Christianity 201

January 3, 2017

Add God to Your Equation

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we pay a return visit to Weeping Into Dancing. Click the title below to read at source.

God’s Point of View and Proportions

When life is chaotic, painful, or full of uncertainty, it is easy to become overwhelmed. Exhaustion wears a person down, both physically and spiritually. And without time in the Word, depression is certain to knock on our door. It takes both physical and spiritual strength to weather a storm, and we require nourishment to persevere a lengthy or intense battle.

Without spiritual manna, the devil can easily establish footholds in our walk with Christ. Footholds are often secured when we doubt the goodness and faithfulness of God. Is God not constant? Is He good only when times are joyful and fruitful? Or, is God good, in spite of the trials that try to knock us sideways?

God does test our faith. But when adversity comes, He hopes the struggle succeeds in chiseling away personal impurities. Remember, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we become more like our Savior, Jesus Christ. When we look into a mirror, we should see Christ in our reflection.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.James 1:2-4 (NKJV)

But the devil, always the prowling opportunist, uses adversity to spread lies. His lies attack the very nature of God.

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” John 10:10 (NKJV)

In good times and bad times, we have to keep our focus on things above. By doing so, we obtain a proper perspective of our situation and correctly see things in their right proportion. Our circumstances may look grim, but Jesus walks with us through every storm!

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.Philippians 4:8 (NKJV)

When we remember God’s love for us, we can look at our situation and identify positives, if we search them out. God is all about turning bad things into good. Learning to develop God’s perspective on life is greatly beneficial, but it takes self-discipline and there is no room for self-pity.

Consider the story of David and Goliath. If David had simply looked at the proportions of size and strength when facing Goliath, he would never have approached the giant. But David put God into the equation. He knew that all things were possible with God. He also knew that God would not be mocked.

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.Galatians 6:7 (NKJV)

David had God’s perspective when he accepted Goliath’s battlefield challenge. He was able to perceive things from God’s point of view. He knew God was all-powerful. He was certainly far greater than the prideful Philistine who had yelled insults at God’s chosen people. Without armor, and holding a mere slingshot, David slew the enemy who had insulted his God, tormented King Saul, and terrorized the entire army of Israel.

King Saul, David’s brothers, and the Israelite army were paralyzed with fear because they viewed the giant and his challenge with earthly eyes. When God is not added into the equation of life, the proportions of the battle before us will cause feelings of intimidation and even terror.

If you find yourself in a time of testing, where a trial of some sort presses in, add God to your equation. When you do, the obstacles Satan has planted for intimidation purposes will appear out of proportion. Circumstances that initially seemed vast and capacious will melt away and become a fraction of what they had once appeared to be. The Light of the World will disperse all darkness and expose the devil’s handiwork. Step-by-step, through every twist, bump, and turn in your road, God will walk beside you in love, grace, and mercy. Like David, you too will sleigh your Goliath because God is with you.

The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” Isaiah 58:11 (NKJV)

 Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids look right before you.Proverbs 4:25 (NKJV)

 “So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” Hebrews 13:6 (NKJV)

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)

January 1, 2017

Accomplishing Your New Year’s Resolution

resolutionsby Russell Young

Blessings to you in the new year! Many welcome the new year with resolutions and great intentions.  Research shows that most resolutions will not be realized.  The University of Scranton has stated that 39% of people in their twenties will achieve their resolution each year while only 14% of people over 50 years of age will achieve theirs. Perhaps greater success is achieved by younger people because of the nature of their resolutions, that habits are more entrenched in older people, or it may be that younger people are more determined to achieve their resolutions.  Regardless, change in behaviour is difficult to accomplish.  Some changes require the development of a completely different perspective, and all require motivation. Resolutions are not made concerning a single happening, but are intended to alter a developed pattern of action or attitude; they have become patterns because they have brought satisfaction or pleasure to the person who has adopted them.

Paul has shed some light on this aspect of the human condition. Although many accept that eternal salvation comes from pardon for sin, it really comes from the product that the Lord is able to accomplish in the transformation of a person; it is the result of sanctification by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5─6; 2Thess 2:13) making the believer a sacrifice acceptable to God. (Romans 15:16) A person’s transformation/sanctification requires a great deal of work and power.  Paul addressed the dilemma that he faced concerning his own inadequacy in the taming of his body.  He wrote: “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.  What a wretched man I am! Who will save me from this body of death (that causes death)? The flesh is weak! 

Paul followed up his predicament with its solution. “Thanks be to God—through Jesus our Lord!” (Rom 7:21─25 NIV) “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son…” (Rom 8:3 NIV) The reason why human resolutions and the laws of God are often not fulfilled is because their completion rests in a weakened sinful nature. Resolutions are made with good intentions but the weakness of the flesh often dooms people to failure.  Those who resolve to adjust their habits intend to do so…they want to keep their resolutions; the body just does not accommodate.

Try as one will the realization of a resolution cannot often be accomplished without divine help.  If the believer is being impressed with the need for change, the prompting for change probably came from the Holy Spirit. Change is not easy and should not be accepted as being easy, but it can be done.  Victory lies within the grace and power of God through the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the believer’s commitment to honour the Spirit’s calling.  It is often the lack of motivation and the weakness of the flesh that brings failure.

The Spirit is Christ in the believer (Col 1:27; 2 Cor 3: 17, 18) and he will lead and empower for victory, but those seeking victory must engage the battle with him. Prayer and commitment to honour the Lord through the successful completion of a resolution can never be abandoned. To do so means that the “believer” has fallen under the slavery of the weak, old nature and has relented to serving the flesh rather than God’s Son. If a person relies on his or her own strength for victory, they will revert to the old nature and to old patterns.  Victory demands a struggle with an objective, a determination of the will, and the power provided by the helper, the Lord.

Resolutions can fall into many categories but often they are related to expressing love and kindness toward a family member or brother in the Lord, or they may relate to gaining victory over habits that are offensive to others.  They may involve better financial management necessitating a reduction in love for the world and the things in the world.  They may also be related to issues of forgiveness.  Many resolve to treat their bodies with greater respect in some manner. These are all issues that deal with the development of the righteousness for which we hope. (Gal 5:5) They are issues important to Christ.

Since righteousness is not a trivial matter, neither should be the believer’s approach to its development.  Even in matters that might seem trivial, the faithful will bring their need before God in prayer, with commitment, and in expectation. Christ said, “My sheep hear my voice and they follow me…” (Jn 10:27 NIV) It is through the practice of obedience that victory can be gained. To hear requires listening. The voice of God often comes through the quiet whisperings of a person’s conscience and the one seeking success will not dismiss these.  The Word promises that believer will not be faced with temptations from which a way out will not be provided, and states that he or she will not face temptations that are not common to man. (1 Cor 10:13) Even though a resolution may not seem to require victory over a “temptation,” it may have been induced through an issue that the Spirit has brought to mind and he is always ready to help the humble and submissive to enable victory over any issue that is in keeping with his will for that person.

