Sunday, July 23, 2017

Giving Keys to Thieves

After church one day a few years ago, a solid Christian woman began to be overcome with feelings of extreme sadness. A few of us, my wife included, went with her into a room to intercede for her away from the crowds.

As we prayed, a demonic presence appeared to manifest. She started to growl, drool and claw at the floor like a wild animal. Honestly, I was kind of freaked out. Though we eventually saw her receive deliverance from the evil spirit, within a few weeks it happened again. When I got a call about her experiencing her third bout with the demon, I sensed God telling me to ask her if she had been harboring bitterness and resentment toward a certain family member.

Unfortunately, this is not the only time I have ministered to brothers and sisters in Christ where prolonged bitterness and an unwillingness to forgive allowed evil spirits to have their oppressive way. Sometimes these Christians heard audible, evil, and berating voices, and one believer even heard voices telling him to do harmful, malevolent things to others.

In Ephesians 4:26-27, Paul makes sense of this situation. He writes, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” The word translated “opportunity” in this verse (topon) has a lexical range that includes “place,” “region,” “seat,” and “opportunity.” Jesus says in John 14:2 that He is going to God the Father to prepare a topon, a dwelling place, for His disciples.

So basically, remaining bitter with someone and refusing to forgive him or her is like handing a thief the key to our house. Specifically, Paul tells us this thief is the devil, and the house for which the key is made is our body. To be sure, handing over the key to our house is not the same as signing over the deed to that person. Just because someone has a key to our house does not mean he or she owns it. We still own the house.

If you have been born again, God hasbought you with a price and your body has become the temple of the Holy Spirit. The devil cannot own or possess something that is owned or possessed by God. However, if you have given away the key to your house to him, he has the ability to cause much damage to your life. Again, as Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). Knowing this, why would you willingly give the key to your house to the thief?

Though what you just read may be outside of your tradition, the early Christians affirmed that unrepentant Christians can be oppressed and demonized by evil spirits.

Holy Scripture teaches us that there are certain invisible enemies that fight against us. And it commands us to arm ourselves against them. … We receive certain initial elements and (as it were) seeds of sins from those things that we use agreeably to nature. However, when we have indulged them beyond what is proper and have not resisted the first movements to intemperance, then the hostile powers size the occasion of this first transgression. They incite and press us hard in every way. They seek to extend our sins over a wider field. – Origen 225CE, ANF Volume 4, p.   [CD-ROM]

Thankfully, all of the individuals experienced full and lasting deliverance once they repented of the sins of bitterness and unforgiveness. They experienced the Spirit of God cast the evil spirits out from their bodies through the power, authority, name and blood of Jesus Christ. These Christians felt incredible spiritual and physical relief as a result of the repentance and deliverance that had taken place. One of them was finally able to start having a full night’s sleep after roughly two decades of restlessness.

What about you? Has a root of bitterness been allowed to run deep in your life for too long? Is there someone you need to forgive?

Today is the day for reconciliation. Today is the day for freedom. Today is the day to reclaim the keys of your house.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

What I Didn’t Learn in Seminary

I’m so grateful that I was able to do my undergraduate work at a Christian university. It was there that I truly developed a love for the Scriptures and a passion to impact the world for Christ. I’m also thankful for being able to graduate from Seminary, and for the many practical ministerial lessons I learned there.

However, even though I was blessed with a wonderful traditional Christian education and graced with many brilliant professors, I feel like the writings of the earliest Christians have deepened my faith far more than anything I was exposed to in the classroom.

To be fair, we did learn about a few of the major Gnostic heresies during the Ante-Nicene period such as Marcionism, Valentinianism and Manichaeism. However, it was basically implied that real orthodox Christianity began to take root with the 5th century teachings of St. Augustine (who spent his early years as a Manichaean before converting to Christianity).

I have encountered many believers who experienced the same carefully shaped version of Christian history in Bible college or seminary as I did. We were informed of the heresies the earliest Christians stood against, but despite the vast amount of Ante-Nicene writings available to be studied, we were neither exposed to them, not taught what the earliest Christians actually stood for.

So, for the remainder of this blog, I’m going to provide you with a few testimonies from the early Christians that led me to begin questioning my previously held spiritual worldview. Each of these testimonies are from apologetic-type works, with the authors describing the actions of Christians around the entire known world at the time.

As you read these excerpts, I’d like for you to ask yourself this question: Why? Why are testimonies like these rarely being taught to the up-and-coming pastors, professors and leaders of Christendom?

