From Duck Dynasty to Deliverance

Most you you know about Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson, the comments he made in GQ magazine about homosexuality, and the decision of A&E to suspend him from taping the show.  The controversy obviously reflects the growing divide in our culture between secularists and those who take the Bible seriously. As one who takes the Bible seriously, I have a growing concern beyond whether or not Duck Dynasty remains on A&E or not.

Here is the concern:  Is Phil Robertson going to represent Biblical Christianity to our culture?  Do the sarcastic put-downs and institutionalized adolescence of Duck Dynasty represent well Christ’s love and character? If our culture comes to identify and stereotype conservative, Biblical Christianity with Duck Dynasty, is that how God is going to advance the gospel?  Heck, maybe it is.  God is way smarter than me.   He uses the foolish things to confound the wise. God bless Phil Robertson, and God bless his ability to speak his mind.  The simple wisdom that is often reflected in his life and words does speak to this culture powerfully.

But obviously, there is more to following Jesus.  But why doesn’t our culture see it more often?  Why doesn’t our culture get to see the transforming, loving, healing power of Jesus that radically changes circumstances and lives?

Why did A&E choose to broadcast Duck Dynasty?  Because the Robertson family is somewhat exciting.  They take risks and say plainly what most of us keep to ourselves.  They take otherwise non-interesting events (like sitting around a warehouse not working) and make them interesting and funny.  And it satisfies our suburban voyeuristic desire to see how people like the Robertsons live.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I walk around with the creator of the universe living inside me!  I have the love of the Father flowing through me and the power of His Spirit pouring out of my heart!  Shouldn’t that be more exciting than a group of bearded men sitting around a warehouse acting like adolescents? But sadly, so often it’s not.

One reason that us Christians are pretty boring today (so therefore our culture’s attention is grabbed by sensationalized adolescent representations of Jesus) is we have abandoned the ministry of Jesus.  Jesus wasn’t boring.  People fought through crowds, tore holes through roofs and tried to walk on water to get to him.  When Jesus sent out his disciples, he gave them authority to cast out demons and heal the sick (Luke 9:1).  Yet what percentage of American Christians have ever done either of these things?  If, when we went out in public, we looked for opportunities to do these things, would we be needing Phil Robertson to represent us to the culture?  Even if we just prayed for people out in public regularly, wouldn’t our culture have a different view of the church?

In Acts 4, the Jewish religious leaders had a political problem when they wanted to punish the disciples.  Why? “Since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say.”  As our culture turns against Bible-believing Christians, may the same be said of us.

What do Christian teenagers actually believe about Jesus?

I came across an interview of Mike Nappa, who recently published The Jesus Survey.  This was a survey of Christian teens who not only self-identified as Christians and as active in their youth groups, but since the survey was taken at a short-term mission site, obviously these are also ones willing to put their faith into action to some extent.

Of these precious ones, 70% expressed “persistent, measurable doubts that what the Bible says about Jesus is true.”  Of course I was surprised by this, but when I think about the culture our kids are being raised in, where they leave church on Sunday morning and/or Wednesday night, and the rest of their experience is awash in opposite messages, it’s not that surprising.  In most of our culture, living for Jesus and seeing Him work in our lives isn’t even on the table for discussion.

But here is the gold:

The data show that Christian kids who actually have strong confidence in Scripture actually experience God more noticeably in their daily lives.  For instance, four out of five (82%) of teens who have “unshakable” faith in the Bible also report possessing “strong” proof that the Holy Spirit is active in their lives.  Among kids who are uncertain about Scripture, that number is less than than half (49%).  For Christian teens who disbelieve the Bible’s reliability, only 22% strongly claim real-life experience with Christ’s Holy Spirit.

Do you see it!  Kids who see the Holy Spirit active in their lives actually believe the Bible!  Or, kids who believe the Bible actually see the Holy Spirit active in their lives!  Which comes first?  I’m not sure it matters.  It’s a symbiotic relationship.  People take a little step of faith, find out God is real, and then realize that the Bible is reliable.  Or people read the Bible, feel led to put it into practice, and find out God is there.  It’s both/and.  Experience and belief must work together, because if we don’t believe it, we won’t take a risk and try it.  And the more we try it and find out God is real, the more we believe it.

