Arguing With the Devil

Common wisdom says to never argue about politics or religion. Those are two of the most polarizing subjects known to man. There’s a long history of trouble and anger surrounding both. Politics didn’t enter the scene until much later in the history of man, but the first religious argument happened in the Garden of Eden. It wasn’t between Adam and Eve – it was between Eve and the serpent – the devil in disguise.

In Genesis 3, Satan comes slithering along and asks a misleading question: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’” (v. 1). Look back to 2:16 where God said “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil . . .” Do you see the subtle twist? Eve responds with a partially true but still misleading answer: “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.” (v. 2-3). Do you see where she veered from God’s exact command?

The serpent started with a deceptive question and she followed with a partially true answer. Scholars have considered that she may have told the serpent what Adam told her. The original prohibition was given to Adam with the expectation that he, as her head, would relay God’s words to her. Adam may have added the “no touching” to keep her away from the tree altogether. But her altered answer gave the serpent just enough of an opening to reach through and pull her into sin. Had she responded with the exact words of God, he would not have had the advantage. And it would have changed everything. Consider instead how Jesus answered the devil – “As it is written . . .” The old liar couldn’t gain the slightest toe-hold on Jesus because He spoke nothing more or less than God’s anointed Word.

Satan can and will argue against man’s words all day long, but he cannot stand against the Word of the Lord. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible has all the power and authority of God Himself. And satan knows it. You need to know it too. Beloved, keep the Scriptures always in your heart and on your lips. It’s the only argument you need.

Advent 2022: His Name is Love

“You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus” (Luke 1:31).

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him ‘Immanuel’” – which means, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23).

When my son was young, he loved to go to the playground at the local park which was almost always crawling with boys and girls.  He would join in with one or two children and for some reason, he called all the other kids “dude”.  I told him over and over, “Ask them what their names are.”   One day on the way home I gently lectured him on the social grace of using people’s names.  He replied, “I only seen them today and I won’t see them tomorrow so I don’t need to know their name.”   Lecture over as I tried to stifle a laugh.  But he had a point – to know someone and call them by their name indicates a relationship, ranging from playgrounds to the intimacy of lovers.

God spoke volumes in the name He gave His One and Only Son.  “Jesus” – Iesous in Greek, Yeshua in Hebrew (translated Joshua) – carried the meaning “Yahweh saves.”  The Jewish people would hear Jesus’ name and remember that the Lord had saved His people in the past and He had promised to save them again.  They recalled Joshua in the days of the exodus from Egypt, a mighty military leader and warrior who lead the armies of Israel against multiple enemies on the way to the Promised Land.  They clung to the hope of salvation and restoration from Roman rule.  Jesus was a name that spoke of the power and faithfulness of God.

But Matthew records another name that would be bestowed on this Child – Immanuel – God with us. This name speaks of God coming physically near to His people.  In the Garden, God walked with Adam, until sin came between them.  In the desert, God’s presence was in the cloud of fire, and in Jerusalem, His presence dwelt between the cherubim in the Temple – behind a heavy curtain.  But now God Himself once more walked among his people.  He shared the street with His creation, broke bread together with men, and laid the hand of God on their children’s heads.  He lived among men – and died among them.

In a perfect combination of names, He personally brought the salvation of God to all humanity.  He is the victorious power of God and the intimate love of God.  He is Jesus – Immanuel – the God who came near to save us. It is the name of Love.

Let the Name of the Lord be praised, both now and forevermore – Psalm 113:2.

Advent 2022: Christmas Light

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”  Isaiah 9:2

My granddaughter loves Christmas lights. Anytime we drive at night, even in the middle of summer, she is on the lookout for them. We tell her that the Christmas lights are not out yet but she always says, “Maybe we’ll see some.” I love that Joy is always searching for light in the darkness.

When I was a kid we visited a park with beautiful caverns. In one deep, dark cave the park guide turned out all the artificial lights and the room was plunged into total darkness.  For a moment I was overcome by a sense of despair and fear.  In that pitch-blackness, I lost all orientation. I had no idea where the exit was, or where anyone else was.  If my friend had not grabbed my hand, I would have thought I was completely alone – that I had been abandoned.  Then the guide lit one small match.  All eyes were drawn to the light. With that single flickering flame, the darkness was overcome. Darkness is nothing more than the absence of light – but where there is even the smallest light, darkness has lost its power.

