Isenheimer Altar

The Isenheimer Altar by Matthias Grunewald is a powerful painting of the crucifixion. It stood in a monastery of the Antonian Hospitalers where people were cared for during the plagues that afflicted Europe during the late Middle Ages. In the painting His body is covered with boils. “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried” (Is. 53:4). In His affliction He became one with the afflicted.

            I fear that many have lost this understanding of redemption. Their view of Jesus is more like the previous verse in Isaiah, “He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face. He was despised, and we did not esteem Him” (53:3). They don’t want redemption through suffering. They want redemption from suffering. They have given up expecting help from God, and seek to humanize all earthly institutions.

            In the West it began with the Enlightenment. If humanist philosophers, like Kant and Hegel, were right then we should be more free, reasonable, and disciplined. That would require a higher view of humanity than God. Communism was the next movement to create a godless social order of equality, except the masses weren’t equal with the dictatorial rulers. Now we have liberal social progresses who are going to fundamentally change America-sadly they have mostly succeeded. Apparently they are mesmerized by the “progress” being made in Zimbabwe, Venezuela, South Africa, etc. The New Age movement says we are gods. Is not self-rule the heart of all these movements?

            C.S. Lewis wrote, “to render back the will which we have so long claimed for our own, is in itself, wherever and however it is done, a grievous pain.” I don’t know any painless way to die to self-rule. “For we are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal body” (2 Cor. 4:11). We are His children, “heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:17,18).

Dr. Neil            www.discipleshipcounsel.com   For Spanish see www.ficmm.org/blog

Martyrdom

The liberal press has remained strangely silent about the persecution of Christians around the world. Twice as many Christians have died because of their faith this year than last year in Northern Africa, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. The rising state of Islam, ISIS, is committing atrocities that rival or exceed the holocaust. All this while 6 million Israelites struggle to survive as a nation while being surrounded by hundreds of millions of Muslims who want to annihilate them, while anti-Semitism is on the rise again in Europe.

            It was one of the chosen people who first cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Psalm 22:1), when Israel was being besieged for its faith. If the Son of God cried out the same words while suffering excruciation pain (Matt. 27:46), then where is God to be found? When Jesus uttered those words He was not declaring the absence of God. He was turning to Him in prayer. On the cross Jesus entered in and shared the affliction of the condemned. Those who only hear of such atrocities in the cushioned armchair of their own prosperity are often the ones who ask, “Where is God?”

            Those who are in the battle are the ones most likely to discover God. It was no accident that the most despised and persecuted became the people of revelation, just as it was by design that the One who suffered the most was the ultimate revelation of God. Faith in God flows from the wounded head of the Crucified Christ. The satisfied onlooker sees the cross as a cruel symbol of human depravity, but those who have entered into the sufferings of Christ see the cross as the image of consolation and hope.

Dr. Neil            www.discipleshipcounsel.com   For Spanish see www.ficmm.org/blog

Not What I Wanted

Question from a face book friend:

When one asks God for something, and gets it, but it happens in a manner that is traumatic, is that God or Satan? The person does get what was requested, but in a way that the person did not want and is traumatizing.

It is impossible to say. First, the timing of the two events could be coincidental. It is very hard to establish causation when it comes to prayer. Every Christian has thanked God for answered prayer when circumstances have been favorable, but they may have been anyway.

Second, be careful what you ask for! The Israelites grew tired of the manna, and said, “Give us meat to eat” (Nu. 11:13). God gave them so much meat to eat that it came out of their nostrils and became loathsome to them (vs. 19f), because they had rejected the Lord. They should have been thankful that God had delivered them from Egypt. We should always come before God with thanksgiving, and with the right motives. James wrote, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (4:3).

Third, God will give us want we need, but not necessarily what we want, because we really don’t know what is good for us. People pray to win the lottery, but it is an overwhelming negative experience for those who do win. “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ Or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (Matt. 6:31,32).

Fourth, “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give  good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him” (Matt. 7:7-11).

