Walk Free

“Yeah, all that spiritual warfare stuff you been teachin’, pastor, that’s a little out there, dontcha think? I mean, I know missionaries gotta be up on that stuff, but I’m just not seein’ it here in America.”  A few members complained about a series Ken chose to do on the believer’s position and authority in the supernatural realm. This parishioner received a crash course in demonic activity and believer’s warfare shortly after this conversation.

These folks loved the Lord dearly and made regular short-term mission trips to Haiti.  After one trip, they showed us some evil-looking masks they brought back as souvenirs.  Ken and I felt uneasy about them immediately and warned the couple that objects like that are often cursed by various priests and shamans of false religions.

The couple looked at us askance and assured us that these were merely objects of art, which they then displayed in their home.  After a series of strange home accidents and some weird goings on, they started to re-think their position and decided to get rid of the masks by burning them in the fire.  They told us that when they threw the masks into the blaze, they emitted screams.  No joke.

I still meet Christians who are unconvinced that every day, all day, there is a vicious enemy whose sole purpose is to either steal what we have, kill or destroy us.  As the days grow closer to Christ’s return, it is very unwise to be uneducated about your position and authority as a child of God.  The two books I want to recommend today, discuss this topic.

“A Woman’s Guide to Spiritual Warfare,” by Quin Sherrer and Ruthanne Garlock, is a little older but remains a go to book for me.   When we are faced with serious battles like a child’s addiction to drugs, a spouse’s addiction to pornography, anxiety, fear, depression, financial deprivation and the like, we do well to understand that we can break destructive cycles and bondages.  Our homes should be a refuge from our enemy, Satan, but they cannot be that if we do not understand the conniving ways he can erect strongholds in our lives.

I didn’t know nothin’ about fightin’ in the supernatural until I was in my thirties and frankly, I was afraid to mess with any of it.  I foolishly hoped that if I didn’t fool with that stuff, Satan, would sort of pass me by. My ignorance astonishes me still.  I became attracted to this book on a friend’s recommendation and purchased it because of the first chapter’s title; “But I Never Wanted to Be in a Battle.”

The authors address the hesitancy of the church to even embrace the phrase, “spiritual warfare,” and the lack of sound, Biblical teaching on the topic.  They quote another of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, who said, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about devils.  One is to disbelieve in their existence.  The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”

This book is balanced and will open your eyes to Satan’s low strategies and the believer’s high position in Christ.  Other chapter titles include: “Who is The Enemy and What Does He Want From Me,” “Breaking Bondages,” “Fight for Your Children,” and “Fight For Your Marriage.” They assure us that most of our warfare occurs on our knees with focused, informed prayer arrows.

The second book today, is “The Bondage Breaker,” by Neil Anderson.  The focus is very specific towards walking in freedom and the abundant life Christ died to provide for us.  Using personal accounts (with names changed), Dr. Anderson teaches methodically on how to recognize bondage and obtain freedom.  His abundant use of Scripture provides a wealth of memory verses that we can retrieve when confronted with our own bondages or others.

If there is a reoccurring issue in your life like habitual sin, irrational feelings, chronically negative thinking, confusion, despair and other such destructive tendencies, there’s a possibility you are dealing with a bondage that needs breaking.  Sometimes we inherit these patterns from our families and others are all our own making.  Either way, Jesus does not intend for his children to walk around dragging chains behind them.  This book will lovingly take you down the pathway to freedom in a logical, no heebie jeebie nonsense, sort of way.

Ken taught this as a class several times with outstanding results and it could be a great book to use in your small group or to go through with a spouse or close friend. There is an accompanying workbook that we found to be very useful in applying Anderson’s principles to our specific situations.

Jesus is coming soon, dear ones, and I fear the enemy is more aware of that than we are.  The darkness will grow more intense in the last days and the apostle Paul warns us that many will fall away from the faith, towards the end.  If Satan’s already achieved a foothold in a life through a stronghold, how difficult will it be for him to pile on more deception on top of that?

Be armed and dangerous.  Whether we like it or not, every believer is in the battle between darkness and light which will rage until the end of days.  I want to be using every single weapon and tool God provides for me to advance his kingdom and force Hell’s retreat, don’t you?

 

The Journey to Our Dreams

Are there times you feel like life’s jagged twists and unexpected turns led you away from your dreams?  Do you think you’ve been shanghaied, living a life far different than the one you aspired to live?  Are you currently impacted negatively by the foolish or sinful choices of others?

