Do you know you’re at war?

ImageThere is a battle raging around you right now…a battle for souls. There are two opposing forces fighting over your soul and the souls of all the people you love.  There is no neutral ground. We can’t decide not to be in the war because WE are what the war is over!

Then the dragon became angry at the woman, and he declared war against the rest of her children—all who keep God’s commandments and confess that they belong to Jesus.
– Revelation 12:17

The devil has made it his purpose to destroy you.  Really Lon?  We’re going to talk about the devil?  Well, think of it this way.  There is a force that works daily against you wanting to follow God.  Some of my Christian friends will say “It’s the flesh.”  According to Galatians 5:16-17 that’s true.  We have a fallen nature that is at war with our spirits.  Our old sinful nature wants to do evil and our new nature from God want to do right.

Other less “churchy” friends might say, “Well, it’s really the influence of culture, society and peer pressure.”  It is true, the message of the Christianity has always been counter-culture and the moral relevantism of our culture today is completely against what scripture teaches.

So why choose to talk about the devil?  It seems so medieval.  The reason is because the devil doesn’t want people to think he’s real or at least active in the earth today.  The truth is satan is real, he’s active in the earth today, he hates you and has declared war on you.

His weapons are espionage, stealth warfare.  He engages in a propaganda warfare.  Satan tries to get us to believe he’s mythical, a fairy tale. Then we let our guards down and he begins to question all of scripture, because if satan isn’t real, then the Bible is just a book.

How do we win this war?  We win by

  1. Not believing the lies of the enemy – this is accomplished by learning the truth  (Eph 5:25-26) and not dwelling on thoughts we know aren’t true (2 Cor 10:5)
  2. Not seeing people as our enemies – Our battle is with the devil not the people he’s deceived (Eph 6:12).  We must forgive all sins against ourselves to keep the devil from having control of out lives.  (Matt 6:15)
  3. Take the fight to the devil – No war was ever one being defensive only.  At some point we must do damage to the enemies forces.  There is no greater damage then saving a soul from hell.  By bringing the truth to those deceived we rescue them from satan’s power but we also diminish the amount of people he controls.

 

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Laughter is NOT Optional

The joy of the Lord is your strength. – Nehemiah 8:10

We’ve been laughing a little more lately. Why? Because our new Children’s Pastor (J Travis Montoya) has worked as a stand up comedian and he makes us laugh. Had a hard day? You know what helps? Laughing about it.

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength. – Proverbs 17:22

My wife Joanne and I have had our share of people betraying us, lying to us, lying about us, fighting against us as leaders, or just plain hating on us, in the last twenty years. How do you through it? We get through it by laughing with friends and kids. Laughing refreshes us. Have you ever noticed that people that never laugh have trouble forgiving others? They become so focused on the problem, that life happens around them without them noticing.

One time someone came up to me and said that four years before they had left our church over some offense. To their credit, they felt bad about it and wanted to make it right. They stated, “I know this has been a thing between us for years.” The sad fact, I didn’t know who they were or what they were talking about. Have you wasted precious time stewing over someone who isn’t thinking about you? Move on.

Allow your spirit to be lifted by laughter. It will improve your responses to people, it will make your faith walk sweeter, and it will change your church. There are good, clean comedians, funny sitcoms and movies…laugh, forget, heal.

King David knew how to have fun.

But as the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant entered the City of David, Michal, the daughter of Saul, looked down from her window. When she saw King David skipping about and laughing with joy, she was filled with contempt for him. – 1 Chronicles 15:29

Like Michal, a lot of people can’t even enjoy the presence of God because they are too worried about what others think. (More on that in a minute.)

I smile as I read this story of David because I recently tried to skip. You heard me right. We watched an episode of a little known TV show called the Middle starring Patricia Heaton (Deborah from Everybody Loves Raymond) and Neil Flynn (Janitor from Scrubs). It’s kind of a Malcolm in the Middle rip off but I still like it. But I’m on a tangent…back to topic.

