Word of Life

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Years ago, in a Ladies’ Bible study class, I asked, “Do I have to read the Bible? Can’t I just read books about the Bible? It’s so hard to understand.” I will never forget the leader’s answer: “Yes, you need to read the Bible. You need to know what God said, not someone’s interpretation. Never take anyone else’s word for what God has said but God Himself.”  You’ve probably heard me say that a time or two. It made an indelible impression on me and want it to have the same effect on you.

Thankfully, about twenty-five years ago God gave me an overwhelming passion to study the Bible. It has not gone away. It is my life’s purpose and mission. I took to heart: Deuteronomy 32:47 – “These are not just idle words for you – they are your life.” I intend to read and study the Bible until I draw my final breath.

Why? Because it is full of wisdom, power, truth, discipline, and insight. Because it teaches me, corrects me, encourages, chastens, strengthens, and humbles me. Because the Word of God is alive and full of the Spirit of God and reveals the heart of God. Because it is a Word of beauty and grace and peace and hope and Joy.

And because it is the only weapon I have to fend off the enemy of my soul. Jesus used this same sword when the devil came to tempt Him. In the face of every temptation, He said, “It is written . . .” and He resisted the devil at every turn with the Holy Scriptures (Matthew 4:1-10).  I need that kind of power because His enemy is my enemy too. If the Holy Word was good enough for Jesus, it’s certainly good enough for me.

John MacArthur wisely said, “Make sure Satan has to climb over a lot of Scripture to get to you.” I’m surrounding myself with God’s Word and filling my heart and mind with its truth so that I am protected from without and within.

What is your strategy for dealing with the devil? If it doesn’t involve the Word of God you are sure to fall. Beloved, you need to get into the Bible and let the Bible get into you. Let it sink its roots deep into your heart. Let it surround you. Because these are not just idle words for you—they are your life.

The Art of Spiritual Warfare: Know Yourself

A couple of days ago I shared a quote by Sun Tzu, who is credited with writing The Art of War. His premise is that victory in war comes when you know your enemy and know yourself.  From that we explored scripture about knowing our enemy the devil, but more importantly, knowing God. Several of you asked for more on “knowing yourself.” Honestly, I purposely skipped that part of Tzu’s quote because, in the current “Christian” marketplace, there is a glut of music, books, studies, and messages that are heavily self-focused. I believe it is an unhealthy trend. The church has forgotten Jesus’ call.  It’s really hard to “deny yourselves” (Luke 9:23) when you’re always thinking about yourself. But I digress.

There is a biblical directive to “know yourself” – especially in the face of spiritual warfare. The enemy loves to attack your heart. When he says, “God could never love you,” you need to know that He has promised to love you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3).  When he says you are worthless you need to know that God purchased you at a very high price – not with gold or silver, but with the precious blood of His Son (1 Peter 1:18-19). When satan says God has forgotten you, be assured that you are engraved on the palm of God’s hand (Isaiah 49:16). Your Father says that  “you are precious and honored in my sight” (Isaiah 43:4). You are redeemed (Galatians 3:13). You are sons [and daughters] of God (Galatians 4:6). You are chosen (Ephesians 1:4).

But there’s another kind of war that your enemy wages You need to know who you are when temptation hits – and you need to know who you are not. Paul said you used to be a slave to wickedness, “but now you have been set free from sin (Romans 6:19-22). You once were dead in your sins but now you are alive with Christ (Colossians 2:13). “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” Then he added, “Live as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8).

Over and over Paul drives home the point – you used to love sin – BUT THAT’S NOT WHO YOU ARE NOW. (Yes I’m shouting – I want you to get this.) You are “more than conquerors” in this battle (Romans 8:37). That, Beloved, is what you need to know about yourself.

Are You Hiding from the Devil?

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I know an older, bedridden man, who keeps all the windows tightly covered so that he has no view of the outside. When I visited him not long ago, I pulled a curtain aside momentarily and he nervously asked me to pull it shut again. The man had become convinced someone might be wandering through his yard and he thought his curtains kept him safe. He knew he couldn’t get up and confront strangers in his yard, but he thought if he didn’t see them he didn’t have to fear them. The truth is, he was afraid of just the idea of them – and they weren’t even there.

