Monday, May 21, 2012

One of Those Days

Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.  "I'm going out to fish," Simon Peter told them, and they said, "We'll go with you." So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.  John 21:2-3

These seven men had just endured a harrowing series of events that had culminated in the most unbelievable circumstances in the history of the human race.  Over the last few days they'd been yanked unceremoniously back and forth through a range of extreme emotions; they'd had their minds jerked from one intellectually impossible reality to another.

Their three years of walking with God on earth had been abruptly interrupted by his death; then he'd reappeared, alive and well, in a body that could eat and then walk through walls; and now he was gone again, with only rumors of appearances here and there, and no news about when or if or how they would ever run into him again.

They must have been thoroughly confused.

They'd been told that God was at work, and that he wanted to involve them in his fishing business, but there had been no clear instructions, and now he was off somewhere doing something they were not a part of.  All they could do was wait to wonder what in the world would happen next.

I know how Peter felt.  I've walked with God too.  I've seen him do amazing things.  I've heard him tell me wondrous truths.  I've thought I understood him, then had my understanding turned on its head and back again. 

But not today.

Today he doesn't seem to be around, and I am simply existing: doing laundry, babysitting grandchildren, looking out my window at a dreary day, and waiting.  For something.  I don't know what.  The world needs fixing, and here I sit, with a dull, guilty ache in my gut because I have no idea what eternally significant thing God wants me to do today, and I only have half an ambition to try to find out.

So Peter decides to go fishing, and I wash the dishes.  At least we are doing something constructive.  Peter catches nothing, and my dishes are just going to get dirty again.

But God is still at work in Peter's world, and he's about to show up.  He's about to appear on the shore, give encouragement, cook some breakfast for his friends, and affirm his calling of them as fishers of men.  We know this because we have before us the historical record of the amazingly significant events Peter ends up being involved in after that empty waiting time.

I believe the Lord will show up again in my world too.  Meanwhile, it's somehow comforting to know I'm not the only one who has ever had one of those days.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.  But the day of the Lord will come. . .    2 Peter 3:8-10a  

Monday, May 14, 2012

Ten Steps to Overcoming Negative Spiritual Influences

The first step in overcoming negative spiritual influences in our lives is turning to Jesus for help.  If you followed the advice at the end of the last post, you've already taken that step. 

Did you?  

Was your prayer addressed to Jesus?  Or was it just an instinctive cry for help directed nowhere specifically?  A knee-jerk reaction to pain? 

Either way, it's a good start.  But asking Jesus, specifically and on purpose, is the most effective way to begin your journey to freedom.  If you ask Him, you'll be better prepared  to receive His answer and act on His wise counsel when it comes. 

Jesus is the only solution to the great problem of evil.  His death on the cross and his triumphant resurrection won the war with evil once and for all, but He waits for us to ask Him how we can appropriate that victory for ourselves.  What we do when He answers us is where the rubber meets the road.  It's where spiritual freedom begins.

Meanwhile, here's a short list of steps to freedom in Christ.  Some of them you will probably need help with when you're just beginning to learn how to fight spiritual battles.  Don't be shy about asking for support and counsel from people you feel will understand the situation.  Look for those people in churches, or among your Christian friends or relatives.  God gives us Himself through each other:

1.  First, recognize the problem and its source.  Satan hides.  As long as we don’t notice what he’s up to, he can get away with anything.

2.  Make sure you have sold out to Jesus.  If He is not Lord in your life, Satan will be.

3.  Renounce any areas of bondage.  Then announce to the devil, firmly and authoritatively, your allegiance to the Lord.

4.  Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you with His power.  If you belong to Jesus, the Holy Spirit is present in you, but you can ask for a deeper filling, or a deeper level of His involvement in your life.

5.  Rebuke the enemy.  Speak directly to him in the authority Christ has given you.  “In Jesus’ name, by the power of His blood, I command you (spirit of anger, fear, lust), to leave.”

6.  Read the Psalms.  Many of these poems are powerful verbal weapons against the attacks of Satan.  Where the Psalms speak of our “enemies,” think “Satan.” Read the Psalms aloud, when possible, in the presence of the Enemy, and let God prepare a table of victory there, declaring His approval and protection of you. (Psalm 23:5)

7.  Memorize other Scriptures so thoroughly that you can quote them when you're under attack. Until you have Scriptures embedded in your heart through memorization, keep a Bible handy so you can open it and read whenever you need to.  Billy Graham keeps an open Bible in every room in his house, so he can easily read a few verses as he walks through his home.  God's Word is a sword--the only weapon we have in spiritual warfare.  It's amazing how quickly the enemy disappears when Scriptures are quoted in his face.

