#Write31Days – Post 18 – Spiritual Strongholds

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Have you ever found yourself in a building, standing under a chandelier… and suddenly your mind is flooded with every movie you have ever seen in the past.  The chandelier falls, someone dies.  Over the course of your life, subconsciously you have made the decision to never stand under a chandelier.  So, you take a few steps the left and breathe a sigh of relief.

When you were a child, perhaps, you were splashing in the ocean.  Suddenly, a current sweeps your legs out from under you, pulling you out to sea.  A hand grabs you, pulling you to safety.  You were so traumatized by what could have happened, you no longer go into the ocean.  You don’t take your kids to the beach.  You make a conscious decision that the ocean is not safe and to be avoided.

Everyone has some sort of stronghold in their life.  These are beliefs or opinions that are strongly held and fortified in our minds to the point that reason and logic will be locked out.  These strongholds can be based in reality or in our perception of reality. They are often formed by our past experiences, the environment we were raised, and by the people whom we respect or were authorities in our lives.

I have seen plenty of movies where a chandelier falls, on accident or on purpose, and a person dies.  I have personally never known anyone this has happened to, nor have I read about it happening the paper.  Logic and reason stand that the chandelier in any given building isn’t going to just suddenly break loose and fall on me.  It really isn’t a logical fear.  However my perception of that truth can be swayed when I allow those imaginary scenarios to root themselves in fear and paranoia.

The scenario at the beach, that actually happened to me.  It is a reasonable fear, logic would stand that I would be afraid of the ocean.   This was a real life experience for me.  However, that reality also must root itself in fear in order for it to become a stronghold in my life.  I still love the beach, take my children there, and I am not afraid of the ocean.  I do, however, respect it.  I am not careless.    I have not allowed this real life circumstance to impact the logic that being swept out to sea is very rare and small percentage.

As Christians we not only are faced with strongholds in our lives, based on our past or perceptions, that affect our daily decisions.  We also have spiritual strongholds, that have embedded certain beliefs or “truths” into our minds.

For example, if you were raised in a denomination or area of the country where dancing was considered a sin, and you accepted that belief to be true.  You now have a spiritual stronghold, that is going to impact how you engage with the rest of the world.  But, the questions we must ask is:  Is it true?  Is dancing a sin?  What do the scriptures say?

In most instances of spiritual strongholds that come from our environment, how we were raised, or the influential people in our lives… if we truly want to let go of spiritual stronghold… we go to the Word.  When faced with generational or denominational “truths” it is really quite easy to open up the scriptures and do the research for ourselves.  We can see what the scriptures say about any number of subjects, and find truth.  We can study the history of the scriptures, to understand the who, what, where, when, and why of a piece of scripture and then apply that to our own beliefs and perceptions.

We may be right.  We may be wrong.  And, in the grand scheme of things, it may not matter.  Personal convictions are no less important than scriptural mandates, they are just individual verses general.

The most difficult spiritual strongholds are the ones we are self imposing on ourselves based on our past experiences and decisions.  They arise when we live in guilt, shame, and failure.   We become so engrossed with who we once were, that we disregard any of our potential to be better person or live a better life.  We feel unworthy of God’s love, which keeps us from having a true relationship with Him.  This, of course, also means that our faith and spiritual growth is going to be stunted.

And, the enemy loves to use our spiritual strongholds against us.  He knows how to spin our past in a way that makes our sin look greater, more disgusting, and deeply shameful.   Satan puffs up our sin to look so horrible that we feel it would be impossible for God to find us worthy of anything.  We allow this to discount us and discredit us from God’s love, and Kingdom work.  People tend to respond in one of three ways.