New Year’s resolutions are important to the one making them and they may be important to God. Self-discipline and the leading and the power of the Spirit can assure that they are realized.


eternal-salvation-russell-youngCheck out Russell Young’s book now in print and eBook — Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US

December 8, 2016

The Fall: The Christmas Story Continues . . .

by Clarke Dixon

Last week we saw how the story of Christmas really has its beginnings way back at Creation. God’s desire from the outset was to be with us, and Christmas is a big part of that happening. As we look to cover the Christmas story from beginning to end, we do not even get out of Genesis chapter 3, or out of the Garden of Eden for that matter, before we see something else critical to the Christmas story. The Fall is part of what Christmas is about. Let us focus in on God’s promise to the serpent:

The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you among all animals
and among all wild creatures;
upon your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.” Genesis 3:14-15 emphasis mine

Here we have a promise of struggle. This not really about humans and snakes, this is about humanity’s struggle with evil. Snakes provide a good metaphor for this struggle. A strike to a snake’s head could be fatal. But so too, could a snake’s strike to a human’s heel. We are not sure at the time the promise is given who will be victorious, and who will end up dead.

The odds don’t look to be in our favour, especially given the fact that evil won the first battle when we had our best advantage. We had home field advantage in the Garden of Eden. We had everything, including the amazing presence of God Himself. But we had to have that one fruit. Things do not go our way throughout the pages of the Old Testament either. The history of God’s people, Israel, is a history of trying and failing, getting up and falling, again and again. And consider world history. Though there are bright moments, evil seems all too often to have the upper hand. Given the capacity of humanity to end all life through nuclear warfare, the odds have never been more in the favour of evil winning the war. Who will win in the end, the offspring of Eden, or the offspring of the serpent? It seems like a war humanity has not been winning and cannot win. However, Christmas points us to a clear winner!

Christmas points us to a clear winner when the angel speaks to Joseph.

She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21

Mary will bear a son. Jesus is therefore is a candidate for being the “offspring,” or “seed” of Eve. But how can this one man conquer evil when no other man before has? How can this man do what has been impossible for every person before him right back to Adam and Eve, namely, lead a sinless life? And never mind leading his own sinless life, how will he also deal with the sins of others? Though being born of Mary and therefore the offspring of Eve, Jesus is so much more. The next verses make this clear:

All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.” Matthew 1:22-23

While this seems to be a war humanity cannot win, this particular seed of Eve has an advantage! He is God with us.

Christmas points to a clear winner when the angel speaks to Mary.

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. Luke 1:30-31

Born of Mary, and so the offspring of Eve. But again, so much more:

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. . . . The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. Luke 1:32-35

The war will be won with this man, a man of holy divinity, on our side!

While we are thinking of Mary, we should note here how the promise of Genesis 3:15 pertains to the offspring of Eve, and not Adam. Note also, how Jesus is born of Mary, but not to Joseph. Here is a hint, though just a hint, way back in Genesis, of the virgin birth of Jesus.

In addition to Christmas there are two other events that point to a clear winner. 

Christmas leads to Easter. The death and resurrection of Jesus points to victory. Paul confirms this for us in Romans 8 when he speaks of evil not being able to knock God’s person down. Satan is the accuser, the one most likely to condemn, pointing the fingers  and declaring “unworthy sinners! You will never be victorious over evil for you are evil.” Hear what Paul has to say:

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Romans 8:31-39

While Satan may be the accuser, God is the judge. God has already demonstrated His love for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus, by giving His life for us, has already declared that He is on our side. Paul goes on about the potential of evil to knock us over and down:

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Romans 8:35-37

In the face of much evil, we are more than conquerors, not because we are able of ourselves to get the upper hand over evil, but “though him who loved us.” No expression of evil in the world can gain the victory and separate us from the love of God:

38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38

Advent is a time of expectant waiting. The second advent of our Lord points us to the clear winner:

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, . . . .  And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Revelation 20:1-3, 10

The last book of the Bible, Revelation, recalls the struggle promised in the first book of the Bible, Genesis. The serpent’s head is crushed. Evil is utterly defeated.

Looking out at our world we may wonder if humanity can ever win the struggle against evil. Christmas points us to a clear winner. Easter points his to a war already won. The coming Day of the Lord, the second advent of Christ points to every battle finished.

At Christmas we celebrate the incarnation of God as the answer to the prophetic question asked in Genesis 3:15; “will humans ever win this struggle against evil?” Evil struck the heel of Eve’s offspring when the forces of evil conspired together to put Jesus to death. But in dying and in being raised to life, Jesus has crushed the serpent. We have a clear winner. Christmas points the way to victory. We have the opportunity to become “more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

All Bible references are from the NRSV


Read this post at its source and then look around the rest of Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

November 26, 2016

2-For-1 Devotional Special: It’s War/Hearing the Truth

Regular readers here are accustomed to this paragraph containing something like, “Today we return to the blog of _________…” It’s easy to work with writers we’ve worked with before, but I try to spend about 30 minutes each week seeing who else is writing good material that we can steal would be a good fit here. That often takes me to the #devotional tag on Twitter where sadly, most of the activity consists of people trying to sell their devotional book. (I have other avenues for blind searches which usually turn out to be more effective: Using the devotional or Jesus or Bible tags on WordPress, for example.)

So today’s new writer is Todd Sepulveda who lives in Houston and writes at Glorify God • Magnify Him. His writings are shorter — hence the reason you’re getting two today — but thankfully more substantive than many other things you encounter online. (Besides, I really enjoyed reading his personal story.) So click each of the individual titles to read these at source and then look around the rest of his site.

todd-sepulvedaIt’s War!

Scripture

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh,
2 Corinthians 10:3 NASB

Observation
There is a war going on, but most don’t realize it! I know that sounds like a line from a sci-fi movie, but it is true.

We live in two realms, the flesh, the things we see, touch, smell, etc…,and the spiritual, the things we don’t see.

The evil forces of the devil will do anything to keep you away from spiritual things and the things of God. You’ll find yourself wrapped up in debate, arguments, hate, worry, instead of walking in the Spirit and the things of God.

Application
Can you identify with the above paragraph? Do you find yourself focusing on the things of this world, when they will pass away, vs the things of God, which are eternal?

If so, you need to wage war! This is a purposeful, focused, disciplined way to live. Press into the things of God. Don’t let anything pull you away. Know that when things come against you, they very may be the work of Satan trying to derail your relationship with God!

Fight back! God is more powerful! You are His child! What Father wouldn’t come to the rescue and help of their own child?

Remember, this war is for eternal lives!

Prayer
Lord, help us to realize that we are in a spiritual war. You have given us everything we need to fight and stand firm. Give us strength and insight so that we don’t allow the ploys of the evil one to distract us from living for You.

Hearing the Truth is Tough

Scripture

5 Then Joab came into the house to the king and said, “Today you have covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who today have saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters, the lives of your wives, and the lives of your concubines, 6 by loving those who hate you, and by hating those who love you. For you have shown today that princes and servants are nothing to you; for I know this day that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased.
2 Samuel 19:5-6 NASB

Observation
David had to flee Jerusalem because His Son wanted to kill him and take the throne for himself. After David’s men defeated and killed Absalom, the only thing that David could do was weep. A day of great victory turned into a day of great mourning.

It would have been bad for David if Joab wouldn’t have given him some much needed advice.

David was heartbroken, understandably. But he should have also been grateful for everyone who put their life on the line to protect him and the rest of his family.

Application
Sometimes we don’t realize that we are off course. It is good to have people in your life that will tell you what you need to hear, even if you don’t like it at the time.

Be grateful for those people. Choose to listen with an open mind and be led by the Holy Spirit to see if what they are saying is from God. If it is, make the change, change your course.

The other side of this is that there might be someone in your life that needs to hear something that might upset them. Pray and ask God if it is something you should say. Then pray that the Lord gives you the right words to say.

