Every society develops a state religion, and America is no exception. By this I mean a philosophy that postulates that a society is basically moral, that our leadership is basically just. Sometimes, a state religion is a church endorsed by the government, but not always. Even atheist societies like China develop a state religion, in this broad sense of the term.
America’s state religion is called “Christianity” and “Christianity” is largely a sham, because American society is corrupt, so its state religion must also be corrupt.
That sounds pretty harsh, and it is, but the truth must be told. It’s very hard to forgive your enemies, but forgiveness does not mean allowing a fraud to be perpetuated because the truth is harsh.
I’ve met Christians that I respect, mostly here in Alaska, but overall they are the exception, not the rule. John Martin has taught me how to be a better disciple, and the prophetesses in Juneau and Fairbanks have genuine spiritual gifts. The Lord is working through a pastor here in Fairbanks to help me write this book. I’ve worshiped in churches that I feel are genuine, but most of them simply mouth the words of Jesus, and all of them seem harbor some element of hypocrisy. Most Christians are content to be believers without being disciples; it’s easier that way.
In Hawaii, I was running out of money while finishing my first book. I solicited aid from three local Christian churches, two of which I had supported with my tithe. All turned me down, one way or another. My favorite rejection came from an assistant pastor who sarcastically asked me “How about a job?” I replied that I was writing a book. He thought for a second and then asked “How much money does it make?”
That was it! Didn’t ask me what the book was about (capitalism, democracy, and Christianity). Didn’t ask me why I was writing it (a religious call). Didn’t ask to see my work (I had over a hundred pages written). Didn’t ask about my relationship with God; didn’t suggest prayer; didn’t suggest discernment. “How much money does it make?” That was his ONLY question!
How did this happen? When I asked the senior pastor for his help, he replied “you’re a pretty smart guy, you’ll figure something out”. He seems like a nice guy, he talks about Jesus, but he clearly thinks that Matthew 25:35 is optional. He does it sometimes, but not all of the time. Is God optional? Can we just obey him some of the time? Do we know better than him? Can we decide when to obey his laws and when to ignore them?
Once you start thinking that God’s laws are optional, then the road to hell is paved with religion. We’re against gay marriage, drug abuse, and Obamacare. We’ll outlaw these things and promote traditional conservative values. The problem is that Jesus didn’t teach anything about homosexuality, drug use, or health care. What he did teach was peace, love, poverty, and faith, and we have no intention of using the government to enforce those values. Actually, Jesus didn’t tell us to use the government to enforce our religious values at all, even though our government leaders must be the most devout men of God, as I’ll explain later.
There is little room in our faith for ministers who simply spout off about Jesus. Perhaps some will come to Christ in this way. Perhaps merely standing up in a pulpit reading the Bible will bring non-believers into the fold, and others will pick up where such men leave off. What we really want, however, are disciples! A preacher has to start first as a disciple, and then will be called to preach, not at first, but the calling will come! There are simply too few of us for the calling not to come! Disciples first, preachers second!
How, then, to describe discipleship?
Jesus came to them and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you. Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
The Great Commission! Pay attention! We’re told to make disciples, not believers! The devil is a believer! We’re given two specific instructions for new disciples. Disciples are to be baptized, and disciples are to observe Christ’s commandments. Disciples are to observe all of Christ’s commandments.
I was sprinkled when I was an infant, but when I was 27 years old I was baptized by immersion in a lake in Ohio. At the time, I was considering a political campaign against the drug war, seeking the Lord’s guidance, wrestling mightily with my conscience, and decided on a week-long fast followed by baptism. I asked the Lord in prayer to give me a sign at my baptism, even if it was only visible to me, indicating whether I should proceed with the campaign. No such sign was forthcoming, and I abandoned that foray into politics on the drive home. I now know that that was the right decision, though I spent years wondering. Asking for a sign now seems a bit presumptuous, but this was an early attempt at discernment, and very similar to how Gideon dealt with a similar situation in Judges 6.