I never planned to be a minister of music, floral designer or music therapist.  Teaching high school was my lifelong dream. Yet, God clearly opened the above doors to me and nudged me to walk through them for more years than I wound up in the field of education.  Did I miss my destiny or dream the wrong dream?  Or, could it be that all those jobs I considered side roads were part of the primary path God designed for me?

This week’s books both taught me a great deal about the perils and promises of my life’s journey.  They caused me to consider closed doors and confusing circumstances from heaven’s perspective.  I forget that God’s ways and purposes are so much higher than mine and he simply does not owe me detailed explanations about some of the strange paths on which he’s taken me.  Maybe you’ve forgotten that too?

Pastor Robert Morris’s book “From Dream to Destiny,” uses the life of Joseph to teach some powerful truths about how God uses our lives.  In his forward he states:

“You see, God’s thoughts for you are higher than your thoughts.  His plans for you are better than your plans.  He has a dream for you, and it is better than your dream.  He has a destiny in mind for you, and it is not only bigger than you currently imagine, it also is bigger than you can ever imagine.”

Pastor Morris also shares that although God designs a destiny for all of us, not all of us will achieve our unique purpose in this life because we choose not to pass the tests God allows to come our way.  We bail and go our own way.  We miss opportunities from God because they don’t line up with our dream.  Pastor Morris identifies ten areas of testing he believes to be universally applicable to all believers.  They are:

  1. The Pride Test
  2. The Pit Test
  3. The Palace Test
  4. The Purity Test
  5. The Prison Test
  6. The Prophetic Test
  7. The Power Test
  8. The Prosperity Test
  9. The Pardon Test
  10. The Purpose Test

These purifying, character building opportunities won’t necessarily come to you in the same order as Joseph, but I agree that they come to us all.  Here’s a sample from one of my favorite chapters, “The Prison Test:”

“Joseph did the right thing (concerning Potiphar’s wife). But the immediate reward he got for it was to be lied about, falsely accused and thrown into prison!  Make no mistake about it; we must obey God if we want to walk in His blessings.  But obedience to God is no guarantee that bad things will never happen to us.  Just life Joseph, we must choose to do the right thing.  But sometimes, just like Joseph, we will do the right thing and get the wrong results.  When that happens, we are going through what I call the Prison Test.

The Prison Test could also be called the Perseverance Test, because this is the longest of all the tests. (emphasis mine.) This is a test that lasts for years- and every one of us will go through the Prison Test in some area of our lives.  When we do the right things and end up in the middle of a long and difficult trial, we are going through the Prison Test.  It is there that we learn to persevere.”

This book is still very dear to me as I reflect on my various seasons of trials.  There are times I passed the prison test and other times, I failed.  Oh, how I wish I’d read this book in my younger years.

My second book this week is “Hinds Feet on High Places,” by Hannah Hurnard.  The allegory is similar in style to the C. S. Lewis’ “Narnia” series, in that Hurnard creates a cast of characters and a plot which engages readers in a story that teaches.  It is based on Habakkuk 3:19 which speaks of the Lord strengthening his children to climb to the high places with him.

A hind is a female red deer which lives in mountainous regions. They are very sure-footed and nimble, able to leap around crevices and precipices with breath-taking ease.  The main character of this story, however, is a crippled deer named “Much Afraid,” a part of the Fearing family, in the Good Shepherd’s flock.  Walking is a challenge, let alone leaping.  Yet, this timid deer is filled with dreams to live on the high places with the Good Shepherd.

One day, she encounters the Good Shepherd face to face. He assures her that he can transform her into a deer with “hind’s feet,” if she’s willing to take the journey.  Once she starts, she is assaulted by various members of the Fearing family, like Craven and Coward, who try to keep her down in the valley with them.  Her path becomes treacherous and difficult as she passes by the Shores of Loneliness and the Forests of Danger and Tribulation where she must face her fears, self-doubts and vicious attacks from those opposed to the Good Shepherd.

“Much -Afraid lifted her face toward the seemingly empty sky, and with all her strength called out, “Come to my deliverance and make no tarrying, O my Lord.” To the horror of the four ruffians (Pride, Self-Pity, Resentment and Bitterness), there was the Shepherd himself, leaping toward them along the narrow promontory more terrible than a great mountain stag with thrusting horns, Resentment, Bitterness and Self-Pity managed to hurl themselves flat on the ground and edge away as he bounded toward the place where Pride was just seizing hold of Much-Afraid.  Catching him by the shoulders, the Shepherd spun him around, lifted him in the air, where he uttered a loud, despairing shriek, then dropped him over the edge of the cliff into the sea.”

