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.

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 Power of One Light

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In our continuing study of the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7, we’ve learned through the Beatitudes the characteristics of the citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. In verses 13-16 Jesus taught about the influence Kingdom people have on the world. These are the “Salt and Light” verses. Jesus declared: “You are the salt of the earth . . . You are the light of the world.” I have previously written on verse 13 – the salt verse. I will add a link to that post in my blog in the comments. Today we will look at the Lord’s teaching about being “the light of the world.”

From creation, light’s purpose is to shine in the darkness (John 1:5a). Light has power over darkness (John 1:5b) because darkness is nothing more than the absence of light. When light is introduced into the darkness, darkness no longer exists. When I was a kid we took a trip to the Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna. There are caves for exploring all through the park and our group was standing in one of the caves when the tour guide turned off the electric lights. It was pitch black, the darkest darkness I’d ever experienced. You literally couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. Several of us became afraid and started whimpering (and not just the girls). Then he flicked on a lighter and the darkness was gone. One small light overcame the darkness. And every eye was drawn to that light. You couldn’t miss it.

Jesus said that we are the light of the world. This directly identifies us with Him as He declared “I AM the Light of the world” (John 8:12). That means you and I have power over darkness – not our own power, but Christ’s. The world is a very dark place. Evil is everywhere. But you and I have the His light to overcome evil and darkness. When we shine with His light, the darkness has no choice but to flee. And when we shine with His light every eye will be drawn – not to us – but to the Source of the Light.

Don’t hide your light. Don’t bury it under sin and worldliness. You have the Light that overcomes darkness. Shine, Beloved. The world desperately needs to see the Light of Christ in you.

Holy Light

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“The lamp (light showing the way of truth) of the LORD searches (examines, tracks down) the spirit (breath, life) of a man; it searches out his inmost being (heart, chamber, bedroom, the most intimate part of the heart),” Proverbs 20:27.

When I am searching for something important – keys, wallet, phone – I turn on every available light and look throughout the room. I move things that might be covering up what I’m seeking. I may call for help in my search.  I  go back where I’ve already looked, just in case I missed it the first time. I check every corner, hunt through drawers, closets, and shelves, and keep searching until I find it.

God has a holy light, a brilliant, powerful light that illumines every corner and crevice of our lives. When we read His Word, He shines that spotlight on you and me, searching our hearts and minds, our thoughts and intentions, our desires and passions, and our actions. At the same time, His Spirit moves everything we use to cover over our hearts. He looks far deeper than we even know exists, to the most intimate levels of our being, to the place where we find the truth about ourselves. His purpose is to locate and root out everything in us that does not meet the perfect standard of His children. It is the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:11).

I need this holy light of truth to examine my life, to track down everything in me that is not conforming to the image of Christ. I need God to search out every offensive way in me (Psalm 139:24). In the deepest part of my heart, there are passions and desires – and as I’ve learned this week fears – that need to be crucified to Christ Jesus (Col. 3:5; Gal. 5:24) if I am to truly love Him and be a vessel for His glory. I want to be fully open to the Spirit’s examination. I want Him to freely roam throughout my heart, mind, and body and expose me to the core. That is frightening, but it will release me from the bonds of my flesh and the world. Beloved, will you let the Word and the Spirit do a sanctifying work in you?

That’s Not Who I Am Anymore

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Some time ago I ran across some old photos of myself.  I laid them out in the progression of ages from about 3 to my high school years, watching myself grow taller, with a variety of hairstyles and some really strange fashion sense.  I saw something else. Somewhere between 10 and 15, the girl in those photos took on a dark demeanor and I remembered my past – things that had been done to me, and things I did to myself..  Glancing up into the mirror on my dresser, I thought how much I physically looked like the girl in the pictures, but I no longer recognized those dark eyes. God said, “That is because that’s not who you are anymore. Now you are mine.”

In Ephesians 5:8, Paul said, “You were once darkness…”  Then he gives the contrast: “but now…you are light in the Lord.”  Like painting a before and after portrait he said,  “You are not who you once were.  Now you are in Christ.”

One of Satan’s favorite ploys is to assault us with our past, to tell us that we will always be who we were and there is no point in trying to resist those old familiar sins.  “You know deep down, you still want it.  You haven’t changed. You are bound to your past.  You are bound to me.”  But if you belong to Jesus Christ, you are free from your past. You are a child of light, purified from all your sins (1 John 1: 7).  Where you were once held captive to sin, you are now bound up in God’s love. You have the power to say no to sin.

In Philippians 3:13, Paul gives us the secret to walking in our new identity when he says, “one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on…”  We can forget what is behind because “as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)” 

Beloved, I want so much for you to understand that because Jesus Christ has completely removed all your transgressions; you are a new creation in Christ, no longer bound to a painful, sinful past or those dark desires.  You have light in your eyes, and God’s love shines on your face.  Because you are not who you once were.  Now you are His.

Salty Christians

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I’m studying in Matthew 5, and Jesus is speaking about being salt in the world. He said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled by men” (5:13). That caught my attention. “How does salt lose its saltiness?” I wanted to know the practicality of Jesus’ statement so I went searching for a “scientific” answer, not just a “biblical” answer. I learned that

  1. Natural salt without additives won’t ever go bad. But when it is refined for cooking iodine and anti-caking agents are added to it; these degrade over time, reducing the life and effectiveness of the salt.
  2. When Sodium chloride is exposed to moisture it breaks down and eventually evaporates.  In New Testament times salt was generally not pure and contained many compounds that held up to moisture. The sodium chloride would evaporate, but the other compounds remained, leaving behind a white powdery substance that looked like salt but had none of its flavor.

