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Monday, August 31

Why the Fire, Pressure, & Slithery Ol' Sneaky Snakes?

  Nobody told me about "pain and suffering" as a Christian. What is this all about? Why are my old non-Christian friends enjoying comfort and pleasure?
  S everal years ago I was counseling a young believer who had recently been confronted by several of the guys that he used to hang out with before he was saved. What they wanted to find out was how, after all of their years of friendship, he could just up and leave the gang without so much as a "good bye". Not understanding the things of God, they bombarded him with some pretty tough questions. These questions would, in just a few short hours, cause him to begin doubting his salvation. As a result of this very discouraging confrontation, he called me and asked if we could meet.

           When we met together and I listened to all of the things that were troubling him, I could feel his deep frustration. About an hour into our time together, with a puzzled look on his face, he asked me, "Keith, why do people who are not Christians seem to never come under the same kind of intense trials, tribulations and attacks that committed believers do?" I thought to myself, "what a keen observation from someone who is so young in the Lord." After thinking about it for a moment I responded with the request, "If you will give me a few days to pray about this, I believe God will give us an answer." With that, we prayed, shook hands, and off he went.

           Later that evening as I was praying for an answer to his question, I heard something in my spirit that immediately helped me better understand why those who are not committed Christians do not suffer in the same ways that those who diligently pursue God do. Surprisingly enough, what I learned has everything to do with "fire, pressure and them slithery sneaky snakes!"

           In order to better understand this, we first need to know that once we have given our lives over to Jesus Christ, He immediately begins His wonderful process of conforming us into His image and likeness. This is, without a doubt, the greatest honor and privilege that can be bestowed on any human being. In order to accomplish this He subjects each of us to a process that is often quite painful and which includes what is known as the baptism of fire. It is so often due to the lack of proper instruction and knowledge of this most important process that so many young aspiring Christians find themselves confused and discouraged right from the start. They do not recognize the trials as part of the transforming work of God in their lives, and so, not knowing how to respond properly, they obey the natural impulse to flee from the circumstances. Members of the Church frequently add to the torture by admonishing them to have more faith or some other subtle or not so subtle means of heaping blame on the sufferer. Self-condemnation then sets in. Then discouragement, if not dealt with right away, shows up to ultimately steal, kill and destroy what God is working to produce in their lives. Although as wonder-filled as God's conversion process is, believers of all ages in the Lord must continually remind themselves that it is going to be very painful at times. Believe me, it is a very well-thought-out and mobilized ploy of the enemy to keep this information away from Christians everywhere.

           When someone asks Christ into their life, what they have in fact done is given themselves over to God - lock, stock and barrel! At that point they are no longer their own and are now the sole property of God.
 "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's."(1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

           Listen to what Paul said concerning this most important process of transformation, 
"Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby." (Hebrews 12:1-11)

           From the moment a person is born again, until the moment they stand perfected before the Lord, the Lord's dealings with them can and will include chastisement. Now, while God does this out of His infinite love for His children, chastisement is not His first choice in enabling the believer to conform to God's ways. His preference is that the believer would choose to cooperate with Him in the transformation of their inner being as indicated in the following passage in Romans.
 "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." (Romans 12:1-2)

           He wants us to willingly choose to present our bodies as living sacrifices and submit our minds to the renewing that will cause us to be transformed. But before perfection can be achieved in our minds, before the life of Christ can live there, the old flesh nature must die! However, a delicate balance must be at work for this to succeed. The old nature cannot simply be torn down unless something of the new man in Christ is erected in its place. To illustrate this point, think about how military drill sergeants, as brutal as they may be, break down a new recruit in order to build up the recruit in the ways and strengths needed to be a strong soldier. Similarly, God's reason for the destruction of our old sin nature is to replace it with the nature of Christ.

           The art of the whole boot camp experience is not only to strip the recruits of their old ways and identity, but to also draw out each of their gifts and abilities that, after much conditioning and training, will one day, best serve their commanders in the field of battle. The real beauty of this is not only the destruction of the old man, but also the discovery of things in their lives that they never even knew were there. At any rate, whether in the United States Army or God's Army, this process is indeed painful at times and new believers need to be informed of that. As a matter of fact, this is something that we should all continually remind ourselves of, on a daily basis! It has been my experience that the knowledge and understanding of what God is doing in our lives is usually the first thing to go when we find ourselves in a fiery trial. Our memory becomes shortened and we tend to forget all of the great things that He has done for us. I am of the opinion that we would not have nearly as many defections in the Church as we do, if our new recruits were equipped with this information going in.

