Wednesday, March 26, 2014

It's Okay to Eat the Alligator

Dear Friends,

The headline said: U.S. CATHOLICS FREE TO EAT ALLIGATOR THIS LENT and I immediately thought of Sandi. My brother had been dating her for a little while and we invited them both to dinner. We wanted to get to know her, but perhaps more importantly, we wanted Sandi to see what an awesome family her new boyfriend had.

And I was excited. I had gone to a butcher’s shop to buy some steaks to barbeque and was pleased to find they had some fresh alligator meat. I'd never seen that in a store before, and wanting to make a good impression on our dinner guests, I bought four pounds. We thought how much fun it would be if we didn’t tell them what it was until after dinner!

It was delicious grilled. It had the firmness of grilled swordfish and a delicate taste. I made a light cream sauce with a Cognac reduction and a hint of capers that added nicely to the gourmet ‘gator. Sandi loved it and so I proudly told her what it was.

She said nothing. Actually, I don't seem to remember her speaking at all the rest of the evening. In fact, for many years after that gourmet dinner at our house, she avoided my brother’s awesome family and refused to speak with us. We later found out that soon after the dinner with us, she decided to become a vegan. Thankfully, twenty-five years later, she and my brother are still good friends.

The article on Lent posted a few weeks ago in the CATHOLIC HERALD said that a debate had raged on about the appropriateness of eating alligator for Lent when Catholic doctrine requires a fast from meat on the Lent Fridays. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released the statement that "Abstinence laws consider that meat comes only from birds, chickens, cows, goats, sheep or pigs.” But, “salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles (cold-blooded animals) and shellfish are permitted.” So it's okay for Catholics to consume alligators, frogs, turtles, snakes, lizards and tortoises during Lent. 

Our good news is that, as Protestants, we are not bound by Catholic Abstinence Laws and we can eat meat and alligators and lizards all year long! I'm excited about this because in December when you come to my house for our annual Christmas dinner, I can't wait to try out the new Jambalaya recipe I'm developing. Of course most of you will probably say that it tastes just like chicken...

I share this appetizing story to show how we can all so easily confuse our faith with our religious practices. We can so easily make it about the right way to perform a ritual when our righteousness is found in Christ Jesus alone. That’s why during this Lenten season, our sole focus needs to be on our Heavenly Father. Nitpicking details of what and how to appropriately participate in Lent are no more helpful to our spirituality than the rabbinic laws of the orthodox Jews would be. In fact, you’ll remember there was a guy born 2000 years ago who, among other accomplishments with His birth, life and resurrection, has freed us from religious and dietary laws.

If we give up something for Lent and that fast doesn’t bring us closer to God, then we’ve simply engaged in a legalistic exercise of spiritual futility. We take great pride in giving up chocolate and cookies while we continue in our consistent and unrepentant sins of gossip, negativity, judgmental condemnation of others, anger, unforgiveness and (INSERT YOUR SIN HERE: __________________) that creates distance between us and God.

Giving up meat for Lent may help your cholesterol by reducing saturated fats in your diet but merely fasting on foods won’t help an impoverished soul. If you long for more God in your life, take some prayer time and ask Him to show you the sin that most interferes with your spiritual life. Then test it. Temporarily give it up for the next four weeks to see if doing so brings you closer to God. Then when Lent is over, on Easter Sunday, you can make the choice to take back the sin and please the devil. Or permanently delete it from your life and please your Heavenly Father. Amen?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

God's Property ~ Part 4

Dear Friends,

I used to work with a woman who was an on-fire for God, Bible-thumping, Holy-roller, Baptized-in-the-Holy Spirit believer. She loved to talk about Jesus and witness to her co-workers. She’d come to my office and we'd always talk about our faith. Her entire countenance lit up every time we talked about Jesus. She truly loved the Lord! But there had always been an undercurrent of negativity, resentment and unforgiveness that she had held on to. Now, to the dismay of her co-workers, she was becoming increasingly negative and nasty at work. I was getting concerned about her reputation. Non-Christians often love to point out hypocritical behavior and I believed she could be doing more harm than good to the Kingdom of God. 

Then one day I asked her how life was going and was surprised that her negativity had taken on an even darker tone. She began an obscenity-filled rant about how bad her life was. Even her face looked different that day. The next month, we saw each other walking through the plaza. I smiled and waved. She turned away and avoided me by climbing up a grassy embankment so that she wouldn’t have to pass by me. I emailed her and asked what was going on. Her reply was: “The only thing you and I talk about is God and Jesus and I am so done with that.” This was a woman who had been saved for over 30 years and had been a worship leader for many years at her church! She wrote: "I am over the Jesus phase of my life. You're probably going to want to email me or talk to me about this but don't."   

