To Liberate or Alienate

“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.”~ John 14:16-17 NASB

Recently, I was online and noticed a discussion that had differing opinions about an expositional issue concerning the Holy Spirit.  There is a gambit of opinions, traditions, and commentary on the subject.  The discussion soon turned personal and was not a display of Christlikeness in my humble opinion. Both individuals had valid points worthy of discussion, however none of it deserving of division among the brethren.  The friendly discussion turned unfriendly and degraded to who had the truth and who was a heretic. Not a good display of discipleship and all very public I might add.

I was struck that the debate was more about who possessed the truth and not about discovering each others position and why they held that particular view. It degraded to the age old division, “I am right and you are wrong…”  My time in ministry has taught me some valuable lessons, but one lesson that stands out above all else is that people are important to Jesus so much so he died for every one of them. Jesus did not come to teach doctrine per se but to make dead folks come alive. Leonard Ravenhill said it best, “Jesus did not come to make bad men good, He came to make dead men alive.”

I think at times we have little faith or patience in the ability of the Holy Spirit to teach, correct, guide and lead- He said in John 16:13 that He would in fact tell us things we do not know. Over the years I have come to the realization that I am dependent on the Holy Spirit for all truth, including the truth I think I know already. In addition, if I can not help those who are weaker in their faith and beliefs and I use the Bible to destroy a believer’s confidence- who am I working for or with really?  Seldom did Jesus use what I would call a “hot rebuke” towards his followers, it was usually towards the religious folks that He addressed- yet I still believe that Jesus’ goal was not to alienate but to liberate.

As a pastor I deal with lies that folks believe all the time, it can be frustrating at times to be sure. However, I wonder how frustrating I was when I was brand new!  The abiding power of the Holy Spirit is awesome and without equal, His patience without limits and I find that participating with the Holy Spirit is much more liberating and advantageous to those that I shepherd. Patience and humility are the keys is making disciples; you can not make anyone believe but you can lead people to the Revealer of Truth.  Bickering, judging, name calling, slandering, finger pointing are not the places the Holy Spirit leads me to. Usually that is the flesh and it has a bi-product of death.

Paul’s day saw many lies and teachings that where not from the heart of God- from the Jew and the Gentile alike. Paul lived in a culture steeped in tradition and hedonism, from Mars Hill to the Jewish synagogue- lies of the enemy abounded.  Yet Paul did not stand on Mars Hill and declare that they were all believing lies and doomed to hell. In fact, he found the one commonality between them and preached the Good News!  Exposing lies that an individual may believe at the expense of the relationship is destructive.  Even when Paul opposed Peter to his face about Peter’s hypocrisy, I believe it was with a motive of love to restore right fellowship among the brethren. Paul’s heart was apparent.  Paul’s motives were always to communicate the heart of God.

I believe Paul used his freedom for liberating not alienating folks form the truth that sets us free.

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 1 Cor 9:19-23 NIV

Peace-

PR

GRACE

I read a very interesting blog today and it made me think on how important our belief system is and how it points to the reality of what we really believe, i.e if I say I believe that smoking will kill me and I keep smoking, I really do not believe that smoking will kill me by my actions. The true belief in my heart destroys the mental assent of what I like to tell myself and is replaced by the true belief that “I need to smoke to relax, or deal with stress…”

The hurdle is replacing the lies I believe with the truth and the empowerment to apply it to my life. GRACE! Grace is the ability to overcome the lies I believe and it accepts me right where I am at and believes in me before I do or change anything.
Acceptance of who I am before I change a thing is what makes grace so powerful and controversial. When I came to Jesus He did not say to me, “Clean your act up, then I will accept you…”

Yet, I find that people spend a lot of time trying to control behavior, like diets, programs, and the like, instead of creating an environment where GRACE can happen and real change takes place. I am still on the journey discovering God’s GRACE- it really is HIS DNA and I am closer to the One who made this all possible.

I am a recovering KNOW IT ALL….

The Teen Challenge Southwest and Northwest Regional conference was a blessing this year, and I found some fodder for the preaching ministry this week as well. I am always challenged and intrigued by the view point and wisdom of those who have have forged new Teen Challenge centers, ministry works and the like- all from a “word from God” and the many trials and tests that they have passed and failed. I was recently reminded why it so important to make time to spend listening to the voice of God and be still and know that HE is God.  There were many leaders present at said conference and some are well known and very Godly and humble to say the least- the anointing was very present in their life. Awesome- is the word that kept coming to my mind. I was feeling quite small and insignificant in scheme of things, funny how making comparisons will leave you feeling the exact opposite of what the word declares, nevertheless, there you have it. I was gathering “all the things I know” and presenting them in a package that I felt would make me feel a little more important and not so, well, inexperienced.  SHEESH…HELP ME JESUS!!!  In retrospect, as I look back on the gathering- I learned some things that I feel are valuable and worth noting.

