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Friday, March 25, 2016

The Mysterious Working of the Risen Christ

The Mysterious Working of the Risen Christ

This is the time of year that Christians around the world come together to celebrate Easter.  When we celebrate Easter we celebrate our salvation and our new life in Christ!  We celebrate being set free and being saved from sin!  None of the other world religions have any celebrations coming close to this or any belief that begins to compare with our Easter.   

The Easter story is such a thrilling story that it stands alone.  Jesus had been crucified and his body had hurriedly been laid in a garden tomb. He died a few hours before the Sabbath and since the Jewish religious laws required that no one work on the Sabbath, Jesus’ body had to be buried quickly during the few hours left before sundown.  Sundown marked the beginning of the Sabbath.

Some of the women who had been followers of Jesus planned to go to His tomb when the Sabbath was over and anoint His body with burial spices.  So very early that following Sunday morning these women walked together to the tomb weeping as they went and expecting to find Jesus’ dead and broken body in the tomb.

The big surprise in the story comes when the women get to the tomb and find an empty tomb and the stone rolled away from the door along with bright angels standing nearby. The confused women were wondering if someone had stolen Jesus’ body, but then the angels stepped forward and asked the women: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here: but He has risen.” (Luke 24:5-6)

From that moment on nothing remains as it was before, not in the women’s lives or in our lives or in the history of humankind.  Jesus is not dead!  He is alive!  He has risen!  He has conquered sin and death because He is Life itself!  Because He lives, we shall live also!  (John 14:19-20)    Easter is the time when we celebrate our risen Lord and the fact that His Spirit is alive in us. 

And often we make the same mistake that the women at his tomb made.  We talk about Jesus as if He lived long ago. And we forget that He lives today in the present while leading us on to the future. And He wants to live in your heart and bring you into His kingdom.  He is the Son of God and He will forgive you of your sin and make you whole. He is alive today and He wants you to follow Him. Let the risen Jesus enter your life – welcome Him as your Savior.  Trust Him and open your life to Him.  He will receive you with open arms.  Take a risk, you won’t be disappointed.  He is calling you.  Don’t be afraid.  Trust Him and He will give you peace and joy and strength to live the good life.

Jesus calls us to go into the world and feed the hungry and take care of the sick and bring others to Him.  He calls us to be His hands and feet.  A committed missionary knows the joy of being a spring of living water which spills over and refreshes others. And Jesus promises to be that spring in us.  As we go out to do His work the mysterious working of the risen Christ and his Spirit will go with us.  But if we refuse His call and refuse to share and stop giving and lock ourselves up in our own comforts.  Such a life is nothing less than slow suicide.

Some people do not commit themselves to missions because they think that nothing will change and that it is useless to make the effort.  This attitude makes it impossible to be a missionary.  It is a self-destructive attitude, for “man cannot live without hope: life would become meaningless and unbearable.”  Our faith is all important.

If we think that things are not going to change, we need to recall that Jesus Christ has triumphed over sin and death and is now almighty.  And we have the victory through Him. He never fails. Jesus Christ truly lives.   Put another way, “If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then our preaching is in vain.”  (1 Corinthians 15:14) The Gospel tells us that when the first disciples went forth to preach, “the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message.”  (Mark 16:20) The same thing will happen for you today.  We are invited to discover this, to experience it.  Christ, risen and glorified, is the wellspring of our hope, and He will not deprive us of the help we need to carry out the mission which He has entrusted to us.

Christ’s resurrection is not an event of the past:  It contains a vital power which has permeated this world.  Where all seems to be dead, signs of the resurrection suddenly spring up.  It is an irresistible force.  Such is the power of the resurrection, and all who evangelize are instruments of that power. 

