Struggling With Strongholds

If you are like most believers there are areas of your life that are a constant struggle. The struggle may be a recurring sin we can’t seem to shake. The Scripture calls this a stronghold.  Every follower of Jesus, at one time or another, has a sin stronghold that seems to raise its ugly head just when we think we have it conquered. 

We say to ourselves; “Why do I keep doing that, I know it’s sin and it grieves/quenches the Holy Spirit every time I give in.  What’s wrong with me?”  We may have victory for a few days or even a few weeks but eventually we give in during a moment of emotional weakness and the cycle continues.

We have tried self-discipline, praying more often, memorizing appropriate Scripture and maybe even fasting.  If all else fails we just blame the devil.

How do we get out of this cycle and overcome the stronghold?  By giving up the struggle.  That’s right, give up trying to overcome the stronghold.   The Lord never intended for us to get in a fight with the devil  when it comes to overcoming and defeating sinful strongholds. Why get in the ring to fight an enemy that has already been defeated? Why write a check for a bill that has been marked “paid in full”.

When we try with self-discipline and good intention to overcome sin we are acting in the flesh.  We are saying with our actions, “God, your provision for our sin was not enough, you need my help.”  When we employ self-effort alone to defeat sin we are saying Christ is not enough.

Our dominion over sin is not based on self effort but on Christ’s finished work on the cross.  At the cross Jesus paid our sin debt. On the cross He not only died for us but as us, defeating the dominion of sin. Because of the resurrection he became our victor over sin.

How does this victory works in us.  At salvation, when we became a committed follower of Christ, His life was placed in us.  Not a life like His, but His very life. Notice the following Scripture.

“…the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations: but has now been manifested to the saints…which is Christ in you the hope of glory…(Colossians 1: 26-27 NAS))

“For in Him (Christ) all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority.” (Colossians 2:9-10 NAS)

God knew we would struggle with sin. He knew the devil would constantly remind us that we are old sinners and that we can never measure up to God’s standard.  So to remedy the problem at salvation He gave us the key to victory…that’s Christ within us. Christ is the ruler and authority over every element of life that we will encounter.

Therefore, the battle is not ours, it’s His.  He has already defeated our stronghold, all we have to do is admit that in and of ourselves we are powerless to overcome a  sinful stronghold.  But in Christ, we have the power of the risen Savior fighting the battle for us.

“But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57 NAS)

Bottom Line

The key to every victory in the Christian life is Jesus.  We have been given the power of the living, risen Christ within us.  He is there to fight every battle, even our strongholds.  Give up your personal fight and let Jesus do it all for you. Our only self-effort is to willfully turn from the sin and then turn to Christ who is our victory.  “Inherent in who I am is my ability to perform it” (Jack Taylor). In other words, because I have the living Christ within me, “we are more than conquerors…” (Romans 8:37)

Years ago I heard Dr. Bill Gilliam give this little acrostic that helps emphasize how Christ is our victor in our daily sin battle.  Maybe it will help you also. Read each line and notice the underlined word. 

I will do it all for you. 

I will do it all for you. 

I will do it all for you.

I will do it all for you. 

I will do it all for you. 

I will do it all for you.

I will do it all for you. 

That’s how much Jesus loves you, He says:  I will do it all for you.”

Resting

So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God….so let us do our best to enter that rest.” (Hebrews 4:9-10 – NLT)

From a Biblical perspective the word “resting” is one of the most important words for a follower of Jesus to understand. Because of His death, burial and resurrection, we can now enter into a rest that wasn’t possible before the cross.

Matter of fact, resting  is more than a word, it is a principle.  Grace allows us to enter a rest that enables us to say “it is ok” when things seem to be falling apart all around us.  It is an inner rest that God gives us when we are in the midst of circumstances that we can’t change or fix.

Resting is an act of trust and absolute dependence upon the Lord.  It is trusting that He will lead and guide you during and through a crisis.  It is the act of placing you “in mid-air.”  You have nothing to stand on or hold onto but HIM. 

