Pulling Down Strongholds

hohensalzburg-fortress“Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” I’m sure you have seen that bumper sticker. Our issues have different names but the question is the same. I am “more than a conqueror” (Romans 8:37) yet I still struggle daily. I’ve lost more than my share of battles to worry, fear, unbelief, pride or lustful thoughts. Maybe someone has said to you, “If you really wanted to change you could.” Or “You must not really be saved.” And there is a little demon on your shoulder saying, “Yea, that’s right!”

“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13 NLT) Everything except live victorious it seems. “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.” (2Corinthians 1:20 NKJV) Yet I seem to experience some of God’s promises are yes and amen while others are just hit and miss.

In Romans 7:15 (NIV), Paul cries out, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Why can’t I overcome trust issues? Why am I so selfish? Why, if I’m promised perfect peace, do certain fears seem to have such a grip on me? Why do I struggle with pride, anger, bitterness? Why do I continue to struggle with “old things” rather than they’re being entirely gone? Why can’t I seem to be what God’s Word says? Because as long as strongholds remain, it is difficult to be truly free.

I lived in bondage to a stronghold for years: the belief that I had to earn my way into heaven. If I could just be good enough, do enough good things to counterbalance the bad, God would accept me. The dirty little secret that I hid from everyone was that I knew I was failing miserably.

What strongholds have you overcome? What are you still fighting?

  • “This is all a big cosmic accident.”
  • “My identity is in my job.”
  • “I have to look out for me. No one else will.”

A paradigm is a mindset, a filter for my actions that becomes a prison, a stronghold or negative destructive thought pattern tattooed on my mind. If allowed to develop it can imprison me for life. We are not controlled by truth; we are controlled by what we believe to be true. What happens to me (the facts and events) is not really what creates the stronghold; what I believe about what happened creates a stronghold. Parents divorce: “It was my fault.” Not chosen for a sport’s team: “I’m not good enough.” I use coping mechanisms to minimize the pain I feel and end up reinforcing the stronghold and adding another brick to Satan’s fortress inside my soul.

Strongholds produce involuntary actions. Consciously choosing to believe something contrary to what’s in my subconscious doesn’t bring lasting differences. Zig Ziglar said, “You cannot consistently perform in a manner that is inconsistent with the way you see yourself.” The subconscious is not changed simply by a conscious choice. Because of those strongholds, it is difficult for me to accept new truth. We all know those who came forward to the altar for salvation and within a few weeks were right back living full on for the world. What happened? Their spirit was reborn but it never impacted their soul.

My soul needs realignment. You’ve probably driven in a car that was out of alignment. It can be very tiring to constantly pull on the wheel to keep that car on the road. If my soul is out of alignment with God’s truth, I will need to work extra hard to stay on track.

I am already a new creation in my spirit; I am becoming a new creation in my soul. My spirit is new; my soul is being made new. 1Timothy 6:12 says we must “lay hold of eternal life.” What God has already given me in my spirit I can fail to experience in my mind, emotion and will unless I “lay hold”. But it’s not too late for breakthrough. We must become who we are. Becoming is a process.

2 Corinthians 3:18 (NIV) declares we are “being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory.” My spirit may declare “I believe.”, but my soul instinctively says “Prove it.” My soul will constantly seek to haunt me with reminders of the old sinful nature. It will try to paralyze me with fear over all of the “what ifs”.

Romans 12:1 declares that we are to be “living sacrifices”. To do that we must take those old belief systems and strongholds to the cross. That requires that we “be transformed by the renewal of your mind” according to Romans 12:2. I can’t afford to accept the blueprints that the world around me and my past experiences have drawn. It is time for transformation.

John 12:24–26 (NKJV) says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.  He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.” Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross was as a substitute for me but in another sense He insists I go there too. We hear too often a “what’s in it for me” gospel but transformation will not occur without dying to self and crucifying the flesh. For me to experience victory, my will and emotions must die.

2Corinthians 10:4 (NKJV) tells us, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds.” It is in taking up my cross daily (Luke 9:23) that I experience the daily release of power and life. Jesus calls me to join him in the crucifixion so that I may have life. We are not called to stop thinking or to squelch our feelings, but we are called to bring our thinking and feelings under the control of our spirit. It is then that we can say no to pride, to revenge, to dishonesty, to addiction, to fear, to the spectrum of self-centered attitudes and choices.

In 2Corinthians 12:9, God tells us, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul recognizes the inherent weakness of his flesh and is forced to rely on God’s ability working in his spirit. The soul cannot heal itself. The power for healing is only found at the cross. My reborn spirit is stuck behind a carnal soul determined to get its own way. It’s trapped behind thick walls fortified by pain, sadness and suffering.

My soul has been in the driver seat for a long time and it does not enjoy taking a back seat. My mind, will and emotions by their nature do not like to be held in check or corrected. We can react in one of two ways to Christ’s offer of rest: whine, cry and scream about wanting our way, or settle down, take His yoke and know that He’ll come through. My soul says “I want what I want, and I want it now!!” but that is not the path to freedom and life.

How do I see myself in the mirror of my mind? Fat? Unwanted? Stupid? Perhaps I’ve experienced abandonment or rejection. Then there is verbal, emotional and sexual abuse. All of that creates a self-image, beliefs that are formed and then control me, whether true or not. Until the mirror in my mind is transformed it will trump God’s view of me. Casual daily Bible reading or hearing a sermon on Sunday will not do it. The Word is to us spiritually what natural food is to our body (Matthew 4:4). As a cow chewing her cud, we need to get everything out of the Word. When we digest God’s Word we are receiving His life.

Hebrews 4:12–14 (NKJV): “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.  And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.” It’s not enough to simply think about it; we must say it. Planting the seed of God’s word in our soul involves confession: saying what God says about me. The first step in confession is agreement – to acknowledge the truth of something.  The second step is to submit, to obey. This allows the Holy Spirit to make the written word become the living word. As we abide in God’s Word the Spirit begins to enable us to truly understand and embrace it.

We will not experience growth and maturity unless we are willing to embrace the process that yields them. We long for the finished product but we must embrace a passion for the journey. Life is a process. Our journey is not going to be a quick fix. 1Corinthians 2:9 (NKJV) promises, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” Keep that promise in mind as you press forward.

I have had experiences that I have walked away saying, “I’ll never be the same!” And a few days later I was the same. Why was that? All truth comes in seed form. As I abide in God’s Word, I will see the fruit of that seed tomorrow. I shouldn’t expect freedom while short-circuiting the process. Jesus tells us in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13) that if the seed is nurtured and protected, it will grow to produce fruit. Abiding in the Word means meditating on the Word, memorizing it, singing it, writing it out, and declaring it. In a word: perseverance. Galatians 6:9 (NIV) promises, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

If we fail to carry the process of freedom all the way to its completion, sooner or later that remnant of the stronghold will grow back to its former size. When I pull a weed in my garden, I have to be sure to dig down and get the entire root or that weed will just grow back stronger. The same is true of strongholds: if I leave part of it behind, I will pay a price later.

Pastor Rick Warren  says, “I am a product of my past but I am not a prisoner of it.” I can rewire my brain by overwriting old memories. It requires focus. Just like sunlight focused by a magnifying glass, increases the sunlight’s power, I need focus to overcome stronghholds. In Philippians 3:13-14, Paul declares: “This one thing I do…” That’s focus!

When The Going Gets Tough

“When the going gets tough…Kayak

…run to mama.” (It worked when we were kids.)

…go shopping, eat chocolate, do anything but the hard stuff.”

…it’s OK to quit. It’s probably too hard for you anyway.”

I like a quote by Tommy Lasorda, manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 70’s and 80’s: “When the going gets easy, watch out! You may be going downhill.”

Here is the most important one, “When the going gets tough…the Christian leans on God.” Psalms 18:2 (NIV) declares, “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” God is my source of strength through the inevitable hard times.

Recently we were channel surfing and came across an old episode of Colombo. What caught my eye was that Jonny Cash was making a guest appearance. In the show he sang the Hank Williams classic from 1948 “I Saw the Light”. What struck me was the line, “Now I’m so happy, no sorrow in sight.” The problem with that is I think it is warped Christianity. It may get someone in the door of the church but it won’t keep them there. If I walk into the county jail and declare, “Give your heart to Jesus and tomorrow you will walk out a free man.” I might get quite a few takers, but what happens tomorrow when they are still locked up. I better not show my face in there for quite a while.

