Thursday, June 28, 2018

A Slight But Necessary Detour: Daniel 10

The Bible is very clear about the unseen world.   These days, we scratch our heads and wonder, "What is going on?"  Insanity, illogical thinking, rage, violence and just plain unkindness is the order of the day.  Left or right, liberal or conservative, young or old:  we all sense a level of insanity that is disturbing.  People look for all kinds of reasons.  It's gotta be the:

Deep State
Supreme Court
News media

The list goes on and on.  We humans are extremely talented at pointing the finger at everyone but ourselves; this started all the way back in the Garden of Eden.  After eating the forbidden fruit, Adam blamed God for giving him Eve and then blamed Eve; Eve blamed the serpent and the serpent was eerily quiet.  

The moment sin entered the planet, we have not taken responsibility for our sin and the consequences of it.  

Now, you may think I am letting people off the hook by focusing on the unseen world.  No. Far from it.  This blog series ("Stronghold Starters") is dedicated to how we allow ourselves to be used by the unseen world with our attitudes.  We host the attitudes; evil then hosts us.  But we open the door.   

The unseen world is active and influential, according to Ephesians 6:12: "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."  

So, the magnitude of the struggle is much larger than just "those people."  

Paul squarely looks at us and then the unseen world:  "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved." (Eph. 2:1-5)

Boom.  There it is.  We have a role (following and gratifying our sin nature) and we are also used to achieve a larger agenda for the unseen world.  What is that agenda?  It is our destruction.  Satan doesn't care how you get there...drugs, alcohol, war, suicide, mass murder...whatever puts you six feet under, dirt dead.  

You live without hope--no faith in Jesus, just despair and anger over how things are and a feeling of powerlessness to change it.  

You die without hope--no faith in Jesus, just an eternity without God.  God doesn't send us to Hell--we choose to live without Him here and thus we choose to live without Him in eternity. 

But, every now and then, the Bible draws back the curtain on the unseen world. Daniel, chapter 10, is such a place. Quick summary: Daniel has a vision of war to come and its great hardships. He has been fasting and mourning for three weeks. He then sees a beautifully dressed man on the other side of the river where he is standing, and he is overwhelmed by what he is seeing. 

A gently hand touches him and says, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.” (Daniel 10:12-14)

What a minute.  Who is this "prince"?  Isn't he a human ruler over the people?  No, because Michael, an angel, (chief prince) comes to his aid.  The "prince" is Heaven's enemy in the unseen realms and Michael is a prince sent to contend with the one who rules over Persia. 

Do you see my point?  Behind the human agent, is an unseen agent who uses, manipulates and then destroys the human agent.  The evil work gets done.  Does that mean that every evil act is from the unseen realm, and we are merely puppets?  No.

We are more than capable of doing harm to ourselves and to one another.  But:  There have been times in history where evil has been unleashed in a way that astonishes even us. 

In the 20th century, more than 100 million people died in genocides.   People were shocked at the depravity and numbers of dead in:

The Armenian genocide
The rape of Nanking, China
The Holocaust
China under Mao
The USSR under Stalin
Cambodia under Pol Pot
The Congo

Recently, we are appalled at young people going into schools with guns and mowing down their fellow students and teachers.  People throwing bombs into nightclubs.  A man mowing down concert-goers.  

The unseen world is on the march.  The New Testament calls this a "war" in the heavenly realms--not a one-off,  an occasional horror or a tragedy.  War is merciless and this one we are undergoing is no different.  

We can vote people in and out of the White House; we can protest; we can make our disgust known and we can be adamant that what we are seeing is wrong.  So be it. 

But it is bigger than that.  Jesus, who was in a world filled with violence, abuse, war and depravity (the Roman world was not a nice place to be) said to His followers, who would all face persecution and violent death in the future because of that Roman government: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Peace. Hope. Purpose.  That is what He offered them.  This is what He offers us.  