Prayer
Lord, thank you for bringing people in our lives that are willing to tell us the truth. Help us to prayerfully consider what they say and help us to not be so into ourselves that we can’t identify You speaking. Also, help us to be that person for others. Give us insight and the words to say, that we would be a blessing and help someone get back on track with You.


Todd attended Houston Baptist University with a dual-major in religion/Christianity and Communications/Mass Media with an emphasis in TV production and journalism. He and his wife Belinda ran a group home for kids in Children’s Protective Custody for 11 1/2 years. They were the youngest group home parents the agency ever had, and he had to get an insurance waiver to drive the van. At the same time they planted a church which ran for 14 years.

 

November 11, 2016

Developing and Practicing Biblical Discernment

Today we’re paying a return visit to Revive Our Hearts, though with a different author, Terri Stovall. This is a women’s ministry blog but I obviously felt there were some principles here that could be beneficial to a broader audience. Please support the various sources we use here by reading the articles at source by clicking the titles like the one below.

Get Off the Roller Coaster: 4 Ways to Practice Biblical Discernment

discernment-articleI am fascinated with roller coasters and just love riding them. Did you know that when a roller coaster is being constructed, if the builders are off even a half inch at the bottom of the first lift hill (the upward-sloping section of the track), it can be off as much as three feet at the top of the lift hill, depending how tall it is? That’s a coaster I don’t think I want to ride!

This past year has felt a bit like being on a roller coaster. Many of us have been shocked by the events and news reports that seem to challenge the very core of our beliefs. We live in a time when women are talking about transgender issues, political elections, and Supreme Court decisions on the one hand while struggling to know what really is true, noble, just, and pure (Phil 4:8–9).

Perhaps the place in which we find ourselves today is like the proverbial roller coaster that was a quarter of an inch off at the bottom of the lift hill. The issues that a decade ago didn’t seem like a big deal to slide a half-inch have now set us on a course where we feel we are about to fly uncontrollably off the track.

…We may not be building roller coasters, but we are mentoring, discipling, and influencing the lives of others. And it’s important to recognize there are many things that can move us off course from the truth.

We have the responsibility to make sure we are not even a half-inch off.

Warnings of Twisted Truth

Scripture warned that there will come a time when some will try to twist truth and deceive, even to the point of calling evil “good” and good “evil” (Matt. 24:4–51 Tim. 4:12 John 7; Isa. 5:20–21). Additionally, we have been commanded to grow in our ability to discern in order to test all things and to approve those that are excellent so we can hold fast to what is good (1 Thess. 5:21–22Phil. 1:9–11; Eph. 5:8–11). But I fear we have loosened our grip, and we are about to fly out of the seat.

Biblical Discernment: Four Ways to Develop

Discernment is being able to decide, determine, distinguish, or discriminate what is truth and what is error. So what is truth? It’s whatever God decrees. How do we, as women, build up those discernment muscles in order to know truth and recognize what is error? Jude 20–23 gives four admonitions that help us develop biblical discernment, which will keep us on track.

  1. Build your faith (v. 20) by being secure in knowing what and in whom you believe. The only way to do that is to continually read, study, and be consumed by the Word of God. You must engage and immerse yourself in what is truth so that when you encounter error, it can’t help but be obvious. How much does the Word permeate your typical day? How secure are you in your knowledge of who God is?
  2. Pray in the Holy Spirit (v. 20). You can have true biblical discernment only in and through the Holy Spirit. Pray without ceasing, being in constant communication with heart and ears wide open. Are you staying in constant communication with the Spirit, or do you have an on-again/off-again connection?
  3. Keep yourselves in the love of God (v. 21). How are you to love God? By being obedient to all He has commanded and walking accordingly (2 John 6:1, John 15:9–10). Are you picking and choosing some things to obey and letting others slide, or are you daily striving to walk obediently?
  4. Look for the mercy of our Lord (v. 23). That is, keep your eyes fixated on Christ. Paul puts it this way in his letter to the church at Colossae: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). When we take our eyes off those things above, we become distracted and frightened by all that is going on around us. What are your eyes fixated on today? What things easily divert your eyes away from Christ?

Biblical Discernment: Four Ways to Practice

As women’s ministry leaders, we have an added responsibility when it comes to the women we influence.

  1. Know what you believe, why you believe it, and be able to articulate it. If you can’t articulate it, you can’t counter lies with truth.
  2. Help the women you lead develop biblical discernment by teaching the whole counsel of God, not just the easy, feel-good parts we like.
  3. Recognize your responsibility to be on guard for the “savage wolves” that will come in attacking the flock ( Acts 20:28–29). You are the gatekeeper for what is let in and exposed to the women you lead. Keep your guard up, testing everything.
  4. Be willing to redeem and rescue. Jude 22–23 makes it clear that there is a time to be compassionate and redeem those who have strayed off course and there is a time to sound all alarms, rescuing someone before they are lost.

Yes, it does feel a bit like a roller coaster ride today, and you may wonder how in the world you are going to be able to navigate all that is to come. The answer? Look to Jesus, the One who can keep you from falling out of your seat.

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen (Jude 24–25).

November 9, 2016

You Have to Be Desiring Negative Consequences to Lie to Each Other

Ephesians 4.25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.

26 “In your anger do not sin”[*]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

This is our eighth time sharing the thoughts of B. J. Rutledge pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Paradise, Texas. Click the somewhat provocative title below to read at source.

5 Reasons To Lie To Each Other

bj-rutledgeI am camping out in the book of Ephesians right now and it’s rich!  Here are a few thoughts from my reading yesterday and this morning.

If we’re not careful we become part of a big con game that’s played out week after week in church.  We lie to each other; we act like everything is ok when it’s not, or we won’t confront a problem we have with someone, but share it with others.  We’ve become pretty good at disengaging with portions of Scripture that don’t fit with how we feel or think at the time. Pastors can be guilty just like the people in the church can be guilty.

So here are 5 simple reasons to go ahead and lie to each other.

  1. We don’t really want to build community.

To grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ we have to connect relationally in a place that is safe; where we can be authentic and real.

Real community in a local church can’t be built without us taking the risk of getting rid of falsehoods and lies and begin to share with each other truthfully because we belong to one another. (Ephesians 4:25)

  1. Because we’re OK giving the devil an opportunity

In every relationship we’re going to be hurt or offended; whether intentionally or unintentionally. Expectations aren’t going to be met. People aren’t going to measure up, or they’re going to fail us in some way. An offense takes place and we get angry. That’s going to happen. But when we’re unwilling to go to the person who offended us we’ve put a match the hand of Satan.   If we take the offense to someone else, Satan lights the match and pours a little gas on it. (Ephesians 4:26-27) Because we’re members of one another (the same body of Christ) we’re to go to each other and work things out in the right spirit.   The principle Jesus shares in Matthew 18:15 would solve so many problems.

  1. Because we’re fine with the church being torn down.

When we talk badly about someone, and we usually don’t have the whole story unless we talk to that person – lies get involved because truth gets twisted.   When that happens, we steal from one another; we steal the reputation of the person(s) involved or even the reputation of the local church. Ephesians 4:28 says to stop stealing and start doing good. Listening to Tony Evans yesterday, he said we’re to quit stealing from one another and do all we can to build up the church. We’re to build up because we’re members of one another as Christ’s body the church.

