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Sunday, August 12, 2018

What Does The Bible Say About Depression - A Sermon






This is the manuscript of a the sermon that I preached August 12, 2018 at The Church of Divine Guidance, Los Angeles California.  It is follow up to a Tuesday Night Bible Study,
"What Does The Bible Say About Depression?" taught on August 7, 2018.  

It is a subject that I have wanted to talk about for some time.  Because we in the church have been reluctant to talk about depression many of our brothers and sisters have suffered, and others died by their own hands because we have equated depression with some unconfessed sin, and all we have to do is confess and ask God to forgive us and then we can claim all the promises of the Bible that tell us that we shouldn't be depressed.   While hiding sin can certainly be a reason for depression it is certainly not the only, or most prevalent reason for depression.


If you know that you are depressed, think that you are depressed or headed for depression seek professional help.  Look for a Christian mental health professional but if you can’t find a Christian professional, find and go see a mental health professional anyway.    

If you are depressed ask God to deliver and heal you and go get help!!!!


Just like I told them, at Tuesday night Bible Study, I’m going to talk about something today that the church doesn’t like to talk about but we need to talk about it because it affects Christians, and if it affects us then it is addressed in the Bible somewhere. 

It is something that I know a lot about because I lived with someone for over 40 years who had a problem with this and I’ve seen so many of my brothers and sisters who suffer with the same thing.  If we talk about it then with the help of the Holy Spirit we can maybe do something about it.  So today I’m going to talk about depression and what the Bible says about it.

Believe it or not, Christians struggle with depression.

A discussion about depression fits in with Pastor's series on relationship because depression affects our  relationship with God. Just like depression has an affect on the relationship between husband and wife, or between friends, depression can affect the relationship between us and God. 

 

Definition - a state of feeling sad: a serious medical condition in which a person feels very sad, hopeless, and unimportant and often is unable to live in a normal way

This is from Harvard Health Publications

It’s often said that depression results from a chemical imbalance, but that figure of speech doesn’t capture how complex the disease is. Research suggests that depression doesn’t spring from simply having too much or too little of certain brain chemicals. Rather, depression has many possible causes, including faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, stressful life events, medications, and medical problems. It’s believed that several of these forces interact to bring on depression.

Here are some symptoms of depression from the Mayo Clinic;

The persistent feeling of sadness or loss of interest that characterizes major depression can lead to a range of behavioral and physical symptoms. These may include changes in sleep, appetite, energy level, concentration, daily behavior, or self-esteem. Depression can also be associated with thoughts of suicide.

Can a Christian Be or Become Depressed?

The church tends to have trouble talking about depression because it’s messy and uncomfortable. Depression is almost never the major theme  of a sermon or a Bible study.  

There are just some things we didn’t talk about in church.  We don’t talk about sex and money for sure and we don’t talk about our hurts and issues because the church culture says that now that we are in Christ everything should be perfect in our lives.  If it’s not, then there is something wrong with our faith.  Because of that people with real issues never talk about them and never deal with them.

Because there has been a prohibition of talking about certain things or not expressing our feelings when we are hurting in certain areas like money, sex or depression, we are often putting lipstick on a pig so to speak.  We are masking how we hurt consequently we don’t get help. 

We’re taught that almost all feelings are unreliable and not to be trusted. It is true that some Christians follow their feelings in an unhealthy, unbiblical way. It is more common, however, to encounter Christians who do not believe they have permission to admit their feelings or express them openly. This applies especially to such “difficult” feelings as fear, sadness, shame, anger, hurt, pain, and depression.  And yet, how can we listen to what God is saying and evaluate what is going on inside when we cut ourselves off from our emotions?

The pressure to present an image of ourselves as strong and spiritually “together” hovers over most of us. We feel guilty for not measuring up, for not making the grade. We forget that not one of us is perfect and that we are all sinners.

I use to hear some old preachers and church mothers talking about the church being a hospital.   Well if you can’t talk about your sickness what kind of hospital is it?  Is it only one that deals with the common cold or a stubbed toe and not drug addiction or sex addiction, or depression?

What we often hear is that if a person is dealing with depression, it's because of some unconfessed sin that needs to be dealt with. While that's true sometimes that's not always the case.

The church has a problem talking about depression because we somehow believe that Christians should not get depressed.   Talking about it can be uncomfortable because many of our church leaders don’t know a lot about it so we in the church don’t talk about it. 

The fact is that we do have people who are depressed and with other issues who never talk about them.  The church should be a place of healing but it is often a place of cover up.  When people don’t address their issues what happens is somebody eventually finds out and it becomes rumor and gossip, the leadership finds out about it and asks that they step down from leadership or leave until the problem is solved, or they just leave because they can no longer keep up the charade. In some severe cases they may even attempt to or succeed in taking their own lives.

