The First Love Killer

The Book of Revelation is the revelation of Jesus Christ as the triumphant and victorious resurrected Lord. It is also an urgent and pressing message to the Church that the return of Jesus is imminent, and that the Church is not ready for that return. Jesus’ message to the seven churches of Asia Minor reflect his appreciation, encouragement, correction, and promise to the loveless church (Ephesus), the persecuted church (Smyrna), the deceived church (Pergamum), the seduced church (Thyatira), the slumbering church (Sardis), the faithful church (Philadelphia), and the lukewarm church (Laodicea).

Dealing first with the Church at Ephesus, Jesus commended them for their works, their perseverance, and their commitment and zeal to preserve doctrinal and leadership purity. He then corrected them for forsaking or leaving their first love.  The phrase, “first love,” refers to their early love for the Lord or the love they had when they were first converted and passionate about the things of God.  The concept of leaving that first love means they gradually departed from that deep, intimate, early love over time.

He challenged them to repent and remember the height from which they had fallen, described in the Bible as a people who had enthusiasm, passion, devotion, faithfulness, and spiritual sensitivity.  The condition of the Ephesian believers is not that different from the church world today, and similar to the condition of Martha in Scripture when she sacrificed being with the Lord for doing for the Lord.  We are called to serve, but we are also called to sit.  Like Martha, we get distracted, angry, upset, worried, and belligerent when we begin to lose our first or early love for the Lord.

It’s easy, however, for any believer to watch that first love become dampened or even killed over time.  We begin to lose our first love when we get so busy like Martha focusing on all the things we need to do instead of being like Mary who chose that one thing that is better, sitting at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10).  We also lose our first love when we get out of God’s Word and presence.  The moment we sever ourselves from living contact we begin to lose that early love. We lose our first love as well by getting disconnected from the body of Christ through its expression in the local church.  The church is one of the few remaining sources of accountability, and without it we can find ourselves becoming hard of heart and indifferent to the priorities of the Lord. Finally, we lose our first love when we indulge sin, meaning that we yield willfully to its influence even when we know it is unscriptural. As Paul said, “They have lost all feeling of shame; they give themselves over to vice and do all sorts of indecent things without restraint” (Ephesians 4:19, GNT).  Simply put, sin kills our appetite for spiritual things.

The expectation of Jesus in addressing the church at Ephesus is that they would (a) remember what it was like when they first got saved and dig up that early love from the grave where they buried it, (b) repent or change their mind with a corresponding change of action and behavior, and (c) rededicate themselves to the one thing that is needed, getting back to their first love, their early love, their wonder, and their total infatuation with the Lord Jesus Christ.  He offers that hope to us as well if we are feeling like we have traded that early love for simple religious duty.  All we too need to do is remember, repent, and rededicate, but we need to do it quickly because his return is at hand.

The Know-A-Lot-A

Better Late Than Never is a hilarious “reality” television show chronicling the travels and antics of celebrities William Shatner, George Foreman, Henry Winkler, Terry Bradshaw, and funny man Jeff Dye.  In a recent episode, the group gave William Shatner a hard time for seemingly knowing everything about everything.  Winkler called Shatner a know-it-all.  Shatner replied laughing, “I’m not a know-it-all…I’m a know-a-lot-a.”

The laugh out loud moment underscores an important principle for our lives, especially our spiritual growth.  Too many believers, as they grow up in the faith, begin to act just like adolescents knowing everything and no longer respecting and receiving from the adults entrusted with their care and development.  They sound a lot like a know-it-all forgetting that being correctable and teachable are keys to breaking out of adolescence to become a steady, mature, and productive adult in the faith. The day we stop receiving is the day we stop growing.

It reminds me of a man in the Bible named Gehazi.  Gehazi was the servant of the prophet Elisha who was the servant of the prophet Elijah.  Elisha followed and learned from his mentor Elijah and received a double-portion of his anointing.  Elisha would go on to do great things just like his father in the faith Elijah.  But somewhere along the way of Gehazi’s training and development, he began to reject Elisha’s influence, guidance, and instruction.  The day Naaman was healed of leprosy, Gehazi wanted to receive a reward from the Assyrian general, but Elisha made it plain this was not a time to do so.  Gehazi rejected the counsel of Elisha, took the goods and money from Naaman, and instead of enjoying an even greater anointing and ministry, became leprous himself.  His future, his life, and his call were all compromised because he developed an unteachable spirit.