8.  Praise in prayer or song.  Listen to praise music.  Satan doesn’t like to hear God glorified, so he doesn’t stick around when you begin to worship and declare God’s greatness.

9.  Pray for others. Intercession is another thing the Enemy doesn’t like.  If you habitually allow his disturbances to become a call to prayer, he’ll quit disturbing you.

10.  Seek help from Christians who have had experience with spiritual warfare.  God has provided for our freedom, but He often wants to help us find it though other believers, who can encourage us and come alongside us in specific prayer ministry. 

May God bless you as you move into a deeper experience of the freedom and joy He longs for you to experience.  Please comment on this blog series.  Share your own experiences with spiritual warfare, if you'd like.  Ask questions or suggest ideas for further discussion.  I'd love to be interactive on this topic.

Friday, May 11, 2012

How Demonic Forces Operate

The first post in this series pointed out that Satan is at work in our world and in our lives.  Awareness of this reality is essential if we're going to learn to win in our battle with evil, and live in freedom and joy.

The second step in the process of overcoming is recognizing. . .

How Demonic Forces Operate

Satan, through his demonic helpers, “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  (1 Peter 5:8)  It may be helpful to think of demonic influence in terms of varying levels of involvement, so we can recognize how, and to what extent, we might be affected.

Level One:  Temptation

Satan’s first line of attack is to tempt people to think wrongly and to make wrong choices based on that thinking—choices that will increase his influence over them.  Each time we give in to temptation to do or think wrongly, the enemy’s power over us grows.  When temptation comes at this level we have the right and the responsibility to say “No” and to send the temptation away.  The Bible says if we resist the Devil he will flee from us (James 4:7).  At this level of demonic influence, resisting will work.

Level Two:  Oppression

Oppression is a sense of spiritual heaviness that hovers over the heart—a cloud of darkness that cannot be totally explained by our physical or psychological circumstances.  Sometimes this feeling is simply a sign that warfare is being waged in the spiritual realm--the "heavenlies” (Ephesians 6:12).  In this case we just give thanks, and pray through it until the heaviness lifts, knowing God is at work.  But if it continues, and becomes characterized by feelings of guilt, fear, hopelessness or inadequacy, we need to seek release.  Continued spiritual heaviness may be a sign of the kind of demonic oppression that drains our spiritual strength and prevents the victory God created us to experience.  In the long term, this kind of demonic influence can cause physical and psychological problems as well.  For this reason, people seeking physical healing from God will often experience spiritual healing first. 

Level Three:  Bondage

Bondage is demonic affliction at a level that controls a believer’s thoughts and actions in one or more areas of their lives.  What we tend to call “habitual sins” may fall into this category. Most of us live with these bondages quite happily until we get more serious about following Jesus.  When He presses into us in search of a deeper relationship, we become more aware of the habits and our desire to overcome them grows.  That’s when we find out how strong they are.  Temptations can be resisted by an act of our will, but bondages cannot be broken without help from the Holy Spirit.  Deliverance from spiritual bondages requires a deliberate decision to pursue freedom, and a process that involves both the exercise of our will and the power of God in our lives.

Level Four:  Possession

Demonic possession is an extreme case of spiritual bondage, where there is no control over evil in a person's life.  This level of demonic influence is believed to be rare in our North American culture, though it is commonly recognized in many other places in the world.  The enemy has made a caricature of the term “demon possession” in our culture, turning it into something either too ridiculous to deal with or too frightening.  For this reason, the term is hardly used anymore when dealing with demonic affliction.

How Are Demonic Forces Operating in Your Life?

All of us experience demonic influence at Level One, and it's important to be aware of what's actually happening when we are tempted.  Demonic forces take a personal interest in what we do with temptations. My strongest motivation for resisting temptation is the realization that when I give into temptation, Satan laughs.  I hate making him happy.

But demonic influence on the other three levels is not always easy to diagnose.  If you're wondering how much influence the evil spiritual realm is having in your life, here are some signs of a deeper involvement.

