Christianity 201

September 27, 2022

You Will Get Through It

“No weapon that is formed against you will succeed; And you will condemn every tongue that accuses you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, And their vindication is from Me,” declares the LORD. – Isaiah 54:17 NASB

I loved the devotion we’re presenting you today from the very first sentence. We’re introducing another writer here for the first time. Shubricca L Bell (or just Bricca) was a Chef du Cuisne, managed two restaurants, changed careers and became a voice-over artist, has written four books, and hosts a podcast. Clicking the title which follows below will take you to where this appeared earlier today on her blog.

God will give you the strength to endure it, and the grace to come out of it

Oh, the weapons WILL form, but they WILL NOT prosper…

You know what I love. I love when when things that were supposed to take us out, actually makes us better. There’s no doubt that going through the unfortunates of life is wearisome, and we don’t understand it when we are going through, but if we could look through our spiritual lenses, we will see that it’s a set up for something GREATER!

Greater is coming…

You see, what was sent to take you out, God used it as ammunition to make you better. The Word of God says in 2 Corinthians 12:10, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

God will give you the STRENGTH to not only ENDURE the pain/test/trial, but He will give you the GRACE to COME OUT of it!

That’s right, you may be stuck between a rock and a hard place, but you’re coming out. On the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand!

The Word of God says in Psalm 118:22, “The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.” This scripture is referring to Jesus, but guess what? You are in Christ Jesus, so I’m talking to you!

You may be overlooked, rejected, talked about, done wrong, betrayed, laughed at, mocked, spit on, abused, misused, misled, manipulated, kicked when you were down, frowned upon, shunned, I could go on and on… BUT GOD!

This is a reminder that YOU WILL, get through it! God didn’t promise us an easy life. Jesus didn’t have it easy, so what makes you think we will.

It’s all about our focus. Stay true to what God has called you to do in THIS SEASON. It may not make sense, but be obedient. Walk by faith, not by sight and not in fear.

You may feel like giving up, but God is saying keep going. You may not know where the heck you’re going, but keep going. You may not think you have the strength, but keep going. You may get sick, but keep going. You may be alone, but keep going. You may not know how you’re going to do it, when it’s going to happen, where it’s going to happen, what is going to happen, but you can be certain of who it’s going to happen to- you, and why it’s going to happen- God!

The favor of God is on your life! You shall live and NOT die! You will see the goodness of the Lord IN the land of the LIVING.

Your dreams will not die with you, but they will manifest through you, in THIS LIFE!

So, when you can’t do anything else, keep going. God will give you strength for the journey.

September 24, 2022

Don’t Let Your Mind Go There!

Nearly a decade ago I was speaking with someone who was heading off to a small Bible college in Eastern Canada. I asked him if he needed help with textbooks, and he said that the school tends to write their own curriculum as they have a unique take on how they approach some Bible subjects.

Sometimes this can be a red-flag, so I asked him to give me an example, but it turned out to be something I found challenging and in fact, if you’re a longtime C201 reader, you’re seeing it here today for the third time.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says,

NIV Matt. 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Not all the teaching in this section specifically references the Decalogue, but what if we applied that “Don’t even think about it” standard to all of the other Ten Commandments? He told me that’s exactly what they did in their discussion of this passage.

That got me thinking. Instead of “Thou shalt nots” and I took some liberties with the text here, but at the time, I thought it might look like this:

  1. Don’t even think about putting any other interest, hobby, passion, person, pet, or other god-to-be-worshiped ahead of me (or even on an equal place).
  2. Don’t even think about giving special place to any physical representation of something (existing or in fantasy) that then occupies a central place in your life.
  3. Don’t even think about using God’s name casually or disrespectfully.
  4. Don’t even think about doing some chores or work for pay during the time you know should be set aside for God and for the rest He commands. If it is within your power, don’t compel others to work during this time, either.
  5. Don’t even think about how, given other circumstances, you’d love to kill someone if you thought you’d get away with; or harbor the anger that rises to that level.
  6. Don’t even think about going against the values your parents taught you, or doing something against their wishes. Their values and wishes and the proverbs they taught you will lead to long life.
  7. Don’t even think about having sex with someone who is not your wife; those thoughts will consume you and furthermore, it’s not likely to ever happen, you’re just driving yourself crazy!
  8. Don’t even think about taking something that isn’t yours.
  9. Don’t even think about misrepresenting someone else or putting spin on a story so it makes them look bad.
  10. Don’t even think about comparing yourself to what your neighbor, or co-worker, or extended family member has, or to his or her spouse, and wishing you could have that life or lifestyle.

I realize we’ve spent quite a few days over the past month looking at “God’s Big Ten,” and before we move to the section below, I want to invite you take some paper, or sit at our keyboard and refine what I’ve written, or better yet, start with the list in Exodus 20, and rewrite it in your own personal style or adding things you feel conform to the intention of the text when combined with the application of Matthew 5.

Before we conclude, another thing that struck me as I studied this was how The Voice Bible rendered the “You have heard it said” sections of Matthew 5. These are in italics in this version to indicate that yes, the translators have taken a liberty with the original text in order to provide clarity. What is especially worth noting here is that we generally read these with the inference that Jesus is now introducing something new, but these readings imply that the wider implications of what Jesus taught have been implicit in the text all along, if only we could see it that way.

  • 22 But here is the even harder truth
  • 28 You may think you have abided by this Commandment, walked the straight and narrow…
  • 34 But I tell you this: do not ever swear an oath. What is an oath? You cannot say, “I swear by heaven”—for heaven is not yours to swear by; it is God’s throne. 35 And you cannot say, “I swear by this good earth,” for the earth is not yours to swear by; it is God’s footstool. And you cannot say, “I swear by the holy city Jerusalem,” for it is not yours to swear by; it is the city of God, the capital of the King of kings.

The Voice Bible also breaks down specifically the origin of “You have heard it said…”

  • 21 As you know, long ago God instructed Moses to tell
  • 27 As you know, long ago God forbade His people…
  • 31 And here is something else: you have read in Deuteronomy that
  • 33 You know that…
  • 38 You know that Hebrew Scripture sets this standard…
  • 43 You have been taught…

Jesus’ teaching is clear: Don’t even consider wandering from the path, from God’s default settings, even for a moment!

NIV II Tim. 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.


Click this link for a devotional from last month which, at the bottom, links to other Ten Commandments-related posts here at C201.

September 21, 2022

Pressing Past Defeat

Today we’re highlighting a new contributor, Roberta Elaine who is appearing here for the first time and writes at Purposeful Pieces. Clicking the title which follows will take you to where this first appeared earlier today.

The Viewpoint of Your Wins

Are you in a season where it feels like everything that you are doing is invaluable? You keep trying over and over again to no avail. Everything you are putting out has been met with defeat. It seems as if you are losing to everything that is surrounding you. During this season, God is setting you up for your major win in Him. Sometimes you have to lose the battle to win the war. You have experienced loss after loss, but God is reconstructing the viewpoint of your wins.

The losses you have been handed are bringing you closer to actively pursuing your assignment and purpose. Those moments hurt you. The failures constantly creep into your mind. You keep replaying different scenarios in your head on what you could have changed. Everything happened the way it was supposed to. Those constant closed doors were not in vain. The work that you have been putting in is not fruitless.

Yes, the results may say that you have been unsuccessful. The doors may have closed on you. Subsequently, this does not mean you will never succeed; seasons change. God is just equipping you for your purposeful breakthrough. God is preparing you to step into the thing that you have been praying about. This is your winning season. You have been struggling for so long. God has been there with you in the pit of your sorrow.

The empty battles that you have been fighting are part of His plan. God needs you to change your narrative of your losses this season. Your viewpoint is changing for a win. It is hard when you are looking at the barren mountains around you. Your attention has been focused on the desolate results. God wants you to realize that it is only a part of your story. Your depletion cannot last forever. You have to get up and keep trying.

You could be one step away from that life-changing moment. The losses are putting you in position for a monumental win. Something has to be untied and undone for it to be built. You have to experience disconnected pieces in order for something to come together. This process is pruning you. The development that will transpire will help you to change your viewpoint of your current disappointments.

God is with you. Although you are experiencing defeat in the small battles, you are getting ready to become triumphant in major successes. Your minor setback is setup for your win in this season. God is constructing your comeback. Doors are opening in your favor. The viewpoint of your wins will become the sight of the desires of your heart actualized.

“Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” -Psalm 126:5

“But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.” -2 Chronicles 15:7

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” -2 Corinthians 4:16-17

July 11, 2022

Temptation is Rooted Within Ourselves, Not God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today’s devotional study was submitted by a writer we’d featured once previously. Luke Wagner who serves as Next Steps Pastor at The Anchor Church in Lawrence, Kansas. You are invited to check out his blog, An Eternal Viewpoint. Clicking the title below will take you to where this devotional first appeared.

In the Midst of Temptation

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13

The world we live in is filled with opportunities to surrender our integrity. No matter what age, demographic, culture you come from, or upbringing, the reality of temptation is something every person faces. And with every instance of temptation knocking at our door comes the challenge to wrestle with it mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Paul was no stranger to temptation. Neither were the people he ministered to, who were part of the churches he wrote his letters to. That’s why he reminds us that we are not in this struggle alone. More than that, there is no temptation you or I could face that someone hasn’t faced before. I don’t know about you, but I find comfort in that. What I face doesn’t catch God by surprise, and I’m not the only one who has wrestled with it either.

Paul makes an interesting statement next that I think requires us to explore more. There is often times the thought, whether it be conscious or not, that God orchestrates temptation in our life. That when we face temptation it’s because God brought it into our life. The problem is that this thinking contradicts Scripture and God’s very nature. As a Holy God, He cannot commit or cause sin. To do so would be contradictory to who He is. James emphasized this point in his letter when he wrote the following.

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.

James 1:13-14

Temptation is rooted within ourselves, not God. It is the effect of our own desires, rooted in our flesh. God does not tempt, but rather tests us.

That’s an important distinction to understand. Paul is however indicating that God allows us to be tempted. Allowing something to happen is very different from being the cause, and this is the distinction Paul makes. But even with God allowing temptation to take place, Paul makes it clear that He will never allow it to be stronger than my ability to not give in.

Now, this is an interesting point. It’s common for us as people to find excuses for giving into temptation. And the excuse is always rooted in a lack of escape. Paul however makes it very clear that God always provides a way out. The ability to turn away from the temptation is always there, and thus failure to do so is not because we couldn’t.

We fail to turn from temptation because we choose to give in.

When I give into the temptations I face it’s simply because I decided to give in. The reality and truth is that God never allows me to face a challenge I can’t overcome, He always provides a means of escape and endurance. When I fail in my integrity and allow my character to be jeopardized by giving into temptation, I have no one but myself to blame.

But this reality brings to light another truth. My independence will always lead to giving into the temptations I face! If I continue to try and survive on my own, apart from God, I will fail every time. Paul wasn’t saying I have the strength to escape temptation. The fact that God provides the way means the ability to do so rests in Him alone.

God’s strength is the means in which I am able to walk away when I want to look at that site.

God’s strength is the means in which I am able to walk away when I want to steal that item.

God’s strength is the means in which I am able to walk away when I want to tell that lie.

God’s strength is the means in which I can keep my integrity and character intact.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

2 Corinthians 12:9

Maybe that’s why Paul said these words too. He understood that it was literally in the moments he didn’t have the strength to maintain his integrity that God’s grace and power shined through most. Paul recognized his weakness, and understood where his true strength came from.

Not himself, but God.

What’s your response to temptation when you face it? Do you have a tendency to blame God, especially when you give in? Paul’s words present a challenge to how we view temptation, and calls us to not only see it differently but to act accordingly.

What will you do?

 

June 12, 2022

When People Crave Darkness

The report of your obedience has reached everyone. Therefore I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise about what is good, and yet innocent about what is evil. – Romans 16:19 CSB

This is our eighth time with Into the Foolishness of God by Shara Case, and the posted article references an event that took place last November. Rather than edit that information in throughout the piece, we’ve left it as is, however there is a paragraph missing which references some graphic images for which you need to click the link in the header which follows, and read the piece at Shara’s site. (We could have run another one of her pieces that wasn’t tied to a news story the week she wrote it, but this one has a message worth sharing.)

Golden Images

“To you it is commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, you shall fall down and worship the gold image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up; and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.” So at that time, when all the people heard the sound of the horn, flute, harp, and lyre, in symphony with all kinds of music, all the people, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the gold image which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”

Daniel 3: 4-7, 16-18

At the sound of the horn, the flute, the harp, the lyre… they all fell down and worshipped. These often-read verses struck a little differently yesterday as I read them, I think because I was fresh off reading the news of the past few days of the modern-day version of this idolatrous nightmare. Over the weekend 8 people lost their lives and many were injured attending a concert/festival in Houston called “Astroworld. From all accounts, this looks like a personification of absolute hell on earth.

I had barely heard of ‘artist’ Travis Scott before this, he’s connected with a little family we know as the Kardashians, whom I am proud to admit, I have not “kept up” on at all. I personally think this ‘music’ genre is awful at best. After squirming through some video of the weekend show, I’d like to upgrade my ‘awful’ to ‘demonic’. To see young people pouring into a venue full of cultish symbolism and giving themselves physically and emotionally over to the leadings of one single human being on stage is horrifying on many levels. Likewise, to watch a performer in a trance-like state stare down and ‘sing’ as people drop like flies down below is… well it’s probably satanic.

I won’t go into all the weird details, but I just want to shout out a little reminder if you have young people in your life to pray for them because the enemy is after them on so many levels it’s quite frightening. It’s not being hidden away, it’s not even being sugar-coated anymore, the occult has made it’s way into a willingly ignorant and oblivious culture and the results are disastrous.

Why do we revere them so? Why do we give a ‘like’ to people who have sold their souls for money and fame? Like a slow drip, we let things into our lives that we shouldn’t, and we don’t realize how their messages affect us. I remember holding off on social media for my kids for so long. I carefully learned about Instagram only to have Snap Chat and Tic-Toc appear out of nowhere. It’s like that analogy of a boat at sea, it never sinks unless the water gets inside.

The waves keep on coming, and we need to make sure there aren’t holes in our boat. We binge watch the Real Housewives of wherever and wonder why our girls have such struggles with self-esteem or nonsensical drama. We ignore the violent music or videos playing in our homes and are shocked when our sons grow into angry men. A million little things that we as a culture have bowed down to, and we are “shocked” when the natural consequences play out.

Music is powerful, and like anything, it can be used to build up or tear down. There is a reason worship is so revered in the Bible, and a reason we are heavily warned against giving our allegiance over to anyone but Jesus Christ Himself. Never underestimate the destructive power of humans gathered in a large group giving themselves over to darkness.

Life is spiritual, and idols are real. The human heart really hasn’t changed that much since Daniel’s time. We are prone to wander, vulnerable to drifting into all kinds of evil, especially when it is laid out in front of us like some kind of red carpet. We are way past the ‘entertainment’ phase and well into ‘indoctrination’.

Who is willing to hold the line? We need everyday Christians willing to stand up and let it be known that we will not bow down to their idols, no matter the cost.

Those doing the enemy’s bidding are empty vessels who are hostile to any kind of truth or light. We shouldn’t be afraid to honestly call out evil for what it is. In the same way, how about talking more of the goodness of God? The light will always, always dispel the darkness, and that job isn’t left to the pastors or ministry leaders, it’s up to all of us. Replace the bad with what is edifying. Understand how the entertainment we absorb affects how we think and act. Nothing… absolutely nothing… is neutral.

Romans chapter 1 warns that people will “exchange the truth of God for the lie, and worship the creature rather than the Creator” (v. 25). They are given over to all kinds of horrific thinking and debased minds because the didn’t retain God in their knowledge (v.28). I can’t think of many verses more fitting for our time.

It’s no stretch to say that this awful industry wants you to bow down and worship whatever it is they churn out, no matter how trashy, shocking, disgusting or weird it may be. We have to be more aware, as believers, of what is happening around us. Do we fall over face first when the proverbial horn and lute begin to play? Just because everyone else watches it or listens to it, do we really need to keep up with it? Romans 16:19 tells us to be “wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil.” Spend time cultivating wisdom and don’t be entrenched in ungodly junk. We aren’t naive to what is happening, but we certainly can’t embrace it or let it just creep into our households. You can’t be a witness for Christ while walking arm in arm with this culture. Daniel and his friends boldly said ‘no’ to the golden statues, they stood up and stuck out, and God took care of the rest.