As growing believers, we should get to the place where we know a lot, but we should never get to the point where we know it all treating our fathers and mentors in the faith with contempt, and ignoring their counsel.  I have found in working with hundreds of young converts and disciples over the years, the most dangerous stage of the seven stages of spiritual growth (newborn, infant, child, adolescent, young adult, adult, and senior adult) is the adolescent stage.  Newborns need the milk of the Word, infants need great mercy and grace as they attempt to walk, children need strong doctrine to protect them from deception, adolescents need humility, young adults need faithfulness, adults need balance, and senior adults need to stay in the game.  Like Gehazi, if a believer is going to wash out, they most often wash out at the adolescent level becoming stiff-necked and uncorrectable. Ironically, most adolescents don’t even discern that they are in fact adolescents in the faith.

Make up your mind you’re going to continue to grow at every stage and level of your spiritual development.  Continue to learn, be used of God, and follow his path for your life, but do not allow yourself to become a could have been man or woman of God like Gehazi disqualified because you traded in your destiny for an adolescent chip on your shoulder.   A few years back, a great man of God called his sons in the faith to a special meeting to correct certain doctrinal and behavioral issues in those that counted him as a spiritual father.  One man refused to attend the meeting saying simply, “Let him teach what he wants and I’ll teach what I want.”  You don’t hear much from that man these days for it seems his upward trajectory was compromised by his know-it-all attitude and disrespect for the man of God.  Stay humble, teachable, gracious, and respectful.  Become that know-a-lot-a without becoming a know-it-all.

The Dysfunctional Church

People today are looking for connection, and they will cross all kinds of boundaries and lines to find it.  They will hang out with people engaging in destructive behavior, or join groups, gangs, and criminal enterprises just to belong somewhere.  It’s interesting that no matter how dysfunctional the group, people will still join because of the connection they crave.

The Scripture says that, “God sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6, NIV).  According to 1 Corinthians 12:18, KJV, “God hath set the members every one of them in the body as it hath pleased him.” To set means to place, establish, arrange, or even ordain.  The Lord has a set and even ordained place and purpose for all of His people.  He determines the location for the believer as well as the function of the believer.  He has a set place and purpose for you too.

Every Christian needs to get and and get quickly the revelation that it is impossible, however, to bring hundreds of dysfunctional people together into the church and expect the church to be automatically highly functional.  We just can’t walk through the church door, and swoosh, instant function.  Why?  Because the curse from sin damaged everything in life, including our ability to relate, communicate, and belong.  But thanks be to God we have been redeemed from the curse so we can become functional in every social structure of our lives, including the church.

The first key to restoring function to the church is to be mindful of our own dysfunction.  People in the church, just like the rest of the world, struggle with a performance mentality, anger, drama, alienation, addiction, sexual looseness, pride, selfishness, trying to fix others, social backwardness, control, strife, jealousy and envy, pessimism, gossip, fear, deception, and many other types of dysfunction.  Our places of worship can never become functional unless we all become aware of our own dysfunctions.

Second, we need to be graceful to the dysfunction of others.  One thing I’ve observed over many years of ministry is that we want grace for our dysfunction and problems, and judgment for the dysfunctions of others.  The Bible says that the merciful are blessed.  The church is filled with people at varying levels of recovery from dysfunction.  Mercy empowers them to change, but condemnation helps to lock them into a pattern of destructive repetition.  We simply can’t reject others for their dysfunction without ignoring our own.

Finally, we must be faithful to the one who can heal the dysfunction.  The Lord longs to restore His people, but we must remain plugged in and under the means of grace or the place He has set us.  What many Christians do not realize, it’s the dysfunction, not the Holy Spirit, pushing you to leave your set place and faith family.  Many believers just do not stay set long enough to get healing from the dysfunction before that very dysfunction drives them from their set place and their restoration.

By being mindful and aware of our own dysfunction, gracious and merciful to the dysfunction of others, and by staying where the Lord puts us, we can expect the Lord to begin to bring healing to our dysfunction while he elevates the degree of function overall in our local church. The church is a hospital and not a showcase for perfection, so there should always be works in progress.  The key is to progress in dysfunction and help others to do the same.