Adam and Eve plunged this world into sin and we are disoriented in spiritual darkness.  It is the kind of darkness that makes you feel completely alone and abandoned. Oh, the world offers a distorted light that is all glitz and glitter and flash. But it’s not the kind of light that helps you find your way.  Yet we are not to despair. God had a plan from before the creation of the world – before He called forth the light (Gen 1:3). He sent His One and Only Son to be “the Light of the world” (John 8:12).  His light overcame sin and evil and death. His light has the power to overcome the darkness and despair of living in this sin-sick, evil world with all its struggles and heartaches, and pain. He is “the true light that gives light to every man” (John 1:9).

Paul wrote, “God, who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).  This Advent season, as you enjoy the lights of Christmas, let the light of the Christ Child come in and dispel the darkness.  Beloved, come live in the Light of Jesus Christ.

Hebrews: See You on the Mountain

When last we met over the book of Hebrews I told you about my childhood neighbor, Mr. Estes. Tall, broad-shouldered, and gruff of voice. I was terrified of him. One day I kicked my ball to my friend and it rolled across the road, down his driveway, through the open gate, and into his backyard. Right where he was watering Mrs. Estes’ plants. It stopped when it bumped his foot. Well, that’s one ball I would never see again. Petra was so terrified she ran back to her house at the end of the street. I started walking toward my house when I heard him call out to me. At least his lips were moving, but it wasn’t his gruff voice. This voice was kind and gentle. “Hey little girl, your ball rolled over here. Come get it, I’ll meet you at the end of the driveway.” Something in this different voice told me I could trust him and so I cautiously walked over. He handed me the ball and then asked me about school and my baby brother and stuck his hand in his pocket to pull out a butterscotch candy – my favorite.  We stood there for several minutes chatting and when I walked back to my yard I had a new friend who always kept a pocket full of butterscotchies for me.

The writer of Hebrews had talked about Mount Sinai, the mountain on which God descended with “fire, darkness, gloom, and storm” and the fearsome voice of the Lord (Heb 12:18-21). But he contrasted that mountain with another – Mount Zion. “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.  You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in Joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven” (Heb 12:22-23a). Mount Zion is a reference to the heavenly Jerusalem that will be the eternal home for all God’s people in the coming age. This is the place that John saw in Revelation 21:1-2. Unlike Mount Sinai, Mount Zion was a place of absolute Joy – “the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven” (v. 23b ).

Here we will be welcome to approach God – not just in prayer (Heb 10:22) but physically – even face to glorious face. This is where believers will dwell in the presence of God, where we can once again walk in the cool of the day with our Creator (Gen 3:8). This is where my mom and dad and brother wait for me. This is where I will meet my heroes of the Bible: Deborah, Dorcas, Anna, and Ezra. And this is where I will throw my arms around my Savior’s neck and thank Him for saving a wretch like me. I have a question for you: Will I see you there too? Beloved, is your name written in heaven?

Do You Love God?

I may have given you the impression that my granddaughter Joy is perfect. She almost is . . . but she has just enough of me in her to spoil perfection. She has trouble sometimes obeying. She knows she is not allowed to climb on the back of Poppy’s recliner, but she does it anyway. She knows she is not allowed to get out of her seat at the table without permission, but she does it anyway. She knows she is not allowed to touch Nana’s laptop, but – well you know. We know she knows the rules because she says, “don’t climb on Poppy’s chair,” “ask permission before you get down,” “don’t touch Nana’s laptop,” but she does what she wants.

I said that is her Nana coming out, but really that is just human nature. We want what we want. Even when we know what we want is against the rules. Satan convinced Eve that God was withholding some good stuff from her. Like tasty, pretty fruit and knowledge that would make her like God Himself. Yet, God had said explicitly, “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil . . .” (Gen 2:17). His reason was for their preservation – if they ate the fruit they would die.  But there was a bigger reason for them to avoid the forbidden fruit. God had spoken and they were obligated to obey.