Enjoy what is good friends, think on it, teach it to your kids so that they will not crave darkness, but rather the wonderful things of God instead. It’s not some ‘out there’ spiritual concept, it’s the very life to our bones and breath in our lungs. Evil breeds evil, it rots and destroys, it deceives to the point of death.

Be alert, be joyful, and be discerning in the journey.

April 30, 2022

The Common Condition

Years ago, a Christian musician introduced a song with these words: “Here we are in the human sitch and such a sitch it is.” At least that’s what it sounded like. What he was meaning was, “Here we are in the human situation…”

When we speak of such things there are two ways of looking it. First, there are things which are part of the human condition which are common to everyone. We sometimes speak of the “common grace” or “common graces” given to everyone, regardless of their standing before God. The heavens declare the glory of God. Everyone enjoys the light of the sun, and on days when it’s less visible, “the rain falls on the just and the unjust.”

Within the body of Christ, there are many blessings for the child of God, and much has been written about our identity in Christ, what it means to be joint heirs with Christ, and how, like Abraham, we can be considered a “friend of God.”

But for those of us who are believers, there are some things we need to be aware of; some pitfalls to avoid.

We don’t get it right every time

In a chapter primarily focused on our speech (literally, ‘the tongue’) James states what I believe is a larger principle,

We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. (NLT, 3:2, emphasis added)

In so saying, James reiterates a principle from Proverbs 24:6, which also holds out a promise of recovery:

For a righteous person falls seven times and rises again, But the wicked stumble in time of disaster. (NASB)

This is reminiscent of Psalms 37:23-4

The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, And He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; For the LORD upholds him with His hand. (NKJV, emphasis added)

There can be various reasons why we fall. We know that Peter fell (so to speak) while walking on water when he took his eyes off Jesus. What can cause us to equally lose our way?

Distractions are part of the common experience

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 tells us that,

If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. (NLT, emphasis added)

Temptation can arise from “within” and from “without.” But the promise of verse 13 is that God has equipped us with the means to withstand it, provided that we choose to avail ourselves of the defenses he has provided. Resistance is never futile!

Maybe you think it little comfort that the verse states that such temptation is “common to man” (KJV) but there is great assurance that we walk a road that many have walked before us, and many are walking even now.

Granted, your temptation and my temptation may be completely different things. One person lusts after their neighbor’s house. Another lusts after an attractive individual they work with. Another lusts after a second slice of Black Forest cake. The commonality is found in wanting what we do not have or should not have. It’s no accident that in the “second tablet” of the ten commandments, most have to do with actions (killing, fornicating, stealing, lying) while one has to do simply with desire (literally, ‘coveting’) for the things that our not ours; that are not ours to possess.

The source of temptation

While temptation can arise from within and without, temptation can also be the direct effort of our enemy, our accuser. This last key verse is what got me thinking about the common condition when I read it this morning on the NIV Bible App that I use:

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. (I Peter 5:8-9, NIV, emphasis added)

There are three key elements to this verse and we tend to focus on the first two:
(a) the idea of Satan prowling like a lion
(b) the idea of resisting the devil
(c) the knowledge that this is common to “the family of believers” worldwide.

This, too is part of our common condition. The strongest Christian “superstar” you ever met faces the same temptations as you. (Perhaps even more so.)

This is why the community of faith is so important. We can help and encourage and support each other.

 

March 27, 2022

Looking Evil in the Eye

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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In always looking for authors to highlight here, we have a special treat for you today. Ben Foley is the International President of Serve Now. (Their logo reads, “Serve Now, Procrastinate Later.”) He is the author of several editions of their “The Basics” series (discipleship guides), and has been posting at Ben Foley: Whispers of God, Echoes of Eternity (aka BenFoley.com) since 2012.

Click the header which follows to read today’s devotional at its source.

The Problem of Evil

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.  – Isaiah 53:4-5

As we approach the Easter season, my thoughts are directed towards the problem of evil in a new way. The issue of evil is humanity’s age-old problem, and even the greatest saints in Scripture and throughout history have wrestled over it.

The dilemma is this: If God is God, then he is all-loving, all-wise, and all-powerful. How then do those three realities reconcile with the reality of evil? What do we do with the horrors we see unfolding in Ukraine, for example, this year? I just wrote an entirely new chapter on “The Problem of Evil” that I hadn’t planned to write for my third book due at the end of 2022 with the working title as: Navigating Disappointment: Finding Healing in a Broken World.

But it’s not just Ukraine. As I am writing more fully about in this new chapter to my new book, my work around the world with ServeNow sees and faces evil head-on in many countries.

When the war started in Ukraine, I was in Nigeria meeting with former Muslim women who were divorced and threatened to be killed by their husbands due to coming to faith in Christ. When the war in Ukraine escalated to an actual nightmare reality, I was in Ethiopia discussing plans to serve those affected by the conflict, drought, and famine there.

And then what about the refugees we serve in Uganda from the Sudanese conflict, many of whom have lost family members, friends, colleagues, and homes in brutal ways there? How about immigrants at the US/Mexico border forced to flee due to crime, violence, corruption, and gangs threatening to kill them and their children if they don’t leave? They face a harrowing journey to the border only to endure an outdated immigration process. In many cases, they are often discriminated against and accused of things they are fleeing from themselves. Or what about the Yazidi people in Iraq whom ISIS terrorized and traumatized for years, only to now feel forgotten and forsaken by the world?

Friends, evil is real, and it affects us all. Yes, some more brutally than others. But it is at work even in more so-called civilized, advanced, progressive, prosperous, democratic, educated, and wealthy nations. We may read about terrible things happening around the world or in history. We may see images and videos on the news of evil causing suffering in other countries worldwide. But at least in much of the so-called civilized or Western world, it remains as something we see perhaps “out there” but not touching us as brutally personal as it does for many worldwide.

I am not trying to put fear in anyone’s hearts or lives in writing this, but evil takes many forms, some more subtle and insidious than others. And we are not nearly as sheltered as we might imagine ourselves to be. Evil is at work underneath the surface and appearance of civility of even the most advanced, prosperous, and educated nations.

Think of abortions performed privately inside modern health clinics. Think of dangerous disinformation, conspiracy theories, and fake news propagated throughout media outlets leading to broken relationships, division, and even violence. Or how about dangerous lies taught throughout various places of education leading young people astray into philosophies contrary to God’s truth and word? Then there are politicians stoking our most primitive fears and tribalistic identities for profit and promotion. There are those whose minds become so twisted that they go on shooting sprees in any context, from malls to schools, to churches.

I believe there are four things we must do when it comes to evil. Those four things are we must acknowledge the reality of evil, face the reality of evil head-on, process and pray through evil, and enter the suffering of others with silent presence. Allow me to elaborate further.

First, we cannot afford to ignore the reality that evil is ever-present, whether lurking in the shadows waiting to strike or out in the open in brutal and barbaric ways. We must acknowledge it is real. It is an infectious disease with no country, place, or person immune to its horrible ravages. Trying to ignore, downplay, dismiss, or deny the reality of pure evil is folly that goes against all human history and even modern reality. To confront evil, we must first acknowledge the existence of evil.

Second, we must face evil head-on. I am not talking about seeking out evil. Evil will find and touch us all in some way, shape, or form. This is where I find great comfort in the cross and Christ himself. Jesus did not shy away from evil. Jesus faced evil head-on.

Not only did Jesus face evil head-on, but prophecy stated he would crush the head of the serpent behind all evil. We find a Savior who faced evil head-on verse distancing himself from it at the cross. Though innocent of evil, he felt the full force of evil at his crucifixion. At the cross, evil pounded away at Jesus. From the flogging he endured before the cross, to the nails piercing his flesh, to the taunts and cruel hatred of sinful men, to the injustice and abuse he suffered, to the total weight of sin upon his shoulders, Jesus did not back down or away from evil. He faced evil’s whole brunt force trauma, and he gave his life doing so.

I identify with this kind of Savior. I don’t know about you, but there is no single true hero I can think of, nor a person I respect, who hasn’t endured or stared down evil face to face. The most gripping stories, powerful movies, or inspiring people are those who face evil verse hiding from it. And if we are going to make any difference in this world, we can’t hide from it either.