Let me let you in on a little secret.  If you’re a Christian and you’re depressed you’re in good company.   There are many examples of people in scripture, even some of our spiritual heroes who exhibited signs of depression.

Job
We all know about Job so there is no surprise there.
Job suffered through great loss, devastation, and physical illness

Job 3:11, 26 NIV“Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb?  I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.”

Moses

One time the people were complaining about having to eat manna every day they wanted something else so they complained  They complained a lot.  Moses was obviously frustrated said;

Numbers 11:14-15 (NLT2)14  I can’t carry all these people by myself! The load is far too heavy!15  If this is how you intend to treat me, just go ahead and kill me. Do me a favor and spare me this misery!”

Elijah

After his victory in the great cook-off with the prophets of Baal when Jezzabell said that she was gonna get him;
 
1 Kings 19:3-4 (NLT2)3  Elijah was afraid and fled for his life. He went to Beersheba, a town in Judah, and he left his servant there.4  Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”

Jonah 

He asked to be thrown out of the boat, knowing that he wouldn’t survive;

Jonah 1:12 (NLT2)  “Throw me into the sea,” Jonah said, “and it will become calm again. I know that this terrible storm is all my fault.”

Jeremiah

The great prophet Jeremiah wrestled with great loneliness, feelings of defeat, and insecurity.

Jeremiah 20:14, 18 NIV Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed!  Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?

David

David was troubled and battled deep despair. In many of the Psalms, he writes of his anguish, loneliness, fear of the enemy, his heart-cry over sin, and the guilt he struggled with because of it.  In the 150 Psalms, most of them written by David 59 of them are some type of lament, meaning sorrow or despair.  

Psalm 13:1-6 NIV How long, Lord ? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?  Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,  and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.  But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.  I will sing the Lord's praise, for he has been good to me.

Psalm 42:5, 11 NIV Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.  Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Psalm 43:5 NIV Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Paul

2 Corinthians 1:8-9 (NLT2)8  We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it.9  In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead.

Here’s the shocker

Jesus

Wait a minute you say well let me read something to you.

Hebrews 2:14, 16-18 NIV Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Even Jesus Himself was deeply anguished over what lay before Him.

Mark 14:34-36 NIV “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”  Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba,  Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

The Bible says that so great was his anguish, that he sweat “drops of blood.”

Luke 22:44 NIV And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground


What’s true about all of these men and stories I talked about today and many others is this: God was with them.  He was close, he was near.

Psalm 34:18 NIV The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

He was there in the good days and in the dark days too. He didn’t condemn them for their questions and pain. He didn’t tell them to just tough it out. He reached down to their deepest pit of suffering, and lifted them out.
He cared.
He showed compassion.
He offered mercy.
He brought hope.
He instilled purpose.
He gave victory.

Although a tragic event can trigger it  depression is usually not brought on by one thing.  



Here are a few signs that you may be headed for a crash:


Sign 1 An Unrealistic Pace



We are always rushing from one thing to another one deadline after another, a long to do list and everything has to get done today. 

When we are operating at an unrealistic pace we have no intimacy in our relationship with God because we don’t spend time with Him.  We are always in a hurry working for God, and not spending time with Him.    When anybody criticizes us or pulls our coattail about our pace we get angry and say stuff like; “The devil never takes a day off”.  Well “I’m not sure the devil is supposed to be your example.

Work for God that is not nourished by a deep interior life with God will eventually be contaminated by other things such as ego, power, needing approval from others, and buying into the wrong ideas of success and the mistaken belief that we can’t fail. We become “human doings” not “human beings.” Our sense of worth and validation gradually shifts from God’s unconditional love for us in Christ to our works and performance.

In the Ten Commandments the commandment that God spent the most time addressing was the one on rest. 

Exodus 20:8-11 (HCSB)8  Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: 9  You are to labor six days and do all your work, 10  but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. You must not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the foreigner who is within your gates. 11  For the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days; then He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and declared it holy.

Sign 2 Unrealistic Expectations of Others

When we are depressed we often put the blame on  others and are angry at them for the way we feel.

It’s easier to blame somebody else than ourselves.  They are the ones with the problem not us.  That’s the way depressed people act sometimes and I can tell you that it’s true I have firsthand experience. We should stop asking God to change the other person, because He won’t in most cases, but ask Him to change us and our attitude.  If we always maintain a victim mentality always blaming others we will never walk in the victory that Jesus promises.

Sign 3 An Unrealistic View on Life

If we don’t do anything differently things will not change and we will stay in our depression or state of anxiety.  Depression and anxiety do happen but they don’t just pass like the season.  If we think that depression is just a season and it will pass then we have a serious problem.  We must go through it.  But we don’t have to go through it alone.   We have God who said that He would never leave us or forsake us.  Even when things look insurmountable.  