Jesus talked about it in the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:20-21: “But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.” When trials come they fall away.

The whole notion that being a Christian means an easy life has only come forth in the last 200 years. Before that Christians generally recognized that life included trials and suffering. The pivotal moment in the Gospels is the suffering and death of Jesus. The balance of the New Testament is a chronicle of the suffering of the early church and encouragement to hang in there.

If you think you have it hard, read Hebrews 11. Early Christians were stoned, sawed in half, killed by the sword, destitute, oppressed. Paul described his life this way in 1Corinthians 4:8-9: “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” Jesus warned us in John 16:33, in this world we will have tribulation, troubles, sorrows, suffering. (Are we having fun yet?) But He doesn’t just tell us, “Deal with it.” He gives us the good news at the end of that verse, “But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (NLT)

I’ve had my share of problems: on the job, relational, financial, death of loved ones. But there is a joy, a peace, a sense of fulfillment and purpose that the world can’t offer. It’s not about the outside; it’s about the inside. C. S. Lewis once said “God whispers to us in our pleasures…, but shouts in our pain.” The more I look at Jesus the more the Spirit can mold me, because in the fire I am softened and more moldable.

Nowhere does the Bible promise an easy, comfortable life. Matthew 7:13-14 (NLT) warns us, “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” General Dwight Eisenhower, commanding general of Allied forces in World War II, said, “There is no victory at bargain basement prices.”

Instead God promises strength for the inevitable battles that are part of life. Ephesians 6:10-19 describes the armor of God. It isn’t given to us so we can play dress up or just sit back in our Lazy-Boy. (That Lazy-Boy would probably be pretty uncomfortable with the breastplate shoving up against my chin and the hilt of the sword poking me in the ribs.) Armor is given to be used, because we face a battle.

Romans 8:37 says we are more than conquerors through Christ. “More than a conqueror” implies there will be a battle. We can’t be victorious without one. How do I live victorious?

  • Recognize the battle is in my mind. Lottery tickets are sold not based on the odds or the taxes that will be due or the ruined lives that can come with sudden wealth. No, they paint a picture of carefree luxury to lure people in. Romans 12:2 warns us that we must renew our mind, renew our thinking. Before 1954, sport authorities said the human body was incapable of running a 4 minute mile. They said the runner’s heart would explode. Yet on May 6, 1954 Roger Bannister ran a 3:59.4 mile, because he changed his thinking. Today the Olympics require a qualifying time of 3:55. When you know who you are in Christ, worldly obstacles won’t matter anymore. 2Corinthians 10:4-5 (NKJV) declares, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” The battle is in my mind.
  • Recognize Jesus already won the victory. The cross looked like defeat; the tomb looked like the end. When Jesus stepped out of that tomb, it wasn’t just His victory. According to Ephesians 2:6, in Christ I was raised with Him. That was my victory too. God causes things to happen at exactly the right time! My job is not to figure out when, but to make up my mind that I won’t give up until I cross the finish line.
  • Recognize that we conquer through praise. In 2Chronicles 20, Jerusalem was faced with an impossible situation surrounded by a vast army. Under God’s guidance, Jehoshaphat sent out singers ahead of the army. The result was the enemy turned on itself and Jerusalem was victorious. Praise may not change the outward circumstances but it will change our inward attitude. Psalm 150:6 declares, “Let everything that has breath, praise the Lord!”
  • Recognize that the reward is worth it. I enjoy hiking not because the sweat and strain of climbing a steep trail is so much fun, but the view and the surroundings at the end are rewarding. No mother will tell you that she enjoys childbirth, but to hold that little one makes it all worth it. 1Corinthians 2:9 promises, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” Think about that… and smile
  • Recognize we need each other. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Palm trees can withstand high winds and intense desert storms. Their secret is how they intertwine their roots. Alone a palm tree doesn’t stand much of a chance but together with other palm trees they gain strength from each other. We are no different in needing each other for the strength to stand.

James 1:2-4 tells us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Skipping to verse 12: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” Perseverance is not being delivered from the storm but the ability to get to the other side.

Pain is inevitable but misery is optional. In 1873 Horatio Spafford had lost most of his property to the great Chicago fire. He had lost a son to scarlet fever. While he finished up some last minute business details, he sent his wife and four daughters ahead of him to Europe. The ship carrying his family sank with only his wife surviving. A short time later as his ship passed over the spot where his daughters had drowned, he wrote the hymn: “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”

When the going gets tough… remember where you’re going. When the going gets tough… lean on Jesus.

Crack in the Foundation

crackA few years ago we lived in a home where on occasion we would step into the basement family room and feel the squish, squish of water in the carpet. We eventually correlated the problem to times of heavy rain or overwatering the front lawn. In other words, there was a crack in the foundation. We chose to ignore the problem for some time but eventually we had to go to the expense of excavating the foundation, sealing the leak and installing drainage piping to pull the water away from the foundation.

It is so important that we be careful of the foundation upon which we build our lives. Build on the wrong values and we are headed for disaster. The only foundation that will never crack or weaken is Jesus Christ. He is our unchanging God. Hebrews 13:8 promises He is “the same yesterday, today and forever.” I can build my life and my eternal destiny on a foundation that is unshakable and unmovable.

There are times when we feel our foundation beginning to crumble; we know we are on shaky ground. If you have ever experienced an earthquake, it is an unnerving experience. Living in California we experienced a few. The earth that we always think of as stable and unmovable is suddenly rolling and lurching like a ship on the ocean. Pastor Casey Treat of Christian Faith Center in Seattle, Washington says, “If you are ever in an earthquake, stand on your Bible. It is the only thing that is unshakeable.” No other foundation will stand the storms of life. The foundation of Jesus will stand forever. Jesus is our only firm foundation.

1Corinthians 3:11-15 (NKJV) warns, “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” Each option that Paul describes becomes less and less stable, less and less durable. Allow me to offer my thoughts on these building materials.

  • Straw – I suggest this describes those that say they are Christian but don’t live by Christian values. They try to find their identity in job or possessions, living for what feels good.
  • Hay – We seek salvation based on works. We hope to earn our way to heaven because we have lost sight of God’s grace. We set our own agenda, and we no longer listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit trying to speak to us.
  • Wood – We begin to compromise and make excuses. “I’m not as bad as so-and-so.” We have lost focus.
  • Precious stones – Here our foundation is no longer “in Christ” but in the trappings of the Christian lifestyle: going to church, wearing a cross, saying “Praise the Lord”, listening to Christian music. We might even pray when we’re in trouble but it is no longer a close personal relationship.
  • Silver – This is where we put our trust in past experience, not a vibrant, living relationship. We have ceased to grow and aggressively pursue God.
  • Gold – At this level we are building with the best. This can be many things. Among them are undivided worship, fervent prayer, consistent Bible meditation, selfless service and unconditional submission.

This reminds me of the story of The Three Little Pigs. Straw and wood could not stand up to the wolf (a picture of the devil). Only brick had the durability. When we rely more on our works to get to heaven than on the grace of God, we have a crack in our foundation. As a Christian gets farther from the Lord as the center of their life, the more they will look for other things to act as the foundation.

A crack in our spiritual foundation can take many forms:

  • Thinking – I am trying to justify my wrong choices. I look for my identity in the values of the world.
  • Character – I am falling down in areas of integrity and compassion. I am compromising what I know is right.
  • Focus – I have moved away from the call on my life, allowing distraction to get my eyes off of moving closer to God.
  • Faith – I lose vision and hope. I spend less and less time in my Bible because it just seems to highlight my failures.
  • And on and on…

If I have a crack in my spiritual foundation, I don’t want to stuff it full of straw. I don’t want to use it as a setting for precious stones. I don’t even want to gold plate it. I want to get the right foundation that is going to hold up through the storms of life. Psalm 40:2 (NKJV) says, “He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay. He set my feet on a rock, and gave me a firm place to stand.”

If I ignore the crack, my life will become a ruinous heap. My life will return to chaos without my constant oversight, just like darkness returns when light is diminished. Isaiah 60:1 “Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.” I am called to be a light in a dark world, a crack repairer in a cracked world. How will I repair the crack? How about with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, in other words the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)?