Contagious by Association

People influence one another for good or bad simply by being around each other.  Every person we come in contact with is both making and receiving a unique positive or negative impartation.  As we connect with people we are bestowing and conferring on others what is operating in our lives in abundance, and they are bestowing and conferring upon us what is operating in their lives in abundance.

Moses, for example, was told to lay his hands on Joshua so that an impartation of wisdom, authority, and honor could be made into his life.  Similarly, Elisha received a double portion of the anointing when Elijah graced him with his cloak.  Paul indicated that his special grace of divine protection and deliverance was available to his partners in ministry who prayed for him and supported his ministry endeavors.  In other words, we catch what people have, not what they simply say or want us to catch.  We don’t catch the mumps from someone who has the measles.

We all have something to impart, and we all have something that can be imparted into our lives from others.  They key is to be careful who we connect with, associate with, and align with because we all will imbibe or absorb, assimilate, and take in the spirit of our connections and associations, good or bad.  The Bible says, “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17), and “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33).  We must be mindful of who we are giving the privilege of speaking into and influencing our lives.

Some people impart love, mercy, graciousness, positivity, and gratitude into our lives.  Others infect us with cynicism, dishonor, negativity, and compromise.  The Scripture plainly teaches we will know them by their fruit (Matthew 7:16).  Learn to guard your heart from being influenced by people who have little or no good fruit in their lives.  Are they faithful to the local church?  Do they faithfully participate in ministry?  Do they give faithfully?  Do they share their faith and invite people to church?  Do they actively walk in love, practice mercy, and control their tongue?  If not, be careful connecting with them because you will start to manifest what they have been manifesting.  You may just need to quarantine yourself from people like that unless and until they start showing signs of life and positive impartation.

The key is to make sure we are imparting life to others while maintaining diligence over what we are exposed to ourselves.  The reality is that we are all extremely contagious and we infect others with our spirit, our spirituality, our attitude, our thinking, and our behavior.  Let’s make sure our associations result in positive impartation for ourselves and others with the result that we get stronger as believers, grow in maturity, and become more effective as witnesses of Jesus Christ.

Divorcing Your Church

87604643A traveling preacher was waiting to be picked up by a local church pastor to speak at his church that evening.  Relaxing by an outside courtyard at the hotel, the preacher engaged a grandmother with two young children in a cordial conversation.  The woman noticed the man’s Bible and asked if he was a believer.  He explained he was a believer and that he was scheduled to speak at such and such church that night.  The woman replied, “I used to go to that church.”  “In fact,” she continued, “my grandchild here was healed of autism at that church.”  Stunned by the disconnect between the fact of the child’s healing of what is considered incurable by many professionals, and the statement that she used to go to that church, the preacher simply replied, “praise the Lord.”  He struggled to wrap his mind around the woman’s decision to leave a church where such faith was preached and such a powerful miracle took place simply because she was now moving in some “new” revelation.

What the preacher observed that night has in fact become an epidemic across the country where people leave their faith family despite the fact that the faith family was the source, in the Lord Jesus Christ, of the life and breakthroughs in their lives.  A couple is headed to the divorce court with no hope of reconciliation.  The Lord uses the church to restore the relationship but the couple then leave the church.  A man attempts suicide, fails, and shows up in church where he gets saved and delivered, and then leaves the church.  A young man is told he has an incurable disease but God exposes the infirmity and removes it through a word of knowledge. But then the individual lets hurt and disappointment drive him from the body God used to restore him.  A man receives a prophetic word over his life about money all around him, and after prospering in a manner consistent with the Word, departs the church leaving pledges, vows, and commitments unfulfilled.  A dejected and demoralized woman comes in to church and finds acceptance, love, and belonging only to walk away because of some minor misunderstanding or offense.  The stories are endless but they all share a common narrative of people receiving life and restoration from the church and then divorcing their churches to serve some offense, yield to a divisive or deceptive spirit, or to pursue some spurious teaching, doctrine, or practice.

