Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A Christian's Thoughts on the Las Vegas Massacre

There was a lot I wanted to write about Las Vegas. But I find myself economizing my thoughts tonight.
I could write about the guns, or the gun laws or the necessity of being able to defend yourself when faced with something so horrible. I could write about the need for better mental health care, or the need for people to simply step up and say something when people start acting nuts.
But none of those things have been on my mind at all since Sunday. What has been on my mind since Sunday…what has occupied my thoughts and prayers, has been the reality of evil in this world and the absolute necessity of Christians to battle back against it.
Stephen Paddock was under the guidance of pure evil. Make no mistake. The question keeps arising; “How could this man do this?” He was “normal.” He was wealthy, successful, and bore none of the typical markings of a crazed killer. Yet when the time came, he “snapped” and murdered 59 people and wounded over 500 more.
I was thinking about the story in the Bible of when Jesus cast out the demons in a man and they ran into a herd of swine. The entire herd ran down a hill and drown in the sea. Over 2000 pigs went to their death that way. Does that mean there were 2000 demons in the man, or does it mean that the several demons that were in him, (The demon had said “My name is Legion, for we are many.”) had such influence that they started a stampede and killed all the pigs, even those not possessed? (I tend to believe this idea)
Satan comes to kill, steal, and destroy. Period. Demons never bring life. They never bring joy. It’s never pleasant. He possesses one but thousands live in fear as a result.
Paul warned us in Ephesians 6:12 “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”
We are not at war with other men, even though it takes on that form. We are fighting against demonic powers wrapped in human flesh. We are fighting against sin itself.
Jesus told us in a complex teaching in Matthew 11: “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it.”
The battle is ongoing. Satan keeps trying, even though he knows he has been defeated. The obligation of the saints is to roll up our sleeves and engage this enemy in the spiritual realm, before he manifests his evil in human form and kills people from a hotel in Las Vegas.
I was troubled in my soul as I thought about this. I am horribly guilty of not praying as I ought. I am guilty of not taking the fight to the enemy. Like most other believers, I pray for my needs, my family’s needs, the needs of friends and loved ones. I recite the prayer list from my church, or for a coworker going through a hard time. I’ll pray for the occasional missionary or world event. But I have never –not in 48 years of Christianity- stepped into my prayer closet, taken a step back to gain a larger view, and went to war on the spiritual level for the souls of men. I’ve prayed for those heartbreaking souls trapped in human trafficking, but never rattled the Sword of the Spirit against the real evil behind it. I’ve raged on my knees against the abortion industry, but never against the Father of Lies who convinces man that destroying life is a good thing, because life comes from God and therefore is the object of Satan’s unbridled hatred. I’ve prayed for someone trapped by addiction, but never prayed down the strongholds that bind him.
I’ve never once prayed against the seeming tidal wave epidemic of mental health crises that are behind killings like Las Vegas, Columbine, Aurora, Orlando…
I’ve ground my teeth at Islam and its inherent violence, but never prayed against the spirits behind it.
We are here for that very reason. We are here to take back the ground the enemy has tried to gain. We are here to beat back those “violent men who take hold of the Kingdom of Heaven.” We are commanded to take up our armor, to learn to skillfully handle the word of God, to wield the sword of the Spirit with authority and power. We are called to push back against the darkness of this world.
When have I last spent the night in prayer over the lost? When have I last wept in sorrow over the high cost of sin in this world? This morning as I read from Ravenhill, he related a story about the preacher Thomas Cook. Cook was on board a train, travelling across South Africa when he opened the door to the Club car. Inside was a haze of cigarette smoke, and the smell of liquor. Men sat at the tables gambling. Foul language filled the air. Cook, under the command of the Holy Spirit, opened the door of the car and walked silently through its length. He did not speak a word. As he walked past, men hid their cards, and their liquor under the tables so he would not see them. Silence filled the room. He walked to the other end of the car and exited without speaking a word. The men suddenly realized that they had hidden their vices from his sight, and they could not grasp why. “Why did we do this?” they asked themselves. To a man, they concluded that it was simply because of the sight of his face. This man who had spent so much time in the presence of God, was physically changed and reflected the very holiness he had been present in. They could not help but feel the need to hide their sin in embarrassment when he walked past.