This is an easy to read story with pounding truth that sneaks up and confronts you when you least expect it.  Great book for a book club discussion or to read together as a family.

How are you doing with reading this summer?  Let’s try to make it a habit that carries through out the year.

 

 

Live Well, Pray Well

 “Lord, give me firmness without hardness, steadfastness without dogmatism, love without weakness.”

Father make of me a crisis man. Bring those I contact to decision. Let me not be a milepost on a single road; make me a fork, that men must turn one way or another on facing Christ in me.”

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

The beautiful soul who wrote these words in his journal never knew that anyone, besides himself, might ever read them. The author died on January 8, 1956 on a remote riverbank in the jungles of Ecuador.  28-year-old missionary, Jim Elliot and several others, perished at the hands of a fierce tribe of Indians with whom they attempted to share the gospel.  His biography, written by his wife, Elisabeth, is entitled “Through Gates of Splendor,” and stands as one of the key Christian biographies every believer should read at some point.

Why do I consider it one of my mentoring books?  This excerpt might help explain:

“In his diary of the summer he wrote: ‘He makes his ministers a flame of fire’ Am I ignitable?  God, deliver me from the dread asbestos of “other things.”  Saturate me with the Holy Spirit that I may be a flame.’

The man who wrote those words was no recluse.  He was an American college senior, a school-champion wrestler, consistent honor student, president of the student Foreign Missions Fellowship, amateur poet and class representative on the student council. Able to recite such poems as “The Face on the Barroom Floor,” he was at the same time recognized as a man of spiritual stature above his classmates.”

Each of the three times I’ve read this book, the first in high school and the last being a year ago, I am struck afresh by Jim Elliot’s character and his passion for the lost.  In my life, I’ve met a few people who are incredibly fervent for God, who struggle to connect with other humans significantly.  Jim clearly demonstrated dynamic relationships with those around him but never let any of them, or other things of this world available to him, dissuade him from the call he received from God to bring the Gospel to unreached peoples.

Elisabeth shares in the book that many friends and family tried to convince Jim to share his gifts of preaching and writing in the states, building up the church here, but to no avail.  She shares, in detail, the singularity of his focus and what he gave up obeying God’s call on his life, ultimately making the supreme sacrifice.

The courage of Jim and his fellow missionaries, and the love they demonstrated towards hostile, murderous humans, humbles me and convicts me each time I read this book.  I come away each time thinking, “Surely, I can do better than I am.”

My second book for today started changing my prayer life and attitudes about marriage years ago.  Stormie Omartian’s “The Power of a Praying Wife,” remains a staple in the tools I use to effectively pray for my husband daily.  If you’re a man or single, don’t tune me out yet. This powerful prayer warrior produced a series of these books including, “The Power of a Praying Grandparent,” and “The Power of Praying for Your Adult Children,” along with a dozen or so other books about praying powerfully and effectively.

In the early years of Stormie’s marriage to Michael, a music producer, things between them hovered in a state of continuous turmoil. Here’s what she says about that:

“When my husband, Michael, and I were first married, and differences arose between us, praying was definitely not my first thought.  In fact, it was closer to a last resort.  I tried other methods first such as arguing, pleading, ignoring, avoiding, confronting, debating, and of course, the ever-popular silent treatment, all with far less than satisfying results. It took some time to realize that by praying first, these unpleasant methods of operation could be avoided.

The books of this series all follow the same basic format.  Stormie creates chapters based around various key prayer topics like work, reputation, health, finances, emotions, protection, relationships, temptations and many others.  Then each topic opens with some of her observations.  Second, she crafts a prayer you can use based on Scripture.  She closes each chapter with some key verses that are great to memorize or write in your prayer journal going forward.

Too often we unintentionally usurp the role of the Holy Spirit and try to change people ourselves through methods that seldom produce fruitful, long-lasting results.  How much better it is to pour our hearts into prayer about the things that concern us in our close relationships!  Stormie has created great tools that can teach you how to be specific, powerful and effective in prayers and less frustrated with those you care about.

If you’ve got some suggestions for other books which have inspired and encouraged you, feel free to share them and why you like them, on my Facebook page.

 

 

 

 

Good Mentors, Good Reads

You are the most divisive, nasty person I’ve ever met.”

“I’d like to tell YOU a thing or two about a thing or two……”

“Well, maybe if you didn’t act so snarky all the time, people would want to hang out with you.”