Dr. Neil            www.discipleshipcounsel.com   For Spanish see www.ficmm.org/blog

Pure Thoughts

Question from an email friend:

When a person is lusting or angry in thought but not doing the sinful act itself, wouldn’t that be already sinning? If this is so, then how does threshold thinking work since one has already committed the sin the moment lust enters or anger enters the door? Same goes for envy. One can envy without acting it out. Would this be already sinning?

Those are rather convoluted questions!  Let’s not kid ourselves. Our life can only be as pure as our thoughts. “The Lord detests the thoughts of the wicked, but those of the pure are pleasing to Him” (Prov. 15:26). That is why the apostle Paul wrote, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8). If you want to live a righteous life, you have to continue with the next verse, i.e. live the truth, do the honorable and just thing, etc. Then “the God of peace will be with you.”

            Just as living a righteous life begins by thinking/believing the right thoughts, sinning begins by entertaining wrong thoughts. We don’t do anything without first thinking it, because every action is proceeded by a thought. So when you are first tempted, choose the way of escape by fixing your eyes on Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. Paul wrote, “Everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23).

            This really underscores the problem of legalism; priding ourselves for not murdering, envying, or committing adultery, when in fact we have in our hearts. Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt. 23:27,28).

            In our ministry we help people win that battle for their minds, but we do it under the grace of God. Nobody’s thoughts are perfectly pure, and in a real since we are all guilty of murder, envy, and adultery, but we are forgiven. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). Let’s be honest with God and ourselves and learn to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

Dr. Neil            www.discipleshipcounsel.com   For Spanish see www.ficmm.org/blog

The Blood Moon Tetrad

“And I will show wonders in the heavens, and in the earth, blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord” Joel 2:30-31. The other night I saw a large full moon that appeared to have the color of blood. It appeared larger because the orbital path of the moon isn’t circular. The distance to the moon can vary as much as 60,000 miles, and it presently is as close to earth as it ever gets, and therefore appears larger.

            There is also another phenomena known as the Blood Moon Tetrad, which has all the end times prognosticators in a flutter (see ProphecyNewsWatch.com). Couple that with a recent book entitled The Harbinger, which predicted judgment upon the United States, and prophecy again becomes all the buzz. We certainly could be living in the end times, and a lot of signs would seem to indicate that. For the right perspective I’m drawn to the third chapter in Peter’s second epistle. We “should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior,” (vs. 2), and realize that there will be scoffers (vs. 3f). “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (vs. 8). We are time oriented people who like to fix times and dates, but God is eternal. So the real issue is, “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness” (vs. 11).

            Francis of Assisi was working in his garden when someone asked him what he would do if he thought that Jesus was coming back the very next day. He said he would finish hoeing his garden. If I thought that Jesus was coming back tomorrow I would keep doing what I have always tried to do, i.e. becoming a responsible child of God, husband, father, and grandfather. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10. As you look forward to blessed hope of His coming, keep doing the good work He has called you to do.

Dr. Neil            www.discipleshipcounsel.com   For Spanish see www.ficmm.org/blog

Marijuana

Question from a blog reader:

My son argues that smoking marijuana is less harmful than drinking alcohol. How can I convince him otherwise? The abuse of alcohol is ten to twenty times more detrimental to society than the abuse of street drugs. Alcohol is legal and street or “recreational” drugs aren’t (except for two states that have legalized marijuana), and the millennials love to point out the hypocrisy of the establishment. However, here is the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) report on Marijuana:

Marijuana over activates the endocannabinoid system, causing the “high” and other effects that users experience. These effects include altered perceptions and mood, impaired coordination, difficulty with thinking and problem solving, and disrupted learning and memory. Marijuana also affects brain development, and when it is used heavily by young people, its effects on thinking and memory may last a long time or even be permanent. A recent study of marijuana users who began using in adolescence revealed substantially reduced connectivity among brain areas responsible for learning and memory. And a large long-term study in New Zealand showed that people who began smoking marijuana heavily in their teens lost an average of 8 points in IQ between age 13 and age 38. Importantly, the lost cognitive abilities were not fully restored in those who quit smoking marijuana as adults.