Deuteronomy 31:6 (HCSB) Be strong and courageous; don’t be terrified or afraid of them. For it is the LORD your God who goes with you; He will not leave you or forsake you.”

Joshua 1:5 (HCSB) No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. I will be with you, just as I was with Moses. I will not leave you or forsake you.

Hebrews 13:5 (HCSB) Your life should be free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for He Himself has said, I will never leave you or forsake you.

Sign 4 An Unrealistic Desire to Be Liked by Everyone

Well everybody is not going to like you so don’t sweat it.  Everybody didn’t like Jesus and we can’t let what others think about us dominate our lives we should be seeking the approval of God and not man.  

Psalm 118:6-7 NIV The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?  The Lord is with me; he is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies.

Getting off the Collision Course

If you are headed for a crash it’s probably because of a combination of two things.  1) Something bad happened to you, and you are still carrying that baggage and you need to deal with it and 2) Choices you have made. We have to accept responsibility for our choices.  

How Do We Deal With Our Depression?

Denial Doesn't Help It Hurts - Rather than denying that we are depressed or anxious we should face it and address it.

Realizing That We can’t do life alone - We were not made to be alone remember in Genesis what God said about Adam?

Genesis 2:18 (HCSB) Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper as his complement.”

When Jesus was facing his crucifixion that night in the garden of Gethsemane he took Peter, James and John with Him so that he was not alone.

Matthew 26:36-37 (HCSB) 36  Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and He told the disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37  Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed.

We Must Address What’s Broken on the Inside of Us - When we reach the point that we understand that our problems are often times of our own making, then we are on the way to conquering them.  Many times our problems are because of things out of our control but most often they are of our own making.  In those cases relief can come through repentance.  God’s desire is to take us through the dark times in our lives.  We should ask God to show us what was wrong inside us.   For us it may be pride, greed, sexual immorality, or other things but if we ask God to show us He will and He will even show us how to make the changes that we need to make. We just need to do them when He does show us. 

Situations that cause stress anxiety, and depression are real and here to stay until Jesus comes back. 

John 16:33 (NKJV) These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." 

Always remember these two things:

Believe That God is Holy and Good - Focus on God and His character.  We know that God never changes.  We change but God never changes and His character doesn’t change. 

 Numbers 23:19 NIV God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?

James 1:16-17 NIV Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

Believe His Promises - God is always with us and He has more power than anything that we may come up against

Isaiah 41:10 (NKJV) Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.'

Deuteronomy 7:9 NIV Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.

The Bible frequently discusses methods to deal with and overcome feeling depressed in the face of hardship and suffering.
As I said earlier;

Psalm 34:18 NIV The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

If you are depressed or think that you are depressed or headed toward depression keep these things in mind.
  • Denial Doesn’t Help It Hurts.  
  • We can’t do life alone
  • We Must Address What’s Broken on the Inside of Us

I know there are some people who still have trouble with the idea that someone who is truly a follower of Jesus could struggle with depression. If that’s the case for you, I would simply encourage you to read your Bible—and not just the uplifting stories but also the parts where it gets so real and raw that we squirm a bit.

If you know that you are depressed, think that you are depressed or headed for depression seek professional help.  Look for a Christian mental health professional but if you can’t find a Christian professional, find and go see a mental health professional anyway.

I am not a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or trained counselor so I urge you to not try to deal with depression yourself without the help of a trained professional.

Our ultimate faith and trust is to be in God.  Doctors and other healthcare professionals can be viewed as God’s gift to us, a means through which God brings healing and recovery. Depression is an illness, or health care issue just like pneumonia, high blood  pressure, diabetes, or cancer.  If anybody has one of those conditions we tell them to pray but go to the doctor.

As with all difficult decisions, we should seek God who promises to give us wisdom when we ask for it.

James 1:5-8 NIV If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

●          Denial Doesn’t Help It Hurts.
●          We can’t do life alone
●          We Must Address What’s Broken on the Inside of Us

 If you are depressed ask God to deliver and heal you and get help!!!!

Romans 15:13 NIV May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.


Sermon Audio








 







Sunday, July 8, 2018

Jesus And Prayer: Programming The God Machine?


This is the manuscript of the sermon I preached at Christ Church in Los Angeles on July 8, 2018.   

Many Christians believe that if you do it the right way, have the right formula, position your body the right way, at the right time, then God will hear you and will answer your prayer, and if He doesn’t answer it the exact way that you prayed then you must not have done it right.  You didn’t program the God machine correctly.

