Saturday, May 9, 2015

Dealing with an unclean spirit, part 7: Living free

"When the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and not finding any, it says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' And when it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. Then it goes and takes along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first." (Luke 11:24-26 NASB)

These words of Jesus are so profound and full of truth that we would do well to take heed, for they serve as a warning for those who would be free. When we come to Jesus, with all our sin and the influence of evil rife in our lives, and give our hearts to Him, He does exactly what 1 John 1:9 promises. He cleanses us.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 NASB)

In this passage, Jesus speaks to the maintenance of that cleansing. When He cleanses our hearts from all unrighteousness, it is our job to maintain that cleansing. The place unrighteousness occupied in our hearts will be filled with something. When we fill our lives with the Word of God and the fruits of the Spirit of God (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control), there is less room for us to embrace the sin that would so easily entangle us. 

A common problem, however, is that we come to Christ, confess our sins, experience His cleansing, and celebrate that freedom, then go back to the same lifestyle without any changes at all. We don't participate in Bible study, we don't read Christian literature, we don't become active in serving our Lord. Instead, we go back to the same habits, watch the same movies, read the same books, view the same websites. Before we realize what is happening, we have embraced the same sin that oppressed us before Christ. When we do this, the world looks on in disbelief, wondering what benefit there is to our faith.

Jesus explained that, when we experience His cleansing, the unclean spirits influencing us leave, (lust, greed, anger, unforgiveness, bitterness, etc). If we don't replace that influence with Him, the spirits/temptations to sin will return with even more spirits/temptations to sin, and we end up worse than we started. Perhaps you've seen someone who has come to Christ, had a glorious transformation that lasted for a brief time, then ended up with more sin and destruction in their lives than they had before Christ. It is a tragedy and all too common. 

The only way to prevent this is discipleship. It is living the life of a disciple, committed to following Christ and becoming more like Him, that draws us toward righteousness and away from evil and sin. If we want to be free in Christ, we must not only choose it, but actively pursue freedom by our lifestyle choices. We cannot be a disciple of Christ and a disciple of the world. 

It was for freedom that Christ set us free. (Galatians 5:1). If we want to live in that freedom, we must choose it, every minute of every day. We cannot continue to do the things that brought us bondage. It requires that we take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 2:5). When we begin to ponder our sinful desires, we take that thought captive when we choose to change our line of thinking to one that pleases Christ, whether by offering praise to Him, prayers for strength, or quoting Scripture. 

In today's society, our focus tends to be on what "I" want, rather than what Christ wants. When I live my life to serve my wants and desires, however, I will quickly fill it with an incredible array of foolish choices that create a wasteland of my life. When I actively choose the life of a disciple, I will have less of the world (and likely less of those things the world holds dear) but I will also have more of the fruits of the Spirit, which is infinitely better.

Are we trapped again in the sin that held us before? Confession brings cleansing. Discipleship keeps us clean. Make a choice, then make the change that choice requires.

The question is simple. Do we want to be free of sin or not? If we want freedom, we must choose discipleship, for it is only by choosing to stay free that we can live free. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Dealing with an unclean spirit, part 6: For and against

He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters. (Luke 11:23 NASB)

For he who is not against us is for us. (Mark 9:40 NASB)

I gained an insight this morning into a question that has long plagued me. Why doesn't the church behave like the church? It shocks me when people tell me that they are content to be "members" without becoming "servants", planning to "make it into heaven" because their name is on a church roll. This misconception is heartbreaking to me because Jesus did not call us to membership, but to relationship. 

If I choose not to have a relationship with Christ in this world, why do I expect to have an eternal relationship with him in the next?

The verse from Mark 9 may be part of the confusion. There are more than enough jihadi's, eagerly opposing the cause of Christ. Most of us, however, do not actively oppose Christ. We could say, like in Mark 9:40, that we are "not against" Him. If we consider ourselves "not against" Him, we may mistakenly think that we are, therefore, for Him. 

Even a cursory examination of the passage, however, will reveal our misconceptions. The disciples had asked Jesus about someone who was casting out demons in the name of Jesus. "We tried to stop Him because he was not following us," they told Jesus. They didn't try to stop the man because of his lack of faith, but because he wasn't in their group. "He wasn't following us." (Not because he wasn't following Jesus.) 

The Master told them that the one who wasn't against Him was for Him, but this only applied to the person who was working in the name of Jesus, because of his faith in our Lord, but was not a part of the inner circle. It was a little like our denominational squabbles. It was foolish. With which group he ate his meals and traveled was not the important part of this man's service. Whether his faith was in Christ was what mattered. The man was clearly serving Jesus.