Chemical abuse of any kind is detrimental to the brain. View the brain scan of an alcoholic and compare it with the brain scan of a non-drinker or user. That should be enough to convince anyone to abstain, but it isn’t! I am seeing the mind of my wife deteriorating as her brain is being ravaged by dementia. It is not a pretty sight. Why do people choose to take mind altering drugs that they know will have long term detrimental effects on the brain? To escape reality? Peer pressure? To stop the pain? To temporarily feel good? To quiet the voices?

            If we could only do all things in moderation then one glass of wine with a meal, a cold beer after mowing the lawn, and even one dose of marijuana may be okay. It would probably do less damage to your body than over eating, which is also legal! I have an idea. Why don’t we stop being people pleasers, resolve our personal and spiritual conflicts through genuine repentance and faith in God, find self-control by being filled with the Spirit, and discover the joy of the Lord? That is the ultimate high.

Dr. Neilwww.discipleshipcounsel.comFor Spanish see www.ficmm.org/blog

A Precious Mind

I have been married to Joanne for 48 years. I don’t think she has ever had an enemy in her life, and I have never seen a mean bone in her body. Her discerning spirit was known in our ministry, which was a tremendous gift to me. Joanne was a prolific reader, and would devour two or more books a week. She never intentionally did research for me, but many times I heard her say, “You might be interested in this,” and I was. She was my editor for numerous college papers, two master’s thesis, and two doctoral dissertations, and sixty books. Her university degree was in home economics and foods, but her major should have been English literature.

            She is still my life mate, but I miss her. I visit her every day in an assisted living facility. Joanne has agitated dementia, and she can’t read anymore or carry on a meaningful conversation. Several months ago she started calling me “daddy.” She doesn’t care to talk to friends and not even family. I am the only one she trusts and wants to talk to, but we don’t talk much. She is relieved to see me when I come by, and then she silently reclines in her bed. I sit there for a while-in silence. I’m thankful for my own mental peace during those times, and for the good years we have had together.

The mind is a precious thing, but it needs a healthy brain. When the brain begins to shrink, the mind becomes incapacitated. Joanne had programmed her mind well, which is why in its limited capacity there is no meanness toward me and others, and why her most consistent request is for me to pray for her. I usually just ask God to give her peace, and to guard her heart and her mind. The apostle’s words are meaningful to me, and I hope they are to you. “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love coves over a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:7,8).

Dr. Neil            www.discipleshipcounsel.com   For Spanish see www.ficmm.org/blog

Helping Others

Question from a Face Book friend:

 I come from a back ground of drug and alcohol abuse and have now been clean and sober for more than two years. I didn’t know it before, but I was struggling with spiritual warfare for a long time. Eight months ago where I was actually seeing demonic faces on people, and I literally thought I was in hell. This happened many years ago as well. I went to the police because I was having visions of hurting people, and wanted to be put in jail for the safety of others. I’ve never been a violent person and didn’t plan on hurting anyone. I didn’t understand what I was seeing, and I didn’t want to take the risk of being in public. Of course they took me to the hospital where I was admitted and drugged. The problem eventually subsided, and I was once again “free” to be in the public. This time I had a feeling it was spiritual, and I didn’t want to go to the hospital, because I knew what they would do. I felt that drugs would just be a Band-Aid.

To make a long story short I have a friend in the AA fellowship that happened to be a Christian and was well versed on spiritual warfare and knew your books. God set me from the darkness I was living in. A big part of finding this freedom was through the Steps to Freedom in Christ. I can’t thank you enough. Now I clearly see that many people in the AA / NA twelve-step programs don’t know who their God is and I want so badly to be used of God to help others find their freedom in Christ. Is it possible to actually do this full time without going to bible school? Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks.

