That Which Has Been Is That Which Will Be

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     Solomon was correct when he made that statement in Ecclesiastes 1:9.  He’s better known for the last sentence in that verse … So nothing is new under the sun … and I found that out as I did some personal research into the history of my family’s faith.  I hope you will indulge me as I share my discoveries, because I was surprised at how much I recognized in their experiences. What I found out in the life of the Church in my great-great-great grandfather’s time is being mirrored in today’s Body of Christ.
     I have long been interested in trying to figure out my family’s disparate modes of faith.  Unlike many families who can look back on a long line of ancestors whose love of the Lord was passed down through the generations, there was no unified profession of faith in my childhood home. My mother was a Believer and from an early age, I knew about Jesus, as she somehow found a way to introduce Him to me and then send me and my siblings to Vacation Bible School programs.  She was a stay-at-home mom with no car and five young children to care for, so I’m not sure how we were transported, but she got us there.  My father was not a Believer, although he supported our exposure to Church, and, as the oldest of the five, he instructed me to watch out for my brother and sister as he dropped us off at Sunday School.  My Mom stayed home with the babies… not exactly a “family experience”.

     My maternal grandmother was a strong and faithful woman, but she lived three states away, so the most influence she could have was giving me a Bible at the age of 12 (which I still have today).  I know she prayed for us. and I’m sure it was those prayers that finally bore fruit when I accepted Jesus as my Savior as an adult.  So, I knew my mother’s side was certain of their faith.  But what about my father’s side of the family?  And it is that research that led me to my interesting conclusion that Solomon was right.
      You see, my father loved searching our family’s genealogy, and before his death, he sent me a copy of a microfiched 1870 article on my four times great-grandfather and his six sons.  The patriarch of the family was a man named John Dodgson, whom the article said “came over in a ship from England with a gang of boys in 1821” to settle on a farm in Illinois.  The article also said “If there is anything peculiar to the Dodgson family than another, it was their uniform piety and strong adherence to churches”.  It was John’s first son Thomas who would be my direct ancestor; Thomas’s daughter Mary would marry a man from whom I received my maiden last name.  But it seems that Mary Dodgson’s faith in God did not translate to her new husband’s family, nor down the generations to my father.
     So I read, with fascination, about the consistency of faith in John Dodgson’s family, and I marveled at the level of their devotion to God.  John was quoted as saying [regarding his conversion experience], “If the house in Old England were yet standing, he could still go and point within six inches of where the Lord, for Christ’s sake, pardoned his sins!”  And it was “his great care and prayer” that all six of his sons would come to know and love the Lord as he had. He lived to see those prayers answered. But, it makes me sad that down through the generations, that family devoutness was diminished, and my father, John’s great-great-great-grandson, was neither schooled nor encouraged to know Jesus.
     But what was as equally fascinating as my ancestors’ piety, was the description of their faith.  Throughout the article there were references to “warm times in Wesleyan Methodism”, and after some investigation, I discovered that warm referred to dramatic experiences of conversion, including what today is referred to as “being slain in the Spirit”, or instances of fainting as the Holy Spirit comes upon a person.  And not surprisingly, there developed a schism within the Methodist Church, between those who believed this reaction was Biblical and those who accused them of being led astray.
     As I read further in the article that chronicled the faith of the Dodgson family, it was revealed that the religious differences within the local community resulted in a debate between Church leaders, the Rev. J.M. Peck and the Rev. Peter Hobson. Peck took a stance that “a little learning is a dangerous thing” and referred to the Believers who agreed with Hobson as infidels, and he feared that “a great many would be shaken in their faith and never find their way back”.
     By the way, my ancestors concurred with Rev. Hobson, whom the article went on to call “a Boston Investigator” man in religion.  What did that mean?  Here’s what I found out … “In religion, it [a Boston Investigator[ is the fearless advocate of open and fair investigation, opposed to every species of coercion for the dissemination of opinions, and rejecting all theories as erroneous, that will not bear the test of reasonable examination, however strongly they may have entrenched themselves under the barriers of antiquated formulas, tributary customs, or a pretended divine revelation . . . . Our object is to call the attention of the public from the visionary dreams of superstition and fanaticism, which has too long infested the moral world, to things of known realities, or facts that may be known, which tend to promote the happiness of man in his present state of being, the only state of which we have any knowledge. We wish to not interfere with religion by any coercive means, or any legal enactments: but to leave it entirely to support itself, and to stand or fall upon its own foundation. Its kingdom is professedly not of this world then it should have nothing to do with worldly affairs; but let it be supported wholly by spiritual means, by argument, by persuasion, and not by law”.
     Maybe, I’m misunderstanding what this is telling me, but it seems as if we are seeing the same old struggle in the Church here … on one side is the group who oppose Believers seeking a greater knowledge of God and who prefer to hold to man’s traditions and doctrines over any new revealed understanding of God through His Word — and on the other side is the group who support the freedom to reasonably examine Scripture by being a good Berean (rejecting anything not backed up by Scripture); and seeking spiritual guidance from the Holy Spirit as to God’s revealed Truth.
     Furthermore, my research revealed there was another major division between these two groups: Peck took a stance in favor of strict predestination doctrine, while Hobson believed in God’s gift of free will to accept or reject Him.  And it looks like for the better part of a century, my family fully and enthusiastically sought and accepted God. And within the next century, that faith had deteriorated to a rejection based on apathy.
     I don’t know what all contributed to the lack of faith in the next three generations of my family.  But I think it is clear that one of satan’s favorite schemes is to get the Church involved in endless debates over man’s traditions and doctrines instead of truly seeking God.  He gets Christians to focus on each other, rather than our Savior, and encourages us to find fault; each thinking they have found the true path to Heaven’s gates. None of that persuades the Unsaved to seek out the Church or to find hope in Jesus.
     I am just thankful and grateful that God never stopped pursuing me.  And it shows me that God can overcome generations of indifference and denial; that there exists in the heart of every man or woman the desire to know our Creator.  My great-great-great grandfather, Thomas Dodgson, didn’t accept Jesus until he was 40 years old in 1837, and exactly 150 years later, my faith was established as an adult, too. What is ironic is that the schisms that were occurring in the Church prior to the Civil War are the same ones that the Church is experiencing today.  Satan’s playbook never changes.  But he also has not achieved the complete victory he is seeking.  There will always be those in every generation who reject the devil’s temptations and answer Jesus’s knock at the door.
     But as Solomon expressed in his wisdom, the generations don’t seem to remember what has occurred before them, and so are destined to repeat the futility of their struggles.  I thank God that He is patient and compassionate, and willing to wait on those of us who come to Him late. I am also grateful to have this history of my family’s faith because it shows me that God truly desires to lose no one … I am the evidence of that.

Psalm 71:18    “So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim Your might to another generation, Your power to all those to come”.

A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand

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     This may seem like a trivial matter to some of you, but for the last couple of months I have been noticing a targeted campaign against Biblical teachers such as Beth Moore and Priscilla Shirer.  To be specific, the website Pulpit and Pen, whom I have always found to be passionate about defending our faith, has seemed to put a big old bulls-eye on the forehead of Beth Moore.  For the longest time, I just ignored it as not worthy of my time in reading about some Christian inner-circle spat.  I just wasn’t interested in hearsay or theological differences within the Church.  I was much more focused on what the Lord was trying to tell me (or as of late, about pursuing Him because I wasn’t hearing from Him). But when the anti-Moore articles began to irritatingly dominate the website, I discerned that maybe this was something I needed to pay attention to.  As it turns out, all the venom directed at Moore, Shirer, and other teachers, coincidentally points a finger at me, too!

     To begin with, it quickly became clear that Pulpit and Pen were actively requesting testimonies from women who had “broken free from Beth Moore”.  When looking through several pages of the website (both current and in the recent archives), it was disturbing to find at least one, and sometimes two, such testimonies per page, with the repetitive headline,” _____ Breaks Free of Beth Moore: A Testimony”.  The site solicited and printed testimonies by Jill, Elizabeth, Pastor Steve, A Pastor’s Wife, and many more names that filled in the blank … all stating that they were breaking free from Beth Moore, and calling her “a false teacher”, and sometimes even labeling her a “heretic”.
     Since I have encountered several of Moore’s studies in various Ladies Bible Study groups that I have been a part of, I was curious about what these people were breaking free from.  The interesting thing was that in most of the testimonies, there were no specifics stated; just a repetition of a mantra-like statement like, “I am finally free of Beth Moore and her dangerous teachings”.  In testimony after testimony, I was left asking, Please, tell me what she is teaching that is so false and dangerous?  Is it not spurious to make sure a claim without providing evidence?
     So, I continued with my research, reading more testimonies on Pulpit and Pen, and searching the internet for some clues as to what Beth Moore has done that is causing such an uproar.  And then I found it; it was buried within one long testimony against Beth, which was interwoven with the cruel abuse one woman received at the hands of her mother.  It was verified by a second article on a blog post titled, Two Reasons Why We Do Not Recommend Beth Moore.  Are you ready?
     Reason No. 1:  Beth Moore does not follow the New Testament command for women to be silent in the church.   Reason No. 2:  Beth Moore claims to have extra-Biblical revelations from God.  That is the exact wording of the complaints against this teacher of the Bible.  This second reason was also worded as, “Beth Moore was claiming that God was speaking directly to her outside of the Bible”.  All I can say is, I am flabbergasted!  As a woman who takes her service to the Lord very seriously, I am offended that modern-day Christians still think women should be silent in the Church.  I agree with The Christian Bible Reference website, which states: Some of the great leaders and prophets of Israel were women, so God could not have intended to exclude women from spiritual and political leadership. Paul’s proclamation of equality and Jesus’ willingness to defy convention and accept women into his larger circle of disciples should be the guiding principles rather than the customs of the Roman Empire in the first century. Women took as large a role in the early Church leadership as was allowed by the conventions of that society. 

     By the way, Paul’s statement of equality comes from Galatians 3:26-29 … You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.  We have to look no further than the dynamic spiritual duo of Aquila and Priscilla who, together, “expounded unto him [Apollos] the way of God more accurately”.  Her knowledge was equal to that of her husband, and she was not prohibited from presenting Scripture to the young disciple.
     And, of course, we have Phoebe, whom Paul trusts to deliver his epistle to the Roman Church, and  of whom, he writes in Romans 16:1, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a ministrant [servant; deaconess] of the church in Cenchreae”. It is obvious that she is no second-class member of the Church. I guess I am more than a little surprised that this argument is being used against Beth Moore by my fellow Christians.
     As to the second reason for which Beth Moore is being excoriated, I guess I am guilty of this “heresy”, too.  I understand that the Body of Christ wants to be careful about someone who says they “hear from God”.  Instantly, you might be leery of anything they say without checking to see if it lines up with God’s Word.  But Moore’s critics aren’t lodging any specific attacks.  They just don’t think God reveals Himself outside the Bible; that the only revelation a Believer can receive is through reading the Word.
     So, then how do they explain the following Scriptures?  John 10:27:  My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me … Job 33:14:  For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it … Jeremiah 33:3:  Call to Me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known …  John 16:13:  But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.  Whether Old or New Testament, God’s character and nature do not change. He speaks to His creation, and we can hear Him if we have that close, personal relationship with Him.
     The Truth is that God speaks to us in many ways …. yes, most assuredly through His Word; but also through prayer, through others, through the Holy Spirit, and through that “still, small voice” that Elijah heard during his darkest hour.  To condemn Beth Moore because she says she has heard “God’s voice” is like the Pharisees telling Jesus that He was casting out demons by Satan.  Show me where Beth Moore has taught an un-Biblical Jesus; where she has denied His Deity or distorted His Message.
     Perhaps my fellow Christians who are so ready to condemn her are so scared of being deceived that they don’t know how to recognize God’s voice.  Perhaps they see God as distant and removed, not wanting to interact with us and only visible through His Word.  That is not the God I have experienced.
     But I think the most tragic aspect of this character assassination of teachers like Beth Moore and Priscilla Shirer is that it seems the perfect ploy by Satan to divide the Body of Christ.  When Christians are so willing to attack each other over things that are not central to the Kingdom Message of Jesus Christ (repentance for forgiveness of sins; Jesus’s atoning death at the Cross; our Commission to bring Heaven to Earth), then all we’re doing is winning the devil’s battle plan for him.
     In an article he wrote, Christian writer Jack Wellman said, “By doing this in full view of non-believers, we shame the reputation of Christ.  We are redeemed, but many times we don’t live like the redeemed and we don’t reflect the Redeemer.  Gandhi once said that ‘I love your Christ…it is your Christians that I don’t like very much.’ “.  Sadly, at times like these, I agree with him.
     Jesus said that a house divided cannot stand…and Christians are sometimes divided over issues that are not central to the Kingdom and the Cross.  The Body of Christ should not be divided against itself, yet many times we are attacking each other over beliefs, or any belief, that differs from ours.  Remember, we are a “Body” … the toes differ from the fingers, and have different assignments; the arms and the legs are given different responsibilities — different tasks but all working together for the good of the body.
     The bottom line is this … this kind of vitriol and attack is not representative of God’s love indwelling the Believer.  We were given the Armor of God to fight off the Enemy — not each other.  Righteousness and the Word should not become weapons to be used against our fellow Christians.  And the way I see it, this accusation of “false teacher” is so weak that Satan is laughing at how easy it was to get us to start throwing his fiery darts at each other. May the Body of Christ quit listening to the lies of the Enemy, stand in unity, and go forth to battle the real enemy!

Romans 14:10    “You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.”

Romans 15:7          “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”



Why Are We Fighting Each Other?

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     There are times when I think that I should just turn this blog over to you readers — the comments you make are so intelligent, inspired, and perceptive that I wonder if you are getting a download straight from Heaven.  And it becomes obvious that what I am seeing and experiencing within the Body of Christ — and the renewing of my mind as I discern new understanding in the Bible — is a shared occurrence with many of you.
      Yet, as I rejoice over this common spiritual direction, I have also offended some who find my mentioning teachers and leaders outside their comfort zone as grounds to quit reading this blog.  That is certainly their choice and we all have to decide for ourselves what we think the Bible is teaching us.  Not every voice out there is going to be 100% accepted by all. In fact, our theology can be both an encouragement and a stumbling block in relating to our fellow Christians.

     On that note, I find it disheartening that our disagreements on theology tend to divide us.  Why should that be so?  It’s as if we Christians are forming a circular firing squad and shooting at each other, not realizing that the only one who wins that battle is the devil.  It’s as if everybody is trying to prove that their doctrine is the correct one; judging the one who thinks differently as coloring outside the lines.  I get it!  Everybody is trying to defend the Church — but nobody is looking to see who is bearing fruit for the Kingdom! And it’s beginning to look [to me, at least] as if those who have stepped outside those colored lines are the ones producing the most fruit; the ones who are willing to follow the radical commandments of Jesus just the way He taught them — and not according to the way they have been redefined according to man’s traditions.
     And so, I want to share a couple of comments from readers who are expressing this even better than I can.  I don’t get too many comments on what I write, so most of you may not even bother to read them, but these were articulated so well, I think you will benefit from their insight ….
     One reader wrote:  This one should ring true for anyone trying to claw their way from organized, weak and mainstream Christianity. I’ve noticed that there is a very interesting paradigm that happens when someone wishes to push on the boundaries of the box. First, those with common theological views will align quickly against those wanting to search out a matter. Secondly, those from that theological group will not only lose all aspects of “loving Christianity”, but they will not stop until you are physically gone or removed! This is scary stuff, because we are warned of brother turning against brother by Jesus, Himself. His reference is to the thing He’s ushering in called “Christianity”.
     These so called “Believers”, acting as they do, seem to me to be something other than Christians. If it walks like persecution [and talks like persecution]… maybe its persecution! We’ve been conditioned for so long to look for persecution from outside the Church that we aren’t ready as Believers when it comes calling from the nice soccer mom or dad whose superficial and basic understanding of the Scriptures is “enough” for them and should be all you need based on their theological views. In their little Christian tribe, your view is deception and eventual damnation! Got it! The frustating part is all this will end up in the Leadership’s lap and the primary motivation will be to shut all the disharmony down as quickly as possible. 
     Those with intentions of deep diving or digging in to really find out what kind of God this is we serve are always going to be a problem for the doctrinally weak-minded. I’ve been wounded by leadership so many times that I’m immune to their venom! Maybe that’s what Jesus meant when He said “we will pick up serpents and no poison will harm us”.  I say we better start to thicken our skin with these smaller thinkers and learn to hold our ground. Maybe defending the faith is more than meets the eye. Who would have thought we would need to contend for the faith against a tribe of Believers? I, for one, am done being bullied by church believers who are scared of digging into a concept that is a bit beyond the seminary canned view!!
     Another wrote:  On the ride to work this morning, I told my neighbor about my experience over the last few days listening through the Divine Healing Training (DHT) videos from Curry Blake (which I finished last night). I described wrestling through the subject of divine healing [that] I grapple with every few years, and how “a friend” suggested I watch the videos. I described my willingness to rely on the Holy Spirit inside me to guide me through the subject and that I don’t need to be afraid of the sacred cows you mentioned. 
     He didn’t have much to say except, “My dad is in that camp.” Sometimes the Church’s camps baffle me, but then I realize our fleshly nature[is] to surround ourselves with other like-minded believers. They can be helpful as we learn to digest new milk, but crippling when we neglect a balanced diet.
     The Church “IS ONE,” something I often forget when not looking through spiritual eyes. For those who take on the calling we’ve all been commanded to do – to go make disciples – it’s pure eternal joy to see the spiritual and doctrinal scales fall off believers as their paradigms shift from old to new.
     I’m grateful for teachers like Chuck Missler who’ve challenged me to be a Berean and a king who seeks out a matter. Thank YOU for your exhortation and encouragement… and the inspiration to move from milk (the study of doctrine) to meat (the doing of our doctrine). May God continue to heal spiritual infirmities through you.
     Just for the record, I am no one special; no different from any other Christian who realizes that there is more of our God than we know, and we want all of Him.  I am just willing to air the questions I have had, and share the struggles in my journey — they are no different than others’ walks with the Lord, as evidenced by the aforementioned comments.  And there is nothing I enjoy more than “iron sharpening iron” when it comes to “searching out a matter” that pertains to our King!  But I do not understand why we constantly fight each other, when we could join forces to fight our common enemy! Can’t we see his scheme of trying to convince each of us that the other is deceived?  We get so focused on winning that we get caught in the vortex of that circular (spinning) firing squad that we don’t even notice that no one is advancing in the Kingdom! We’re only digging a circular grave of wounded Christians!
     Of course, if someone is trying to teach unbiblical doctrine, then we must lovingly reprove them and show them (in Scripture) where they are mistaken.  But if it is a difference in Biblical interpretation of Scripture (and not revision of God’s Truth), can we just agree to disagree?  After all,  Peter and Paul had their differences but they ultimately came to agreement so that the Body of Christ could grow and flourish in Truth and Action.  Let us quit condemning each other over doctrine, and seek to understand each others’ hearts.  May the Holy Spirit move in the Church as He did in the First Century!

Galatians 5:15   “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another”.

 

The REAL Power Of Your Testimony

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     I’m not even sure how to begin this conversation with you. My original thought was to share how frustrated I am with all the finger-pointing that various Christian factions are engaging in towards fellow Believers who are different than them. Accusations of heresy and diabolical practices are tossed back and forth, and unity among the Body is far from evident.  The New Reformation movement thinks anyone involved with the Charismatic or Pentecostal branch of Christianity is practicing outside the boundaries of Scriptural doctrine.  And any Christian who even hints that they believe in Healing or Deliverance is accused of being caught up in “Charismania”.
     Have there been self-proclaimed people of God who have been misled, and who are misleading and deceiving Believers?  Yes, on both sides of that spectrum!  Just as in the Bible, men have sought to elevate themselves (rather than God) through signs and wonders — I think of Simon the Sorcerer.  But I can also think of several prominent pastors and teachers who preach against anything supernatural in our relationship with God, keeping Believers bound in theology that restricts the power of God in their lives.  It goes both ways.  And how does any of that benefit the Church?  The bickering and finger-pointing only serves Satan’s purpose, which is to keep us focused on our differences. That contributes to division and takes the focus off the validity of our personal testimonies.
     I think it is safe to say that the world doesn’t want to hear the Doctrines of Men; our creeds, our theology, or our dogma. As Christians, we know that God wants a personal relationship with us.  But why do we think that the world will be drawn into our buildings when the people of the world have made it clear that they reject our message?  We must reach the Lost the same way that Jesus instructed His Disciples:   But you shall receive power of the kind which God has [and exerts] after the Holy Spirit has come upon you.  And you shall be those who testify of what they have seen and experienced, my witnesses, both in Jerusalem and Judea, and in Samaria and to the end of the earth (The Greek Translation of the New Testament).  We must share our testimony of how we have experienced Jesus and the Holy Spirit in our lives!
     So, now I’m at the heart of what I want to say in this blog post … how our personal testimony can both shine the Light of Christ into the Unsaved and strengthen the faith of our fellow Believers by sharing the power of God in our lives.
     Whenever I’ve got a nugget of knowledge or wisdom that I feel is important for us to consider, but can’t quite flesh it out, I always take it to my husband, Mark, who can usually see it with spiritual eyes and help me get the bigger concept.  This time was no different… he actually became quite passionate about what our testimony should accomplish.
     Using himself as an example, he said most Christians think their testimony is boring … I was raised in a Christian home; attended Church most of my life; and can recall the day I accepted Jesus as my Savior.  I accept that I am a sinner, that Jesus died for my sins, and I have tried to live a life pleasing to God.  He said, “We think how we express our doctrinal beliefs or theology is our testimony.  And if you’re one of the lucky ones, perhaps you have a dramatic conversion experience when you realized you needed to change your life, and you found yourself on your knees, and asked Jesus to come into your heart”.
     But then he went on to say, “Most of us don’t have that. So where is the experience of God’s presence being exercised in our testimony? Does it really speak to the needs of the Lost who are hurting, or to the Believers who need confirmation that God/Jesus/Holy Spirit still interact with us today?
     Just a couple of years ago, the Body of Christ was not even able to consider that God still acts supernaturally in this earthly realm.  They could not conceive that He still wants to heal our physical sicknesses and afflictions, or that He still wants His Disciples to cast demons out of oppressed people.  But that is changing, thank the Lord!  I see Christians beginning to renew their minds about what the Scripture actually says, and they are seeing Jesus’s commands through new revelation. And, in some instances, the word “demon” is even being accepted as part of the Christian experience; some even going so far as to acknowledge that we can defeat them just as Jesus and His Disciples did! [And for those who are still skeptical that demons can oppress Christians, who do you think is responsible for so many Christians suffering from anxiety, depression, unworthiness, bitterness, inadequacy, fear, etc? Since the Church quit believing in Jesus’s command to “do the works” that He did in casting out demons, the devil and his evil spirits have had a heyday with Believers!]

