Bait of Satan ~ 5
How Spiritual Vagabonds Are Born
By John Bevere

It is righteous for God to avenge His servants. It is unrighteous for God’s servants to avenge themselves.

“The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord.” So David restrained his servants with these words, and did not allow them to rise against Saul. ~ 1 Samuel 24:6-7

In the last chapter we saw how David was mistreated by the man he had hoped would be his father. David kept trying to understand where he had gone wrong. What had he done to turn Saul’s heart against him, and how could he win it back? He proved his loyalty by sparing Saul’s life even though Saul aggressively pursued his.

He cried out to Saul with his head bowed to the ground, saying, “See that there is neither evil nor rebellion in my hand, and I have not sinned against you.”

Once David knew he had shown his loyalty to his leader, his mind was eased. Later he learned more devastating news: Saul still desired to destroy him. But David refused to raise a hand against the one who sought to take his life, though God had put the army to sleep and had given him a companion who pleaded for permission to kill Saul. David somehow sensed that this sleeping army served another purpose -- the testing of his very heart.

God wanted to see whether David would kill to establish his kingdom, after the order of Saul, or allow God to establish his throne in righteousness forever.

Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. ~ Romans 12:19

It is righteous for God to avenge His servants. It is unrighteous for God’s servants to avenge themselves. Saul was a man who avenged himself. He chased David, a man of honor, for fourteen years and murdered the priests and their families.

As David stood over the sleeping Saul, he faced an important test. It would reveal whether David still had the noble heart of a shepherd or the insecurity of another Saul. Would he remain a man after God’s heart? Initially it is so much easier when we take matters into our own hands, rather than waiting on a righteous God.

God tests His servants with obedience. He deliberately places us in situations where the standards of religion and society would appear to justify our actions. He allows others, especially those close to us, to encourage us to protect ourselves. We may even think we would be noble and protect ourselves. We may even think we would be noble and protect others by avenging ourselves. But this is not God’s way. It is the way of the world’s wisdom. It is earthly and fleshly.

When I consider the opportunity I had for exposing the leader over me, I remember wrestling with the thought that he might hurt others if he was not exposed. I kept thinking, “I’m only reporting truth. If I don’t, how will this ever end?” I was encouraged by others to expose him.

Today, however, I know that God gave me that information for one reason -- to test me. Was I going to become like the man who sought to destroy me? Or would I allow for God’s judgment or mercy if the man repented?

How Can God Use Corrupt Leaders?

Many people ask, “Why does God put people under leaders who make serious mistakes and even some that are wicked?”

Look at the childhood of Samuel (see 1 Samuel 2-5). God, not the devil, was the One who put this young man under the authority of a corrupt priest named Eli and his two wicked sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who were priest as well. These men were very wicked. They took offerings by manipulation and force, and they committed fornication with the women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle.

Can you imagine if you were serving a minister who lived this kind of life? A minister who was so insensitive to the things of the Spirit that he couldn’t recognize a woman in prayer and accused her of being drunk! So fleshly that he was grossly overweight. So compromising he did nothing about his sons, whom he had appointed as leaders, who were committing fornication right in the church.

Most Christians today would be offended and search for another church, telling others as they went of the wicked lifestyle of their former pastor and his leaders. In the midst of such corruption, I love the report of what young Samuel did: “Now the boy Samuel ministered to the Lord before Eli” (1 Sam. 3:1).

But corruption took its toll: “And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation” (1 Sam. 3:1). God seemed distant to the entire Hebrew community. The lamp of God was about to go out in the temple of the Lord. Yet did Samuel go look for another place to worship? Did he go to the elders to expose the wickedness of Eli and his sons? Did he form a committee to put Eli and his sons out of the pastorate? No, he ministered to the Lord!

God had placed Samuel there, and he was not responsible for the behavior of Eli or his sons. He was put under them not to judge them but to serve them. He knew Eli was God’s servant, not his. He knew that God was quite capable of dealing with His own.