I have heard many well meaning believers say to someone who was going through the fire, “ God won’t put on you more than you are able to bear.”  That’s not true, God will sometimes allow things to come our way that is more than we can bear.  It may even throw us into a state of despair. We may even feel that God has forsaken us and thrown us under the bus. But we must remember that all of God’s brush strokes on the canvas of our life are necessary to complete us,  His masterpiece.

In 1 Corinthians Paul addresses how to deal with various temptations, specifically the temptation not to trust God. The implication is that when troubles/temptations come our way,  instead of letting them defeat us and send us into despair,  we are to look for the way of escape.  Notice what Paul says in the passage.

The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” ( 1 Corinthians 10:13 NLT)

This scripture is not saying that you will be delivered from the problem, but it teaches us that in the problem “he will show you a way out so you can endure.”  The emphasis is not necessarily deliverance from the problem all together, but a way to endure while in the midst of the problem. 

Bottom Line

Resting is about trusting God in the midst of your turmoil.  Do I ever pray for out-right deliverance?  Yes, absolutely.  But I realize that sometimes God’s greater purpose is not a miraculous deliverance but a test to see if I will practice “resting” and trust Him.

Resting is about three things:

1. Can I trust God to see me through this crisis if my circumstances don’t change? Am I willing to take my hands off the situation and wait on God to give me His solution? (The Lord really does have the best solution.) 

 2. Is Christ enough?  At salvation we have been given the life of Christ. We also have  been given the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16 ).  So learn to wait on God, trusting that He can give us “His mind” about the matter and it will be the perfect solution. Maybe the greater miracle is not solving the sitution, but the work He does in your heart.

3. Can I lay down my dreams, desires and plans at Jesus’ feet and learn to rest?  This is the real issue here.  Will I trust Him enough to surrender every aspect of my life to His control and guidance?

God’s intended purpose in teaching us to rest is getting us to the point of surrender and abandonment.  Are we willing to allow the Lord to do anything with us, to us, for us and through us?

I am reminded of an old gospel song written by a singer, song writer Lanny Wolfe over 40 years ago entitled “Whatever It Takes”.  I have included a YouTube link below to the Lanny Wolfe Trio singing the song. I know it’s an old style of music, not the comtemporay style of today,  but listen closely to the words of the song. If you are passionate about your walk with the Lord, I believe this song will bless you.  I like to think that the words of this song is the prayer for my life.  

https://youtu.be/4Ev6r61_GA4

 

The Essence of Our Faith

When we become a committed follower of Jesus we enter into a realm of faith that is unique to every other religion.  Its uniqueness is expressed in its essence.  Essence is defined by Websters as “the intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something”.

I love the Bible and believe it to be a living book that is the inspired, infallible and inerrant Word of God.  By reading and heeding its instruction it gives me guidance, comfort, gems of wisdom and a worldview to live by.  But as important as the Scriptures are to my daily life it is not the essence of my faith. 

Prayer is something I practice daily.  Sometimes I set aside a block of time to pray and sometimes I pray a lot of little prayers during my daily routine. Prayer keeps me connected to my Heavenly Father. I pray to understand the will of God for my life.  I sometimes pray for healing, for wisdom, discernment and even for a miracle.  Prayer is a vital element in my daily communication with Heaven.  As important as prayer is to my life, it is not the essence of my faith.

I love to fellowship with my Christian brothers and sisters.  In a way, it’s like having a foretaste of  Heaven.  We are on the same page, we enjoy the same Lord and we base and plan our lives on Kingdom principles.  As much as we enjoy going to church and good Christian fellowship, it’s not the essence of my faith.

The Risen Savior is the essence of our faith

The unique aspect of our faith is the risen Christ.  Jesus’ virgin birth, his sinless life and his sacrificial death on the cross mean little without his bodily resurrection.  Rising from the dead was the divine trump card. In that one act, Jesus became victor over death, hell, and the grave. The resurrection gives “indispensable quality” to our faith.  No other religion can claim their teacher and leader rose from the dead.

The resurrection gives authority and validity to the Bible.  The Scriptures predicted that a Savior would be born and he would be rejected by those He came to save. The Scriptures record that He would be falsely accused and murdered. Then he would rise from the dead three days later.  All this happened just at the Scriptures recorded centuries earlier. 