     But there is still a reticence among Christians to share those testimonies with the Church.  Believers who are willing to admit that demons exist are still cautious about sharing their personal, spiritual and supernatural encounters with Jesus and the Holy Spirit in which the demons attacking them have been thoroughly defeated.  Why would we be willing to attribute some of our spiritual attacks to demons, but not be willing to share how Jesus and the Holy Spirit defeated them in our lives?  Isn’t that presenting the problem without sharing the solution?  And when that solution was the presence of God, interacting with us in the spiritual realm, doesn’t that provide the unmistakable power that our testimonies are missing?
     If we could share that Jesus actually showed up [in the spirit] and comforted us as we dealt with the loss of a parent, or a childhood molestation, or a miscarriage, or a time of profound doubt in ourselves — and we felt His embrace and heard Him whisper, “I’m here with you; accept my healing in this situation”, don’t you think that is a more powerful [and persuasive] demonstration of Who we profess to have faith in?  Which do you think the Lost will find it easier to identify with — your personal testimony that speaks of the power of Jesus to heal your (and their) wounds — or a sermon that speaks of a theological point that has no relevance to them or their experiences?
     And if Christians could be healed by sermons, then there would be no hurting souls sitting in the pews.  But you and I know that is not the case.  In the end, I see this as really simple … I just wish the Church would quit denying what our Bible tells us; and quit defining this generation as “too enlightened” to believe in the supernatural character of God.  The truth is that our rational, modern, and self-informed viewpoint has left us impotent when it comes to the attacks of the Enemy.
     As more and more Christians come to believe the literal Word of God regarding our Commission, they will begin to experience the literal power of Jesus in their lives, through healing and deliverance.  And when they can share their personal encounter with the Living Christ, and how He healed the wounds of their lives, then I believe the Lost in the world will be drawn to that message and we will have the opportunity to share the full revelation of God.  (I mean, that’s how Jesus presented the Gospel!) Furthermore, the Church needs to hear that testimony of Power as well.  They, too, need to know they can experience those personal and supernatural encounters in order to come into their full identity as images of Christ.  Then the Church will be operating in the Power of Heaven (instead of their own authority); and the REAL POWER behind the word of their testimony will conquer the devil and his schemes.

Psalm 107:2   “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He has redeemed from the hand of the adversary.”   

How The Church Got Off-Track

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     This is a topic that has been rattling around in my head and pricking my heart for several weeks now, and I’m not sure that I can adequately unpack it all to my own satisfaction, let alone yours.  But I’m going to try…
     I’ve been researching just how Jesus’s Church went from promoting Healing as a primary component of the Kingdom message in the first few centuries to such a state of denial in our commission to heal in the present century.  Why are we unable to take effective action in healing, which results in a helpless, powerless, and nearly impotent Body of Christ?
     Historically, we can see that members of early Christianity held a warfare worldview… they still held tightly to Jesus’s teachings that forces of evil would come against Him and His Church.  During His entire time on earth, the Bible records the efforts of Satan to tempt Jesus, to send lying and deceiving spirits to sabotage His Message, and to defeat the ultimate plan of God to deliver Believers out of the hands of the Enemy.
     Christians, at that time, knew that this spiritual war between Jesus and the devil was at the heart of the sicknesses and demonic bondage that people were experiencing. They understood that Believers were to fight against sickness, disease and demonic oppression through the power of the Holy Spirit. Today, we have the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John which provide historical documentation of countless healings done by Jesus, proving that He came to set the captives free.  Jesus was just doing what He saw His Father do when YHWH proclaimed in Exodus 15:26 that “I am the LORD who heals you.” So what happened, and why doesn’t Jesus’s Church believe that today?

     It is hard for me to pinpoint the exact moment that things changed and the Church got off track, but many theologians point to the writings of Augustine which eventually moved the Church to a different worldview — one in which the Church came to believe that everything in life happens due to the predetermined will of God.  In fact, it is largely accepted that Augustine was a primary influence on the Reformation and the theologies of Luther and Calvin. (Interested in exploring more about this connection?  Read here and here). I am not interested in dishonoring these important figures of the Reformation, but we need to understand how the Church got from a warfare worldview to what some call a blueprint worldview.  I think you can see how this new idea of God negated the part Satan plays, and would cause a shift in the thinking of the Church regarding healing.
     Augustine’s writings (along with the Reformers) began to move the Church in a new direction. Instead of believing that sickness might be brought on by the devil (who the early Church knew should be resisted), people were to believe that God brought on sickness and personal trials for a person’s spiritual sanctification.  Put in simple terms, God allowed sickness to purify a Believer, or in other words to prune them for greater faith.  This thinking then led to a belief system that to pray against an illness was to resist God’s work He was trying to accomplish in you.  So, instead of praying for healing, the Body of Christ would pray for discernment about why God might have brought sickness or disease into someone’s life.  And the truly remarkable aspect of this deception is that it removed Satan’s guilt in our suffering, and placed all the blame at God’s feet!
     And I can tell you that I have talked to many good Christian friends who see seasons in their life where they have dealt with sickness [or depression or adversity] as proof that God was trying to bring them to their knees in subjection to His will in their life; that somehow they were enduring a purifying fire to rid themselves of some aspect of sin.  I agree that God disciplines those He loves, but if Jesus is truly our model and a picture of how our God loves us, can you find an instance in Scripture where He allowed sickness to sanctify a Believer? Did He ever use sickness as a method to promote His Father’s Kingdom? No! He used the miracles of healing to demonstrate what His Father’s Kingdom was like and to illustrate the goodness of God!  God is not the author of pain and suffering in a Believer’s life!  He is Life and Mercy and Grace!
     For too long, the Church has seen suffering [in its various forms, whether sickness or demonic oppression] as “carrying our cross” and an opportunity to glorify Jesus in our suffering– almost as a badge of honor to prove that we are approved and acceptable to be called “Christian”. But this is just a scheme of the Devil to turn us away from believing in healing and miracles for today! And it has all led to a Church full of people operating in Doubt and Unbelief, which renders the Body powerless to effect the unbelieving world outside the Church doors.
     We have lost the Truth of what Jesus meant when He said, The Kingdom is at hand.  By using the Power that the Father gave Him to perform miracles, healings, signs and wonders, Jesus was able to grab the attention of the people to share the Good News that God’s Kingdom [as it is in Heaven] had begun on earth and would continue until it was fully achieved at Christ’s Second Coming.  He taught that Truth to His Apostles and to the Disciples that He commissioned to continue His works. They were to persist in miracles of healing and deliverance [from demons] through the ever-present power of the Holy Spirit.
     But along the way, the Enemy seduced men like Augustine to diminish the supernatural character of God, and convince Church leaders of the impossibility of His working through Believers to heal and deliver and work miracles today.  Therefore we have not been equipped to carry on Jesus’s work. The Pentecostal and Charismatic movements, which believe in the restoration of miracles, healing and deliverance [as part of the Church’s ministry] has been reviled, and any talk of spiritual warfare in these areas is quickly squelched among many mainline denominations.
     But I hope you can see the devil’s hand in man’s reshaping of the Church.  For me, it is easy to see how the continued work of Jesus could transform our communities, our country, and the world.  Just look around you and see how many people could use the release of Jesus’s healing power in their lives — whether their pain is physical or spiritual.  And do not believe Satan’s lie that these miracles are meant only for Believers.  It is my opinion that we have been given this Power [through the Holy Spirit in us] to show the healing power of God which gives us an opportunity to share a message about the Father’s love for us and what Jesus did for us.  It’s all in accordance to what Jesus did Himself.  For those with Faith, it confirms the power of God.  For those who are Lost, it can be the impetus to become born again.
     It is time that we, the modern Church, become partners with the Divine; and Healing becomes a tool in which we can resist the devil’s evil plans and make this world a little more like Heaven.  By partnering with God, we release His purposes into the earth, and the Church begins to be restored to its own purpose. Let’s change the Church from a powerless direction to one that is active, formidable,  and on fire with the power of the Holy Spirit!  It happened in that first Century, and God can do it again!

Thanks to the writings and ministry of Randy Clark for challenging me to ask the hard questions and to determine my own theology after searching the Scripture.

Luke 9:2    “And He sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal”.

“But This Scares Me”!

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     That is probably the most common response I get when I suggest that we, as the Body of Christ, should be doing the things that Jesus commanded His Disciples to do to advance the Kingdom of God.  I realize that the idea of stepping out and laying hands on someone to heal them, or having the confidence that we could stand up to a demon and command it to leave a person are unfamiliar concepts to most of this generation of Christians.  Those activities are usually assigned to “charismatic” movements, which the more traditional (and dare I say) “powerless” denominations oftentimes want to label as being on the fringe of Protestantism.  Combine those deeds with speaking in tongues and, well, the conversation is over.

     And there are lots of reasons to be uncomfortable [or afraid] that seem legitimate to our human minds …  the fear of being ridiculed or judged; no one wants to look stupid, and we certainly don’t want to find ourselves at odds with the generally accepted practices of our fellow Church members.  And then there is the fear of failure — even if I am bold enough to believe and DO what Jesus commanded, what if I do it wrong? What are the consequences of making mistakes?  But probably the biggest cause for fear is the possibility that we will have to engage the Dark Side.  That’s a huge unknown and we don’t really know what to expect, or even if we have the courage to find out.  Never mind that it speaks volumes of how we may be elevating Satan’s power over the Power of God.
     Believe me, all of these arguments are ones that I have had myself.  But the more that I studied exactly what Jesus said, I could not deny His instructions to us to do “the works that I do” (John 14:12). And a study of that word “works” reveals that it is the Greek word ergon, which means “act or deed”.  And if that wasn’t enough confirmation that I could move forward [without fear] in healing the sick and setting people free from demonic torment, there is the actual Greek translation of John 14:10-12 … Do you not believe that I am in the Father and that the Father is in me?  The words which I am speaking to you, not from myself as a source am I speaking.  But the Father who in me is abiding. He is doing the works.  Be believing me, that I am in the Father and that the Father is in me.  But if not, because of the works (acts and deeds) themselves be believing.  Most assuredly, I am saying to you, he who believes in me, the works (acts and deeds) which I am constantly doing, also that one shall do. This Scripture has so convicted my heart, that I can confidently put forth several Biblical premises for you to consider:
     1.  I don’t have to be afraid, just obedient as Jesus was.  I don’t have to fear doing it wrong, because it’s not me doing the works, it is God in me who uses His Power deposited in me when the Holy Spirit came into my heart.  Will we feel awkward at first? Yes, but when we love Jesus and follow His commands, the Bible says that a “doer of the Word” will be “blessed in his doing”.  Obedience is the first step.
     2.  There is assurance in the fact that Jesus states all Authority has been given to Him (Matthew 28:18) and He has given us authority to overcome all the power of the enemy, and nothing will harm us (Luke 10:19).  I have given lots of long, hard thought to the big picture that I think Jesus is conveying here.  And it goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden.  God gave mankind (made in His image) dominion over the earth and the authority to subdue it (Genesis 1:26-28). Adam and Eve were tricked into giving over that authority to Satan when they disobeyed God and gave into temptation. Satan actually boasts of this transfer of authority when he tempts Jesus in the wilderness: And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish (Luke 4:5-6).
     But the joke is on the devil!  Jesus defeats him at the Cross and after His resurrection, He appears to the Disciples and tells them, All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. He has taken the Authority back, and then tells them “now I am giving you the Authority [back] to overcome all the power of the enemy”.  That promise extends to us!  But there is a responsibility that comes with regaining that Authority … we must teach and do all the works that He commanded the Disciples to do.  So, there should be no fear or doubt that this is what we are to be doing!
     3.  The Bible says that the Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the Devil.  If we stick with God’s plan from the beginning in the Garden of Eden, we can see that there was no sickness, no death, no demonic torment or oppression.  But ever since Man’s Fall, the works (acts and deeds) of the devil have been to cause sickness and pain, death, and destruction of our souls — all with the purpose to separate us from a relationship with the Father.  He comes to kill, steal, and destroy that relationship. But Jesus came to destroy the works of the Enemy by doing the works of the Father … healing the sick, casting out demons, and securing the ultimate victory over Death.
     We were never designed to have cancer or Alzheimer’s; or to be tormented in our souls and flesh.  I mean, we were never even supposed to die! But our spiritual parents were tempted and disobedient, and sin entered the Garden. There has been a spiritual battle ever since between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Darkness.  Satan’s authority has included sickness and disease and spiritual torment.  Until Jesus came, he also ruled over death.  But Jesus conquered Death, and when He returns, He will wipe out all the remaining works of the devil.  Until then, we are to continue in the spiritual battle, and take back territory with our Authority to heal and deliver.  And since Jesus has given us the opportunity to overcome the greatest fear of all (Death and eternal separation from God), then we can proceed in our duties as Sons and Daughters of the Kingdom, and continue to defeat the works of the devil.
     4.  The works of Jesus [which we are to do] amount to spiritual warfare, and that’s why we have been given spiritual armor.  Pain, sickness, disease, and demonic torment come from the devil, and are his weapons in the battle to keep people from a relationship with Christ. Therefore, Jesus’s works of healing our minds and bodies, and delivering us into freedom from spiritual bondage and oppression are His weapons in this spiritual war.  And if we follow Jesus’s model, our source of power is the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.  He used both to fight the Enemy.

      Prayer plugs us into the power source, connecting us to God and allowing His power to flow to us [through the Holy Spirit] for any battle we may be facing.  It is easy to think that we are battling natural forces or enemies.  But behind these natural enemies are spiritual forces that are opposed to the Kingdom of God. And besides the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, Jesus has given us spiritual weapons that include Prayer (plugging us into the power source); Fasting (helps to break the power of pride and rebellion, and humbles the soul); Authority (given by Him to tread on the power of the Enemy); Binding and Loosing in the Spirit (with legal authority, as spoken in Matthew 18:18); Praise and Worship (which connects us to the presence of God); Prophetic Anointing and Words of Knowledge in the Spirit (which break down strongholds established by the Enemy).
     If you carefully study the Word, you will find that Jesus used all these weapons in His destruction of the spiritual works of the devil.  And we must not forget the Spiritual Armor that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 6.  This is armor that God gives us to protect us in the fight we will most certainly be engaged in.  It is my sincere belief that this armor is given to us precisely so we will get on the battlefield.  I do not think it is given to us with the idea that we are to sit safe and secure in our bunkers, while the battle rages on all around us. Jesus engaged on the front lines of the battle and so should we!
     By now, I’m sure that you have a pretty clear idea that I wish to encourage every Believer to renew their mind in the matter of the Power of the Church.  When Jesus makes the statement in Matthew 16:18 that the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church, it is important that we understand [in the culture of His day] that the importance and strength of “gates” made them viewed as synonymous with power; in this case, figuratively as the power of hell. It is pretty clear to me that He is saying there will be a power struggle on earth between the power of hell and the power of Heaven as exemplified through the Church .  But in order for hell’s power not to prevail (win), then we need to strap on our armor, secure our weapons, and get in the fight.  Just wearing the armor for our protection [with no action on our part] will not win the war.
     Now, I know there are those who will quote Scripture that says the Battle is the Lord’s; it is not yours.  That was so in the Old Testament and before Jesus came and transferred the Father’s Power and Authority from Himself to us.  We are now commanded to continue His works against the devil.
     So, can I tell you that Jesus has called us to a life of comfort, peace, and joy? And that there is nothing to fear? That is certainly what He desires for us. But we have an Enemy who wants to kill, steal, and destroy our lives and that means we need to plug into our Power Source, strap on our armor, and be prepared to battle for our King and His domain here on earth!
     When God came to earth as His Son, Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of Heaven collided with the Kingdom of Darkness here on earth — and mankind experienced a real encounter with God, Himself. That encounter exhibited the power of God in signs and wonders through Jesus Christ.  That power was never designed to fade away.  We have access to it [through the Holy Spirit] to invade the nations and demonstrate what an encounter with God looks like.  With more encounters, comes more Heavenly power, with the result that the works of the devil will be destroyed … and the powers of hell will not win against The True Church of our Lord!

2 Corinthians 10:4    “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have Divine Power to destroy strongholds”.

 
       

The Powerless Church

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     I guess I could characterize this post as a continuation of Friday’s, which was titled It’s Not Enough!  Because I think I know the people who tune into read my humble thoughts, I’m pretty sure that there are many of you who are wondering just what it looks like to exhibit the Power of the Kingdom in your lives.  And I feel as though I need to further explain what I mean by my frustration with The Church.  I know that this offends some of my Christian brethren because “The Church” belongs to Jesus, and my statements are often construed as divisive and negative towards what Jesus calls “My Church”.  Let me first, dispel those false impressions, and then I will try to be more specific about what I would recommend for living a “Kingdom life”.

     When I talk about the Church, I am referring to the Body of Christ — those individuals who have been “called” from their life of sin, and “chosen” to separate themselves from the world and walk in the righteous way of Jesus; who with one purpose, one mind, and one heart follow and do the teachings of Jesus.  Now, for the last several hundred years, that Body has been assembled in congregations who have determined that “it is through the Church that God manifests His highest purposes, and the Church must be the most glorious of all His works”.

     Modern Charismatic and Evangelistic movements point to the so-called fivefold ministry in Ephesians 4 as the primary custodians of today’s Church — the offices of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors (or “shepherds”) and teachers. It seems to me that their mission is built upon the foundation of the holy Scriptures and upheld by the pillars of the Gospel of Salvation, Grace,  Love, and Glory of the Lord.  They will say that it is their goal to replicate the model that Jesus showed us and to see their congregants reach the neighborhoods and the nations with the Gospel.

     That is a noble mission, and nothing wrong with that.  But I don’t see the most obvious component of Jesus’s model … the Power of His Father that was exhibited through Him and the works He did.  And if I am going to hold to Jesus’s model of the Church, I find no specific instructions from Him to “to associate yourselves into particular societies or churches” as one popular Reformation preacher prescribes.  And I do not believe that if, as a Christian, you “are not walking with a local congregation of believers, then you are not walking with God”.  I must say that statements like that offend me
     Were the Twelve Apostles part of a local congregation or synagogue?  No, they walked with Jesus.   And what did Jesus do? He manifested the Glory, and Mercy, and Love, and POWER of God, did He not?  He did what He heard the Father tell Him to do, and what He saw the Father doing in Heaven.  So, I think it is safe to surmise that His Gospel message of the Kingdom of Heaven was the Good News of what the Father was doing, and desired to be done by His Son to show the Father’s Glory.  
     When Jesus announced that the “Kingdom of Heaven was at hand”, He was saying, I am going to show you what it is like in Heaven by my actions.  Watch what I do by the Power given to me by My Father.  And when you have understood that it is for His Glory, then I will give you the Authority to use that same Power to make the Kingdom of God a reality here on earth.  
     But do you notice the characteristics that our religious organizations choose to use to magnify The Father?  His Gospel, His Grace, His Love, and His Glory.  Now, I don’t want you to misunderstand me — those aren’t wrong!! They are just incomplete!  Religion today teaches us we are to imitate Jesus and the Father by manifesting Their Grace and Their Glory — and I agree.  But where is the promotion of the Power that Jesus exhibited as a picture of His Father in Heaven? It has been all but eliminated from “The Church”.
     So, I want to be very clear that when I say I am frustrated by The Church, and that what we, as the Body of Christ, are accomplishing “is not enough”, I am talking about the “Powerless Church” who concentrates on the Gospel of Salvation, instead of the Gospel of the Kingdom, which Jesus said was the purpose for which He was sent (Luke 4:43).  And that “Good News” of the Kingdom was to be preached everywhere and revealed in signs and wonders  — healing the sick, delivering people from the torment of the Enemy, and even raising people from death — all so there could be no mistaking God’s Love, His Grace, and HIS POWER! All that adds up to His Greatness, or His Glory.
     So, now to address what that looks like for me and you.  Believe me, I know that all this sounds like it is going to involve us getting uncomfortable with our status quo.  And that’s exactly what Jesus demands of us!  Can you imagine how the Apostles felt?  They were taken from their ordinary lives, and found themselves working with strangers (and even people they despised, as in the case of Levi, the tax collector).  They were accustomed to being innocuous members of their synagogues, akin to sitting quietly in a pew in the back row of some church today.  They were used to following the rituals and traditions of that synagogue, and their personal relationship with God [who had chosen them as a people to glorify Him] was more habitual and routine than intimate.

     But what did Jesus tell them they would do? “You will receive Power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth”.  They didn’t stay in their synagogues and minister within the buildings.  They were sent out into the world to make a difference!  Just look at the places the Apostles went to with the message  that “the Kingdom of God is at hand” … Spain, Greece, Iran, Ethiopia, India, even Great Britain!  And  we can’t even get the message (let alone the works) out of the building to the prostitute on the corner, or the local drug dealer!  Where is the power in that?  

     But why are so many of our Churches (and us) powerless today?  What are we afraid of?  Perhaps we are frightened of being deceived by charlatans.  But doesn’t that express Doubt in the Holy Spirit to counsel us and guide us?  Or does it go deeper than that, and actually show Unbelief in the Power of God to act through us today?  We must have a call to action to touch the individual lives of people in our own cities, neighborhoods, and communities. First and foremost, that requires teaching people what the Kingdom of God means and how Jesus manifested that on earth.  And if we are afraid of poking the devil, then aren’t we saying that we believe his power is greater than our God’s power to protect us?
      If we are going to transform the culture, the culture needs to know what the Kingdom of God looks like.  If we are following Jesus and His commands then it should look like this … recognizing the needs of both our fellow Believers and the Lost.  It looks like us asking them if they need prayer for issues in their life, and if the answer is healing, then we do as Jesus did and lay hands on them, calling on the Power of the Father in us (which is the Holy Spirit) to heal their affliction. We are to believe that God can use us to see them healed on earth, as it is in Heaven.  
     If they are being attacked by entities in their sleep, or tormented by voices in their head, then we are to do what Jesus showed the Apostles, and in His Name, bind and cast out those demons.  Anything that we saw Jesus do, we also have the power to do because He sent His power when the Holy Spirit came to reside in us.  And just like the Apostles and the Disciples after them, we are to be His witnesses unto the ends of the earth.
     We live in a hurting world, just as it was in the days that Jesus walked this earth. And yes, it’s good to hear sermons in our Churches that we are to “live a life of joy in the midst of brokenness” and to “not love the things that God hates”, but where is the call to action that should be going along with that message?  How does that transform the lives of people who need to see the works of God manifested by the Body of Christ? 
    We are called to be Sons and Daughters of the Kingdom.  And Jesus has given us the perfect model to invade the culture with God’s Kingdom.  I invite you to read the Four Gospels and take notes of the works that Jesus did, and His instructions to His followers.  Everywhere He went, He taught about what the Kingdom of God was, and then He did the works that would bring this earth into alignment with His Father’s Kingdom.  
     Will we be uncomfortable doing them?  Certainly. But no more than the Twelve were when He commanded them to do the same works.  And will the culture and our religious institutions criticize, censure, and revile us? Again, just like they did when Jesus showed the First Century Believers how to walk with God.  But does Jesus need laborers in the field, and witnesses to spread the Good News?  Every bit as much as He needed it in 30 A.D.  Are you willing to be a member of His True Church; the Son or Daughter of the Kingdom that is willing to leave the life you have known for a road that will be difficult to travel, and without many rewards this side of Heaven? I will grant you that it is a scary proposition, but as a very dear friend of mine said, the only answer we ought to give is, “Yes, Master”!