These are but a tiny, yet brutally honest sample, of the sorts of imaginary conversations I used to carry on in my head many years ago.  They involved people in various parts of my world who treated me, or my family, in rotten ways.  I knew the sinfulness of saying these things out loud.  What I didn’t fully comprehend, was the stench I created in God’s nostrils by even allowing these kinds of loveless, graceless, comments to travel through my mind.  Ugh.  It’s all under the blood of Christ’s forgiveness now, but I am astonished that I allowed these kinds of thought patterns free reign at one time.

Thank God someone placed “Battlefield of the Mind,” by Joyce Meyer, in my hands.  I possessed the head knowledge that God weighs the intentions of the heart, but I didn’t walk that truth out in my inner life.  This book confronted and convicted me and showed me a pathway to change.  Once I started to see it, I felt horror at the ugliness rampant inside my head.  Maybe you don’t struggle with those sorts of snarky reactions, but you are a worrier or continuously allow confusion to rule your inner thoughts.  Some of you might possess what Joyce calls a “passive mind.” Here’s a couple quotes about two of the mindsets she identifies in the book.

Concerning “the passive mind”: “Passivity is the opposite of activity…the Word of God teaches that we must be alert, cautious and active. (1 Peter 5:8) I describe it as a lack of feeling, lack of desire, general apathy, luke-warmness and laziness.  So many believers are emotionally ruled that an absence of feeling is all that is needed to stop them from doing what they have been taught to do.  They praise if they feel like it, give if they feel like it, keep their word, if they feel like it- and if they don’t feel like it, they don’t”

Concerning the “confused mind”: “To me, the ‘man of two minds’ is a picture of confusion, (James 1:5-8) as he constantly goes back and forth, back and forth, never deciding on anything. As soon as he makes a decision, here comes wondering, doubt and confusion to get him operating once again in two minds. I lived much of my life like that not realizing that the devil had declared war on me and my mind was the battlefield.”

Other mindsets she identifies are, “A Wandering, Wondering Mind,” “A Doubtful and Unbelieving Mind, “and “A Judgmental, Critical and Suspicious Mind.”   The third section of the book is what she calls, “Wilderness Mentalities.”  These are states of minds that will keep us wandering in spiritual deserts for years if we don’t recognize their toxic effect in our lives and do the work of changing our “stinkin thinkin,” as Joyce likes to say.  A few chapter samples are, “I can’t take it if things are too hard,” “It’s not my fault,” and “Don’t make me wait, I want it now!”

This book, like others I’ve mentioned in this mentor series, also makes a great group study and comes with a study guide.  We need to stop losing battles before we even open our mouths or move.  Joyce can teach you how to win the war on the real battlefield.

My second book today is a diminutive dynamo entitled “Secrets of the Vine,” by Bruce Wilkerson.   Some of you may recognize this author from his bestselling book “The Prayer of Jabez.”  In “Secrets of the Vine,” Wilkerson instructs believers, in only 126 pages, what he believes Christ meant when he spoke to his disciples about the vine and the branches.  His intro states:

“Have you ever been with someone very close to you who is about to die, someone who loves you and wants to leave you with a final word? Now imagine that the person who is about to speak is Jesus.  How closely would you listen? How long and hard would you ponder your Lord’s last words to you?”  In the pages to come, I invite you to encounter, perhaps for the first time, Jesus’ words in John 15- the heart of His final message to His disciples on the night He was betrayed. “

If Andrew Murray’s “Abiding in Christ,” seemed a bit overwhelming for you, then try this gem instead.  At some point, every believer must make a serious study of John 15 precisely because it contains Jesus’ final message on earth.  Using the metaphor of the vine and branches Jesus laid out, Wilkerson discusses various aspects of vine life, like pruning for greater fruit production.

Did you know that growers prune their vineyards more intensively as the vines age?  One horticultural bulletin I read explained why: ‘The vine’s ability to produce growth increases each year but without intensive pruning the plant weakens, and its crop diminishes.  Mature branches must be pruned hard to achieve maximum yields.

If you look at the future from a maturing plant’s point of view, there’s considerable cutting in store.  But from the grower’s point of view, the future holds something wonderful-grapes, grapes and more grapes!”

This thought blew my expectations for my future, right out of the water.  I thought that as I grew more mature in Christ, he’d lighten up on me a little bit.  I know, that sounds as silly to me now as it probably does to you.  It’s a matter of what I want in this life.  Do I long for ease, comfort, pleasure and my own way or am I yearning for Christ to use me in ways beyond my imagination?  I’m concerned that many past the age of forty are wasting brain power trying to avoid trials and discomforts instead of receiving the master gardener’s pruning process as a sign of greater works to come.

