Monday, December 31, 2012

2013: Sink or Swim . . . Together!



Statistics may tell us many things, but they do not always tell us the truth. God’s redemptive action in history always trumps statistics. The ten spies reported the facts. God had  a higher reality.

However, to deny trends or to deny what statistics indicate is like playing in the band while the Titanic is sinking. Denial of the obvious is a particularly unique form of spiritual blindness. All the false prophets promised Israel that things were not that bad, and that their captivity wouldn’t last long. Their message found willing listeners. They were wrong.

All indicators are that the church in the West is in decline, not only numerically but also in substance and influence. Some might argue that if we are talking about “institutional” forms of “Christendom”–the nineteen or seventeen hundred-year-old counterfeit of Jesus’s kingdom–”good riddance” might be an appropriate response. Alas, the problem is unrelated to the structure of our gatherings, the quality of our theology, or the effectiveness of our practices, but rather the condition of our hearts.
Every time I point out a negative fact or trend, regarding our true state, I am met with: “but our church is not like that,”  “you shouldn’t criticize the church,” “there’s no such thing as a perfect church,” “we are the pure remnant,” “you should come and hear my pastor,” and other canards of denial. Funny, how a collection of wonderful churches, full of wonderful people, doing wonderful things for Jesus, results in overall spiritual and societal decline. Of course, MY church is wonderful,  the “other guy’s” church has problems.

Shiloh was a place of many wonderful interactions between God and Israel. However, it was reduced to a pile of rocks and overgrown vegetation when the substance of the life of God was lost in favor of much talk about God. External conformity to God’s demands without corresponding internal transformation is the DNA of decline.
A fire unattended and unfueled inevitably goes out. There’s a reason Paul exhorted Timothy to “fan the flame” of his faith: it’s prone to going out! An irrelevant pile of ashes of historical glory provides neither heat nor light. Real Christianity is always present. It’s hot. It’s alive. Anyone who actually lives like Jesus is really alive from the dead, will be a threat to people (and the institutions to which they belong) who have a philosophy of resurrection based on the Bible. We can handle a baby in a manger or a dead man on a cross. A baby and a dead man are not threats to how we want to do “our religion.” Let anyone actually live out of His resurrection life, well, that won’t be tolerated.  It’s a bush that doesn’t burn, and a fire that needs no fuel. That will not be allowed. It’s unmanageable.

Occasional, isolated, and cheerful exceptions at a local level, do not negate the overall trend in the West.  As leaders, we need to sound a clear alarm. The Church Universal, the Bride of Christ, is an eternal, unstoppable force. God’s redemptive reach is uniquely effective when impossibility and brokenness produce a cry for deliverance within hearts humbled by unpleasant circumstances. God’s hold on the future, and His determination for His bride, are not in question. Our participation with Him in it, is another matter.

Any local expression, regardless of how “wonderful our pastor” is or how “dynamic our worship team” is or “how relational we are,”  is not guaranteed existence and continuity: Ephesus–gone; Thessalonica–gone; Sardis–gone; churches in North Africa–gone; Europe–secularized, etc. You and I, and our “wonderful assemblies”  are not immune any more than our predecessors. When the talk of God exceeds the life of God, we are on the pathway to extinction, not withstanding our pious rhetoric and prayer for “revival.” God is not interested in reviving Bible philosophy clubs that happen to have a great lecture, great music, and a nice meal once or twice a week.

You can have a lovely private stateroom on a cruise liner, but if there’s a hole in the hull, the pleasantries of your stateroom will not save you from going down with the ship. Any of our local situations might be quite positive. However we will sink or float together in this matter. There is ONE Body. Daniel went into captivity with Israel. Jeremiah was not spared the rigors of Israel’s “divine chastisement” at the hands of a Babylonian invader.

Incarnational living in Christ does not exempt any of us from the travails of the culture we may worship or live in.  Rather, we will be the representative agents of God as we go into captivity together. God will “seed” us among the captives. The first Son was seeded into earth’s darkness and captivity, and all subsequent sons and daughters will be also.

Let each of us, in our assigned spheres of life and ministry, be sober and more resolute than we have ever been. Let’s burn. Let’s be hot. Let’s be light. Let’s remember that the ultimate act of spiritual warfare is not prophetic intercession or a spiritual warfare conference. It is a converted/transformed, soul who lives a transformed vibrant life in right relationship with God, one another, and humanity.
I pray God give each of us divine energy for every day that we have breath, that our lives may count for something other than American creature comforts and perpetuation of a way of life that may be filled with material blessings, but does not reflect Jesus’s kingdom interests.

In it together with you to the end . . .

Copyright 2012,  Dr. Stephen R. Crosby

http://www.swordofthekingdom.com.
Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references.  For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact stephcros9@aol.com.

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

"Last Days" Prophecies - A Different Perspective



With all the ominous prophetic words being released these days, I wanted to reconsider the theology we use to interpret and apply prophetic declarations and suggest that perhaps an alternative view might allow us to see them in a better light.

You don't have to look very far to find prophets declaring a future that looks pretty bleak. There are thousands of prophetic words in circulation that foretell massive earthquakes, tsunamis, wars and famine. With all these declarations of gloom and doom, it's hard to have an optimistic view of the future. It occurred to me that maybe we need to take a fresh look at the process we use to evaluate, interpret and apply prophetic words.

When we look at prophecies, we need to do a few things according to Scripture:

1) We must discern whether or not they're from God.
2) We must discern if they're being interpreted and applied correctly.
(See 1 Cor 14:29)

For some, these prophetic words portray an expansion of the kingdom of darkness. Many hold a view that it is not the kingdom of darkness that will increase as we move forward, but the kingdom of light. Seeing a conflict with a victorious view of eschatology, they dismiss these prophetic words as rubbish.

So let me propose an alternative explanation that supports a victorious eschatology and validates these prophetic words.

The major objection to these prophecies is the idea that through catastrophic events, God is judging a sinful, rebellious world. If you understand that God has removed the sin of the world and it's judgment at the cross, you should understand that there is no more need for judgment. So why would God continue to judge mankind through catastrophic events?

Jason Westerfield's Revelation
Not long ago, I listened to a message from Jason Westerfield where he discussed the revelation he'd received from God concerning the earthquakes in Christ Church, New Zealand, where he lives. The revelation he received was that the earthquakes resulted not from God's judgment on man, but on the removal of powers of darkness that had been reigning over those places. I apologize for my inability to recall the details of exactly how the powers of darkness were defeated, but the short story is - they were defeated (or perhaps judged) and then removed. In the process of being removed from their place of power, they created some earthquakes in that region.

Jason is a well-known and trusted prophetic voice. If his revelation is true, then the catastrophic events that happen in the earth may be attributed to something other than God's wrath. They may instead, be a result of us waging warfare successfully against the kingdom of darkness. And if that is the case, then the prophetic words about catastrophes, need to be re-examined in light of this revelation.

The next thing I'd like to consider is how we might accomplish the task of removing the powers of darkness over a region.

I don't engage in direct warfare against the powers of darkness in the heavens over my region. I've never received revelation from God on how to do that, nor has He told me that it's my responsibility. But I do have friends who engage in such warfare. They've been given protection and revelation on how to do it and not get killed. I think there may be a means to accomplish that objective in a way that doesn't expose us to the kind of danger we'd encounter by visiting the enemy's turf.

Ian Clayton - The Courts of Heaven
If you're familiar with Ian Clayton, you probably know that he has a series of lectures on the courts of heaven. (If you're interested in hearing this teaching, there is a link at the bottom of the note to the podcast) Clayton teaches that we, as believers, have access to the courts of heaven. We can bring a case before the court and ask for a ruling. Clayton has appeared in court and asked that his adversary appear with him, citing the principle found in Zec 3:1-2, where Satan appeared beside Joshua, the high priest.

Clayton says that if we stand in a heavenly court and ask that judgment be delivered, while standing under the covering of God's testimony, (which prevents judgment from falling on us) the judgment falls only on our adversary. He points out that it's dangerous to appear before the court on our own merit, as justice is blind and will fall upon us if we're not standing under the covering of God's testimony. He goes on to say that once our adversary is judged, he is removed from the place he held power over and that seat of power is given to us. This is a key point - the powers of darkness must be removed from their place of power and the seat of power given to a son of God.

This example could be used by anyone who is willing to take the spiritual forces over their region to court. The good news is - the powers of darkness are de-throned. The bad news is - they seldom leave without causing a little damage. In being de-throned, they may stir up a hurricane, for example. Remember that Jesus rebuked a storm at sea, which tells us that storms can be a tool of the enemy. The enemy may also create floods, volcanoes and earthquakes.

Clayton teaches that one of the things we must do is to mitigate the damage done by the powers of darkness as they depart the scene. It's not enough for us to occupy the seat of power. We must also pray for as little damage to occur in the earth as possible.

It wouldn't be hard to imagine the consequences to the earth if hundreds or thousands of these rulers of darkness were removed in a short period of time. There would be wide-spread and potentially devastating destruction around the globe, if we fail to mitigate the damage in the process of having them removed. If the powers of darkness were cast down to the earth - all hell would break loose down here and we might expect an increase in demonic activity and persecution of the saints. Mike Bickle had a dream not long ago, where he saw this exact scenario take place. The dream was recorded on February 13, 2009.

Mike's Bickle's Dream
"I had a long, vivid prophetic dream. I woke up at 2:30 AM with a deep sense of reality.

In this dream I was in an outdoor conference with maybe 40,000 people. The conference venue was in an outdoor baseball stadium in a large fair ground. I was preaching on prayer, power and end-time judgment. I spoke at the two afternoon sessions. Leaders and their people from many different charismatic streams were there. I remember seeing Bill Johnson and his people at the conference. We were enjoying warm fellowship together.

In the break between the sessions, some were debating whether what I was preaching was right or wrong. IHOP people were talking to some from the various charismatic streams in the Body of Christ. They were debating in a friendly way about God’s power and prayer and its relationship to end-time judgment. There was no hostility but sincere debate with most of the people talking with humility and love. It was actually enjoyable.

