Overcoming Evil

img_warrior“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

We are surrounded by evil.  It plays out every evening in the newscasts and in our morning paper.  Evil runs rampant down our streets and through our neighborhoods.  Every act of hate and violence has its roots in evil.  It is a word we need to use again, because it is a reality in this fallen world.  You might want to check out my thoughts on the subject of Evil from a post just a few months ago.  So this morning as I came to my devotional time, my heart was heavy with all the evil we have seen in recent months.  In this nation and all around the world, evil is everywhere.  Who can save us from the presence and power of evil?

The past few weeks I have been doing a personal study of the titles of Jesus in the Bible, and this morning I thought, I need to find a title that reminds me that Jesus is the victor over evil.  When I looked at the next title on the list, I thought, this one is perfect for this evil world:  Jesus is the Son of God.  The Son of God is perfect because it encompasses every facet of Jesus’ character.  It expresses the power of Jesus, the holiness of Jesus, the perfection of Jesus, the eternal nature of Jesus, and the sovereignty of Jesus.  The Son of God fills our need in this evil world, because the Son of God is also the Overcomer.   He declared it to be so saying, “Take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

As the Son of God, Jesus overcame evil when He resisted Satan’s temptations in the desert.  He overcame evil when He stood in the presence of the demons and they had no choice but to acknowledge and obey Him. And above all, He overcame evil by His resurrection from the dead.  He shattered evil’s hold on men, declaring that all who believed in Him would be free from its power.  Evil could not overcome the Son of God.

Jesus overcame evil by divine power.  Paul said, in our key verse, that we can overcome evil by good.  Mind you, not by “being good,” for only Jesus is good.  You and I can never be good enough to overcome evil.  But there is a way, and we find it in the last book of the Bible.  Standing in heaven, watching the end unfold, John heard a “loud voice” proclaim: “They overcame [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the world of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11).  There are only two things that will guarantee our victory over evil and the evil one: the blood of the Lamb, which is salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ and our testimony.  But what testimony overcomes evil?  John knew.  “Who is he that overcomes the world?  Only he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:5).

Jesus, the Son of God, who overcame the world, is our good testimony.  God the Father proclaimed it at Jesus’ baptism, when “a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.’ (Matthew 4:17); and again at Jesus’ transfiguration (Matthew 17:5).  The disciples declared it when they saw Jesus and Peter walking on the water, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:33). Peter pronounced it in his confession saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).  Jesus built His church on that very confession.  Even the Roman centurion exclaimed, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” when the ground quaked the moment Jesus died (Matthew 27:54).  Paul repeatedly preached that Jesus was the Son of God.  The martyrs of the ages past died with the good confession on their lips—“Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

As this world becomes more and more evil, only the good confession of the Son of God will sustain believers.  It has for centuries and it will not fail us in this generation.  We will be branded as fools.  We will be oppressed and persecuted.  It will cost you and me our very lives, but we too will overcome by the declaration that “Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

The world doesn’t need to hear Christians making accusations and pointing fingers.  They don’t need to know our thoughts on current affairs or politics or even morals.  In fact, the world is sick to death of hearing our opinions, however good they may be.  The world needs to hear the Gospel that has been our witness for more than two thousand years:  “Jesus Christ is the Son of God!”  It is the core truth of the Christian faith.  Everything else comes from that good confession.

All evil bows to the divine Name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Will you?

Oh, Lord Jesus, You are the Son of God, the Holy One, the only One who can overcome evil.  I claim the good confession as my own and I will live—and die—by it.  Amen.

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The Desire of the Heart

follow-your-heart“Each one is tempted when by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”  James 1:14-15

I used to work in a church office and we were often contacted by prisoners in jail who wanted us to visit and usually to try to intervene with the law on their behalf.  They almost always gave the same story, “I found myself in jail.”  As if they were innocently living their lives and suddenly looked up to see bars all around them.  It’s just one example of the human mantra, “It’s not my fault!”  And it’s as old as humanity itself.  In the Garden, at the scene of the first sin, Eve blamed the serpent and Adam blamed Eve and even God.  But the Lord knew the truth then, and he knows the truth now.  As our key verse clearly says, we are tempted by our own evil desires.  No one ever just wakes up unexpectedly in the pit of sin.  There is a progression and we are wise to recognize where it all begins.

James lays it out:

Man’s own sinful desire

The lure of temptation

Taking the bait

Sin is born

The final outcome: Death

At the heart of all sin is our innate sinful nature and our own sinful desires.  Paul explained it in Romans 8:5 saying, “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires.”  The Bible offers us countless examples of this truth. King David showed a previous bent toward lust with many wives, and when he was tempted with the beautiful Bathsheba, he answered that call.  The same was true of his son, Solomon, who “loved many foreign women” (1 Kings 11:1). He had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines – that’s a thousand women – and “his wives led him astray” (1 Kings 11:3).  In fact, sexual lust was, and continues to be, the most “popular” desire among human beings.