Has anyone ever said this of us? Has my life ever…even once, so reflected Jesus that sinners felt the burning desire to repent just because of the appearance of my face? Would this world be different if I had? Would a Godly man have possibly halted the events of Las Vegas with the mere presence of his person? Can we still be changed by the proximity of God as Moses was? If not, why not? Do I believe the Bible or not? Do I believe the power of the word of God and of His Spirit, or don’t I?
The hope of this world is not in stricter gun laws, or even in the elimination of guns altogether. It’s not in more religion or less of it. Peace is simply impossible for humanity outside of a right relationship with God. History bears this out.
Voting for the right candidate (whomever that might be) won’t do it. Attending the right church won’t do it. Being “Missional” and “relevant” and “Authentic” won’t do it.
The only hope this world has is for Christian people to read the bible, believe what it says without question, and pray accordingly.
I would love to say I have renewed my vow to do so, but sadly, I am just discovering this truth at 54 years old. I know how to pray in the Spirit. But I don’t do it enough. I understand the concept of “spiritual wickedness in high places” but until recently I never saw the need for this to be my battleground. I never saw the prayer closet as something with a much larger scope than just my world, my needs, and my requests.
I am here to beat back the enemy of man. I’m not talking about being some sort of Spiritual-warfare-Rambo. Some sort of cartoonish warrior quoting lyrics from a Carmen record. I’m talking about duking it out on my knees. In total surrender to a Holy God, realizing that in my flesh I am a lamb to slaughter in Satan’s hands, but yielded to God I am a vessel for victory. It’s the Spirit’s sword…not mine. I am just here to wield it as He wills.
However weak and vulnerable I may be in the flesh, surrendered and spirit-filled, I am a powerful force in God’s kingdom. My heart breaks over the events in Vegas. It has driven me to my knees, praying that even now as the next attack is being hatched in hell, the poor human conduit that Satan might use would be reached with the Gospel. I am praying now against human trafficking on the spiritual level. Against war. Against the evil of Islam that would murder my Christian brothers in the Middle East. Against parents who would abuse their children, under the influence of Hell. I pray against everything that might restrict the freedom of the Gospel.
This is war, brothers and sisters. War in places we can’t see. War in the souls of men,  for the souls of men. I am praying for revival. My prayers have moved from repetition to desperation. I am literally begging God, through tears, for a move of the Spirit. I pray that He lets me see those lost men and women. See those children stolen and sold into the most unthinkable kinds of slavery. I am praying that my righteous rage is refocused away from the humans who I can see operating under this demonic power, and toward those powers themselves.
I want to be broken and poured out. I want God to put a hand to his ear when I hit my knees. I want Satan to grind his teeth in anger because at long last…I have learned not only how to pray…but who to pray against. I want to stake my claim to a piece of the Kingdom and from my prayer closet bellow out, “This far and NO FARTHER shall you go!”
I want to finally, after all these years, “pray as I ought.”
The souls of this world hang in the balance.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Dear Jesus; I Miss you

So, this is sort of a confessional for me. One of those articles that reveals a whole lot of my soul, in the hopes that others will read it and see something of themselves in it, and be encouraged by my honesty on the matter.
I woke up this morning thinking I was going to write something about Hugh Hefner and the way he is being honored by people for the life he led. But that’s low-hanging fruit. If you aren’t honest enough to admit the damaging effects of pornography, then my article wouldn’t change your mind.
I sat down to have my morning time of prayer and bible reading. I looked at the stack of books sitting on my kitchen table, books that I use in the morning to get my mind focused on spiritual matters. Some of the titles are “Building Dynamic Faith” by Dr. Jerry Falwell, “Why Revival Tarries” by Leonard Ravenhill (along with “Tried and Transfigured” which I am currently reading) “The Knowledge of the Holy” by A. W. Tozer (along with a newly purchased “The Pursuit of God” which will be my next read) “The Mind of Christ” by Dr. Ben Gutierrez who is a provost here at Liberty and for years taught in the School of Religion. (It’s one of the best studies on Philippians chapter 2 that I’ve ever read and I try to read through it at least once a year. I highly recommend it) “Lion and Lamb: The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus.” By Brennan Manning
My morning routine is this: I first read a chapter from one of these books. With the exception of Dr. Falwell’s book, these are all collections of essays by the writer. This means, for the most part, that I can read one chapter each morning and not feel like I am leaving something unfinished. The topics are typically contained within the construct of one chapter. This makes it easy devotional reading.