I finished preaching after the second session about 5 PM, when the events of Rev. 12:7-9 began to occur. Demonic principalities were being cast to the earth. They looked like very large snakes (over 100 yards long and 50 feet thick) with large heads that looked like a dragon. Many of them were descending from the sky down to the earth. No one at the conference had sufficient understanding or faith to respond in power and confidence. All the leaders and the people in the various charismatic streams ran in fear and confusion, including the IHOP people.

These snake-like-principalities were filled with rage against the people. These were angry and even humiliated about being confined to the earth."

(There is more that Mike shares on his dream. If you're interested in reading the entire message, there is a link at the bottom of the note.)

If we put these concepts together, we can see that all of these "prophecies of doom"  could indeed happen, and they would not be the result of God's wrath upon mankind, but the result of His children taking their rightful place of authority over their respective geographic regions.

Now I'd like to consider one last point....

Revival
Along with prophecies of natural disaster, there have been prophecies that speak of a great "last days" revival. Many believe it will be the greatest revival of all time. I can't help but wonder if that revival isn't the reward God has in store for us for the time when we get our act together as a body and storm the gates of hell like Jesus said we would. If there were to be a massive removal of the powers of darkness from the heavens, it may be the thing that ushers in an unprecedented release of God's glory in the earth. Yes, there would probably be some chaos, but the light shines brightest in the darkness.

This scenario is (more or less) what a lot of prophetic folks have seen in terms of a "last days" scenario, albeit from a different perspective. Personally, I think we need to see things from a different perspective. I think there is a way to integrate the present prophetic words that seem to indicate 'doom and gloom' with a victorious eschatology.

The key to developing such a view is to permit ourselves to think outside the box of traditional interpretations and to pull together the pieces of revelation others have so that the picture becomes larger than just the piece we've been given.

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Finished Work of the Cross



In a nutshell, we teach the finished work of Jesus Christ for all humanity. We believe that our Triune God chose, before the foundation of the world, to create mankind for the very purpose of sharing in His life and love. That's why you and I exist - to participate in the circle of intimate love and life that has been and will forever be known among the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Early Church Fathers called this relationship perichoresis, a word that refers to, "the mutual inter-penetration and indwelling within the threefold nature of the Trinity." In other words, "a dance of intimate union." We were made to participate in that Divine Dance.

When Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden, he took us all down with him. Just as mankind's biological roots are found in Adam, so were our spiritual roots. When he became a sinner, we became a sinner. (See Romans 5:12) However, Adam's fall didn't surprise our God. In fact, He had already solved the problem of sin before it reared its ugly head. (See Revelation 13:8; 1 Peter 1:18-20; Titus 1:2)

The Incarnation wasn't an afterthought on God's part. The eternal plan had always been for God to become man and as the God-Man to bring God and man into union through our adoption in Jesus Christ. (See Ephesians 1:5; 1 Timothy 2:5) The word, "incarnation" refers to the vicarious life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus on behalf of all humanity. In other words, He didn't simply live and die for us as our substitute. While He did that, He also lived and died as us. His obedience to the Father is our obedience. His death was our death. His resurrection and ascension is our resurrection and ascension.

When Jesus cried, "It is finished!" from the cross, we believe that is exactly what He meant. Having died for all mankind, He has finished the necessary work to complete the reason for His coming in flesh. He came to take away the sin of the world (see John 1:29) and He succeeded. It is finished! He came to bring forgiveness. When Jesus was dying, He prayed for those who crucified Him to be forgiven by the Father. (See Luke 23:34) Notice that He prayed that prayer apart from those who crucified Him personally asking to be forgiven. He sought forgiveness on their behalf while they saw Him as an enemy? Yes! Was Jesus successful? Yes! It is finished! What He did for them, He did for us all. The sins of all humanity have been forgiven.

"God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them. . ." (See 2 Corinthians 5:19) The sins of the world have been dealt with by the finished work of Jesus. God has reconciled the world to Himself. He does not count our sins against us. Because of Jesus, it is finished!

It may be hard for some to accept that all are forgiven even before they ask but to think that we must do something to finish the work of Jesus Christ is an insult to Him and His work. To proclaim the gospel is to announce the finished work of Christ. God has committed to us this message of reconciliation. (See 2 Corinthians 5:19). We joyfully share this truth and challenge people to believe it! (See 2 Corinthians 5:20). In Jesus, the Father has reconciled us to Himself. It really is finished! The appeal of the gospel isn't to trust God to do something for us, but to receive and believe what He has already done.

Here's an example: God has given us all His love. Correct? Are you loved by Him whether you receive it or not? Of course you are. You may choose to live your lifestyle outside the experience of His love, but the absolute truth is that He loves you whether you receive it or not. That is an eternal truth. His love for you is factual whether or not you know it to be your actual experience.

The same can be said of all that has been given to us in Jesus Christ. What He did on the cross was for all of us and the benefits of the cross are real whether or not they are realized by a person. If any benefit of the cross (like forgiveness) is true regardless of whether or not we accept it, then every benefit of the cross is true for us. We can't piecemeal the work of the cross and argue that one benefit of the work of Christ is true whether or not we believe but other benefits are only true if we believe. It really is finished and what God has done, He has done whether we believe it or not. Just as Adam took us all down, Jesus Christ has brought us all up.

What has He done for us?

He has forgiven us. (See Ephesians 1:7) We aren't forgiven because of what we do - say "a sinner's prayer," be confirmed, take our first communion, join a local church, or anything else. Forgiveness comes from the cross. It was finished there. We don't finish it now by something we do.

He has justified us by His blood. (See Romans 5:9) It isn't what we do that brings justification, but what He has already done.

He has reconciled us to Himself. (See 2 Corinthians 5:19) God was in Christ "reconciling the world to Himself" when He died on the cross. Did He succeed or fail in His work? Did He really finish it? Or did He simply start the process and it's up to people to finish it by their own personal decision?  Jesus said, "It is finished." He didn't say, "It's your move now."

He has made us righteous. Romans 5:19 says, "For as through the one man's disobedience (that man was Adam) the many (How many? All!) were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One (Jesus) the many (The same "many?" Of course!) will be made righteous."

Did Adam's disobedience affect everybody but the obedience of Jesus affected only those who allow it to affect them? Not according to this verse. It is finished!

He has given us His life. Romans 5:18 says, "So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men." Adams' transgression brought condemnation (by sin, not God) to all men. What result did one act of righteousness bring? The justification of life! To whom? To all men!

You may be thinking by this point, "Yes, but there are other verses in the Bible that plainly teach that we are forgiven when we receive it!  One verse teaches we are justified by faith! Another verse tells us to challenge people to "be reconciled to God!" Another says we must believe to be righteous! Other verses say we are dead in our sin until we believe!

Those statements are true. There certainly is a tension in the Scripture about these issues, but the question presents itself, "Are we to disregard and reject those verses that plainly teach about the effect of Jesus' work on all humanity? Was Paul wrong when he wrote that God was in Christ "reconciling the world to Himself." Should he have written that "God was making it possible for people to be reconciled?"

Do we accept Romans 5:19 when it says that in Adam all were made sinners but reject the last part of that same verse when it says that in Christ all are made righteous?

Since the Bible is true in totality, must there not be a way that verses like these that seem to contradict may be reconciled together? Yes, there is. The answer is in recognizing and affirming that all the Bible is reliable and trustworthy. The Scripture isn't a buffet where we can pick and choose what we want to believe and what we will reject.

It's true that in Adam all were made sinners. It's also true that in Christ all were made righteous. It's true that forgiveness has been given to all mankind because of the work of Jesus Christ. It's also true that we must receive that forgiveness.

Eternal truth is real, whether we believe it or not. On the other hand, in order for us to benefit from the eternal truth of all that Jesus Christ has done for us, to us and in us, we must believe it. The writer of Hebrews wrote, "For indeed we (believers) have had good news preached to us, just as they (unbelievers) also; but the word they (unbelievers) heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard" (Hebrews 4:2).

Do you see the point in this verse? It's the same truth that is shared with those who believe and those who don't believe. It is truth before we even believe it. Our belief doesn't make the message of the gospel true. The truth is the truth whether we believe it or not. It is an objective reality. It is factual. It is eternal. It is real!  Faith has nothing to do with whether it is true or not. It is true.

However -- in order for a person to "profit" (benefit) from the truth, they must believe it.  We are all loved by God but unless we believe it, we will live as if we are unloved. We will spend our lives trying to find a love that, in reality, we already have. All mankind is forgiven. We have been reconciled to God. We have been justified. Christ has given Himself to us. It is finished! These things are true!

When we teach this objective aspect of the work of Christ, we aren't suggesting that it isn't necessary to believe and receive it. To the contrary, the only way anybody will benefit from the finished work of Christ is to believe it, but our unbelief doesn't nullify the reality of what He has done. Objective truth is grounded in an "object." It's real. It's something concrete.

For that truth to become subjective, we must subject ourselves to it by believing and receiving it. Otherwise, that which is factual won't become actual to us. Although it is real, it won't be personally realized. While it remains an eternal truth, we won't know it as an experiential truth.

Because we teach the eternal truth that "It is finished!" and affirm that in Christ it all has already been done for all humanity, does that mean we don't believe or teach that every person needs to receive and believe? No!

Here's what we are teaching: There's nothing left for God to do for anybody because it has all been done in Jesus Christ. People simply need to believe the good news, personally receive it and be transformed by it.

To seek to avoid confusion among some, here's what we are NOT teaching:

Everybody is going to heaven.
There is no such thing as hell.
How people behave doesn't matter.

When people aren't accustomed to hearing the objective side (eternal truth) of the cross taught and are only familiar with the subjective side (experiential truth), they sometimes have a knee-jerk reaction to the universality of the work of Jesus - the reality that every person has been affected by His incarnation. They sometimes frantically seek to find a mental folder to file away the teaching that is new to them.

Unfortunately, they often have no file for the objective truths of the gospel so they "misfile" what they hear. The result is that they think we are teaching Universalism or denying the existence of hell or saying that faith in Christ is unnecessary. Nobody who works with Grace Walk is saying these things.

Our goal and earnest effort is to teach both the objective and subjective truths of the gospel. We want people to see that the benefits of the cross are factual even before they become actual. We desire to proclaim what is real even if people don't realize it in their own lives.