           We must never forget that without the often painful, purifying work of the fire of God's Holy Spirit in our lives, growth would simply not be possible! Where the work of the fire of the Holy Spirit is absent in the life of a person, they become stagnant at best. John the Baptist, in foretelling the coming of Jesus Christ, said,
 "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but He that cometh after me (Jesus) is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire." (Matthew 3:11) In other words, where Jesus goes, the fire goes with Him.

           Now, in order to better understand this process, let's look at a couple of the tremendous benefits of heat and pressure. If you want to purify gold, it must be subjected to periods of intense heat. This process forces the impurities that are embedded deep within the molecular makeup of the gold to rise to the top where they can be skimmed off and thrown away, leaving behind only the pure gold. Without this process of purification, the gold would not be nearly as valuable. Gold that has not undergone the purification process is actually referred to as impure. It is only by exposing the impure gold to the intense heat of purification that enables it to be hailed as one of our planet's most sought-after and valuable commodities. Just as intense heat purifies gold, fiery trials purify our life, if we allow them.

           Let's look at the amazing benefits of pressure. Have you ever given any thought to what it takes to produce a beautiful diamond? In case you do not already know, diamonds start out as mere chunks of coal. In order to change a chunk of coal into a beautiful and very expensive diamond, it must first be exposed for many years to intense pressure. Simply put, it is the exposure of coal to intense pressure for long periods of time that transforms it into beautiful and extremely valuable diamonds.

           Now, what about them slithery sneaky snakes; How do they fit into our process of transformation? Once we have turned our lives over to Christ, we have become enemies of unclean spirits which answers the last part of our young friend's question, "Why do people who are not Christians seem to never come under the kind of intense attacks that committed believers do?" In order to better understand what this means, we really need to look at the remarkable way that God has designed and wired the vast majority of snakes. You may say, "But Keith, why do you have to use snakes as your example, I get the creeps just reading about them?" Please hang in here with me. I will try to make this as painless as possible.

           Scripture refers to satan as a serpent, in a number of different passages. For instance, who of us has not heard how satan, that sneaky ol' snake, deceived Eve in the book of Genesis?
 "Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:1-5)

           Here's another scripture that refer to satan as a serpent,
 "And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. " (Revelation 12:9)

 John, the Revelator, also mentions satan as a serpent here, "And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season." (Revelation 20:1-3)

           For the sake of understanding how unclean spirits (spiritual snakes) operate, it is important that we familiarize ourselves with how natural snakes pursue their prey, as compared to how they defend themselves against their enemies. We must first understand that snakes have very poor eyesight and cannot see things in the same way that we humans do. Let's consider the way God fashioned a snake known as the Pit Viper. This snake, like so many others, detects prey using a two-chambered "pit" organ located between its eye and nostril on each side of its head. Warm-blooded animals, as long as they are alive, continually give off what is known as thermal radiation, even when motionless. The snake's brain identifies this heat by comparing the temperatures in the outer and inner chambers of the "pit" organs in its head. Since the brain distinguishes between input from the right and left pit organs, the snake can tell where the heat source is, in relation to itself. This highly sophisticated organ enables them to strike accurately, even in the dark, even when its prey is only a fraction of a degree warmer than the snake.

           A snake, once it has found its desired prey, will very skillfully measure out the exact amount of venom that is necessary to render it immobile, and to well-assist in the digestive process. This is completely different from the way they deal with their enemies. When a snake determines that it has encountered an enemy, instead of measuring out its venom in accordance to the size of its enemy, it will rapidly inject its foe with its entire supply all at once. For example, when a snake sets out to look for dinner, it would stand to reason that he would not waste his valuable venom and effort striking at something larger than he can swallow. When he senses a heat image that is larger than he can possibly handle, he either hides from that animal or quietly moves in the opposite direction in search of an animal with the desired heat signature. For a pit viper or rattlesnake, mice, rats, rabbits or squirrels are the perfect size for them to ingest. Anything larger, and the snake will evade and continue searching for a smaller victim. Demon spirits operate in much the same way.