In an episode of the Middle, the mom has a thought “Why do we ever stop skipping?” She muses that we were all happier as children and it’s because we skipped. She decides to skip everyday and she, in fact, felt happier. The dad in the show would not skip. “Too girly.” My children commented that I would not skip either but mom would. I was insulted! “I’m a fun guy.” I objected. They didn’t believe me so I got up to skip.

I could not skip.

That’s right. I don’t mean I wasn’t willing or was too embarrassed to. I was physically unable to. It was pathetic. I tried over and over but it was more like a gallop. All my daughters howled and shrieked with uncontrolled laughter. Joanne (my wife) wept actual tears as she fell out of the chair laughing. (I don’t believe I have ever actually seen someone ROFL before.) It was an unbelievable melee for twenty minutes.

My name is Lon Dean. I possess a high IQ and advanced degrees. I won the Presidential Physical Fitness award in High School and played several varsity sports. I have spoken to thousands of people around the world, AND I AM SKIP CHALLENGED.

Instead of being embarrassed about this fact, it became our little “pick me up” in the Dean household. If Joanne had a hard day or the girls wanted a laugh with friends over…”Watch this. Skip for us Dad.” would be the request whispered through already growing giggles of anticipation. I skip, or gallop, whichever you wish to call it. It still gets big laughs months later and refreshes us all.

Some final thoughts:

When David returned home to bless his own family, Michal, the daughter of Saul, came out to meet him. She said in disgust, “How distinguished the king of Israel looked today, shamelessly exposing himself to the servant girls like any vulgar person might do!”

David retorted to Michal, “I was dancing before the Lord, who chose me above your father and all his family! He appointed me as the leader of Israel, the people of the Lord, so I celebrate before the Lord. Yes, and I am willing to look even more foolish than this, even to be humiliated in my own eyes! But those servant girls you mentioned will indeed think I am distinguished!” – 2 Samuel 6:20-22

When David came back from skipping and praising God, he wanted to bless his family but his own wife mocked him. If you’ve got a skipper, leaper, laugher in your house, encourage them. Don’t dampen their joy. I might just become your joy too.

If you are enjoying life and laughing don’t let haters get you down. Find other gigglers to skip with and U B U.

++++

A post-blog update: My 7 year old wants me to have the fun of skipping in my life. Even though she thinks, “It’s hysterical, whatever it is I’m doing.”…she is secretly giving me skipping lessons. As of the time of this blog I can skip short distances with her, if she holds my hand. No success on my own but I am hopeful.

Beyond Redemption

A few weeks ago I preached a message on how the church should treat gay people.  I called it Out of the Closet and Into the Church. (http://sc.fhview.com/sc_customplayer/seriesitems/1/118751) The goal of this message was for the church to examine our attitudes towards this particular people group.  After the message an elderly woman approached me.  She was wearing oxygen and walking with a walker.  I must admit I thought, “Here we go.”  I expected her to rebuke me for not condemning homosexuality during the sermon.  Much to my surprise she asked a simple question…

“What about murderers?” she inquired.

There was an unexpected brightness in her eyes, a curiosity and vigor for life one wouldn’t expect given her frail frame.

“Excuse me?” I muttered.  Really it wasn’t that I didn’t hear her, I just needed a moment to collect my thoughts.  I was prepared for an onslaught of fire and brimstone senior saints, not an inquisitive truth seeker.

After all, I had just preached the most controversial sermon of my career.  I opened with “If you came here expecting me to condemn homosexuality today, you will be disappointed.” I chastised the church asking why we celebrated a straight couple who was sexually active, even living together, coming to church. We allowed them time for God to work on them without judgment but let a gay couple walk in holding hands…whoooo.  They weren’t welcome.  I did my best Jesus imitation calling us hypocrites.  The church just nodded.  I the weeks to follow, not one letter or disagreement.  I’m so proud of our local church and their Christ-like love.

Anyways, here I was after that sermon, expecting a fight, instead facing a sweet senior saint who still wanted to grow and learn in her last years on this earth.  Humbling.