I love this time of the year as we approach Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. The cross, burial, and resurrection are the crux of our faith as followers of Jesus. They are also the only true balm of healing and salvation. The events of Easter are where love, mercy, grace, judgment, evil, suffering, sin, shame, victory, redemption, forgiveness, and reconciliation are seen most clearly. But all these great truths and problems require first acknowledging the reality of evil in the world and facing it head-on in our own lives and around the world.

Third, we must process and pray through evil. Acknowledging the reality of evil is one thing. Facing the existence of evil another. But processing and praying through evil is yet another level. I suppose we could stoically acknowledge and face evil straight on. And sometimes, that stoic stubbornness may be necessary to survive actual encounters with evil in the moment. But there also comes a time when the evil we see, experience, and endure must be processed and prayed through to find healing in this broken world.

Here again, I find great comfort in Scripture along these lines of processing and praying through the reality of evil. In Jesus, I see a Savior who is real and relatable. In Scripture, I find prayers and laments that are honest and raw. Take a moment and read Psalm 10 and Psalm 58.

These types of prayers have a fancy theological term for them. Scholars refer to these prayers as “Imprecatory prayers.” They are prayers invoking the Name of God to put an end to evil rulers, thus stopping the suffering of his people. They are found throughout Scripture, and I believe should be found on the lips of God’s people when they see evil at work in the world today. Yes, we need to guard our hearts against hatred, revenge, and unforgiveness. But I also believe if we care about others, we need to pray with passion and conviction for God to break the power of those who have become vessels of evil and wickedness on the earth.

Fourth, we must enter the suffering of others with a silent presence. What does this mean? When this war in Ukraine broke out, I felt at a total loss of words to share any meaning or comfort to our friends in Ukraine. What could one say that would ease their suffering? Every truth and promise of Scripture seemed insufficient, possibly even cruel if misheard or spoken at the wrong time. Remember Job’s friends? We give them a hard time for adding to Job’s suffering with their attempt to form the perfect theological reason for Job’s calamity. But at first, they do what perhaps they should have just kept doing a bit longer. They enter Job’s suffering and sit silently with him in his grief for seven days.

I have a theory. The most comforting thing you can do for someone suffering is sit with them in their suffering and be silent. Often, in a sincere desire to ease others’ suffering, we feel compelled to say something spiritual or scriptural. But what if the most spiritual and scriptural thing we can do is say nothing but enter sharing in the grief of others suffering? What if people need our presence and not our preaching or reminders of God’s promises, at least for a time?

In my book Hope Rising: Finding Hope in a Turbulent World, I noted that we need to not mistake God’s silence for God’s absence. I genuinely believe God seems silent sometimes in suffering, not because he doesn’t care, but because he cares so much that he knows silence is what we most need in those moments. It’s not words that are always required. It’s presence. And God’s silence is not evidence of his absence. God’s silence may indeed be the very proof of his presence with us.

I know it takes every ounce of energy to be silent and sit with someone in their suffering. It’s easier to say or try to do something. But perhaps the deepest form of engagement for those in the depths of suffering from the reality of evil is to restrain ourselves from speaking or doing something to ease our own or others discomfort. Perhaps the greatest gift we can give others is to be with and walk with those bearing the brunt of the evil that is at work and reality in this fallen world. The problem of evil touches us all. However, the presence of God is also available to all as we face evil head-on.

As we approach this Easter Season, let’s acknowledge the reality of evil. Let’s face the reality of evil head-on. Let’s process and pray through the existence of evil. Let’s faithfully and silently walk with others touched by evil. But most of all, let’s remember we worship and serve a Savior who has done these four things perfectly and fully for all of us. He did not ignore evil. He faced it head-on. He processed and prayed through evil. And he faithfully, often silently, walks with us through even the valley of the shadow of evil.


If you would like to give towards ServeNow’s efforts in alleviating the suffering of others due to evil worldwide, including war relief efforts in Ukraine, click here: ServeNow.

March 19, 2022

Can Any Christian Do Deliverance Ministry?

This question came up four years ago and I thought I’d revisit it, as this is a topic which, outside of Charismatic and Pentecostal environments, is not discussed among Evangelicals.

The issue is whether or not ‘the average Christian’ when in a situation of spiritual confrontation can move in the power of the Holy Spirit, or if they need to retreat and defer to ‘the experts’ in this area of ministry. An analogy to the movie Ghostbusters, while rather distracting, is not entirely out of place here. Who are you gonna call?

Before we begin, an important question to ask is, ‘Does the person seek healing and deliverance?’ If the person who needs Christ doesn’t particular want Christ’s help — and I’ve met people on both sides of this equation — then you’re possible going to proceed differently.

If this seems like a “Duh?” question, remember that Jesus first asked a man who had been sick for 38 years the same thing in John 5:1:

When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?”

Another clarification needs to be made between deliverance ministry and spiritual warfare, something we looked at here in January, 2014:

The difference between deliverance and spiritual warfare is that deliverance is dealing with demonic bondages, and getting a person set free, whereas spiritual warfare is resisting, overcoming and defeating the enemy’s lies (in the form of deception, temptations and accusations) that he sends our way. Deliverance involves the breaking up of legal grounds, the tearing down of strongholds (offensive spiritual warfare), and the casting out of demons. Spiritual warfare on the other hand, is dealing with three key things the enemy sends at us: temptations, deception and accusations.

So we need to keep that distinction in mind.

Deliverance is certainly similar to the supernatural gifts of the spirit in 1 Cor. 12, yet it is not one of them; of the nine listed, see especially these:

The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. He gives one person the power to perform miracles… (12:9-10a)

This certainly gives the believer confidence that part of our ministry can include operating in the supernatural realm. Also, bringing relief to those in need was part of Christ’s mandate as shown in Luke 4:18 (AMP):

The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon Me, because He has anointed Me [the Anointed One, the Messiah] to preach the good news (the Gospel) to the poor; He has sent Me to announce release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to send forth as delivered those who are oppressed [who are downtrodden, bruised, crushed, and broken down by calamity]

and then he tells us (John 14:12-13)

“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father.

In Luke chapter 10, Jesus sends out the 72 disciples and then we read in vs. 17:

When the seventy-two disciples returned, they joyfully reported to him, “Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name!”

The tone suggests a bit of surprise on the part of these short-term missionaries, but also implies something which came naturally or organically because of their connection to Jesus. We get this sense two verses later in 19-20:

[Jesus:] “Look, I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy, and you can walk among snakes and scorpions and crush them. Nothing will injure you. But don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven.”

While the last half of the 16th chapter of Mark has been disputed because of manuscript corroboration, it is there we find a ‘spiritual power package’ of instructions including verse 17:

These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe: They will cast out demons in my name, and they will speak in new languages.

You have the authority. So why have we relegated deliverance ministry to being a the purview of a very select few?

It might be that this passage brings with it the potential for deliverance ministry failure:

Mark 9.17 One of the men in the crowd spoke up and said, “Teacher, I brought my son so you could heal him. He is possessed by an evil spirit that won’t let him talk. 18 And whenever this spirit seizes him, it throws him violently to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they couldn’t do it.”

19a Jesus said to them, “You faithless people! How long must I be with you?…

25 When Jesus saw that the crowd of onlookers was growing, he rebuked the evil spirit. “Listen, you spirit that makes this boy unable to hear and speak,” he said. “I command you to come out of this child and never enter him again!”…

28 Afterward, when Jesus was alone in the house with his disciples, they asked him, “Why couldn’t we cast out that evil spirit?”

29 Jesus replied, “This kind can be cast out only by prayer.

The Pulpit Commentary elaborates:

Though all things are possible to faith, some works are more difficult of accomplishment than others. This kind can mean only this kind of evil spirit, or demons generally. But the latter interpretation is excluded by the fact that the apostles had already exercised successfully their power over devils without special prayer or fasting. The words point to a truth in the spiritual world, that there are different degrees in the Satanic hierarchy (comp. Matthew 12:45); some demons are more malignant than others, and have greater power over the souls of men. In the present case the possession was of long standing; it revolved a terrible bodily malady; it was of an intense and unusual character. The mere word of exorcism, or the name of Jesus, spoken with little spiritual faith, could net overcome the mighty enemy. The exorcist needed special preparation; he must inspire and augment his faith by prayer and self-discipline. Prayer invokes the aid of God, and puts one’s self unreservedly in his hands; fasting subdues the flesh, arouses the soul’s energies, brings into exercise the higher parts of man’s nature. Thus equipped, a man is open to receive power from on high, and can quell the assaults of the evil one. (emphasis added)

Elliott’s Commentary adds:

The disciples, we know, did not as yet fast (Matthew 9:14-15), and the facts imply that they had been weak and remiss in prayer. The words are noticeable as testifying to the real ground and motive for “fasting,” and to the gain for the higher life to be obtained, when it was accompanied by true prayer, by this act of conquest over the lower nature.

or perhaps this passage from Matthew is in the back of someone’s mind:

17.14b A man came and knelt before Jesus and said, 15 “Lord, have mercy on my son. He has seizures and suffers terribly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. 16 So I brought him to your disciples, but they couldn’t heal him.”

