Sunday, September 16, 2012

Slave Trade, Pt. 3

     Although we are capable of mastering sin, we are not called to dominate people.  Dominating others is truly uncalled for.  The spiritual dominion we were created to function in (Genesis 1:26-28) has to do with putting our own flesh, sin and the devil in their place, as well as utilizing earthly resources to further the kingdom of God.  Never in the Scriptures are we told to dominate our fellow man.  This is where ungodly control comes into the picture.  People who attempt to control others unjustly are often those who have failed to overcome sin in their own lives and who use other people as scapegoats for their own internal frustration with sin.
     When people exert effort to dominate others, they step outside of the God-ordained guidelines for healthy relationships and they open up the door for the devil to bring people into bondage through the means of racial injustice, gender abuse, religious control, soul ties and the like.  Not unlike our responsibility to gain control over sin in our lives, we are also given the task of managing our relationships so they produce their intended results.  This involves making sure we don't come under the influence of ungodly control and that we exercise godly control in the lives of others.  And the Holy Spirit is more than willing and able to help us with these things.  
          I Corinthians 7:23  "You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men."
          Galatians 3:1  "O foolish Galatians!  Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?"
          I Peter 5:2,3  "Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; not as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock."
     What makes things difficult in this endeavor to manage relationships appropriately is the fact that they are very much dynamic.  Not only do individual people change, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse, but the nature of relationships changes too.  What begins as a healthy relationship can sometimes evolve into a one-sided oppressive relationship, and this can happen so slowly that the ungodly control is difficult to detect at first.  And with the grace of God at work to restore human hearts, unhealthy relationships can be transformed back into fully functioning ones.
     We don't need to go about our lives being paranoid about the motives and ambitions of other people, but we do need to be aware of what is happening in the hearts of those around us.  This discernment is made possible by being attentive to His voice in the midst of everyday life.  If we have a steady diet of His Word, our minds will be trained to recognize truth and error in the context of real life situations.  
     Because of the dynamic nature of relationships, very few go the distance in our lives.  Most relationships are temporary so we need to make the most of them.  Knowing who has your best interest in mind is critical to your emotional well-being and pivotal to prioritizing relationships in your life.  Life requires a constant adjustment of who you allow into your life, the depth those relationships take in your heart and who you keep at arm's length.  Always be open for new people to come into your life and always be ready to exit relationships if need be.  And be sure to adjust your existing relationships to appropriate levels of involvement so you and the people you know can both be better off.  Without periodic evaluation of your relational health, ungodly control can easily set in without you recognizing it.
     There are a number of ways that we can protect ourselves from ungodly control, but the number one way is by maintaining a close relationship with the Lord and by allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us in the development of our relationships. (John 16:13, I John 2:27)  God gives accurate discernment to those whose hearts are pure.  As long as you maintain a strong spirit and focus your attention on what really matters, you will be positioned to receive the wisdom you need to respond to people who may be trying to control you in an unhealthy manner.
     The proper response to controlling people in your life will vary based on the type of relationship and the depth that relationship has in your life.  But rarely is walking away cold turkey the right thing to do.  The tendency to shy away from this type of conflict because of fear will either keep you restricted in existing relational bondage or will cause you to develop a cyclical pattern of dysfunctional relationships where you find yourself on the short end of the stick.  The refusal to recognize ungodly control in your relationships and the outright withdrawal from it without properly dealing with its conflict are equally as harmful.
