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!

Giants

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David and Goliath. One of the best-known stories of the Bible.  A story of good versus evil in the face of impossible odds.  We learn so much from David here. Faith. Determination. Confidence. Preparation. Fearlessness. All very good lessons. But I saw something in this story that I’d never noticed before and I think it’s a very powerful lesson we need to learn.

When David visited the battle site he discovered that the Israelite army was at a standstill. They were paralyzed with fear and he soon saw why. “Goliath, the Philistine champion stepped out from the lines and shouted his usual defiance” (1 Samuel 17:23). His usual defiance was to belittle them, challenge them, threaten them, and thoroughly intimidate them. He said, “This day I defy the ranks of Israel!” (8-10). They were “dismayed and terrified” (v. 11). I imagine so! Goliath was over nine feet tall, wore 125 pounds of armor, and carried a spear with an iron point that weighed 15 pounds (4-7). “When the Israelites saw the man, they all ran from him in great fear” (v. 24). And this went had gone on for forty days – twice a day (16). The Israelites had given up hope.

David saw the same enemy and heard the same schpiel. But he saw it much differently. David demanded, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (26). He realized that the Israelites 1) forgot whose they were, and 2) they were afraid – of words.

You and I have an enemy who looks like a giant in our eyes and all day long he berates us and accuses us and tells us we are worthless. He tells us we’re going down. And we listen – day-after-day-after-day – until we start to believe it.  Because we forget whose we are – that we are the sons and daughters of God and co-heirs with Christ. Because we are afraid – of words.

Here’s what the Lord impressed on my heart: Giants must be defeated – not feared.

If you are in Christ, satan’s only weapon against you is words. That’s it. But you have the righteousness of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Stand your ground, Beloved. You are more than a conqueror (Romans 8:38).

Not a Princess

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I stood next to a table filled with t-shirts at a woman’s conference and a pink one caught my eye. It had a sparkly crown on it and the words: “I’m a princess!” My Daddy is the King of the Universe” The woman next to me picked it up and handed over her credit card. “Don’t you just love this?” she asked me. “It’s very cute,” I answered. In my head, though, I said, “But I don’t want to be a princess.” Princesses are fluffy, and I’m not the fluffy sort.

I want to be a queen. Like Esther, who wore her very best dress and crown to go to battle for her people. She could have let Haman slaughter the Jews because she was safe and well-kept in her palace in Susa. But when her uncle Mordecai told her, “Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14), she waged war against her people’s enemy with feminine wisdom and godly courage.

I want to be a warrior. Like Deborah, who was the only female judge of Israel mentioned in Scripture. When the commander of Israel’s army refused to go into battle without her, Deborah accompanied Barak and ten thousand men to a great victory, singing, “March on, my soul; be strong!” (Judges 5:21). I want to be like Jael, who lured the enemy Sisera into her tent and drove a tent pet into his temple as he slept (Judges 4:21).

I want to be the Lord’s handmaiden, like Mary, the mother of Jesus, who, when told she would endure a scandalous pregnancy, said “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38). I want to tell everyone about Jesus like Anna (Luke 2:36-38) and the Samaritan Woman (John 4:39) and Mary Magdalene (John 20:18). I want to be like Dorcas, who was full of good works which she did (Acts 9:36).

No, I don’t want to be a fluffy princess. Crowns are for heaven – to be cast at the feet of Jesus. Right now you and I need the helmet of salvation. There’s a war on and the Kingdom of God is calling us into battle. Are you ready? “March on my soul; be strong!”

To Be a Mighty Man (or Woman) of God

King David was a mighty warrior. His feats are recorded all through 1st and 2nd Samuel. Every child knows the story of David and Goliath. David defeated many kings and conquered many enemy nations – but he didn’t do it alone. 2 Samuel 23 is a record of David’s “mighty men” who fought by his side. There was Josheb-Basshebeth, who killed 800 men in one encounter, and Abishai who killed 300. Benaiah killed a lion and a “huge Egyptian” with the man’s own spear. But there are two in particular that captured my attention.

Eleazar was with David when he faced off against the Philistines. The Scripture said that the rest of the army of Israel retreated, “but [Eleazar] stood his ground and struck down the Philistines till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword. The Lord brought about a great victory that day.” (v. 10). Shammah also faced an army of Philistines on his own after Israel’s troops fled. “Shammah took his stand in the middle of the field. He defended it and struck the Philistines down, and the Lord brought about a great victory” (v. 12).

Do you see the similarities in these accounts? Both men stood firm when everyone else had fled and The Lord brought about a great victory. I want to be like them. I want to stand firm in the Lord, no matter the size of the enemy, even if I stand alone. I want to hold the Sword of the Spirit with such a tight grip that my hand freezes around it. I want a faith that keeps me in the good fight till the end.

Like Perpetua, a young woman who, despite the pleas of her beloved father and the knowledge that she would leave behind a very young child, refused to recount her faith, but went courageously and gloriously into the Roman arena, counting herself blessed to suffer for her Savior, Jesus Christ. Still today, Christians around the world face the sentence of death for refusing to deny Christ. I want a faith like that – one that stands the ultimate test.

