Wednesday, February 26, 2014

God's Property

Dear Friends,

Long ago I gave up trying to be young and handsome, but there was a time in my life about 20 years ago when I went to a gym on a regular basis. This was a popular health club for both men and women and that afternoon I was in a large room of workout machines. It was a light day and I'm the only one working my way around the room on the various machines. I'm about halfway through when a beautiful woman enters and starts her workout on the machine by the door. She's about my age - early 40's - or a little younger and has one of those perfect, gym-toned bodies. As a good Christian husband, I just noticed her and looked away. She was wearing a very small tank top and she had fresh, brightly-colored tattoos on the arm that was nearest to me. There was one tattoo that looked like the face of a woman with long-flowing blonde hair.

Like I say, I'm being good so I ignore her and focus on my workout. But the workout machines are arranged in a circle, so that as we are going around the room, she is constantly in my line of vision. I notice that every time I look up, she is staring at me. When our glances meet she smiles but it's more than just a smile and the problem is this: I'm trying to be a good Christian. I'm a committed married man. I'm a pastor. But the honest truth is that it’s difficult for any man under the age of 100 to completely ignore a gorgeous woman starring at him in an enticing manner. So I'm getting these uncomfortable guy-type thoughts in my head and I'm thinking it sure is getting hot in this room and I need to leave.
It was at that point that she stands up. But instead of moving to the next machine, she starts walking toward me. I'm on a weight machine bench where I'm half sitting and half laying on my back. My legs are moving weights up and down and my arms are pulling down a bar connected to cables and weights. As she gets closer the smile on her face is getting bigger and it feels like her eyes are boring right into mine. I’m having an increasingly strong feeling of discernment that something is not spiritually right with her. The closer she's getting, the more I'm feeling as if the Holy Spirit is putting me on full alert.

She moves to take the machine next to me. She's now standing directly over me. She looks down at me as she opens her mouth to speak. Instantly, her smile disappears. Her eyes blaze with hatred and her beautiful features contort into a horrible and ugly sneer. What comes out of her deformed mouth sounds like a guttural snarl. She spins around to stomp out of the room and that was when I saw the tattoos across her shoulders - symbols that I later found out were Wiccan and on her back a large tattoo of a pentagram in a circle. I also later found out the tattoo of the blonde woman was a goddess. This woman was a Wiccan or a Satanist and she made a low growling sound in her throat as she ran from the room.

It wasn't until she was close enough to stand over me that she was able to see what was printed on my tee shirt. (see photo) And by her instant, uncontrolled reaction it was apparent that one of the demons that possessed her had manifested itself. I later realized that her enticing behavior was from a Jezebel spirit.

I'm thankful that God has allowed experiences like this because it's hard to ignore the reality of the powers of darkness when you're confronted by an ugly, snarling demon at the health club. And, what God clearly showed me that day was that when you are God's property, you are Satan's enemy.

Dr Charles Stanley is not your typical impassioned deliverance minister. He's a Bible scholar who wears a bow tie. Stanley has said: "Every morning when you and I wake up, we are at war. Many believers simply fail to take this reality seriously. When we talk about spiritual warfare, however, we must remember that each day, we live in the midst of a real, personal battle that we must fight. Failure to recognize this vital truth results in painful defeat time and time again. Dedicated Christians feel confused and downtrodden because they don't understand why they continue to experience failures in their spiritual lives. Just when they think they have something conquered, it rises back up to defeat them.” 
To Be Continued...

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Jesus Within

Dear Friends,

The Feast of Dedication* came on a cold winter day in Jerusalem. Families stayed indoors for warmth as the smoke from hundreds of wood fires hung in a gray layer and mingled with the dark rain-swollen clouds. In the early morning stillness of the city, Jesus went for a walk. A tranquil time for reflection and prayer. Protected from the morning's drizzle, the Son of God quietly walked alone under the covered porch area on the east side of the temple. Providing shelter from winter weather and offering shade on a hot summer day, the enclosed porch known as "Solomon's Colonnade," ran the full length of the temple and was usually crowded with scribes giving lessons to their followers. 

On this chilly winter morning, Jesus strolled through small groups of men scattered throughout the narrow area. Fully absorbed in His peaceful thoughts, He was oblivious to the murmurings and sharp looks. Then, stepping around a large pillar which supported the heavy roof, Jesus suddenly found Himself surrounded by the angry Jews!