I’d been friends with her and her husband for fifteen years and for many of those she considered me to be her pastor. The next day I tried to pray for her and my mind was a blank. I struggled to find words to pray. And the voice of God said, ‘No'. Immediately, the burden I had to pray for her was gone and I felt a release in my spirit. I'd always felt a spiritual responsibility for her and her family and now that too was gone. Had she crossed a spiritual line? Was she lost? “But there is a sin that leads to death, and I am not saying you should pray for those who commit it.” [1 John 5:16 nlt]

What happened? I believe that through habitual, continued and unrepentant sin, the devil was given a legitimate foothold in her life. And her once strong faith eroded to the point of rejecting God. The ultimate sin. "We know that God's children do not make a practice of sinning, for God's Son holds them securely, and the evil one cannot touch them. We know that we are children of God and that the world around us is under the control of the evil one." [1 John 5:18-19 nlt] 

That scripture, along with others, tells us that by avoiding habitual sins, we remove ourselves from the reach of the devil. But our continued and unrepentant practice of sin invites the wicked one to attach himself to us and that’s why demons are relentless in their harassment of believers. They want us back! Satan has a plan for your life – to steal your faith, kill your soul and destroy your relationship with his enemy, God. [John 10:10] And the devil does his best work in covert darkness. The demons love it when we are ignoring their existence and whining about how bad our life is.

Remember what Dr. Charles Stanley said, “Each day, we live in the midst of a real, personal battle that we must fight.”  We need to become warriors!

1. Affirm Your Faith in Jesus Christ. If you are not an authentic, born-again believer, you have no authority over the demonic. Read Acts 19:13-16.

2. Submit to God. Ephesians 6:10 says that when we go into spiritual battle, we need to be strong in the Lord with His power. We can’t fight this battle with our own earthly strength. The power of God is not available if we keep Him on the sidelines and are proudly in control of our own lives.

3. Confess and Repent. Those habitual, continued and unrepentant sins provide an open entryway for the devil to worm his way into our lives.

4. Forgive Others. You will continue to struggle without the forgiveness of God. If you don’t forgive others, God will not forgive you. Jesus made this clear in Mark 11:26. There’s no getting around it.

5. Renounce Occult Involvement and All False Religion. Go to: Steps to Freedom In Christ or contact me for a printed handout.

6. Renounce the Enemy! Take a firm stance. Take up the battle. God is already on your side. Never forget that YOU are God's Property.  You belong to Him.  So as James 4:7 tells us:resist the devil and he will flee from you. It’s just that simple!  Amen?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

God's Property ~ Part 3

Dear Friends,

Glendale has a police shooting range hidden up in the Verdugo Mountains. When I worked for the City, we built a concrete-block “simulation house” and lined the interior walls with a special thick, self-sealing rubber material. When you fire a bullet into it, the material absorbs the bullet but it can't penetrate the concrete walls. When the officer goes through the different rooms to search for the bad guys, they come across life-sized cardboard cutouts of people. In one room, they may come across a cardboard figure of a pretty woman holding a gun to a child's head or it may be a cardboard cutout of a rough-looking man holding a small hair dryer to a child's head. In a split second the officer needs to recognize the enemy and take action. When it comes to the events that are occurring moment to moment in our own lives, so do we.

When we don’t discern the working of the evil one in our life, he will smack us down every time. That’s why we need to recognize the enemy and take action!

Jesus said, “..in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)  Christians are not exempt from tribulation but in fact are especially subject to it. And the word Jesus used means a crushing pressure from evil. Jesus is not saying you’re going to have a few tough times, Bubba. He’s saying that you will be continually squeezed and under crushing attacks by evil ones.

As Charles Stanley has said, “When we talk about spiritual warfare, we must remember that each day, we live in the midst of a real, personal battle that we must fight.” If we fail to grasp the reality of this battle, we have no understanding of why we continue to struggle with the things we find ourselves constantly wrestling with in our lives.

We said in last week’s AMEN Corner, Christians cannot be possessed but we can be oppressed. We can be harassed, hounded and tormented by demons as they exert outside pressure on us.

Did you know that our daily battle with the demons in our life continues because we continually arm the devil with the weapons he uses against us? And the enemy’s weapon of choice is our very own penchant to sin. If you were in church Sunday you heard that our unrepentant and continued sins are the primary cause of our inability to live the fullness of life in God’s presence. And it is also our continued sinful behavior that results in entryways that demons can use to harass us or attach themselves to us. Read Ephesians 4:25-32 keeping in mind that not heeding Paul’s warnings will give “place to the devil” and provide the evil one with ammunition for him to use against you.

Other “entryways” may be the movies, TV or on-line games we watch and play. It may be sexual impurity we engage in. It may be “art” objects in our home or it may even be our exercise program! 