  •  They do nothing.  They attend church, read their bibles, pray.  But, they never do anything more than that.  They disqualify themselves from being able to lead a bible study group, give their testimony, or even volunteer for the simplest of things at their church.  They say “who am I, what do I have to give?”
  • They run away.  In this case, the person is so haunted by their past that they are actively running away from God in shame.  They may run to a different religion or no religion, but they are running.  They attempt to hide like Adam and Eve after biting the fruit, hiding from God in their shame.
  • They go extreme.  This person is the one who is not running from God but actually chasing after Him.  They think that God has turned his back on them, or at minimal is deeply disappointed in them.  What they attempt to do is to win back His favor, His affection, by going to the extreme as a believer.  For example, if they had a history of immodest dress and immoral behavior… they will be entirely the opposite now, to the extreme.  Her ultra mini skirts have been replaced by ankle length skirts.  Her long flowing locks may be tempered by a tight bun, her make up drawer has been emptied into the trash.  He may have traded a life of drinking and parties for weekend long, isolated, and silent meditation.

I am certain that at least some of you are looking at the last one and thinking: this is a bad thing?  Yes, and no.   If the reason you have made these changes is out of deep, personal conviction… then NO, this is not a bad thing.  You are to be obedient to the Holy Spirit’s conviction.  However, if you are making these choices to try and earn back God’s love and favor, then YES … it is a very bad thing.  Keep reading, because I will explain why.

For the better part of twenty years, I allowed a spiritual stronghold to stand in my way.  I was totally ashamed of myself and some of the decisions I had made.  I would pray to God for forgiveness, but I was unable to let go of these things.  I held onto them with a tight grip.  His Word tells us that when we ask for forgiveness are sins are washed clean.   Every time I prayed to God to forgive those sins that haunted me, I was putting them at the foot of the cross & walking away.  Yet, in a very short amount of time, I was running back to cross and snatching them back up.

I was saying to God, I believe you can forgive me for so many things… but not this.  This is too big, too dirty, and too shameful for you to forgive.  I’d begin trying to work them off.  If I read more of my Bible.  If I pray harder.  If I volunteer more.  If I alter my dress, my speech, my thoughts, my life, my everything… then I can make up for this shame.

I was sinning against God, every single time I took them back.

I was saying, God … you are not enough.

When we are sinning, we create a division between us and God.  So, no matter how many good, noble, and wonderful things I was doing… they meant absolutely nothing because I was in sin.  I was doing things for a God that I didn’t trust.  I was reading a Bible, but not believing in the promises within it’s pages.   I was praying to a God that I thought wasn’t capable enough.  I was volunteering for Kingdom work, while believing I wasn’t worthy of being in the Kingdom.

You can change your manner of dress, the way you speak, and your daily study habits. You can pray from dusk to dawn.  You can give every cent you earn, volunteer every waking hour, and take up every noble cause.   Man can look at you in wonder and awe, you can have a million gold stars on your chart.  Women can hold you in high regard, men can respect your dedication and loyalty.  However, you will never feel good enough.  You will still feel guilty.  You will keep doing more and more to win the affection of God, because your guilt tells you that you are not worthy of His sacrifice.

We must let go of these spiritual strongholds, and cling to God.  We must surrender WHOLLY…. EVERYTHING.  We leave nothing behind, we hide nothing, we don’t hold anything back from God.

I know that I am not worthy.  That is why God is gracious and merciful.

I know that I never will be worthy.  The Old Testament reveals this every time the Israelites would turn from God.  The New Testament reveals this as Paul shares that he struggles doing what he knows is right.  I see it in my own life, every time I mess up and have to confess to God.

It is in this knowledge that the beauty of God’s love unfolds.

I am not.  I never will be.  I deserve death.

I was given the gift of Life.

There is nothing I can do that will separate me from God’s love.  I can not run or hide from Him.  There is nothing I could ever do, in my flesh, that will repay God for his mercy, his blessings, or his Son’s sacrifice.  It is arrogant and prideful of me to look at God’s gift, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and say:  Sorry God, that isn’t enough to cover MY sin.

God asks so little of us.

Love God with all of your heart and understanding. – When I love Him, I trust Him.  I know His word, and His promises.  I believe Him.  I hold nothing back from Him.  I am washed clean by HIM and HIM alone… not anything of my own doing.

Love others as you love yourself. – I forgive as I wish to be forgiven.  I love as I wish to be loved.  I help others as I wish to be helped myself. 

I believe, the very first step in letting go of those crippling spiritual strongholds begins when we acknowledge it for what it really is.