Justin Martyr on Christians and Violence in 160CE:

We who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness, have each through the whole earth changed our warlike weapons, — our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into implements of tillage, — and we cultivate piety, righteousness, philanthropy, faith, and hope, which we have from the Father Himself through Him who was crucified… Now it is evident that no one can terrify or subdue us who have believed in Jesus over all the world. For it is plain that, though beheaded, and crucified, and thrown to wild beasts, and chains, and fire, and all other kinds of torture, we do not give up our confession; but the more such things happen, the more do others and in larger numbers become faithful, and worshippers of God through the name of Jesus. For just as if one should cut away the fruit-bearing parts of a vine, it grows up again, and yields other branches flourishing and fruitful; even so the same thing happens with us. – Justin Martyr 160CE, ANF Volume 1, p. 413 [CD-ROM]

Irenaeus on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in 180CE:

Those who are truly His disciples, receiving grace from Him, … perform [works] in His name, in order to promote the welfare of others, according to the gift that each one has received from Him. Some truly and certainly cast out devils. The result is that those who have been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe and join themselves to the Church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come. They see visions, and they utter prophetic expressions. Still others heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and the sick are made whole. What is more, as I have said, even the dead have been raised up and remained among us for many years. … It is not possible to name the number of the gifts which the Church throughout the whole world has received from God, in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and which she exerts day by day for the benefit of the Gentiles, neither practicing deception upon any, nor taking any reward from them. – Irenaeus 180CE, ANF Volume 1, p. 676 [CD-ROM]

Tertullian on Christians and Government in 197CE:

As those in whom all zeal in the pursuit of glory and honor is dead, we have no pressing inducement to take part in your public meetings; nor is there anything at all more entirely foreign to us than affairs of state. … If, also, Jesus exercised no right of power even over His own followers, to whom He discharged menial ministry; if, in short, though conscious of His own kingdom, He shrank back from being made a king, He in the fullest manner gave His own an example for turning coldly from all the pride and garb, as well of dignity as of power. For if they were to be used, who would rather have used them than the Son of God? What kind and what number of weapons would escort Him? What kind of purple would bloom from His shoulders? What kind of gold would beam from His head, had He not judged the glory of the world to be alien both to Himself and to His? Therefore what He was unwilling to accept, He has rejected; what He rejected, He has condemned; what He condemned, He has counted as part of the devil’s pomp. – Tertullian 197CE, ANF Vol. 3, p. 67, 110 [CD-ROM]

So, what do you think? What could be some of the reasons that testimonies like these are rarely being taught to the up-and-coming pastors, professors and leaders of Christendom?

As I mentioned earlier, these are just a few of the subjects written about by the earliest Christians that began to cause shifts in my spiritual worldview. It can be scary when our worldviews are shaken; I know from experience. However, I’m so thankful that it happened.

The early Christians taught me to take Jesus more simply and seriously than I ever did before. They inspired me to believe with much more fervency that the same Holy Spirit who indwelt and empowered the Apostles still transforms and enables Christians today to walk as Jesus walked. They challenged me to trust more fully in God as my protector and avenger, and to more passionately wage war against the forces of darkness with the divine weapons graced to us by our Lord.

If you’d like to read more about my journey with Christ and how the testimony of the earliest Christians has been affecting my approach toward so many areas of life, please check out my book. Also, perhaps the best way to get introduced to the beliefs and practices of the Ante-Nicene Christians is to invest in The Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs. I recommend the hard copy, as it has proved much more user-friendly when navigating from topic to topic than the digital version. 

Seminary was definitely a blessing for me, but it’s what I didn’t learn in seminary that totally changed the course of my life. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Come Out of Babylon

A recent Pew Research Center survey revealed that over the last ten years support for same sex-marriage among white Evangelicals in America has more than doubled. In 2007, only 14% of white Evangelicals supported marriage between homosexuals, but that number has now grown to 34%. If you were born after 1964, the total rises to 47%.

So, what could be behind this massive and drastic shift in Evangelicalism?

In 2015, former US House Majority Leader Tom Delay revealed he and others saw a memo stating that the Justice Department had been seeking to legalize 12 new perversions such as bestiality and pedophilia. He also stated that the memo told of strategies the Justice Department was planning to employ to manipulate the Church. That may sound farfetched to some reading this, but actually, it's nothing new.

Alice Bailey is one of the most influential people you may have never heard of. One of the main proponents of the New Age movement, she and her husband founded Lucifer Publishing Company in 1922, later changing the name to Lucis Trust. Lucis Trust has been a consultant for the United Nations for many decades. Additionally, Alice Bailey wrote a 10 point plan outlining how to replace a society’s Biblical worldview with one that would be more fitting for the New Age’s christ, or what we Christians would refer to as the Antichrist.