I’m dating myself but when VCRs were first introduced and we found out that you could set it to record a certain program at a certain time a lot of people, including me, had trouble doing that.  Then came personal computers that would allow a person who wasn’t a software engineer or computer programmer do some things that made it easy to write and send messages, do school assignments, tasks at work, personal and business accounting. Then came cellphones and tablets that enabled you to do these and a lot more things that were unthinkable twenty years ago, but to do those things you had to  learn how to use them.  The way you learned was from an instruction manual, or you had someone to train you how to do it or you somehow figured it out on your own, often with disastrous results.  At least in my case.   
That’s the way that many Christians think about prayer.  If you do it the right way, have the right formula, position your body the right way, at the right time, then God will hear you and will answer your prayer, and if He doesn’t answer it the exact way that you prayed then you must not have done it right.  You didn’t program the God machine right.
If you go into a book store, it doesn’t matter if it’s a Christian book store or not, or you go online to Barnes and Noble, Amazon, or one of the many online Christian bookstores you’ll find hundreds if not thousands of books on prayer, written by hundreds of people. 
One that was published several years ago, and it  was on the New York Times bestseller list, is The Prayer of Jabez. In the two years after it was published in 2000 it had sold over 9,000,000 copies.   I don’t know what the number is today but it may be well over 10,000,000 copies.  I never bought a copy and I’ll tell you why in a few minutes.  For those of you who bought a copy I hope that it was of some help to you.  Like I said I have never read the book but from the description of the publisher
It’s a timeless prayer that produces timely results! Bruce Wilkinson, the author, takes readers to 1 Chronicles 4:10 to discover how they can release God’s miraculous power and experience the blessings God longs to give each of us. The life of Jabez, one of the Bible’s most overlooked heroes of the faith, bursts from unbroken pages of genealogies in an audacious, fourpart prayer that brings him an extraordinary measure of divine favor, anointing, and protection. Readers who commit to offering the same prayer on a regular basis will find themselves extravagantly blessed by God, and agents of His miraculous power, in everyday life.
1 Chronicles 4:10 (NKJV)10  And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, "Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!" So God granted him what he requested.
Again I’m not criticizing anybody that bought the book and really tried to follow the book’s formula for prayer.  It gave instructions on how to program the God machine.   If the Prayer of Jabez book is right and you programmed the God machine correctly then everything you prayed for should have happened right?  If it didn’t then you must have missed a step in the program. 
That's not what prayer is it's not programming some machine to spit out goodies. Prayer is a relationship, it's a lifestyle, is a conversation with our heavenly father.
I don’t mean to pick on Bruce Wilkerson the guy who wrote the book or any of the other people who write books on prayer, but if you want to learn about heart surgery you would study a renowned heart surgeon, if you wanted to learn about evangelism you may want to read or study Billy Graham. 
If I want to learn about prayer I should to go to Jesus for instructions on how to pray.  His life was a living prayer, He prayed incessantly, He prayed unceasingly. Jesus, the man of prayer, has something to teach us about prayer. 
Jesus knew the transcending power of prayer. Jesus knew you could transcend whatever happened in life with prayer.  He knew that was the only way to know the power of God in your life. He prayed early in the morning.
 Mark 1:35-37 NKJV Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed. And Simon and those who  were with Him searched for Him. When they found Him, they said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.”
 He prayed before He fed the multitude.
Matthew 14:17-19 NKJV And they said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” He said, “Bring them here to Me.”  Then He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass. And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes.
He prayed all night before He selected the Twelve.
 Luke 6:12-13 NKJV Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself;  and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles:
 He prayed before Peter denied Him.
Luke 22:31-32 NKJV And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me,  strengthen your brethren.”

He prayed in the upper room.
The entire 17th chapter on John is Jesus’ prayer. In verses 1-5 He prays for Himself, verses 6-19 He prays for the disciples, and in verses 20-26 He prays for all believers.  That includes you and me.
 He prayed in the garden.
In Matthew 26:39-46 He prayed the same prayer 3 times;
“O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will. ”
He prayed before Lazarus was raised from the tomb.
John 11:41-42 NKJV Then they took away the stone from  the  place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me.  And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.”
He prayed on the cross.
Luke 23:34 NKJV Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots.
 Luke 23:46 NKJV And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’ ”  Having said this, He breathed His last.


