October 31, 2014

Kept in spiritual danger

This focus on ‘spiritual danger’ has informed and helped me be more alert. It has also affirmed how the Lord Jesus Christ is the firm foundation on which I stand. I may face dangers and any failure is my fault not His, but failure is temporary. Because He is my Savior, He undergirds and rescues me. Nothing can stop Him from fulfilling His purposes.

Jesus is God’s firm foundation. He knows those who are His, (2 Timothy 2:19) and even though we may suffer, He stands with us. He invites me to, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops” then adds a promise . . .  “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:3–7).

He calls me to “be watchful, stand firm in the faith . . .” and let all that I do be done in love (1 Corinthians 16:13–14). But also to stay out of trouble, work hard, and think! As I do, He will help me understand what is happening and take care of the results.

Knowing about the dangers does not mean I will escape attacks to my faith, even attacks to my person. God also says, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted . . .” However, He gave me the weapon and the support that I need in His very words “which are able to make me wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” This is because “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:12–17) the Bible is my equipment and equips me for life.

My spiritual life is grounded on the Living Word of God and the written Word; I cannot lay a better or another foundation other than that. (1 Corinthians 3:11) I will trip and fall, have ups and downs, even be fooled now and then, but “the God of peace Himself will sanctify me completely, and my whole spirit and soul and body will be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls me is faithful; He will surely do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24, personalized)

Spiritual danger can try as it might, but I am kept from eternal damage and damnation by the power and grace of God, and also protected in the here and now by the same God who loves me, died for me, and now lives for me.

October 30, 2014

Good reasons for joy!

The trial of the past couple years turned out for good, which is just what God promises in Romans 8:28-29.

Here is another promise, stated as an imperative: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2–4)

This could be translated “Consider it pure joy . . .” and give a good reason. God has used it to produce in me a greater ability to not “swerve from my deliberate purpose and loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.” The imperative is in that Greek aorist tense that means do this once and forever.

James adds more explanation in verses 12-15: Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” Then he goes on to explain another aspect of joy in trials, a warning not to fall into the blame game: “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

By faith and by experience, I know that God is sovereign over the events that happen to me. He can shield or expose me to people, events, and pressures that bring out in me a sense of being needy. Being needy is not sinful, but if I try to meet that need apart from trusting God, my life is in spiritual danger. God doesn’t test me so I will sin, but His tests reveal both my areas of need and the object of my faith. Again, if I trust myself, I will be in trouble.

Paul wrote about this in many of his epistles. He tells me to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” because they are “opposed to each other” and that flesh (old nature) will keep me from doing the things I want to do. He lists them, some I’d avoid as ‘awful’ yet some that can easily disguise themselves and not be as obvious. (Galatians 5:16–21)

He also wrote about his own struggles: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Romans 7:18–20)

I know that struggle too. The old nature is dead to God, but tries to pull me back into a sinful way of life. The Christian life involves learning to recognize and avoid that pull, relying on Jesus Christ to keep me from getting drawn in to sin. As Paul said, “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)

Right after that, he gives good news along with another reminder to set my mind on the Holy Spirit. He says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:1–8)

The best news of all is that the battle may rage, but it has already been won. The world, the flesh and the devil may set themselves against me, but Jesus has overcome the world, defeated the devil at the cross, and gives me this wonderful truth concerning my flesh: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Now that is a great reason to “count it all joy” — Jesus lives in me and He is my Savior; He will enable me to pass any and all tests.

October 29, 2014

Judged in this life, but not in the next

If God put all my judgment on Christ and I am under no further condemnation (Romans 8:1, etc.) then why does this passage say judgment begins at the household of God?

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And ‘If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’ Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” (1 Peter 4:12–19)

A careful reading shows the answer; this judgment is not the final one. Rather, it happens in this life whenever God tests my faith with trials, fiery or otherwise. That testing is part of His will for His people.

Trials of faith come in many forms, from physical to spiritual. With them will come strong temptations to give up living for Christ and abandon my faith. Every Christian faces them and God is in charge of what trials we face, whether it is insults for being a Christian and other forms of persecution, or attacks to body or mind.

For the past two years, I’ve had severe attacks to my thoughts. They did not come from false teachers as this verse warns: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8) but instead these attacks were from the evil one who wanted me to think contrary to the will of God.

Besides that, he very likely had in mind that in wrong thinking, I would make sinful decisions and therefore ruin my spiritual life. As the battle went on, God showed me many areas of my life that needed ‘thought adjustments’ and in the battle, I found myself becoming more helpless in myself, yet increasing in strength in the Lord. That is, fighting the evil one actually made me stronger.

Christians need to be aware of what is going on when Satan attacks. As Ephesians 6:10-12 says, I needed to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might, putting on the whole armor of God, that I will be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For I do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (personalized)

This battle was not about people, even though the thoughts of the enemy tried to make it appear as if it were. It is about the forces of evil that want to defeat the people of God.

The rest of the passage goes on to describe the whole armor of God as protection, and the use of His Word as my weapon. It also says that the battle is not about mind games and trying to answer Satan’s plans and accusations with words, even though that is part of it. The real battle is about prayer for other Christians and prayer that I might be a bold, witnessing Christian. Satan will do whatever he can to stop me from doing either, and for awhile, he was successful.

However, one day not long ago God did something unexpected. From that moment on, I knew that my trial had ended. Of course the enemy still pokes at me, but now I can say, “You loser” and let the Lord God fill my mind with thoughts of Him. Praise God.