Judas was tempted by wealth; the gospels reported that he was stealing from the funds for the poor even before his betrayal of Jesus (John 12:6).  When the temptation was offered to earn thirty silver coins, his desire overwhelmed him and he turned on his Friend.

Satan goes for our desires, which are often our weaknesses.  Money, sex and power are the usual enticements into sin and death, but there are more than we can conceivably count.  Every person has their own desire, their own personal lure, and be assured Satan knows it.  He has devised a scheme just for you and just for me, tailor made to match that craving inside us.  We answer to the temptation that calls out to our innate desires. If your desire is for material possessions, he will pull you into the mall, or entice you with advertisements for the newest shiny thing.  If your desire is lust, every TV commercial for lingerie will catch your attention and he will make certain you get plenty of pop-ups for sexual sites on your I-phone.  Want power, prestige, fame, a high?  He’s got just what you’re looking for.

But Satan is not the one that God will hold responsible. We are all held accountable for our own desires.  King David warned his son Solomon, “The Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought” (1 Chronicles 28:9).  He knows that while Satan sets the trap and pulls the string, you and I are to blame for crawling in to take the bait.  Our hearts – our desires – will deceive us and lead us into self-destruction (Jeremiah 17:9).

Our only way of escaping his trap is to have but one desire: God.

God wants to be the desire of your heart and mine.  Nothing can drag us away into sin if the desire of our heart is to please and honor the holy, sovereign Lord of the Universe.  We will still face temptations, but if our one and only desire is to be like Christ, those temptations will fail to entice us.  Jesus resisted temptation because He had no evil desires.  His desire was only to do the will of His Father, therefore He had no pull to the temptations of the devil.

One of the church’s favorite verses is Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desire of your heart.”  I have it highlighted in my Bible too.  But we tend to overlook the first part in favor of the second.  We hone in on “He will give you the desire of your heart,” but rush past the requirement expressed just before it: “Delight yourself in the Lord.”  In other words, if your heart yearns for God alone, He will give you your heart’s desire.  And after that desire is met in all His fullness, any other gift He chooses to give to you is “icing on the cake.”

If we are serious about living pure and holy lives, especially in this culture, we must adopt the attitude of Asaph who proclaimed: “Earth has nothing I desire besides you…God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25, 26).  When God is our heart’s desire, He will make sure we have the desire of our heart.

 

Holy Father, I know my desires are not often pure and the enemy know it too, as he casts his temptations before me.  My only hope is for you to be the sole desire of my heart.  I can’t do that on my own Lord, I need you to change my heart.  I want you to be my heart’s desire.  Amen.

But I Don’t Feel Like Praising the Lord

Praise-08-782013“Keep your eyes on Jesus . . .” (Hebrews 12:2 The Message)

All around the sanctuary, hands were being lifted as the song proclaimed the goodness and majesty of the Lord.  Usually, my hand is one of the first to raise, but today, I’m just not feeling it.  The past several months have been difficult for my family.  The stress we are under is draining my energy and my joy is just about gone.  I want to feel the swell in my heart and the lift in my spirit, but my hand hangs by my side.  I listen to the music, watch the faces lift to the heavens, the hands swaying in the air and I wonder, “What do I do when I don’t feel like praising the Lord?”  As if he heard the question in my head, the worship leader softly spoke into the microphone, “Just focus on Jesus.”

What excellent advice.  So I did.  I paid attention to the words of the songs we were singing, songs that spoke of His love and His sacrifice.  Songs that reminded me of my helpless state before He rescued me, and of the hope and glory that is mine now in Christ.  My heart began to open is I focused more on Jesus, who left the glory and perfection of heaven for me.  I considered this One who paid the debt for every sin I ever committed and who shed His holy blood to cover my unrighteousness.  I joined in singing about the glory that awaits because of all that Jesus has done for me.  My mind was now engaged in praise, my worries—at least for the moment—slipped away and my hand lifted into the air.

Oh how can I not praise this One who died for me?  How can I withhold my heart from exalting my wonderful Savior?  How can I let the worries of life crowd out the honor and majesty of the King of the Universe who gave Himself for me?  I cannot.  I must not.  He is too precious.  He is too wonderful.  He is too worthy.

What struggle of mine is greater than His struggle on the cross for me?  What burden do I bear is heavier than the weight of my sin on His holy being?  What trouble in my life can diminish His majesty?  What need do I have that He has not promised to meet?  He has given me His own peace and joy.  He has given me His righteousness.  He has given me an eternal home – His home.  He has broken my chains and set me free – what momentary trouble in this life compares?