Emboldened by each other. Uncertainties and fears hidden behind folds of cloaks drawn around their faces. Eyes darting around unable to make contact with His. Contemptuous voices rising in pitch, the words coming loud and fast. Jesus stood silently and could feel their hearts – cold, hard, oozing with self-righteousness. He saw the large, heavy rocks in their rough, work-hardened hands. He looked calmly at each one of them and He waited. Then from the back of the crowd came a belligerent shout, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly!!"

Jesus had told them before. Plainly. Many times. And now, ready to stone the Messiah on the spot, the angry crowd would not be satisfied by mere words. They wanted proof and they wanted it now. But how could Jesus prove to these hostile religious leaders that He was indeed God?

The Son of God told them that if they wanted to understand who He was, than they should look at what He had done. In essence, He told them to not look at His words but at His deeds. He said, “Don't believe me unless I carry out my Father's work. But if I do His work, believe in the evidence of the miraculous works I have done, even if you don't believe me. Then you will know and understand that the Father is in me, and I am in the Father." [John 10:37-38 nlt]

Just as those unbelievers were primed and ready to throw rocks at Jesus, the mockers, doubters and unbelievers today seem just as eager to "stone" His followers in the workplace, military, schools and in society. We can so easily become discouraged by the growing anti-Christian backlash in America today. But, when we're under attack, our response should be the same as our Lord's, "Look at our works before you judge us!"

So let’s stop for a moment and think about what this would mean if you actually did say that. Does this pause for thought create a little concern for you as it does for me? If someone was attacking or mocking our Christian faith and we told them to look not at our words but at our works, what would they see? 

Do they see tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and self-control? Would they see that your devotion to God has radically changed your life or just made you more religious?  Do others see by your behavior and words that the Spirit of the Living God resides within you? Do they see someone who more and more resembles Christ or do they see someone who more closely resembles the ugly side of themselves? 

When we tell others about our Christian faith, are they thinking that our faith must explain our good qualities? Or do they think: “If this is what Christianity looks like, I want no part of it!" We need to live in such a way that people see the image of Jesus reflected within us. Because you may be the only Jesus that some people will ever see. Amen?

* The Feast of Dedication is known today as Hanukkah

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Love 'em like Jesus

Dear Friends,

Whenever I think of the most romantic day of the year –Valentine’s Day– I often think of Wanda. No. Not like that. But many decades ago, I dated a woman named Lynn who came into my life along with two pre-teen daughters, a bad-tempered cat and Lynn’s high-maintenance, best friend, Wanda. 

Wanda could have been her own reality show. Her life was filled with drama, pathos and all-too-frequent crises. She had found the man of her dreams at the firm where she worked as a legal secretary. Todd was a very handsome, wealthy attorney who drove a Ferrari and took Wanda to the best Beverly Hills restaurants. And now for months, all she could talk about was Valentine’s Day. That was their one year dating anniversary and Wanda just knew deep within her heart that Todd was going to propose that Valentine night. 

She begin to obsessively read bridal magazines and sent away for travel brochures to plan their honeymoon. Every time they passed a jewelry store, she dropped coy hints by pointing out the rings she liked best. Two weeks before the big day, she and Lynn went shopping to buy Wanda a new dress for her special night with Todd. On Valentine’s Day, Wanda called in sick so that she could get her hair done. She was so nervous she hadn’t eaten or slept well for days. From when she was a little girl, she had fantasied about marrying a handsome, powerful, wealthy man and living happily ever-after. That dream was about to come true! 

Todd took her to an exquisite, romantic restaurant. They came back to her place. Todd helped her out of the car and shyly reached behind the front seat to retrieve a package. Once inside, Wanda begin to tremble with anticipation. At first she was a little confused because it was an awfully large box for an engagement ring but it was wrapped in red paper with embossed gold hearts. Her heart pounding, the words “Yes of course I’ll marry you!” ready to burst from her lips, she eagerly tore off the paper... and burst into tears.

Todd had given her a WATERPIK ® (recommended for the removal of bacteria deep between teeth and below the gumline for improved oral hygiene).

That funny, sad, true story illustrates the problem with romantic love – it always involves two imperfect people who excite each other one moment and exasperate each other the next. We’ve loved and been loved. We’ve watched our love soar to romantic heights and crash back down after colliding with the realities of life. We flawed humans have a great capacity for the humiliation, hurt, insensitivity, anger and betrayal that we have done unto others, as they have done unto us.