     The first thing you need to do if you suspect ungodly control is at work is to pray.  Take the initiative to strengthen your spirit and ask God for accurate discernment.  If you have been wronged in the process ask the Lord to help you forgive that person.  Then you need to begin praying for that person.  If you feel God has confirmed to you that there is indeed witchcraft involved, you would do well to confer with those in your life who are more spiritually mature than yourself.  They may be able to give you some wisdom in regards to dealing with this situation as well as keep you in their prayers. 
     Before approaching the person you feel is unjustly controlling you, you really need to seek the Lord for wisdom and follow His leading.  You also need to make sure your heart is at peace and your motive is love.  Proceed with honest conversation that is fueled by the sincere desire for healing in their heart and restoration in your relationship.  Exercise your faith in God's ability to turn things around.  Although it sounds like a contradiction in terms, you need to believe God for the best but prepare for the worst. 
     Prayer can absolutely change situations but let me assure you, controlling people don't like being told that they are controlling, even if you communicate your concern in a very gentle way, which you should.  Be prepared for a negative reaction, at least at first.  Nobody likes to be challenged and people usually resist the intial thought that they are wrong.  That is human nature.  But give God time to work in their heart.  He can turn things around, so don't give up just because your initial thoughts are not received as well as you would like them to be.
     Keep in mind, not all situations require you to verbally express your disapproval of how your relationship has been conducted.  Sometimes you might just need to step back a little or make a slight adjustment in your dealings with people so you can maintain your personal freedom and still keep the relationship moving.  This is especially true with family relationships that you can't simply walk away from.  However, you may need to pull back altogether for a season while you regain your mental and emotional composure.  Taking time for personal healing can posture you to re-enter relationships from a position of strength, knowing what to avoid and how to proceed.
      Make a commitment now to move forward in life by managing your relationships with the wisdom of God.  God intends for us to be social creatures that find fulfillment in life through our relationship with Him and with others.  So make it your aim to maximize the relationships in your life right now and those God will present to you in the future.  And don't allow ungodly control to hinder you in this process.
     Value your freedom enough to contend for it at all costs.  Life is too short to remain in a ditch of dysfunctional relationships that suck the life out of you.  Opportunities to make a difference in the lives of others are available all around you.  Seize the moment by not allowing ungodly control to limit who you are and your effectiveness in your ministry to others.  Join the ranks of President Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the like by standing up for your freedom and that of others.  Allow the love of God to overcome the fear of man inside of you.  You will never be the same.
     For those who feel there is no way out, look up.  Without God's help, you may be driving down a one way street with a dead end in sight.  But with God all things are possible!  Start by connecting with Him and trusting in the ministry of the Holy Spirit inside of you.  He knows exactly where you're at in relation to sin and ungodly control.  And He knows how to navigate you through the storms of life to a bright tomorrow.  Allow the wind of the Spirit to thrust you forward, out of the house of bondage and into the freedom He has destined for you.
     You are called to master sin, so don't allow it to reign in your life.  Focus on obeying His voice, trusting in His grace to live in victory.  Jesus is your Lord, so don't allow anyone else to control your soul or actions contrary to His will.  Recognize His lordship in your life that comes in the form of godly leadership and influence.  Receive ministry from others that stems from the love of God.  Give to others what you receive from your Lord.  Progressively walk in His freedom and live a life in love with Him.  Nothing else satisfies.  Nothing else matters.

