Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Are you building godly strongholds?

"For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

Every thought that one receives, owns, relies on, defends and acts upon is a stronghold. The Greek word that we translate as stronghold (ochuroma) describes a castle, fortress, fastness; anything which one relies on; arguments and reasonings by which a disputant endeavours to fortify his opinion and defend it against his opponent.

Negative and positive strongholds

A stronghold is either negative or positive, a lie or truth. Whatever thought a person chooses to accept or receive, own or possess, rely or depend on, protect or defend and act upon is a stronghold in that person's life whether it is a lie or the truth.

Source of strongholds

Our thinking is formed by various sources of information. These include,
  • Information from others (parents, friends, colleagues, media, literature, teachers, psychologists, etc.)
  • Information derived from experience.
  • Information derived from circumstances.
  • Information from God.
  • Information from Satan.

Whatever information we trust as the truth, we will accept, receive, own, rely on, defend and act on.

Deceptive assumptions

For example if a friend walks in the room and is unresponsive to you, you begin to think all sorts of things and have to choose what you think is true. If you choose to believe that the friend is upset with you, you accept that as the truth, you receive it, own it, depend on it and eventually defend it. Consequently this belief or assumption is the truth for you until disproved. However, every subsequent information or observed behaviour will be used to justify the belief and thus strengthen the stronghold. If the stronghold is further strengthened by faulty assumptions, you can become so convinced that you are right that even when the friend genuinely tries to convince you that he is not upset with you but had a headache, you still won't believe him. You have built a stronghold that you are now even defending! The initial information you received has been turned into a negative stronghold that is based on a lie - a false perception and subsequent false assumption strengthened to become a stronghold.

A battle of the mind

A battle is going on for our minds. Satan wants us to build ungodly strongholds whereas God wants us to build godly strongholds. Much of our thinking needs to be changed so that we live godly lives. That is why the apostle Paul urges believers to have their minds renewed in order to be Christ-like (Rom. 12:2).

Ungodly strongholds

Strongholds that are built on lies are ungodly fortresses that need to be torn down and replaced with the truth of God. Ungodly strongholds are exposed when we accept and receive the word of God as the truth. The writer to the Hebrews describes the word of God as "living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (Heb. 4:12,13). In other words, the word of God exposes whether our thinking is in accordance with the truth or not.

Exposing lies

Ungodly thinking must be replaced by godly thinking before it becomes a stronghold that governs one's life. Paul says we must "take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ." The believer must keep his thinking in check and always identify negative thinking in the light of God's word. Failure to do so allows ungodly thinking to poison one's mind and establish itself as a fortress is one's life! That is why Peter says, "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith" (1  Peter 5:8,9). The lies of the enemy are presented to us as truth. Words that have been said to us by our parents, teachers, psychologists and the like are not always the truth! We must recognise that not all information presented to us is the truth! If we accept every bit of information offered to us, we are certain to build strongholds based on lies as well as on the truth. The only way to identify what is true and false is to trust the word of God as absolute truth, accept it, receive it, own it, depend on it and defend it. Only then can one expose ungodly information that is contrary to God's word.

Truth or counterfeit?

A friend of mine works for a bank and has the job of identifiying counterfeit money and training people to differentiate between true and false bank notes. He explained that in order to identify the counterfeit notes, one must study the authentic notes and know everything possible about them. Only then can one expose the counterfeit notes. Similarly the believer can only expose the lies of the enemy that are presented as truth by knowing the real truth - the word of God.

Building godly strongholds

In order to build godly strongholds so as to be Christ-like, I believe the following principles are necessary for every believer:

A desire to be Christ-like.

Unless you believe that God's will for your life is to be like Jesus, you won't work on changing the way you think. The word of God is clear that it is indeed God's will for every believer to live as Jesus did on earth and that every believer has been joined to Christ to be like Him and to do the work He did whilst on earth (see Rom. 8:29; John 14:9-12; 1 John 2:6; 1 Cor. 11:1). Christ-likeness is commanded for "it is written: 'be holy, because I am holy.'" (1 Peter 1:16).