So I will focus on Jesus, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame.”  I will “Consider him who endured . . . so that I will not grow weary and loose heart” (Hebrews 2,3)  I will remember what God has done and I will “put my hope in God, and I will praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:5).  And I will “lift my heart and my hands to God in heaven” (Lamentations 3:41).

Holy Father, when I focus my mind on my troubles and my heart is weighed down with burdens it is hard to find reasons to praise You.  But when my focus moves to the cross and to all that Jesus has done for me, praise takes over my mind and heart and sets me free.  Lord, help me to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus and my mouth filled with praise.  Amen.

What Love Is (and What it Isn’t)

bible-heart“Love one another” (John 15:12).

“I love chocolate.”

“I love this song.”

“I love my kids.”

“I love you.”

Why do we use the same word to profess our feelings about pie, rainy days, best friends, and spouses?  Do we really have the same level of passion for a new pair of jeans as we have for our newborn baby?  I would be devastated to know that my son holds the same affection for the meatloaf I made for dinner as he does for me.  But I said the same words today to a lady in the grocery story as I told her “I love your blouse!”

What does “love” really mean?  It seems the definition has changed over the years, even in my lifetime.  I posed the question to Merriam-Webster who said that love is:

  • a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person
  • attraction that includes sexual desire : the strong affection felt by people who have a romantic relationship[1]

They also reminded me that love is a tennis score, but I think we’re getting off track.

Love, in Jesus’ day was defined in three ways:

Eros – a sensual love

Phileo – called a “brotherly love”

Agape – a sacrificial love

Eros love is a love that seeks self-satisfaction, it is sensual and is the root from which we derive the world “erotic,” but it is not only sexual in context.  When you say “I love chocolate,” you are expressing an eros love.  Eros love is self-centered, what I want, what will make me happy, what will bring me satisfaction.  It is a fleshly desire that we pursue for our own pleasure.

Phileo love is a deep fondness for one another.  In the original Greek, it means “to have affection and regard of a very high order.” Phileo love is the love we experience with family and friends, built on common ground, whether familial or in our shared interests.  It is a far purer love than Eros, but is still tinged with self-centeredness.  Phileo love can be broken by a person’s actions—a spouse’s infidelity, a friend’s betrayal, or an unkind or thoughtless word.

Agape love is a sacrificial love, a love that seeks the best for the beloved.  Agape love is the purest love, it is active and faithful and unbreakable.  Agape love puts the other person first, and gives of self for their benefit.  In the original Greek agape means “the active love of God for His Son and His people, and the active love His people are to have for God, each other and even enemies.”  Agape love is very demanding, it demands your time, it demands your personal rights, it demands your whole self, and that is why it is so hard to find in human relationships.  Yet it is precisely this kind of love that Jesus requires of His followers. It is Holy Love.

How can we possibly fulfill this command of love?  Only through God.

The heart and soul of true love—of agape love­—is the love of God.  This is perfect love (1 John 4:18).  And it is nothing like the “love” this world desires.  In our culture today, “love” means “anything goes.”  Love, in the modern sense, is unrestrained permissiveness.  If I claim to love you, I should never stand in the way of you fulfilling your desires.  But what if I know that your desires are self-destructive?  If my two-year old son desires to play in the middle of the street (and he did), does love demand that I allow him to do so?  NO!  Because agape love has a greater demand: that I do what is in my son’s best interest.  So even though it made him very angry, I did not allow him to play in the street.  It was not the best thing for him.  If I am to operate in agape love, I must speak up when I see someone in a perilous situation.  Just a few days ago I grabbed hold of a child I didn’t know who was about to walk out into the path of a car.  Should I be any less concerned when I see someone blindly following the whims of this sin-sick world into self-destruction?

Today, eros “love” has taken hold of the culture.  “Love” has become anything that satisfies the flesh, no matter how perverse or damaging.  And responding in “love” means we affirm and applaud this twisted version of love.  But that is not really love.  Real love cares enough to say “NO!”  Real love recognizes wrong and rather than applauding or shrugging the shoulders, real love seeks to set what is wrong back right.

God is the source of real love, John 4:7 says, “Let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”  The truest expression of real love was at the cross: “God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  God loves all humankind, and He knows that sin is not in our best interest, but salvation is.  He acted out of perfect love to provide what we needed most.

What this culture calls “love” is nothing more than self-destruction.  Real love is holy love. And because He is the definition of love, anything outside of God is not love.  Friend, it is time for us to speak the truth about love.

Holy Father, loving Father, the greatest expression of holy love was Your Son bleeding and dying on the cross for our sins.  Thank You for loving me enough to give me what is best, even when I want what is worst.  Help me be a voice and a conduit of real, holy, agape love in this world.  Amen.

[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/love, accessed June 9, 2016.