberty of God’s grace.  The liberty we have is for the purpose of glorifying God.  We must make it clear that a liberty, or a freedom, that condones sin is just another form of slavery.  Although the protestors in our streets have the liberty to do so, we must make it clear that we do not condone violence or destruction of property.  That does not glorify the God who created us all!  On the other hand, while we must be sensitive to the pressing concerns of our fellow citizens, we must maintain the liberty to uphold our Christian standards.
     And speaking of protestors, how are we supposed to make our voice heard above all the dissenters, agitators, and demonstrators in our current culture?  Well, Paul dealt with that, too.  In Acts 17, the Bible says that while Paul awaited Timothy and Silas to join him in Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.  The idols consisted not only of carved and graven images, but philosophies that had become cultural idols.  Among these philosophies were the teachings of Epicurus (Epicureanism), and Stoicism, the foremost popular philosophy among the educated elite in the Hellenistic world and the Roman Empire.  Do you see the similarities, and would you agree that the so-called “educated Elite” of our day have successfully made idols of themselves?

     Paul found himself being challenged on how to open up a dialogue, or communicate, with these philosophies that were at odds with Christianity.  Epicureanism was embodied in the belief that “pleasure” was the greatest good, and that the way to attain such pleasure was to live modestly, to gain knowledge of the workings of the world, and to limit one’s desires.  Followers were religious skeptics, professing doubt in divine intervention or heavenly authority.  Stoics maintained that it is virtuous to live a good life and maintain a will that is in accord with nature; that the way a person lived their life was the best indicator of his goodness… A Stoic would change his will to suit the world and remain, in the words of Epictetus, a Stoic philosopher, “sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy.”
     As one can see, these philosophies put the emphasis on man and his will and efforts.  There was no consideration of the One who created them!  We can likewise see that same idolatrous fixation on the ideologies of Materialism, Individualism, Relativism, and Secularism — all of which have become idols of behavior in our culture.  It was no different in Paul’s day!  But evidently, Paul was able to converse with any segment of the population. Why can’t we become like Paul, and as alert, thinking, sensitive, concerned, discerning Christians, challenge ourselves to confront our culture in all of its diversity and pluralism?  I will admit that it is easier to converse with those who are like-minded, but that is not our only responsibility.  We must learn how to coexist with people who are different than us, and accept the challenge that Paul did in the city of Corinth … that we might win more of them for the Kingdom of God.
     Yes, it is reported that Evangelicals were largely responsible for the shift in direction that our recent Presidential election seems to be indicating for our country and our culture.  But we’ve got to do more than show up at the ballot box every four years.  That alone will not influence our culture.  Shouldn’t we be trying to find the “points of understanding”, or the common ground, and build from there?  We must not isolate ourselves out of a spirit of arrogance or repulsion — or even in orchestrated disapproval — but insert ourselves into the culture, so that we might imitate Jesus and make Him known among the idolators.  I suspect that just like Paul (in Acts 17:32-34), we will at first be mocked or sneered at; then there will be those who will say “tell us more”; until finally some might join us and believe.
     We must be fully prepared for God to be rejected, but equally prepared to share more of Him when asked; and ultimately we can hope to rejoice when the seeds we’ve planted fall on fertile soil.  I know that’s hard to imagine as we watch the coverage of the angry people in the streets and the continuous bashing of our Christian principles by the idol-worshippers in our land. But in the end, I think it is incumbent upon we Christians to have a change of attitude about our culture.  Instead of viewing it as an enemy that we must battle or defeat, maybe we should see the culture as a means [or a vehicle] to be used by Him and His people for His purposes.
     As we watch the continuing coverage of the animosity and anger in our culture, we see what a challenge there is before us.  But it is no different than the challenge Jesus faced as He confronted the culture in His homeland, or the challenge that Paul and the other Apostles faced as they engaged the cultures of the ancient world.  The question becomes this … can we have the same impact they did?  We certainly have the advantage of reaching more people, quicker and more creatively, than they did.  But in the end, perhaps it is the simple knowledge of the Power of the Word — the Word that speaks of true Liberty, Forgiveness and Repentance — that is the most effective.
     Are we up to the challenge?  Or has our culture convinced us to be silent, insignificant, and powerless?  That is now how Paul and the other Disciples of Jesus dealt with their cultures.  Hear me! There is a profound truth that we must face in our present day and culture … yes, we are confronted with a daunting challenge, but we know that greater challenges await us in these Last Days!  Now is the time to prepare for those greater challenges, and we need to learn how to trust God and to draw on His strength in this present challenge, in order that we might be strengthened spiritually, mentally, and emotionally for the greater challenges to come.  As the Bible tells us, a perverse culture is going to be the least of our problems!

Jeremiah 12:5    “If you have raced with runners and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in a peaceful land, what will you do in the thickets of the Jordan?”

   

What Now? How Do We Move Forward?

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     It has been nearly a week since our national election and there seems to be a concerted effort to continuously promote division amongst our populace.  It’s as if a powerful “force” is determined to create rivalry, bitterness, and hostility between us.  We can point to outside agitators, but we know who that “force” really is, don’t we?  And I believe that the animosity we are seeing here in our nation, on earth, is mirroring the hostilities that are occurring in heaven between God and His host, and Satan and his followers.
     So, how are we to react, and what are our responsibilities?  I think I can sum it up by sharing an interesting experience I enjoyed this past weekend.  I have told you that my husband is an artist and part of our business is to exhibit his art at various shows and events.  He is primarily a Western artist, but every once in awhile, he is inspired to paint a different subject matter.
      As to be expected, there is always a cross-section of people who enjoy the arts.  They are not classified by political ideology, race or ethnicity, or whether they share religious beliefs or not.  In fact, we try to receive all people on an identical footing, with the idea that we are disciples of Christ, wherever we find ourselves.

“Yeshua” – My husband’s comment on the painting:
“The emotion and impact of the Crucifixion is
stunning and heart-rending. The cut limestone
background and weathered Mexican wood
of the sideboard it rests upon only accentuate
the emotion of this piece.  Dramatic lighting
and the carved stone of the figure of Messiah
are poignant and touch my spirit”. 
 

     That being said, it has been suggested to us, by one of the venues in which we exhibit, that presenting faith-based paintings is probably not a good idea because the public isn’t interested in seeing them.  Of course, that doesn’t deter my husband, who will not deny the glorification of our Lord because someone doesn’t accept Him, or it makes them uncomfortable.  And, often, they are the first paintings to sell, because they strike an emotional chord in someone who loves Him as much as we do.
     Another artist who attended our opening was a photographer who had the same experience.  Likewise, she was advised not to enter a moving photograph in a contest because it featured an image of an open Bible through the window of an old church, with the panes casting a shadow of the cross across the wooden floor.  That photograph was very emotional and she received several orders for it.
     I relate all this to illustrate how easily the Enemy tries to convince us that our message of Christ is unwanted, unwelcome, and uninspiring.  And I believe that is the message that is being encouraged in the wake of this contentious election.  But, I believe just the opposite is true!  Right now, our nation needs the hope that Jesus inspires in those of us who are His disciples.  And it’s taken me a bit to get to my point, but here it is …. Now is the time for us to live out what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.  And exactly what does that mean and how do we do it?
     First of all, a careful study in Strong’s Concordance tells me that to be a disciple of Jesus is to follow His teachings.  That means more than to be His student or pupil, but to be an upholder, a defender, and a true believer in Jesus.  In other words, it is our faith accompanied by action; to be an imitator of Christ within our spheres of influence.
      Very simply put, we need to show our nation — and the world — that we have faith in Jesus’s message; that we live and love according to His holy principles; and above all, to show them what a life abiding in Christ looks like.  We are not nasty, racist, homophobic, misogynist, sexist haters.  In fact, we are honorable and moral people who will accept you even if you don’t accept us.  We won’t hate you for your sins, because we know what it is to be a sinner.  By exhibiting what it’s like to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, we hope to show you Someone greater to believe in than yourself or the shiny temptations of the world.
     Don’t get me wrong, we would love nothing more than to create a curiosity in others about the peace we find in the midst of all this discord and disharmony.  We want to share our testimony and tell you how we’ve been able to endure the difficulties and struggles in our lives; how and why we don’t covet money, or prestige, or possessions.  We want to share the Source of why we are moved to paint, or photograph, or write about the One who defines our life.  Yes, I will admit that I want to teach you about Him, so that you might love Him as much as I do.  But I want to do that by showing you what it’s like to serve others, to put others first, and to seek  Him above all things worldly.
     Those are attitudes that have been missing in our national discourse, and no elected official is going to be able to legislate Discipleship.  True discipleship comes from being a committed follower of Jesus, imitating Him in how we treat others, and adhering to His commandment to be the Light of the world.  There will be those who will respond to us, and those who will reject us.  We mustn’t concern ourselves with the job of convincing people to accept us.  We must live our lives as examples of Christ, and let the Holy Spirit convict those He will.  So, in the intense and impassioned days ahead, do not lose your focus, nor turn aside from your responsibility as a Disciple of Christ.  Let not the world discourage you nor dissuade you from your purpose… because they will certainly try.  Just remember that we are equipped to carry on as His witnesses … and our nation needs our example.

John 15:8    “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciples.”
   
   

Joel 3:14

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Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision!
For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.

    I have been talking a lot lately about the momentous decisions that have been presented to our nation in this election cycle.  Not only did we individual citizens have to decide who we wanted to represent us in our governing bodies, but those elected officials now have to decide how they will govern, and how to bring the nation together again.
    And I found it curious that as I am progressing once again through a detailed study of my Bible, I have arrived at the prophetic chapters of Joel.  It is interesting to me … Joel has such significance, and a reputation, when it comes to the prophecies surrounding the End Times, that you expect it to have a lengthy number of chapters.  Yet, it has a lot to say in just three short ones.  And when I came to the section in the last chapter, subtitled The Lord Judges the Nations, I was struck anew by this familiar verse:  Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision. For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.
     I say struck “anew”, because all of a sudden, I saw a completely different understanding of verse 14.  In the past, I have understood that Joel is looking out upon the Valley of Jehoshaphat at the Battle of Armageddon, and sees the multitudes facing their eternal fate.  I have understood that, in life, there is a metaphorical valley of decision, and those who reject YHWH and His Messiah are in the wrong place in that valley of decision, which is ultimately fulfilled at the Battle of Armageddon.  
    I have generally adopted the 21st Century Evangelical interpretation of this Scripture, and assumed that it meant that all people standing in that valley must decide whether they are for or against Jesus; that it is their decision that is being portrayed.  
     But as I studied this passage again, I suddenly saw a new understanding!  From the beginning of Chapter 3, God makes it clear that it is He who has called the multitudes to appear in the valley… He says, “I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat” (verse 2) … and,  “Let all the men of war draw near; let them come up” (verse 9) … and, again, “Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations, and gather yourselves there” (verse 11).  Clearly, it is God who has arranged for these people to be drawn to the Valley of Decision.  
     But why?  If they are not there because of their own volition, and are not there to make a decision for or against Yeshua, then what is His purpose for summoning them there?  Here is a possible interpretation of that significant Scripture:  There is no question that Man does indeed stand in the valley of decision, but it is God who does the deciding, not man. It is a valley of judgment – the Bible clearly puts that valley in the context of the Day of the Lord.  And what happens on the Day of the Lord?  Among the events that day, the Bible tells us it will be a Day of Reckoning (Isaiah 2:12); a Day of Judgment (Isaiah 2:13-17); a Day of Destruction from the Almighty (Joel 1:15); a Day of Vengeance (Jeremiah 46:10); a Day when Justice is dealt out (Obadiah 15); a Day of Punishment (Zephaniah 1:8) and a Day of the Lord’s Anger (Zephaniah 2:23).  
     It is obviously a Day when God decides. Our fate will be based on whether we have committed our lives to Jesus or to our own selfish desires.  Ultimately, it will not be a benign event, should we find ourselves standing in the Valley of Decision on that great and terrifying day.  If you have not made that decision yet — or have a loved one who has not — do not delay!  We do not know when the Day of the Lord will occur, and do not be caught unawares… you never want to be found among the multitudes in the valley of [God’s] decision [when His judgment is executed]!

Valley of Decision: Don’t Let The Father Of Lies Steal or Destroy Our Nation

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     How sad, that on this Veteran’s Day, we are seeing such acrimony and malice being exhibited post-election.  It is estimated that over 1.1 million Americans have died in service to this country since its inception.  I hate to think that the memory of that monumental sacrifice is diminished in the wake of unrealized election results.  I can recognize that one-half of the nation is disappointed at the outcome, but I truly am grieved at the excessive and unreasonable responses — everything from abusive language and insults, to the calls for violence, destruction, and revolution.  And believe me, if the election had turned out the other way, I would feel the same if I saw such rancor and resentment.
     For those of us who have prayed for peace, reconciliation, and a return to moral absolutes and true liberty, I think we are a little aghast at the venom and poison being spewed.  But what else should we expect?  If President-Elect Trump is to be a genuine instrument of God, then isn’t it likely that the Enemy is putting his own game plan into motion?  And let’s be honest, we know that Romans 13 tells us that all those in authority have been granted their position by the permission and sanction of God.  Whether Donald Trump holds office as an indicator of God’s Judgment or Restoration remains to be seen.  We can be hopeful — and should be — at this point, but there are lots of decisions to be made in the coming days that will set our nation on its future course.

     I can’t help but compare this tenuous time to what it must have been like when Abraham Lincoln took office and the nation, like now, was so divided in its political character and complexion.  President-Elect Lincoln took a cautious approach in the days leading up to his inauguration, being careful to offer an olive branch to his former opponents, while making it clear that he would take a firm stance on preserving the nation.  And, just as now, he found it necessary to remind the citizens of America that we share a common heritage.
     In the closing remarks of his Inaugural Address, President Lincoln said, “In your hand, my fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect, and defend it… We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
     How appropriate for each of us … to decide if we are willing to let our differences tear us apart; or if we can find a way to come together for the common good.  How we make that very important decision will have tremendous consequences for this nation.  Because it is clear to me that we have allowed ourselves to be indoctrinated and lied to, while we remanded our civic duties to a federal government who only looked out for themselves.
    I happen to believe that God established this nation.  The Bible tells us, “From one man He made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands” (Acts 17:26).  We were appointed to this nation at this time, and there is a purpose for both our lives and our country.   As a Believer, I happen to think our purpose is to glorify God.  Unfortunately, too many have listened to the Father of Lies and their purpose in life has become to exalt, elevate, and enhance themselves.  They listened to the Devil whisper lies of entitlement and privilege, so that they have forgotten that it is God “who gives to all [people] life and breath and all things”.  Instead, they now believe that it is the Federal Government who provides all things, and they bow down at the altar of the man (or woman) who promises the most.
     I would caution all who are reading this blog today to be careful about falling into this trap.  Whether you are cheering at the prospect of a President Trump, or are devastated over “what might have been” with a President Clinton, we must not put our hope and trust in a clay vessel.  Yes, we must reside as citizens of the United States until we are called to our heavenly home, and it is reasonable to want a prosperous and free life.  But our first responsibility, as Christians, is to be a part of establishing the Kingdom of God on earth.  And there is no place for hatred or division or exploitation or alienation in that Holy government.
     REMEMBER:  the Devil comes to steal, kill, and destroy.  Don’t let him steal the brotherhood you share with your fellow man.  Don’t let him kill the Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness that resides in your heart.  And don’t let him destroy your testimony of the Word!  As President Lincoln solemnly swore, We must not be enemies!  Let’s recognize our true Enemy and do not allow him to devour us!
     We have been down that road before in this nation, and it has caused a grievous and grave wound upon our land.  So, please pray for our nation and our leaders; it is time for us to come together and heal.  The next two months until Inauguration Day will be a time of momentous decisions.  Let us remain steadfast in our purpose of reconciliation and resolution, and not make the same mistakes the nation made prior to Lincoln’s Presidency …. Six weeks later, the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, and the Civil War began.  May God have mercy on our nation!

And thank you to all the Veterans who have done their part to preserve this great nation… I am especially proud of my father, my uncle, my cousin, and my nephew.  I am grateful each of you answered the call!

Acts 17:30    “Therefore God overlooked and disregarded the former ages of ignorance; but now He commands all people everywhere to repent [that is, to change their old way of thinking, to regret their past sins, and to seek God’s purpose for their lives]…”

Can We Make The Church Great Again?

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I wrote this post on the eve of Election Day, so I do not yet know who was voted in as our next President.  And, to be honest, the point of this post is not to comment on the 45th President and the changes that are about to come upon our country — whether good or bad — but to remark on the state of the country due to the absence of influence by the Church.  Let’s face it, we are where we are because the Church has abandoned its moral obligation to the Body of Christ, and failed to honor God’s will.  The question now becomes, “Can We Make The Church Great Again” and change the course of our history?      

     As much as I am inclined to treat the internet with disdain and contempt, it does give me the opportunity to read and hear opinions of others that I might otherwise never have the opportunity to experience.  One of my favorite sites to peruse is one called PassTheSalt.com, written by Coach Dave Daubenmire, and from whom I borrowed todays’s blog title and subject matter.
     In case you are unfamiliar with Coach Dave, he is a veteran 35-year high school football coach, who was spurred to action when attacked and eventually sued by the ACLU in the late 1990’s for mixing prayer with his coaching. After a two year battle for his 1st amendment rights and a determination to not back down, the ACLU relented and offered Coach an out-of-court settlement.
    That event led to a decision to leave coaching in favor of encouraging the Body of Christ to enter into the cultural war.  Coach Dave developed PASS THE SALT to bring together the Body of Christ across denominational, racial, and economical lines to demonstrate to America the power of Biblical unity. His vision is to unite, organize, and mobilize the Army of God to be Salt and Light as stated in Matthew 5:12. 
     Coach Dave believes strongly in challenging the status quo of the modern Church, and in doing so, taking the fight to the cultural enemy.  He has become a recognizable voice in the media, and is an unashamed, articulate apologist for the Christian worldview.  So, it is with a nod of approval that I share with you some of his latest opinions, along with my own commentary on the subject.
     As you can guess by the title, Coach Dave is playing off Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again”.  But as all of us who mourn the state of the modern world, we recognize that not only is America not great anymore, but neither is the Church.  Just as America’s influence and power have faded in the wake of “political correctness” and compromise, so has the Church’s.  Even in my lifetime, the Church used to be a powerful force in demanding morality among our nation’s populace.  But today, the promotion of immoral behavior has become America’s greatest export, and the Church is largely silent, and certainly not unified in calling for repentance.
     As Coach Dave points out in his blog post, “The greatness of America was that we once taught our children that real liberty was not doing whatever one wanted, but rather choosing to do what was right.”  And that idea was supported and taught by the Church, which provided the moral compass of the nation.  Not anymore.  Today, there is no consistent standard of what is right and wrong.  It is all “relative” and according to “what seems right in one’s own eyes”.
     You might recognize that from a Bible verse in Judges, Chapters 17 and 21, and is a result of the sin of Micah in continuing in idol worship.  There were no judges in the land of Israel at that time to point out this sin, or restrain the people from it.  The law of God had been forsaken and replaced with subjectivism (the philosophical theory that there is no truth outside of one’s own experience; or the idea that there is no absolute Truth).  This is exactly what we are seeing today in our postmodern, relativist culture.  It is to be expected that the world will act like this, but this attitude has also entered, and almost overwhelmed, Christendom as we know it.  Christianity is being remade in the imaginations of men.  The rules are being set by false teachers, and the Christian masses are quick to follow.
     But what does the Bible say?  In Proverbs 14:12, it says,  There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.  So Americans are clinging to the idea of making America Great Again, in the hopes that we can turn the tide of wickedness, violence, corruptness, degeneracy, and immoral behavior that has come to define our culture and society.  But the truth is that America will not be great again, until the Church, or the Body of Christ, becomes great again and a force of righteousness in our land.
    It’s really very simple to see … there is a direct correlation between diminishing God in our land, and our turn towards immorality.  We have removed the Biblical foundations that the Church once embodied, and as a result, our families, our schools, our government, and our faith have suffered.  Coach Dave points out that, according to the latest Pew Research Poll, 71% of Americans identify themselves as Christian…a decline of 8% in the past 7 years.  Let that sink in a minute.  Only 4% of Americans call themselves atheist or agnostic, yet it is this very small minority of Americans who have THEIR religious beliefs represented in the government.  How have Christians permitted the values of the overwhelming majority of society to be banished from public discourse? How has the American Church, which was once the backbone of our great nation, permitted our government to become agnostic in regards to moral behavior?
     I believe the truth of our “lukewarm” foundation lies in the impressions of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor, who came to America in 1939, hoping to wait out Hitler’s oppression in Germany and who hoped to return to rebuild the German Church after the war.  But he was greatly disappointed in the American Church, as these comments display:  I now wonder whether it is true that America is the country without a reformation? There hardly ever seem to be “encounters” [with God] in this great country.  But where there is no encounter, where liberty is the only unifying factor, one naturally knows nothing of the community which is created through encounter … Lively and original, but too much analysis and too little Gospel … The separation of church and state does not result in the church continuing to apply itself to its own task; it is no guarantee against secularism.  Nowhere is the church more secularized than where it is separated in principle, as it does here.  This very separation can create an opposition, so that the church engages much more strongly in political and secular things.
     Sadly, Bonhoeffer’s reflections have come to full-blown fruition these 76 years later.  And as Coach Dave surmises, it doesn’t really matter who won the election, The Church should be held accountable for the direction the nation takes going forward.  Will the results look like we got a reprieve from God and a chance to return to a moral nation, or will the anti-Christian tactics of those who continue in power come to bare on anyone who dares to proclaim the Supremacy of God?
     I couldn’t agree more with Coach Dave, who finished his blog post with the following statements:  “As goes the Church, so goes the nation. It is time for true believers in Jesus to call out the charlatans in the pulpits masquerading as pastors and demand a return to Biblical values as the foundation of this nation. We must actively oppose the self-centered Gospel currently belching out of the mouths of the hirelings who are peddling snake-oil Christianity in order to advance their own kingdoms”.
     Pretty tough assertion, but nonetheless called for and necessary.  Can we, as a nation, be redeemed and forgiven by our God?  Absolutely!  The Bible gives us a picture of just that in the history of the Judean King, Manasseh, one of the most wicked kings that the divided nation of Israel had seen.  As frightening as it sounds, Manasseh’s punishment by God was exactly what he and the nation needed:  “Therefore the LORD brought upon them the captains of the army of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze fetters, and carried him off to Babylon. Now when he was in affliction, he implored the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed to Him; and He received his entreaty, heard his supplication, and brought him back to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God”. (2 Chronicles 33:11-13).
     Will that be the history of our nation?  Let us pray that it won’t be necessary that we be defeated and taken into captivity.  Let us pray that we, and our next leader, have the heartfelt desire to humble ourselves and pray, asking for forgiveness.  But most of all, it is my prayer that God’s Church will repent and ask for forgiveness; and that we, the people, will unite in obedience to our God and return to His righteous ways.  That is where our hope and our strength and our liberty truly lie.