October 28, 2014

Misuse of discernment

Not long ago we attended a prayer group where the leader and most of the people in the group were not praying about requests. Instead, they were saying things they thought God was revealing to them about one another, particularly about their character, their spiritual state, or how they must respond to certain issues in their lives. While they were kind about it, we went home troubled because this seemed more like imagination than illumination.

Today’s devotional reading warns about the spiritual danger related to that experience. It says Christians must be cautious about “charismatic fortune-telling” for it can become psychic activity instead of a genuine spiritual experience.

The Spirit of God can give special insights into the character and nature of others. Jesus had the ability to know the hearts of men and what they were doing. For instance, when Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, He said, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael was shocked. He said to Jesus, “How do you know me?” and Jesus answered, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” (John 1:47-48) Jesus not only knew what this man’s heart was like, but also what he had been doing prior to their meeting each other.

In the early church, Peter seemed to know what was happening with a man named Ananias and his wife Sapphira. They sold property but kept back for themselves some of the proceeds, and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. Then they told everyone they gave all the money.

Peter knew. He said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” (Acts 5:1–4)

Obviously, God can reveal things to us in what seems a supernatural way. Another example is when the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” As a result, Paul stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among the people of that place. (Acts 18:9–11) He just knew he should safely stay in that dangerous place.

I’ve noticed that some Christians are more discerning than others. Perhaps it is a combination of events, facial expression, tone, and a nudge from the Holy Spirit. I’ve had situations where it seemed this was happening. I just knew someone was acting out of jealousy, or a believer was angry inside, or a person had an ulterior motive. But I’ve also realized these understandings are for prayer only. If my understanding is skewed, I could do damage by talking to anyone else about it. God has shown me that if I see such things, I can warn others about the dangerous principles, but must take the details (and the names) to Him in prayer, and that’s all.

However, God has also shown me that there is a fine line between legitimate revelation from God and what is called psychic phenomena, such as demonstrated in television shows where the protagonist uses mind-reading or special powers to catch criminals. While Christians can have extreme spiritual sensitivity and this heightened awareness is not necessarily sinful, there is danger in using it in the wrong way, or even dwelling on it to the point it becomes an obsession.

God does not need to tell others if I am harboring envy, or if I need some advice about a problem I have not shared with anyone else. If anyone else did that, we would call it gossip. Shudder.

Instead, the Spirit of God deals with sin and hidden things discreetly, bringing them out in the open only if necessary. God is extremely sensitive to human hearts and human needs. He respects us and although He will rebuke, He is also kind, even polite about it.

He also expects the same from me. When I discern an issue in the life of another Christian, I am first to pray about it. He may ask me to speak to that person alone, but never to expose names and details to others, either in conversation, or here on this blog, or especially not at a prayer meeting.

October 27, 2014

Give us this day our “daily” bread . . .

We had a birthday party here last weekend. After our guests left, I looked at my kitchen and wanted the ability to wiggle my nose and it would be all cleaned up. Instead, tired and wanting to sleep, both hubby and I tackled it in disciplined effort, plodding through until the kitchen was back in order.

Sometimes in my spiritual life I look in God’s word and wish that what I see about my life was all cleaned up, zapped into shape. Even though God sometimes gives an astonishing illumination that leads to a victory over something I’ve fought a long time, and I want that “zap” to be the end of the fight, a permanent victory. Sometimes it is, but more often than not, God asks for disciplined effort, a persevering plodding.

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:15–21)

As I read these words, the Lord speaks to me about daily disciplines. I know what happens when He gives the power of the Holy Spirit to be filled with joy and to have victory over a sin or temptation; I ride on that for a day or two, and then, like Wiley Coyote, find myself running off the high cliff, suspended in thin air and about to take a crash. Instead of running on the steam of one high-point spiritual event, the Lord wants me to understand that His will is not about one-time experiences, but a daily and even moment-by-moment dependence upon Him. This is not supposed to look like this: ^^^^^^ but like this ------------.

The devotional guide refers to a related false notion. Some believe and teach that after conversion, a Christian can be “baptized in the Holy Spirit” and every problem is solved. They can live on a spiritual high the rest of their lives. I know a few people who think like this and all I can say is their “spiritual high” is more like a state of denial or of blindness. These people have stopped growing in their relationship with Jesus and seem to think they do not sin or have any problems any more. However, their sin and denial is obvious to those around them.

Wanting to be zapped by God is common, whether it is called a baptism or not. I’ve had those experiences where God gave me something so wonderful that I felt I would never sin again, never disobey Him again, never struggle any longer with sin (or at least a particular sin). However I soon discover this is more wishful thinking than reality.

For many, disillusionment can so easily follow. For me, I get discouraged. I have to admit that one of my problems is that I’m basically lazy. I just want to live in the joy of obedience to God without the disciplines of prayer, reading His Word, and paying attention.

Sometimes being a Christian is hard work. Yes, Jesus is the Savior and I cannot rescue myself from any spiritual dangers, yet He expects me to be wise, study and know His will, and be continually filled with the Holy Spirit. That requires being in His Word, praying without ceasing, confessing sin as it is revealed, and obeying Him in every area of life all the time.

These are often challenging demands. The joy God gives and the songs He puts in my heart are helpful, even evidence of the lifeline that connects me to Him. Yet so often being thankful all the time and submitting to those in authority over me (right now my seminary professors and those assignment deadlines) reminds me that Sunday’s wonderful “zap” usually does not last until Monday morning.