This blog consists of sermons delivered by Pope Francis and written down in “The Joy of the Gospel”  by Pope Francis.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Coming Home

Coming Home

When we celebrate Easter we are celebrating the gift of our salvation.  Salvation is coming home.  Leaving the land of slavery (to sin) and entering the Promised Land, (our new home.)  The Jewish people had been slaves in Egypt until God miraculously freed them and led them across the Jordan River into a land He had promised them – Israel.  Our salvation is somewhat like that in that when we believe in Jesus and follow Him we are miraculously given His Spirit to live in our hearts and lead us home.
Jesus told a story or parable about coming home.  There is a Father with two sons, and the story starts with the younger son asking the Father to give him his share of the inheritance money early. (Luke 15:11-32) Inheritance money was meant to go to the son after the Father was dead.  But the son doesn’t want to wait so he demands his money right away.  And the Father sadly agrees, giving the son half of his money, even if the Father might need it in his old age.  The other half of the inheritance would go to the older son.

The younger son leaves home carrying a big bag of his Father’s money.  And he travels far away to the big city where he falls into drinking and fighting on back streets, boozing and gambling in bars and dens and hanging out with prostitutes and strippers in the gutters. Drugs and liquor, fighting and wild women!  The son spends his time and money in riotous living. 

But then one day all of the son’s money is gone. And all of his friends are gone too, -all the loose women and the drunken men.  They don’t seem to like the son now that he has spent all of his money.  The son roams the streets alone and homeless.  Cold and sick, hungry and desperate.  What is he to do?  No one will help him!  The son tries to find a job and a farmer hires him to feed his hogs.  He eats the food the hogs leave and he sleeps with the hogs out in the field.  Cold and dirty, starving and alone in the cold and the wind, the son has lots of time to think about things. 

Of course the son thinks about how good things used to be back when he was home with his Father and his good hard working older brother.  His Father’s workers were paid good wages and had plenty to eat and here the son is out in this pig pen shivering with cold and eating dry husks.  The son tells himself that he will go back to his Father and say to him: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son: make me like one of your hired men.”   Being my Father’s hired hand would be better than staying here and starving with these hogs, he tells himself.

Every day since the son has been gone, the Father goes out to look down the long lonely road that leads to the far away country where the son has gone. Day after day the Father keeps watching and hoping he might someday see his wayward son coming back home. The Father loves and misses his son so much and his heart is so heavy with longing for his son.  And then one day it happens!  The son is still many miles away when the Father thinks he can barely see a man way off in the distance coming down the long road.  Could it be his long lost son??  The excited Father rushes out of his house and runs down the long dusty road.  Finally, when he reaches his son, the breathless Father throws his arms around the son, kissing and hugging him. 

“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son,” the son started telling his Father.  But the Father won’t listen.  “Quick” the Father calls to his servant, “Bring the best robe and put it on him.  Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fatted calf and kill it.  We will have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive.  He was lost and is found.”

So there is a great celebration in the Father’s house that night.  The good faithful older brother is out in the field working when he hears music and dancing coming from the house.  When the servants tell him that his younger brother has returned and that his Father is throwing a party for his younger brother, he is furious!   The older brother refuses to go in the house where neighbors are partying.  He doesn’t want to see his younger brother.  He has been the good son all these years.  He has faithfully worked in his Father’s fields and his Father has never thrown a party for him!  But now this no good younger brother of his has taken his Father’s money and wasted it with loose women and now his Father is celebrating his homecoming!  He is hopping mad!

The Father goes outside and begs his older son to come inside and join the party.  The Father says: “My son, you are always with me and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and be glad because your brother was dead and is alive again: he was lost and is found.”  Jesus ends the story here with the older brother still standing outside angry and refusing to come in to the party. Did the older brother stay angry forever or did he eventually forgive his younger brother?  Jesus never says.  He leaves us hanging!  Maybe we are supposed to finish Jesus’ story!  Maybe we are part of the story!

I think the older brother believes that there is not enough money to go around.  He feels that he is better than his younger brother because for years he has worked hard for his Father and obeyed all the rules, where his younger brother has not.  What if the Father in the story had gone to market the day the younger brother came home?  And what if the older brother was home to greet his younger brother when he returned?  Would the older brother have represented his loving Father?  Or would he have refused to let his brother in?

