You Big Bully

Many thinking Americans sat incredulously in front of their television screens in 2016 as students privileged to attend some of the nation’s finest institutions of higher learning sat in circles in the middle of campus crying because their chosen political candidate lost an election. Some of these same universities set up emergency counseling centers to help the students through the “trauma.”  This picture, played out all over the nation, makes it clear that mental intelligence is no predictor of emotional intelligence. One can be a brilliant thinker but completely dominated and controlled by the emotions. We do a disservice to our up and coming generations by letting them believe that they can reach their potential without growing up emotionally. Emotional intelligence is not being unemotional, but being in touch with your emotions and the emotions of others without making them the basis of your choices and actions.

The modern church, unfortunately, is a reflection of the rest of society as a whole instead of a challenge to it. Many believers have traded in the authority of the Word of God for belief and conduct to obey the voice of feeling making emotion the absolute authority in their lives. The mantra is often, “I know what the Bible says, but this is the way I feel. Don’t invalidate me by bringing up the Bible.” This manifests when believers emphasize the “neither do I condemn thee” in the story of the woman taken in adultery in John 8, but reject the part that says, “go and sin no more” and then label as judgmental and bigoted Christians who ascribe to both parts of this verse. This manifests when we do not conform to the lens someone has created for us as to what we should do or not do, or say or not say. When we fail to live up to their frame (as if they were made the Lord of our lives), they get put out, offended, and bitter. This manifests when someone redefines, for their purposes or agenda, disagreement as abuse, which both misrepresents the reality, vilifies the individual, and at the same time detracts from the seriousness of actual abuse. It’s the same dynamic as when one politician labels another as a Nazi or a racist simply because they disagree with a certain policy or position thus minimizing the horror of what it means to actually be one. This manifests when we go through trials, setbacks, and hard times and wrongly believe that God instead of the devil is behind the killing, stealing, and destroying in our lives. This manifests when we make poor choices or handle matters inappropriately and then resort to blaming others for our situation. A fundamental marker of emotional immaturity is the refusal or inability to take responsibility for ones thoughts, decisions, and actions.  This manifests when someone rejects Jesus’ pathway for relationship healing found in Matthew 18 (go show your brother or sister their fault just between you two) choosing to yield to unscriptural counseling that encourages venting and ultimately emotional group think. The former puts the fire out and brings healing. The latter adds fuel to the fire and consumes more and more hearts and minds proving that spiritual experience, like mental ability, does not necessarily mean emotional intelligence.

The truth about Christianity is that it impacts each and every dimension of the human being. When Jesus redeemed us he redeemed us body, soul, and spirit. The spirit is to be born again. The body is to be subjected. The mind is to be renewed. The will is to be submitted. The emotions are to be used to experience life rather than controlling it. Any dimension of the believer not submitted to the Word of God will become the dominant influence and voice. For too many believers, the dominant influence has become the emotions.  In other words, for the Christian, Jesus, not emotion is supposed to be Lord. Emotion tells the hurt to be bitter, but Jesus tells them to forgive. Emotion tells the disappointed to quit, but Jesus tells them they will reap if they do not faint. Emotion tells the angry to lash out, but Jesus tells them that vengeance is his and he will repay. Emotion tells the despondent and depressed to throw their lives away, but Jesus tells them to give their lives to him. Emotion tells the grieving they will never be able to live again, but Jesus reminds them that he is the source all life and that he still has a plan and purpose for their lives. Emotion tells the lonely they have to compromise God’s standards to have a relationship, but Jesus tells them to delight themselves in the Lord and he would give them the desires of their heart. Emotion tells the addicted or bound up that they will never get free, but Jesus tells them whom the son sets free is free indeed.

