September 30, 2014

Hear the roar? It might be too late.

A couple weeks ago someone asked how I was and I replied, “Weary of spiritual warfare.” The other person professes to be a Christian, but had no idea what I was talking about.

The next week, another person asked the same thing, and I gave the same answer. This person said, “Then you must be a threat. They enemy does not attack those that he already has in his clutches.”

In C. S. Lewis’ book, The Screwtape Letters,” a demon and Satan write back and forth with their strategy to effectively make Christians useless to God. I remember one in particular. It was a woman who was bound up in her fussiness. She needed to have her meals just so. Being particular about her ‘stuff’ was evidence of always thinking about herself and her own needs. This made her useless to God.

That chapter in the book made me realize that it doesn’t take much, or at least it might not seem like much, but Satan can use my most insignificant weaknesses to entrap me, never mind what he can do with the bigger issues.

Spiritual warfare is something like Paul’s description in Romans 7 of his battle with sin. He found himself doing what he didn’t want to do and not able to do what he did want to do. 
I strongly identify with his experience and now can more deeply understand how he ended that passage of Scripture: “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Romans 7:22–25)

The enemy is sometimes subtle, sometimes not, but in either case he goes after my areas of pride, the places in my life where I feel hard done by, that I should have more or better than what I have. In other words, I’m thinking that I know what is best for me — better than God knows what is best for me. Peter has something to say about this spiritual danger . . .

“ . . .  Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:5–10)

I might not have all my needs met, never mind my wants, but God bids me to trust Him, not take matters into my own hands. He knows what is important — and what do I know? Not much. By being anxious about myself, I’m giving Satan a toehold, but the Bible says, “Give no opportunity to the devil.” (Ephesians 4:27)

The way to win these wars is by giving in, yielding, not to the enemy but to God. All my battles are rooted in some way to an issue of life where I am not trusting God or God’s supply or that He knows what He is doing with my life. In each battle, the victory came (and Satan left) when I yielded to God.

James says it well: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:7–8)

Sadly, there have been times when I was ignorantly resisting God and thus open to the attacks of the enemy. At times, I didn’t even realize I’d been trapped until God made me aware of the pickle I was in. Like my friend, I was oblivious to the sneaky tactics of this one that Jesus called the liar and destroyer.

While God promises to keep His people eternally safe, and not allow anything to separate us from His love, He also tells us to be humble yet alert. Roaring lions make a noise only when they are claiming their territory and their prey is already in position for the kill.

September 29, 2014

A Universal Remedy

There is no ‘best’ color for all people to wear, no ‘best’ brand of car to drive, no ‘best’ model of cell phone, because all of these things are based on preference or culture.

When it comes to an open wound, the ‘best’ options narrow. In some parts of the world, the wound would be treated with cow dung, or charms, or incantations, or herbs off a tree, depending on their beliefs and practices. Here we would keep it clean and apply antiseptic, which is probably much closer to being the ‘best’ method for healing.

When it comes to treating the problem of guilt before God, some cultures and individuals will use a form of self-flagellation. Others will go to a counselor. Some will use drugs or alcohol in an attempt to ease their painful feelings. Some will ignore it or bury it in work or other forms of busy. Others will grit their teeth and ‘try harder’ to make up for their shortfall.

But there is another way, one that works. It is the ‘best’ way for any culture, any people group, any form of guilt no matter the infarction. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all . . .” (1 Timothy 2:5–6)

The words “one” and “all” make this a solitary solution. Other treatments will give a measure of relief for a time, but the Bible points to the only One that can erase the guilt. It says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” (Ephesians 1:7) When God forgives, the guilt goes away!

Masking it, beating ourselves up for it, and trying harder does not work. Instead, “Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38–39)

God forgives, yet He does more than that. “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13–14)

The ‘us’ in those verses is those who have accepted His forgiveness and been redeemed from the slavery of sin. No, we haven’t fully conquered it, but we are released from its penalty and that horrible weight of guilt. Jesus is not just the ‘best’ remedy for guilt — He is the only remedy.

September 28, 2014

Believing produces boldness

A young woman told me that she would never tell anyone outside the church that she was a Christian for fear that “they wouldn’t like me.”

In this study on being alert to spiritual danger, fear of people might be at the top of that danger list. Wanting to be loved, accepted, and part of a group are normal desires and not sinful. God loves us with an everlasting love, accepts us in Jesus Christ, and puts us into a Body of like-minded others. He takes care of those needs in many ways. What is sinful is trying to ensure these things without trusting Him.

That lack of trust often shows up not in what I do, but what I don’t do. I can excuse myself by saying things like, “I prefer to witness with my actions” or “people will know I am a Christian by my love” but others might be more blunt and label it, “fear of rejection” or “frozen over at the mouth.” Whatever it is called, lack of boldness presents itself as being afraid to tell others the greatest good news ever to come to my ears and my heart. When I love my security more than caring about others, then I am being sinful and putting them in spiritual danger.

The answer is not a dogmatic fearlessness that is pushy or rude. It is trusting God and being filled with His Spirit. He gives His people words to say and the boldness to say them.

Here is just one example. Shortly after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, His disciples had healed a lame man. As the crowds gathered, the disciples were “speaking to the people,” but “the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody.”