Every significant place in the life of Jesus was surrounded and immersed in prayer. His life was a prayer.
The only thing the disciples ever asked Jesus to teach them was how to pray.
Luke 11:1 NKJV Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”
It’s interesting that Jesus never tells us to understand prayer. Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus say  “You should understand prayer.” “Go out and understand prayer.”  If you wanted to you can find an attend seminars about prayers where you try to understand the dynamics of prayer; I’m not knocking it if that's what you want to do but Jesus said simply, “Pray,”


When they asked Jesus to teach them He gave them a model that completely changed the way prayer was viewed. It turned their world upside down.
We call that prayer model the Lord's Prayer and it's recorded in both Luke and Matthew.  In Luke 1:2-4 and in Matthew 6:9-13.  It's Matthew's record that we sing each Sunday. That's the passage I want us to look at today because Matthew includes it in the middle of Jesus’ sermon on the Mount which is part of Christ’s vision for our relationship with God and each other, which at that time was  revolutionary.  The complete Sermon on the Mount is recorded in Matthew 5, 6, and 7.
Matthew 6:9-13 (NKJV)9  In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.10  Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.11  Give us this day our daily bread.12  And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.13  And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
This needs to become more than just a song that we sing on Sunday morning. More than just something we repeat in unison. More than just some memory verses that we teach our children.  This is the model that Jesus the man of prayer the man whose life was a prayer gives us as to how to have a conversation with our Heavenly Father and our friend.
Before Jesus gives His instructions on praying, he spends some time criticizing the prayer practices of the Pharisees, the religious leaders of that time.  
Matthew 6:5-8 NKJV “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.  But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.  And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do.  For they think that they will be heard for their many words. “Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.
Our prayers reveal our deepest convictions about God, about ourselves, and about the world around us. Every word we utter in prayer, every idea and concept that we form as we pray, and every emotion that flows out of our heart is a reflection of what we believe about God.  There is a saying  “As we believe, so we pray” Nothing uncovers the true state of our souls like prayer.
After explaining how not to pray He gives them a new model to follow in prayer.
Matthew 6:9 NKJV In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.

Jesus does not start the prayer with a request.  He begins, instead, by identifying the character of the God as our Father.   Then He makes His first request which is  our Father  hallow, or make His name holy.  Jesus is asking God to move and act in the world in a way that people value his glory, esteem his holiness, and treasure his character above all else. We must not miss this: Jesus’ first request is not that personal needs be met, but that God’s glory and holiness be known. Jesus’ model focuses our attention first on God and not on us. Our chief concern in prayer is not our own comfort but God’s glory.
One thing you will notice is that the words  I me, my or mine are never part of the prayer.  It's our, us, or your. Jesus is reminding us that when we enter into a relationship with God, we enter into a relationship with his people. When we are saved by Christ, we are saved into his body, the church.  It shows that we are part of a family. Our Father's family. Individual needs while important in prayer  should not be the objective of prayer.  The point is not to deny our own sins or our own needs, but to never leave the focus only on us.

Then He says
Matthew 6:10 NKJV Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.

The second request, “your kingdom come,” builds on the first one by showing us how God’s name is hallowed in the world. God reveals his character and reputation as his kingdom spreads to every corner of the earth and as we the citizens of that kingdom do God’s will on earth.  By praying “your kingdom come,” Jesus Teaches us that we are ultimately meant to value God’s agenda, or purpose not our own.
He then said that we should ask that our Father
Matthew 6:11 NKJV Give us this day our daily bread.
The request to “give us this day our daily bread” reminds us of our dependence on God for even the most fundamental needs of life. Jesus in this model of prayer points out the difference in the Creator and the creature. God’s name is to be hallowed in heaven.  We, on the other hand, are incapable of even getting basic sustenance without his help. Jesus teaches us to exalt God while humbling ourselves. This passage teaches us that our physical needs point to our deeper spiritual needs.
Deuteronomy 8:1-3 (NKJV)1  "Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which the LORD swore to your fathers.2  And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.3  So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD. 
Our need for daily physical sustenance is a faint echo of our daily need of spiritual sustenance and satisfaction from God.Jesus referred to himself as the “bread of life,”.
John 6:35 NKJV And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.
Jesus is God’s ultimate provision for our spiritual lives.
Each day, as we pray for our daily bread, we should be reminded of our daily need for Christ to forgive our sins and empower us for obedience. Each time we pray for daily bread, we should recognize our deeper need for the bread of life, Jesus, the only one who can truly satisfy.
Jesus tells us that we should ask forgiveness
Matthew 6:12 NKJV And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.

Jesus’ use of the word debt is very significant.
Debt for us today can be very stressful.  Too much debt can put serious strain on our lives restricting our ability to live stress free lives. The Bible says that debt makes us slaves.
Proverbs 22:7 NKJV The rich rules over the poor, And the borrower is servant to the lender.
You will remember the parable in Matthew chapter 18 about the servant who was forgiven his debt, then turned around and had a fellow servant put in prison for not being able to pay a debt owed to him.  When his master found out about it he had him tortured until he could pay.  Owing somebody a debt that you couldn't repay was very very serious in those days.  In those days be forgiven a debt was an act of extravagant mercy. 
The debt that we owe to God is for our sin and the penalty for not paying that debt is death. So asking God to forgive us of that debt is a very big deal. 
While the request that God “give us this day our daily bread” emphasizes our most urgent physical needs, the petition “forgive us our debts” emphasizes our most urgent spiritual need. Saying we owe a debt to God means that we have failed to give him the obedience he is rightly due. We owe God our obedience, and we have failed to pay up. We stand before God condemned, rightly deserving punishment. Only God’s forgiveness can clear our guilt and establish a meaningful relationship between God and us.
The only way that we can pray and ask that God forgive our sins is when we stand on the finished, atoning work of Jesus Christ. We can only rightly pray the Lord's Prayer when we recognize that we are deeply sinful and only God’s grace in Christ can remedy our situation.
Romans 5:1-2 NKJV Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