1. Make time to do things right; some things you can not do over. One of the presenters who was well known and famous to us Teen Challenge folks was not well prepared and it showed. Confusing dialogue and broad topics added to the fray as I tried to find the path he was presenting. I really wanted to get something out of this workshop!  I realized that relying on your status or position and experience will not make up for a sloppy presentation- We generally have our first impression to folks around us as a “living epistle,” let’s be legible. Be excellent in all you do, and in all you do, do it for HIM.  I did get something out of it- see next point!

2. Become a “learner” instead of a “knower.” The “knower” assimilates knowledge to be secure in his circle, to have  all the answers and be “the man,” so to speak. The “knower” is insecure and his power  and security rests in the “knowing of facts,” the pursuit of knowledge is not about being a help it is about being the one who “knows it all,” It is about control or the lack of it, the “knower” can not be influenced or taught.  A learner is willing to be influenced and taught- he is a sponge in absorbing truth and applying truth to become more like Christ, not to be “one up” in the conversation. Humility is the key word in a learners disposition, he has ceased from striving and has learned to wait, and process the truth and then apply it to his life FIRST.  THE KNOWER IS PROUD the LEARNER IS HUMBLE. The learner is in process and the knower presents himself as if he has almost arrived.

3. Run to the Source of life not from it.  The conference had something special just for me- it was like God set the table so I could eat real food and real drink and be satisfied. I am always hesitant to share my weaknesses publicly because the “religious and pious” can be quite the “knowers” when I share my heart. After all, having the right answer is more important that sharing ones burdens, or esteeming another higher than one’s self- sarcasm intended. I digress, I have recently been challenged with a set of new fatherly duties alien to the “knower” it is called LISTENING! Not for information mind you, to be regurgitated later for some self serving rhetoric, But soul listening- or maybe soul hearing. My oldest daughter has been struggling with an injury to her knee, and she has been asking hard questions that I do not have the answer for. “Dad, why has God not healed me yet?”  “I am so angry at God right now dad….” Wow….. My daughter tends to push me away when she struggles with her faith and trials. It hurts my heart to see her struggle. My tendency is to “solve her problems” in the bigger scheme of things this is an EPIC FAILURE on my part….. You guessed it, I am a recovering “knower” and I instantly wanted to spout off all I knew in the scriptures of faith and standing and believing and that doubt is from the devil and so on I spoke with some peers of mine from ministry and humbled myself to ask their opinion and counsel and they said “just affirm her and listen to her.” WHAT? REALLY?  IT SOUNDED TOO SIMPLE.  So I risked “not knowing the answer,” to apply this new wisdom and it was just what my daughter needed, she needed my heart, not my head!  My daughter needed me-her father- to listen and affirm her ability to hear from God; and to stand firm, and not to find fault in her moment of weakness. Then God spoke to my heart later and said that I do the same thing when I am struggling- I push Him away as I try to solve the problem with my FAITH, and knowledge of the WORD and that I traded “knowing the answer” from “Knowing Him!”  KNOWING THE ANSWER IS NOT THE SAME AS KNOWING HIM! Intimacy with Jesus is more important than having all the answers to life’s problems. AT SOME POINT IN MY JOURNEY I TRADED BEING THE ONE WHO KNOWS THE ANSWERS FOR KNOWING THE ONE WHO HAS THE ANSWERS. SO, I AM TRADING UP OR TRADING BACK- REPENTING IS WHAT I AM DOING!

Random thoughts on Overcoming

Recently, I have been zeroing in to some things I really want changed in my life. The obstacles to my Faith and the disciplines that are necessary to achieve success. I have found that discipline seems very unpleasant. However, the payoff is exponential in habits that are healthy for your mind, body and your soul. A roadblock that has hindered me since I was a young boy has been my eating habits. My family celebrated and medicated with food- and so do I. Have a bad day- EAT SOME STEAK! Have an awesome day CELEBRATE WITH RED LOBSTER. The irony of it is that we need food for fuel and when you are like a drug addict with food, this presents a problem! Would it be possible for a heroin addict to continue using drugs and say, “I am not an addict?” Obviously, he can not. Yet for me, I find the struggle just as terrible as that. I need food for fuel and the struggle to eat the right amounts of the right foods at the right times. ARGH! I came up with a plan a couple of days ago (it was the Holy Spirit) but this idea came barreling out of my heart- You need to FAST…….. What? How can that be a good idea…LOL Anyway, my next step is to embark onto a 7 day fast that would be a fast unto the Lord to break the “the yoke of bondage.” I have lost weight and have even started to work out regularly- When I started this journey I was 300 lbs! I am down to 235- Praise the Lord! Yet the yo-yo effect is still there- Lord Jesus help me overcome!