 Could we be the older brother in Jesus’ story? Have we worked hard for many years and seen another brother skipping out and breaking rules?  Are we angry and feel that it isn’t fair? Do we believe in giving this prodigal brother a second chance?  Or do we leave him out in the cold?  Who represents the loving forgiving Father in our world today?  Do we?  How do we finish Jesus’ story?

And the loving Father in Jesus’ story represents God, our loving heavenly Father.  When we go astray our loving heavenly Father misses us and watches anxiously for us to come home to Him.  And when we are still far away, He runs down the long road to meet us and bring us home.  It doesn’t matter how far we have strayed; He is anxious for us to come back.  Our heavenly Father’s love for us is so great that He gives His Son to bring us back.  He wants us home that much. If we want to come home we can have eternal life.  (John 3:16) That is what Easter is all about!



Saturday, March 12, 2016

What is the Deliverance Ministry?

What is the Deliverance Ministry?

The deliverance ministry is the ministry of casting out demons.  I believe that the power behind the deliverance ministry is the love of God.  He sacrificed His Son and He will with Christ also freely give us all things. Scripture says: “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) The armies of hell have no defense against God’s redeeming love for us.  Amazingly God loves us so much that He wants to free us from any spiritual bondages we are under.

We may be held in bondage and not even realize it.  We can freely walk around with a smile on our face praising the Lord and still be bound – bound by shame, rejection, fear, anger or un-forgiveness, impurities and addictions. Since so many people have these problems we may just think that it is normal.  Some of us have prayed and read God’s Word and confessed our sins and gone to Christian counselors and still have not been completely set free.  These weaknesses may have spiritual roots that can only be pulled up and broken by Jesus Christ who is our Redeemer and our Deliverer.  Jesus has come to set the captives free.  And scripture says: “If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed.” (John 8:36)

God has granted us the authority to use the Name of His Son, Jesus Christ to defeat the works of darkness.  (Matthew 16:19: Luke 10:19)   Evil is real but so is the power of Jesus Christ.  In God’s wonderful order, He uses the prayers of His people to restrain demonic (evil) activity.  We Christians have been given power over evil spirits.  Scripture says: “He who is in you (the Holy Spirit) is greater than he who is in the world. (the devil) ”(1 John 4:4)  Even though we have been commanded by Christ to cast out demons, many of our churches do not have a deliverance ministry and many Christians never realize that through Christ they have been given authority over evil.   

 Deliverance is not always a once in a lifetime event, but it can be an ongoing process.  While we believers are still on earth we are to be advancing in becoming more like Christ.  It is a spiritual process.  Christ sets us free but we must occupy the freedom He has given us.  As we advance to drive out the enemy in our lives there will be warfare.  Yet, God promises to contend with our enemies until they are destroyed.  Many of us Christians seem to be comfortable with a certain amount of sin (bondage) in our lives.  But God is calling us to repent of and reject all of our sins, not just some, and to “not give the devil a foothold.”  (Ephesians 4:27) 

Since the founding of the Church there have always been some church groups that have had a deliverance ministry. When churches today plan to have a deliverance ministry there are some costly mistakes that they need to keep from making.  First the ministry of deliverance cannot be placed in the hands of a person who is an immature Christian or a person who has wrong motives and wants to build up his own reputation.  All of the glory should be given to God. The leaders must be humble and God fearing and bring encouragement and comfort to the people going through the deliverance.  The ministry needs to be done as a team and each team member should be accountable to each other and to the leader.  Team members should not view themselves as having special powers that others don’t have. 

Also effective deliverance is the result of being grounded in God’s Word.  Unsound doctrine and hidden special doctrines can quickly wreck the deliverance ministry. There are always wolves (fake Christians, false prophets) that would try to come in and harm the sheep. (the children of God).  The church that is involved in the deliverance ministry must be on constant watch to keep these spoilers from ruining this vital ministry.