“Excuse me?” I muttered.  “Murderers.” She repeated more forcefully. “They are much harder to love and accept than homosexuals. What about murderers? Can they be forgiven and go to heaven?”

I explained that the Apostle Paul helped to kill early Christians before his conversion and that god didn’t just forgive Paul but wrote 2/3 of the New Testament through his hands.  I excitedly told her that Michael Franzese was coming to answer that very question.  To tell her how a Mafia Boss, a murderer, can be forgiven…and that no one is beyond redemption.

Three weeks later, my eyes lighted upon a pair of bright, excited eyes in a back section of a packed sanctuary. She was back to hear the former Mob Boss’ story of redemption. She smiled at me as she pointed to a row full of her family.  Full of confidence in God’s love for all sinners, she had brought her family to hear that there is no one beyond redemption.

Celebrating Bin Laden’s Death

Like most American’s I was interesting in the news on May 1st that Bin Laden was finally dead. My first feeling was one of relief. I remember thinking “finally.” That feeling was later mixed with skepticism when hearing the circumstances surrounding the body (no photos of corpse, hurry up burial at sea etc.) but this is not a blog about conspiracy theories.

As a Christian, the more I more I saw people celebrate the more convicted I became. I thought, “What is the appropriate response for me as a pastor and even more importantly as a follower of Jesus?”

I’m not presuming to tell you how you should feel. I’m just trying to make us all take a breath and think for moment.  A little WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) time.  Doesn’t God sorrow even when evil men die?

Now I understand the concept of a just war.  The Bible is filled with people being put to death for rejecting God or attacking Israel. There must be the concept of a just war in society to defend the weak or stop those committing evil. My questions come because I also Jesus weeping over the people who have rejected His salvation. (Matthew 23:37)

Look at this warning from the Bible…

Don’t rejoice when your enemies fall; don’t be happy when they stumble. For the Lord will be displeased with you and will turn his anger away from them. – Proverbs 24:17-18

This verse teaches us to be careful not to rejoice in death. I would think, especially not to rejoice that someone was sent to an eternal hell.  I celebrate our troops who serve selflessly to preserve our freedom and safety.  I even celebrate that fact that Bin Laden’s death will probably save many other lives.  I can even feel a sense of satisfaction that justice has been served. I just question the celebration.

Psalm 37:28 says, “The Lord loves Justice.” I know you’re thinking, “This terrorist finally got what he deserved.” and it’s true.  However, I don’t want God to give me what I deserve because we all deserve hell. (Romans 3:10-23)

The Apostle Paul was a murderer, so was King David. When they repented God forgave them.  I have had the privilege of ministering to murders before and the main message I bring is always grace and forgiveness for all we’ve done.

The question that bring this situation into focus is this…Would we have celebrated as much if Bin Laden had repented and accepted Christ?

Now again, I’m not pointing fingers and trying to tell you what to feel or that your feelings are wrong.  I’m just asking myself…”Should I celebrate the death of anyone, no matter what good comes from it?”

It’s just a simple question.

Jesus’ Prayer Model

In response to the inquiries of His disciples Jesus teaches them how to pray.  He offers up a prayer model when He says to them, “Pray like this…”

Matthew 6:9-13 (nlt)

Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us today the food we need for today, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.

For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

This isn’t meant to be a prayer to be memorized and mindlessly repeated.  In fact, right before these verses Jesus tells us not to repeat the same prayer over and over like the heathen, who think they will be heard because of their much talking.  It’s a model.

The prayer is broken down into a sequential order that will help Christ’s followers pray more effectively.  6 requests to God the Father are featured.

First 3 requests are about God:

1. May your name be holy,
2. May your kingdom come,
3. May your will be done

This structure addresses all parts of the Trinity; Father, Son & Holy Spirit.  God the Father, whose name is holy; Jesus, who brought God’s Kingdom to earth; and The Holy Spirit, who leads us into God’s will today.

