Last Words

See the source image

“Drive carefully.” “Have a good day.” “Call when you get there.” “I love you.” Last words. When your kids are climbing out of the car, when your wife heads off for a weekend with her friends, when your nephew leaves for college. It’s our final opportunity to connect and leave them with something important. Many times those last words express our heart more than voluminous conversations.

In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, he wrote about wisdom, immorality, marriage, freedom in Christ, spiritual gifts, love, and the resurrection. Out of all these very weighty topics, Paul’s final instructions to his friends were: “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of good courage; be strong. Do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14). Firm faith. Good courage. Love in all things. What powerful watchwords for Christ’s church! And we still need them today.

Corinth was a multi-cultural, polytheistic culture – they had people from many backgrounds who held to many different beliefs. It was so easy to take a little bit from each one – including Christianity – to make a self-serving religion. That sounds very much like our world today, doesn’t it? Paul reminds us to stand firm in our faith in Christ and Christ alone. But he also assures us we don’t stand on our own.  He opened this letter by telling the Corinthians, “[The Lord Jesus Christ] will keep you strong to the end” (1:8). Firm faith leans heavily on Christ for strength and courage.

Why do we need courage? Have you been out there lately? The powers (human and spiritual) that rule the world are trying to destroy the Christian faith. We need courage just to walk out the door. We need courage to resist the enemy. We need courage to stand for truth and righteousness. In a day and age when sin is celebrated, we need courage to say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

And oh, how important love is. Jesus said love is the defining factor in the lives of His followers – “All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:35). And love, more than any other means will draw men to Christ. In everything – our jobs, in school, in our families, in our relationships, in good times and hard times, in peace and in disagreement – let love be the rule.

If today were my last day on earth and I wanted to leave you with the most important words, I would say the same thing.  Beloved have faith, be courageous, and live in love.

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.

Child of God

My son and granddaughter ages 28 and 6 months.

“ A voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you, I am well pleased.’” (Mark 1:11).

I didn’t hear it much growing up so I made sure to tell my son, “I love you” multiple times a day.  And I constantly tell my granddaughter, “You’re Nana’s girl and I love you.” So I always thought the Father’s words at Jesus’ baptism were just a tender moment between Father and Son.  But it was more – it was a moment of preparation for what was to come when “the Spirit sent him out into the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan” (v. 12). 

Jesus faced enormous temptation but was able to resist and reject Satan because the Father’s words were still ringing in His ears. “You are my Son, whom I love; with you, I am well pleased.” He knew who He was and whose He was.

God speaks the same affirmation over you and me: “You are my son, you are my daughter, whom I love; with you, I am well pleased.” We are adopted into the family of God when we believe in Jesus. We become sons and his daughters. We are as loved by the Father as was Jesus (John 17:26). Our faith is pleasing to Him (Hebrews 11:6).

Every day Satan dangles temptations before us to drag us into sin. What if, before your feet hit the floor every morning you remind yourself, “I am God’s son, I am God’s daughter, my Father loves me, and He is well pleased with me.” Would that make a difference in how you respond to temptation? I believe it would.

Beloved, if you are in Christ, you are a child of God – it’s not something you have to earn or measure up to – it is your place. You have every benefit and blessing of being part of His family. That includes the right to claim your Father’s love and His pleasure over you. Don’t let the enemy shake you – stand firm in who you are and Whose you are.

When the Lion ROARS

roaring-lion“Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour,” 1 Peter 5:8

When I was younger my family went to a “wild” animal park in Florida, 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 to 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 says 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 wife 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?  In his very next verse 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!

Holy Father, give me the heart of a righteous lion to stand firm before the devil.  Help me remember that all he can do to me is roar, because I am sealed by the Holy Spirit in the blood of the Lion of Judah, Jesus Christ.   Amen.

 

Why I Quit Resisting Temptation

hand-stop“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” Ephesians 6:10.