Sometimes baptism is easy! In Acts 8, Philip probably had to preach for no more than a few hours and the eunuch was ready to be baptized. Some atheists, however, will resist this step for years. They don’t believe in God; they don’t believe in the Bible; they don’t believe in Jesus. How can you believe in any one religion when so many say so such different things? Obviously these are myths; so many of these stories are all the same. For such people, baptism is a massive step. It is not, however, impossible. Tim Reilly’s ministry focuses on evangelizing effectively to atheists and agnostics; he had many resources at iamcompelled.org to aid in this kind of ministry.
After baptism comes obedience. “Teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you.” A lot of Christians get stuck at this point. They read so much about forgiveness, they hear so much about how our sins are washed away in the blood of the cross, we preach so much love, our theologists talk so much about Justification by Faith, that people start thinking that they can live however they please. After all, we’re all saved, right?
“Not all who call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.'”
‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir’, but he did not go.
“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
“If you love me, you will obey my commandments.”
“The person who has my commandments and obeys them is the one who loves me.”
“If anyone loves me, he will obey my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and take up residence with him. The person who does not love me does not obey my words. And the word you hear is not mine, but the Father’s who sent me.”
“If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.”
“You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are dead to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
(1 John 2:3-6)
We’re not being judgmental, we’re not preaching salvation by works, we’re just telling you the truth! You think that you want this sham religion! You think that once you’re saved, you can live however you want! You think that you want the Gospel to be optional!
You are wrong! The day will come when you will realize that you want to do exactly what God wants you to do, every day, all of the time, no exceptions! Why? Because God is good, he has our best interests in mind, and the commandments are there for our sake, not his. You will know then that you want to be the person that God made you to be, and anything else is a lie. You will pray to God to save you, and then you will understand that because we have free will, because we can choose between good and evil, the best way is to choose good at every time and in every way. America’s sham religion is like the adulteress of Proverbs 5; its path is crooked, but it knows it not.
My son, pay attention to my wisdom, listen well to my words of insight, that you may maintain discretion and your lips may preserve knowledge.
For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is biter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave. She gives no thought to the way of life; her paths are crooked, but she knows it not.
Baptism and obedience. These two things alone can take years. Many Christians can’t get past obedience. Not only is it too hard, in a capitalist society, to “give to all those who beg of you”, and to “sell your possessions and give to the poor”, but we’re inundated with propaganda telling us how much freedom we’ve got, we’re surrounded by a state church that doesn’t seem to be persecuted, and our most prominent ministers preach that capitalism is fine, but we need more government control over abortion, marriage, and drug use. They believe in Jesus, but they don’t live the way he taught.
After obedience to the Gospel comes obedience to the Spirit. This is more difficult because the Gospel is written down, while the instructions of the Holy Spirit can only be understood through discernment. Actually, the Gospel can only be understood through discernment, too (Isaiah 6), as we can well testify to in this country. My fatal mistake with Occupy was not a failure to obey the Gospel, but a failure to obey the Spirit.
Discernment offers our best option for dealing with issues like abortion, gay marriage, school prayer, drugs and alcohol. There would be little need for divisive political feuds if individuals would follow God’s guidance when confronted with these issues, and there is no way to satisfactorily resolve these issues in a secularized political arena. A nation led by God needs only light governance; a nation that rejects God will embrace the most oppressive governance in vain attempts to fix its problems.
How do we practice discernment?
“But a time is coming – and now is here – when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers. God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two – or at the most three – should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.
Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets.
(1 Corinthians 14:26-30)
Our relationship with God begins with worship. Why? Let’s see. Where did we first hear the Gospel preached? Where did we sing our first hymns? Where did we meet the Christians that we respect? The answer is usually (but not always) “in church”, and that means worship.
What is true worship? Worship begins with a genuine love of God, trust in God, and surrender to God. There’s little point in worship without love, there’s little point in discernment without trust, and we’ll remain permanently crippled if we keep thinking that we can run our lives as well as God can. The easiest step in God’s direction is to simply go to church on Sunday, but it needs to be the right church.
Worship is usually accompanied by sermons, and these are either a real avenue for spiritual growth or a big problem, depending on the nature and strength of the preacher’s discipleship (or lack thereof). Paul’s guidance in 1st Corinthians is prescient. Notice particularly that when revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the speaker should stop. In my experience, the single best test of a preacher is whether he is willing to let other people speak! The best churches are those where different people are preaching every Sunday. If it’s always the same guy talking, and if he’s been talking for a while, then where are the other disciples that he’s been training? Nobody else in the congregation is called to preach? Really?