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Stronghold Starter #3: Not Forgiving: Show Mercy? I Don't Get Any.

Wow.  This is a tough one.  We have all suffered at the hands of someone else.  Someone who knew better.  Someone who violated our trust.  Someone who could have stopped, but didn't.  Someone who wore the Christian label, but acted in ways that were anything but.  Someone that when we sought reconciliation, rebuffed us.  Someone who rebuffed us many times.   

Maybe we sought to take on some of the blame, be humble and offer to make amends, only to be looked at with disdain and contempt for appearing to be so weak.

Yuck.  Forgiveness is a touchy thing; I don't think Jesus would have taught on it as much as He did if it were easy-breezy to do.  Think quickly, and multiple verses pop up:

"Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" (Matt. 6:12) Yeah.

"Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." (Col. 3:13) Ouch.

"For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matt. 6:14-15) Whoa.

"So watch yourselves. “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” (Luke 17:3-4) Yikes.

"Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." (Eph. 4:31-32) Alright already...I get it. 

Inescapable, right?  Yes.  Hard to do?   Yes.  Why?  Because at the core of unforgiveness is pride.  Pride provides the perfect starting point for Satan to come in and start building a stronghold.  

Wait a minute!  I was hurt by that person!  Shattered!  Abandoned!  I am the victim here!

True.  Satan loves it when our hurt is real.  He exploits it to get us focused on ourselves.  We pull in, nursing the hurt, and all the while Satan is fanning the flames of our wounded pride.  

Notice the above verses:  They redirect our focus back to the outside, away from ourselves and asking us to reestablish community.  Sometimes it is dangerous to reestablish community with our violators; but Jesus wants us in His community, with His people, seeking fellowship, prayer and healing.  

The last thing Satan wants is our healing.  Healing does not happen in isolation; it happens in community with loving, compassionate people who come alongside us, pray for us and then walk with us towards wellness.  

But pride says, Hey, I received no mercy when I was being hurt/abused/wronged/ why should I be the one to forgive?  I didn't receive any mercy--quite the opposite--I don't know what mercy looks like anyway.  I am sure not going to learn now.  My life has worked so far (self-protection is my name and unforgiveness is my game) and though deep down I am terribly unhappy, I will not let you see that.  I won't allow that kind of vulnerability to be visible.  I hate weakness.  I will act strong, that I've moved on, but don't cross me.  The unforgiveness is right below the surface.  I do life by myself, thank you very much.

I know of someone who is like this.  He is a pastor.  He knows the Word like no other.  He has benefited from excellent training in the ministry.  But he doesn't want anyone to hold him accountable.  To see his hurt.  To see his pride that has roared up, leaving a debris trail of broken relationships behind him.  Being in community with other believers who are his equals threatens him.  He is only comfortable when he is around those people whom he sees as spiritually inferior.  

I learned a lot from listening to his teachings.  He got me into the Word and excited about it.  My trust in him, however, eroded as I watched his pride take over.  He did not show compassion.  He scorned those who he saw as weak, especially as they battled an illness.  He sees weakness as being caused from a lack of faith.  He has told people, "I never get sick," which implies his faith outshines everyone else's.  

He was terribly abused as a child; his hurt and his wounds are real.  Despite his contention that God has "taken everything away," his wounds still influence his life on a daily basis.  

He didn't receive mercy as a child.  He did not receive compassion as a child.  It was not modeled and although he may intellectually know what mercy is, his hurt drives him.  This has lead to bitterness and a contempt for others.  

I have seen a lovely part of him break through--the Jesus part.  His smile is a joy.  His enthusiasm is contagious.  He loves the Word.  

But unforgiveness is a toxin to the soul, slowly but surely paralyzing it until a person feels dark inside and then acts dark.    

My heart longs for reconciliation.  I tried early on to repair a breach in our relationship, but I was met with accusations (that were proven false, but to no avail), anger (how dare I question him), followed by silence (my name is only mentioned to others with contemptuous tones).    

