Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Attitude of Idolatry

The attitude of idolatry is a failure to trust God. It is one thing to “do” for God, but it is an entirely different thing to trust God for your needs. Anyone can read the the Bible, believe the right things and do things for God, but it doesn't automatically follow that they have trusted God for any particular thing (Matthew 7:21-23). This failure to trust is born out in our behavior. And this behavior is exemplified in the relationship of the Hebrews to Moses and God.

After the Hebrews had been freed from Egypt, they were lead to a mountain where God would speak with them and with Moses. Before Moses ascended the mount to speak with God, he had some parting words for the Hebrews: “Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the LORD and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, 'All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do!'" (Exodus 24:3) After the Hebrews made this affirmation of consecration and service to God, Moses ascended the mount and stayed there for 40 days. During this time God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and many other instructions regarding offerings, sacrifices, atonement, the tabernacle and the duties and adornments of the priests and various other things. This experience of Moses covers Exodus chapters 24 through 31, until we see the golden calf in chapter 32.

Sometime during those 40 days Moses was on the mountain, the Hebrews began to loose faith (trust and belief) in Moses and his God. So the Hebrews said to Aaron, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him." (Exodus 32) From these actions we can see that the faith which the Hebrews testified to have in God, “all of the words which the LORD has spoken we will do”, was actually wrapped up in their perceived performance of Moses ("the man who brought us up out of Egypt") and his relationship to his God. In other words they said, “Moses is the one who got us here. And Moses has been gone for a long time and he’s probably dead. Nevertheless, we need a god. So, Aaron, make us a god because we don’t know what has happened to Moses and his God.”

This behavior is not unlike that which we see today - we just gussy it up so that it doesn't look the same. Today, Christians wrap and tie their faith to men, churches, denominations and Bible translations. If their denomination or church lets them down, they find another one. If their Pastor lets them down, they find another one. If some Bible translation appears to have an error or two, they cling to a different one.

Clearly, there are instances wherein one should divorce themselves from one thing or another. If you’re reading the Reader’s Digest Condensed version of the Bible, then I would suggest you get something else. If your pastor tells you He’s the Messiah, then you should move on to another church.

But those things are not the point of this conversation. The point is this: where do you find your security, your happiness, your peace and your comfort? Those are exactly the things the Hebrews believed they lost by coming out of Egypt. We see them complaining to Moses because they're being chased and cornered in by the Sea. We see them complaining because they didn't like the food. Over and over we see them complaining, rejecting to the point of looking elsewhere and failing to trust the LORD Jehovah.

As soon as the Hebrews had determined for themselves that Moses wasn't going to come through for them, they moved on to something of their own construction.

Which is precisely what we do today. We’ll find ourselves in a unhappy state, with one thing or another, and instead of turning to God or instead of waiting on God to deliver us, we’ll spend our effort in shopping and eating, or in sensual and erotic literature and activities, or something else that takes us away from the presence of God instead of into His presence.

Idolatry is a behavior, but it is fueled by a belief system which breeds an attitude. The belief system says “I can find {security, happiness, peace, comfort} in something other than God.” When that happens the attitude of self sufficiency takes over. That is the point at which we stop focusing on God and focus our attention on something else that meets our desires.

I’m certain that you've found yourself in this circumstance when waiting on God to act and He took longer than you wished, or He didn't meet your desires in the manner you wished. It is at these points in life that we become discouraged and downcast. Just like the Hebrews did. They were already upset that they had left the good life in Egypt. The 40 day delay of Moses was more than they could take, so they turned their focus onto something they could control: themselves and a golden calf. We do the same thing. We take our focus off of that which we deem to be causing us discomfort (God’s perceived tardiness or failure to work things out like we want) and redirect to something more manageable.

Jesus taught that it’s the attitude behind adultery that’s the problem. We tend to think of idolatry as a well defined action, of bowing down to a false god, but it’s the attitude behind idolatry that’s the real problem. We don’t think of our jobs as a form of idolatry. Nor do we tend to think of our shopping habits as idolatry either. But when we find comfort and security in something else other than God, in those dark periods of life or otherwise, then we have erected an idol to replace God.

The person who does not trust God, says one or more of the following.

See if you can honestly fill in the blanks:

When I do not trust God for happiness, I find happiness in __________________
When I do not trust God for security, I find security in _____________________
When I do not trust God for peace, I find peace in ________________________
When I do not trust God for comfort, I find comfort in _____________________

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What is Love?

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 3:4-8

"Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. This I command you, that you love one another." John 15:9-17

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Sting of Death

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. (1 Corinthians 15:55-56)

In most churches you will hear this verse of scripture changed to the converse. That is to say they (and some study Bibles) will teach you that the "sting of sin is death."

What? Seriously? The "sting of sin is death?" But doesn't it say the opposite? Of course it does. Then why are they teaching you a lie?

Is God not able to make His point? Is He not able to properly inspire His word for transcription? Does He really need us to take His word, turn it on it's end and teach it like we think He meant to say it instead of the way He did say it? If you are one of those people who actually believe that you or someone else is God's gift to mankind and as such, have a special anointing to preach and enumerate His word as he actually meant it (instead of how He actually inspired it), then maybe you should just stop reading here, because it's only going to get worse.

It's about Life, Not About Being Good
Ask just about any person on the street this question: "what is the purpose of Christianity?" They may tell you it's about teaching one how to do good, or be good, or how to do the right thing. They may tell you it's about not doing the bad or wrong thing. What they're saying is this: Christianity is about being good and not being bad. If they're really thinking (or parroting) well, they'll tell you that the purpose of Christianity is to provide one a system of beliefs which attempts to enable the believer to do good works instead of the bad works they're accustomed to performing. And when you die, if your good works out weighs your bad works, then you get to go to heaven.

Well, I've got news for you. Contrary to popular belief, the purpose of Christianity is not to teach you how to be good. It's not about enumerating the bad things you shouldn't do, or the good things you should do. Someone once said "there are more do's in the in the Bible than there are don'ts. And if you spend all of your time doing the do's you won't have time to do the don'ts." Well, it's not about that either. So, lets take the tag of "Christianity" out of the discussion and simplify it like this: what is God's fundamental purpose for you? Before we can answer that question, we must have some rudimentary understanding of who God is.

Who is God?
Jesus said, "I and my Father are One" (John 10:30), and "I am the way, the truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father but through Me" (John 14:16). Jesus had apparently had a lot to say about 'life' in His ministry, for someone came to Him with this question: "Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?" (Matthew 19:16). And who hasn't heard the saying, "the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matthew 7:14) or possibly, "everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life" (Matthew 19:29)

Fundamentally, God is Life. When God breathed Life in to the nostrils of man, He wasn't giving man blood and a heart beat, He was making man in His image, an image of spiritual Life, separate and distinct from all other living things. While all other creatures are "alive", it is only man that was given the breath, the spirit of Life. Sorry - all dogs don't go to heaven, any more than the trees some people love to hug.