He makes me think of the world that tries to shut out the truth about the devil. But unlike this man, they are shutting out what really is there. They reject any thought of the devil, pulling the curtains so they cannot see the very real evidence of him in the world. They rename sin and call it a disease, or worse, make it a cause for celebration. They create ideologies and movements to counteract what they believe is wrong in the world and deny the power that drives men to hate and kill and abuse others. They believe their curtains are keeping them safe.

Peter said, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The devil is the active force behind the evil in the world. But man thinks, “If I pretend he isn’t real, I don’t have to do anything about him.” Oh, but the devil is a very real and present danger. And denying he exists or pretending he is just a guy in red long-johns with a pitchfork doesn’t make the danger go away. It only makes us easier prey.

But thanks be to God! We are not left helpless and defenseless. We have a victorious Savior who has overcome the evil one. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8). You need to always “be self-controlled and alert” concerning the devil (1 Peter 5:8). But if you are in Christ, you have nothing to fear because “the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world (1 John 4:4). Open your curtains, Beloved, and let the Sonshine in.

Hebrews: Why Did Jesus Come?

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Over the past several weeks in Hebrews, we’ve focused on eight theological reasons why God sent His Son from glory to this sinful earth. Let’s put them all together for a recap.

  1. God sent Jesus to “bring many sons to glory” (v. 10). To bring lost human beings – now redeemed – into His eternal family.
  2. He sent Jesus to earth to “Make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering” (v. 10b). Remember that “perfect” means complete and doesn’t imply that Jesus was every imperfect. His role as “the author of [our] salvation” was completed by his suffering on the cross.
  3. Jesus came so that He could present us to God as “the children God has given me” (v. 13). Children who were set apart for Him and transformed into His own image.
  4. God sent Jesus to “destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil” v. 14). Jesus came to fulfill God’s first promise “to crush the head” of the devil (Genesis 3:15).
  5. In destroying the devil, Jesus came to “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (v. 15). As children of God, we do not fear the end of this life because we know that we have eternal life with Him in heaven forever.
  6. God sent Jesus to be for us “a merciful and faithful high priest” (v. 17). He is the only high priest who does not need to make atonement for His own sins before He can atone for ours.
  7. As our high priest, Jesus came to “make atonement for the sins of the people” (v. 17b). By His death, He made us “at one” with God as we were “me[a]nt” to be.
  8. God sent Jesus “to help those who are being tempted” (v. 18).  He suffered from the same demonic temptation you and I face. He understands and He is able and more than willing to help us.

All of this comes back to one core reason God sent Jesus to earth: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God loves His creation. He wants to redeem sinful humans and restore the relationship for which we were created. He did that through His Son. He did that for you and me. Beloved, God gave the most precious thing in heaven to save you forever. Because He loves you.

Hebrews: When You are Tempted

One of the foundations of recovery programs is the helpful presence of those who have “been-there-done-that. The former addict can uniquely connect with and help the one struggling to break free from drugs. The same applies to recovering from alcohol, pornography, and all manner of bondage.  I have a dear friend who turned the shame of abortion into a powerful post-abortion ministry – she could offer another woman her hand and tell her, “been there, done that, let me tell you how God set me free.”

The author of Hebrews pointed to another reason that God sent His one and only Son to earth – “Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). This verse is important because it also highlights the humanity of Jesus, that He was made as we were, and suffered just as we do.  Therefore He is in a unique position to help us when we suffer, especially when we face temptation.

What does it mean that Jesus “suffered” when He was tempted? The word used means “to experience or endure” often with a negative experience. Let’s be honest – most of us don’t  “suffer” with temptation. We don’t “endure” through it. Most of us give in to it without much of a struggle. Jesus faced temptation from the devil, but He did not give in (Matthew 4 and Luke 4). He also faced temptation in the garden before His arrest and crucifixion, but He did not give up (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22).  

It is important to note that while Jesus suffered with temptation, He never sinned. If He had He could not have been our high priest and Savior. Peter said of Jesus, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth” (1 Peter 2:22).  He experienced the full onslaught of temptation such as you and I will never face, and He overcame it. How? Love for His Father who sent Him and love for those He came to save. Indeed, He is able to help in our time of temptation.  If we will allow Him to. An old devout saint was once asked, what is your secret to living a godly life? He answered, “Every time I am tempted I look to God and say, ‘Your property is in danger.’”  Beloved, the next time you are in danger from temptation, reach out to Jesus. He understands and He will help you.