Some who hear us teach are set free by the completeness of the message of the gospel. These are the ones who become excited and with enthusiasm join us in sharing the message of grace. I pray these will increase in number and in boldness.

Others who hear us are skeptical. They haven't heard the objective aspects of the cross before and, because it is new to them, they don't know what to think. Sometimes they encounter others who warn them against our teaching, telling them it's error, false doctrine or even heresy. Sometimes they meet people who encourage them forward in their journey. I pray that these will search the Scriptures and trust the Holy Spirit to lead them into all truth.  

Still others weigh out what they hear, study the Bible for themselves and come to a different viewpoint than the one we teach. I respect these people for taking the time to seriously consider a different viewpoint from the one they hold and pray for them to be blessed richly as they move ahead in the direction they believe they are being led.

Finally, some will not listen. They believe that the content of their understanding about grace is the right way and they won't consider anything else. They hurl inflammatory accusations like "heretic, false teaching, unorthodox, dangerous, etc." against us. They are afraid. They have vested too much in the house-of-cards theological position they hold and they don't want to see it threatened. These can be very "ungracious" in their "defense of grace." Sadly, they believe they are doing God a service with such attitudes and actions. I pray for these, that the love of the Father will rise up big within them and that they will be overwhelmed by His love. It's interesting how a person's perspective can change when that one thing takes place.

Dr. Steve McVey,
Gracewalk

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Ministry of Apostle in Contemporary Times


The book of Ephesians 4:10-16 teaches us that the ministry gift of apostle will continue to function so that Christ can fill all things (every realm of society) until we come to full maturity in Christ as a church. Obviously these two things have not yet happened. So the question arises: What would the ministry of apostle look like in today’s world?

Without qualifying all my statements due to the brevity of this article, the following are some observations and opinions I have related to this ministry in context with today’s world. There have been many wonderful books written on the subject of the fivefold ministry (my favorite is Kevin Conner’s The Church in the New Testament). Thus, there is no need for me to repeat content found in these other fine books.

Those walking in the apostolic ministry have a strong leadership gift (Romans 12:7)

They are not primarily followers who conform to the mainstream but are willing to go against culture and carve out a countercultural movement that is based on the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven (read Acts 4:19-31). Thus, they are willing to lead a strong movement even in spite of religious and political opposition.

Contemporary apostles need to be able to preach the gospel and lead countercultural movements that can deal with postmodernism (that there are no absolute truths that can be known in this world) and a post-taboo world (a classical Greek-Libertarian approach in which we live and let live; people can engage in any behavior they want with legal protection, for example same-sex marriage, abortion, euthanasia) in a manner that does not make Christians come off as ignorant, uneducated biblicists but in a cogent, compelling manner that utilizes logic, godly wisdom, current events, statistics, and artful subtlety with the power of the Word and Spirit of God.

Apostolic leaders have the ability to manage whole networks of people, congregations and ministries that are relevant to and thrive in the midst of cultural complexities because they can adapt their methods and message based on the culture in which they labor.

For example, Paul established complex apostolic networks in over 30 diverse cities in the Roman world. He had to speak messages and build churches relevant to Jews (Acts 9, 21, 28), intellects (Acts 17:16-34) and people steeped in carnality and debauchery (First and Second Corinthians). He was not just an evangelist who blessed people and then left town; he was a master builder (1 Corinthians 3:10-14) who had a long-term plan to build communities of faith in the main cities of the Roman world (Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth, Colossae, Rome, Thessalonica) so they would eventually alter the culture and turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6; 19:21-41).

In today’s world God is still using global leaders in India, Africa, Latin America, the USA, Asia and other places to start non-denominational complex apostolic networks that are driving missions across the earth.

Apostles develop new emerging leaders

When Paul met Timothy he immediately perceived that he was someone worth investing in to develop as a leader (Acts 16:1-3). Scripture teaches us that Paul's intuition was correct; we read that Timothy turned out to be Paul's best protégé (Phil. 2:19-25).

Perhaps the most important calling of apostles is to see and develop the leadership potential in others.

In today's contemporary, fatherless world apostolic leaders are going to have to learn how to be fathers who can re-parent and bring healing to the fatherless, so potential leaders will have the internal affirmation necessary to become great leaders.

Apostles are humble and broken, not superstars in their own minds (2 Corinthians 12:1-7)

Scripture teaches us that Paul ministered out of his weakness, not his strength. In today's world, I am skeptical of the superstar celebrity leaders who are always bragging about their ministries and accomplishments. Today we need authentic, transparent apostolic leaders who minister out of their weakness, as Paul did, so the glory and power are from Christ alone and to Him alone!

Apostles have seen Jesus

In Acts 1 we see the 11 apostles attempted to choose a person that had walked and talked with Jesus personally to take the place of Judas Iscariot who fell away from his calling and committed suicide. In 1 Corinthians 9:1 and Acts 22:14 an important part of Paul's calling to the apostolic was that he had seen Jesus personally. Whether this was in the body or just a vision we don’t know (2 Corinthians 12). But the main idea is that Paul had a powerful life-changing encounter with Jesus that rooted and grounded him in the faith and gave him an intimacy with Christ that sustained him through all his trials and tribulations.

Contemporary apostles, like Moses and Paul, need to know the Lord face-to-face as a man knows his friend (Deut. 34:10) so they can clearly hear His voice and have faith to walk in great exploits, and so they are not walking in presumption and embarrass themselves and the gospel.

Apostles move in signs, wonders and miracles (Romans 15:18-20; 2 Corinthians 12:12)

Paul and the other New Testament apostles regularly moved in miraculous signs, wonders and miracles which included gifts of healings, working of miracles and casting out demons.

In contemporary times this is not only related to the aforementioned supernatural signs, but the signs of God’s providential favor—being at the right place at the right time, supernatural doors opening up, financial provisions miraculously coming for ministry projects, and great faith to see God do supernatural things in the hearts and minds of people so the great apostolic vision God has given them can be accomplished.

Apostles speak in principle what prophets prophesy by revelation

The apostolic leaders I know, like John Kelly (ICA), speak in principle words of wisdom that constantly flow out of them, even in ordinary spontaneous conversations. This is unlike many prophetic people who depend upon the Spirit to come upon them and prophesy to give a word of wisdom. Both are effective; that’s why prophets and apostles complement one another and give each other balance.

Apostles are great problem solvers and strategists

Apostolic leaders are able to look at a project and think of all contingency plans (and even have a plan A, B, C based on what happens) like no other leaders! They can take the complex and make it simple for all to understand. They are master builders who can come into a disorganized church or ministry and bring great order within a short period of time. While others see reality in bits and pieces, apostolic leaders can put all the pieces of the puzzle together; they plan ahead, see life at light speed, and see all of life like a chess player who plans ten moves ahead.

Apostles are great fundraisers and operate in the gift of faith for new territories

Apostolic leaders, like Paul, are great visionaries who can motivate people and churches to give to the things of the kingdom (read 2 Corinthians 8, 9).

I have never met a true apostle who didn’t have great vision as well as faith and strategy to believe and receive provision for the vision. This is one of the main ways to distinguish between true and false apostles. False apostles may have apostolic teaching and revelation, and call themselves apostles on their business cards. But they have never built anything of substance. True apostles not only talk but walk the walk with provision for the vision so they can build great works for the Kingdom of God. This is because they have learned to trust God to meet their needs as well as to touch the hearts of potential donors who can fund the vision.

Apostles usually don’t focus on minutia but see the big picture

Apostolic leaders usually miss the tree because they see the forest. They usually do not have much patience for one-on-one counseling unless it is with a high-level leader they are mentoring or covering. This is not because they do not have compassion but because God has wired them to focus on the big picture. Apostolic leaders are “high D” doers and are satisfied more in accomplishing tasks. If they had grace for minutia and hand-holding they would spend most of their time doing those things and would not have the emotional and spiritual energy left for the larger picture of the vision God has assigned to them. Thus, apostolic leaders have learned to nurture pastoral leaders who do the counseling, coaching and hand-holding that the congregation needs.

In closing, we need to greatly value the gift of apostle in our midst. God says this gift is so important that when He starts a work He first sets in an apostle to lay the foundation before any other office or function is established, thus ensuring that the whole building will have the proper foundation (read 1 Corinthians 12:28).


Comment: It's apparent that Joseph has some good insights here, and a good description of an apostle. Some would say that the apostolic gift is so varied - different assignments bring out different aspects of this complex gift - that other descriptions, quite different descriptions, may also be helpful.



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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Office of Prophet and Contemporary Times


There has been much written about the office and function of prophet in the past three decades. In this article I will be writing regarding my own experience in understanding what the Bible says about the prophetic ministry, and I will attempt to connect this to today’s world.

First of all, by prophet I am not referring to a person who exercises the gift of prophecy as taught in 1 Corinthians 14:2-4 (consisting of general exhortations, comfort and rebuke, which everyone in the church is encouraged to do; read 1 Corinthians 14:39). I am also not referring to a person preaching a sermon to a congregation. I am speaking about a person who, through much prayer, travail, and meditation in the scriptures, regularly stands in the council and heavenly assembly of God (with the angels and other messengers of God’s court) to hear what the Spirit is saying, so that the mind and heart of God can be communicated to the church and nation. Examples of a prophet standing in the council and/or court of the living God to hear His word are found in Isaiah 6:1-9; Ezekiel 1-3,10; Jeremiah 15:19; extraordinary examples of this can be found in the New Testament with the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:1-12 and the Apostle John in Revelation 1:9-20 and 4:1-2.

Jeremiah 23:16-22 shows that the main distinction between false and true prophets is that false prophets speak without being in the council of the Lord and, hence, utter words without ever being sent by God.