praying for your freedom and fulfillment in life,

Bo Salisbury   

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Slave Trade, Pt. 2

(please read Part I before proceeding to read this article)

     Relationships within the framework of government, business, family and church life are all susceptible to the influence of ungodly control.  With the threat of adverse consequences laws can curb unwanted behavior, but they can't rid the human heart of sin, which is a spiritual disease.  Only the blood of Jesus offers humanity forgiveness and deliverance from the bondage of sin.  Slavery and discrimination can be outlawed, but this only masks the true issue in the heart of mankind.  Without the love of God at the center of human affairs, slavery and racism continue in the hearts of men and manifest in relationships all around us.  It's time for the voice of truth and the love of God to break down these walls, beginning in the church.
     You might be surprised to know that in the early church, slavery wasn't even brought into question.  It was woven into the fabric of everyday life, which was guided by the prevailing culture of their time.  In fact, Scripture makes mention of it numerous times without condemning it in the slightest bit.  The New Testament does however give some guidelines for treating slaves fairly, but it doesn't dismiss the notion of slavery altogether (Ephesians 6:5-9, Colossians 3:22-4:1)
     This doesn't mean that God endorses slavery.  It simply means that the early church had yet to walk into the full revelation of the freedom that Christ has provided for us through the gospel of grace.  Even though the apostle Paul wrote the following verse, I don't think that he fully understood the implications of what he was inspired to pen.
     Galatians 3:28  "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
     The early church also functioned in a culture that didn't value women with the respect they deserve.  But the New Testament records how God began to illuminate them with His thoughts regarding gender.  And the fact that women played a vital role in the church proves that God's revelation was heeded.  (We have also seen this same paradigm shift in our nation in the last century.)
     The first century church also struggled with racial prejudice.  By and large, the Jewish people were esteemed far higher than any other nationality or race.  God had to show Peter a vision 3 times to get his attention regarding his own personal bigotry in this regard.  Upon responding to the voice of the Spirit, he preached to the Gentiles in Cornelius' house and God began yet another transition in the thought processes of the church regarding the freedom that is ours through the grace of Christ.
     Although the Bible is silent on the abolition of slavery, it speaks loud and clear about the spiritual slave trade.  
     Romans 6:17,18  "But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.  And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness."
     I Corinthians 6:19,20  "Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?  For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's."
     Jesus stood on the auction block of broken humanity and paid the ultimate price for our forgiveness and freedom:  his own blood.  Scripture makes it clear that before we were born again, we were "slaves to sin."  Sin often dictated our decisions without us even knowing what was happening.  Upon believing in the finished work of Christ on the cross and receiving forgiveness of sins, we recognized Jesus as our new Lord (Master) and we became "slaves of righteousness."
     The paradox lies in the fact that although Jesus is now our Lord, we still have the liberty to honor Him through our obedience or to dishonor Him by catering to our own selfish desires.  A thorough reading of Romans 6 informs us that although we are free from sin, we're still responsible to make sure sin doesn't have its way in our lives.
     When we were slaves to sin, we had no choice in the matter.  We sinned because we were sinners driven by the power of sin.  Now that Jesus is our Master, we can exercise the power of choice to resist temptation or to allow sin to bring us under its power.  Not only has our gracious Lord given us this freedom, but He has also given us the power we need to make good choices and to rebound when we don't.  He hasn't set us up for failure.  On the contrary, He promised that "He would never leave us or forsake us," even when we do fail.  Jesus is our Lord and we are free from sin, but we still need to submit to His lordship by following the leading of the Spirit in our everyday lives.  
     It's important for us to realize that we are not exempt from sin just because we are born again.  The fact that our sins have been forgiven doesn't mean that we are out of the reach of sin's influence.  Disobedience to our new Master (Jesus our Righteousness) gives our old master (sin) power to control us contrary to God's will.  It's our responsibility to disallow the influence of sin in our lives by allowing the Spirit of God to take the lead in our decisions.
     Romans 6:12-14  "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.  And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.  For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under the law but under grace."  
     I Corinthians 6:12  "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful.  All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any."
     Galatians 5:1  "Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage."
     Now would be a great time to point out that grace doesn't make sin permissible.  Grace actually empowers us to overcome the temptation to allow sin to reign in our lives.  That is, if we continually access God's grace by faith, the ministry of the Holy Spirit will supply us with the strength to walk in ever-increasing dominion over sin in our lives.  Presenting ourselves (our spirit man) and our members (all other faculties) to God through personal devotion and daily communion gives Him the opportunity to infuse His life into us.  This divine life than changes our focus from the temporary pleasure of sin to what really matters.  And when our focus is shifted away from ourselves and our failures towards Jesus and His perfect provision, we can live in the freedom that is available to us.
     The beautiful irony is that we are called to be slaves of righteousness and masters of sin simultaneously!  Yet many professing Christians willingly submit to the slavery of sin while clinging to the mastery of their own lives.  If these same believers would choose to surrender to His lordship, their faith would be energized by God's ability to show them what true fulfillment and freedom are really about.  And the more people see the hand of God shape their lives according to heaven's culture, the more they will trust His leading. 
     One thing is certain:  we will reign in this life to the degree that we trust in His righteousness.  This is possible because of the grace He supplies to us through our faith in Him.  Read it for yourselves in the following two verses:
     Romans 5:2,17  "through Whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand...those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ."
     Notice that grace and righteousness are gifts  to be received by faith, not earned by our good works.  Jesus paid it all on Calvary and our faith in His work causes everything we need to be released into our lives.  

(be sure to catch the finale to this series and please share with others!)                   