This book is incredibly totable, easily fitting in a purse, computer bag, backpack or sitting in the car for use during traffic jams. It’s also available as an audio book.  “Battlefield…” is also available as audio but only in cd form.

Are you reading and learning this summer?  Great mentors are waiting to coach you.

 

 

More Stuff I Learned From My Mentors

“I have literally felt Satan attempting to thwart the purpose of God.  I have felt I was in raw contact with hell.” A. W. Tozer

Pastor Tozer said this to his congregation in Chicago during the 1940’s before he began a series of 12 sermons which he felt to be the most important ones he delivered in his entire ministry.  As I introduce you to my mentors (in no particular order) and some of their wisdom this summer, Tozer is one of my oldest and dearest.  I’ve been reading and pondering the spiritual depths of this brother for thirty years and he remains significant to me to this day.  If you’ve never read any books by this prophet pastor, now’s the time to start.

Of his thirty-four publications, “I Talk Back to the Devil,” is my favorite.  Comprised of the 12 above mentioned sermons, it’s loaded with confrontive statements and prophetic warnings concerning the state of the church.  Their timelessness and pertinence for us today are astounding with an overall theme of revival and renewal.  With titles like, “You Can’t Be a Baby All Your Life,” and “Don’t Throw Your Head Away – You’ll Need It,” Tozer’s fearlessness and plain talk in addressing areas where he observed ungodly behavior in the church, is astonishing.   I wonder if he received some snarky letters?

Do you want to be challenged to come up higher in your Christian walk?  This book pokes at fleshy, religious behavior repeatedly.  I’ve been to the woodshed with Pastor Tozer many times and come out contrite, humbled and eager to obey God at any cost.  Here’s a quote from one of the chapters that I found so especially convicting.

“I believe we cannot experience that which we have not believed.  This is the reason why many Christians remain about where they are, day after day, year after year.  Time moves along, and special revival speakers come and go.  As a result, we have little spells in which we hope to do better. But if we are honest, we must admit that most Christians stay mired down right where they are. “

I encourage you to buy this book (available el cheapo, used, on Amazon) and find a quiet place every couple day, to read a chapter.  Let it marinate in your soul and pass your life through it’s filters of correction and wisdom.

My second, featured book today is “Abiding in Christ” by Andrew Murray, published in 1895.

Abide in Christ! This is the Father’s object in sending the trial.  In a storm, the tree puts down deeper roots into the soil; in a hurricane, the inhabitants of the house stay inside and rejoice in its shelter.  Through suffering, the Father leads us to enter more deeply into the love of Christ.” A. Murray

The heart of this piece is teaching the fundamental truths of what God meant when He said He is the vine and we are the branches. Murray wrote it to be a thirty-day devotional.  The trick for our 21st century attention spans is to accept the fact that these are not two-minute readings.  Each day’s writing will require at least 20 minutes to half an hour as they are packed with profound truths, one simply cannot comprehend it in less time.  Think of it this way; sometimes life demands the convenience of fast food but even those living under rocks now know that a steady diet of McDonalds and Dairy Queen is not healthy, long term.  The same is true of devotional readings.

If your daily devotions remain consistently in the two-minute range, don’t expect to experience the deeper truths of the kingdom in real time, powerful ways.  Without the distractions of so many forms of media, reading and conversation used to be the cornerstones of down time for our spiritual ancestors. Half an hour didn’t seem like a huge time commitment to them, like it does to us. If you’re like me, there’s something about summer that makes me want to back down from so many commitments rather than adding more.  That’s fine for the outer spheres of your life but I urge you not to do that to your inner life, your private time with God.

Daily devotionals are not something on my to do list, they are my quality time with God.  He is intimately with us every moment, yet he desires time with us where he is not sharing our minds and energies with anything or anyone else.  Learning the secrets of abiding in Christ brings spiritual maturity.  We can navigate the storms, irritations and conflicts of life with peace, confidence and joy because we are receiving high quality nutrition from the main vine.  Give Brother Murray the opportunity to teach you how to live a more fruitful and fulfilling life.

More and more, Ken and I are discovering that reading quality books is more relaxing and soul refreshing than just vegging out on TV or other media.  Many books are also available in audio form including both mentioned here.  You can tote books to the beach, stick them in your backpack, tuck them in your boat or camper; just take them along and let the words of the wise challenge and change you.