Because Jesus taught us the value of prayer and how to pray, we can now “come boldly to the throne room of heaven”.( Hebrews 4:16 )  Prayer takes on a new power and meaning.  The resurrection enabled the Holy Spirit to indwell every believer.  We now have divine guidance who teaches us how to pray, illumines the Scripture and then convicts us of our sin so that we can maintain continual fellowship with our Heavenly Father.

The resurrection gives us a new identity and a new power.  Jeremiah wrote about this “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. (Jeremiah 31 NLT)  Because of the resurrection, we can now be indwelt by the risen savior. Jesus prayed just before he was taken up to heaven.  

“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.”(John 17:20-21)

Because of the risen Savior we now have oneness with Christ.  The moment we are born again we are placed into Christ and Christ is placed into us.  That means wherever we go Christ goes with us. But it also means wherever Christ is (at the right hand of the Father) we are also.

“Even  when we were dead in our transgressions,  (God) made us alive together with Christ ( By grace you have been saved),  we are raised up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus”  (Ephesians 2:5-6 NAS)

Bottom Line

The essence of our faith is the resurrection. The resurrection gives the Scripture further credibility, it gives prayer its power, and it creates oneness with other believers.  Our faith is more than just a religious creed and a social gathering. Our faith is a relationship that was made possible because of the risen Jesus. He became victor over death, sin, hell and the grave. His resurrection gave us an identity that has a connection to an eternal, heavenly home.  

The resurrection is not just an Easter Holiday, it is the very essence of our faith.  Take time today to rejoice in your salvation made possible by the Cross and sealed by the resurrection. Because He lives we can now live. 

Abandonment Leads to Conflict

After his resurrection Jesus appeared to his disciples several times. One of the encounters occurred on a beach, after they had been fishing all night. The disciples were close to shore and they noticed Jesus on the beach, he was cooking breakfast for them.

After they had finished eating Jesus asked Peter three times, ”Do you love me?” Most of us are familiar with this discourse between Jesus and Peter. Peter responded all three times that he truly loved Jesus. Then Jesus told Peter to do three things, (1) tend my lambs, (2) take care of my sheep, and (1) feed my sheep.” (John 21)

There is plenty to learn from the three questions Jesus ask and the three things he told Peter to do. But I think the deeper and more profound words of Jesus is what He said to Peter next.

“I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go. Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God.” (John 21:18-19 NLT)

Jesus’ point to Peter is that his life from this point forward was going to be difficult. Jesus is telling Peter that there will come a time that he will be taken where he doesn’t want to go, and he will be treated like he doesn’t want to be treated, and then he will die.

This is not about “when you get old you will have to be led around and then you will die.” There is a deeper message behind this foretelling of Peter’s future. The deeper message is Jesus telling Peter how he is going to live.

In a way, Jesus was telling him that life is not all about Peter. His life is about a bigger story. His life is now about his mission, his mission of bringing the gospel to the nations. With that task comes a life of “being led about where you don’t want to go.”

Life is not about being the main player, but its about your role of being a part of the big picture. In other words, life is not about creating a plan and knowing what is going to happen every season of your life. Life is about conflict, difficult days, disappointment and failure. But God has a purpose in all of that. He wants to lead us to the point of, “If you want to keep your life you must be willing to lose it.” It’s about abandonment.

God wants us to get to the point of surrendering every aspect and every season of our life to Him, so we can give our life away.  That’s where radical Christianity comes in – when we let go of our life, we will find it.

That’s how a highly trained physician can leave a financially lucrative career and become a missionary doctor in the bush of a third world country.  Its how a professional school teacher can quit her secure job with a good salary and benefits and go teach illiterate children in a poverty stricken country.

The issue is not are you willing to be a missionary.  The issue is are you willing to lay down your life, your dreams and your plans at Jesus’ feet and give him a blank pad, and have him write your story as He sees fit?

The Bottom Line


All rememberable stories and movies have an unpredictable and unseen surprise ending.  It’s that conflict and tension that etches the story in your mind. Our life is one big story being written by God. That means we are going to be led into situations that are uncomfortable, unpredictable, and like Peter, we may be led to places that we don’t want to go.

As a committed follower of Christ we must remember that life is about faith and trust. It’s trusting God in every situation and even sometimes, being led down a path where we don’t want to go.