God is also described as being Light: "God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all", and "he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God." (1 John 1:15, John 3:21) Light as we know it (as composed of photons) is an interesting way to describe God. Have you ever understood that you cannot have more darkness, but you can always have more light? Theoretically, it's always possible to add more photons, but you can't have any less than zero photons. Thus, darkness is not actually a thing, but a description of the absence of light. The same is true in death, it being defined as the absence of life. You can't have more death, but you can have more life. Even now your body is dying and being renewed: cells die and are replaced. What would happen if no cells died? You'd have more life, you would have perpetual or eternal life.

Therefore since God is Light, it' is impossible for there to be any darkness in Him. The same is true with Life: since He is Life, it's impossible for there to be death in God. Hence, seeing that Jesus and the Father are one, 'He is the way, the truth and the Life."

The Law of Sowing and Reaping
The Law of Sowing and Reaping is stated thusly: "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap." (Galatians 6:7) Therefore, God
will render to each person according according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. (Romans 2:6-8)
When Adam and Eve sinned, they died spiritually. When they sinned, they sinned for everyone because in them, everyone existed. They literally passed the consequence of their sin to every subsequent human. Thus, all have been and will be born born spiritually dead.
Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned ... nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. (Romans 5:12-14)
So, since man is now spiritually dead, can he therefore co-exist spiritually with God? If that's a difficult leap to make, then bring the comparison into the natural instead of the spiritual. Can death abide with life? Do companies hire living people or dead people? Do you want to marry a living person or a dead person? Do you want to date a living person or a dead person? Spiritual death is the problem that God solved for man through the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus came to give life:
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Did you notice the reference to life in that scripture? Since God is Life, and that is what He provided man in the beginning, but man later lost, then God provided a mechanism for you to receive His Life (again) through His Son, Jesus Christ. See? It's all about life.

The Sting of Death is Sin
The sting of death is sin, because the un-regenerated (spiritually dead) reaps the harvest of eternal death in physical death. Since spiritual death is the result of sin, it is therefore sin that provides the sting after or or death. Thus in eternal spiritual death, you reap the sting of the sowing in sin, the rewards of sin. Just as a man reaps at the harvest the rewards of sowing wheat in a field, man reaps the rewards of  sowing the seeds of sin throughout his life.

Thus we see that physical death will reward you in one of two ways: for those who have found the Life and Light, they will reap the harvest of sowing life and light. For those who have rejected the Life and the Light, they will reap the harvest of sowing death and destruction. The scripture says, 
these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power (2 Thessalonians 1:9)
Did you notice that part about "eternal destruction?" 

Exactly how would you like to be destroyed or killed when you die? By a car, a train or by being riddled with bullets? Exactly how many times can a person be destroyed during an eternity? What exactly do you believe eternal destruction is, or have you never considered it? If you were to rot until you died, then how would you like to rot for eternity? When you sow death and destruction, you reap death and destruction. When you sow life and love through faith in Jesus Christ and repentance from sin, you reap life and love.

Thus, when the scriptures state that the "sting of death is sin", they're saying this: that thing which stings you for eternity, that thing which discomforts you for eternity, that thing which destroys you for eternity, that thing is called sin. The scriptures are saying that death for the un-regenerate has a pain, and that pain is sin, because in that you have sown sin in your life, you will reap the rewards (or punishments) of sin in death - thus sin is the sting of death.

Contrary wise, for those who have sown Life and Light, scripture says "'O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." Thus, it is Jesus Christ that has removed the sting of death - He has obliterated the power of sin to sting you in death.

How to Sow Life and Light
In order to be given the Life of God, you must repent of your sins. Why? Because sin destroys. Life renews. Therefore, you must give up death and destruction and embrace Life. Turning away from sin is called repentance. Confessing your sin is agreeing with God that you have disobeyed His will, His desire for you. Through repentance and confession, you must place your faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. Why? Because you can not give yourself life. You didn't make your parents give you life and you didn't determine to come into this world on your own. When God breathed spiritual life into man, it was an act of Grace - God made man something he could not be or become on his own. Neither can you make yourself spiritually alive:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:4-10)
Thus we turn to God in faith:
But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: "do not say in your heart 'who will ascend into heaven?' (that is, to bring Christ down), or 'who will descend into the abyss?' (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead)." But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in you heart" -- that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, "whoever believes in Him will not be disapointed." (Romans 10:6-11)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

It's not Just about Belief and Forgiveness

Not to long ago, I made the following comment: "Teaching people to know the Word rather than to know the Lord, is the single greatest failure of the modern church era."  There were fewer responses to that post than one might imagine. A pastor friend of mine chimed in and took me to task saying that "properly teaching the word is teaching the Lord."  The operative word in that phrase is "properly". There is a difference in teaching law and doctrine and teaching relationship with God. One may properly teach the Bible regarding law and doctrine, but not have a clue regarding how to demonstrate faith and relationship. The Pharisees and Scribes were masters in teaching law and doctrine  as are many of our pastors and teachers.

If one lacks faith and relationship with Jesus, then what business does one have trying to teach it, or even the doctrine and law for that matter? And therein is the problem: we have learned how to teach and exposit the law (good verses evil), but rarely have we succeeded in properly teaching the word of faith and relationship (life).

Just because someone has been to Seminary and sat under or read after the venerated saints and learned from the self-proclaimed best, doesn't mean that same person can teach faith and relationship. We actually believe (to our determent, I might add) that all one must do is go to seminary and regurgitate what they've been taught and repeat the things they've managed to scribble in notes or memorized from Sermons On the Net.

Case in Point: Reconciliation vs. Forgiveness

If you are a Christian (or not), you may believe that going to heaven or hell hinges completely on God forgiving you of your sins. Or you may believe that you will be judged according to your works before God makes up his mind where He is going to send you. But the problem is this:  your status before God does not rely upon what He is going to do in the future at your judgement, nor is it entirely about what you've done in the past, nor it is entirely about faith and Him forgiving you.  There is a deeper root, and it's called reconciliation.
One of the core issues concerning redemption and salvation is reconciliation. Our misunderstanding of this stems from the fact that we have taught and preached  that humanity needs, yea, requires God to forgive them of their sins when in fact, we should be teaching and preaching that humanity needs to be reconciled to God.  To compound the problem, we have taught that reconciliation and forgiveness always go hand-in-hand, and at worst we have taught that they are the same.

Reconciliation is not  Forgiveness

No where is this fallacy more apparent than in the typical Sunday morning pulpit teaching regarding forgiveness and reconciliation between you and a friend. Conventional wisdom states that if your friend sins against you 490 times, and you forgive him 490 times, then you and your friend are also reconciled by the act of your forgiveness.  And that my friends, is the lie.

When you study reconciliation and forgiveness, you will find that they're not the same words and they don't have the same meaning. You will also find that forgiveness can happen privately while reconciliation is a mutual agreement between two parties.  The word forgive is aphiÄ“mi (af-ee'-ay-mee).  It means "to send forth, in various applications: - cry, forgive, forsake, lay aside, leave, let alone, let be, let go, let have, omit, put away, send away, remit, suffer, yield up."   The word reconcile is katallosso; (kat-al-las'o).  It means "to change mutually, that is, (figuratively) to compound a difference: - reconcile."  In this day and age the word "compound" may seem out of place in this definition.  Well, there is an additional meaning of this word, which is "to settle amicably : adjust by agreement" (Meriam-Webster)

While there are other words used for reconcile and forgive in the NT, it can be clearly seen from these definitions that reconciliation is not the same thing as forgiveness.  Forgiveness is a singular, personal matter of laying aside, where as reconciliation is a co-operative, plural matter of mutually changing.