1 Peter 2:21    “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps”.

     

Have We Lost Our Way?

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     I was intrigued with a recent article on the Charisma News website.  It quoted a prophetic statement made by Dr. Elton Trueblood, the former chaplain for Stanford and Harvard universities in the early 1900s. He was once asked what the church in America would look like in the last half of the 20th century. Dr. Trueblood stated, “By the year 2000, Christians in America will be a conscious minority surrounded by an arrogant, militant paganism.”  Well, we are nearly two decades past his prognostication, and I daresay that not only is the Body of Christ surrounded by paganism, but we are becoming increasingly comfortable with compromising with the pagan world.
    I feel confident in saying that because I see too much evidence that the Church and Christians are willing to let the “leaven” of the world infiltrate our professed faith in God.  Remember, in our discussion of God’s Feasts yesterday that He warned the Israelites about sweeping the corrupting influence of Egypt out of their lives. Yet, I’m afraid that I see the world and its corrupting values permeating the sanctity of our Church buildings and our faith.

     I’m pretty sure that some of what I’m about to say will be viewed as legalistic, rigid, and uncompromising.  But I would like to propose the idea that it is precisely because of our compromise and lack of obedience to God’s Word that the world is in the mess it’s in. Because the Church has presented only a picture of a Loving and Merciful God, there is no fear of Him or His Judgment.  In addition, we have let the ideology of “tolerance” overshadow the areas in which Jesus was intolerant. As followers of Christ, we have become tolerant about divorce; about what constitutes the Biblical concept of marriage; about wickedness in high places; about immorality, as evidenced by the existence of rampant pornography, sex trafficking, and pedophilia; and crime and godlessness have become accepted norms in society, with nary a peep out of the Church.
     We have forgotten that Jesus warned us to enter by the narrow gate. He said, narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. This is perfectly illustrated by the Billy Graham Association, which wrote, “If you should ask a man the directions to New York City and he said, ‘Oh, just take any road you wish, they all lead to New York,’ you would question both his sanity and his truthfulness.  Nevertheless, we have somehow gotten it into our minds that ‘all roads lead to Heaven.’ ” Yet, even Billy Graham, himself, whose faith in Jesus is without question, when asked whether those who belong to religions that reject Christ as Savior (Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, etc.) and secularists will be saved, responded, “Those are decisions only the Lord will make. It would be foolish for me to speculate on who will be there [in heaven] and who won’t. … I don’t want to speculate about that.” I guess he’s forgotten the Word of God!
    In fact, there was a time when no professed Christian would have dared to entertain the thought that other gods offer a path to eternal life. What was once solid doctrine has slowly eroded into the acceptance of multiple paths to eternity. And with that sliding scale of righteousness, we are becoming the makers of our own moral values. The consequences of Biblical sin are diminished, while standards of Divine morality or Divine revelation go unspoken.  How convenient is that? When God’s standards are ridiculed or non-existent, then no one’s moral values can be judged wrong. And when there is no Divine revelation, then we become our own god; the world operates by the religion of man and his politics, and we will be saved by secular values…. the path is wide that leads to destruction. That is why the modern Church is in danger of operating more on man’s traditions and thought than God’s Word.
     Sadly, we have removed the profound sense of mystery that is God and His supernatural characteristics, and reduced Him to just a slightly larger image of ourselves.  And we have allowed occultism, mysticism, magic, and the mysteries and worship of other gods to grow and replace YHWH’s once exalted position. We are embracing Christian yoga, for goodness sake!
     And because we Christians have not stood firm in the Word as our guiding principle, we have seen the breakdown of the family; our youth abandoning their faith in God, as well as confusion over their God-given sexual identities; and the shocking increase of perversion in our culture.  I fear that we are headed for a showdown — a confrontation between true Believers and those who profess a faith that has no foundation in Jesus.  This confrontation is already apparent in our society and it will soon split our Churches.  Greed, idolatry, and adultery with the culture is permeating the Body of Christ, and Jesus will no more allow His Church to succumb to such wickedness as He allowed the moneychangers to defile His Father’s House.
     It’s time the Church and the Body take a good hard look in the mirror. We have not been about our Father’s business and we are now in a battle for hearts and minds, and the destiny of millions of souls hangs in the balance. I sense that we will soon hear a voice from Heaven announce, “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” I believe the Body of Christ in America is in for a big transition.  Will we become the kind of Bride Jesus is looking for? I, for one, will not be in agreement with the world; nor will I compromise with those in the Church who insist on taking the wide path. I’m ready for the battle that is to come, and I will not hide the Light that is in me under a bushel basket. I will expose the lies of satan and the unfruitful works of his darkness and death. And I will tell the Lost of the abundant Life available when we are in fellowship with Jesus. Let us join together to find our way once again; to recover our path to Jesus, and return this world to the Lord!

Proverbs 25:26   “Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked”.

   
   

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”.
   
   

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.”

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”… 

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.”

 

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.”   
 

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.” 
  

The Never-Changing Game Plan of Satan

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     I love studying history.  I am fascinated how we have arrived at this point in time; and that includes us, as Americans and citizens of the world, as well as us, as followers of Jesus Christ.  What are the means that contributed to our success, and what have been the forces that have opposed us?  Has anything changed in the last two thousand years, and do the actions against the Church differ than those against the world?  In other words, does the Enemy have two different plans of attack to accomplish his goal of supremacy of this planet and its inhabitants?  These are the kinds of questions that swirl around in my head.
     And while preparing for our home church’s continuing study on the Book of Acts, an answer began to form in the back of my mind … see what you think.  By the time we get to the eighth chapter in this important epistle from the pen of Luke, we’re starting to get a picture of the schemes of the devil, and the counter moves from our God — just a little more of that cosmic chess match I’ve referenced before.
     At the birth of the Church, we see the religious and civil opposition of the Sanhedrin against those of “The Way”.  The Jewish Counsel didn’t approve of the focus on Jesus and his teachings, and at the same time, they were concerned that His followers were going to upset the nice little relationship they had with the ruling Roman government.  “Compromise” was the motto of the day.  Don’t upset the status quo, and for heaven’s sake, don’t try to make this Jesus the only way to eternal life.
     Is it any different today?  And does it matter whether you are in the Church or out of it?  Certainly, the Church began to suffer religious persecution in the First Century, and the True Church today is being harassed if they hold to true Biblical principles — even by others who claim they represent God’s real purpose for establishing the Church.

Satan is always on the field,
ready to make his next play

    The civil opposition against faith is apparent — prayer is no longer allowed in schools; it is coming under fire at your local city council meeting; and the world doesn’t want to hear that Jesus is the only way.  “Compromise” is not only the slogan among some elements of the Body of Christ, but among our civil and political institutions, too.  The 501(c)3 has become an idol with which the federal government tempts the Church to become part of the Beast System.
     But just as the Holy Spirit inspired the small group of Apostles and new disciples of Christ to stand for His Truth, there is a remnant today who are standing steadfast, and refusing to weaken or accept anything less than what He commanded.  Compromise with unrighteous religious leaders or a corrupt and wicked civil government will not deter the mission and purpose of our calling.
     Back to that First Century Church … Satan then introduced the sin of Pride into the Church by sowing thoughts of good standing and reputation in the hearts of Ananias and his wife, Sapphira.  In an effort to corrupt the motivations of Believers through self-promotion and aggrandizement, satan sought to diminish the true goal of the Body of Christ: to spread the good news of salvation and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.  He is certainly working that same game plan, as evidenced by all the mega-churches and the increase in power, status, and wealth among some of the Church’s leaders.The Gospel Message has become lost in the gospels of prosperity, inclusion, and universalism.
     But the sin of Pride is not the exclusive property of the Church.  Our Enemy uses it in the secular world, too.  Pride corrupts even the best intentions of worldly men.  Just look at our political scene, and the world of business, and the entertainment industry.  Pride is a favorite tool of the devil to draw the world away from their Savior.  But we know how God feels about Pride, don’t we?  And, in case you’re unsure, just look how quickly He countered satan’s move to instill it in the hearts of Ananias and Sapphira… they were dead in seconds!  So, whether one is part of the Body of Christ, or the world, Pride as a motivator for your own reward is a sure-fire sign that the devil is working on you.
     Next, satan tried to use disputes and conflicts among different groups to disrupt God’s plan for reconciliation with mankind.  There arose a quarrel and controversy between the Greek-speaking Jews and the native Hebrew Jews, as to the social justice issue of taking care of the widows among the new and growing Church.  If the devil could cause strife between different groups of people, then the message of Grace, Love, and Mercy could not flow from the Church.  God solved that evil plan by inspiring the appointment of a group, headed by the disciple Stephen, to share the administration of the duties in order to serve the interests of all.  The first deacons of the Church were ordained, and the Church survived.
     But we still see similar disagreements and quarrels among the different denominations within today’s Church; and between the traditionalists and the New Agers; and how many church splits has the Body of Christ endured in the last century alone?  But we also see our Enemy using this same ploy outside the Church, don’t we?  The racial tension between the black community and the white community is a result of satan’s influence, pitting one group against another.  Foreign refugees and native inhabitants of countries are victims of the devil’s subversion.  Muslim versus Christian; Gay versus Straight; Republican versus Democrat… it’s all the same game plan … divide and conquer; I guess the devil believes that to the victor belongs the spoils.
     Finally, when all else failed in those first important years of the establishment of the Church, satan employed jealousy, rivalry, false accusations and distortion of the message to try to defeat God’s plan.  He might have thought he had won that chess match when he whispered to corruptible men to spread lies about Stephen, who was becoming a bold and effective disciple, willing to stand against the Establishment (which was the Sanhedrin). Satan’s move resulted in the stoning death of Stephen, but the Enemy was not the victor.  Stephen became the first martyr of the infant Church, and his blood was the impetus for the Gospel Message to begin spreading across the land.
     All we have to do today is look no further than the next 60-second political ad to see the same jealousy, rivalry, false accusations and distortion of a message.  Then there are the recent terror attacks, where the lies and distortions are so apparent as to be laughable… only it is the devil who is laughing.  Although this form of corruption centers around secular and earthly affairs, it results in the same confusion and chaos that it does in the Church.  Satan is able to distract us from our real purpose and path, and keep us fighting amongst ourselves.  And rather than going to battle with the Lord against the Enemy, all this controversy keeps us in the devil’s tangled web of deceit.
     My intention for pointing out the similarities of satan’s game plan is to help us see that he tries to influence all aspects of our lives.  He is not only working in the world, as the prince of this world, but he has never stopped working in the Church.  From the beginning, we have seen him bring strife, conflict, pride, lies, jealousy, and even the power of the Church, itself, to bear against God’s creation. Now. it is more apparent than ever that we must be aware, and watch for his schemes and plots to undermine humanity and wreak devastation and destruction.  I truly feel he is putting his final battle plan into motion, and bringing his devastation to fruition.
     At the point I am in the Book of Acts, the Bible says that the Church began to be “ravaged by persecution”.  That is such an ominous word and one that I am afraid will soon apply to us.  But it is not only the followers of Christ who will be shattered, but the very foundations of civilization.  Thank God, that the Righteousness and Judgment of our Lord will prevail and the game plan of our Adversary will be destroyed.  The victory has already been won, and the spoils are our inheritance in heaven.  Come, Lord, Jesus, Come!

Job 1:7     The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”

   
   
   

What Is Kingdom Now Theology?

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     I don’t think any of us can deny that The Church has struggled over the past few decades with trying to remain relevant to the culture and to the world.  Of course, I question if that should ever be a goal or not, but it is becoming evident that the masses have rejected the fundamental doctrine of the Bible in favor of serving themselves and their own thoughts and counsel.
     Sadly, some within the Body of Christ have attempted to reach the marginalized in society; those who they feel are being excluded by the rigidity of God’s morality as expressed in the Bible.  That has led to a skepticism of God’s Truth as spoken in the Word, and an attempt to explain the inerrant Word as allegorical, symbolic, metaphorical, or figurative.  Such is the new trend of theology in what is known as the Emerging Church, which follows a postmodern, “new paradigm” in the modern Church.  

I guess I’m just “old school” and “old paradigm”

     As I had it explained to me in a Sunday School class one day, I am of the “old paradigm” if I believe that every word of the Bible is true, or that it was divinely inspired.  I am of the “old paradigm” if I believe in the “stories” of the Virgin Birth, the Star over the manger in Bethlehem, or that Jesus knew He was the Son of God before He found Himself hanging on the cross.  I was informed that this old Biblical worldview was too exclusive, and I needed to adopt the “new paradigm” of The Church that believes God has no problem with homosexuality or that “the social justice” Jesus preached mirrors the modern secular and political definition.  I was told that collective salvation is the goal of the Gospel Message, rather than individual salvation; and end-times theology or prophecy has no relevance for us.  And to emphasize our need to shed The Church of its traditional and conventional doctrine, we began studying books by Emerging Church leaders such as Marcus Borg and Rob Bell, rather than the Bible.  Needless to say, that was when I truly became aware that satan had influenced The Church.
     But the point I want to make is this:  such postmodern, self-absorbed ideas about our roles as Christians have translated into new theologies about just what The Kingdom of God looks like, and what our role is in it.  I have written several blogs on this subject, and I have found one more reason to further discuss this idea of The Kingdom of God.  It has recently come to my attention that there is a movement based on what is known as Kingdom Now theology, and it appears to be coming from this branch called The Emerging Church.  Just like I mentioned a couple of days ago, it is important for us to understand what we believe and why; to be a good Berean, receiving the Word with readiness and searching the Scripture to make sure it is true.  The bottom line for me is that I read, test, check and examine my understanding for Biblical veracity and accuracy.  While that has often led to a bigger picture of my God than the traditional Church has held, I am always careful to make sure I don’t elevate myself beyond what Scripture tells me is my significance.  (That being said, I have also discovered, through Scripture, that I am more significant to my Lord than The Church had taught me, but that is a different blog post for a different day).
     So, just what is Kingdom Now theology?  According to one Christian website, “Kingdom Now proponents believe that God lost control over the world to Satan when Adam and Eve sinned. Since then, the theology goes, God has been trying to reestablish control over the world by seeking a special group of believers—known variously as “covenant people,” “overcomers,” or “Joel’s army”—and that through these people, social institutions (including governments and laws) would be brought under God’s authority.”
     First of all, don’t you think if God wanted to do something like take back His control [if He ever lost it, in the first place], that He could do it all on His own?  Don’t you think He could bring about what they call “The Kingdom Age” without needing the help of us broken and sinful people?  But it appears that this movement sees Believers as inheriting Jesus’s divine nature when the Holy Spirit indwells us at our salvation experience.  In fact, this same website says that, “Kingdom Now theology sees the Second Coming of Jesus in two stages: first through the flesh of the believers (and in particular the flesh of today’s apostles and prophets– (this is where it resembles the New Apostolic Reformation movement), and then in person to take over the kingdom handed to Him by those who have been victorious (the “overcomers”). Prior to the second coming, overcomers must purge the earth of all evil influences. Kingdom Now claims that Jesus cannot return until all His enemies have been put under the feet of the church (including death, presumably).”
     I guess my biggest question for movements like these is, “Can you show me, where in the Bible, this is written”?  It is apparent how easy it is to take the idea of “overcoming” — which the Bible does say that we do when we are born again in Christ and believe that Jesus is the Son of God (1 John 5:4-5) — and expand upon that idea to make it all about us.  The Kingdom of God is the place, or the location, where the King resides, right?  And if we can all agree that Jesus is our King, then He resides in our hearts when we accept Him as our Savior and the Holy Spirit takes up residence in us.  The location of the Kingdom is spiritual!  We, as human beings, cannot establish an earthly Kingdom for Him and then hand the keys over to Him … nowhere is that expressed in the Bible!
      The Second Coming of Christ will be when He, not men, defeats His enemies and puts all things under His feet. The description of the Second Coming in Revelation 19 is the description of a mighty warrior who comes to put all things to right; not of one who comes to an earth already cleaned up and ready for Him to rule.  That scenario totally negates the reason for Jesus to “tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God, the Almighty”.  If the earth has been “purged of all evil influences” by the overcomers, as the Kingdom Now-ers believe, why does Christ need a sharp sword to strike the nations, and why does the anger and wrath of God still exist against them when He returns?
     I guess the thing that grieves me the most about these New Age interpretations of Scripture is that they really don’t regard Scripture very well.  They seem to be philosophies that emerge from the imaginations of men to 1) bend the Bible to their own self-interests [and sins], and 2) to bring God down to the level of our human characteristics, while attempting to elevate our human nature to near deity status.
     I can’t say it any plainer than this … nowhere in the Bible do I see a physical Kingdom of God on earth before the return of Jesus.  His realm exists now in our hearts and our spirits.  To proclaim [or imagine] anything beyond that is treading dangerous Biblical ground.

Luke 17:21   “nor will people say, ‘Look! Here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For the kingdom of God is among you [because of My presence].”
   

   
 

My Perspective On The New Apostolic Reformation Movement

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     The direction of today’s Church follows many paths.  I am literally astounded at the leniency of some church leaders who would be willing to see the “spiritualism” of an event like Burning Man on par with the experience of The Early Church at Pentecost.  But then again, I am equally amazed at those who refuse to consider what the Bible has to stay about the supernatural in our Christian experience.  That presents a wide spectrum in the observance of our faith.  But I also truly believe that, at this time, there is an increase in the desire for knowledge about God among the Body of Christ and The Church; within that reality, it is also a time to be cautious when seeking new understanding.
     In my own quest, Scripture has been my center of focus as I am trying to discern what it means to be a follower of Christ, according to the Bible.  I am trying to know The Most High God in a deeper and personal way, and seek His Truth about who He is and who I am, in Him.  That being said, it has become apparent to me that while other Christians are doing the same thing, there have grown new ideas of what that looks like, and new movements that have risen out of that pursuit for knowledge.  Differing interpretations of the Bible have given rise to new theologies and new movements, with the result being that we must be very careful in forming our own understanding of what God’s Word is saying to those of us called by His Name.  And, we need to be careful to approach each other in love, when discussing our differences.
     To be honest, I have tried to listen exclusively to the Holy Spirit to guide me to the truth of the Word.  In that process, I have discovered that it has been necessary to discern which doctrines of the traditional Church still ring true to the commands of Jesus, and which are man-made rules that do not serve Him according to His Word.  In the same manner, I see that these new movements and theologies require the same examination.  And, once again being honest, I have been unaware of the “official” names of these groups and their guiding principles, because it has been my desire to quit following the ways of man, and follow the Biblical path towards Jesus.  So, I am reluctant to follow any stringent rules or guidelines in order to identify with particular “movements”.   But I feel it is important to know what these groups believe in order to know where they stand, Biblically, and to be able to defend my own theology.

     So, today, I wish to introduce you to the New Apostolic Reformation Movement and explain it as I understand it.  I do not wish to disparage this movement’s desire for Truth, but I think it is inherent that each of us pray for guidance and discernment so that we are not led astray.  I am fully aware that I do not have the secret counsel of God, nor have I cornered the market on wisdom — none of us have all the answers, and while we may find agreement on various principles, we are probably not going to agree on every aspect of each other’s belief systems.  I also believe the Bible when it says that we are one body, with many parts; and that God may reveal, through His Spirit, one aspect of Himself, while revealing an additional facet of His Character to another.  But it is very important to do your homework, and to know exactly what groups and movements and theological camps believe … and then to compare it to Scripture.  The Bible tells us that the Church will become “apostate” in the latter days, and it is incumbent upon each of us to be wise and discerning, so that we do not fall away from God’s Truth.
     So, let’s get down to the basics … the New Apostolic Reformation Movement (NAR) appears to be a loose collection of non-denominational and independent churches rallying around a particular set of biblical interpretations.  Primary to their belief system seems to be the idea that God is raising up a new order of apostles and prophets who have been commissioned by Him to affect our culture and society.  Furthermore, the NAR movement teaches that because God’s intended form of church governance is apostles and prophets, their leadership status is over evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Only now, as the church is properly guided by these appropriate spiritual leaders, can it fulfill its commission from Jesus. This commission is seen as more than spiritual, as it includes cultural and political control.
     If my research is correct, they believe as the church unifies behind the apostles, these leaders will develop greater and greater supernatural powers. Eventually, this will include the ability to perform mass healings and suspend the laws of physics. Prophets in the New Apostolic Reformation are almost as important as apostles. These people have been empowered to receive “new” revelations from God that will aid the church in establishing dominion. (According to the New Apostolic Reformation, only prophets, and occasionally apostles, can obtain new revelations. Evangelists, pastors, and teachers cannot). The prophets’ new revelations are crucial to overcoming the world, and the success of the church depends on the apostles following through on the information prophets provide.
     On the surface, this movement might not seem too dangerous.  For sure, prophecy played an important part in the Old Testament, and those prophecies have been accurately fulfilled.  And, I will agree that far too many pastors ignore the Bible prophecy that exists in the New Testament; specifically Matthew 24 and the Book of Revelation.  In fact we are told there are those pastors like Joel Osteen and Rick Warren who don’t “feel called” to preach on the the End Times prophecies because “it frightens people and keeps them from living a victorious life right now” (Osteen); and “those who focus on Bible prophecy are not fit for the Kingdom of God” (Warren).
     Here is where I stand … Prophecy is important, and God gave us the prophecy He wants us to have and understand in Scripture (in both the Old and New Testaments).  On more careful examination and discernment, I don’t see Scripture telling me that God will give us new prophets in these days.  And the NAR seems [to me] to put too much emphasis on man’s sovereignty in bringing about the return of Jesus.  It’s as if they are saying our commission from Jesus is to control every sphere of influence on earth, so we can bring about a sort of Utopia that they define as the Kingdom of God on earth.