Nappa asked teens if they agreed to a set of belief statements, for example: the Bible is completely reliable, they were 100% certain Jesus had answered one or more prayers and could prove it, and they were 100% certain that the Holy Spirit was active in their lives.  Those who affirmed all of his core beliefs—he called them “Confident Christian Teens”—are outnumbered 10 to 1 in youth groups today. But they are there!  And God wants to build their numbers.  Not for the sake of us being able to “claim” them as disciples and be proud of our families and youth programs, but so that they may experience the love, hope, and transforming power of Jesus in their lives.

Rich young ruler

In Radical by David Platt, he discusses the story of the rich young ruler.  You know the story: The rich young ruler asks Jesus how to have eternal life.  Jesus tells him to follow the law.  Self-righteous rich young ruler claims to have obediently followed the law his entire life.  So Jesus cuts to the chase of his idolatry: “Go sell all you have and give to the poor…and come follow me.”  But the rich young ruler “went away grieving, for he owned much property” (Mark 10).

Platt then points out that many of us find relief in the idea that his command is not universal: Jesus is not commanding all of us to give away all of our possessions.  However, he quotes Robert Gundry:

That Jesus did not command all his followers to sell all their possessions gives comfort only to the kind of people to whom he would issue that command.

Ouch. I think I am one of those “kind of people.” It may not be money, it may be unhealthy relationships, or food, or pornography, or whatever. But Jesus is after our idols, our false gods–the things we turn to for comfort and security. He wants all of our hearts, because he knows that’s what’s best for us. When we live a fully surrendered life, we truly live. The life of faith is so much bigger.

Lord, I don’t want to live a shriveled life chasing false security. Lord, give me the strength to trust you with everything! In Jesus’ name.

Why can’t I see him?

On my bike home the other day, I was listening to a message that John Paul Jackson gave at a conference on August 1, 2010.  I wasn’t able to verify but I believe it was given at the Mission Viejo Vineyard.  Here is the excerpt that got me:

A pastor comes and says to me, “I have a 4-year-old son who says he’s seeing angels, and he’s talking to them, like, regularly.”  And he said, “Could that be true?” “Or is he talking to, like a spirit guide?”  I said, “Well, depends on your definition of a spirit guide, but it’s probably an angel guiding him,” thus the definition of a spiritual guide. And he said, “Well, I don’t see him. Why can’t I see him?” I said, “Well, next time you find your son talking to the angel, ask him!”  He said, “I can do that?” I said, “Well of course; you’re his dad!”

So a couple of weeks later the dad went up to get the son for supper—he sees his son talking to the angel.  He says, “Son, are you talking to the angel?”  The son says, “Yeah.”  And he says, “Will you ask the angel something for me?” “Will you ask him why I can’t see him?”  So the 4-year-old asks the angel, and the angel says this—the little boys says what the angel said—”Dad, the angel says for me to tell you,” and he says it in his 4-year-old voice, “that the reason why you can’t see him is that your eyes have beheld too much evil.” And so, after the dad recovered, he then looked at his son and said, “Son, will you ask him this: ‘Will I ever be able to see?’” So the little boy asks, and the angel responded. The little boy said, “Dad, the angel says ‘Yes, the day will come, but the calluses run deep and it will take some time to dissolve them.’”

See we allow ourselves to do things thinking it has no bearing—we’ll still get into heaven, everything is fine—but we have no idea it stops us from living at a higher spiritual plane than we would have lived otherwise. We live in a much lowlier estate.  And I don’t mean humble.  I mean less spiritual state than we would have walked had we allowed the Holy Spirit to discipline us and keep us in a better place.  Calluses form, lack of sensitivity, lack of ability to discern, slowly slowly.  We may have salvation, but slowly, slowly our spiritual life erodes, and we wonder why.  We make poor choices, and we think those choices are inconsequential, but five years later they take a toll.  Ten years later they take a toll.  Twenty years later, they’ve taken a toll.  And we think it doesn’t make any difference, making those kind of choices.  We need to feel His presence, and when it lifts, we need to do something different than we’re doing.

God’s grace covers us when we fall.  I know that from my own repeated experience.  But I want more.  I want to see the angels.  I want to know God at a greater level of intimacy and experience than I do now.  I believe it’s possible.

Lord, dissolve the calluses from my eyes, for I too, have beheld too much evil.  Lord, draw me close to you.  Transform my appetites to hunger for your word and your presence.  Show me how to keep pure eyes and ears and mind in this depraved culture we must live in.  In Jesus’ name.