           Just as snakes can detect warm-blooded animals using thermal imaging, unclean spirits also use a type of "spiritual thermal imaging" to detect those who have God's hand on their lives. The amount of the Nature of Christ that the believer has developed in their heart and life, determines the size of the "spiritual thermal image" unclean spirits see. The larger amount of Christ's Nature found present within the Believer of Christ, the larger the spiritual heat signature the unclean spirits detect. Once they have detected a Christian who has a small amount of the Nature of Christ, they determine that spiritual heat signature to be within its ability to attack without having its head crushed, and that person then becomes the ideal prey. However, seeing a number of Believers surrounding the smaller, ideal prey, the demons will continue on in their search for another victim more available and easy to attack. In the occasion that a Holy Spirit-filled Believer is found vulnerable, as in a place or position of compromise for a Christian, the level of violence likely to come with a demonic attack will be much more intense than it would be against a young or lukewarm Believer. If the presence of God is not on the life of a person, unclean spirits simply regard the person as a non-threat.

           So, let's summarize this vital point of the Christian growth and transformation. Just as a snake can determine the size of its potential prey by the size of the animal's warm-blooded thermal image, unclean spirits determine the amount of Christ's Nature dwelling within a Believer in Christ, by the size of the "spiritual thermal image" or Christ-like heat signature that represents the Nature of Christ. This is why God's Word repeatedly emphasizes that Believers forsake NOT the assembling of themselves together, especially for the sake of young, immature Christians. In staying tightly knit with, and in continual proximity of, mature Christians, young Believers are less likely to receive the attack of any unclean spirits who know they will get their heads crushed by those with maturity of Christ's Nature, who are able to skillfully wield the sword of the Spirit (the Word of God). Therefore, there is safety in a multitude of mature believers!
 "Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety." (Proverbs 11:14)

           Mature believers have a developed understanding of God's Will, His Ways, and His mighty Power over satan and the wicked spirits on the earth. Whenever we come under attack, or find ourselves confronted by circumstances that bring pain, suffering, or discomfort of some kind, our first instinct should be to address it with God. 
As James said, "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." (James 4:6-7) "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up." (James 4:10) When we submit ourselves humbly to God, we become able to resist the devil, and the devil flees from us. Submitting ourselves to God allows Him to begin renewing our mind, and subduing our old, flesh nature so that the "new nature IN Christ" rises above the old nature. We must submit our old sin-filled way of life geared to increase "self", and embrace the new way of life centered on Christ and His increasing IN us, instead. The fire, the pressure, and them slithery sneaky snakes are all part of what comes with the process of changing the Believer's heart to reflect Christ.

           Another way to view how a Christian's heart and life is changed, is in the agricultural process of "pruning". Much like a person known as a "vine dresser" prunes the vines or fruit trees so they will bear more fruit in the upcoming season in the orchard, God also prunes our lives of anything that hinders us from becoming transformed into the Nature and likeness of Christ. I remember vividly how, as a child, I would watch my Dad carefully examine the plants and trees in our yard until, with certainty and authority, he began pruning the specific branches he determined needed to be cut off or trimmed back. Interesting to mention, even though my Dad was always an avid wood-worker, I actually learned how pruning shears were used, long before I ever knew how a table saw worked.

           The first few times I saw how short Dad made some of the limbs and branches when he was pruning them, I was confused by it all. I couldn't figure out how in the world he could expect better, fuller plants and trees to grow from what he just got done cutting so short that it looks like nothing more than a "nub". Can you see where this might be rather confusing to someone who does not understand the art of pruning?

           Dad taught me that it is only by the process of pruning that a plant can yield an increased harvest in the next season of its life. If you want more fruit, you have to prune! If you allow a plant to go un-pruned, you'll be wasting its valuable nutrients on fruitless and dying branches that aren't able to yield fruit for a harvest. The plant will gradually die and become lifeless wood that is good for nothing but to be thrown on the fire and burned.
 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in Me that bears no fruit He takes away: and every branch that bears fruit, He purges it, that it may bring forth more fruit." (John 15:1-2)

           God's will and desire for our lives is that we do more than just reap a harvest. He desires that we bring forth an abundant harvest.
 "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be My disciples." (John 15:8) In order to bear much fruit, we must be pruned! This is especially true in this age when the vast majority of people are diligently seeking comfort and pleasures much more than they seek God. For them, this pruning thing does not go over very well. No matter how you "cut" it (pun intended), pruning is a painful procedure. If a plant had feelings and could talk, I'm sure it would tell us that the pruning process is nothing short of excruciating.