The Silver Bullet…

I was pondering on the struggles we often have as we come out of the desert of sin and the affects of the past. How I often wished there was a magic wand- a genie in the lamp, a Walt Disney character that had the magic dust… Something nice and painless that made all the poor choices and life altering decisions vanish. Anyway, the reality of  dying to “self “and denying “self” is still difficult at times no matter how long or genuine our walk with Jesus is.   One group of people will say, “All you need is FAITH,” and another will say, “His Grace is Sufficient for me” and yet another will say- DISCIPLINE YOURSELF! I would say they are right, however my experience in working with guys coming out of addiction is that it requires a combination of all three working in concert together bringing us to maturity in Christ. The goal is to become like Christ-.  I have  decided in my  heart that God is always teaching me the art of surrendering to the Lordship of the Holy Spirit in all areas of this life. In other words- walking in the Spirit of God.  I must confess that reading the word, praying and fellowship are my life source- yet the pain of the carnal nature is real, the loss of dreams and the pressure of being in leadership can all take center stage at times in my life. Things I wish  I had not said in anger- regret from missing the mark. The pain of seeing a long term dream turn to ashes before my eyes. Watching a dear loved one destroy their life with booze and drugs. You start looking for the silver bullet!- I feel like Neo from “The Matrix” ~Everyone believes in me except me! I have felt like NEO just before he lets go of what he thinks he knows and goes to confront the enemy he says, “There is no spoon” and flys into battle holding onto an elevator cable as he disconnects it from the elevator itself! YIKES!  He denies the momentary safety to embrace a greater reality! JESUS is the greater reality! GLORY!   – Galations 5:24  “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” The carnal man desires comfort above all else- even at the cost of relationships at times. The carnal man does not want to DIE! Yet Jesus said some pretty hard things like, “If any man desire to come after me he must DENY himself, take up his CROSS and follow me.” CRUCIFIED is a very violent term!  The Apostle Paul was not using a bunch of “sugar coated” words to convey to the Galatians what must be done to the flesh….I do not know about you but I am tired of the “Self Help” sermons and the self appointed behavior police, and the heresie hunters that have infected the church. The cry of my heart and the cry of many that are hurting and lost is Give us Jesus. Jesus is more than a “Silver Bullet” He is more than an “addictive” to make my life better. He is the “Great I AM!” He is the King of the Armies of the God Most High! I like to remind myself that all the cleaver quips and fortune cookie “Christianese” can not replace time with the KING!  The cry of the Lords heart is “be with me.” Mark 3:13-14 “And He went up on the mountain and summoned those whom He Himself wanted, and they came to Him. And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach…” He still says this to us today- Follow Me. While there is breath in your lungs there is hope- some of the most painful things that I have endured have turned into stories of victory and promise- stay in the fight!

Achan and Ishmael

Ok, so I am on this “why you should never do that again,” and the other revelation statement, “Oh, that’s why you should do this….”  If you have ever stuck your hand into a hot oven and have been burned, you quickly learn to be careful around hot objects! There are certain laws in our world that are absolutes; for example, the law of thermodynamics that many of us have experienced first hand. If you have ever skinned your knee or caught a flying object you know that what goes up must come down at some point, do to the law of gravity. We really only like absolutes when they work to our advantage!  Just as there are physical absolutes I believe there are spiritual absolutes as well. Two characters stick out to me from the bible that illustrate this point. Achan and Ishmael really have nothing in common other than they both have illustrate principles that can be applied to present times. Achan had taken some of the “accursed things” from an enemy in Joshua 7. However, God had forewarned Joshua, “And you, by all means abstain from the accursed things, lest you become accursed when you take the accursed things, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it. But all the silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are consecrated to the LORD; they shall come into the treasury of the LORD” (Jer. 6:18-19).  Unfortunately, Achan lusted after the accursed things and hid them in his tent.  The narrative goes on to say that Joshua sent about 300 people to conquer the very small people of Ai.

