Pointing Fingers

“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do good, but I cannot carry it out” Romans 7:18
One of the biggest challenges of being a Bible teacher is the tension between expressing what the Bible says about sin and recognizing my own sinful nature. How can I stand before a class or post something I’ve written that tells others “how to live” when I fail so often in my own walk? Who do I think I am?
That’s why I find great comfort in Paul’s letters. Paul addresses every kind of sin we can imagine – sexual sin, lying, stealing, hate, laziness, idolatry, marital unfaithfulness, abuse, self-centeredness, drunkenness, and yes even gluttony (Ouch!). He is very outspoken about sin and points a finger wherever he sees it. But he also points a finger back at himself. Paul frequently admits his own human failure to walk the walk of which he talks. In Romans 7, he laments this all too common push-and-pull of righteousness vs. sin. “What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (v. 15). “The evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (v. 19). From Paul’s words, we realize that the sinful nature we inherited from Adam constantly “wages war” against our new nature in Christ (v. 23).
So what do we – as those called to share the gospel and the truth of righteousness – do with that conflict? First, we stop focusing on ourselves. That’s a guarantee to keep failing. Instead, we follow Paul’s example and shift our focus upward. He wrapped up his lament, by recognizing his failure: “What a wretched man I am!” He admitted his need for a savior: “Who will rescue me from the body of death?” Then he rejoiced in the goodness and faithfulness of God: “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (vv. 24-25).
You and I are part of the fallen human race, and even though we have trusted in Christ as our Savior, we still fall to our sinful nature. Satan would have us languish there in self-hatred. But we are no longer under the sentence of condemnation (Romans 8:1). We have been rescued and redeemed. When we focus on Jesus we live more in the freedom of our new nature and less in the bondage of our sin. Yes, Beloved, you will still fail – but thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord – you don’t have to stay there!

Hope in Days of Evil

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Another day, another multi-victim shooting, another child abused, another murder, another robbery, beating, and theft. I remember the day when such things were shocking; now they are commonplace. I read just yesterday of a mother who killed her child and I want to ask, “Why?” But I know the answer. Because Adam and Eve ate the fruit. And their actions ushered in sin that has infected the human race at a far greater pace than COVID 19. It is part of our human make-up. It’s even part of our culture. And the Bible makes it clear that it’s only going to get worse.

Jesus said as the time for His return draws near, wickedness will increase, and “the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). Love – love for what is good – will die and evil and wickedness will grow at alarming rates.

Paul added, “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:2-5). Can anyone doubt that we are in the last days?

Does that frighten you? It should if you don’t belong to Jesus Christ. But if you are His, if you have surrendered yourself – heart, mind, soul, and strength – to Him, the state of the world should concern you, but not scare you. It should compel you to share the gospel. It should urge you to live in holiness. It should move you to intervene for the innocent. But it shouldn’t frighten you. Because the increase of wickedness means a decrease in our wait for Christ’s return.

Jesus said when the world turns more and more to evil, and the heavens and the earth react to it (because they are also subject to the curse of sin), we need to look up. “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky . . . the nations of the earth . . . will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory (Matthew 24:30). And every evil, wicked, sinful thing will be cast out. Yes, these are evil days, and there is likely more to come. But lift up your head, Beloved, that means the Lord is nearer now than ever before.

Where Was God?

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“Where was God?” the atheist demanded. “Where was God?” the frightened widow cried. “Where was God?” the shocked nation asked. Even Christians looked to heaven and said,  “God, where are You?” It was the most tragic and horrific day in American history and twenty years later it still makes us weep. I imagine the same question was going through the minds of the Jews when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem. The event even sounds very similar:  “[The Babylonians] set fire to God’s temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there.” (2 Chronicles 36:19).

A memorial sits at the very spot in New York City where the buildings fell. People come every year to remember and pay their respects to the thousands who lost their lives that day.  Every year religious Jews come to Jerusalem to pray and fast in remembrance of the destruction of their Temple, first by the Babylonians in 587/586 BCE, and again in 70 CE at the hands of the Roman legions led by Titus.

