Saturday, April 25, 2015

Satan's Toolbox

An island pastor prays for young women previously affected during spiritual warfare.

"Do you see things like this in America?" 

It was a question I was asked on several occasions last fall when the island school was passing through intense spiritual warfare, manifested mostly in demonic attacks against our students.

Generally not, I would reply, but quickly note that Satan is still very active in America, just in different ways. Like a master deceiver, he knows which lies to tell to which unsuspecting listener. He knows which tricks will capture our attention and what traps we will likely fall into. He can definitely individualize temptations and attacks.

Before I continue, please understand - I don't intend this post to be judgmental, but definitely an exhortation.

Coming fresh out of the intense spiritual warfare as I returned to the U.S. in November, I was more than ever keenly aware of what might be "attacking" American Christians. Toward the end of my visit, I came to a conclusion - it may be more difficult to be a Christian in the U.S. than where I live in Uganda. 

But it's likely not for the reasons you think.

There's just too much. Too many distractions. Too many appointments. Too many commitments. Too many activities. Too many devices. Too much media. Too much news. Too much stuff to maintain. Too much.

I believe "distraction" is a primary tool which Satan uses against many American Christians. 

"Look this way so you won't see what I am doing in other parts of the world." 

"Get involved in this so you forget to pray for your persecuted brothers and sisters." 

"Become absorbed in this so you no longer have the time, the energy or the money to invest in that other kingdom."

I, too, am so guilty of this. Today I read a very convicting article about our laziness, cowardice and overall lack of response as fellow believers are daily being persecuted and daily losing their lives for their faith in Jesus Christ. The persecution of Christians is greater at this time than any other period of history  - even compared to what the early Christians faced in Rome.

(I plan to write a follow-up blog on some of the things I've recently learned about the persecution of Christians worldwide. To read more, please visit OpenDoorsUSA or The Voice of the Martyrs for specific ways to pray, give, and act on behalf of our suffering brothers and sisters.) 

My point is this, don't think the enemy of your souls is apathetic - He's just very clever. Just because you don't see ghosts or spirits, like those here in Africa, do not for one second believe you are safe.

The "safer" you think you are, the greater may be your danger.

Satan doesn't want you to pray, to read your Bible - let alone believe it, to fellowship with other believers, to attend church, to serve others, to use your gifts, to forgive, to show grace...well, you get the idea. And, he really doesn't want you to be aware of his presence and his schemes and tricks. Whatever God intends for you, Satan wants to thwart. And, if you have it, he wants to steal it from you and destroy it. And, to be perfectly honest, he wants to devour you.

"Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings." I Peter 5:8-9

The days are growing increasingly evil and the Lord's return is imminent. Are we aware of Satan's schemes, but even more, are we watching for Christ's return? By God's grace, identify the distractions. What is keeping you and I away from what Jesus desires for us? How is Satan deceiving us, stealing from us and destroying what God wants to do in and through us?

"Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” - I Peter 1:13-15

"Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is." - Ephesians 5:15-17

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Confessions of a "Hoarder"

Aw, the fun process of packing and deciding what goes and what stays.

One of my mom's frequent requests of me while growing up was to please tackle my "clutter." I seemed to have perpetual stacks of papers, books, and miscellaneous items - on my desk, on the floor, on the dresser.

You could always differentiate between my half of the room and my sister's - I had more "stuff" and it was scattered.

I tried to comply, but finally concluded I was conducting "pile-it (pilot) programs." However, my mom didn't find my "programs" humorous or necessary and still insisted I clear my stacks.

Over the years, I have learned how to manage my clutter - kind of. One thing about only being allowed to take 50 pound bags back and forth across the world is you soon learn what is really important. Sadly, though I love books, they have often been pulled out of my overweight bags, to leave room for lighter items like tea, clothes, or gummy bears. :) Inevitably, there is always stuff that gets left behind, with the hope I can bring it back next time.

But even in this type of "minimalist" lifestyle, I still tend to accumulate more than what I really "need."

God has shown me this is also true in regard to more than my physical possessions.