David Chilton says the following about prophets in his book The Days of Vengeance:

“The prophets not only observed the deliberations of the heavenly Council (cf. 1 Kings 22:19-22); they actually participated in them. Indeed, the Lord did nothing without consulting His prophets (Amos 3:7). This is why the characteristic activity of the Biblical prophet is intercession and mediation (cf. Gen. 18:16-33; 20:7, the first occurrence of the word prophet in Scripture). As members of the Council the prophets have freedom of speech with God, and are able to argue with Him, often persuading Him to change His mind (cf. Ex. 32:7-14; Amos 7:1-6). They are His friends, and so He speaks openly with them (Gen. 18:17; Ex. 33:11; 2 Chron. 20:7; Isa. 41:8; John 15:15). As images of fully redeemed Man, the prophets shared in God's glory, exercising dominion over the nations (cf. Jer. 1:10; 28:8), having been transfigured ethically (cf. Isa. 6:5-8) and physically (cf. Ex. 34:29). They thus resembled the angels of heaven, and so it is not surprising that the term angel (Heb. mal'ak, Greek angelos) is used to describe the Biblical prophet (cf. 2 Chron. 36:15-16; Hag. 1:13; Mai. 3:1; Matt. 11:10; 24:31; Luke 7:24; 9:52)” (page 82).

So how do those standing in the office of prophet function in today’s world?

First of all, prophets are people who regularly engage in deep intercession and travail for the purposes of God to be fulfilled on the earth. Whenever a person is in true Spirit-led travail of soul, they are literally standing in the council of God—participating and pleading with God to have His way on the earth. A person who has no such deep experience with God will probably only be able to move in the simple gift of prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:2-4) and not function in the office of prophet for the nation or church.

Second of all, true prophets take what they hear from God in the heavenly courts and pray or pronounce the will of God by faith, so that His will is done and His kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven (Luke 11:2). When it is spoken in prayer, they are pronouncing divinely inspired orders from God that are then transmitted from the throne room to the angelic beings (both good and bad) who serve as the spiritual archetypes that influence the earth realm (read Matthew 18:18-19; Ephesians 3:10).

Third, prophets can also be preachers who don’t only come with prepared sermons based on human wisdom of words but speak a specific word to the church and/or people that they heard from God in the heavenly courts. This kind of preaching transforms individuals and congregations because the force and authority of the Holy Spirit is behind it, and is manifest as a rhema word (Hebrews 4:11-13).

Fourth, prophets have a deep thirst to be in the presence of God and meditate on the word of God so they can actually engage God in the scriptures while God burns His searing hot truth and light into their being! This in turn enables the prophet to understand how to apply the word of God to the people or situation he or she is confronting, counseling or speaking into.

Fifth, prophets have an understanding of the times in which they live (1 Chron. 12:32). Through both natural knowledge (from reading newspapers, books, and interaction with high-level societal leaders) and spiritual knowledge (when in prayer or fellowship with God) they are able to take the natural knowledge they have assimilated and present it with clarity, divine accuracy and power! Thus prophets not only read the Bible but also keep up with current events so they can apply the word to contemporary situations.

Sixth, prophets always have a window open to God in their souls, resulting in them regularly moving in words of knowledge, words of wisdom, discerning of spirits and prophecy, even when they are not engaged or totally focused in an act of prayer or in a church service or setting. Thus they are always in fellowship with the person and presence of God and are able to hear what He is saying at a moment’s notice, even in the midst of their mundane, daily activities.

A close friend of mine serves as an extraordinary example of this. Once while he was walking in an airport terminal, he felt an impression to give a word of guidance to a total stranger, who was at that moment praying in his heart for divine guidance. The result of this prophetic word was confirmation for Pastor Jonathan Cahn to write the New York Times bestselling book The Harbinger

I have often operated in this gift, but many times the person I am speaking to doesn’t know it because my words come in the context of a regular conversation, yet with significant results. (I can give many examples of this but do not have space in this article.)

An examination in the gospels shows that Jesus regularly moved in words of knowledge as part of His evangelistic and prophetic ministry, to confirm His word to those He was speaking to (read John 4; Mark 2:8-10; 3:1-7).

Seventh, prophets do not have to be pastors or preachers, but can be marketplace leaders who function with a high degree of intimacy with God and use it in a profound way to engage culture and affect change in the lives of those they are working with. For example, read the prophet Daniel chapters 2, 4, 5 and the account of Joseph in Genesis chapters 40 and 41. These are two men who had secular jobs but utilized their prophetic callings to transform nations and empires!

Also, my prophetic friend mentioned in the previous point is not a full-time preacher but an accountant!

Eighth, prophets walk in the royal favor of God. Somehow they are usually at the right place and the right time! Thus, God is always providentially opening up doors for them or guiding them, even when they are not aware of it!

Ninth, prophets are able to divinely interpret the redemptive reasons for the suffering, pain, and seasons of life that people experience. They are able to give profound words of advice that can transform a life, answer a prayer, bring clarity to an enigma, or help a person discover their purpose, just with a short conversation, prayer or prophetic word. Whole books of the Bible like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Amos illustrate the power of prophets who are able to interpret the times and the seasons for the people and nation they live among.

Tenth, prophets are called to represent God to a people or nation and bring a covenant lawsuit to them (Micah 3:8). The word witness was originally a legal term regarding a person that was an aide to a person bringing a lawsuit, even to the point of being part of the legal process that involved execution! Thus, prophets who stand in the heavenly council as witnesses of the Lord not only hear God’s will regarding a people or nation but can actually be part of the process that brings judgment to that person or people group.

Biblical examples of this include Elijah in 1 Kings 17:1, when the prophet declared to King Ahab that Israel would have a drought until his word released rain; Peter in Acts 5, when he pronounced judgment upon Ananias and Sapphira for lying; Paul in Acts 13, when he blinded Elymas the sorcerer for obstructing the gospel; and John in Revelation 1:3, when he bore witness to the words of Christ that resulted in bringing judgment on false Israel and the pagan systems of the world that Israel was in cahoots with.

Finally, most importantly, prophets have learned that those who are friends with politicians and wealthy people are a dime a dozen. But those who are intimate with God are very few on the earth! The most important function for a true prophet is to be a friend of God who knows God and speaks to Him face-to-face as a man speaks to his friend (Deuteronomy 34:10; John 15:15).

By Joseph Mattera



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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Restoring the Fallen



"Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted." (Galatians 6:1)

I watched a leader stumble.

I watched the church quickly jump into action. "Accountability!" they cried, and then set up a system of hoops, hurdles and hoolas for the servant to perform. Whether or not the hoops, hurdles and hoolas were doing anything directly to bring about restoration was inconsequential. The fact that something was being done, was sufficient to keep the servant out of the limelight long enough to prevent them from being associated with the church that embraced him.

The word "restoration" has been thrown around the church for many years. I've watched, seen some good restorations, but mostly bad ones. Magazines, authors, TV shows, and tabloids continue to exploit failures long after the servant is gone. The servants of yesterday who failed miserably during their lives carry the darkness of their blemished lives well into the history books, without regard for the blessings and countless lives that were transformed through them while they lived. The malice of this behavior is abhorrent to God who is not looking for earthly advisors to increase punishment when He has increased grace!(Read Matthew 18:22-35) Jesus tells us that the ones who are "blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy". (Matthew 5:7) Paul writes that he was an example of the most hideous sinner, in order to display the unlimited patience of Christ Jesus! (1 Timothy 1:16)

Failure is history's school teacher for generations to come. It stands alone as the "principals office" as an example to those who walk naively by. I remember once in primary school in South Africa receiving two "cuts" (spankings) as they called them. It was with a bamboo switch and it helped me very quickly come to the decision that I would never get another one. I was made to sit in front of the principals office for what felt like hours, while everyone walked by, knowing I was about to enter a painful discipline process. My behavior was modified. I never endured that situation again! I failed. Others saw that I failed. They knew I was disciplined. But that was the end of it!

If restoration is truly from God… then the failures of the past are swept beneath the blood of Jesus too, and if we are walking beneath that blood, we too, must function as Our Father… and forgive… and move on! Restoration only occurs when we forgive.. and move on!

When we are invited into the process of restoration, it is to restore a brother or sister to the place destined for them by God who is STILL their Father! We are invited into that process with the caution to be careful. Be careful of falling as they have fallen and be careful of judging beyond the atmosphere of grace.

Paul deals with the this subject specifically when a man is caught and continues in the sin of adultery in the Corinthian Church. He administers the rod of correction when he tells the church to "turn him over to satan!" (1 Corinthians 5:5). Evidently the discipline worked and the man repented. But the church continued on in their discipline. They disciplined beyond grace. They went from discipline to punishment and from punishment to banishment and rejection. The didn't understand the  restoration process was to restore the man to his function and calling in God. They operated under law. Law always produces a legal spirit that demands, extracts, and extorts more than what is required. The man was defiled… and they didn't want to be associated with him anymore!

Paul writes to forgive and comfort the man so that he won't become discouraged anymore. He must again experience the LOVE of Christ. He must be embraced again or who knows what will happen to him! The schemes of the enemy are to produce self-righteousness in those who are trying to walk purely, and devastation for those who are trying to walk righteously. On either account. Grace is removed, and law prevails! We must not be outwitted. We must prevail.

(2 Corinthians 2:4-11) For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you. If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent--not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. The reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven--if there was anything to forgive--I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes."

Time fails me to share about Peter who was restored fully after a bold, public, rejection of Jesus. The failure simply demonstrated that God invades humans who are frail. Peter's life reflected failure, but his life also, and more predominantly, reflected brilliant obedience that resulted in his ultimate martyrdom for Jesus! Or Elijah, who failed miserably and ended his days outside of the treasured promised land for disobedience in not anointing the two kings God told him to, and wallowing in self-pity. (1 Kings 19:15-16) I could also bring up Moses, who failed horribly during his life. He too, was prevented access to die in the treasured Promised Land. (Numbers 20:11-12) "Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, 'Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.' " Interestingly, because of Grace brought by Jesus, both of these Old Testament examples were restored to the full Promises of God when Jesus invited them to the Mount of Transfiguration!