Ezekiel 18:30-31    This is the declaration of the Lord God. “Repent and turn from all your transgressions, so they will not be a stumbling block that causes your punishment.  Throw off all the transgressions you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit”… 

An Open Letter To God: Give Us Your Anointed As Our Leader

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Dear God,
  
     I am writing this blog post 24 hours prior to Election Day, 2016.  At this point, I have no idea who will win the election to become the next President of the United States.  Frankly, as I consider my choices, I am not encouraged by either candidate, and like millions of Americans, I am suffering from “Election overload and fatigue”.
     I recognize that this nation is in dire need of a leader who is righteous and God-fearing, and who is willing to seek Your [The Almighty’s] will.  But neither candidate seems to fit that bill.  So, is all lost for our country?  Can You still work with whomever is elected, regardless of their relationship with You?  And if so, to what effect will we be subjected … Your Judgment or Your Restoration?
     Sadly, I am afraid we only have to look at world and Biblical history to know the answers.  At this point, I am considering two world rulers that You have used to execute Your will:  The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar; and Cyrus the Great, King of Persia.  First, I see Nebuchadezzar, the Babylonian conquerer best known for taking Daniel into captivity, and for his prophetic dreams that foretell the history of the world’s empires and the eventual End Times scenario.  His reign is notorious for the capture and exile of the Jewish people in Babylon.  But my careful discernment of this history denotes that Nebuchadnezzar is, wittingly or unwittingly, the “servant” You used to discipline the disobedient Judah.
    There is no mistaking Your intention.  Jeremiah 27:6 plainly says, Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, My servant and instrument … God, it is so clear to me that You used Nebuchadnezzar as Your instrument of Justice against a rebellious and disobedient land of Judah. And here are the questions I am asking myself … In recognition of our own rebellious nature, what would keep You from using the next President as Your instrument of judgment against our nation?  Does the next President need to have a relationship with You to fulfill Your will?  Was Nebuchadnezzar actually aware that he was Your servant when he was devastating Judah?  As I do my research, historical records do not seem to indicate that he intended his campaign against Judah as an act of obedience to You, The Most High God.
     I am also aware that ancient cylinders have been discovered with the following inscription on them:  “I, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, the loyal shepherd, the one permanently selected by Marduk, the exalted ruler, the one loved by Nabû, the wise expert who is attentive to the ways of the gods, the tireless governor, the caretaker of Esagil and Ezida, the foremost heir of Nabopolassar, king of Babylon, I, when Marduk, my great lord, duly created me to take care of him, Nabû, the administrator of the totality of heaven and the netherworld, put in my hands the just scepter.”  As a serious student of the Bible, I know that Marduk is another name for Nimrod, one of the foremost idolators and rebels against You.  Nebuchadnezzar clearly did not worship YHWH, my God.  Yet You used him to apply Judgment against Your rebellious and disobedient people.  Shouldn’t we be keeping that in mind during these final hours of our election process?
    Also, when I consider King Cyrus, a pagan ruler who established the Persian Empire through a series of bloody battles and conquests, as well as ruthless politics, I realize that You actually call Cyrus, “My anointed”.  And Father, I know that the 21st Century Church has gotten their theology all mixed up when it comes to that word.  I know that the Hebrew word for “anointed” is mashiah, which has come down to us as “messiah” and translated as christos in Greek.  And because we now use this term exclusively for Jesus Christ, the Messiah, it is difficult for the Church to discern that this term could be applied, by You, to a pagan ruler.
     But I have learned that this term — “anointed” or “messiah” — was used by Old Testament writers to refer to kings, priests, and high priests; actually in its most basic interpretation, it means any person that You authorize and set apart for Your service.  And history and the Bible plainly tell us that You certainly used Cyrus to perform Your will.  In Isaiah 44, You specifically say,  To Cyrus, My Anointed, whose right hand I have held … I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will direct all his ways; He shall build My city and let My exiles go free…  

      So history shows us that You did, indeed, raise King Cyrus to deliver Your people from their captivity in Babylon [under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar] and returned them to their land.  Careful study shows me that for the real Christ to be born in Bethlehem as the Biblical prophecy states, Jews had to be living in Judea.  And I know that it was You, who also inspired Cyrus to institute his conciliatory policy toward foreign religions so that a Temple could be built to which Your Son could come. And among other points, Jerusalem had to be rebuilt so Jesus could die outside the city for our sins.
     So, God, You clearly had a plan to inspire Cyrus to restore Your nation of Judah and Your Temple.  Yet, Cyrus did not know you as YHWH, either.  Scripture tells us in Isaiah 45 that You say, [I will work through you, Cyrus,] that you may know that I, the LORD, who call you by your name, am the God of Israel. For Jacob My servant’s sake, and Israel My elect, I have even called you by your name; I have named you, though you have not known Me.  But it is amazing to me, Father, that that doesn’t keep You from using Cyrus, or making Yourself known to him.  In fact, Cyrus says, ‘The LORD [meaning Yahweh], the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the LORD [Yahweh] his God be with him. Let him go up.'” (2 Chr 36:23).
     But I can’t forget that the famous Cyrus Cylinder, discovered in 1879, reveals that like Nebuchadnezzar, the pagan god Marduk was given credit for the reign of Cyrus.  Indeed, history shows that Cyrus restored the various idol temples in his empire.  So, he was clearly a pagan ruler.
    So, God, where does that leave us with this election of 2016?  Can a ruler of a nation who clearly does not know You as Lord, in a real and personal way, still be used by You to accomplish Your purposes?  You’ve certainly shown us in Your Word that this is a possibility.  Because, Father, I’m not seeing any real fruit from either candidate that tells me they know Your Son as their Savior.  And Father, I have a very real fear that even if one of them has been anointed by You to lead our nation, that they will follow the path of Cyrus — after fulfilling the mission You assigned to him, he fell victim to a lust for power and glory, and met his death far from home, trying to conquer the nomads of the steppes.  I am well aware that we cannot put our faith or trust in princes [or princesses] of this world.
     In the end, Father, I see the two possibilities with which we are presented:  Your Word has shown me two pagan kings; one raised up to bring judgment and the other raised up to bring restoration.  Which one will we get for this season of our history?  I am left praying for the real Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, who will return to conquer, to punish, to restore and to reconcile all nations to Himself.  All thoughts of the judgment of a tyrant like Nebuchadnezzar, or the intercession of a beneficent king like Cyrus of Persia, will pale beside the glories of the wonderful Kingdom of God.
     So, should you decide to delay the arrival of the True Messiah, it is my prayer that whomever will be declared the new Leader of our nation tomorrow will be like those rulers of old, and will recognize that they hold that office at the behest of You, and their power lies in Your hand.  I hope they realize that it is You who will be directing their ways.  Above all else, it is my earnest prayer that it is for Your purpose of restoration and not judgment.  Have mercy on us, Father!

1 Peter 2:13-14     “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by Him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.”

     

Hebrews 8:13

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When God speaks of “A new covenant,” He makes the first one obsolete. 
And whatever is becoming obsolete (out of use, annulled) 
and growing old is ready to disappear.

     Sometimes I am amazed that in this supposedly “enlightened” age, we in the Body of Christ, can still be so confused about the meaning of Scripture.  Hebrews 8:13 is one of those verses, that if not considered in the whole context of Jesus’s mission on earth, can easily be misconstrued.
     I have heard it explained that this verse is spoken in reference to “the Law”.  And we have to even be careful when using that terminology, because Christians conflate the Mosaic Law and God’s Law, and tend to relegate “the Law” to the ceremonial system of rules God designed to direct the lives of the Israelites under the Mosaic Covenant.  But the Law was more than the Ten Commandments which were embodied in the Mosaic Law given at Sinai.  Those ten commandments were an extension of the eternal moral law of God as it was given to Israel to govern her life as a nation, in order to experience God’s blessing under the Abrahamic covenant.  And God’s moral law is eternal!
     But we have been told that we no longer live under the Law and we abide in the Age of Grace… that the Law was instituted under the Old Covenant and we are under the New Covenant, by which Christ told us He came not to destroy the Law and the prophets, but to fulfill.  Then, we are told that “to fulfill” means “to bring an end to”, or “to do away with”.  That is when this verse in Hebrews, Chapter 8, is brought forth to prove that the Law is equated with the Old Covenant, which is declared in verse 13 to be “obsolete”.
     This controversy has led to a whole lot of misunderstanding among the Body of Christ.  There will be those who say the Law no longer has any significance for us, and that is what verse 13 is saying.  But I would venture that this is a gross exaggeration. First of all, it depends on exactly what you mean by “The Law”.  Secondly, it depends on a correct understanding of “Old” and “New” Covenant.  The fact that the Mosaic law (and its rituals of animal sacrifice for salvation) has been terminated does not mean that there is no law in this age of grace.  The New Testament is full of references to various forms of law under God’s direction:  “the perfect law of liberty” (James. 1:25), “the royal law” (James. 2:8), the Law of Christ (Galatians. 6:2), and the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus (Romans. 8:2). These all point to various commands found throughout the epistles which comprise God’s Law. They cover all areas of the believer’s life to direct him in the will of God in today’s world.
     We can all agree that the Mosaic Law was weak because it was dependent on man’s ability, and God put an end to that system with the advent of Christ.  But that was the system God used to divorce the Israelites from the pagan ways of their centuries of bondage in Egypt.  They were so steeped in the occultic practices and sins of Egypt that they had lost any sense of a relationship with their God.  The Mosaic Law was designed to build and maintain a proper relationship (through covenant) between God and His people Israel (blessing versus cursing), but only until the coming of Messiah and the establishment of a New Covenant. The Mosaic Law was never designed to be a permanent rule of life. It was merely a tutor or guardian to guide Israel in all areas of her life until Christ.
     A reading of the entire Chapter of Hebrews 8 clearly shows that it is not “the Law” (in the form of ceremonial rituals and restrictive rules) that is the focal point of what will become obsolete between the Old and the New Covenant; indeed, God says in verse 10, “I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people”.  What I believe the Scripture is saying is that the method of instituting God’s law through animal sacrifice and ceremonial rituals will become obsolete.  The Law, itself, will be written on our hearts as we walk by the Spirit of Christ in our faith, and the Covenant of relationship with God will be renewed.  It is not a matter of one Covenant being replaced by another.  Rather, the way of receiving God’s grace (through the blood sacrifice of animals) will become obsolete, but not the need for the sacrifice, itself.  God still demanded that, and it was fulfilled in the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus.  The need for God’s laws remain … and they are circumcised upon our hearts because the means of blood sacrifice to receive God’s grace and mercy is no longer demanded.
     It is no wonder that the Body of Christ is confused, and accused of legalism if you proclaim that the Law still exists, and is written on your heart.  It doesn’t help to understand the issue when statements such as these are made:  “Since the Lord Jesus Christ fulfills the Law by His person and work, believers are under a new law; the obligation to walk by the Spirit of Life through faith (Rom. 8:2-4). If we are led by the Spirit, then we are not under the Law (Gal. 5:18)”.  Or this statement:  “Against such, i.e., the fruit of the Spirit, there is no law because the believer is then operating under the highest law, the standards are met as we walk by the Holy Spirit and grow in the Word (Gal. 5:22)”.  Can you see how difficult it is for us to all come to an agreement of what “the Law” is, or which law we are talking about?  
     It is important to understand that there is a very definite difference between God’s laws which are moral commandments, and the commandments contained in ordinances which had to do with the ceremonies of the old Jewish rituals for receiving grace. And it is because the unlearned Church misapplies Bible statements about these different kinds of laws (and their purpose) that they become confused.  And the result?  The Body of Christ ends up in endless and circular arguments; even to the point of disagreeing if the Ten Commandments are part of the “Old Covenant”, and therefore obsolete!  It shouldn’t be that hard!  Yes, the system of sacrifice under the Law of Moses did vanish away; but those animal sacrifices were instituted and designed to prepare the way for the sacrifice of Christ, and then to pass away — all as a principle of God’s continual Covenant with men.  That covenant of relationship did not end, it was simply renewed in faith in Christ.  And unlike the old sacrificial system (which was temporary), this method of receiving God’s grace is designed to last for eternity.  Praise God for His Mercy and Grace!

Changing God’s Truth In The Evangelical Community

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     As I have previously stated, I don’t get too caught up in following the popular preachers and speakers in today’s Christian community.  But maybe I should start paying more attention.  Just as a firestorm has erupted over evangelical pastor Andy Stanley’s sermon on the sufficiency of the Bible, so has a similar uproar ignited over Jen Hatmaker’s remarks regarding same-sex marriage.
     I have to admit that I have heard her name, but was unfamiliar with Hatmaker’s position in the evangelical community.  She appears to be part of the new breed of evangelical Christians … a young author, speaker, blogger, and television personality.  Specifically, she and her husband were hired by HGTV to host a show titled, “My Big Family Renovation,” chronicling their overhaul of an old farmhouse.  The show became a hit, and HGTV announced that they have asked Jen and her husband, Brandon, back for a new series entitled “My Biblical Doctrine Renovation.”

     In the words of the network spokesperson, “The Hatmakers have an uncanny knack for tearing down old, worn-out, traditional things and replacing them with new, shiny fixtures and appliances, and they’ll be using these skills to renovate a traditional teaching from Scripture in each episode … In every fun, relatable episode of the show, the Hatmakers will take a boring, traditional biblical doctrine, rip it to shreds using words like ‘tender’ and ‘nuanced,’ and replace it with something much more modern and acceptable … Viewers will get to see the detailed, step-by-step process of updating out-of-vogue beliefs into something cutting-edge and trendy.”  If this is the direction the young evangelical community is headed, I’m glad I don’t identify with them or adhere to their apostate teachings.
     And it looks as if Jen’s first “renovation” project is homosexuality and same-sex marriage.  And by the swift response her stance is receiving, I might suggest that she rethink being “modern and acceptable” or “cutting-edge and trendy”, and take another look at what the Bible actually says.
     The hubbub all began as a result of an interview Hatmaker did with Religion News Service, and the answer she gave to the following questions: Politically speaking, do you support gay marriage?  Her answer:  “From a civil rights and civil liberties side and from just a human being side, any two adults have the right to choose who they want to love. And they should be afforded the same legal protections as any of us. I would never wish anything less for my gay friends.
     From a spiritual perspective, since gay marriage is legal in all 50 states, our communities have plenty of gay couples who, just like the rest of us, need marriage support and parenting help and Christian community. They are either going to find those resources in the church or they are not.
     Not only are these our neighbors and friends, but they are brothers and sisters in Christ. They are adopted into the same family as the rest of us, and the church hasn’t treated the LGBT community like family. We have to do better”.
     And how would you respond if one of your children were gay?  Her answer:  “I think we would parent that child exactly the same as the rest of them. Which is to say, we would always be on their side and in their corner and for them and with them. We want for all of our kids the same thing: faithful, committed marriage and a beautiful family that is committed to God and the church. I would have the same standard across the board, no matter what”.
     You mention faithfulness and God. Do you think an LGBT relationship can be holy?  Her answer: “I do. And my views here are tender. This is a very nuanced conversation, and it’s hard to nail down in one sitting. I’ve seen too much pain and rejection at the intersection of the gay community and the church. Every believer that witnesses that much overwhelming sorrow should be tender enough to do some hard work here”.  [There’s the “tender and nuanced” that HGTV is looking for!]

     All of this sounds very “New Age-y” and loving and compassionate.  But nowhere do I see her actually address what the Bible says about sexual sin.  As a committed Christian, I absolutely believe in the Bible and what it says about God’s will regarding sexual behavior.  I believe just as strongly in unconditional love and forgiveness.  But that love and forgiveness cannot supersede God’s moral laws.  His Word emphatically says, “If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination (Leviticus 20:13)….”.
     But how many in this modern Christian Age actually know what is meant by that word abomination?  According to Strong’s Concordance, when used with reference to God, this word describes people, things, acts, relationships, and characteristics that are detestable to Him because they are contrary to His nature.  And what is His nature in regard to the sexes?  It is stated from the very beginning of the Bible, in Genesis 1:27: So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.  It is not in God’s nature to be accepting of anything that goes against what He has created.  And no matter how many laws are passed in favor of gay marriage; or how accepting and loving Society and the Church wants to be, it will not change God’s mind.  And I know that many in the young evangelical movement will cite that verse as part of the out-of-touch Old Testament Law that does not pertain to our modern society.  But to suggest that this verse is invalid today is to advocate the dangerous practice of redefining or deleting God’s Nature and what He has said.
     I want to be very clear … I am not saying we should not love people who have adopted the homosexual lifestyle.  We should love our fellow man or woman with the fear of God and the mercy of Jesus.  We should love them enough to be honest with them, and not distort the Word of God to make them feel better about sinful desires.  We all sin and fall short!  And it is not the lifestyle that I focus on, as much as it is their unbelief in the Word of God.  When the Bible says we are to die to ourselves, and to present our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, I believe it!  In fact, Paul states it so clearly in Ephesians 4:22-24:  in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
     I highly recommend that you read a response to Jen Hatmaker’s conciliatory position.  It is written by Rosaria Butterfield, and titled Love Your Neighbor Enough To Speak Truth.  In the article, Rosaria gives her testimony about dying to the [homosexual] life she loved in order to gain Christ.  She makes a powerful statement: “When something feels right and good and real and necessary—but stands against God’s Word—this reveals the particular way Adam’s sin marks my life. Our sin natures deceive us. Sin’s deception isn’t just “out there”; it’s also deep in the caverns of our hearts.
     How I feel does not tell me who I am. Only God can tell me who I am, because he made me and takes care of me. He tells me that we are all born as male and female image bearers with souls that will last forever and gendered bodies that will either suffer eternally in hell or be glorified in the New Jerusalem. Genesis 1:27 tells me that there are ethical consequences and boundaries to being born male and female. When I say this previous sentence on college campuses (Rosaria is a former tenured professor of English at Syracuse University)—even ones that claim to be Christian—the student protestors come out in the dozens. I’m told that declaring the ethical responsibilities of being born male and female is now hate speech”.
     In other words, there now appear to be people, groups, denominations, and Christian movements who are willing to depart from God’s absolute Truth, and to distort the Biblical doctrine of sin in order to be “on their side” or to relate to “the pain and rejection” that Jen Hatmaker says the Church has caused the LGBT community.
     But as Rosaria Butterfield eloquently explains, “We can not have illicit love and gospel peace at the same time; sin and Christ cannot abide together … the cross never makes itself an ally with the sin it must crush, because Christ took our sin upon Himself and paid the ransom for its dreadful cost.”
     Like Butterfield, I advocate loving relationships with all people and open doorways to share God’s Truth.  And like my God, in whose image I am made, I do not wish anyone to be lost.  I truly want my words to reflect His mercy and desire for reconciliation with Him.
     But I am a realist, and I know my opinion will certainly be an unpopular one with those in the world; and most likely spurned among evangelicals, who like Jen Hatmaker, feel the traditional Word is in need of “renovation and updating”, while she desperately tries to be politically relevant.
     In summary, I see a form of Christianity being promoted that is only interested in pleasing the masses, rather than convicting the lost.  Pastors, and leaders, and teachers are willing to excuse Biblical sin rather than hurting someone’s feelings.  No mention of Judgment is allowed, and Repentance is never sought.  Our faith has become politically correct instead of Biblically accurate.  When we preach indulgence instead of declaring sin, we are deceiving those who are sinning, as well as ourselves.  In the end, we are preaching our words — not His Word — and sadly, they are void of Truth and Salvation.