There are other essentials for a successful deliverance ministry.  First, the ministry must be performed in a safe place.  By this I mean a place that is not threatening to people who may be afraid to confess and renounce their sins.  A safe place is a place where the ministers are caring and loving and where they are not shocked by confessions of sinful behavior that they will hear. It is a place where the people who are ministering deliverance are mature and trustworthy and where love and grace are demonstrated.  If those coming to be delivered are going to allow another person to lay hands on them for the purpose of casting out unclean spirits, they need to be able to count on the persons who are ministering deliverance to keep everything that happens there confidential. 

It can be a heady thing to come up against the demonic and see evil forces be forced out of a person when you order them to go in Jesus’ Name.  It can cause the person who is ministering deliverance to feel proud that he has been used by God.  And proud that in Jesus Christ’s Name he has been given the authority to order these evil spirits out.  But if this person on the deliverance team is not careful he can parade the hurts and pains of others before others, showing off how amazing he is.  Casting out demons can be turned into a theatrical side show if the ministering team isn’t humble. And the person who has been delivered may feel humiliated when they are being showcased for others to see.  And then God is not glorified.  When Jesus delivered a person from evil spirits He often took the person away from the crowd for these very reasons.  (Mark 7:33 and 8:23)   

The persons who have been delivered from evil spirits need to learn truths and disciplines that will help them to maintain their deliverance. They need revelation of what keeps opening the door to demonic control and they need to stay away from these influences. People who have been delivered from a bondage need to be connected with others who will hold them accountable for their choices and offer them encouragement and also correction.

 The freed person needs to learn to walk in the Spirit and commit everything in their lives to God.  Scripture says: “Therefore submit to God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)   Ongoing submission to God and staying away from those places where bondage can occur easily are a huge part of maintaining freedom from past bondages.  

Sometimes people are not ready to receive deliverance.  They have not taken the time to be ready to live a new life and allow God to change their old thoughts and habits.  Real deliverance comes from thoughtful preparation.  One sin that can stand in the way of successful deliverance is the sin of un- forgiveness.  We must be ready to forgive people who have sinned against us just as God has forgiven the sins we have committed against Him. (Matthew 6:12)

 Scripture says: “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”  (Galatians 5:16) We need to learn to live our lives in step with the Holy Spirit.  We can receive freedom from bondage through Jesus Christ, but we have a part to play if we are to keep that freedom.

Our part is to trust God and obey Him.  To repent and renounce our sin.  And God’s part is to break the yoke of bondage and remove any demonic presence.  When we are ready then His part is to sanctify us and make us clean.  Scripture says: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”  (Psalm 51:7) Christ is our Righteousness and through Him we are made clean.  When we find ourselves polluted by our past or loaded down with the bondage of the present, then we can enter God’s cleansing stream and become “whiter than snow.”  It doesn’t get any better than that! 

The information and ideas for this blog were taken from Chris Hayward’s book “God’s Cleansing Stream, Deliverance in the Local Church” with the foreword by Jack Hayford.  


Friday, March 4, 2016

Casting out Demons?

Casting out Demons?

Jesus called his disciples to go out into the world and bring people to Himself and share the good news of salvation.  These are his words: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to everyone. Those who believes and are baptized will be saved: but those who do not believe will be condemned.  And these signs will follow those who believe: In My Name they will cast out demons and speak with new tongues.”  (Mark 16: 15-17) Scripture tells us that believing in Jesus Christ and following Him is everything.

The Bible tells us that along with teaching and healing people, Jesus also went about casting out demons as part of His earthly ministry. And He calls us to do the same in His Name and by His authority! Jesus affirmed that demons do exist.  What does this mean?

 Many of us are cautious and stay away from churches that cast out demons. We have heard of preachers who have wild and goofy meetings, yelling and showing off as they supposedly cast out demons. There has been terrible abuse in the area of the Christian deliverance ministry.  The ministry of deliverance (casting out demons) cannot be placed in the hands of those who try to build their own reputations on it.