In October 2005, I had a lengthy visitation with Jesus that indicated a "Restoration" among the prodigals would begin after a restoration took place in my own home. On February 2, 2006, my daughters who have been abducted over six years prior were returned to me. They are home, and are thriving in His Presence today! I received emails and letters from around the world indicating that the restoration of my daughters was a prophetic sign to many. They didn't realize Jesus had spoken that to me specifically. I knew in general that there would begin a restoration with children of those who love God…. but I also knew that there would be a massive release of restoration upon those who had failed miserably in years past; those who were now simply sitting on shelves and collecting dust would be restored! I saw Fathers, Mothers, Sons, and Daughters of the King waiting on a bench for those who were playing the game to invite them back into the game. I knew that many of them were far better players with greater skills, but they had been sidelined and they simply waited. I knew that some died while they were waiting, knowing that the Father had laid hands on them, but they were discouraged to the point of excessive sorrow. They couldn't measure up to those who could invite them back into the game, and so in mercy God allowed them to come home!

Samson failed miserably. He had his very eyes taken from him. His future vision was removed. But where were the rescuers who would go and restore him rather than leaving him to grind grain with animals? He was a powerful servant of the Lord. He fulfilled the office God called him to, but the people of God were not included in that victory because they left him to fend for himself. Where were the mighty men of Israel in that day?

It is easy to remember what once was? It is easy to remember failures in each other. Even a simple Egyptian can do that. Moses had plenty of those reminders in his life. (Exodus 2:14) The man said, "Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?" Then Moses was afraid and thought, "What I did must have become known."

Knowing the past about a person doesn't make us prophetic... calling them into their future does! The question has never been, can we read the history of a man. The question has always been, can we restore the future of a man! Anyone can read the history of the man… but the Heart of the Father is to release the unfulfilled destiny of His broken Children.

Restoration is based on Repentance. Repentance has fruit. John questioned the self-righteous Pharisees who knew how to twist truth to meet their own agenda and doctrines. His words were like a sword! "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance." (Matthew 3:8) Grace doesn’t annul a holy lifestyle, grace simply overwhelms our confessed unholy unrighteous acts with the Love of Christ that forgives!

But having said that; neither does repentance come as a result of believers beating each other up. It doesn’t come as a result of a heavy hand that extracts justice and revenge. It doesn’t come as a result of judgment! It's the kindness, not judgment, of the Lord that leads people to repentance. "Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?" (Romans 2:4) Just as we can “quench and grieve the Holy Spirit,” we can also be contemptuous of the ways of God as He works with His kids. God lavishes the riches of Grace on us through kindness, tolerance, and patience. When we step in and become the taskmaster and produce judgment beyond the parameters of Grace, we reveal hearts that are very different than our Father in Heaven.

I don't in any way believe that we "restore people who are continuing in sin  “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2)“No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God”. (1 John 3:9)

My heart is not to "bless those who continue destroying lives," I don’t believe that is the Father’s heart either. He indicated that those who cause little ones to stumble were those who needed to be stopped! Jesus made it very clear when he talked about a millstone around a man’s neck! The Scripture calls those who prey on the innocent, wolves! It is the nature of a wolf to deceive in order to manipulate situations to their benefit and ultimately to their capturing further prey! We don't want to bless wolves in any way!! BUT regardless of the sin we, as His Children, must forgive and release people into their callings. (Jesus only spoke of one unforgivable sin - that I won't discuss in this article). Grace changes lives. People do change. All things become new! If we don’t believe this, we don’t really believe the power of the Gospel, and we are simply walking out memorized doctrines without a true understanding of Him who bought us!

I too am one who has born the brunt of difficult situations against my own life, against my family, my wife, my daughters, and my sons... but at the end of the day, Jesus believes His Sacrifice was plenty for not only Him to forgive those that wounded me, but for me to forgive them as well.

The examples of Scripture indicate God used pretty messed up people.... who were changed by His Grace! When people repent, we MUST recall them to the destiny that God has for them. The fruit of their life will evidence the changes that Grace made!

There is a vast difference between punishing and shaming a person and disciplining and correcting a person! The first is administered by the letter of the law that brings death, the other is administered by the Holy Spirit who gives life! Jesus demonstrated well this grace when He overcame the "requirements of the law" with grace when He ministered to the woman caught in adultery.  "Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"  "No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin." (John 8:10-11)

The fields are ripe. Just a couple days ago the Lord spoke to me that He needs more workers. In the conversation I knew He was going to be making a profound prophetic call to some who had gone AWOL (absent without leave/ deserters from His army). I knew He was going to be calling some who had been benched and were living in caves! I knew that that call was going out to those with extreme failures… the ones that would give the Apostle Paul pretty close competition for his statement in 1 Timothy 1:15-16. ”Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” Some have failed miserably. But many are going to burn more brightly than ever with His Glory!

The evidence of Grace is that God can take a man or a woman and redeem them. He can change their lives where fruit prevails, where once there was only baggage. He can show His awesome kindness to the world by overwhelming the worst with the Love of the Greatest! I am looking for that army! He is looking for that army! Broken…. but covered with GRACE!

The world awaits this army of Grace! What are you waiting for? Get off the bench… His Grace is greater than all the shame. His Grace is greater than all your failures. His Grace is sufficient to reveal, not your reputation, but HIS through your life!
Saved by Grace!
Overwhelmed by Kindness!
Mesmerized by Love!

Thank you Jesus!

Danny Steyne

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The “Law of Undulation,” or the Way of the Wilderness


“We didn’t count on suffering…we didn’t count on pain…but if the blessing’s in the valley…then in the river I will wait…” – Delirious

            Christians often speak of “seasons.”  Ecclesiastes 3:1 says “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven…”  One of these seasons is what Screwtape calls the “trough.”  In letters eight and nine of The Screwtape Letters, the elder demon, Screwtape, writes to his nephew, a novice demon, about “The Law of Undulation.”  This law is a major principle in the Christian walk.  While Wormwood, the novice, is thrilled about this condition of spiritual dryness, the trough, Screwtape is much more cautious, and writes at great length about how God (The Enemy) uses the trough to His advantage.  Screwtape’s terminology is of “troughs and peaks,” but Christians often refer to “wilderness” or “desert” seasons, and to hills and valleys.”  It’s all the same concept.  All Christians, at some point, go through these ups and downs.
            While Wormwood is eagerly planning the ways he can use his “patient’s” trough to his advantage – and in fact, the demonic can use troughs to their benefit – he gets a stern correction from his uncle:  “Now it may surprise you to learn that in His [The Enemy’s] efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than the peaks; some of His special favorites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else.”  Consider Moses, who spent 40 years in the wilderness with the Israelites, but who remained faithful throughout.  Or Job, who had all kinds of horrible things happen to him, but still declared, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 15:1).   Or David, who often felt abandoned by God, and did not hesitate in saying so.  In Psalm 22, he cries out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?  Why are You so far from helping Me, and from the words of My groaning? O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; and in the night season, and am not silent…” Perhaps even Jesus was in this trough, when he echoed David’s words on the cross.  Certainly these are good examples of God’s beloved experiencing deep valleys, or troughs, as Screwtape calls them.   Screwtape also says “Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”  All of the aforementioned people prove Screwtape’s point.  Despite their trials, their pain, or what seems like God’s absence, they ultimately remained faithful, and what’s more, they remained obedient.
            Troughs, or valleys, or wilderness seasons, generally do not constitute the fun part of being in relationship with God.  In these seasons, it is harder to hear God’s voice, feel His presence, or even see evidence of it anywhere.  Doubt and depression often enter in.  Screwtape harps on this when he encourages Wormword to get his patient to think in terms of “phases.”  We wonder if we ever heard God, if He was ever there, if we really witnessed those miracles.  We can even begin to wonder if we are really “saved.”  These are the times where we must rely on what we know to be true, not what we feel is true.  It doesn’t matter what the trial is.  What matters is our response.  Are we going to give up on God, write our whole relationship off as simply a “religious phase,” as Screwtape would like? Or are we going to take advantage of what God has for us in the wilderness?
            Looking through the Scriptures, it is interesting to note how often those in the wilderness are led there.  They didn’t just find themselves there, completely by accident.  The Israelites were led out of Egypt into the wilderness.  Not only were they brought out of slavery, but they witnessed miracle after miracle, like the parting of the Red Sea, bitter waters made sweet, manna sent from heaven, and water brought from the rock.  It might be safe to assume that God was with them.  And indeed He says “For the Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hand.  He knows your trudging through this great wilderness.  These 40 years the Lord your God has been with you; you have lacked for nothing” (Deut. 2:7).  Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where He countered satan’s tempting with the Word (Matt. 4, and a good lesson for us).  And then there is Hosea 2:14-16, which is perhaps the most moving passage about the wilderness in the Bible. 
14)”Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
Will bring her into the wilderness,
And speak comfort to her.
15)I will give her vineyards from there,
And the Valley of Achor as a door of hope.
She shall sing there,
As in the days of her youth,
As in the days when she came up from the land of Egypt.
16)”And it shall be, in that day,”
Says the Lord,
“That you will call Me ‘My Husband,’
And no longer call Me ‘My Master.’”
           