After this, I read five Psalms and then a chapter or two of my reading through the Bible. I added the Psalms readings last month after a long time without them. Reading the Psalms reminds me of the necessity of recognizing God’s holiness, and goodness, and love for us.
I take a few notes in a small journal I have for that purpose. Usually writing out a quote from the book I read, a verse from my reading, and something to pray about. Then I move into my prayer time.
I learned this system about six or seven years ago, listening to Ravi Zacharias on the radio in my truck. Ravi said that he developed this system for himself because he found that early mornings were not the most spiritually-minded times for him, but if he didn’t have his time with God first thing, his day was off somehow. It was much harder to carve out time during a busy day. He wasn’t always in the mood to read and pray at 5 A.M. so he began by reading an essay from a great Christian author. He prefers Muggeridge and C.S. Lewis. (I have never read Malcom Muggeridge, and my copy of “Mere Christianity” is buried in the many boxes still in storage here.)
Then Ravi proceeds as I do, to the bible and then to prayer.
I was relieved when he said he struggled to be spiritually minded early in the morning. Ravi is –in my mind- the greatest Christian thinker of this generation, and someone I hold in the highest regard. If he struggles with this, then I don’t feel so terrible. I decided to follow his formula and it has made a huge difference for me.
So, what does this have to do with you, the reader? Why the lengthy introduction? Where is this confessional that is supposed to help everyone else?
I was sitting here this morning, preparing to do my routine. It’s been about 45 days since I began this anew. I had fallen into the trap of Bible reading out of habit. The rote, mechanical, ten minutes each morning were empty. I would sit down with a cup of coffee, read a single chapter of the bible, pray for my daughter, and rush off to the shower and then to work.
With all the working I do on weekends, I haven’t been in church on Sunday, consistently, in almost two years. My spiritual life was surviving on prisoner’s rations. Bread and water. My relationship with God was non-existent. The past year and a half has been extremely trying. In some ways, more so than homelessness was. My daughter has struggled with issues from her home-life to the point that last year, right around this time, I nearly lost her. At the same time, I had begun writing my latest book and it took me back through that horrible, painful six-year period of homelessness. Chronicling it in detail brought it all to the surface. Things I had pushed down inside me, were now out in the open and it caused me great pain. It effected how I did my job, how I related to others, (including my daughter) and how I saw myself. The story needed to be told, but in the telling, there was great pain.
I had no reserves left at that point and I was fighting one of the greatest spiritual battles I had ever fought. Sadly, I fought it alone, because of the great distance between God and me. The funny thing about moving from God is that it seldom ever happens in leaps. It happens in small steps. One day without contact becomes another, then another. Before you know it, there is no intimacy with the one with whom intimacy matters most.
A couple of weeks ago I was reading through 1 Corinthians and got to the “love” chapter. It was a convicting time because I realized how few of those descriptives fit me.
“Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs, Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails
I was not patient. I was often unkind. I’ve never had a problem with envy, and I have very little to boast about, and I’ve never been self-seeking. But I was increasingly easily-angered. I kept a record of wrongs. Things that got my blood to boil in an instant. People who had betrayed, things that didn’t turn out as I’d hoped. These things simmered beneath the surface, unaddressed in the years I was homeless because I was spending all my energy just surviving back then. But in the last three years, I’ve had time to feel them, and it hurt. Maybe it hurt even more because they’d been festering for so long. I never delight in evil and I always rejoice in truth, but that, in itself, had become a weapon for me. I was a crusader for truth in a world full of lies. It was the only battle I could fight at the time. I had lost everything, but I still had my wits, my words, and my sense of right. So, I became Peter with a broadsword, lopping off the ears of the innocent in my righteous rage. Well-intentioned for sure, but harmful.
I had the “always protects” thing down. I had done everything in my power to protect my daughter, but I trusted no one by this point. Always hopes? Not me. I was running on sheer stubbornness, not hope. In fact, I had become hopeless, even with a job and a place to live again.
This was all very telling for me and very convicting. I spent several days contemplating this and repenting of the failure of showing love in my life. But that wasn’t enough. I knew I could not be my own source of love. I can’t live a supernatural life under my own natural power. I knew what was missing, but I wondered if it was too late for me.
