Pressure

And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed. Mat 16:1-4

An incessant desire for spiritual manifestations for their own sake is a desire for gratification. Gratification is a manifestation of self.

Signs, wonders, prophecies, and healings were barely on my radar when I first surrendered to Jesus. “Deny self, pick up your cross and follow me” Mat 16:24 and “…they loved not their lives onto death” Rev 12:11 resonated more with where and how God met me. Surrendering to Jesus meant switching sides, enduring tribulation, and possibly losing my life in an ongoing war. God gave his only begotten son to remove the body of condemnation and death from around my neck. Romans 7:24

Any blessing beyond that was ancillary.

That was our mindset when we left the United States for the mission field. Now that we have returned to first-world nation living we find ourselves increasingly challenged by an overarching theme of God’s love framed solely as warm fuzzy personal affirmations, success, prosperity, and patriotism otherwise known as my

“I…dentity”

“Oh, how he loves us!”

Ironically many don’t even question their myopic perceptions. After all, we are new creations because old things have passed away.  We have a new identity in Christ.  That said,

The issue is in the emphasis.

His identity, Not ours is the focal point of the gospel. He saved us because He is loving not because we are lovable. Ephesians 2 What if my idea of Jesus is my own reflection as I imagine it in His eyes?

That’s a hard conversation in Charismania.

“Charismania” describes among other things, a culture that thrives on self-affirmation, spiritual manifestations, and prophetic words. The Word of God is used as cherry-picked proof texts that confirm our experiences and self-perceptions. Absurdities like portals, barking, laughing, and journeys to heaven where missing Bible chapters are revealed along with other forms of modern-day Gnosticism result in doctrine more reminiscent of “Harry Potter” or “The Secret” than Biblical Truth. Like the sin that resulted in the Fall in the garden, it is at its core entirely self-centered. Some will undoubtedly be offended by what I write. Yet there are times when a spade just needs to be called a spade because people are setting up camp on proverbial train tracks.

They will perish for lack of knowledge. 

Here in Appalachia, we find ourselves ministering to familiar populations and patterns of brokenness – people stripped of all pretenses by “the system” – their proverbial dirty laundry aired for all to see.  These people need sobriety, not gnostic emotionalism, because their adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8. 

Sober is “nḗphō“- to be calm and collected in spirit, temperate, dispassionate, and circumspect.

Hence our teaching and counseling are always framed by time-tested principles of sustained addiction recovery. The first of which is

Selfishness and self-centeredness is the root of all our troubles”. 

AA Big Book pg 62

The effects may be more recognizable in the ostracized and disenfranchised at whom it is easier to point a finger than those still hiding behind spirit-filled fig leaves.

Yet self remains the primary issue from the Fall that ails us all.

When Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil their eyes went from a one hundred percent focus on God to a one hundred percent obsession with self. Realizing they were exposed, they tried to hide behind a façade of fig leaves. 

The people to whom we minister have had their proverbial fig leaves torn away. Granted, their transparency is imposed and not the fruit of obedience per se but rather the fruit of their wrestling with God. It is the fruit of complete and utter brokenness.

For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. Isaiah 51:15

In Genesis 32:30 after wrestling with God, Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: ‘for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. “Preserved” is Natsal: to deliver, rescue, and save…

…To strip, and plunder.

Like Jacob who walked with a limp for the rest of his life as part of God’s blessing, so will those to whom we minister be marked in some way by their brokenness.

“Wait!” “Did you say Jacob’s dislocated hip was a blessing?” 

YES!

The growing propensity among Christians to frame and experience the gospel as a self-centered health, wealth, and prosperity paradigm often achieved by political means is as futile as it is absurd.

True Signs and Wonders.

The other day I read a Facebook post from a friend who just lost her third child to suicide. The mind-numbing grief is so unimaginable that many do not have words to respond. Yet we know that our friend’s process of being conformed to the image of His son is as beautiful as it is genuine. She is a living epistle in the gospel of suffering.

“As I sit in my cozy home with my Bible and too much food in my kitchen and so, so many blessings, it seems to me that God is good. Not because of material things, but more so in the area of loss. I have lost 3 of my children, the 3 youngest, 3 that loved me, 3 that did not hold my failings over my head. 3 that I am convinced we’re saved! And so there is hope. Hope that we will be together again, one day- minus all the baloney of this life. Hope that they now- at last have full understanding of “why?” What has happened, how my life has transpired, the hardships, sufferings, pain and sorrow, is nothing compared to the glory which shall be revealed in Heaven. So many people have suffered hardship and grief throughout the ages. Many folks have had it ALOT worse than I do. Among those are many stories of strength and perseverance. The ability to continue on with this life in the face of great loss. To continue in hope. To know that God is sovereign and God is good.”