     But is that really what Jesus commanded us to do in what is called The Great Commission?  In my opinion that commandment was explicitly expressed in Acts 1:8, when Jesus tells His disciples, you will receive power and ability when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be My witnesses [to tell people about Me] both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth, and when He reiterates His command in Matthew 28:19-20: Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations [help the people to learn of Me, believe in Me, and obey My words], baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you.  
     According to New Apostolic thinking, mankind lost its dominion over earth as part of the fall of Adam. So Jesus’ First Coming and His sacrifice on the cross not only resolved our sin debt, but it empowered mankind—specifically, Christians—to retake control of the earth. The New Apostolic Reformation sees seven areas in which believers are supposedly empowered and expected to dominate: government, arts, finances, education, religion, family, and media. Of these, the New Apostolic Reformation sees government as the most important because of its ability to influence all of the other facets of life. As a result, the New Apostolic Reformation overtly encourages Christian control over politics, culture, and business.
     While I cannot dispute that if we modeled our lives on the way Jesus lived His, we would naturally influence these spheres, I do not see the Great Commission as a commandment to dominate these physical sectors of our society.  I interpret both passages in Acts and Matthew as Jesus giving us a spiritual mission to reach the hearts and minds of people; not an earthly mission to control our culture.  Notice that the power comes from the Holy Spirit, not from man … it is a spiritual mission!  That is what the Bible says.
     The Bible tells us that the Kingdom of God is not based on talk, put on power (1 Corinthians 4:20); it is not brought about by man’s efforts, but exists in spiritual power.  Jesus, Himself, said in Mark 7:6-7, “These people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. They worship Me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commands of men”.  And again, Paul tells us, “for the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking [what one likes], but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  It’s spiritual!  We are not to involve ourselves with the affairs of the world, but to win souls (hearts, minds, emotions) for Christ!  Didn’t the Early Church of Acts disengage from the affairs of their world and turn to spiritual power to win the hearts and minds of unbelievers?
     Who among us is not concerned about the economy and the upcoming election and the effects they will have on our physical lives and those of coming generations?  And I have been hearing more talk about Pastors who have decided to challenge the “separation of church and state” that has been followed for several decades, and engage their congregations with their “moral duty” to vote “their conscience”.  But I have to ask you this:  Is that part of our commission from our Lord?  Does who is President really matter to your mission to win souls for Christ?  Does your power and authority come from whoever is President … or from Jesus and the Holy Spirit?  If we are be to like Jesus, whose business must we be occupied with?  This world’s, or God’s?
     Did God give Jesus power and influence to affect the political scene in Judea and Jerusalem; did He attempt to change the educational system in the synagogues; did He engage with those responsible for the financial system among the Jews?  The Bible tells us to imitate Christ, whom “God anointed with the Holy Spirit and with great power; [so that] He went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, because God was with Him.” (1 Corinthians 11:1).  THAT IS OUR MISSION!
     I want to wrap up my discussion with the hope that I have not misrepresented this movement, because I know how a word here or there can totally distort what one believes; I have been misinterpreted and misunderstood numerous times.  And I sincerely believe that Christians who count themselves as adherents to the NAR movement believe they are interpreting Scripture correctly.  And do I think it will affect their salvation or eternity in Heaven with our Lord?  No.  But, in the end, I am concerned with putting too much emphasis on changing physical situations in the world.  After all, it is not the physical condition of the world that is a sign of the Kingdom of God.  It is the spiritual condition of those who will receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior.  And it is that spiritual condition of all mankind that we should be seeking to change.

John 18:36    Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

“Be As Wise As Serpents, and Innocent As Doves”

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     In our Home Church’s study of the Book of Acts this past weekend, we made note of the ways that satan attempted to disrupt the growth and influence of the newly-formed First Century Church.  He tried to discourage the Apostles from delivering their supernaturally-charged message of “Jesus as Messiah” by inciting the civil and religious ire of the powerful Sanhedrin.  When Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, shows them he is unafraid of their threats, the devil then whispers the sin of Pride into the hearts of Ananais and Sapphira and they lie to the Holy Spirit about their false generosity to meet the needs of the multitude assembled in Jerusalem.  God thwarts that plan by striking them dead on the spot.

     The next move in the cosmic chess match was to try to instigate division among different groups within the new Church, but Stephen, a man of remarkable faith, steps up and leads the congregation to reconciliation.  In retaliation, satan whispers lies and false accusations against Stephen, which results in a trial before the Sanhedrin and a death sentence for blasphemy — ironically the same sentence brought against Jesus, whom Stephen proclaimed.  Again, the Adversary thinks he’s poured cold water on the fire of Christianity, but God defeats his move by raising up the first martyr who is willing to die for his witness of Christ.  And all of this has happened in just the first seven chapters!
     But Jesus had warned the Apostles that this would be their lot; in fact, anyone who is willing to witness to the world of eternal salvation through Jesus, the Son of God, can expect that there will be a hard road before them.  In Matthew, chapter ten, after commissioning His twelve disciples and instructing them to continue the work He was doing, he then warns them that He is “sending them out as sheep in the midst of wolves”, and then comes that turn of phrase that I wish to explore further … “So, be as wise as serpents, and innocent as doves”.  Just what did He mean by that?   

     The first half of that admonition is easy enough to discern.  Sheep are vulnerable in the midst of wolves, and are targets for attack.  As Matthew Henry explains it, “Wicked men are like wolves, in whose nature it is to devour and destroy.”  This is the very definition of the goal of satan.  So, then what are we to make of the advice, first, to be “wise as serpents”?  

      I have seen some explanations from sources that I admire; John Piper and David Guzik both adhere to opinions that witnesses for Jesus should follow the example of serpents, or snakes, and “get out of the way; go under rock”, or that “serpents are attacked by everyone, and must use creativity and wisdom to survive; so, avoid unnecessary trouble”.  While both viewpoints accurately describe the action of snakes, I would like to offer another possible interpretation; one from a spiritual warfare point of view.
     Do you think it is plausible that Jesus could have meant for them to be wise from this standpoint … to be wise and to have sharp and perceptive discernment and understanding of people and situations, and to be alert and aware so that you can maintain sound judgment in dealing with different  circumstances. 
     I suggest that both Mr. Piper and Mr. Guzik might put forth the argument that a snake’s most common form of self-protection is avoidance.  Therefore, when confronted with persecution, we should seek practical and artful ways to avoid trouble with the Enemy, and seek a path of escape.  And I agree that this might sometimes be the best option and approach we should take.  
     But remember, it is the objective of wolves to “devour and destroy”, and this is the task that satan desires to accomplish through any manner possible.  And what is Jesus’s admonition in the face of satan’s attacks?  Be wise as a serpent.  So, as we attempt to fulfill our commission from Jesus, we must discern how we are going to counter these attacks, and listen to the counsel of the Holy Spirit.  I contend that currently, the Church’s only modus operandi is to follow a plan of “avoid and escape”.  But is that the only approach that Jesus means for us in His advice to be wise as serpents?  Are we always supposed to run and hide?  What if He really meant something else?  
     What if being as wise as a serpent means to know and understand the Enemy’s tactics?  It seems to me that by being aware of how our enemy thinks and acts, that we could be more effective in defeating him.  I’m not saying that we should go looking for the fight at all!  But I am suggesting that avoiding the fight at all costs  — with no understanding that we have the power and authority of Jesus behind us — we are giving up valuable ground to the forces of wickedness and evil.  Sometimes understanding our enemy — instead of avoiding him — might give us the opportunity to better protect ourselves.  Instead of defenseless sheep facing an onslaught of wolves, we can mount a supernatural defense, being wise as to how our enemy operates.
     Now for the second half of Jesus’s instruction,  Be as innocent as doves.  John Piper says this means, as you go forth spreading the Gospel Message, “don’t give them any legitimate reason to accuse you of injustice or immorality. Keep your reputation as clean as you can.”  David Guzik prefers the version which says to be harmless as doves, and implies that “remaining harmless would keep them from giving in to the temptation of retaliation.”  He also quotes theologian Charles Spurgeon, who said the Christian “must be of a guileless [innocent, genuine] mind (without deception), that he do no harm.”  
     I agree with all these learned men, and I would like to suggest one caveat to their discerning viewpoints.  In the realm of spiritual warfare, we really fight on two fronts, don’t we?  One front is the spiritual realm, in which we battle the powers and forces of spiritual wickedness and evil.  The other is the physical world in which we counter the attacks of satan and his demons with the powerful message of Jesus’s love and sacrifice.  So while we should be wise in knowing the enemy’s tactics and how to defeat them in the spiritual realm, we also need to be wise about how we present His message to those who are lost in this world.  Remember the context in which Jesus is speaking: He is sending His representatives out into the world to spread the Good News.  That is a powerful counter-attack to satan’s plans to “devour and destroy”.
     We cannot approach the world as if we are going to war against them.  We must be a safe haven for them to hear the Word; we must not use His Message to cause harm; and we must be blameless in our approach and our testimony.  There should be a sense of peace about our delivery; after all doves are a symbol of peace.  And what better way to counter the devil’s destructive attacks in a person’s life than to battle back with a message that brings peace to a man’s soul and spirit?  Being innocent as doves is a significant and powerful part of our spiritual warfare arsenal.
     Now that I’ve explained another way to look at this passage, I’m sure there are readers wondering, “So, what exactly, does being wise as a serpent look like?  What should we be knowing in order to understand the Enemy? I’d like to suggest just a few things that come to my mind:
1)  Studying exactly how God feels about oaths and curses, and what effects they have upon our lives.
2)  Studying secret societies like the Freemasons, Opus Dei, Skull and Bones and knowing the oaths and curses they take and what they mean to these groups.  And, as a believer, if these associations are connected to your family, you need to know that they can be renounced in the Name of Jesus, and you can be freed of their destructive consequences in your life, and the lives of your family members.
3)  Understanding what “legal authority” means from a spiritual perspective, and what it allows Satan to do.
4)  Understanding what a “stronghold” is and how satan uses them to oppress us; unforgiveness being one of the strongest and most oppressive.
5)  Researching and understanding that there is a very real satanic calendar; days on which sacrifices and evil practices are carried out.  These dates are not contrived on my part — they have been followed for thousands of years; ancient, pagan rites passed down through the centuries and honored by modern followers of satan.  Don’t believe me?  Check out the list here.  Christians don’t even know they exist, so the enemies of mankind are allowed to carry out their diabolical rites without one prayer against them!
     What I am not saying is this:  that we should make this knowledge our priority, or that it should have equal standing with knowing and understanding God.  But I do not believe that He wants us to simply be sitting idly by, waiting for Him to come to our rescue.  He wants us in the battle and participating with Him, and that means getting out of our comfort zones, and our comfortable seats in the pew, and becoming more than robots.
     These are just a few of the ways that we can be “wise as serpents” — by studying and understanding what the serpents do and how they operate!  In Luke 10:19, Jesus says, I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy”but, up until very recently, I had no idea what that meant or how to go about it.  I suspect it is the same for many Christians.
     The Church and the Body of Christ have done a good job about understanding and being “innocent/harmless” as a dove.  But I can’t help thinking there is some significance to our Lord telling us to be “wise as a serpent” first … and then to be “innocent as a dove”.  If we are restricted in our witness and the bearing of fruit, due to the deep spiritual wounds that go unhealed, just how effective will we be in representing the power of Jesus’s love?  If we at least consider getting free of our bondage to sin first, then I believe the sharing of our testimony and the Gospel of Jesus will be so sweet on our lips that it will be irresistible!
     To summarize … Shouldn’t we first understand how our Enemy operates, then listen to the Holy Spirit as to whether it is most prudent to avoid this confrontation, or to call upon our power and authority in Christ to confront it and defeat it?  And finally, I want to leave you with this interesting analogy from my pure Texas husband … God wants us to use the brains He gave us; we’d better start understanding the schemes and tactics of the devil [and how to deal with them through the Lord], or when the evil that is prophesied to come upon the world occurs, it is going to look like Opening Day of dove season in South Texas! What a sobering thought….

2 Timothy 1:7    “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

     

How Jesus Is Leading Me To His Truth

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     I feel compelled to make a personal statement that I hope will provide encouragement and direction to those of you, who like me, find themselves as the square peg in the Church’s designated round hole.  When I self-identified as “a misfit” [in regard to how I fit into the structure and theology of today’s institutionalized religion], I got a few comments from those who recognized themselves, as well.  But I have a pretty good idea that if you are among the 1,000+ readers who actually read yesterday’s post, then there are likely more of you who sympathize with Anonymous, who said, “… it is becoming more and more clear I have no “place” in my church. I am discouraged from seeking answers beyond the “base or pat ” answers that the leadership has determined is the ”right” answer. This is so frustrating. I find that church for me has to be in a blog like yours or in an online forum where people like me are gathering in droves to find some semblance of the truth. What does this say about the condition of the church? I feel guilty about rejecting the church but what if there is nothing there to minister to me?”

     Oh, how I empathize with that frustration!  I sincerely believe that Jesus is calling our spirits out of hibernation.  For too long, we have been satisfied with what we’ve been spoon-fed as the “theologically correct” concepts of Creation, Salvation, Grace, and Church.  By no means, do I suggest that Pastors have deliberately misled us or contrived to dumb us down.  No, satan has done that!  And I want to make it clear that, in no way, do I advocate rejecting the Church.  It is still Jesus’s Church!  Instead, it is my hope that I (we) can enlighten the Church and stimulate it to return to its designated and divine purpose; the purpose that Jesus commissioned it for — not the lukewarm representative of His power and glory many church buildings have become.  Until, then I believe He has called those with willing hearts and spirits to step outside the current institution and join Him in forming a revitalized remnant.
     It wouldn’t have taken the devil long to figure out that God’s power existed in the First Century Church.  It was the supernatural power on display among those who were taught by Jesus, and then, in turn, taught others of the power and authority available to all who believed on His Name.  From the beginning, satan sought to interfere with that power, and to blind believers to the extensive influence they could have [in and on the world] by continuously seeking knowledge from Jesus and God.  So our Adversary influenced men’s hearts to infiltrate the newly formed Church, introducing opposing doctrines and stifling our desire to seek higher levels of understanding about our God and His character, principles, and precepts.  Now, a couple of thousand years later, we find ourselves as part of a Body that no longer resembles that “on fire” congregation of Christ-followers.  Instead, we have accepted a limited view of who we are to be, where and how we are to serve, and how far we are allowed to go in our search for answers. And it is literally killing our souls!
     So, I am writing this post in response to the brave and honest request by Anonymous, who asked that I share the books, sources, teachers, and texts that Jesus has put in my path to lead me on my own search for His Truth.  A word of caution — this may not be the same path He is leading you on!  And that’s okay, as long as you are serious in discerning that it is His voice you are hearing.  And Scripture is the basis by which I test ANY new knowledge of God.  
     Also, my journey has taken me down many roads, and I have run many conceptual rabbits down many trails, whereby I either accepted or rejected new information.  I have read the ancient writings of early Church writers such as Josephus, Origen and Tertullian.  I have read the extra-Biblical texts of Enoch and the Book of Jasher, which have either been referenced, quoted, or alluded to in the Bible.  (If they were important enough that God inspired the Biblical writers to mention them, then they must have some importance to us, right?)

Early Christian writings

     I put great store in the research of modern Hebrew scholars like Michael Heiser.  I have attended seminars by modern Biblical writers/researchers Rob Skiba and Doug Hamp; and read the books of L.A. Marzulli, Tom Horn, Daniel Duval, and Chris Putnam; and listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts by godly men like Russ Dizdar, Chuck Missler, and Justen Faull — all men who have devoted their lives to coming to the full knowledge of God; at least as much as God wants to reveal to us.  I will tell you that I don’t always agree with all their theories or premises, but I will vouch for their attention to Biblical detail and their genuine heart for God.  I can also tell you that the Greek translation of the New Testament by Kenneth Wuest, the preeminent Christian Greek scholar of the 20th Century, is not far from my fingertips, as is the Hebrew/Greek Concordance.   All these are references that I use in conjunction with, but not in primacy over the Bible!  Everything always has to align with what the Holy Spirit reveals in the Word!
     Now, if you are interested, let me show you how God pushed me “out of the nest”, so to speak, and how one thing led to another …. When I began to realize that even the trusted leaders of my long-time Church were beginning to introduce outside sources to our study of the Lord, there was a deep desire in my soul to know what they believed about the Bible and Jesus.  I discovered that these authors had ideas such as “the Bible is not the inerrant Word of God”; “Jesus did not know He was the Son of God until He was hanging on the Cross”; and “the old paradigm of thinking the Bible is a manual for living life has been replaced by a new paradigm that states the Bible is merely a guide full of allegories and symbolic lessons”.   I must tell you that my spirit felt violated!  And it was as if I had been looking through a murky veil of truth.  All of a sudden I knew that I had been lulled into accepting “Church doctrine” and teachings that might not even be what God intended me to know about Him!  I was determined to do my own research and in the only source God had given me … THE BIBLE!  And I was beginning at the beginning.
     It didn’t take me long to find a concept that needed further exploration …. Genesis 3 and the Fall of Man had me looking deeper into all I could find out about the serpent.  Was he really just a snake, or was he, as the Hebrew word for “serpent” [nachash] suggested, “an upright, bright, shining one”?  Suddenly, the image of the snake in the Garden of Eden, that the Church had always perpetuated, took on a bigger, broader meaning and I got the fuller image of Lucifer, the brightest angel in heaven, who fell to earth in disgrace.  That led to more thoughts and questions that had never been discussed in Church — If Lucifer took a third of the angels with him and became satan, then how does that play into Genesis 6, which says “the sons of God” (referenced as angels elsewhere in the Bible) saw that “the daughters of men” were desirable and children were produced.  These children were called Nephilim in the Hebrew, which indicated they were hybrid offspring of fallen angels and earthly women, who were birthed as giants.  Well, I never heard that explanation in any Church!!!  In fact, I had never heard Genesis 6:1-4 ever spoken of or expounded upon on in the 25 years I experienced in the Church.
     That led to more questions, about the conflict between “the seed” of Eve and “the seed” of the serpent and all that suggests.  I then became aware that the attempt to explain away the possibility of fallen angel hybrids by inserting the Sethite view, just didn’t make sense.  (Click here for my post on how I believe the Church has gotten this wrong).  All of a sudden, I could see how satan tried for centuries to pollute the gene pool of mankind with the wicked DNA of fallen angels so that Jesus’s line would become impure, and He could not be born.  It explained so many other things in the Bible that didn’t make sense … For instance, why Daniel, when explaining the feet and toes of the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, said, “Whereas you saw iron mixed with clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men; but they shall not cleave to one another, even as iron is not mixed with clay.”
     In my research, I discovered that “clay” signified people.  But what was miry clay?  Miry clay is clay made from dust; Dust symbolizes Death in Job 7:21, Job 10:9, Psalm 22:15, and many other places throughout the Bible.  And who is the “they” referenced, who mingle themselves with the seed of men  .. obviously, something (or someone) other than the seed of men (human).  That takes me right back to Genesis 6!  And, Daniel is stating a prophecy about the future!  Does that mean he is predicting what happened in Genesis 6 will happen again?  Will there be a mingling of mankind’s DNA with something alien to the human species?  Suddenly, all the modern scientific interest in transhumanism comes into view and has great Biblical significance!  (Click here for my post tying all this together).
     I could spend hours showing you every dot that God began to connect for me.  Just this one concept of looking deeper at the serpent led me to the Nephilim and all their implications throughout the Bible … in Genesis 14:5-7, reference is made to Chedorlaomer, and the tribes of Rephaim, Zuzim, Emim — all giants; in Genesis 23, the town of Kiryat Arba (where Abraham buries Sarah) means “town of four giants”; in Amos 2, God reveals that the Amorite tribe consists of giants; and we now have a broader picture of just who Goliath was, and why it was significant that David killed him.  What’s more, as I further researched the tribes that God ordered the Israelites to destroy in the land of Canaan, they were all revealed to have impure bloodlines.  Now I understood why God ordered them all killed and for the Israelites to not marry foreign peoples… the bloodline must remain pure for Jesus to come into the world!
     While I have railed about all the negative impact of technology and how satan has used it to deceive us, I’ve never forgotten that what was meant for evil, God uses for good.  The internet is a very useful tool to start you on your path (always remembering to discern if it is pointing you to God’s truth, or man’s opinion).  The ability to research the Jewish language and the writings of Jewish historians in regards to the Torah was immeasurable in researching all the above.
     Needless to say, over the past five or six years, I have spent countless hours in my Bible and reading reference books, commentaries, and looking up the original Hebrew meanings and context of Bible passages.  It has been important to study the historical commentaries of Matthew Henry, compare them to the modern exegesis of David Guzik, and then contrast them with what the Holy Spirit reveals to me in the Word.  And it has been a blessing beyond measure!  All those questions that I never dared to ask in my Church — either, because I feared they would be frowned upon as heretical; or they could not be answered from a lack of interest or knowledge — I have felt the freedom to pursue on my own.  I cannot encourage you enough to start your own journey.  It is as easy as opening your Bible, getting a Strong’s Concordance and beginning to look up words that you have taken for granted.  Look up the meaning of all those obscure, unpronounceable names in the Old Testament and I promise you the Holy Spirit will remove your own cloudy veil and open your eyes to new and profound revelations!  And, as always, I am open to discussion and questions… I am not an expert, nor a scholar; but I am a disciple of Christ and eager to share my awakening to the immense knowledge that our Lord is just waiting to give you!  The Bible is a treasure trove of information about the God who created us.  I want to thank Anonymous for daring to ask about how my journey began.  Now it’s your turn.  All you have to do is open the Word, begin reading, and the Holy Spirit will reveal the Glory of our Great God!

2 Timothy 2:7   “Think over the things I am saying [grasp their application], for the Lord will grant you insight and understanding in everything.”
   