According to Psalm 68:6, the Lord sets his people in families so that the benefits of redemption can be explained, explored, and enjoyed.  The word “set” means to remain or to abide.  Our destiny in this life, our ability to bear fruit, and the influence we are to have on the lives of others are all tied to remaining in God’s set place for us.  It’s easy to leave a church when it is viewed as an entity or organization, but when believers have the biblical revelation that the local church is a family, and a family the Lord has set them in, it is much more difficult for the deceiver to displace them.  Like natural families, there may be sound reasons for separation such as abuse, but in most cases people are abandoning their faith families due to a dysfunctional view of and judgment of the their faith family.  Sadly, these individuals then act like the family doesn’t even exist and was never a significant factor in their spiritual lives and well-being.  Once this type of behavior is started, unfortunately and tragically, it is often repeated over and over again sowing confusion in the affected churches, insecurity in church leaders, and contempt for the Church in the hearts of kids exposed to this behavior by perpetually disgruntled parents.

Like with any family, there are issues, challenges, disagreements, and problems, but also like most families, there are untold and innumerable benefits to being a part of a faith family.  Perhaps as American Christians we should intentionally focus on the positive aspects of family rather than focusing on what is not right or imperfect.  It’s possible for the devil to inspire us to amplify the negative, forsake our faith family, and compromise the good things God had planned to do in us and through us in association with that faith family.  Choose instead to honor the set place God has for you, to appreciate the life you have received from that faith family, and to focus on the positive when faced with issues, legitimate and imagined, in the local church.  Perhaps it’s time to remember the value of blooming where we are planted or dancing with the one that brought us.  If you have developed the habit of divorcing your church or have completely separated yourself from church altogether, consider the grace and mercy God has given to you and the fact that he did not divorce you for your imperfections.  Ask yourself a simple question: Did I and do I treat my faith family like God treats me?  Selah.

 

The Polaroid

PolaroidI remember when everyone seemed to own the old Polaroid instant cameras that allowed you to take a picture, extract the film, and then watch as the picture gradually developed in front of your eyes.  Over the years my family collected hundreds of these instant photos of holiday celebrations and family milestone events (you know those embarrassing pictures where your mom dressed you in onesies).  Eventually, despite the convenience and real-time photography, the photos would fade, losing both their sharpness and color.  All the pictures looked naturally worn and dated over time, no longer representing accurately the people or subjects photographed.

The human heart was designed by God to serve as the canvas for an image or picture on the inside of us that would ultimately guide and direct our lives.  Our lives head in the direction of the most dominant image in our hearts.  Our consistent and dominant inputs in life determine what develops on the inside of us, good or bad, positive or negative. The Holy Spirit, using the paint of the Word of God, fashions an image in our hearts of what we can be in God, what we can have, and what we can do.  The key to the full development of that inner image is to stay consistent in inputting the Word of God.  Like the Polaroid picture, the image will fade over time, no matter how vivid it was originally, if we stop putting the Word of God in our hearts.

Another word for the dominant image in the heart of a human being is a thing called hope.  Hope is actually an inner image of an eager expectation.  The concept is simple. When the inner image is so well-developed that we become eager with faith and anticipation for the thing we see to come to pass, the expectation begins to produce and manifest that very image in our lives.  The problem is many people, due to life’s challenges and hardships, have had the Bible image of a great future and hope (Jeremiah 29:11) literally squashed in their hearts.  Too many believers are walking around with an inner image fading like the old Polaroid photos.  

The key to turning the fading image around is to once again begin to apply the Word to your heart daily so that your inner image is restored to its former vibrant and crisp condition.  The clearer the image the more likely the manifestation of what is seen. Begin again putting the Word of God into your heart in abundance by spending quality time every day reading, studying, meditating, and memorizing the Scriptures.  Before long, the old image of defeat and discouragement will be replaced by an image of victory and success.