Consider the Matthew 18 discourse on forgiveness and reconciliation
If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.
The first step of the process, as outlined by Jesus, is to "show him his fault in private." And if he hears you, then you have won your friend.   Also consider what Jesus said in Luke 17:3-4:

Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him.

Therefore the Matthew 18 instruction of "if he listens to you" means that your friend, having been rebuked and/or shown his fault, there must be a subsequent and appropriate response: a demonstration of repentance. In such a case of demonstrated repentance, you offer him forgiveness. Pay special attention to the fact that Jesus said "if he repents".  It is only in the presence of repentance that forgiveness is offered.

What then, of Forgiveness?

Does God command and expect us to forgive? Absolutely. But not the way we've been taught in our churches. There are two types of forgiveness. The first type is personal forgiveness which is commanded and expected of the offended in every case of an offense. Secondly, there is reconciliation forgiveness which is offered to the offender in the presence of repentance. Personal forgiveness and reconciliation forgiveness are not the same. Personal forgiveness is meant to free you - the offended - of bitterness and resentment and reconciliation forgiveness is meant to free the offender of his conscience regarding his offense against you.

In terms of a relationship with God, the scriptures teach that only through faith and repentance is reconciliation achieved. Why? Because without belief and trust, there is no acknowledgement of a Holy God nor an Holy standard. Without repentance, there is no turning away from that which caused offense. Therefore, faith and repentance are paramount, and reconciliation forgiveness does not happen outside of those two things.

During his journeys, Paul taught both of these things, repentance towards God, and faith towards the Lord Jesus Christ. And in doing so, he referred to this ministry as a ministry of reconciliation, not as a ministry of belief and forgiveness. Which is what some evangelists and evangelistic messages teach: just believe and you're forgiven.

What people don't like about this process is the rebuke. But doesn't God have plenty of rebuke for sin (just read the books of Moses and the prophets)?  But people, like the friend who offended you, prefer not to hear the rebuke. Instead, they would rather persuade you to "just wipe this and that under the rug and move on, as if it never happened; we'll just forgive and forget the whole thing, okay?"  It is the epitome of co-dependence, and Jesus is not co-dependent.

If God is not willing to be reconciled with you outside the confines of a rebuke and a reconciliation (whether it be of the Old Covenant of bulls and rams or of the New Covenant of Jesus Christ), why then do we act as if we can just wipe things under the rug and pretend they never happened, and call that forgiveness and/or reconciliation? Are we greater than God?  Does God pretend sin never happened?  Does He overlook rebellion? Does God save a person who refuses to repent of their sin?

"Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight.  Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.  Come now, and let us reason together," Says the LORD, "Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.   If you consent and obey, you will eat the best of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword. Truly, the mouth of the LORD has spoken."  (Isaiah 1:16-20)

Belief in God and faith in Jesus Christ must work in concert with repentance and confession of sin: they are necessities for salvation. Anything less or more is heresy - anything that adds works to faith, excuses faith, or removes or minimizes confession and repentance or excuses God from the process, is a lie.

Grace is that which makes you into something which you cannot become by yourself. And grace cannot not be used of God to activate the power of redemption unto salvation outside of the precondition of your faith, your confession of sin and your repentance:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
From that time Jesus began to preach and say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matthew 4:17)
I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. (Luke 5:32)
I acknowledge my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgave the iniquity of my sin. (Psalm 32:5)
So, the point is this: you can believe that God exists.  You can also believe that Jesus died for your sins.  And you can believe that God has forgiven you.  Or not, as the case may be be.  But the fact of the matter remains, until you're willing to repent of your sin and be reconciled to God, you will remain in your sin.  And should you remain in your sin, you will die and be judged in your sin.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Forgiveness is not Reconcilliation

There is a fallacy maintained in our churches today, and it is this: forgiveness and turning the other cheek go hand in hand, that they are one in the same and as such, forgiveness should look like, be like and feel like turning the other cheek.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Turning the other cheek is one of two things: it is either getting what you know you deserve, or it is a subtle rebuke which will drive the repentant to confession and reconciliation. In the worst case, you will be slapped again, and having no more cheeks, you turn and leave.

In regards to forgiveness, wise people will tell you something like this: "forgiveness does not mean you allow yourself to be run over by the same bus more than once." Doing so is passivity which results in further damage and resentment towards the bus driver and yourself.

The two types of forgiveness
There are two types of forgiveness: personal forgiveness and reconciliation forgiveness. In this post, we will explore the necessity of personal forgiveness.

Why Forgive?
Forgiveness is necessary because the damage has been caused in you. Someone did something to you that caused some type of damage. It’s as if you are a car and someone smacked you with a sledge hammer, leaving a large hole in your fender. Forgiveness is necessary because you’re damaged, physically and/or emotionally.

If you’re like most people, you may be thinking that forgiveness opens you up to another attack. No, actually it does not. What opens you up to another attack is an improper boundary. If you’ve been robbed because your door was unlocked, and you refuse to lock your door after the robbery, then you are partially responsible for subsequent robberies. Should the robber keep out of your house? Of course he should. Should you erect the proper boundary, in this case a locked door, to keep future attempts at bay? Most certainly you should. So then, forgiveness does not obliterate proper boundaries, rather it has the potential to enable you to erect proper boundaries in the future.

While you’re holding onto un-forgiveness, you are not in any way hurting the offender, nor are you protecting yourself. The way you protect yourself is by erecting a proper boundary, by locking the door. But this doesn’t negate that fact that you still have damage, something has been stolen. The robber is perfectly happy with your goods, and you’re perfectly unhappy without them.

It’s about letting go
Personal forgiveness is the mechanism that begins the process of releasing us from the damage caused by others. Until you can let go of the damage caused by others, you will continue to suffer in that damage in which you maintain.

If someone threw a rock through your window during the middle of the winter, do you fix the window or do you maintain anger against the person who broke your window? You fix the window because you’re cold and your heating bills will break the bank.

What sense is there in leaving the damaged window and maintaining anger against the person who threw the rock when you’re the one suffering? The logical thing to do is fix the window and ask the person who broke it to pay for the damages because to make you whole is what he owes you.

When we choose not to forgive, we chose to hold on to damage, and in doing so we become bound to the damage – we are in bondage to the pain, the suffering and the hurt. Furthermore, failing to forgive causes more damage than the actual offense: you’re living the hurts continually. Failing to forgive does nothing to the one who hurt you, but it causes a root of bitterness to grow deep, strong and hard in your heart.

What is Personal Forgiveness?
Personal forgiveness is a private, volitional exercise that we perform so that we may be released from the bondage of the damage caused by those who sinned against us. It is the forgiveness is spoken of in the Lord’s Prayer -
… and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors … (Matthew 6:12)
In this type of forgiveness, we do two things: we release the offender from their obligations to repair the damage they caused in us, and we release ourselves from bondage to the damage in us.