The power of the Holy Spirit’s operation in this woman’s life is as palpable as it is supernatural.  That a person could remain so faithful and strong amidst so much suffering and loss is a true sign and wonder. It is a genuine manifestation of the power of God flowing through a sober, humble, and contrite heart.

It is the fruit of brokenness.

So often I have sat amidst alleged manifestations of Holy Spirit with people prophesying prosperity, comfort, and other vain babblings while others twitch and “Woah”.  The unspoken implication is one of personal anointing, credibility, significance, and power. That it looks like turrets or epilepsy to me may be regarded as proof by some that I am not anointed. That I see virtue signaling and soulish one-upmanship rather than any fruit of the spirit listed in the Bible might be an indication of pharisaical religiosity. Still, last I checked, Galatians 5 lists Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and SELF-CONTROL.

Not seizures

Listen, your experience of God is your experience. At the end of the day, it’s between you and Him. Yet I’ve repeatedly seen and heard charismaniacs question another person’s relationship with God based upon the intensity or lack thereof of animated emotionalism during prayer or worship. There was a time early in my walk with the Lord when I’d watch charismatic histrionics and feel conflicted because, on one hand, it looked like “profane and vain babblings” 2 Tim 2:16-18. On the other hand, I feared I might be defective. I’ve had pastors question my salvation because I did not yell or pray in tongues at the time. Today I understand I was battling cognitive dissonance not an absence of faith or grace in my life.  How one expresses themselves is NEVER a measure of faith or grace.  At best our expressions are a soulish attempt to articulate what we are experiencing.

In the words of Jason Upton,

“Sometimes our praise is a manifestation of our doubt.”

Years later Mel Tari, Indonesian missionary and author of Like a Mighty Wind came to speak while we were in Harvest School in Mozambique.  Mel is an icon in our charismatic stream and no stranger to signs, wonders, and miracles to include seeing the dead raised.  The sun had just set in Pemba as 350 multinational millennials sat on the concrete pavilion floor jerking and twerking, exclaiming “whoa!” as Mel walked in.  He stood for a moment quietly observing the scene then shouted

“Knock it off!”

“You know what you are doing! Get up!”

The gift of self-control descended like an invisible cloud upon the crowd and everyone stopped. Many were offended. But they stopped.  Mel went on to teach the importance of knowing and preaching the word of God in the context of Mat 16:24.

“Deny self, pick up your cross and follow me”

Deny is “Aparnéomai” – to deny utterly, disown, abstain: to affirm that one has no acquaintance or connection with someone – to forget one‘s self, lose sight of one‘s self and one‘s interests. Turn’s out one’s new identity in Christ has absolutely nothing to do with any validation of self. Rather our new identity begins with Colossians 3:1-4.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
For you have DIED, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

In the meantime, “The greatest among you shall be your servant,” not a celebrity. Mat 23:11

Here’s another idolatrous error worthy of note. Jesus healed bodily afflictions as part of His ministry.  That does not mean that healing bodily affliction was Jesus’s ministry. Jesus did not come to earth just to fix our flesh and cast out discomfort. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 1 John 3:8. Those works began in and are a product of Genesis 3. He came to restore His creation to its original state in the Garden of Eden. Individual healing is one component. The seed of the error is the selfishness and self-centeredness that defines the works of the enemy as “whatever is making me feel bad”. The works of God in this life may come in the form of healing or pain, deliverance or tribulation, prosperity or poverty, comfort, and discipline.  They are always evidenced by transformation and at least one of nine types of fruit. Galatians 5:22-23. His joy, not ours is our strength. Nehemiah 8:10  Let’s face it, IF miracles and healings were His end game, Jesus would not have denounced so many cities.

Then he (Jesus) began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done because they did not repent.” Mat 11:20

Some just hit a sinkhole.

Another aspect of selfishness and self-centeredness is found in endless streams of on-demand self-affirming prophetic words.  Tell a young person God is going to make them an anointed YouTuber and they fall to their knees and weep tears of joy. Tell them Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, that Jeremiah 18:7-10 applies to America today and you’re a

You’re a death-speaking doomsayer.