Thank God, I can build my life and my eternal destiny upon a foundation that is unshakable and unmovable. If I build on Jesus Christ as the absolute focus of my life, then I can rest assured that I will not fall. The Holy Spirit is helping me to build upon the foundation of Jesus Christ one spiritual lesson at a time. Jesus is the cornerstone. 1Peter 2:5a (NLT) says, “And now God is building you, as living stones, into His spiritual temple.”

I want to accomplish the vision God has for me. The vision of the world for my life is to find fulfillment in a job and in stuff. The vision of the devil for my life is defeat, despair and hopelessness. The vision of God for my life is victory, joy and an eternity with Him. To get there I must keep my eye on the prize, the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14)

Past present and future are all “now” to an eternal God. He will reach into the past to heal the abuse, to heal the abandonment or rejection. When I think of eternity I think of endless days and endless years forever. That’s wrong. Eternity is not endless time. Eternity is where time has no meaning. In eternity there is no future, no past, only now. How can God promise me heaven in my future? Because He is eternal. How can God heal the hurt of my past? Because He is eternal.

The Everlasting God is supreme over the future and the past. By Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice 2000 years ago, we were bought back, redeemed from slavery to sin, slavery to the kingdom of darkness. Medicines have expiration dates; medical isotopes have half-lives; milk will sour if kept too long. The Blood of Jesus never loses its power.

The cracks don’t happen quickly. They develop slowly, almost imperceptibly. It happens with the choice of compromise: “I forgive everyone who has hurt me except…”, “I surrender every area of my life to God but…”

Matthew 7:24-27 (NIV) warns, “Therefore, everyone who hears what I say and obeys it will be like a wise person who built a house on rock. Rain poured, and floods came. Winds blew and beat against that house. But it did not collapse, because its foundation was on rock. “Everyone who hears what I say but doesn’t obey it will be like a foolish person who built a house on sand. Rain poured, and floods came. Winds blew and struck that house. It collapsed, and the result was a total disaster.” Jesus wasn’t concerned about thunderstorms or flash floods. He was asking how we would stand against financial crisis, legal problems, broken relationships or death of a loved one. Before the storm came, both houses looked identical. It is the storm that reveals the foundation. It’s easier to build on the sand; digging to the rock takes extra effort. It’s easier to just show up at church for an hour a week than to develop deep spiritual roots. Everybody sounds like a believer when times are good. True faith is shown when we must trust Him in the dark, when the storm clouds hang heavy over our lives.

In 1Samuel 17:40, we are told before David confronted Goliath he took up his staff. Now I thought that a little odd since he didn’t use his staff in the fight, but recently it was explained to me that in that time they would carve pictures into their staff to depict past victories perhaps like an Old West gunslinger would put notches on his gun to show his kills. On that staff was David’s reminder of the lion and the bear he had defeated. He had a strong foundation. The staff wasn’t used in the battle but he needed to take his history of past victories into the battle. Don’t have a Godly history? God would say to you, “Start building tomorrow’s history today.”

The people of Jesus’ time would be familiar with the slave markets, the hopelessness and despair. Some of His listeners were likely slaves themselves. Today if you are a slave of anger – God says, “Redeemed!” Slave of bitterness – God says, “Redeemed!” Slave of alcohol – God says, “Redeemed!” Slave of drugs – God says, “Redeemed!” Slave of porn – God says, “Redeemed!” Slave of fear – God says, “Redeemed!” Slave of rejection – God says, “Redeemed!” When the devil comes against us with his lies and deception, we can declare boldly, “My foundation is secure. I am redeemed!”

Fresh Start

Sunset streakI love mornings: the chill of the morning air before the heat of the day, the brilliant oranges and yellows of the sunrise, the promise each new day holds. Despite the disappointments and failures of yesterday, today I can start fresh. I think God is a morning person. Lamentations 3:22-23 (NIV) says, “The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” A new day means a fresh start.

Jesus is in the business of giving people a fresh start. He encountered many people during His ministry. It wasn’t the religious people who got a fresh start. It was the woman caught in adultery (John 8). It was Peter who declared himself a sinful man (Luke 5:8). It was Zacchaeus who was a despised tax collector but turned around (Luke 19). It was the criminal crucified next to Him on Calvary (Luke 23). The apostle Peter says, “Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life, and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven” (1 Peter 1:3-4 MSG).

2Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV): “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

“If anyone” means no limitations, no one is excluded. “Is in Christ” says the only requirement for God to erase my past and make me new is for me to come to Jesus, to accept him as Lord of my life. “Everything that we have – right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start – comes from God by way of Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:30 MSG) We reach the point of frustration and despair where we cry out, “Oh God, something’s gotta change.” That’s right; the something is me.

Each of us is composed of spirit, soul and body. Our spirit is our connection to God. Before salvation our spirit was corrupted by the stain of sin. When we are born again, as it says in Colossians 1:13, we were rescued out of kingdom of darkness. It’s like an On/Off switch: We were in darkness, now we are in the kingdom of God. Our body, which is our flesh, on the other hand, will not be changed until the last trumpet sounds. Until then we will experience conflict between spirit and body. Our soul (that’s our mind, will and emotions) is caught in a tug-of-war between our spirits wanting to do God’s will and our bodies wanting to satisfy fleshly desires. Romans 8:5 (GNTD) says, “Those who live as their human nature tells them to, have their minds controlled by what human nature wants. Those who live as the Spirit tells them to, have their minds controlled by what the Spirit wants.” We continue to experience condemnation if we continue to walk according to the flesh.

1John 1:9 (NKJV) promises, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” God is not surprised, disgusted or caught off guard. When David hit Goliath with that stone, Goliath was heard to say as he fell, “I didn’t see that coming.” (Not really) God won’t say that. He cleanses not just what society considers minor, not just the misdemeanors. He takes it all. “Faithful” – He is true to His word; I can depend on it. “Just” – how is that just? Because Jesus paid the price. Jesus stepped between me and the judgment of God.

2Corinthians 5:17 (Phillips): “For if a man is in Christ he becomes a new person altogether—the past is finished and gone, everything has become fresh and new.”

I am cleansed. It is like getting out of the shower after a sweaty day’s work; refreshed, renewed. Romans 6:4 GNTD “By our baptism, then, we were buried with him and shared his death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from death by the glorious power of the Father, so also we might live a new life.” I am never going to be good enough to get into heaven because it’s perfect and I have never been perfect. It is Christ’s goodness in me that makes me acceptable.

The devil is definitely not a morning person. His is a kingdom of darkness. The devil, when he has us down, keeps piling on: late fees, interest, penalties. God has something different for us. Matthew 11:28-30 promises that His yoke is easy, His burden is light. Colossians 3:10 challenges us to “put on the new man created in righteousness and holiness.”

The real cause of depression is not where we are, but our attitude about where we find ourselves. That’s why the devil wants to make you feel like you’re worthless and rejected. Philippians 4:4 encourages us to “rejoice in the Lord always.” When we’re focused on God, rejoicing in Him, depression has no place in us. So the next time the enemy tries to make you feel low or sad, choose to rejoice in the Lord.

2Corinthians 5:17 (NLT): “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”

New life has begun! Get off the bench! In Matthew 4, when Jesus called Peter and Andrew, they “at once they left their nets.” When he called James and John, “immediately they left the boat.” It’s time to turn the page and get on with life. Being in a perpetual state of whining and negativism gets me nowhere. I am not what I used to be. I am a new creation.

We allow setbacks and failures to enslave us. Listen to Isaiah 43:18-19a (NIV): “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. I am doing a new thing. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” Don’t think about the past, it’s over. God is more interested in my future than in my past.

I am 67 years old. Do I have 67 years of experience? Not necessarily. How many times has it been the same experience repeated over and over? The more time I spend regretting my past, the more of my future is wasted. I set myself up for more failure by focusing on past failures, because what I focus on tends to reproduce in my life. Recognize that real success is built on failure. Look at Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, the Wright brothers or Alexander Graham Bell. The life of each one was characterized by failure after failure until breakthrough occurred.

Maybe we think if we feel guilty enough, we will earn a fresh start. If we dwell on our mistakes long enough, better things will happen. Feeling bad about myself is not enough. A fresh start is not found in a new job or a new location or new spouse. Our fresh start comes in living as a new creation.