A “shyness” altar call

I’ve been feeling led to look more at the biblical character Timothy.  I’m not sure what God has for me here.  I did a little background reading on Timothy this morning and came across this:

Timothy is timid at times and thus doesn’t use his gifts as he should.

Thus Paul reminded him in 2 Tim. 1:6: “…to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7] For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” We too need the same reminder—to fan into flame our gifts and not give way to “…a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” When I used to speak at youth camps, I would often give a “shyness altar call.” Realizing that I wasn’t the only one who shied away from using his gifts because of shyness, I called the shy people to a safe place, and together we dedicated our shyness to God. We recognized it as a gift of sensitivity, with the danger that we use it on ourselves, and not on others as it was intended by God. (Source: Bob Stone)

I have seen this in my own life.  It took me many years to face the fact that God had made me shy, and that the blessing of being shy was sensitivity.  I was occasionally ridiculed as a child for being overly sensitive, cry-baby, etc.  But as an adult engaged in ministry, I realize what a gift this is.  Yes, I am still sensitive and sometimes fearful.  But I think God has used that to express an empathetic sensitivity to others that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

As Pastor Stone points out here, the great danger of being shy is that this God-given sensitivity may never escape the boundaries of our own fears, and never be the blessing to the world that He intended.

Lord Jesus, I don’t want to be limited by fear.  Use me to bless others.  Use me to help empower your timid, shy, sensitive, beloved ones to move past their fears and bring hope and healing to the world around them, as you intended.  Thank you for the gift of sensitivity.  Even when I struggle with the fearful tendencies of that gift, may I never be ungrateful for how you have made me.  I don’t want fear to rip me off from the amazing life you have waiting for me!  In Jesus’ name. 

54 minutes

From Jim Cymbala, in Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire:

The services have to be uniformly positive, and the services can’t go longer than 60 minutes.  Even then, church is inconvenient for some, especially during football season…

One minister told me recently that two families left for another church because his parking attendants didn’t direct cars out of the lot fast enough.  What would these people have done the night in Troas when Paul preached until midnight? (Acts 20:7)

Can you imagine someone handing Peter a microphone on Sunday morning and whispering, “Okay, now, you’ve got twenty minutes. We have to get people out of here promptly because the chariot races start at one o’clock”?

The truth is that “user-friendly” can be a cover-up word for carnality.  The same people who want sixty-minute worship services rent two-hour videos and watch NBA and NFL games that run even longer.  The issue is not length, but appetite.  Why the misplaced desire?

Seriously, what will our children and grandchildren grow up experiencing in church?  Extended times of waiting on the Lord will be totally foreign to their experience.  There will be no memory bank of seeing people reach out to God.  All they will recall are professionally polished, closely timed productions. (p. 132-33)

And then we wonder why 80% of our children and almost all of our young men leave the church when they become adults!  Why do people watch the 2-hour movies and the 3-hour football games?  Because they are a source of thrill and excitement.  We were born for that, and if we don’t find it in the Lord, we will find it elsewhere.  And that’s the reason we are loosing our men.

What if we trained all of our teenage boys how to cast out a demon?  What if we trained them to listen for words of knowledge and act on them?  What if we trained them to seek the Lord for as long as it took to know His presence?  Pretty soon, the NFL wouldn’t seem so exciting.

But instead, our churches and youth groups have largely bought into the idols of entertainment and comfort.  I recently heard another father brag about how, during a building program when space was constrained, his church had gotten their service down to exactly 54 minutes.

Of course 54 minutes or 3 hours is not the fundamental issue.  But just as Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” I think we could add, where your time is, there your heart will be also.

Lord, give me the determination to surrender my time to you and to seek you with all my heart.  I confess that too often I chase after entertainment and comfort.  Lord, whet my appetite for the things of the Spirit.  Draw me into your word and your presence.  I want the exciting life of faith, where I get to see your miracles.  Give me the strength to press into it!  In Jesus’ name.

A buried bulb

We are giving amaryllis bulbs for Easter this year.  I couldn’t help but notice the deep symbolism.

It sure doesn’t look like much.  In fact, it looks dead.  Kind of like us.

“Though outwardly we are wasting away” (2 Corinthians 4:16).

The planting instructions say to put it in lukewarm water for a few hours and then bury it up to its neck.

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed” (John 12: 24).