A recognition that there is the possibility of having ungodly strongholds in one's life!

It is a humbling thing to admit that not everything one has built one's life on is necessarily the truth! Opening oneself to God's correction is choosing to submit to Him and His word. God's thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8) and so God doesn't seek to improve the way we think but replace our thinking with His thoughts. We are transformed by the renewing of our thinking and not the improvement of our thinking!

A trust in God's word as absolute truth.

Unless you trust God's word as absolute truth you will struggle to submit to it and allow it to renew your thinking. God's word is not one among equals. It is absolute truth. It is an offense to the post-modern worldview that accepts everything as truth. You will be labelled as narrow-minded and as a fundamentalist. Belief in, and submission to God's word sets you apart from the world as you become the revelation of truth in the flesh (see John 17:17,18). The believer can only be holy as he or she lives God's Holy Word in the power of the Holy Spirit.

A renewing of the mind

A renewing of the mind will only come about as the believer accepts God's word as the truth, receives it, owns it, depends on it and defends it. The believer that truly allows God to renew his mind and build godly strongholds in his life will act accordingly. Living according to the truth is what sets us free from ungodly thinking and behaviour. Just hearing God's word will not renew our thinking. The believer must accept it, receive it, own it, rely on it, defend it and act on it before it becomes a transforming belief. Jesus says, "If you hold to my teaching...you will know the truth and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31,32). Belief without action is simply opinion or as James puts it, "Faith without deeds is dead" (James 2:26).

How to build godly strongholds

Once the believer accepts the above principles s/he will be ready to receive the truth in order to break down ungodly strongholds and replace them with godly strongholds. I believe every disciple of Christ should be a student of the Word of God on a daily basis - not just to aquire knowledge about the Bible but to encounter God's transforming presence and power as s/he allows God to renew his/her thinking. God desires to reveal Himself to His children to renew them from glory to glory (see 2 Cor. 3:18; 4:16)! Christ is formed in us as we build godly strongholds. Here are some steps that have helped me live in Christ-likeness:

  • Ask God to give you spiritual revelation, understanding, knowledge and wisdom before reading His word. The Holy Spirit reveals the deep things of God and will use God's word to expose and demolish ungodly strongholds (See 1 Cor. 2; John 16:14).
  • Honour the word of God as absolute truth and read it with humility, allowing God to correct your thinking and build godly thinking (See 1 Thess. 2:13). Your attitude toward the word of God will determine how you receive it (see Matthew 13:1-23)!
  • Read the word of God slowly and with understanding. The word of God is "living and active" and works in those who believe (Heb. 4:12; 1 Thess. 2:13). Read to gain understanding but also to receive revelation of God. Expect God to speak to you through His word.
  • Pay attention to anything the Holy Spirit highlights as you read. As you read the Bible the Holy Spirit may show you something new or exciting or simply profound. When you notice something in particluar, write it down and meditate on it. God wants to impress His word on you. Let it dwell in you as you think about it, pray it and keep it in your heart.
  • Take thoughts captive. When you read God's word and you realise that you think differently about God or yourself etc, confess the ungodly thought and replace it with God's truth. Reject the lie and receive the truth! For example, you may think that God doesn't love you because you believe the information your negative circumstances are shouting at you. When you read Romans 8:35-39 that tells you that "nothing can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" you must choose to replace the ungodly thoughts with the truth. Having received the truth and replaced the lie, you must own the truth and make it yours. Then you can rely on that truth and defend it whenever the enemy tries to convince you otherwise!
  • Meditate on and memorise the word of God! Reflecting on God's word is important for it to become part of you. Memorising scripture is helpful if you have spiritual understanding of the verse or verses. Simply having the scripture in your brain without understanding it is not much use. The word must move from your thinking to your heart, from your soul into your spirit.
  • Act on the Truth! If you really trust God's word to be the truth you will be convinced that it is the truth. Consequently you will act on what you believe and are convinced about.When we don't act on God's word we don't really believe it is the truth. Obedience and submission to God's word are the evidence of genuine faith.