           The fact is, healthy growth is just not possible without the hot temperatures of fire to burn away impurities, and without the intense level of pressure to force valuable elements to seat, and compress together. Like a fruit tree gets damaged by insects, sunburn, or things that affect its natural growth, we too have impurities and damages that affect our natural growth. Without pruning away the parts that get damaged or die, the healthy parts will be limited in their ability to live and grow. Carefully cutting off anything that robs us of life and growth is a necessary and painful procedure. The good news is, at the hand of God, we are guarantees a successful surgery. The bad news is, we must undergo the surgery without the luxury of pain suppressants.

           It is noteworthy to point out that we must resist the temptation to self-medicate or, as I like to put it, jump down off of God's operating table to escape the pain, or run off. When the Person of the Holy Spirit is putting us through a trial by fire, or intense pressure that will change our heart and make our life pure and acceptable for Christ to inhabit, we must resist the temptation to try to escape the suffering or subdue the pain. It is imperative that - instead of 
picking up the phone to call a friend; distracting ourselves with TV programming, food, or shopping sprees; self-medicating with alcohol, illegal drugs, or prescription med's; or using any other form of escapism from pain - we constantly focus on conditioning ourselves to linger in the pain long enough for it to fulfill its divine purpose in our life. Where real spiritual growth is concerned, there's absolute truth in the old adage, "No pain, no gain!" "But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." (Matthew 24:13)

           Too many Believers don't understand that the painful process of transformation in their life is their ally and friend! Without being transformed for the Glory of Christ, it is impossible to become Christ-like in our nature. Without enduring trials and tribulations, we can't possibly become "one" with Christ, and become all that God intended and desires each of us to be. There's a 
great song Steve Camp wrote and recorded in the eighties with these lyrics, "And though the trials never end, I've learned to take them as my friends." Steve apparently learned the liberating value of being subject to the transforming pain of heat and pressure that God so often uses to refine us in our lives. Just as pruning promotes growth, so does fire that purifies and pressure that transforms. But the only ones who grow and become purified and transformed into Christ's image, are those who diligently seek the Kingdom of God - or the "King('s)Dom(ain)" - or the place where we can be "one" with God within His Presence and dominion. Life is beautiful and priceless in His sight!

           We are indeed in the last days before Christ Jesus returns, and God is accelerating the growth of those who are diligently seeking Him. This is, in large part, the reason for the increase in the trials and tribulations you are currently experiencing. At the same time, satan and his slithery hoard of thugs are increasing the frequency of attacks in our lives, as a last-ditch effort to steal our joy, kill our faith, and destroy our lives, knowing that their time is growing ever so short.
 "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come." (2 Timothy 3:1)

           Now you can better understand why those who diligently pursue God suffer through pain, pressure, and trying times that the unbeliever does not. We pray that this message has helped inform, or remind, you that we are going to suffer if we are going to grow up in God!

 "Behold, I (Jesus) give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. " (Luke 10:19) Jesus also said, "The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." (John 10:10)

We encourage you to build a strong relationship and partnership with our Father God, through the Person of the Holy Spirit! "Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." (Matthew 6:31-33) Without fire and pressure we simply cannot be transformed into Christ's likeness and without them slithery ole sneaky snakes, we just wouldn't know that we're growing at all, now would we?

           Here's a thought to take along, and ponder, "If the atheist goes about life believing God does not exist, then what would that make a professing Christian who goes about life 'without believing God'?" Selah.

           We pray that this testimony and brief exhortation dispels any doubt that you may have in your heart and, at the same time, fans into flames your passion for loving, trusting, believing, and following God wholeheartedly. If you allow those flames to burn and increase in your life with Christ, your life will be ever better; I guarantee it!


"Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety." (Proverbs 11:14)


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