Next 3 requests are about Us:

1. Give us our daily food,
2. Forgive our sins,
3. Keep us from temptation, which rescues us from the evil one.

Again the Trinity is addressed in these petitions for God’s help. The Father supplies our needs, Jesus paid the price for our sins to be forgiven, and the Holy Spirit leads us away from temptation and into righteousness.  The point?When we pray we should involve all three parts of God.

Another huge lesson here is to begin with God and then move to our needs. The first three requests are great.  They are about God: His holiness, His Kingdom, and His will…huge, monumental topics.  The second set of requests is small, ordinary, and everyday.  They’re about us, normal, everyday people.  We NEED food, we NEED forgiveness (and to give forgiveness) and we NEED God’s help with temptation and the devil everyday.  “Lord help me not to fall into that old sin habit again today.“

There is such a huge truth hidden in these four little verses.  We must first rehearse the immensity of God’s nature but then remember He cares for my little needs because of who He is.  Pray that His name would be hallowed or revered in my life, that His Kingdom would dominate me, and that His will would be performed.  If that happens, the three requests for my needs are easy.

Another truth revealed in the passage, is that we should begin praying about the eternal, the Kingdom stuff, and then turn our attention to our needs. Oh, let’s not be falsely religious, we’re not beggars, we’re His children, we need to pray for our needs. Jesus used the word Father so we wouldn’t be afraid to go to Him who loves us.  My point is, let’s put God’s Kingdom first in our prayers, then our needs.  Let’s focus on the eternal more, the temporary less.

In heaven with a holy name gives us the balanced view. Yes, He’s your daddy but please don’t forget He is also the Almighty One.  The angels around the throne of God in heaven don’t cry love, love, love. They cry “holy, holy, holy!”  That is His dominant characteristic.  It is our job to make sure we reverence His name.  His name, refers to who He is, His character, His personhood. Before anything else we pray, we need to declare His holiness in us and in the world.  The beginning of the book Ephesians echos this process.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…v3

God decided in advance to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. This is what He wanted to do, and it gave Him great pleasure. v5

All the praise should go to The Father because He cared enough for us to save us.  After we’ve hallowed His name (separated it as unique, lifted it above all others), prayed for His Kingdom and His will to come, then we can run to Him with our problems!

At some point, your whole life shrinks down to your problem.  Financial pressure, “God I need bread!”…”Lord I messed up my life with sin!”…”Or God I’m overwhelmed with this struggle.”  We try to focus on God but the sickness, death, relationship problem, abuse, sin or other worry pulls our attention back to what’s right in front of us.  It’s not wrong to cast your cares to God, He tells us to but there is an additional prayer strategy here.

Draw your attention first, to the first three requests of the Lord’s Model Prayer.  Lift your prayer up to heaven, to the glory of God, to the greatness of who He is.  When we forget to start there, that’s when we lose our ability to stand in the face of our issue.

There is more strength, more forgiveness, and more provision in praying for God’s name would be made holy, that His Kingdom would come and that His will would be accomplished than any request for a specific situation we could pray.  We need to do both, but let’s keep the order correct for the power to be released.

Before closing, I would like to change focus for a moment. It sticks out like a single tree in a vast, open field. Forgiveness is the only request that is listed conditionally.  If we don’t forgive sins against us our sins won’t be forgiven.  Later Jesus would explain that His shed blood purchases forgiveness for all.  If we say we don’t want this person forgiven we say don’t apply the blood!  If the blood isn’t applied to one, it’s not applied to any.  Remember as you pray for forgiveness that you choose to forgive those that have hurt you.  If we don’t, then we are putting ourselves on God’s throne and saying we want to be the their judge and that He never tolerates.