2Corinthians 5:17 (God’s Word): “Whoever is a believer in Christ is a new creation. The old way of living has disappeared. A new way of living has come into existence.”

To make a fresh start, I need to stop making excuses and blaming others. Proverbs 28:13 (Living Bible) “A man who refuses to admit his mistakes can never be successful. But if he confesses and forsakes them, he gets another chance.” I have a choice how I will respond to hurt, rejection, failure, disappointment. It’s easy to blame a father who wasn’t home, a teacher who didn’t care, a spouse who cheated, a drinking buddy who didn’t know when to stop. In reality, nothing will change until I take responsibility for my life. God confronted Adam for his disobedience and Adam said, “It was the woman You gave me.” In that he was blaming both Eve and God in one short sentence. We live in a culture that loves to shift the blame, pass the buck. We blame the government, our parents, the schools, the stars. “I’d better check my horoscope to see if I should go out of the house today.” Benjamin Franklin wrote, “He who is good at making excuses is seldom good at anything else.”

A fresh start means a totally new direction. If I were given a fresh start but didn’t change my thinking, I would just mess everything up all over again. God isn’t interested in redecorating; He is after radical change, new construction. He will take the wrecking ball to the strongholds we have constructed and start anew. A fresh start is a whole new person. Jesus takes the whole mess that described my life and makes it right.

The Bible does not say, “You shall read this book…” It doesn’t say, “You shall listen to this book…” It says, “You shall meditate on this book…” (Joshua 1:8) Good intentions are not enough. If we maintain the same thoughts, the same actions, the same habits we will end up right back in the same place. That happens enough times and hopelessness sets in. 1Corinthians 13 (NLT), the “love” chapter concludes with verse 13: “Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love–and the greatest of these is love.” If the devil tried to take my faith, I would say, “No, I’m standing strong.” If he tried to take my love, I’d say, “Devil, that belongs to me.” But the devil tries to take my hope and I tend to say, “I guess that’s the way life is.”

We call ourselves people of faith. More importantly we need to be people of hope. Can I give you hope? Can God give you hope? He has given us the book of hope. Our responsibility is to meditated on His Word until hope takes hold of our soul. I won’t let the devil steal my faith. I won’t let the devil steal my love. It is just as important that I don’t let him steal my hope. It’s time to get ahold of hope. I can change. My life can be different. I am a new creation.

Cinderella had it easy because she had a fairy godmother with a magic wand. “Bibbidi bobbidi boo” and she could see the changes: a new dress, a new hairdo, a new carriage. I don’t look new but God says I am. By faith, it’s time to live it.

2Corinthians 5:17 (Cotton Patch): “Therefore, if a man is a Christian, he is a brand new creation. The old guy is gone: Look, a new man has appeared.”

My Name Is

Hello My Name Is2Corinthians 10:4-5 (NKJV) tells us, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal.” Our Spanish-speaking brothers will pick up on that right away. Carnal means fleshly, e.g. chili con carne – beans with meat. Many translation say “are not of the world.” In other words we are not fighting a physical battle but a spiritual one. It is a battle in our thoughts, a battle for our mind. 

The devil is like a computer hacker trying to plant a virus in our mind. He is looking for the right password to gain access. What is the password for you? Sex, party, meth, pride, stuff? 1Peter 1:17 commands us to gird up the loins of our mind. In Biblical times, men wore long robes and when they entered battle, they would tie them up so they would not interfere with movement. Left alone, our mind will be going in all directions, all kinds of thoughts. We need to gird our mind to keep it on the right path. We take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. It’s called focus. 

In our western culture today little emphasis is given to the meaning of a name give a child. My name is Gill, the organ fish use to breath under water. What’s with that?! In Biblical times a name was considered a predictor of character and destiny: Samuel (Heard by God when God answered Hannah’s prayer for a child.), Elijah (My God is Yahweh.), and Jesus (The Lord is Salvation.). 

Many times names were changed in the Bible showing a new destiny.

  • Abram (Noble Father) becomes Abraham (Father of Many Nations)
  • Sarai (Princess) becomes Sarah (Mother of Nations)
  • Jacob (Deceiver/supplanter) became Israel (Prince of God)
  • Simon (Like a reed) became Peter (The Rock) perhaps as a reminder of the strength he would need to lead the early church and that we are all stones in the new temple. 

Perhaps God wanted people to rise to new heights of effectiveness as a result of such name changes. For us today, our name – that of “Christians” – means “to be like Christ.” We are called to live like Christ, to demonstrate His love, grace, peace, joy and forgiveness to a world that has lost its way and has no vision of its destiny. 

Who am I? Some would describe themselves as, “I am a failure.”, “I am a mistake.”, “I am an addict.” or “I am rejected.” Maybe the devil is more subtle and has convinced us, “I am a carpenter/ nurse/ engineer/ homemaker.” But that is not where my value lies. Matthew West recently released a very powerful song entitled, “Hello My Name Is.” Here are the first few verses: 

Hello, my name is regret 
I’m pretty sure we have met
Every single day of your life
I’m the whisper inside that won’t let you forget

Hello, my name is defeat
I know you recognize me
Just when you think you can win
I’ll drag you right back down again
Till you’ve lost all belief

These are the voices, these are the lies
And I have believed them for the very last time

Hello, my is my name is child of the One True King
I’ve been saved, I’ve been changed
I have been set free
Amazing Grace is the song I sing
Hello, my name is child of the One True King

I am no longer defined
By all the wreckage behind
The one who makes all things new
Has proven it’s true
Just take a look at my life

Hello, my name is child of the One True King
I’ve been saved, I’ve been changed
I have been set free
Amazing Grace is the song I sing
Hello, my name is child of the One True King 

In Isaiah 14:12-17, we learn that the devil’s downfall was his pride, his desire to be equal to God, a “high thing that exalted itself against the knowledge of God”. Let’s not let the same thing happen to us. We combat it by knowing who we are in Christ: 

  • I am loved. Romans 8:14 I am a son of God. Colossians 1:13-14 I am rescued from Satan’s kingdom. Romans 8:35-39 Now nothing can separate me from God’s love. 
  • I am forgiven. Romans 5:1 I have been justified and have peace with God. Romans 8:1 I am free of condemnation in Christ. Ephesians 4:32 In Christ God has forgiven me. 
  • I am valuable. Romans 8:17 I am an heir of God and a joint-heir with Christ. 1Corinthians 3:16 I am the temple of God. Ephesians 2:10 I am His handiwork.  
  • I am victorious. Romans 8:37 I am more than a conqueror. 1John 5:4-5 In Christ I have overcome the world. Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. John 8:32 I know the truth and the truth makes me free. 
  • I am complete. 2Corinthians 5:17 I am a new creation in Christ. The old things have passed away. All things have become new. Ephesians 1:3 I am blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 2Corinthians 5:21 In Christ I have the righteousness of God.
  • I am chosen. 2Timothy 1:9 I have a holy calling. 2Corinthians 5:18-19 I am a minister of reconciliation between God and those I contact. 1Peter 2:9 I am a member of a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.

Jesus knew who He was. He declared, “I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35) “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12) “I am the good shepherd.” (John 10:11) “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) He walked this earth with a confidence and strength that come from that knowledge. We can have the same confidence when we have learned what the Bible tells us of who we are and we walk in it. The Message Bible puts it this way, “The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ.” (2Corinthians 10:4-5)

In Revelations 2:17, Jesus promises each of us a white stone with a name change, a new destiny. What name is on your stone? Redeemed. New Creation. Forgiven. In Christ. Child of the One True King.

When God Says No

sunset-229335_640I want to start by taking us back to March 4, 2000. It was 4:30 in the morning when we were awakened to an insistent knock on the door and flashing police lights in front of our house. Our 22 year old son, driving through Montana on his way home from college with his fiancé, had been hit head on by a drunk driver driving on the wrong side of the freeway. Amy was dead at the scene; Paul was airlifted to Missoula with massive head and chest injuries. The family gathered at his bedside and, along with our pastor, spent the next 3 days and nights in continuous prayer. The evening of March 6th Paul was declared brain dead. We contacted friends back home, Paul’s classmates at Trinity Bible College and others across the country and around the world. At 10:00 AM on March 7th, we began corporate prayer to raise Paul to life. United we sought God and at the end of 30 minutes, God said…no.