Children do not correct fathers. But it is the duty of fathers to train and correct the children. We are to deal with and confront those whom God has given us to train. This is our responsibility. Those on our own level we are to encourage and exhort as brothers. But in this lesson, as with the last, I am dealing with our response to those in authority over us.

Samuel served God’s appointed minister the best he could, without the pressure to judge him or correct him. The only time Samuel spoke a word of correction was when Eli came to Samuel and asked him what prophecy God had given him the night before. But even then it was not a word of correction from Samuel, but from God. If more people would get hold of this truth, our churches would be different.

Churches Aren’t Cafeterias

Today men and women leave churches so readily if they see something wrong in the leadership. Perhaps it is the way the pastor takes offerings. Maybe it is the way the money is spent. If they don’t like what the pastor preaches, they leave. He is either not approachable, or he is too familiar. This list doesn’t end. Rather than face the difficulties and maintain hope, they run to where there appears to be no conflict.

Let’s face it: Jesus is the only perfect pastor. So why do we run from difficulties in America instead of facing them and working through them? When we don’t hit these conflicts head on, we usually leave offended. Sometimes we say our prophetic ministry just was not received. We then go from church to church looking for a place with flawless leadership.

As I write this book, I have been a member at only two churches in two different states in the last fourteen years. I have had more than two -- in fact, numerous -- opportunities to become offended with the leadership over me (most of which, I might add, stemmed from my own fault or immaturity). I had the chance to become critical and judgmental with leadership; but leaving was not the answer. In the midst of a very trying circumstance, one day the Lord spoke to me through a Scripture verse and said, “This is the way I want you to leave a church”:

For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace. ~ Isaiah 55:12

Most do not leave this way. They think churches are like cafeterias; they can pick and choose what they like! They feel the freedom to stay as long as there are no problems. But this does not agree at all with what the Bible teaches. You are not the one who chooses where you go to church. God does! The Bible does not say, “God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as ‘they’ please.” Rather is says, “But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as ‘He’ pleased” (1 Cor. 12:18. Emphasis added).

Remember that, if you’re in the place where God wants you, the devil will try to offend you to get you out. He wants to uproot men and women from the place where God plants them. If he can get you out, he has been successful. If you will not budge, even in the midst of great conflict, you will spoil his plans.

The Critical Deception

I was in a church for several years. The pastor was one of the best preachers in America. When I first attended that church, I would sit with my mouth open in awe of the biblical teaching that came from his mouth.

As time passed, because of my position of serving the pastor, I was close enough to see his flaws. I questioned some of his ministry decisions. I became critical and judgmental, and offense set in. He preached, and I sensed no inspiration or anointing. His preaching no longer ministered to me.

Another couple who were our friends and also on staff seemed to be discerning the same thing. God sent them out from the church, and they started their own ministry. They asked us to go with them. They knew how we were struggling. They encouraged us to get on with the call on our lives. They would tell us all wrong. We would commiserate together, feeling hopeless and trapped.

They seemed sincerely concerned for our welfare. But our discussion only fueled our fire of discontent and offense. As Proverbs 26:20 illustrates, “where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer, strife ceases.” What they were saying to us may have been correct information, but it was wrong in the eyes of God because it was adding wood to the fire of offense in them as well as in us.

“We know you are a man of God,” they said to me. “That’s why you are having the problems you are having in this place.” It sounded good.

My wife and I said to each other, “That is it. We are in a bad situation. We need to get out. This pastor and his wife love us. They will pastor us. The people in their church will receive us and the ministry God has given us.”

We left our home church and began attending this couple’s church, but only for a few short months. Even though we thought we had run from our problems, we noticed there was still a struggle for us. Our spirits had no joy. We were bound to a fear of becoming what we had just left. It seemed everything we did was forced and unnatural. We couldn’t fit into the flow of the Spirit. Now even our relationship with the new pastor and his wife were strained.

Finally I knew we should return to our home church. When we did, we knew at once that we were back in the will of God, even though it had appeared that we would be more accepted and loved elsewhere.

Then God shocked me. “John, I never told you to leave this church. You left out of offense!”