And
 Romans 10:8-10 NKJV But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
Not only does Jesus tell us to ask God for forgiveness, he tells us to pray that God forgive us in the same way that we forgive our debtors. Now we must be very careful with this so that we don’t take it to mean something that Jesus didn’t mean. Jesus is not saying that we are forgiven by God because we have forgiven other people. That would mean that our forgiveness and our acceptance with God was based on our own works and not God’s grace. Scripture is very clear that we are justified before God by faith alone, not by works.    
Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it  is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
When Jesus said that we should ask God to forgive us because we have forgiven others we’ve misinterpreted what He said. God’s forgiving us has nothing to do with our forgiving others. That would make our forgiveness based on works.
 What Jesus is affirming in these words is that when we experience God’s forgiveness,  we are fundamentally transformed into forgiving people.
Again, the grounds of our forgiveness is never our own works. But forgiveness is evidence that we have received forgiveness. Hard hearts have no place in the kingdom of God. The reason, of course, is that the King himself is a forgiving king. Just as he forgives us when we rebel against him, so the citizens of God’s kingdom forgive one another.
 Those who truly know the forgiveness of sins, forgive others. Jesus emphasized this point a number of times throughout his ministry:
Matthew 18:21-22 NKJV Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
Luke 17:3-4 NKJV Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you,  rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.  And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”
Matthew 6:13 NKJV And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one.
Temptation, is I believe, a weapon that the enemy uses in spiritual warfare.  We talked about spiritual warfare last week and the strongholds that can be established by temptation.  Jesus’ reminder to pray regularly against temptation reminds us just how prevalent and dangerous the appeal of sin can be in the Christian life.
This reminds us that we are not able to resist temptation by our own power. Most people know by experience that your willpower is not quite as strong as we would like to think.
Jesus does not teach us to pray, “Lord, give me more willpower in the fight against sin.” These words “do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one” express a heart of dependence, not self-sufficiency.
James 4:7 NKJV Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

The model prayer ends with a doxology which is “an expression of praise to God.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen
To learn about prayer from Jesus is to understand that prayer becomes a lifestyle. It is a habit.
I don’t want us ever to think that we are programming the God machine, but I want us to learn that prayer is developing a deep relationship. It is a walk with God, and instead of programming Him, we have Him imbedded in us through the Holy Spirit.
Philippians 2:5 NKJV Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,
 Let’s not program a machine. Let’s walk with God.


Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Mind Is The Battlefield Of Spiritual Warfare

Photo by Chuanchai Pundej on Unsplash

This is the manuscript of the sermon I preached at Christ Church in Los Angeles on July 1, 2018, about the tactics of Satan in spiritual warfare and the believer's protection and our weapons to go on the attack.

We hear a lot about Spiritual Warfare these days. It is a real war and we need to take it seriously but we need to see it for what really it is.  If you are a believer in Jesus and have received Him as your Savior, you are in the body of Christ, and this means you are in the spiritual war between God and His enemy.

1 Peter 5:8-9 NIV Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

A lot of believers either don’t realize that they are in a war or don't take it seriously. So they are not actively engaged in the war,even though they are on the receiving end of the consequences of that war. They are attacked and become wounded and incapacitated because they are totally unprepared to face the enemy.

In order to survive the first thing we have to realize is that there really is a war and we do have an enemy. What we must realize is that our enemy is God’s enemy. In fact he is our enemy because he is God’s enemy. The mere fact that you are a child of God means that you are subject to attack at any time. You may believe you don’t have to engage in the battle, but you do.

Satan does exist and he has a military force. The war is never over because the enemy never never gives up.  Jesus has defeated him but  he continues to engage in gorilla warfare.   Much like Isis or any other defeated enemy does until they are totally destroyed.

1 Peter 5:8 (NLT) Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.

This is a spiritual war, but it’s every bit as real as the the conflicts that we see being waged the world today.  The Bible is clear that this is not a battle which is fought on a physical plane at all, but rather a spiritual one.