  1. Because we don’t care if we grieve God’s heart.

Ephesians 4:29 is pretty clear that every word you say should build up others and build up the body of Christ. Ephesians 4:30 says when we violate this principle, we grieve the heart of God. The words you and I say should give grace to people and build up the body of Christ (the church).   Not only are we members of the same body, we have the same Father, and every parent I know wants people to treat their kids right. It grieves God’s heart when we talk about or treat His kids the wrong way.

  1. Because we really don’t care what God says.

Ephesians 4:30-32 is clear; we’re to put aside things that hurt others and do things that are kind. We’re to be tender-hearted and forgiving because that’s what we’ve experienced in Christ. Lying is a sin because it always hurts someone and violates the law of love that Jesus said was paramount in our lives.  The truth is; lying hurts the liar and the person(s) being lied about.

So what’s the solution? Submit your pride and opinions to God. Man up or Woman up and talk to people when you have an issue.   Don’t spread discontent or speak without thinking.

What Jesus said in Matthew 12:36 is a sobering truth; He said you and I will give an account for every careless word we speak.

Most of the time, problems we have are really spiritual issues; Ephesians 6:12 says our real fight is not with flesh and blood. Go to people you have a problem with and be mature; don’t give Satan an opportunity.

As Paul writes in Ephesians 4:14-16 (NLT)

14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.


[*] Psalm 4:4 (see Septuagint)

November 2, 2016

Finding the Place of Joy

Having just gone through a season of intense stress and anxiety, there were a few times awhile back when I would have been heard to say, “I want my joy back.” This past weekend, someone prayed for me and not knowing that specifically, prayed for joy to return.

Today we’re paying a return visit to Morgan Murphy who blogs at Look Upon The Light and just returned to writing after a long absence. Click the title below to read all of this at its source.

Fighting for Joy

At face value, this fallen world we live in is difficult. Every morning we wake up to more tragedy, trauma, and terrorism than we care to ever really hear about…especially when it becomes personal. Abiding in joy is obfuscated when we are hurt, broken, and rattled to our core. But the solution lies in doing some foundation work. Allow me to bring up an old Sunday school lesson about the wise man. We’re going back to the last parable of the Sermon on the Mount:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on the house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” Matthew 24-25, emphasis mine

Jesus essentially draws a dividing line between himself and any other foundation we might choose for ourselves. Though this parable is at its core about the proving evidence of true belief, I’m digging a little deeper and allowing it to teach me about joy.

The basic premise of joy is that it is not based on circumstance. It’s a deep confidence that, as Donald Campbell says, rests in God’s sovereign control of all things. I don’t know about you but when I read about pouring rain, rising flood waters, and beating winds…I see some pretty deleterious circumstances. I don’t see joy. But then I go back to the words “and does them” and ponder what this means to me in this fight. Where is joy in all of this?

Recall James 5:22 which says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” If the Word is Jesus (see John 1:1), and Jesus has and is giving me daily instruction, then I infer joy is found in obedience. Stay with me on this because I believe it’s the strategy we need for success in this fight.

Biblical joy comes from the Greek word “chara” which is a feeling of inner gladness, delight, or rejoicing. And it’s worth noting that pretty much every time it’s mentioned in the New Testament, the joy is based not on what happens but what is. In other words, like we said before, joy is not based on circumstance. It’s rooted in spiritual realities. Our world around us can literally can be crumbling, but that can never change the fact that Jesus left his throne to come save us, and in doing so, conquered death, hell, and His grave. The exact Spirit that did this is the exact Spirit that roots itself in the hearts of all believers. That, my friends, is where we find joy. We find it in the confidence of Jesus and in living out our stories–as messy, broken, and tragic as they may be. It’s why we have to know that this world is definitely not our home.

I encourage you in your fight for joy to go straight to this source of Joy that we have identified: Jesus and His Word. Read it, study it, meditate on it…take it all in. That’s the best practical advice that I can give you. One of the best quotes I have come across in my research is from John Piper:

When the powers of darkness are arrayed against you, and aim to destroy your joy forever, nothing is more precious than to have the Word of God ready for the battle. The fight for joy is not for the unarmed.

We can now see why this really is a battle. The enemy will do whatever he can to steal joy from our hearts. Just look at Ephesians 6:11: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” That particular section of Ephesians 6 is about putting on the whole armor of God…and without that armor, we are setting ourselves up for failure. He really is our only chance at victory.

My verse to memorize for October was Romans 15:13. It says, “May the God of all hope fill you with joy and peace in believing so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Did you get that it’s not by our own power? Stop fighting on your own. The enemy has really been trying to steal my joy lately, but I’ve determined to make it part of my story that I didn’t give up the fight. Even on the days I wanted to give up! As I told my friend recently, I think it really just all comes down to when our feet hit the floor first thing in the morning, who are going to believe? We make the choice. The world, our self, the enemy, or the King? Because as I’ve found, He is joy.

So where is joy in this broken world? It can only be found in Jesus. Don’t rely on emotion. Happiness is fleeting. It’s temporary and superficial. But joy? It sustains you. It roots you. It frees you…

Faced with terrifying and unwanted change? Seek Jesus.
Stressed because of a situation that won’t go away? Seek Jesus.
Lost someone or something and don’t know how to go on? Seek Jesus.
Faced with an unexpected tragedy? Seek Jesus.
Or just simply overwhelmed by the struggles of daily life? Seek Jesus.

…because Beloved, He really is our only way to get off the hook. He is always worth it, and He will never leave you out to dry. He promises that we find Him when we seek with all of our heart (Jeremiah 29:13). And in the search, in the fight, in the battle, He gifts us Himself–and in turn, Joy. Abiding, comforting, invigorating Joy. There is so much more to be said about joy–only the surface has been skimmed. But it’s enough to get you going in the right direction. So rest assured in these foundational truths today. In the mean time? Don’t give up. Fight on. Be obedient. Hang in there: Joy is to be found, and you just might be surprised by it.

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit… 1 Thessalonians 1:6 

October 4, 2016

Avoiding Deception

This is from Annie at the blog Eyes Wide Open which came recommended to us. Click the title to read at source, and then navigate the site to find other articles.

Look Each Time You Bite

worm-inside-appleIt may be hard to recognize false fruits for what they are, especially in these confusing times. But one of the reasons Jesus tells us to constantly be in communion, relationship and prayer with Him is because the more we know Jesus, the easier it is to discern truth from lies.

Satan is very deceitful. He knows that the Lord tells us we will recognize truth and those who follow Him “by their fruits.” He wants to confuse us and throw us off base. He is a counterfeit of Christ, friends. And he has refined his fake products and fruity, luscious goodies to the point it is very hard to see that they aren’t the real thing – the truly GOOD thing – unless we go deep below the surface and we seek the truth in the Lord.
Seek the truth in the Lord ~ 

  • Diligently.
  • Regularly.
  • And with a heart and desire to know JESUS.

In the process we can recognize our real enemy much easier. He is the antithesis of Christ and the fruit he provides for us to consume is rotten ~ to the core.

Do we really think that the enemy does not know what the Word of God says? Do we really think the enemy forgets that he needs to counterfeit GOOD fruit as well?

He is formidable, make no mistake about it.

BUT GOD!

God tells us clearly in His word that the more we press in to Him and our relationship with Him, the more we can see the real truth ~ HIS truth, for what it is.

We need that. We need discerning eyes and hearts and minds all the more at this juncture on planet earth.

So is it true? Pretty is what pretty does? Yes – if we are pure inside, it will shine through ~ it is true.