Signs of possible demonic oppression or bondage:

·  Panic attacks.
·  Compulsive behaviour, or besetting sins
·  Phobias—irrational fears
·  Uncontrollable, irrational anger, rage or hatred
·  Inability to forgive—bitterness
·  Consistent problems in relating to other people
·  Consistent negative “self-talk”
·  Physical self abuse—eg: cutting yourself, eating disorders
·  Low self esteem
·  Hearing voices, especially negative name-calling
·  Depression and an inability to experience joy or peace
·  Sense of hopelessness

Some of these conditions may be present when a person suffers from clinical depression. Clinical depression is a medical condition which may or may not be associated with demonic oppression.  But if you're experiencing any of the above symptoms, why not go to the Lord in prayer.  Ask for His intervention, for His wisdom about how to deal with the situation, and, ultimately, for His complete victory in your life.

On Monday I'll post the last in this series--a list of suggestions on how to fight spiritual battles successfully.  Meanwhile, if you're struggling, hold onto the truth that the actual war has already been won. The King James translation of Isaiah 59:19b reads: "When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard against him." Jesus is the victor! (Colossians 2:15)  His Name is the standard raised over our heads as we fight.

"Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He will strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord."  Psalm 27:14

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Enemy of Joy

Today begins a three-part series on a topic that might seem strangely out of place in a blog built around the theme of Joy.  What does a discussion of demonic powers have to do with joy, anyway?

The discussion would be a real downer if it weren't for the victory Jesus won over Satan when He died on the cross and rose again. That victory made joy possible for us. Without it, talk about joy would be nothing more than wishful thinking or a cruel false promise. Jesus' victory is real, and we can live in freedom and joy because of it, but we need to be informed about and aware of our spiritual enemy, or that joy will remain shrouded in darkness for us.

Satan’s demonic forces are active in our world.  They operate with strong authority, at the present time, in all systems of human government and society, deceiving influential people, encouraging human greed and selfishness, and promoting violence and destruction, especially against defenceless and vulnerable people.

Demonic spiritual forces affect individuals as well as world systems.  Some of us suffer more extensively at the hands of the enemy than others, depending on our life experiences and family backgrounds.  Life experiences may be either negative things that have happened to us without our consent, or the result of bad personal or moral choices we have made.  Often they are both. 

In any case, Christ died to deliver all people from the bondage of Satan’s rule.  Those who acknowledge their need for that deliverance and receive Christ as their Saviour and Lord are given the legal right to live under Christ’s authority, and receive freedom from Satan’s rule.  However, this freedom does not come automatically when we receive Christ.

Demonic forces continue to operate, without authority, in the lives of many Christians.  Though Satan has lost the right to rule in a Christian’s life, he can continue to “squat” in the territory until he is evicted.  We need to understand the power of the cross and the resurrection, and we need to know how to lay claim to Christ’s victory, or Satan will run roughshod over us.  He has no scruples!

Many Christians are at a disadvantage in that they don’t even realize that Satan’s forces are active players in their lives.  They don't recognize spiritual attacks when they come.  It’s important for us to understand how the demonic operates, as well as how to live victoriously over it. 

If you've been suffering intense spiritual or emotional pain and you're not sure what's causing it, you may be in the middle of a spiritual war without knowing it.  I hope these blog posts help you find the freedom Jesus died to give you.  As you discover that freedom, you'll be able to enter into a deep joy and peace that will bless you in ways you might never have imagined. 

This is the life God wants for you.  God bless you as you seek to find it.

Look for the next post on Friday: How Satan Operates

Thursday, May 3, 2012

History in a Nutshell

"Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever."
Psalm 107:1

All of human history is summarized in Psalm 107.  The history of individuals, of nations, of civilizations, are all represented by the scenarios described here. 

History is shaped by the choices, actions and interactions of individual human beings, and the story of humans on earth, whether recorded for us to study and interpret, or lost in the destruction of time and tyranny, follows the cycle of life the Psalmist portrays in Psalm 107.

The cycle goes like this: 

1)  Human beings become lost.  They wander, rebel against their Creator, become imprisoned in darkness, and generally get themselves into devastating situations way beyond their control. 

2)  They cry out in their pain. 

3)  God hears their cry and rescues them.

4)   They enjoy relief from their struggles.

Until the cycle begins again.

We see this in the recorded history of world civilizations.  We see this in our own personal histories.

Not all pain and darkness is the direct result of our own personal stupidity or sin, of course.  The psalmist addresses this fact.  He talks about human oppression, and how God deals with the oppressor.  But the overall message is that all our pain, deserved or undeserved, is meant to become the vehicle that drives us back to our Creator. 

And He is faithful, forever. 

"Let all who are wise heed these things and ponder the loving deeds of the Lord."
Psalm 107:43