Heavenly Tweets

Mark RandallAs most of you know, my mentor and close personal friend Mark Randall went home to be with the Lord after a long battle with congestive heart failure (CHF).  While preparing for his memorial service, I began to write some tweets complete with hash-tags I imagined and know he we would say based on our 31 year friendship.  I sat in my office with tears in my eyes laughing as I wrote.  “A cheerful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22, NIV).  I thought if the tweets made me smile and laugh, they might be a blessing to others.  I decided to include them in the memorial service as well as share them with you today.  May we all be as present, focused, and dedicated as Mark in his relationship with Jesus and his ministry…

To close today, I wanted to share a series of heavenly tweets I have received from mark since he went home to be with Jesus. Apparently, his tech savvy has grown and I want to share the tele-tweets with you today…

  • By now you know I’m gone – #I made it   #pain-free   #halleLUjah
  • Perfect sight – #no more lost reading glasses
  • Guess what – no need for money in heaven – #no more lost checkbook
  • Jesus is more amazing than I could ever imagine – #my king    #speechless
  • Heaven is so beautiful – #Grand Canyon is just a hole in the ground
  • Just saw Mom Dad and Jay – #family reunion    #so happy
  • Worshipped the Lord with Jerry and Tim – #my voice is aMAZing
  • Just corrected Apostle Stephen on some theology – #I’m always right
  • Just saw my reflection in the golden streets – #can you say “hot”
  • Ran into the thief on the cross – tried to get him saved again – #old habits die hard
  • Going to a banquet – #cheese    #mountains and mountains of cheese   #I feel like I’m in heaven    #cheese sandwiches
  • Tell my kids I love them – #the greatest group in the world    #world changers    #the purpose of my life
  • Tracy is the best sister ever – #amazing    #gone through so much    #strong and godly
  • Listen to Pastor Art – #greatest pastor in the world    #don’t make me come down there
  • Students don’t forget morning prayer – #7:14   #I will come find you
  • This service had better not last more than an hour – #didn’t you learn anything?
  • Heaven is real – it’s all real – #don’t miss it    #don’t miss it for anything    #help get everybody you can here.

Fig Leaf Theology

Fig LeafIf you think about it for long you will realize how much Adam and Eve had it made in the garden of Eden.  God made two perfect people and placed them in a perfect environment where the climate was controlled, where every need and delight was readily available, and where no war, famine, sickness, or tragedy ever manifested.  In addition to God’s provision, He clothed Adam and Eve with the very cloak of heaven – the glory of God.  To see Adam and Eve in the garden was to behold two blazing balls of light and glory obscuring their human form to the eye until…until Eve was deceived and Adam disobeyed and the glory departed, their eyes were opened, they saw they were naked, and they fashioned fig leaves to cover their nakedness.  Remarkably, Adam and Eve traded the glory of God for a couple of fig leaves.

In sin, fear, and shame they hid their nakedness from God behind the bushes.  But thanks to God’s revealed plan to have Jesus die for the sins of the whole world (Genesis 3:15) the animal skins temporarily replacing the fig leaves would one day be permanently retired for the atoning power of the blood of Jesus that would obliterate their sin (and ours) and not just cover it.  What was lost in the garden through sin was to be recovered and made available to anyone that would accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Unfortunately, many believers today, though technically saved through the blood of Jesus, continue to think and act as if they were still wearing fig leaves and hiding in the bushes from God and all He offers to His people.  The Lord wants us to trade those fig leaves back in for the glory of God and do what Paul described in 2 Corinthians 4:18 – “with unveiled faces…reflect the Lord’s glory…being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”  To walk in the glory of God going from degree of glory to degree of glory, we have to trade that tired old fig leaf thinking and theology for glory of God thinking.

The devil’s goal is to deceive us into thinking that we have to live with a mentality of hiding and shame, mediocrity, low expectations, guilt, failure, sin consciousness, curse, bondage, sickness, lack, and fear.  The Spirit of God would have us embrace God’s thoughts of transparency and openness, excellence, high expectations, transformation, peace, success, righteousness, blessing, freedom, healing, victory, and confidence.  Too many believers see themselves today like the spies did when spying out the land of Canaan – they saw themselves as grasshoppers.  You might say that the spies saw themselves as fig leaf wearers.  Many believers see themselves the same way.  We know from Scripture, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7, NKJV).  If we can’t change our thinking, no matter what Jesus has done, we cannot enjoy God’s best.