     

A Time To Reflect; A Time to Revive and Restore

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     It slipped right past me.  I’m not much for celebrating milestones, and Lord knows, I don’t need or seek accolades for myself.  But today I have occasion to be greatly humbled.  Since I began this blog nearly five years ago, over 1 million people have taken the time to consider what I have to say.  That totally blows me away!  Considering that I am not at the same place that I started — in my thoughts, my goals, or my faith — I find it astounding that so many have taken this journey with me.
     Perhaps you began where I did.  In December of 2011, I was three years into realizing that profound changes were coming upon my country.  At the same time that my conscience was telling me that our society and culture and national experience were deteriorating, my spirit was telling me that I would not find the answers or solutions I needed in this world.  I was hearing “PREPARE” in the recesses of my mind and my soul, and after seeking the Lord on the matter, my spirit validated the message.  So I began a two-fold approach to dealing with whatever was coming our way.  I joined the ranks of people known as “preppers”, and learned new sustainable skills and tried to become as independent of the “system” as I could.  But I had a second component; one that ultimately taught me the true path I needed to be on.  I added the Bible as the primary element of my readiness plan, and soon realized that I needed to prepare for more than what this world was going to throw at me.  Yes, there were enemies, foreign and domestic, that I needed to be aware of; but there were spiritual enemies, as well — and these adversaries would, in the end, influence everything and everyone I might need to face in the future.  But I also learned that I could face this uncertain and frightening future because there was a greater purpose to my life than my personal safety and security.
     I was to speak out loudly and forcibly about what my Lord wished to do with those who believed in Him.  There is work to be done in preparation for His return, and it involves each and every one of us getting ourselves in fighting shape for the battle to come.  That doesn’t mean that we abandon His message of love and tolerance and salvation and caring for others.  That message has been well covered by the Church.  But it is absolutely necessary that we go beyond those themes and minister to the spiritual needs of His people; ready them for the troubles and sorrows and suffering that He warned would come before His return.  That assignment has woefully been ignored by the Church.

     So, now you find people like me, whom the Church sees as misfits, mavericks, or nonconformists trying desperately to share what the Holy Spirit is urging us to communicate.  You can believe that our spirits are truly being pricked by the Spirit … or not … but if we are right — can you afford to turn a deaf ear or a blind eye?  Our Lord, Himself, said, “Do you have eyes, and not see, and do you have ears, and not hear?”  I’m just saying’…
     So, now I find myself not only reflecting on where I started, but where I need to go!  So I want to give a quick synopsis of my understanding of this world and begin to develop the next phase of this journey upon which God is taking me (us).  I feel it’s time to stop and get our ducks in a row; revive the mission of all Believers and restore the apostolic characteristics of our commission.  So, here’s the way I see it…
     From the beginning of the Bible, it is established that spirits play an important part in this world.  God is Spirit, and we are made in His image.  In fact, we are embodied spirits; spirit beings housed in human bodies.  There are disembodied spirits called demons, who are Satan’s agents and representatives on earth.  They are spirits seeking human bodies to use to control the world, spread sin and establish the Kingdom of Darkness. They use human bodies to perform the work assigned to them, and to carry out Satan’s instructions. Their sole purpose is to carry out Satan’s will, which puts them in total opposition to the Believers in Christ.  They follow Satan’s instructions by trying to destroy mankind through every imaginable natural or supernatural device. All violence, anger, hate, horror, war, death, and destructive influences against man can be attributed to demonic influence, and it all comes from Satan.
     At this point, I need to reiterate something I believe very strongly … Christians cannot be possessed by a demon, but they can be oppressed.  When a person receives Christ as their Savior, the human spirit is regenerated and the Holy Spirit lives there, so nothing else can take possession of our spirit.  Christians can, however, have demons that attack their minds, their emotions, their free will, and their bodies — that is called demonic oppression. So, how does that work, exactly?
     It is my opinion that just because a person experiences salvation (which I also believe is the starting point of our journey towards eternal life), it doesn’t mean that he is no longer without sin.  There is only one man who has walked the earth that was without sin.  But, as our Master has told us, we can confess our sin, repent of it, and ask forgiveness, and we greatly reduce the effects of innate sin upon our lives.  But here’s the thing … sin is what Satan thrives on!  And our particular sins — or those perpetrated against us! — are what makes us vulnerable to the assignments the devil gives his demons when they attack us.
     I want to make it clear that not all our sin is demon-driven.  Our free will can open us up to the temptations that satan offers.  Pride, Self-interest and Unbelief are just a few of the sins with which he can manipulate us.  But once he knows we are vulnerable in that area, he can assign a spirit to us and keep us in perpetual conflict between our faith and our sin.  Discernment is required to determine the root cause of all our sin.  Is it our own free will, demonic, the result of someone else’s sin carried out against us … or a combination?
      Deliverance Ministry can help you determine the root cause and allow a Christian to connect his spirit with Jesus and the Holy Spirit, in order for the cleansing and healing to be accomplished.  BUT, I want to stress that sin must be confessed and repented of, and forgiveness is essential!  Yes, Jesus wants to set you free, but He wants us to approach Him with an honest, truthful, and sincere spirit.  It is essential that we take responsibility for our sins, and forgive others, as we desire to be forgiven.  

     So, how is it that so many Christians today seem to be miserable in their state of salvation?  Why do we see so many Christians experiencing physical illnesses characterized by multiple and conflicting diagnoses; weird personality disorders that never leave; odd nightmares; repetitive bad dreams;  depression; chronic addictions (food, drugs, porn, medications, gambling, sex, etc.); uncontrolled periods of rage; lust and cursing; chronic dysfunctional families; arrogance and pride; phobias and illogical stress conditions; spiritual apathy; chronic broken relationships; and frequent unemployment, and perhaps the biggest problem of all …  SO MUCH FEAR? 
     This is not what Jesus died for!  He sacrificed Himself so that we would not die in our sin(s).  Yet, far too many Christians live under the oppressions I listed above.  No wonder the secular world has no interest in our message!  They don’t see us authentically living what we preach!  They aren’t being drawn to us, even though the Bible says when we walk with God, “through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere”.  The sad truth is that the Church offers neither fragrance nor fascination to the world.  In fact, our aroma is either non-existence or unpleasant.
     So Who is the fragrance that spreads through us and the Church?  Who dwells in us, seals us, works truth in us, testifies about Jesus, and helps us to produce “fruit”?  It is the Holy Spirit, and I oftentimes wonder if He hasn’t left the Church building.  Have we traded the Holy Ghost for theology; exchanged His power for powerless academic teaching; reduced His Authority in favor of attracting “the world” with more tolerant standards?
     As I am studying the Book of Acts and the New Testament Church, I am seeing the presence and the influence of the Holy Spirit everywhere!  I see Him supernaturally changing the hearts of the Twelve Apostles and 3,000 new believers.  I see Him supernaturally effecting the preaching of Peter and Stephen.  I see Him influencing Philip, the Evangelist, and the hearts of Simon, the Sorcerer, and the Ethiopian eunuch… and all in the first eight chapters!  Ultimately, I see the POWER and AUTHORITY of Him on display for all to see … and nowhere more powerfully than in the life of Paul!  He is evident in all His Might for the Church to witness.
     But in today’s Church, we talk about Him, then leave little or no time for Him to perform His Mighty Miracles in our services because of fear, confusion and the threat of doctrines of demons.  We are afraid of Holy Spirit manifestations like those that happened in the First Century Church, because when you invite the Holy Spirit to be present, there will be inevitable opposition from the Prince of this world, and the simple truth is that the Church does not know how to be Holy Spirit warriors.  When we become “seeker friendly” congregations, and life-coaches and counsellors, instead of spiritual, armor-clad soldiers for Christ, we are left with scared and confused Christians who are ineffective against Satan’s army.
     But here is why we should not be fearful of engaging in spiritual warfare … the spirits or demons that Satan assigns to us fear the Holy Spirit more than anyone else in the universe!  Why?  Because He has as His weapons the Blood of Jesus, the Name of Jesus, the Cross of Christ, and the Word of God!  And because He indwells us, we, too, have access to those spiritual weapons!  

     And the knowledge of this Truth is where I’m at in this point of my journey with the Holy Spirit.  I am optimistic that the Holy Spirit is waking up the remnant within the Body of Christ, and the testimonies of those set free from demonic influence will embolden the Church to return to its roots.  It is the success of Believers delivered from oppression and bondage that will convince authentic Christians that spiritual warfare is a reality and a necessity.  I am praying that Spiritual Warriors, in league with the Holy Spirit, will have an extraordinary and undeniable impact upon both Christians and Secularists; and will defeat the forces of evil that have gone unchallenged for far too long.
     I also am trusting in the Holy Spirit to infuse Christians with their purpose; to be genuine examples of the power and authority of Jesus, as given to us by our Father; and to realize that we have been commissioned by God.  We each have been given a definite task and specific assignments to advance the Kingdom of God.  What are yours?  Preaching the Gospel Message is part of our commission, but we are also Ambassadors for Christ, and we are not powerless servants.  We are to exhibit the power in our relationship with Jesus … the same power that raised Him from the dead and commanded a legion of demons to come out of a man.
     We will need His power in the future.  And it is ours for the asking.  The question is, when the real pressure from this world comes to bear, will we stand firm and steadfast?  Are we prepared, both in our human form, and in our spirit, to declare ourselves competent for the task at hand?  We can be … if we recognize that our power comes from God; that He is sufficient to go before us in battle, and we can be confident that our victory will come through Christ!
    Yes, it’s okay to reflect where we’ve been in our Christian walk.  But it is imperative that we revive and restore our faith to become authentic Christians; reveling in the power of the Holy Spirit to embolden the Church so that it has the impact it was meant to have upon a sinful world.  It’s not too late … but time is running out.  I don’t know how much further we have to go in our journey, but I am determined to serve the Kingdom in His Power and Truth.  Join me!

1 Corinthians 2:4  “And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom [using clever rhetoric], but [they were delivered] in demonstration of the [Holy] Spirit [operating through me] and of [His] power [stirring the minds of the listeners and persuading them]…”

The Complex Concept of Unity in the Church

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     The idea of unity may seem easy to define:  a coalition; harmony, a consensus, solidarity, oneness. And certainly, we get the idea of unity in the Church as a good thing; a concept that is expressed numerous times in the Bible … Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind (1 Peter 3:8);  I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment (1 Corinthians 1:10); and Knowing their thoughts, He said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand (Matthew 12:25).

     From this sample of verses, we know that unity among the brethren is desired by God.  But from where I stand, there seems to be a growing disharmony and imbalance in the overall picture of the Church — especially if you try to bring any new understanding to a church that is bound by traditional doctrine. Try bringing any concept of the supernatural, for instance, to a mainstream denomination, and I’m willing to bet that you will be labeled “extremist” or “radical”, or at the very least misguided, misinformed and believing in false teachings.  I think it’s safe to say that your opinion will not be readily accepted.
     Then try to show that God is bigger than your church’s set-in-stone doctrine; that the Bible tells us, For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.  Try reinforcing what this verse tells us — we are all part of one body; one Spirit binds us together in Jesus; and because God is so big, He may be revealing to different members [of this Body of Christ] different aspects of Himself because He needs us serving different purposes to get His will accomplished.  You may not be familiar with, or comfortable with, someone else’s purpose, but who are we to dismiss the assignments God makes?  Again, I would be willing to bet that most churches (or Christians) are unable to imagine God outside the box they have put Him in.
     So, I have to ask myself, “Does God always want unity in the Church”?  I guess it depends on if that unified position honors Him and His Word, doesn’t it?  Certainly, a church in the 1960’s united in denying attendance to Black people would not be blessed by God.  And today, a unified church that performs same-sex marriages would not be honoring God’s Word.  So, can we agree that there are times that unity within the church can stifle or limit the Kingdom of God on earth?
      Just consider that God used Martin Luther to break a Church that had become unified in practices of corruption which suggested that “works” could achieve one’s salvation on par with “faith by grace”.  Had the Reformation not happened — and the unity of corruption been challenged — the dishonesty and greed that marked the Church at that time would have kept the world in the Dark Ages.  That being said, I know that division within the Church is not the will of God.  Yet I do believe that God sometimes encourages (through the guidance of the Holy Spirit) divinely orchestrated conflict so that new forms of Christian witness can be spoken which will expand the knowledge of Himself and increase the effectiveness of the Church.
     I also think that sometimes unity within the Body of Christ can result in stagnation.  By that, I mean that the effectiveness of a Church, rigid in its theology, can cease to develop; can become inactive or dull, or just “stuck” and not advancing the revelation of God.   I believe that it is sometimes advantageous for God to raise up someone who challenges the conventional practices and belief systems in order to reveal more of Himself.  That is what happened during the Reformation, and I do not think God acts any differently today.
     For instance, God has begun revealing to me the pervasive influence of Freemasonry within the Church. (See this post).  But since this false religion has been shrouded in a veil of “charity” and “good works”, the majority of the Church is blinded to its unholy influence within their congregations.  Simply said, if there is a member of good standing in the congregation, who also happens to be a Mason, then the members of a Church often choose to ignore it because they don’t want to upset the apple cart, so to speak, or cause any disharmony or division.  So, are we to accept, without question, Freemasonry and its associations with witchcraft just so the Church can stay unified?
     And let’s consider the question of our Power and Authority.  If unity within the Church is disrupted due to different opinions about Cessationism — the doctrine that spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues, prophecy, and healing (both physical and spiritual), ceased with the original twelve apostles — is that a good or bad thing for the Church?

“On earth as it is in heaven”

Try to follow me as my mind tries to zero in on what the Holy Spirit wants me to express … If Jesus taught us to pray “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven”, then it is imperative that we understand what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.  Can we accept that the briefest and most comprehensive way to explain it is that Heaven is a region in the universe where the will of God is at present being perfectly and universally done?  That God is King of this region called Heaven, and therefore Heaven is His Kingdom? So, we are to pray that his good and perfect and universal will should be accomplished here on earth, just as it is in Heaven, resulting in a corresponding Kingdom where God is King.
     But what is His perfect and all-embracing will?  I believe that He sent His Son to show us, in human form, what His will is; what pleases Him — that all people would be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.  His perfect will was enacted by Jesus, who made it very clear that “the Son can do nothing by Himself; He can do only what He sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” … that is an expression of “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven”.  So whatever Jesus did on earth was what the Father wanted accomplished.  And we are emphatically told in the Bible that Jesus is our example, and we must follow in His footsteps.
     So now, I will attempt to close my argument … if we are to do as Jesus did, which was the perfect will of the Father, then preaching the gospel to the lost; healing the sick; casting out demons; and miracles, signs, and wonders should be part of our Christian experience.  If this is what God wants us to do (and it was certainly what He wanted Jesus to do), then might it be a good thing that the Church is engaging in this kind of disparate discussion?  Might we not emerge from this conflict between our theologies with a broader mandate from God as to how to carry out our Commission? Do any of us really want to limit what God can still do among and through the people of the world (both lost and saved)?
     I will agree wholeheartedly that a unified Body of Christ can be a powerful arm of the Lord.  But I also never want to put a limit on what I think God wants to teach us.  I would never be so arrogant as to assume that we had reached the pinnacle of how God wants us to serve Him or each other.  The fact that this earth is far from being “as it is in Heaven” should be apparent to everyone.  So, obviously, we still have work to do to achieve God’s perfect will.  So, we cannot let unity be our goal, at the expense of a greater knowledge of God’s Truth.  And if it takes some conflict within the Body of Christ to reveal another facet of God’s will, then we must explore it, test it by the Spirit, and make sure that it ultimately glorifies Him.  If it does, then the true believers will come together in a spirit of unity, and we will be one step closer to furthering Heaven on earth.
     So, to sum it all up, unity within the Body of Christ is desired as an expression of our commitment to seeing God’s will done.  But unity must not supersede Divine revelation; it must not become a stumbling block to a greater knowledge of what God’s will is, or an obstacle to our growth towards God’s Kingdom, Power and Glory on earth.  We must not mistake uniformity for unity … nor let disagreement become division.  After, all isn’t a little discomfort worth the deeper dive into God’s Word?  Jesus challenged the theological traditions of His day to reveal the true nature of God … it’s not a bad thing to follow His example.

Ephesians 4:15-16    “But speaking the truth in love [in all things—both our speech and our lives expressing His truth], let us grow up in all things into Him [following His example] who is the Head—Christ. From Him the whole body [the church, in all its various parts], joined and knitted firmly together by what every joint supplies, when each part is working properly, causes the body to grow and mature, building itself up in [unselfish] love.” 
     

This Is What A Sheep Nation Should Look Like…

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     I think I would be hard-pressed to find a God-fearing Christian who does not accept the possibility that we are experiencing the last days of this age; that the Day of the Lord will soon be upon us.  So, how should we be preparing for that day, when “the Son of Man comes in His glory” and establishes His Millennial Kingdom on earth?  How should we be occupying our time, given that Scripture tells us that He will gather all the nations before Him, and “He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats”?
     Because the Bible tells us that the nations designated as sheep will be placed on his right — the traditional position of favor and blessing — then for sure, I want to be a member of a sheep nation going into this newly established Kingdom.  Why?  What is the benefit of being part of a sheep nation?
     First of all, the sheep nations will be blessed by God the Father and given an inheritance because of the good works they exhibited while ministering to others — they fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, and comforted the sick.  That being said, I want to make sure you understand that Jesus is not rewarding them with eternal salvation because of their works.  Rather, they will inherit rewards in this new Kingdom as a result of the good works they do (bearing fruit) in this life, and as a consequence of their salvation.  We must understand that, at this future time, the Church Age (in which we now live) has ended.  A new age, with Jesus living and reigning on earth in His Millennial Kingdom, has begun.  We will be rewarded, if we are members of a sheep nation, based on what we did to honor our gift of salvation (and Him) in this current age.
     So, are the acts of kindness listed above the only expectations that Jesus has for us during this particular age?  If I want to be gathered among the sheep nations, what should I (we) be doing?  Well, with the new direction and revelations that the Holy Spirit is showing me, I have a few ideas that could influence our inheritance…
     Obviously, the physical requirements of those in need should be met:  food, water, clothing, shelter, help in times of illness.  But I believe our King is looking for a greater expression to separate us from the goat nations in His future Kingdom.  For His Kingdom is not only the actual physical realm of His throne on the earth, but the spiritual realm of His rule in our hearts right now!  From that perspective, we should be focusing our efforts on the future harvest of Believers.  There is a war right now, on earth and in the spirit realm, for the souls of the unsaved.  Are we participating in that war?  Are we interceding on behalf of all people (1 Timothy 2:1), that they might come to the knowledge of the Truth?
     Are we only relying on the sharing of the Gospel message to transform our societal structures — or are we doing more; are we exercising our power and authority, working with the Holy Spirit, (as Jesus commissioned the Apostles and those who believe in Him), to battle the rulers and principalities and forces of wickedness that reside over earthly governments to keep their people in bondage?  We need to be doing more — if we want to receive our full inheritance!  It’s going to take more than praying for people; more than the telling of salvation through the grace and faith in Jesus’s death for our sins and His glorious resurrection to eternal life.  That is a good and necessary thing for people to hear, but it’s going to take us shaking the foundations of this complacent and restrained Body of Christ so that they can come into the power of their salvation … the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at our disposal through the Holy Spirit.  Why are we not expecting signs and wonders and miracles?  Why is Deliverance and Healing not a part of every ministry of Jesus followers?  That was the power of God displayed through the man Jesus, and in the Early Church.  It’s what He did while on earth, and it should be the distinctive characteristic of every believer today.
     Yes, we need to break into new territories with the Gospel Message, and reach those who have never heard the Word.  But it is my opinion that the Gospel Message includes the power to set people free from spiritual bondage, and the wonders of both physical and spiritual healing that can come to people with the full revelation of Jesus and what He has done for us, and what He can still do through us.
     I want to close by saying that entering into the manifestation of a physical Kingdom of God on earth as a member of a sheep nation is more than about achieving salvation; it’s about receiving crowns as inheritance (rewards) for believers — it’s about how we “ran the race” — and these crowns are our inheritance:  The Imperishable Crown for faithful endurance; The Crown of Rejoicing which will be the reward of those who rejoiced in the blessings bestowed by God, even in the midst of the pain and sorrow of this life; The Crown of Righteousness, inherited through the righteousness of Christ, promised to all who love the Lord and eagerly wait for His return, and fervently desire to be with the Lord; The Crown of Glory, inherited by those like Stephen who, while being stoned to death, was able to look into the heavens and see the glory of God; and The Crown of Life, which is for all believers, but is especially dear to those who endure sufferings, who bravely confront persecution for Jesus, even to the point of death.
     The bottom line is this … there is a growing sense that darkness is invading our world, and while the Kingdom of God exists in our hearts and is revealed through traditional Church methods and systems, there is the need for a new expression of the Kingdom; perhaps a recognition of the original supernatural power of the Church to reach the unsaved.  That era was marked with the extraordinary energy and might of the Holy Spirit to help the followers of Jesus challenge the conventions of the day; and the sheep were easily distinguished from the goats.  Sadly, it is my opinion that the Church is attempting to become more like the world, instead of differentiating itself from the world’s temptations.  How will Jesus look upon the Church that seeks to adopt the world’s permissive attitudes and customs regarding marriage, sexual identity, the unborn child, or other gods?  Aren’t the sheep becoming more like goats?  And how will they be received into His Kingdom?  That’s a serious question, and I, for one, pray that He sees me as separate, distinctive, and world’s apart from those He rejects … literally!

Daniel 7:14   “And to Him was given Dominion and Glory and a Kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him;”

How Are You Programmed?

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     I hope you agree with me that we live in a very blessed time.  As bleak and unpromising as the future of this world and its cultures appear, I am extremely excited to see God increasingly unveiling His knowledge in more and more rapid surges of revelation.  I mean, we have access to podcasts and books and in-depth studies of Scripture by men and women who are making it their life’s work to cast aside man-made religious doctrines in order to fully understand what God says and wants from His people.