2 Peter 3:9   “The Lord isn’t slow about keeping His promises, as some people think He is. In fact, God is patient, because He wants everyone to turn from sin and no one to be lost.”

Andy Stanley and the Sufficiency of the Bible

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     Just last week I felt a prompting to present my views on the sufficiency of the Bible, and once again that topic is at the forefront of my conscience and spirit.  In that article, I admitted that I don’t focus on the viewpoints of the pastors and theologians who seek the spotlight.  That’s not to say that I don’t seek out commentaries or teachers who have proven to me that they regard the Bible as infallible and sufficient, and who seek only to understand what God desires to be revealed about Himself.  I understand that not everyone is going to agree on an interpretation, and I can respect the opinions of those who differ with me — as long as they don’t dishonor the Word of God.
     So, I guess it’s my turn to wade into the floodwaters created by a recent series of sermons by Andy Stanley, titled “The Bible Says So”.  First, let me say, that I have avoided forming my own opinion based on the opinions of others.  I wanted to read and hear for myself, exactly what Andy Stanley said about the adequacy of the Bible as the foundation of our faith.  I wanted to see if I agreed with his premises, and then I would consider what the most prominent and influential of our modern theologians had to say.
     Based on the Stanley transcripts I have read, I am sadly disappointed — once again — in the modern Church’s willingness to compromise, rather than possibly offend, fellow believers.  I will, first, let Andy Stanley defend himself over the controversy he has caused.  He says he wants to “address the elephant in the room … I believe the Bible is without error in everything it affirms. I believe what the Bible says is true, is true … During “The Bible Told Me So,” I wanted educated, dechurched millennials to know [that I knew] that those who supposedly know everything are convinced there was no worldwide flood or Hebrew migration from Egypt. While addressing them directly, I gave them the benefit of the doubt to make the following point: Even if those events never occurred, it does nothing to undermine the evidence supporting the resurrection of Jesus and thus the claims he made about himself…”.

     And from what I have been able to discern about Andy Stanley’s personal doctrine of belief, he prefers to concentrate on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as the underpinning of our faith… nothing wrong with that.  But he appears to do that apart from the Bible.  Here’s what it comes down to:   Does Andy Stanley believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God – or is it simply “inspiring?”  For instance, in his sermon, Stanley begins by making this point:

Perhaps you were taught, as I was taught, Jesus loves me, this I know – and let’s all finish it together – for the Bible tells me so. Yes. This is where our trouble began.

     What can he possibly mean by “trouble”?  He went on to explain that the canonization process of the Bible was utilized by early Christian Fathers to weed out manuscripts that had not been penned by the Apostles, or by someone who had worked closely with an apostle (such as Mark or Luke). Stanley remarks that the Bible, as a single book, wasn’t really assembled until near the end of 4th Century A.D.  That is true, but the point he derives from that fact is flawed as his sermon shows…

Before the Old Testament and New Testament were combined and titled the Bible – this is unbelievable – Christianity had already, before there was a Bible, replaced the pantheon of Roman, barbarian, and most Egyptian gods, and was the state religion of the Roman Empire. And no one had ever held in their hand a Bible! The first, second, and third century Christians who faced tremendous hardship – don’t miss this – believed Jesus loved them before the Bible told them so. Peter believed Jesus loved him, James did, John, Luke, Paul, they – listen, this is huge – Peter, James, Paul the apostle, they did not choose to follow Jesus because of an infallible Old Testament or a non-contradicting New Testament.

     So, what he seems to be saying is that who Jesus was, what Jesus said, and what He did are, rightfully, of the utmost importance; and perhaps we are putting too much emphasis on the Bible as the authoritative Word of God.  And there is the implication that we no longer need to believe that the Bible is all we need to equip us for a life of faith and service.  He seems to be saying the Early Church didn’t even have the finished Bible until the 4th Century, so it obviously wasn’t of primary importance to the promulgation of the Faith.
     But that is more than a little misleading.  As Don and Joy Veinot point out in their insightful article, Andy Stanley and the Bible, “For example, it is true that the binding of scriptures into a single volume occurred a few centuries into Church history, but all of the content of the Bible was [in existence]in the First Century. Therefore, the scriptures, though not yet bound together, were all held in the hands of Christians in the First, Second and Third centuries, as separate documents. In fact, the Ante-Nicene Fathers (church leaders before the Council of Nicaea) quoted from the written documents prolifically. The Fathers [of the Church] quoted from the scriptures in order to underpin and validate their own arguments, to prove what they were saying by the revealed and written Word of God! This practice was certainly not new to them – they were carrying on the noble tradition which the Bereans followed with the Apostle Paul and the Old Testament: Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (Acts 17:11).”
     Sadly, Stanley goes on to undermine the sufficiency and necessity of regarding the Bible as the foundation of our faith with unsettling suggestions that the Bible, as a support for our faith, is both “unreliable and fragile”.  During his sermon, he made statements like this:  “In other words, imagine this conversation. You know somebody with all this information, comes to the apostle Peter … and says, ‘Hey before you [get] all geeked out on this following Jesus thing, do you realize there is no evidence for a worldwide flood? Before you get all crazy about the Jesus thing, do you know there’s no archaeological evidence for the exodus? Hey Paul, before you all, and Peter, before you get all crazy by the Jesus thing, you realize the earth is more than 6000 years old, that whole genealogy in Genesis?’ “.
     Stanley went on … “Peter would’ve looked at you like, ‘I’m not really sure what you’re talking about, but, but, but, I followed a man for three years…. The reason I’m following Jesus is because I saw him die and I saw him alive and I went to the streets of Jerusalem to say God has done something among us’.”  
     And then, this is where I discern that he stated his real doctrine of belief.  He said, “For the first 300 years, the debate centered on an event – not a book. For the first 300 years of the existence of Christianity, the debate was about an event – not a book. The question was not, is the Bible true, is the Bible true, is the Bible true? The question was – did Jesus rise from the dead? Christianity, don’t miss this. Christianity does not hang by the thread of ‘the Bible tells me so.’ And if your church sent you off to college with that house of cards, I apologize. And if your entire life, your whole thing has been, ‘I gotta defend the Bible, I gotta defend the Bible,’ uh oh, there’s information that looks like it contradicts the Bible. ‘I can’t look over there. Honey don’t look over there.’ I’m so sorry you are left with that fragile version of our faith.”  You’re kidding me, right?  He’s not really saying that the Bible is “a fragile version of our faith, is he?”
     So, here’s what Andy Stanley fails to comprehend, if I may … Yes, Peter could say that he saw Jesus crucified and resurrected.  And, yes, Peter heard, first hand, the teachings of the Son of God and knew and understood that the Kingdom of God was among them in the person, Jesus Christ.  But as the Venoits express so eloquently in their article, “Unfortunately, we, as people who were not eyewitnesses to the resurrection, cannot say the same! It is primarily the Bible which makes the case, and we cannot possibly base our faith upon the resurrection without it! How would any of us know the truth of the resurrection without [the Bible’s] testimony?”
   
     It makes me extremely sad — and yes, somewhat angry — that the modern Church seems hell-bent on making the message of God appealing to the world.  What is it afraid of?  If, as Andy Stanley asserts, the Bible isn’t reliable — or it’s just a fragile version of the truth — then how can the message of Jesus be reliable … since the Bible is our only reference for His Gospel?!?  How can the Resurrection be believed, since the Bible is our only source of that supernatural event?
    It is my further understanding that Mr. Stanley is now back-peddling somewhat regarding his remarks, although from somewhat of an unrepentant stance, saying, ” My approach to preaching is not traditional… The world has changed.  The approach most of us inherited doesn’t work anymore. Actually, it’s never worked all that well. In a culture that had high regard for the Bible, the traditional approach held its own… [But] Eight years ago I shifted my approach. I didn’t announce it. I just did it. The results have been remarkable. You may not like my approach. That’s fine. I just hope you don’t stick with an approach you inherited because it’s comfortable.”  Am I understanding him correctly … “a culture that had high regard for the Bible” seems to indicate he no longer shares that regard.  And I guess I’m supposed to let that statement go unchallenged, because he’s comfortable with making it.
     And to be honest, I’m disappointed to find that very few pastors or theologians have publicly challenged Stanley on his disturbing contentions.  And if they did, they more closely resembled John Piper’s lukewarm exegesis on Stanley’s sermon.  Piper seems more interested in defending Stanley’s preaching style, than he does in defending the sufficiency of the Bible.  And is there anyone in the “celebrity pastor” sphere who still believes there is no substitute for Scripture?  (I suggest reading a powerful exposé on both Stanley and Piper by writer Bud Ahlheim at the Pulpit & Pen website).
     I hope that this blog post doesn’t seem as if I have overblown the controversy that swirls around Andy Stanley’s sermon.  But, frankly, I am tired of the “New Age apologetics” being promoted by popular pastors.  I get it … I know what they are shying away from, namely the “fire and brimstone” sermons of yesteryear.  They are concerned about reaching the young people, and they don’t want to “turn off” an already-alienated culture to the Church.  But, let’s be honest — it is precisely because the  Church has abandoned preaching the reality of hell in favor of a softened and more mellow Jesus who only wants to “love you” that our culture and the world is in the mess it is in.  It is time that we hold pastors and teachers responsible for what they preach … because whether or not they believe the Word of God is infallible and insufficient, it tells them they will certainly be accountable to Jesus for how they presented His Word.

Hebrews 4:12   “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

 

The Demonic Origins of Halloween

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I’m not going to sugarcoat it.  Halloween is an evil holiday.  It is not some harmless night of fun for the kids.  It actually has its roots in ancient paganism.  In fact, the Luciferian occultists celebrate eight major ritualistic “holy days”:
December 21st (Yule, or the Winter Solstice);
February 1st (Candlemas, also Groundhog’s Day; a Illuminati Human Sacrifice night);
March 21st (homage to goddess Ostara; Human Sacrifice Night);
May 1st (Beltaine Festival, also called Walpurgis Night. This is the highest day on the Druidic Witch’s Calendar. May 1st is the Illuminati’s second most sacred holiday. Human sacrifice is required);
June 21st (Summer Solstice; Litha is one of the Illuminati’s Human Sacrifice Nights);
August 1st (Lughnasa, Great Sabbat Festival; One of the Illuminati’s Human Sacrifice Nights); September 24th (Autumn Equinox); and
October 31st, which is the highest and holiest night of sacrifice for the secret society of the Illuminati.
     Halloween was originally known as “All Hallow’s Eve”, and began in the 7th Century A.D.  It was initially celebrated on May 13th as a night to celebrate the memories of deceased saints and martyrs. The date was then changed to November 1st, which marked the change from summer to fall, and removed the stigma of the holiday from being so close to Beltaine.  Legends began to be circulated of the ghosts of departed ones revisiting their former homes to warm themselves by the fire, and roaming the countryside retrieving offerings of food and drink, supplied by living family members.  But it was rumored that darker forces roamed the night as well; demons, goblins, and witches, all haunting the night with acts of mischief… i.e., “the trick”.
     But real witches also roamed the night, acting out their ritual dances around fires, while the devil himself played music for them.  Modern witches and wicca practice similar Halloween rituals, calling on earth’s spirits and goddesses to visit their circles of power.
      In an upcoming book by Tom Horn and Josh Peck, entitled Abaddon Ascending: The Ancient Conspiracy at the Center of CERN’s Most Secretive Mission, the authors consider, among other topics, the goddess Hecate, the Titan Earth mother of the wizards and witches, who illustrates perhaps better than any other ancient goddess the connection between Wicca, the Celtic Halloween traditions, and the realm of evil supernaturalism.
     Hecate may be considered the original witch of Halloween, and as the dark goddess of witchcraft, Hecate, like Isis, was worshiped with impure rites and magical incantations. Her name was probably derived from the ancient Egyptian word Heka, meaning “sorcery” or “magical,” which may explain her association with the Egyptian frog goddess of the same name.
     That is probably where we get the legendary tales associating frogs with witchcraft, and the witch’s various potions of frog-wart.  And here is an interesting fact I bet you didn’t know:  Because her devotees practiced such magic wherever three paths joined, Hecate was known by the Romans as Trivia (“tri”-three; and “via”-roads). Later, when the Latin church fathers compared the magic of the goddess Trivia with the power of the Gospel, they found it to be inferior, and thus the pursuit of Hecate’s knowledge became known as “Trivial Pursuit,” or inconsequential.
     But the fact remained that Hecate’s followers sincerely believed in and feared her magic, and her presence was legendary. This was primarily due to her role as the sorceress of the afterlife.  But true believers also feared Hecate’s ability to afflict the mind with madness, as well as her influence over night creatures. She was thought to govern haunted places where evil or murderous activity had occurred. Such areas where violence or lechery had a history were believed to be magnets of malevolent spirits, something like “haunted houses,” and if one wanted to get along with the resident apparitions they needed to make oblations to the ruler of the darkness—Hecate.
     Hecate’s most familiar companion was the night owl, who announced the acceptance of the oblations.  And those who gathered on the eve of the full moon perceived the spooky sound of the creature as a good omen. Statues of the goddess bearing the triple-face of a dog, a snake, and a horse overshadowed the dark rituals when they were performed at the crossing of three roads. At midnight, Hecate’s devotees left food offerings at the intersection for the goddess (“Hecate’s Supper”) and, once deposited, quickly exited without turning around or looking back. Sometimes the offerings consisted of honey cakes and chicken hearts. At other time’s puppies, honey and female black lambs were slaughtered for the goddess and her followers.

     These followers were women who were deformed by a curse placed on them, and vicious owl-like affiliates of Hecate, who flew through the night feeding on bodies of unattended babies. During the day these followers appeared as simple old women, and such may account for the history of Halloween’s flying witches. The same followers hid amidst the leaves of the trees during the annual festival of Hecate, held on August 13, when Hecate’s followers offered up the highest praise of the goddess. Hecate’s devotees celebrated such festivals by communing with the tree spirits—(Earth spirits, including Hecate, were thought to inhabit trees)—and summoned the souls of the dead from the mouths of nearby caves.
     Hecate was known by a variety of names:  “the one before the gate,” a role in which she guarded the entrances of homes and temples from nefarious outside evils (talk about Satan casting out Satan!); and “the one who leads,” as in the underworld guide of Persephone and of those who inhabit graveyards.  Finally, she was known as Hecate-Phosphoros, “the light bearer,” her most sacred title and one that recalls another powerful underworld spirit, Satan, whose original name was Lucifer (“the light bearer”). It was nevertheless her role as the feminist Earth-goddess-spirit Hecate-Chthonia that popularized her divinity and commanded reverence from among the common people.
     But it is easy to see the connection between ancient paganism and the modern customs and costumes of Halloween. The Hecatian myths adopted by Celtic occultists continue in today’s pop culture, symbolism and tradition in the following ways:
•  People visiting neighborhood homes on Halloween night represent the dead in search of food (the treat).
•  Masks of devils and hobgoblins represent evil spirits seeking mischief (the trick).
•  Those who pass out candy represent the homes visited by the dead, or may also represent worried individuals seeking to appease Hecate and other nighttime terrors.
•  The Jack-O-Lantern (will-o-the-wisp, fox fire, fairy fire, etc.) is, according to some histories, a wandering soul stuck between heaven and hell. Others claim the Druids left Jack-O-Lanterns on doorsteps to ward off evil spirits. Another legend concerns a drunk named Jack who made a deal with the devil. Each claims to be the true origin of the Jack-O-Lantern myth.
     And in case you think this is all just a bunch of harmless folklore, I want you to consider this …. not long ago some 300 exorcists flocked to Poland for a week-long congress to examine the current fashion for Halloween-themed monsters like werewolves and vampires the world-over, and the apparent connection between this fascination and a surge in demonic possession. Is it possible that  the world is experiencing an explosion of ancient occultism combined with wicked fascination for ghosts and all things paranormal?  Those who monitor social trends now say that Halloween is the second most popular holiday, surpassed only by Christmas; itself full of pagan symbolism.
      I don’t think we can ignore that in the United States alone, there are as many as 8 million practitioners of witchcraft. On college and high school campuses vampires, werewolves, and other “creatures of the night” are esteemed as objects of desire and idolized by young men and women who view them as cult icons of envious mystical power. (The popularity of the Twilight movie franchise exhibits this dangerous fascination).
     Almost daily we read how Satanism is spreading to public schoolyards and elementary after-school clubs; city council meetings are being opened with invocations to Satan; and even church goers are being enchanted by the darkness.

     It is imperative that we understand that the Mass Media, including the Internet, television, film, radio, and other communications systems, have traded Bela-Lugosi-like vampires of former years and silly Abbott and Costello’s Frankensteins and Mummies, (which could be vanquished with Christian symbols), for monsters of profound demonic character depicted as impervious to Christ’s power. As a result, today’s youth have exchanged yesterday’s pigtails and pop-guns for pentagrams and blood covenants aligned with forces far stronger than former generations could have imagined…. and forces that they are ill-informed to withstand.
     It is no stretch of the imagination to suggest this is one of the signs that this age is under demonic influence. If we could see through the veil into the supernatural realm, we would find a world alive with good against evil; a place where the ultimate prize is the soul of this generation and where legions war for control of its cities and people.
     Yet we continue to think that celebrating Halloween is harmless, and we refuse to look beyond the veil to see the dark spiritual forces orchestrating their evil.  I know that there will be those who think this is all exaggerated and nothing but old wives tales, or fanciful legends.  But if you are willing to entertain the smallest possibility that there is any truth to these legends, then why would you partake in the celebration of such wickedness … and worst of all, why subject a child to the influence of such dark forces.  It’s time to come out of our stupor and listen to the discerning spirit that God has given us.  There’s a reason these “legends” have existed for as long as they have, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see that the forces behind them are gaining in power.

Thanks to Charisma News and author Tom Horn for the research and the information regarding the history of Halloween and its pagan, demonic roots.

Ephesians 5:11   “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”
   

2 Peter 1:10-11

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Therefore, brothers, make every effort to confirm your calling and election, because if you do these things you will never stumble.  
For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior 
Jesus Christ will be richly supplied to you.

     
     It is obvious from this passage that the subject matter is important to Peter.  He is telling fellow believers to make every effort to confirm (to make sure) of their “calling” and “election”.  First of all, we need to understand what is meant by those terms, and then to understand why it is so important to be sure of them.
     Those particular words have caused much difference of opinion in theological circles for centuries.  But, when I have a question, I always go to Strong’s Concordance in order to understand what the word was in the original Hebrew or Greek (instead of the sometimes vague or inconclusive English translation).  In this case, the word “calling” is from the Greek word, klesis, and the idea of an invitation is being implied.  It is used especially of God’s invitation to man to accept the benefits of salvation.  
     The word “election” has all kinds of implications, and is often used to support the theological premise of predestination.  When one studies the meaning of its origin in the Greek, one finds that it comes from the word, eklegomai, which means “to pick out, select; to choose for oneself”.  Interestingly, it does not necessarily imply the rejection of what is not chosen, but “choosing” with the secondary ideas of kindness or favor or love. 
     And how do we confirm or know that our calling or election are confirmed?  Peter says, “If you do these things you will never stumble”, thereby affirming your security in them.  But what are “these things”?  They are the faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love that we see evidenced in our lives. (See 2 Peter 1:5-7).  As we see these things in our life, we know that our lives are becoming more like the nature of Jesus. It shows that we are being conformed to His image.  
     As David Guzik points out in his commentary, “It is possible for an unsaved person to do many moral and religious duties. But the “these things” Peter wrote of are matters of the heart, and should be evident in anyone born again. Simply said, if we are called, if we are elect, then we are born again – and if we are born again, it shows in the way that we live”.  Furthermore, if we continue to grow and progress in our Christian life through these things, it is a sure way to keep from stumbling.
     Now, we come to the Why it is important to be sure that we have accepted God’s invitation and been chosen to live out a righteous life.  It has to do with how you enter into the eternal Kingdom of God.  Peter makes it clear that it is important to know where you stand in your Christian walk so that your entry will be “richly” supplied to you.  We must not skip over the fact that he makes a point about the state of your entrance.  There is more going on here than the knowledge that you will enter the Kingdom of God if you do “these things” and are certain of your “calling” and “election”.  The object of not stumbling seems to be how you will enter the Kingdom, and Peter is implying that it should be a goal to do it “richly”.  
     The 19th Century British evangelist Frederick Meyer gave a wonderful analogy about our entry into the eternal Kingdom:  “There are two ways of entering a port. A ship may come in, waterlogged and crazy, just keeping afloat by continual working at the pumps; or it may enter with every sail set, her flag floating at the mast-head. The latter is what the Apostle Peter desires for himself and those whom he addresses. He desired that an entrance abundant should be ministered unto them.”
     I’m sure you’ve heard the contemporary version of this analogy … something along the lines of “if I can just skid into heaven under the wire, that’s good enough for me.”  But is it?  Is that what we really want?  Which would you rather accomplish — to come in unrecognized and unknown, or be welcomed by scores and hundreds or thousands of God’s heavenly host to whom you have been the means of a blessing, and who are awaiting you in honor and celebration?
     It must not be lost on us that coming into the Kingdom was so important to Peter that he felt it necessary to remind believers to be sure that they did all they could with their invitation from God, so that they could receive the most glorious of entrances.  Do you live each day with that in mind?  Do we realize that our entrance will be a time of celebration?  Which do you want … to arrive unannounced and unheralded … or to arrive to the sounds of the heavenly choir singing your praises? We must not take our entrance into eternity for granted, nor as trivial or insignificant.  What a glorious day that will be!