That doesn’t mean that we should just jump up and start preaching. We have to actually be called to preach. It has to come from the Holy Spirit. We can’t just do it ourselves. By the time that you are called to preach, you’ll be strong enough to exercise good discernment, so there’s no need to think that you have to start preaching if you’re not already doing a lot of what I’m suggesting here. What I am saying is that in a church where only one voice speaks, that voice is unlikely to be God’s.
So, find a church that preaches the Gospel, trains disciples, and is alive with the Holy Spirit. Don’t know if the church is right for you? Then pray about it! Ask God to show you the right church, and if the minister only wants to know how much money your book makes, then consider your prayer answered!
One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.
Yes, Jesus prayed! Quite a bit actually. In this case, he had an important decision to make, so he spent all night in prayer!
I’ve never spent an entire night in prayer, but a technique that I learned in college was to invest an hour a day into a class that I was behind in, and I’d be caught up in no time. One hour a day!
I wish that I spent an hour a day in prayer. Actually, I only spend that much time in prayer when I have a big decision to make, like whether or not to begin preaching, or how to deal with the collapse of Occupy. On a regular day, it’s probably more like fifteen minutes, hopefully half an hour. I’m not counting short prayers, either, like the prayers I say before eating, or before driving, or when sitting down to work on this book. I used to recoil with a mixture of respect and aversion when I met men who spent two hours a day in prayer. Since the Occupy debacle, though, I’m starting to realize that almost however much we pray, it’s not enough.
Go to a church if it’s convenient. We can pray anywhere, but it’s easier to have a designated place, lacking distractions, that’s been dedicated to God. If a chapel or sanctuary isn’t convenient, then find a quiet place away from the TV. Right now, I do most of my prayer next to a pellet stove in the back room.
What do you do when you’re siting or kneeling there for an hour? Speak to God, even though he already knows what’s on your heart. I make regular prayer requests for food, clothing, shelter, health and guidance, thanksgiving for the tremendous blessings I have received, transformation of my hatred into love and effective channeling of my anger, conviction of my pride and stubbornness, as well as exceptional concerns like Occupy, or this book. After speaking, then be quiet for a while, waiting for a response, which you probably won’t be able to hear at first. Keep at it, though, and you’ll start to find quiet but powerful direction in your prayer time.
Of course, that direction rarely comes as an audible voice or an email. How do we understand it? How do we figure out what’s “right” and “wrong”? Make sure that you start with a genuine commitment to discipleship, to putting God in charge of your life and seeking his guidance. Study the Bible. Listen to your conscience. More than anything else, though, make a real, lifelong commitment to God, and you’ll start getting real, lifelong answers.
3. Bible study
The only reason that I list this third is because we all encountered God first through worship, and because the Bible itself must be approached through prayer, since it can only be understood through the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, the Bible possesses an important advantage over other methods of discernment. It is a printed book, and however difficult it may be to understand, it is easier to understand than a revelation or a prophetic voice.
So much has been written about Bible study that I can add little except to explain my own personal beliefs. I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, but that does not mean that it is always literally accurate. It is a spiritual document, so if Joshua 10:13 says that the Sun stopped in the sky, this is not to be interpreted as astronomical truth. Probably the Earth stopped its rotation, but this was explained to a more primitive people as the Sun stopping in the sky. The Bible explains the incomprehensible, so inaccuracies invariably creep in. It’s a collection of historical documents, so if there are slight chronological discrepancies between M and M about the withering of a fig tree, well, it’s irrelevant to the spiritual truths being conveyed. I don’t need to believe that every word in the Bible is true in order to believe its message, anymore than I need a Grand Unified Theory before I will believe in physics. The letters from Paul are just that, letters from Paul. If he tells us that women should remain silent in church in 1 Coritithians 14:34, that’s just first century mores creeping in, nothing else. The Bible is inspired not just in its content but also in its presentation, that’s why the words of Jesus are printed in red. They are the teachings of the Messiah, they the most important part of the Bible, and as such should be our primary object of study. Contradictions between the Old Testament and the Gospel should be resolved in favor of the Gospel, so we no longer stone adulteresses to death. Contradictions betwen the letters of Paul and the Gospel should be resolved in favor of the Gospel, so 2 Thessalonians 3:10 should be disregarded in favor of Matthew 25:35.