The passage in Luke reminds us of the verse in Mark 9, but there is a definite difference. "He who does not gather with me, scatters." This could have been a word about the church today. If we are not "gathering" the harvest, serving Christ, we are scattering the harvest. To put it simply, when we say we follow Christ but do nothing to help gather in the harvest of lost souls, do nothing to serve Him as He called us to serve, we are "scattering". 

This principle is why we see such an uproar against "those Christians" and why Christians are considered narrow-minded bigots by many today. If the world only sees us speaking and acting in judgment and condemnation, rather than as servants of Christ, it is no wonder that they are repelled. We become nothing more than "scatterers".

If, then, we are "scattering", we are not FOR Christ. Instead, we are AGAINST Christ, and that is a terrible place to be. I learned the words to a hymn as a child and they still resonate today. 

"I am satisfied with Jesus, but the question comes to me as I think of Calvary, 
'Is my Master satisfied with me?'" 

If we choose not to have a relationship with Christ in this world, we cannot expect to have a relationship with Him in the next. Let us consider our lives and our service today. Are we harvesting or scattering? Are we staking our eternal destiny on membership or relationship? Christ came that we might have life, and have it abundantly, and that life begins with relationship to Him.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Dealing with an unclean spirit, part 5: Victory in Jesus

When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are undisturbed. But when someone stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away from him all his armor on which he had relied and distributes his plunder. (Luke 11:21-22 NASB)

In these verses, Jesus gives a brief but vivid summary of the power of sin and the victory of the gospel in the lives of mankind. He portrays the devil (Satan) as a "strong man" who is fully armed to guard his territory, the lives of the unredeemed. The power of the evil one is strong and he has weapons that are effective for securing his hold on our lives. Guilt, condemnation, temptation, and lies are the weapons he uses to entice us into ongoing sin. He creates a stronghold thereby, through which he secures his position. 

Jesus, however, is stronger than the "strong man" and is fully capable of attacking and overpowering the evil one. When we allow Jesus to have His way in our lives, He "takes away", completely removes, those things by which we have been held in bondage. The condemnation, guilt, temptation, and lies of the enemy are cast out and replaced by the Spirit of God. Liberty comes with the Spirit, and it is the kind of freedom that only Christ can give.

There is a battle for our hearts and it is waged with deadly seriousness. The enemy would prove himself strong, for he is skilled in this warfare and knows how to use his weapons with precision. Having struggled with temptations of my own, I can confirm his skill, as you likely can, too.

In the midst of this battle, there is good news. The enemy of our souls has been overcome and defeated by the power of the cross. We do not have to live as those in bondage. We can be free, for Christ has broken the chains of sin and death. If we are willing to accept His gift of life and love, we can live in the freedom that He brings. 

Will a relationship with Christ remove the influence of condemnation, guilt, temptation, and lies from the enemy? Not exactly. What Christ removes is the power of the evil one. If we are willing to resist, Christ will give us the victory. Every time.

There is a strong one loose in this world, creating havoc at every opportunity. Praise God, though, there is one stronger who has overcome and set us free. If we are free, let us live as those who have been redeemed. Let us reject the lies, embrace the truth, and live in the freedom that only Christ can give.

A Call to Prayer from Anne Graham Lotz

I am reprinting this from my friend Aletha Hinthorn for the National Day of Prayer. Please consider joining in prayer and fasting for our nation. 

A Call from Anne Graham Lotz
On this National Day of Prayer, I am sharing a part of a letter Anne Graham Lotz posted online calling us to fast and pray for our nation. She wrote:

This past Spring, Joel Rosenberg and I taught through the book of Joel as we led a prophecy seminar at The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. It was my privilege to give the first two messages that covered Joel 1:1 through Joel 2:17. The impact on me was profound. Both times, when I stepped off of the platform, I knew God had spoken. The messages almost made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Why? Because God was clearly warning that His judgment is coming on America and on our world, and it's going to be ugly. I knew it then, and I know it now...

MAYDAY! MAYDAY! is an international distress call that signals a life-threatening emergency. And it's the call to cry out that I am issuing May 15-May 23. These are the nine days between the Day of the Ascension of Jesus and the Day of Pentecost that have Biblically and traditionally been days of prayer and fasting for an outpouring of God's Spirit.