This type of forgiveness is not tied to the offender repenting of their sins, nor is it tied to the offender saying they’re sorry. Sometimes the offender cannot repent or refuses speak to you, or worse, they’re dead. In this type of forgiveness, the participation of the offender is never required.

Condemning the Damage
Personal forgiveness requires that you call sin what it is: sin. If you don’t mind people robbing your home, then you’ll leave the doors open and replace all of the things people take just so those things can be stolen again. In this case, you’re not agreeing with the sin, you’re not condemning the sin, and you’re not calling it wrong. But God has given us a permission to call a spade a spade:
“No weapon that is formed against you will prosper; and every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their vindication is from Me," declares the LORD. (Isaiah 54:17)
You have a right and obligation to call sin what it is: sin. When someone sins against you, you have the right to call it wrong. If you don’t call it wrong, then you have no place to forgive, for how does one forgive the good done by another? Good is not forgiven, it is praised and thanksgiving is offered.

Avoiding a Root of Bitterness
See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled (Hebrews 12:15)
Un-forgiveness results in bitterness. But forgiveness is the key that opens the pathway to grace. And grace is that thing which makes you into something that you cannot become on your own. When your car is damaged by someone else, they typically have insurance that makes you whole again. But if they don’t you can call your insurance company and they will make you whole.

In personal forgiveness the participation, or repentance of the offender is absent. It’s as if they hit you and ran away. But God is your insurance company and He will make you whole again. But, you have to be willing to condemn the sin (agree that it was wrong) and report the offense to God, and then release the offender from their responsibility to you. Once you've released them of their obligation to you, then you have enabled God to make you whole.

Personal Forgiveness is not Reconciliation
You cannot be reconciled to someone who is dead, but you can forgive them.

Reconciliation is not the goal in personal forgiveness. Personal forgiveness is not for the offender and it is not for restoring relationship with the offender, it is for you, your freedom and your relationship with God. Personal forgiveness always frees you to persue reconciliation with the offender, should they be available and participatory.

When we take our hurts and our damage to God, He makes us whole. But only when we choose to let go can we be free of hurts. Personal forgiveness not only releases us from the damage caused in us by others, it is also the mechanism by which we maintain or re-establish communion with God in the midst of the trial caused by other people.

When we do not forgive, we shy away from God and hide from Him. When we harbor bitterness in our hearts, we damage our walk with God. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, they not only hid from each other, they hid from God. Jesus said, "whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions." (Mark 11:25) Having something against another is sin – it is something that you must confess. The Law of Bitterness insures that your relationship with God suffers while you suffer in un-forgiveness.

When we fail to forgive, we hold onto something that is not ours: we hold onto the damage caused and created by someone else. Ultimately, we allow the person of offended us to continue an additional offense.

Personal forgiveness is the gateway to eradicating or preventing a root of bitterness. It’s not necessarily easy, and you may find that you pick up the offense again and again. But when you do, just take the offense back to God and forgive again. Eventually, you will find God has honored his word by restoring you to the place you were before the offense, and by giving you an additional blessing to move you forward in your relationship with Him:

Return to the stronghold, O prisoners who have the hope; this very day I am declaring that I will restore double to you. (Zechariah 9:12)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Overcoming Bondage to Sin

There were those who dwelt in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in misery and chains, because they had rebelled against the words of God and spurned the counsel of the Most High. Therefore He humbled their heart with labor; they stumbled and there was none to help. Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble; He saved them out of their distresses. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death and broke their bands apart. (Psalm 107:10-14)

Our churches are not well versed in explaining why people find themselves in bondage to sin, nor are they well versed in providing mechanisms to enable people to overcome and break free from habitual sin. In most cases it seems that they'd rather shoot the sinner than bind the wounds. They're quick to condemn, reject and ostracize those who break their rules.

So, have you been shot down because of your sin, have you been condemned? If God does not condemn you of your sin, you who are in Christ, then why do so-called Christians condemn you? Actually, why do you condemn yourself?

What is Bondage to Sin?

Being in bondage to sin means this: you are repeatedly involved in a sin such that the involvement presents itself more as a habit, rather than an occasional failure or deviation. Alcoholism is bondage. Repeated involvement in pornography or sex outside of marriage is bondage. The need to always be right, or always needing to be approved of can be a bondage. Refusing to forgive is bondage.

Bondage is the state of being in which we find ourselves under the control of an abstract influence, force or power. If you can imagine an ox in a yoke, then you can begin to understand the abstract nature of being in bondage to sin.

How to Be free

First things first. Until you're ready to admit two things you will remain in bondage. First you must admit that you have a problem; that you're in bondage. Secondly, you must admit that it is your choice to be in bondage, just as it is your choice to be free.

British author Douglas Adams was correct when he said, "when you blame others, you give up your power to change." Until you're ready to take responsibility for who and what you are, and where you are in relationship to your habit, addiction or bondage, you will never be free. It is your right and responsibility to condemn the evil and wrong in your life. But until you are willing to call your addiction a sin, you will remain in bondage. Until you are willing to call your participation in your guilty pleasure a sin, then it will remain in bondage to your guilty pleasure.

Reject the Lie, Believe the Truth

The primary cause of bondage is an improper belief system which enables you to act upon a lie. Some people believe that pornography and strip clubs will make them feel better, so they participate in those things. Others believe the approval of people will make them feel better, so they make themselves dependent upon how others feel towards them and will do whatever is necessary to be liked or approved of (co-dependency). Others think that alcohol or drugs will dull their senses and help them feel better about their circumstances, so they drink or take pills until they're drunk or high.

I could go on and on. But the root of what I'm talking about is an improper belief system. There was a saying when I was in school: you are what you eat. The truth is, you are what you believe. If you believe you're just a sinner saved by grace, then you'll act just like a sinner. If you believe looking a pornography will make you feel better, then you'll look at pornography.

Choose you this day, whom you will serve: yourself, your feelings and your desires fueled through your improper belief systems, or choose to believe God.

What are the root causes of Bondage?

Jesus said, "you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:32)

Now, ask yourself this question: are you free from bondage or addictions? If you are not free, then according to Jesus, do you know and act upon the truth? No, you do not. Some where, some how, you have chosen to believe a lie. And the Bible is clear, as a man thinks in his heart, so is he: you are what you believe. (Proverbs 23:7)

"There were those who dwelt in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in misery and chains, because they had rebelled against the words of God and spurned the counsel of the Most High." (Psalm 107:10)

The scriptures are clear: those in bondage to sin are in bondage because of rebellion against the word and counsel of God.

There is a good reason we are to "pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it." (Hebrews 2:1) Bondage to sin and addictions are never the result of believing the truth, they are always the result of believing a lie. And once you have believed a thing, you act upon it. Does sanctification result from believing truth, or believing a lie? Jesus prayed for us saying, "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth." (John 17:17) What then does God use to sanctify His people? Truth or lies?