But, and this is HUGE:  I have to be equally as forgiving as I expect him to be.  Equally compassionate as I wish him to be.  Equally laying pride aside and not nursing the wounds, as I would like him to do.  

In other words, we both need to lean on Jesus. 

Satan would like to sabotage this.

Jesus would like to heal this.

It is his choice.

It is my choice. 

That is forgiveness and that starts to dismantle the stronghold. 

Friday, June 1, 2018

Stronghold Starter #2: Knowledge: I am Smartest/Most Spiritual Person in This Place

We are exploring how Satan starts to build a stronghold in our lives.  How do we open our hearts to such an incursion?  Pride is at the core of all Satan's forays into our lives.  Pride manifests itself in a lot of different ways; some of these ways are seemingly innocent or seem spiritual enough.  But at the core is the stench of pride.

Jesus used a lovely metaphor when describing this seemingly spiritual exterior:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." (Matt. 23:27-28) 

Jesus is detailing a long list of violations of God's call to His servants; the Pharisees wanted all the accolades and respect they could secure by appearing to be spiritual, yet Jesus could see the emptiness inside and how it was filled with pride.  

Jesus uses another way to describe this condition:

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.” (Matt.12: 43-45)

Again, emptiness.  The person looks fine on the outside, but the heart is empty.  As in nature, the spiritual realm hates a vacuum.  To quote a Bob Dylan song, "You gotta serve somebody/It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord/But you're gonna have to serve somebody."   Interesting, one of the lines in the song includes, "You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride..."

A person may appear humble, but it is pride really drives this person.  

We talk about a someone who has to be the smartest person in a room; center of attention; life of the party.  Everyone knows who that person is--we can't help it, because that person is determined to take over the room.  We expect this of people who have not experienced the transformative touch of Jesus.  But when a Christian acts this way, it is injurious to the Body of Christ, for it makes Christ's Body mimic the world.  

Inside of serving from an overflowing cup, people serve from a deep insecurity that supports itself with "I have struggles, but I am not as bad as that person.  I am more spiritual than others at least."  People cling to the one thing that makes them distinctive--their supposed depth of knowledge and belief--and yet fail to see how that allows Satan to make his entrance into their lives.  

Satan then fans the flames of insecurity and also pride of spiritual superiority--a fire that sears all who come near this person.  

Paul called on his leaders in the early church to be teachable.  If I am teachable, I acknowledge several things about myself:

1.  I have not arrived spiritually; I will always have something to learn from Jesus and His Word and
from my brothers and sisters in Christ.  
2.  I may have misunderstood something and need to reexamine it by returning to the Word.
3.  This life in Christ is a process after I initially receive Him into my heart.  I am born again, but
I have to grow and develop in Him just as a baby grows and develops.
4.  I will have setbacks; either I feel sorry for myself or see them as opportunities for growth.

Finally, let's look at Paul.  If anyone could be the most spiritual/smartest guy in the room, it was him by far.  He was the architect of the early church under the work of the Holy Spirit.  

Notice something here with these verses.  Look at the dates when the letters were written, and how he chronologically sees himself:

"For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me." (1 Cor. 15:9-10; written in AD 53-57)

"Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ..."  (Eph. 3:8; written in AD 62)

"Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life."  (1 Tim. 1:15-16; written in either AD 64-65 or AD 58-59)

Do you see pride in any of these verses?  Do you see an insecurity that needs to be nursed by being the center of attention?  Do you Satan having moved into an empty heart?  

No.  Paul learned, as he walked in Christ, a fundamental truth:  He had nothing to bring to Jesus and everything to gain by being in Christ.  Any insecurity or shame he felt had come under the healing hand of Christ.  Any arrogance of his greatness had been burned away by Christ's loving and purifying fire.    

He served Christ in Christ and by Christ.  

When your city gates flies open because you feel insecure or arrogant, bring it to the Lord and slam the gate shut in His strength and power.  Stand in Him alone.  

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