The Lord invites us all to trade that old fig leaf back in and walk in the glory of God that is restored in Jesus Christ.  How? First, we must end our attempts to cover up or hide and get real with God about our lives knowing that, “He who conceals his sin does not prosper, but he who renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). Second, we must renew our minds to the realities of God’s glory and grace available to us now as believers.  We will never think kingdom of God thoughts until we get consistently and habitually into His Word. Third, we must walk in God’s presence.  God’s presence is the key to expanding the glory of God and all that glory offers.  As the glory of God was reflected in Moses’ face after spending time in God’s presence, so we can experience a greater measure of God’s glory in our own lives but without the fading of that glory Moses experienced as a man living without the amazing benefits of the new birth in Christ.  Don’t wait another day. Come out of the bushes, get into the Word, and get into God’s presence and when you do you will find that the fig leaf is truly gone forever.

Tebowtunity

20130611-125148.jpgI’ve never understood people with great talent or ability just kind of cruising through life with no desire to fully develop and reach their potental. Throughout my life I have witnessed countless gifted students, athletes, and believers opt for mediocrity simply because they lacked the deisre and discipline to be coached to greatness.

Jim was in my high school graduating class. His highest priority was not in learning (unless it was to learn who had the best smoke). So a young man who scored a 34 on his ACT graduated with one of the worst GPA’s.

Danny was the most talented swimmer I had trained with on my swim team. His technique was both perfect and beautiful. But he lacked the desire and focus to become a champion. On one occcasion at a meet in Belleville, IL, Danny was playing pool while the gun went off for his swimmng race. I will never forget Danny running upstairs to the pool and jumping in a half a lap back from the field. He still managed to overtake everyone to win the race.

George (not his name) was an anointed and gifted servant of God called and equipped by God to perfom one of the most important roles in the body of Christ – serving as a true armour bearer for God’s generals. One internationally known minister once told me that in all his travels no one had ever taken better care of him than George. But he made some bad choices and lost his desire to be mentored to greatness.

Contrast these stories with my friend and competitor Tom from my age group swimming days. Bob Steele, the head men’s swim coach at SIU Carbondale at the time, used to tell us there were three factors in succeeding as a swimmer: raw talent, hard work, and a good attitude. He said that you needed at least two to succeed but three would be unstoppable. Tom always had talent and a great attitude but early on he showed no interest in working hard. But one day a coach and mentor came across his path and encouraged him to train with the Parkway Swim Club in St Louis and at the University of Iowa swim camp in the summer. Combined with his new work ethic and the world class coaching, Tom became an Olympic Gold Medalist and World Record Holder.

I see Tim Tebow’s situation (and that of so many Christians) in the same light. Tim proved his ability, hard work, and attitude leading his college team to national championships. Despite his success there and gritty backup play as quarterback for the Denver Broncos leading them to a playoff victory over Pittsburg, Tebow was traded to an inept Jets team that failed to appreciate, use, or develop this godly and talented young man.

As corny as it sounds, I actually prayed for Tebow to be picked up by some NFL team that has both the insight to see the potential and the skill to develop it. Yesterday the New England Patriots announced intentions to sign Tebow. Most people forget that the Patriot’s celebrated QB Tom Brady couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a throw in the beginning of his career. But Patriot’s head coach Bill Belichick remembers and yet took a talented Brady and developed him into one of the all time greats. Sportswriter Tyler Raburn said of Belichick, “He took Brady from the sixth-round prospect he was and made him into the superstar he is today.” Something tells me that Belichick, with an eye to the future, is ready (and unlike the Broncos and Jets) and able to do that again with the young Tebow.

Like Tebow, I believe as Christians we all have great potential but we must have two indispensable factors working in our lives. First, we must desire to be developed and mentored. Most believers live and die never accomplishing much, not because they lack ability – they simply lack the heart. Second, we must submit ourselves not simply to a coach but to a coach that has the experience and ability to wisely mentor, instruct, push, correct, and develop us.

Don’t settle for being like a Jim, Danny, or George. Like Tom and like Tim, see and seize (don’t squander) your “Tebowtunity” when it comes your way. I fully expect Tim Tebow to flourish with the Patriots. Like Tebow, with the desire and proper developmental coaching, I expect you too will flourish and become a champion for Jesus.