If believing (and acting upon) truth results in sanctification, what exactly do you think believing a lie results in?

Why do people refuse the grace of salvation? Because they have believed a lie. Why do people refuse to allow others to pray over them for healing? Because they have believed a lie. Why do people reject the notion that the laying on of hands and/or the anointing with oil is not necessary for healing? Because they do not believe the scriptures. I specifically prayed for healing in a person who, eventually, was not healed. Later they told me this: 'in the midst of the pain and suffering I asked the Lord why I was not healed when he laid hands on me and prayed for me, and the Lord responded, "because you did not believe."'

Where Does Freedom Begin?

It will start with faith.

You must understand several things about faith. Faith is defined as trusting and believing.  Therefore, it is the substance and assurance of things not seen, of things hoped for (Hebrews 11:1). When you chose to believe God and His word, you will grow in your assurance of that which is hoped for. In the process of maturing your faith, God will take you from hope and assurance into knowledge and experience.

For, what happens when the thing hoped for shows up? You know longer hope for it, because it has arrived. You no longer have assurance that it will come, because it is here. Well placed faith always results in an experience with God and an intimate knowledge of God (2 Peter 1:2-11). That is the Law regarding faith: when faith is provided as a gift from God, it will always result in experience and knowledge of the thing hoped for.

We are released from bondage to sin and addictions when we reject the lies they are based upon, and delivered into freedom when we choose to believe the truth of Gods word, and act upon those truths. Therefore, in regards to your freedom beginning with faith, consider this:

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

The process begins with you going to Christ and yoking yourself to Him, and learning His ways.

It Continues into Warfare

We are exhorted to "put on the full armor of God, so that we will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil", since our "adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." And while the devil is seeking to destroy you, you must remember that your "struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:11, 12; 1 Peter 5:8)

In the processing of rejecting the lies and renewing your mind through the word of God, you will be hammered by your adversary. He knows that as soon as you believe and act upon the truth, he will lose the battle. Confusion may set in - that's a sure sign of an attack from the enemy. You might not know which way to go. When that happens, stay in the word. Memorize the scripture God will give you. And continue to pray for His protection.

God wants you to be free, but He is not going to smack you with a Holy stick as if he were the good witch of the north. There are other people He wants you to touch, to lead out of darkness, and you can't do that unless you understand the process and have participated in the process. We need to learn, first hand, that is it God "who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." (2 Corinthians 1:4) And until we walk this path, we can't lead others in this path.

We must believe we are free from the Power of Sin

As Christians, we are made free from the power of sin through the work of Jesus Christ. Consider, however, that unless you believe in the work Christ (that it has the power to set you free) and actively choose to apply it to your life, then you will never receive the benefit of His work.

For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:17-19)

Although I've said this before, it bears repeating: if you believe you're just a sinner saved by grace, then you'll just act like a sinner. There is a vast and wonderful difference between living like a sinner saved by grace and living like a saint. In the first case, you believe you can never do anything right, that you're always going to mess up and thank the Lord, He will always forgive you of just continually being a screw up. In the later case, you believe correctly that you're a saint, that through Him you can and will do things right. But you're not deceived, you know that you will occasionally sin, but that doesn't slow you down. Why? Because "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. ... Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us." (Romans 8:1, 33-34) If Jesus does not condemn you (for how can one who lives to make intersession for you also condemn you), then why do you condemn yourself? Why do you allow others to condemn you? Take the yoke of Christ, let Him carry your burden and be free from your bondage.

The Steps to Freedom
Psalm 119:57-64

Psalm 119:57 - The LORD is my portion; I have promised to keep Your words.

When you find yourself in bondage to sin, acknowledge two things: you have made something else your portion, your allotment, your nourishment, and secondly, that you have failed in your promise to keep His words.

Make God your portion in life, not things, not relationships, not pleasure. To keep His words means to guard the matters of which they speak. If God says not to covet the things of your neighbor, then to keep His words means to covet or want only the things you have.

All of us at one time or another have promised to keep Gods word: we’ve determined not to sin; we’ve determined to say the right thing; we’ve all said in our heart, "I will do the right thing in this or that circumstance." What you are effectively saying is that ‘you promise to keep Gods’ word’.

When you come to the realization that you have sinned, you are in effect saying, "I did promise to keep your words, but in this one thing I have errored and broken my promise."

Psalm 119:58 - I sought Your favor with all my heart; Be gracious to me according to Your word.

How do you seek God's favor? By confessing your sin to God, and repenting (turning away from) your sin. You must do both. It is possible to confess your sin but not repent of it. It is even possible to somewhat turn away from what you did but never admit that you did it. You must do both.

It is the mercy of God that forgives us, and the Grace of God that changes us and saves us. But the word ‘gracious’ implies, within current context, the totality of God’s mercies and grace. God has promised to be gracious to those that seek his face

My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Psalm 119:59 - I considered my ways And turned my feet to Your testimonies.

Note that after he has confessed his sins and sought the graciousness of God, he then again considered his ways. After careful consideration of his ways, he ‘turned his feet to Gods’ testimonies. This is the action of repentance. You consider what you have done or are doing, and turn away from those things towards the word of God. Did you notice that the pslamist turned towards the testimonies of God? In effect, he turned from the lies causing his bad behavior (his ways) and turned towards the truth of Gods word which will change his heart and his actions.

Psalms 119:60 I hastened and did not delay to keep Your commandments.

There’s not much to say about that; don’t be slothful; seek God with immediacy and all diligence. Be Steadfast in your dedication to God and learn to Praise and Worship God

Psalm 119:61 - The cords of the wicked have encircled me, But I have not forgotten Your law.

Satan will try to keep you in bondage. Evil will do everything it can to keep you away from the grace and mercy of God. In the midsts of the attacks, do not forget the testimony and the word of God. Seek him, reject evil. Focus on God, not on your circumstances.

Psalm 119:62 At midnight I shall rise to give thanks to You Because of Your righteous ordinances.

Continually give thanks and praises to God. Do not fail to make time to give thanks to God; go out of your way and cause yourself to give God thanksgiving, honor and glory. The psalmist even thanked the Lord when he woke up at night.

Psalm 119:63 - I am a companion of all those who fear You, And of those who keep Your precepts.

Seek out and surround yourself with Godly friendship. Godly friends and counsel are required in our lives. This does not mean that we cannot spend time with our unbelieving friends for the purpose of serving them through the power of the Holy Spirit. But it does mean that our core companionships must be Godly people. There may be people and relationships that you must remove from your life. Seek the Lord and His counsel regarding your friends, and be willing to make the adjustments. Don't put yourself in a position wherein God has to make the changes for you.

Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good morals. (1 Corinthians 15:33)

Psalm 119:64 (a) The earth is full of Your loving-kindness, O LORD;

You must believe, proclaim and acknowledge the loving-kindness of God. Those who cannot see God’s loving-kindness are deceiving themselves of the most precious truth there is to know about God: how He chooses and desires to relate to us. Your relationship with God goes beyond doctrine and belief - it must go into knowledge of His divine nature. (2 Peter 1:2-4)

Psalm 119:64 (b) Teach me Your statutes.