     For instance, the truly discerning believers of Christ know that the Bible is a supernatural book; that it is, at its foundation, a book about the Hebrew people and their relationship with YHWH.  We have the benefit of learning from scholars who are studying the Hebrew language to give us a much broader and fuller understanding of Scripture than the Greek-to-English translations have afforded us.  We have the opportunity to learn and question the research of scholars and teachers who are not willing to accept man’s traditions as superior to the Word, and are seeking to come closer to God and to possess the facts of His Truth.  That is called KNOWLEDGE.  And the interpretation of that Truth is what we know as UNDERSTANDING.  The application of that Truth is called WISDOM.
     Now, before you go and give me any kind of praise for this explanation, I must give credit where credit is due.  I am going to present a new understanding that I have been gleaning and formulating about our spirituality from one of those young men who is truly a blessing to this generation.  Dan Duval is among a group of young and bold and faithful disciples of Christ (including Justen Faull, Russ Dizdar, Michael Heiser) who have not only immersed themselves in studying the Greek and Hebrew Bibles for greater insight into God, but have gone where the Church is either too afraid or too unenlightened to venture — spiritual warfare, deliverance and healing, satanic ritual abuse, and the application of Jesus’s Power and Authority through us, His commissioned followers.  But they have also taken advantage of the internet, social media, and technology — tools that satan has successfully used to lure our younger generation and society into spiritual bondage — and they all have ministries whose goals are to bring more souls into the Kingdom of God.  They have successful podcasts, blogs, books, videos, and even online church services that are reaching multitudes for Christ.  And their work is all done to glorify God from a Scriptural foundation and according to the dictates of His Word!
     All that being said, Dan Duval has written a couple of books that incorporate an idea that is opening up a new understanding of Scripture for me everyday.  It concerns the matters of our heart, and I literally have a more expansive vision of the Word, and am seeing the application of this new understanding as I read old, familiar verses.  I know I can’t express all of it in one blog post, so I hope you will continue to follow me as I try to explain how Scripture has opened up to me.
     To begin with, I approached this subject of the heart in a post on the Parable of the Sower, and that is really where I began to see how central our hearts are to the application of our faith, and how important it was to Jesus that we understand that.  I also wrote about how the conditions of our hearts affect everything we think, say, and do in this post.  But Dan Duval has pointed me to further examples in Scripture and I am beginning to see how I have glossed over these verses, without seeing how fundamental they are to my Christian walk.  So, I am going to try to lay out the process I am undergoing and share with you these new facts of God’s Truth.
     First, we need to gain an understanding of just how the heart plays into God’s creation of Man.  I am not a scholarly person, so please excuse me if this seems elementary, but it is the steps I have taken to enter into the higher and deeper dimensions of God…  We all know that the completion of His creation is evidenced in our spirit, soul, and body (1 Thessalonians 5:23).  We’re pretty clear on what constitutes our spirit and our body, but we need to understand that our soul consists of our mind, will, and emotions.  So where does the heart fit into all this?
     If we understand that the heart is kind of a gateway, or entry point, from our soul to our spirit, then we can see that it plays a very important part in how we act out our faith.  Think of it as a processing plant between our soul and spirit — the spirit feeds spiritual information into the heart, and the soul feeds carnal information into our hearts (from our minds, our emotions, and our life experiences, or will).  The heart then processes all that information, and sends information out that shapes the activity of both the soul and spirit based on the belief system that is operating in us.  In this way, whatever the heart is convinced of, shapes the person’s reality.  This is what is meant when Scripture tells us, “as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).  (Join me on Sunday as I show how this played out in the life of Ananais and his wife Sapphira in the Book of Acts).
     As we contemplate the heart, it is vital that we understand that the collection of all the information coming from our soul and our spirit into our heart, is what makes up, or forms, our worldview.  So, if you have no relationship with God through the Holy Spirit, you will not have much spiritual knowledge flowing into your heart; only the carnal knowledge coming from your thoughts and how the world affects you through your experiences … so you will likely have a secular, humanist worldview.  On the other hand, if you are saved, and have a personal relationship with Jesus, then that knowledge will mix with your fleshly thoughts, your feelings and what the world throws at you, to bring you into some form of spiritual or Biblical worldview.  If you are of the latter persuasion, then how you respond to this life on earth will be determined by how your heart processes that mixture of information.  In other words, what are the “thoughts of your heart”?  And can they be changed  or programmed to respond in one direction or another?
     Dan Duval exposits that there are three main ways to program the heart.  The programming is dependent on which kingdom has created the program (or, as I understand it, who wields the most influence in your heart).  Who sits on the throne of the kingdom of your heart — God, man, or the Prince of Darkness?  Although we have three kinds of kingdoms in operation here, there are really only two agendas — the Christ agenda for the redemption of mankind and the antichrist agenda that denies Jesus is Lord.  There is no middle ground, and no other alternative.  The kingdoms that we set up for ourselves (both in the heart and in the world) either further the Christ agenda by submitting to it, or stand in its way by resisting it.
     So how are our hearts programmed by each of these kingdom sources?  Again, Mr. Duval presents an interesting paradigm…. In the Kingdom of God, our hearts are programmed through revelation.  God’s revelations of Himself yield a love-based paradigm, in which we think and act like God thinks and acts.  In the Kingdom of Men, our hearts are programmed through repetition, which becomes tradition.  This is the difference between religion and relationship.  We will think and act like our forefathers thought and acted.  We see that in the centuries old doctrines of our churches.  And in the Kingdom of Darkness, our hearts are programmed through trauma, which opens doors for bondage and satan’s lies, which generates fear.  We begin to think and act according to the lies he whispers and the way he acts.
     I don’t want to overwhelm you with a difficult concept, but I hope you can see that there is a war for our hearts.  The spirit and the soul are in a perpetual battle for the thoughts of our hearts.  For us Christians, while the spirit is attempting to program the heart according to the truths of God and His kingdom, the soul is attempting to program the heart according to the experiences of our lives.  That is why the Bible tells us that we must continually renew our minds with the Word of God.  Our minds are such a strong component of our soul that we will serve what we yield ourselves to, and what we yield to will become the primary influence upon our hearts.  So what we think greatly affects our hearts and how we ultimately act.  That’s why the Bible tells us to take every thought captive so that it is obedient to Christ.
     I think the best example I can show you of how we, as humans, must program our hearts is found in the first chapter of the Book of Daniel.  I have read and studied this inspiring book with my Home Church group, but am reading it again as I make my way through the Bible … one more time.  In Daniel 1:8, the King James version reads, But Daniel purposed in his heart, that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank…  The Amplified version reads, But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile (taint, dishonor) himself with the [a]king’s finest food or with the wine which the king drank…
     Can you see this concept of programming our hearts played out in Daniel’s faithful act?  Can you see the struggle within his heart — how he had to process the information coming from his spirit with the information coming from his mind, emotions, and will?  Daniel knew that the king’s food would have been sacrificed to pagan gods; and he knows that because his name has been changed from Daniel (“God is my Judge”) to Belteshazzar (“The pagan god Bel will protect my life”), if he participates in eating the king’s food, he will be giving the impression that he agreed to follow the pagan practices.  This is where Daniel “purposed his heart” according to the belief system of the Kingdom that lived within his heart.  Daniel’s heart was programmed by the Kingdom of God, so he acted and thought like God, and out of his love for God, he chose not to compromise.  He made up his mind; “for as he thinks, so in his heart, is he”.  Do you see just how powerful our minds can be in overwhelming our hearts?
     I challenge you to look up all the verses in the Bible about the heart.  I believe that, like me, you will find new inspiration and revelation as to how important the state of our heart is to our faith and our salvation journey.  And I think you will discover just how important renewing our mind is to programming our hearts.  Also, I believe that you will find new meaning in verses like this:  “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”  (Psalm 51:10); and this one:  “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  (Hebrews 4:12).
     Finally, I will be showing you with my Scripture choice on Sunday, how the Enemy targets the heart to influence us and take us captive, filling it with his deception and wickedness.   But when our heart is circumcised with the love and commands of the Lord, everything that flows out of it is for the glory of God’s Kingdom.  Stay tuned!

Proverbs 4:23    “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.”
   
   

   
 

The Only “Cover” I Need Is Jesus

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     As I related to you in the previous post, my husband and I attended a Deliverance Ministry training session this past weekend, and continue to be encouraged by the Holy Spirit that we are doing the will of God.  We were heartened, motivated, and validated by the team of deliverance ministers from Luke 4:18 Ministries, and enjoyed sharing experiences with other attendees.
     But I have to say that I was surprised by one question that we received.  But first, I must disclose that most of the people in attendance were there to learn on behalf of their churches.  The interesting thing is that it appears to be a common occurrence that the church leadership doesn’t necessarily buy into spiritual warfare — and definitely not deliverance ministry — but is willing to give their permission for someone within the church to learn what they can about it.  In fact, when I attended Dr. Charles Kraft’s conference, Defeating Dark Angels, last winter I assumed that everyone was there because they had established ministries within their churches, and they were the assigned leader for that ministry.  Imagine my surprise, when one woman sitting at my table informed me, “Oh, honey, we’re all here in spite of our churches”!
     My husband and I are always the exception to the rule whenever we gather with church or ministry-led conferences because God has pulled us out of the established Church and we are part of a small home church.  I’m always a little saddened by some of the reactions that news receives, as if somehow we are less qualified to be doing a ministry.  I say “a little” saddened, because my spirit has no doubt that we have been called by God to partner with Jesus and the Holy Spirit to help set people free.  What “church people” think about that has no bearing on our service to the Lord.  And that leads me back to the sincere question that we were asked at the recent training session we attended.

     A young woman from Bangladesh approached the table where my husband and I were sitting.  She had been involved with a deliverance ministry under the auspices of her church in her home country, but since moving to the United States, she could find no church that had such a ministry, nor any church leadership that encouraged the pursuit of a deliverance ministry.  So her question to us was, “How are you able to do this deliverance ministry without “the covering” of a church”?  That question struck such a chord with me, because it represents so much of the resistance and opposition that I have felt from the church in recent years.
     In fact, some of the more negative or unfavorable responses I have received in regards to spiritual warfare have come from pastors and church leaders who do not believe it exists!  But God has shown me that so much of the struggles and pain that Christians experience is due to oppression by demonic forces.  But because they hide behind the “Christian culture” in their church — the culture that has been blinded to the bondage that so many are under — they will never see, nor admit, that they are hurting.  And sadly, they have discouraged members of their churches from seeking any knowledge or experience on waging spiritual warfare.  Therefore, without “the covering” of their pastor, Christians continue to be unenlightened about defeating the Enemy in their own lives.
     For the life of me, I cannot discover where the idea originated that believers need to be “covered” in order to serve God and minister within Christ’s Body.  How many people are living Christian lives under the shadow of this fear that without “covering” you dare not minister, preach, teach, pray, or do a myriad of other things you’re called to do by the Spirit of God, because you will somehow be ministering without protection?
     (NOTE:  This same kind of argument is used to discourage women from teaching because they are supposed to “be submissive” or “under the authority” of a man.  Unfortunately, this incorrect understanding has applied Scriptures such as 2 Timothy 2:12, and 1 Corinthians 11:1-16, and taken them out of context.  Then the last 1600 years of social and cultural influence have somehow cemented these ideas in the Church.  For a different take on this interpretation of Scripture, check out my blog post here, and the source of my suggestive theory, here.)
     Now back to how I feel about having to be “covered” to do deliverance ministry.  I truly feel that this doctrine places the authority of man over the authority of my God.  If the Holy Spirit convicts me that Deliverance is something He wants me to do — and that Jesus wants people healed and wants me to facilitate that healing — then why do I need to seek any further approval from men?  And why would I turn down that calling just because a pastor or church leader does not recognize the need for it? Are we not instructed by Scripture to submit ourselves to God?  As born-again believers, we daily make a choice to submit ourselves to God for the work that the Holy Spirit does in us to “conform us to the image of Christ.” That image of Christ is one of servanthood, as He sought to do what God instructed Him to do.  That included healing, and casting out demons, and spreading the Word about God’s mercy unto salvation.  Can we have no higher calling than to imitate Christ in this manner?

     Please understand that I am not advocating disrespect or rebellion (out of pride) towards God’s Church or the Pastors and Shepherds He has placed in positions of authority.  But when confronted with a choice to follow a clear commission from the Holy Spirit, and the will of my Father, or an opinion from a man (no matter how well-intentioned) then I have no choice.  When my spirit is told that I have been sanctified to do this work for the Kingdom of God, then I know that my “covering” — my defense, my protection — will come from the Lord Himself.  I go forth to do this ministry in full confidence because I am covered by the Blood of Jesus!
     1 John 2:20 speaks so strongly to my conviction on this matter:  But you have an anointing from the Holy One [you have been set apart, specially gifted and prepared by the Holy Spirit], and all of you know [the truth because He teaches us, illuminates our minds, and guards us from error].  Just before we were introduced to this concept of spiritual warfare and deliverance, my husband had a recurring dream in which God told him that He wanted us to sanctify our property, our home, and each other with holy oil.  Then, in the dream, there was a clear message that YHWH, Himself, was going to sanctify us.  It took him several days to tell me this, but after consecutive nights of receiving the same divinely-inspired communication, he knew he had affirmation that it was from the Lord, and he shared the message with me.  At the time, we didn’t know what that meant, or why He was anointing us and sanctifying us.
     Since then, we know that the anointing was so that He could impart the knowledge of His truth regarding spiritual warfare to us; and we were going to be sanctified, or set apart for God, to do deliverance ministry under the Authority of Christ and the Power of the Holy Spirit.  We wanted, so desperately, to share this Good News with the Church and let them know that God wants us to partner with Him in these Last Days … but they didn’t want to hear it.  In effect, we could not, and would not, receive any approval of “covering” from The Church.  And that’s when it became crystal clear that we were not to seek it; that God would be our covering — He will go before us and protect the work that He has assigned us to do.  He will be our shield and our shelter as we continue the work that His Son came to do, namely to set free those who are in bondage to satan and his forces of wickedness.
     I guess, in a way, the Apostle Philip is kind of a model for what happened to us.  He was personally reached by Jesus himself. While Philip brought Nathanael to Jesus, and Andrew brought Peter to Jesus, no one brought Philip to Jesus. Instead, Jesus came right to him.  And Philip went where God told him to go, reaching people that would never be drawn to the newly developing church.  And that is our similar experience … God personally revealed His purpose for our lives and is bringing people in bondage directly to our door; people who do not feel comfortable approaching the Church.  All they know is that they want to be free, and we have the answer … it’s to experience Jesus healing their spiritual wounds!
     So, if you find yourself in a situation similar to the young woman from Bangladesh, and you feel called to a deliverance ministry, but find no support from the establishment of the Body of Christ, then ask the Holy Spirit for confirmation that this is how you are to serve the Kingdom of God.  If this is to be the purpose of your life, then God will open doors for you that men cannot close.  Trust Him to be your “covering”, believing that if He is for you, no one can be against you.  The freedom you will feel in setting others free will inspire you, stir your spirit, and clear the way for unprecedented fruit in the lives of others.  Don’t be afraid to step out!

Psalm 91:14   Because he holds fast to Me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows My name.
   

Closing The Gaps: Our Spiritual Hypocrisy

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     Everyday I receive an email with an inspirational message from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a Christian sports ministry to see the world impacted for Jesus Christ through the influence of coaches and athletes.  Frankly, although I am not an athlete, I still enjoy the sports analogies that accompany the emails, and I also enjoy receiving a message each day about how to honor God.
     One particular email really spoke to me, and I think it pertains to the Christian community’s difficulty in embracing the spiritual realm and spiritual warfare.  Dan Britton, who played professional indoor lacrosse for four years for the Baltimore Thunder wrote that day’s message.  Dan serves as FCA’s Executive Vice President of International Ministry.  He chose to speak about spiritual integrity.  Here is his testimony:  “As a lacrosse player, I knew some of my teammates to be big partiers. Despite their lifestyle, I learned that they had nothing to hide. Actually, I came to find out that they lived with more integrity than me! As a Christian who had a “testimony” to protect, I tried to hide my gaps. What they said and did, however, were the same things. No gaps. Just the basic “what you see is what you get” lifestyle. They were partiers, but not hypocrites. It all lined up with them. Unfortunately, we as Christians often will say one thing and do another.”
     What Dan refers to as his “gaps”, I prefer to think of as our deviation from our true self, or our imbalance.  The true identity of our spirit often doesn’t match what we project to the world.  Our Inside doesn’t match up with our Outside.  Integrity is the state of being whole and undivided; the condition of being unified, unimpaired, or sound in construction.  That means we are consistent in our character, conformed in both body and spirit, just like Jesus was … we are the same, whether it is according to the spirit inside of us, or the physical image that the world sees.
     In the aspect of spiritual warfare, can you see how the Enemy can take advantage of us when there’s an imbalance between our inside and outside?  Too many Western Christians care more about the image they project to each other than who they project to the world.  At the same time, they are desperate to keep the spiritual side under wraps because it is so dissimilar to the physical side they promote.  And the Enemy swoops in and begins to whisper his destroying lies:  you’re a fraud … you profess trust and confidence in your Savior, but inside you are full of doubt and unbelief … if they knew the dark things in your past, your fellow Christians would denounce and reject you … keep it hidden; hide your fear/anger/bitterness/unforgiveness, and keep on pretending … The lies go on and on and on.  And millions of Christians live their lives in defeat and ineffectiveness.  Oh, they put on a good show, but as Dan Britton’s message says, when they look in the mirror, there are gaps between the spiritual and the physical that don’t line up.  They see the holes where satan has taken up residence in order to oppress them.
     And they’re too afraid to look at spiritual warfare as a way to transform their lives, get free from satan’s bondage, and to become the whole person — inside and out — that God desires them to be.  They can’t get beyond their suspicions that working in the spirit realm with Jesus and the Holy Spirit is somehow … I don’t know … maybe too mystical, or speaks of unnatural and unbiblical practices.  But why are Christians unable to understand the truth that Jesus Christ is living in us, through the presence of the Holy Spirit?!?  Why would we choose to ignore His presence and His help when satan begins to attack us with his lies?  Why would we choose to remain powerless, impotent, and unfruitful?
     An image was just given to me by the Holy Spirit … in the context of Dan Britton’s “gaps”, when we do not allow Jesus to transform us to wholeness — when we do not call on His presence that is right there, within us! — those gaps become spaces and holes through which the Living Water seeps out of our lives, and it’s impossible for us to be nourished.  We do not bear fruit for the Kingdom of God.  It is not enough to live a moral, ethical life on the outside. We are called to produce fruit for the kingdom, and we can’t do it through the activities of our Outside self; we can only do that through partnering our spirits with the power of the Holy Spirit.
     Once Christians experience the power of Jesus working with them and through them to deliver themselves or another out of the crippling bondage of satan’s lies, they will close those gaps and become their true, authentic self — everything in alignment with God and His purpose … to glorify and exalt Jesus as our Savior.
     If you haven’t experienced a spiritual attack, you will.  If you are growing spiritually; if you are exposing the Enemy; if you are invading his territory; if you are trying to break away from the world and its temptations and distractions; if God is preparing you for a great work for His kingdom … get ready, you will be spiritually attacked.  But there is no need to be fearful!  We have Jesus living in us, and at our invitation, He and the Holy Spirit will be your armor as you go into battle.  Remember, He’s as close as the mention of His Name.  Just call, and He will come.

Proverbs 18:10    “The Name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.”

Appeasement Will Be Our Ruin

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     Whether in politics, in our culture, or in our religion, appeasement has become the byword of this generation.  Webster’s dictionary defines the word as “To pacify; to dispel anger or hatred; to make quiet; to calm; as to appease hunger or thirst; to reduce to a state of peace; to still; as, to appease the tumult of the ocean, or of the passions.”  In other words, to appease is to use diplomacy and compromise to forestall a confrontation.
     We are seeing appeasement today, almost everywhere we turn… on the world stage, our government seeks to placate potential enemies by surrendering our national sovereignty and defense; culturally, we have yielded moral ground to segments of society that threaten to disrupt the foundations of our character and conduct; and religiously, we are allowing other gods to usurp the supremacy of YHWH, and diminish the Authority and Victory of Jesus.
    This infection of appeasement has now reached a stage I never thought possible.  The Southern Baptist Convention, the US’s largest Protestant denomination, is now helping to build mosques.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Don’t believe me?  Here is a direct quote from BaptistNews.com: … a legal dispute between a Muslim community and a New Jersey township is showing a different side of inter-Christian relationships. Baptist and other Christian organizations accustomed to cultural and legal sparring have joined the fight for the construction of a new mosque.  “It’s good when we can join hands with … folks we are sometimes on the other side of,” said Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.  Those folks include the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and the International Mission Board, both agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention. The National Association of Evangelicals is also supporting the mosque-building case.
     Apparently, it is in the name of religious liberty that the Southern Baptists (along with other evangelical groups, Jews, Buddhists, Hare Krishnas and Sikhs) have determined that it is a Constitutionally-guaranteed right to build mosques — even though there is the potential that American legal institutions are beginning to come under threat from Islamic codes and sharia law.
     So, here is something I think we better consider:  Have our denominations and churches become “American” first, and “Christian”, secondly?  As Bud Ahlheim, a writer at Pulpit and Pen, recently wrote, “Proclaiming there is no other name under heaven by which men may be saved seems uncannily hollow when you’ve just joined hands to help build a Christ-denying mosque. Once again, Christianity becomes just another flavor of religion to an onlooking world and our witness as Southern Baptists diluted by our religious liberty defenses.”  Sadly, one has to ask, “Are these Christians still willing to make that proclamation?  Or has the Church decided that the way to peace is to appease the Islamic faith — and thereby attempt to pacify and calm their anti-Christian rhetoric and beliefs — by declaring that we all worship the same God?”
     The most recent example of appeasement in history led to genocide and world war.  Less than 80 years ago, the world attempted to appease Hitler and we know that was a mistake.  The 1938 Munich Agreement was a settlement permitting Nazi Germany’s annexation of portions of Czechoslovakia, and it started Hitler on the road toward the extermination of over 6,000,000 Jews.  I fear that the American Church may be traveling that same road.  By choosing appeasement towards a faith whose radical elements have sworn death to our nation, and who have demonstrated their willingness to generate their own genocide of Christians and Jews, the Church is treading on dangerous ground.  They may think they are exemplifying American Christian justice and grace, but I have to wonder if any of the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention have stopped to seek God’s will in this matter.
     What has God told us in His Word?  Pastor John Rothra, a Baptist preacher himself, has written an excellent article concerning this subject.  He points to the Book of Judges as a guide to what God thinks when we choose our own path, rather than the one He has commanded.
     Joshua had just died. There was no single military leader, but instead each tribe was responsible for conquering their respective regions. God was to be their king and they were to be God’s people.  You will remember that God instructed them to destroy all the native inhabitants and to completely conquer the lands God promised them through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  But Israel decided on its own, that this was too harsh an action.  Rather than conquer the enemy, some tribes chose accommodation, peace treaties, enslavement, or mutual cohabitation…. in other words, appeasement.  That might have seemed more humane to the ancient Israelites (and to us today), but it was not God’s will.