While our natural human love for each other is blemished and imperfect, God’s love is righteous, holy and perfect. That’s why Jesus told us that we are to love others as He loves us. Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

The apostles tell us, “You have been taught by God to love one another.”“And now abide faith, hope, love, these three but the greatest of these is love.”“Be affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.”“Be an example in word, conduct, love, spirit, truth, in purity.”“My little children, let us not (just) love in our words, but in our deeds and in truth.”“Above all things have fervent love for one another, for love will cover a multitude of sins.”

God and His love are with you and in you this Valentine’s Day and every day. Let God's love flow through you to those that He has brought into your life – those who have been given to you and to whom you have been given. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God..”  Forgive others their human imperfections as you pray that they will forgive yours. And, on Valentine’s Day and every day, just love ‘em like Jesus.  Amen?
John 15:12   ➁ 1 Thess 4:9   ➂ 1 Cor 13:13   Rom 12:10   
1 Tim 4:12   ➅ 1 John 3:18   ➆ 1 Pet 4:8       ➇ 1 John 4:7

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Time For A Change?

Dear Friends,

God told me I needed to change my personality. I know He's right and this will be welcome news to everyone who knows me but just how do I do that? How do I change something that is intrinsic to my very existence? Something so ingrained, it defines who I am? How do I change habits formed over a lifetime? Is God asking me to do the impossible?

Have you ever struggled to change something about yourself and wound up frustrated and defeated? You try and try and after a while maybe there was a small change. Perhaps you gained a partial victory over that old habit or personality quirk and then found yourself slipping and sliding right back to where you'd been. Maybe you gave up because whatever you were trying to change was just so much a part of you that you felt hopelessly stuck.

Sometimes a desire to change comes from our own self-examination and sometimes it comes from the influence of a spouse, another loved one or perhaps from a pastor or doctor who has our best interests at heart. But the most powerful desire to change comes from a conviction by the Holy Spirit. And when God’s the One directing you to make the change, He provides the Holy Spirit power to enable you to do so.

If the father shows his little daughter a footpath through the woods and tells her to stay on the path until she reaches her destination, her reaction may be fear and uncertainty. But when the father takes his daughter's hand and says, “Lets take this path together,” she knows they will reach their destination safely and successfully because of the faith and trust she has in her father. And when our conviction to change comes from God, He takes our hand and says, “Let’s walk this path together.”

Okay, I know what some of you cynics are thinking: "Yeah well.. I'm too old, worn out and too tired to change. Besides I've tried to change this one thing before and I've given up." 

Here's a Kingdom Principle: if you ain't dead, you ain't done. If you’re not dead yet, that can mean only one thing. It means that God’s not finished with you on Earth. When God is finished with you, He's going to take you to heaven. But if your body is still on this side of the dirt, you're not done. And until God is finished with you – until you're done – you can change. But authentic, efficacious and permanent change can only happen in the presence of God. “People make plans in their minds, but only the Lord can make them come true.” [Proverbs 16:1]

Years ago, as a counseling pastor, I saw how the degree of success a person had in making lifestyle changes was directly related to how much of God they had allowed into their lives. That’s why we need to invite God to rule and reign over our life. If you haven’t done that, it’s most likely because you like to be the one in control. The choice is your’s. You can maintain control over your life or give that control to God. And, yes it takes faith to give yourself completely to God and admit that He can do a better job with your life than you can!

We love it when God speaks to us. We covet those times when the Holy Spirit is leading us. We get truly excited when we see something good in our life that just happened and see God's fingerprints all over it. Indeed, we are God’s “work in progress” as He helps us shed the old and put on the new.

There are still some things that God wants to do in your life. Some changes He wants to make. Some refinements He wants to do. God's been wanting to get His hands on some of you for awhile now and you've been moving through life just out of His reach. Is it time to invite Him in to do the spiritual surgery needed to bring the changes you desire?

When we come into His presence, He forms us, transforms us and conforms us into the image and likeness of His Son Jesus!  Dear Lord, I surrender and submit myself to You, asking that You help me with all that which needs to be changed. The desire of my heart is to be a vessel of honor, sanctified, fitting for the Master’s use, and prepared for every good work. Amen.