Christianity 201

August 17, 2017

Neither Magic Nor Rocket Science, Ephesians 6:12

by Clarke Dixon

12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)

You can imagine the first readers of Paul’’s letter becoming excited with these words as many of them would have been new believers who had previously worshiped pagan deities. They had known all along that there were spiritual realities beyond what could be seen, that there were spiritual forces at work, and indeed this had always been a part of their pagan world-view. You can imagine also the ideas creeping back as to what to do about these forces of evil in the heavenly realms. What libations can we pour out? What oracles must be consulted? What offerings must be brought? Tell us, Paul, what to do that we can influence these spiritual forces!? What does Paul come up with?

13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Ephesians 6:13-18 (NIV)

In other words: Be honest. Be good. Be ready to forgive and make peace, showing others the way to God’s forgiveness and peace. Keep the faith. Trust in God’s power and love. Trust in God’’s Word. Communicate with the Lord. Do we notice how down-to-earth this list of things to do in the face of evil spiritual forces really is? There is no magic to be performed here, no rituals that will protect from evil or influence the spirits as those coming out of pagan religions would be used to. Rather there is the encouragement to be godly, to be becoming more like God. The reference to the armor of God is a reference to His character traits and His resources as the Old Testament references make clear (see post on Ephesians 6:1-20). Tap into that, not magic or ritual.

Sometimes in our attempts to be spiritual today we can unwittingly introduce pagan-style superstition into our faith. My wife once worked at a Christian bookstore not far from an army base, and as preparations were made for a deployment of soldiers, suddenly crosses and Saint Michael medallions became hot sellers. While wearing a cross can serve as a powerful reminder of God’s love, and for Roman Catholics the Saint Michael medal can be a reminder of God’s protection, I have no doubt that there are those that think that actually wearing such increase your chances of being protected. This kind of thing is pure superstition. Sought after items too, were St Joseph statues as some believe you will sell your home faster if you bury the poor fella in your yard. Even better if he is upside down! This too is superstition. Our prayers themselves can also become superstitious. Some think that if we just say the right words, or keep up with some regimen, our prayers are more likely to be answered. Do we do this kind of thing in our communications with our loved ones? Of course not, then why would we with our Lord? When it comes to prayer, He wants to engage with us, not our superstitions.

In Ephesians Paul is encouraging us to be aware of spiritual realities and spiritual forces, but our faith, in both belief and practice, turns out to be a really down-to-earth thing. Let’’s watch out for superstition creeping in.

At this point we need to consider an objection. Some will respond with: ‘Well is not the whole Christian faith one big superstition?’

We do not have the time to go into detail here, but no. Belief that God exists has much to commend itself. Let us not forget the likes of C.S. Lewis who came to Christ, not through a preacher’s appeal like at a Billy Graham crusade, but through thinking about it for a long time. In fact, the Christian faith is tied to a historical, or perhaps we might say “down-to-earth” event, namely the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Look at the beginning of Christianity and you will not find the spreading of a superstition or philosophy or the like, but rather knowledge of a historical event. You will not find the making public of ideas hatched in private. You will find the making more public something that had happened in public, the meaning of which was being worked out in public. (I forget the name of the blogger who should get credit for much of the last two sentences.) Christianity from day one was a very down-to-earth kind of thing; spiritual realities based in historical realities. In fact so ’down-to-earth’ was their faith that the early Christians were accused of spreading atheism since they encouraged skepticism towards all superstitious belief.

This brings us to the other extreme our passage will guard against. If some tend towards believing anything, even that which smacks of the superstitious, there are those who will believe nothing. Our verse is an affirmation that there are “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Some want to believe that there are neither spiritual forces, nor heavenly realms, that all that you can see, is all that there is, or at least all that is worth knowing about.

But is that a good way to look at things? There are many things that can not be seen, but are known. For example, though some may have seen a brain, no one has ever seen a mind. You cannot examine a mind under a microscope. We know the two are connected somehow, but we have no idea how. There are now about eight billion people in the world which works out to about eight million minds. That is eight billion bits of evidence that things exist which cannot be seen. A mind, however, can be experienced. So can God.