A Safe Place in the Storm

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A storm is raging outside my window this morning. Thunder rumbles a warning as the wind howls and the rain beats down. In the next county, a tornado warning has sent people scurrying for their safe place. Farther up the state, families are trying to recover from this same system that has destroyed homes and neighborhoods. We really shouldn’t be caught off guard by them; it’s spring in the South and we know every year that these storms are coming. They’re still frightening to go through though.

Storms are raging in the world around us. Not storms with rain and wind and tornadoes, but storms of hate and anger and oppression. These storms are the work of the devil, God’s enemy and the enemy of everyone who loves God. We should not be taken by surprise when they hit because Jesus warned us this was coming. He said that the world (who operates under the influence of the devil) would hate us and persecute us because we belong to Him. He told us, “If they persecuted me [and they did], they will persecute you also” (John 15:18-20). It’s still frightening though.

I have a good, sturdy house that has weathered storms and a recent category 5 hurricane. I have confidence that it will protect me and my family from this morning’s wind and rain. Jesus didn’t offer you and me a safe house to ride out the cultural storms. But  He said, “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). How did He overcome the world? By His presence in it. Jesus came bringing light to this dark world, and John declared that darkness cannot overcome the Light of Christ.

I have confidence in this Light and I trust the Lord Jesus’ power over the darkness in the world. Everyone who puts their faith in Him lives in His Light; the darkness has no power over them. Mind you, that doesn’t mean that the devil stops trying, but he cannot win against those who are covered by the blood of Jesus. You need to know that Beloved. Jesus has overcome the darkness and evil and death and the devil. You couldn’t find a safer place to be.

The Enemy’s Not Who You Think

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Going a completely different direction this morning, all because of a . . . well, let me start at the beginning. I was working on a very passionate and theological post. But something wasn’t right. With the post, but also with my computer. I was waxing elephants with my words, but not making any real sense. Plus, I noticed a random period between two words where a period shouldn’t be. I backspaced to erase it and retyped the sentence. There’s that stupid period again. I thought I must be accidentally hitting the period key. Backspace and try again. It’s still there. What in the world? Then I wiped the screen and wiped away a tiny little black spot that was perfectly positioned to pretend to be a naughty period. And drive me crazy.

Oh, you bet there is a spiritual application here my friends. Things are not always what we think they are. You and I can be deceived and end up fighting the wrong battles. That’s why Paul said we must take a stand against the devil’s schemes because “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” (Eph. 6:11, 12). Just as I blamed that errant period for being in the wrong place, you and I often put the blame in the wrong place. Satan loves to stir up tension between you and your spouse, your child, your coworker, your parent, your sibling, or even – especially – a brother or sister in Christ. We have to remember that the enemy s not the other person – it is the evil one “behind the curtain,” using your loved one’s finger to push your buttons. It is the devil who loves to drive a wedge between us. And yes, I know, sometimes people do some pretty awful things to us. They’re still not the enemy. Satan and his evil minions are.

Who has “pushed your button” lately? Who has caused friction and tension in your life? Your real enemy wants you to be angry and hate them. Instead, Peter admonished, “All of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, because to this {harmony, sympathy, love, compassion, humility] you were called” (1 Peter 3:8-9). Fight the real enemy, Beloved, and love one another.

When the Lion Roars

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When I was younger my family went to a “wild” animal park, the kind where you drive through while the animals roam around.  All the animals ignored us for the most part; they were used to the steady parade of cars.  We drove through the lion’s section, most of whom slept in the sun or lazily watched us passing by.  But there was one male lion who didn’t take too kindly to our presence, and as we slowed to get a closer look at him he shook his head, sending his mane spiraling outward and let out a thundering ROAR!  We all jumped, my little brother started crying and my dad stepped on the gas.  I’ll never forget how my heart pounded in my chest.

Peter said, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). We have an enemy who is like that roaring lion.  He is fierce and ferocious and always on the hunt for easy prey.  He is ruthless and malicious and will attack without provocation.  He hates humankind because he hates God and everything God loves.  And he has a particularly fierce hatred for Christians.   He stalks believers, pacing back and forth with his menacing demeanor.  And he roars.  He roars out accusations and threats.  He roars out a list of your failures and sins.  He roars about what a bad mom you are, that you’re a lousy husband and a hopeless, useless mess.  He roars out that God could never love you.  He roars out lies.