Elijah (1 Kings 19) experienced a time when he was very emotional and on the verge of cracking under all the pressure. He had expended great physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual energy taking on the prophets of Baal and then fleeing for his life from Ahab and Jezebel. This brought him to the brink of exhaustion and a break down. We can feel the same way as we experience a loss, setback, affliction, disappointment, illness, persecution, false accusation, failed relationship, dysfunctional family, abuse, rejection, abandonment, financial disaster, work problem, or an unrealized expectation. There’s a reason roof structures in Colorado Springs are designed differently than in Florida. The house in Colorado is designed to handle the accumulation of snow. Put that Florida house in the Rocky Mountains and it will never stand up under the wintery onslaught. Like the snow covered house, the key for the believer to hold up under such pressure is the development of inner spiritual strength, not the domination of a bully called emotion. Christian or not, if we do not understand how to step back and see these situations through the eyes of God’s Word we are likely to allow the bully of emotion to step in and send us down an even more destructive path.

Like Elijah, we all can arrive at destination destruction by sheer exhaustion, ungodly and unscriptural thinking, fear, isolation, and wrong words, but we can overcome the voice of the bully by applying key principles also revealed in this story. First, tune up the body because a fracture in one part of our lives can cause other parts to fracture. The more wore out we are, the bigger the bully’s mouth. This means not apologizing for good self-care, including diet, exercise, time for personal recharging and reflection, and recreation.  Second, tune up the hearing. We can’t get our perspective back unless we relearn how to hear God’s voice. One word from God can change our lives forever. Joshua 1 teaches us that the key to courage under duress is hearing from God’s Word and then continuing to say what he says about things. The volume of the bully goes down when our intake of God’s Word goes up. Any emotional baggage, including loss of courage and hope, can be remedied by large and consistent deposits of the Word of God. Third, tune up the vision. We must realize our job is not done just because we are in a bad place emotionally. Like Elijah, who still had many important things to accomplish for the Kingdom, we must discover again our divine purpose in life and then pursue it. The more we focus on our purpose, the less the bully of emotion will control us.

From Scars to Stars

Physical, mental, and emotional scars are a reality and byproduct of life.  They mean that you have actually lived, that you survived the cut, that you are in the healing process, and that you now have some valuable experience and expertise to help others along in their journey. Daniel 12:13 tells us those who lead many to righteousness will shine “like the stars forever and ever.” Paul, picking up on this truth, stated, “Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life” (Philippians 2:15). The Lord wants to take his people from scars to stars.

Many Christians have bought in to the lie that they are just too scarred and flawed for God to do anything special with their lives. Too many identify with the scar letting that scar define and limit them. Some pet the scar milking it for all the pity and sympathy they can get from other people. Some attempt to deny or hide the scar living in shame over what they did or what was done to them. Still others unwittingly begin to serve the scar doing what it tells them and controlling their direction and viability in life.

Contemporary society is filled with examples of people who overcame scars in life to triumph and make a significant contribution to the world at large.  Stephen Spielberg was rejected by the USC film school, twice. Steve Jobs was fired from the company he co-founded (Apple) and then after selling Pixar to Disney for billions, he returned to Apple to eventually turn it in to a trillion dollar company. Charlize Theron overcame the horror of witnessing her mother kill her father to become an Academy Award winning actress. Walt Disney, surprisingly, was fired from a Missouri newspaper for lacking creativity.  What do all these examples have in common? They all experienced wounds and scars in life but  refused to be defined or stopped by them.

Even more compelling are the many biblical examples where God took his people from scars to stars. Rahab went from being a prostitute and brothel owner to becoming a key asset in Israel’s defeat of Jericho (and she is listed in the lineage of Jesus). The woman at the well went from multiple failed marriages and illicit living to becoming an evangelist who influenced her village for Jesus. The Egyptian slave went from being oppressed, abused, and abandoned by his Amalekite captor to guiding David and his men in the pursuit, capture, and plundering of the Amalekites who raided Ziklag.