Ephesians 6:12 NKJV For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Who are these principalities, powers, rulers of darkness?  They are  the soldiers of Satan’s military. He works through a vast army of demon spirits.  Remember Satan is a created being and not omnipresent, so he can only be in one place at a time, but he has a large demonic spiritual army.  

He is very powerful, but let's not give him too much credit.    

If you are a believer then Satan needs God’s permission to spiritually attack you. 

Job 1:12 (HCSB)12  “Very well,” the LORD told Satan, “everything he owns is in your power. However, you must not lay a hand on Job ⌊himself⌋.” So Satan left the LORD’s presence.

Job 2:6 (HCSB) “Very well,” the LORD told Satan, “he is in your power; only spare his life.” 

Satan had to ask Jesus’ permission to attack Peter.

 Luke 22:31-32 HCSB “Simon, Simon,   look out! Satan has asked to sift you   like wheat.   But I have prayed for you   that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

So unless God gives him permission Satan can’t affect your external circumstances.   Where he can attack and injure you is in your mind.  Most unpleasant things that happen to us are our own fault, the fact that we live in a fallen and broken world where bad things happen, and not a direct attack from the enemy, but if he can get you to believe that he has the power to attack you at any time and cause bad things to happen then you will start to doubt God’s ability to sustain you, then you become a casualty in the war.

Satan's most effective tactic is to establish strongholds in your mind. 
Photo by Les Anderson on Unsplash


2 Corinthians 10:3-5 KJV For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh:  (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)  Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;

A stronghold is anything that exalts itself in our minds, pretending to be bigger or more powerful than God.   Let's read that same scripture from The New American Standard Version

2 Corinthians 10:3-6 NASB For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.

Whether you call them strongholds or fortresses  they  are built by the “ imaginations, speculations and every high-minded thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God.

These imaginations can be a superstitious belief, an addiction, wrong thoughts, or despair over the loss of a loved one or relationship or many other things.

A minister I know defined an imagination as a nation of images (imagi-nation), or a series of connected images that become a stronghold or fortress.

They can consume our emotions, cause us to become overwhelmed, and sap our mental strength.  If we try to ignore them we will never be able to live the life of victory promised by Jesus.

The devil’s chief target is the mind, because the most effective way to influence behaviour is to influence our  thinking.  He did that to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden causing Eve to doubt God’s truth. 

Genesis 3:2-5 (HCSB)2  The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit from the trees in the garden.3  But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, ‘You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die.’”4  “No! You will not die,” the serpent said to the woman.5  “In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 

He caused Eve and then Adam to doubt God’s purpose for them and they disobeyed and they did die, and put us in the mess we are in today.

Strongholds

Here are some strongholds that can be established in our minds, and then exploited by Satan in spiritual warfare.  
     Anger
     Fear
     Abandonment
     Shame
     Lying
     Financial need
     Addictions
     Sensuality
     Depression
     Grief

How To Protect Yourself In Spiritual Warfare Against Strongholds Being Built In Your Mind?

We must never go to battle without the things we need in order to protect ourselves and to  win.  Remember our battle is spiritual, so our protection and weapons are spiritual.  God has provided some armor for our protection.

Ephesians 6:13-18 NKJV Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—

We must have the whole armor of God protecting us at all times so we can stand successfully against the enemy’s attacks and plans.

To “take your stand” literally means to stand in front of and in opposition to the forces and plans of evil. It means to be the one standing after the battle. It also means to stand ready for the next battle which will come.

You need this armor to stop any attack in your life and the lives of those you care about.

Let's take a quick look at the armor. 

In his letter to the Ephesians Paul uses the Roman soldier's armor as a metaphor for our spiritual armor. 

Let's start with

The Belt Of Truth Around Your Waist


Roman soldiers wore something similar to what a weightlifter wears to give him strength and support so he won’t hurt the core of his body. It enabled the soldiers to stand stronger against their enemy.

John 8:31-32 (NLT)31  Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings.32  And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

It is not just any truth that sets you free. It is God’s truth. We find that truth in His Word, in the Bible.  It is this truth that gives us support and strength as we resist the attacks of the enemy.

The Breastplate of Righteousness it's your (Body Armor)

A Roman soldier’s metal breastplate covered his chest and kept him from being fatally wounded in the heart. Jesus’ perfect righteousness is what covers our hearts.

Romans 3:22 KJV Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:

Our breastplate of righteousness is the righteousness of Jesus in us. It protects our heart from any mortal wounds and assures us that the enemy can never destroy us because of sin. It makes us right with God. It is as if we had never sinned.

The Preparation of the Gospel of Peace For Your Feet

Next we need to protect and take care of our feet. And put  the preparation of the gospel of peace on them. 

Roman soldiers had strong military shoes studded on the bottom of the soles in a way similar to cleats. Properly shod feet can stand strong against the enemy and keep you from slipping into doubt. We need to have the foundation we walk in to be solid and protective.

