Shadow Puppets

Faith is our substance, the hope of His plans for us. Yet without proper direction it can be a self made stumbling block rather than leading us to Christ. My son doesn’t fear the things that I’ve explained to him; he fears the unknown, imagined bad guys of stories and fables. He fears the big bad wolf hiding in his room because daddy cannot show proof of it leaving, since it never existed. Yet the loudest power tool in my hands as I show him how it’s intended to be used instills awe and some adventure, as he knows I would never allow something to harm him. I hold the power to either build a sense of wonder into my son or a sense of fear. So when I tell you I have seen this very thing inside the churches I was raised in, those of us that preached there used it well. We would use fear to get obedience from the faithful. See when someone has faith in what you say, hope in what you preach, there better be a substance there, otherwise you’re just selling snake oil.

“…fail on one thing, and see what happens, the Spirit will leave you right there. That’s what’s happened to our churches, failed.” 64-1212 – The Harvest Time – William Marrion Branham

I lived my life worried that God would be around every corner ready to strike on my short comings instantly. It didn’t matter how many times I looked under the proverbial bed and saw that the Bible held no monsters for me. When I sat in the pew and listened to the sermons, I was taught to fear myself. My sins would limit what God could do in my situation, hinder the prayers of not just myself but those around me, and cost the church the revival we sought. I was walking on eggshells rather than experiencing the freedom Christ provides. When Proverbs 15:29 or John 9:31 came across the pulpit or in the pastor’s study it was not to show us how close and near our God was to those that love Him. It was to make sure we knew that a single misstep might separate us from our redeemer.

When I was worried more about the approval of my pastor, rather than that of my Heavenly Father, I jumped through any hoop put in front of me. The Bride is in the pew reverently thirty minutes early? No problem. Tithes is required, but the blessings really come with giving beyond 10%. Anything for God and His church.We can all look back and cringe at the things done in the name of the church. I remember reading about the Children of Israel and thinking how on earth could they fall for that, all while wandering my own wilderness claiming to hear from God directly. Consider this. The fruits of the spirit are not tithe paying, attendance, dress codes, recruitment, etc. In fact the closer, we get to God it says the fewer laws needed at all. The gift Christ gave was to all freely: no terms and conditions, no middle men, no mark up.

Jumping at Shadows

Texas, I believe there is one place in Texas, where they haven’t had a rain for three years. And just think of that. Now, all this is bound to speak of something. It’s just can’t be, just say, “Well, it’s just a coincidence. It just merely happened that way or just to be.” I don’t believe that. I believe that everything has to move according to God’s will for it to move. And now these things are for a purpose.

53-1018 – Elijah – William Marrion Branham

I’ve spoken before about the level of spiritualism I was raised to believe in. From a stalled car being The Devil trying to steal my victory to the traffic delay being God keeping me from some accident. Most would laugh at these things, like clamoring about seeing Christ on their toast. For us in the Message however, we saw a constant tugging at our souls in these ‘coincidences.’ When you’re taught that the demons and angels are constantly at war around you, that stray thoughts or doubts can make the difference in our salvation, you don’t laugh; it becomes a very serious matter. Growing a goatee almost cost me my class, as facial hair was a spirit of a sex symbol working through me. The pastor’s choice of topics showed what God had found the church backsliding in that week. It quickly becomes a mental state to see everything as the direct action of an angry God of justice or a benevolent God of blessings.

I remember the self-deprecating checklists I would go through when my car wouldn’t start. Had I paid my tithes? Had I missed a service at church when I could have made it? Had I doubted something? Instead of wondering about the very real mechanical issues going on, I had been conditioned to look at myself trying to weed out anything the church didn’t approve of. Even my own father, when he was called for a meeting with our pastor, would ask me and double check that there was nothing in my life that he needed to know before meeting with our spiritual leader. This ignorance of the real world issues while focusing on the self-created issues will be a pattern to notice as we continue this lesson.