We can learn from the slave at Ziklag that we too can go from scars to stars by letting the Lord nourish and revive us, by coming over to the other side and turning our back on the enemy and the scar he gave us, by dedicating what we have left to the King, and by doing everything he tells us to do.  Don’t let the past scars in life control your future and snuff out your light. Be God’s star.

The Ananias Anointing

The Scripture indicates that in the middle of his High Priest sanctioned rampage against the early Church, Saul of Tarsus had a supernatural encounter with the resurrected Jesus (Acts 9).  Falling down from the overwhelming force of God’s glory, Saul exclaimed, “Who are you, Lord?” The Lord replied, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Saul, now blind and infirmed, was taken into the city of Damascus to receive care.

The Lord then came to a man named Ananias in a vision and commanded him to go to Saul of Tarsus and lay hands on him that he might be healed and be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Despite the threats Saul had made and his notorious track record of persecuting, arresting, and even affirming the execution of Christians, Ananias, whose name means “to be gracious and to show favor,” honored the call of God and went to Saul because the Lord had great plans for Saul of Tarsus. Jesus called him his chosen instrument to preach to the gentiles and to their kings.

The Ananias type of believer, or the Ananias anointing, is desperately needed in the day we live.  Like Ananias with Saul, they help to restore to God what was previously lost, allow God to use them to bring healing to those that are afflicted, help God’s people get filled with the Holy Spirit, and help raise people up for God’s service and glory. We need more individuals in the body of Christ who, like Ananias, will be dispensers of God’s grace and favor, refusing to pay attention to the anti-supernaturalist and cessationist who deny the present day ministry of the Holy Spirit.

How can you become an Ananias in this critical hour in Church history? First, you must yourself be born again and filled with the Spirit. You cannot impart what you do not possess. Second, you must be tuned in to the realm of the spirit so that you can pick up on the signals of the Holy Spirit’s direction.  Notice Ananias was told to go specifically to the house of Judas in Damascus on Straight Street where he would find a praying Saul who had a vision Ananias would come to him. Third, you must be fearless in the face of the ominous threat and intimidation so prevalent in the world today against Christians.  It’s not that Ananias didn’t feel afraid. He simply refused to be ruled by that emotion. Fourth, you must be obedient and simply go.  It’s amazing how often Jesus uses that simple command.  Finally, you must be deliberate to carry out the details of your assignment, including the who, the what, and the where.

When Ananias placed his hands on Saul he was filled with the Holy Spirit, healed of his blindness, received water baptism, and began to eat and regain his strength. The Lord is in need of bold believers just like Ananias to share the resurrected Jesus with the lost, confused, religious, bound up, and hurting of our world.  He has sovereignly chosen to use people to lead people to salvation, Spirit baptism, deliverance, and healing.  Ask the Lord Jesus to send you, and don’t be surprised when he says, “Go!”

Leaving Lo Debar

lamb-in-the-grass-567099Mephibosheth was the crippled son of David’s covenant friend Jonathan and the grandson of Saul, the disgraced King of Israel.  Following the demise of the house of Saul due to his own rebellion and disobedience, David, a shepherd at heart, sought for a descendent of Jonathan so he could show him covenant kindness on behalf of Jonathan.  Covenant kindness is an intense and burning desire to show someone kindness with overwhelming force and power because of a sacred and irrevocable promise.  The covenant minded man does not rest until he finds a way to express that kindness.

David was told there was a descendent named Mephibosheth living in a place called Lo Debar. Lo Debar was a place literally without a pasture, barren, fruitless, and destitute.  King David ordered that a broken and isolated Mephibosheth be brought back to his house, that the wealth and land of Saul be restored to him, and that he would always eat at the King’s table.  In a single day this lonely, fearful, and forsaken soul went from living in utter desolation in Lo Debar to enjoying the favor of the King and the social, spiritual, and financial restoration that only he could provide.  The name Mephibosheth means “exterminator of shame.”  It’s interesting that God would take this remaining obscure member of the house of Saul and use him to remove the shame from Saul’s family. Just think, you could be the person God uses to remove the shame from your family.