But not all outward beauty is inwardly beautiful and true. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

Many are pretending, friends. Many say all the right things and give us exactly what our itchy little ears want to hear. Many are also deceived – I know I find that I have been often. Usually I find out such things about myself only as the Lord helps me to see it – as I spend time in relationship with Him, He reveals such things to me.

I think it is so important to remember that all the time; that we can be deceived and that many others who are deceived may lead us down the wrong path if we are not careful.

Hint: It’s about more than politics. It’s a spiritual conspiracy.

So it is good to keep in mind that sometimes we still see what we think is good fruit, but if we dig a little deeper, we often see that it is rotten inside.

Again I say – But God!

We truly can trust in the Lord that He will guide us and lead us, friends. But we have to do our part as well. We must be active participants in our time spent with Him, in nurturing our relationship with Him, and in KNOWING JESUS.

Knowing Jesus makes things that are not of Him, all the more clear.

Just some thoughts that I had today as I did my devotions, and I wanted to share them with you.

Maybe we should check out the fruit – especially before we take a bite.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every tree bears GOOD fruit, but the bad tree bears BAD fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Matthew 7:15-18

April 23, 2016

Why Stop at Just Casting Out Demons?

NIrV: Matthew 8:30 Not very far away, a large herd of pigs was feeding. 31 The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”

32 Jesus said to them, “Go!” So the demons came out of the men and went into the pigs.


NIrV Matthew 8:43 “What happens when an evil spirit comes out of a person? It goes through dry areas looking for a place to rest. But it doesn’t find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives there, it finds the house empty. The house has been swept clean and put in order. 45 Then the evil spirit goes and takes with it seven other spirits more evil than itself. They go in and live there. That person is worse off than before. That is how it will be with the evil people of today.”

If you can cast them out, why not totally annihilate them? Today we return to the writing of pastor, author and Bible translator Christopher R. Smith at the blog Good Question. Due to changes in his life, he is no longer updating this blog, but the resources remain available, presented in a Q&A format. Click the title below to link to this one directly:

Why didn’t Jesus destroy demons when he cast them out?

Q. In any of the situations where Jesus cast out demons, why didn’t he kill them so they would not enter another person?

Matthew’s gospel relates how, when Jesus was casting out demons in the region of the Gadarenes, they cried out, “Son of God, what do you want with us? Have you come here to punish us before the time for us to be judged?” The encounters between Jesus and demons described in the gospels are typically brief and cryptic, but we can at least tell from this one that God has set a time for demons to be judged and punished. But as these demons knew, that time had not yet come during the ministry of Jesus, and they successfully appealed to be sent into a herd of pigs instead.

destroying demonsThe reasons why Jesus allowed such demons to continue to roam the earth, at least for a while, have to do, I believe, with the need for there to be freedom in order for people to make the choice to love God and others. God could have removed all sources of suffering and discord in the world, but this would have been at the cost of making true freedom impossible and depriving the world of the fruits of freedom, including love, courage, creativity, and so forth.

One of Jesus’ parables shows how God wanted people to respond instead to the fact that demons remained at large even after they had been cast out of their victims.  Jesus said, “What happens when an evil spirit comes out of a person? It goes through dry areas looking for a place to rest. But it doesn’t find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives there, it finds the house empty. The house has been swept clean and put in order. Then the evil spirit goes and takes with it seven other spirits more evil than itself. They go in and live there. That person is worse off than before.”

Jesus actually told this parable about his own generation as a whole, to illustrate how, by rejecting his true message of the kingdom of God, they were leaving themselves open to the influence of false messiahs who would lead them astray into destruction.  (This happened during the two Jewish-Roman wars in the decades that followed.) But for the parable to make this point by application, its story needs to make a valid point of its own, and that is that people who have been freed from a demon are responsible themselves to fill their lives with godly and wholesome influences that will discourage any demons from ever returning.

In other words, while Jesus didn’t destroy the demons he cast out, he brought the truth of the kingdom of God, and ultimately he sent the Holy Spirit, to occupy the place the demons had left so that they would never try to fill it again.  And I think this is how we need to think about all of the evil and destructive influences around us as we live in these “in-between times,” when the kingdom of God has already been inaugurated but not yet completely established.  God has not yet removed all these influences from the earth.  But he has sent other influences that can effectively displace them in our own lives, and increasingly in our world, if we recognize and accept our responsibility to welcome and cultivate these life-giving endowments.

 

April 19, 2016

Sacrifice: When the Cause is Too Important

Whenever a nation gets involved in a major wartime effort, the civilian population left at home tends to have to make plenty of sacrifices as well…

So begins an article by Bill Muehlenberg at the blog Culture Watch, who we have featured here twice before. This is a longer piece, and we’re going to join it about halfway through so you are encouraged to click the title below to read it all.

Wartime, Self-Sacrifice and the Christian Life

…The Christian life is a life of warfare, of battle, and of fighting. It is also a life of hardship, surrender and self-sacrifice. At least it is supposed to be.

I have written often the issue of warfare and the Christian life. See here for example: billmuehlenberg.com/2009/03/18/fighting-the-good-fight/

And I have often written about the sacrifices a believer is called to make for his Lord. But here let me offer some spiritual parallels to what we found happening in the countries reduced to rationing during the last great war. The parallels are not perfect of course because in the Christian’s life, it is a voluntary rationing and self-sacrifice, not one forced upon us by government.

Spiritual WarfareBut otherwise we have some real similarities. In both cases, an urgent end requires discipline, self-denial and sobriety in order to achieve a good outcome. In both cases the cause is much greater than the individual, and any sacrifices we can make for the greater good are vital.

In the Christian life we war against the world, the flesh and the devil. The spiritual battle is constant and to the max. If we hope to properly present Christ and extend his Kingdom and strike blows against the satanic empire, that will require real effort from us, and real self-sacrifice.

If we just keep living a self-indulgent, me-first lifestyle, we will achieve nothing of worth for the Kingdom. In fact we will end up aiding and abetting the enemy. The New Testament makes much of this type of thinking. For example Paul put it this way in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, as he mixes his metaphors:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

Or consider his words as found in 2 Timothy 2:1-5:

You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.

Self-discipline and self-denial are essential parts of the Christian life if we want to see Christ glorified, the world reached, and enemy strongholds pulled down. It will not happen any other way. Like Paul, we make sacrifices for our Lord because he made the greatest sacrifice for us. We can do no less.

As C. T. Studd once said, “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.” Or as the Welsh preacher J. D. Jones said, “All the calls of the gospel are calls to hardship, to sacrifice, to battle. Christ would have no man follow him under the delusion that he was going to have an easy time of it.”

F. B. Meyer put it this way:

It is urgently needful that the Christian people of our charge should come to understand that they are not a company of invalids, to be wheeled about, or fed by hand, cosseted, nursed, and comforted, the minister being the head-physician and nurse – but a garrison in an enemy’s country, every soul of which should have some post of duty, at which he should be prepared to make any sacrifice rather than quit it.

Let me conclude with the words of Leonard Ravenhill on this issue. He said,

When a nation calls its prime men to battle, homes are broken, weeping sweethearts say their good-byes, businesses are closed, college careers are wrecked, factories are refitted for wartime production, and rationing and discomforts are accepted – all for war. Can we do less for the greatest fight that this world has ever known outside of the cross – this end-time siege on sanity, morality and spirituality?

March 12, 2016

Praying Prodigals Home

17 “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’

20a “So he returned home to his father.