The Election of Our Lifetime

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     I got a phone call from my brother yesterday, proudly proclaiming that he had voted early.  Like many of you, he rightly understands that this Presidential election could very well determine the future of our nation as we know it.  If you are not a Christian, then you probably look upon this election as a decision between a life-long politician and an anti-Washington Establishment candidate.
     If you are a Christian, then issues like Supreme Court Justices, who will decide the law of the land in regards to abortion, same-sex marriage, and religious and civil rights, are important to you.  Sadly, if we are looking for a true Christian candidate, then we’re out of luck.  But, as I’ve seen written on several different websites, “we are not voting for a pastor but for a politician”.

     And let’s not lose sight that we live in a fallen world.  Being Conservative or Liberal does not equal being a Christian.  That’s where a candidate’s character and integrity come into play.  I think it is pretty safe to say that, the way the world is headed, the next President is going to have a tremendous amount of adversity to deal with.  Which one do you think will stand up to the pressure, and consider what is best for the people, rather than their political future?  I know that is nearly impossible to imagine, given the history of politicians in our lifetime, but I truly believe we are on the precipice of world-changing events that will effect the entire globe… so who do you trust to measure up to that mental, physical, and emotional stress (or at least, which one do you mistrust the least?)
     Here’s my true assessment of the Christian voter’s dilemma … It has become clearer and clearer to me that we have abdicated our role as citizens of the Kingdom of God in favor of seeing ourselves as citizens of the United States of America.  Because we have not understood or performed our role as citizens of God’s Kingdom, and helped to institute a structured, organized government with the very authority of God behind it, we are suffering the consequences of surrendering our identity.
     Stop and consider this … To Jesus and His disciples, the term Kingdom of God meant a government that would be established on earth. They anticipated that its arrival would amount to nothing less than a sweeping, overwhelming change in the world order.  Read that highlighted part of the last sentence again.  Have we, the Body of Christ, done that in this country?  No!  Instead, we are seeing more violence, lawlessness, and discord than ever.
     And I firmly believe that we could be facing the advent of one of the most repressive systems in the history of our nation.  So what do we do if God allows that to take place?  What is our role after November 8th, no matter who wins?  It’s clear that we have failed in the last several decades to influence the culture or the government.  We have not conducted ourselves as representatives of the Kingdom of God on earth.  Instead we have compromised and made concessions in the hope that we could maintain our status within our own closed faction of society.  But we see where that got us.
     Those who we failed to influence are now not satisfied with our status quo.  And we’ve forgotten Who we represent on this planet, and sought those politicians we hoped would represent us.  We’ve lost sight of the fact that America is just our temporary home, and we were to help establish Our Father’s Kingdom … on earth as it is in Heaven.
     Is it too late to reclaim our ambassadorship and citizenship?  Never!  This age in which we live is awash in hostilities, injustice, and fear.  But we serve a King who is the answer to all that!  We can show our fellow citizens that there is a counter-culture that offers hope!  The solution to our nation’s problems does not lie in another bill before the Legislature, or a Supreme Court decision, or even who is the 45th President of the United States.  The answer lies in fulfilling our roles as citizens of a very real Kingdom of God on earth.
     If we accept that challenge, we must decide which of the two candidates is most likely to serve our purpose.  To not vote is your choice, as well.  This is the fine line that the Christian must walk; we have dual citizenship, both as citizens of America and the Kingdom.  For myself, I will exercise my right to vote for the leader of my nation; with an eye on which one will allow me to influence my fellow Americans by helping to establish a government with, not only the Authority of God behind it, but with that sweeping, overwhelming change that has been anticipated since our King walked this earth.  It may not come in my lifetime, but I am ready to assume my proper identity and walk out my citizenship in His Kingdom.  May the nation get in step with my Lord.

Ephesians 2:19    “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens [outsiders without rights of citizenship], but you are fellow citizens with the saints (God’s people), and are [members] of God’s household…”

The Primacy and Sufficiency of The Word of God

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     As I scan the abundant number of “Christian” websites, I am actually overwhelmed with the divergent headlines.  They all proclaim to represent The Faith, but so many seem in contrast to each other that I wonder what they base their foundational beliefs upon and who or what is their principal source.  Shouldn’t it be the Word of God?
     Just a cursory glance at the website, Pulpit and Pen, reveals an abundance of theological movements and positions, and I almost feel like I am looking at a smorgasbord of “Christian-like” promotions.  I will admit that I am largely unfamiliar with all these people and their doctrinal reputations, but it is obvious that controversy swirls around them all.  There is so much condemnation against each other that it is confusing, and honestly, quite sad.
     Here is just a small sampling of headlines:  Bethel Church: Pimping Heresy; iDisciple … Your Daily Connection with God or Heretics?; Joyce Meyer Undead, David Barton Buys a Ph.D., and Conan O’Brien is Ordained; If You Hate Hillsong, You Hate God; Carl Lentz to Oprah Winfrey:  You Don’t Have To Be A Christian To Have A Relationship With God; and my personal favorite, Kenneth Copeland:  If You Don’t Vote For Trump, You’re Going To Be Held Accountable to God for Murder.

     I’m sure each of these people believe they are spreading the Gospel of Jesus, according to their own understanding.  But look at the fruit of those “understandings” … Can anyone explain to me the Biblical principals behind movements like the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), Montanism, Revival Us 2016, Evangelicals For Life, Postmillennial Reconstructionism, the new Feminist Theology, New Calvinsim, and countless others?  Also, so many people considered “Leaders” in the modern Christian circles are at each other’s throats. Beth Moore is accused of being a False Teacher; John Piper is being questioned about his support for Rick Warren and Mark Driscoll; the Christian Post is accused of promoting filth and world entertainment; and Kirk Cameron is purported to be pushing a false gospel of American Patriotism.
     Maybe it’s no different than those first years after the Ascension of our Lord; maybe nothing has changed since the Gnostics rivaled the early Church, or Simon the Sorcerer promoted himself and his philosophical theology as truth.  There has certainly been a parade of “theologians” down through the centuries who have proffered their version of the Gospel Message.
     And maybe I’m just less educated in Biblical studies, and am unfamiliar with higher levels of theological thought, but I am not interested in all these ideologies, new schools of thought, or radical tenets that seem in conflict with what I read in the Bible.  In fact, I would say that I subscribe to the same belief as the 19th-Century pastor, Charles Spurgeon: “If you wish to know God, you must know His Word. If you wish to perceive His power, you must see how He works by His Word. If you wish to know His purpose before it comes to pass, you can only discover it by His Word.”
     That’s why I find it highly disconcerting to find so many Christians living their faith according to the tenets of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren; or starting each day out by reading the daily devotional in Jesus Calling.  (You can read about my concerns on this controversial, but popular, little book here).  What has happened to the Authority and Sufficiency of the Word of God?  Why is it not enough for us, and why is it not the first and primary source that we go to in order to discern God’s will?
     read the Word of God!  Just look how easy it has been for the new breed of theologians to gather their followings from among the Body of Christ.  One need only look at the profitable businesses that surround many of these movements and individuals.  Why are so many Christians willing to endorse men, women, and groups whose teachings do not align with Scripture?  Have we forgotten what it means to be a good Berean; to diligently search the Scripture to see if what they are saying is God’s Truth?  Or are we captivated by a gospel that makes us feel good and is centered on what we want out of this life?

     I think what saddens me the most is that I fear many Christians are unable to defend the Word of God against distorted and false teachings… because they do not open their Bibles and actually
     The bottom line is this:  We either believe that the Bible is the complete Word of God as He intended us to know it, or we think there is more that He wants to say to us through people and movements.  I, for one, know that there is so much He wants to reveal to me; so much that I do not understand.  But I believe it can all be found within the pages of His Holy Book.  By concentrating on what He has to say, and searching for the meaning of His Word through the men He trusted to reveal it, I have received more knowledge of Him than from any human.
     There is so much to learn about YHWH through my personal study of His Word; why would I depend on mere men to give me their interpretations?  For example, I could spend the rest of my life studying the meanings of names and places in the Bible, because they mean something to God and they spoke to the Hebrews and Greeks of the day.  That holiest of Books was not written to us, but it has great meaning for us when we come to understand what God was saying to His Chosen People.  The Bible alone, reveals the true nature of God.  That is why He inspired men to write it, and His Word declares that “It is written” in order to affirm that it is the only pure Word of God.  So, here is what I have determined for myself …. What is at stake in these times of opposing theology and controversial movements is nothing less than God’s incorruptible Truth.  And for me, the Holy Bible is my primary and authoritative source.  It is sufficient for me and my spirit.

Psalm 119:160     “The entirety of Your word is truth [the full meaning of all Your precepts], And every one of Your righteous ordinances endures forever.”

     

The Power of “Seeing” Jesus

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     I am always humbled and amazed and awestruck whenever I experience someone “seeing” Jesus during a deep healing and deliverance session.   My mere words cannot come close in describing the emotional and spiritual impact that can have on a person who is hurting.
     Imagine, if you can, that you are asked to recall a memory of the most traumatic event in your life.  You may be a Believer and have prayed countless times to Jesus and God, the Father, to help you deal with the agonizing consequences in your life that were a result of another’s free will decision.  You may have buried those feelings so deep, that you can’t even identify that event as the source of your current pain.  But having asked the Holy Spirit to be present and to help you heal, you find yourself back in that moment, with all the terror, pain, and torment of the event.

     Then you are asked to see if Jesus is present in the situation.  A majority of the people that we have been blessed with ministering to have a tremendous emotional breakthrough and exclaim, “He is right here beside me, holding my hand!”  Or, “He is kneeling beside me, crying along with me!”  Or, “He is standing behind me, supporting me!”  For each individual person, there has been a separate, distinct, and personal response.  Some have been quite unusual:  “I can’t see Him… Wait, He is outside the window watching me!”  And, “I see Him standing by the mailbox, and He is letting me know He is not leaving”.  But almost to a person, they can’t help saying, “He has been there all the time!”
     So, how does that happen?  Can we explain it in terms that our human minds can comprehend?  To be honest, I’m not sure.  As my husband and I continue to be obedient to the Lord’s command to “do the things He has done”, and to be in agreement with Him and to be His agent in “setting the captives free”, it has become quite clear that it is the eyes of our spirits that can see Him.
     You see, each of us has been a victim at one time or another in our lives of the Father of Lies.  He’s a master at his game, and he’s been at it a very long time.  He’s so good at what he does that he can twist the reality of our lives and make the Truth look like a Lie, and his Lie look like the Truth.  He works his plan [so well] to keep our hearts and souls in chains and bound to his misery,  that we can’t tell the difference between Truth and Lies.
     But when you invite the Holy Spirit to help show you the healing power of Jesus in your life, He can open the eyes of your heart and your spirit, and remove the dirty veil with which the devil has obscured your spiritual sight.  His lie that Jesus didn’t really hear your prayers or cries for help; or that He didn’t really care about you, are suddenly revealed as deception, and you clearly see your Lord  present and active, while experiencing His power in destroying the demons who have held you in bondage.  Through His Sovereignty, God gives us our imaginations as a tool whereby we can cooperate with Him to participate in securing our freedom that Jesus died for.
     This vision of Jesus in the midst of traumatic life events is powerful to demolish the strongholds in a person’s life.  And it happens in the spirit realm, which Jesus is quite capable of overlaying on top of this physical realm.   We are part of His Kingdom of God on earth, and as such, He wants to work with us and interact with us to accomplish His Father’s will “on earth as it is in Heaven”.  He wants to show us how we can defeat Satan’s lies by “seeing” the power of Jesus as He comes in contact with the events of our lives.  Just think how different your life would be if you could see the spirit of fear or anger that has plagued your life, submit to the Name and Power of Jesus and “see” Jesus drop it into a fiery pit.  One person even saw Jesus drop kick the oppressive spirit over a cliff in the abyss.  Another saw Him hurl a spirit like a javelin.  I kid you not!

     Who says Jesus can’t do whatever He pleases with Satan’s agents?  Are those methods any more outrageous than letting demons enter a herd of pigs and driving them off a cliff to drown?  And if we encounter a particularly stubborn spirit who thinks he doesn’t have to surrender to Jesus, it has empowered people to know that we can ask Jesus to send part of His spiritual army to force them to comply.  Seeing a towering warrior angel with a fiery hot sword compel a demon to obey our demand to enter a lockbox to be handed to Jesus, is an image that is not likely to be forgotten!
     But here’s the part that gives me such hope for the growing number of people who aren’t willing to stay in their bondage … after seeing Jesus “in the spirit”, each person possesses a powerful tool of the Kingdom to prevent recurring enslavement.  Once they have seen Jesus, they know He is present and available and that He can send His warring angels at our request, anytime and anyplace.  These people are able to recognize the old pattern of Satan’s attacks, and instead of succumbing to the onslaught of lies and the resulting turmoil in their lives, they quickly close their eyes, ask Jesus to send warring angels to protect them, or rebuke the spirit “in the Name of Jesus”, and command it to go where Jesus sends it.
     Remember the story in Luke 8, of the man who had been plagued for years by demons?  He had believed the lies for so long that they had oppressive power over him and he had lived in a state of desperate and hopeless agony.  Then Jesus showed up.  The demons, who before had seemed unconquerable, were reduced to cowering wimps, begging Him not to torment them.  That is the Power of Jesus and the power that is available to all of us, if we are willing to let Him interface with us.  And He can, in the spirit!
     The demons know Him and are afraid of Him.  When we let them know that we have the authority to call on Him and His host of heaven, and that we know we have access to the presence of God, we have real power at our disposal!  The Power of Jesus is His Truth that exposes the Lies of Satan and his demons.  His Presence and that Truth sets us free, and once free we don’t ever have to go back to a life of slavery.  And you know what else?  As we exercise our authority and see Him in the spiritual battles of our lives, that sense of freedom increases, deepens, and propels us to bear fruit and greatly impact the Kingdom.
     I want to conclude with this thought … we are more than flesh that must succumb to the Prince of this world and his followers.  We are spirit beings, as well, who are seated with Him in the heavenly realms from the moment we accept Him as our Savior.  We are united with Him, and a partner in taking back territory from the Enemy.  That is far easier to accomplish when we are able to “see” Him exercise His power in our lives, and show us that we have the authority to use it, too.  I can’t wait for the next captive to see Him in the spirit and experience the freedom that will make them a spiritual warrior and an effective ambassador for God’s Kingdom.
     Finally, there is a popular contemporary Christian song that says it perfectly:  Open the eyes of my heart, Lord, I want to see You … Pour out your Power and Love…”.  May all the captives “see” Him, feel His love healing their wounds, and watch His Power defeat the Enemy’s authority in their lives.

Hebrews 7:25   “Wherefore also, He is able to save completely those that draw near to God through Him, seeing He always lives to make intercession for them.”

Genesis 16:13

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 So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen Him who looks after me.”

     These are the words of Hagar, spoken as a result of the difficult situation she was in as Abram’s wife’s handmaiden.  Because Abram and Sarai did not trust that God would fulfill His promise to make Abram the father of many nations, they took matters into their own hands.  
    There is an old Jewish tradition which suggests that before they came to live in the Promised Land, Abram and Sarai regarded their childlessness as punishment for not living in the land. But now they were in the land for ten years, and they still had no children. Sarai probably felt it was time to do something. Perhaps she thought along the lines of an old (but unbiblical) proverb, God helps those who help themselves.  
     So she arranged for her handmaiden, Hagar, to conceive a child by Abram. (NOTE:  According to tradition, Hagar would actually sit on the lap of Sarai as Abram inseminated her, to show that the child would legally belong to Sarai, as Hagar was merely a substitute for Sarai.  We see this practice plainly spelled out from the similar occasion of using a servant as a surrogate mother in the case of Rachel’s giving of Bilhah to Jacob when Rachel was barren. In that context, Genesis 30:3 reads: So she said, Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her, and she will bear a child on my knees, that I also may have children by her.)     
     In any regard, Abram and Sarai’s impatience while waiting on the promise of the Lord made them vulnerable to acting in the flesh.  How many of us can identify with that weakness?  When we impatiently try to fulfill Gods promises in our own effort, it often accomplishes nothing and may even prolong the time until the promise is fulfilled.  In fact, it was 13 years before Hagar would bear Ishmael as Abram’s first-borne.
     As it is easy to imagine, Hagar became despised by Sarai.  Perhaps Abram doted on the boy … he finally had a son in his old age!  Or it is conceivable that Hagar thought herself above Sarai, and displayed some superiority, as well as disdain for her mistress.  And it is also easy to perceive that two women in one household, when one is jealous of the other, makes an unpleasant situation for the man of the house.  But they all shared in the sinful atmosphere — Hagar for her arrogance, Sarai for her impetuousness, and Abram for not being the spiritual leader of the house and demanding that they remain obedient to God’s promise.  It all resulted in conflict and hostility.  Which brings us to the present situation in Genesis 16:13….
     Hagar has fled the harsh actions of Sarai towards her, and escaped into the wilderness.  As she slumps by the spring on the way to Shur, she is visited by the Angel of the Lord, which is the pre-incarnate Jesus, who gives her a Promise of her own.  He instructs her to do something very difficult: return to her mistress and submit to her, whereby He would multiply her descendants exceedingly.  
     We know that He kept His promise.  Ishmael would become the father of all the Arabic peoples.  And the effects of the sins of Sarai, Abram, and Hagar have reached far beyond what they ever could have imagined.  Today’s battle between Jews and Arabs can be traced back to Abram’s decision to fulfill God’s promise in man’s wisdom and strength.
     While Hagar’s child, Ishmael, would not be the child of God’s original Promise, this passage in the Bible tells us that God would still bless and sustain them.  That should give us all hope.  This Scripture tells us that God sees our suffering and desires to touch our life when we suffer.  And Hagar knew this was no mere angel who appeared to her. She called Him the-God-Who-Sees, El Roi.  What a revelation it must have been to realize that the Great God of the Israelites was aware of her, an Egyptian slave girl, who was a ‘non-factor’ in the eyes of everyone else.  
    This is a great lesson for all of us.  We may feel insignificant; we may see ourselves as inconsequential.  But we are fully known. You might be a waitress, or a garbage man, or you might fry burgers at McDonalds.  But God sees you, even when others don’t.   It means you have significance in His eyes.  This should be a point of worship; it was for Hagar.  
     Because God fully knows all about you, you can find rest in being unknown. His complete awareness of you should encourage you and fill you with hope. You should feel significant, exceptional and worthy of His attention.  And because He knows of you and sees you, it should make your life purposeful.  You should feel like shouting to the heavens, He sees me!