I confess - I am a hoarder; a hoarder of "securities." Basically I like to fill my life with what I believe will make me feel "secure." Keeping people close and relationships simple, enjoying an organized, trouble-free schedule, having my "comforts" close by. When life is going well, I feel secure and safe, and I am happy and content. And, the more I "hoard" of these securities, the greater my false sense that everything is "a-okay."

But, when doubtless things get out of whack, even a smidgen, I kind of freak at the loss of my "security."

Perhaps one of the biggest purposes for God moving me to Uganda was to strip me of what I had been holding much too closely - family, friends, a church family, people who know and understand me, a good job, stability, predictability, language I understand, skills I have mastered, places I know like the back of my hand.

I frequently feel like a fish out of water here in Uganda. After five years I still find myself stumped by the language, by the culture, by the customs, by things that don't go as quickly, as smoothly or as "normally" as I think they really should. And, I don't always like this feeling - of insecurity, of not invariably knowing what is happening around me or what is occurring next.

But this stripping away has made me all the more aware of how much I need Him and Him first and foremost. I had been trusting in all of those people and things, gripping them tightly, and unable to put my full trust in Jesus because my hands and heart were just too full. The above are not bad in themselves, but when they displace Jesus, they compete with my affections for Him.

In my mind there is a difference between security and safety. One can be secure, but not necessarily safe.

When I seek security in people or things, but am not abiding in Christ, I am not really safe from what may harm me. But when I make Him my chief hope and trust, I am safe. And even when I encounter danger or hardship or trials or difficulties, I am safe in Him. Nothing will happen to me without first receiving His approval.

As I loosen my grip (and it is a process!) on what I have "hoarded," there is a succeeding and abiding peace and comfort that only the steadfast presence of Jesus brings. We can sing "It Is Well With My Soul" not because there is no storm, but because He is with us in it.

By His grace, Jesus is helping me to conquer my "hoarding" habit - both physically and spiritually.

The world is becoming an increasingly scary and unsafe place. Our only hope for abiding and eternal safety and security is under the shadow of His wings.

"Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. 
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
Surely He will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.

A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked. If you say, 'The Lord is my refuge,' and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent.
For He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
'Because he loves me,' says the Lord, 'I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.'" - Psalm 91

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Built Him

Most of the members of the SHIM family during our annual staff  retreat in February.

A nurse, wife, mother.

A part-time builder, full-time pastor, father.

An economics major.

An accountant.

An IT grad.

A former teacher-turned seminarian.

A scout and respected teacher, now an innovative farmer.

A one-time journalist presently a secondary instructor.

Holders of certificates, diplomas, and degrees.

The students, the teachers.

Single, newly-united, and veterans of marriage.

Parents of 6 and grandparents of 9.

Parents of young and parents of old.

One whose heart is burdened for the young children... who hurts for the youth... who intercedes for the widows... who advocates for the orphans... who instructs the illiterate...

...ones who cries to God for deliverance of the poor, the sick, the demonically-tormented...

...those who call out, equip and build spiritual leaders, from among the despised and rejected.

They come from the north, the east, the west, and from the far west.

Some call Uganda their homeland, while others know it as a "second home."

Different nationalities, different clans, different tribes, different skin colors, different languages...

Distinct pasts, but an exclusive, hope-filled future.

United under one banner, bound by a singular mission, following a solitary Leader.

The myriad of diversities fade and are superseded by One. One who in Himself is the reconciliation, the restorer, the uniting peace for those once divided.

The Author of uniqueness and Designer of one-of-a-kind creations calls for a merging and an intertwining so the many are inextricably joined in Him.

Bringing their pasts, their weaknesses, their strengths, their gifts, and their callings in submission to His ultimate and divine purpose - for a work beyond description and above imagination.

"Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. 
"In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit."
- Ephesians 2:19-22 NIV

"In this new life, it doesn't matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and He lives in all of us." 
- Colossians 3:11 NLT

(This post was born out of a realization that the SHIM ministry family is a representation of the universal Body of Christ. How is your team, your family, your community, your church being "built together" for God's purposes?)