I am not negating the reality of miracles, those divine interventions into the progress of life. I have personally experienced a miraculous healing of migraine headaches. There were too many “coincidences” in starting Your Personalized Bible to not see the hand of God in its creation.  I have been in driving situations where I look back and say, “There is no way I could have made it through that.” Yet here I am. I remember stopping at a rest area one winter, getting out of the car and landed on my butt. Without realizing it I had driven the last 50 miles on black ice. Why wasn’t I in a ditch or wrapped around a tree?

But there will be times when, no matter how hard we pray or how strongly we believe, loved ones die, friends go to prison, marriages end. What do we do when God says no? Do people 20 years in a wheel chair get up and walk? Are dead raised to life? Are prison sentences suddenly commuted? Yes! But there are times too when God says no. When that happens, will my faith be destroyed? Will I walk away in a temper tantrum and say, “I’m through with You, God.”? What do I do when God says no?

Some would say if I live righteously, I will never be attacked by Satan. Some would say if I don’t see an answer, I must be praying wrong, I’ve opened the door to the devil or there is unrepented sin in my life. The fact is there will be times when there is an unexplainable no. God fully see, fully knows and fully understands. Will I trust Him through the good and the bad? Ecclesiastes 9:11 (NLT) says “I have observed something else under the sun. The fastest runner doesn’t always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn’t always win the battle. The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don’t always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time.” And sometimes the wrong place at the wrong time.

Let’s look at some Biblical examples of when God said no:

  • In one day, Job lost all of his property, his family and his health. For the next 30 some chapters we listen to his friends accuse him of lack of faith and unrepented sin. Finally God speaks and asks, “Who are you to question what I do?”
  • Abraham, at 70, was promised he would be the “Father of Many Nations” (the meaning of his name). That was followed by 25 years of no. Can you image for 25 years introducing himself as “Father of Many Nations”. “Oh, how many children do you have?” “Well, we are childless.”
  • Moses asked God to heal his sister, Miriam, of leprosy. God said no, she had to live outside the camp for a week before she was healed.
  • David prayed and fasted for seven days for the life of his son by Bathsheba, but still the baby died.
  • In 2Corinthians 12:7-10 (NIV), Paul “was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” Three times Paul prayed for deliverance, yet God said no. His conclusion was, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
  • Do you think Jesus was exempt? In Mark 26:36-44 (NIV) Jesus faced the agony of the cross, taking on the sin of mankind and abandonment by His Father. Three times He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.” And God said no.

In each case, God heard the petition but they were overruled. We have the right to object but He has the right to overrule. When God says no, what do I do? I say yes to His grace, His empowerment and I choose to surrender. Surrender easy to sing about but will I live it when His answer is no? This isn’t for a good day. This is for when all hell is breaking loose.

The prophet Habakkuk encountered a time like that. In Habakkuk 3:17&18, he said, “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls— Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” When life sucks, what ya gonna do?

What overwhelms me? You see, obstacles define who I am. They separate the men from the boys. When I hit a wall, it is time to exercise faith. It is not the time to quit. Going back can’t be an option. This is part of God’s training. God bought a fixer upper when He got me. He is working on me. A promise is for when something is in doubt. We don’t need a promise for the obvious. Know this: God is with you as He is with me. Have you had storms in your life? Did you die from them? I rest my case.

Don’t take the presence of the storm to indicate the absence of God. We will face storms: financial, emotional, health, relationships. Isaiah 43:2 (NLT) promises, “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” You are not alone. Let the light of God shine into the darkness of that pain, shine into the fear, the despair, the hopelessness, the loneliness, the emptiness.

I can get self-help books from the bookstore but there are times when self can’t help. I need God. I need His grace. Psalm 46:1 (NKJV) says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” 1 Peter 5:7 (NKJV) tells us, “Cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” God is doing a divine exchange: beauty for ashes (Isaiah 61:3). That’s a good deal.

In making a sword, the steel is heated, hammered, folded, heated, hammered, folded again and again until it’s very microscopic structure is transformed. What fire, what hammering do I need to go through to become the weapon in the hand of God He desires? Ephesians 6:13 encourages us that having done all to stand then stand. Growing in faith and trust will help us to stand.

What is the will of God for my life? 1Thessalonians 5:18 tells us, “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” The will of God for my life is to give thanks in everything. Not for everything, but in everything. Anyone can be thankful for good things. We all have an excuse to be bitter. The devil will try to push my buttons so that I lose my joy, but a wall of thanksgiving will frustrate him. Trust says, “God, You know what is best for me.” There is the key word: Trust.

Faith must go beyond belief in facts and step into trust. James 2:19 (NLT) says, “You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.” I read of a daredevil who was about to walk a tightrope across Niagara Falls. He turned to the crowd and said, “Do you believe I can do this?” “YES” they screamed back. “To make it more difficult, I am going to push a wheelbarrow across with me. Do you still believe I can do it?” “YES” “OK, who wants to ride in the wheelbarrow? Silence.

Faith is not a feeling, it is not goose bumps: “Oh, I feel the presence of God today!” Faith takes hope, mixes in past experience and the product is trust when I don’t feel His presence. Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In court if my defense is based on evidence that can’t be seen, I’m in trouble. In life it is called faith.

Hebrews 13:6 says that without faith it is impossible to please God. How do I build my faith? Romans 10:17 tells us that faith comes by hearing the Word of God. We read the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13. The seed on rocky soil died off because it did not have roots that went down deep. We must sink our roots deep. Jesus didn’t say, “I’ve come so that you might have religion.” Or rules, or regulations, or rituals. He said, “I’ve come that you might have life.” (John 10:10) Life comes through the Word. John 1:4 says, “In Him (the Word, Jesus) was life.”

As we sat together in a restaurant after leaving the hospital for the last time, our pastor warned us, “Don’t ever ask why.” That is the essence of trust. A few days later we tucked our little boy in for the last time. Closing that casket is probably the hardest thing I have ever had to do. But my trust in God is not shaken. Paul’s tombstone quotes 2 Corinthians 15:54: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

New ID Required

ButterflyI changed my name a few years ago. My first name was Walter but that caused confusion because I go by my middle name, Gill. So I petitioned the court and legally changed it to simply W. Documents in hand, I went down to the local DMV, paid my fee, had my picture taken and got a brand new ID. I recognize that I have one ID that doesn’t expire. It looks as good today as it did the day I got it 35 years ago. If I am every pulled over by the State Patrol, he will want to see my driver’s license but this ID will show through my actions and attitude. It is my ID in Christ, my identity in Him.

I could write to you about salvation but chances are if you are reading this you are already born again. But if we don’t understand our identity in Christ we will never live in the fullness of what salvation means. Sure we’re going to heaven but without understanding our identity in Christ we are unable to live in victory today.

We are not fighting for victory, we are fighting from a place of victory. God has already done everything He is going to do. He is waiting for you and me to step up to our place of victory. We must recognize what God has already done. His victory is mine. His blessing is mine. If I understand it, nothing can take the smile off my face.

What do I build my identity on? Job, looks (obviously not), relationships, popularity? You can push my buttons if I allow myself to care too much what you think of me. Proverbs 29:25 (NKJV) warns “fear of human opinion disables.”

My mouth reveals what is inside. Luke 6:45 (NLT) says, “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” If I am negative, it reveals a fearful heart. Harshness shows the anger inside. Boasting reveals insecurity. Being judgmental covers up guilt. A critical tongue is a sign of bitterness. On the other hand, an encouraging tongue shows a joyful heart. Gentleness comes from a loving heart. One who is controlled despite the circumstances is peaceful inside.

Our family has had several experiences with organ transplants. When our son was killed we had the privilege of meeting his heart recipient. Recently a friend received a kidney and pancreas transplant. Ezekiel 11:19 (NIV) promises, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” Salvation is a transplant, giving us a new identity. I may look the same on the outside but there is something new inside.

I am a new creation in Christ (2Corinthians 5:17). On the outside I still look like a man but inside I have the God kind of righteousness, the life giving power of God, the same power that raised Christ from the dead. TD Jakes says, “You may have done what they say you did but you are not who they say you are.” I don’t know what you may have done but I know what Jesus has done. I have been a volunteer chaplain in our county jail for over 6 years. In that time I have ministered to hundreds of men: drug traffickers, DUI’s, assault, sex offenders and other crimes. I have never asked, “What are you in for?” It doesn’t matter. We are washed in the blood.