Also, history proves that hidden things can become apparent. There is much that could not be seen in the past which we now know about. Many of the things we believe about our planet and universe would not be believed by the ancients as they did not have the same access to such knowledge. Travel back in time and share what you know, and you will be faced with many sceptics. Travel forward in time and you will find realities like judgement and salvation being very much observed and experienced. The Bible gives us a window on truths that have been observed in the past, such as the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, but also a window on truths that can not yet be seen.

The teaching of the Bible is clear: There are spiritual realities around us that we should not expect to see. However, the existence of spiritual forces does not invite us into a world of superstition, but rather deeper into living for Jesus.

Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

July 7, 2017

Knowing Your Spiritual Weak Links

So the one who thinks he is standing firm should be careful not to fall.” – 1 Cor. 10:12 Berean Study Bible.

Note: Some may find this article is built on a rather pessimistic or negative premise, but I hope you’ll buy in and see the lesson in this.

If you’ve read The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel you’ve seen a reference in the first chapter to Charles Templeton, once a leading Canadian pastor whose faith was suddenly shattered and he spent his prime years in agnosticism. There is a story that Billy Graham was once asked about his calling and said something to the effect, ‘I’m only doing what Charles Templeton started and didn’t finish.’

My father was a big part of the music ministry surrounding Templeton’s work, and said he felt that the trigger for Templeton’s atheism was a massive fire that took place at his Toronto church. (Parenthetically, my father was constantly reminding me that you can’t fix your eyes on an individual leader; the focus has to be on Christ.)

As I started thinking about that, I realized that a fire is a rather superficial reason for abandoning the faith, though I can’t say what bitterness could steal my heart in similar circumstances. I have often said to close friends that I become an atheist every night around 4:00 AM when after several hours of tossing and turning I can’t get into some deep sleep. I hope they know what I’m saying and don’t take it too literally. Again, superficial things.

Last month I started thinking what superficial factors could plunge me into a cycle of questioning the reality of the Christ story. I don’t mean this in the sense that I’m having a faith crisis, or that any such factors would be successful in knocking my faith off its moorings, but I wanted to better understand my own vulnerabilities. Here are two I came up with.

1. Natural disasters. This is of course a reason often used by non-believers for not embracing the idea of deity. “How could a loving God allow this to happen?” But as I watch World News Tonight with David Muir each evening and see peoples’ homes washed away, it does seem a great moment for divine intervention that didn’t take place. (Remember, we’re talking about potential vulnerabilities here.)

2. The actions of fellow Christians. This was the one C.S. Lewis said could prevent just about anyone from becoming a Christian. When I think of the hurt I’ve endured at the hands of fellow believers, I can very easily imagine a person of weaker faith abandoning ship.

So…what about you? Have you ever looked toward the horizon and imagined the proverbial straw that could break the proverbial camel’s back. As I said at the outset, some of you are perhaps reading this at the outset of the workday and it may seem like a very negative thing to consider, but I think it’s important to be aware of our vulnerabilities. I think it’s implicit in the warning of Proverbs 4:23, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” (NLT)

What personal circumstances or things in your life have the potential to eat at your core faith? What is the weak link in your faith chain?

June 26, 2017

The Devil is a Liar

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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We’re back for yet another visit to Blogos. The featured writer this time is Anthony Barbato. Click the title to read at source and then check out some of the other articles.

Satan, Father of Lies

For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.
  – John 8:44

Honestly, there’s not enough time in the world to tell you all the ways Satan lies to us. Just as there’s no limit to God’s goodness, there’s no limit to Satan’s deceit. And no wonder, as he’s the “father of lies.” Christ tells us in John 8:44, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

One thing Satan continually does though, is cast doubt upon God’s word. Let’s take a look at his exchange with Eve in the garden.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'” The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:1-5

After this Eve eats the fruit and gives some to Adam to eat as well. You see, first Satan calls into question God’s word. And then, even when it’s affirmed, he twists its meaning. This is essentially Satan’s primary desire. Since the Lord is the only source of truth (Ecclesiastes 12:11), it’s of course where Satan is focused. He doesn’t care which lie you believe, just that you don’t believe the truth. People who are part of a false religion are just as doomed as the atheist (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 2 Peter 3:16; Revelation 20:15).