James said if we know what we ought (and ought not) do and we disobey, we sin (James 4:17). And we do know because we have God’s Word. Many of us can quote what we ought and ought not do. But we disobey anyway. Obedience matters to God and it should matter to us.  Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me” (John 14:21). He said our obedience proves we love Him. So what does it prove when we are disobedient? He made it very clear, “He who does not love me will not obey my teaching (v. 24).

We know Joy loves us and this is her immaturity (and her Nana) coming out. Our job is to direct her to grow in obedience. As God’s children, we ought to be obedient. Beloved, what does your life say about your love for God?

The Valley

This morning I was thinking about something I needed to do, something I didn’t really want to do because it often raised up a temptation I’ve been trying to put down for a long time. I prayed for help and a verse came to mind. It comes out of Psalm 23 – The Shepherd’s Psalm. Verse 4 says “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Now, what does that have to do with temptation?

This valley is not a pastoral scene of gentle slopes between the hills but a steep, narrow gorge where the sun never reaches. The valley most attributed to this passage was the Valley of Hinnom outside the walls of Jerusalem. It was a horrible place of death as bodies of criminals and animals and the town’s rubbish were thrown there and fires burned continually to consume them. The ”shadow of death” is a place of extreme danger and thick darkness – an apt description of the valley. It was also a place where kings and priest sent their own children to be burned alive to appease the gods – a horrible sin.

Death and sin go hand in hand. From the very beginning, God told the first humans that when they sin (disobey God) they “will surely die” (Gen 2:17). Paul said that “The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). The valley was a terrifying place of sin and death. But it was also a place people had to pass to get to the gates of the city. Here’s where this all comes together. You and I will be faced with sin and its consequences as long as we are on this earth. We can’t escape it. But we don’t have to fear it. God is with us. If we walk closely with Him we can traverse the sin and death of this world without falling into it. That’s what God was saying to me this morning. “Don’t be afraid of what you need to do. I am with you. I will not let you fall.” And He didn’t.

Beloved, the world is filled with sin and death, but if you belong to Christ you can face it with faith in your Shepherd. Your very Good Shepherd who died to save you – His precious little lamb.

Listen!

She was in trouble and she knew it. She turned her face away from me. “Joy, I need you to listen to Nana so you can get out of time out.” But she refused and stayed in her chair for another minute. I can’t count the times I’ve said: “Listen to me!” How often do you think God says that to us?

Believe it or not, listening to God is not difficult. Everything He wants to say to you and me is written in His Word. So often when we read God’s Word or hear it being read it comes across like the grown-ups in a Charlie Brown special. “Wa-wa-wa-wa-wa.” Solomon knew what it meant to listen to God. Grab your Bible and read Proverbs 2:1-5 – I’ll wait for you.

Solomon offered several keys to listening. (Yes, this passage is about wisdom, but the principle applies.) Accept the Bible as the true, authoritative Word of God. That means that the Bible calls the shots. If the world or your flesh says “do this,” but the Bible says “don’t” the Bible wins. Store up Scripture –That memorization. You don’t have to have it word-for-word, but have enough that you can use it when you need it – cause you’re gonna need it. Ask God for insight and understanding. I was not a Bible geek until my 40’s. I got a tiny taste of the depths of the Word and I wanted more. So I asked God to make me hungry. Twenty years later and I’m still ravenous. But I had to decide it was worth it. I had to regard it as a hidden treasure to be mined. I had to invest time and effort in it. I had to get up early and turn off the T.V. I had to put down the phone and pick up The Book.

There’s one other key to listening that comes from Paul who said, “the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). You and I have to shut down every other voice but the voice of truth.

Eve listened to the serpent. Adam listened to Eve. Neither of them listened to God. Beloved, who are you listening to?

Adam and Eve and the Hall of Faith

I was up very late trying to finish my last assignment for school. I am so tired. I don’t have the brainpower to think very hard. I’m going to share an observation as we work through the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11. School is over until Fall for me. More profound things will come later. Anyway, just read this while I go get more coffee.