Today we pay a return visit to the blog Power Up! which is part of the Charisma Magazine website. This particular blog is updated weekly and features different writers. To read this at source, explore other articles on the blog, and then migrate to one of ten other blogs on the site, click the title below; for more info on the writer, click her name below the title or the links at the bottom of today’s article.

Trust in the Lord That Your Children Are Coming Home

by LaNora Morin

Throughout my years of ministry and travel, I discovered that countless parents were suffering silently over their backslidden children. Because of accusations and condemnations from the devil and the judgments and opinions of men, they felt guilty and ashamed. My heart would go out to them as they would share their grief and ask for prayer.

Little did I know that one day I would be the parent with the same problem. I felt so disqualified and responsible that my heart would break over and over again. Believe me when I tell you, I tried everything! There were times that I didn’t know if I could make it another day.

Through it all, I learned that there is no formula. However, there are some strategies that I learned from the Holy Spirit. I do not pretend to have all the answers and I humbly confess that I failed many times during the process. Yet, in God’s wonderful grace, I found His Word and ways to be flawless.

Before I could be effective in securing my daughter’s freedom, I had to be free from my own bondage of guilt, condemnation, accusation and judgments. Standing in my friend’s kitchen, I heard the words that set me free. We had been having a normal, friendly conversation, but then I turned our conversation down the same path of despair. I always seemed to say at least something about my prodigal daughter.

“Prodigal.” I hated that word. Defined as “spending recklessly, wasteful, extravagant waste,” the word summed up my daughter’s wasted life.

I couldn’t go a day without the topic coming up. I really couldn’t help myself even though I knew everyone was growing tired of hearing it. There seemed to be a foreboding threat hanging over my head like a dark cloud. It was always there—the knots in my stomach, the tightness in my chest. I felt myself braced for bad or tragic news every day.

My friend had patiently listened to me talk of my heartbreak. Finally, she said life-changing words: “Your daughter is eating just enough from your table to not realize she’s starving to death. If you will stop feeding her, she will realize she is in the pig pen.”

At that moment, I realized that I had been feeding her with all the spiritual benefits of my life. She never had to seek God for herself because I was always there with the answers to every crisis. Repeatedly, I bailed her out of circumstances that God, Himself, had set up. I thought it was love and mercy, but actually I had stepped into the role as “savior.” I had sought God for her and provided her with spiritual solutions. I gave her Scripture promises to help her get over each dilemma. I rescued her from the consequences of her choices time and time again.

That day I made a conscious decision to take my hands off and let my daughter experience the “pig pen.” It wasn’t going to be easy to watch her sink deeper into the mire. However, I knew that I had to be free from the role of playing “God” in my daughter’s life before she could see her deep need for Him. It wasn’t much longer after God set me free, that she came to her senses and realized she had a need for God that only He could satisfy.

Can you imagine the joy you will also feel the day your precious one comes back to the Lord? You will feel like you are dreaming. You have gotten so used to the nightmare of their captivity that you will hardly believe it.

I remember, in the midst of my darkest days, that I heard the strangest sound. I heard the sound of rejoicing. For a split moment, the Holy Spirit opened my spiritual ears to hear the sound of God laughing. Just in that instant, I had a glimpse of celebration in heaven. I thought, Can’t God see my tear-soaked pillow? Suddenly, I knew He was mocking His enemy and rejoicing in His triumph! The Lord can see what we cannot see. He can see that the enemy’s days are numbered and He laughs. I purposed in my heart to join heaven’s perspective and rejoice and praise Him for my child’s return.

With a faith for the future, I was then able to begin to speak words of life into the situation. When we agree with His Word and begin to declare it over our children, His creative power begins to move over the darkness of their lives and releases His light. I began to realize that as the parent, I have the spiritual right to enforce the kingdom of heaven and His will. My authority is God-given and is in partnership with Him. The power of that agreement renders a verdict upon the unjust trespassing of the enemy in the life of my seed!

I believe that it is no accident that you read this article today. I believe that the battle has raged long enough! Your children have a calling on their lives and it is time for them to be free from the snares of the enemy. You, as the parent, carry an authority and an anointing to unlock the prison doors. I believe the time is now! I am agreeing with you for the accelerated fulfillment of God’s will over your child’s life.


Adapted from the book 40 Days to Freedom: Prayers and Proclamations to Call Backslidden Children into Their Destiny by LaNora Morin of Fountaingate Ministries International, and Fountaingate School of Revival; used with permission.

 

February 23, 2016

Warfare: Forces Fighting for Residency in the Human Heart

Today we pay a return visit to Katherine Harms at the blog Living on Tilt. There’s a lot going on in this article, and it’s a bit longer than usual, but read slowly and carefully. Click the title below to view the article at its source.

Empty Shells

Jesus taught his disciples and all who came in reach of the sound of his voice to eschew the lifestyle promoted by Satan. He evicted demons from persons who had been forcibly enslaved by those demons for years, and he taught people how to live in harmony with God’s plan for human beings. In the gospel stories, there is obvious justification for the claim that Jesus taught a high standard of morality and lived by that standard as a perfect example.

However, Jesus was not a legal instructor. The scribes and Pharisees were religious legal minds, and they argued with Jesus constantly on fine points of the law. They argued, because the fine points were more important to them than the law itself. They thought that picking at the fine points made them look even more righteous.

Jesus was not interested in the appearance of righteousness. Everything Jesus taught was rooted in the transformation of a person at the heart level, deep inside. Jesus said that people who wanted to follow him and be like him had to stop fretting over the way they looked to other people and let go of themselves altogether. He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”(Mark 8:34) There was no room in a call such as that one for primping to look righteous in public.

Jesus made that teaching very clear when he talked about what happens when Satanic power is driven out of someone’s life. Jesus cast out many demons. When he came into view, the demons often screamed at him to go away. And when he prevailed over them, expelling them from their enslaved hosts, they reacted violently, often throwing the victim into a seizure. The demons did not willingly abandon their residence in human beings too weak to fight back. It always was occasion for great joy when Jesus cast out a demon.

But Jesus said that there is danger in casting out a demon if nothing replaces it. Jesus told this story:

“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.” (Luke 11:24-26)

This is the risk when Christian advocates for godly morality in public law prevail against godless campaigns for social and political purposes. Christians rightly enter into public discourse on all topics: presidential campaigns, proposed legislation, military action, international diplomacy, and civil and criminal justice. Jesus said that Christians are to be salt and light in the culture, constantly holding up his perfect Truth as the standard to which the civil society should adhere.

However, those who sneer, “You can’t legislate morality,” are correct, as far as that statement goes. Passing good laws does not change anyone’s heart. If good law were enough to transform a society, ancient Israel would have been heaven on earth after God wrote the Ten Commandments on the stone tablets Moses carried down from Sinai. Even if excellent laws are administered by righteous officials, the human beings that make up civil society can barely be corralled into compliant behavior. Nothing about good law changes evil hearts. In other words, the society governed by good law will always still contain people whose hearts are evil and whose every imagination is only to construct ways to get around the law or simply to ignore it. Good laws create pressure for officials to enforce and administer laws with integrity, but even if good law pressures a person to temporarily evict an indwelling demon, that person will be nothing but an empty shell waiting to be invaded again if he is not indwelt and transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Good laws do not produce a holy people.