     As Pastor Rothra points out, in order to appease and cohabitate with her enemies, Israel adopted false gods, heretical practices, and abandoned God’s righteousness for a righteousness of their own. This was not an accident. They did not fall into sin. Rather, the Israelites chose this sinful path.  The Israelites did not maintain the Supremacy of the One True God, and began accepting other gods and beliefs as equal to their own.  To put it simply: the people did whatever they deemed was right in their own minds.  Isn’t that what the Southern Baptist Convention is doing?
     There will be those who will concentrate on the fact that this is a problem of the American Church, and I cannot deny that.  But as my wise husband pointed out to me, satan has been trying to destroy the relationship between YHWH and those whom He calls His own since the beginning.  We see that in the ancient Book of Judges.  And it only took a century after the Church was founded for the Enemy to infiltrate it and try to utterly destroy it.  But the seeds were planted and it was the will of God that faith in Jesus should spread to the ends of the globe.  The devil is still trying to destroy the Church by any means he can.  Today, when people (and the Church) seek to mirror the world, we see that we will do whatever we must to ease the conflict among us; to pacify our enemies; and to obtain peace and conciliation.
     But I have to add another aspect of this apostasy, from my spiritual warfare perspective.  You will recall that in Ephesians 6, Paul warns us that we are fighting against various ranks of the Enemy’s army.  They are spiritual and not made of flesh and blood; they have specific assignments, such as the Prince of Persia in Daniel, Chapter 10.  Among the Rulers, Powers, World Forces, and Spiritual Forces are the retinue of satan’s false gods who are assigned to battle against God’s people on earth.  Allah is a very real entity, and just one of those Rulers who is in dedicated conflict with the Most High God.  We must not lose sight of that fact!
     We must face the reality that we can’t have it all — we can’t profess faith in YHWH, the One True God, and yet help to build houses of worship to a false god.  We can’t let political correctness and religious liberty supersede the position of YHWH.  We can’t profess to be part of God’s Church, yet put our own desires to be magnanimous and inclusive before God’s will.  That is merely a form of self-idolization, and results in the lukewarm Laodicean Church.   And what does Jesus say He will do with that Church?  He will spew them out!
     That is the warning that I think all Christians must take seriously!  Is appeasement of our faith pleasing to God?  What is He more interested in … His Church gaining political power, influence, and unity among all religions and false gods — or seeing that we are committing ourselves to preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  The last time I checked, Islam rejects the deity of Christ.  How can appeasing that religious philosophy be, in any way, pleasing to my God?

Galatians 1:10    “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

   
       
   

When Will We Take Back Our Dominion?

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     This topic of dominion is not only a contested subject matter, but a confusing one for most Christians.  By definition, Dominion means sovereignty or control.  And in today’s post I want to discuss the dominion of the earth, and who owns it?  Who controls the earth — God, man, or the devil?
     The Bible addresses this question from the very beginning.  In Genesis 1:26, we read Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (ESV).  Other translations of the Bible substitute the words complete authority or rule for the word dominion.  But you get the idea — God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, during the creation process, transferred their authority or dominionship of what They created over to man.

     We have further affirmation of this understanding from Psalm 115:16, which says The heavens are the heavens of the Lord, But the earth He has given to the children of men.  Seems pretty cut and dried to me!  Adam and Eve had dominion of the world until Satan convinced them to hand it over to him through his clever deception.  But here’s the thing … Psalm 115:16 says that God HAS given the earth to the children of men; it does not say God HAD given the earth to the children of men.  I believe Dominionship of the earth is a right we can take back, and we can cancel that agreement made way back in the Garden of Eden.  Follow my thoughts for just a moment …
    Remember how satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness and took Him up on the high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in one moment of time?  And what did the devil say to Him?  All this authority (dominion; sovereignty; control) I will give You, and their glory, for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.  It wasn’t God who delivered the authority or dominion of the earth to the devil, it was Man!
     And since that time, there has been a long battle for authority over the earth.  But here is what Christians need to understand:  that battle, which began in the Garden was finished at the empty tomb.  Jesus, as God in the flesh, came to take that authority back and fulfilled His purpose with His death on the Cross!  And with the victory of His resurrection, our Lord assigned His authority back over to us!  Doesn’t Scripture record Jesus saying,  “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  And doesn’t Scripture further say, For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority?  In other words, Jesus, having received all authority and power, in turn, delegates that authority to His Believers.  It is part of our “fullness” in Him!  And that authority is not to be used at our own will or for our own pleasure.  We are to submit ourselves to the authority of Jesus and be used by Him as He wills.  So having the authority of Jesus within us in the form of the Holy Spirit, we are to model ourselves after Jesus and do as He did — obey the will of the Father in all things, knowing that we are exercising His authority and power.
     But can you discern that even to this day, the Enemy actually gets the children of men to continue to give up their authority — even though Jesus took that authority back and fulfilled His purpose (and the will of the Father) with His death on the Cross, and then passed that authority on to us, His Believers.  Why is it so hard for us to understand that as co-heirs with Christ, the devil has no authority over us?  Why do we continue to let him whisper lies to us and render us powerless?
     Yes, man surrendered his dominion through Adam, but Jesus took it back by restoring our relationship with God through faith in Him.  In that process, our dominion on earth was also restored. We don’t have to bow down to satan and suffer his slings and arrows.  After Christ’s victory on the Cross, we regained our authority on earth (through Him) and we were designed to rule and reign right now — not wait until the Millennial Kingdom or the new Heaven and Earth.  Reigning with Christ now requires acknowledging Jesus’s authority in our life and His transference of that authority and power to those who follow and obey Him.  Sadly, most Christians have been deceived by the devil into thinking he still has authority over them.  It is those who don’t know Jesus as their Savior who don’t have the power or knowledge to dispute his lying tongue.  Those who know our Lord should know their position in God’s Kingdom and be able to effectively battle the enemy and call his bluff.  We need to start exercising the authority and dominion that are rightfully ours.  Yeshua paid a heavy price to regain them and return them to us.  Let us honor and glorify Him by fulfilling our identity in Christ.

Revelation 5:10     And You have made us to be a kingdom [of royal subjects] and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.

The Devil’s Game Plan: Conflicting and Contradictory Messages

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     No wonder the Church is so ineffective today, and Christians cannot seem to “unite with one mind”.  We no longer seem to be “of one heart and soul”.  Those terms are how the Early Church was described in Acts, Chapter Four.  And when I say “early” Church, that’s exactly what I mean.  These terms were used to describe the body of believers shortly after the Day of Pentecost when the Church was born.  In the midst of their tumultuous beginning, the new believers were unified in their faith and commitment to the teachings and deity of Christ.
     The Sanhedrin were agitated and frustrated at the preaching of Peter and John about this man Jesus, whom they had recently crucified.  They thought they had quelled His grassroots movement and silenced His influence, and here were these men continuing to spread His seditious message.  So the Book of Acts tells us that the ruling class delivers their own message to the followers of Christ:  “We have the power. If you are allowed to preach, as you have been preaching, it is because we have permitted you to do it.  Anytime we want, we can arrest you and carry you off to jail.  We demand that you be silent about your disruptive faith”!

      Kind of feels like we’re headed towards that same scenario ourselves, doesn’t it?  When we cast a discerning eye upon our culture it is easy to see the discrimination and growing persecution of our faith.  And it is not always blatant. The Enemy is very crafty and subtle … it begins with the suggestion that we should become more tolerant towards the sins that the Bible renounces and condemns, while slowly and gradually, we end up with the month of June being declared as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month — by Presidential proclamation, no less.
     But that doesn’t sow near enough confusion among the faithful.  We also have an Episcopal priest writing articles for a liberal-leaning website in which she argues for the power of “queer virtue” to combat “heteronormativity” and revitalize a Christianity that is too wedded to traditional ideas of human sexuality and marriage.  In her article, the Reverend Elizabeth M. Edman asserts that “Pride” is central to the LGBT movement and integral to an authentically Christian life. 
     Excuse me, I’m no theologian and have never been trained by a certified School of Divinity.  In fact, my only instruction has come strictly from the Bible and the Holy Spirit, but if I recall correctly, Pride in the Bible always seems to be about self-worship.  God abhors pride because it hinders an individual from seeking Him.  In fact, it seems to be that those who hang their hat on Pride are so consumed with themselves that their thoughts are far from God and they think they have no need of Him or, worse, that God should accept them as they are because they deserve His acceptance. After all, it was pride that captivated Lucifer, who is the picture of self-worship, seeking to become like God.  And can you see the confusion and contradictory message he is spreading in this denomination of the Church?
     Edman goes on to extol Pride as a virtue, claiming that it should be redeemed and embraced (regardless of what the Bible says) and that “Christians must become aware of and resist the impulse, conscious or subconscious, to deny the existence of LGBTQ people”.  I don’t believe that there is anyone I know in the Christian Church who wishes to deny the existence of LGBTQ people.  We just wish to stand by the commandments of God on how a Christian is to live their life.  Everyone must make their own life choices, and certainly has the free will to do so.  But, as a Christian, I cannot abandon the dictates of my Savior.  Edman makes it clear that her objective is “to proclaim a more authentic gospel” and to dismantle (within Church doctrine) what she calls “heteronormative impulses”, and what I call disobedience and rebellion against God.  She wants to “strip the Bible of its “heteronormativity” and remake Christianity in the image of a society that glorifies gender fluidity and pansexualism.”  With that philosophical doctrine, I would say she has successfully embraced Pride.  And I’m going to be bold enough to declare it a lie from the devil.  Pride is not a Biblical virtue, nor will God exalt it.
     But that is not the only misguided notion and deception being perpetrated by the Enemy upon the Church.  The leading mega-Pastor in the country, Joel Osteen, is also spreading a misleading message.  In one of his latest sermons, he is quoted as saying, “God will fight your battles if you’ll stay at rest. If you’ll quit worrying about the medical report, if you’ll quit being upset over the contract you didn’t get, if you’ll quit being stressed by those people who are talking about you. If you’ll remain at rest, God will fight your battles.”  This is akin to what Osteen and fellow evangelist Joyce Meyers say is the key to peace in our lives … keeping a positive attitude.  But I do not believe that is enough to ward off the attacks of our Adversary.
     And that philosophy goes against the Bible telling us to put on the full armor of God.  If He is going to fight all our battles for us, why do we need any armor?  We must get in the fight and we can do that in a number of ways: by sending our prayers directly to the throne room of God; and declaring our testimonies to the spiritual realm; by binding and rebuking, in the Holy Name of Jesus, those demons and spirits that come against us; and participating in the healing powers of the Holy Spirit to set people free — that is the way you defeat the spirits of worry, anger, stress and depression.  Because that is what Pastor Osteen fails to tell you; those are very real spirits that are attacking you and causing all those emotional reactions.  Your real rest comes when you stand steadfast, confident in your authority and the power of Christ to work with you in victory.  That’s when you find real rest and peace in your spirit.
     But the devil is doing a darn good job of tossing grenades behind our lines…. deceiving us with messages [from within the Church] that Pride is a virtue; and that we just have to stay positive and wait for God to deliver us from our troubles.  And there is a false message that is becoming increasingly louder, in both the Church and our culture:  we must reduce or diminish the Gospel of Jesus Christ because it might offend others.  The whisper has grown into a shout: that we must become more inclusive and less intolerant; that there is more than one way to Heaven and we can get there through faith in more than one god.
     I say that it is imperative that we recognize this message as heresy and unacceptable.  We have already allowed God’s enemy to infiltrate His Church and gain too much ground.  Just reading back over these various viewpoints produces so many emotions:  sadness, anger, exasperation, and a heavy spirit.  How have we fallen so far, so fast?  Where are the warriors for the faith; those who are willing to stand and declare God’s Truth against this apostasy?  Where will the Church be in another decade?  And will those of us who declare the truth of God’s Word even be allowed to speak in defense of our faith?  Yes, the devil has done a good job; Christianity is under clear and organized assault.  It’s time to fight back for ourselves and the generations to come.  It’s time to glorify God, His Word, His Character, and His Church.

2 Corinthians 10:5    “We are destroying sophisticated arguments and every exalted and proud thing that sets itself up against the [true] knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought and purpose captive to the obedience of Christ,”    

Worship or Self-Glorification?

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     I was intrigued when I ran across two opposing articles on the subject of Worship in the Church.  One article called for a boycott of the “Worship Industry”, while the other was concerned about those who made their living from leading worship; even noting that “the singers in Nehemiah made their living from worshipping God.”  Actually, they received a portion of the tithes of grain, new wine, and oil that were brought to the storerooms of the Temple.
     But back to the controversy over contemporary worship … There are definitely two sides to this argument.  The boycott subscribers point out that the focus of singing our reverence for God has turned from honoring Him with Biblically-based songs and hymns to satisfying our own cravings for entertainment.  Worship services have become a marketing tool to attract potential congregants.  A mega-church that I used to attend in a major Texas city actually advertises on its website’s home page that the 2015 Grammy winner for Best Roots Gospel Album will be appearing soon.
     In addition, they announce that they have three varieties of worship services:  the “Contemporary, Choir & Professional Orchestra-led” version in their main auditorium; followed by the “Participatory, Modern, Band-led style of worship (also in the big sanctuary); and the “Traditional, Intimate, Hymn-based” version of worship service, which is relegated to the small chapel on the church campus.  It is quite clear, as my husband says, who their “customer” is.

     And then there is the question, “Are we creating idols of these worship leaders and performers?”  Are people coming to church to hear the Word of God and to revere and pay homage to Him?  Or are we more enamored with the celebrity and entertainment value of the worship portion of the service?  What has happened to the sacred atmosphere of being in the House of the Lord?  At times, it feels and looks like a Hollywood production!
     Then there is the fact that more emphasis is given to the “performance” of an individual or group, than the voices of the entire congregation lifted as one to praise the Holiness and Sovereignty of our God.  Does God really want us to sit there passively watching a talented personality, or does He want us engaged in celebrating Him?  Do we leave the service with our hearts full of God’s instruction, or do we leave humming the words to the stellar performance of the day?
     Those who are speaking out against the Entertainment industry invading the church service simply want music to return to its proper place in corporate worship.  Their position can be summed up in the following statements:  “It’s time to stop mimicking pop culture.  It’s time for us to learn how to sing and make music again, instead of allowing others to do it for us.”
    Now, the other side will protest and say that a God-gifted and talented singer or group should be compensated if they decide to use their talent to honor God.  After all, “we will pay top dollar for a doctor or an accountant, but we don’t want to recognize or reward a gifted singer or musician who loves God.”  They suggest that the Body of Christ should celebrate the Christian music industry; celebrate that there is an alternative to the secular and unholy music industry that is represented in the pop culture.  They suggest that rather than get angry about the music and worship leadership in churches today, people should “get upset about the lack of God’s presence in your church, or the fact that the widows and orphans aren’t being taken care of in your back yard. Get upset about the person with a disability who is being ignored or overlooked. Instead of wondering if light shows are from God, channel your anger by praying for an outpouring of the Spirit in the church.”
     They also say that emotion derived from spectacular performances in church are a good thing; that God desires His people to express their passion for Him, much like David did when he danced before the Lord.  Here is their argument:  “Kansas City Chief fans paint their faces, spend hundreds of dollars, get off work to sit in a parking lot for hours, jump up and down and scream in their own form of worship and adoration. We cry at secular concerts. We raise our hands when our favorite team wins the game. Why would we divorce the very gift of emotions given by God to express ourselves to Him in an act of worship?”  They go on to say that “the fact worship has emerged as a commercially viable genre is a sign that people want God.”  They cite the thousands of kids that are drawn to stadiums to hear superstar Christian groups and to worship with kids their own age.  That, they say, is a reason we should all celebrate and support the worship industry.
     But here is my two cents, for what it is worth… and remember, this is just my opinion, and reflects my personal preferences.  The latest trend of “contemplative” and repetitive verses, sung over and over is almost mind-numbing.  I find myself waiting for the 20-minute portion of “worship” to be over with, so that I can garner what the Holy Spirit wants me to get during the 20-minute portion of hearing the Word.  And, frankly, it bothers me a bit that hearing God’s Word is treated, time-wise, as an equal to hearing/watching/singing contemporary “praise music”.
     Secondly, did you notice that the arguments for celebrating the worship industry all compared them to what we do “in the world”?  Church performers should be compensated like a doctor or an attorney … expressing emotions in church is no different than “worshipping or adoring” our favorite sports team.  But here’s my question … can you not see that they are comparing the Church to the world?  Doesn’t it say in Romans 12:2, Do not conform to the patterns of this world?  And does it not say in 1 John 2:15, Do not love the world nor the things in the world? Why would we want to model the Church’s standards after those of the world?
     And finally, I agree with this position’s argument that we should be more concerned about the lack of assistance to the Church’s widows, orphans, and disabled.  And we should be lamenting that the presence of the Holy Spirit is absent in many of our churches.  Yes, all that should be our priority!  But why isn’t it?  And if all these things are missing, shouldn’t we be asking ourselves, where is our attention being placed?  What are our priorities?
     In the end, shouldn’t how God desires us to worship Him be our criterion?  He says in Amos 5, “I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies.  Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; and I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings.  Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps.”  
     It is not the artificial means of our worship that pleases God.  It is the state of the heart that worships Him.  And our church services should be focused on helping to create worshipful hearts, rather than on entertaining the masses to fill seats.  In our Church worship, our emphasis should not be on the building, the rituals and the value of the performance, but on God’s Glory and the importance of encouraging His people to live righteous lives.  That does not mean that song and celebration has no place in His House.  I simply think that we must be careful to avoid following the world’s model, and make sure that God is always the center of our worship.  Remember, as Jesus traveled among the churches in Revelation, Chapter 2, He made it quite clear that He is judging the fruit produced by each church and their commitment to Him.  How would He be evaluate your church?

John 4:23   “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him.”

Part 1 – Defying ISIS: The War On Christianity

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    I recently read an important little book by Johnnie Moore, titled Defying ISIS.  Moore is a humanitarian who has written about his work with genocide victims in the Middle East, Bosnia and Rwanda and visited the world’s largest refugee camps.  Currently, he is sounding the alarm about Christian martyrs in Iraq and Syria who are faced with the barbarism of ISIS and the one option they have: convert or die.
     This little book impacted me like none other I’ve read in a long time.  In his own words, Moore says he “relates the stories of men, women, and children who have given everything for their faith, even their lives, and stories of those who, when facing inevitable death, lifted their eyes to their God in hope that good will eventually triumph over this evil.”  He tells their stories “so that the world will have the opportunity to remember those who stared down the hell of ISIS with the love of Jesus.”  Moore tells the stories of the deliberate eradication of Christians in the land where Christianity once dominated.
     There is the story of Mazen, a middle-aged man who lived in what was known as “Iraq’s Christian capital”, the city of Qaraqosh.  Moore relates that his once strong posture is now reduced to a humbled crouch as he recounts the horror of the morning ISIS arrived:  [It was] nine in the morning when a mortar landed on our house.  My son died.  My nephew was hit in the head.  My other son remains wounded, and our neighbor next door died… We fled, all of us … My other son, Milad, died on the way.  I have another son who needs an operation; it costs $15,000.  Where would I get that?  We don’t have a house or property or anything [anymore].
     Then there is the tragic story of Aida, a young mother of a beautiful three-year-old daughter, Christina.  They also lived in Quaraqosh, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world.  It was four in the morning when ISIS arrived in their town, shooting their guns in the air, and shouting, “God is great!”  Then they began shouting something else … “CHRISTIANS! Leave before we behead you!”  Aida tells us what happened next:  The situation deteriorated  day-by-day, and after ten days they told us to convert to Islam, or leave.  We were under house arrest.  They took our gold and money and even our extra clothing.  
     ISIS piled them on a bus and dropped them outside of town, to flee or die.  But before they did, they yanked Christina out of her mother’s arms, and threatened to kill the hysterical mother on the spot.  Aida said, We don’t know why they took our daughter; she was the only child left in Quaraqosh.  We don’t know what happened to her.  I’m always thinking about her.  I can’t eat or sleep… I keep seeing her in my dreams.  Can you imagine?  Why isn’t the world screaming about this inhuman barbarity?  Why aren’t we Christians in the West more aware this is happening and interceding on behalf of our Christian brothers and sisters?
     There are the stories of the kidnapping, selling, and trading of children.  As if that is not enough, there are the excruciating stories of the execution of children!  Moore says that “the most conservative estimates put the number of executed children in Syria alone at more than 10,000… [ISIS] revels in the chance to inflict a particular type of horror into the hearts of those they hate.  They sincerely believe they are doing a justice by ridding the world of another generation of Christians, and so they massacre them with pure joy.”  What if this was a European child?  An American child?  Why is the world silent?
     It is also the goal of those who promote the Islamic Caliphate to enslave Christian wives and abuse Christian daughters.  I think you know what that means.  We, in the West, are aware of human and sex trafficking (although we are loathe to admit it or confront it openly).  But a smuggled price list from a slave market was recently published by Iraqi News.  The document states that Christian and Yazidi girls are particularly targeted and priced according to age:  ages 1-9 cost $172; ages 10-20 cost $130; ages 20-30 cost $86; ages 30-40 cost $75; and ages 40-50 are sold for $43.  Below the prices on the document, bearing the official seal of the Islamic State of Iraq, it reads, “Customers are allowed to purchase only three items [slaves] with the exception of customers from Turkey, Syria, and Gulf countries.  Obey and follow the rules and laws of the Islamic State or be killed.”
     The website, Breaking Israel News, reports that theologians of the Islamic State (ISIS) have issued what can only be described as exceptionally detailed rulings on when “owners” can have sex with female slaves captured by the jihadist group.  The report also added that rather than hiding their practice of slavery, ISIS takes great pride and has even established a department of “war spoils” to manage their slavery trade.
     It is hard enough to read of this horrific abuse against women when it is written in general terms and statistics.  It is another to hear the personal story of Mayat, a 17-year-old Yazidi girl who had been kidnapped and told of “rooms of horror” where “women are raped, often by different men and throughout the day… Often I wish they would beat me so hard I will die.  But they are cowards even in this.  None of them have the courage to end our suffering… even if I survive, I don’t think I’ll be able to remove this horror from my mind.  They have already killed my body.  They are now killing my soul.”
     Then there is the story of Zena, a 20-year-old chemical engineering student in Mosul.  When ISIS came to town she had three strikes against her:  First, she was a Christian; Second, she was a woman; and Third, she was a woman with ambition.  When Johnnie Moore met her, she was wearing the same pajamas she was wearing the night ISIS arrived.  Zena told him that her sense of hope was destroyed when ISIS decimated their church and Christian community; it was an assault “on their security in a deep and personal way.”
    But Zena was one of the lucky ones.  In the Syrian city of Al-Mayadin, a female dentist was captured and beheaded because she dared to treat both men and women.  Many others have been stoned to death and buried in shallow graves, or kidnapped and forcibly married to ISIS fighters.  Needless to say, all women are being forced to comply with a strict dress code, and are threatened with death if they refuse.
     One elderly man, when questioned by Moore about why he fled his hometown, replied, “I will tell you why I left my district.  I left it because they stormed our house barbarically at 2 a.m., harassing us, pointing their flashlights toward our women.  We didn’t come from another country.  We are from an eastern society.  We are Iraqis and we are jealous of our honor.  So we left to avoid them because they already threatened to arrest our women.  They told my mother that they would arrest her if they couldn’t find us.”  So, he left to protect his mother, his wife, and his daughters.
     There are more stories than these… thousands of stories, and many of them much more savage and cruel.  And I wanted to let the voices of Johnnie Moore (who has seen these atrocities first-hand) and the victims speak for themselves.  I wanted to shake us western Christians out of our comfort zones to face the existence of this very real war on Christianity.  It is a war that will not be confined to the Middle East, and is designed to be waged worldwide.  We must wake up and determine that we will  not only intercede in prayer on behalf of our fellow Christians, but turn our attention, time, and resources to supporting them in their hour of need.
     I want to leave you at this part of the story, if you will, with the words of Sister Rose, a young nun from Mosul, Iraq, who has poured her life into the lives of Christian refugees as they have fled from city to city, and she among them.  Sister Rose told Johnnie Moore, “I lived in America.  Americans are wonderful people.  It’s shocking to me that they are so silent in the face of our genocide.  Please help us.  Raise your voice for us.  Our children are dying.  In America you care for your pets so well, can you care for your Christians brothers and sisters who are suffering?”
     Can we?  On Monday’s post, I will finish my report on the work of Johnnie Moore and why he thinks these stories should matter to you; how he thinks we defeat ISIS; and his unique perspective on Christianity in the heart of a Muslim Middle East.  It’s time that the world awakes from its slumber, and it is especially time for us Christians.  The very existence of our faith in its birthplace in the Middle East, and our lives, here in the West, depend on it.