It is my prayer that this blog helped you to organize your prayer time and pray more effectively by following the pattern Jesus gave us.  God Bless

Stress Reducing Tips

As I think about stress it occurs to me that most of my stress is caused by not responding properly to unpleasant situations.  I eat.  Some people need a drink or cigarette to calm down.  These coping strategies may temporarily make us feel better, but they cause more damage in the long run and therefore ADD to our stress longterm:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol (needing one glass to relax is still dependency)
  • Overeating or under eating
  • Zoning out for hours in front of the TV or computer (a screen’s a screen)
  • Withdrawing from church, friends, family, and activities
  • Using pills or drugs to relax
  • Sleeping too much
  • Procrastinating
  • Filling up every minute of the day with busyness to avoid facing problems
  • Taking out your stress on others (lashing out, angry outbursts, violence)

So what are proper responses?  Well teacher says you can get an A+ for these healthy steps to reduce stress:

Absolve – Forgive. It’s that simple. Let go of the hurts of the past and move on.

If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. – Matthew 6:14-15

Unforgiveness is like strapping the person to you back and carrying them with you forever, letting them hurt you again and again. Forgive someone is for YOU.  It puts you back in right standing with God.

Not forgiving yourself for a failure or sin is just as destructive.  God forgives you, don’t call unclean what god calls clean, you.

Adapt– Most stress can be reduced responding properly. Adapt your strategies in a hostile environment.

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. – Proverbs 15:1

When one of my kids says, “I hit them because they made me mad.”  I respond that no one can make you mad…you choose to respond in anger.

Manage your time better. Poor time management can cause a lot of stress. When you’re stretched too thin and running behind, it’s hard to stay calm and focused. But if you plan ahead and make sure you don’t overextend yourself, you can alter the amount of stress you’re under.

Adjust–  Make reasonable goals. Perfectionism is a major source of stress. Stop setting yourself up for failure by demanding perfection. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others, by learning to accept “good enough.” I’m not talking about not doing your best and making excuses, I’m talking about not obsessing over every detail.

The hopes of the godly result in happiness, but the expectations of the wicked come to nothing. – Proverbs 10:28

Admire–  Choose to be an optimist.  That glass is half full! When feeling stressed, reflect on all the things you’re thankful for.

Enter His gates with thanksgiving; go into His courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise His name. Psalm 100:4

Avoid– I’m not talking about procrastination. Putting off unavoidable stress such as studying or confronting a difficult person actually increases your stress level. I mean avoid unhealthy situations or relationships.  Example: “Every time I hang with my old friends I drink again.”  Then don’t hang out with them!

Avoid people who stress you out – If someone consistently causes stress in your life and you can’t turn the relationship around, limit the amount of time you spend with that person or end the relationship entirely.

I hope these simple five simple “A’s” help you have less stress in the New Year.

Keep It Simple

God’s plan for us is to give us an abundant, full life but He never said a full calendar. So many people bound by perfectionism and unreasonable expectations, it makes it hard to enjoy life!

The original law consisted of 10 commandments, but by they wrote more until there were 613! There seems to be something in our human nature that just likes to make things more complicated.

Jesus made it more simple:  “Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Then He said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”, and on these two commandments, everything is based.

People take 10 commandments and come up with 613, Jesus says “Well if you do things the rest is taken care of.” (paraphrasing)

Now this is a very difficult concept for me to grasp. I analyze everything – people, life, situations, you name it and I analyze it. I was a statistician for nearly a decade so I’m always looking for the “hidden meaning” in things.  I love “Mensa moments” and discussing “deep” things…but over-thinking LIFE gives us undo stress. God doesn’t want us to have feelings of inadequacy, stress or anxiety. He wants us FREE of all burdens. Don’t spend time on the “What ifs” and the “I wish I never…”

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:30

Can we reduce stress? Yes, we have to simplify, but God will remove unneccessary burdens.

  • STOP – In all the busyness of your day don’t forget to stop, breath for a moment and pray.
  • LESS is MORE – Learn to say no is hard but simpler means les stress.
  • UBEU – You be you, be yourself.  Life is too short to try to please everyone.
  • INCLUDE GOD – When we pray, we are acknowledging that we need Him.
  • FORGIVE – When we hold onto hurts we carry that person with us and let them continue to hurt us.  When we don’t forgive ourselves we trap ourselves in the past.  Let it go!

We must become simple to become great in God.