For 40 years Jeremiah warned of God’s impending judgment and the consequences that would result. I can not recall reading that even one person listened to him. Instead, they threw him in a hole. Jeremiah 38  Meanwhile, expedient positivity prophets of the day like those in Jeremiah 14 or Hananiah in chapter 28 promised peace and prosperity. In Hananiah’s case, Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the LORD do so…” Later the Lord told Jeremiah to call him a liar and pronounce death on him. Hananiah was dead in a year. Israel got the sword, famine, and captivity. We had a lot of Hananiahs in 2020 and some new ones today.

To paraphrase Art Katz, ‘true prophets are the most irrelevant people in the room until the day when they are the only relevant people in the room.’

Again, I am not some doomsday, heresy-hunting, cessationist, opposing supernatural manifestations, or positive life-giving prophetic words. My issue is with a lopsided ear-tickling gospel attended by soulish self-aggrandizing eccentricity that boldly masquerades as Holy Spirit, and the charismaniacs that refuse to test it.

Do not despise prophecies but TEST EVERYTHING; hold fast to what is good., Abstain from every form of evil. 1 Thess 5:20-22

How will we know the real if we are satisfied with a counterfeit? What is the point of the hoopla if there is no real transformation? Rom 12:1-2.

Last week the women in our recovery class asked. “Why do we have to keep hearing over and over again how much God loves us?”

“What’s wrong with that?” I asked.

That’s all we hear!

“That’s not even the milk!” Cathy exclaimed. 1 Cor 3:2

“It’s colostrum!”

Mind you the context of our previous conversations was related to childbirth. I often joke that we always end up discussing childbirth in our class. Cathy’s point was that colostrum is the precursor to breast milk. They were asking for meat. What I heard was,

How will we be able to withstand the evil day, having done all, to stand firm when we don’t know how to stand at all?Ephesians 6:13 

So I took them to the Olivet Discourse in Mathew 24, not for an eschatological dissertation. I went there because the reality of birth pains is something that all of them had in common. 

“But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Mat 24:13

They were quick to make the connection between enduring in childbirth and enduring in life.  They’d had a choice. Endure to the end or abort their baby. The same principle applies to personal sanctification, and transformation, in the process of His preparation of a spotless bride. These are the works of God that destroy the works of the devil. In the interim, there’s a whole lot of tribulation, Mark 4:7, persecutions, Mark 4:17, fiery trials 1 Peter 4:12-14, testing, James 1:2-4 and shaking Hebrews 12:18-29.

Tribulation means “pressure”. 

Being conformed requires pressure. Romans 8:29

Birthing is accomplished with pressure Mat 24:21-31

Selfishness abhors pressure.

Sanctification and transformation are always birthed out of brokenness resulting from pressure.  This is counterintuitive in a culture where every discomfort and every trial is met with an assumption of evil and an ejaculatory appeal that “our will be done” in Jesus’s name. If it isn’t they ask, “why?”. Few ever ask,

What are you doing Lord?

What are you trying to teach me – work out in me?  What is it that you want to be shaken or burned off? What is it that needs to be stripped from my life, my flesh, my soul?  What are you birthing in and through me Lord?

We tend to read scripture through a similar lens. For example, most people focus on the subject of sin in the story of the man being born blind in John Chapter 9.  Why was the man born blind? The Pharisees focused on the possible presence of sin, contemporary Christians on its absence. Jesus dismisses the subject of sin entirely and points to the suffering the blind man endured so that the works of God might be displayed in him. John 9:2-3

The crux of the matter

It would seem that there is a complete absence of self-consciousness regarding narcissism in the halls of charismania. It manifests in what I call “the spirit of the selfie”. In addition to having a worldview constructed by social media where narcissism is a path to influence and influence to value and personal significance, many have been instructed by parents and peers that not feeling “seen or heard” is the root of their troubles.  Whatever it takes to be noticed is the cure.  No longer are selfishness and self-centeredness regarded as defects of character- “the root of all our troubles”, but as strengths and assets to be cultivated. They should be crucified. That pressure (tribulation) would come by the hand of God for our benefit sounds absurd.  It only follows that attention-seeking histrionics, politics, and perverse sign-seeking would be embraced as Holy. Most can not see that the collective focus has shifted from “less of me and more of “Him” to More of ME in His eyes – a 2 Timothy 3:2 “love of self”. Charismaniacs can’t or won’t see it because “narcissism” is always offended by what should convict.

“Offense” is skandalon: a trap – a snare.

Many are ensnared.