Learn the word of God and believe His word. You must base the foundation your life in the truth of God, not in your desires, not in your fears, not in your self protection. You must believe God's word. You must ask for and seek Gods wisdom.

It Takes Discipline

Discipline your mind against your sinful actions and thoughts, and discipline it to rest in God. In all cases of recurring sin, the mind has won the battle against the spirit:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16)

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ... (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

My son, observe the commandment of your father and do not forsake the teaching of your mother; bind them continually on your heart; tie them around your neck. When you walk about, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk to you. For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching is light; and reproofs for discipline are the way of life. (Proverbs 6:20-23)

While you are in the process of disciplining your mind and rejecting sin, your spirit is in the process of gaining strength. However, you must remember that discipline can take you only so far: it is the act of living by the Spirit that is the victor over sin and which provides true freedom.


Bondage and addictions have their root in mis-information, in believing a lie. When we confront the lies, reject them and replace them with the truth of God's word, then we begin the process of winning victory over our addictions. It is God's truth that provides the process of sanctification in our lives. When we do not know His truth, then we believe something else. And what we believe defines who we are and how we behave. In order to begin the process of winning the battles over addictions and bondages, we must discover and reject the lies we hold on to. We must choose to begin the process of finding our worth and comfort in God and in Him alone.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

From Faith into Knowledge and Experience

There are Christians who believe and teach that faith is the end all of our experience with God, that nothing exists beyond faith.

As a matter of fact, I cannot remember ever being in a church service wherein faith was presented as something that moved a person from point A to point B, rather it's just something to have and to hold for the purpose of "pleasing God."

Furthermore, I don't recall hearing that faith moves into or becomes something else. I have always heard faith being something you possess, a thing that you keep and maintain, but never as something which changes or goes away. Rather it is presented as once you've got this elusive, all needed ethereal faith, then you just need to maintain it: keep the faith, as they say.

In a previous post, I discussed natural faith vs. Biblical or God given faith. I provided an example of natural faith which, contrary to popular belief and custom, is used routinely and relied upon daily. In regards to faith, God has imbued man in the natural with that which he must exercise in Spiritual. In either case the results - though differing - are the same.

The Scientific Method
The scientific method requires that we postulate either an outcome or the reason for an outcome (observation vs. idea), and then set about proving or disproving our postulate. This postulate is known as the hypothesis (defined here and here), and the mechanism of proving or disproving it is known as the scientific method.

For example, man observed water in its various forms in rivers, lakes and oceans as a liquid and a solid. So, he set about to discover for himself exactly how water exists in nature and then, lo and behold, discovered exactly what the scriptures had already told us.

But lets break this down just a bit more. Clearly man had knowledge of water in several states (liquid and solid), and a at least one other variation known as the condensate (i.e., clouds). The question was, how do we get from water to condensate and back to water? That was the invisible, missing link.

So, he said to himself, "Self, I believe that water evaporates from a source, becomes a gas, travels through the air, condenses into a cloud, and then falls back to earth as rain." As a matter of fact, he believed it so firmly that he set about to prove it.

In this process of discovering for himself the nature of water, what exactly happened? Man made an observation, created a hypothesis and proved himself right. Or, we could also say that he accumulated a system of beliefs (based in observations) regarding a subject domain (water), created a hypotheses regarding that subject domain, and implemented a method to discover if his system of beliefs were correct.

When man went from a simple hypotheses into observing his hypotheses proven, he went from trust and belief into knowledge and experience.  Interestingly enough, the scientific method is inextricably tied to man, through and by his observations.  It could be argued (and very well, I might add) that man's scientific proofs, and their underlying theories, are based solely upon man's trust and belief in himself to first properly conjecture, and secondly, to properly observe a given phenomena.  It's why we have a thing called "peer review."  Peer review is the vetting, the process of other people reviewing anothers' findings in order to determine if the other person has postulated and observed correctly.

What is Faith?
In it's simplest definition, faith is trusting and believing.  Therefore, when man observed water and proved it's circulatory path, it is just as valid to say that man went from faith into knowledge and experience as it is to say that man went from hypothesis into proof.

What exactly are we saying? When trust and belief is well placed and well formed, it always results in a knowledge that proves and substantiates the belief. We no longer just believe that water turns into vapor and condensates into clouds, we have empirical evidence resulting in knowledge that it behaves in this manner.

Faith works exactly the same way. Faith is trusting and believing, and faith brings experience and knowledge.

Seeking the Experience: The Spirit of Religiosity says it's a no-no
There are Christians who will tell you that seeking an experience with God, other than the mental ascension which you can acquire through faith based in doctrine (doctrine as derived from the knowledge of reading scripture) is wrong. What are they saying? Head knowledge good. Mustered up belief good. Actually expecting to have your cancer or migraines cured because of what Jesus commanded us in the Gospel according to Mark? Uhm ... no: don't go there.

On one point I must agree: seeking the experience for the sake of partaking in the experience can be wrong.  In example, when one has no desire for relationship with God nor the creation and nurturing of Godly Life.

An Example of Experiential Faith
So then, why did Moses raise his staff and his hand at the Red Sea? Well, because God told him to: 
But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea. (Exodus 14:16)
Did Moses believe God? Apparently so. What was the result of that belief? Works, experience and knowledge were the result. What exactly did Moses do? In my view, he thrust out his staff with his right hand in an upward and outward motion parallel with his body. His left hand went forward over the waters, perpendicular first to the left, then to the right in a parting motion.

That is probably not what you had in mind, but it does reflect exactly what God said to do: "... lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it." Have you ever understood before now that God told Moses to "divide" the sea? That's not exactly how it happened in the movie, is it?

So, when did Moses stop believing God would part the Red Sea?

Ah, I can hear the wheels in your thoughts spinning! "Moses never stopped believing God would part the Red Sea!" Are you sure? "Yes", you're probably thinking.   As a matter of fact, not only do I disagree, I assert that you've believed a lie. I maintain that at a given point, Moses stopped believing God would part the sea. Hear me out and keep reading.

Are you a parent? (if not, imagine that you have a 3 year old running about).

When did you stop believing your child would be born?  Seriously: in the midst of the labor, when did you stop believing that your child would be born? Do you still believe your child will be born?

Once the labor was over and your child was in your arms, you stopped believing your child would be born: at about that point, you moved from faith into knowledge and experience. You knew that your child had been born. And as our curtain climbing, crumb-grabbing rug rats continue to evade even our simplest logic of normalcy and move into child hood, teenage years and adult hood, we no longer believe that our child will be born, we continue in the knowledge of the ever changing ramifications of that simple act of our child being born.

I submit to you that once Moses believed God and stepped into the works of his faith, he stopped believing and entered into knowledge of the sea parting from left to right and forward to the other side, just as God said it would.

Semantics you say? Hardly. Are you telling me that you sill believe your child will be born, after the fact?

Did God part the sea? Yes and no. Of course, God provided the power for the works. But He also told Moses to "divide it." So, not only did Moses have to believe God, to take him at His word, Moses had to provide the works in order to prove God, to provide for an experience of the nature of God.