It is not enough for good people to advocate for good law and to elect good officials who will administer the law with righteousness and justice. The Bible demonstrates graphically that righteous law and righteous administration of the law is not enough. The entire Old Testament is a narrative of what happens when a society has good law and even the blessing of God in the choice of national leaders. Good law and godly administrators do not change the hearts of evil men. Good law and godly administrators do not drive demons out of human hearts, and they do not fill such hearts as have been vacated temporarily by the demons who lived there. When those demons tire of looking for new homes and return to the evil hearts where they once lived, the people who cleaned up their acts without inviting the Holy Spirit into their hearts are as empty and hollow as they ever were, and the demons feel quite welcome to take up residence again, along with new friends.

It is very important for Christians to be active in public life. We must speak up for God’s ways, and we must demonstrate God’s ways in our own lives. We must advocate for good law and vote for good candidates. We must do all that is within our power to help our communities, our states and our nation to uphold and act on godly principles. But that is all window-dressing compared to our most important responsibility.

Our most important responsibility is to share Jesus with a world suffering from too much housing stock available for demons. Jesus did, indeed, task us with the responsibility to be salt and light in the world around us. We should, therefore, always be vocal and active in our advocacy for good law and good administration of law. But we should never confuse that part of our lives with our primary objective—to lead people to invite the Holy Spirit into the empty shells of their lives where demons love to dwell. If more Christians speak and act and vote, we will certainly have an influence on civil society that will be beneficial, but no amount of speaking and acting and voting will change hearts. Our civil responsibilities as citizens in a nation where government is of, by and for the people do not transcend or replace our primary responsibility—to share Jesus.

Erick Erickson’s book You Will Be Made To Care makes this point. In Chapter 16, “The Resurgent Believer,” on page 194 he says, “When the time of testing reaches your front door or place of business, it will be too late to study up on your beliefs.” We need to be solidly anchored in the principles of our faith in Christ, and sharing Christ needs to be our first and foremost concern. When we meet a person who is enslaved by Satan, we need to share Jesus. When we meet a people who are empty shells, trying to do good and stay out of trouble, we need to share Jesus. When we meet a person who has wandered from his faith, deceived or shamed or simply overpowered by the argument that “all roads lead to God, so don’t be snob about Jesus,” we need to share Jesus. When the city council in our home town decides to vote on a law that will promote immorality, we need to stand up for Jesus and use our rights and powers as citizens to advocate for what is right. After all, Satan’s minions have no hesitancy to use all the rights and powers of free citizens to advocate for what is wrong. We must be salt and light, we must stand up for the moral high ground, and we must not be ashamed of Jesus when the spotlight is on us for being on the “wrong side of history.” No matter what is happening, however, we need to share Jesus.

A Chinese pastor knew that he was being targeted by his government, because he was sharing Jesus in authorized ways and in unauthorized places. He did not stop sharing Jesus, but he did tell people that he knew his days of freedom were numbered. When the day came that he was arrested in the act of preaching in an unauthorized location to an unregistered church, he dutifully marched off to prison. On the way to the prison, he shared Jesus with the arresting officers, and during his term of imprisonment, he shared Jesus with his fellow prisoners. When he was finally released, he gave thanks to God for his opportunity to share Jesus with many people he would never have met if he had not been arrested. He knew that he could never change the government of China, but he could be used of God to change the people of China.

Christian advocacy for good law and good government does not change hearts, but it does make the world a better place to live. Under a dictator or a despotic monarch, Christians have no voice and no right to advocate for changes in law and government. In that setting, a Christian’s civic responsibility might be different. However, in the USA, under the Constitution, Christians are obligated by the responsibility of citizenship to speak and act and vote, but their even higher obligation is to share Jesus. The principles for which we advocate as citizens are shaped directly by our commitment to Jesus on the day when we let go of ourselves and stopped worrying about the way we look to other people and started following Jesus, trying to be like him. When we let Jesus shape our lives, we see all the empty shells around us, encircled by demons who want to take up residence. We certainly want to advocate for good law and good government in order to make our country a great place to live, but above that obligation, we remain committed first and foremost to helping the empty shells of human beings around us to become filled with the Holy Spirit and hang up “No Vacancy” signs for demons.

 

January 4, 2016

A Lesson in Spiritual Real Estate

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today’s devotional post is really, really different. In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis used a fictional story to make an analogy between the visible world and the hidden, spiritual world where warfare is constantly occurring. (The same is true of the modern Christian fiction classic, This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti.) The key scripture verses appear at the end, but if this realm is new to you, reading those first will provide context.

To read this at the blog Saint in Training: Words of Faith, Hope and Love, click the title below.

Agent of Evil Makes a Sale: A Parable

•••by Rebecca and Christine Wilcox

A parable of the house swept clean – Luke 11:24 and 26.

Roaming Spirit: “So how’s the real-estate business these days?”

Agent of Evil: “Booming!”

Roaming Spirit: “Great! You got anything open for me?”

Agent of Evil: “Oh yes, I’ve got just the place! Plenty of room, right environment – it’s the perfect locale.”

Roaming Spirit: “Wow! How’s the neighborhood, do I need to worry about the wrong element coming in?”

Agent of Evil: “Oh nooo – not at all. This house is situated perfectly. There’s no Godly element to be found anywhere! The music is Carnal, the eating establishments are Trash TV, Romance Novels, Violent Entertainment and the neighbors are just as bad!”

Roaming Spirit: “Sounds like a great place to live. The last house I lived in started going to church on a regular basis and had the nerve to read the Bible every day. Even its neighbors changed. I was used to the low-down and dirty kind but it decided to cut them loose and get neighbors with a Christ-like mind. When It started fasting and praying regularly things just got to be way too uncomfortable to stick around.”

Agent of Evil: “How awful for you! Well my friend I can see why you had to move out. Now let me tell you, this house has a great big pool of self-loathing to swim around in. It’s so big you can throw a pool party and invite everyone you know.”

Roaming Spirit: “Tell me more!”

Agent of Evil: “The attic is wide and spacious – empty as you please; nothing there to keep you from storing plenty of junk. Closet space is to kill for! Pack in past-sins, fear, disappointment, lust, hate, avarice, malice and discontent to the hilt! And the kitchen – well I’ll tell you, you can cook up some mighty fine Sin in there. The fridge comes stocked with profanity, gossip, slander, deceit, accusation and spite.”

Roaming Spirit: “Hmm…it all sounds too good to be true, the real seller is the foundation. That’s key.”

Agent of Evil: “Certainly is – no worries about that. This house is built firmly on the Love of Money: nothing but Fire Baptism can destroy it and if you’re worried about that we have insurance.”

Roaming Spirit: “Oh yeah what kind?”

Agent of Evil: “Strong-Hold, Strong-Hold, Lies & Deceit is the provider and a mighty find job they do too. It’s a rare thing for Fire Baptism to find its way to a house insured by them!”

Roaming Spirit: “Speak no more – I’m sold! When do I move in?”

Agent of Evil: “No time like the present. It’s been swept clean and stands empty just move right on in.”

Roaming Spirit: “I believe I will and I’ll take a few of my buddies with me.”

Agent of Evil: “Hahaha, the more the merrier I always say!”

Agent of Evil watches with a satisfied smile as Roaming Spirit moves in and mutters to itself, “Another house sold and so many more to go.” It sighs, “A Demon’s job is never done!”


Beloved, we can either be a house ripe for the taking or a temple of the Holy Spirit, the choice is ours.