Looking for more on this topic?  Go to http://www.NoPerfectPeopleHERE.com and listen to Simple Christmas or Simple Life series.

Lessons on Forgiveness

What did we learn from the recent FORGIVEN series? I like to ask questions like that to assess the effectiveness of what we are doing as a church.  If we are having “God ideas” and teaching God’s word then lives should be changing.  Evaluation is healthy and necessary to avoid the deception that dead religious organizations fall into.

Before we answer that questions let me say that I am personally so very thankful for Charlie & Judy Pucillo, Ted & Gayle Haggard, and Bill Morgan for sharing their triumphant stories of forgiving and being forgiven.  Without them and their courage the series would never have had the impact upon the lives of so many.

What did we learn? Well, we learned that God could forgive our most heinous sins, that even an adulterer can be forgiven.  We learned that liars, homosexuals, prostitutes, drug addicts, criminals, hypocrites, and yes, even fallen preachers could be forgiven.  We heard from people who wore those labels like badges of honor.

Then came the hard part for most of us. We learned that we can and must forgive all sins against ourselves to be forgiven.  We learned that with God’s help we can forgive an unfaithful spouse, a trusted loved-one who lied to us, a friend who betrayed us, a pastor who let our trust down, a parent who abandoned us and more!  We heard that we can forgive a person who molested us when we were young. We can forgive rapists even when they have no remorse! Unbelievable, unthinkable, yet true and possible.

We learned that we can forgive God when He didn’t protect us the way we thought He would.  We can forgive God when He let’s a parent go to heaven when they are way too young instead of healing them.

We learned that all things are possible with God, even unforgivable things being FORGIVEN.

Ted & Gayle Haggard

Someone asked me recently, “Why would you have Ted Haggard in your church?”  My response was “Because we preach that God can forgive anyone for their sin.”

For the two or three people out there who may not know who Ted is.  He was the most powerful Evangelical Leader in the United States three years ago.  The head of the National Association of Evangelicals with 30 million members, an advisor to the President of the United States and the Sr. Pastor of a church of 14,000 members in Colorado Springs.  Then came the scandal that rocked the church world.  He was caught with male prostitutes. All the major news sources covered the scandal. Some like CNN and Larry King featured the story for months. HBO did a one-hour special on the Haggards. They have even been on Oprah twice.

My initial response to the story was one of disgust.  I personally judged him very harshly and was privately critical. (Thank God I don’t believe in criticizing people publically or using the pulpit to bash people.)  I know many of my pastor friends felt the same way, “Hypocrites like Haggard give us all a bad name.”  So what changed my mind?

I saw an interview with Ted and Gayle at Steve Furtick’s Elevation Church.  I respect Steve and was curious as to why he had Ted in.  Their story broke my heart.  I actually cried watching it.  We always hear testimonies of people who were sinners then saved from their sin.  “I was an addict, then Jesus set me free.”  “I was hopeless and suicidal, then I became a Christian.”  We never hear stories of fallen Christians being restored.

I decided to have them tell their story, a story of forgiveness.  A story that is important for all of us to hear. First for those that think “It could never happen to me.” and more importantly for all the Christians out there struggling with a secret sin but who are too afraid of rejection to ask for help.  There’s hope for you.  We will help you get free and guard your dignity.

I can’t close this blog without mentioning the heroine of this story, Gayle.  She had biblical grounds for divorce, no one would have blamed her for leaving but as she told Oprah, “I prayed and felt God told me to stay.”  She shared that with God’s help she thought she could forgive Ted and with much counseling work to restore their marriage.  Wow.  She truly forgave “all sins against her” as scripture teaches.

Learn that we can all be FORGIVEN this Sunday at 10am. Then at the Women’s Meeting at 6pm, hear how you can forgive those who have hurt you.  God Bless.

Note: I did check with Tommy Barnett’s church and a church in Texas that have been in charge of Ted’s counseling, inner healing and restoration.  They fell he has done everything asked of him over the last three years.  Ted isn’t restored to ministry as of the writing this blog.  I will be interviewing them not having Ted preach.