Sin.

Confess this sin, ask God to forgive you for taking back what you have put (or keep putting) at the foot of the cross.  Pray for His Word to quiet the voice of the enemy who haunts you.  When you feel the urge to pick it back up, rebuke Satan’s hold on your life.  Then remember you are not who you once were, you are a new creation.  The past has faded, it is gone.  Today, you are a child of God, adopted into his family to start a new life… a far better life than you could ever imagine.

Let my stronghold be the Lord. (Psalm 18:2)

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Andy Stanley’s ASK IT – Loving this study.

I was really excited for spring Small Groups, because we selected Andy Stanley’s Ask It!  I am a HUGE Andy Stanley fan, I like his “tell it like it is” attitude, how he speaks directly to the heart of the matter, and more importantly he doesn’t generally use a lot of filler.  That fits my personality to a tee.

If you are one of those people who wants to know what God’s will is for your life, or even in a particular situation or relationship… Andy Stanley takes through the steps to discover those answers.  And, it’s simpler than you think!

This is a great study for small groups, or the video can be watched in a single sitting.    If broken up into sessions, the video will take your small group just 6 weeks to complete.   If you would like your small group study to run a bit longer, couple the video with the book.

My small group loves this study so much, we want to do an adult fellowship night on it.  We kept thinking not only of our own situations, but others whom we felt could benefit from this study.

You can purchase the video and book through Family Christian.

MY GREATEST LESSON CAME IN AN ENORMOUS AMOUNT OF PAIN

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I remember as a child, calling out to my mom, my legs hurt.  They hurt so incredibly bad, I didn’t think I could walk.  My mom said “they are growing pains”, gave me something for the pain and sent me on my way.  This was a part of life.  It was not going to hold me back.  I would experience a lot of physical pain, as I grew into an adult.

I recall one night, heart broken over that first love.  My heart was in pieces, it never felt like it would go back together again.  My mom assured me it would, maybe a bit differently, but that pain would go away.  These were also growing pains, ones that would shape my heart and my mind for the responsibilities to come.

One thing I always appreciated about my mom was that she never down played the pain.  It was ok to hurt, to acknowledge the pain, to even take a few minutes to wallow in it, but in the end… you get up.  You move forward.  I watched my mom go through growing pains too, when her life wasn’t exactly what she planned.  She had days of pain, she didn’t hide it.  She did, however, keep moving forward.

I have learned over the years, no matter how much older we get… or wiser… we still face the potential to experience growing pains.  Life will be full of lessons.  Some of us will face hard ones, and often.  Others may have softer lessons to learn, or less frequent.  Until we are on the other side of Heaven, we will face obstacles, difficulties and complications along our way.  All of which will teach us new things about ourselves, others and God.

Some of my greatest lessons, that I benefited the most from, were the ones accompanied by the most pain.  They were the ones that stripped me of everything that made sense, pulled me out from my comfort zone, and pushed me down to my knees.  It was in these moments I had to rely on God completely, because I couldn’t do it on my own … even if I tried.

It is funny, now, to look back on some of those moments in my past.  To see what God brought me through, and brought me to.

Recently, I found myself going through a “rough patch” again.  I recognized what was happening, I was being refined by fire…. but that didn’t diminish the pain.   The comfort I found, was that much like my mother… my Heavenly Father was not going to discount my pain.  Instead, He made a promise… “I am doing a new thing.”

 

 

 

BUYING SALVATION- Making It Up to God

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In the days before she knew Christ, she was broken.  She felt abandoned by her father.  She never felt good enough for her step father.  She had a great mom, who was overworked and under appreciated.  She attended schools where she was the perpetual “new girl” because they moved a lot.  And, even when she settled in, she was always different than the rest of the kids.  She would withdraw herself into the background, hoping to go unnoticed.

By the time she would graduate high school, she would find her self settled into rebellious ways.  She wanted to stand out, and if she couldn’t be recognized for her accomplishments and her good deeds…. she would take another approach.   The way she dressed, talked, walked all would tell another tale.  A story of a confident, wild child.  An illusion of someone who didn’t care.  A mask that hid her insecurity and her depression.  She would find her self bar hopping and bed hopping.   Looking for acceptance, love and appreciation any place she could find it.