4. Group prayer.
Again, I tell you the truth, if two of you on earth agree about whatever you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three are assembled in my name, I am there among them.
Group prayer! This is one of the most powerful prayer techniques that I know. The hard part is finding disciples to pray with. Once you’ve found a group of disciples, discuss your prayer requests with them. Once you reach agreement on what you want to pray for, then go around the group, letting each person pray in turn, out loud, with his or her own words, but each asking for what the group has decided on. If someone requests prayer, it’s best to pray immediately, rather than waiting for a later time that might not come. There has to be genuine agreement, so individuals can opt out, but we need to support each other’s prayer life, so consider group prayer requests seriously. I’ve read of ministers who have recruited a prayer team to sit in a back room behind the pulpit and pray for them during the actual delivery of their sermons!
In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it fall away.
How did Paul know that? Revelation.
Remember the story of Philip and the eunuch. At first, an angel appeared to Philip and told him to “go toward the south”. He was not told why; only to go. Once he went, the angel did not appear again. The Spirit, not the angel, told Philip to approach the chariot. Why? Because it is difficult for the Spirit to give such a specific direction as “go down the road towards Gaza”. Once God got Philip down the right road however, then the chariot was right there, and only some encouragement from the Spirit was then required.
What is revelation? It’s a sudden, …
Pentecostal worship is the best technique that I know of to develop an ear for the Holy Spirit. A pentecostal service is typically longer than your average ritualized service. Two hours seems to be standard, three or even four is certainly not unheard of. There will be music, singing, praise, and a certain style of preaching that exhorts people to throw their hands up in the air and yell “Praise Jesus!” The preacher may feel called to throw out blessings, saying something like “there’s a teacher, there’s a educator in the house, say Hallelujah!”. If you feel like the blessing is meant for you, then you should cry out “Hallelujah!”. Even if you don’t hear a specific preaching meant for you, there will still moments when you feel an urge to throw your hands up in the air and cry out “Hallelujah!” or “Praise Jesus!” or “Amen!”
I haven’t been to many pentecostal services, but I hardly ever make it through an entire service without the Spirit calling me to do something a little crazy, a little embarrassing, a little unusual. Usually, I then clam up and remain seated in my chair. That’s not good, but most of us failed to write our b’s and d’s correctly back in first grade. Get over it, come back next week, try again. Keep it up for a while, and you’ll find that not only are you opening up to blessings during worship, but you’ll also find yourself walking up to people in the supermarket and finding the right words to say because they’re being given to you from the same source – the Holy Spirit.
6. Dreams and prophetic gifts
And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.
There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
Now to each one the manifestations of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpreation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.
(1 Corinthians 12:7-11)
I experienced dreams in Hawaii and prophetic voices here in Alaska. When I explain to people what happened to me in Juneau, I’m often told that we are to avoid palm readers because they are occult. Satanic rites, prayers to Wiccan deities, and Ouija boards are occult. But let’s not forget also that there are genuine spiritual gifts. These are not myths, and the reason we see them so rarely is because we’ve allowed secularism to pervade and corrupt our churches, but they are there and they are real!
I group dreams and prophetic gifts together because both present the same problem, that of interpretation. In my experience, they can never be understood without further discernment! If you’re praying specifically for dreams, you might as well just go ahead and pray for understanding at the same time, because otherwise you’ll just be left wondering what it all means and then have to pray for understanding later. Likewise for prophetic voices. Two of my greatest mistakes with Occupy was not asking God if the message in Juneau was real and what the message in Fairbanks meant.
Most certainly I tell you, he who believes in me, the works that I do, he will do also; and he will do greater works than these, because I am going to my Father. Whatever you will ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you will ask anything in my name, I will do it.