While we may not see, hear or feel God in the wilderness, in the trough, in the valley, it is in this place that we are schooled in His grace, His provision, and His love.  The Israelites – though they complained bitterly – lacked for nothing, with all the miracles they witnessed and lived on. Job had everything restored to him.  David continued to offer that “sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13:15,) and was considered “a man after God’s own heart.”  And I don’t need to describe what Jesus did.  In the trough, we have to walk by faith, and not by sight, which we as Christians are called to do, anyway. (2 Cor. 5:7).  We have to trust that God is with us, even if we can’t hear or feel Him.  And we know that He’s with us, because He promises to never leave or forsake us. While we may enjoy the mountaintop experiences, or the peaks, we grow in the wilderness, in the troughs.  Screwtape himself says, “It is during such trough periods, that it [the human] is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be.  Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best.”  In the trough we learn to rely on God and on His promises.  We learn to seek more diligently after Him, and in doing so, can be rewarded with the some of our most intimate and rich moments with Him.  Look at what He says in Hosea:  He will “allure her, will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfort to her.”  Comfort in the wilderness?  Yes, it is possible.  And in verse 16, He says “You will call Me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer call Me ‘My Master.’”  What a picture of intimacy!  On the mountaintop, or on the peak, to use Screwtape’s word, we tend to become self-sufficient.  In the trough, we are unable to be self-sufficient.  We may find ourselves stripped of all that we once relied on, meaning that we must depend solely on God.  In this time, it helps to remember that His strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).  And in the trough, we are indeed quite weak.
I don’t mean to paint such a glorified picture of the trough.  It is not an easy season to be in, and we can be quick to resent it, and resent God for it.  But as I said before, it is not simply our being in the wilderness that matters; it is what we do with our time in it that makes the difference (and often determines how long we remain there).  It can be a time of real intimacy with God and tremendous growth in our faith.  It can also be a time of depression, doubt, and even worse, self-pity.  This is when Screwtape and company can really enter in and rob us of what God has for us.  Doubt can destroy all the good God had planned for us.  Wormwood is advised about this:  “Do not let him [the human] suspect the law of undulation.  Let him assume that the first ardours of his conversion might have been expected to last, and ought to have lasted, forever, and that his present dryness is an equally permanent condition.”  It is easy, when in the trough, to see it as permanent, and lose hope, and even worse, lose faith.  Screwtape continues:  “When you have caused him to assume that the trough is permanent, can you not persuade him that his ‘religious phase’ is just going to die away like all the previous phases?”  We need to be like Jesus in the wilderness, responding to the devil’s taunting with the truth, the way Jesus responded with “for it is written…” each time the devil tempted Him.  And the truth is that the trough is not permanent; God’s love is.
We cannot reason our way out of the wilderness, the valley, the trough.  We may remember with longing the joyous feeling of being on that mountaintop, and work our hardest to get back up there.  But if we don’t pause, seek God and see what He has for us, we miss the potential for so much.  We might miss blessings, miracles, opportunity for growth, and worst of all, true intimacy with God.  Though it may be dark, the fire by night will guide us, and we will lack for nothing.  God will be with us, even if His presence is not as readily apparent as it once was.  It may seem like He’s gone silent, or even worse, left us.  It may seem like we are being punished for something.  This is not the truth.  The truth is that the wilderness – though difficult and often painful – is when we get to mature as followers of Christ, to learn to rely on God rather than people or things, to stand on His promises and not be swayed, no matter what may come against us, and above all, to really draw near to Him, knowing that He never has and never will leave us.  In the trough, if we respond well, Screwtape’s fears will be justified, and we will become just the sort of “creature” God wants us to be. 

by Kim Mitman



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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Seven Warning Signs Before Leadership Failure

From Joseph Mattera
  
Unfortunately, in every level and realm of life we have all witnessed serious leadership failure! It is no longer a surprise when we read about a high-level pastor, celebrity, sports figure or politician who is disgraced because of ethical or moral failure.

As one who has worked with many struggling church and marketplace leaders on a very personal level for the past 30+ years I have made the following observations regarding warning signs before a fall, which I teach younger leaders so they will avoid the mistakes of the present generation of many leaders.

All of us have fallen into the following in one way, shape or form. Hopefully we will have learned the hard leadership lessons of life so we can pass on wisdom to the next generation! Here are seven warning signs before leadership failure:

First, often before falling a leader will cram so much into his or her schedule for a prolonged amount of time that they don’t get enough time for personal renewal and rest. Much activity is not always kingdom productivity; when a person is constantly running around from meeting to meeting, from state to state, from event to event without seeking God and personal times for reflection, they do violence to their soul and will eventually be operating on will power and fumes instead of the Spirit of God. This can lead to them being tempted to escaping from the pressure of life with adulterous relationships, pornography, excess entertainment and foolish endeavors.

Activity without clarity will also lead to making poor decisions. When we are always in a rush we will not have the proper time to process things, which leads to a lack of discernment and disastrous leadership decisions. This will compound the pressure even more and create more work to get out of the mess they are in! Sometimes less is more!

I am not saying leaders shouldn’t be very busy or have a lot of responsibility. But what I am saying is there always has to be enough time in between events and days of meetings for daily reflection, prayer and seeking God so that our level of discernment is high and we are walking in the grace and power of God to do His work instead of our own will power and strength!

Secondly, I have noticed that before falling a leader avoids intimate contact with their peers or overseers who can speak into their life. They live a life of isolation which is very dangerous!

As busy as I am, there are a number of mentors and spiritual sons that I open up to who give input and prayer; I am always open to hearing God’s voice through their prayers or exhortations to me. The more responsibility I have the more community I need to keep myself on track!

We also need intimate relationships to keep the human side of us active. It is very easy to go from one productive business meeting or anointed service to another and always be in front of strangers or crowds of people or with leaders who don’t know us well. There is no real community in those settings; even in the midst of a crowd we can still isolate ourselves because in a crowd a leader doesn’t have to be intimate or accountable since they are the ones calling the shots, doing the leading and speaking instead of the other way around.

Third, a leader is heading for a fall when he or she is not spending adequate time with their spouse and/or family. God told us that it is not good for man to be alone. I have seen many leaders, especially those who travel a lot, who are not in regular touch with their spouses and who rarely ever spend time at home. Being with family helps keep a leader grounded. Without that, they will be surrounded by superficial relationships related only to their productivity as a minister or business person, where they are always receiving accolades (from sycophants), as opposed to being a father, mother, husband or wife who has to constantly strive to work hard at intimacy in their family relationships—which God intended for us to keep us humble and grounded. A leader may get praise from everyone around him but the spouse really knows them and will tell them like it is and keep them in touch with reality!

Fourth, leaders are heading for trouble when they don’t exercise self-discipline in eating and indulging their pleasures. If a leader cannot control their eating patterns then most likely that is a reflection of a larger issue; that is, they are medicating themselves with food and most likely are vulnerable to other lusts of the flesh that will enable them to escape from the pressures of reality. Obesity is a social sin that has become acceptable in the Body of Christ even though Jesus warns against it (Luke 21:34).

Furthermore, when we as leaders have bad diets it begins to affect our minds, emotions and spirits in negative ways because it creates sluggishness, fatigue, and clouds our spirits with our carnality. Many leaders have died or have serious health issues once they hit their forties and fifties because of a poor diet. God will judge us if we prematurely meet Him and miss half our lives because of our lack of discipline and obedience.

Fifth, leaders are heading for trouble when they don’t seek God for God and only pray and read the Bible when they have to preach a sermon or minister. Worse than our lack of intimacy with the Lord is the fact that we are only using Him to make a living or using His word to achieve certain outcomes. However good they may be, our highest call in life is to know and love God. Matthew 7:22-23 teaches us that we can minister for God effectively and still fail if He doesn’t know us! Leaders who only seek God for a sermon have a professional relationship with the Lord and will eventually not have the grace and spiritual power to deal with all the pressures of marriage, life and ministry, which can lead to moral failure.

Sixth, leaders who love titles, positions, recognition, constantly join boards, and get involved in large events for public prominence are heading for a fall unless they repent. When we exalt ourselves God says He will humble us (Luke 14:11) and he who seeks his own glory is not glory (Proverbs 25:27).

We are not far from a fall when we try to lift ourselves up, promote ourselves, or get involved in events without hearing from the Lord; we are like the Pharisees who loved titles, prominent positions, greetings in the marketplace and to be called leader or reverend or bishop or doctor (Matthew 23:6-7). Leaders who are broken have learned not to try to create names for themselves by marketing their accomplishments and hype; they have learned that only when God exalts a person does it really last (Psalm 75:6).

Lastly, when leaders use people as objects for their businesses or ministries instead of having a motivation of empowering people to walk in their purpose—when leaders put programs over people and tasks ahead of relationships—eventually they will have no one around them who is loyal or who they can trust. They will have burned many bridges behind them because, eventually, their followers will become weary of them and leave them! Leadership is a lonely road to walk; leaders more than anyone else need to minister to people with a servant’s heart. When leaders come into the ministry with the attitude of being served instead of serving others they develop an entitlement mentality that can lead them to pride, arrogance and eventually to destruction.

May God help all of us who serve the kingdom as leaders to glory only in knowing Him (Philippians 3:7-11; Jeremiah 9:23-24)!


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Friday, July 13, 2012

When God's Kids Grow Up



As I mowed the grass in the sweltering heat, I thought about my spiritual discontent.

Again.

I watched a video last night featuring Greg Hawkins, the executive pastor of  Willow Creek church, who discussed the trend of committed, born-again Christians leaving traditional churches in large numbers. Wanting to know what was behind it all, pollsters like George Barna have been collecting data from studies and have reached several conclusions - one of which I'll discuss in this message.

The most startling fact uncovered is that most of the people who are leaving the church are not lukewarm, marginal Christians, but those who are the most committed to living for Jesus. The sold-out, on- fire children of God are seeking greener pastures in which to rest.

Five years ago - this revelation would have shocked me. But today, it confirms what I've seen happening among my friends and it sheds light on what I've experienced in my own life.

In 2008, when I first began having dreams - many of them took place in church buildings. I'd dream about praying for people to be healed or I'd be prophesying at a church service. At that time, my wife and I attended an AG church regularly. The church dreams didn't last long. The church we attended had a lot of problems and God called us to meet with people in different locations and soon, my dreams took on a different setting.

The church dreams ended and instead I was praying with people in ambulances, stores, streets and hospitals. Literally anywhere but in a church building. I knew God was calling us out of that setting, and into the community at large, but we had a hard time giving up our church life.

Over the years, my wife and I have tried to find a church to attend, but haven't been successful. We don't have an ax to grind against the institutional church. Yes, we see a number of problems with the traditional church scene, but we also see some positive things that a traditional church setting can provide. We just can't find one that meets our  particular needs. One of the problems is that we seem to have outgrown most churches and the things they teach.

One thing most churches do well is help new believers become rooted and grounded in the truth of scripture. While some folks may be content to study the bible their entire lives, others require a bit more diversity. Some churches have nothing to offer beyond basic bible teaching. So when a church successfully nurtures it's members into maturity and they require training and equipping beyond the basics, where do they go?

Many believers today have discovered their identity in Christ and are fully capable of teaching with authority and operating in the power of God. They're not beginners any more. They're seasoned veterans. As their numbers have grown - it's become apparent (to me at least) that the manifestation of the sons and daughters of God spoken of in Scripture may finally be here. God's kids have grown up. And unfortunately for church leaders -  they've nearly worked themselves out of a job.