It is a snare to say rashly, “It is holy”, and to reflect only after making vows. Prov 20:25

So how do we answer the women in our class? Perhaps we should begin with Jesus’s first rebuke in Mathew 16 and interpret the signs of the times. God applied pressure (tribulation) each time Israel fell into idolatry. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Hebrews 13:8 It only follows that he will apply similar pressure on us today. That pressure was and is a function of His judgment. Modern-day Marcionism rejects the application of God as a Judge to the New Covenant age. Many don’t like the word judge today and regard it as a euphemism. But there are three greek words for judge in the New Testament. Krino: to condemn Mathew 7, Anakrino, to discern 1 Corinthians 2:15 and Krisis: God’s Judgment Mathew 10:15 from which the word Crisis is derived. Crisis is tribulation – pressure.

Krisis” (judgment) is God’s way of pressuring His people to repent and be conformed.

I’m not going to go into every factor pointing to the reality that the precipice upon which we currently stand as a nation and a church is crumbling on all sides; that there are no political solutions to spiritual problems.   Quite honestly, you’d have to have your head under a rock not to see the signs of the times.

“God is dead – it’s just taking a while to get rid of the body.”

Yuval Noah Harari – spiritual advisor to Clause Shwab head of the World Economic Forum. 

Those who can not or will not see require more pressure to see beyond their self-preserving patriotic exceptionalism. Acts 10:34-35 Ironically the Pharisees and Sadducees whom Jesus rebuked as “An evil and adulterous generation (seeking) after a sign…” had the same issue with narcissism in that their perceived authority and destiny were rooted in their

Identity.

If identity is the Colostrum as Cathy says; then how do we get to the meat?

First, we must determine our direction and focus and make any necessary course corrections.

We might only be one degree off course. However, there is a vast difference between one degree off for 500 feet and one degree off for 500 miles. Long story short, if your course remains set on you, your identity, and your life then you will at some point be numbered among those whose hearts fail them for fear of what is coming on the earth Luke 21:26.  At that point the least of your concerns will be your disappointment over the myriad of unmet expectations and the self-centeredness you mistook for the voice of God.

You might be saved, but only “as through fire”. 1 Cor 3:15

The alternative is to identify and cease being conformed to the (selfish, self-centered, and narcissistic) ways of the world and be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Romans 12:1-2

“Renewing” begins with denying self. It means digging into God’s word and making His character and ways your focus instead of your identity, desires, and self-esteem. Yes, He loves you. Still, it’s not about YOU. How you feel about yourself has zero bearing on God’s will and plan.

Renewing involves embracing both His goodness and His severity. Understand that God disciplines those He loves… If He doesn’t you are an illegitimate child Hebrews 12:6-8 Only then will you begin to appreciate His Holiness. Hence renewal begins with acknowledging your wretchedness, before God. The greatest miracle is that He loves you despite your weaknesses and failures. His Holiness and love, not your worth, qualify you for His salvation.

Renewal is evidenced by an attitude that declares your adoration of Him not His adoration of YOU!

Renewing means to cease striving for His approval as you imagine it. If you do strive let it be to expose and boldly bring to the throne of grace your weakness, self-centeredness, absurdity, and silly-silly false pride such that you become worthy of the title that Paul assigned to Himself in 1 Corinthians 4:13,

“The offscouring of all things.”

Renewing means tearing off our fig leaves to crucify our facades. Renewing includes the revelation that your life is “In Him” not the other way around.

Renewing means “letting patience have her perfect work” James 1:4 until you recognize the utter futility of pursuing anything other than Him and His will. Your life is a vapor. James 4:14 He doesn’t owe you a thing. You on the other hand owe Him everything,

especially your gratitude!

At the end of the day, renewal can be likened to peeling an onion. There may be tears as each layer of self is peeled until finally all of “ME” – all of “MY Identity” has been plundered and stripped, to reveal Him and Him alone where my true life is hidden.

Any Krisis and resulting pressure in between is God’s mercy.

And not only so, but we glory in tribulations (pressures) also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope” and that hope does not disappoint. Romans 5:3-5

Our friend provides a glimpse of that hope.

“As I sit in my cozy home with my Bible and too much food in my kitchen and so, so many blessings, it seems to me that God is good. Not because of material things, but more so in the area of loss...What has happened, how my life has transpired, the hardships, sufferings, pain, and sorrow, is nothing compared to the glory which shall be revealed in Heaven. So many people have suffered hardship and grief throughout the ages. Many folks have had it ALOT worse than I do. Among those are many stories of strength and perseverance. The ability to continue on with this life in the face of great loss. To continue in hope. To know that

God is sovereign and God is good.

Phil 1:21

To live is Christ. To die is gain.

MARANATHA