Satan doesn’t care which lie you believe; people in false religions are just as doomed as atheists. tweet

Aside from that, here’s a quick list of the most attacked beliefs of God’s truth as revealed in Scripture:

1. The Depravity of Man — This is the clear Biblical teaching that, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Men are fallen creatures (Romans 3:10-18), wretched beings (Romans 7:24), and in need of a new birth (John 3:1-21). Because of our sin we face eternal separation from God, and nothing apart from belief in Christ through the drawing of the Father can save us (John 6:44; Acts 4:12). In short, men are sinners, incapable of saving ourselves from God’s judgement without the intercession of the Son by God’s immeasurable grace (Genesis 8:21; 1 Kings 8:46; 2 Chronicles 6:36; Ezra 9:6; Job 9:2, 15:14; Psalm 14:1; 51:5; 53:1; 58:3; 143:2; Proverbs 20:9; Ecclesiastes 7:20; 9:3; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 3:17; 17:9; 22:21; 32:30; Micah 7:2; Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19; Romans 3:10-18, 23; 7:18; 1 John 1:8).

2. The Deity of Christ — The deity of Christ is the belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God the Father, the image of the invisible, co-eternal, and equal to Him as the Word become flesh (Deuteronomy 18:18; Isaiah 9:6-7; 16:5; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Daniel 7:13-14; Micah 5:2; Mark 14:61-64; John 1:1-14; 5:18-23; 8:58-59; 14:7-9; 10:30-33; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Philippians 2:5-6; Colossians 1:15-19; 2:9; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:8).

3. The Sacrificial work of Christ — This is the belief that Christ died for our sins, taking our place in judgement and fulfilling God’s plan to reconcile us to Him (Isaiah 53:4-5; Romans 3:25; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 1:18-19; 1 John 2:2; 3:5; 4:14; Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:14).

4. Christ’s Resurrection — The belief that Christ was raised on the third day “according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:4), showing His victory over death (Matthew 12:39-40; Mark 16:6; Luke 24:6-7; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:16-17; Romans 1:4-5; 4:25).

5. Salvation by grace through faith alone — The belief that we are saved only by the grace of God, through our faith in the sacrificial work of His son, Jesus Christ (John 3:16; Acts 15:11; Romans 3:24-28; 5:6-9; 9:16; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:4-9; Philippians 3:9; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:3-7).

Again, I can’t tell you all the ways Satan lies. What I can tell you is he will disguise himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), and twist God’s truth in a way that appeals to our own sinful nature (Genesis 3:5). The good news is, as Christians we are not ignorant of the Devil’s schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11). And because of the sufficiency of Scripture (2 Samuel 22:31; Psalm 12:6; 18:30; 119:89; Proverbs 30:5; Isaiah 40:8; 55:10-11; Matthew 5:18; 24:35; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12; 2 Peter 1:20-21), we can test everything against God’s word (Acts 17:11). Also, we can trust the Spirit to lead and protect us (John 15:26; Ephesians 1:13-14). In closing, we are not to fear the Devil, but we are to be mindful and aware of him (1 Peter 5:8). The Lord is perfectly able to lead and protect us as His children (Colossian 1:21-23; Jude 1:24-25). I’ll leave you with a passage I think sums it up perfectly:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. 1 John 4:1-4


March 18, 2017

Negative Thoughts May Block Healing

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.
 ~Song of Songs 2:15

In our quest to feature writers from different branches of Christianity, today we are paying 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 Charismatic 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.

Liberating Your Mind From ‘Destructive, Little Foxes’ That Block Your Healing

by Kathie Walters

“Why is it that when I get physically hurt, I can receive healing right away, but emotional hurts hang on for months?” my friend Jill asked me. I answered with a question: “What do you do when you need a physical healing?”

Jill thought for a while. “When my father was visiting me,” she replied, I made the mistake of mounting one of the horses while we were in the barn. The horse reared up, and I fell off. Then the horse fell on me, and the horn of the western saddle dug into my stomach.”