The body of Christ now needs advanced training and equipping and leaders are late in responding to that need. A few (Bill Johnson for example) have seen the need and developed advanced curricula. To their credit, Bethel has made their school of supernatural ministry curriculum available to others, but a better approach would be for local fellowships to develop and implement their own.

The need for more challenging instruction might explain the boom in conference attendance. Many people find that two or three days of immersion in worship and advanced teaching is more helpful than digesting weekly sermons.

The present challenge to leaders is to recognize the need for advanced training and equipping and ask God for the resources and insights on how those needs can be met. If the needs of the sheep are not met, they'll continue to head for the exit sign.

Here's the interview with Greg Hawkins:





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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Prophetic Wisdom - Graham Cooke



Patricia King interviews Graham Cooke as he discusses the unique process God took him through to complete the writing of his latest book Prophetic Wisdom.



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Friday, June 29, 2012

Dealing With A Religious Spirit

by Rick Joyner

Loving God is the greatest commandment, and the greatest gift that we can possess. The Second great commandment is to love our neighbor. As the Lord affirmed, the whole Law is fulfilled by keeping these two commandments. That is, if we keep these two commandments, we will keep the whole Law. If we love the Lord we will not worship idols. If we love our neighbors we will not envy them, steal from them, murder them, etc. Therefore, keeping these two positive commandments to love will enable us to fulfill all of the negative "do nots" of the Law.

Simple love for God will overcome most of the evil in our hearts, and is the most powerful weapon against evil in the world. Because loving God is our highest goal, it must be the primary focus of our lives. That is why one of the enemy's most deceptive and deadly attacks upon the church is meant to divert us from this ultimate quest. It is his strategy to keep us focused on the evil in our lives, knowing that we will become what we are beholding (see 2 Cor 3:18). As long as we keep looking at the evil, it will continue to have dominion over us. When we look to the Lord and behold His glory, we will be changed into His image.

This is not to imply that we excuse and overlook the sin and error that is now in our lives. In fact, the Scriptures command us to examine ourselves and test ourselves to be sure that we are still in the faith (see 2 Cor 13:5). The issue is--what do we do after the iniquity is discovered? Do we turn to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, or to the Tree of Life? Do we try to make ourselves better so that we will then be acceptable to God, or do we turn to the cross of Jesus to find both the forgiveness and the power to overcome the sin?

A primary strategy of the enemy is intended to keep us focused on the evil, partaking of the Tree of Knowledge, and away from the glory of the Lord and the Cross. This tactic comes in the form of a religious spirit. This spirit is the counterfeit to the true love of God, and true worship. This evil spirit has probably done far more damage to the church than the New Age movement and all other cults combined.

THE NATURE OF A RELIGIOUS SPIRIT
A religious spirit is a demon which seeks to substitute religious activity for the power of the Holy Spirit in the believer's life. Its primary objective is to have the church "holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power" (2 Tim 3:5). The apostle Paul completed his exhortation with "avoid such men as these." This religious spirit is the "leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (Matthew 16:6) of which the Lord warned His disciples to beware.

When the Lord used metaphors it was because they characterized the object of the lesson. The religious spirit operates like the leaven in bread. It does not add substance or nutritional value to the bread, it only inflates it. Such is the result of the religious spirit. It does not add to the life and power of the church. It feeds the very pride of man which caused the first fall, and almost every fall since. Satan seems to understand even better than the church that "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6 NKJV). He knows very well that God will not inhabit any work that he can inflate through pride, and that God Himself will even resist it. So Satan's strategy is to make us proud, even proud of good things, such as how much we read our Bibles, or witness, or feed the poor. He knows well that even if we do the will of God in pride, it will be counter-productive and can even ultimately work toward our fall.

Satan also knows that once leaven gets into the bread, it is most difficult to remove. Pride, by its very nature, is the most difficult stronghold to correct or remove. A religious spirit keeps us from hearing the voice of God by encouraging us to assume that we already know God's opinion, what He is saying and what pleases Him. This delusion is the result of believing that God is just like us. This will cause even the rationalization of Scripture, having us believe that rebukes, exhortations and words of correction are for other people, but not for us.

If this is a problem in your life, you have probably already begun to think about how badly someone you know needs to read this. It may not even have occurred to you that God put this into your hands because you need it. In fact, we all need it. This is one enemy that all of us are probably battling to some degree. It is imperative that we get free of this devastating deception, and stay free. We will not be able to worship the Lord in Spirit and truth until we do.

The degree to which we have been delivered from this powerful deception will directly effect the degree to which we will be able to preach the true gospel in true power. The church's confrontation with the religious spirit will be one of the epic battles of the last days. Everyone will be fighting in this battle. The only issue to be determined is on which side we will be during this battle.

We will not have the authority to deliver others from darkness if we are not free from it ourselves. To begin taking ground from this vast enemy, we must ask the Lord to shine His light on us, showing how this applies to us personally. As the Lord's continuos confrontations with the Pharisees were an example, the church's most desperate fight from the very beginning has been with this spirit. Just as the primary characteristic of the Pharisees was their tendency to focus on what was wrong with others, while being blind to their own faults, the religious spirit tries to make us more prone to seeing what is wrong with others than the need for our own correction.

THE GREAT DECEPTION
One of the most deceptive characteristics about the religious spirit is that it is founded upon zeal for God. We tend to think that zeal for God cannot be evil, but that depends on why we are zealous for Him. Paul wrote of his Jewish brethren in Romans 10:2 "For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge." No one on earth prayed more, fasted more, read the Bible more, had a greater hope in the coming of the Messiah, or had more zeal for the things of God than the Pharisees. Yet, they were the greatest resisters of God and His Messiah when He came.

The young Saul of Tarsus accurately called himself "the Pharisee of Pharisees"; he was motivated by zeal for God while he was persecuting His church. Zeal for God is one of the most desperately needed characteristics of the church today, which is bound by a terrible Laodicean lukewarmness. The Lord commanded the church to "be zealous therefore, and repent" (Rev 3:19b). The truly zealous are the most difficult to stop, so the enemy's strategy against those that he cannot stop is to push them too far. His first step is to get them to glory in their own zeal. Regardless of how important a gift or characteristic is that we have, if the enemy can get us to take pride in it he will have us in his snare and will use that gift for evil.

The Lord had little trouble with demons while He walked the earth. They quickly bowed the knee to Him, begging for mercy. It was the conservative, zealous, religious community that immediately became His greatest enemy. Those who were the most zealous for the Word of God crucified the Word Himself when He became flesh to walk among them. The same is still true. All of the cults and false religions combined have not done as much damage to the moves of God as the opposition, or infiltration, of the religious spirit in the church. Cults and false religions are easily discerned, but the religious spirit has thwarted or diverted possibly every revival or movement to date, and it still retains a seat of honor throughout most of the visible church.
It is a manifestation of the religious spirit that will take its seat in the very temple of God declaring himself to be God. This man of sin will take his seat in the church. Unfortunately, it will obviously be the church that allows him to do this.

THE TWO FOUNDATIONS
Like most of the enemy's strongholds, the religious spirit builds its work on two basic foundations--fear and pride. the religious spirit seeks to have us serve the Lord in order to gain His approval, rather than from a position of having received our approval through the cross of Jesus. Therefore the religious spirit bases relationship to God on personal discipline rather than the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ. The motivation for doing this can be either fear of pride, or a combination of both.

Fear and pride are the two basic results of the Fall, and our deliverance from them is usually a long process. That is why the Lord even gave Jezebel "time to repent" (see Rev 2:20-21). The biblical Jezebel was the wife of King Ahab and a very religious woman, but she was given to false religion. The Lord gave her time to repent because the roots of this spirit go so deep that time is required to fully repent, and to be delivered from it.

However, even though the Lord gave Jezebel time to repent, He rebuked the church of Thyatira for "tolerating" her (v. 20). We can be patient with people who have religious spirits, but we must not tolerate their ministry in our midst while we are waiting! If this spirit is not confronted quickly it will do more damage to the church, our ministries, our families, and our lives, than possibly any other assault that we may suffer.

THE FOUNDATION OF GUILT
Eli, the priest who raised Samuel, is a good biblical example of someone who ministers in a religious spirit founded upon guilt. Eli had so much zeal for the Lord that when he heard that the Ark had been captured by the Philistines he fell over and died. He had spent his life trying to serve the Lord as the High Priest, but the very first word given to Samuel was one of the most frightening rebukes given in the Scriptures--for Eli!
"For I have told him that I Am about to judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons brought a curse on themselves and he did not rebuke them. And therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever" (1 Sam 3:13-14).

Eli's zeal for the Lord was based on sacrifices and offerings intended to compensate for his irresponsibility as a father. Guilt in our lives can spur us on to great zeal for the Lord, which usually results in our using our sacrifices and offerings as an attempt to atone for our failures. This is an affront to the cross, which alone can atone for our guilt. Such zeal will never be acceptable to the Lord, even if we could make sacrifices forever.
We should note here that the Lord did not say that Eli's sin could not be forgiven. He just said that Eli's attempts to atone for sin by sacrifice and offering would never atone for it. There are multitudes of men and women whose zeal for the Lord is likewise based on an attempt to atone for sin, failure, or irresponsibility in other areas of their lives. But all of the sacrifices in the world will not atone for even our smallest failure. Even the attempt to try is an insult to the cross of Jesus, Which alone is an acceptable sacrifice to the Father for sin.

The attempt to gain God's approval by our own sacrifice opens the door wide for a religious spirit because the service is not based on the blood of Jesus and the power of the cross, but on an attempt to make our own atonement for sin. This does not imply that we should not do things to please the Lord, but we must keep our motive to be pleasing to the Lord for His joy, not for our acceptance. One is God-centered; the other is self-centered, and that of the most destructive kind--an attempt to circumvent the cross.

It is also noteworthy that one of the sins of Eli's sons was that they "despised the offering of the Lord" (1 Sam 2:17). They appropriated the sacrifices and offerings brought to the Lord for their own selfish use. Those who are gripped by this form of a religious spirit will often be the most zealous to preach the cross, but herein is the perversion--it emphasizes their cross more than the cross of Jesus. Their delight really is more in self-abasement, than in the cross of Christ which alone makes us righteous and acceptable to God.