17 Jesus said, “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” 18 Then Jesus rebuked the demon in the boy, and it left him. From that moment the boy was well.

19 Afterward the disciples asked Jesus privately, “Why couldn’t we cast out that demon?”

20 “You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.

We often refer to the website, GotQuestions.org. Some non-Pentecostals or non-Charismatics downplay the need for this as a specialized ministry. Since you’ll find this thinking online in various places, here is a sample from their site:

…The Gospels and Acts relate that Jesus and the disciples cast out demons. The teaching portions of the New Testament (Romans through Jude) refer to demonic activity yet do not discuss the method of casting them out, nor are believers exhorted to do so. We are told to put on the whole armor of God…

…The Gospels and Acts relate that Jesus and the disciples cast out demons. The teaching portions of the New Testament (Romans through Jude) refer to demonic activity yet do not discuss the method of casting them out, nor are believers exhorted to do so…

…It is interesting that we have no record of Jesus’ instructions to His disciples on how to cast out demons…[and then the commentary goes on to list a rather significant number of ‘exceptions.’ Hmmm…]

Did we answer the question at the top of the page?

I think the issue here is not the office or title of the person rebuking the evil spirits, but rather the preparation of the person entering into such a ministry.

Of course, some situations are extremely short notice. We don’t know exactly when we might find ourselves seeing or being part of a direct demonic confrontation. I believe in those situations, a person who has heard God’s word on this subject, and is thereby aware of the powers that exist should resolve to act in whatever timely opportunity is available. (But I also believe God will give you some foreknowledge to be prepared to do so.)

In other parts of the world, I’m told that demonic activity is much more acute; much more visible. People in those situations don’t need to be told what they’re dealing with, they see its effects.

So the answer is both: It is a ministry that is the specialty of some pastors and Christian leaders, but it is also within the reach of any Christ-follower who has prepared themselves for the task.

Do you want to take this on?

It’s definitely worth remembering that the seventy-two were sent out in pairs. That might be a better way to apprentice in this type of ministry.


In any deliverance situation, there’s also the issue of providing ‘filling’ to someone whose ‘casting out’ of something has created a void or a hole. In Matthew we read the words of Jesus,

12.43 “When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, seeking rest but finding none. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So it returns and finds its former home empty, swept, and in order. 45 Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before. That will be the experience of this evil generation.”

There are some good resources online on this topic, be discerning as you search however, and recognize that there are differences of opinion on this issues from different theological traditions.


Scriptures today were all NLT (just because) except where indicated.

 

 

 

 

 

March 9, 2022

Living in the Intersection of Two Worlds

To be a Christian is to be following Christ in a world that is dominantly following other standards, other passions, other rules of engagement.  There are several different aspects to this.

The first has to do with location. Have you ever gone ‘state straddling?’ That’s where you stand with one foot in one state and one in another. There are parts of the Canada/US border (and probably more in Europe) where you can actually do ‘country straddling,’ with one foot in the USA and one in its northern neighbor (or more correctly in this case, neighbour with a ‘u.’) As believers, we straddle a fence between two realms.

The first Venn diagram I ever saw that talked about the Christian living in two worlds depicted the intersection of ‘this age’ and ‘the age to come.’ We live in that intersection, as part of earthly kingdoms, and part of a kingdom yet to be realized.

Christianity is simple enough that a child can understand the basics, in fact, we’re encouraged to come as a child.

And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 18:3

However, as we press in to knowing God through Jesus, we discover that while the entry point is wonderfully simplistic, moving deeper involves beautiful complexity and the ability to think in abstract terms. Currently we’re aware of a family whose faith is stuck because they want to be able to express all of doctrine in literal, black-and-white terms.

But we need to be able to dig deeper. For example, fully grasping need for abstract thinking is fundamental to understanding salvation in terms like, ‘We were saved, we are saved, we will be saved.’ Such is the complexity and fullness of all Christ accomplished at the cross.

But there is also the dynamic of distinction. In this world, we are to be called out and set apart to live in the middle of a world that follows different marching orders. There are two forces wrestling for control of each and every one of us, the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness.

Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the LORD. Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you. – 2 Cor. 6:17 NLT

We’re called to be in this situation, but not of it. We’re called to live in a world where all type of influence may come into us, but where what comes out of us is what matters. We’re called to be affected by all kinds of external stimuli, but to respond uniquely and unexpectedly as strangers and aliens by going the extra mile, turning the other cheek, giving the coat off our back, etc.

But there is a third intersection which takes place entirely within. It has nothing about it that would register externally. There is no behavioral component where person ‘X’ is seen struggling with wanting to do right but finding himself/herself doing wrong. It is completely unseen.

We were created with ego. That’s it. Pure and simple. We were created with a survivalist instinct that runs completely contrary to the idea of preferring others. In the NIV, the verse reads,

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves…  Phil 2:3

Try this sometime: Look up a dozen verses containing the word sin, and replace it with selfishness. You’ll find the verses all read somewhat normally; they make sense. And it’s the opposite of the way Kingdom-of-God people should be living.

Living to prefer others is not natural. It must be labored at, worked out with fear and trembling. But even then, it can only be fully attained if there is a model for us to follow, to imitate. If someone has gone before and shown us by example that it is possible to live in this time and this place under a law of love.

Feel free at this point to interject, ‘Oh, if only there was such a person who could show us how to live this life.’

It also has to do with keeping an internal consistency.

I know everything you have done, and you are not cold or hot. I wish you were either one or the other.  – Rev. 3:15 CEV

This third type of internal struggle is for many the most difficult at all. You may live in a mostly Christian culture — even if it’s nominal — where your Christian beliefs are widely held. You may live in a situation that is somewhat devoid of persecution compared to other parts of the world. But I guarantee you that you do not escape the conflict between your egotistical, self-focused nature and the type of others-focused servanthood that the New Testament teaches.

The greatest battlefield we face as Christ-followers is often the battlefield within.

February 4, 2022

Out with the Old

Today we’re back at Whole Life Worship, a website we first visited four years ago. Dr. Douglas M. Lee is a pastor, teacher, conference speaker, worship consultant and seminary professor. He is currently Lead Pastor for the New Hope Missional Communities. He also serves as a Department Head for Artists in Christian Testimony International and is an adjunct professor at Azusa Pacific University/Seminary.

You’re encouraged to click the header which follows to read this where we located it and/or click the link at the end to subscribe to their devotions.

Transformation: Making Room for the New by Getting Rid of the Old

I had a good conversation with a friend the other day. She was really excited about some new and exciting stuff she was going to add to her life. She wanted to serve others in new ways. She wanted to do new things to improve her relationships. And she wanted to start some new spiritual practices in her life. I was excited for her, as there was a lot of good thought and reflection behind these new choices. Not wanting to squelch her enthusiasm, as a friend I needed to ask this question:

“So, what are you going to give up in order to make space for these new, exciting things?”

Silence.

Finally she said, “Hmmm. That’s a good question. I need to think about that.”

When we find something new that will change our life for the good, it will always involve getting rid of the old ways. Why? First, because we are limited: in time, in space, in energy and in focus. Second, because keeping the old ways will always short circuit our efforts in allowing the new to take root.

We’re in a series about Biblical Transformation. We’ve been looking at Romans 12:1-2 and seeing how different aspects of this WholeLifeWorship model is also God’s way of transforming us into the best versions of ourselves (if you missed the first three devotionals – no worries, just click here). This week we’re looking at how we can make room for God to transform us by getting rid of the old way of how we’re used to doing things.