Towards the end of my time in Hawaii, I was lost and hopeless. All the local Christians had rejected me, I was living in a homeless camp, everything that I had of value (laptop and surfboard) had been stolen. I prayed for guidance, exercised discernment, did everything that I felt called to, but still didn’t know what to do next. I prayed about this, too, and the answer came through revelation. “You’ve asked me what I want you to do, but you haven’t asked me to do anything for you.”
What? I don’t ask God to do anything for me! Do I? Discernment is finding out what God wants me to do, not the other way around, right? Let’s see, I ask God to “give us this day our daily bread”. I’ve asked God for food, shelter, and guidance. After the revelation I just described, I started asking God for dreams, as I explained earlier, and I had dreams about flying to Alaska!
See, if you’re a disciple, you work for God, and you can ask the boss for things that you need to do your job. You can even ask for luxuries, and God would rather you ask him than try to get them yourself, actually. Just remember that it’s a request, that’s all.
I now ask God for transportation! In the spring of 2012, I was occupying with John Martin in advance of the Anchorage mayoral election when I felt called to visit a church here in Fairbanks. Now previously, when I felt called to do something, I’d think that I needed to jump up and go, go, go! John encouraged me to wait. I spent most of that week fasting, which I’ve done often in the wilderness, but fasting in downtown Anchorage was a new experience! I fasted and prayed for transportation to Fairbanks, if in fact I was called to go there.
Friday afternoon found a church group across the street handing out clothing and warm drinks to the homeless. I walked over, talked with them for a while, and obtained a ride to Wasila, which is on the road to Fairbanks. If you’ve spent any time hitchhiking, you know that getting out of a big city is the hardest part.
Lance let me sleep on his couch that night, and gave me thirty dollars and a bag of trail mix in the morning. I stood by the road with a sign reading “Fairbanks”, I developed the definite sense that I should lose the sign, which I did. I also stopped holding out my thumb. I now waited by the roadside, fasting and praying, with no sign, just a suitcase, and making no signal that I was seeking a ride.
One car after another stopped and gave me rides. I did spend a pretty miserable night out in the cold in Healy, and as dawn broke Sunday morning I couldn’t help but wonder how I could make the remaining hundred miles before church began. Was I really called to go to Fairbanks? Maybe it was all in my head.
At 8 AM a car pulled up from the wrong direction. “Do you have any money?” the driver asked. Yes, I replied. I had the thirty dollars that Lance had given me the day before. She was driving from Anchorage to Fairbanks and had just discovered that she had left her ATM card at home. The thirty dollars went into her gas tank and she dropped me off at the front door of Freedom in Christ an hour before their Sunday service.
If you love me, keep my commandments. I will pray to the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, that he may be with you forever, the Spirit of truth, whom the world can’t receive; for it doesn’t see him, neither knows him. You know him, for he lives with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you.
I’ve tried to describe, in practical terms without much theology, how I live as a disciple, and I’ve tried to explain this in a way that others can apply in their lives. Don’t get the idea that I’m some Jedi master that uses “the force” to make cars stop and give him a ride. First off, God does all the work, not me. He’s not some impersonal “force” that I “use”. He’s a living spirit that’s overwhelmingly incompressible to any human being. Second, the reliance on God that I’ve described has taken years to develop and learn, and I don’t think that I could have learned it without a strong dose of persecution. I would never have gotten to the point of praying to God for transportation to Fairbanks if I had the money to just get on a plane and fly there myself.
Finally, let me summarize the essence of discernment. First, you must become a disciple, which means making a conscious decision to put God totally in charge of your life. You can bring him your wants and needs, your ambitions and desires, as prayer requests, but he’s the boss. He’s in charge. Next, you live according the Gospel. There’s no point in seeking the Spirit if you won’t obey the words in red. You develop a disciplined spiritual life with regular worship, prayer, and Bible study, so that you’re constantly exposed to God, you’re constantly talking with God, and you’re constantly reading about God. Finally, you listen to God. You pay attention to that still small voice that we call our conscience and you follow where it leads.
Now, if disciples lived alone in the world, we could wrap up this discussion right now. We live apart from the world, we work for God instead of money, we follow where God leads us, do the work he calls us to, and are eventually called home. Fortunately, we don’t live alone, so after discussing how to live as an individual disciple, we should now discuss how to live in community.