For example Tai Chi and Yoga are from Eastern religions and both achieve a state of realizing your personal deity which resides within you and then aligning your god with the universe. In Tai Chi, the "Chi" is the binding life force in the universe that moves through the invisible channels in the body. Tai Chi movements realign your vital internal energy with the gods to allow you to become your own god. Eastern religions teach that Yoga practices and body postures originated with the rituals of human fire sacrifice conducted by the ancient Vedic priests. Today, Yoga is a ritual used by both Hindus and Buddhists, and is a union of your finite self with your infinite self called your Brahman which is the concept of the universal life force. The postures and breathing exercises unite your body, soul and spirit with the spirit deity called Brahman. This is why so many Christian parents today are fighting against the practice of Yoga in our Nation’s secular schools.

Have you given the evil one entryways that allowed him to gain a foothold in your life? You may want to slam those doors closed! Recognize the enemy working in your life and take action. Remember the good news of Jesus, “..but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” By overcoming the world, Jesus has given His followers a certain authority to come against evil in the world. Next week we’ll look at six action steps to take and free ourselves from demonic oppression.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

God's Property ~ Part 2

Dear Friends,

Fifteen year old Ethan Boldizsar was possessed by demons. His mother Eva had been fired after exhibiting some very troubling behavior and her co-workers had become concerned about her. Because of things she had said, they suspected that there was something strange happening in her home and they were afraid for her. I was asked, as a pastor, to go to the house and talk with the mother and son. I agreed and took along one of Eva's former co-workers - a Christian woman.

I knew we were going to be dealing with something spiritual. We had prepared by praying and fasting. I was filled with confidence that we were going to help this woman. And then... Walking up the steps to this house was like walking into a cloud of darkness. I started to feel dizzy and stepping onto the porch became an effort. It felt like I was walking up against a force that was trying to push me back. My confidence was immediately replaced with a feeling of apprehension. I started praying. Eva opened the door before we could knock on it.

The living room was dark. Filled with photographs, dried plants, scarves draped over large overstuffed furniture. Strange little boxes with indecipherable writing. Oddly shaped silver objects. The air was heavy. Oppressive. It was hard to breathe in there. Eva brought in her son, Ethan and when he walked into the room, I could feel an intense dark force enter with him. I asked him how he was doing. He didn’t answer and just stared at me. His body tense. His face expressionless. His eyes glazed over and lifeless. Eva became flustered and told him to go and play in the garage. When he left, she told me he often gets like that.  

I asked her about the dozens of old black and white framed pictures of her ancestors and I learned that she was descended from a long line of fortune-telling, spiritist Hungarian gypsies. The scarves, silver statues and other objects in the room had been used by her mother to contact dead spirits. That explained the suffocating darkness. This place was a stronghold for the demonic.

I felt an evil force coming from behind a closed door and Eva told me that was Ethan's bedroom. Eva's mother and father had owned this house and that had been their bedroom. She told me that two years ago, while lying in bed, her mother put a gun in her mouth and pulled the trigger. A month later, Eva’s father lay in bed and used the same gun. The day her father shot himself, Eva was at work and Ethan was home. She came home to find Ethan in bed cuddling the body of his dead grandfather and talking to him. 

The day after his grandfather's suicide, Ethan changed rooms so that he could sleep in his grandparent's bed. Ethan insisted on keeping the door shut at all times and didn’t allow his mother in that room. Ethan wanted to keep the room exactly like it was when they died so that their spirits wouldn't leave and he could still talk with them.

There was nothing I could do. The demons had a generational license to be there. The evil one had owned that gypsy family for generations and their occult activities had given permission to the demons to possess that house. You can’t cast out demons that have a legal right to be there.  

I was happy to finally leave that day, but much to my dismay, God wanted me to go back. After more prayer and fasting, I did. This time, we sat outside in her front yard because I knew that the demonic strong-hold had only the right to possess the house itself and I wanted to talk to her about something without the demonic interference. Away from the demons, I spoke to her about Jesus. I told her that a demon spirit of suicide was in her family and only Jesus could break that curse. We talked for a long time and she did pray to accept Jesus as Lord and Savor that afternoon. Hope was now invading the darkness. God had accomplished through me what He had sent me there to do.

I tell this story because we need to understand what demon possession actually looks like. I've been asked by too many Christians if they are "possessed" by demons. Absolutely not! If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you are owned by God. That means you are possessed by God. God has legal right to your spirit. You belong to Him. You are God's Property! When you accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit comes and takes up residence in your spirit. Christians cannot be possessed but we can be oppressed. We can be harassed, hounded and tormented by demons as they exert outside pressure on us.  
To Be Continued...
The AMEN Corner is a weekly devotional for the family and friends of New Hope Family Church. It is intended for this devotional to be strengthening, encouraging or comforting and your comments too should be for the glory of God and reflect the intended purpose of these posts.

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