As you read the 10 points, ask yourself if you can see the world being shepherded toward their fulfillment.

1. Take God and prayer out of the education system.
2. Reduce parental authority over the children.
3. Destroy the Judeo-Christian family structure or the traditional Christian family structure.
4. If sex is free, then make abortion legal and make it easy.
5. Make divorce legal and easy, free people from the concept of marriage for life.
6. Make homosexuality an alternative lifestyle.
7. Debase art, make it run mad.
8. Use media to promote and change mindset
9. Create an interfaith movement.
10. Get governments to make all these (points) law and get the Church to endorse these changes.

I understand that most people don’t like to think about nefarious forces conspiring together to destroy the Church. However, if you think about it biblically, Satan has been conspiring with his followers against the Lord and His people for quite a long time. And though we teach our children songs like This Is My Father’s World, the Scriptures provide us with a spiritual worldview that’s a bit more complex.

Yes, Psalm 24 does teach us that the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it because He created it. On the other hand, three times Jesus refers to Satan as the “ruler (arche) of this world.”

Pastor and Greg Boyd writes this about our adversary:

An arche referred to the highest ruling authority (the “boss”) in any particular region. Satan is also referred as the “the god of this age” and “the principality and power of the air” (2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2). And John goes so far as to claim that, “The whole world lies under the power of the evil one” (1 Jn. 5:19). If the whole world is under the power of the evil one, it hardly seems Satan was exaggerating in claiming all government was under his power (Lk. 4:5-7).

Not only this, but Satan is referred to as “the destroyer” who “deceives the nations” (Rev. 9:11; 20:3, 8 cf. 13:14). All earthly governments are depicted as belonging to a single Kingdom that is under Satan’s rule but which is now being delivered over to Jesus (Rev. 11:15). Consistent with this, scholars agree that “Babylon” in Revelation symbolizes earthly government under Satan’s authority. Babylon rules “all nations,” all of which are “deceived” by her “sorcery,” which appears to be the deceptive lure of power.

The early Christians did not shy away from the topics of Babylon, her deceptive allure, and the Church’s need to come out of her.

A voice is heard from heaven, forewarning what is becoming for the servants of God to do, saying, “Come out of her, my people, that you will not partake of her sins, and that you will not receive her plagues.” He who goes out and departs does not become a partaker of the guilt; but he will be wounded with the plagues who is found a companion in the crime. … A blind love of one’s own property has deceived many; nor could they be prepared for, or at ease in, departing when their wealth fettered them like a chain. … But how can they follow Christ, who are held back by the chain of their wealth? Or how can they seek heaven, and climb to sublime and lofty heights, who are weighed down by earthly desires? They think that they possess, when they are rather possessed; as slaves of their profit, and not lords with respect to their own money, but rather the bond-slaves of their money. These times and these men are indicated by the apostle, when he says, “But they that will be rich, fall into temptation, and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and in perdition.”Cyprian 250CE, ANF Volume 5, p. 769-770 [CD-ROM]

By putting this research together, we can begin to determine a few key factors that have contributed to the Church’s compromising position on gay marriage.

First, though it may be hard to admit, we have been getting played by the State. The Babylon system has been slowly and cunningly shepherding us to actually choose this perverse path for ourselves, just like the way many cognitive psychologists often work their patients.

Second, the king of the Babylon system has slyly convinced an enormous segment of the American Church that the King of kings got it wrong on homosexuality. And it’s no wonder, considering that most of our must-watch TV programs are hell-bent on promoting homosexuality. All the while, around 60% of American Christians don’t consider reading the Bible (which from Genesis to Revelation speaks against homosexuality) an essential part of being a Christian.

Finally, as the Apostle Paul wrote, the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Jesus said our heart is where our treasure is, and unfortunately, many churches have given their hearts away to Babylon out of a fear of losing earthly treasure. When Wicca is said to be the fastest growing religion in the United States, you know the Church has issues. Unfortunately, many churches have respond to this lack of interest by seeking to become just like the world. Instead of seeking to be distinct from Babylon, many of us have gone full Nimrod to keep our mini towers of Babel in operation.

If we want to see homosexuals or anyone else come to Christ, compromising the truth will not get them there. Changing the gospel won’t get them there. The Holy Spirit brings people to Jesus, and He has come to convict the world concerning sin, righteousness and judgment. So let’s come out of Babylon, return to our first love and allow Him to do His job through a pure and holy Church. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

September 23, 2017 – Homecoming or Ho Hum?