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Slave Trade, Pt. I

     As alarming as it may sound, many of our ancestors were directly involved in the slave trade, either as slave owners or as slaves themselves.  In their defense, they were simply immersed in a culture that allowed and encouraged the ownership of human beings for one's personal benefit.  You may be appalled, and probably should be, at the very thought of this.  This is primarily due to the cultural conviction against slavery that prevails in our nation today.
   It's easy for us to take for granted the personal liberties that have been afforded to us by those who were willing to challenge the status quo in their generation.  Thank God for President Abraham Lincoln, who spearheaded the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, which paved the way for the eventual liberation of all slaves and the abolition of the slave trade altogether.  And thank God for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who dealt a deadly blow to the spirit of racism in our country in the 1950's and 1960's through his heartfelt speeches, which pleaded the cause of those who were treated as second class citizens.  These men and numerous others have helped level the playing field in our nation in regards to personal dignity in the workplace and in everyday life.
     Although laws have been set in place to prohibit slavery and racial discrimination in our country, there still remains an underlying current of racial bigotry and ungodly control that affects every part of our society, including our churches.  Ungodly control can be defined as influence that is exerted to achieve certain goals without concern for the people utilized to achieve those goals.  Or in other words, the attempt of one person to carry out his or her will through the lives of others without regard for their thoughts, emotions or desires.  It's the epitome of selfishness.
     Laws make it illegal to physically own another person or to discriminate based on the color of one's skin and/or gender, but mechanisms such as emotional manipulation and mental intimidation make it possible for one person to control another.  A stronger word used to describe this process is witchcraft.  Now before you caricaturize witchcraft with an old wart-faced lady with a black kettle, a pointy hat and a broom, take a moment to understand what witchcraft actually is.  It might hit a little closer to home than you think.
     The craft of a witch is to curse or "cast a spell" on someone so that the desire of the witch becomes the reality of the one being cursed.  Under certain circumstances, witchcraft can cause people to believe, to do and to experience things that they would not otherwise embrace without ungodly influence.  This struggle to control others, also known as "mind control," usually stems from insecurity in the heart of the controller.  Without a sense of inner peace, controllers gain a false sense of security by attempting to manipulate people and circumstances outside of their responsibility or jurisdiction.  This is done through the power of words that are sometimes fueled by demonic intention.
     Those operating in witchcraft fear being taken advantage of, and because of this they try to get the upper hand in relationships by exerting dominant influence.  They also tend to struggle with low self-esteem and are ambitiously driven to control others in order to feel better about themselves.  They are committed to achieving their goals regardless of  whose back they feel like they have to walk on.  Jealousy is also a common trait as it causes them to strive to monopolize what doesn't belong to them.  (And for the record, witchcraft knows no gender.  It is an equal opportunity offender.) 
     Mind control is an accurate description of this process because those who are unjustly controlled allow their minds to be altered without processing things for themselves.  Although not verbally explicit, permission is given to the controller to transfer his or her thoughts, emotions and desires to those under their influence.  This can be achieved through personal communication and/or demonically suggested data.  While the aggresor may initiate this transaction, the one being controlled allows this behavior by not "taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ."  (II Corinthians 10:5)  Therefore, both the controller and the controllee are equally guilty.
     This is a hard pill to swallow because those who are abused are generally classified as the victims in these  "one-sided" relationships.  But the same fear and jealousy that motivates controllers also prepares these "victims" to be manipulated.  Controllers often act as drug dealers, finding something in their possession that others desperately want.  Once they locate something that serves as successful bait, they then use that bait to get others hooked.  But there's always a price to pay for this game of give and take.
     Once a dependency is created for what the controller has to offer, fear begins to grip the heart of the controllee through ongoing conversations and interaction.  Fear develops as one comes to believe that they can't do without the "drug" supplied to them by the controller.  So they determine not to upset the apple cart in any way so as to jeopardize their access to what they desperately want.
     An out-of-control desire for something may draw people into controlling relationships, but fear keeps them trapped within.  Fear causes people to second guess themselves before questioning the controller.  This keeps people from accurate discernment because they refuse to entertain the possibility of dysfunction within their relationship.  And without an ability to perceive reality, it's very difficult to regain one's personal freedom in these situations.
     To bring some balance to this issue, those who try to persuade others in regard to their beliefs and/or practices aren't necessarily operating in witchcraft.  But those whose hearts are insincere and whose motives are conniving can easily slip over into a realm of manipulation and intimidation that invites the influence of the demonic.  It's simply unfair to categorize someone as being controlling just because they may go overboard in trying to get their way.  On the other hand, just because you don't see a pointy hat on someone doesn't necessarily mean that witchcraft is not at work.
     Truthfully, unlike the caricature we typically embrace of the witch concocting a potion in a large black kettle, most witchcraft takes place in the context of everyday relationships.  That's why accurate discernment is so crucial in recognizing the influence that knocks on your door.  Receiving God's wisdom is likewise invaluable to respond accordingly to what comes your way.  Discernment and wisdom are the "1-2 punch" we need to avoid spiralling downward into unhealthy relationships and to recover out of them as well.
     Please understand that there is a vast difference between true leaders who exercise godly control for the benefit of those they serve and those who consistently treat people like commodities, only using them as pawns to achieve their personal agendas.  (And by the way, this is true whether people are in visible leadership roles or not.)  There is also a wide spectrum of those who are somewhere between these two extremes.  Someone may for the most part be a godly leader and yet fall prey to the temptation to take matters into their own hands from time to time by controlling people within their reach.  And yet others may be predominantly controlling and yet have good moments of sincerity bleeding through their selfish endeavors. 
     Not everything or everyone is black or white, no pun intended really.  If the truth were known, we've all been guilty of trying to manipulate others for selfish reasons at one time or another and have been victims of ungodly control too.  But it's an entirely different thing to engage in relationships that consistently smell of ungodly control.  That is very unhealthy!  Wisdom lies in how we respond to situations like these as we become aware of them now and in the future.

Be sure to read Slave Trade, Pt. 2 next week!

(all comments, questions and testimonies are welcome!!)