My wife loves being a grandma. One of her gifts as a grandma is being able to put fussy babies to sleep. When they are in her arms, they find a peace that takes the fussiness away and very soon they are sleeping peacefully. When we are in the secure arms of Jesus, then hurt, frustration and fear disappear. He replaces the hurt with love, anxiety with peace, fear with power. Romans 6:4 (NIV) declares, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” When we identify with Jesus’s death in baptism we also experience a new life, a new identity.

What determines my identity now?

  • Not genetics. A doctor will ask about diseases your momma had, or your daddy, grandpa, etc. because some things are carried by genetics. Who’s your daddy now? Romans 8:17 says we are joint heir with Christ. That means we are in an equal position. I am born again, born from above. My bloodline, my genetics have been changed.
  • Not environment. My identity is no longer tied to race or culture. I am God’s son or daughter, a child of the King.
  • Not psychological. What has happened to me in the past? What abuse, rejection or defeat have I experienced? Philippians 3:13-14 tells us, “Forgetting what is behind…”
  • My identity is in Christ. I am saved. I am forgiven. I am chosen. I am victorious.

I like to find spiritual parallels in everyday things. One of my favorite treats is a root beer float. Now there is a technique to making a root beer float. You can put in the ice cream then add the root beer. The result is lots of foam. You can pour the root beer first and then add the ice cream. That gives less foam, but I like to make the root beer flat first. The result is less foam and more room for ice cream and root beer. Seems like a no brainer to me. What do I need to remove from my life to make more room for God’s presence? What genetic, environmental or psychological connection must be broken to make room for my identity in Christ?

God specializes in changing identities:

  • Abram the childless to Abraham the father of many nations,
  • Jacob the deceiver to Israel the prince,
  • Moses the fugitive to Moses the deliverer,
  • David the shepherd to David the king,
  • Peter the denier to Peter the leader of the church,
  • Saul the persecutor to Paul the apostle.

Why is sin important to the devil? According to Romans 8:38, it can’t separate us from God’s love, nothing can to that. Sin undermines our identity as a son or daughter of God. From time to time we will see in the news a house on the Pacific Coast near Los Angeles where erosion has undermined the foundation and is taking it into the ocean. Sin causes erosion of our identity. It’s no big deal at first but over time it keeps wearing away a little at a time, weakening the foundation. Well, it’s time to shore up our identity. How? First is Bible reading and study. Second, listening to sound, Bible based teaching. Finally, and so often overlooked, fellowship with believers who will build up and encourage us. Proverbs 12:26 (NKJV) tells us that the righteous choose friends carefully.

My identity in Christ brings power. The important thing is not what man saw when Jesus rose. It is about what God saw in Jesus’ death and resurrection plus what the devil saw when Jesus stepped out of the tomb. Philippians 3:9-10 (NKJV) “and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” I don’t care where you came from or what you’ve been through. I don’t care who your daddy is or how long your rap sheet is. Our right standing before God comes through the power of Jesus’ resurrection and our identification with Him.

The same power that raised Christ from the dead lives in me. How much power was in the resurrection? Enough to reverse the effects of sin for all time, once for all. The world may worry about a power shortage, but there is no power shortage in God. We don’t have to say, “Better hurry and come to Jesus before the power runs out.”

2Corinthians 5:17 in the Amplified Bible says we are “engrafted into Christ.” Grafting requires the branch to be cut off of the old plant and the new plant must be wounded to receive the branch. Jesus was wounded on the cross so He could receive me into Himself. His blood made it possible. I was raised with Him, raised above my past, raised above my failures, raised above my insecurities, raised above my doubts. My identity is in Him. Hallelujah!

The same power that conquered the grave lives in me (Ephesians 1:18-21)

His love that rescued the earth lives in me (Galatians 2:20)

(You Are Here, Hillsong)

Abundant Life

Abundant LifeI was walking through a local park by the Columbia River recently when I heard a voice, “Hey, over here.” I looked around but didn’t see anyone. I was about to walk on when I heard the voice again. “Down here.” I looked down and there was a frog. She said to me, “Kiss me and I’ll turn into your own personal super-model.” Well I picked that frog up and put her in my pocket. She complained, “Aren’t you going to kiss me so I’ll turn into a super-model?” I responded, “Nope, at my age I’d rather have a talking frog.” (I suspect my wife would prefer that too.) My vision of abundant life and that frog’s vision were different.

In John 10:10, Jesus says, “I came that _____ may have life, and he/she may have it abundantly.” What does abundant life mean? Is it a big house, fancy clothes, or maybe the latest LeBron James basketball shoes? Is it driving a BMW? Of course not, abundant life is driving a Mercedes (just kidding). Remember what the Bible says in James 1:11: “For the sun rises with the scorching wind, and withers the grass, and the flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So also will the rich man/woman fade away in his/her pursuits.”

Psalm 35:27 says that God takes pleasure in the prosperity of His people. So God’s going to make me rich! No, God has another view of prosperity. He keeps an eternal perspective. Luke 16:15 warns, “What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.”

One question is in the heart of every human being: what must I do to be at peace with God and myself? To answer that we need God’s perspective. As I write this, we are approaching the Christmas season. A TV show that comes on every year is “It’s a Wonderful Life.” We have all seen it. A young man has dreams and plans but then life happens. A depression, a war and soon George is making adjustments and his dreams fade. But in the end his brother says, “George is the richest man in town.” Why? Because he had a big house or a lot of money in the bank. No, because of relationships, because of love.

Abundant life does not depend on luck, your bank account or your health. It is not about wealth, power, status or pleasure. Luke 12:15 say that life does not consist in the abundance of things. It’s not about the stuff! Rather it’s joy, peace, love, kindness. That is the fruit of the Spirit as listed in Gal 5:22-23. That is the fruit that comes from right choices.

This past weekend I went Christmas shopping, the Black Friday thing and all. I went to Wal-Mart but they were out of patience. I stopped at Target to look for joy but there was none. Costco had a special on hope but when I got there the shelves were empty. Stores don’t sell patience, joy, wisdom or hope. The Holy Spirit is the only source.

We get caught by what I call “life-suckers”: selfishness, anger, hatred, lust, unforgiveness, fear, greed or despair. Let them in and they will suck the life out of you. “Oh, that is just who I am.” No! That is who you were. 2Corinthians 5:17 tells us we are new creations; the old nature has passed away. The bondage of life-suckers is broken.

James 1:17 says “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, nor shifting shadow.” Receive the life of God and it has a positive impact.

Let’s read Psalm 23:

The Lord is _____’s shepherd:

_____ shall lack nothing.

He makes _____ lie down in green pastures.

He leads him/her beside the still waters.

He restores _____’s soul.

He guides _____ in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

Even though _____ walks through the valley of the shadow of death,

_____ will fear no evil, for You are with him/her.

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort him/her.

You prepare a table before _____ in the presence of his/her enemies.

You anoint _____’s head with oil.

_____’s cup runs over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow _____ all the days of his/her life,

And _____ shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Green pastures and still waters represent the peace of God that overwhelms my soul when I place my trust in Him. His guidance leads me away from evil and toward righteousness. When I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil because I am the meanest son of a gun in the valley? That only lasts until a meaner son of a gun shows up. I would rather depend on His rod and staff. His rod denotes protection and His staff denotes guidance.

Have you ever lived where you were looking over your shoulder to see who was sneaking up on you? Now when I look over my shoulder I see goodness and mercy. They are following me. The ultimate abundant life is eternal life when I dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

If I think like the world, I will get what the world gets. My decisions open my life to God or to the devil. Is my focus on:

  • Pleasure? Chasing after what feels good? It is empty. Eccl. 1:8 “The eye never has enough of seeing, not the ear its fill of hearing.”
  • Possessions? How much is enough? How much money, how much stuff? It will always be a little bit more. Eccl. 5:10 “Whoever loves money never has enough, whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.”
  • Performance? Recognition at work or even church? Eccl. 4:8 “Man is always working, never satisfied.” Why do you think they call it the “rat race”? Actor Jim Carrey is not someone who I would categorize as a great Christian role model but he made a very wise statement: “I think everyone should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of, so they can see that it’s not the answer.”