This was not the fault of the other pastor and his wife, but ours. They understood our frustration and were trying to resolve the same issues in their own hearts. When you’re out of the will of God, you will not be a blessing or help to any church. When you’re out of the will of God, even the good relationships will be strained. We had been out of God’s will.

Offended people react to the situation and do things that appear right even though they are not inspired by God. We are not called to react but to act.

If we are obedient to God and have sought Him, and He is not speaking, then do you know what the answer is? He is probably saying, “Stay right where you are. Don’t change a thing.”

Often when we feel pressure we look for a word from God to bring us relief. But God puts us in these very uncomfortable crucibles to mature, refine, and strengthen, not to destroy us!

Within one month I had an opportunity to meet with the pastor of my original church. I repented of being critical and rebellious. He graciously forgave me. Our relationship was strengthened, and joy returned to my heart. I immediately started to receive the pastor’s ministry from the pulpit again, and I remained in that church for years.

The Planted Flourish

The Bible says in Psalm 92:13, “Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God.”

Notice that those who flourish are “planted” in the house of the Lord. What happens to a plant if you transplant it every three weeks? Most of you know that its root system will diminish, and it will not blossom or prosper. If you keep transplanting it, the plant will die of shock!

Many people go from church to church, ministry team to ministry team, trying to develop their ministry. If God puts them in a place where they are not recognized and encouraged, they are easily offended. If they don’t agree with the way something is done, they are offended and go. They then leave, blaming the leadership. They are blind to any of their own character flaws and do not realize God wanted to refine and mature them through the pressure they were under.

Let’s learn from the examples God gives with plants and trees. When a fruit tree is put in the ground it has to face rainstorms, hot sun, and wind. If a young tree could talk, it might say, “Please get me out of here! Put me in a place where there is no sweltering heat or windy storms!”

If the gardener listened to the tree, he would actually harm it. Trees endure the hot sun and rainstorms by sending their roots down deeper. The adversity they face is eventually the source of great stability. The harshness of the elements surrounding them causes them to seek another source of life. They will one day come to the place that even the greatest of windstorms cannot affect their ability to produce fruit.

I live in Florida, a citrus capital. Most Floridians know that the colder the winter is for the trees, the sweeter the oranges. If we did not run so fast from spiritual resistance, our root systems would have a chance to become stronger and deeper, and our fruit would be plentiful and sweeter in the eyes of God and more palatable to His people! We would be mature trees that the Lord delights in, rather than ones uprooted for their lack of fruit (Luke 13:6-9). We should not resist the very thing God sends to mature us.

The psalmist David, inspired by the Holy Ghost, made a powerful connection between offense, the law of God and our spiritual growth. He wrote in Psalm 1:

Blessed is the man… [whose] delight is in the law of the Lord; and in His law he meditates day and night (1:1-2).

Then in Psalm 119:165 he gave us more insight into people who love God’s laws.

Great peace have they which love [or delight in] thy law: and nothing shall offend them.

Verse 3 of Psalm 1 finally describes the destiny of such a person.

He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.

In other words, a believer who chooses to delight in the Word of God in the midst of adversity will avoid being offended. That person will be like a tree whose roots search deep to where the Spirit provides strength and nourishment. He will draw from the well of God deep within his spirit. This will mature him to the point where adversity will now be the catalyst for fruit. Hallelujah!

Now we gain insight into Jesus’ interpretation of the parable of the sower.

And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended. ~ Mark 4:16-17.

Once you leave the place God has chosen for you, your root system begins to dwarf. The next time it will be easier for you to flee from adversity because you have been careful not to root yourself too deeply. You end up coming to the place where you have little or no strength to endure hardship or persecution.

You then become a spiritual vagabond, wandering from place to place, suspicious and afraid that others will mistreat you. Crippled and hindered in your ability to produce true spiritual fruit, you struggle in a self-centered life, eating the remains of the fruit of others.