Be encouraged because God passionately loves you and He always has a purpose for everything He allows in your life.  As your story is being written, your struggle is part of the big picture.

Measuring Your Words

“The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63)

When I was a child my mom taught us to measure our words. During arguments and disagreements with my siblings Mom would say to us, “Remember “A soft answer turns away wrath”. (Proverbs 15:1) She was teaching us to measure our words because our words either produced further trouble or brought peace.

In the same or similar manner our life is a measure of the words we use. By our words we either draw people to us or by our words we drive them away. Once we become a committed follower of Jesus our life’s purpose and worldview changes. Our life goal is to “Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col 3:1)

Oswald Chambers put it best when he said, “We are not saved only to be instruments for God, but to be His sons and daughters. He does not turn us into spiritual agents but into spiritual messengers, and the message must be a part of us.“(My Utmost for His Highest Devotional, Day 29)

As followers of Jesus we become the mouthpiece, and to some extent, the face of God. We are an extension of His life. That’s the reason that we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit at salvation. We then are subsequently filled with the Holy Spirit as we live, serve and follow God’s will. To those we come in contact with, we are the voice of God. We no longer have the permission to “speak our mind’ without measuring our words. We can either speaks words that give life or words that quench the spirit of God. Our words can either reveal the nature of God or reveal the nature of the flesh.

Summary

We are living in a time of stress and conflict. The daily news channels reveal stress in every area of our culture. The only voice that can bring healing and resolve conflict is the voice of God. If there was ever a time that our country is poised to hear truth it is now.

The words that Jesus spoke were “life and Spirit”. When we are walking in Christ our words can also become “life and Spirit”. As we fully surrender our life to His will we will be surprised how often our words become “light and salt” to a needy soul. Learn to measure your words by allowing the Holy Spirit to be your daily word sensor – then you will be sure to always say the right words that will bring comfort, wisdom and healing.

 

 

Depth of Our Love

“I tell you the truth, everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, the Son of Man will also acknowledge in the presence of God’s angels. (Luke 12:8 NLT)

The above verse is not just about publicly declaring our faith, but its about the depth of our love and commitment. Our love for God must transcend the expression of a vocal witness because it goes beyond mere words.

The depth of our love is measured by the inward response to the Holy Spirit’s promptings. It’s not enough to just have our “elevator speech” ready when someone is inquiring about our faith. We must be willing and ready to speak from the depth of our personal fellowship with the Lord.

It’s is not about knowing Bible facts and memorized witnessing plans. It is about being able to reach into the well of our transformed heart and pour out living water to those we encounter. It’s being transparent to the point that what we share comes from the depths of our spiritual well. Our heart is full and running over because we have been drinking from God’s well and passionately seeking after Him.

Drinking from God’s well helps us deal with the deception about ourselves. That’s the reason searching the scriptures is so important. The Word becomes a two edged sword (Hebrews 4:12), it wounds us, it reveals our weakness and exposes our self-centeredness.

The Lord desires to move us beyond the need to openly declare that we are “just an ole sinner saved by grace”. This declaration sounds spiritual but it can be a barrier that hinders us from allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal the deception about ourselves.

“Confessing me before men” is more than a verbal acknowledgment, it’s evidence that we are letting go of our life in order that Christ’s life may be prevalent. This is God’s intention for His children, that we manifest Christ’s life to the world. This is the element that causes the world to recognize that there is something different about us, something that attracts them to our quality of life.

Bottom Line

How do we make sure that our life is manifesting Christ’s life? Here are three things that may help us toward that goal.

Meditate regularly on the Scripture, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal our sin and our attitude. – I know, its not PC to talk about sin. But that’s the unique aspect of Scripture, it’s ability to expose our sin. Often it’s not the big sins that make us stumble, but those little sins that cause us to grow cold toward the Holy Spirit’s prompting and leadership. The Scripture, properly applied, penetrates our sensitivities and enables us to destroy the barriers that keep us from intimacy with the Father.

Intentional and targeted prayer – This is moving beyond the typical believer’s prayer of “bless me and my family and watch over and protect us today”. It’s prayer that is focused on asking the Lord to reveal our self-centeredness, selfishness, pride, anger, and most of all, our level of unbelief.