The Spirits of War

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     As someone who has a member of my extended family engaged in the ongoing war in Iraq, I don’t have to tell you that I worry about the toll it will take on members of our military and their families.  As I have gotten more involved with spiritual warfare, it has become quite clear to me that the spiritual entities behind our nation’s wars have impacted generations of Americans.
     I am the daughter of a WW II veteran and although my father never showed any outward ramifications of serving in the Navy in the Pacific, I cannot believe that any 17-year-old who enters a war comes home unscathed.  And I recently ran across a testimony on Omega Letter by, I believe, Jack Kelley.  He related how he feels unworthy to be a spokesman for God (I can certainly relate to that statement!), and how he is far from someone who should be held up as a “model Christian” (again, I can identify).
     But it was the story of his relationship with his dad, who was also a member of the Greatest Generation and served in the last World War, that caught my attention.  He recounted the years of bad blood between him and a father he could never get close to.  Maybe it was the years his father spent in an orphanage, before escaping at a tender age and becoming a Depression-era hobo. He ‘rode the rails’, living in hobo jungles for much of the 1930’s. In 1939, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Regiment and shipped out for England.
     Maybe it was because his father fought in the first battle against the German-occupied port of Dieppe in 1940; or that he fought in North Africa, was wounded in Sicily, participated in the Normandy Landing on June 6, 1944, fought his way across France, and was among the troops that liberated the Nazi death camps at Dachau.  That is a lot of war and human suffering to experience, and it must have left deep spiritual wounds.
     Then I recalled an article I wrote a little over a year ago, in which I discussed contributing factors to the increasing rates of suicide among our returning veterans from today’s wars.  In the post, I referenced something very important:  “Veterans are saying it themselves, and identifying what I believe is at the root of their despondency; and it’s a darkness that encompasses them, a sinister energy that lies to them, sometimes even seeming to speak to their wounded souls.”  And I thought, “How many times have my husband and I ministered to desperate people who were hearing voices telling them to kill themselves”?  And in each instance, it was a demonic spirit that had been given legal authority to harass and oppress these people by some traumatic event in their lives.  What is more traumatic than war???
     My mind then seemed to go straight to a memory of reading somewhere that during the Viet Nam War, the native inhabitants placed a curse upon the land so that any foreign enemy who tread upon their nation’s ground would be spiritually attacked.  I have heard the same about the war in Afghanistan.  Is it an urban legend?  I honestly don’t know, but knowing what I do about territorial assignments given to the ranks of Satan’s army, it is absolutely plausible to me.
    A quick internet search on Wikipedia for “gods of war” or “war deities” turned up a startlingly immense number of gods and goddesses dedicated to war.  Just a quick count told me there were approximately 323 different gods, goddesses, marshals, lords, celestial generals, and commanders associated with war in various cultures.  And it was noted that this was just a “partial” list!  Of course, Wikipedia called all these “spirits of war” part of each nation or culture’s mythology.  
     But we know differently don’t we?  The names of these deities are not just part of a nation’s cultural stories or myths.  They are very real deities and gods, who have been given their power and territories by satan.  And what I found especially interesting is the fact that many of these gods are interrelated, or trace their origin or some connection back to ancient gods mentioned in the Bible.

Gurzil, son of Amon

     For instance, Gurzil was a bull-shaped war god of the indigenous Berber tribe of North Africa.  In the Berber culture, he became identified with the son of Amun (Amon) and was taken by the Berbers to their battles against the Romans. Amon was a major Egyptian deity and later rose to the position of patron deity of the Egyptian city of Thebes, where worship of him was fused with the Sun god, Ra.  All this makes for interesting stories of ancient peoples and their traditions and legends.  But, did you know that the Bible acknowledges the existence of Amon in Jeremiah 46:25?  The Word says, “The Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, said: ‘Behold, I am bringing punishment upon Amon of Thebes, and Pharaoh and Egypt and her gods and her kings, upon Pharaoh and those who trust in him’ “.  
     There are other gods of war mentioned in the Bible as well.  Just a few are Merodach or Marduk, a Babylonian war god (Jeremiah 50:2); Nergal, a war god of Cuth, one of the most important cities of the Babylonian Empire (2 Kings 17:30); Ishtar, or the Queen of Heaven, a goddess of war in both the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires (Jeremiah 7:18).  The Bible makes lots of references to the ancient peoples worshipping idols dedicated to these gods.
     Therefore, it weighs on my spirit that the world has seen so many wars in the last century, and the millions of men (and now women) whose spirits have suffered due to the demonic oppression associated with war.  It just indicates, to me at least, that Satan has been empowering his ranks of evil angels to attack those who have been impacted by war-time curses and/or traumatic events.
     It is imperative to understand that this new offensive in Iraq — and all wars fought by people and nations — is an extension of the spiritual war that is going on in the spiritual realm between good and evil.  In fact, Revelation 16:14 prophesies that in the near future (I believe), “three unclean spirits that looked like frogs, [will come] from the mouths of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet.  These are demonic spirits that perform signs and go out to all the kings of the earth, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God, the Almighty.”
     It is clear that demonic spirits are involved with war and influence men to battle each other, and they do it to advance Lucifer’s plan to defeat Jesus on the battlefield of Armageddon.  We know that the defeat will be Satan’s, but in the meantime, these spirits of war are bringing their darkness and sinister energy to our fighting soldiers, and our veterans are hearing the lies that devastate their souls.  And it is becoming clear to me that we have no idea how far-reaching these spiritual wounds will be.  Think about it … how many generations have experienced war in the last 100 years of this nation’s history?  How much legal authority have we given satan and the ranks of his spiritual generals to oppress our young men and women, and their families?
     We must begin to help those coming home from war to see that their wounds are more than physical.  We must begin to help them heal their spirits and the wounds that war has inflicted upon their souls.  We must teach them how to fight not only in this dimension, but in the next.  Our God is a spiritual Being, and He does not exist in the wooden or golden idols, carved and dedicated to the very real ancient gods of war.  He fights alongside us, going before us into battle, and He is the “Lord of Hosts”, who with His army of angels, will soon come with His justice to judge and make war of His own against the wicked and evil of the world.
     Until that day, may He have mercy upon those who go into battle at the beck and call of mere men.  May He be their refuge and their fortress, and may they feel His loving arms surround them.

Psalm 68:30  “Rebuke the beasts that dwell among the reeds, the herd of bulls with the calves of the peoples. Trample underfoot those who lust after tribute; scatter the peoples who delight in war.”
   
   

       

The Great Deception: Will It Be Coming In The Cloud?

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     For those of us who sense that the Day of the Lord is near, we are aware that He prophesied about all the deception that would come upon the world.  In fact, He said many people would be deceived, and great miracles will be performed to deceive even the elect, if that were possible. And then He adds, Behold! I have told you ahead of time.
     This is what theologians and the faithful throughout the Church Age have come to know as “The Great Deception”.  Now, deception is nothing new… it has plagued mankind since the beginning.  And the reason is because man has loved sin; and deception always works in harmony with man’s desire for unrighteousness. Jesus tells us that before His Second Coming, many people will be so in love with the temptations of sin.  And the deception will be declared so miraculous that it will be hard to resist it.  The only ones who will not be deceived are those who have trusted the Lord with all their heart, rather than trusting in the false and extraordinary (probably, even supernatural) promises of the Deceiver.

     For centuries, theologians and the The Church have debated the mystery of what the Great Deception could be.  As I look at the rapid progress in technology, and the immoral and unethical prospects proscribed by the scientific and post-human movements, I am beginning to see the outline of a plan that might bring this ungodly Deception into view.  Give me a few minutes of your time to present a possible theory…
     The fact that Jesus says The Great Deception will be so astounding that it might even convince the elect (if it were possible) tells me two things:  1)  It won’t fool those whose names are written in the Book of Life; their hearts and spirits will be steadfast, but 2) Is it possible that the Deception will try to incorporate some facet of the Bible that will make it seem acceptable to those who claim a knowledge and faith in Jesus, but are not truly redeemed?  Follow this train of thought…
     How often throughout the Scriptures is the presence of God or Jesus mentioned as being associated with a cloud?  Let me give you just a few examples:  “Clouds and thick darkness surround Him; Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne”  (Psalm 97:2). “Can anyone understand the spreading of the clouds, The thundering of His pavilion”? (Job 36:29).  “The LORD was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way… He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day [from before the people]” (Exodus 13:21-22).  “Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and sitting on the cloud was One like a son of man, having a golden crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand” (Revelation 14:14).  And then there is perhaps the most familiar verse:  “Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
     So, it’s pretty obvious that clouds are an important indicator of the presence of God or His Son.  But in today’s modern world, we are also quite familiar with another concept we fondly refer to as “the Cloud”.  But I would be willing to bet that a majority of the people who use it can’t even explain what it precisely is.  Here’s the most common definition:  “The Cloud” is an online storage service; a place to keep all your files and access them from across all your various computer devices.  But when asked where this storage service is located, most people will just say “in the Cloud”, which in computer slang means “out there”, somewhere in the nebulous universe of the Internet.  The imagery that accompanies “the Cloud” is that of some invisible destination in the sky where your files are organized and kept for easy access.  Somehow, we are led to believe they are safe and secure out there in space; just sitting in “the Cloud”.
     When one contemplates how quickly this idea has moved in the world of technology, it is staggering.  I must admit that I do not understand the intricacies of cloud storage, or “cloud computing”, as it is now popularly known.  But I do know that this concept is advancing in a direction that could possibly be an indicator of The Great Deception.  Let me explain… Cloud computing has progressed from storing small personal files; to capabilities of storing large amounts of computer data for corporations; to incorporating our Smartphones in a combination of mobile and storage services; to the future, which some say will be the combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and the cloud.
     This is not a new concept within my blog.  In August of 2013, I posted an article on Ray Kurzweil (the computer scientist, inventor, and futurist), and paraphrased him: “At the rapid rate technology is growing, we will be able to combine the abilities of a computer with God’s created human brain, and basically usurp man’s natural state and produce a machine that we were never meant to be.  We will no longer be made in the image of God, but in the likeness of a machine-driven computer.”   So, there is the artificial intelligence (AI) component of the Deception.
     But if our brain becomes a computer, with the capability of creating millions of files, won’t all those files need to be stored someplace safe and secure?  Someplace, like “the Cloud”, for instance? In fact, Kurzweil went on to explain, “We’re going to become increasingly non-biological to the point where the non-biological part dominates and the biological part is not important any more. In fact the non-biological part – the machine part – will be so powerful it can completely model and understand the biological part. So even if that biological part went away it wouldn’t make any difference.”
     But that’s not all!  Kurzweil then expounded upon the promise of virtual reality, saying, “We’ll certainly be routinely changing our parent body through virtual reality and today you can have a different body in something like Second Life, but it’s just a picture on the screen.   In the future it’s not going to be a little picture in a virtual environment you’re looking at. It will feel like this is your body and you’re in that environment and your body is the virtual body and it can be as realistic as real reality.”
     That was three years ago, folks.  Then I ran across this recent article on the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) website.  The title of the article was Second Life:  The Christian and Virtual Reality.  What is this Second Life, that Ray Kurzweil mentioned and now CBN is referencing?  It is a three-dimensional imaginary world built and populated by seven million real people. Since it opened on the Internet in 2003, it has grown explosively to become a vast digital continent on which people buy and sell property, carry out business, and pursue similar leisure activities to those in real life. 

     I believe you will be flabbergasted to know that there are people who actually call themselves Christians, who are attempting to combine this technology (in which residents of Second Life are “avatars”) with their faith in Jesus Christ.  Here’s what they are attempting to do: create a church community in the Cloud.  The vision is to create an awe-inspiring church that stands out for its brilliance and beauty, and to establish a Christian ministry within Second Life which will include support and care programs as well as evangelism initiatives.
     Naturally questions arise, such as how does one do pastoral care in a virtual environment? What is sin in Second Life? How does the cathedral service offer the Eucharist?
     But if the numbers are correct, and 7,000,000 people have signed up to “live” in Second Life, which doesn’t really exist, except in a virtual reality context in the Cloud, are you beginning to see deception on the horizon?  Because, people, it’s already here!  If not, let me throw this at you … the founders of Second Life say their  ultimate aim is to share Jesus Christ in Second Life, through the services.  Now, can you see it?
      That means Jesus would be an avatar, too, right?  Let me take you a step further… I find it interesting that an avatar in the computing world is an icon or figure representing a particular person in computer games, Internet forums, etc.  But the word “avatar” has significance in Hinduism as “a manifestation of a deity or released soul in bodily form on earth; an incarnate divine teacher.”  But which will this Jesus be?  Just a virtual reality representation of Jesus, the Son of the Living God?  Or the very real manifestation of a deity in the virtual reality of Second Life?  If you’re one of those 7 million living a virtual life, will it seem miraculous if Jesus, the iconic avatar became a physical, incarnate deity?  Will all those 7 million virtual Christians fall for meeting that Jesus in the air?  After all, they are already caught up in the cloud, right?
     Is Satan planning his Great Deception to coincide with the explosion of technology, cloud computing, and virtual reality?  I have no problem seeing many so-called Christians going down that path to destruction after passing through the wide gate of technological temptations.  And here’s a question for you… What if technology figures out a way that you no longer have to be an avatar in the Second Life community, but you can actually upload yourself there whenever you want?  (Remember:  Ray Kurzweil said, back in 2013, that “It will feel like this is your body and you’re in that environment and your body is the virtual body and it can be as realistic as real reality.”
     And what if you happen to be in the Cloud when the real Jesus returns to Earth?  The Bible says He will return to the same place and in the same manner that He left us.  That means He is returning to earth.  Do you think it is possible that Satan could so deceive earth’s inhabitants that they would desire to escape to another place, rather than wait on His blessed return, and expecting that Jesus will re-route His travel plans?  Or that professing Christians will be only too willing to accept that version of Jesus because it fits their new reality?
     I don’t know if this makes any sense to you or not, and to be honest, I haven’t fully digested where all this could lead.  It sounds so far-fetched and like a Ray Bradbury novel.  But there are enough hints that we are headed in that direction, and when some group like Second Life offers Jesus as part of the bargain, I fear far too many, who consider themselves faithful, will not discern the danger, and will choose to bypass the narrow gate which offers salvation.  Clouds have always indicated the presence of God in the Bible, but we must be careful to seek Him in the cloud as the Bible relates it, and not fall for some deceptive avatar out of the desire for our own style of immortality.

Nahum 1:3   “The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, And the LORD will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.  The LORD has His way in whirlwind and storm, And clouds are the dust beneath His feet.”

Warning: Transhumanists Are Embracing False Spirituality

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     Let’s face reality.  To many people, our smartphones, our iPads, Twitter, and microchips have become this world’s gods.  We bow down to technology in our culture, and we have lost sight of the One who created us.  We trust in ourselves and our digital false identities and no longer trust that there is a Higher Being who will one day judge us.  Instead, we judge ourselves against what technology tells us we should be, and become self-proclaimed deities, as prescribed by every advertisement that appears on that touchscreen.
     The question becomes, Is there room for spirituality in that virtual world?  Now, I understand that the word “spirituality” covers a broad spectrum of understanding, but for the purpose of this blog post, I wish to proceed on the premise that it means a belief in something bigger than ourselves; in my case, a connection and relationship with the One True God and His Son, my Savior.  To others, I understand that it might be nothing more than a search for the meaning of one’s life; a search that looks to a higher power for guidance and direction.  In either case, spirituality points to a belief system that places emphasis on relating to, or affecting the human spirit or soul.
     Since technology governs our world, it only seems natural that it will progress to the point that it governs our lives — even beyond what it does now.  Technology is trending towards extending and governing our lifespans, surpassing the biological limitations of our existence.  In other words, technology may soon convince us that we can be more than what we are (made in the image of God).  But wouldn’t that eliminate any “spiritual relationship” I might have with the One who created me, Jesus?

     Not necessarily, says Max More, the British philosopher, who is largely credited with articulating the principles of transhumanism as a futurist philosophy in 1990.  So we are all on the same page, let’s agree with the Wikipedia definition of transhumanism, which is “an international and intellectual movement that aims to transform the human condition by developing and making widely available sophisticated technologies to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.  The most common transhumanist thesis is that human beings may eventually be able to transform themselves into different beings with abilities so greatly expanded from the natural condition as to merit the label of posthuman beings.”  In simpler terms, transhumanism encourages the use of artificial enhancements to push mankind towards something “more than” human.  What do you think God thinks about that???
     Well, I can tell you that Max More, and other transhumanists like him, think they can keep all the benefits of religion, do away with some of its drawbacks, and leave out the supernatural.  (I would assume that some of the “drawbacks” would include that part about “Jesus is the only way to eternal life).  But here’s the thing… all humanists, whether they are “trans” or “modern” or “philosophical” always use Reason as their foundation.  They cannot comprehend that God is real, because they have no reasonable or rational proof.  Therefore, they diminish our faith to a simplistic idea that “This world is kind of grimy, and unpleasant and nasty, and it’s really something we should just wait to get past, and get to the real, nice place, which is heaven.”
     They see no value in putting our hope in the Lord and renewing our strength, or fixing our eyes on what is unseen and eternal.  They believe that we should work on improving what is temporary and seen.  Listen to how Max More describes the transhumanist philosophy:  “Transhumanism can be a way of looking beyond our meat bodies, and the particular form we have, recognizing our relationships with other species, different possibilities for our cells; and realizing that, what color our skin is, or where we come from, or what our religious beliefs are, isn’t really that important.  By acknowledging our fundamental, natural limitations, and looking beyond ourselves for ways to overcome these limitations, transhumanists pursue enlightenment … It’d be nice if we could overcome [those limitations] by reprogramming our genes. Carefully, because there are reasons why that evolved. But conditions have changed.”  Oh yeah?  Who are you, or any human for that matter, to suggest that what God created needs to be changed?
     What’s more, this philosopher dares to suggest that he has found “spirituality” in the future of transhumanist efforts.  He gets “a sense of meaning in life, a sense of purpose, and a different way of looking at things that I think is actually quite fulfilling and inspiring” … far more [he thinks] than those who believe in a God with ridiculous, arbitrary rules.  

     But at the core of transhumanism is the belief that mankind needs biological improvements, or an upgrade, if you will.  Take for example, Zoltan Istvan, an actual third-party presidential candidate who travels across the country in a coffin-shaped bus campaigning for infinite life extension, and Neil Harbisson, a colorblind “cyborg activist,” who has a device implanted into his skull that allows him to hear color.  They may be on the fringe of the transhumanist movement, but they are actually beginning to form alliances with groups like the Christian Transhumanist Association, who describe their purpose as “participating with God in the redemption, reconciliation, and renewal of the world”.
     But here is what you need to understand: They believe that “God’s mission involves the transformation and renewal of creation, including humanity, and that we are called by Christ to participate in that mission: working against illness, hunger, oppression, injustice, and death.”  They take the Scripture, Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength…and love your neighbor as yourself, and distort it.  They say that when it comes to the application of those commands, they see three deep things: 1) They focus on that which is transcendent.  2) They pursue greater coherence of mentality, physicality, spirituality.  3) They seek the betterment of the world.  They will tell you that these vague concepts are at the heart of Jesus’s Gospel.
     Listen to Micah Redding, executive director of the Christian Transhumanist Association:  “We wear glasses, we wear contacts, we get heart implants, we get dental implants, all of these things have been going on for generations, and none of these technologies have ever been considered to be at odds with Christianity. Why, then, should we treat smart blood — which promises to improve our physiological abilities — or a computer chip — which could improve our intelligence — any differently?”  Furthermore, Redding argues that extending life is a Biblical mandate, commanded by the call to imitate a God that believes life is good. “Just as God creates and cultivates life, he wants us to create and cultivate life,” Redding says.
     And they all want us to believe that this equals spirituality.  It’s just another example in a long line of Satan’s deceptions.  See how easily the devil gets mankind to switch from the concept of being made in the image of God, to thinking we can be like God?  That is the same lie he has told since the Garden of Eden!  His methods have varied, but the message has always been the same; and the latest “apple” he is dangling before our eyes is enhanced humanity; the road to overcoming our biological limitations and a way to gain eternal life … and all without acknowledging the saving power and grace of Jesus Christ.
     Yes, get ready to start seeing the promotions for “spiritual and biological enhancement”.   Get ready to be sold the lie that we can be God-fearing and longevity-embracing, all at the same time.  I will leave you with these prophetic words from Max More, the self-identified Father of Transhumanism:  “[Spirituality] can really just mean your highest values, deepest motivations, your big worldview.  And in that sense, I think you can definitely have a transhumanist spirituality.”  The word chilling does not begin to describe how I feel about that statement.

Job 38:2    “Who is this that darkens counsel [questioning My authority and wisdom] by words without knowledge?” 

   
     

1 Samuel 15:23

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For rebellion is as [serious as] the sin of witchcraft,
And disobedience is as [serious as] false religion and idolatry.