So what was Jesus saying? Salt is our witness in the world – and two things will render our witness ineffective: adding things to it that do not agree with the truth and taking away from the truth leaving a witness that has no saving power.

Jesus said this false “salt” is “thrown out and trampled on by men.” This perfectly describes the witness of the church today where political correctness is added and the truth is watered down to make it culturally appropriate. We no longer tell people they sinners and the blood of Christ can save them. Instead, we tell them that God wants them to live their best life now, to be comfortable in their sin, and to practice social justice. We have exactly what Jesus was describing: a worthless witness. Is it any wonder that the world holds the testimony of the church in contempt and tramples all over it?

Beloved, is your witness pure and true? Do you need to take away some additives and bring your conviction back to its natural state? The world has enough fake seasoning – they need the real thing. Be salty in this generation.

We Want to See Jesus

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The teacher asked the boy. “What are you drawing?” “I’m drawing a picture of Jesus,” he answered. “But nobody knows what Jesus looked like,” she said. “They will when I’m done!” he replied.

That’s been one of the naysayer’s most fervent arguments against the existence of God: no one has ever seen Him. How can we believe in someone we’ve never seen. Or have we? The Old Testament prophet declared, “The glory of the Lord will be revealed and all mankind together will see it” (Isaiah 40:5). God revealed His glory in His Son, the man Jesus. Paul said, “He [Jesus] is the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Col. 1:15). John wrote, “The Word [who was God] became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn: 1,1, 14).  Jesus is God and He revealed God to mankind.  But “nobody knows what Jesus looked like., so we still don’t know what God looks like. Ah, but we’re looking for the wrong thing. Jesus – and thus God – looks like glory. The Greek word for glory is doxa, meaning the awesome, brilliant light that radiates from God’s presence.

If you had been at the manger in Bethlehem two thousand years ago you would have seen it shining brightly. But you haven’t missed out on it entirely, it’s still visible today. No, it’s not in the candles in the church or the lights on your Christmas tree. It’s in the faces of every person who has bowed their heart and received Jesus as their Savior. Jesus – who is “the Light of the World (Jn. 8:12) transfers His light – His glory –  to those who believe that He is the Son of God – “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being,” (Heb. 1:3). That is why Jesus said to His followers, “You [now] are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14). Something happens when we let go of our guilt and shame and sin and receive the forgiveness and love of God through Jesus – the Baby in the manger. The glory of God lights up our hearts and our faces. Beloved, can the world see Jesus through you?

When the Way is Dark

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I come from a long line of crafters. My mom was an extraordinary seamstress – I loved the handmade clothes she made for me. My grandmother created beautiful designs with a needle and tread. and I found much comfort laying in bed and tracing the stitches on my “Sunbonnet Sue” pillowcase. When I was about 7 or 8 years old, Mom decided it was time for me to take up the family tradition, starting with learning handwork. She bought me a simple embroidery kit and taught me the up-and-down pattern, and the daisy stitch and how to fill a piece of fabric with color. The kit she bought was a design with an old fashioned oil lamp, a Bible – with a real velvet bookmark – and the words of Psalm 119:105. As I stitched the letters, the words were “sewn” into my heart: Thy Word is a Lamp unto my feet and a Light unto my path.

I’ve lost my way a few times since then and found myself in dark scary places. But I would trace the words on my heart, just as I traced the pattern on my pillowcase, and I knew where to find the light. I still go back to that verse often and remind myself that the Bible has the power to dispel darkness and show me the way home.

The Word of God is Light and Life to me. It is stitched on my heart.

Christmas Hope: Light in the Darkness

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“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

When do we most need hope?  In the darkness, in the season of pain and heartache and despair.  When it is hardest to find.  Our 3rd day of this Advent series focuses on the hope we must have to survive those seasons of darkness.  The hope in the promise of the Light of Jesus Christ.

I recall a trip to the Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna, and a room deep within the caverns where the park guide turned out all the artificial lights – the room was plunged into total darkness.  For a moment I was overcome by a sense of despair and fear.  In that pitch-black darkness, I lost all orientation, had no idea where the exit was, or where anyone else was.  If my friend had not grabbed my hand, I would have thought myself completely alone. There are seasons of our life that are like that cave adventure when it seems that we are lost in a deep, black darkness.  We are overwhelmed with despair, confused and disoriented-not knowing where to turn or how to escape, and we feel completely and utterly alone.

While we stood in the darkness inside that cave, the guide lit one small match.  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 the darkness of sin, and so we are disoriented in spiritual darkness.  Rather than the sun and moon and stars, we walk in the distorted light of the world.  And so God sent His Son, Jesus to be “the Light of the world” (John 8:12).  His light overcame the darkness of sin and evil; His light can overcome the darkness and despair of living in this world with all its struggles and heartaches and pain.

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.  Live in the Light of Jesus Christ.

When All Is Lost

Hagar and Ishmael had been banished to the desert with just a skin of water and no direction. When the water ran out so did Hagar’s hope. She couldn’t bear to watch her son die, so she set him under a bush and walked away. As her tears fell, God sent an angel to comfort her and give her hope. And water. The Scripture says “Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water” (Genesis 21:19). A well. In a desert. Just at the moment she needed it. Right where she stopped in her hopelessness.

There are volumes here we can learn from this account, and a good preacher could get a month’s worth of 3-point sermons out of this story. But here is my take-away: God brings hope into hopeless situations. He gives water in the desert, peace in the storm, direction in the wilderness, and light in the darkness. He is watching with tender care to meet you wherever your struggles take you. Whether you are in the desert or on a stormy sea – if your life is a train wreck or you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, God knows right where you are Beloved. He knows exactly what you need. He will meet you in the middle of your hopeless situation. Just when you think all is lost, God says you are found.