1 John 5:19   “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”

Do You Recognize The Church?

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     I’m sure many of you have had the same experience that my husband and I have shared.  Early in our marriage we had decided to throw off the lethargy of our youth and seek a church that met our goal of growing in our faith.  We wanted a church rooted in the Bible, and a place in which we could immerse ourselves in a Sunday School class or small group for more intimate and deeper study.  We thought the answer was a church that made us “feel comfortable”, and one in which we could set a taproot for life-long relationships with fellow Christians.

     Then the Holy Spirit intervened and showed us that faith in our Savior must be anything but “comfortable”.  In fact, the more He drew us to Jesus, the less contented we became in feeling comfortable.  Our desire for more of Him made us question what we believed and why; and we soon realized that it wasn’t about identifying with our fellow Church members, as much as it was about seeking to live a righteous and consecrated life in relationship with Jesus.
     At about that same time, our church changed “management”, so to speak, and the Search Committee assured the congregation that they had found just the right man to take over the helm of our Church.  The committee was made up of people I knew to be Bible-believing and faithful Christians; men and women who took their task very seriously.  When they introduced him that first Sunday, he actually stood at the front of the Church holding a Bible, reading from it and centering his sermon on the Word.  We thought, “Surely, God has a calling for this man to lead us.”
     But within a few months of assuming his role as Shepherd of God’s flock, the tell-tale signs were there.  There was definitely a new agenda and plan for our spiritual future.  It seemed the pastor was not as he had seemed at first.  And it seems that our church has not been alone in this pattern of change.
     Now The End Begins, a website that I would classify as “on the fringe”, yet oftentimes uncannily correct, recently ran an article suggesting that there is a “Purpose Driven Plan to destroy the Church of Jesus Christ.”  Now, you might recognize that phraseology as being associated with Rick Warren, the popular pastor from California, who wrote a blockbuster book, called The Purpose Driven Life, which had profound influence on the modern church.  Since that book was first published in 1997, Dr. Warren has become a controversial figure, and openly advocates for change in how we Christians approach church growth and evangelizing, saying, “When you reveal the [new] vision to the church, the old pillars are going to leave. But let them leave… they only hold things up.”
      Here’s what I’ve observed about Dr. Warren’s philosophy regarding the “Purpose-Driven Church”… it seems to be based more on a business model than a faith model.  It seems to promote the idea that believers must move away from their moral absolutism (and resistance to change), so that the church can welcome more unbelievers in a spirit of compromise, and therefore grow their numbers, and plant new churches.  You can see that if all members of the church stand firm on the Word of God, and it’s final authority in all doctrine and tradition, then the church cannot and will not change.  Dr. Warren has suggested that this is why the Church has grown stagnant, and change must occur.
     I agree that the Church is in danger of becoming lukewarm in its outreach, its desire to “keep God in a box”, and its inclination to contain the Gospel Message inside its own four walls.  But I allege that what Dr. Warren is promoting has very little semblance to what Jesus had in mind when He gave us the Great Commission.  I see more about how to attract a crowd with slick marketing and contemporary music, than how to reach a crowd with the Spirit-led Word of God.  It seems to be all about taking that wide, easy path through a gate that lets everyone in, instead of requiring a response to the Gospel Message, and teaching and preaching about confession of personal sin, repentance, and our need for the Cross.
     So, if you are like me and my husband, we began to see the ways in our church was changing — the change in music to a contemporary rock style; repetitive singing of praise lyrics instead of Scriptural-based hymns; dressing down to casual and informal attire; the name “Sunday School” is dropped and classes are given new “culturally attractive” names;  there is no need to bring your Bible to church because only specific verses are flashed on a screen or referenced during regular services; there was an emphasis on more fun and party sessions for the youth, rather than teaching the Word; the elimination of such words as “unsaved”, “lost”, “sin”, “Hell”, “Heaven” and other Gospel truths from the pastor’s messages; and in our case, open hostility to members, like us, who did not openly embrace the new program, or who may have left for another church.
     Here is the bottom line for me… Because of this movement toward compromise, “feel good” sermons, inclusiveness of all opinions on God, and variety in the Gospel Message, it has been difficult for me to affiliate myself with any church.  Please don’t misunderstand.  There are still small churches who have not succumbed to these marketing techniques, and who earnestly desire to stay true to The Word.  But oftentimes, the Holy Spirit is absent in their buildings, or they deny the full extent of what Jesus has charged us to do in bringing in His Kingdom.  Their hearts and spirits are in the right place, but they are not very effective outside their own buildings.
     This is a time for God’s Truth … ALL of His Truth; and for boldness in declaring it!  And I am seeing more and more of His people who are no longer satisfied to sit comfortably in the building each Sunday — either doing the same things and bearing little fruit; or embracing what their spirits are clearly telling them is not Biblical nor pleasing to God!  So, a remnant is awakening and committing themselves to discerning (and doing) His will and following the promptings of the Holy Spirit in these daunting days.  We recognize that His ways are not our ways, and it is time to step out, and to be courageous and strong in our faith.  We are ready to present ourselves to the Lord; workers who are not ashamed of our love for Him and our passion to serve His Kingdom, rightly handling the Word of Truth.  We abide in Him, and He in us … we are His Church.

John 15:16    “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He may give it to you.”
   
   

What Is The True Meaning of the Brotherhood of Christ?

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     I find as we are coming closer to the return of Christ, that the Body of Christ is actually in danger of becoming fractured.  Just as in the first century, when the birth of the Church presented new and unfamiliar ways of viewing God working in the world, I see Christians being separated by what they perceive as being “acceptable” ways to glorify and honor Him.
     Of course, there are the differences among Christians based on the changing cultural “morals”.  Issues like gay marriage, abortion, social justice, and civil disobedience are addressed in the Bible, yet we find that people who call themselves Christians differ on how their faith instructs them on these matters.  How can that be?  God doesn’t offer compromises or concessions in His commandments, does He?  So how are we to contend with these varying opinions?

      I think we need to take another look at our understanding of what it means to be the “Brotherhood of Christ”.  If we truly understand the concept of God as our Father, it seems to me that being part of a brotherhood would encompass brotherly union and a joining with Jesus Christ in a unity of Grace.  Yet, I fear that we sometimes get caught up in our own definitions of what God finds satisfactory, or allowable, or just plain “good enough”.  And I have to ask myself if we haven’t let “religion” cloud our judgment, just a little.
     I am as guilty as the next Christian.  I know that Jesus and the Holy Spirit have been doing mighty works in my life; and showing me how to help others experience the joy of their Presence.  My experience has not been the norm; it is outside what the Church in America has known and promoted for at least the last century.  Yet I know it is real and from God!  But I have to fight the temptation to reject the traditional and “safe” message of the Church, because who am I to know the mind of God, or how He might reach just one person sitting in a pew on a Sunday morning?  I do not want to become my own god!
     At the same time, there are highly controversial people who call themselves Christians, and who appear to have borne fruit for His Kingdom through decidedly non-Church methods.  Are we to discount that their message or testimony is not real?  I think all of us can agree that we are to know our fellow Christians by the fruit that they bear.  But Jesus taught in John 15 that the primary purpose of a fruit tree is to bear fruit, and it is therefore judged by what it produces and not by how it looks.  We are instructed to be careful and not to be deceived by false prophets who look like beautiful fruit trees, whose fruit is pleasant to look at, tastes good, and is easy to digest; but produce nothing for the Kingdom.  At the same time, we must not forget that a bad tree cannot produce good fruit.  So while a fruit tree might look unorthodox and strange, if we discern that it is producing good fruit, then does it have credibility?
     It is easy for us Christians to establish the rules and determine what looks like Holy Spirit-produced fruit.  But I caution us that we must not fall into the trap of the Pharisees and Sadducees, who simply could not fathom that this rabble-rousing son of a carpenter could be a representative of Yahweh.  I am not saying that we should accept every new and dynamic conversion as the real thing, just because they say they have “found Jesus.”  But neither do I think we should rush to condemn someone if they aren’t miraculously changed on the spot.  Jesus told the woman caught in the act of adultery, and the man healed at the Pool of Bethsaida, to both “go and sin no more.”
     They didn’t instantly become a sinless, perfect human being.  None of us will ever be that.  But the power of the Holy Spirit broke the power that sin once had over them, and a process was begun towards conforming them into the likeness of Christ.  We are all on that path.  Some of us get there quicker than others.  Some have to stumble and fall many times over before we can shake the depravity and lies of our sinful past.  But if we have accepted Christ as our Savior, and surrender to Him, He will do the work… no matter how long it takes.
     I have seen evidence of that long path in a good friend of mine this week.  I never doubted his faith, but his actions did not show that He was walking with the Lord.  But God is now using him, while in a still imperfect state, to witness to people who need to hear of the Grace, Mercy, and Healing Power of Jesus.  His has been a very personalized, and different path to Christ.  He embraced the path to Christ easily, but he didn’t walk the usual and normal path.  I have always felt that it was my duty as a Christian to embrace him and where he started, but also to encourage him and pray that he would not finish there.
     Should not the same thing be said for all of us in relationship to each other?  We are not all going to look alike or produce the same fruit from a cookie cutter template.  We must test the spirits and the message of those who look and sound different from us.  But we must also be open to the power of the Holy Spirit to be working in unique and unusual ways.  He is smarter than all of us, and can use just the right person to reach the unreachable.  We have entered an Age in which nothing resembles the ordinary, and nothing looks like it did in the past.  Jesus and the Holy Spirit worked outside the realm of conventional religion in the first century.  They can do the same today.  And through discernment, we must evaluate the good fruit from the bad, and support our brothers and sisters in Christ as we all strive to share the Good News.  We may not all look alike or follow the same path to Christ, but if we converge at the Cross, then the path forward will be in true brotherhood and unity.

John 15:44    “How can you believe [in Me], when you [seek and] receive glory and approval from one another, and yet you do not seek the glory and approval which comes from the One and Only God?”

New Definitions of “Church”

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     It’s been ten years since we’ve seen such glorification of the Star Wars movie franchise.  Apparently, the latest episode of the movie epic has broken all kinds of records for advance ticket sales.  You might be asking, “Why should this be of any interest to us?  Aren’t there more important things that should occupy our minds?”  Well, did you know that there is actually a religion inspired by the fictional warriors who battle the Dark Side?  It is called the Church of Jediism.  I kid you not!
     Although Jediism started as a joke when people listed it as their religion during the 2001 census, the organization (which takes itself seriously) now lists 250,000 members, with an alleged 1,000 members signing up daily as excitement built toward the release of the latest movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

     So, what exactly does the Church of Jediism promote?  Its followers say that it is “a set of philosophies based on focusing, learning and becoming one with the Force”.  Of course, my first question is what do they define as “the Force”?  Apparently, it is “a unifying energy, which everything exists within, around and always returns to.”  That sounds harmless enough — until it isn’t.  In other words, anytime a person opens themselves up to worshipping anything, there is danger of it becoming a false idol, or god, and it becoming “charged” by the real Dark Side.
     The founders of the Church of Jediism claim that they do not believe the Star Wars films to be real, and say, “Although Jediism was inspired by the beliefs of the fictional Jedi, we do not believe the Star Wars films – they are entirely fictional.“  Be that as it may, you better believe that those who are deluded enough to actually sign up as members of this “Church” believe they are following an actual “faith”, and the Enemy is only too happy to step through that open door that has been opened.
     You see, there is a ten-week training course involved in becoming a member of the organization, and meditation is a key tenet.  The “Church” actually says, “Our minds are like sponges which soak up information daily.  In order to keep our minds ‘clean’, we must ‘rinse’ them of negative Force.”  But anytime there is a vacuum, something will fill that space, so what is replacing the “negative Force”?
     The first clue that following this philosophy is a false religion is that a belief in God is optional. The group says: “There are no strict rules in Jediism, as we believe in freedom and so joining the Church of Jediism would not pose any restrictions on your life. “  Oh, I get it … you can believe in anything!  And things like morality and righteousness and holiness are all subject to interpretation.  This may all seem like silliness to you, but I guarantee that there are those who will see themselves as “disciples” of this “Church”, and there are spiritual entities that are only too happy to lead them down a false path.
     While the Church of Jediism may never gain a strong foothold in the American conscious, we better be paying attention to the legitimacy being given to the Church of Satan.  Lisa Ling, an actress and self-appointed reporter, appeared on an episode of CNN’s This is Life to present her analysis of a story where a woman viewed Satanists as defenders of “civil rights” and joined their group because, as a mother, she blamed the “imposition of Christian values” at school for her gay son committing suicide.

The True Church

Ling actually had the audacity to say that she visited a Satanic temple and they do not literally worship Satan.  Rather, according to her “wisdom”, “More than anything, they really are kind of a political action group, and they exist to protest the imposition of what they say are Judeo-Christian values on our political system, in our politics, and in public life.”  And here’s where she is an exceptionally useful tool for that very Satan she says isn’t being worshipped:  “And, interestingly enough, even though this group has chosen Satan as the head of it, a lot of these issues right now, the idea of respecting people of other faiths, especially during this time, a lot of these issues are relevant right now because there’s a lot of scrutinization of people who espouse different beliefs, if you know what I’m talking about. So, even though this group is trying to use one symbol, really they’re trying to get people in this country to recognize and appreciate people of all different faiths.”
     CNN then gives more legitimacy to Ling and her ridiculous claims by allowing her to report on a Satanic temple member named Michael, who had constructed a “Snake-tivity” symbol using a snake to represent Lucifer.  Michael had sought to display it next to a Nativity Scene outside the Michigan state capitol.  The degree to which Ling is being deceived can be recognized in this statement:  “As a skilled artist, Michael is now using his craft to stand with the temple and their fight for religious freedom. When the Michigan state capitol put up a Nativity scene during Christmas time, the Satanic temple placed their own symbol of faith on the state capitol lawn. And Michael helped design it.”  Then, Michael, the self-proclaimed Satanist, shows the audience what he believes as truth:  “The snake itself is to be representative of Lucifer when he chose to lead man to knowledge in the Garden of Eden. We support the idea of Lucifer as a metaphorical figure and his influence on man.”  (If you want to see Michael’s heretical work of art, you can click here.  I do not want to promote it on my blog).
      But here is the real tragedy of this ridiculous story… Michigan state lawmakers approved a request by Christians who wanted to erect a Nativity scene at the Capitol. The caveat? Because no permanent displays are allowed on Capitol grounds someone would have to set up and tear down the Nativity scene each day. That person never came forward!  The Satanic Temple, on the other hand, did have people willing to put in the work each day.  And therefore, the profane image of a snake wrapped around the Satanic cross, and presenting a book as a holiday gift, will appear on the lawn of the state capitol during this holiday season.
     Furthermore, the false church of Satan promotes this sacrilegious display by declaring, “Just as the Nativity represents a mythology of the birth of Christ, the Snake is symbolic of the birth of human enlightenment and liberation. Happy Holidays from The Satanic Temple of Detroit!”
     So, as you can see, the idea of “Church” has been corrupted in our modern culture.  Its original context was clearly defined by Christ as a group of people called out by Him for a special purpose; a new society of which Jesus was the founder and which was knit together by the closest spiritual bonds.  To be called His “Church” means that we have received the Divine call to partake of the blessings of the redemption and salvation offered by His sacrifice on the Cross.
     But as Michael, the Satanist, spoke on CNN, now the idea of “Church” can be defined anyway one desires:  “Other religions can be accepted as well, and have their own displays. There can’t be one dominating voice to all the voices (my emphasis).”  Lisa Ling then goes on to exploit the whole litany of “tolerance” and “acceptance” of all religions, and espouses that this group is just “trying to use one symbol, really they’re trying to get people in this country to recognize and appreciate people of all different faiths.”   She says this politically correct garbage, while at the same time, she promotes her special The Belief of Satanists, in which she is only too happy to promote the Satanic Temple as a new religious movement, where followers believe devoutly in the seven tenets of the Satanic Temple. “But they don’t actually believe in the Devil or Satan or any other deity.”  Sure, Lisa!
     But before I leave this sad and tragic topic, I would like to point out to Michael, the Satanic “artist”, and Lisa Ling, the deceived “reporter”, that there IS one dominating voice among all the voices.  And it is not the god of Jediism, or the deceitful snake who offers his false gift of knowledge.  It is the voice of Yahweh, the One True God.  His sheep hear His voice.  He knows them and we follow Him.  All those other voices that you want to let in and give equal time to will just lead you astray.  Take my word for it.  Better yet, take His Word and hear it!

John 8:47    “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

How Can The Church Help?

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     All of us Christians with a Biblical worldview have no trouble seeing what is coming.  We feel it in our souls and especially in our spirits.  We are neither casual or cowardly Christians, and we discern the “signs of the times” with spiritual clarity.  As individuals, we feel the urgency in communicating with non-believers to get right with God and recognize their need for a Savior.  But we have also dived deeper into our Bibles and are actively communing with God as to what our mission is among our brethren in Christ.  Notice I said as individuals… but what is the Church, as the collective Body of Christ, doing to prepare for the chaos and collapse we know is inevitable?
     To be honest, I don’t see much happening.  In fact, I would venture that a majority of people in the pews each Sunday are unaware of the coming destruction.  And if they are alert to the prophetic events on the horizon, they tend to be frightened and disorganized.
     Without too much understanding, it is not hard to figure out that an economic collapse is a very real possibility.  What happens when our state and federal agencies go bankrupt and people are left without the means for basic survival?  Here are a few suggestions for ways the Church could serve God’s people during the crisis that we know is barreling down on us.  It is time the Church took a leadership role, and thanks to Charisma News, here are some really worthy suggestions:
1.  Professionals need to begin preparing networks.  We should be thinking and planning right now — pastors and individuals with expertise in the areas it will take to survive should be setting up networks and training to become emergency crisis responders.  In every church, there are professionals we can network together who can be mobilized to serve a community in the case of a disaster (folks in the medical field, emergency responders, military personnel, psychologists, community leaders, elected officials and the police).  It will take all these people to keep our communities from descending into chaos.  A network already in place will save valuable time and lives.
2.  We need to be declaring storehouses for sustainable food and materials.  We know that it is very probable that our distribution infrastructure may be disrupted.  In that case, churches can store generators, emergency equipment such as first-aid kits, flashlights and food that can serve the needs of the most vulnerable within their congregations and communities… and do it beforehand.  There is no reason to wait until the crisis has already happened to be respond.
3.  Churches need to be prepared to assist in bartering ventures.  I think it is safe to say that paper money will be the first thing that goes if we have a global collapse.  Even gold and silver will not be available to everyone.  So the churches need to be thinking about what services they can help coordinate to offer ways for people to barter for what they need.  The Church could become sort of a central clearinghouse for people to offer and get services that will sustain them.
4. We need to prepare our local congregations to lead with a biblical worldview in every area of life.   And “lead” is the operative word here.  In times of social disruption and when society has lost its bearings, it provides believers the unique opportunity to fill the vacuum of leadership in all the major spheres of culture. We need to capitalize on this opportunity by providing leadership with problem-solving ability that is informed by what the Bible has to say regarding economic and political principles, so that newly formed policy measures will be blessed of God and not perpetuate the same humanistic systems.
5. We need to have unity and communication systems in place among churches in every region.  Doesn’t it seem expedient for pastoral and church leadership to have key relationships in place throughout our cities that will enable us to have practical strategic responses and galvanize help where needed?  What are we waiting for?
6. We need to have long seasons of fasting and prayer for awakening and revival.  This goes without saying!  And it is past time to educate our fellow Christians on the reasons for fasting, and how to pray in the spirit for God’s protection and blessings.  Once again, I ask … what are we waiting for?
7.  We need to network with key elected officials and community leaders.  That includes teachers to help lead alternate ways of educating our children.  But most importantly, when societal unrest and a deterioration of our most fundamental necessities is staring us in the face, we need to have a system of interconnected people who can exchange information and experience, resulting in a true support system.  That also includes those willing to train people to protect themselves, their families, and their churches.
     I don’t have to tell you that we are teetering on the edge… will it be economics, politics, a world war, or terrorism that will strike the first blow?  Or will we just implode on ourselves from our decaying and immoral culture?  Whatever form the destruction comes in, it is incumbent upon us not only as decent and good people, but as Christians — God’s representatives upon this earth — to alleviate as much suffering and strife as we can.  By doing so, we can make the difference in people’s lives; both in the here and now and for eternity.  We don’t have a moment to lose!

Hebrews 11:7    “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.”