For the second year in a row, certain Christians have been predicting that major, world-changing events will take place on my son’s birthday. It has to be a bit of a bummer when you want to celebrate but folks around you are forecasting apocalyptic-type events for your big day.

A growing number of Christians have been rallying behind the belief that a secret rapture of the Church is going to occur on September 23, 2017. They believe this event will then kick off a seven-year tribulation period, which will ultimately culminate with Jesus’ visible return.

I have to admit; the folks that have been working on this theory have done a ton of research. Hundreds of hours must have been spent putting all of this stuff together. And to be honest, some of it is impressive.
The theory, though, totally hinges on the doctrine of imminence. The modern doctrine of imminence basically states that Jesus will secretly rapture His Church without any signs preceding this event, and then the Great Tribulation will begin. Many Baptist seminaries teach this doctrine, and I used believe it as well. It’s become a very popular teaching over the last 150 years, and I admit that aspects of it are quite appealing.  

However, please consider that understanding of imminence in light of Jesus’ parable of the fig tree in Matthew 24. 

Jesus also told His disciples, “Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place (Matthew 24:32-34).”

Jesus said that when we see all these things, we will know His return is imminent. So, what are all these things that He referenced earlier in the chapter?

v Vs 10) A great apostasy occurs within the Church.
v Vs 15) The Antichrist sets himself up in temple of God declaring himself to be above God.
v Vs 21) There is a great tribulation like never before in history.
v Vs 24) False Christs and false prophets do remarkable signs and wonders to mislead the elect.
v Vs 29) The sun is darkened.
v Vs 29) The moon doesn’t give its light.
v Vs 29) Stars fall from the sky and the powers of the heavens are shaken.
v Vs 30) THEN, all the tribes of the earth mourn when they see the Son of Man coming in clouds with power and great glory like lightning flashing from one end of the sky to the other. He appears with a great trumpet blast to gather His people to Himself.

Peter affirmed the simple words of Christ in his first sermon on the day of Pentecost. Quoting the Lord God in the book of Joel, he proclaimed, “And I will grant wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come (Acts 2:19-20).”

According to Peter and Jesus, before the day of the Lord, the sun will be darkened and the moon will look like blood. We should be looking for these signs.  

Paul adds his witness against the modern understanding of imminence in 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 3-4, writing that Jesus’ return and our being gathered to Him will not occur until after the great apostasy and the Antichrist is revealed.

Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him… Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.

Like Paul and Jesus, the early Christian writers overwhelmingly affirmed that the Church would remain on earth while the Antichrist was bringing tribulation upon Christians. Here are just a few examples:

He shall come from heaven with glory, when the man of apostasy, who speaks strange things against the Most High, will venture to do unlawful deeds on earth against us Christians. – Justin Martyr 160CE, ANF Volume 1, p. 413 [CD-ROM]

He will cause all those who will not worship the image of the beast to be put to death. Here the faith and the patience of the saints will appear, for he says: “And he will cause all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand or in their forehead; that no man might buy or sell without having the mark, the name of the beast, or the number of his name.” For, being full of guile, and exalting himself against the servants of God, with the wish to afflict them and persecute them out of the world, because they give not glory to him, he will order censers to be set up by everyone, everywhere, so that no one among the saints may be able to buy or sell without first sacrificing. – Hippolytus 200CE, ANF Volume 5, p. 382 [CD-ROM]

The Antichrist, when he begins to come, will not be allowed to enter into the church just because he threatens. We will not yield to his arms and violence, even though he declares he will destroy us if we resist. . . . The Antichrist is coming. Yet, above him, comes Christ also. The enemy goes about and rages, but immediately the Lord follows to avenge our sufferings and our wounds. – Cyprian 250CE, ANF Volume 5, p. 613, 619 [CD-ROM]

The testimony of the earliest Christians is that we are going through the Great Tribulation. We will be around while the Antichrist is wreaking havoc on us and on the earth. Many Christians will fall away. Though we will experience the wrath of Satan and the Antichrist, true believers who persevere will not experience the wrath of God. Jesus will come for us just before He pours His bowls of wrath out upon the earth.

That is the overwhelming testimony of the earliest Christians. Now, it is possible that they could have been mistaken. It’s possible that at any moment, even on 9/23/17, without any signs or warnings, there will be a secret rapture of the Church that will usher in the Great Tribulation. But which is more prudent to prepare for?

Hurricane season is rapidly approaching in Houston, TX. In my lifetime, some have hit close to home, and some have been all bark and no bite. That being said, anyone who has been a Houstonian as long as I have knows that you prepare for the worst but hope for the best. Perhaps we should take the same approach to the Great Tribulation as we hold fast to the simple words of Christ.