     The circumstances of this rebuke by the Prophet Samuel to Israel’s first king, Saul, should be a reminder to us of the consequences of our own rebellion.  This particular passage stems from Saul’s disobedience to the Lord’s command to destroy all of the Amalekites.  The Amalekites had committed a terrible sin against Israel nearly 400 years before. When the nation was weak and vulnerable the Amalekites attacked the weakest and most vulnerable of the nation (Deuteronomy 25:18). They did this for no reasons except violence and greed. God hates it when the strong take cruel advantage over the weak, especially when the weak are His people.
     God still held this sin against the Amalekites because time does not erase sin before God. Among men, time should erase sin and the years should make us more forgiving to one another. But before God, time cannot atone for sin. Only the blood of Jesus Christ can erase sin, not time. In fact, it was time that the Amalekites were mercifully given as an opportunity to repent, but they did not do so. The hundreds of years of hardened unrepentant hearts made them more guilty, not less guilty.
     Now, God good have just smote the Amalekites as He did Sodom and Gomorrah, but it was His desire that His command to destroy them would be a test of obedience for Saul and all of Israel. And how did Saul perform?  He attacked the Amalekites as instructed by the Lord, but it was a selective, incomplete obedience. First, Saul took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. God commanded Saul to bring His judgment on all the people, including the king.
     Saul and the people then went on to spare “Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them:”  In other words, they kept the spoils of the war for themselves.  It is important to note that Scripture says, “Everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.”  Now, in a normal war in the ancient world, armies were freely permitted to plunder their conquered foes. This was often how the army was paid. But it was wrong for anyone in Israel to benefit from the war against the Amalekites, because it was an appointed judgment from God. 
     One commentary I read had this to say about the ramifications of disobeying God:  [The tracking of the spoils of war] was perhaps worst of all, because Israel did not show God’s heart in His judgment. When the Israelites came home happy and excited because of what they gained from the battle, they implied there was something joyful or happy about God’s judgment. This dishonored God, who brings His judgment reluctantly and without pleasure, longing that men would repent instead.
     We must acknowledge that in this case, and all cases of disobedience, partial obedience is complete disobedience.  And since King Agag and the Amalekites were considered the epitome of sin to God, to spare them was like sparing some part of evil, some self-indulgence, some favorite sin.
     And then the Lord informed the prophet Samuel of Saul’s disobedience, and of His grief over the king’s sin.  Now, the Prophet must discipline the king because he had set us a monument to himself on the way home from the battle.  Saul wasn’t grieved over his sin at all.  In fact, Saul was quite pleased with himself! There is not the slightest bit of shame or guilt in Saul, even though he directly disobeyed the LORD.
     (In coming chapters, God will raise up another man to replace Saul as king. David, in contrast to Saul, was known as a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). Even though David would also disobey God, the difference between him and Saul was great. David felt the guilt and shame one should feel when they sin. Saul didn’t feel it. His conscience was dead to shame and his heart was dead to God. Saul’s heart was so dead he could directly disobey God and still set up a monument for himself on the occasion).
     Saul then tries to excuse his sin to Samuel, by claiming that they spared the best of the sheep, oxen, and lambs as a sacrifice to the Lord.  But Samuel tells him to be quiet and listen to the judgment God would bestow on Saul for his disobedience.  Samuel goes on to ask the following question:  “Is the Lord as delighted is burnt offerings and sacrifices as He is to [our] obedience to His voice?  Let me tell you, to obey Him is better than [any] sacrifice, and to take to heart His commandment is better than the fat of any ram”.  In other words,  Religious observance and traditions, without obedience, is empty before God. The best sacrifice we can bring to God is a repentant heart (Psalm 51:16-17) and our bodies surrendered to His service for obedience (Romans 12:1).
     It’s as simple as this:  We could offer to make 1,000 sacrifices to God, or work ten thousand hours in service to Him, or give a million dollars to His work… But all these mean little if there is not a surrendered heart to God, shown by simple obedience.  Do what He tells you to do; Go where He tells you to go; and do it all with a willing and repentant heart.  That’s what honors Him!
     Then Samuel concludes with our selected Scripture today:  For rebellion is like the sin of witchcraft, and disobedience is like a false religion and idolatry: A rebellious, disobedient heart rejects God just as certainly as someone rejects God by occult practices or idolatry.  In fact, when Saul consciously disobeyed God, he was following his own self-will, and in essence placing his desires above God’s.  Following such self-delusion is, in in effect, a false religion… a worship of self, as god.  Saul rejected God’s supremacy, and the result was that God rejected Saul as king.  
     What is the lesson we can take from this tragic story?  There are many, but perhaps the most relevant has to do with how the future leader of this nation will obey the commandments of God, and if it will result in God’s pleasure or rejection.  Because, make no mistake.  God still judges the nations, just as He did the Amalekites.  Throughout the history of the world the nations have been standing before Christ’s bar and have been judged.  Nineveh stood there, Babylon stood there, Greece and Rome stood there, Spain and France stood there, Nazi Germany stood there. One after another has heard the solemn word – Depart, and they have passed into destruction.  How will the present nations fare?  How will the United States of America?  If we can take one lesson from King Saul’s destructive path, it should be this … God does not tolerate disobedience.  There will be a price to be paid.  And He makes it clear that He views our failure or refusal to obey Him very seriously.  Let us pray that our next leader has a repentant heart and a desire to obey His every command.

Is It Time To Remove The Bell?

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     One of the many blessings of writing this blog is that I have joined a community of normal, everyday people who feel called to use their talent for writing to honor our Lord.  And every once in awhile, I hear directly from them, commenting on something I’ve written, and asking if they can share it with their readers.  Today, I want to return the compliment.  
     Dennis Rowan is the heart and soul behind a blog called “Homestead Shepherd”, and his blog is just what it sounds like… relating the practical experience of shepherding sheep to our spiritual Christian walk with Christ, who is our Shepherd.  
     Dennis contacted me a few days ago, and told me he was going to write an article about an unusual experience he had with a bellwether in his flock.  In case you don’t know (and I didn’t), a bellwether is a male sheep that leads the flock, usually wearing a bell.  It can also mean a person or thing that assumes the leadership or forefront, as of a profession or industry.  Dennis thought of my pen name, Belle Ringer, and the posts I have written about my church experiences, and hinted that I might find his article interesting.  
     Not only did I find it interesting, but of primary importance when regarding the state of the modern Church and its leaders.  Let me emphatically state that this is not a blanket assertion about all church shepherds, but an expression of profound concern.  So, with his kind permission, I would like to share Dennis’s perspective and concern about the Church’s “lead sheep”.

   

     Last week I removed the bell from a lead sheep.  It was a bit sobering as I thought about it;  I removed the bell because the sheep was no longer qualified to be a lead sheep… he was no longer useful.
     As I removed the bell from the sheep, my thoughts went to Christian leaders… perhaps it is time to remove the bell.  What do I mean by that?  First, I am primarily referring to most pastors who supposedly lead local congregations.  If they are not leading correctly, then it is time to remove the bell.

Burnout, PKs, and High Expectations of Pastors
     For most of my 75 years I have listened to people talk about how so many pastors tend to feel lonely because of the demands made on [their lives].  Some of this is self-inflicted, and some are demands by the very people who pay their salary.  Pastor burnout is something I have heard many times.  Then there are the PKs, or preacher’s kids, who seem to be in a class by themselves; as people who have special behavioral problems.  Personally, I have not seen this in excess among PKs, but I had an unusual encounter with one of my students, a PK, about 40 years ago at the college where I taught.  A young lady in my class was a PK, and she told me in private that her pastor dad kept so busy that she and her brother had to make appointments with him if they wanted to visit him at work.
     Sometime during the past 25 years, I came to the conclusion that the high stress on pastors, the super busy schedules, and subsequent burnout (by some) occurs because the position as pastor, as we know it in America, is NOT biblical.  In my mind, God would not put that responsibility on one man.

     Church Government
     I once asked a pastor to define church government, because I really wanted to know.  This was a relaxed informal setting, so he was under no pressure.  He talked for 10-15 minutes, and said NOTHING, or at the very least, I learned nothing.  That was a big red flag for me, and I began a relatively long journey of searching the Scriptures to learn for myself some things about church government… after many years I concluded that traditional church, as most Americans know it, is NOT biblical… there I said it!

The Lead Sheep

     I mentioned my relatively long journey of searching the Scriptures.  Here is a link to something I wrote 23 years ago called The Lead Sheep.  There is much in that article, written more than two decades ago, that complements what you are reading here, but my criticism of the system, and subsequent conclusions are much more harsh now, as you will see at the end of this piece.  I beg the Christian reader to beware of the, “But we’ve always done it this way” syndrome. ”  (BWADITW).   We need to understand that BWADITW is not a synonym for “truth.”
     Below is a quote from a book about biblical church by Terry Stanley:  We cannot be adequately fed from only one man, for only one hour, on only one day of the week. No matter how good of a man he may be. The church of Jesus does not need money to run. Nor does it need a denomination (division) to be affiliated with. We do not need a building, a board of directors, an agenda, or a marketing plan in order to survive. But rather the Spirit of God, the power of the gospel, the love of the brethren and the authority of the scriptures are to drive our very existence.

     Amen, and Amen!  I encourage the interested reader to check the free online book at the link above. For any who wish to study and exercise a bit of discernment, they should realize that church congregations in America have some serious problems, and the lack of proper Christian training of our young children is at the top of my list of those serious problems.  I don’t particularly like to put in these words (shown in bold), but I will because that is the first thing that came to my mind; pastors should be ashamed to show their face in public knowing that most of the children in their congregation attend a government run school where Jesus Christ is not welcome.

The Choice for Christians – Comfort or Correct
     

     Yes, I think it is time to remove the bell from those who lead non-biblical organizations that are supposed to be Christ-centered, but instead, have been instituted, shaped and corrupted by men.  I don’t doubt the salvation and sincerity of all who participate in institutional churches, but the system, on average, needs an overhaul.  Do a search and learn where in the world Christianity has the fastest rate of growth (hint: they are underground house churches).  Most of the traditional church institutions and their leaders in America should gradually step out of the way, and let the home churches and home-schooled people begin to turn things around with a true focus on the Chief Shepherd, absent of all the frivolous baggage man has attached to what he calls “church.”  It will be a very difficult and slow process to change from such an established system, but we also should decide which we prefer, comfort with the old, or accept the challenge of being correct.  Focus on this Scripture:  But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible. ( Matthew 19:26)


     The question of whether we, as Christians, should remove “the bell from the lead sheep” is a difficult and controversial one.  I am sure that Dennis Rowan’s commentary will offend some; those who think that their church does not fit this harsh criticism.  But let me ask you this question … If the Church (Body of Christ) is doing the job Jesus left us to do, and doing it Biblically, according to God’s purpose, would our society and culture be in the mess it’s in?  Isn’t it the Church’s job to influence society in the ways of God?  And would so many Christians be oppressed by demonic spirits, and/or leading secret and sinful lives?  
     Granted, the responsibilities of a Shepherd of God’s flock are monumental.  But are we holding the Shepherds accountable?  Are they fulfilling their duties as expressed in the Bible … handling accurately the Word of Truth; ready to preach the Word in and out of season; exhorting, reproving, rebuking, with great patience and instruction; are they constantly studying the Word in order to gain greater knowledge of God, and as an example for their flock; are they able to teach the Word; would he be willing to lay down his life for his flock?
     All these are attributes of a Pastor, or Shepherd of God’s flock, as described in the Bible.  Do we take them seriously, and are they being fulfilled?  Shepherd is an important role, one of the most important in the Bible … that’s why God sent His Son, so our pastors could imitate Him.  Neither I nor Dennis Rowan wish to cast aspersions upon any man who takes his position as Shepherd solemnly and earnestly.  But, by the condition of our country and our world, I think it’s time we face the truth … perhaps some of those who fill the role of Lead Sheep are no longer suitable to wear their bell.
Jeremiah 50:6    “My people have become lost sheep; Their shepherds have led them astray. They have made them turn aside [to the seductive places of idolatry] on the mountains.  They have gone along [from one sin to another] from mountain to hill; They have forgotten their [own] resting place.”

The Body of Christ And Our Religious Spirits

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     What exactly is a “religious spirit”, you might be asking?  “I thought being religious is a good thing. Doesn’t it mean believing in God”?  The first thing we need to come to terms with is that we are made in the image of God, who is Spirit.  In fact, this flesh we call our body is just the temporary covering for our individual spirits.  Spirit is at the heart of who we are in God’s eyes.
     The next thing to realize is that not all spirits are pleasing to God.  For instance, if we possess a spirit of pride, or unbelief, or doubt, we are not being effective for the Kingdom of God, of which we are citizens if we are saved through faith in Jesus.

     And what does it mean to be “religious”, or what is “religion”?  Among other things, Religion is a cultural system of behaviors and practices, world views, sacred texts, holy places, and ethics.  Religious practices may include rituals, traditions, sermons, commemoration or veneration (of God or deities), sacrifices, festivals, feasts, meditation, prayer, music, public service, or other aspects of human culture.  In short, it is any man-made attempt to reach God through external works or practices.  And various religions have their own cultural histories and narratives.  By now, you should be getting a picture that Religion has a lot to do with how man connects with, or associates with his God (or god).
     One of the few times that both the words religious and religion actually appear in the Bible is in James 1-26-27:  If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.  Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.  I think we can clearly see that our Father in Heaven doesn’t require or ask for a lot of the man-made or human ceremonies, traditions, or rituals that have become a part of our religious expression.  He doesn’t want our external exhibitions or displays of worship; He wants us to act from a heart whereon He has written His Law, and to remain untainted by the world’s values and its impression of religious expression.
     But here’s the thing … the devil is always trying to deceive our heart and whisper the lies that inspire loyalty to religious concepts and practices in such a way as to oppose and [possibly to] counterfeit the true work of the Holy Spirit that is within us.  Satan knows it is in our human nature to act “religious” — to attempt to declare our awe of God by outward displays.  In other words, it is his goal to pervert our instincts about worshipping our Creator by sending deceptive spirits to deceive our hearts and minds.
     I’m going to just cut to the chase … A religious spirit is a demon that wages war against the grace of God in our lives and tries to destroy a true intimate relationship with our Father in Heaven.  Think that’s going a little too far?  Just consider some of the religious spirits that can affect the Body of Christ: judgmentalism, self-righteousness, religious pride, criticism, legalism, perfectionism, division, error (doctrinal falsehood), unbelief, doubt, confusion, argumentism, false holiness, salvation by works, guilt, condemnation, fear of losing salvation, fear of God (unhealthy, scared feeling), and intolerance.  Any, or all, of these are afflictions that can oppress Christians within the churches of our land, and which attempt to stifle the influence of the Holy Spirit.
     Jesus made it clear that it was His desire for the unity of the church to reflect the unity of the Godhead …  “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).  Yet, consider for a moment the theological disagreements and bad relationships which exist between churches, and also within individual local churches.  How many call themselves Christians, seeing themselves as holy, righteous, and favored by God, while looking down upon others who profess different understandings of Scripture?  There is a spiritual power behind these kinds of confrontations and attitudes, and it is instigated and encouraged by religious spirits.
     One of the ways in which I am discerning that these false religious spirits are working satan’s plan is in the realization that men and women full of the mercy of God, their authority from Jesus, and the power of the Holy Spirit are coming under attack from within the Church itself.  When these faithful people begin to challenge religious people in churches with a different interpretation of the traditional concept of God’s Truth, the devil likes to get his demons stirred up, and if possible will provoke all kinds of unreasonable and malicious attacks on such servants of God.  If their ministries are outside the realm of the man-made traditions and religious teachings of the Church, they are automatically  looked upon as cults, or cliques, or heretical.
     Let me be clear — We must absolutely measure every word and teaching against Scripture, but I believe that God is pulling the scales off the eyes of His remnant and revealing the deception that satan has perpetrated upon the Body of Christ.  Our God is bigger and more personal than we’ve been taught; He desires our participation in His Kingdom; and He wants us to be who He made us to be, co-heirs with Christ!  We are beginning to see the power and authority that is ours in the Name of Jesus, and in the last days it will not only become more and more common to exercise it… but absolutely necessary!

     I want us to consider perhaps the most striking example of the religious spirit in the Bible; that of the scribes and Pharisees.  Jesus showed us His deep sorrow and anguish against these men, whose carnal religious spirits were in direct opposition to the grace of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  In fact, Jesus expressed eight “woes” against these hypocritical religious men.  The word “woe” is the Greek word ouai, which is a deeply felt expression of grief. The word is also used to refer to those religious spirits that cause Misery, Affliction, Trouble, and Frustration, in addition to Great Sorrow and Grief.  I think it would do us well to take a look at each of these eight woes, and see how these religious spirits in religious people were opposing the Gospel of Jesus.     
     The first woe:  They shut up the Kingdom of heaven (Matthew 23:13).   Shutting up the Kingdom of heaven against men is a very common activity of religious people.  They neither advance nor increase in the things of God, or allow anyone else to, either. They stand as demonic guards and buffet the things of the Spirit of God – all in the name of religious duty. The religious spirits hinder and threaten those who are entering into a deeper Spirit-led relationship with the Lord by taking away the key of knowledge and a more accurate perception of Jesus.  The religious spirit then uses threat as a weapon to argue, complain, debate, and otherwise frustrate the plans of God for the Church through its own apathy.  All this shuts up the Kingdom of heaven.
     The second woe:  Religious spirits put on a show (Matthew 23:14).   We all know those professed Christians who like to put on a false demonstration by praying long and loud, but you never feel it is sincere.  And how many times have you seen people pray before a meal when they know others are watching, but you know it is not something they feel called to do when in private?  And then there are those who pray to impress others, but aren’t really speaking to God.  Jesus is not pleased with polished showmanship or the false pretense of the religious deceiver whose motive is the show.

     The third woe:  False disciples and spiritual sons (Matthew 23:15).  Jesus declares that the Pharisees are hypocrites that do everything possible to raise up religious sons just as legalistic as themselves.  The whole world is waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God (Romans 8:19). People with religious spirits, however, are not interested in the development of true sons of God. They work on duplicating others after their own religious images, rather than sons of God who are conformed into His image. The religious spirit will scour the church looking for that perfect candidate for its religious indoctrination program.  This is a strategy of the religious spirit – to isolate its prey from true spiritual covering with false mentoring that creates unhealthy soul ties. The ultimate goal, of course, is to create false sons.
     The fourth woe:  Blind guides and fools (Matthew 23:16-22).  In this instance, Jesus zeros in on the Pharisees’ inability to lead the righteous. He labels them as blind guides and fools that have no spiritual understanding of the Word of God. A religious spirit can never lead people into a greater walk with Jesus because one cannot take someone to a place that one has not already been. Religious spirits may know the current religious buzzwords and Christian lingo and all the convenient snippets of Scripture, but they are faultfinders that put down those with true spiritual discernment while they live a life directed by man-made religion.  Their hearts are not focused on God, but on perpetuating man’s traditions regarding God.

     The fifth woe:  Legalistic hypocrites (Matthew 23:23-24). 
 Once again, Jesus exposes the true nature of a religious spirit – a hypocrite.  This fifth woe pictures the Pharisees again with their emphasis on externals. This is a picture of the average church today that is busy making the outside of the cup look clean by religious works but never deals with matters of the heart. They go through all the ceremonies, have the best sound equipment, chairs, buildings, etc. But all of the external ceremonies cannot clean up the corruption of the inner man; cannot set the captive free from the satanic bondage of his or her spiritual wounds.  This is a picture of a religious leader who is in the front row of the pews on Sunday, but allows his children to watch R-rated horror films, and yells at his wife in fits of anger.  Legalism binds the captives of religious spirits and keeps them from being set free by Jesus.
     The sixth woe:  Extortion and Excess (Matthew 23:25-26).  Extortion is the act of plundering, robbery and stealing.  Extortion is a predetermined plan of action with the intent to steal from someone. Jesus said the Pharisees were so full of excess that they had lost the ability to control their lust for more. Today we have modern religious merchandisers who steal from the people of God so they can lavish themselves with excess.  Have you ever attended a church that was clean and well-kept on the outside but inside there was no spiritual life?  That can occur in a small country church as well as in a palatial church with stadium seating that seats 5000.  The religious spirit will demand that the inhabitants of that church stick to the letter of the religious law in an effort to amass more authority for their outward appearance.  But that spirit neglects and starves the heart.
      The seventh woe:  A pretty tomb (Matthew 23:27-28).  It was commonly believed that if anyone could get into heaven, if anyone were righteous, surely it would have to be the Pharisees. Why? Because people were looking at their supposed pious and religious works. But Jesus called them dead, full of hypocrisy and iniquity. He then went on to say that they were full of uncleanness, which means they were full of impure motives and lust. One can only imagine the impact of such statements that Jesus made. No wonder they wanted to kill him.  White-washed grave markers are just pretty tombs.  They look nice but are nothing more than a house for the dead.  Let me ask you a question … Have you met the person that respects the great revivalist of history (like Calvin or Luther), but disrespects those who have the same revivalist spirit today?  Or what about a person who went to a theological seminary, but couldn’t find Jesus there?  Unfortunately, those scenarios represent the presence and impact of religious spirits.
     The eighth woe:  A murdering spirit (Matthew 23: 29-34).   This woe reveals to us the shocking murderous heart of a religious spirit, and is Jesus’ final and most stern declaration.  These same religious leaders that were honoring the prophets of the past were soon to crucify the very Son of God who was speaking to them.  How many modern Christians have been symbolically crucified for daring to bring a new understanding to Scripture?  Serving Jesus is more than being indoctrinated in Christian philosophy or religious theology; it is an active heartfelt love for our Savior and King, and a willingness to look beyond the boundaries of prescribed religiosity.  A murdering religious spirit quenches the Holy Spirit and denies the supremacy of Spirit-led life over a religious one.  These eight woes, as expressed by Jesus, make it clear that He hates any and all religious spirits.
     I wrote this post today to try and express my frustration against the presence of religious spirits in the modern Body of Christ.  These spirits are more prevalent among the faithful than I think we would like to acknowledge, and they are more interested in justice and punishment than mercy and forgiveness.  They are an instrument of the devil and only serve to make you feel distant from God, and to set you up for spiritual disaster through pride and self-righteousness.  Through their introduction in your life or your church, it is satan’s goal to nullify the work of Christ in your life, and keep you in bondage to man-made traditions, legalism, and division.  Being set free from religious spirits can bring major spiritual freedom and an enormous breakthrough in your relationship with God!  Religious spirits are just as destructive in the life of a Christian as any of satan’s other deceptive spirits.  They can keep you in bondage to man-made philosophies and traditions, while you are missing out on what Jesus wants to show you.  It’s time the Body of Christ shakes off the shackles that keep us tied to religion and come into the true Light of Christ.