Because many are afraid of the deliverance ministry (casting out demons) most churches today try to meet the spiritual and emotional needs of those they serve by psychological counseling.  And this is very helpful.   But often all of the knowledge and very best counseling still aren’t enough to break through to freedom for some. We need to do our part to break free from bondage but Jesus Christ is the bondage breaker and we cannot do it on our own.   

The Bible speaks plainly about the deliverance ministry.  People down through the ages have experienced the power of God’s deliverance. The Source for the Church – the Deliverer is Jesus Christ.  He has come to set captives free.  Deliverance is the act of casting a demon or demons (strongholds of evil, addictions, torments, phobias, or fears) out of the place given to it or them by a person. God wants freedom for all of His children.

 It is believed by many that once a person believes in Christ and is possessed by the Holy Spirit that he or she cannot also be possessed by a demon.  But a Christian can be harassed, influenced and tormented by demons because of personal trials (2 Corinthians 12:7) or by believing the lies of the enemy (2 Corinthians 10:4-6) or by becoming involved in sinful activity. ( Ephesians 4:27)

Deliverance or casting out demons was part of the normal life of the early church and was also practiced for the first few centuries of church history. But deliverance today has been neglected.  Many pastors may be afraid to allow people to lay hands on others to pray for them, let alone to cast out demons.  Many church leaders fear that their church will get a reputation for being the weirdest church in town.  However some churches actually have effective and powerful deliverance services today.  Scripture guides us to do everything “decently and in order.”  (1 Corinthians 14:40)   It can be done.    

God’s power can set the prisoner free and can deliver a person from the spirit of fear or hate or pornography or an addiction to drugs or any other evil. The imprisoned person may not have the power to deliver himself.  He needs prayer in the Name of Jesus. But after the person has been set free from the demonic spirit, he does have his part to do in staying free.  The person who is delivered from a spiritual problem (evil spirit) must work along with God and refuse to welcome the spirit or spirits back into his life.  Often deliverance is the act of casting the demon out of the place given to it by the person in the first place. The person being delivered must renounce the sin and uninvited the evil spirit in his life.

Scripture says: “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest: and finding none, he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’ And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order.  Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and live there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.”  (Luke 11:24-26) 

This scripture in Luke 11 seems to be saying that the person who has had the unclean spirit (demon) removed from his life, has the responsibility to shut the door to that unclean spirit’s returning.  And not only shut the door but to leave no room or space for the unclean habit or addiction to return. To fill the empty space with something good. And to keep praying and asking the Lord to cover you and keep you strong. 

 The alcoholic should not go back to the bar where he enjoyed drinking with his buddies but go to AA meetings and cover himself with Christ. And the person who was addicted to porn should fill his time with a new ministry or work and stay away from the internet or wherever he found temptation.  Scripture advises: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.”  (Romans 13:14) The person being delivered must seriously want to be delivered and do his part. Make no space or provision for the weakness.   

Another Bible passage along this line is: Ephesians 6:13-17.  “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day.  And having done all to stand. Stand therefore having tied truth around your waist and put on the breastplate of righteousness.  Having put the shoes of the gospel of peace on and above all taking the shield of faith …and the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”.

We are fighting a spiritual war here on earth and we will win only if we put on (cover ourselves with) the Lord Jesus Christ. Too many times we think we are fighting another person or a political party or another country.  But the Bible tells us that we are in a war with spiritual beings – demons and rulers of the darkness.

Scripture says: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”  (Ephesians 6:12) This is why we need spiritual weapons to fight the spiritual battle. The Lord promises to give his followers authority and power over these evil spirits.  Next week we will talk about how we are to fight this spiritual war we find ourselves caught up in here on earth.  We will discuss the tools necessary for the church to establish an effective and proven deliverance ministry.  This is heavy stuff!

Some of the information for this blog was taken from “God’s Cleansing Stream, Deliverance in the Local Church” by Chris Hayward.