 

Serious Christians

It should be no surprise to any believer who desires to go beyond the religious, superficial, or ornamental variety of Christianity that there will be a significant push back from the enemy. Paul warned Timothy (3:10-17) that everyone desiring to live a godly life in Christ Jesus would be persecuted (opposed, hindered, maligned, attacked). It’s common sense. As long as we are spectators sitting in the stands of some football game, we are never going to be subject to the bumps and bruises of those on the field actually playing the game. It’s the same way in the life of the serious believer. When we come off the bench of apathy, lethargy, indifference, and sloth and actually engage Christianity the way God intended it to be lived out, we become a greater threat to the enemy and with every step we advance, Satan is there ready to turn up the heat to steal our hope, dream, vision, blessing, development, and destiny.

Hebrews 10:35-39 exhorts us to hold on to our faith because it will be richly rewarded if we do not faint, quit, or give up. The pressure of the enemy in the life of a serious Christian is designed to push us off the Word and away from the promises. But we are not ignorant of Satan’s devices (2 Corinthians 2:11) and we can push back by first submitting to God and then resisting the devil (James 4:7). If we do, we are assured that the enemy will flee. We should not, however, ignorantly believe that he will never return to try his old tricks on us again. If you think you are being picked on by the enemy (and he does use people to do it), you are not paranoid or imagining things. The enemy is coming after you to shut you down.

The bottom line is that as we progress from nominal Christian to authentic, reproducing Christian, the enemy is going to respond with his choice weapons of temptation, discouragement, offense, and deception to slow, hinder, or altogether halt our progress. Through the years, I’ve identified seven specific developmental levels where we can expect the enemy to move against us to thwart our process and stifle our influence:

Level One: Born Again – when we move from religion to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ we can’t expect the devil to stand up and applaud. As long as we are in religion induced darkness we are not a threat to him. But when we get born again we come alive and we begin to discern truth and evil and now have the spiritual tools to walk in the truth and reject the evil.

Level Two: Believing Believer – some Christians get born again and then never progress to the point where they embrace the integrity of the Word of God and dare to believe the promises and principles in the Bible. A believing believer is capable of producing great results, fruit, and breakthroughs. The more we embrace the Word (Mark 4), the greater the persecution from the enemy.

Level Three: Active Participant – when we come out of the stands and into the game we can expect the enemy to come after us to attempt to push us right back out of the game. His goal of his devices here is very plain – to make you think twice about serving or leading in the body of Christ in any substantive way.

Level Four: Person of the Spirit – there is nothing more dangerous to Satan than a born again and Spirit-filled believer. We all receive the Holy Spirit at salvation but there is an additional endowment or empowerment that is available to all Christians (Acts 2) that gives us power to live this life and power to share the good news with others. Spiritual warfare goes to an entirely new level in the life of the Spirit-baptized Christian.

Level Five: Soul Winner – with each level of progress we become more dangerous to the goals and agenda of the enemy. The Christian who is not content just to sit in church waiting for their death and heavenly reward, but actively seeks to depopulate hell and populate heaven with precious souls is the arch-enemy of the devil. He literally hates soulwinners with a passion. Don’t expect a spiritual reprieve from the enemy if you’ve made up your mind to obey Jesus and reach the unreached and tell the untold.

Level Six: Budding Leader – there are many in the body of Christ that seem to literally take off in their own discipleship and development. They have truly become disciples (self-discipline learners of the Lord Jesus Christ) and budding leaders. The enemy becomes very creative in his effort to take down budding leaders before they can reach their full potential.

Level Seven: Developer of Others – the devil will do everything he can to stop a believer from getting to the place where he or she is effectively discipling and developing others to reach their potential in the Kingdom of God. The most dangerous Christian is the one who takes a person from being lost to discovering and inserting his or her gifts in the body of Christ. The level seven believers are reproducing themselves and showing those they develop how to do the same.

So, as Peter warned, you should not be surprised concerning the fiery trial you are facing (1 Peter 4:12-19). You are not crazy. Someone really does hate you and wants to stop you from releasing the greatness that is in you through Jesus, the Word, and the Spirit of God. As we study the serious Christian in upcoming blogs, my prayer is that you come to understand how each of the devils’ schemes (temptation, discouragement, offense, and deception) operate and that you learn to consistently repel them. It’s not always easy, but becoming what God has dreamed for you to become is worth all the attacks and difficulties you will encounter on your journey.