Do you know her, this girl?  I bet you do.

She was that girl from high school, who went off to college and went “crazy”.    She was that girl who shocked everyone when she got pregnant in the 11th grade.  She was the girl who dropped out of school to become a stripper.  She was the friend you thought you knew everything about, until she attempted suicide.  She was your sister, who suddenly got wrapped up in drugs and ran away.  She’s the girl that so many people will often ask “what ever happened to that girl….”.

You may know her.   You may be her.

Then, by the grace of God, she met Jesus.  It may have been in rehab or even that stint she did in the local prison.  It might have been on that cold floor, with her tear stained battered face.  It may have been through that person who approached her on the street corner & told her there was another life for her than this.  The neighbor or roommate, who steadily went to church and simply extended an invite.  It could have happened at the funeral, when she was burying her best friend who died of a drug overdose.  He could have found her lying on her bed, needle dangling from her arm… and he whispered “I am not done with you yet” and breathed new life into her.

She met Jesus.  Her life, your life, changed.

With the deepest of sincerity, she appreciates and acknowledges what God has done in her life.  She is a new woman.  Married.  Children.  House. Dog. Cat. Fish.  She shares her testimony with the youth, the women, and possibly even during a service every now and again.

People look to her with awe.  They see the scars and wounds that have healed, ever present reminders of what she went through & where Jesus has brought her from.

And in her thankfulness, she strives to pay God back for his mercy and compassion and grace.  She volunteers for every committee.  Her tithing is above and beyond.  She leads the church study, leads a recovery group, disciples troubled kids in the church, she goes on missions trips, she dresses modestly, passes out hygiene kits to the homeless and witnesses to those who are lingering on the street corners.  She funnels Christ into everything she does, trying to prove to Him that she was worth saving.

All the while, she holds onto that past, which motivates her to keep doing good, trying to use all of these good deeds to erase the sins of her past.

To you who read this, nodding your head with understanding….

You can not buy your salvation, or ever pay God back for your salvation.   It was a gift.  For you.  Not to shackle you to the memories of your past, but to set you free into a future of great hope and joy.

Satan wants you to hold onto your past.  He wants you to believe that some sins can’t be forgiven or at least forgiven easily.  He wants you to believe you have to earn your salvation; because he knows that when you make a mistake you will feel like a failure.  Whenever we hold on so tightly to our past, we are sinning.  We are showing God a lack of trust in His word and a lack of faith in His promises.

You are a new creation.   (2 Corinthians 5:17)

You have been washed clean.  (1 John 1:7)

You have been adopted in to His family.   (Ephesians 1:5)

You are loved.   (Romans 5:8)

In John 8:1-11 a woman stood accused.  Jesus said to the crowd that if any of them were free of sin, they could cast the first stone.  No stones were thrown, the crowd dispersed.  Jesus said to her “Go, and sin no more”.     That was it.  He didn’t leave her with a debt that needed to be paid.

Because Jesus himself  will pay her debt, paid your debt… my debt.

In Isaiah 43:25 we read that our sins are blotted out.  Blotted out is different from erased.  Erased would imply that it was gone, entirely, disappeared.  Blotted out means that the transgression was marked through, illegible.  This meant an acknowledgment that the sin existed, but it is no longer counted against you.   We should never come to a place where we believe we are NOT sinners.  We all are.  The Word tells us that ALL will fall short of the glory of God.  But, we know that through the blood of Jesus Christ… those sins are blotted out.  They are no longer held against us.  There is nothing we need to pay back.  The debt is paid.  It was paid on the cross…. once and for ALL.

It’s time to let go of the past that shackles you and embrace real freedom.   Stop allowing Satan to steel your freedom through the lies of doubt.  Take down the wall you are building between yourself and God, when you hold on to those sins you think are unforgivable.  Stop wasting time and energy trying to buy your salvation or pay God back for your debt.  Find confidence in the fact that the debt is paid, you are free…. and in that freedom God will take you to places you could never imagine.