The world’s trinity is me, myself and I. One of the tools of the thief is the temptation to be selfish and self-centered. We have raised four children. Think about a child’s first words. After “mommy”, “daddy” and “no” it’s probably “mine”. Put two 2 year olds together with some toys and it won’t be long before one is clutching a toy and yelling “mine.” We expect that behavior in a 2 year old; in a 22 year old there is a problem.

“I” is in the middle of sin. “I” will kill you. The anecdote is to recognize that everything belongs to God. Galatians 6:7-8 in The Message says, “Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.”

We all want life more abundantly. So what is the answer? It begins with Jesus. In John 14:6, Jesus declares, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Until I surrender to Him, I will not experience abundant life. After that every day is an opportunity to grow.

Deuteronomy 30:19 say, “I call heaven and earth to witness against _____ this day, that I have set before him/her life and death, the blessing and the curse: therefore _____ should choose life, that he/she may live, he/she and his/her descendants.” Choose death or choose life? Which way will I go? The thing that impresses me in this Scripture is that my choices are not only important to me and they impact my children and my grandchildren. If I won’t choose righteousness for myself then I should consider the impact that choice will have on those after me.

One of my favorite verses is Proverbs 4:18: “But _____’s path is that of the righteous, like the first light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full light of day.” Beginning this walk with God may not be easy, the path may not always be clear, but as I continue to walk in righteousness, the path becomes brighter, the way smoother. I just need to stick with it.

What is abundant life mean to me? Someday I will stand before my heavenly Father and hear him say as in Matthew 25:21, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” That is truly abundant life.

Now where did I put that frog?

If I Change

racoonIf someone gave me $100, would that change my life? One night out to dinner and a movie and that is gone. What if I had a new job? Give it a month and I’ll probably find something to grumble about. On the other hand, one thought can change my life. For me one of those thoughts was Romans 8:1: “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ.” Those words began my journey to understand who I am in Christ.

My confession can say “I’m in trouble” or “I’m in Christ.” If it’s “I’m in trouble”, who am I blaming? My wife, my boss, my parents? Colossians 3:10 (NIV) tells us, “(We) have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” It’s time to put on the new man. That means to put on new thinking. Here is the Key: If I change, everything changes.

We have all heard of the witness protection program on police dramas: a witness whose life is threatened is given a new identity. They have a new name, a new home, new ID, but are they a different person? Without a change on the inside, they will go back to the same habits resulting in the same outcome wherever they go: stealing cars, doing dope, whatever. We recently traveled to Florida. I got off the plane, proceeded to baggage claim and guess who was there? Me! Wherever I go, there I am. I can’t get away from me.

What words define my life? Stress, financial pressure, anger, frustration, rejection. We need a new vocabulary. Ephesians 1:4-5 describes the new man, “Even as He chose _____ in Him before the foundation of the world, that _____ would be holy and without blemish before Him in love; having predestined _____ for adoption as a son/daughter through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His desire.” Here we are described as chosen, holy and adopted. Verse 7 tells us we are redeemed and forgiven. Often our attitude is, “I’ve always been this way.” “I’ve always thought this way.” “It’s so hard to change.” Who ever said it would be easy? But the reward is worth it. If I change, everything changes.

Have you ever see fun house mirrors? One makes your stomach balloon out, the next gives you a watermelon sized head. We grow up never seeing a true image of who we are. Words from friends or teachers, abusive or neglectful parents, a home broken by divorce, a dysfunctional family have left an imprint on our soul. I remember my parents saying, “You never follow through on anything.” That has always made it hard for me to push through to the end of a task. “I can’t…” “I’ll never…” It is time to get a new image of who you are. The Word of God is the only accurate mirror that can tell you who you are.

What is our excuse for not trying? ADHD, I can’t read, I failed in school. A tattoo artist had just completed a tattoo on a man’s arm saying, “Loser.” He was asked why anyone would want that tattoo. His response was, “It first must be on their heart.”

Let’s get our focus on a new self-image.  The world is trying to pull us off course, distract us from God’s purpose for our lives. James 1:8 warns that the double minded man is “unstable in all they do.” Here is a key to recognizing double minded: “but”. If I say, “I am in Christ BUT…” I am double minded. “But” is a U-turn. I am headed toward the in Christ reality, then the “but” jumps in and turns me the other way. The “but” cancels out everything before it.

Acts 17:28 (NIV) tells us, “In Him we live and move and have our being.” In Christ is our connection to life. I have rights as a citizen of the United States. When I travel overseas, I can expect help and protection from the local authorities as a US citizen. As a citizen of heaven my rights are exponentially higher: child of God, destined for heaven, protection from the evil one. In the natural, our identity may be from family history: divorce, addiction, abuse. 2Corinthians 5:16 says we are no longer identified according to the flesh. Paul goes on to say in verse 17 we are a new creation. We have a new identity, a new passport.

Ephesians 4:22-24 commands, “that _____ put away, as concerning his/her former way of life, the old man/woman, that grows corrupt after the lusts of deceit; and that _____ be renewed in the spirit of his/her mind, and put on the new man/woman, that like God has been created in true righteousness and holiness.” Success depends on change. Bottom line, I can’t change anything but me.  My past is my fault, but so is my future. I may want to blame others or blame the past, but the truth is it is up to me to change my future. Philippians 3:13-14 encourages us to step forward and don’t look back. If I change, everything changes.

Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right.” If I am expecting my life to be the same (or go down hill) it probably will. Why not expect a miracle. In Psalm 23:6 David said, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Have you ever lived looking over your shoulder for a bully or a bill collector or maybe the police? Why not look over your shoulder expecting goodness and mercy? In Mark 2:3-5 four men brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus. They came expecting, so much so that when they couldn’t get in because of the crowd they tore a hole in the roof to get their friend to Jesus. Expectation is a magnet for the blessings and miracles of God.

Proverbs 4:23 warns us to guard our heart. Good News Bible puts it this way, “Be careful how you think, your life is shaped by your thoughts.” Are those thoughts in line with new creation reality? If I don’t believe it, I will never live it. Winning the battle in my mind will lead to winning in life. If I change, everything changes.

Surfers watch for waves. We have seen them in Hawaii, sitting on their boards for hours waiting for “the” wave. Demons watch for words and they will ride those words right into my soul. I can’t afford to say what my feelings tell me, what my family says, what friends think of me. Philippians 4:8 tells us to keep our thoughts on “whatsoever is true, noble, just…” We are to think on these things, speak these things. Next time you find yourself in a lousy mood ask, “What have I been thinking about?” There will be thoughts that led to that mood.

“My Mama taught me…” “Uncle Joe always said…” “My friend James told me…” What does God’s Word say? Deuteronomy 30:19-20 points out the choice: “I call heaven and earth to witness against _____ this day, that I have set before him/her life and death, the blessing and the curse: therefore _____ should choose life, that he/she may live, he/she and his/her seed.” Choose life! Right thinking attracts the blessings of God. It doesn’t matter how many sermons I hear if I don’t change my mind. My life may change because of a miraculous touch of God but that isn’t the norm. However, if I have changed my mind, I’m ready for a miracle. If I change, everything changes.

What is the most important thing we can do as Christians? Pray? Witness? Serve the poor? Those are all good but I submit the most important thing is to change. All those other things are good but they will follow naturally as we change to be more like Him. We want life to be easy; God wants to grow us up. We want God to do something for us; God wants to do something in us and through us. If I change, everything changes.

One of my favorite things about the Bible is how honest it is about the shortcomings of the men therein. I think that is so we can realize that we can overcome our shortcomings too.

  • Jacob – In Genesis 27, he used deceit to get Esau’s      birthright as firstborn. Blessing will not override a lack of integrity. Jacob      continued to pay for that character flaw because character is the steering      mechanism for our lives.
  • Moses – He suffered from low self-esteem. He spent 40      years in the desert as a murderer, rejected and isolated. In Exodus 3:11,      Moses whines, “Who      am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”      Yet he went on to be a great leader.
  • Gideon      – Judges 6 describes how Gideon is hiding in the wine press when an angel      shows up and calls him “a mighty man of valor.” When Gideon gets the      understanding that he is God’s mighty man, he becomes the leader God needs.
  • Peter      – When Jesus first met him, Peter’s reaction was “Depart from me for I am      a sinful man.” Later he denies even knowing Jesus. Yet he is the one who walks      on water in Luke 5. At Pentecost he speaks as the leader of the church and      thousands were brought in.
  • Paul,      David, Elijah, Noah, Samson, Jonah… They all had their faults but they      didn’t stay there. Can you live as an overcomer? Luke 1:37 promises, “With      God, nothing is impossible.”