 Colossians 2:8   “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”   
 

Are You Ready To Talk About “Portals”?

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     Now, there is a topic that will send many Christians screaming for the hills!  Just the very word, portal, makes you think of scary, science-fiction phenomenon, doesn’t it?  Or, perhaps, it is reminiscent of something that you might see on an old re-run of “The X-Files”, right?  Certainly, it has nothing to do with the Bible … or does it?  Actually, the word portal is nothing more than an opening, or a doorway, or a gate, between dimensions.  And the Bible is full of instances where portals are in evidence.
     I can hear the skeptics among you, murmuring, “I need a little more information”.  Okay, let’s look at it this way… Portals are points of access, which are unobstructed by demonic interference, in which angels travel from heaven and back again in which God’s provision and revelation are given to man.  Consider the angel who appeared before Daniel in answer to his prayer in Chapter 10.  In Daniel 10:10-16 this angel has a conversation with the prophet Daniel, in which he mentions several times that “I have now been sent to you”; “Your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words”; and “Now I have come to make you understand”….  So, let me ask you a simple question.  How do you think that angel was able to appear before Daniel?  Do you accept the rather obscure explanation of “He just appeared”?  Or can you comprehend that he came through a portal — an opening between either the second or third heaven and our physical dimension here on earth.

     Then there is the Biblical account of Jacob’s ladder.  In the book of Genesis, chapter 28, verses 10-17, the story of Jacob’s dream is recorded. “He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it” (Genesis 28:12).  Again, I ask the question… If the ladder extended from the earth until it reached heaven, how were the angels able to leave heaven to descend to earth?
     And again, in 1 Kings, Chapter 19, Elijah was instructed to leave from sitting under a juniper tree to Mt. Horeb to see and hear what God had to show him.  Scripture tells us that God said, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD.  And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; {but} the LORD {was} not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, {but} the LORD {was} not in the earthquake.”
     Can you see that in each of these instances, God and His angels used an opening, or a doorway, or a gate to act inter-dimensionally?  Does it help to know that Proverbs 8:34 teaches that a man will be blessed who sits, and waits, and listens at the Lord’s gate?  Or that Psalm 24:7 reads, ““Lift up your heads, O gates, And be lifted up O ancient doors, That the King of glory may come in”?
     I’ve always loved this verse in Psalms … “Though He had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven, and had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them of the corn of heaven, man did eat angels’ food: He sent them meat to the full.”  That’s a pretty clear picture … the doors of heaven were opened.  They were fed manna from heaven through a portal!  Are you starting to get the picture?
     And perhaps some of my favorite pictures of Biblical portals are found in the Book of Revelation.  “And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, ‘Come up here.’ Then they went up into heaven in the cloud, and their enemies watched them.” (Rev. 11:12 ).  “And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it [is] called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war.”  (Rev. 19:11).  I think we can all agree that the Apostle John saw openings, or portals, in Heaven that inspired these verses.
     But one of the primary verses that has relevance for us Christians is Hebrews 4:16… “Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time.”  It is my opinion that this verse is to be taken literally.  I truly believe that since we are spirit, made in the image of God, that our spirits can approach His throne of grace and receive His mercy.
     But here is something that Christians also need to realize:  The dark side is also trying to gain access to earth from the second heaven.  The evil angels are just as able to come through portals or openings as the good ones.  My husband believes his first experience with a spiritual attack took him through an opening between our physical dimension and into the spiritual dimension, or second heaven, if you will.  He fought and struggled against an entity that he felt was smothering him.  He said he literally thrashed and flailed until he was able to get the name “Jesus” out, when the entity vanished.  During his entire fierce struggle, he said he watched me sleeping; I continued to sleep soundly and never moved.  And I’m a light sleeper!  He is of the opinion that somehow his spirit entered this battle through a portal.
     And I have heard testimonies of others who have described their experiences in similar language to Paul, who said in 2 Corinthians 12:3:  “And I know that such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, [only] God knows—”.  They will tell me, “I don’t know if I was in my body, or my spirit had left my body and that was what I was seeing”.  I think I need to go no further to defend the idea that portals are Biblical.

     And I have to admit that my belief that portals are real has naturally led to the UFO conspiracy, and the like.  Add to that the never-ending desire of the human race for more “other-worldly” knowledge and I cannot dismiss the thought that the ungodly Elite might be seeking to open up portals to gain access to the supernatural in a bid to out-God God, Himself.  Re-read my 2014 post on Tesla, or my 2015 one on CERN, and see if the idea of portals doesn’t gain some traction.
     All I’m saying with this unorthodox post is that spiritual activity is on the increase.  More people are revealing “dream-type experiences” in which they are battling spiritual phenomenon that they have never encountered in the past.  And it is no secret that men of science have attempted to add to our understanding of dimensions and sought to explore them and how they interact.  But are we in danger of these scientists inadvertently opening a portal or a door not to another dimension, but into the spiritual realm, perhaps even to the Bottomless Pit or the Abyss itself?  I, for one, cannot discount this theory.
     In the end, I do not see anything good coming from man’s obsession with the universe, whether it be from the aspect of obtaining ancient knowledge, or reaching for new supernatural frontiers.  Just look at our entertainment industry.  Movies, music, and TV all have a fixation on exploring the spiritual realms.  There is a problem with that though, and it is this:  We are becoming so desensitized to it, that we don’t realize how dangerous it can be.  God created the veils between the heavens for a reason.  He has instituted his Cosmic Law of separation and who are we to violate that?  He is a God of order and I am convinced that any attempt to interfere with His Creation will not be tolerated.
     So, I think that we can see that portals are real, and God has used them to communicate with us in the earthly realm, by sending His messengers through dimensions.  But Lucifer and his angels will take advantage of those points of access to harass and attack us.  Add mankind’s selfish compulsion to  rip open the veil separating this world from other worlds or dimensions, and you get the ridiculous statement by CERN’s own Director General and its Director of Research, Rolf Heuer:  “…When we open the door, something might come through it into our reality! Or, we might send something through it into their reality!”  Be careful, General Heuer.  You just might get what you wish for.

Proverbs 8:1-5    “Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud: “To you, O men, I call, and my cry is to the children of man. O simple ones, learn prudence; O fools, learn sense. …”
 

Isaiah 12:3

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With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

     We are in the midst of the Fall Feasts of the Lord.  The beginning of this week was Rosh Hahsanah, or the Feast of Trumpets.  October 11-12 is Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, and the following week (October 16-23) is Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles.  As I have continued to point out, the Lord’s Feasts have great significance for both God’s Chosen People, the Jews, and us Christians, follows of Yeshua, the coming Messiah.  God established His Feasts as a memorial to His faithfulness throughout history to the nation of Israel as His Chosen People, and to all people who would believe in Him through all the coming generations.  
     The first four feasts have already been fulfilled, the first two by Jesus Christ on the actual feast days according to the Hebrew calendar. He was sacrificed on Passover, and resurrected on the Feast of First Fruits. The third Feast of Unleavened Bread carried great significance in light of His sinless life and His sacrifice, while the fourth Feast, Shavuot, or the Festival of Weeks, was again fulfilled on the exact day on what we now call Pentecost.
     The Fall Feasts look forward to the fulfillment of Bible prophecy concerning Yeshua’s End Times’ return when He will come with trumpet blasts to usher in a new age of purified fellowship with Him in His new kingdom on earth.  And we are now in the midst of that sanctified season.  And for that reason, I think it is incumbent upon us to do a quick review of the holy significance of these two weeks in October.
     The Feast of Trumpets is a time of new beginnings.  There is even some speculation by Bible scholars that based on the view that John the Baptist was born in the spring, around Passover, and his birth preceded the birth of Jesus by 6 months (Luke 1:36), it’s possible to place the birth of the Messiah on the Feast of Trumpets.  That would definitely be representative of a new beginning for mankind!
     In 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17 we read about the great trumpet (Shofar) that will sound in heaven when the dead who are in Yeshua will rise from their graves, and those who are still alive will go to meet Him in the air. This event precedes the return of the Messiah. The book of Revelation also talks about trumpets sounding in heaven as a series of judgments are poured out on the earth. All of this is to prepare the earth for the Messiah’s return. It is a warning—a wakeup to the earth and the inhabitants therein to get ready!  Does it mean that the Rapture of the Church will take place on this Feast Day?  It is possible, and Scripture hints at it.  But the Bible also says that the Church will be raptured when “the full number of gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25).  If so, the rapture of the Church could happen on any given day, although Acts 15:13-18 makes it clear that the rapture will have to precede the beginning of Daniel’s 70th Week.  Since no one knows the day or hour, I prefer to see the Feast of Trumpets as a time of prayer and repentance and acknowledging not only God’s grace, but His calling by the shofar to get ready for a new beginning in the history of mankind.
     Ten days later is Yom Kippur. Translated into English as the “Day of Atonement,” Yom Kippur was the only time of year the High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place of the Temple to atone for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the entire nation. This was done by sacrificing a bull and a goat and sprinkling the blood of these animals on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant. Also on this day, two goats were brought before the High Priest. He would lay hands on them and symbolically transfer the sins of the people into them. The first one was the sacrifice—the one that provided atonement for the people’s sins. The second, however, was the scapegoat. This one was released into the wilderness to wander and eventually die, removing sin from the camp. The blood of the first goat brought forgiveness. The second brought sanctification.
     Prophetically, The Day of Atonement will be the day in which God’s judgment will be rendered, the books will be closed and everyone’s fate is sealed.  It will be a solemn day of acknowledging our sins and seeking God’s forgiveness and mercy.  
     We need to understand that the shedding of blood has always been required for the forgiveness of sin, and it always will be. That is why the Messiah had to die and shed His blood for us. That is the good news. We have a Redeemer who exchanged His blood for ours. The debt we owe, for both intentional and unintentional sins, was paid by Yeshua through His death on the cross. All we have to do is accept His sacrifice on our behalf.
     The third and final Feast in this month of October is Sukkot, otherwise known as the Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Booths. Sukkot, which begins five days after Yom Kippur, is a seven-day period during which Jewish People look back into the history of Israel and remember their forty-year period of wandering in the wilderness.  To us Christians, the Feast of Tabernacles represents the Lord’s shelter in the world to come and His great Tabernacle that will exist in Jerusalem in the Kingdom Age.  The Lord will establish His Tabernacle in Jerusalem and the world will come each year to appear before the King and worship Him (Zechariah 14:14-17).  
     But there is another picture that presents itself during this final Feast.  Historically, it was also a  celebration of the fall harvest and the Lord’s bountiful provision.  Prophetically, it is a picture of the harvest of souls that will come at the End of this Age.  It should be easy to see that events that were external and physical in the Old Testament are often internal and spiritual in the New Testament.  There is a sense in which these holy days also reflect the life of every believer. 
     Jesus came to offer us new beginnings (Feast of Trumpets), and to live in our hearts at our new birth.  As He required the shedding of innocent blood to reconcile Himself with Israel (Yom Kippur) so He shed His own Blood to reconcile Himself with us. As He dwelt with the Israelites in the wilderness of Midian (Tabernacles), so He dwells with us in the wilderness of Earth. “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age,” He promised (Matt 28:20).  Even so, Come Lord Jesus! (Rev. 22:20).  As we celebrate these Fall Feats of the Lord, you can almost hear the footsteps of the Messiah. 

What Do Job and Hurricane Matthew Have In Common?

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     I find this to be an intriguing question.  And before we can even consider it, I think we need to determine what Christians believe about God and judgment.  We must come to agreement that God is a God of Justice.  It is one of His attributes and He is deeply concerned with making wrongs right.  He lets no sinner off the hook without a fitting punishment, or a fitting substitutionary atonement.
     I recognize that this is a hard concept for some Christians, who do not believe God sends judgment upon people or nations since He is a loving and merciful God.  They will also point out that God expressing wrath against people was part of the Old Testament covenant, citing Paul saying in Romans 4:15, “The law brings wrath”; the law here being the Law of Moses or the Torah. They will argue that law and justice are tied to covenant in the Old Testament, and we are set free from God’s wrath in the New Testament by the blood of Jesus, as Romans 5:9 states:  “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him!”
     But a few years ago, God showed me that His Bible is not divided into two separate covenants, or a “before” and “after” timeline.  The Bible is one continuing covenant, extending from the covenant He instituted with Abraham [and all those who would share His belief in YHWH],  through the “renewal” of that same covenant in the life of Jesus Christ. So God is just, and His attributes remain the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

As reported by major news outlets,
a Weather Channel meteorologist spotted
an eerie face in an untouched satellite
image of Hurricane Matthew.  

     Yes, the Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 5:9, For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.  And I do not believe that the Spirit-filled, blood-washed Church of Jesus Christ will suffer God’s wrath.  But remember those churches that Jesus speaks about in the Book of Revelation?  We would do well to go back and read His warnings.  And let’s not forget Paul’s own warnings in Romans 2:5-8, But because of your hard and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.  He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.  I am not so foolish to think that just because one claims to be a Christian, that they will get an automatic free pass from experiencing God’s wrath.
     Okay, I’m pretty sure that we are all not going to agree on this matter of God’s wrath in the last days, so let’s consider the question that I posed in the title of this blog.  The underlying debate in this issue is if weather events such as Hurricane Matthew can be a tool of a God who judges individuals and nations for wickedness?  There are plenty of Scriptures that tell us that God is Sovereign and He has the power to save and to destroy at His will.  And if you look at some recent weather disasters in our history, you have to be blind to not draw some conclusions from our national actions.  (See this post for a list of our indiscretions against the nation of Israel, and some interesting correlations).
     And if you doubt God uses weather to judge people and nations, just take a look at these unambiguous verses in Job, Chapter 37:

9 The stormy wind comes from its chamber,
and the driving winds bring the cold.
10 God’s breath sends the ice,
freezing wide expanses of water.
11 He loads the clouds with moisture,
and they flash with his lightning.
12 The clouds churn about at his direction.
They do whatever he commands throughout the earth.
13 He makes these things happen either to punish people
or to show his unfailing love.
14 “Pay attention to this, Job.
Stop and consider the wonderful miracles of God!

     The Hebrew word for “stormy wind” is cawphah and means a hurricane.  And keeping verse 13 in mind, let’s not forget that America is far from being a righteous and virtuous nation!  We lead the world in porn production – Yes, lead the world with our filth. One of the major criticisms of Islam against America is our penchant for nudity, porn, and homosexuality, and it is criticism well deserved.  Add to that our involvement in the sex slave trade, pedophilia, and abortion.  And our nation, as a whole, has abandoned God nearly as fast as the Israelites built their golden calf.  Did you know that there are surveys that show an alarming number of the population, especially our youth, do not believe they are born sinners, or for that matter that they even sin?  Instead, sin has become just a mistake and not part of human nature. Our society has lost the knowledge that we are in need of a Savior from our inherent sins, and this has resulted in absolutely no fear of God. But the warnings given to Job, make it clear that God controls the weather and He can use it “either to punish people or to show His unfailing love.”
     Yes, I know that the Book of Job is about Satan being given authority to test Job, and No, I do not believe that Satan or his demon angels can control the weather or affect natural disasters.  But, IF Satan could impact the weather, it would only be by God’s permission, and restrained, as in the case of Job. Remember, Satan was allowed by God to torment Job in order to test him, and this included “the fire of God” (possibly lightning) which “fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and the servants” (Job 1:16). This was followed by a “mighty wind” (maybe a tornado) that destroyed his home and killed his children (vv. 18-19). So even if the fire from heaven and the tornado were somehow caused by Satan, they were still under the ultimate control of God for His purposes.
     Ultimately, we know that God is in control of all things, including the weather. Through His providence, God provides for and protects His children, but He also ordains or permits Satan, demons, and mankind to exercise their free will to commit acts of sin, evil, and wickedness. These same beings are fully responsible for any and all man-made disasters and tragedies they cause.
     We know that God has ordained whatever comes to pass (Ephesians 1:11; Romans 11:36), and therefore His invisible hand is in our pain, even though He cannot sin or be the perpetrator of evil (James 1:13-17).  So is Hurricane Matthew judgment from God?  I am not privy to His counsel.  There are enough reasons to suggest that it might be, even though there are still righteous and repentant people in the nation, and we are not appointed to His wrath.  Unfortunately, just like Job, we do not always escape the judgment that comes from and against our fellow countrymen.  There will be good people who will most likely suffer from the flooding and destructive winds of Hurricane Matthew; perhaps even losing their lives.  But they will not be alone.  Jesus will be beside them, extending His peace and mercy and delivering them through this impending tragedy.  Until we leave this earth, there is no guarantee that we will leave it unscathed. But whatever the aftermath of this powerful storm might bring, let us pray that we see God’s mercy on the righteous, and the repentance that saves coming forth from the wicked.

Matthew 5:45    “For he makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
     
       

Let His Light Shine!

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     When the Lord decides to reveal Himself, there are no words to describe it.  In fact, I’m not even sure I can relate the very real existence of Him in terms that won’t sound overly dramatic or fabricated for effect.  So, I’m just going to let the words roll and I trust that you will hear the Truth.  

     It seems that the next few weeks of my life are nearly impossibly full.  My husband and I will be burning up the highway meeting new clients; taking advantage of business opportunities that are developing; enjoying my nephew’s senior year of college football; and looking forward, with excitement, to spending every moment I can with long-distance family members who will be in and out for that afore-mentioned football season.  And, oh, yes, I mustn’t forget a Deliverance Ministry training session with Dr. Charles Kraft thrown in the mix.
     It’s easy, with all the distraction this world offers, to forget that Jesus wants to interact with us and use us — that we must never get so busy that we neglect serving Him.  And when we are obedient … what a reward it is to see Him made real in someone’s life!  I have received such a blessing as this over the last few days.
     As my husband and I, whom I affectionately refer to as PLW (for Peace-Lovong Warrior — the meaning of his first and middle name), began our busy weekend with a two-hour drive to my nephew’s game, I received a cell phone call from a dear friend.  I do not want to reveal any details that will compromise her identity, and it is my hope that others will recognize themselves in her story and be as brave as he was.  I can tell you that I have known her for over ten years and am familiar with some of the issues of her life and have known of her struggles.  We don’t talk that often, but the connection is always there and our friendship is never in question.  So when I saw the caller ID, I knew this would be an important call.  And it was.  She was calling to ask if there was time in the next two or three days that PLW and I could maybe Skype with her.  She had a small window of opportunity in which she would be alone and was ready, actually desperate, to turn to Jesus for help.  
     The problem was, we were on the road, and not only would we be occupied with a football game that day, but the next morning we would be traveling to meet with a new client several hundred miles in the opposite direction and wouldn’t be home until late on Sunday.  To make it nearly impossible, PLW was leaving at 5:30 the morning after that for a three-day business event and her window of opportunity would be shut.  But I knew that we had to make time; somehow, some way.  When she mentioned that suicidal thoughts were present, there was no other option… she needed Jesus, and the hope that lies in Him, and we had to make it work.  I told her we would try to rearrange our schedule to be home as early as possible on Sunday, trusting Jesus and the Holy Spirit to work it all out so that she could receive the healing and restoration she urgently needed.  With that small thread of hope, she hung up and hung on.
     Let me first tell you that by the time Sunday night arrived, PLW and I were exhausted.  Between the hustle and bustle of college football, and meeting a new client, every hour was frantic.  Fortunately, the client agreed to meet us earlier than we had scheduled, and after driving nearly two hours home, we scrambled to get my husband packed and ready to leave early the next morning.  We wanted to move all hindrances out of the way so we could concentrate on helping our friend.  Somehow, we received supernatural strength and energy for the task ahead; the tiredness vanished and we prepared to make the call.  
     But the Enemy tried every which way to interrupt our plans.  She had notified me earlier in the day that her internet service went down, which meant that the questionnaire I had sent her months earlier (when she had expressed interest in a possible deliverance session) would have to be transferred to us in a different manner.  So she had snapped photos of each page and texted me the images, and PLW and I had discussed them during our drive home.  As the time came near to contact her, we hoped that the internet service had resumed so we could Skype or FaceTime… no such luck.  We would just have to work with her through a simple 3-way phone call.  But we had no doubt that God can work through the phone lines … He just needs servants willing to be obedient.  So with our hand-held land-line phones in hand (this is one reason we are not a mobile-only household), we made the phone call.    