Where was God when the Twin Towers fell? The same place He was when Jerusalem fell. In His heaven, ruling over human history. How can that be? I wish I could give you a simple answer, but this is the age-old “problem of evil” that men have pondered for thousands of years. It has been used to deny the existence of God and His goodness and sovereignty and quite honestly, I cannot answer it. But I can tell you that evil may have claimed a few battles throughout human history, but it has already lost the war.

Oh, satan thought he was victorious when Jesus drew His last breath and cried out, “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). But he was trembling when the ground rumbled as the stone rolled away. He was dumbfounded when the angel told the women, “He is not here; He has risen!” (Matthew 28:6). He was horrified as Mary Magdalene ran back to the disciples with the amazing news, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18).

So today I will remember the lives lost twenty years ago and pray for the still grieving. But I will not fear evil. I will keep my eyes on heaven and celebrate the risen Lord who dealt evil a fatal blow. No, the war is not yet over, but Satan has already lost. God has already won. God always wins.

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.

Godly People in an Ungodly World

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“Be wise about what is good and innocent about what is evil” (Romans 16:19). Turn on the television, open a newspaper, log onto the internet and you are face-to-face with evil. You don’t even have to look for it; it’s on roadside billboards, flashed in commercials, and reported daily in the news. Satan rules the world – for now. Yet believers are called to live godly lives in an ungodly world. How?

Jesus said, “Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). I love this verse and the two contrasting words. “Shrewd” means “wise, sensible” and comes from “thinking and understanding.” Simply put, we need to think, then make a wise determination. Let’s be honest – we can become mentally and spiritually lazy – accepting as truth whatever we are told. If you don’t believe me, spend a day on Facebook. We need to be discerning about everything our minds take in. Because we must live in this world, Jesus tells us to “think and come to a sensible conclusion.”

In contrast to being shrewd, Jesus commands us to be innocent which means pure, not mixed with evil. His command here is to not allow ourselves to be mixed up with the world’s philosophies and ideas; to not allow them to be poured into our minds and hearts. In the Old Testament, the people of Israel tried to compromise with the Lord and the world, believing that they could dabble in paganism as long as they continued to also follow the sacrificial Law of God. They “poured” paganism into with their worship of God Almighty, and in their dulled minds, believed they were still being obedient to the Lord. Despite what the bumper sticker claims, God’s people cannot “coexist” with ungodliness. It didn’t work for Israel and it won’t work for you and me.

We must let the Word of God be the determining factor in everything we do and say and think. The world will not tell you the truth. The Word will never tell you a lie. Beloved, be wise – consider everything through the lens of Scripture. It will never steer you wrong. Be innocent – keep your mind and heart pure from the world’s philosophies and attitudes. It might help to turn off the T.V., put down the newspaper, and log off of the internet. That’s how we live “in the world,” but not “of the world” (John 17:15-16).

Battle-Ready

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Armor of God. You are probably familiar with Ephesians 6:10-18 and the list and description of each piece:
The Belt of Truth – this foundational garment provides support to stand erect.
The Breastplate of Righteousness –covers the heart – the seat of our emotions, thoughts, and affections, and the lungs – the breath of the Holy Spirit.
The Shoes of the Readiness of the Gospel of Peace – to take the Gospel with us everywhere we go – spreading it like holy seeds.
The Shield of Faith – protection from the fiery darts of the enemy – darts of doubt, temptation, fear, self-defeat, anger, bitterness, hatred, and animosity.
The Helmet of Salvation – to cover our minds, where the enemy battles us most fiercely.
The Sword of the Spirit – the Word of God – the only defensive piece of the Armor.
Prayer – our source of power, strength, and discernment.
My sister-in-law is always reminding me to put on my armor every day, “Pull those straps tight every morning!” And she’s right. But here’s something I had not noticed before now: “Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground . . .” (v. 13, emphasis added). Every day is a spiritual battle. Every day we face off against the devil. Every day he lobs his darts and tries to take us out. But there is a “day of evil” coming when the battle will be like nothing you or I have ever experienced. We have no way of knowing when that day will be, so we must be prepared for it every day.
Do you remember the story of “David and Goliath?” When David told King Saul that he would take on Goliath, Saul dressed David in his own tunic, armor, and helmet. “David . . . tried walking around” and said, “I cannot go in these because I am not used to them” (1 Sam 17:38-39). Friend, you and I have to get used to wearing the armor now, so that when that day comes, it is as natural to us as our favorite pair of jeans. We have to strengthen our arms to hold up that Shield and know how to use that Sword to it’s fullest advantage. We can’t be clunking into war in uncomfortable battle gear.
Beloved, the day is near. You need to get ready.