Drowned in water and buried up to the neck.  That sounds familiar.

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).

But Jesus has been there before us.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him” (Isaiah 53:5).

It was the submission of Jesus to the grave that won our eternal life.

“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4).

Now Jesus is with us when we are drowned and buried.  We are not alone.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

And in the process we die.  We surrender our goals and dreams at the cross.  Our seed dies.

“But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25).

And he takes our “wasting away” outward man, our trials and afflictions, our unmet needs, our surrendered dreams, and makes something beautiful.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17)

Will you surrender to him and let him do this work in you?

“Podded up”

World on Campus posts an article about the Millennial Generation, from a study done of incoming college freshman.  The study describes them as “more selfish, less interested in the well-being of others and less concerned about the environment than previously thought.”

As a high school teacher of only 12 years, and teaching kids who are so different culturally than myself, it’s difficult for me to say whether my experience confirms these findings.  I have taught some amazing students over the years, but am certainly in touch with the fact that they, like me, are sinners.

But this paragraph caught my attention:

Gordon, however, attributes the Millennial Generation’s lack of involvement to digital media, which many thought would make today’s youth the most broad-minded, thoughtful, intelligent generation ever. Instead, it has arrested their development, Gordon said: “When they are ‘podded up’ they do not hear adult conversations. When in a room with adults, they are texting other adolescents who are not present. They are stuck in childhood, because they have so little acquaintance with adults and adult concerns.”

The more experience I get, the more I am convinced that, next to a relationship with Jesus, contact with thoughtful adults is what kids and adolescents need most.  Occasionally when I discuss issues of family and parenting in my high school classes, I am repeatedly amazed by a certain dynamic.  This dynamic happens so frequently that it seems like there is a 100% correlation.  Here is is:

In most classes, there are typically a small group of students (2-6?) that just have something the others don’t.  It’s not necessarily intelligence.  It’s not simply social skills. It’s more than just relational awareness.  It includes politeness and good character.  It’s a bit hard to describe.  But I am drawn to them.  They are more confident and often have more leadership ability.  I trust them.  So already knowing who these students are, I often ask a question of the class: “Who has strict parents who are involved in your lives?”  (By “strict” I don’t mean angry or abusive, and I clarify that.)  Guess who almost always raises their hands?  You got it.  The correlation is striking.  The impact of time spent with thoughtful adults may be the most powerful dynamic I see in the high school classroom.

The Caleb Prayer for Hacienda Heights

O High King of heaven,
Have mercy on Hacienda Heights.
Revive your Church;
Send the Holy Spirit for the sake of the children.
May your kingdom come to our nation.
In Jesus’ mighty name.
Amen

From Ffald-y-Brenin, a conference center in Wales, that has seen God’s amazing outpouring, as documented in The Grace Outpouring.  This prayer is being used around the globe to ask the Lord to bring revival.  The words are not magic, but God is faithful to answer the prayer of his beloved ones.  Would you pray this with me for Hacienda Heights?  For your community?

Strongholds

2 Corinthians 10:3-6:

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

From the study notes of The New Spirit-Filled Life Bible:

Strongholds are first established in the mind; that is why we are to take every thought captive.  Behind a stronghold is also a lie—a place of personal bondage where God’s word has been subjugated to any unscriptural idea or personally confused belief that is held to be true.  Behind every lie is a fear, and behind every fear is an idol.  Idols are established where there exists a failure to trust in the provisions of God that are ours through Jesus Christ…

Here is an example:  If we make an idol of financial security, we have fears over not having enough money, and we believe the lie that we must abandon other priorities to earn as much as possible.

Or, if we make an idol of our spouse (believing they will meet our most significant needs), then we are afraid of being unhappy when they can’t/don’t meet our needs, so we believe lies like we have to manipulate them to get them to behave like we want them to.  Or we believe the lie that if they aren’t “making us happy” that we can never be happy, and believe that we face a choice of only divorce or unhappiness (as opposed to finding our joy in the Lord and his provision for us).

One of the greatest joys of doing deliverance ministry is forcing demons to tell their hosts what lies they have been feeding them over the years.  Watching the realization in the eyes of those being ministered to that they are not worthless, or it wasn’t their fault—that the tape recordings that have been playing in their minds all that time were lies of the enemy—is priceless.  To watch them get freedom and know they are loved by God is one of the greatest treasures in this life.  Thank you Jesus.

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