In doing exactly what God told him to do, Moses moved from belief into knowledge, just as you moved from belief of your child being born into the knowledge that your child has been born. So, once Moses moved into the works of proving God, Moses stopped believing the sea would part and moved into the knowledge of seeing that it was parted before him.

Attacks against Experiential Faith
This tidy argument of rejecting an experience with God falls squarely into the plan of Satan: for if he can convince you that experiences with God are wrong and should not be sought, then he has short-circuited your faith journey. And by damaging your faith journey he effectively prohibits your ability to abide in Christ.

Biblical Faith Produces Knowledge
Biblical faith, that which is given by God, always produces an experience based in the faith which came beforehand. It's the law. If faith does not produce knowledge, then it was not Biblical faith. Scripture clearly says this about faith:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1
What happens when the "thing not seen," the "thing hoped for" shows up? You no longer have faith: you have knowledge.

The experience provided by faith produces knowledge of God and the experience is always the effect of the faith given. Faith producing an experience is a cause and effect relationship: God gives us cause, reason and ability to believe Him and then provides a tangible experience of the faith He authored.

Practically speaking, I don't believe God heals, I know that He does (and I have seen the MRIs that prove it). I don't trust that God saves, I know that He does.

God's gift of faith always moves us into an experience resulting in knowledge. And once we have the knowledge He wanted to impart to us, we have a place of abiding and operating because we have knowledge of who God is.

Consider the first few verses of 2 Peter.
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, ... For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God said that we would have knowledge of salvation, that Jesus came to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins (Luke 1:77)

The only way to have knowledge of salvation is to execute (perform) the works of faith for that which is given through grace. You can go to church, hear the good news and believe that Jesus is the Christ, but until you act out on your faith, you will never experience salvation. You do not go to heaven for being good, and you don't go to hell for being bad. Goodness and badness are results of belief systems acting out. Life and death, on the other hand, are states of being. You are either alive to God or you are dead to God.

That's why the Atheist cannot comprehend the Christian: the Atheist is operating from a position of disbelief where as the born again Christian is operating from a position of knowledge. Darkness cannot comprehend light because darkness has no substance, no reality.

A Bit About Darkness and Light
Enter a room and turn out the light. What happens? It becomes dark. Have you ever stopped to consider that darkness is not a thing? Light, on the other hand, is a thing: it's a photon. Conversely, darkness is simply the absence of photons. Darkness, in a real sense, does not exist - it is not a tangible thing. Darkness is simply the terminology we use to describe the absence of photons. But we certainly treat darkness it as if it were a tangible object.

The absence of knowledge is like darkness. Knowledge exists, and so does ignorance. But ignorance is not a tangible thing, it can only be defined by that which is absent: knowledge.

However, belief and trust without knowledge is still faith: faith has substance, it is evidence and substance of things hoped for. When God gives faith, He is providing a tangible substance of things yet to be. When God proves Himself, faith is no longer needed for that given thing for knowledge has arrived. It is this knowledge of God that we call abiding, since abiding provides fruit, or knowledge of salvation:
I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
You cannot observe a tree bearing fruit without the fruit being on the tree. Observation of the tree bearing fruit is knowledge of the fruit. Knowing in the dead of winter that your apple trees will bear fruit in the summer is well placed faith. That well placed faith will be proven out in knowledge when you pick the fruit in the harvest (assuming frost does not kill the buds and the bees do their jobs).
Therefore, it is impossible to please God apart from faith. Why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
The Experience of Salvation
Although you, as a Christian, know that salvation is a gift given by grace through faith, have you ever stopped to think that salvation has a tangible and quantifiable effect? It results in a change that provides not only an immediate experience, but a life long experience as well.

This is why scripture admonishes us to work out our salvation (Philpians. 2:12) and that we will know them by their fruit (Matthew 7:16). If you do not have the experience of salvation or observe the fruit of salvation in another, then you have reason for suspect. The result, the experience of salvation is quantifiable, it is something of which you have intimate knowledge.

An Example of Failure in Faith
On the other hand, Jesus told the disciples to feed the 5000, and they said "with what, 200 denarii?" Jesus set them up to respond and act in faith so that they could have an experience of feeding the multitude and thus move into knowledge of what the proper application of trust and belief can provide. Even though they failed the faith test, Jesus still fed the people, in order to provide knowledge that might grow their faith in the future.

The same thing happens today. When God provides faith that He will do something or does something unexpected, people may sometimes become fearful and reject His presence, just as the Gadarenes did. If God's presence in your life is offensive, then you run the risk of excusing Him to move on to someone or someplace else.

God has provided in the natural an example of how His gifts of faith function. He provides reason to believe, gives the substance and evidence of things not seen through faith and then follows it up with an experience reflecting the faith He provided. Through trusting and believing we learn to abide in Him through the partaking of his Divine nature. Seeking the experience provided by God through faith is natural and expected, but seeking an experience for the sake of the experience only is rejecting the One who wishes to prove Himself to you through faith and knowledge. We all have the capacity to believe and to exercise faith, to take His word and believe it, and as such, it is impossible to please God apart from faith. Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Perseverance: Gaining a Proper Perspective on Trials and Tribulations

Persevering through trials and tribulations is something that we must all do:
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4)
But a problem arises when we fall back into the lessons of those who have taught us a lie, through either the error of man's understanding or by listening to evil.

We know, or we should know, that we are to no longer walk as the un-regenerated also walk, who in the futility of their mind, are darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart. If you do not approach the trials and tribulations in which you find yourself with a proper attitude and perspective, then Satan will win the battle and gain victory. In defeat, you will have failed to exult in your heritage, and you will become callous and open the door to opportunities to fall further into sin (Ephesians 4:17-18)

It Begins with Knowing Who You Are

It all begins with our attitude and our perspective, both of which are formed by our knowledge of God and our belief and our trust of who we are in Christ.

For example, if you are a born again believer and you are in a church wherein the pastor refers you and other Christians simply as "sinners saved by grace", or you view yourself as "just a sinner saved by grace", then in the former case you need to find a new church, and in the latter case, you need to re-read your Bible and learn who you are in Christ. Christians are not just sinners saved by grace, Christians are Saints. If you believe you're just a sinner saved by grace, then you'll act like a sinner.

Understanding The Law of Being

There is a law called the Law of Being. For example, one is either male or female. There are dogs and there are cats, fish, and birds. Each one has a given state of being. A fish can no more live and act like a bird than a dog can sharpen its claws like a cat.

Satan understands the Law of Being and he uses it against you.

It's All About What You Believe

He knows that whatever you believe, you will become: "for as he thinks within himself, so he is" (Proverbs 23:7) and "whosoever believes in Him {Jesus} shall not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). 

I imagine that the Proverbs reference you were expecting, but the John 3:16 took you off guard. Why? Because you've never made the connection between faith in Jesus, faith in God's word and believing the truth as a mechanism responsible for changing who and what you are.

Whenever possible, Satan will use circumstances and lies to alter your belief system. For if he can change your mind regarding the Word of God, or change your mind regarding who you are in Christ, then he has altered your belief system. And by changing your belief system, your actions, attitudes, and responses to the trials in which you find yourself will be altered to match the desires of evil, instead of the desires of Jesus Christ.