     It is hard to describe what I would call a miracle.  How can Jesus work with two people sitting on their couch in Texas; using us to reveal Himself to a woman several states away?  How can He and the Holy Spirit make her see Him in every painful situation in her life?  How can I describe my own sense of awe (and my threatening tears) as she described, sobbing and with astonishment in her voice, “He was right there beside me the whole time!”  How do I convey the solace one receives when you feel Jesus hugging you?  How can I describe the sense of feeling the destruction the devil had caused in her life through the free will of others, and what it had done to her identity… the feelings of unworthiness, abandonment, self-rejection, confusion, doubt, unbelief, and the never-ending lie that God didn’t hear her cries for help?  

     But I’m here to tell you that I also heard, over those phone lines, the Truth that destroyed those lies.  The enemy spirits whispered so many thoughts to her — fear of being alone; anger towards family members who made her feel abandoned and rejected; how could she ever overcome the hurtful  actions of her husband; that all the death and destruction that followed her family might soon claim her.  In fact, a spirit who identified itself as Destruction, said he wanted her dead.  He invaded her thoughts and emotions with ideas of suicide, but he admitted that he could not get to her spirit because “Jesus is there”.  
     I  know this sounds absolutely crazy and impossible, but as the Holy Spirit introduced each of those dark entities to the light and power and authority of Jesus, they were defeated and she actually saw them all bound and Jesus throwing them, in her words, “into the pit of destruction”.  She couldn’t stop exclaiming, “It’s amazing!  I’m so amazed at seeing Him there the whole time!”  For the first time in months, maybe even in years, she could see clearly.  It was as if she had been looking through a dirty windshield and Jesus sent a cleansing rain to wash away all the filth and grime.  She could see the lies for what they were … attempts to cloud her thoughts and feelings so she couldn’t see that Jesus was right beside her.  She allowed the Holy Spirit to show her that those lies did not determine who she was; that she could step into the embrace of Jesus and all the pain was absorbed by His overpowering love.  And I heard the joy and the hope in her voice … and I heard her laugh; and it was the sound of freedom.   

     I’m not going to tell you that the Enemy will give up on my friend.  He will try to reclaim his territory, but she now knows that he only offers lies.  She has seen and felt and heard and tasted and been touched by the healing power of Jesus, and she will recognize the fiery darts of the devil.  I am giving her tools for her spiritual battle … how to reject each lie he whispers, while affirming (out loud) the truth of the Word.  The next time he tries to whisper that God doesn’t hear her, she will shout, “I reject the lie that God has abandoned me.  And I proclaim and embrace this Truth in the Name of Jesus:  (Romans 8:26): Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For we do not know what to pray for, as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”  

     There is victory in the Word!  And I hope that I have adequately reflected the glory of our Lord in this situation.  Not only did I want to relate His supernatural power to heal our spiritual wounds and show you that the Holy Spirit is our powerful advocate and ally, but I wanted to emphasize that we must never let the affairs of this world get in the way of our servanthood.  We must remain ever ready to be obedient; to put our selfish desires aside in order to become willing participants in showing God and His Son to the world.  To me, that is such a picture of  Jesus’s command to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself.”  
     It would have been so easy to tell my friend that there was just no time to meet her request for help, and I will admit that the devil tried to convince me of that lie.  But I knew the Truth; I knew that Jesus wanted to work through PLW and myself to destroy the devil’s lies and show our friend how much He loves her.  We just had to be obedient and put aside our selfish concerns and be willing to seek the best for her.  All we had to do was say, “Yes”.  And what a privilege it was to see Him glorified and the Light invade the Darkness!  So, if Jesus is your Savior, and you profess that you love Him, how will you respond the next time you hear a cry for help?  How would you want Him to respond to you?  I pray that you will answer the call on your life, and imitate Christ.  Nothing in this world is worth turning Him down or denying His presence in the life of another.  Just say, “Yes, Lord”.
1 John 4:12    “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.”
     

The State of Our Faith

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     I was absolutely astounded at an article I found online about a study that measured what Americans, in the year of our Lord 2016, actually believe about God and the foundations of the faith of Christianity.  The survey/study was conducted by Lifeway Research, which was commissioned by Ligonier Ministries, and attempted to define where Americans stand on the belief system which supports the key doctrine of the Body of Christ throughout the last 2,000 years of traditional Christianity.
     As with any research, one must take into account the biases of the parties involved, so in full disclosure, we must understand that Lifeway Research is one of the largest providers of religious and Christian resources in the world, and Ligonier Ministries was founded by R.C. Sproul, who is a Reformed Theologian (believing that God communicates knowledge of Himself to people through the Word of God), and a Calvinist.  While I believe that the Word should be the focus of our knowledge of God, I do not believe in Calvinism, preferring to let the Bible determine my theology, rather than a man.  But, that being said, I found the research and survey to be enlightening on the subject of modern Christians’ beliefs, and frankly, it gave me cause for concern and alarm.  So let’s consider some of the findings of this research…

     As stated from the outset, the research attempted to discern “the beliefs of Americans about God, salvation, ethics, and the Bible in a way that goes beyond simple labels and religious affiliations.”  The first topic they approached was Evangelicalism, which is based on the idea that religious salvation can be achieved through adherence to the Word of God as delivered through the Bible.  Among those involved in the survey who self-identified as Evangelicals, the research showed something quite alarming … that “many self-professing evangelicals reject foundational evangelical beliefs. The survey results reveal that the biblical worldview of professing evangelicals is fragmenting. Though American evangelicalism arose in the twentieth century around strongly held theological convictions, many of today’s self-identified evangelicals no longer hold those beliefs.”  As proof of that statement, consider the two following statements …
Statement #6:  God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam.  Finding:  46% of self-identified evangelicals agree or somewhat agree with this statement.
The Truth:  The heart of the gospel is the truth that Jesus Christ alone is the way, the truth, and the life, and that His work alone accomplishes our redemption.  This statement undermines the exclusivity of Christ as the only source of our salvation.  The fact that nearly half of the surveyed group of evangelicals agreed with this statement shows how the foundational doctrine of our faith is crumbling.
Statement #18:  By the good deeds that I do, I partly contribute to earning my place in heaven.  Finding:  36% of self-identified evangelicals agree or somewhat agree with this statement.
The Truth:  Salvation is by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone.  Over 1/3 of these evangelicals believe that their work is possibly as important as the work of Jesus.  Can you see the emergence of self-worship beginning to raise its ugly head?
     Another area in which Lifeway Research uncovered conflict among these evangelicals was when they were asked to compare the validity of the Bible against the claims of Science. The research revealed that not only is there a great amount of confusion, but contradictory beliefs are quite common.  For instance, 43% of people who agree that God is the author of Scripture also agreed that modern science discredits the claims of the Bible.  It seems that Americans both consider the Bible to be a Divinely authored Book, and at the same time see the Bible as a book that fails to measure up to twenty-first century understanding. This issue is crucial for evangelicals and the Body of Christ!  Because the authority of the Bible is the first and fundamental link in the chain of our belief system, if it weakens, the whole chain of beliefs will collapse.
     This is a direction that should greatly concern us!  I can see the efforts of the Enemy to infiltrate our hearts; sowing doubt, confusion, and alternative answers and ideas.  Then, from our corrupted hearts flow false thoughts that undermine God’s Truth as spoken in His Word.  And the decay is rapidly growing.  Did you know that in 2014, 40% of professed evangelicals agreed with the following statement:  An individual must contribute to his or her own effort for personal salvation.  Today, in 2016, 50% agreed with that statement.  That’s a 10% increase in only two years!   Not only are American evangelicals adopting wrong beliefs, but they are growing stronger in keeping that false religion.   At this rate, there will soon be no acceptance of Christ’s redemptive work on the Cross.
     Without understanding exactly why Jesus paid our debt, or what that debt involved, it should come as no surprise that our culture is deteriorating when it comes to morals and ethics.  As we see evangelicals slipping away from foundational beliefs, we also see them rejecting biblical teaching on Christian living.   As the Church loses its hold on the culture, the public arena is taking its place, and people are sliding into sin.

     When evangelicals who professed to attend church once or twice a month were presented with the statement, “Sex outside of traditional marriage is a sin”, only 52% agreed with that opinion.  Likewise, only 48% of this same group of evangelicals agreed with the statement, “Abortion is a sin”.  Then there are the questions that would never have appeared on a survey of Believers just 25 years ago; questions such as “The Bible’s condemnation of homosexual behavior doesn’t apply today”.  The findings showed that 30% strongly disagreed with this statement, but nearly as many (25%) agreed with it, with 31% falling somewhere in the middle.  And the statement, “Gender identity is a matter of choice” only garnered 35% who strongly disagreed.  I contend that only 50 years ago, all these questions would not even have to be asked to know where the Body of Christ stood on these issues.
     I have only scratched the surface of the findings of this research study, but I think you are getting the picture.  Americans are less likely [today] to hold a committed stance on their beliefs and the foundation of their faith.  Half of Americans believe the Bible is the written word of God, but a similar number believe the Bible is open to each person’s own interpretation. While more than 4 in 10 agree the Bible is accurate, almost as many believe it is not literally true.  Those numbers are disgraceful, and deeply sadden me.
     What should be even more frightening is what Americans believe when it comes to heaven and hell.  Would it surprise you to know that 60% of those surveyed agree “Heaven is a place where all people will ultimately be reunited with their loved ones”?  Or that only 40% agreed with the statement, “Hell is an eternal place of judgment where God sends all people who do not personally trust in Jesus Christ”?
     Perhaps the saddest answer of all the statements revealed that only 50% of all Americans agreed that “God is a perfect being and cannot make a mistake”.  (97% of Evangelicals agreed with the statement).  Only 40% of all Americans agree that “Jesus is truly God and has a divine nature, and Jesus is truly man and has a human nature”.  (85% of Evangelicals believe this).  So my obvious question is, What has happened to that 15% of Evangelicals who don’t agree with that statement?!?  How has the Church failed them?  Where have we gone wrong?
     And the last area I want to discuss is that of our eternal salvation.  Only 40% of all Americans believe “Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin”.  A mere 33% of all Americans believe that “Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation”.  Interestingly, when it came to those two statements, it was African Americans who were the strongest believers in those truths (78% strongly agreed with the first statement, and 73% with the latter).  Makes me wonder where the other races have gotten off track.
     Ultimately, this entire project is a sad picture of the diminishing faith in our foundational doctrines and in the Word of God.  The word “evangelical” seems to no longer represent unwavering trust and confidence in the supremacy of God or His precepts.  And I think we can all see that there is a great deception being perpetrated upon the hearts and minds of all Americans — both those who are among the faithful and the unsaved.  The Enemy is the Father of Lies, and he seeks to mislead and confuse; even among those who profess faith in Christ.  We must bind up our hearts with God’s Truth and keep the Sword of the Spirit ever at the ready; never taking off our spiritual armor, but constantly reinforcing it so that our salvation, righteousness, and peace are guarded.  Then we must stand our ground with our shield of faith, trusting and having confidence in our Lord to deliver us, while acknowledging His faithfulness to protect us from the fiery darts of the Enemy.
     This is a spiritual war being conducted upon all mankind; and this research, completed in 2016, shows us that with each passing year, our battle becomes, not only more important, but more daunting.  We, who have steadfast faith in Yeshua, know that we win in the end, but the lives of so many others are at stake.  It is incumbent upon us to share the Grace and the Gift of Salvation that we have received.  No matter what the results of this survey, or the conclusion of 2017’s research, we know God always works with a remnant.  Let us determine that we will be a part of that remnant; that nothing in this realm or the next will deter our commission and our obedience to our Lord.  He knows the final numbers and I want to be counted among those who will rule and reign with Him!

Thanks to the website, Pulpit and Pen, for this making the results of this survey available.

1 Corinthians 3:10-11   “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” 
  

James 1:21-23

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Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and evil, 
humbly receive the implanted Word, which is able to save you.
 But be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.


     There is much to digest in this short but significant passage.  James is exhorting us to abandon our impure lives in light of the goodness and righteousness of God that is offered to us.  The instruction to “rid ourselves of our moral filth and evil” make it very clear that, as humans, we have to constantly fight the temptation of our flesh.
     And it is very clear that unless we are able to do that, the second half of that exhortation cannot take place.  In order to humbly receive “the implanted Word”, we must abandon our immoral and impure flesh.  These two states of our human existence are held in stark contrast.  I actually like the English Standard Version (ESV) interpretation of this verse better … receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
     That term “meekness” insinuates that we have a teachable heart.  And as I have recently disclosed, it has become quite evident to me that our heart is most important to our ongoing salvation journey.  It is where God has written His laws.  We are given a new, circumcised heart when we accept Jesus as our Savior; circumcision being the sign of a covenant between God and His people.  Satan introduces sin to our heart, which then corrupts our minds and emotions, resulting in sinful behavior.  The heart is “at the heart”, so to speak, of our relationship with God.  
     So, in effect, James is telling us that we must be humble and meek — having a teachable heart — so that the Word might be implanted in our hearts; that we might receive it.   As the 19th Century theologian Charles Spurgeon so eloquently expounded:  “The first thing, then, is receive. That word ‘receive’ is a very instructive gospel word; it is the door through which God’s grace enters to us. We are not saved by working, but by receiving; not by what we give to God, but by what God gives to us, and we receive from Him.”
     But we need to receive the full meaning of this passage.  It is my opinion that James is telling us that there is spiritual power in the Word of God. It is very plainly stated … When the Word of God is implanted in the human heart, it is able to save your souls!   The Word of God carries the power of God!
     James then goes on to tell us how to receive that power of God … be doers of the Word and not hearers only.  And he takes it one step further — To pat yourself on the back that you have heard God’s Word, when you haven’t done it, is to deceive yourself. 
     It was common in the ancient world for people to hear a teacher. If you followed the teacher and tried to live what he said, you were called a disciple of that teacher.   That is what Jesus is looking for … disciples … doers … not just hearers.  He does not desire us to be admiring hearers, or loving/affectionate hearers; I don’t think He even desires faithful hearers!  I believe that Jesus needs us to be doers.  Our faith is meant to be active!  That is why James continues in this extended passage to say in verse 25, “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets, but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”  
     And I further believe that the blessing he is talking about is not blessings in this life, but our inheritance and rewards in the next.  It will be the blessing we receive when we stand before our Lord at His Judgment Seat and He says, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”  It will be the blessings of crowns bestowed upon our heads; crowns which we will cast at His feet because what we have received from Him, we are not worthy to gain.  It will be the blessings of ruling and reigning with Him because we didn’t just hear the Word, we acted upon it and showed Him and imitated Him to the lost of the world.  Those blessings only come when the Word has been implanted in our hearts; we receive it, hear it, and then act on it.  To only receive the Word and hear it, is to be religious.  But to have the Word implanted in your heart so that you hunger to hear it, understand it, and can do nothing but act on it is to be a true disciple of Christ.  May we all have such tender hearts.  

The Political, Theological, and Spiritual Aspects of “Globalism”

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     That word globalism … It is a word bandied about in this political season, and depending on who is using it, it can mean a common-sense word for the necessary global exchanges in an increasingly interconnected world — like trade, legal immigration, and the cooperation and sharing of ideas across borders.  Think of it as kind of a benign worldwide partnership, if you will, with no borders to hinder relationships.  But, in the hands of malevolent minds, it turns into an ideology and near-religion; focused on a one-world government.
     What concerns me is the effort to equate globalism with Christianity.  Those who promote the secular belief in globalism will tell you that just like the Church, their ideology is global; and just like the Kingdom of God, there are no borders.  But here’s the question that they can’t — or won’t — answer:  Exactly how does the Kingdom of God fit into this collective ideology?  Who decides the value systems of that global cooperative?
     Because, as I have discussed before, the Kingdom of God is the government of God; how He rules His people, as King, through His people.  It is the realm in which He rules, and it is His rules that we are governed by.  Are the globalists prepared to accept that condition?  I think not.  And that’s because a world in which globalism rules will be a world in which the righteousness, justice, and peace of Jesus has no place.  Globalism spawns a world of evil and injustice; rather than peace, there is conflict; and rather than joy, there will be misery.
   

     There is one thing we better get clear on … it doesn’t matter whether it is a politician, the United Nations, or the Pope touting globalist ideology; it will mean that there will be no truth, or mercy, or knowledge of God in the land.  The social justice message [justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within the world] is one meant to soothe our guilty souls over the injustice perpetrated by godless men.  Globalists will promise it, but they cannot deliver.
     To begin with, the very idea of no borders or boundaries is antithetical to our knowledge about God and His character.  The Bible is full of examples of God setting boundaries, beginning with the boundary He set for Adam and Eve to abstain from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Later, throughout the Old Testament, God establishes boundaries and borders for the nations, with the Bible stating in Job 12:23, He makes nations great, and destroys them; he extends the boundaries of nations and disperses them.
     And now that very knowledge of how God established the nations is threatened by this humanistic religion focused on globalism.  The Globalists claim that the world can come together in a spirit of human cooperation and understanding; that there is a global “truth” that can bind us together as one.  But true wisdom and understanding always begin with the knowledge of God.  When the people of the world forsake the knowledge of God, soon truth and mercy are both gone. Truth must be rooted in something more than our personal opinion, and mercy means going beyond our own self-interest.
     If the world adopts this globalist attitude and policies, the knowledge of God will be left behind.  And when truth and mercy are lost, there is no longer any restraint against our human nature.  We already see that idea promoted in our advertising campaigns … No rules, just right; Just do it; Break all the rules; Peel off your inhibitions and find your own road … The message is the same: You make your own rules. You answer to no one. You are the one that matters. Your universe revolves around you. You should only restrain yourself if you want to.

Tower of Babel:  The world tries its hand
in another failed attempt to control humanity.

     But here is what we need to deeply understand:  When man will not, or cannot restrain himself, bloodshed and destruction follow.  And that is at the heart of the anti-Christ spirit at work in the globalist ideology.  An article by Fay Voshell at The American Thinker website stated it perfectly:  “Like the Christian vision of the universal Kingdom of God, the religion of secular globalism claims universality, but [it] is an earthly minded substitute for the Church universal. The Christian vision sees the Church universal as God’s kingdom ruling the earth. The religion of globalism sees an earthly, utopian world order in which all men pay allegiance to elite priests who rule over a World City without national borders.”  Isn’t that ultimately what Nimrod was trying to accomplish at the Tower of Babel?  
     Ms. Voshell goes on to point out that the idea of “globalism” is really nothing new.  This idea of a “new world vision” is the same one that has given birth to all empires.  “Whether the vision of Hellenization dreamed of by Alexander the Great; whether the vision of eternal Rome ruled by demi-god Caesars; whether the vision of a Thousand Year Reich ruled by a noble race; whether the vision of a global communist international brotherhood in which the common man was to reign — the actualization of the imperial, earthly vision of man is always the same. Human beings are regarded as units to be ruled by powerful others. Human beings are enslaved.”
     It is all the same message, from the same Anti-Christ spirit, meant to strip us of our individual uniqueness; take away our belief in something greater than ourselves; and ultimately replace the Judeo/Christian concept of the human being with a de-gendered, robotic and compliant unit — a nonperson who is merely a number in the  soulless world collective.
     It really all comes down to this … the political and social concept of globalism is a useful tool for God’s Enemy to introduce an anti-Christ religion that believes in nothing [and everything] — all at the same time.  But that is no real faith at all.  When we are all reduced to a unit, or some other kind of nonentity, we have nothing to be loyal to, or faithful to.  We do not see the value in a human being, let alone see ourselves as spiritual beings made in the image of our Creator.  And then we have nothing to believe in, and we are easily enslaved to a new world order in which the Enemy determines our value.  It is a world governed without God’s moral system and righteousness, without His Truth, without His Justice, and without His Love and Mercy.  The catchwords of universalism, secularism, and globalism are meant to appeal to our human desire for world peace and equality among all men.  But, in reality, they are designed to strip us of our unique individualism and our identity as a distinct and unequaled Child of God.  We don’t need a new world order … we all need to identify as citizens of the Kingdom of God.  And when that day comes, it will be YHWH’s system of government and His authority that will rule and reign on this earth!

Daniel 2:44   “And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever…”