The idea is that we should stand firm.  Having peace with God and peace in God is an unshakeable foundation. God has peace for us that is beyond our comprehension.  You just have to walk in it. 

Philippians 4:4-7 NKJV Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Now Jesus has already prepared this good news, which is the gospel and we, with our feet planted on His firm foundation are to tell others. 

We started with the belt of truth, we put on the breastplate of righteousness, put on our fighting shoes, now we pick up

The Shield of Faith

Every soldier needs something to shield and protect him from the weapons of the enemy.  The shield of faith protects all the rest of the armor. It was a large object in the shape of a door. The Greek word for ‘shield’ is from the Greek word for ‘door’.  So this was a very large piece of equipment. 

The enemy shoots spiritual arrows and darts at us designed to discourage and make us fearful, anxious, uncertain, or incapacitated. The shield we have against these arrows of the enemy is our faith, and it is powerful protection.  When we put our faith in God and His Word, He is our shield and defense.

Psalm 91:4 (NKJV)  He shall cover you with His feathers, And under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler.

So now that we have included the shield of faith everything protected but our head. Now we need to put on

The Helmet of Salvation

The helmet protects a soldier’s head.

Our enemy wants to fill our minds with feelings of guilt, helplessness, and misery. He doesn't want us to understand all that Jesus did for us on the cross because he knows when we put on that helmet of salvation we are transformed through the renewing of our mind. 

Romans 12:2 (NLT)  Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect

We put on the helmet of salvation the moment we acknowledge Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Make sure that you keep the helmet of salvation on every day by reminding yourself of what Jesus did for you. 

There's just one more piece to the armor

The Sword of the Spirit, Which Is the Word of God

When we we are attacked we have to use our weapons.  A good example of this is our Lord himself.  When Jesus was baptized and led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, Satan attacked Him. Jesus’ weapon against him was God’s Word—which is the “sword of the Spirit.” He responded to every attack by saying it is written, and Satan finally left Him alone.    No spiritual battle can be fought and won without our greatest weapon—the Word of God. 

Hebrews 4:12 (NLT)12  For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.

There are a couple of other things we use that are not a part of the armor but are for our protection.

We Are To Always Pray

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 KJV Rejoice evermore.  Pray without ceasing.  In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

God wants us to be persistent in our praying. That’s what it means to pray without ceasing.  It means always  praying through things and not giving up.

We are to always pray and

Then Be Watchful

When a soldier is on active duty, he sleeps in his battle gear.  He stays dressed in case of a surprise attack. We do the same. We never take off our armor not even while we sleep.

The Counter Attack

We need to protect ourselves at all times but there are also times that we need to go on the attack  Scripture tells us to resist and our enemy will flee. Sometimes we need to counterattack.

James 4:7 KJV Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

As I said before we only have one piece of God’s armor that is designed for offense and that is ”the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s Word.  That's how we counter attack.  We counter attack with God's word. 

To win this war against Satan, we need to take control of our thought life – “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  We take those thoughts captive with the Word of God the “sword of the Spirit”.


When you identify a stronghold in your mind (remember a stronghold is thoughts or imaginations in your mind) when you identify a stronghold find God’s truth that addresses that stronghold and then go on the attack.   Find that truth in your bible then read it, speak it, sing it, and apply it over and over and over until the stronghold is destroyed.  Put it on your mirror, your refrigerator, in you car, on your desk, anywhere that you will constantly see it.  Continue attacking the stronghold and destroy it with the truth of the Word of God.   

I gave you a list of potential strongholds earlier;

     Anger
     Fear
     Abandonment
     Shame
     Lying
     Financial need
     Addictions
     Sensuality
     Depression
     Grief
None of these specific strongholds may not affect your life but until Jesus returns you will have imaginations and thoughts that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God,  that you will need to fight and destroy.  The only way to win is with the “sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. 
God has provided a way for us to fight back.   First and foremost, we have to saturate our mind continually with God’s Word. When we do that we will eventually develop a mental filter that reacts in alarm when we are attacked.  We become  rooted and grounded in the truth.
We also have the indwelling Holy Spirit, who gives understanding of God’s Word, directs our way, and enables us to distinguish truth from the lies of the enemy. He educates our conscience to provide timely warnings when we start down the wrong path.
The Lord has provided everything we need to avoid deception, but those things will protect us only if we use them in obedience with the Word of God as we are lead by His Spirit.
To guarantee victory we must;
1.    Love God's Word
2.    Know God's Word
3.    Memorize God's Word
4.    Meditate on God's Word
5.    Believe God's Word
6.    Use God's Word
7.    Do God's Word

Philippians 4:8 NIV Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Strap on your sword and take the battle to the enemy.

Sermon Audio