Have you ever resolved to resist temptation?  How’d that work out for you?  Yeah, pretty much the same for me too.  No matter how hard I gritted my teeth or how many times I told myself, “Don’t do this!” the outcome was usually the same.  Humiliation, regret, and failure.  I crept before God with guilt and shame asking for forgiveness—again.  I get so frustrated with myself for this repetitious cycle of determination followed by a side glance at my old faithful “guilty pleasure” and finally defeat at my own hands.

I believe the reason we have so much trouble with temptation is because we’re doing it all wrong.  I grew up like most of you hearing the mantra: “Resist temptation and flee from the devil!”  But a closer look at Scripture reveals that the Bible doesn’t tell us to resist temptation.  Nor does it say we must flee from the devil.  The Bible actually turns the statement around; we are commanded to resist the devil and flee temptation.  No wonder we’ve had such a hard time with temptation!

Consider Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 6:10-20, the Armor of God.  In fact, go grab your Bible and read that passage.  I’ll wait for you right here.  Notice that four times in verses 10-14, Paul tells us to “stand.” For three of those “stands” he uses the Greek word that means to stand firm, to establish— saying we must take a firm stand on the truth.   However, the first “stand in verse 13 is anthistemi, which means to oppose, rebel and withstand.  Paul is saying “when the day of evil comes, you strong stand and actively oppose and rebel against the evil attacks.  And this is the purpose for all the pieces of the Holy Armor.

Peter agrees as he says in 1 Peter 5:9 “Resist the devil, standing firm in your faith.” Peter uses similar terminology as Paul; again commanding us to actively resist the devil while we stand firm in our faith in Christ Jesus.

However, when it comes to temptation, we don’t resist, we are told to flee!  The Bible couldn’t be any clearer: run away from temptation.  Don’t stand there trying to stare it down and think you’re going to win, because you won’t.  Paul commands us to “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18), “flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14), “flee from false teaching and from greed” (1 Timothy 6:3-11), and “flee from evil desires” (2 Timothy 2:22).

Why this dual command to resist the devil and flee from temptation?  One reason is because if you are in Jesus Christ, you have already claimed the victory!  The devil is a defeated foe, and he knows it—and you need to know it too.  Remember the word anthistemi?  One of its definitions is to rebel.  You can rebel against him because, as a child of God, the devil has no authority over you. None.  You can stare him down and say, “You’re not the boss of me!” and he can’t argue with you.

The other reason is because temptation taps into what is within us.  Hear James on this: “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed” (James 1:14).  That temptation reaches in to that sinful nature that lives in every man and battles for control of the believer.  Though we are new creations in Christ, those sinful desires still exert a tremendous amount of influence, and this is where the devil throws those powerful enticements in our face.  He’s playing on our weakest area, our old sinful passions.  So we must flee temptation if we want to walk in the victory Christ won on our behalf.

God has not left us to fight on our own.  He is so faithful to help us in this battle of the flesh.  The Greek word Paul uses for flee means to run away from, elude, to escape.  Now keep this thought in mind as you read 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (RSV).   God provides the way out of temptation.  You don’t have to stand with fists clenched and face it.  Take the escape hatch and run—don’t walk—from the thing that causes those sinful desires that rise up within you.  That may mean shutting off the computer, turning off the television, walking out of the bar, finding other people to hang out with it, or not going someplace where you know temptation lives.  God makes the way of escape, but you must take it.

When you put yourself in God’s hands and follow His commands you will gain the victory over temptation and sin.  Here is a promise from James on which you can firmly stand:  “Submit yourselves, then, to God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7, emphasis added).  Run away from temptation, but take your stand against the devil.  Now we have this in the right order!  Ready to send the devil running?

Mighty Jesus – because of Your blood I have been set free, because of Your resurrection, the devil has no power or authority over me.  Teach me to walk in victory every day as I both run from temptation and stand against the devil.  No power on earth can defeat me because I’ve already won in You!  Amen.