The purpose of MAY!DAY! MAYDAY! is ...
* To claim God our Father's promise of an outpouring of His Spirit in these days following three blood moons and a total solar eclipse: ...I will pour out my Spirit in those days ...The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. Joel 2:29, 31

* To implore God the Holy Spirit to compel the church to repent of sin and our nation to return to faith in the living God, that times of refreshing may come... Acts 3:19

* To entreat God our Savior for an abundant harvest of souls for His Kingdom in the remaining days. Do you not say, 'Four months more and then the harvest'? ¹ I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. John 4:35

* To delay or soften God's judgment that is coming on America and on our world. Who knows? He may turn and have pity and leave behind a blessing. Joel 2:13-14

For those who sign up, I will provide a prayer I have written personally for each of the 9 days, as well as a brief video message, so that we pray with one accord. Before it's too late and judgment falls on our nation.

Anne Graham Lotz

"For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now...Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them from their distress." Matthew 24:21 / Psalm 107:19

You can sign up to receive her daily emails for the week of prayer at this link.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Dealing with unclean spirits, part 4: Intentional seeing

And He was casting out a demon, and it was mute; when the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke; and the crowds were amazed. But some of them said, "He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons"...

But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are undisturbed. But when someone stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away from him all his armor on which he had relied and distributes his plunder. (Luke 11:14-15, 20-22 NASB)

The "if" in verse 20 is an interesting word. In it's original language, the word means, "if and it is true". We might read this phrase, "If I cast out demons by the finger of God, and I do." This particular "if" also indicates that something else cannot be true. The phrase then becomes, "If I cast out demons by the finger of God, and I do, then I do not cast them out by Beelzebul". 

One of the things I love about the words of Christ is how He clarifies and makes difficult concepts simple. Jesus had clearly cast out the demon. The mute man could talk. No one doubted that Jesus had done it. The crowd's question was not if Jesus had done it, but how, by what power. 

Jesus said that the power to cast out the demon had come from one of two places, Beelzebul, as some of the people thought, or from God. He first made it clear that the ruler of demons would not last long if he gave people the power to cast out his demons. 

The truth, then, was that Jesus had cast the demon out by the power of God. "If I've cast out demons by the power of God, and I have, there's something else you need to consider." (Leanna paraphrase) If Jesus' power came from God, then the people needed to consider what else that meant. The Kingdom of God has come, Jesus told them, and you need to take note of this, not just let it pass you by.

Unless I am intentional about seeing the kingdom of God at work in my life, I can easily allow it to pass by without notice, and what a tragedy that is. I can completely miss seeing God at work, seeing His sweetness in the routine of my day.

The presence of Jesus in our lives brings the Kingdom of God to us. It's up to us to take note of it. For today, let's pray that we will see God at work around us with such clarity that we are overwhelmed with the certainty that Almighty God has come. 

Open our eyes Lord, we want to see Jesus.

Dealing with unclean spirits, part 3: thinking before we speak

But some of them said, "He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons."

But He knew their thoughts and said to them, "Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and a house divided against itself falls. If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? So they will be your judges. (Luke 11:15, 17-19 NASB)

Jesus had just cast out a demon from a man in whom it had caused muteness. When Jesus cast out the demon, the man began to speak. Some people were amazed by the miracle but some people said that His power came from Beelzebul (the devil). Jesus knew what they were thinking and responded to their poorly considered arguments. 

"If the kingdom of demons is involved in a civil war (divided against itself), how will it continue?" He asked. (This is the Leanna paraphrase) "If Satan is divided in a civil war against himself, how will his kingdom endure?" Jesus was telling them that their arguments didn't make sense. 

Their arguments were not only illogical, but, in their arguing against Jesus, they had failed to consider that their sons (or descendants) also cast out demons. "If I cast out demons by the power of Beelzebul, by what power do your sons cast them out?" Jesus was saying, "You need to think this argument through before you make it."

In their emotional response to Jesus, those arguing against Him had failed to thoroughly consider their argument to its natural conclusion. If what they said against Jesus were true, then it was also true against them, because they did much the same thing.

It is easy to respond to issues and current events in an emotional manner on the spur of the moment without thoroughly considering my rationale and without being adequately informed. When I do that, however, I look as foolish as the naysayers in Jesus' time, and am easily disputed. Instead, I need to do what my mama told me. Think before I speak.

Although we walk by faith and not by sight, we cannot simply attack the issues of our day without knowing truth. Mistaking quotes from Benjamin Franklin for Scripture is a common error, yet it makes us look foolish when we do so. Accepting inflammatory posts on social media without checking for their validity is another common error that incites us to indignation and outbursts that make us look foolish in our ignorance. 

Certainly there are issues against which we should stand, and against which we should argue. We do not help the cause of Christ, however, when our arguments are based on emotion rather than truth. 

If those arguing against Jesus had considered their arguments a little closer, perhaps they would have seen things differently. Perhaps they could have refuted their own illogical ideas without looking foolish and could have seen the truth in the words of Jesus. In that same way, we must be informed on the issues of our day, the truth behind the stories, the validity of our causes before we argue with the world. 