The Word of God says that when we encounter various trials and tribulations, that we should consider it all joy because the testing of our faith will produce endurance (James 1:3). How do you consider a trial of cancer as joy? How do you consider a trial of unemployment as joy? And what about this endurance clause? Does this mean we're just supposed to suck it up and bear the burden of God's sovereignty?

The Proper Perspective

In the face of trials and tribulations, many Christians are quick, and rightly so, to quote Romans 8:28:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Have you ever asked yourself the question, "what are these good things that God has for me?"

You probably have, but maybe you didn't give it much thought. Instead, your mind went back to the circumstances in which you found yourself. You did exactly what you've been taught to do: focus on your problems and take them to God for remediation. You've been taught to lay everything at the foot of the cross because if anyone is in trouble, they are to pray (James 5:13). And the people who have emphasized this truth to you are exactly right. God said it, we believe it, and that settles it.

And yes, I'm fully aware of the counter colloquialism, "God said it, that settles it." It's a nice counter platitude, but it's only half true, for if you do not believe what God says, then you have believed a lie. And when you believe a lie, you practice self-deception. When God says it, you must believe it, otherwise, it's not settled in your heart and mind.

But I'm not talking about taking things to God in prayer or popular colloquialisms.

What I'm addressing is your perspective on your circumstances. What I'm addressing is your beliefs regarding God in your circumstances.

If you approach your circumstances improperly, if you maintain an improper belief system regarding the attitude of God towards you through your circumstances, then you will lose that which is to be gained through your trials and tribulations. Furthermore, if you have an improper self-image of who you are in Christ, then you will possess an improper understanding of how God views you through your trials and tribulations, and you will miss the entirety of the double blessing God has for you through your trial.

The Knowledge of God and the Partaking of The Divine Nature

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.(2 Peter 1:2-4)
Let's put a couple key concepts together and see what God is excited about doing in us through trials:

"... so that by {the promises} you may become partakers of the divine nature ..."
"... knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing ..."
Clearly, there are things we lack, James 1 teaches us that. And clearly there are things which God is working into us, those being the aspects of His Divine nature; 2 Peter teaches us that.

When we focus on the trial, we don't see the work God wants to perform, we don't see the Grace of God working His Divine nature into us. By focusing on the trial, we focus on the negative. By focusing on the negative, we give strength to that which would defeat us.

What God wants to impart into us is the positive.

As a man thinks in his heart ...

If you believe that your trial is God punishing you for your sin, then you have made two errors. The first error is to believe that the sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah was an insufficient redemption and an insufficient judgment of sin, that you must somehow bear and pay for your sin through the punishment of trials.

The second error is related to the first: you believe that God is beating your sin nature out of you.

It's Not About Beating Out Your Sin Nature

Trials are not about what God is trying to push out of you. Read that again.

Trials are about God imparting His Divine nature into you.

But we have a problem, and it goes like this: as being redeemed creatures, we still possess memories, patterns, and habits of the old man, Adam. But as being new creatures, we are not bound to those old patterns. The Apostle Paul struggled with the old man, and he summarized it like this:

Romans 7:17-25 (Message Bible)
But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can't keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.  
It happens so regularly that it's predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God's commands, but it's pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn't that the real question?
The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.
So, trials and tribulations are not about God beating you down to push out your sin nature. For, how can a person who has a new nature, a new life, who is no longer dead be made any more un-dead or any more alive than they currently are?

We have a new nature, we are a new creature.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:7)
Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Romans 6:4-7)
Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:7)
... in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus ... for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household (Ephesians 2:2-6, 18-19)

It's About your Heritage

So, if God is not beating our sin out of us, then what exactly is He doing? Seeing that we tend to function in the old man, though being a new creature, God is at work making us Christ-like through an on-going process called sanctification.
For this is the will of God, your sanctification ... (1 Thessalonians 4:3)
What you need a to do is change how you view the trials which present themselves in your life. In order to help us do that, we must first understand our heritage:

"No weapon that is formed against you will prosper; and every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their vindication is from Me," declares the LORD. (Isaiah 54:17)
Your heritage is to stand against evil, to stand against condemnation. Your heritage is to condemn false accusation (evil against you) as wrong. Your heritage is to watch the vindication of God on your behalf.
Your enemy stands against you, your enemy accuses you:
And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, ... "Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. "And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. (Revelation 12:9-11)
Therefore when you are in the midst of a trial, you must stand against the enemy and reject the lie that there can be no good thing come from the trial. You must reject the notion that God is punishing or chastising you on behalf of His righteousness because of your sin. And in doing these things, you are condemning the enemy and the evil beset against you, and you are acquiring God's perspective of who you are in Christ, and who you are in the trial.

Ask The Key Question

What you need to do in the midst of the trial is ask God this question: "What are the blessings you have for me in this trial?"

Change Your Perspective

Is God your stronghold? Yes. But only if you allow Him to be your stronghold. If you focus on the trial and the evil that is besetting you, then you are not in your stronghold. If you fail to hope in God, then you cannot enter the stronghold of God. What you need to do is change your attitude: instead of focusing on the bad, focus on the good that God has in store for you. Set your mind on things above not on things below. Ask God about His double blessing that He has in store for you.

The Law of the Double Blessing

Return to the stronghold, O prisoners who have the hope; this very day I am declaring that I will restore double to you ... (Zechariah 9:12)
Every time the enemy knocks you back, God has a double blessing in store for you. The first blessing that God has for you in the midst of an attack from the enemy, is to restore back to where you were before the attack. The second blessing that God has for you is to move you forward past the place you were when the attack occurred.

But then, you may ask, why do I have to go through the same trials over and over again? Because God has a lot of blessing left over that you didn't get the first time. God isn't sitting in heaven thinking, "this is fun, let's smack her down some more", but rather He is saying to you, "you didn't get all of the blessings I had for you the last time. I want you to have all of the blessings I have in store for you."

'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’ (Jeremiah 29:11)
But if you refuse to see or believe that God can restore you and bless you through the trials you find yourself in, then you have defined for yourself the truth of your existence in that trial.

Read the story of the Demoniac of Gadarenes. Was there another blessing available for the people Gadarenes? Could not Jesus Christ have richly enhanced their spiritual condition, healed their diseases and taught them the Word of God? Of course, He could have. But what happened instead? They had an improper perspective based upon the trial of losing their heard of swine. In focusing on the negative, they missed the positive blessing Christ could have provided.


How you view your trials and tribulations is purely your choice. But when you stand against evil and choose not to yield, then you are embarking upon the process of seeking God and asking Him about how to obtain freedom, and you are knocking on His door.
So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him? (Luke 11:9-13)
If you persist in a negative perspective regarding your trial, then you will miss the double blessing God has for you. And eventually, you'll repeat the trial. But if you instead view the trial as a mechanism by which the blessings of God are poured into your life, then you can enter through faith the valley of the shadow of death, and walk out with the experience and the knowledge of who God really is in your life.