You don’t have to be a professional to help other people. You do need to be alive and free in Christ and a good grasp of Scripture. In the United States we have an on-line university to become a Community Freedom Ministry Associate (see www.ficm.org). To qualify you have to finish the course and attend a practicum. Most of our work around the world is being done by lay-people.

Unfortunately, if you want to be employed by any state run program you would have to be licensed and that would require a degree. Stay sober and clean, and continue discovering who you are and who your Heavenly Father is and He will have a place for you in His kingdom.

Dr. Neil       www.discipleshipcounsel.com             For Spanish see www.ficmm.org/blog

Biased “Truth”

Question from an email friend:

My daughter-in-law is struggling with an obvious mental illness. Her mother thinks she has been drugged, and one home test did show positive for meth. There is no evidence that anyone has drugged her. Can mental break-downs, chemical imbalances, or other psychotic behavior reproduce chemical changes in the body that might resemble meth, and its effects on the body? Everyone involved profess to be Christians. There has been so much confusion and denial of her mental illness that we need to find some truth.

            The mother of the young lady would like to believe that her daughter has been drugged, which absolves her from any responsibility. In defense of his son and family, the father-in-law would like to believe that his daughter-in-law is mentally ill. The chances of a neurologically based mental illness creating a false positive for meth would be highly unlikely. A blood test would conclusively reveal that meth was in the system, but how did it get there?

            Could she have been drugged? It’s possible, but lying is the chief characteristic of those who are addicted to anything. Is she mentally ill? The truth is in the young lady. Will she voluntarily submit to drug tests, and will she voluntarily submit to a psychiatric evaluation? I would if I wanted to clear my name, and had nothing to hide. Wouldn’t you?

            The only fly in the ointment is the person doing the psychiatric evaluation. On what criteria would they be making their evaluation? Secular psychiatrists do not recognize the reality of the spiritual world, and those who are spiritually bound (fearful and hearing voices) would likely be considered mentally ill. I would say to both parents that truth is not the enemy. It is a liberating friend. It is time for all to walk in the light and have fellowship with one another and stop being defensive for everyone’s sake.

Dr. Neil            www.discipleshipcounsel.com   For Spanish see www.ficmm.org/blog

Autonomic Nervous System

Question from a blog reader:
You have written about the autonomic [nervous] system, how it is activated by temptation and how people should practice “threshold thinking”, but I have not seen any information in your writings about something else. What should/can someone do once the autonomic system has been activated?

            A recently written scholarly Christian book explained how pornography has hijacked the brain. I agreed with everything in the book, and so would most secular scholars, except for his biblical standards. There was no mention of God’s place in our life, or the significance of being a new creation in Christ. There was no mention of the Holy Spirit, or of evil spirits. I’m sure the author is a fine Christian man, but it was obvious to me that all his education was secular. He was explaining in great detail the natural man. In the appendix he did mention some recovery ministries for those whose brains have already been hijacked, but he offered no answer for the above question.

            When one is first tempted the “way of escape” is to take that first thought captive to the obedience of Christ, because if you let your mind dwell on the temptation you will activate the autonomic nervous system, which the author of the book alluded to above explains well. “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:15). If that was the end of my message then I would be no different than the other man. However, the rest of my message is how strongholds are formed in our minds, how we tear them down in Christ.

            So you have sinned! Acknowledge it, and get back up. You can’t retrieve what your glands have secreted into your blood stream, which is what the autonomic nervous system does,  but you can repent, and be transformed by the renewing our your mind. Simply agreeing with God through confession is the first step. Repentance deals with sin’s entrapment, which is what we try to resolve by taking people through the Steps to Freedom. If you had sex outside of marriage, you can confess you, but if you want to be free you need to renounce having sex with that person, ask God to break the bond (one flesh) mentally, and emotionally with that person, submit your body to God as a living sacrifice, and tell the devil to leave. That would be repentance. Read Winning the Battle Within.

Dr. Neil            www.discipleshipcounsel.com   For Spanish see www.ficm.org/blog