The Apostle Paul put it like this:

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world.” (Romans 12:2a)

In other places, he writes, “With regard to your former way of life, put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires” (Eph 4:22). “Put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature” (Col 3:5). All this points out to Jesus’ very basic teaching of discipleship, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

So, what’s behind all of this? Why is it so important to get rid of the old patterns in our lives?

1. There are active forces that are working overtime to keep us from being transformed into the image of Christ. Paul identifies these forces as “the world, the flesh (false self) and the devil” (cf. Eph. 2:2-3a). They have established some bad “default” settings in us and want to keep us there at all costs; lest we become transformed to Christ-likeness

2. The pattern of the world wants us to conform to its values. These forces seduce us with the lure of money, power, success, significance and fame to lead us down a dead-end road. They whisper messages that cause fear, anxiety, insecurity, lust and greed to keep us confined to these values. This causes us to become increasingly more self-referenced, self-righteous, and self-preoccupied.

3. The endgame of these forces is to “deform” us. They want to make our lives smaller and smaller so that we settle for a life that is based on mere comfort and existence. They want to keep us from having any lasting impact on others and in the world. They want to so shrink our souls so that the image of God within us shrivels to oblivion. They want your life and mine to become “purposeless” and “wasted.”

The Good News is that, through the power of Christ and the Spirit, we can overcome these forces, we can take steps to not be conformed (or deformed) by the world’s patterns, and we can make room for God to transform us for the good! Paul writes in Romans 6 that if we are united in Christ, we are no longer slaves to sin (or the forces of darkness) because if we have surrendered ourselves to Christ. We are set from the power of sin over us!

So, what are some practical steps we can take to rid ourselves of the old worldly ways so that we can make room for the new, transformed life in Christ?

1. Take time to be silent and ask God to point out where we are conforming to the world. I believe that we already know where we are falling short, but we’re too afraid or ashamed to confront it. Being still and quiet before God allows us to be enveloped in His loving and safe presence. From there, we can receive and embrace the Spirit’s pointing out this issue in our lives.

2. Believe in God’s grace and strength to overcome the world. These areas are so ingrained in our lives that it seems impossible for us to get rid of them. We need faith and trust in God’s grace and strength to remove these psychological and emotional barriers. Remember, that we can do “all things through Him who gives us strength” (Phil. 4:13)

3. Ask the Holy Spirit to empower us moment by moment so that we can be victorious over the powers of darkness in our lives. We cannot overcome the powers of the world, flesh and the devil in our own strength or will-power. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen us in our innermost being (Eph. 3:16). We can ask the Spirit for help every day in our personal times with Him, as well as in the moment where we are feeling the temptation to revert back to the old ways.

One of the most powerful moments of my life was when the Lord helped me overcome the power of sexual addiction. By giving into sexual temptation, I was becoming deformed by this sex-crazed world. But the Lord helped me not to conform to this any longer by following these steps I just mentioned. It was a major victory where I saw the power of God at work in my life. But more than that, this process became a spiritual rhythm that I continue to use to get rid of the “trash” in my life. By making choices each day to stop being conformed to the world’s pattern, I create the needed space in my life to be transformed by God.

So, I encourage you to step further into Biblical transformation by proactively seeking to dismantle the worldly mindsets, attitudes and activities in your life – using God’s Holy Spirit power at work within you to overcome the old pattern of life to make room for the new!

Remember, “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world!” (1 John 4:4)


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December 4, 2021

Free of Slavery

Last year at this time we introduced you to Carolyn Kincaid who writes at Carolyn Kincaid’s Potpourri for the Soul and today we’re back with both parts of a short two-part devotional. You might asked why, if it’s short, she spread it out over two days. The purpose was to create a pause where readers could ask themselves “Is it possible that I am enslaved?” To read this at source, click both parts of the header which follows.

Freedom vs Slavery / Breaking Free

You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything. – I Cor. 6:12 NLT

I live in the freedom of Christ. I’m not bound by rules of don’t do this and don’t do that. That’s a legalistic mindset and I won’t allow myself to be enslaved by a bunch of rules. As we can see this way of thinking is nothing new. I think a seed of this is intrinsic in our human DNA—the way God made us. He made us for freedom, but we as a human race have allowed ourselves to become enslaved in our desire to have a blank check on the way we live.

As Paul says, we have privilege—the right to do anything we desire, but not everything we might desire is beneficial for us. All things might be lawful, but all things are not helpful. I like the way the Message puts it, “Just because something is technically legal doesn’t mean that it’s spiritually appropriate.”

Even though I live in the freedom of Christ, I have to stop and do a self evaluation on myself as I consider in what ways I might be enslaved. Enslaved to what? Yes, we know the obvious—the things that cause addictions, but what about other less perceptible activities, thoughts, ideologies? Might I be enslaved to my emotions? Might I be enslaved to what others think about me? Is it possible that I am enslaved? If I went around doing whatever I thought I could get by with, I’d be a slave to my whims.

I’m going to stop here—give you some space to think deeply and allow the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of your heart.

-o-o-o-o-

…So if I’m enslaved by my emotions—if I think I have to act on everything I feel, what then? If I find that I can’t just have one of something or one better of something—a drink, a food, a car, a phone, anything that causes me to want more, I am enslaved. Now what?

Fortunately, Paul doesn’t just bring this up without giving us a way out. Run! Yes, he actually said this. He tells us to run from whatever is holding us in bondage. He’s speaking to those who have already accepted the salvation that Christ offers and he reminds us that before Christ we used to walk that walk of indulgence. But we realized that living that life led us away from the freedom that God always had in mind for us. It led us away from Him.

His reminder that living a life of using and abusing others disqualifies us from any share we might have in the Kingdom of God. His reminder is the impetus to get us to break free from the chains of whatever has held us in its grip. We were cleansed; we were made holy; we were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and living in the power of His Holy Spirit. This is the how. This is the wherewithal upon which we can draw to break free.

November 29, 2021

Knowing Your Identity; To Whom You Belong

Our continuing quest to find new sources of devotional material for you took us today to the page of “Come and See” daily devotions. “Evangelical Ministries International is a ministry with a Vision to ensure the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached throughout the world.” They are based in London, UK. After reading several, we chose a two-part topic for today. Click the links to read these where we found them.

Never Lose your Identity (I)

You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1st John 4:4, New King James Version).

Knowing our identity is important because this determines our position in the physical and spiritual realms of life. People with little insight into their identity are easy prey to the devil and his desolate fallen agents, as they are confused and so their agony and eventual defeat is inevitable.

The Bible records that Immediately after the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist, an important announcement was made by Almighty God concerning Jesus’ identity: and suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ (Matthew 3:17, New King James Version).  This revelation was essential for the purpose of Jesus Christ to be fulfilled. It upset the devil and he immediately reacted by doing what he does best: “to steal, kill and to destroy.” (John 10 verse 10a, New King James Version).

The devil duly sought to destroy the identity of Jesus, as the Bible relates: the tempter came to him and said, ‘if you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread. (Matthew 4:3, New International Version). The devil then attempted on two more occasions to test, discredit and question the identity of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Refer to Matthew 4:6-8).

Today’s key Bible verse reveals our real identity because it states that we belong to God and not the devil; the verse also assures us of a positive outcome to any situation we may encounter in life. We overcome life’s trials because the Spirit of God lives in us: For the Spirit in you is far stronger than anything in the world.” (1st John 4:4, The Message).

Recall that when Jesus was betrayed and delivered up for trial, the main charge against Him was centered on His identity. The Bible states: but Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.’ (Matthew 26:63, New International Version). This further suggests how relentless Satan is about stealing our identity or confusing us about our true identity in Christ Jesus.

Your new identity in God through Jesus Christ, holds the key to your victory over the devil and his ugly works in your life. But if you confront him as a natural man, you will be defeated because he is used to the ways of individual men and women; however he cannot deal with Spirit-filled saints of God. John 3: 8 states: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit”. Moses did not confront Pharaoh as a mortal man but as a god. Here, the Bible states: so the Lord said to Moses: ‘See, I have made you as God to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet.’ (Exodus 7:1, New King James Version).

Your spiritual source is Christ Jesus and you are born of the Spirit of God: this is your true identity and you should never doubt this. Also, never allow the enemy to steal your identity through deceptions.

Let us pray: “Father, You live in me by your Holy Spirit. I refuse to be confused regarding my true identity in You,” in Jesus’ Mighty Name, Amen.