Meditation Scriptures: 

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’  Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.”  Luke 11:24 and 26

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.  1 Corinthians 6:19-20

December 23, 2015

When Christmas Goes Off the Rails

•••by Clarke Dixon

Christmas always seems so picture perfect in the cards we give and receive, yet Christmas can go off the rails so quickly becoming more like Christmess. What are we to do when it seems the devil has his horrid hands in our lives during this most wonderful time of the year? Perhaps your Christmas is not shaping up to be the picture perfect scene worthy of a Christmas card.

Christmas is found in the book of Revelation and it has something to teach us about Christmas in the midst of a mess:

1 A great portent appeared in heaven:a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2 She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth. 3 Then another portent appeared in heaven:a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. 4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. 5 And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne; 6 and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days (Revelation 12:1-6 emphasis mine)

Granted it is only one verse, but there it is, the birth of Jesus, Christmas in Revelation. Did you notice anything about this Christmas? Looking at the verses before and after, this first Christmas is a messy one, with the evil one lurking and looking to destroy.

It will help us to consider what is happening in these verses and we can begin by considering the identity of the woman about to give birth. Notice that within a few verses we have a) a woman, b) agony in childbirth, and c) a serpent. Do you remember the last time we found these three things together in scripture? Yes, in Genesis 3 at the Fall. The Serpent tempts Eve and comes under a curse including this prophecy:

15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel (Genesis 3:15)

Eve succumbs to the temptation and also is cursed:

16 To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, . . .” (Genesis 3:16)

What we have in Genesis 12:1-4 is the history of the world from Eve great with potential to Mary great with child. In fact in chapter 12 of Revelation we have a snapshot of the history of the world from Eve to the situation today with a break to consider the victory of Jesus in verses 7-12. But how would this history lesson help the original readers of the book of Revelation who were facing great persecution in their day? And how can this history lesson help us today? It helped them, and helps us now, by taking us out from our troubles to see the big picture. And in looking at the big picture there are certain things we can learn:

First, the devil and his schemes are real, so expect a mess. According to Revelation 12 we should expect evil to be alive and well and we should expect to suffer the effects:

But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, . . . . Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 12:12,17)

Are you surrounded by mess and misery this Christmas? Do not be surprised, this is normal in a Fallen world.

Second, the devil’s nasty work is temporary. Thanks to the baby mentioned in verse 5, the evil one’s days are numbered. He has a “best before date,” or in this case a “worst before date”:

But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, because he knows that his time is short. (Revelation 12:12 emphasis mine)

Are you surrounded by mess and misery this Christmas? This too shall pass.

Third, the devil’s schemes cannot ruin the purposes and plans of God. In Revelation 12 we see an allusion to Herod’s plan to destroy the infant Jesus. We know that did not happen and the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus all happened according to plan. Additionally, many verses in chapter 12 point to God’s protection of His people:

. . . and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished (Revelation 12:6) . . .the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle, so that she could fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to her place where she is nourished (Revelation 12:14) . . . the earth came to the help of the woman (Revelation 12:16). . .

Are you surrounded by mess and misery this Christmas? God has a plan. We ought not assume His plan does not include our own death at some point. God’s plans go way bigger than that.

Fourth, the devil is already defeated. The devil is a deceiver, but he is also known in the Bible as an accuser. Indeed this is what the very term Satan means. Satan is spoken of in the Old Testament as standing in the court of God, ready to accuse. We might think of the first chapter of Job where Satan accuses Job of loving God only because life was good. Satan is portrayed as the one who can stand before God and say “look at this guy, or look at that woman, they are deserving of destruction.” And Satan could stand before God and say of you and I, “look what they did, look how undeserving they are.” And we give him plenty to talk about don’t we? Except he cannot do that, for he is not there. He has been thrown down:

7 And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming,

“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Messiah,
for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down,
who accuses them day and night before our God. (Revelation 12:7-10)

Far from winning a hearing in the presence of God, Satan has been conquered. While the passage speaks of the angel Michael leading the fight, it is really speaking about Jesus and trust in Him:

11 But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death. (Revelation 12:11)

Keeping all this in mind let us think of the Apostle Paul’s words:

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

Are you surrounded by mess and misery this Christmas? There is good news of great joy, for God has made possible a rescue from the greatest misery possible, eternal separation from God. In Jesus we have eternal life ahead with no dragons.

When the Christmas train goes off the rails, when it seems Satan has his evil hands all over your life, look at the big picture and remember that the final destination is Christ and His arms of love. Need a hug this Christmas? You are already in His embrace.

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV

 

November 24, 2015

Having a Plan of Attack

Today we’re introducing Carol Hatcher who we’ve linked to at Thinking Out Loud before, but not here at C201. We’ve borrowed not only her writing today, but also a graphic image; nonetheless we hope many of you will send her some link love by clicking the title below to read this on her blog, Sheep to the Right.

Preparing a Plan of Attack

There are two ways to do just about anything – carefully plan or wing it.

Most of the time, I’m a carefully-plan-it kind of girl. I love making lists. I used to write out menus by the month. When planning a vacation, I’ll spend hours online finding the best places to stay, recommended stops along the way and highest rated restaurants. When my kids have a birthday, you can be sure I will create a Pinterest board and hunt the Internet for the cutest party ideas.

When I’m presented with the opportunity for a date night, I search movies and read reviews. I poll Facebook friends for best places to eat and search my closet for just the right outfit.

But somehow when it comes to my prayer life and dealing with those situations that seem impossible, I find myself winging it. Satan will throw me a curve ball, and I wildly swing my bat hoping to make contact.

Today, as I was reading in 2 Samuel about David trying to defeat the Philistines, I found good advice for creating a battle plan to overcome the obstacles in my own life. First David asked God, not his friends on social media, for direction. (Ouch. Let’s move on.)

“…so David inquired of the Lord, and he answered…” 2 Samuel 5:23 NIV

David asked God first IF he should attack the Philistines and then HOW he should attack. God responded, “Do not go straight up, but circle around behind them and attack them in front of the balsam trees.” (2 Samuel 5:23) The Hebrew word used in this verse for “circle around” is sabab. It means, “To go around, surround, encircle, engulf.” It can also mean, “to change direction, to be surrounded, to change.”

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God gave David a plan of attack, but he gives us that same plan. When trials come our way, often we come straight at them and are knocked backwards from the blow because we aren’t prepared. Instead, we need to establish a plan of attack for any obstacle – for your failing health, for your marriage that grows stale, for your mounting bills and empty bank account, for the addiction you’ve been hiding, for the loss of your closest friend.

Friends, it’s time we fight back God’s way. We need to sabab our issues with prayer. Circle them. Engulf them. You see, because its only through prayer, praise and thanksgiving that we can “change direction.” You are not defined by the series of events that have happened in your life.

You are not defined by your diagnosis, your divorce, your size, your upbringing, your financial status or your education.

You are who God says you are. And He says you are chosen. (John 15:16) You are an heir. (Galatians 4:7) You are part of a royal priesthood. (1 Peter 2:9)

Satan will try to distract you and get you off your game. Don’t let him. He’ll tell you you’re not good enough. Don’t believe his lie. Be ready, friends. Arm yourselves for the battle by preparing your plan of attack. You see, in the woods that day when God told David to sabab, or circle around, He also told him to listen for the sounds of marching in the tops of the trees, “because that will mean the Lord has gone out in front of you to strike the Philistine army.” (2 Samuel 5:24 NIV)

Don’t be shaken. Don’t be afraid. The Lord your God, the Sovereign Creator of all things will fight for you. Put on your armor and sabab. The battle has already begun.

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