Trust God – Trusting God is a faith issue. Do we really believe that God is greater than our situation or dilemma? Do we believe that He can deliver us when we have no way out or no options left?

When we are depressed, can we believe that we can cast our care and depression on Him and He will change our thinking and deliver us from our depression? The answer is a resounding YES!

“Trust in the Lord with your whole heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

If we let God’s Word shape our spiritual character, and we develop a prayer life that seeks to act like a search light on our soul, then we will develop a depth of trust that will carry us through every situation.

 

Seeing God in All Things

Over twenty years ago I had the privilege of spending a couple of weeks in China. While there I was taken by one of the Chinese church leaders to visit several underground house churches. When I began to teach these dear brothers and sisters I felt an overwhelming sense of unworthiness. Just the act of meeting together for a Bible study was risky. For me the risk was minimal. I would merely be taken to the airport and deported if caught by the officials. For them it meant years of jail time and multiple beatings and torture.

While I was visiting various house churches, another group had the privilege of visiting the famous Chinese Pastor Samuel Lamb. Pastor Lamb had been imprisoned for over 20 years and suffered physical and mental abuse. When someone in the group mentioned to him that they were praying for the persecution of the church to stop in China, Pastor Lamb quickly rebuked them and gave his famous quote, “ More persecution more growth of the church.” In other words, the seed of the church is the blood of the saints.

This event, coupled with many other visits to persecuted church countries, has deeply impacted my view of the normal Christian life. Could it be that the Western Church has had it wrong all along? Our view of safety, comfort, persecution free life has produced a powerless church that has little impact on our culture. Over the past 200 years the church has served as the moral conscience of our great country. Now because of lack of spiritual power and influence in the church, the moral decline in our country is moving at warp speed.

A closer look at Scripture

My experience with the persecuted church and observation of the the early church in Scripture has led me to have a very different view of the the Christian life. A trouble free life is not necessarily a sign of God’s blessings. We can all agree that God has blessed us in many ways and one of those elements is our generally trouble free life. However being trouble free could also be because we are not doing much to disturb the kingdom of darkness.

I am not suggesting that we become someone who intentionally stirs up trouble by in-your-face confrontation, but I am merely suggesting that we evaluate our view of trouble and suffering, and how we deal with difficult circumstances.

God has taught me some valuable lessons that I want to pass on to you. Maybe it will change how you view trouble in your life.

God is fully aware of every element of our life. If it’s true that the living Christ indwells every believer, then God is fully aware of every element of our life. He is even aware of those times when our dumb decisions bring us unwelcome consequences. This knowledge of the indwelling Christ reminds me of the truths of Romans 8:28 – “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and called according to his purpose for them.” (NLT)

There are two key elements to this passage of Scripture. One, “God causes all things to work together”. Rather than changing our present circumstances, more often than not, God uses the things that are presently happening in our life to accomplish His plan. Secondly, these things will work together for those “who love God”. Notice that is active tense. Those who are presently, actively loving/serving God and pursuing His purpose will experience things all working out.

See God in everything. Since God is ever present in our life then we should examine every event, disappointment and present challenge as a God moment. We must keep in mind that God is fully aware of our predicament. Instead of trying to escape our circumstances, stop and ask God “what He is up to and what is He saying to us?” Ask, “What do you want me to learn through this situation?” That’s because God is more concerned about your response to the situation than He is about how He’s going to deliver or rescue you from the situation.

Change the way you pray in difficult situations. “ And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Sprit prays for us with groaning that cannot be expressed in words. The Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers.” (Romans 8:26-27 NLT)

Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how to pray. That’s the reason the Holy Sprit was given to us to guide and teach us all things. Instead of first praying “Lord deliver me”, pray “Lord show me the greater purpose, help me not to seek deliverance if the greater lesson and glory is for me to endure the course.”

Bottom Line

We must keep in mind that God’s glory and His best for you is the end game, not necessarily deliverance. Remember that suffering and endurance is a spiritual virtue. It may be that God wants to demonstrate His power in deliverance. But it also may be that He wants to show you what He can do in the midst of the storm.