“What did you do, I asked?” I asked. “I immediately began to praise and thank the Lord for my healing,” Jill said. “I could feel pain, but I didn’t allow any negative thoughts to enter my mind. I kept praising Jesus and looking to Him, and within a few minutes all the pain left, and I was totally OK.”

Jill told me that she had experienced similar healings in the past, so her faith was built up in the area of physical healing. I asked her about the problem she was having with receiving inward, emotional healing.

Before she could respond, the Holy Spirit began to show me what the problem was. “You receive the inner healing when you pray, don’t you?” I asked. “But then negative thoughts come and you start to dwell on them, right?” Jill thought for a few minutes and agreed that this was what happened whenever she was hurt emotionally.

Jill’s difficulty is a widespread one in the body of Christ today. Many of us have had physical or emotional healings or even visions and words from the Lord that we received and believed at the time. Then after a while negative thoughts began to come and fight against the healing or vision. As we entertained the thoughts, they got a stronger hold, and then we became double-minded.

The apostle James tells us that a person who is double-minded is “unstable in ALL his ways” (James 1:8, emphasis added). He also says that we are to “Ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind” (v. 6) and is unlikely to “receive anything from the Lord” (v.7).

No wonder the devil wants us to entertain negative thoughts that war against our faith! No wonder we are told to bring “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5)!

Thoughts can be very positive and build our faith, or they can become the means of aborting our vision. The devil doesn’t want us to prove God and fulfill our destiny, so he continually throws thoughts into our minds like arrows. If we are not on guard against them, the arrows will enter and bring unbelief, doubt, fear and even depression and defeat. Remember, God is not a yes and no God! The Bible says that “ALL the promises of God in [Christ Jesus] are YES, and in Him, AMEN, to the glory of God through us” (2 Cor. 1:20, emphasis added).

Our first battle is in the mind. This is why Paul instructs us to “Gird up the loins of [our] mind[s]” (1 Pet.1:13). To “gird,” according to Webster’s dictionary, means “to encircle, bind, to surround, to prepare oneself for a trial ahead, to provide, equip or invest with power.”

Paul is saying there is a preparation we need to make concerning our minds. In the book of Ephesians he tells is what it is: putting on the pieces of armor, particularly the helmet of salvation, that are given to us to equip us for battle. What is the helmet for? It covers the mind.

Sometimes we get so busy wielding the sword that we forget to put on our helmets and “gird up the loins of our minds.” Then Satan has a field day. Remember, his ministry is the same today as it was in the beginning—to plant doubt in the in mind of God’s people by asking, “Has God indeed said?” (Gen. 3:1).

When God gives you a word or a vision, or gives you direction for your life and calling, you receive it and are excited. But then Satan, that sly, old fox, sends all his little foxes out to capture your thoughts, generally before you’ve had the opportunity to lay hold of your vision. Just as in the natural foxes come to steal the farmers’ chickens, in the spiritual realm Satan’s cohorts come to steal God’s word out of your heart and mind by causing you to doubt. Many of God’s children have almost given up their “word” or the vision that God imparted because of these destructive little foxes that come in the guise of negative thoughts.

The negative thoughts are particularly destructive when they play on past disappointment. If if the enemy can get us to dwell on all the times when we didn’t receive what we hoped or believed for, he will lead us into certain defeat. Don’t allow past disappointments to affect your present faith! Instead, look to Jesus, the “author and finisher of [your] faith” (Heb. 12:2).

God wants us to walk in faith to receive the things we need to do His work. We must be filled with the Spirit and with faith in order to bring healing and deliverance and dwell in the wisdom of God, not just for our own lives but for others’ also. So put on your helmet of salvation, and when you see those foxes advancing, send them packing by taking every thought captive and trusting Jesus to increase your faith.

Prayer Power:

As you pray this week, remember God’s Word and believe what He has promised on your behalf (2 Cor.1:20). Claim the Scriptures for the salvation of your loved ones, the furtherance of the gospel, and the establishment of His kingdom on earth. Continue to pray for worldwide revival, and especially for our own nation. Remember our government and spiritual leaders and ask the Lord to give them wisdom, grace and protection (1 Tim. 2:1-3; 2 Cor. 1:20; 2 Cor. 10:5).

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.

 

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