I often wonder how I could have ever believed it all. So I want to use the next few lessons to show how when improperly balanced, we can distort scriptures and quotes to create a literal fear of God instead of a reverence for his love. Scriptures I now know to be uplifting and reassuring were once filled with judgement and condemnation. Learning to find that balance really did make the Bible into a new book, and walking away from the overactive spiritualism has changed everything in my walk with Christ.

After Prayer

Rule number one of salvation: we blew it already. He gave us one rule, and we broke the paradise we were given. As Christians, we know every single time that we pray, we are asking for answers that are not owed to us. I’ve spent hours of my life praying, because I wanted to show Him my sincerity and my faith, to fill the uncomfortable silence, to earn His answer. Yet many times, we have to face the fact that we either don’t get an answer or one we didn’t like. Major events like job changes, moving, and so many others are submitted to prayer request boards and receive promises of “I’ll pray for you” in the Christian community, yet in planning my words here, lessons, or answering your questions, I have to go back to reread the words He already gave us. Knowing the stories, the ins and outs of the Bible, as fully as I did in my path from the Message to here, having doctrines and verses memorized and reading His Word cover to cover dozens of times, I forget how much He has already taught us. We become so stuck on this idea of needing something new and fresh for every single issue we face that we forget the Words that have remained powerful throughout the millennia. I forget the comfort of learning God’s word because it is translated and transcribed by men, missing that He has to have intended the wording to adjust over and over to fit our needs, to reach all of us as our languages changed, similar to the names of Jehovah or the Trinity used to explain the many titles for God.  Often, in the Bible, God’s men only had to pray to get answers in real time, but it didn’t always work out so simply for them.  Mary and Martha didn’t get the answer to their prayers until they had already buried their brother. How many times do we give up after an hour of no change in our situation? I know I do.

As out of place as it sounds, one of the verses that gives me the most comfort, that tells me to handle the now, is found at the end. While the Bible is full of the open-to-close examples of God working in lives,sometimes I want to know that He’s still beside me, despite the absence of a dew covered fleece or a burning bush., I just need to know there’s something after, a reason to keep going, that he takes care of all things, in the end. Revelations 21:4

Removed the High Places

Returning to God has always come at a cost. In the scripture we find King Hezekiah coming to power in chapter 18, needing to enact some things declaring whose side he was on. Becoming king at the age of 25 he’d been involved in the government for years seeing the direction of Israel without being in control of it. He began removing the high places and even destroyed the bronze serpent made by Moses himself. The Bible tells us he clung to the Lord doing that which was right.

This Bible story took on new life to me as I came into a much better control of my life around the same age. Sure I had been married and working and living on my own for years now but spiritually I had allowed others to take the lead for me. For the first time I was taking ownership and had choices to make. Do I continue to follow in the footsteps of my father? Do I forsake what I was raised in? Remembering dealing with so many questions put me in a foul mood. So I went to my garage for some busy work. Cleaning out areas that hadn’t been touched in a while and finding things that brought back waves of anger and bitterness. I thought all of these old high places were removed and here I was holding things that used to have such value to me. I had to blink back the tears from the hurt and anger rushing in on me.

For Hezekiah it was removing those places of worship for other gods his father had built. Removing the altars and cutting down the groves didn’t change the landscape of these desirable places. Meaning that on occasion I’m sure he found himself walking along the familiar paths only to be confronted by his past once more. Standing there most likely remembering times with family now understood for what it really was; Idolatry.

For me it was a simple piece of cloth found tucked away for safekeeping. We’d been told that our Prophet himself had prayed over it so many years ago, giving it healing attributes if our faith could hold to it. I remembered being sick and this simple piece of cloth and all it stood for bringing me comfort. I remembered the day I realized the scam behind it and how I had been taught to place my faith in a simple piece of cloth rather than in Christ. Here I was holding the same cloth. A very different man.

So for all of you dealing with the memories and stored nightmares still lurking. The buildings you hate passing, the streets you avoid, the songs that give you anxiety. I understand. Like Hezekiah we again stand in those high places and can do nothing else but praise the One True God for setting us free from the bondage of inanimate objects. Even if it’s something made by a  prophet, the high places must be destroyed.