I encourage you to saturate yourself with the truth and to build godly strongholds as you accept, receive, own, rely on, defend and act on God's word. Then you will be a living epistle, set apart by the truth and living in Christ-likeness and freedom.


Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Reconciled to Culture or Christ?

"All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sin against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: be reconciled to God." 2 Cor. 5:18-20

Jesus modelled the ministry of reconciliation

Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). He entered the world in the form of a human to reach those who were separated from God in order to reconcile them to God.

Jesus not only came to provide a way for man to be reconciled to God but also modelled God's method of reaching the lost that I believe the Church in general has moved away from. Just as Jesus came to seek and save the Lost, the Church is called to go and seek and save the lost.

God's method to reach the Lost

Jesus came to seek!

God took the initiative! Jesus entered humanity's darkness (John 1:1-18; Hebrews 2:14-18). He did not wait for broken humanity to find Him. As the Light of the world, Jesus made His dwelling amongst imperfect humanity to draw mankind back into fellowship with God.

Just as the Father sent His Son into the world to reconcile man to Himself, so He sends His Body, the Church into the world to reconcile man to God. Just as Jesus came as the Light of the world, He sends the Church into darkness to be light (see Matthew 5:14).

Sadly the Church, for the most part, expects broken humanity to find its way to her meetings instead of her entering into the darkness.

Jesus came to reconcile man to God and not to a culture!

Jesus sought the Lost to reconcile man to God. He did not seek out the Lost to convert them to a christian culture! Christ's priority was to bring man back into fellowship with the Father and with other believers. The believer's christian culture (the way he responds to God with his life) becomes a barrier for the Lost when it is inauthentic, inconsistent and only reserved for church meetings. Christian culture becomes attractive and influential when it is the fruit of sincerity and an authentic relationship with God and other believers.

The moment the Christian has to adopt a form to be acceptable in the church, a cultural wall is erected that becomes a barrier to the unchurched! 

The reason many Christians are uncomfortable with inviting the Lost to their church meetings is that there is often a discrepancy between the way they are in the world and the way they are in their church meetings.

Authentic Christianity

The solution is not to force a different church culture that will be less offensive and more palatable for the Lost but to ensure that the church is authentic in her relationship with God and others, both in the church meetings as well as in the world! God is more concerned with the heart than with our christian culture (the form we choose to express our relationship with God).

When the Church strips herself of her man-made form she will be able to enter the darkness of broken humanity and be able to reconcile man to God.

The church that seeks to impose her form on broken humanity seeks to convert man to culture rather than to Christ!

Floyd McClung, in his book entitled "You see bones, I see an army," states,
"The church that does not carry a passion to reach the world isolates people behind walls of cultural irrelevance."

I believe the Church is called to be uncompromising in essence but flexible in form. That way the Church can be light in the darkness and be "all things to all men" (form) without compromising the Truth (essence).

I agree with McClung when he writes,

"The Spirit of God calls each generation to re-imagine church for their own context and culture, and to a fresh encounter with God to live the Gospel."

The Church must get rid of old wine skins - old ways of doing church and adopted christian culture, if she is to make room for new wine - revival and awakening as real believers connect with a real world with the real love of God.

The role of the Church is to enter the darkness to seek and reconcile broken humanity to its loving Creator so that believers can enjoy fellowship with God and one another (1 John 1:3)!

It is time for the Church to be revived and for the "grave clothes" to be removed so that she will "come out" (John 11:43) in newness of life to reconcile man to God. This is the ministry of reconciliation that has been entrusted to Christ's Body!