THE FOUNDATION OF PRIDE
Idealism is one of the most deceptive and destructive disguises of the religious spirit. Idealism is of human origin and is a form of humanism. It has the appearance of only seeking the highest standards and the preservation of God's glory. However, idealism is possibly the most deadly enemy of true revelation and true grace. It is deadly because it does not allow for growing up into grace and wisdom, but attacks and destroys the foundation of those who are in pursuit of God's glory, but are not yet there.

Idealism makes us try to impose standards on others that are beyond what God has required, or has given the grace for at that time. For example, men controlled by this kind of religious spirit may condemn those who are not praying two hours a day as they are. The truth is that it may be God's will for us to be praying that much, but how we get there is crucial. The grace of God will first call us to pray maybe just ten minutes a day. Then, as we become so blessed by His presence, we will want to spend more and more time with Him until we will not want to quit after ten minutes, then an hour, then two. Then, when we are praying two hours a day it is because of our love for prayer and the presence of the Lord, not out of fear or pride.

A religious spirit based on idealism will usually be seeking the perfect church and will refuse to be a part of anything less. Those led by the Holy Spirit may have hopes for a church that are just as high, but will still be able to give themselves in service to even some of the most lowly works, in order to help those works grow in vision and maturity. The Holy Spirit is called "the Helper," and those who are truly led by the Spirit will always be looking for ways to help, not just to stand aloof and criticize.

When a religious spirit is founded upon pride, it is evidenced by perfectionism. The perfectionist sees everything as black or white. This develops into extremes as it requires that everyone and every teaching be judged as either 100% right or 100% wrong. This is a standard with which only Jesus could comply; it will lead to a serious delusion when we impose it on ourselves or others. True grace imparts a truth that sets people free, showing them the way out of their sin, or to higher levels of spiritual maturity.

One with a religious spirit can usually point to problems with great accuracy, but seldom has solutions, except to tear down what has already been built. This is the strategy of the enemy to nullify progress that is being made, and to sow a discouragement that will limit future progress. This produces the mentality that, if we cannot go straight to the top of the mountain, we should not climb at all, but just "die to self.' This is a death that God has not required, and it is a perversion of the exhortation for us to take up our crosses daily.

The perfectionist both imposes and tries to live by standards that stifle true maturity and growth. The grace of God will lead us up the mountain step by step. The Lord does not condemn us because we may trip a few times while trying to climb. He graciously picks us up with the encouragement that we can make it. We must have vision of making it to the top, and should never condemn ourselves for not being there yet, as long as we are still climbing.

James said, "we all stumble in many ways" (James 3:2). If we had to wait until we were perfect before we could minister, no one would ever qualify for the ministry. Perfect obedience and understanding should always be our goal; such will never be found within ourselves, but only as we come to perfectly abide in the Perfect One.

Because we now "see through a glass darkly," or in part, we are compelled to always be open to greater accuracy in our beliefs and teachings. One of the greatest delusions of all is that we are already complete in our understanding, or 100% accurate in our perceptions or actions. Those with a religious spirit will usually both teach and claim to be open to more understanding, but most of the time this is done to get everyone else to be open to what they teach, while they remain steadfastly closed to others.

Jesus blessed Peter and turned the keys of the Kingdom over to him just before He had to rebuke him by calling him "Satan" (see Matt 16:23). Right after this greatest of blessings the enemy deceived him, yet the Lord did not take the keys away from Peter. Jesus knew when He gave the keys to Peter that he was soon to deny that he even knew Him. Many years after Peter used the keys to open the door of faith for both the Jews and Gentiles, the youngest of the apostles, Paul, had to rebuke him publicly because of his hypocrisy. Even so, Peter was promised that he would sit on one of the twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. The Lord has proven that He will commission and use men long before most of us would tend to do it, and He knows all of the mistakes that we will make when He calls us!

It seems that the Lord's leadership style was to provide a place where His followers could make mistakes and learn from them. If we required our children to be perfectly mature while they were still children it would actually stifle their growth and maturity. The same is true in the church . We must correct mistakes, because that is how we learn, but it must be a correction that encourages and frees, not one that condemns and crushes initiative.

THE DEADLY COMBINATION
One of the most powerful and deceptive forms of the religious spirit is built upon the foundations of both fear and pride. Those who are bound in this way go through periods of deep anguish and remorse at their failures, which results in a repentance that is just more self-abasement, and further attempts to make sacrifices that will appease the Lord. Then they flip to the other side, where they become so convinced that they are superior to other Christians, other groups, movements, etcetera, that they become unteachable and unable to receive reproof. The foundation that they stand on at any given time will be dictated more by external pressure than by true conviction.

Such a religious spirit is so slippery that it will wiggle out of almost any attempt to confront it. If you address the pride, the fears and insecurities will rise up to attract sympathy. If you confront the fear, it will then change into religious pride masquerading as faith. This type of spirit will drive individuals or congregations to such extremes that they will inevitably disintegrate.

THE COUNTERFEIT GIFT OF DISCERNMENT
A religious spirit will usually give a counterfeit gift of discernment of spirits. The counterfeit gift thrives on seeing what is wrong with others rather than seeing what God is doing in order to help them along. It is here that this spirit does some of its greatest damage to the church. Its ministry will almost always leave more damage and division than healing and reconciliation. Its wisdom is rooted in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and though the truth may be accurate, it is ministered in a spirit that kills.

This counterfeit gift of discernment is motivated by suspicion and fear. The suspicion is rooted in such things as rejection, territorial preservation, or general insecurity. The true gift of discernment can only function with love. Any other motive than love will distort spiritual perception. Whenever someone submits a judgment or criticism about another person or group, we should disregard it unless we know that the one bringing it truly loves that person or group, and has an "investment" of service to them.

ANGELS OF LIGHT
When Paul warned the Corinthians about those who ministered in a religious spirit, which sought to bring a yoke of legalism upon the young church, he explained that, "Such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness (2 Cor 11:13-15).

 This phrase "angel of light" could be interpreted as a "messenger of truth." Satan's most deceptive and deadly disguise is to come as a servant of righteousness, using truths for the purpose of destruction. He is quite skillful at quoting Scripture, and using wisdom, but it is the wisdom of the Tree of Knowledge that kills. He can accurately point out what is wrong with someone else, but he always does it in such a way that tears down, not offering solutions that lead to deliverance and life.

 "Angels of light" who are empowered by a religious spirit, will first look for what is wrong with someone rather than for what is right. The guise will usually be the protection of the sheep, truth, or the Lord's glory, but a critical spirit is an evil spirit and will always end up causing division and destruction. Criticism holds forth an appearance of wisdom, but it is pride in one of its most base forms. When we criticize someone else we are by that declaring ourselves to be better than they are. We may be better than others in some areas, but if we are, it is only by grace. Believers know the true grace of God never looks at how to put others down, but how to build them up, imparting the same grace upon which they have built their lives. As an old proverb declares, "Any jackass can kick a barn down, but it requires a skillful carpenter to build one."

THE RELIGIOUS SPIRIT AND MURDER
When Adam and Eve determined to live by the Knowledge of Good and Evil they were partaking of the religious spirit. The first result of this was self-centeredness--they looked at themselves. The first child born to them after partaking of this fruit was Cain, who is the first biblical model of a man controlled by the religious spirit.

 Cain was "a tiller of the ground," or earthly minded. The religious spirit will always seek to have us focused on the earthly realm rather than the heavenly realm. This "seed of Cain" judges by what is seen, and cannot understand those who "endure by seeing Him Who is unseen." In Revelation we see the second beast "coming up out of the earth" (Rev 13:11); this is because the spiritual seed of Cain are tillers of the ground. This earthly-mindedness has produced one of the most evil beasts the world will ever know.

 Cain also tried to make an offering to the Lord from his own labors. God rejected that sacrifice, but accepted Abel's sacrifice of the blood. The fruit of our labors will never be an acceptable offering to the Lord. This was a statement from the beginning that God would only accept the blood of the Lamb. Instead of receiving this correction and repenting, Cain became jealous of his brother, and slew him. Those who attempt to live by their own works will often become enraged at those who take their stand on the righteousness of the Lamb.

 That is why Saul of Tarsus, the "Pharisee of Pharisees," was so enraged against Christians. They represented the greatest threat to what the Pharisees had built their whole lives on. Their very existence could not be endured. Religions that are based on works will become violent very easily. This includes "Christian" sects where a doctrine of works has supplanted the cross of Christ.

 The Lord said that if a man just hates his brother he is guilty of murder. Those who are driven by religious spirits try to destroy by means other than physically taking lives. Many of the onslaughts of slander instigated against churches and ministries are the ragings of this same religious spirit that caused Cain to slay his brother.

TEST OF A TRUE MESSENGER
In Ezekiel 37 the prophet was taken to a valley full of dry bones and asked if they could live. The Lord then commanded him to "prophesy to the bones." As he prophesied they came together, came to life, and then became a great army. This is a test which every true ministry must pass. The true prophet can see a great army in even the driest of bones. He will prophesy life to those bones until they come to life, and then become an army. A false prophet with a religious spirit will do little more than just tell the bones how dry they are, heaping discouragement and condemnation on them, but giving no life or power to overcome their circumstances.

 Apostles and prophets are given authority to build up and tear down, but we have no right to tear down if we have not first built up. We should give no one the authority to bring correction to the people under our care unless they have a history of feeding them and building them up. Some may say that this eliminates the ministry of the "prophets," but I say that those are "prophets" I would like to eliminate from ministry. As Jude said of them, "These are grumblers, fault finders ..." who are "hidden reefs in your love feasts" (see Jude 11-16).

Even so, as Eli gave us an example, woe to the shepherds who feed and care for the sheep, but fail to correct them. The true grace of God is found between the extremes of unrighteous fault finding and unsanctified mercy (showing mercy to the things that God disapproves of). Either extreme can be the result of a religious spirit.

by Rick Joyner, Chapter 7, Epic Battles of the Last Days
MorningStar Publications, 16000 Lancaster Highway
Charlotte, North Carolina 28277-2061
http://morningstarministries.org/
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