Not Your Warm and Fuzzy Devotional

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There is a lot of hero-worship in the church. There are “rock-star” pastors with thousands of followers and Bible teachers who sell out auditoriums around the country. Jesus had quite a crowd that followed Him and hung on His every word. Take the fellow in Luke 9: “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you where you go.’” (v. 57). He wanted to be part of Jesus’ entourage. But Jesus didn’t encourage this would-be fan. His response: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head” (v. 58). I believe Jesus was saying, “This is not going to be the high-life you’re expecting. I don’t have a multi-million dollar mansion to put you up in. I walk hot, dusty roads and sleep where I can.”

What did you expect from Jesus when you chose to follow Him? A solution to all your problems? A good reputation in the community? A full life with heaven thrown in after it’s all over?

Just a few verses before this scene, He told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (v. 23) Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem and the cross. He might have also told the man, “Don’t hook your wagon to me unless you’re prepared to die.” There is a war going on between good and evil, between light and darkness. Evil and darkness have the upper hand at the moment. God’s people are the enemy of the present ruling authorities who are bent on destruction. If you choose Jesus, you need to know that you are also choosing self-denial, persecution, rejection, and suffering. That is what Jesus endured. Why should we expect any less?

But then, I look at the modern church, so comfortable in our air-conditioned sanctuaries. Where is the suffering? Where is the persecution? Where are self-denial and the cross? Maybe the enemy’s strategy against the church today is not a full-on battle, but just to make us relaxed and contented. Just before he hits us with an all-out assault.

Here’s a thought: If Christianity is comfortable, maybe we’re in more danger than we know.

God Wins!

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On my way home yesterday I prayed, “Lord, I am so tired of evil in this world.” I am tired of mass shootings and sex trafficking. I’m tired of babies being murdered in the womb and outside of the womb. I’m tired of children being abused. I’m tired of sin being paraded and celebrated. I’m tired of old folks being swindled out of their life savings. And most of all, I’m tired of the war with evil that is happening in my own home over my loved one. I am bone-tired. Heart-tired. Spirit-tired.
Then I heard that quiet voice: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Not “I will overcome the world” but “I have overcome the world.” He overcame it when he broke free from His grave clothes and walked out of that tomb. I wish I were a fly on the wall in hell when Satan and his demons saw the Lord’s chest rise and fall again. Evil will be with us in the world, but evil does not have the final say. I read the end of the book – evil loses. Jesus wins. I don’t know about you, but I need that reminder today.

The Nativity

“They hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger” (Luke 2:16).

When we set up our nativity scenes, we place the star and the angel above the stable and we add the animals and the shepherds. We set Mary and Joseph beside the manger where the little baby sleeps. We even add the wise men, though they didn’t actually come on the scene until some 2 years later. Now everyone is present and accounted for.
The truth is, Satan is part of the Christmas story, for the Holy Child in the manger was born to break the curse of evil. He was born to set men free from their sins (Romans 6:18). He was born to bring light and life where death and darkness reigned (John 1:4-5). He was born to set right what had been made horribly wrong (Romans 8:22-24). This little baby was the fulfillment of God’s promise, the seed that would crush the head of the enemy (Genesis 3:15). When this newborn baby’s cry pierced the silent night, all of hell trembled.
As you celebrate Jesus, the reason for the season, remember the reason Jesus came and praise God for the greatest gift ever given. The Savior of the world is born.

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.