Jesus told us that we would know the truth and the truth would set us free. (John 8:32) We do well to remember that the freedom in that promise begins with knowing the truth

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Dealing with Unclean Spirits, part 2

And He was casting out a demon, and it was mute; when the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke; and the crowds were amazed. But some of them said, "He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons." Others, to test Him, were demanding of Him a sign from heaven. (Luke 11:14-16 NASB)

The first time I read this passage, it didn't seem as remarkable as it does today. A man had come to Jesus with a demon of muteness, and could not say a single word. The demon had caused him to be completely mute. Jesus cast out the demon and the man began to speak. It was obviously a miracle and a dramatic one, as well. 

This was not the miracle of a changed heart that takes some time to recognize, but a dramatic miracle that could easily be seen at once. Some of the people said, "Yeah, Jesus cast out the demon, but the devil helped Him do it."(Leanna paraphrase) We will soon see Jesus' answer to that foolishness.

Others said something even more foolish. "That's not enough of a sign to show you are from God. Do another miracle. Do something more impressive." (Leanna's paraphrase) Maybe the mute man speaking didn't seem impressive to them, but surely using the loaves and fishes to feed the multitude was impressive. Both Matthew and Mark relate that, after Jesus feed the multitudes, the Pharisees asked Him for another sign. "That's not enough."

The Pharisees saw Jesus feed multitudes, heal the sick, raise the dead. They heard Him speak the truth on a regular basis. They had the opportunity to know who He was, but that didn't satisfy them. He had done more than enough miracles, but they still weren't satisfied. They were constantly asking for Jesus to do more. It wasn't that they wanted Him to be more active in their lives or to confirm a decision with which they were struggling. They wanted Him to do another trick to entertain them, another miracle to prove Himself.

Although I've been a disciple of Christ for many years, it is easy for me to get caught up in wanting to see something dramatic or to see a flashy miracle, when, in fact, there is nothing more dramatic than the resurrected Jesus or the radically changed life of a disciple. What He has already done is more than enough, so any test that I devise for Jesus to prove Himself to me is not necessary and demonstrates my lack of faith. 

Where are we in our walk of faith? Do we still need more signs to believe or have we moved past the point of needing signs to recognizing the great gift God has already given us in Jesus Christ? Do we still ask Jesus to prove Himself again?

Today, let us embrace the truth we already know and allow Jesus to reign in us. Instead of asking for a flashy demonstration of power, let's ask for the miracle of a changed heart and a transformed life. Jesus is enough for me and what He has done in giving me a lifetime of grace is more than enough. Isn't He enough for you, too?

Monday, May 4, 2015

Dealing with Unclean Spirits, part 1

And He was casting out a demon, and it was mute; when the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke; and the crowds were amazed. But some of them said, "He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons." (Luke 11:14-15 NASB)

This section is, in a way, still a part of Jesus' teaching on prayer. Certainly no demon can be cast out unless we pray to God for it to be accomplished. 

In this passage, Luke gives an account of a man who had a demon of muteness. It caused him to be unable to speak but, when Jesus cast the demon out, the man who had been mute was able to speak. There were at least two kinds of responses in the crowd that day. Some of the people watched the miracle and marveled at the power of Jesus. They saw the man who had been set free from the bondage of evil and rejoiced at what God's Son had done.

Some of the people, however, saw the man who had been set free from the bondage of evil. They recognized the presence of the evil spirit, recognized the man's bondage, and recognized that Jesus had set Him free. Seeing all that, they missed the truth of the situation. They looked at the facts, assimilated them, and came up with the wrong interpretation. "He casts out demons by the devil instead of by God." It's a little like taking 2+2 and calling it 5. 

We will look tomorrow at Jesus' response to the naysayers. For today, let's consider the two responses to Christ. Some of the people saw His work of power and knew it was from God. They immediately believed what they saw and heard. Others saw the same work of power and immediately rejected what they saw and heard. What is unexpected about those who rejected the truth is that some of those rejecters were "church people", just like me. 

Jesus had taught about prayer, then invited His disciples to ask for the Holy Spirit. He gave a demonstration of what He had taught by performing a miracle. The "church people" (Pharisees, Levites, etc) were not accustomed to such demonstrations of power. The "church people" of Jesus' day were accustomed to their ritual and routine, just as we have become to our hour-long service before lunch on Sunday. It happens every week exactly like the week before. We don't have surprises. Nothing unusual or unexpected happens. 