Look at Cain and Abel, the first sons of Adam. Cain brought an offering to the Lord from the works of his own hands, the fruit of his vineyard. It was brought forth with much toil. He had to clear the ground of rocks, stumps, and other debris. He had to plow and cultivate the soil. He had to plant, water, fertilize, and protect his crops. He put much effort in his service toward God. But it was his own sacrifice rather than obedience toward God’s way. It symbolized the worship of God by one’s own strength and ability rather than by God’s grace.

Abel, on the other hand, brought an offering of obedience, the choice firstborn of his flock and their fat. He did not labor as Cain did to bring this forth, but it was dear to him. Both brothers would have heard how their mother and father had attempted to cover their nakedness with fig leaves which represented their own works to cover their sin. But God demonstrated acceptable sacrifice by covering Adam and Eve with the skin of an innocent animal. Adam and Eve were ignorant of this unacceptable covering of their sin. But having been shown God’s way they were no longer ignorant, nor were their children.

Cain had tried to win God’s acceptance apart from His counsel. God responded by showing He would accept those who came to Him under His parameters of grace (Abel’s sacrifice) and would reject what was attempted under the domain of the “knowledge of good and evil” (Cain’s religious works). He then instructed Cain that if he would do good, he’d be accepted; but if he would not choose life, then sin would master him.

Cain was offended with the Lord. Rather than repent and do what was right, allowing this situation to strengthen his character, he vented on Abel his anger and offense with God. He murdered Abel. God said to Cain:

So now you are cursed from the earth, which had opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth. ~ Genesis 4:11-12

The thing Cain feared most, to be rejected by God, he brought as a judgment on himself. The very medium through which he tried to win God’s approval was now cursed by his own hand. The bloodshed now brought a curse. The ground would no longer give up its strength to him. Fruit would come only through great effort.

Offended Christians also cut off their own ability to produce fruit. Jesus compared the heart with soil in the parable of the sower. Just as Cain’s fields were barren, the soil of an offended heart is barren, poisoned by bitterness. Offended people still may experience miracles, words of utterance, strong preaching, and healing in their lives. But these are gifts of the Spirit, not fruits. We will be judged according to fruit, not gifting. A gift is given. Fruit is cultivated.

Notice that God said Cain would become a fugitive and a vagabond as a result of his actions. There are numerous spiritual fugitives and vagabonds in our churches today. Their gifts of singing, preaching, prophesying, and so on are not received by the leadership in their previous church, so off they go. They are running aimlessly and carry an offense, looking for that perfect church that will receive their gift and heal their hurts.

They feel beat up and persecuted. They feel as if they are modern-day Jeremiahs. It is “just them and God,” with everyone else out to get them. They become unteachable. They get what I call a persecution complex: “Everyone is out to get me.” They comfort themselves that they are just a persecuted saint or prophet of God. They are suspicious of everyone. This is exactly what happened to Cain. Look what he says:

I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, and it will happen that anyone who finds me will kill me. ~ Genesis 4:14

Consider that Cain had the persecution complex -- everyone was out to get him! It is the same today. Offended people believe everyone is out to get them. With this attitude it is difficult for them to see areas in their own lives that need change. They isolate themselves and conduct themselves in such a manner that invites abuse.

A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages against all wise judgment. ~ Proverbs 18:1

God never created us to live separately and independently of each other. He likes it when His children care for and nurture each other. He is frustrated when we sulk and feel sorry for ourselves, making everyone else responsible for our happiness. He wants us to be active members of the family. He wants us to get our life from Him. An isolated person seeks only his own desire, not God’s. He receives no counsel and sets himself up for deception.

I am not talking about seasons in which God calls individuals apart to equip and refresh them. I’m describing those who have imprisoned themselves. They wander from church to church, relationship to relationship, and isolate themselves in their own world. They think that all who do not agree with them are wrong and are against them. They protect themselves in their isolation and feel safe in the controlled environment they have set up for themselves. They no longer have to confront their own character flaws. Rather than facing the difficulties, they try to escape the test. The character development that comes only as they work through conflicts with others is lost as the cycle of offense begins again.

Next week: Hiding from reality
{Acquiring an offense keeps you from seeing your own character flaws because blame is deferred to another.}