Think about all the people listed in this chapter. You know what strikes me. Adam and Eve aren’t here. The first two people – the Lord God’s hand-made human beings are not in the Hall of Faith. Why? Because they sinned? Yes, but not entirely.  This chapter is all about faith and their sin showed they had none. Faith = obedience. That’s what James was pointing out: “Faith by itself if it is not accompanied by action [aka obedience] is dead” (2:17). The corollary then is disobedience = no faith. Yet Adam and Eve had the most intimate knowledge of God of any human being in history. They walked with Him in the Garden every evening ((Gen 3:8). They saw His face. Their eardrums vibrated to the sound of His voice. Don’t you imagine He put His hand on Adam’s shoulder as He pointed out the animals?

Do you know what that tells me (the seminary grad student and Bible teacher)? Knowledge of God doesn’t equal faith. Remember that the writer of Hebrews said “the message [the Israelites] heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith” (4:2). You can know all about God and still not know God. You can even believe that He is real and not believe Him. James also said, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder. You can even memorize every word in the Bible and still not have faith. Jesus talked about the religious leaders who “diligently study the Scriptures” but did not believe Him (John 5:39-40). Beloved, with all my heart I plead, don’t let Jesus say that of you. If all you want is a head full of knowledge, go study philosophy. But if you want Jesus and eternal life, apply your mind and heart to the Scriptures and bend your knee to the Word.

Hebrews: Draw Near

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is His body and since we have a great priest over the house of God . . .” (Heb 10:19-21).

The writer of Hebrews proclaimed that the curtain that separated man and God has been removed. The priests who alone went behind the curtain have been replaced with the great priest who replaced the curtain with His own body, torn asunder. God has removed all the obstacles. Nothing prevents us from coming to the Lord now. Nothing but fear. And why are afraid? Because we are sinful people and He is a holy God. And “no one may see [Him] and live” (Ex 33:20). And because we know that God is “the One who can destroy both body and soul” (Matt 10:28). So we hide ourselves from Him, just as Adam and Eve did. I have good news for you my friend; this same God loves you with an everlasting love. A perfect love. And “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:18).

Now we are invited to “draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith . . .” That “full assurance of faith” is the antithesis of fear.  Mind you, this is not the “pull up your bootstraps” kind of faith. This is faith that knows that “our hearts [have been] sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience” and “our bodies [have been] washed with pure water” (Heb 10:22). It is faith that rests on the perfect love of God and the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood.

John also noted that “The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” The corollary then states that those who have been made perfect by the blood of Christ (go back to Heb 10:14) have nothing to fear.  Mind you, there is a healthy, reverent fear of the Lord that we should always have. He is, after all, the God of heaven and earth. But reverent fear and fear of punishment are two very different things. Beloved, if you have trusted in Jesus be assured that you are welcomed in the Father’s house – and in His arms.

God’s (Very) Long-Range Plan

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I’m part of a group that is writing out the Scriptures. We’re writing small sections each day, but by focusing on only a small portion of verses we are able to slow down; by writing it out we pay careful attention to each word. Yesterday one of those words stood out to me.  In the account of creation, Genesis two describes man’s divinely created home, a place of beauty and nurture. The garden featured trees with fruit to feed the human. All the bounty of the Garden was free for the taking, with one exception – the “tree in the middle of the garden” (Gen. 3:3). God expressly forbade eating the fruit from this particular tree. He said, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of the good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen 2:17). Did you notice that one word that caught my attention? When. God said, “when you eat of it,” not “if you eat of it.” Adam and Eve’s act of sinful rebellion was not a surprise to God. He expected it. He predicted it. He knew it was going to happen all along.

And because He knew it was going to happen, He made a way for sinful man to be redeemed before he ever spoke the universe into being. You and I need to know that the cross of Christ was not God’s reaction to man’s sin. John said that Jesus was “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world’ (Rev 13:8), and Jesus said that the Father arranged our inheritance, a “kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matt 25:34). God provided the cure for sin before the first sin ever occurred, even before He called forth the light (Gen 1:3). Jesus coming to earth, living a perfect life, dying a selfless death, and rising from the grave was all part of the plan of the ages. To what end? That He might rule and reign over a kingdom of redeemed people.

Beloved, I want you to be part of that kingdom. I want you to know Jesus, but more importantly, I want Jesus to know you (Gal 4:9; 1 Cor 8:3; John 10:14). God made the plan long ago, and He included you in it. Have you, will you receive His grace today?