What is required for mind renewal? Joshua 1:8 commands, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” Meditate on the Word. Like a cow chewing her cud, get everything out of the Word that you can. Part of Biblical meditation is speaking the Word. As our pastor calls it, “Mutter-tate.” As we declare the Word with our mouths, it takes stronger root in our heart.

I want to conclude this study with Psalm 1:1-3:

“_____ is blessed because he/she doesn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked,

Nor does he/she stand in the way of sinners,

Nor does he/she sit in the seat of scoffers;

But _____’s delight is in the LORD’s law;

On His law _____ meditates day and night.

_____ will be like a tree planted by the streams of water,

That brings forth fruit in its season,

Whose leaf also does not wither.

Whatever _____ does shall prosper.”

What was the key? If I change, everything changes.

Too Close to the Edge

Too close to the edgeDid you realize that all advertising is temptation? In our Bible publishing business, our focus is to tempt our customers to buy our products. Car companies don’t want you to see a block of steel, plastic and glass; they focus on prestige and power and peer acceptance. Beer commercials don’t sell beer, they sell sex. The goal is to stir up fleshly desires, to stir up passion. Have you ever gone fishing? Every lure hides a hook.

James 1:12-15 tells us, “Blessed is _____ if he/she endures temptation, for when he/she has been approved, _____ will receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to those who love Him. _____ should not say when he/she is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God,’ for God can’t be tempted by evil, and He Himself tempts no one. But _____ is tempted, when he/she is drawn away by his/her own lust, and enticed. Then the lust, when it has conceived, bears sin; and the sin, when it is full grown, brings forth death.”  Notice that it says we are drawn away by our own desires. Sorry, we can’t even blame it on the devil. Temptation comes from what I have allowed in my life; the decisions and choices that have shaped who I am. Satan has no legal right or authority to mess with my life unless I open a door for him.

1Peter 5:8 (NKJV) warns, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” This implies that he can’t devour just anybody. He is out there roaring trying to impress and scare us but he is also looking for an open door. Ever had the situation where you comment, “Why do we have all these flies in here?” as you swat at the little pests. “Oh, the kids left the door open.” If we leave a door open for the devil, you can be sure he will come in. In Luke 4 Jesus is tempted by Satan. In the end, vs. 13 in The Message says, “The Devil retreated temporarily, lying in wait for another opportunity.” Still today he is lying in wait.

There is the temptation to be complacent. “Hey, I’m a good Christian.” Watch out. 1Cor 10:12 (NKJV) warns, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” We all have those times where we think we can do it on our own, times we don’t want God’s help. “I’m going to do life my way.” When that happens, God says, “Go ahead, I’ll be here when you’re ready.” That is really what the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) is all about. The younger son thinks he knows better than his father, but the father is there to welcome him back when, as NIV puts it, “he came to his senses.”

When we hear a pastor talk about “the flesh” is he just referring to sexual sin? No, it is any area not submitted to God. Anywhere that we allow an un-renewed mind or still live in the old man we are open to temptation. Galatians 5:16 promises that if we walk in the Spirit, we won’t fulfill the desires of the flesh. What am I feeding myself? If I feed the flesh, it gets stronger and stronger. Galatians 5:24-25 tells us to crucify the flesh. A dead person cannot be tempted.

Sin is a counterfeit that is never lasting. Sin is trying to meet my needs outside of God’s will. It can only lead to bondage and destruction. James 1:15 says, “Sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” I liken it to a mousetrap. To the mouse, the color of the cheese is so attractive, the smell so inviting. Just a little taste will be so good… WHAP!

In over six years of jail ministry, the most frequent questions I get regard overcoming temptation. Let’s look at some keys to fighting temptation:

  1. Submit to God before resisting. James 4:7 (NIV) tells us, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” If I am not first in submission I am trying to go against the devil on my own. Good luck! The good news is we can ask for God’s help. Hebrews 4:16 (KJV) commands, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Our loving Father is not the judge ready to jump on us.  He won’t be shocked.  Wherever we see “grace” we can read “empowerment” and it gives a richer meaning to the verse. “Come boldly before the throne of empowerment”. That is the empowerment to overcome temptation and live in God’s power. James 1:17 (NIV) promises, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
  2. Find the source, the root, the trigger. I call it the pothole, that thing or situation that trips you up. What might be the opportune time for the devil? Failures, rejection, frustration, pride, stress, finances, loneliness? A few years ago I had the opportunity to speak with Darryl Strawberry. He was an 8-time MLB All Star, 4-time World Series champion yet he ended up $3 million in debt and in prison. Here is what he said to me, “I went from hero to zero. I had all the money, all the stuff but I was still asking, ‘Who am I?’ Despite all the success that the world saw, there was no happiness, no freedom. I was hurting inside, but covering it up with drugs. Here is my message: Drugs are not the problem; they are used to mask the problem. Find the root. What triggers you to run to the drugs or alcohol? Don’t be focused on the drugs but be focused on changing behavior, changing environment, changing the pattern and focus of your life, establishing accountability.” That naturally leads us to…
  3. Establish accountability. If I am really serious about making a change, I must establish accountability. If not, I am just playing a game.  When I find myself stuck in a repeating cycle of good intention-failure-guilt, I will not get better on my own! I need someone who will pray for me, encourage me, and hold me accountable. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 tells us, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his/her fellow; but woe to _____ if he/she is alone when he/she falls, and doesn’t have another to lift him/her up.”
  4. Consider the consequences. Imagine your spouse or teenage son coming in and announcing “Good news! The airbag worked perfectly.” “Oh, that’s good…What?” As the late Paul Harvey would say “And now for the rest of the story.” The devil never tells us “the rest of the story.” When have you seen a beer commercial showing a guy puking in the gutter? Or a smoking commercial of a woman in the last stages of emphysema? Or a credit card commercial showing a family struggling to pay their bills at the end of the month? Maybe you can think of other examples. Galatians 6:7 warns, “Don’t be deceived, _____. God is not mocked, for whatever ____ sows, that he/she will also reap.”
  5. Change focus. Change the channel. The goal of commercials is to capture our focus. The battle against sin is won or lost in the mind. Ignoring a temptation is far more effective than fighting it. Rick Warren says, “Once your mind is on something else, the temptation loses its power. So when temptation calls you on the phone, don’t argue with it, just hang up!” If my focus is, “Don’t give in. Don’t give in.” what’s going to happen? Most likely I’ll give in. If my focus instead is, “I am righteous in Christ. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. God is on my side. Nothing can separate me from God’s love” then I can live in victory. Colossians 3:2-3 “_____ is to set his/her mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth. For _____ died, and his/her life is hidden with Christ in God.”
  6. Don’t go too close to the edge. I don’t know how many times I have spoken to people who say they were doing so well and suddenly they fell. Further conversation reveals they were actually trying to see just how close they could get to the edge without falling over. The Bible tells us repeatedly to flee from sinful temptation (1Corinthians 6:18; 1Corinthians 10:14; 1Timothy 6:11; 2Timothy 2:22). Don’t flirt with it, don’t play with it, run! Ephesians 4:27 tells us to give no place to the devil. If drunkenness is a problem, stay out of the bar. If plagued with sexual fantasies, stay out of R rated movies and pornographic internet sites. If the struggle is anger and bitterness, consider what music and TV you are allowing in. Psalms 119:3 (NLT) is a good verse to meditate on: “They do not compromise with evil, and they walk only in His paths.” And also Proverbs 14:16 (NLT): “The wise are cautious and avoid danger; fools plunge ahead with reckless confidence.” That reckless confidence causes them to plunge right over the edge.
  7. Finally, resist the Tempter with the Word. That’s how Jesus did it in Luke 4. “It is written.” Bottom line, I must know who I am in Christ. I am loved. I am forgiven. I am victorious. I am chosen. What verses are in your arsenal?