A few days later, I read in Galatians about the fruit of the Spirit. I demonstrated almost none of those fruits in my daily life. I sat there pondering those words and it dawned on me, “How can I have the fruits of the Spirit, when I have no relationship with Him?” “How can I be loving when I spend no time with the One who loves me?” My relationship with Jesus had become cursory. My prayer life was non-existent. (I struggle terribly with this. Because of my home life, I have never been able to trust that anyone else…not even God, would help me in a situation. I have always, as far back as I can remember, done it myself. This mindset makes prayer difficult) I could pray for others, but praying for myself was impossible and unnecessary. Why? Why pray to God when you are expected to fend for yourself?
I neglected the presence of the very God who invited me into His presence. I ignored the Savior who gave His life for me. Maybe worst of all, at least from the sense of being empowered to live the Christian life, I abandoned the very Holy Spirit from whom those desired fruits came. For me, as a Spirit-filled believer, this was like running my car on empty and wondering why I was sitting on the side on the road. My daily habit of one chapter and a brief prayer, was akin to pouring in a cupful of gas, just enough to start the engine, and move a few feet. The truth was I was getting nowhere.
I have been chewing over these things for almost two months now. What’s heartbreaking to me is how the relationship was so paralleled to my relationship with my daughter. We live in the same house. We are family. Yet we don’t talk a lot. She is hurting, and like her dad, she tends to hurt from within and not want to talk about it with her dad. She’s not mad at me. She’s not disappointed in me. She understands all I went through on her behalf and she appreciates it. But she has my personality in that she doesn’t like opening up to her father about things. Not easily, and certainly not quickly. She talks to friends, her counselor, her journal. But seldom to me. I think it’s because she thinks I already have too much on my plate. I also think that she spent so much time alone over the last eight years, that she feels she must do this alone, too.
Just like her dad.
I was considering all this over the last two months. Remembering how my spiritual life was long ago. I remember the night I was baptized in the Spirit. I remember how that broke through to a place of closeness and nearness to God that I had never experienced before. Why had I moved away from that? I remembered how, when I had my home in the country in Tennessee, I would go outside on starry nights and walk in the woods and talk to God like talking to a friend. How even in my homelessness I was closer to Him than I am now.
I thought about how, like any other relationship, we get out what we put in. God tells us to “seek Him” Jesus says “Come unto me.” In His offering of a lighter burden and an easier yoke, the offer starts with “Come to me…” I can’t take that easier yoke unless I get close to Him. I can’t find God if I haven’t sought Him. The Holy Spirit will not empower me, break me, shape me, and refine me unless I yield to Him. Years ago, my pastor, Paul Walters, told me; “The Holy Spirit is the perfect gentleman. He never goes where He is not invited, and He never overstays His welcome.” I had not invited Him in a long time, and He was not openly welcomed in my soul. I was too busy being too busy. The relationship was cursory. Limited. Surface. Like a married couple who drifted apart over the years until they were nothing more than roommates. Still married, but entirely disconnected.
In my kitchen, about a month ago, I had a tremendous reconciliation. I realized the distance that had come into my life. I felt it. I missed Jesus. He missed me too. I repented of my priorities and my lack of faith. I confessed my distance. I invited the Holy Spirit back into the center of my life. I felt Him fill me again and renew the relationship. I realized, full well, how much I had been trying to do this under my own power, how at no time did I intentionally shut God out…it just happened slowly. Death by a thousand papercuts. An inch at a time.
We all do this. We live in an age that moves faster than any other in history. We are bombarded with information, with demands on our time. We are in a 24-hour news cycle. We are offered electric church on the internet and we convince ourselves it’s a good substitute for physical presence with others in the body of Christ. We can watch online, tithe online, submit prayer requests online, and never leave our houses.
That can’t help but translate to our personal relationships with God. A bible that  was once a well-worn companion, a trail map through the adventure of life, is replaced with a verse on the screen of our smartphone, or something we get in an email from our pastor. We replace intercession with the internet, the prayer closet with an app, deep reading with retweets. (I am not against technology, only against the lack of depth it often causes.)
Worst of all…we forget that a relationship with God is no different than a relationship with anyone else. It must be pursued, it must be honest, it must be a priority.
I failed in all this. I wrote this because I’m pretty sure many of us have failed as well, and sometimes it helps to hear another person’s confession so we can say “it’s me oh Lord.”
If you read this and you feel that twinge that says; “I miss God,” rest assured…He misses you to.