How should we deal with this roaring lion?  Peter tells us exactly what to do. “Resist him, standing firm in the faith,” (2 Peter 5:9) James agrees, saying, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you,” (James 4:7.  Paul tells us to “Stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11).   Proverbs 28:1 says “The righteous are as bold as a lion,” Friend, when the lion roars, you stand in the righteousness of Christ and roar back the Name of Jesus and the Word of God.  You remind the devil that he is a defeated, powerless fool and that his destruction is assured.  You declare that “The Lion of Judah” (Rev. 5:5) has already claimed the victory.  The devil roars, but that’s all he can do to those who belong to Christ.  Don’t tremble.  Don’t run.  Don’t back down. “A lion . . . retreats before nothing,” Proverbs 30:30.  You are a righteous lion. ROAR!

When the Enemy Attacks

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If you don’t believe the devil is real, I invite you to walk a mile in my shoes. Because I belong to Christ, because I am surrendered to His calling for my life to live, study, and teach His Word, I have an angry enemy. He has made it his mission to distract and harass me, to beat me down, and to break my heart and my spirit.  From crashed computers to sickness, to full-blown assaults, he is determined to stop me. And I am determined to press on – to live and study and write and teach the Bible as I’ve been called.

One day I asked God, “Why are you allowing the devil to attack me? Wouldn’t I be more effective without his bullseye on my back” The Spirit took me to Jesus’s words to Peter: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31-32). He revealed three things to me: 1. God has the enemy on a very short leash. 2. If Satan is attacking me that means I am doing what God called me to do. 3. While I am under attack, my Lord and Savior is praying for me. Then he said, “The reason I allowed Satan to sift Peter is because there were things in Peter that needed to be sifted out so he would be useful for my Kingdom. I used the devil for Peter’s sanctification. I am allowing Satan to sift you for the same reason. Oh, how I thank God for His power and authority over Satan and His faithfulness to make me a useful and usable vessel for His Kingdom.

Beloved, if you feel like you’re under attack – if you feel like someone is trying to break your heart and your spirit – you’re probably right. But be assured – that means you are right where God wants you to be, doing what He wants you to do, the enemy can only do what he’s permitted to do, and Jesus is praying earnestly for you. Now, tighten up your armor and get back to your calling. Your enemy doesn’t stand a chance.

Did God Really Say . . .?

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“Did God really say . . .” (Gen. 3:1)

Why do I have so much trouble driving the speed limit? The speed limit is 70 MPH – so I go 75 or 80. It’s 55 on my way to work, so I set my cruise for 62. Oh, don’t you judge me – you’re doing it too. Some of you are flying past me like we’re on a NASCAR racetrack. What makes us want to try the boundaries?

I recently wrote a paper on Genesis 3:1-7, the account of the fall of humanity. You know the story, perfectly innocent couple in a perfect garden home enjoying wondrous fruits – until a sneaky, lying snake approaches the woman. “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?” The woman responded, albeit not entirely truthful and he comes back with, “You will not surely die . . .” (Gen. 3:4). There is an interesting play in the serpent’s words in verses 1 and 4. The word “really” (‘ap) is an adverb that essentially asks the question: “Is it even so that God hath said?”[1] Combined with the serpent’s rejection of the consequences of eating the fruit, it appears that in verse 1 the serpent was not asking Eve, “Did God truly speak these words?” but rather, “Do you think God meant what he said?” That’s why I push the speed limit – I don’t think they are serious about it. One can almost see the serpent wave his hand with a “Pshaw – You will not surely die!” The serpent was casting doubt in Eve’s mind about God’s truthfulness. Does He really mean it? Will He do what He claimed He would do?

That is one of the enemy’s favorite tools – causing us to doubt God’s integrity – whether it is questioning God’s willingness to punish sin or His willingness to save us, protect us, provide for us, and deliver us. And it has infiltrated the church. “No, God won’t punish this wicked desire of yours, He is all love, love, love!” Paul said we must become wise about the devil’s schemes. Beloved, In case you ever wondered – you can absolutely, 100 % trust what God says – about punishment and blessings. The devil is a liar.

[1]. “Lexicon :: Strong’s H637 – ‘aph,” Blue Letter Bible, Accessed September 19, 2020, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H637&t=NIV