Never Lose your Identity (II)

You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1st John 4:4, New King James Version).

If the devil repeatedly challenged the identity of Jesus Christ, then he will certainly attempt to do the same to all of us. Apostle Peter cautioned us saying: be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (1st Peter 5:8, New King James Version). When we refer to the term ‘identity’  we are not concerned with physical appearance, which is of no importance in spiritual warfare. Instead we refer to our identification with the Son of God, Christ Jesus, who died for our sins and was resurrected on the third day.

The size of Goliath was irrelevant when David challenged him (1st Samuel 17 verses 1-57) and they both understood the place of divine identity in warfare; both men identified with their deities. Thus, Goliath cursed David in the name of his gods, while David answered him saying: you come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. (1st Samuel 17 verse 45, New King James Version).

David made this declaration based on his awareness of his covenant identity in God through Abraham, knowing that this gave him the spiritual advantage needed to defeat Goliath. He later declared in Psalms 139 verse 14:I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well. (New King James Version).

As mentioned in the first part of this series of devotionals, the exploits of Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry were traceable to his awareness of who He was. We must all be aware that the wicked spirits of this world do not recognize or respect anyone based on physical features such as the colour of their skin, size of their muscles or degree of intellect. Nobody can fight and win spiritual warfare using those attributes. For example, when the seven sons of Sceva tried to imitate the Apostles, they were beaten and stripped naked by the demon which possessed the man whom they encountered. The evil spirit said: Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you? (Acts 19 verse15, New International Version).

When we accept Christ Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, by giving our lives to Jesus Christ, we automatically assume the spiritual identity of the Son of God. This enables us to function like Jesus: For in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring. (Acts 17 verse 28, New King James Version). We must realize that we are programmed for success and not failure, victory and not defeat, faith and not fear, blessings and not curses, progress and not regress, life and not death.

Let us pray: “Father, You live in me by your Holy Spirit. I will not be confused regarding my true identity in You,” in Jesus’ Mighty Name, Amen.

August 29, 2021

A Different Type of Weapon

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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For anyone who leads worship or plays on a worship team, there is a rather ominous verse in Chronicles, which tells of the musicians being the first in the procession marching into battle.

NLT.2.Chronicles.20.20 Early the next morning the army of Judah went out into the wilderness of Tekoa. On the way Jehoshaphat stopped and said, “Listen to me, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be able to stand firm. Believe in his prophets, and you will succeed.”

21 After consulting the people, the king appointed singers to walk ahead of the army, singing to the Lord and praising him for his holy splendor. This is what they sang:

“Give thanks to the Lord;
    his faithful love endures forever!”

Not exactly what you signed up for in your guitar or vocal audition? Don’t diminish what your voice or instrument can accomplish. David’s music had a powerful effect on Saul:

CEV.1.Samuel.16.14 The Spirit of the Lord had left Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord was terrifying him. 15 “It’s an evil spirit from God that’s frightening you,” Saul’s officials told him. 16 “Your Majesty, let us go and look for someone who is good at playing the harp. He can play for you whenever the evil spirit from God bothers you, and you’ll feel better.”

17 “All right,” Saul answered. “Find me someone who is good at playing the harp and bring him here.”

18 “A man named Jesse who lives in Bethlehem has a son who can play the harp,” one official said. “He’s a brave warrior, he’s good-looking, he can speak well, and the Lord is with him.”

19 Saul sent a message to Jesse: “Tell your son David to leave your sheep and come here to me.”

20 Jesse loaded a donkey with bread and a goatskin full of wine, then he told David to take the donkey and a young goat to Saul. 21 David went to Saul and started working for him. Saul liked him so much that he put David in charge of carrying his weapons. 22 Not long after this, Saul sent another message to Jesse: “I really like David. Please let him stay with me.”

23 Whenever the evil spirit from God bothered Saul, David would play his harp. Saul would relax and feel better, and the evil spirit would go away.

I thought of this passage today when I saw this blog post by

The Spear and The Harp

The hand of Saul is on The Spear, and the hand of David is on The Harp. Who has the upper hand?

If the hand of Saul is on The Spear and the hand of David is on The Harp, it would seem The Spear would be more victorious.

One hand on The Spear and one hand on the strings. How did David get out of that?

There was another hand in the room! The Hand of God is on your life?

The Hand of God was on David. The Hand of God grabbed The Spear of Saul and said, “Not him. Not now! This is My beloved one!”

Keep your hand on The Harp, and God will put his hand on The Spear.

He won’t let it take you out! He will not suffer your foot to be moved.

The LORD which keepeth thee, He will not slumber nor sleep, David had an instrument and Saul had a weapon, but your worship is a weapon.

Maybe David knew, “If I keep my hand on The Harp, if I let God fight my battles, I cannot be defeated”. “God….”

The weapons of our warfare are not carnal. I don’t have The Spear in my hands. I still have the winning hand, and when I clap my hands my Praise confuses the enemy.

When I shout, it is a hiss to the enemy of our souls!

When I lift my hands in Worship, The Hand of God is on it.

The same hand that had plucked him from the sheep field and the same hand that had delivered him from lions and bears and Goliath and the same hand that held the flask that poured the oil…

The hand of God was on his life, and Saul cannot kill what God has crowned!!

God’s Hand is on the situation. You don’t fight for Victory — but from Victory!

August 23, 2021

When Our House is Divided

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NKJV.Matt.12.22 Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. 23 And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”

24 Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”

25 But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. 28 But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.

parallel passage: Mark 3: 20-27

A year ago we introduced you to Willie Riggs who describes himself as an artist, writer, and entrepreneur. This article was written mid-September, 2020 amid the turbulent climate in the United States leading up to the federal election there. Reading between the lines, it’s easy to see that particular pain reflected in his writing. Certainly, the church needs unity more now than ever. Click the header which follows to read this at his blog.

Divided

A House Divided

We’ve all heard the old adage. Most of us know the bible story. When the Pharisees encounter Jesus casting out demons, instead of giving glory to God, they conclude that Jesus’ power to cast out demons must come from Satan himself.

In their thoughts, they accuse Jesus of casting out demons by the prince of demons. Jesus, who always knows our thoughts, responds that every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste, and every house divided against itself will not stand. Satan isn’t casting out his own minions.

A house divided against itself cannot stand. Jesus said it. I don’t doubt it. That’s what worries me.

A Soul Divided

I’m worried because I’ve never seen a house more divided than my own soul. Everywhere I see things out of balance. My thoughts and actions don’t line up. My expressed desires and how I actually spend my day seem to directly oppose each other.

Sometimes the contradictions are easy to spot.

I want to lose weight and get in shape, until it requires actually working out or skipping that third (OK forth) donut. I want more money, until it requires hours updating my resume and actually applying for jobs.

But sometimes the contradictions run deeper.

I know Jesus tells me I have nothing to fear. I know He tells me not to worry. I believe Jesus will take care of my needs, both physical and spiritual. Yet if that is the case, then why do I worry so much?

I believe half the world is heading straight to hell. Yet if that is the case, I’m certainly not doing much about it. Am I some kind of heartless monster?

Jesus is my lord and savior. I believe He is the most important aspect of my life, bar-none. Yet if that is the case, then why do I spend so little time pursuing Him each day?

More than a checklist

When it comes to spending time with God, I am a master of excuses. Don’t get me wrong. I can check off the list as good as anybody. Maybe even better!

Read the bible every day. Check. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read the bible cover to cover.

Pray every day. Check. Every morning starts on my knees, “consecrating the day to the Lord”. That’s the words I use anyway.

I’ve tithed for decades. I’ve fasted thrice a week for months on end. I’ve attended classes, studied devotions, and read the self-help books. Check check check.

It’s all insignificant when you’re not actually pursuing God.

Seeking God

What does pursuing God really look like? For me it’s one of those “I know it when I see it” things. It’s has to do with the heart, mind, and strength. It’s surrender, submission, and sacrifice. It’s obedience to the one I claim to serve. It’s being broken when I sin. Not broken because of fear or the consequences. Broken because I know how stupid, how just plain WRONG sin is. Broken because I know sinning is spitting into the face of love.

I don’t remember from whom, but I heard a story a long time ago that really stuck with me. It was a message about evangelism, and the speaker was making the point that it is not our job to try and keep people from sinning. It is our job to introduce people to Christ.