It’s truly amazing just how fast our lives can turn around when we are in right relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  It’s ironic that David, a shepherd by trade, would bring Mephibosheth into his fold and provide him with a rich, lush, and fruitful pasture to live out the rest of his days. Jesus is our good shepherd who promises that through him we can go in and out and find pasture and enjoy an overflowing abundant life (John 10:9-11).  No matter who you are, where you’re from, what your family is like, or what you’ve done, the good shepherd will scoop you up as well and bring you to his pasture where he promises restoration, guidance, protection, provision, favor, and ultimately eternal life (Psalm 23).

So how do we go from Lo Debar to the wonderful pasture God has for us?  First we have to accept the shepherd, the only son of God Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior.  The benefits of restoration belong to the children of God.  Membership in the body of Christ does have its privileges.  Second, we need to get back in the fold (a local Bible believing and teaching church) because restoration takes place in the fold.  Too many Christians have bought in to the lie that it’s not necessary to be faithful to a local body.  They suggest they can live out their faith on their own.  The truth is, however, Scripture commands connection to and involvement in the local church so we can grow, experience restoration, and be there to help others as well (Hebrews 10:24-5).  Finally, we need to listen to and apply what the shepherd has to say to us through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word through the under shepherds the Lord raises up to lead, guide, tend, and feed us.  Our barren lives will begin to flourish when through obedience we release the anointing on the Word to bring to pass what was promised. 

Lifeguard on Duty

imagesI’ll never forget the one and only time I rescued someone from drowning.  While attending the YMCA National Swimming Championships in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, our swim club spent some time at the beach body surfing in some unusually large waves.  A series of thunderstorms had rolled through the area making the waves and undertow treacherous even for experienced competitive swimmers.  Out about one hundred yards, I spotted an elderly woman in distress going under the surf repeatedly. I simply grabbed her, reassured her, and told her I would take her in.  Despite the fact we were both pushed under the waves several times on the way back to shore, the woman simply trusted that I would bring her in safely.  Back on the beach, the head lifeguard thanked me and offered me, as a fourteen-year old, a job on the spot.  I said I’m not certified.  He said, “I’ll certify you.”  I told him I didn’t think my parents in Illinois would go for me moving to Ft. Lauderdale and we left it at that.

The Red Cross is responsible for Lifeguard and Water Safety Instructor (WSI) training throughout the United States.  The students are instructed in water safety, stroke mechanics, and survival and rescue techniques.  During my mom’s WSI training physical exam, she was expected to perform a mock rescue of a swimmer in distress.  A fellow WSI trainee named Curt was her pretend victim.  The victim is told to act frightened and initially uncooperative as the trainee seeks to calm the victim and then bring him safely to the pool’s edge.  Minutes into the “rescue,” Curt continued to be uncooperative and combative.  Mom gently exhorted Curt to relax and trust her.  He decided to make things difficult for her by continuing to thrash about in the water making a rescue nearly impossible and her failure inevitable.  WSI students are taught to release and even submerge the victim to prevent two tragedies from occurring in the water.  Mom, having run out of patience with Curt, simply took her hand, reached under his arm pit, and pulled as much armpit hair as she could grasp.  Instantly Curt was calm and compliant for the rest of the rescue.  I remember other students actually cheering for her.

I often see the same tendencies in people when it comes to God’s desire to rescue them from sin and destruction.  There’s just something about us that wants to make things difficult for Him or to try to help Him out (save ourselves).  But we are incapable of saving ourselves, and whenever we try, we end up making things even worse.  No, the Lord will not pull your armpit hair out to get you to cooperate, but He will not make you accept his help, deliverance, and restoration if you do not want it.  Let me encourage you today to listen to the calming voice of the Holy Spirit, relax, and let the Lord bring you back to safety.  He is truly our lifeguard.  Trust Him.  He’s on duty, and He will not fail to rescue you when you call out to Him.