The next day they confronted these new Christians and demanded in whose name and power they were speaking and acting. “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.’”

When these religious leaders “saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition.” (Acts 4:1–14)

On this occasion, being filled with the Holy Spirit did not make them popular, but it did make them bold to speak and act in the name of Jesus. As a result, “many of those who had heard the word believed” and five thousand men (and likely many women and children) were added to the church. (Acts 4:4)

Faith made them eager to tell others the good news, and in faith, they prayed for boldness. They said, “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

“And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:29–31)

Boldness is not a brash ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’ dogmatism. It is a love that does not care about itself, but about the souls of others, even if some of them respond with violence. It is a love for God that desires to please and glorify Him. As Paul said, “Though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi . . . we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.” (1 Thessalonians 2:2–4)

Paul was eventually put in prison for his boldness, but even then, “he welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” (Acts 28:30–31)

Boldness does not guarantee popularity or even safety, but it does indicate the presence of God’s Spirit and the power of His good news to change fearful silence into a powerful testimony.

September 27, 2014

Only One Way

There are many ways to write a poem, paint a mountain, make a quilt, but there is only one way to God. Every religious system will deny this, as will people who claim no allegiance to any particular religion. The only people that claim this outrageous exclusivism are Christians.

We do this because our Savior claimed it. He said that no one could come to God except through Him. We claim it because our Bible says, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (John 14:6 & Acts 4:12)

We also claim it because His way of salvation is totally different from the way described by all others. Jesus justifies sinners, but all other religions say that we must justify ourselves and do good to be approved by God. But Jesus says, while we are still sinners, we are accepted, therefore go and do good.

The Gospel is just as outrageous today as it was when Jesus was crucified for His claims, and the disciples were persecuted for backing Him up. Yet it was God’s will that He be slain, for in His death the plan of God was completed. Unlike the priests (and unlike most religious people) Jesus made one sacrifice for all sin for all time.

“For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:24–28)

An earlier verse says, “Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.” (Hebrews 9:15)

Christianity is the only ‘religion’ with a slain substitute for sin who died and rose from the dead. It is the only one whose followers are promised eternal life for what He did, not anything we do. It is the only one whose focus is on relationship with Jesus rather than a list of do’s and don’ts.

Christians are also the only people who have a direct line from our sinful selves to the throne room of Almighty God: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1–2)

We are also the only ones that are encouraged to pray for the salvation of others because God desires everyone else to know His Son just as we do . . .

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” (1 Timothy 2:1–6)

Christians are not perfect people. Some of us are downright foolish at times. We get caught up by sin, deceived by lies and stumble over our selfishness, but perfection isn’t the criteria for belonging to Jesus Christ. We are saved by grace through faith. And this is not our own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9)

If there are any passwords at all, anything we can do or say, it is, “I confess . . . I repent . . . I believe.”

September 26, 2014

“Follow Me”

Those who don’t know much about religions will often say that one is as good as another, or that every religion is valid. Today’s devotional warns against the spiritual danger of being affected by this pluralism.

Since Christ saved me and came into my life, I’ve not been confused by those ideas, for which I am thankful. Yet I know people who think ‘everyone is okay’ and have no idea of the claims of Jesus Christ. If they did, they would need to make some changes in their thinking.

Two major claims come to mind, both from the same passage in Scripture. One is what Jesus said about the way to God and the other is about His identity. Both are unique. Both would startle those who accept pluralism.

Jesus was talking to His disciples about their fears and assured them that even though He was leaving them, He would come back and take them to where He was going. Thomas said, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”

Jesus responded, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” (John 14:5–11)

In this dialog, two claims are made: One is that Jesus said He is the only way to the Father. This flies in the face of those who claim that every religion is a way to God, a way of worshiping Him and a way of coming to Him for eternal life. Jesus says otherwise. He does not say, “I am A way” but “I am THE way” and NO MAN can come any other way.

The other claim is that He reveals God the Father. As Hebrews 1:3 says, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature . . .” The same thought is repeated several times in the Bible, including the statement in Colossians 1:15, “He is the image of the invisible God . . .”

Pluralists would struggle with this. I don’t, but I do have a related problem. I’ve been proud that I belong to the ‘only way’ and believe in the ‘only right way’ — and that faith is not wrong in itself, but my pride is sinful. I have no right to being smug because the Gospel negates pride. I did nothing to earn or deserve my salvation. I did nothing to earn or deserve Jesus Christ walking into my life. I am a sinner saved by grace. “God shows His love for me in that while I was still a sinner, Christ died for me.” (Romans 5:8, personalized) That is humbling, not reason for pride.

At the same time, the Gospel lifts me up, just as it is intended to do for all who believe it. In that joy of knowing Jesus, we have a wonderful message to pass on to others. No matter what they claim, no religion can claim salvation by faith in a man who is God in the flesh, who was crucified and rose from the dead, and who promises to return to earth and take His followers to the Father.

In fact, all other religions have a list of what people must do to get to God. Instead of God reaching down to save them, they must try their best to get to Him. If they are able to do everything required by their religion, it would produce pride, but none of us can keep even our own set of ‘rules’ for life. Realizing that is true should put every person on their knees before this Jesus. He replaced all those religious demands with only one: “Follow me!”