Trying to tell people to stop sinning, they explained, is like trying to tell a homeless person to stop eating garbage. “Stay out of the garbage!” “Don’t eat from the garbage!” You can reason with them, scream at them, or spend all night guarding the trash cans, but if a homeless person is hungry enough, they will still eat from the garbage. The garbage is all they know. It is how they survive.

What if, on the other hand, you set up a table in the alley overflowing with delicious food? Just loaded the table with everything from turkeys and pies to pizza and pasta. Then you told the homeless person they could eat whatever they wanted for the rest of the day. What if you also promised to set up an identical table the following day and told them they could invite their friends? What if you told them you would set the table up every day and every night for the rest of their lives? How long before word got out? Would you ever have to tell another homeless person to stop eating garbage ever again?

That is why I hate sin. Because deep down I know it is me on my hands and knees digging through the garbage, when ten feet away God is ready to show me His love.

That is what pursuing God looks like most. Love. Nobody has to remind you to spend time with the people you love. Nobody has to force you to get to know the people you love. Nobody checks off a list for the people they love. The actions flow naturally out of a strong desire to connect and an enthusiastic heart.

Still Divided

I say all of that. I know all of that. Yet tomorrow or maybe even later today, I won’t care. I won’t care when the opportunity to sin presents itself. I won’t care when faced with the decision to pursue God or pursue my own interests. I’ll probably do whatever I want, then try to justify it.

Am I a liar? Am I a hypocrite? Am I just confused? I honestly don’t know.

I don’t know why or how to be more successful in these areas. I only know the end result. A house divided cannot stand. Only one side can be victorious in this war. I pray that God upholds me until the right side wins.

June 4, 2021

Vowing not to be Distracted

Earlier today a popular internet web-browser introduced an update which left users confounded and frustrated. Using my phone, I typed some keywords and started thinking about the number of businesses and individuals who couldn’t get work done that they needed to prioritize because of this distraction, and my mind immediately went to our key verse in Nehemiah.

The first time I looked at this passage here, in 2013, I called it “Try Our Signature Dish!” The reason? Restaurants have signature meals, a particular menu item that the place is well known for and with each menu revision, it’s always left intact. Preachers have signature sermon series as well, a particular book of the Bible for which they have great affinity and/or expertise, or if they are academics, a particular commentary that they have authored that stands apart from all their other writing. For Andy Stanley, who introduced me to this passage, the signature dish is the Book of Nehemiah — you can read more in his book Visioneering — and when he preaches it, the key verses are:

Neh 6:2 Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.”

But they were scheming to harm me; 3 so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” 4 Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer. (NIV)

Nehemiah had obtained special permission take what we would call today “a leave of absence” from his duties to the king to return home and rebuild the walls of his city, which had crumbled.

This is a passage about distractions in all areas of life, but especially distractions that can take us away from spending time with God and doing God’s work. In Nehemiah’s case the distraction was relentless. “Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave the same reply.” (v4)

Matthew Henry notes the specifics of those appeals:

  • When they courted him to an interview, with design to do him a mischief, he would not stir (v. 1-4).
  • When they would have made him believe his undertaking was represented as seditious and treasonable, he regarded not the insinuation (v. 5-9).
  • When they hired pretended prophets to advise him to retire into the temple for his own safety, still he kept his ground (v. 10-14).
  • Notwithstanding the secret correspondence that was kept up between them and some false and treacherous Jews, the work was finished in a short time (v. 15-19).

Author Steven J. Cole portrays Nehemiah’s refusals as a story you might get in your news feed:

Nehemiah Says No to Ono

Samaritan officials have disclosed that Nehemiah, governor of Judah, has again turned down the offer of Governor Sanballat of Samaria to meet at one of the villages in Ono, on the Judah-Samaria border. The proposed conference would include the Big Four of the area: Geshem, leader of the Arabs; Tobiah, leader of the Ammonites; Sanballat, and Nehemiah.

Sanballat issued a statement today in which he sharply criticized Nehemiah for his repeated refusals to cooperate. He reports that the purpose of such a meeting would be to work on a formula for lasting peace in the region. The Samaritan leader said with evident frustration, “This is the fourth time Nehemiah has turned down my invitation to meet and discuss our mutual concerns. These repeated refusals mean that the responsibility for increasing tensions and any violence that may result, rests solely upon Jerusalem.” (Adapted from Donald Campbell, Nehemiah: Man in Charge [Victor Books], p. 55.)

(If you want an excellent detailed commentary on this passage, the above link for that one is the one to choose!)

There have been several times in my life I’ve wanted to quote verse 3 to people, “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down;” but I’m not sure they would get the reference.

Blogger Alyson Browning calls this one of three marks of leadership:

…Third mark of leadership – ignore the annoying distractions (chapter 6). In this chapter, we see the enemies of God – Sanballet, Tobiah, and Geshem – attempting to discourage and distract Nehemiah from everything he was doing to rebuild the city of Jerusalem. Nehemiah ignores their plot to distract and harm him. He gives this now famous response, “I am doing a great work and cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” (6:3, HCSB). Nehemiah kept his focus on the task God had for his life and ignored those who were trying to distract him.

Christopher Scott notes that we’re getting an inside look in this story:

One of the reasons I love the book of Nehemiah is that it allows the reader to peek inside the heart of Nehemiah because it was written as a memoir from Nehemiah. Most of the books of the Bible tell about events that happened, but rarely do they tell about the thoughts and feelings of the biblical characters. However, because the book of Nehemiah was written as a memoir, we get to take a peek past what has happened and actually read about what Nehemiah was thinking and feeling.

Michael “Sinbad” Creighton writes:

Nehemiah was doing something that could only be blamed on God. He led a group of people in the rebuilding of the wall around the city of Jerusalem and completed it in only 52 DAYS! And all through the process, he had distractors and distractions. Check it out here. And every time he stood firm in what God was leading and equipping him to do.

Notice the first line of the 2nd paragraph (italics added) here from Steven Ruff:

Proponents and opponents: those for and against something. Every leader has both in the circle of influence. Nehemiah was no different. He had received word of the condition of Jerusalem’s walls and his heart was broken. He had prayed, sensing a God-given mission, and approached the king for assistance. He made the long trip to Jerusalem, surveyed the situation first-hand, and gave a reasonable and attainable goal to the people. When Sanballat and Tobiah approached Nehemiah, sounding like children on the playground, a choice had to be made. Does he move forward with his plans or does he come down off the wall and argue with them about the legitimacy of his work? Does he make wise use of his time and strength by carrying out the work or does he waste time, energy, and strength arguing whether it could or could not be accomplished? Nehemiah chose in that pivotal and critical moment to not argue. As the work continued and his opponent’s displeasure became louder, he later made his decision known, loud and clear. He said, “So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” [Nehemiah 6:3]

There is a difference between casting and defending a vision before those you lead and arguing with them about the legitimacy of that vision. There is a difference between answering legitimate questions from the organization and arguing with them about it. The difference : the opponent’s spirit. Nehemiah opponents were not genuinely concerned with his vision. They were not there to understand better the work at hand. They were not there to investigate how they might be involved. Instead, their spirit was one that simply wanted to see the work stopped and the Israelites embarrassed. Period. Leaders must decide where they will spend their precious time, strength, and energy. Will they spend it helping their opponents who genuinely want to better understand their vision and decision? Or, will they spend it arguing with an opponent who only wishes to see the work stop or fail? Nehemiah answers this question for us. Leaders lead confidently and choose not to argue, instead, inform and encourage. Ed Stetzer sums this matter up perfectly. He said, “You do not have to show up to every argument you are invited to.”

Conclusion: This is from Kendra Graham writing at the Billy Graham Training Center website:

When the opposition hears of the work that God is doing, it will raise eyebrows and tempers. Be prepared for opposition when you start doing what God has called you to do…When you do work for God, ill meaning people, but also many well meaning people and noble causes may try to steal your attention. These are not bad things, but are not the things God has called you to. Be on guard. Know what God has called you to and have confidence in that.

Like Andy Stanley, I’ve tried to take ownership of this passage, helped by the fact I’ve heard him refer to it several times. I hope you’ll find the spirit of this principle useful in the days ahead.

From Eugene Peterson, Ephesians 6:

The Message.Eph.6.10-12 And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no weekend war that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.

13-18 Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

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