I want to be a “mighty woman of God.” I want that for my granddaughter. I want that for you too, Beloved. When the world demands that we deny Christ and bow to the culture, I want us to stand our ground, hands frozen to the Sword of the Spirit till the Lord brings the victory.

The Momentum of Sin

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I carried a fresh glass of tea to my desk and set it down to plug up my phone. I reached for the old empty glass and started walking quickly toward the kitchen, but I soon realized I had picked up the wrong one. I tried to stop in my tracks and turn around, but my momentum took me a step or two further toward the kitchen. But I didn’t want to go to the kitchen. I wanted to go back to my desk and get the right glass and then go to the kitchen. I knew what I wanted to do but I kept going in the wrong direction. That may seem like a scene out of a cartoon, but what it reminded me of was the momentum of sin.

Paul said, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:15-16,18-19). We want to be right with God. We want to turn away from sin. Yet our sinful desires set us in motion toward what our flesh craves. There is a war waging within us between our desire to please God and our desire to please our flesh.

How do we break sin’s momentum? First, by preparing ourselves for the battle. Paul said, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (12:2). Renewing our minds is a life-long habit of reading, studying, and obeying the Word of God and listening to His Spirit. The more of God we put into our minds the less room there is for the world.

But what do we do when the momentum toward sin is so strong? I heard of an older man known for his godly life who was asked what he did when he was tempted. He replied, “Well, I just say, ‘Lord, your property is in danger.’” Paul said, “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (7:24-25). Beloved, the One who rescued you from death and hell can also rescue you from the powerful pull of sin. Just cry out to Jesus.

Standing up to the Big Dog

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“They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed’ (Nehemiah 6:9).”

As kids growing up, my oldest brother often tried to intimidate me. His favorite thing to do was tease me until he made me mad and I would start swinging at him. He would put his hand on the top of my head and extend his arm so I was swinging in the air. That just made me madder. I miss my brother greatly, but I don’t miss how he loved to aggravate and intimidate me.

The Israelite captives returned to Jerusalem to find their city in ruins, the Temple destroyed, and the wall that protected their homes a pile of rubble. Nehemiah led the people to restore the wall to the displeasure of their neighbors, who “became angry and greatly incensed [and] ridiculed the Jews” (Nehemiah 4:1, 2).  They said, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed” (Nehemiah 6:9). But the Israelites “prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat” (4:9) and “rebuilt the wall . . . for the people worked with all their heart” (4:6). They refused to bow to the enemy’s intimidation and they completed the wall in fifty-two days!

You have an enemy. His name is Satan. He hates you because God loves you and has a Kingdom purpose for your life. He will try his best to intimidate you and wear you down so that you will give up and walk. Don’t let him. Like the enemies of the Israelites, your enemy is fighting a losing battle. Satan has no authority where God has called you. The truth is – he’s trying to intimate you because you intimidate him. Paul understood that: “I will stay on . . . because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me” (1 Corinthians 16:9). Beloved, if what you are called to do is so threatening to the enemy that he’s trying to make you quit, then it’s that much more important that you don’t. Keep at it and let God fight for you.

Be Silent!

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One key point to Bible study is the principle of repetition. When God repeats something it is because He wants us to pay careful attention to it. One word has been repeated in my daily Bible Study this week, and not just repeated but almost raised up off of the page – like 3D print. I’ll share the two verses with you and see if you can spot it.

“The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth be silent before Him” (Habakkuk 2:30)

“Be silent before the Sovereign Lord” (Zephaniah 1:7).

I’m sure you guessed that the word is “silent” and in Hebrew, it is an interjection. For those of us who’ve been out of school for a while, an interjection is an abrupt remark made to snap the listener to attention. Thus, these verses would be delivered sharply and with an exclamation. “Be silent!” Why? Because you are before the Sovereign Lord who is in His holy temple. Because – if we really knew Him, we would be on our faces in silent awe and adoration. This is the One who rules and reigns in holiness and righteousness and complete authority.

What impressed my heart so clearly is the contrast of this command against the shouts of protest and words of anger that are so prevalent in the United States right now. Many Christians are asking, “What are we to do? How do we respond?” I believe we are to turn our eyes away from the scenes of violence and hatred and turn them to God. I believe we are to come before Him in silence, recognizing that “the Sovereign Lord is in His holy temple.” In other words, He is still on His throne. He is still reigning over all the earth. He is still in complete control. He is still God.

Wicked men have been causing chaos and destruction since the beginning of time. But none of it has unseated the Lord God. He always wins in the end. Always. Read it again. A.L.W.A.Y.S. Friends, evil has not won the day, because the day is not over. God will never let His people down. Never. Read it again. N.E.V.E.R. Besides, I read the end of the book. Evil loses. God wins. Beloved, don’t be anxious but turn your eyes to Almighty God. And be silent.

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.