When the unexpected occurred, the "church people" rejected it at once. "This is not how we do it. This can't be God. It must be wrong." The problem with their response was that it was God. It was right. It was how our Lord intended it to be done, and the way they had been "doing church" was not what God had intended. 

That's the problem with some of our service routines, as well. The "plan" is for the Holy Spirit to be present whenever two or more believers are together. The "plan" is for the Holy Spirit to manifest Himself when He is present. We've just spent quite a few days looking at the manifestations of the Holy Spirit (word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, distinguishing of spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues).  If we expect the Spirit to be present in our services, we should also expect to see some of those manifestations in our services. (At the very least we should have a word of wisdom or knowledge from our minister that is clearly Holy Spirit breathed.) Do we? If not why not?

For today, let's spend some time considering our expectations of Christ and of the manifestation of the Spirit in our worship services. Have we become content with the routine of ritual or do we expect the Spirit to move according to Scripture? If not, why not? The most important expectation we should have is the same one Jesus has for us, so let's be sure that we allow the Spirit to move in whatever way He desires. When the Spirit is unbound instead of unplugged, He will draw believers and unbelievers alike to Himself. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Teach us to pray, part 66: Speaking in Tongues

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 11:13 NASB)

But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues.  1 Corinthians 12:7- 10 NASB 

We are nearing the end of the manifestations of the Spirit. Today, we come to the manifestation described as "various kind of tongues". As we have discussed previously, there is one school of thought that says we are living in an age of "completed Scripture", by which they mean that all the miracles and manifestations have been done, including speaking in tongues. From my own experience, I know that is not true. Enough said. 

Jesus was the first one to mention speaking in tongues, just before He ascended back into Heaven. Mark 16:17 says "And these signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it shall not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover."

 The first manifestation of speaking in tongues was described in Acts on the day of Pentecost. At that time, a mighty rushing wind blew through the house in Jerusalem where the disciples were meeting for prayer, tongues of fire rested over their heads, and they began to speak in languages they did not know.  Jerusalem was filled with people from abroad and they understood the words that were spoken in their own languages. The manifestation that was so surprising served to deliver the gospel in such a way that everyone present could hear it in their own language.

Scripture relates numerous stories of new believers speaking in tongues after receiving the Holy Spirit, and there are some faith traditions/denominations that expect all new believers to speak in tongues. This is, in some ways, a dramatic manifestation of the Spirit, and may have been used at times as a tangible demonstration of the Spirit in the life of a believer, although I do not see instructions for that in Scripture.

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14:1-19 speaks in detail about speaking in tongues. When someone speaks in tongues, he said, they are speaking to God. If a listener cannot understand what is said, it doesn't benefit them. In fact, it seems as if the tongue-speaker is a barbarian because their words are unintelligible. If you want a manifestation of the Spirit, he said, ask for prophecy, rather than tongues, because it can benefit the entire body of believers. If you choose to speak in tongues with others present, you need to be able to interpret what is said for the benefit of those who hear. (or an interpreter needs to be present). 

With all that said, the question remains. Does speaking in tongues still exist? Yes. I think it does, although, like many other things, not everything presented as speaking in tongues really is. There is a temptation to "fake it" but "fake" tongues is not from God. 

Several years ago, I attended a Bible study with a group of ladies from various churches in town. One day, we were praying for one of the ladies, who was seated in a chair in front of the group. A second lady stood up, rested her hand gently on the first lady's shoulder, and began to pray in tongues. It was beautiful, and sounded to me like Hebrew. (I was familiar with spoken Hebrew so that is not as unusual as it sounds). The surprising thing is not that it sounded like Hebrew, but that I could hear it in English in my head. The depth of praise to God was breathtaking and I wanted to repeat it aloud. It was such a new experience for me that I did not. (Interpretation of tongues is not my gift, however.)  

Speaking in tongues is a genuine manifestation of the Spirit. It is a kind of prayer that is Spirit-driven and is understandable by God Himself. There are people who have been given the manifestation of interpreting the tongues spoken. Tongues should not be used in a church service unless there is an interpreter present. It is one of the more dramatic manifestations of the Spirit, but it is not the most desirable manifestation. 

All manifestations of the Spirit are to bring honor and praise to our Heavenly Father. Tongues, as well as all the other manifestations, can (and does) bring beautiful praise and honor to our Father. There is a role for tongues, but our desire should be to make our communications so clear that the truth of our Lord is understandable to all around us. 

however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue. (1 Corinthians 14:19 NASB)

As we consider this manifestation of the Spirit, let us pray that all our communications would point to our Lord, and that every word we speak would be so clear that all who hear are drawn to Christ by the clarity of our message.