However, the small folks of Ai routed the Israelites and killed 36 men, this was so devastating that the bible says that people of God heart’s melted like wax. This hidden sin of Achan lifted the hand of God from the people of Israel, and 36 men died from one man’s sin. This is an unsettling story for anyone who hides their sin. While I understand that we live under the covenant of grace and we can never fulfill God’s law in the flesh, the way sin affects a believer has not changed.  Grace without truth (correction in this case) is not grace at all. Achan illustrates the principle of  leaders with hidden sin in their life bringing destruction to ones they claim to love. OUCH! This brings us to Ishamel; the child NOT promised by God. Ishamel did not commit any sin, but was the by product of a leader trying to bring God’s promise to pass through human reasoning.  Abraham and Sarah deviated from what God had spoken to them because they could not understand how God was going to bring this child of promise to fruition. So the heartache begins when Abraham has sexual relations with Hagar, consequently Sarah’s jealousy is aroused and she begins to treat Hagar badly and drives her away. The rest is history, the greatest enemy Israel has ever know is born. The principle illustrated here is that works in the flesh will bring you the greatest disappointment that you can ever imagine, anything not born of God’s promise will be your enemy in the end. Now, I am always talking about sexual sin these days and what devastation it brings not only to the offender but it utterly ruins a great multitude around the offender as well.

So, pornography and the hidden sin of Achan could be compared, with deadly results to your ministry, marriage or future marriage, your children and your grandchildren could go on to feel the effects of that hidden sin. Similarly, trying to bring a promise to pass through your own understanding and devices can end in giving birth to a lifelong problem instead of being blessed by the promise of God. Fortunately for us, God has always made a way of escape for us! 1 John 1:7 puts it simply and succinctly!

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all[a] sin

8If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

The Gospel is not complicated

I pastor a Teen Challenge center and have the privilege in working with all kinds of people of all walks of life. I am always amazed at how people will take the simplicity of the Gospel and make it a convoluted mess, that is no Gospel at all.  Recently, I have been working with a lot of men caught in the grip of  pornography. The statements that inevitably come up is that “it is complicated” and “it not that easy to quit.” Both statements place all the ability on the individual and set them up for failure every time. What I have found is that “can’t” and “won’t” are brother and sister in the mess of addictions.  More times than not,” I can’t” really means “I won’t.” In addition, what they are really saying is, “I am NOT willing to do what it takes,” most of the folks I work with have three things in common and you can find this to be true with a drug addict as well. 1. They spend a lot of time ISOLATED. 2. Most of their relationships are broken or strained. 3. They have NO concept of real accountability.  For the person caught in the cycle of porn addiction, they spend copious amounts of time alone, fantasizing of the perfect women or man and often have a very skewed since of what a healthy relationship looks like.  Grandiose ambitions, with narcissistic sense of themselves, ie “no one really understands me, and I have a special set of needs.” The other thing that I have come to believe is that they often feel that sex is their greatest unmet need and that if they had a relationship they would be whole. Which, if you consider masturbation a part of sex, these folks are having more sex than anyone!  Jesus is the only one who can make us whole, in fact, apart from Jesus we have no real hope to recover from anything. The secret place is compromised with pornography! In other words, what I do in my private “secret time” is what manifests in my public life. Discord, strife, envy, lust, immorality and the like can be traced back to a disheveled secret place.  It is ironic that most of today’s addictions are things practiced in secret over and over again. The Gospel message always came with an imperative- REPENT! for the kingdom of God is at hand! Somewhere we have to turn the “REPEAT into REPENT.”  The suffering of the flesh and the loss of our “secret pleasures” is where most stop. At the gym I work out at in Anthem has a statement that goes like this; “most dream of success while others wake up and make it happen.” Now, I am sure that what Jesus did on the Cross of Calvary was not a dream but a reality. He took ALL of this world’s sin upon HIMSELF and dieing ONCE and for EVERYONE”S SIN, made it possible for ALL people to become FREE! Now, what part of that is so complicated? ALL who call upon the LORD shall be saved. ALL means ALL, even the addicted, correct? “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. Rev 12:11 Appropriating the BLOOD is first, maintaining my testimony regardless of the circumstances is second and the hard part, not to love my life so much that even when faced with death, I leave the Blood and my testimony for a moment of “perceived freedom.”  THE POWER OF THE CROSS IS GREATER THAN THE POWER OF SIN. End of argument. Freedom to choose the right path is what we have!